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Little Women (1994)
8/10
In three word: a lovely quilt
4 December 2019
I don't know if I have much to say about this movie, save for two things: First, the much younger version of myself never would have gone near this, and looking back I can understand it and seeing it now as a grown I'd-like-to-think-vaguely-mature person I appreciate it a lot more (though it makes me wish I had a little sister growing up as I'm sure she would've watched it and I imagine not leaving the room). And secondly, the most succinct way I can think to describe what Little Women 1994 is... It's like being wrapped up in your genuinely loving and wholesome grandmother's *quilt, made from all natural fibers. It's warm and comforting and yet it tells some real truths about the world, and if you wake up in it it will still be just as comforting (or to put it another way, it's the best possible version of what I picture Hallmark movies are like, with the major boost of a cast that includes people like Winona Ryder and Eric Stoltz - what a fascinating 1994 those two had in movies - and Christian Bale rocking a goatee just when his character Laurie is at his moodiest).

It's a swell movie to watch with your loved one(s) on a cold almost-winter's night, just as snug as being in the aforementioned quilt.

(*I understand the coincidence or irony or what have you I made that comparison when three of these women went on to be in How to Make an American Quilt the next year)
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Dumbo (2019)
4/10
You'll believe an elephant can be half-hearted and soulless
1 December 2019
I was ready to come on here and do a spiel about how I can never forget the time in an interview (I believe it was on "The Directors" documentary series, remember that from back in the day, nevermind) where Tim Burton declared (and I QUOTE), "I wouldn't know a good script if it bit me in the face." At the time, this almost was meant to be sort of self-deprecating, or something like that, as if it say that he can only rely on his gut when reading something to know if it will work on the screen, or that he's more interested in the visual potential. Honestly, I will be forever baffled that he would say such a thing without irony. but the fact is that when he said this (around 20 years or so ago), he had scripts that were smart and sharp and more often than not genuinely felt. Scripts for films like Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands and the Batmans, even Mars Attacks!, had more than enough potential to bring to life.

Now we're in 2019, and Ehren Kruger couldn't bother to give Tim Burton a script that would poke him in the nose. This isn't even a bad script in an interesting or attention-grabbing way. It's just... half-baked, and that's the kind of bat Burton movie we get in return.

Now, in full disclosure, the 1941 Dumbo is a film I still consider a classic (despite the racism); it had a remarkable and almost without peer Economy of Story, where it managed to tell so much and put in so much heart, with its highs and lows, that it managed to do so much in an hour. But I'd like to think I'm not a total crab movie guy, and I was open to seeing what off-beat touches Burton and company could bring to a modern Dumbo (and at least it's not a retooling/reimagining/re-everything of a film that's younger than I am, but I digress). What manages to be apparent really quickly is that Kruger's new ideas are like statements that get written early in a paper and then are never truly followed up on or explored (what I might call 'statments'), and that Burton, for all of his competency, is... not putting his heart into this.

When I say half-baked, I'm talking about how the film tries to broach subjects, like how the public isn't accepting of a freakish "other" until it can do an extraordinary thing (and even then it's not like there's any indictment of the public past introducing it in the first big circus set piece), or the whole Conglomerate Takes Over the Little Guy But Squeezes Out Humanity thing - which might have been a subversive act against Disney itself, maybe, maybe not, but the filmmakers either don't care or they just use the backdrop ultimately for a shallow "statment" about the triumph of the spirit of the Little Guys over adversity of the Big Corporate Machine for a big climactic showdown. But what's even more striking is that Dumbo isn't even really the main character of his own story - it's mostly (supposedly at the start) about Colin Farrell's disillusionment coming home from the war without what he used to do in the circus (and with a dead wife no longer there to care for his children)... but his arc is also left to almost a shrug in the last act.

Oh, and good lord the children. I have to be mean here for a beat: Nico Parker has no business being in this movie. This isn't to say most of the performances here are very *good* (DeVito is having some fun mugging, and Eva Green does what she can with a somewhat thinly written character and brings the most heart in the whole thing, while Keaton is... making a CHOICE for damn sure with this Capital-C Character, and at least seems to be amusing himself), but they are performances by professionals. Parker is only here because she's the daughter of Thandie Newton, and while her being here may be another decision on Burton's part to make this Dumbo his own, it's an abysmal decision: she says every line with the sort of deadpan I would expect from someone in The Dead Don't Die. The other child as her brother is a non-entity too, but at least not noticeably so. With Parker, it's a gaping void where personality goes to die.

And I know it can't be a Modern Disney Remake without it including lots of stuff that connects back to the original, but it's bizarre what does and doesn't get in here. The Pink Elephants is turned around into being just a "dazzling" minute or so of a larger set piece (Dumbo looking at circus performers making elephants out of bubbly water), while the Crows are of course gone (the way the feather is worked in actually is... okay, not very good but not bad, it makes sense). But if this movie needed to get ANYTHING right, it would be the relationship between Mrs. Jumbo and her little Jumbo, Jr., and Kruger and Burton spend barely any time with them (the "Baby Mine" number is here, of course, and even that feels something like an after-thought, like "Oh yeah, we gotta put that in here, let's have someone sing it without any connection to the elephants." That encapsulates what I mean about the economy of storytelling that this can't match up even if it tried: Disney and his writers in 1940 packed in so much potent visual storytelling and emotion in a few scenes, while this tries to shove in some lip-service to Believing In Yourself and the Power of Mother's Love, but it moves much too quickly in a run-time that's almost double the original.

This isn't even a disaster I can get very mad about, but it does rank with the other disappointments of 2019. I'm not even one of those who says that Burton is beyond the pale or hasn't made a good movie since X date years ago (I though his previous two films, Big Eyes and Mrs. Peregrine, ranged from very good to decent). But this represents a nadir in a slightly different way than a Planet of the Apes; that was not good, but it felt like at least he was trying to put his stamp on it and just fumbled the ball in some key ways. This is a misfire in a way that reminds me of directors of old who, in their later years, were going through the motions, and it was really just so sad. There are signs that he was present for some of this, at least in the casting, and good god is Danny Elfman working over-time to add life/levity/excitement to the proceedings. But it's like looking at a bloodless animatronic of an Edward Scissorhands figure: the look is there, but the soul is gone.
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8/10
Drunk History
29 November 2019
On YouTube, this says it's the first "Staged Narrative in a Film." I'm not completely sure if that wording is entirely correct - there is a staged bit of business here, but there is no beginning or middle or end, it's only a "Bit of Business" as they say in acting and directing lingo - but it is fascinating all the same. As it turns out, the first time that anything close to people "acting" (so it's not a train coming in to a station, or someone just walking or posing), it involves masculinity: Men being MEN in capital letters as they hammer one after another, and then pass around a bottle (or two of them do, or one of them does and then they repeat it with two of them), and then they continue hammering.

