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The Road Movie (2016)
After sleeping on it (writing review one day later), The Road Movie might not work as your traditional story-driven movie, but it may be in 2018 (this edited together in 2016) we need to change how we see movies anyway. In this case, we have what is like live-action cut scenes from a non-plot driven Russian Grand Theft Auto video game. There are no real rules in Russia on the roads by the look of it (perhaps the dash cams are to assist in that the cops make our corrupt cops look like boy/girl scouts).
People get out of cars and into fights; sometimes a car just goes off road into a river for a river-car ride; a car just crashes head on into another and we hear the couple of people saying where they're broken; a guy gets on top of a woman's car as she us parked, and he acts like a mad primate as she drives and is hysterical (he may just be deaf); trucks crash and flip; cows get hit and go on their way; the word 'f**k' is used so often in 67 minutes I think this out-f***s the 3 hour Scorsese crime epics.
The appeal in other words is to be a full witness to the insanity, and while these are taken from YouTube uploads, I think placing then in a short, to the point cinematic context is a nice radical act. It's found-footage when it comes down to it, and at the same time the tone is like taking all of the gnarly bits from Godard's apocalyptic Weekend and none if the political stuff. Human nature in Russia is brutal, unforgiving, and howlingly funny in these videos. At one point a car drives right on through a forest fire (!) that is happening on either side of the road on one hand, and on another a car chases a running bear and all the driver can think to say is to laugh at the bear's defecating. And is that a comet falling to Earth?
In other words, The Road Movie may or may not appeal to you, and I wonder what rewatchability it will have - unlike the insanity of the Jackass films, as one more comparison, there aren't any personalities to latch on to as we are Rear Window-ing as the passengers if these literal car wrecks - but it's a total blast from start to finish and a unique piece of cinema in this decade.
Proud Mary (2018)
not a movie I enjoy and a review I feel bad writing, but...
The problem with trying to do a straight-faced homage to the Jack Hill/Pam Grier movies of the 70s (most notably Coffy and Foxy Brown) where a lady could have an exuberant name, take on the bad dudes by herself and have a funky soundtrack to accompany her actions is that a) those movies were either trying to not take themselves too seriously, unlike Proud Mary that thinks it's a legit dramatic/tragic effort, and b) you need a collaboration that works on all three fronts - powerful leading lady AND a decent script AND a director who knows what he/she is doing. This only has one of those in Taraji P Henson, who is not only game for this kind of movie but has done the training necessary for a character who kills a lot of people with guns and some fight choreography. She and a couple other actors are left floundering (notice I only said a few, and that's being kind) by a director who is the opposite of talented.
I'm too lazy to look up who wrote this both half-baked and simultaneously over-cooked story of a mob assassin who kills the father of a boy, turning him an orphan (I can hear Black Dynamite, a character this world really needs now more than ever, yell now "NOT THE ORPHANS! THEY HAVE NO PARENTS!") and then she looks after him a full year later once the boy has, uh, fallen under the dominance of a Russian mobster so then mob-war ensues that's kind of her fault in a lot of ways... but the director? Oh, Babak Najafi had only been on my radar due to a delayed viewing of the sequel London Has Fallen, and in part because some - not all but some - of that had some inspired insanity. It appears though when he doesn't have everything handed over to him the hack in him comes out ten-fold, and the worst part is the dull sensation that washes over you as you slump further in the chair taking in what should or could be a deliciously trashy (or, hell, a legitimately *good*) vehicle for Henson.
Instead we get a vision that doesn't have any vision, as Najafi edits like he's worried we'll lose interest so it's rapid even when the more boring conversations are happening (sometimes with a rather one-note Danny Glover as Mary's boss, who I hadn't seen in a while but could tell a ton of this was ADR'd, badly), and the adverse inevitably happens and interest gets deflated very quickly. Maybe he knows there's not much here, a script that sorely needed some work to liven it up or to make it less of a pseudo uh black Batman origin story in the guise of a female action flick. He leaves his actors for themselves too to do what they can, and how one can tell is that everything with Henson and the boy Danny (Winston) is markedly more natural and emotional than everything else (ie Billy Brown as Tom, who is mostly a wooden presence). Even given some cool looking locations in the Boston city area, a change of pace from the usual Louisiana landscapes for these cheap genre fare, is given the short shrift with his shooting and editing.
I know it sounds like I'm going after a flmmaker for a product that doesn't mean much and should just be enjoyed as dumb popcorn fare, but that's precisely the point. Take Henson out of this (Glover could be optional either way) and this is some direct to video piece of drek that isn't enjoyable as schlock until the final ten minutes when the title track comes up and we see lots of insane bullets and cars and people getting killed happen. No one wants to really be here aside from the two leads, and that makes it all the more painful. I'm sorry, but for all of the support I want to give Henson, she needs people around her that actually care about what they are doing (again, for as silly as Hill/Grier projects of the 70's, there was some attention to craft going on) and can give her something that rises above mediocrity.
That actually makes it worse, since the marketing and even the opening credits give the impression of a decent homage. It's a conflicting emotion one is left with: on the one hand, you want something like this to have some success so she can get more roles like this or has more opportunities to expand what she can do (Empire won't be on the air forever, and as solid as she is in Hidden Figures it's not all she's capable of). On the other hand, if this movie tanking means that Najafi is a little closer to being run out of Hollywood to go back to directing the Iranian direct-to-video crap he was doing before, that's fine too. So... ugh.
Paddington 2 (2017)
The definition of delight
So why should you see Paddington 2, whether or not you've seen Paddington from two years before? Two reasons immediately go to inspired casting - you think these should be too on the nose, but they take hold and revitalize these types: Brendan Gleeson plays a prisoner named 'Nuckles' (with an 'N') who gets persuaded in one swift stroke to start making marmalade sandwiches and Hugh Grant plays an egotistical over-the-hill actor who is a master of disguise (he goes from Alan Moore hobo to a nun).
In other words, go see this bloody thing post-haste! It's a complete delight and it amps up the comedy in magnificent ways (a couple of set pieces are worthy of Harold Lloyd) while being wholly sincere, heartfelt (oh that ending) and about kindness and treating others as you would want to be treated. We so so SO need this right now in this world, for many reasons. I'm sure there are things about Paddington 2 that one can criticize it for as far as things one comes across in sequels -a familiar and somewhat predictable plot (what you expect happens when your protagonist gets framed and thrown in jail happens, up to a point, though everything has such a sweetness to it), and our family from the past movie, except maybe Hawkins, is now reduced more or less types (and then in that case there's good set up and pay off with them, albeit one has to suspend disbelief a couple if times)- but everything how the filmmakers are about this story is what counts.
It's so difficult to have entertainment for kids or adults to be timeless, geuine and not talking down to any one group. This is that and then some. Paddington also ultimately works in a similar way as to why the Captain America movies (Winter Soldier and Civil War I mean): the hero is so good and decent and (frankly) square that everything he's reacting to, how those around Paddington make an impact on him or him on them, and that others get the arc even as Paddington stays steadfast in who he is. Characters like this almost give me a guilty conscience.
After all, who wants to get the hard stare all the time?
All the Money in the World (2017)
another good Ridley Scott production with one major piece of film history attached immediately
This is.. Good. Sometimes quite good when the focus is on Michelle Williams (one of the best performances and characters of the year) or Christopher Plummer (this Beginners and The Insider give a mammoth impression of what this man can do). ...Mark Wahlberg is just ..... serviceable and another actor couldve brought... I don't know *something* else to what is a two dimensional role. They're surrounded by believable though mostly unremarkable Italians (although I did like the guy who sorta-kinda befriended Paul Betty).
