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Sorry but this was a miserable viewing experience
At the movie theater I go to (the Clearview Bow Tie in Montclair, NJ), there's a wall where people can write short reviews and post them. I wrote for the Oscar nominated live action short films overall: "Holy cow, these shorts were a barrel of laughs!"- (signed Lars von Trier, probably). I think a lot of that feeling comes in particular from this short, which is basically 20 minutes of misery porn in the guise of an "important" look at a stomach churning true story from 25 years or so ago when two ten year olds killed (and is more than strongly suggested raped) a toddler in Northern England.
I think that the controversy regarding how it was put together is one thing; I didn't know about this until reading some reviews on here, and it is ghoulish and unseemly of the director to make this without informing the *dead baby's mother*. The actual quality of the thing is another, and that's where I have an even greater issue. The director has less than zero sense of a) making it a unique artistic statement (a film like Son of Saul, for example, is a traumatic cinematic experience, but it's because of how it's shot and presented that the artistry transcends the horror of the real life story), and b) avoiding melodrama.
Detainment should have been, at best, one of those documentary TV shows where the dramatization happens in little parts between the interviews with the real-life subjects. The way it's shot is screaming at you with the mis-en-scene, close-ups and "realistic" hand-held of the day-of with the kids and the baby, plus overbearing music, and while there is something on an intellectual level that can be striking (who is a true sociopath/psychopath and who is just misguided and stupid as a kid can be seen between these two killers), emotionally it's a thousand grim sledghammers banging away at the same time.
Sad story? Sure. Should it have been made into a motion picture done up with lots of good quality equipment and professional acting? I dunno. But it's not an experience I ever want to revisit for the rest of my days.
To Dust (2018)
Unlike anything else you'll see in this (or most) year(s)
I can safely say To Dust is... Quite unlike most movie - or maybe any movie - about grief I can think of... uh... Maybe it's reverse Hassidic Frankenstein?
Instead of resurrecting a body to life it's bringing the body to get into the Earth quicker?! This is followed to some wonderfully bizarre extremes.
The main character is a bit hard to really get into due to his... Ways about him, which is being stubborn and prickly and totally set in his mindset regarding the body and the soul (not a slight on the actor, he does what hes asked to do), and Broderick acts his Brodericky self off. It's a truly interesting independent film dramedy that doesn't compromise really, which is a strength and a detriment. It's a view into a hermetically sealed world done with humor, even if it's hit or miss, and genuine pathos.
Thank you for getting into producing, Ron Perlman!
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
This rating may be a touch generous, but what the heck, New year, keep a positive attitude, right?
Blunt is great, wholly becoming Poppins; Lin-Manuel Miranda has fun (though the accent isn't exactly any less terrible or potentially offensive to those bloody cockneys); Whishaw and Mortimer are pitched just right; the entire thing has a sincerity that I appreciated; then, when it goes into the 2D animated scenes, that I really really loved. That was the nostalgia that got to me 1000%, as a dead-on tribute to the Wolfgang Reitherman style of animation of the 60's and 70s (I almost want to give that section of the film its own Oscar, magic all the way). And a few of the songs and dances are really good and cheerful and sorta memorable.
But the plot is nearly totally the same as the Christopher Robin (more my speed when it comes to bringing back old-school Disney with panache), which was also-kinda-sequel-soft-retriboot (combo of reboot and tribute) and like that film it has MAJOR problems in the last third as far as *even in the logic of a cheery merry who cares children's film* is ludicrous. (Lets just say to make another pun there is a... VanDyke ex Machina that happens).
And as great as Blunt is, Poppins isn't that necessary to the story, as far as what she is there for on a practical level to be an active agent.... On the other hand, she makes it feel like you're eating tons of cotton candy at Disneyworld, which is what it has going for it, so emotionally I get it (and hey, kids, if you're feeling down because... Mom died and the house will be foreclosed on, here's some dolphins in a bathtub!) All this said, and as critical as I am of all this, I generally had a better time that I expected; not since Frozen have I seen a Disney product so calibrated to a tee for it to go immediately to Broadway in a year or so.
Some other notes:
- Meryl Streep is one of the weaker parts, both in song and in the set piece (her part in the film almost reminded me of one of those ridiculous cameo bits the celebrities did in Oogieloves). Which means of course she'll get a best supporting actress nomination BECAUSE STREEP RIGHT?
- Also, when it comes time, around, oh let's see, 2072, that we get the Disney Mary Poppins Strikes Again (on an EyeLidFlix near you), will that be set during the swinging 1960s London as it focuses on these three kids as adults? If I'm still alive I'm game, and hope to see Miranda tell the stories all over again.
Fukushû suru wa ware ni ari (1979)
a disturbing and provocative slow burn, but totally worth it
The *other* infamous bone-throwing-in-the-air scene in cinema history (though in this case bones plural is more accurate).
Iwao Enokizu is that rarity: an antagonist who also acts as the protagonist in his own story. This doesn't mean he is the only significant character going on here. There's also Iwao's long suffering father, and the woman Iwao decides to marry, sort of on a whim to piss them off, even as he doesn't love her (and has kids with them, who we barely see, making him not a father much at all) and leaves them behind after he gets out of prison and starts his killing spree, and most important possibly is the woman who runs an Inn-chm-brothel where Iwao gets into an unlikely relationship with her while she fights constantly with her own mother (Iwao by the way is in disguise initially as a professor, and Ogata, who you might remember as one of the Mishimas in Paul Schrader's film, has an unassuming look that is to his advantage even as his face is plastered on wanted posters). But this does mean that he drives the action forward, is the one we're seeing this story progress with, and yet it is always clear that Imamura doesn't mean for us to identify with him.