I know this was only an experiment at this time to see if *anything* could be shot and come out on film successfully and be developed and screened, but I do wish that if there was going to be a staged bit of business it could have gone... further somehow? Like had a conclusion or some other escalation that simply this (like what if the bottle fell out of one of their hands and shattered, or one of them hit too quickly and collided?) Ironically, this depiction by Dickerson and company was already dated, according to the IMDb trivia, as blacksmiths stopped drinking on the job by the 1890s. Even at the start, cinematic storytelling was full of inaccuracies and half-truths!

But seriously, this is cool that this has been saved for all of this time over a century (it was the first film entered in the National Film Registry in the US), and... these men certainly look the types to blacksmith the hell out of that anvil AND drink, so kudos on the casting!
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8/10
Rule Breakers v Capitalism
19 November 2019
This is made by the filmmaker who previously did a lot to inspire Walk Hard, so it may be redundant to say that this biopic about the Men Who Raced Hard in the 60s has conventional moving parts and mechanisms in its plot and certain (ok most) characters.

Aside from an ending that isn't a surprise or shock given how clearly (or blatantly) it's set up in the three-point Set-up/Reminder/Pay-off style in conventional screenwriting, this even has the kid who is there so that some of the grown-ups can explain things involving making some of the turns and, oh, being set on fire and surviving (not to say that this guy Ken Miles didn't have a son I'm sure he did that's not what I'm saying I'm talking about the TEXT of the story for pete's sake). Id even say Josh Lucas is only here because the writers think the stakes of a 24 hour race aren't enough so one needs the Corporate Suit Who Is Against Our Rebel Batman-Driver (and not to say there weren't pencil-pushing hacks at Ford then, I wasn't there and neither were you, but it's a total cliche thru and thru).

....YET, There's two things. First, to make a car analogy again because it's fitting, Ford v Ferrari works and moves like a dependable and well-oiled machine and which, not to get off on a long tangent because who the hell has time, would probably please journalists nowadays looking for "Pizzazz" with otherwise enthralling events (sorry if you know what Im referring to and I digress on current events), it also has star-actors who get to find subtleties within the little beats of the script and/or where Manhole finds a moment to let it breathe (a pivotal character beat between Ken and Mollie where she speeds like hell to get the bloody truth out of his man ends up being one, and so in the very last scene with Shelby and the kid), fantastic cinematography and editing and a score/song selections that rock immensely, and Tracy Letts (writer of Bug and Killer Joe) hilariously crying like a baby at another key scene in a fast car.

Second, the climax threw me for a loop in a way that made me very pleased - especially, as odd timing and weird I won't say luck but happenstance would have it, as this is a former Fox movie but now "owned" by Disney - because it speaks to a strong, hard lesson about what can happen in following the Corporate Line. Ken could go one way and be the independent rock star hero he is to himself and his son and a few others, or follow what he's been told will look good for a photo. His decision at first seems like and is deceptively a "Good" beat, where it's almost like the movie is saying, "yeah, sometimes you gotta suck it up and do what they tell you." But the actual consequence of this turns it on its head, and while the film doesn't hold on it for too long, it still resonates in a world where so many people are told to do something a particular way, and it opens one up to get... Screwed.

I don't know if I read into it too much or the way the filmmakers intended, but it puts an excellent bow on the underlying subtext (or flat out text, your pick) about how to get ahead or not get ahead or simply the pitfalls in a world dominated by corporate interests.

Oh, and it's a helluva adaptation of Speed Racer and/or Mario Kart, you decide there.
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9/10
a marvelous magic trick, and all with the filmmaker's own head
5 November 2019
Incidentally the first Meme (or we can say Gif, right) in the history of civilization came by way of George Melies, and in all likely-hood by accident.

This is a very bizarre and completely lovably deranged short by the great magician of the pioneer-cinema era, where what we get is a man's head blown up in proportion, then shrunken back, and then, blown up again until it explodes (which, somehow and someway, doesn't make the mad scientist who created this contraption very happy). Oh, and the Chemist who creates this is also the man who plays the man with his head blowing up like Violet Beauregard - Melies himself - and he does about the best Giant Blow-Up Head Man performance in a short amount of time as possible.

Though one can see today the lines where the film is split off into its section to create the effect - what is in essence a primitive version of what we might have seen in the films up until around thirty years ago, where an actor is in one place in the frame, and then inside of that frame is another image created with a separate set of film - it is still a glorious spectacle that does what it needs to within two minutes. It's like seeing a little comic strip come to life, and the marvel of that image outweighs a lack of, you know, story development or in-depth character. Melies wasn't about that anyway, he just wanted to wow people. And, above all else, it's really friggin' funny to see him do this to himself; I'd expect to see a similar effect in a 90's music video (incidentally, Smashing Pumpkins used Trip to the Moon for Tonight Tonight, but I digress).
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9/10
How to plot and execute a "little" murder... Maybe more than one! Browning classic
1 November 2019
Tod Browning was one-of-a-kind as an artist and this is one of his major films. It's a particularly uncanny blend of sadistic revenge story - an ex banker who escapes from a prison island with a mad scientist who has perfected shrinking animals and especially people, so he uses the innovation, goes to Paris and tracks down his prior cohorts and one by one takes them out - and a fairly tragic story of a daughter who hates what her father's horrible legacy has wraught.

But it's also a total blast, with Barrymore getting to play BIG for much of the runtime while in old-lady drag (almost like his Mrs. Doubtfire... Just with more jewel thievery and murder) and it's knowing of how much this is meant to be funny and quite crazy. Not to mention that it does fall under the category, if only by default, for "horror" as a genre due to its fantasy-medical experiment conceit and moments like when Barrymore in full old-lady getup paralyzes one of his targets (he's not quite dead but can't move) and stares as his fate is sealed. Oh, and Raffaela Otiano as Marieta gives a magnificently hammy turn as well - an underrated icon among horror villains.