While I definitely applaud Scott and co for a completely seamless job on what, uh, had to be done in the past several weeks, I think people years from now - without all that context - will fund another well made, sometimes surprising, but ultimately by the books thriller that for all its strong qualities is lump in with films he's made like Body of Lies or White Squall or even Robin Hood, movies that have a few notable performances and set pieces, and he understands drama and conflict and all that, but something is missing at the script level. It's like... Things keep happening, but the dialog is rote (this may be a way to explain why Williams and Plummer excel where Wahlbeth doesn't: it's not only the characters but also finding a way to elevate what's on the page).
It also doesnt help that after almost two hours where (for someone like me who didn't know at all about this story) there were genuine turns do take one by surprise, the climax smacks of BS: I just don't buy how it flows together, and what Scott cuts to is meant to be some big ironic contrast and it takes away from the core dramatic thrust. To put it another way, when the credits started and the "Some incidents may have been changed for dramatic purposes" text came up I wanted to tell "holy no s***, Batman?!"
So it's good. I wish it were... Better somehow.
Extremely Crude and Incredibly F***off. Just how it should be.
D.O.A, an shot on-the-run warts and all bands and crowd look at a goid sampling of UK punk (and The Dead Boys for some reason), shows that it's all fun and games and the occasional bottle thrown by a redneck in a Texas town (where the Sex Pistols inexplicably toured in 78) and rock and roll and old stuffy British men criticizing the Pistols (and the other bands the uptight Brit wanker censor couldn't recall)... Until one sees Sid post final SF Winterlabd concert with Nancy totally zonked on heroin (or, sorry, he was just 'tired').
This will obviously be appealing to people who know the bands - or at least have some familiarity with Rotten and the rest (there's even film, which must be the only time it happened, of ex-Pistol Glen Matlock's next band singing 'Pretty Vacant') - but it also has the fascination of opening a buried time capsule. It may also suffer somewhat if one already laps up punk rock docs and movies. I'm one of those who find anything punk related that has just a tinge of quality appealing and will go easy even (ie I know deep down there's not much storywise to Rude Boy, but it's The gddamn Clash playing live for goodness sake), but at the same time I'm coming to this now as opposed to when all the others were readily available as a teen and younger adult. Only now is DOA finally available after years of rights issues, so one comes to it after already lapping up Temple's (really terrific) The Filth and the Fury and Spheeris' Decline movies.
So as I can try to be all objective Mr Critic-Suspender-Pants and say this isn't as cohesive and the main thread of the Pistols on the ill-fated/final tour of the US gets a bit ruptured due to the Vicious/Spungen scenes being cut in well before the end really comes and the context for the band splitting isn't really there (I could be wrong but McClaren isn't mentioned once) ... I can't carp. Every time one sees the Pistols on stage, most especially the wild-eyed quasi-hunchback gonzo Rotten and the almost for today innocent posing by Vicious and the guitarist Steve, it's electric energy and somehow, through the magic if film editing, it even seems as though the American audiences get into the songs live (many being burgeoning punks who have found the real charge from them, yes even in Memphis on Elvis's first birthday post death). Another connection one can make is some of the interviews, done so raggedly and clearly without permission you can see the spit on the lens some if the people hurl, is Heavy Metal Parking Lot, where the interest becomes as much anthropological than anything.
And sure, I don't expect High Times - yes, the effing pot magazine funded this - to be doing Maysles level work. That may be in part why it can't help but compare to that first Decline film, where going from band to band and the Wiseman influence made it a tighter constructed film. But I still give this such a high rating because it is totally compelling and seeing the likes of Sham 69 (perhaps the best punk crowd one gets to see during a live performance, great energy too), Xray Spex (an underrated treasure of 70s female-led punk), Billy Idol(!) in Generation X (doing a song that is better than anything Idol did solo, and I'm not a hater on him), Dead Boys, et al, is often thrilling and sometimes funny - it helps to have some humor when being an aggressive SOB, or trying to - to see what this was all about. The music didn't go away of course, but it didn't stay quite the same as far as the first flood of what it was about.
And, at the end of it all, Spungen and Vicious were dead. One is almost tempted to call exploitation on that part of it (ala one of those Kurt/Courtney docs over the years), but.... High Times? Naahhh.
Imitation of Life (1959)
And Juanita Moore gets three stars!
This is a film that you don't think will 'get' to you emotionally. It starts off with enough corn to feed an army, and yet it starts with its sincerity in an earned moment of true and simplrempathy; this is something that is clearer in reflection as the film goes on or after it's over, but when Lana Turner accepts with only a second of an 'oh' and then moves on completely to accept Sarah us Annie's daughter, that's the point right there. Underneath this story is a giant gulf that is all oh white patriarchal society, and while Annie's had to accept it in her way, it screws up Sarah for what appears to be het adolescence. By the time the crushingly tragic end comes - death should be something we accept, but how for someone as genuinely kind as Annie - it puts all the other problems of the movie into perspective. Sirk takes hold of soap opera and makes it as grand as possible, and it fires on all cylinders.
Does this mean you have to be keyed in to the particular flavor of Work a d producer Ross Hunter's corn? Absolutely. I think I found myself laughing a few times early on in the movie and felt embarrassed with myself; this shouldn't be on the film but with me, since it shows through the decades that the sincerity here is named and unabashed (and yeah, clearly the two girks playing Sarah look so white that it seems funny, but that's part of the point too - our assumptions get us all the time every time if we're aware of them). . Sure, this comes with child acting in the first half one gas to get by, but that is easy enough to look past. I don't know if, despite seeing a few other Sirk films, in particular Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows, I just wasn't prepared for how BIG this is even compared to 'Heaven'. But it's also ambitious with its subject matter, certainly for the time.
Imitation also skilfully weaves the two strands of melodrama together, since Turners story in her rise to fame and Sarah with her mother on another work kind of in tandem. The first half is stronger on what we see Lora trying to climb bit by bit to what she wants (and encountering sexism along the way, this would have been apparent before, seeing it today it's so present it's unbelievable but true) and the second to Annie/Sarah with a bit of daughter Susie (Sandra Dee as, I should think as a comment by Sirk, the *whitest*/nicest/blue-eyed thing of the 50s) and Steve (John Gavin, who I swear seems like he came out of the Rock Hudson cloning factory of the time). It's almost like, reflecting after it's all over, a greatest hits compilation of what's been in melodrama and soap operas and grand operas and everything: the push/pull between a mother and daughter - as in Sirk/Hunter looked at Curtiz with Mildred Pierce and said, "hold our beers" - the downsides of a career in show business, first with a too-close collaborator (the writer who falls for the star) then with family... Then it gets a little different but still sticking to those hits: the split of the hot guy between mother and daughter, and racial disparity.
One assumes this story is in the North - Annie even says in not so many words she had to raise her daughter away from where it would get *really* bad - but there's never a beat where Sarah can have any understanding from anyone and for all the mother's good will everything around her poisons her. Pre heart-wrenchinh deathbed scene, Annie says she failed her, wjich is saying she too has been failed by society and the structures that make everyone assume (until she says different) that she's Sarah's "mammy" and not mother. In other words, it's worse than just being straight on black in this America that promises so much until one gets a look at where one is from.
