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The Square (2017)
More on the "human condition" from director Ruben Östlund
"The Square" (2017 release from Sweden; 142 min.) brings the story of Christian, the chief curator of a Swedish museum. As the movie opens, he is interviewed by Anna, an American journalist. Afterwards, as he is walking outside, a woman runs up to him screaming "help me! He's going to kill me". Christian and another bystander are bale to fend off the apparent enraged boyfriend. After the tumult, Christian realizes his wallet and mobile were stolen, but with the help of a staff member, he can track down the cell phone's location. Meanwhile the museum is starting an ambitious new project called The Square, a 12x12 ft. square meant to be a "sanctuary of trust and care". The museum staff is thinking of ways to publicize the new project. At this point we're 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest film from writer-director Ruben Östlund, whose previous film, the outstanding "Force Majeure", was a major surprise in 2014 in the best possible way. Here the director again examines the human condition and how people react to situations they did not expect. In that sense, "The Square" is entirely in line with "Force Majeure", although it is also clear that for "The Square" the ambitions were put on steroids. One of the beauties of the film is that Östlund lets entire scenes play out without feeling the need to change camera angles or other editing tricks. Love it, love it, love it. Beware, there definitely are a number of scenes that may make you feel uncomfortable (as I'm sure the director intended to make you feel), but overall I felt bedazzled by it all. Danish actor Claes Bang (who keeps reminding me of Pierce Brosnan) plays the role of Christian with fervor, but in my book Terry Holland (playing the actor as the chimp, in the pivotal scene of the movie) steals the show. That scene alone is worth seeing the movie. Mustn't say more.
"The Square" premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival and promptly won the Palm d'Or, the festival's top price. It finally opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati this weekend, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at was attended OK but not great (looked to be about 10-15 people in total), which is unfortunate. Maybe strong word-of-mouth will help improve attendance. If you are interested in the "human condition", or loved "Force Majeure", you are in for a treat. I encourage you to check out "The Square", be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Dizzying edits in the worst possible way ruin the movie
"Black Sabbath: The End of The End" (2017 release; running time: 105 min.) is a documentary that focuses on the band's very last show ever, in February of 2017 in their home town of Birmingham, England. I recently stumbled onto this on Showtime while I was channel surfing. At that time the movie was about 15 minutes in, and I didn't think I was going to watch the whole thing, but somehow I did. I hadn't listened to their music in, literally, decades, and hence I was surprised how many of the songs I actually recognized.
Couple of comments: the music is for sure top notch, and it is amazing to see the three original members, each of them approaching 70 years now, perform at this high level, in particular Tony Iommi (who just recovered from blood cancer in 2016) is impressive, to say the least. Sadly, the movie is pretty much ruined by the incessant "chopping" edits. There are songs where, literally, every second if not more frequently than that, we jump to a different angle. Just sickening, and it it weren't for the strength of the music, I would've never finished watching this. Another annoyance is that oftentimes when Iommi goes into a guitar solo, we cut away from the concert footage (but the songs is still heard in the background) and jump to interviews with the original 3 members. A final note as to this film's running time: it is listed in IMDb as being 124 min. but the version I saw on SHO is nowhere near that, and ran just 1 hr. 45 min.
While I understand that die-hard Sabbath fans are gung-ho about this documentary, to rate this as being a 10 star movie (as in: the BEST EVER, of all times) is just plain silly. The shortcomings of this film are plenty and jump out at you. A missed opportunity, sadly.
Everything or Nothing (2012)
Mildly interesting James Bond documentary
"Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007" (2012 release; 98 min.) is a documentary about the James Bond movie franchise (which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012). After a 'classic' Bond opening, we quickly delve into Ian Fleming's background, and in particular how deeply affected he was by WWII (in which he served) and later the Cold War. It eventually leads him to create the James Bond character, and the first Bond novel "Casino Royal", which some refers to as Fleming's "autobiography of a dream", ha! After this promising start to the documentary, we quickly evolve into the complicated relationship between Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.
Couple of comments: this documentary is directed by British film maker Steven Riley. Riley tries to walk a fine line between on the one hand all of the legal issues that have confronted the James Bond franchise over the years (and believe me, there are PLENTY), and giving an overview of how the Bond movies have evolved over the years. There are some tidbits here and there that I found interesting (such as: the budget for the first Bond Movie "Mr. NO" being $1 million--or about $8 million in today's dollars, can you imagine making a Bond movie for just $8 million?; and the interview with one-time Bond actor George Lazenby, on how he talked Broccoli and Saltzman into becoming the new Bond, only then to be kicked out of the Bond franchise after just one movie).