That doesn't mean, on the other hand, that Imamura shoots his film or has his script be so cold that we dont see humanity happen. Or, most importantly, that despite the brutal kills (and there are some harrowing and nasty murders here, some with blood, others just by how intense its played and how unflinching it is with camera angles and editing), Iwao is always shown as human, and the main supporting cast around him are fully fleshed out beings who live their own lives not always connected to him. Indeed, there's the whole subplot (of sorts) with Iwao's dad and the dad's daughter-in-law and their burgeoning love (there's an extremely sensual scene between the two of them at a hot spring and, for all the sex Iwao does with other characters, he is never this... Intimate).
This film is startling and shocking not (or not just) for the acts of violence and sex that occur - though they are shown graphically, and while I dont think Imamura is a director who in any way (at least on a first viewing) I can sense has a dislike or problem with women, he is depicting violence against them, both physically and mentally, and nearly every major speaking female role here has to deal with rapey and forceful and abusive men, and if you need a content-warning for that before you watch, there you go - but for the layers of humanity that it strips away until bare.
It would be easy to show Iwao as a guy who is simply out for blood, but he is also not what we see in serial killer movies as the other type of the super-genius killer. He's not Leatherface or Lecter. He's just a man who started doing other crimes and being rebellious as a kid, as we see in flashbacks, and even went to jail for a time, but once he kills there's an intelligence (a conman element to him, like scamming strangers out of money like as a fake lawyer in court, is a darkly comedic scene and there are a few here, another surprise for me given the early scenes) but also real emotion too.
This woman at this Inn, Haru, loves Iwao even after she finds out that he is a killer on the run; actually, much to Iwao's at first bafflement, acceptance and then embracing, she has an even greater love for him after her initial shock wears off. There's an extremism to how this relationship unfolds, but because Imamura has taken the time to develop things, almost imperceptibly building up the dynamic in this slow burn of a film (it runs long enough that I anticipate it moving quicker on another watch), it doesn't feel that unrealistic. His approach leans towards documentary realism, but there's times he will rely on a long take not just because it makes the most sense but for psychological realism. And he does cut away when he should or has to, but how long at times we stay on a scene and he confidently keeps characters in a medium shot, it's radically effective.
I wish I could say this was a perfect film, but it doesn't have a completely airtight structure. He cuts back to Shizuo (the "ex-ish" wife) and Kayo (dad), but those scenes with then really make an impact the most when it's still in the framing of Iwoa in the first half of the film. Once he is at the other Inn as the professor, when Imamura cuts back to them it doesn't feel right somehow. Also, I think if he had trimmed those bits it would have made a greater impact once Iwao finally does see his father again (the penultimate scene actually, which is amazing).
This complaint aside, this is a truly engrossing and unusual epic that I plan on revisiting some day - maybe not right away, but certainly I will get this on bluray - and it has such a committed and sparingly simple performance by Ogata, simple as in he isn't pulling punches with how he gets to the ugliest truths of this man.
Damn Japanese Catholics, man. And I thought Silence was the most disturbing Japanese-set story involving that!
Les plages d'Agnès (2008)
As life changes and the world goes through other developments, the beaches stay the same.
It's not too often a filmmaker will give us a full and unambiguous autobiography on film; if we find out about who they are, he or she will bring themselves into the art that is ostensibly other stories. Agnes Varda looks back on her life using cinema and it is among the most unique things I've ever seen - though it is not inconsistent with many films she has made before (The Gleaners and I comes to mind) as far as her life being inextricably and most often joyfully being connected with her work. This doesn't mean she doesn't shy away from the pain as well; the parts regarding Jacques Demy in his final years are somber and tender.
Pure, unadulterated imagination, heart, empathy, a light yet wholly potent surrealism, a seemingly endless connection to other people, art, photography, and of course those cats (including an eccentric cameo by Chris Marker). I feel like I got a lifetime in just a little under two hours. And how about her cardboard car that she tries to park into her tiny garage!
And it's the kind of wonderful and priceless piece of autobiography that has digressions (one of which about Jim Morrison). It may help to see at least a few of her films before going into this, but even if you only have a cursory knowledge of film history or Demy or what have you, it's still effective and affecting as a story that contains many stories and is about getting us to see the world as vibrantly and daringly as she does.
As life changes and the world goes through other developments, the beaches stay the same.
God Told Me To (1976)
Larry Cohen at some of his most Larry Cohen-iest: crude, crazy and mostly compelling
First off, a nitpick (or maybe just pointing out a flaw in the time of the year this is set in): early in the film is that wonderfully nutty scene where pre-fame Andy Kaufman is the cop in the St Patrick's Day parade, and then... Just a day or two later, or maybe it's a week, hard to tell, Tony Lo Bianco gets his ass kicked at the San Genaro festival in Little Italy, which to my knowledge happens in September. I know Cohen had to shoot crowds when he could, but anyone with just a cursory knowledge of NYC through the year would know... Eh, forget it.
This doesnt always have the sharpest direction, if anything some of the cinematography and editing is slapdash if not sloppy and direction of some (but not all) of the supporting actors results in flat work. And yet that almost doesnt matter because of the 1000% grit level of this thing, shot all without permits and by the seats of their pants (on some of the same streets Scorsese was shooting Taxi Driver at the same time), Lo Bainco makes for a convincing and stable presence as this flawed but dogged cop in the lead surrounded by bad cops and uncanny citizens, and the script has such a magnificently tense first act and bizarre turns with this supernatural WTF bent that I was always engaged, never totally bored, and it's a unqiue entry in mid 70s paranoid New York cinema.