So while it is an unabashed tear-jerking experience, the boldness of the colors (I wish this got a super restoration some day, like 8K not 4) matches that of the performances. It's clearly acting going past such a limit we sjould be used to, but one of the ideas Sirk and the writers of the movie are grappling with is acting, performance, putting on another face (the ultimate tragedy one could say is in Annie and Sarah's last encounter, she gives her what she wants and pretends not to be het mother). So for all of the wild 50s Technicolor brush strokes it's worth seeing for what nuances are there.
And, most especially, Moore's performance which lifts the material another few notches; fur Turner this is a good character to play and she's ready to work, but for Moore at that time in Holkywood for a major studio, this is a giant deal and she is working it with grace and subtlety and warmth and so many things. She's the heart of the movie, but she never plays it so big it's an issue, on the contrary she takes every emotion and finds the truth there. It's been said black women in general in this country have had to work much harder at what they do what white people AND as women. It's a performance that elevates the film from being very good to masterful.
Should provide excellent re-watch value
What I like about this one - its small club setting making things low key and like he's there just having a conversation with us - is also what keeps it somewhat minor compared to the first New Year's special.
This could change on a second viewing though; highlights include Louis CKs "freckled p***is"; the most compelling argument (maybe once and for all) about why Michael Jackson's allegations were unfounded due to how he showed off his place to the kids; and a complex story about a cold pimp in France in the 40s who he connects in a long and winding way as to why he quit the Chappelle Show and kept a lower profile (that second one is partially why I need to watch it again to let that story sink in more).
Chappelle is still a master here, just more about a lower energy for the most part than usual. It's real and introspective too; if you are expecting the typical stand up you may either get disappointed or thrown off. if you've ever been to an intimate space for comedy, Chappell delivers that. It's like you're there.
Black Mirror: Black Museum (2017)
Both excellent and not. The results are... It's good!
My initial reaction to the season 4 finale of Black Mirror was that it was good - I can barely think of one episode that wasn't at least trying something intriguing or questioning our perceptions of the world thru our technology in some form... And yet I found this mean spirited piece of business with a hammy lead performance....
(One hour later) after pondering some more, so appreciate that this structure is similar to White Christmas but the nastiness lends itself more to something like CREEPSHOW: here are people who get twisted by the technology that they are given by this doctor-cum-carnival barker, but that doesn't excuse how far two out of three of these subjects abuse what they are given and end up going for the worst in humanity.
The last subject in this museum is a guy who rides the lightning and his consciousness in computer form has to relive it over and over. I might question how a computer entity can feel pain and become mentally fractured by it, but this is also a season that began with a video game programmer using the DNA of his coworkers to warp them in simulated space madness, so it is consistent.
I think the hamminess of this guy, how sweaty he gets, his general demeanor, is too much in the moment and yet of all the episodes this is one I want to watch again the most. It's sick in its humor (that one doctor and what he does with his pain receptor is the best part for me, I could have done with a whole episode about him, or seen him crop up in a Philip K Dick short novella or something) and it leaves on a note of that is not depressing. It's just... Trying so hard.
Black Mirror: White Bear (2013)
Very good... Just not as great as I wish it was
This has its share of intense beats, and the climax pays off. But I didn't gravitate to it like other parts of series 1, 2 and 3. The big twist (and it's one that is major) helps to give everything that happens more sense, and maybe I woukd find more a second go around. I just question so many resources being used against one person, regardless of the severity of the crime. Maybe if there was a follow up episode where they show the political debate about using tax dollars for such a thing as a "Criminal Park".
So in other words it is effective but it only works with the reveal (maybe as just a nightmare it would be a real wallop). Or, on top of this, I can't help but think back to seeing this done with far tighter and harrowing execution inn Watkins's Punishment Park in the early 70s - the concept here isn't far off, only no cell phones and it was more up front with the concept.
I do like that the 'host' is one of those "oh, THAT Ben Wheatley character actor!
Black Mirror: San Junipero (2016)
A masterpiece. Raw and Davis own this but it's affecting story first
I should be bothered by the lack of explanations on things - at first- but I was not. The science and technology and futurism is there, but it is not fully about that. The science fiction is the backdrop and everything else is about character and mood, how one gets ready for a night to go out in the 80!s, how one feels close to the other and how connections get formed. The writers can make this be affecting even if the science is questionable (and it isn't).
These women are amazing together, and how they jump in time feels like this is something RIchard Matheson could have written (ala Somewhere in Time). Their total connection to each other, the rawness and vulnerability and strength of their acting, it rides over logic. It's the HEAVEN IS NOW of Black Mirror episodes (look it up, it's worth it).
As the story goes on it only increases and gets deeper, the ramifications of what we do with our time, where our lives take us, how the choices and the partners we choose take us along in life. So much is given to us in an hour as far as what goes into these lifetimes that go from the 1980s into.... The future.
It has three distinct acts and it so builds to an overwhelming point. While Black Mirror is often good at crafting memorable relationships, this is a story that gives us two people - entities, hearts, lives where being no sexual means hearts are given to others and everything Kelly says in a moment of anger has validity - and it's so well drawn and complex.
I will need to watch it again.
When will Charlie Kaufman write for Black Mirror?
Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment (2013)
Terrific, ruthless satire
The Waldo Moment, one if the high points of the early Black Mirror series, captures what happens when animated and/or satirical things come up in popular life, including politics, especially in the UK (remember that nominee for PM who was literally like a black helmeted knight out of Monty Python, Lord whoever). We love cartoons because of the abstraction of it, that they can represent so much that we don't face when it is a regular flesh and blood person in front of us. Think of South Park and Family Guy, or as a human example Stephen Colbert back when he was Colbert of the Report. The Waldo Moment captures all of the mania that comes with a figure, a joke, a walking talking prank, getting the attention of a public who can be so easily galvanized.
One may see Jason Flemyng as the cynical villain - a character out of Chayefsky's Network (this reminded me of that too). It might not have the twists of other Black Mirror parts, and if I have any real mark against it I almost wish it was longer than its usual 40 minute show length. But it tells its story with excellent conviction, and recent times have beared out (no pun intended.. Ok a little) what it is saying. It gets in and gets out and does even better what the first episode of this series tried to do with the PM and sex with a pig, which was a solid concept done somewhat typically.
A rural drama that packs a punch but takes a while to get there
With Mudbound, a tale of two families in good(terrible) ol' Mississippi in the 1940s and the daily struggles for the men and women getting by in the most rural elements imaginable, I wanted to like it more, even love it. The period feel and authenticity Rees and her team have makes an impression and it's all surely lived in to where you feel the pain and literal dirt for white and blacks (so, in other words, a brief mention of 'A Tale of Two Cities' has textual resonance).
But the first half is rough going with way overdone narration, with too much that gives more information and dictating character beats than near necessary, robbing moments of poetry and grace. It almost gives the impression of a tougher/rougher shot yet far less eloquent version of The Southerner by Renoir. Not bad but not... Cinematic enough. It feels too literal a translation of a book (and it is an adaptation of one, unread by me).
Yet, once Hedlund and Mitchell, who don't get too developed before they go off to war and only get some in the scenes when they're in battle (all done in brutal and brief bites), come home from the war, the drama all around gets intensified. The narration gives way to emotional scenes between characters - or just conversations showing an understanding that wouldn't have happened if not ironically for the horrors of war- and all the acting by everyone goes to 100 (Jonathan Banks shows a much... "Poppy" kind of side to his talents).
It may be more of a history lesson than anything else, but the intimacy Rees has with her performers gets the material to its peak too. If you aren't sure of where it's going, or want Rees to stick to the farm scenes and not cut back to the war, just wait and the patience will pay off.