I recently stumbled on this while browsing the EPIX on Demand documentary section. When a 50th anniversary celebration movie like this one is put together, you can be assured that it stays on the lighter side when all is said and done, and that's fine. I'm sure one day someone (independent from the Bond film makers) will produce the definitive James Bond documentary.
DIsappointingly superficial look at LBJ (Don't call it a bio-pic)
"LBJ" (2016 release; 98 min.) is a movie about Lyndon B. Johnson. As the movie opens, we are in "Dallas, November 23, 1963" and after the initial scenes at the airport (where the crows adores the Kennedys and ignores the Johnsons), we then go back in time to 1959 when we see Bobby Kennedy asking LBJ whether he will run for president, and LBJ says no. The movie jumps back and forth between the events in Dallas and its immediate aftermath, and other episodes in the run up to 1963. Te to you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from veteran Rob Reiner (I guess he's still making movies, huh?). The 36th president of this country is a fascinating yet deeply complex person. Not that you would know it from this movie. This feels strictly by-the-numbers, and why the movie choose to focus on just the period of 1959 to late 1963 is anyone's guess. It all feels disappointingly superficial and light weight. Woody Harrelson tries to make the best of it, and the movie's failure is certainly not on him. The roles of JFK, Jackie Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy are horribly miscast. The production set is one of the better aspects of the movie, and it's clear that no expense was spared in that regard. "Mistakes will be made but inaction won't be among them", promises LBJ to the American people. Sadly "inaction" could well be the fatal flaw of this movie, which manages to breeze through the whole thing in just over an hour-and-a-half. Think about it: your topic is LBJ and you manage just over 90 min. of film...
"LBJ" premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, to decidedly mixed reactions. It's a wonder this got a theatrical release at all, even albeit over a year later. "LBJ" opened last weekend in a handful of theaters here in Cincinnati. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (about 15 people in a theater that probably hols 150 seats), most of them seniors I might add. I wish I could be more positive about "LBJ" but it feels like a big missed opportunity. I encourage you to check out "LBJ", be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusions.
"Night At the Museum" of a very different kind
"Wonderstruck" (2017 release; 116 min.) brings the story of two kids, Ben and Rose, set 50 years apart, in 1977 and 1927, respectively. As the movie opens, we are told it's "Gunflint, Minnesota, 1977", and we see Ben grieving for his mom, the own librarian who recently dies in a car crash. One evening while trying to make a phone call, Ben is struck by lightning and becomes deaf. In a parallel story, we are told it's "Hoboken, New Jersey, 1927" and get to know Rose, a deaf girl whose mother is a famous actress. Going back to Ben, in a flashback we see him interacting with his mom, who refuses to give him any clues as to the identity of his dad. At this point we are a good 10 min. into the movie. How are Ben and Rose connected? What will become of them? To tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from director Todd Haynes, whose previous film "Carol" was in my top 3 of the year. Here he brings Brian Selznick's best-selling novel to the big screen. I haven't read the book so I cannot comment how significantly the narrative differs from the book (if at all). The movie is remarkable on a number of levels: the 1927 scenes are in B&W and play out as a silent movie (more on that later). I am not spoiling anything when I mention that museums play a key role, if not character in this movie. One evening, Ben and his new friend Jamie are hiding in a secret room at the American Museum of Natural History, and you can't help but think back to "A Night at the Museum", only that this is one of a very different kind (and for much the better in my book). The Queens Museum also provides a vital platform. Julianna Moore is the only "big" name in the cast, and she doesn't even show up until 3/4 into the movie. Oakes Fegley, the boy playing Ben, carries the movies on his young shoulders, and quite capably at that. Last but certainly not least, there is a fabulous amount of music in the movie, primarily the original score (which runs quasi non-stop throughout the movie), courtesy of composer Carter Burwell. You can bet on it that I will seek this out.
"Wonderstruck" premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival to immediate critical acclaim, and I've been waiting to see this ever since. The movie finally opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (maybe 12-13 people in total). Regardless, if you are in the mood for "A Night At the Museum" of a very different kind, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
The Florida Project (2017)
One of the year's best movies, period
"The Florida Project" (2017 release; 115 min.) brings the story of 6 yr. old Moonee and her young mother Hallee (in her early 20s or so), living in a trashy motel and barely getting by financially. As the movie opens, Moonee and a couple of her friends, all on summer break, are mulling about the large motel complex "Magic Kingdom Inn", not far from the real Magic Kingdom. It's not long before the young kids case (minor) trouble, bringing out Bobby, the motel's manager. Meanwhile Hallee needs to come up with money to pay the weekly rent. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from up-and-coming director Sean Baker, who previously gave us the equally excellent "Tangerine" a couple of years ago. Here he takes a look at a neglected underbelly of American society: the barely scraping by folks who literally live week-to-week, or even day-to-day, to the (almost) complete ignorance of their young children, who in turn live their daily lives as any young children would, rich or poor. The movie is blessed with a thorough humanitarian touch from Baker. William Dafoe (as Bobby the manager) is the sole "big name" attached to this movie, and he is wonderful. But the true star of this movie is young Brooklynn Prince, who is nothing short of sensational. Bottom line: this movie brings a real slice of life as seldom seen. No, there aren't any "action scenes", but instead we get to know "real" characters, living their life as best as they can. Simply outstanding.