The Devil-Doll was a total surprise, as I was expecting maybe a simple lark of a sci-fi tinged horror saga, and instead got a sophisticated and devilishly entertaining tale that is nearly unclassifiable, and with more than a few set pieces of special effects combining "little" people on giant sets and matte photography that was amazing for 1936 and is still impressive for me over 80 years later. In Browning's hands (and coscripted by Erich von Stroheim), it somehow all works, even as it shouldn't.
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Born to Kill (1947)
9/10
"Goodbye...Sister." "Goodbye... Brother..."
28 October 2019
Lawrence Tierney as Sam Wild, one of his essential performances, is deep down (or on the surface much of the time) a nasty piece of work, but what I love about his turn here is that he brings a smarmy sort of leading-man charm to scenes in the first half. Matter of fact, if this has been a decade before, it would've been a great role for Bogart. Here, Tierney is chilling, but he also is so prideful... and one may almost forget as the story goes on, until one is clearly reminded, that he killed two people because, hey, no dame shows up Sam Wild with a new man! Eek.

And yet... Claire Trevor as Helen, oh tragic class-and-money conscious Helen, makes this even more of a classic in the 40's American Noir canon. She plays so much conflict, sometimes in a single movement within a shot, that she makes this more than your standard B movie Femme Fatale. Moreover, this is a story that means to take on class, if only somewhat at first and then more as it goes along - Sam, after all, is marrying into wealth with Georgia, but Sam sees that Helen comes from that "other" world, and she has her moment (if fleeting) where she finds his tough talk or just his persona kind of... If not seductive, then certainly alluring.

She can snap out of it and come back down to Earth, or... Let's wait and see what happens near the end. But Sam? He is who he is (or later on she says pointedly to him after a major turning point revelation, "You make it difficult for people who are on your side") How do either one of them fit in to the world they're in (and, of course, the coincidence that binds them - Helen found the bodies of those Sam slain just the same night... Oops)?

Born to Kill has an edge for 1947 (hell, even now) and sense of danger for Helen since Sam is what he is, an irrepressible sociopath and at the least a narcissist. But what about what her responsibility is, and what she brings onto others? Maybe I'm reading too much into a sordid pot-boiler with all of the usual ingredients - nightclub location, a cheeky detective, sexual compulsions, dark shadows, a devious and always wonderful Elisha Cook, Jr - but the psychology underlying the main characters is so absorbing. All of this from assured and sometimes clever direction by Robert Wise is a bonus.
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Madman (1981)
7/10
What more could a Slasher fan axe for?
27 October 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Madman features some of the more not even completely laughable but just awkward/amateur acting in a horror movie of its time (Gaylen Ross the obvious exception), while simultaneously featuring incredibly gruesome kills via superb make-up and fx, with a careful and surprisingly intense level of suspense and build-up (sometimes with Creeping-up-on-You synth music, sometimes not), and a killer who I enjoyed immensely as what Ill forever call "Farmer Yeti".

When it comes to what people pay their tickets (or buy their Vinegar Syndrome remastered blu-rays for), it delivers more than expected. This filmmaker - his one and only credit, and I wish we could've seen more of what was in store - has the right stuff when it comes to shooting at night (a number of horror grindhouse trash from this period looks underlit as garbage) and for getting us invested in these genuinely grisly and gritty set pieces.

He also does well by hiding Madman Marz through much of it - perhaps because he has a mask that isn't completely believable sticking to his face once we get to it near the end. So I can largely look past things like that one actress who is still smiling/acting calm(!?) after discovering one of the bodies, or whatever that undressing/sex scene is with the hot tub. I almost look at it as being part of the... charm of the whole thing.

It's a first movie, and looking back on that scale it makes its mark as a memorable slasher; I don't know if it's among the best, but it's very far from a bottom tier. And aside from its own theme song and a title card referencing how these are "gifted children" at this camp (are they on loan from Professor Xavier?)... There is a rare twist for this kind of story in the Final Girl scenario, which gives the ending more of a dark sense of gravity that it does earn. Bottom line here is: I don't know the story as to why Gaylen Ross isn't credited under her name for the movie (I may re-edit this once I watch the documentary) but if it's because she wasnt happy with how it turned out, she might want to give it another look some day.
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Black and Blue (I) (2019)
6/10
a slick, mostly timely cat and mouse cop thriller that is perfectly OK
25 October 2019
Deon Taylor isn't the best director of B movies that are being released on thousands of screens, but he is... *a* director of them, not totally without some measure of competence and among the three Screen Gems movies he's helmed over the past two years, Black and Blue lets him show what he can do with a more-than-competent script, with shades of... May I be high-minded and compare to High Noon? Only this time the law is asking for help from the public to protect from murderous lawman, so maybe that and a large sprinkling of David Ayer in Training Day/End of Watch mode. In other words, it's not as good as those films, but it's no disgrace by any means either.

Plus, he has actors in Harris and (yes) Tyrese Gibson ready to flex, on top of a chewing-the-set-via-gold-teeth Mike Coulter. This is not to say he's made a giant leap into being 'Someone To Watch', yet when his previous flicks were the insufferable Traffik and sorta-passable-because-of-Quaid The Intruder, a hard-boiled programmer (after a long day of work no less) was what the doctor ordered... Up to a point.

Sure, it certainly has its faults at points, including a couple of story contrivances in order to make a couple of lame message/wrap-around points (including one where Tyrese happens to get some, uh, I guess payback, but I wonder what happens right after his character does that to the, oh, nevermind). But it's got well-directed action, some tense set pieces involving the cat and mouse on-the-run dynamics of West vs Everyone, not to mention boiling hot topical themes and issues that resonate under the surface - which is always a plus in a B movie of this kind - and the locations add much credibility as it was all filmed in parts of New Orleans that many coming down for a vacation or such would not ever go to.

It still feels like a slick Hollywood product, though with some varnish and a depiction of poverty and crime that isn't in something people watching can't or wont recognize. It's not fun bad, or something one will remember a year from now, but it can pass 90 minutes well enough (and an enthusiastic black audience helps).
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Stalking Laura (1993 TV Movie)
7/10
Not your typical stalker thriller - it's more substantial than that
20 October 2019
Why this? Well, sometimes you scroll Amazon Prime for movies and come across this, and sometimes, well, it scrolls across you. Or... Nah, I'm just a sucker for watching seemingly crappy things with my wife, and once she saw this was there (REMASTERED IN 4K), that was it.

Seriously, in all actualilty, this turns out to be a much better and interesting discovery than I had any hopes for. While I do credit Thomas and Shields for taking this material seriously, and Thomas in particlar nails that look that says "I will get *you*", it's also that the material is serious enough for it to not be hokey or campy. Matter of fact, this is scary in the truth of what it's showing: that an entitled man (an entitled white man who, of course, has no game so he picks on someone to the point where, rightfully, he is fired) - without any checks and, indeed, he springs back to another job (with stock options!) - is the scariest thing imaginable. And once it gets to the last half hour... Wow.