And despite my griping on the direction and editing, Cohen gets some intense set pieces (that boiler room is eerie as all get out) and shots at times, in particular in the first half, and then Sylvia Sidney shows up, and... Look, you can see the seams in this, and Cohen in some respects did a not remake so much as reimagining of this into Q years later, but when it works, it's a one of a kind "B" movie.
::Dick Cheney Penguin noise::
Such a fascinating and unexpectedly engrossing first half - curiously, actually split in half by "those" end credits - that it's a shame the second is a cliff-notes style simplified mess. And I know that for a lot of audiences, younger viewers especially who either were kids or just didn't really know what was going on from 2000 to 2008, this will may be extra interesting or OMG what was all that but... I have to speak for myself, and it got to be less... Just less the longer it went on.
Bale is magnetic, so is Adams who is channeling the same scary energy she had in The Master, Carrell is also a lot of fun, and there's some parts that are funny and startling and it manages to give us about 90% monster and 10% decent human being, which is kind of incredible. But by the end, like Oliver Stone's W (and McKay is channeling Stone far more than Stone did in that film), I wonder what is this person? What does he actually want? Is being a mediocre white man all that its about? Is it only power? Greed doesn't even see to be a big deal here for Cheney, who got rich as all get out from the Halliburton, nevermind the so-called war. So... What is it? The very end when Bale faces the audience may hold a clue(?) I don't know if smug is the word Id use for all of this, but glib is definitely it. And the style of The Big Short, even if it isn't pushed so far, doesn't work for it. It either needed to be full Strangelove (or better yet, the wild and erratic politics of The Favourite which is also out now), or maybe more traditional or focused. It's a B or B minus paper that should be an A. And it isn't.
The She Beast (1966)
this is one of those 'What did you expect?' titles. it's... alright
The first ten minutes show that Reeves already had his mind on period settings, and could direct it with fire and passion. To come to this after seeing Witchfinder General is to realize that, hey, someones gotta start somewhere, and yet after those ten minutes it's hit or miss. And... Sadly, more miss. John Karlsen as "Count" Van Helsing - yes, he's a descendant in modern times - is so wooden that it's almost painful everytime he speaks on screen, like hes that lacking in emotion past his one note.
But it's nice to see Barbara Steele, if briefly (and for a moment she is quite... Sexy), the widescreen cinematography is exquisite, Charles B Griffith of countless Corman films does 2nd unit direction, and the resurrected witch of the title is a solid B movie make-up job and engaging performance (nothing too fancy, bit not a war crime to look at). It's a first film, and by those standards it's alright. It takes some chances on going for gruesome violence and clearly Reeves has a love for monster movies and doesn't take it to be a joke, not to mention it clocks in just shy of 80 minutes and doesn't overstay its welcome.
It is sloppy, and there are things like the witch coming towards the camera after attacking someone and it looks cheesy, and the climax is what disappoints me the most as a goofy car chase. Yet all in all, it's good for a late night viewing with a glass of scotch and appropriate expectations.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
remembered for so much, and it's actually a pretty good movie
Tom Cruise is so Tom CRUISE here he out Tom Cruises when Ben Stiller has done Tom Cruise (or should I say Tom Crooze?) He is practically everything that he has ever been asked to do as an actor, minus the running and action stuff (oh, no, wait, he does run a little bit in the climax, how about that) and it's one of his major performances (to the point where I wondered a few times if this could be an unintentional sequel to Risky Business). He, and not Cuba Gooding Jr (who is fine but given a largely two dimensional character, a type to be sure), deserved the hell out of that Oscar. This is his movie, and he rules at every moment.
The movie around him is fun and entertaining, and it's Cameron Crowe also at his most...Crowe-ish (for better or worse, mostly better, from his can't-help-himself wit to the musical choices, from the Who to Miles Davis), though not as deep as it might think it is early on. It also has a wonderful turn from Renee Zellwegger, a sleazy turn by Jay Mohr, and Jerry O'Connell for a few key scenes in one of his best turns (hey, no small roles, right?) The key thing for me about all this: Jerry Maguire was one of my cinematic blind spots until... Well, now.
I knew all of the major cultural references (it's just how it is, whether it's seeing a parody long before the actual source, to a Patton Oswalt bit about seeing it on Christmas), and seen a few scenes here and there, but I'd never seen it start to finish. What I come away with is... It works. Mostly. Largely on movie star charm and some snappy Crowe dialog that only occasionally is too, uh, cocky for its own good.
It also is a much more compelling story when it's focused on the sports world, and the first part seems to be indicating it'll be largely about that. And then roughly halfway through, when the thrust of the story should be about how Jerry picks up the pieces and gets back on track, Crowe remembers he wants to kick in his romantic comedy/drama plot and it takes over. Arguably, a bit too much and yet, there are some really touching scenes late in the film between Cruise and Zellweger, like it almost makes up for a sluggish middle.
Jerry Maguire, not without flaws, is what used to be a quality example of a popular and massive Hollywood hit in the mid 1990s. I wonder now if it would go straight to Netflix or not, with a different star. Is it still an iconic Hollywood piece of the 90s? I dunno. But I did laugh. And I could see how Crowe could go down the path he has for the last 15 years.