"The Florida Project" premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival to immediate critical acclaim. The movie finally opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati on not one, but two screens, a rarity. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at was not attended very well (about 10 people), I'm sorry to report. Regardless, I see a lot of movie, and this one is easily one of the very best I've seen this year, and I encourage you to check it out, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray and draw your own conclusion. "The Florida Project" is a WINNER.
3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets (2015)
Florida's "stand your ground" law examined in the "loud music" case
"3 1/2 Minutes Ten Bullets" (2015 release; 98 min.) is a documentary about the "loud music" incident at a Jacksonville gas station in 2012, where a middle-aged white guy ends up shooting at 4 male black teenagers in a car playing loud music, and killing one of them. Upon his arrest, he claims that he was "standing his ground", as defined under Florida law. But was he?
Couple of comments: this documentary tackles a super-interesting case from the legal perspective (disclaimer: I am a lawyer myself, although my practice is NOT in criminal law or doing court trials). The lawyer defending the shooter zeros in on it when he addresses the jury: "these are the elements of the Florida "stand your ground" law. You may or may not like that law, but that is irrelevant. Your duty is to apply the elements of that law." The amazing thing is that the jury does apply the law correctly in the end. What is not so amazing, and in fact is quite disappointing, is that this is not an "objective" documentary. It is pretty clear from the get-go where the documentary makers stand in their beliefs. This should've been a riveting documentary and while certain parts of it are (in particular the court scenes), it is not enough (for me, anyway).
I recently stumbled on this documentary while browsing the Documentary section of HBO On Demand. Glad I checked it out, even though as already mentioned, the documentary is not even-handed. But the legal case itself is worth checking out.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Off-center psychological family drama is not for everyone (and certainly not for anyone in a hurry)
"The Killing of a Sacred Deer" (2017 release; 119 min.) brings the story of Steven and his family. As the movie opens, with a gruesome open heart surgery scene, we get to know Steven, a heart surgeon, and his colleague, an anesthesiologist. Ne Steven meets up with Martin, a 16 yr. old boy whom Steven seems to be mentoring. After that we get to know Steven's family over dinner: his wife Anna, also a doctor, and his kids, 14 yr. old Kim and her younger brother Bob. At this point we're 10 min. into the movie but to reveal more of the plot would surely spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose previous movies (2015's The Lobtser, 2011's Alps, and 2009's Dogtooth) have established his reputation as a daring, if off-center, movie maker. Here he goes in a seemingly very different direction than any of these previous movies, namely how a 16 yr. old boy manages to exercise a stronghold over Steven's family in ways that are difficult to understand (sorry, can't say more so as not to spoil). This is a psychological family drama unlike anything else you've ever seen. Beware: the movie is slow-paced on purpose and it takes a good 45 min. before we finally start to understand what is about to unfold. There are plenty of outstanding acting performances, including from Colin Farrell (who also starred in The Lobster) and Nicole Kidman (as the ice-cold wife/doctor). It wasn't until the credits rolled that I realized Martin's mother was played by Alicia Silverstone, now in her 40s if you can believe it. But the best performance of all is by Barry Keoghan (playing Martin), whom we saw earlier this summer in Dunkirk. What a talent that guy is! And for us Cincinnatians, the movie, shot entirely in Cincinnati, brings an extra layer of fun to recognize the many local settings (Christ Hospital's Brain and Spine Center, the Hilton's Hall of Mirrors, the Blu Jay in Northside, downtown's Red Fox Grill, etc., etc.).