The greater strength of this is that it implicates/arguably indicts the system that allows and in fact forgives someone like Richard and lets him thrive... Even when he says explicitly he will KILL PEOPLE if he isnt given what he wants(!) One would hope that this s***scape has changed a little for the better, including that someone like this can easily get weapons, but in 30 some odd years it still feels painfully relevant (we now just call these degenerates... Incels or what have you). I n other words, you may come for the camp or sleaze but, while it's not a great film entirely, it's not that in the slightest. I Can Make You Love Me is a real movie, ultimately a tragic and far more violent one (or I should distinguish that it's about violence, and it has to show it) with substance and grit and the makers get one to hink about its darkest mplications.
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Knife + Heart (2018)
7/10
fairly unique take on a tried-true thriller type
15 October 2019
The word giallo is thrown around in a lot of the reviews here - and not least of which in the description on MUBI - but it strikes me that Yann Gonzalez isn't necessarily all that interested in getting some shocks or indulging so much in the kill set pieces (not that he doesn't completely, with one involving lots of 360 degree pans revealing in each succession the killer approaching and then slicing away) as much as he is in pushing the colors that hes working with and mixing film stocks and, in his way, doing a meta comment on using art as a way to fight back.

When Vanessa Paradis's Anne goes to a police station to be briefly questioned about one of her actors being offed, this is then cut away to her recreating this with her own actors (Anal Fury 5 quickly becomes "Homocidal," the best pun you never thought of because why would you), and when she thinks she can draw out who may be the killer, she quickly stages a scene of sado-masochism... And gets what she is asking for (in the one scene that is truly suspenseful). What I'm trying to say here is that if you go in to Knife+Heart expecting a usual Argento or Fulci or one of those directors, you'll be not so much disappointed as thrown off.

And yes, MUBI, it is "unapologetically queer", which, you know, good. But it is also unapologetically French: the Italians had their own method of madness when it came to drawing out violent and/or surreal set pieces (one commonality is a lush and vibrant and spine-tingling score), and this has some surrealism as well, like with the black and white 16mm that feels like it's deliberately cut in from another movie.

But it also embraces and in fact demands that it be erotic and push the limits (albeit no actual genitals are seen, they might as well be), and Gonzalez is in love with color in a particular way. When we see red, it feels especially red and fiery; when we see blue, it's particularly somber and sad. And black? Well, that's the name of the game, man/woman - darkness is all around these characters, but what I also find striking is that, for the types the gay actors and some crew are, they feel like real people, which I often didn't get from Italian Giallos.

One issue though is that it is a director preferring style over substance. He loves Paradis clearly and what she can bring, but her role is thin and I never really felt for her (though she is, without spoiling, denied her moment of redemption that should come). Maybe that makes her more tragic, but I just didn't feel it, and that is what also is more French to me than anything - the sense of doomed romance and ennui which... Cool. But it's definitely more of a visual and sensory experience than one for story or real pathos.
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9/10
Ed Wood for blaxploitation
13 October 2019
This is what the old timers call a "feel good" movie, and so do I as I am (sorta) old. Dolemite is My Name was awesome, and in particular a blast to see in a theater with a crowd that was into it (it's in select theaters two weeks ahead of its Netflix drop); in a lot of ways it's more like Scott/Larry's Ed Wood than The Disaster Artist, where once again we a determined and ultimately good-hearted underdog scrap his way into cult film status (in this case as much being a comedic powerhouse too, and showing for and outside and underrepresented community at the time). For all his faults, we root for Rudy Ray Moore, and it's practically without sentimental touches.

I also didn't know much about the BTS stories of how Moore got his comedy shtick down (from homeless, hobos and other folks from the street), or how he put together his movie production through a lot of sheer will, determination, D'Urville Martin (ill get back to him in a second), and a few white guys from film school who could find a plug for the hotel used as "Dolemite Studios." Also, the heart of the movie including those around Rudy who helped him out, especially Lady Reed/Queen Bee (Randolph, who I haven't really seen before but is a stand-out), and writing (with Jerry Jones, Key is LOL) what he knew, and that connecting. The only thing missing is showing the boom mic dropping into the shots(!)

This is amazing work, from writers who know how to do a story where outsider/down-on-their-luck/shut-out creators rise to the occasion in high comedic and dramatic form, and a director (Brewer, his first significant film since Black Snake Moan) who gets how to show black lives and how they matter. And Murphy is astonishingly good and charming and grounded and everything he needs to be to make Moore work... But goddamn if Snipes doesn't steal the whole show. This is the best character and most emotionally rich and fun Murphy's been in 20 years. This is the best Snipes has *ever* been (have I seen him be this funny aside from Major League? No. He's funnier here), as this completely full of himself star-director, drunk off his ass, and one step from directing with a pinky raised. And even he gets some dimension and a key moment where he gives Moore some advice/direction that connects genuinely.

I may even raise this rating up a notch in the coming days. Im not sure, conventional ending besides, I can find a note wrong or off about Dolemite is my Name. This is the most heartwarming thing you may see this year - so strap in with some b****es and some beer! That's... The best I got.

... Pedantic point PS: the "B***h, are you for real?!" scene where Dolamite jumps out the window.... That's from the follow-up, The Human Tornado, not Dolemite proper (in a way that may be giving Martin too much credit that he could stage that). Just the more you know...
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8/10
Among the most fascinating and bizarre sequels of modern Hollywood
13 October 2019
This is so... So... Uncanny. For a number of reasons.

First off, maybe George C Scott protested his Oscar win for Patton because he could see into the future and thought he really deserved it for the scene in Exorcist III where he talks about having to look at the carp fish from his wife in his bathtub(?) One can dream.

I should note seriously that he is quite good here, being what should be the closest thing to an audience avatar (which, in this case with Blatty, means not entirely so much) as he is investigating these twisted murders by a serial killer called "Gemin" - who everyone thinks died 15 years before, when that little McNeil exorcism thing happened - just as Father Damien Karras did... Except the killer's real M.O., kept out of the press, keeps appearing with these victims, including a 12 year old and some priests. Scott manages to coney a lot of frustration and pain and anguish, at times subdued and other times not at all in that BIG Scott performance way, and he is something that, if only somewhat, can keep us tethered to some sort of reality (carp and all).