Decent Hayworth and the Intense Ford
You're out of practice, aren't you? Dancing, I mean... I could help you get in practice again, Johnny... Dancing, I mean."
As tawdry a film noir could get in 46. Not sure if it needed narration - or if they had to to have more of it - and then it gets too much in the second half. It also helps to check out the special features on the Criterion disc, in particular the segment with Eddie Muller. I had a sense that some thing is sort of 'off' with Farril and Ball in, which is what their connection is in this love triangle.
At first you think it is just the 'employee has a thing with his employers gal who used to date the employee, what are the odds'- but the pull from Johnny to this guy who *sounds* immediately like a Nazi (the actor was later in Paths of Glory) had the air of salacious tension. That it got by the censors or Hayes people is extraordinary; it's classy and steamy at once. It's also produced and co-written by women, and that gets reflected in how Hayworth is depicted: she's powerful and sexy, But her vulnerability and conflicts are even stronger and grow in pofundity; who is Gilda to Ballin, what is he to her, how is Johnny keeping his composure not exploding as he looks at her in every scene? Its not just eye candy, it's a real performance with depth. Ford matches her beat for beat in his own, and made his breakthrough by creating a performance with a ton of subtext and pain.
But goddamn does Hayworth make an all time masterpiece of a dame here, with an intense, mostly hot but almost nasty connection. Gilda also has the added benefit of getting more twisted and (for its time) sordid in the melodrama as it goes on, and Macready as the cold-blooded husband. All three work so well together, and this coupled with the whole sensual/dangerous mood to it all, how it is photographed by the great Rudolph Mate, and those songs that are fun cinematic set pieces first, like any good dance number, and iconic for their sexy allure second (the acoustic Blame on Mame is sweet too), and you got a minor classic.
Shame the end tops Woman in the Window for 'whaaaa?'ness
I, Tonya (2017)
or as the judges would say: 5.6(?)
I, Tonya is that frustrating good movie that should or could be better. Not much of any fault can be found on the actors, and while they're all quite good it's Robie and Janney's movie (sometimes Stan's too as he effectively shows he can do more outside of Bucky). And the direction is absolutely acceptable as far as how Craig Gillespie moves the camera and knows how to hold on a shot when he must - certainly at an absolutely crucial moment, without music and only Robie's face as she goes back and forth from tears to smiles in a mirror, is that moment - and getting this work with the actors had to take some deep work. No, everything problematic is the script and the music, and it's not so much what is there as what isn't and/or what could have been.
I didnt know much at all about the Harding/Kerrigan story outside of the general basics of the "Incident" as all of the characters in I, Tonya call it, but as much as I might get out of the repeated abuse that Tonya received as a daughter and a spouse may make her more sympathetic (the connection of her physical, as well as mental, abuse to that she received from the media in 94), but I wondered if they could have shown other things to make the story more complicated. Of course there's the bungled crime plot part of it - maybe this screenwriter is a big Coen fan along with Scorsese, and make no mistake this is down-the-line Diet Scorsese, which ill expound on in a moment - and yet Tonya had, from what the movie tells us, a connection *to Nancy Kerrigan as a friend.*
As the audience, what do we get to see with that? Tonya saying it one line and then we see them giggling on a bed. That's it. What is that bond that happened there? Why was Tonya friends with someone who was much more beloved and maybe/maybe not had the hard existence that Tonya had it? I have to think Robie when presented with the script likely responded to the potential in getting deeper into what is underneath when Tonya talks to us (4th wall is broken not only by fake documentary style but by characters doing it mid scene) and is beaten up and fights back and then accepts whats happened and then in reverse the joy of being on the ice. Did she actually respond to the plot mechanics? Because those... I dunno.
None of it is actively bad exactly. If you are looking for straight entertainment that goes for an invigorating "we're fuck ups but we're human beings look beyond the media depictions" take, that is there. But Gillespie or the producers or whomever missed out on what could have been more... *showing* us Harding's existence instead of flat *telling* us. That is where they try for Scorsese first, as far as showing us a group of unlike able but honestly depicted characters (and among them Tonya is by FAR the easiest to understand, everyone else is a pathetic creeper or abuser or, well, okay Janney is outstanding as always and I will take her total conviction over exact depth), but it falls flat because the narration isn't necessary for that purpose, it's not original enough to stand out. It is just... There. The second part is the music.
Just... Please, music supervisors, and I shall assume this had the same hack as Suicide Squad (the Robie connection coincidental. Maybe), listen to some of the deeper cuts on a CD or your iTunes, it is certainly possible to get something else than the same dozen 70s and 80s classic rock tracks to show us "yes, hard rocking 70s times!" A shame since I like most of the songs in and of themselves, and could see some value in a couple of them (the ZZ Top track which may/may not have been there when Tonya was skating early on is a good example and a deeper track that fits the scene). But like the script the songs spell things out to nearly comic degrees; Janney's mother has 4 year old Tonya on the ice, how about "Devil Woman"? Theres another drive away "for good" from a mega blowout fight between Robie and Stan? How about "Goodbye Stranger" by Supertramp? It eventually is overkill too, but the bigger problem is that it accents the scenes and doesnt do scenes dramatic service. It tells us how to feel before we can get a handle or trust what's already there.
I know this sounds like a dumping on on all of I, Tonya, but that may be in part an expectations thing. I thought if it was going to Goodfellas or maybe Wolf of Wall st lengths it might take a satirical view on this uncanny sports saga - the trailer leads one on that direction too, a great trailer I should add - but it is more like an inverted Raging Bull. What if we got the woman's take on being in seemingly endless cycles of abuse, and you cant take what happens off the ice on it either (except maybe to uh prove the abusers wrong?) and yet it is .... not that kind of story either because we do get a lot more of an indication of where the abuse comes from. It's an experience where I absolutely adore everything the actors are doing, I could go on and on about how much Robie owns even (especially even) the smaller scenes that need to be quieter like with Julianne Nicholson (unrecognizable as always), and at the same time they had richer material and a less hackneyed attitude to certain parts of the style.
Oh, and last thing that may be a nitpick, but... It is really distracting at times how obvious it isn't Robie's face on the body during some of the skating moves. Just get a good double people! Dont make me get the club on you VFX slackers!
The Shape of Water (2017)
"Life is made of the shipwreck of your plans."
In brief, with Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, it's like how you might see a hacky critic say it: I laughed, I cried, I watched the other (first) awesome Doug Jones, and witnessed one of the most gorgeous and moving films of my lifetime. Maybe one of those isn't the usual thing, but you get what I mean.
Longer: Del Toro is a filmmaker so engaged with how people make choices in stories and how the world around them and what is inside them is sometimes at odds and other times really not so, and how that steers a story in a particular direction. Fantasy is often his vehicle and it's to the point where he is so engaged with it that he deals with it directly as reality, or at least he gives it that texture; this is a film where reality and fantasy coalesce into something that is so tactile, pure, wondrous and it's unlike something you've seen before while being reminiscent of many things you've seen before. Pan's Labyrinth was one such way of going about that, and The Shape of Water belongs into that pantheon of a master working with a sharp focus on what he wants and having the cast and craftsmen to pull off his vision.