Green Book (2018)
Just okay when all is said and done
So, let me get up on the soap box here for just a second ::steps up, clears throat::
It may be because I have inhaled as much of the non-fiction of James Baldwin the past two years, or that I have simply paid halfway attention to whats going on in this part of this decade, or that I live in the general area that Tony Lips did (the tri-state area in the North-East), but I think Green Book underestimates the racism of the North at the time. It's often been a misconception, usually by white people (and maybe at one time when I was much younger), but just because you live in the North and around liberal areas doesn't mean that things are less racist.
Indeed, it's that more subdued racism (what MLK dubbed those "white moderates") that make a lot of trouble. From socio-economic segregation of a sort - notice that in the Bronx neighborhood Tony's family and friends live there are no black people, and the "No Coloreds" signs are not up but they're just... Not there, and not allowed. Not really, anyway.
To the movie's credit, it does touch on the fact that there is this racism that is there with working-class Italians (not that it's any great revelation in American cinema - Do the Right Thing was made decades ago and dealt with Italian caricatures, literally making pizza, being face to face with African American people with much more insight and drama/comedy etc); there is one telling beat where Tony comes home as two black handymen are working on the Lips' family kitchen, and they're given some lemonade in two glasses. When they leave, Lips puts the two glasses in the trash (and later, Linda Cardellini's wife takes them back out). This is good visual storytelling that makes the point clear: once Lips gets tasked with the plot of Green Book, which is to drive the good Doctor (Mahershala Ali) across the mid-west and deep South, there will be problems but not just with those they come across.... But then it's kinda-sorta dropped for a "feel-good" movie about race relations.
I don't know about you, but in 2018, living in just everything that's going on now (in daily news, a campus in Mississippi got vandalized with numerous nooses hung about for tomorrows Senate vote for example), I'm not sure if that's what we (white people, even more than blacks or other minorities) need to see. All this said, the movie does a good job, at least for the first two thirds, of getting an entertaining buddy story between these two Characters, with a capital "C."
And to the actors' credit, Ali and Mortensen tap into the cliches of a, well, bouncer at the Coppacabana and classically trained PHD pianist (fluent in multiple languages, which does pay off at a key point by the way, nice writing), and whenever they are on screen I believed the actors in what they had to emote or tried to do. It's even got funny scenes and beats and lines, and while I can count the number of laughs (at least five, at most six), they are genuine laughs. Farrelly knows how to get two guys working together on screen - he's known since Dumb & Dumber - so that part is fine.
But then there's that last third in particular when it hunkers down into hammering its message about race relations (if you've seen the trailer, that scene in the rain with "if I'm not black enough and Im not white enough" etc is a cringe-tastic as it seems) and the simple attitude that after two months Tony Lips is now way cooler and, more crucially at the end, all the rest of his friends and family there for Christmas Eve are magically okay now with the ::insert Italian slang word for racist epithet here:: coming to dinner. But this is all without any real work outside of a few goopy scenes where the good Doctor helps Tony write letters to Mrs. Lips (sorry I forget his real last name right now) so he must be awesome outside of the brilliant piano playing.
The movie does go a ways to make Ali's character flawed too in some basic ways - as a musician on the road he's become a loner, estranged from a brother and divorced - and in one way that I don't think is meant to be seen as a flaw, but comes up as a "huh" bit where Tony has to get Doc out of a bind when he is... Caught in a gay moment with another man at the YMCA(?!) Okie dokie! So that also don't be a big deal since hes just Tony's boss and no judgment and we'll just leave his sexuality as something that doesn't get any more screen-time because RACISM needs to get the top shelf over homophobia and that entire grenade which... What was that??
As far as the sort of if not feel good then *don't feel bad* kind of movie released by a big studio, it's not as tone deaf and potentially harmful as a Crash; it has more of the feel of a better(ish) thing that Stanley Kramer would have made (down to, if Poitier was around he would be ideal for this part): it doesn't shy from the issues, and on the contrary it tries to show what everybody (even the racists) know, which is segregation-by-law can't be sustainable.
But when it comes to depicting more essential details about character, about really digging into Lips past his love for his wife and not being *that* bad because, hey, he turns down offers by the local mobsters for work even when he's down, right(?) it doesn't hold as much water. Should I wholly believe Lips wont throw out again glasses that happened to touch mouths of black working class workers, despite himself being working class, because he got Lessons in Life (and visa-versa he gives the Doctor some "Street Life" lessons)? Not sure that I do.
Why the six star rating then? When it means to be simply well-acted and more character-driven entertainment, it works - not to mention the greatest product placement for KFC in cinema history - and I enjoyed seeing these two do the absolute best they could with what they had. It's a mild recommendation. But compared to what else you can see from this year - Blindspotting, Blackkklansman, Sorry to Bother You, to an extent The Hate U Give - it's weak tea.
Thank you. ::steps off::
The World According to Garp (1982)
acting over substance
Im not totally sure if the feminism here, which *is* satirical but has a dimension to it that is meant to be taken very seriously, has dated poorly or is more relevant than ever. Or if it's both, and not I think that shouldn't diminish, or not, what it has to say now, I just mean unto itself.
Some of that aspect is interesting and some of it doesn't quite work (or maybe it's little bits that may be from the Irving book that work better in a book, like the nerdy girl who becomes a nerdy woman who keeps being around when Garp is doing something sneaky. I just don't get it. Yes, even with how it "pays off" at the end, which was meant to be a shock but comes off as random as all get out).
But the acting here, all around, is phenomenal. Williams proved he was the real deal with a character and performance that was five-dimensional, not just three, and then there's Hurt (in one of her best turns), Lithgow (Oscar nomiated and rightly so), and Close in her *screen debut*. Even if the writing being hit or miss, as at times an extremely weird and odd and quirky and other times darkly dramatic story, the acting makes this a must see.