I think an issue in this film is that Blatty never got the memo from David Fincher when he said his line about people thinking there's five ways to shoot and scene, but in reality there's actually two, and one of those is wrong. And while Blatty made this before Fincher said that, the main idea applies: Blatty shoots scenes, not all the time but enough I could notice, in ways that say he either doesn't know where to put the camera just right or doesn't care or is just experimenting because he thinks the material calls for close-ups HERE when it should be a wide or medium. This also goes for the pacing at times, where a character will-in on a previous scene with a line or it's a hard CUT to something else. But this is in scenes establishing characters and the stakes in the first act for the most part, and it creates this weird feeling that Blatty may or may not have intended. It sure kept me on my toes (it's a movie to put the phone down and just WATCH), and even the direction of certain supporting players (like that one nurse that *yells* her dialog for some reason) is also off-kilter.

That's the phrase to look for here is off-kilter, which would be fine if this wasn't meant to be a sequel (of sorts, or spin-off or follow-up, whatever you want to call it) to The Exorcist, and despite the studio monkeying around with Blatty and forcing the title and franchise on him (though the book, Legion, does follow Kinderman and is in this world), Blatty is sort of defying the stark/documentary type of realism that was set up in the first story, which made it so horrifying, and since he is a true believer in this stuff (Friedkin, who wasn't, brought a different take on it), that also makes it... Odder.

Like, is the conflict that Kinderman isn't a believer and has to become one to stop this possessed killer, who happens to take on the face sometimes of Karras (Miller returning... for half of a performance, allegedly due to his drinking problem he couldn't remember all the lines to Blatty's turducken-sized monologues for Vinamen) Or is it simply a mystery with a particularly twisted horror bent that includes some gory details?

So what elevates what is a bit of a mess of a horror mystery, even before it gets to the climax - where the studio spent 4 million because they ordered that Blatty had to make it a full-blown Exorcist movie for several minutes? The scenes with Miller and Dourif in that dark mental hospital cell are masterful and remarkable, tense and even terrifying for how effectively Blatty is shooting and cutting together, the lighting and staging, what are long dialog/monologue scenes, the cracklingly good performances from these two men who tap into not just the evil but the misery and diabolical thrill of beong evil, and that for as long-winded as it might seem (particularly the second round, the first scene, where it's almost 50/50 Miller and Dourif, is aces)... It finds its footing and feels unique in that way where it can get under our skin. A good ten minutes of this is as unique and brilliant as any great horror movie ever.

There are a few other moments of creative filmmaking too, like that long sustained take showing the nurse doing her work in the hallway that leads up to a OH HELL moment, and a chase and confrontation in Kinderman's house that has energy and terror, and also that surreal (if short) sequence in the heaven waiting room, featuring the scariest jazz ever.

I cant say Exorcist III is particularly great, but watching it now almost 30 years later there's a lot to admire about it too. I even admire the warped go for broke level of horror of that finale (I do intend some day to watch Legion the director's cut). It's not the sort of movie most of us would expect from a movie called Exorcist III, but it has a closer look and tone than (certainly) Exorcist II. And if it is at times Cinema-by-Committee, then at least that wild almost amateur but creative novelist Blatty got to flex a little.
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First Love (2019)
7/10
Miike is as Miike does
12 October 2019
If this isn't one of Miike's major triumphs, with his graphic sense of a graphic-novel there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-top-to-go-over Yakuza-set crime movies, First Love is still a welcome return to the form of what fondly got me to watch a few dozen of his work over the years (not exaggerating, and I'm sure I'm missing so many more to see).

The last twenty minutes is where it gets into that sweet spot of a wildly and cartoonishly violent series of fights and kills, set and shot brilliantly in a department store, but before that there is a mix of super-dark comedy with a kill-happy guy, played with such glee by Shota Sometami (he's even surprised at himself how many he kills over the course of one night, including an old lady), and a (for Miike) 'sweet' kind of meet-cute where a boxer - who has just been told he has a terminal tumor in his brain - and a young street woman - who keeps seeing her dead abusive father in hallucinations form (possibly from early withdrawal as the kept woman of another Yakima and his lady, and don't get me started on her and her crazy ass - run into each other on a street at night and have to flee... Till they get caught. But what then?

It's almost sort of, hmm how shall I say, quaint in that 90's era of Tarantino rip-offs way that this largely takes place over one night and while it involves some warring gang elements and outrageous side characters (oh hey master swordsman with one arm), mostly in the plot, it's more concerned with the .. Idiosyncrasies of the characters (or, perhaps, like Miike's Into the Night(?) All of the details are Miike's though, and if I feel like I've seen it before it's only because I've seen too many damn movies in the course of my life - had this been one of my first times seeing his work, I'm sure id be like "Whoa, where have YOU been all my life??"

First Love is a work by a confident master of his craft about to enter his fourth decade of filmmaking, but it has the energy and take-chance spirit of a young director who wants to impress us. My heart wants to give it an even higher rating, especially because it is so much fun in that department store finale and for loving Miike as one of world cinema's few remaining Great Wild-men Who Happen to Be Able to Do It All. But if I take a step back I know the story is a bit repetitive, and the main couple of Leo the Boxer and Monica the Hallucinating Addict, are passive characters.

All the same, this gave me what I wanted and is a good Yakuza thriller. And 20 seconds of psychedelic animation can go a long way.

(REEDIT - yeah... I bumped it up to 4 stars. It's closer to 3 1/2, but in a world where Ang Lee is making soulless stuff like Gemini Man, Ill take this any day)
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Gemini Man (2019)
5/10
It's fine... and it could be more
11 October 2019
So, at first, I was thinking while watching this ho-hum CIA betrayal script unfold with skillfull-but-soulless direction from Ang Lee and starring three actors - Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Clive Owen, who are in 'we'll do what we can with what we got, best we can, which may be variable depending on the scene', that this could've been ripe stuff that someone like Paul Verhoeven (in the 1990's especially) would have made into the stuff of iconic weird-clone-action stuff of legend, that even if he took like 90% of the script and just shot it. But then it occurred to me, in particular in the last act, that what this most reminded me of - or what I wanted to be at home watching (again) instead - was The Boys, the new Amazon series that has some key elements that can't help but be comparable involving government-science experiments on Super-Killing-People, and then consequences when one person who looks as the "Parent" see their progenitor go a little... off.