The movie may belong to a lot of actors actually - Michael Shannon's sympathetic and yet hateful "big bad wolf" in this aquatic 60's cold-war spy-tinged fairy tale; Michael Stuhlbarg's Russian agent who actually has a lot of concern for science and what this creature could mean past its "icky" insides; Octavia Spencer as someone who on the surface appears to be the chatty best friend type (not unlike in a movie that might have come out in the 50's and 60's, whether she would have been played by a black actress I don't know, possibly not), and has to endure the same kind of racism mixed with sexism as nearly all women then; Richard Jenkins, getting many award nominations and deserves them all, as a closeted artist who is not defined by his sexuality (his hair is as much of importance as who he finds attractive, or his cats) - but, with all those noted, it's the Sally Hawkins show. She commands this with a face that is warm and inviting and a little quirky (maybe like a more tolerable Amelie, I'm sure silent comedians or Giuleta Massina from Fellini's films works in there too), and when she listens to people not like her or the typical-to-1962 worldview she's curious and definitely not dismissive. Oh, and she pleasures herself too, so the sexual active part is not submerged, so to speak.
So when this Amphibian Man character, the most creative homage to Creature from the Black Lagoon since that film came out, is engaged by her, it's not like some kind of thing that's too overly quirky or about their differences (so, as good as this movie was, it's not Starman for example). It's about two outsider souls coming together, physically and emotionally (but, at times, certainly physically, though the most, uh, tasteful depiction one might care to see), and how the world around them is... well, it's a fish-man, kill it with fire! Actually, that's how it would have been in the previous generation, and Del Toro knows this. Moreover, he connects that to the political temperature of the period, which is, frankly, a mood that is not unlike at all what we have now. It's a distinctly American story too, and coming from a Mexican filmmaker that's not to be underestimated.
But what makes The Shape of Water so remarkable, among the towering pieces of cinema this decade, is how seemingly effortlessly the emotion runs through this thing, and how Del Toro and his cinematographer and production designer and composer Alexandre Desplat and Doug Jones and so on, manifests that in total cinematic terms. He brings us through every step like a storyteller should to get us to empathize with most of these characters and even, dare I say, understand and see Shannon's guy as a tragic figure, the "All-American" who's been force-fed a lot of garbage and not only accepts it but wants to live up to it (a scene where his boss explains what decency means to him is the most 2017 scene that will ever be, but extends past that).
This is a world that is not all wholly original and doesn't pretend to be - Hawkins and Jenkins live above a movie theater for (Fish-Man) God's sake - but it's sincere in a way that other filmmakers might have found cheaper, or even to the point of not trusting (or simply seeing at all) an actress like Hawkins can be this person. This is beautiful work on all the levels a piece of cinema should be, alive and provocative politically, romantically, in gender, in just how to LIVE in this world with one another. And, maybe, how to look at how we view ourselves in relation to God, or Gods or whatever.
"I think we might be in a prophecy." "...Look at my face. This is not a prophecy. This is a bad night face."
The two lines in the above summary happen within one minute of movie. And this is one minute of this.
Bright is... Bad. It's obnoxiously bad, boringly bad, and the kind of ugh-palette covering it all that even what decent cinematography it might have has the coating of a layer of gas-soaked urine. This is among the worst things Joel Edgerton or Will Smith have put their names on and it makes me question what I saw as anything entertaining in Landis's scripts for Chronicle and American Ultra (or Ayer's script for... Uh, Training Day I guess). Even if it's true Ayer changed much of Landis' original work - and he's apparently gone as far as to disassociate/dis-own the final product - the central idea needed to be fleshed out MUCH more than what we get here. This entire fantasy-cum-LAPD saga leaves one with so many unanswered questions just about the world these characters reside in (i.e. if everything has been honky-dory aside from the "racism" against Orcs, what happened during slavery for example if everything was the same, or was it?) nevermind the plot. Oh the plot, don't get me started.
Bright's title is surely not without a sense of grave, un-winking irony: from nearly the start (from it's "Fairy Lives Matter!" line practically, and by the way we never see any fairies again so that was useless) is a putrid, grimy, exposition led zeppelin of a horror-thriller-action-fantasy boondoggle. This is the kind of D.O.A. stuff where two-thirds of the way in they even manage to use the wand MacGuffin to screw up having any actual stakes as far as life and death go, and this is still with more to do with Noomi Rapace (who I feel bad for the most, sort of, she still signed on).
But more than anything Bright is thoroughly unpleasant and is joyless and bloodless despite and because its efforts to be "cool" and "tough" and the typical strutting male horse manure action sludge that David Ayer just does because he can. Ayer's own Suicide Squad is 89 Batman in comparison.
surprisingly entertaining thanks to a director who cares and cast ready to work
Heres one you can chalk up to low expectations, but a movie with the unfortunate title of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (and look I get it, people still remember the song and it plays with a trailer, but it doesn't play as far as anything remotely clever) is an enjoyable experience. This all comes down to who is involved and, for the most part, how the director uses his cast and resources.
Jake Kasdan is not especially known for big Hollywood spectacle on a 100 mil budget (whatever it is if it has Dwayne Johnson and it's *under* 100 mil that's an achievement), but he is known for, to varying degrees of success, his work in comedies like Orange County and the underrated Walk Hard. Kasdan isnt a Joe Johnston, who directed the first moderately successful/hey-its-not-some-nostalgic-classic-its-alright original, so he only has a competent sense of action and effects (theyre not *bad* theyre just competent and adequate and thats fine). What he does have in spades is the ability to get good work out of actors ready to stretch themselves just a little, and thats what you get here with an additional treat: video game meta(ish)ness.
In other words, if you pay attention to movies currently and have seen what The Rock and Kevin Hart and (to a smaller extent) Jack Black have done in movies, this subverts that since the concept opens it up; the pitch is almost like, I dunno, Breakfast Club meets Tron but, of course, in a jungle, as four teens (dorks, jock, popular girl, et al) get stuck in a video game during detention and take on avatars of Johnson, Hart, the lovely Karen Gillan and Black and have to take on a mission all aren't quite ready for. Though this does leave us with seeing arcs play out with the original teen actors bookending the movie, they're solid arcs for what is at heart a kids comedy, and it's a comedy that banks on us knowing at least some (if not a lot more) of how we see these actors, for the most part, and what happens when Johnson has to play afraid of everything and Hart is a football star who has his stated video game character "weakness" as "Speed". Woops.
Thats the other thing, on the whole, this movie understands video games likely more than 99% of other video game movies (if one wants to count Scott Pilgrim vs the World as one, and I would up to a point, thats the only one that really digs deep into understanding and satitirizing video games, at least until Ready Player One comes out, that I can think of). When we get a flashback, for example, of Bobby Cannavale's sneering weird-iris-eyed villain's origin a character explains to another that this is what's called a "cut scene." There are also life bars on the characters' arms and the uncertainty about what will happen if all the bars are gone and if that means actual death, not just dead-and-come-back, is not a plot hole so much as it works as genuine ambiguity for what these people are in to and for us. And, again, every major actor here is up to so the double work of playing these teen types and what their video game avatars are supposed to do (ie Black's Bethany is a cartographer, to which she states at one point shes a map "doctor", so to speak I guess).
This is a genuinely clever, funny script that shows Kasdan's skill at mining for comedy based on everything the premise can give him. And it provides a lot for everyone in the cast (save maybe Cannave, who is better than this but whatever he's screen presency) to dig in to, and the arcs for them while a bit obvious are worthwhile and the message of looking past the types into what makes you stronger or more confident or just not, well, a dick to people or others (ie Bethanys self-centeredness or Fridge's stand-offish 'i dont need to study' aspect), works.