The World Before Your Feet (2018)
A truly interesting document of places and the man who finds them
In case you needed definitive proof how *safe it is in New York City in this decade, look no further. This doesn't have necessarily the most top notch or artistically ambitious direction (the cute score and reliance, maybe over-reliance, on drones for those BIG shots), but damn if this isn't one of themost fascinating documents of the human spirit in a long time. You learn enough about the guy, Matt Green, to understand but at the same time not fully understand why he's doing this. That may sound off, but you don't need to know his full back story; a few key details about a younger brother, a bike accident, and two ex's are enough.
What makes it a subject worthy of cinematic exploration is really just... Seeing him walk. Sometimes he interacts and talks with the locals, other times he tells us a fact about something, like a tree that is the oldest in New York City, or landmarks in cemeteries that we take for granted or even the first birth control center from 1910's. Like the Mister Rogers documentary this year, the movie is really about human connectivity and how , if you're open to what's out there and are genuinely curious, the World isn't such a bad place.
* at least if you are white and man, but still I think my points can still be valid here.
A blast from start to finish
Seeing this again, I'm convinced this is THE major Michael Mann movie that he didnt make, only driven by women and how in practically every step of their lives, when they're not dealing with loss on one level or another, it's a fight (emotionally and physically) to not be completely dominated by men. It has to be fight since men like, you know, the Robert Duvall character and to an extent Lukas Haas too, rule over all. And every Gillian Flynn scripted twist in the story (and you know she had to have been the one to get those third act OH SHIT moments in there) emphasizes this.
This is that perfect kind of cinematic alchemy where it's a tight-as-a-vice crime genre storytelling - theres a lot of detail and what seems like a lot of plot, but it never bogs the actual flow of the story as it needs to be - with a substantive and heart-wrenching drama that uses Chicago as not just another city but a city that involves all of THIS that is happening involving race and gender and above all class inequality (and lest we forget women have to fight or at least subvert themselves from being second class citizens - look at when Jacki Weaver tells her daughter to put up her body for men to use since, well, that's a way to make good money ("and if you're sweet," she adds as if completely unaware of her being in this locked-in-step idea of what women can be or do in society).
So it's politically alive and socially alive, it doesn't get preachy about it (and if it ever is, it doesnt stop the movie), the cast is across the board fan tastic, from Viola to Cynthia (what a year shes had huh) to... Lukas Haas look at him in a movie where he gets dialog for once, a star-making turns for Debicki and another notch on Kaluuya's major performances, and Robert Duvall who is still Robert damn Duvall, and it's a sensational and at key points unconventional heist movie.
This is all so great a work of what Hollywood is capable of when it gives talented artists room to thrive that it even comes as close as possible to redeeming the plot conceit of The Book of Henry. The BOOK OF HENRY!!!?!?!
Babes in Toyland (1934)
Man, I want that Barnaby's sideburns!
I don't recall this being part of my yearly childhood rotation - parts seem familiar, so I probably saw it once, but it never really registered - and seeing it now as a grown-ass man, I found it perfectly charming and a near ideal example (aside from Midnight Summer's Dream) of the sort of wholesome musical fluff MGM were masters at creating. Giant, elaborate sets, peppy musical numbers, nightmare-fuel costumes (that mouse!), and in the middle are Stan and Ollie providing a much needed injection of modernism into the fairy tale aesthetic.
In a way, this is kind of like a proto-Shrek, aware of itself and its fairy-tale conventions, if only because of its two stars and their own comic timing, except here it's more timeless due to the black and white photography (I didnt watch the colorized version), and because of the MGM/Golden-age Hollywood production, from the non-stop music to the innocent-but-not-too-innocent tone - yes, mortgages and foreclosures included. I wouldn't rank it as fully great, yet I'd be lying if I said I wasnt giggling consistently throughout, and not just from the Stan & Ollie bits. It's the kind of family entertainment where you gather everyone around, make hot cocoa and dig in. And who could give a "come on!" 4th-wall breaking look like Hardy?
Creed II (2018)
more than adequate sequel, goes the distance and gets (enough) there
In many ways, an objectively superior sequel in the Rocky series than Rocky IV, though it's (largely if not completely) missing that film's sense of bombast mixed with some WTF bits. You know the plot of this going on, and honestly you shouldn't really be trying to get something wholly *original* by the eighth Rocky film (or, I should say, Rocky IV: Part II, or The Next Generation, etc). With one small exception on a particular story beat, I called what would happen five minutes in.
In this case, that's fine: what matters is that the filmmakers give the actors some extreme-but-believable melodrama to play, and this does that in spades, and delivers on exciting fights that tell stories unto themselves (and boy these do, in some ways the fights are superior in choreography to the first Creed, if not, obviously Coogler lacking, better shot). As much as, again, Jordan and Thompson deliver, and Stallone continues doing some of his top-tier work in his flagship creation, I found the Dragos captivating most of all.
Here are our antagonists, out for payback on the newly crowned Adonis, and I'm sure somewhere (whether it got buried in another draft or survived here and I missed it I don't know) there's a message about Russia vs USA for this decade that is timely. But I completely understood them - Dolph gets to play a human being here, unlike in IV when he was a comical-sweaty-steroid-packed killing machine - and there's a message about what it means to be the losing side and living with that that makes this not a cookie-cutter narrative.
So it is manipulative, it isn't as earth-shattering as what Coogler did, but so what? It's highly enjoyable and packs heart where it counts as a drama long before it should be considered a sports movie (and that ending... Damn it, Sly, you're not gonna get to me, uh-uh, no sir....)