"The Killing of a Sacred Deer" opened this weekend at my local-art house theater here in Cincinnati (on 2 screes, no less), and I Couldn't wait to see it. The Saturday evening screening where I saw this at was attended very nicely, somewhat to my surprise. In discussing this after the movie my friends and I felt it probably was due more to the film having been shot in Cincinnati than anything else. Bottom line is this: "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is MILES away from your standard Hollywood fare and not for anyone. I for one happen to enjoy this movie a lot, perhaps because of its weirdness. The best advice I can give is this: if you liked "The Lobster", I'd encourage you to check this one out, be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)
Nowhere near as good as the original Bad Moms
"A Bad Moms Christmas" (2017 release; 104 min.) brings more from the original "bad moms". As the movie opens, we once again hear Amy introduce the story. "I am Amy Mitchell and I just ruined this year's Christmas" she tells us, amidst what appears to be a war zone in her house (and a camel walking by!). We then go back in time to "6 Days Before Christmas", where the story begins as Amy gets ready for Christmas and things start going wrong when her parents, and in particular her domineering mom, show up. In parallel stories, Kiki and Carla also get visited by their moms. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: last year's "Bad Moms" was an unexpected success, and I found it to be somewhat of a delightful little move, in particular with Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell playing "against character" as the "moms gone wild" in the funniest of ways. So when a sequel was announced, I was all in. Once again co-written and co-directed by Scott Moore and Jon Lucas, nothing could go wrong, right? Sadly, I must report that this sequel is nowhere close to the original, and nowhere near as funny. Why? While in and of itself it seemed like a good idea to add the three mothers of the original bad moms to to plot, it actually resulted in this being a movie more about the mothers of the bad moms, than it is about the bad moms themselves. In particular, this is mostly about Amy and her domineering (and thoroughly unlikable) mother, although of course the other two bad moms and their mothers get plenty of screen time too. The weird thing is that, contrary to the original movie, the bad moms are no longer bad at all in any respect, in fact trying like crazy to win their mothers' approval and love and pleasing their respective loved ones as best they can. Yes, there is one scene early in the movie where the moms go crazy during a shopping mall spree, but that's about it. And then there are the male strippers scenes (yes plural), which got a lot of hollering and hooting from the theater crowd (mostly female, of course). There was no such reaction when the young girl (daughter of Amy's boyfriend, maybe 6 or so?) dropped the F bomb, not once, not twice, but multiple time. The bottom line is that Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn are sadly overshadowed by their mothers, played by Cheryl Hines, Christine Baranski, and Susan Sarandon, respectively.
"A Bad Moms Christmas" opened wide on Wednesday. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended just okay (not even half full in a small theater), quite surprising for a movie's opening weekend. I'd say this does not bode well for the long term success of this movie. Surely this will not generate strong word of mouth. I had high hopes for this movie, but sadly the film makers deviated way too much from the original premise, and this should've been called "The bad moms' mothers screwed-up Christmas". I encourage you to check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw tour own conclusion.
Throwback to another era: an architectural relationship drama
"Columbus" (2017 release; 104 min.) brings the story of Casey and Jin. As the movie opens, we see an older guy collapse, and not long thereafter his son Jin, a Korean-American now working in Seoul as a book translator, arrives at the hospital in Columbus, Indiana. In a parallel story, we get to know Casey, a 19 or 20 yr. old woman who works at the local library. In conversation with a co-worker, we understand that Casey decided to pass up going to college, in order to keep an eye on the well-being of her mother, a recovering addict. It's not long before Jin and Casey run into each other during a smoke-break. At this point we are 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the feature-length debut of Korean (or perhaps Korean-American) writer-director Kogonada, whom I previously was not familiar with. Here he brings a movie that feels like a throwback to another era: he explores the lives of several individuals, set in the "Mecca of Architecture", Columbus, IN. It's rare that the location of a movie plays like a central, if not pivotal, character, but this is certainly the case here. As we get to understand the relationship challenges encountered by both Jin and Casey, they explore the various modernist buildings in Columbus. The film moves at glacial speed, and I mean this as a compliment: on a number of occasions, a scene plays out over several minutes and the camera angle simply stays put the entire time. It makes the movie feels timeless. Even when changing angles, Kogonada selects every shot with a purpose and we marvel at the sights AND the interactions between the central characters. Kudos to both John Cho (as Jin) and Haley Lu Richardson (as Casey). It wasn't until the end credits that I noticed another character (the old man's assistant) was played by none other than Parker Posey (I had not recognized her). Last, but not least, there is a wonderful atmospheric score, composed/performed by ambient duo Hammock.
"Columbus" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to immediate acclaim. It has been playing for at least a month at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I finally got around to seeing it this week. The Tuesday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so, but the fact that this has been playing here so long should give you a good indication how well the movie has been received. If you are in the mood for a slow-moving (in the best possible way) relationship drama set in the unique context of modernist architecture, you cannot go wrong with "Columbus", be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.