This doesnt mean everything is as funny as it should be, which is why I said "for the most part" before; Jack Black is given one note to play as "ugh"-y teen narcissist and it gets a bit tiring when there isn't something completely genius for him to say (which is often). It's to the point where, and I never thought I'd say this, Hart gets more or just stronger comedic material than Black does, or knows how to use how we see him to an advantage or whathaveyou. There's also a fifth character midway through that provides some story intrigue and more stakes (it also is a good move via set up and pay off from the opening of the film which may/may not be following up off the original, dont know doesnt matter) and he is serviceable as an actor but doesn't stand out like everyone elae does.
This might just be grading on a curve since its far from anything great and isn't without some logical jumps to make - yes, I say this, for a Jumanj maybe standalone rebooquel - such as a thing that happens with a life exchange that just happens and is never properly explained (I'm not sure without spoiling it I can recall seeing a multi-player game where that was a thing, though I must admit I haven't been avid as a gamer in a while), and again the action and actual spectacle is only impressive inasmuch as what's there as Kasdan as competence but not an original or striking vision (perhaps the one perk to Johnston over the next gen director, albeit time and money have changed the quality of effects). But if you are curious in the slightest and the trailer didn't turn you off and like Johnson and Gillan and most of the folks involved in making this, you may be surprised to see people who give a damn about what they're doing and the lines they say and how their characters develop within the limitations of a children's fantasy adventure. It's the B side once you're done this season with Star Wars's A-side record.
Don't look to the horizon, look at the piece of massive, character-driven entertainment (and some pathos) here
Ive seen Last Jedi twice now and the second time went with my older brother (who is old enough to have owned original Return of the Jedi toys). He remarked (and I took for granted) John Williams's score once again being a highlight, and starting off on that point reminds me why Star Wars still has the adventure/operatic impact it does. The Last Jedi is full of sweeping action and tragedy and loss and hope, and Williams reflects that and heightens it, elevates it, into more than it was. We just always think, well, this is Johnny, but his achievement here is no less than any of his other compositions. For all of the attention to the psychology of the characters (as much as can happen in Star Wars, which is a fast-moving adventure serial), without Williams's themes it doesnt grab the punch. One day he will go into the great dissolve in the sky.
I'm struck even more this time by how there are many, many character dynamics in this 150 minutes - even Benicio Del Toro's stuttering thief, who has the kind of grime and sleaze but charisma this needs, some originality here and there - and Johnson as a writer is able to juggle so many. I should have more or a gripe with his Poe only kinda sorta grows by the end (for all of his cocksureness, he knows well enough to leave a giant death-star-tech cannon alone at a certain point), but it's offset by how we get to see Isaac actually inhabit this guy (unlike last film when he was away most of the time).
Every connection that should matter, from Luke to Rey to Rey and Kylo (a curious linkage by the way that makes me wonder about whether Snoke was saying truth or not when he commented on being the architect of their bond... A very small moment near the very end tells me he wasn't or at least not fully), Finn and Rose, Poe and Holdo (is she coming back in the next one? I have no clue, but her exit is easily the most breathtaking moment in this film and most of the Star Wars movies), and even Kylo and "Admiral Hugs." It might be a lot of skipping between the timelines, but the tension isn't lost from thread to thread.
If anything seeing it again I admired more the tapping between tones, from the wide-eyed goofy (mixed with a tinge of melancholy for the exploited underclass) in the Casino city to the uneasy and veering on psychedelic bits on the island. Oh, and as a director Johnson gets the most bang for his buck as far as capturing indelible images and even visual poetry (and I dont mean how Lucas once tried to say it once upon a time). Only flaw: he could have even more if he slowed down for a beat or two (my one minor gripe pace wise, it's breathless in the storytelling often in this long but not overlong sit).
This is wonderful work, funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking, and while with no twists that will especially change the fabric of pop culture, there are a couple that make enough of an impact to get a packed theater into excitement (but then again perhaps Johnson knows ironically people might go in *expecting* to get one of those bone-shattering/solar-plexus-damaging twists like in 'Empire'). And it has a strong take on what is wrong and right at the same time about legacy. You can't stick to everything in books that are older than dirt, but the impetus for keeping a balance in the force is a good one and may inspire those who are told from birth they should have none. This goes for Luke but it also goes for Kylo Ren, and his turn towards the dark side in this story is more subtle in some waye than that of his grandfather - what do you take with you and for all of the talk of God powers (and demonstrations, like the kick-you-in-the-ass climax), it's always down to choice in a given circumsrance, pure and simple.
Thats a powerful message, especially for children, and if one takes it a political step further there are far greater parallels that can be drawn, but that would take a longer review to get into (suffice it to say if you can't make paralells between the Resistance and the First Order to what's going on in America and the UK and other points worldwide now, you're not paying enough attention). In other words as basic entertainment it's a blast that has steady direction, and as something political (as all art, or good art, should be), it kicks ass too.
One question as I still am in awe of what Johnson was able to do as far as making a spectacular blockbuster film...
Why didn't Laura Dern just take Oscar Isaac aside and tell him the plan to ger into the cloaked ships? He wouldve saved a lot of trouble, though ultimately the trip to the Casino planet for Finn and Rose *is* much more important than even I first thought. It really is key to setting up a lot of what's to come in movies beyond this which was clever given how it seemed like a silly diversion (was that Justin Theroux as the expert gambler? Looked like him). But anyway, just a minor gripe.
Satan Met a Lady (1936)
A great performance in a mediocre adaptation
The issue with this second adaptation of The Maltese Falcon is that Warner brothers wanted to not really adapt the book; they had adapted it years before, but that was in a pre-code, early-sound era studio that was trying things out. In 1934 Hammett's The Thin Man became a big hit and clearly they saw the author name and thought they could lock in to another winning turn by, in so many words, thin-manning the Maltese Falcon.
But these are two very different modes of the author - the Thin Man is a light comedy that has some serious undertones and is commanded by Powell and Loy, and the Maltese Falcon was a hard-boiled detective story where Sam Spade has to avenge his partners murder and becomes embroiled with a host of characters - and director William Dieterle thought he could have it both ways. Certainly Warren William tried to channel Powell a lot here, and he might be good in other movies (I don't recognize him), but he's really a discount William Powell, a guy trying really hard to have that charming, sarcastic patter with everyone. The script doesn't really give the audience a break from his attitude so that when he has to play serious it doesn't stick so much.
It may be unfair at first thought to try to compare this to the Huston film since, if for no other reason, this was a world that didn't exist. The one thing that this film can possibly compare favorably is Bette Davis. It's an understatement to say she stole the show; she is having so much fun in this part and at the same time doing her darndest to uplift everyone around her. She is beaming and on fire and alive in every moment on screen and there are a few seconds where it seems like she might, might, get a spark of a connection with William. And she's in about 20 minutes of the 74 minute run time.
I think this can be judged on its own terms, and on its own it just compelling past being a typical B movie comedy-cum-thriller. All of the supporting players are trying. Sort of. But a couple of actors, like Marie Wilson as (not) Spade's secretary, are given one character trait and it is grating. The tone is all just off and it is trying to be too light when it needs some darkness or at least some commitment to the dramatics of the story. I will give one little extra point to the end of the film and again how Davis is giving an A+ barn burning performance in the middle of a C-grade production.
Near classic Pixar with terrific music and a deep and moving message on memory
Coco is a very, very good movie that earns its heart about two-thirds of the way in - a little later than one may be used to given this is the director of Up - and has imagination pouring in every little mark of animation and detail. It's also the rare movie by this studio to be an animated musical, of a sort, and it is ingrained in the DNA of the thing- I thought it would be about something as simple (and still important) as music. That would have been enough. I got more than that, chiefly an inquiry through drama about what memory means in existential terms. Yeah, I didn't expect that quite either, but then again it IS the land of the dead we're dealing with here.