The Hate U Give (2018)
Turns out theres something more horrifying than Michael Myers in October, and that is... Death by the police.
Amanda Stenberg in a (no pun intended) Star making role, Regina King and Russell Hornsby's acting in particular and some truly powerful scenes and set pieces regarding the horrors of this human rights/justice crisis in this country helps to make up for some plotting and details (ie the end of the climax, the whole role of the drug Kingpin played by Mackie) that take it down to after-school special town.
It works on the levels it needs to, and the things that dont work so well aren't a hinderence when it justifies itself as an *entertaining* important picture; it's good to have some real humor here, and theres one section where it becomes a bit like reverse Get Out for five minutes and it's just about perfect. So if you are expecting a sort of Spike Lee does a YA then, yeah, it is that. But Tillman Jr has a capable handle on tone that is paramount here. While I can gripe about some details, it is powerful stuff that is wholly realistic about the main story at hand, and the cast is uniformally triumphant with this.
Lastly, I didnt realize till I looked just now at a Letterboxd review that the screenwriter died before the film came out. So sad, but for what its worth her work lives on here and will likely be part of high school classes for decades.
Tales from the Hood (1995)
Aka BOYZ IN THA CREEPSHOW
Like many anthology films, this one has its gigantic home runs and merely ground singles. The first and third stories - where three terrible white cops, one of them Wings Hauser (which is kind of a redundant statement) get picked off and chased by the un-dead corpse of the black activist they killed a year later; and, the least "Hood" set one where Corbin Bernsen plays the slimiest mix of David Duke (marking this as a Spike Lee production that beats out making fun of David Duke in Blackkklansman by 23 years) and Donald Trump (that hair!) as he is surrounded by tiny black devil dolls - are the major highlights.
The second story has the benefit of David Alan Grier (or should I say here, David Alan DAMN) though he's only on screen for seven minutes as the "Monster" that keeps attacking a boy and his mother, though it takes time to get to the finale and up until then dances around what is a bit of an obvious conflict. And the fourth ends up tying in sort of with the wrap-around conceit of the three guys looking to get "the S***" from Clarence Williams III, and is basically a way more preachier Clockwork Orange but with a gang-banger instead of Little Alex and lots and lots of strobe light effects (seriously, if you have that kind of seizure-inducing reaction to stuff like Incredibles 2, well, you've been warned).
It's the one segment that feels too... I don't know how to pinpoint it except it seems to be going into crazy exploitation mode when it doesn't have the same horror conceit of the other three, and the filmmaker (I have no idea if by Spike Lee's suggestion but I wouldn't put it past him) goes nuts with an editing montage mixing film clips from gangsta flicks, hangings and the Klan. It shouldn't bother me so much, but it's the one segment that ages the worst in a film that on the whole really feels alive and angry and has a lot of potent things to say - at least in a consistent EC Horror comics way - about things like police brutality and abusive parents and reparations from slavery - and it's a movie that tries a lot harder (those stop motion dolls nearly steal the show) than it needed to for a flick that had a title sort of capitalizing on the formula of the period.
This has cajones, Clarence Williams eating the entire set whole and asking for seconds, and the very ending made me want to applaud.
Postal Union (1937)
slight but interesting
Featured on the DVD for Kid Galahad.
Fairly entertaining as women sing and dance about working the phone operations, and then it centers on a postal worker who does some casual office sexism and uh other stuff happens (he sings too) .... Oh and a guy comes in, tips Georgie 50 bucks and tells the postal worker, "my mother in law is leaving for Albany" and winks to him like everyone in the theater would laugh and now I was just all confused.... and then the last section is about, uh, going on strike out of nowhere. This all feels random, but it's entertaining and has fun music
Entertaining singing, wish there was more, those parts were well choreographed.
Hell Fest (2018)
wish it is... more than it is
Well... Tony Todd got paid, I guess, even if it was probably for one days work (with maybe another day for ADR as the "Voice" of Hell Fest). And the last 10 minutes are decent. But... This has *six* writers. Couldn't you guys do better? Or couldn't this director find some actors with more vibrant personalities (I know they got who they could get, but c'mon) The potential here, and what is only so much realized, is staggering. There are some decent kills and when the filmmakers focus on straightforward horror suspense it works. From someone who is a writer like myself, this needed that 17th pass after the other 16.
First Man (2018)
conventional in some ways, but its deep well of feeling and experimentation resonates
Who knew what the astronaut dramatization needed was the aesthetic from Saving Private Ryan? (Or Man of Steel came to mind too, and here it is far more effective viscerally and emotionally, and apt as it is, you know, real people who have lived and suffered and triumphed)
Every time Damien Chazelle and company have one of the space sequences, from the opening to the Gemini 8 sequence, to the horror of the Apollo 1 test, it occurred to me that this is less the Right Stuff and more a hardcore war movie: these men are as much soldiers as they are scientists, and so the feel of the thing makes sense. If you're facing death and have an acceptance of it (not to mention in Neil/Jane's case, after the worst has already happened), that should ask of the storyteller something more than locked-down cameras. This is to outer space what Black Swan is to dance - there's largely horror to what happens and, if we're lucky, some awe, though not so much.
This resonates and the filmmakers use a mix of 16mm and 35mm photography to achieve the kind of intimacy that could grow old fast, and we've seen this style before, but, what can I say except I responded to Chazelle and Lundgren's closeups, the way they would keep some shots steadier than others to keep the pace off our guard, Gosling channels convincingly how men of engineering (and men often were in general) from that generation, and it's Claire Foy's time to win like 700 awards for this performance.