I may be off in that comparison, or I may be giving Gemini Man too much credit in even comparing the two. The fact is though, this movie has a lot going for it, or at least some semblance of potential, and it isn't all unrealized. The flow of this movie is that the first quarter to third, being the set-up, is largely flat and only somewhat interesting because Smith and Winstead have OK chemistry (not great, but OK, passable, a GED level - Good Enough Diploma level); then, once the two Will Smiths discover each other, as the younger Clone is sent to kill the older one (aka "Clay Jr", named after Owen's super-villain with his Gemini program), their scenes together - Smtih acting off Smith - is actually incredible and full of emotion that may/may not be earned but, who cares, Smith(s) sells it; and then the last act becomes... kind of just another crap action movie, with one particular twist that gives Ang Lee a few minutes to try and flex the old comic-book movie muscles, which feels just goofy and, frankly, if I want to see this, I can check out Winter Soldier again (or, for that matter, that wonderfully dopey five minutes of Avengers: Endgame where Cap fights himself).

Anyway, what Gemini Man is, for all of its slick beats and a pretty cool motorcycle chase, something that just doesn't carry much life to it. It's not something that's so awful that one will go to social media and make it into a larger deal than it is (like a certain other movie out right now), nor does it feel fresh. It *should*, but I think a lot of that has to do with a perfectly serviceable, and at least half of the time unremarkable, screenplay that has David Benioff's strengths and weaknesses on full display. I wanted more of the HEART of this matter of what Jr was going through, and perhaps there could have been a whole other movie just set in the world of the Gemini program (a hint of it is seen when we get a glimpse at how the training program runs almost like, well, a giant darn Blockbuster movie production - though in this case to send off super-killers to other countries for "bad" deeds).

At the end of the day, though, this is just... Fine. There. What it is. And, frankly, I expect more of everyone here; it sounds cruel to say that a filmmaker doesn't have his heart in it, a feat that takes years out of someone's life, but here we are. I miss the Ang Lee of The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution. Get back to drama, dude, it suits you like purple on Prince.
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Bodyguard (1948)
7/10
A good entry point into the 1940s Lawrence Tierney ouevre
10 October 2019
Id like to think Altman (24 at the time) wrote that Mike Carter listening to the Exposition Lady on the Many Records scene himself (it slaps, especially the bit where the woman talks to the person listening in), plus that amusing set piece at the eye doctor's office.

Bodyguard is somewhat Meat and Potatoes 'Some-Mug-Set-Me-Up-Ill-Find-Out-Who-Can't-Go-To-the-Cops-Whaddaya-Crazy piece of pulp, elevated by some decent if occasionally uncanny direction from Fleischer (watch for those EXTREME close-ups and quick zoom-ins - say, maybe this did influence Altman after all) and in particular Tierney, who plays this ex-homicide detective turned bodyguard turned Man Solving His Own Frame-Job with some quick skills, a bit of wit and a number of swift punches and choke-holds (not to mention disguises, re that Eye doctor scene). Everyone else here is more or less serviceable, but his presence single-handedly makes it compelling; in another world, he couldve been a more hard-boiled Dick Tracy.

I'm not sure if it would be quite as memorable without its star and a few above average twists (and one I called halfway through... Yeah, I wasn't quick on the draw this time). A true blue B movie that goes by like reading a crumpled paperback on a commute.

(Really, much as I kid, the Altman part is a bit of a foot-note, one of four credited writers, and he didn't go back to movies gor another nine years)
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Gotti (2018)
1/10
"What you want and what you get are two different things."
3 September 2019
This is an unequivocal failure of storytelling. I watched with my wife and she was as baffled as I was. She said she couldn't tell someone else what this movie... Is about. I responded, "well, Gotti does... Things? There are events?" And she responded, "Really? Does he? Are there??"

This is about nothing, except 60-something John Travolta desperately keeping, clinging to, his hair piece on (oh just one, sorry, I mean multiple ones). The only thing I can say about it that isn't horrible is the cinematography, but that just underscores how much of a complete disaster this was put together; all the darkly shaded shots can't hide that what's IN the frame is nonsense. I rarely stop watching movies while at home - I made it all the way through Loqueesha and The Snowman, for Gods sake (in retrospect the latter was easier to follow) - but this was bad like when we throw out some meat and in the day or two before it's time to take out the garbage it stinks up the kitchen like a dumpster. I made it an hour in and couldn't take it anymore. This is ATLAS SHRUGGED PART 1 bad. This is Gangster Movie ad Vomit. And even if it wasn't an incoherent boondoggle, it's got every cliched rock and roll (or PITBULL?!) music cue and act of overwrought violence you could ever/never ask for. And I don't know if I can even put all of the fault at Kevin Connolly's feet - though I'm sure there's some - but rather the two *dozen* producers and various post-production staff on this. Did they try to SAVE this?

Oh, I do need to give a shout-out to Travolta as old-man Gotti in prison with a testicle-sack chin ala Thanos.
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10/10
Satoshi Kon's tragic-comic surrealist love letter to Japanese cinema
20 August 2019
First and foremost, or what it appeads to be in abundance, marvel of storytelling, though that really means it all comes down to the *telling* part. The story itself, if laid out in its basic terms, might not seem so complex: an aged actress who left the industry behind decades before recounts her experiences in film, but most especially the search for a sensitive young painter she met, and how it encompasses the history of modern Japanese film... Which also means an actual "millennium", possibly, anyway.

Yet what is complex is how Kon ties each segment together, which is something that has to be conceived of on the page and yet also takes artists who not only understand structure but know it so well they can bend it and push it. This is a master's class in how to transition from one moment to another, from one period to another, from a setting and a costume and a feeling that isnt jarring, but is instead keyed into a total dream logic.

David Lynch did a similar technique (I think anyway) with Inland Empire a few years later, though that didn't have a key journey to pull it together (here it's the searching, or in Chiyoko's words "the pursuit"). The one thing that... I won't say concerned but something I noticed for about halfway through is that, as astonished and captivated I was by Kon's sheer daring as a filmmaker, and that he could manage to pull off not only taking the audience through these moments (maybe even shards) in time and also include the documentary filmmaker characters into the scenes and for that to somehow work too (and it almost shouldn't, like simply seeing the camcorder the man is holding could break the spell), I wasn't totally connecting with it emotionally. Like, my brain was saying" "this is a sort of conceptually great film, but I don't find myself as torn apart as watching Perfect Blue or even Paprika)...

And then it comes out what the background of the main documentary filmmaker, Genya, interviewing Chiyoko is all about, that he used to be on set but never approached her (how could he as a lowly crew person), and it hit me that there's a greater story being told here. As much as her own obsessive quest consumed her, she might have taken for granted what an impact she made on other people, or who else did connect with her (maybe life is a series of being protected and protecting others), and in a sense it's this filmmaker's emotional story that makes the whole thing complete. I do hope to visit this again and I have the sense, like with all of Kon's films, more will be clear.