It is one thing to think deeply about what a life means and the death that everyone faces. The real terror is not having anything beyond this plane of existence; this world of the undead skeletons snd spirit animals is comforting ultimately since, naturally, there is a place after we die that we can reunite with others and be merry and so on. But what if you are gone and... That is it? Mexican culture (and this goes for other cultures too) has another idea about the afterlife, hence the Day of the Dead (Dios lis muertos), than we typically think of. But functionally it is this version of heaven that is a bit, uh, funkier, cooler, more colorful, less uh... White.
The main conflict is deceptive here. I think what keeps it from full greatness for me is that Miguel is a bit too typical of one of these animated characters, or just in any of these "I wanna do this with my life" "No you can't! Family!" "Bah! No!" Etc stories. Just this past summer the underrated Patti Cakes had that basic premise in gritty rap. This also has to include, as these stories do, the old "dont meet your heroes" maxim, in this case with Ernesto De La Cruz, the Mexican equivalent of an Elvis. So while one might think this is where the movie will be going, what throws the plot an excellent monkey wrench is Hector, a gangly undead guy who comes on like he'll be another in a long line of helpful but, again, conventional comedic side kicks (this world's Genie).
The power of Coco, past its inspired look and immersive world and its solid aims at humor (ie the wonderful surrealistic scene where the female assistant to De La Cruz makes her Dali-style sets), is that Hector, not Miguel, is the heart of the movie. It should be too jammed full of revelations by the end of the second act (and like other Pixae, this *is* very 3-act structure, and thats fine, they know how to do it well), maybe taking its cues slightly from Telenovelas for dramatic emphasis. But without revealing too much, as you should go in knowing little story reveal wise as pissible, Hector emphasizes the main song of the movie, "Remember Me," and it makes a profound point. Memory is for the living after all - why have a cemetery at all or a memorial like done every Day of the Dead otherwise - and it's another one of those times like Inside Out where a characters existence carries total, paramount importance.
Oh, and if you don't cry (as my wife did), you'll smile, genuinely, from the commitment to its emotional outreach. Coco isn't in my top grouping of Pixar films but it's only due to a minor feeling of familiarity. Its strengths are no less though than classic Pixar: amazing and deeply- drawn characters, unforgettable designs, and that is about something at a time when a lot of animation storytellers think having characters dance and tart is enough. This wants you to laugh and cry and sometimes be genuinely surprised, and if you buy the soundtrack that's icing on the cake.
Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017)
A forced 4 hour tour of your own Christmas room
This rating and this review cant be helped due to the context of where I saw this - or I should say nearly forced to watch it. This is a 21 minute animated Christmas special that, according to the helpful IMDb trivia was decided to take off the slate of being an actual TV special because it was "too cinematic" (cough total BS cough) not to put into theaters and that it matched up to the themes of Coco (it does not).
It seems truly bizarre why Disney execs would do this aside from their pure hubris - and, well, they're Disney and I know they will one day own all pop culture and so on blah blah squiggly flabbedy doo - since one would think this would get seen by more people on TV; for example I have responsible friends who have very young children, so young they aren't ready yet to go to a movie theater, but they can watch it on TV, and as huge Frozen was in theaters it hit even more of its sweet cultural omnipresence (like the Lion King before) on home video. I think the deeper issue is that the whole thing is not good, and indeed it is quite poor in its songs (I don't even ask for a Let it Go or Do you Want to Build a Snowman, but... You could have f**king tried) in its overlong plot and even its jokes. Even among holiday specials its over-packed with the simple message of: hey, Christmas, go get THINGS THINGS AND MORE THINGS ... but hey, Christmas is about, uh. Family. Now go to the rest of the mall and buy all your Christmas and holiday time things!
The other issue aside from a pushing of a lacking-in-quality product on audiences who aren't prepared for the possibility that they need to duck out of a theater for *20 minutes* after already sitting in 20 minutes of trailers before the new Pixar is the precedent this breaks. One of my joys in seeing new Pixar features, and other Disney animated films for the most part, is that it gives an opportunity for some hungry, imaginative filmmaker (I often picture someone young, usually taken from the ranks of staff at Pixar and Disney) who has an idea for a 6-8 minute short film where you have to get it and get out with a concept and yet there's always the opportunity for a risk to be taken. Lava, Paperman, even the chess short that was the first time this was done 19 years ago before Bugs Life, its always been a typical-length animated short subject, and some are better than others, but it gets one in the mood for the feature.
Olaf's Frozen Adventure doesn't get me in the mood for anything except second guessing what I saw in the Frozen feature in the first place. This is so misguided it's only a wonder it didn't play before The Book of Henry instead.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Moving in stereo over a year
I watched little bits of this before, because it's impossible to be aware of pop culture and not see some of it (ie I Love the 80s on VH1 years back couldn't help but show scenes from this, or just flipping channels on cable), but never from start to finish. Thats over tonight. And damn if this doesn't have enough charm to charge up a mall during a holiday season.
The entire cast is game and having a great time, and Heckerling is able to tap into that in such a way that shows how sleazy other teen comedies of the period were; it follows the Truffaut maxim of only wanting to see the joy or pain in making a film in the former sense. But I also think Ray Walston doesn't get quite enough credit here. Of course he's the old man in the cast, literally, since the bulk of them are "kids" relatively. As I watch Walston though, he finds the perfectly droll, bemused attitude to take when up against the students ("What are you people? On DOPE?") and with Spicoli, who was the totally-method Sean Penn. I'm not sure if I saw the movie when I was much younger if he would be be as appealing; now in my 30s, I found him to be one of the funniest things in the whole thing.
Jennifer Jason Leigh looks... So young. Which makes how her story turn out so wildly interesting and I love love LOVE how (spoiler) she deals with abortion as just another plot point. I cant think of other teen movies that would do that today, not to mention from a gaze that if it isn't identifiable female then it's certainly not male (take the scene where JJL loses loses her virginity and keeps looking at the scenery, is "Surf Nazis"). It's a remarkable performance among remarkable and alive performances, all tapping in to the mood of the thing: high school is lame, but this guy or chick is cool!
This really is one of the most influential movies of the past 40 years isn't it? Not necessarily *best*, but its commitment to anthropology - yes, anthropology - for the world of high school at this time is spellbinding. At the leasts its value is inestimable for giving us Freaks and Geeks.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)
Another edgy, noir(ish) trip in LA with a glorious oddball
Gilroy scores big with Denzel. It's one of his MAJOR works of the 21st century and it makes me so pleased to see a guy in his 60s who could/should be resting on his laurels with a challenging human being to nail. He does a metric-ton of work to create a completely distinctive introvert/savant person we have never seen him do before and it shows. But Gilroy needed to work more on the script; events move along far too quickly given how much does happen to/by/from Israel, and I feel mixed not so much on the very end but on the climax (spoiler: it confirms a trope raised many times on the "Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time" podcast). So it is good, at times very good. But it's a teeny slump after the knockout of Nightcrawler, which this feels like a cousin to. I wonder now if Gilroy will create his own 'LA Mental Case' cinematic universe (one can also tell that these are very much stories of the American dream and how the system work; the TV network and Farrell's legal office are by the books and full of "normal" people, and who wants that?)