This is the kind of Oscar bait Im happy to watch, and I'm anticipating this will get best picture for reason to do and not do with the film in and of itself (in a sense this would win because Right Stuff, which is greater and more artistically ambitious, lost). And, man, seeing this in IMAX really does make a difference and feels a part of the whole thing (and unlike Nolan and Dunkirk, it doesn't change at random moments, it's IMAX on the moon and that's it). It's a gripping tension between conventional (the script) and experimental/loose (Chazelle).
...I might've liked Buzz Aldrin to come off as more than just an a-hole though (and Lukas Haas gets the short shrift as Mike Collins, who is barely even named that out loud). 8.5/10
Dr. Giggles (1992)
wonderful and terrible at the same time
What a glorious pile of trash. Why can't we have more movies where every single line is a cliche (literally, "the Doctor is In!") or a pun (take your pick) and is acted by one or those "oh THAT guy!" actors -Larry Drake (you know, from Darkman?) and features so many many grisly kills involving all manner of medical equipment and so on?
Well... It'd get tiresome pretty quick. One is enough. And even at 95 minutes it's almost 15 minutes too long (near the end it feels like Coto is biting a bit more than he can chew - spoiler, the pre-Neve Campbell lead finally gets a few lines she can dish out). But Goddamn if this ain't a lot of fun, and a treat if you want a simple low-down mother of a slasher. Special gore and horror effects by way of Kurtmann and Nicotero from KNB help a great deal.
Hmm... How did this all take place in real time (like, how is the amusement park still going on once that thing happens at the Dr's house? I thought it was like 4 AM by that point!) Also, that fun-house mirror sequence is a) the most bats**t homage to The Lady from Shanghai I can remember seeing, and b) trumps anything in Hell Fest.
Look for ADR credit to Cherie Curie
Free Solo (2018)
A (ahem) gripping human interest story first, near IMAX thriller second.
Not to be confused with the someday-I'm-sure-to-be-released documentary about the struggle to release Lord/Miller's Star Wars Solo movie, this is about how Alex Honnold, a 33 year old 'free solo' climber (the kind of daredevil mountain climber without a rope or harness or anything that would make Tom Cruise envious) who has his eyes and goal set on El Capitan, and specifically a couple thousand+ miles of a rock to climb.
The problems are many to conquer this - not least of which, and this was something that enriched the film to the point where I liked it all the more, because there is a film crew, led by co director Jimmy Chin who is also a friend of Alex's, is making him have to climb not quite solo, and it's not shown as insignificant - but this is only half or maybe 40% about the visual spectacle of seeing a man climb a mountain. The appeal is really about Alex, how he came to do what he does, how other climbers have, well, died and it gives it a feeling of "well, I could die, but, hopefully not, you know?"
Amid this is Alex's girlfriend who may/may not be putting the first instances of "hey I'm kind of screwing up here for the first time," but is also someone Alex hasn't had in his life: a comforting, loving presence (as he says at one point, no one in his home growing up ever used the "L" word), but also is, well, a person who gives hugs and cares and cheers on... Carefully. While the main story of this movie is about the preparation and stumbling blocks to do the climb, the other story is what actually makes the movie so effective - who can this man be, will be stay that way, or will he hold on to the old "weird, shy" Alex? 7.5/10
its power holds up
If there's a way to get introduced to the acting of Tupac Shakur (and I don't count his cameo as part of that group that somehow got roped in to Nothing But Trouble 1991), it's when he's channeling James Cagney, among other high figures of cinematic criminal legend. What makes Bishop such a dynamic and terrifying but recognizable force is that we can understand where he comes from.
He is the antagonist of this story of four high school friends (who rarely if ever go) who go for Bishop's plan to get "the Juice" - to do a Big Bad Thing and get some money but most of all to get respect. But is he a true villain? Maybe, to some. For me, every bad decision hes made leads him to what he does and who he is (and though its a subtly done point, and powerfully so, he doesn't have a father as he's there but tuned out for reasons left ambiguous).
Hes not the protagonist though, and I was mistaken thinking going in he was, that's Omar Epps's Q, the guy who wants to find a way out of Harlem and to make it it's through music. Epps in his way is very good too, and in his way he has to be the one who is about as close to an "everyman" as one can find who is young and in a place like Harlem at that time. There's two others in this self-professed "crew" that Bishop has, but its clear since they've been together since kids, they don't easily take anyone's s*** much less each others... Until a gun comes into play.
This is a terrific and vividly realized debut for Ernest Dickerson, who mostly shows restraint as a former cinematographer (notably for Spike Lee on his first six films) in doing anything exactly 'flashy' or shots that might call attention to themselves (the interrogation with the cops may be an exception but a good one, as it's meant to be shown fully that the pressure is ON). But Dickerson makes the correct visual choices here to show this world as is, with a sort of muted/naturalistic color palette and editing that really POPS when it calls for it (ie any of the scenes where Q DJs or any time there's a chase, especially near the end).
But its most of all in his script that this sticks out as memorable. There are a couple of types here and there as far as the minor characters (Samuel L Jackson plays one but brings it full life anyway for the 5 minutes hes on), but all the same we have a young game cast that's given the kind of material that enlivens melodrama with a good deal of humor early on (some still lands, especially with an audience, some doesn't) by being as real as possible. It's also how Harlem itself looks and feels - we see this in montage over the credits - so that it cant be mistaken about how raw and rough life is for these guys.