For now though, Millennium Actress is fascinating as a piece of reflective Japanese film history (particularly with Setsuko Hara - and yes, I believe I saw a ground-level Ozu shot during that one scene in the house that is the film scene within the film being made), absorbing in the direction and how Kon goes about the precision of moving through a consciousness, which is a MAJOR achievement to pull off as seamlessly as this is (one minor nitpick, the music at times is a little too cheap-synth sounding), and it hits one in the heart once it comes to the conclusion.
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9/10
Sad yet not without some hope, this is Bergman finding his powerful voice
11 August 2019
What starts off seeming so simple eventually, in a leisurely but sure way, becomes tragic and poignant. Bergman built up to this film after a few early works, and while imperfect (I think the two leads have chemistry, but Nilssen is given a greater character arc than Malmsten, who isnt bad but isnt up to her level as far as expressiveness and range), it feels like a complete and fascinatingly light-and-dark combination of poetic realism.

It's at times light and sweet, with a montage of the two young lovers connecting and having fun and fooling around, plus a little animated sequence (!) the two "watch" that is almost the plot laid out, and at other times there's suggestions of incest (kinda, it is her overly adoring and bitter uncle after all, played by Funkquist) and, ultimately, how Marie realized by summer's end if there is a God, she hates him with a passion.

The dynamic and unconventional use of the camera (ie what he does with it when an aawful and life changing noment happens to Henrik is amazing); the brutal power of memory ("I forgot Henrik" is meant to haunt the character, and it comes off well); the discontent and genuine malaise of an artist; the wise contemporary who can see through and bring insight (this happens near the end), it all shows a filmmaker gaining command of his craft in service of his greater ideas and passions.

If it's not one of his best it's only speaks to what would lie ahead (he made this when he was 32). Im also *really* curious to see the American recut version, "Illicit Interlude" which, like Summer with Monika (which would make a natural double feature if there ever was one), got added nude scenes to appeal to the skin-flick audiences.
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The Farewell (I) (2019)
10/10
the lies we tell others, and the lies we tell ourselves - beautiful film
29 July 2019
It can be argued, as I will, that, wherever Shuzhen Zhao came from (it is her *only* screen credit to date), she delivers one of the sweetest, warmest, most equally profoundly and simply human performances this decade. Holy moly! I don't care whether she was a professional actor before this or not, she gave me all the feelings.

Lulu Wang's film explores how this family, this culture in China and the East, have to be deceiving when it comes to not delivering the news of a fatal diagnosis (as someone says here, it isn't the cancer they think kills, it's the *fear* that is connected with it), and at the same time it explores how we lie all the time in small ways. Lies in family can be tricky; if you're married to someone, lying to them is wrong, or at least should be seen that way. But little lies to a parent or grandparent (for example, "Are you alright?" "I'm fine" or "Did you get the news about the Fellowship?" "Still waiting" or "Do you need money?" "I'm fine" or this or that here). those don't seem to matter so much, since it's more about protecting oneself. It may be a selfish act, but more often than not we as people have to balance how much or how little we say when keeping bits and pieces of information (even, especially even, when it's about our well-being) from those who may, oh I don't know, worry a bit more.

In other words, we're all kind of messed up in that way, and at the same time it's seen as something acceptable - hell, sometimes we can just tell when a family member isn't being truthful, but why say anything about it. Indeed early on here, with this story being about how the family of a Matriarch Nai Nai (Zhou) come together for what on the surface is a wedding but is really not deeply felt and is actually about them coming together for a long goodbye as Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer (even the doctors don't tell her, or if they might, the family intercepts the info to not tell her), I wondered if Wang might go in the direction that Nai Nai *knows* that she is dying, but is putting on a kind and brave face since that's just how she is. But then she says one thing to Billie (Awkwafina) about seeing her marry one day, and it becomes clear she truly doesn't know.

What's the saying though, ignorance is bliss? One of the major strengths of this film is that it is deeply philosophical about life and death - I spent a lot of time during and after watching the film thinking about if I would want to know if I was terminally ill, or if I would tell someone close to me like my own mother, or visa-versa - while at the same time being a very warm and inviting film. This isn't a film about how the end of one's life impacts those around that person like, say, Michael Haneke's Amour; this isn't something where you feel the filmmaker being so rigorous that, regardless of quality, once it's done you never want to go near it again. The ideas expressed here are largely anchored around Zhou's performance who, I must say this again, is a total dear, but at the same time isn't someone exactly depicted as naive, she has an emotional intelligence that carries so much, and makes one think about (if one has them) of those times an elder in a family brought people together (a key point, and this is a minor spoiler but it's OK I think to share - she had to do something similar of this lie to *her husband*, so she knows the tradition herself).

If anything, the tenor of this movie reminded me a lot of Yasujiro Ozu's work. Not so much in the direction of compositions, as I think Wang is a bit less formal in style (there's one part that even made me think of Wes Anderson), but in the writing and acting it's there, the subject matter and how the parts move along. Or, let me be more specific, it's like if we had a new Ozu, but it was more from the POV of someone who, via Billi (who is playing a version of Lulu Wang), is and isn't of the culture, so the conflict is the main one but it's also there in family dynamics. What isn't said is as important as what is, maybe more-so (that scene at *dinner, where what's expected of one's life is brought up and rolled about), and in nearly every beat we we wonder if Billi might break and just SAY it (or, at one key point, the groom at the wedding).

The emotions that comes from these conflicts and the questions of how to live one's life and face a death and if we are connected to the rest of the world... it never feels forced upon us because it a) comes from being gentle with the observations, and b) Wang finds a perfect balance with sweet humor and achingly raw pathos. There may be one or two points that don't so much not work but feel familiar - a panic run Billi has near the end to stop something from happening, and a song as they leave that does feel sentimental - but I don't care. This is a great, great film about so many things, and if nothing else it's about having someone you love in your life and what that responsibility, cancer or not, entails. It's intimately and at times painfully connected to the troubles of the human condition, and (not but, and) it does so with things like a father and daughter at the wedding doing karaoke to The Fugees "Killing Me Softly".

One more time, give Shuzhen Zhou a round of applause, or just a giant hug!
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Countdown (1967)
8/10
Underrated Altman NASA drama pre Apollo 11, also for young Caan and Duvall
17 July 2019
I started this, perhaps unfairly but I couldn't help it, trying to find the Altman parts or style or maybe just Altman-isms, and at first I wasnt so much disappointed as I was taken down to earth with what I should have expected. This was a transitional film for the director, not making his first feature entirely but after working on countless TV episodes in the late 50s and the bulk of the 60s got his first break with a major studio. In general, I get the sense he had to stick to the script, both literally and figuratively, since there was probably a good bit of money on the line (I'm just guessing based on whats on the screen, and that includes usage of actual locations with NASA's approval). To make a film on time and on budget? Sure, why not show them he could do it, right?