Do the Right Thing in Ebbing, Missouri
It takes not only a considerable amount of skill to match deep-dark- heartbreaking dramatic storytelling and characters with a pitch😨black comic edge; to go the extra mile one should hopefully have a voice. Martin McDonaugh may be mistaken too quickly as having made a Coen brothers film - Frances McDormand being there doesn't help assuage that argument - yet through In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths he's shown his acidic, no bullish*t, I see clichés for what they are and raise you a subversion original voice in writing and an assured hand in direction. He also casts his movies like nobody's business and from McDormand down to Sam Rockwell and Sam Rockwell's mom to the actress as Angela Hayes having one scene, he has everyone with fresh, Thanksgiving-buffet-plate meat to chew on.
While it's one of the best films of the year, I'm sure if I try, more or less, I can find some nitpick or even flaws - the daughter Hayes scene could be one simply for the final two lines mother and daughter have, I understand the point but it's too far on the nose, especially for this artist; another could be how quickly "f***head" Rockwell comes around to a kind-of-sort-of-maybe redemption in the third act - but all of this is overshadowed by the giant moral and social-political-emotional scope of everything else. Mildred Hayes is one of those movie characters that, male or female (but especially make), stays with you for not so much how balls they are but how marvelled they are by their own ballsiness.
McDormand has such a command of the character in the big moments - those trailer bits that, if ones been going to the movies this year, has been overplayed (though luckily practically all of the major story points aren't revealed) - one may miss a moment like when Mildred realizes a character did something horrible that she punished someone else for, or how she looks after a tough a-hole comes into her shop coming face to face with a threatening countenance. She's played so many people who carry an ocean of complexity but whats appealing is how she carries a lot of it without needing to show much. Hell, one beat where she has her two animal slippers on their feet talk in bold violent terms is among the great acting moments of the year.
So how relevant is it to now? I mention Do the Right Thing because not so much it having the same dramatic build up so much as it has a similar anger - no sorry not true, boiling, scornful rage - at how segments of our country have been, are and may always be (the mother of Rockwell is one such character who inspires such rage at least for me, and she is just your average white-bread matriarch. Also like Lee's film it shows a community who are inextricably linked, and at times the stark racism is almost like a bad joke (Rockwell's cop being a torturer of black inmates, if not more than one, is almost a goof; he's akin to the John Tururro type in DtRT, a man who just is what he is and it's too late to change now, so everyone looks at Mildred in this story and her whole billboards "thing" closer to something like a basic acting-out in grief than a howl for justice. And then when it comes time for a new man to come in to the town's police force, and I won't say how or why, and id rather you just see it than me put in the spoiler marker, it is like a cold bath of irony: the genuinely tough, decent, on top of it older black man.
This is as towering a script as we may get in American cinema this year, and if it has imperfections it shouldn't matter much. The central idea here is such: if you don't bring a light on stark injustice, people wont do much if nothing else because it's not on their mind or (frankly) in their own interests. Willoughby says at one point the billboards are a "chess move." What is the "king" to take then? The ending of the film may seem to leave things too open-ended for some, and I get that. To me, the end is that there's never an ending when it comes to looking at rape (which is assault) and other violence (which is more directly assault) there is no clear ending. You can kill yourself, sure, but that doesn't solve much for those who have to live in total pain. I love this!
Last Flag Flying (2017)
Go see this movie. We don't get American dramas like this too much anymore.
Last Flag Flying, from its title to the author of the book to the three central characters to the entire milieu and even down to specific places (from Virginia to New Hampshire, and mostly by train), cant help but be compared and measured up to The Last Detail, Hal Ashby and Robert Towne's towering work of early 70s/Vietnam era tragic-comedy about two Navy officers taking a man to the brig for a petty offense. I'm sure Linklater as a filmmaker knows this all too well, so for him the challenge was to make it appealing to those people (like me) who have seen TLD about a dozen times and at the same time to those who have no idea what that is. It's a rarity in an American cinema that is defined today largely by franchise potential and nostalgic-fetishism for things of $ value to have a *spiritual sequel* at all, let alone one that works. Luckily for us, Linklater hits his dramatic goldmine here with an easy and effort that seems minimal. Which, of course, makes it all the more of an astonishing feat.
But here's the thing: Last Detail *is* different from this film in a key aspect- Marines. There was a line from "Badads" Buddusky in that (Nicholson, who this time is Cranston, more or less, maybe less prone to full-blown outbursts though anger is there) where he said in a moment of vocalizing his sympathy for Meadows, the poor sod off to the Brig: "Marines are assholes, you know that? It takes a sadistic temperament to be a Marine." I don't know if that was in Ponicsans original Last Detail book, but I have to wonder if that was on the mind of Linklater when he changed up the characters (I believe the book is a direct followup to the original characters, and for a time Nicholson and Freeman were sought to reprise and fill those LD roles respectively) - what happens when we see these 'sadistic' beings as older men, weathered over time after decades of Vietnam having kicked their asses? Larry is the first name of Carrells character, also an ex-brig man, though why he was put away is left carefully ambiguous, and yet he is so soft spoken... Most likely because at any moment one suspects he might just burst into tears as, in this story, he is a recent widower and even more recent father to a slain Marine from Iraq 2003.
So once again its a "road movie" as Cranston's Sal and Fishburne's Muller (close enough to Mule) are sought by Larry to help him with the funeral arrangements, chiefly to bring the body to New Hampshire. This is not, of course, by the wish of the Marines who want the guy buried in Arlington; how much the lieutenant or captain or whomever impresses this upon Larry is striking and could seem overbearing, but that's the point - this is as much about the system these men have equally embraced and have discovered is a massive hunk of s**t, so to spiel, when it comes to really reckoning with human beings. And along the way there's a train ride where characters grow closer and joke around (its genuinely funny behavior too, which is so welcoming because it's both disarming and helps to diffuse problematic tension with a younger marine who was Larry Jr's best friend in Iraq), and another stop off in New York where the trio miss the train and spend a night just soaking in the city. Where Last Detail may have shown our intrepid (notantibutclose) heroes going to a party to get high and hit on girls, or get drunk or go to a whorehouse, now with a reverend in their midst (Fishburne by the way has the finest material, dramatically, comedically, everything, in so long I cant even remember) they get these magical things called cell phones, at Sal's distinct insistence, and a stop at a diner.
All of this could be too much shoved in our faces like "eh eh, remember that, remember this," but it doesn't work that way. This is a director so confident in his material and his actors that the pace is perfect; it reflects this time that has to balance how Larry is still in a vulnerable place (also the marine friend too who knows some things that lead to an awkward admission in front of the captain character), but trying to be among human beings who can genuinely comfort him and make him laugh and also reckon with their own past ghosts. These are people who exist in their own story, and the shades to the previous Ponicsan adaptation are like icing on a sweet drama cake.
All the cast is excellent here, but aside from Cranston, who one expects will be stellar (and is, makes it seem so effortless too when of course this takes as much character work as Heisenberg did), Carrell quietly walks away with this. He doesn't say much but that's they key: he's never not listening, even when he is a little lost in grief, and he is easily the starkest difference from what Quaid did in TLD. This is someone who has nothing left but tries and actually succeeds in carrying himself with dignity (or as much as possible). Yet he can be forceful, like he is with the marines when he first sees his son and then finds out what happens to him. Its a masters class in director and actor clicking in a way that is so quiet you almost don't notice it, and that's the key - by the end, a typical letter-discovery reading scene feels so earned.
This is deeply felt, haunted, but not without a sense of humor. It's what I want out of movies