And yeah, Im not sure if I necessarily buy that young guys in the early 90s sit around and get excited about White Heat it still works as a metaphor anyway.
one of the most disturbing character studies of all time for a specific reason
In brief: Talk about a poster being completely accurate to what the movie is! (If anything it doesnt sell enough how WOW this is). Spinell, Lustig Savini are top of their game.
Longer: I was glad to be there for one of William Lustig's Q&A'd after the movie (hes an entertaining raconteur) in particular for the background about how the idea for this movie came to be, since, as I was watching it (and knew Spinell was also a co-writer), I wondered how the flying eff this came to be. There were two key points I took away from what Mr Lustig said, and these were:
1) originally the screenplay was "more conventional," and had the kind of dual plotlines we see in certain detective movies and shows (Dirty Harry just popped in my head as I'm typing this), where the audience follows the killer and the cop tracking him down. But Lustig found this boring, and decided to just take out the cop scenes. In fact, only once, at the end, do cops show up and there is no dialog for this particular scene (as a side note, there was no deeper meaning intended for this, except that the cop "actors", actual cops, weren't any good at delivering lines). So by way of a kind of basic artistic daring it created a provocation, which leads to:
2) the framing is what counts here, and Lustig and Spinell took as many serial killer tropes and types (from mommy issues to Ted Bundy and Gacy to Son of Sam, this last one seemed like the major influence to me, ie replace the dog with mannequins) and stuffed them into this one gutter-bag of a man, but again it is ALL from his POV. While Lustig cuts to showing what the women are doing when they are in Frank's cross-hairs (and Tom Savini in one iconic horror scene), we don't get to know them really as people really outside of these scenarios entirely - not even Caroline Munro's photographer who Frank befriends, who gets to have the closest to a character arc of a sort - so this is ultimately not unlike one of those intense character studies that Scorsese did before (Taxi Driver) and after (King of Comedy) ... Only here, there's *only* the mania, and an audience will usually try to, you know, find some way in to a character is the lead. There's something about Pupkin or Bickle we can recognize as vulnerable or broken and yet there might be the trace of a soul beneath the mental illness... Here?
I found this entire film so intense and yet so unnerving that I couldn't look away, even when I knew I should. The violence here holds up today not simply for the shock factor, though there is that (this is one of Savini's major works as a make up artist, his own head being blown off as one key example), but because there is a lot of mental WTF-ery that is attached to Frank's pov. When we see him strangle a prostitute early on, he keeps flashing to another woman as he's doing it. And then when he does his...gulp, scalping, this isn't meant to be entirely objective.
And it's not as though Lustig shows *every* muder in gory detail, though I'm not sure if that was restraint so much as him trying to keep a tone and pace that would work. So for example in that Savini scene, he gets the giant explosive death - sort of a next-level-of-Dawn-explosion - but he cuts away from the woman's demise just before it happens.
A lessor director would show everything, every last one of them, but that leads me to the key point with this: this is a piece of pure, uncut 100% pure Grindhouse moviemaking, but what makes it emotionally disturbing is that the direction is so assured isnt sloppy or boring. When he moves the camera, it's done with purpose and to add psychological intensity. When he gets some really uncanny angles in Frank's apartment (again, all on grainy 16mm, though restored in 4K it looks even crisper), it had the feeling of Italian horror. In a way this is Italian Giallo, except it isn't lying to us about who the killer is.
And Spinell is fully omitted to this role, so much so that if I hadn't seen him in anything else before (ironically hes in Taxi Driver, in the first scene interviewing Travis) so that is what also makes this a home-run. The director and the writer/actor in sync and in control, and while I cringe and grip my seat and hope one woman can get away but likely wont (oh that bathroom scene in the subway, my god!) I know I'm seeing confidence in what is going on.... And it makes for a really rough and tough sit.
Maniac is not framed as a story where we are going to identify with this guy - Id be worried about someone who does or did - but Lustig isn't asking us to laugh or dismiss it all as a freak or geek-show either. It's more along the lines of: this is ugly, but this is a lot of what these scumbags are, they're human beings, but these monsters aren't some abstract thing. In a sense this is a more honest slasher than a lot of what came out during that time; it's scuzzier, in part thanks to setting, and it has a bleaker and more surreal ending than most. And if someone decided to turn it off or walk out, well, I get that too. It's true grain provocative-genre alcohol.
The Old Man & the Gun (2018)
one of the great and heart-warming crime films of the 2010's
"And so I ask him, 'you think this is any way to make a living?' And looks me in the eye and says: 'Brother, Im not making a living, Im living.'"
Not often you get a heart-warming masterpiece about an elderly bank robber, so run, don't walk, to this one (or you could casually stroll and be polite, you lame-o).
This is so seemingly calmly assured and confident while making it look so easy (sort of like Forrest Tucker) that it feels like a minor miracle. This is the kind of film where you spend 85-90% of the time grinning ear to ear. This is a filmmaker who loves crime cinema, but also loves how Redford as a full star AND as a great actor when given the opportunity appears on camera. Additionally, this is the kind of cat-and-mouse "thriller" where we genuinely like the cop as much as the robber (Affleck is quite good here), and the ending feels as though it'll be bittersweet until it comes back around to being fully sweet.
Lastly, while I know the thing right now is to engulf and/or create art that is fiery and angry and responding to the moment, a film like The Old Man and the Gun is necessary for the reason that you can go and turn off everything else in the world but not, as the saying goes, turn off your mind. Lowery, for me, has finally arrived with the genuine article (and his previous films have shown real talent already).
Also, I cant wait till I can do a double feature of this with The Hot Rock. Oh, and you get a solid 10-15 minutes of Tom Waits too!