What muddies it further is the varying accounts of what happened after shooting wrapped. According to Altman, the film was taken away from him by the studio - Jack Warner, still there near the end of his time, didn't like the overlapping dialog - and in the Oral Biography book on Altman the ending was noted as being altered in particular (I don't know if I could sense altering exactly and it's kind of a bold move Caan's astronaut does with the flags, but it does just kind of... End, like there could be more and there isn't).

But according to the producer of the film (this is from the TCM lady who spoke after the movie aired as part of their moon series this week), apart from a few technical tweaks, the film was Altman's cut and Warner approved it. Could it have been some after-the-fact griping from Altman to make what feels at a lot of times more like him in TV director mode? Im not sure ill ever know for sure, though I wonder if that may be closer to the truth (maybe the film didnt make money, which was the more important thing after all career wise at that point... luckily MASH was around the corner, but I digress).

So then what is Countdown? A rather stready, at times subtle drama that deals with the politics and bureaucracy of putting together a space flight ( and dont forget the darn Ruskies, albeit that is really not played up as far as making caricatures of Russians or ramping up anti-Communist sentiment, it just shows the space race how it more or less was) more than a thriller or giant visual spectacle. And Altman had Caan and Duvall even before Coppola got them for the Rain People, and they find every right way to play the dialog their given.

Is it always great dialog? Eh, maybe not, but it's usually pretty good to decent, and sometimes Caan gets to play an emotional beat that is significant; my favorite scene is one that I feel like Stallone also did in Rocky, where our protagonist before the big event is in bed with his love and quietly talks his doubts out (Altman's camera glides slowly down and away from them across the room, a really cool little shot). We spend most of the film, in fact, dealing with the ups and downs (mostly downs) of both Caan and Duvall's character dealing with an organization that doesnt seem to fully know what they're doing.

Maybe this is what Altman latched on to (and by the way, there is a bit of over-lapping dialog here, not to how far he'd take it later, but it's there), which is questioning authority figures, even in - especially in - such extraordinary a thing as going to the goddamn moon. He does also deal with some suspense, if nothing else because he has to, and does that well once our astronaut is about to land (OR WILL HE?!)

Last point: along with not being quite sure with what the Altman connection fully was at first - until, generic but competent music score included, I took the film on its own terms and enjoyed it - I wasn't sure about Caan in this part either. Wasnt he a bit too... Big emotionally speaking to play a reserved astronaut? Turns out he cracks into him and makes him sympathetic even as the character comes off as brash or even arrogant. Like Duvall, he was hungry for a good role, and he got one and tore into it.
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Jubal (1956)
8/10
Three cowboys and a lady
17 July 2019
Though the Othello connection is very loose at best - Shep is basically told outright by Pinky in one scene about his wife being (likely) unfaithful, and it sets him off right away, though the fallout from this is staggeringly dramatic - I found Ernest Borgnine was my favorite of the three main male leads here (Bronson is decent but doesn't count as having much heft aside from being the one genuinely good dude here).

Steiger is playing it as BIG as he ever did, and he brings it with his pre In Heat of the Night Southern drawl, and every sweeping gesture and makes Pinky a full-blown self righteous pig, while Ford is perhaps underplaying the title role (he does get one really terrific and gripping scene when he tells the girl with the Christian wagon trail about his background with his parental horrors), so that leaves Borgnine as thjs cattle rancher to play this man naturally and even kind of sympathetically. He literally doesn't know what bombshell is about to hit him, and he flies off the rails, but before this he is a fun-loving and earnest man who is a product of his times.

In a sense this is a story about men who were - and were in 1956 and still are - products of their environment and upbringing, and the times they're in. And yet, the cold hard truth behind it all is that what makes a man is what he does with himself. Pinky has no compunction being a nasty SOB that think what's his is his (including Shep's wife, and French plays her scenes with Steiger into high voltage melodrama terrain, which is effective because of how they're subverting expectations for a Western - it's this that makes this the B side to the Searchers as far as 1956's Study in Toxic Masculinity). Shep is who he is and it makes him honorable but also unable or just not interested in communicating with his wife. And Jubal overcame his tragic upbringing to be... A decent and heroic guy caught up in some stuff.a

As for Mae... She too is a product of her times, I suppose, but also lack of options. I saw someone on here say it was misogynistic how she was depicted, being so ready to jump in the sack with the first man she saw, but I think there's more to it... And at the same time, perhaps not. As the major female character, she does decide she's ready to cheat, and one considers it being Hollywood still in the "Code" era if she does then it'll be hell to pay (just for calling Jubal's name in bed to Shep is enough to condemn her).

But I also thought Daves tried to make her if not totally sympathetic theb understandable. She's not painted as some devilish harlot or someone who's that over the top. She's just a lonely housewife with nothing to do, no kids, no options and to even leave would be folly. I felt for her, as broadly as she may have been painted.

The story may ramp up too quickly to a bit of a frenzy for the climax and then so tidily - how Pinky, who is one of the ugliest pieces or work in a Western as I've ever seen, manages to get so many on his side is something else - and the Wagon trail characters (and actors) are rather basic and thinly drawn. But Jubal overall is sharp, unique and torrid, and some good 50s widescreen helps.
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8/10
Another essential look at LA kids 15 years after Decline 1
5 July 2019
It's a small but significant crime that this didnt receive diddly squat in distribution at the time it was made; I shouldve been able to rent this from my local Blockbuster like 40 times in high school (or at least as with Decline 2 get it on eBay - the first one I got through bootleg from I can't remember where). I just dont see why an indie distributor wouldn't take this as seriously as any other documentary about marginalized people (yes, including the final title card that all profits will go to the homeless and childhood abuse victims).

This could be criticized as not as organized as the first Decline, like there are a few points where it comes close to a home movie (albeit, what a home, or lack thereof), and it may be repetitive in its points and I may have liked to have seen a few more people from the "old days" (Flea and the former lead singer of Black Flag make appearances). But I dont care. It's a Decline doc!

It's an essential document of young people, often genuinely abused and neglected since, well, they're not living on the streets just for kicks, and some talk about being force fed alcohol as babies and being beaten and neglected - and a sadness covers a lot of this. I don't think Spheeris intended that necessarily, but she also doesn't try for anything for effect inasmuch that her approach to camera and cutting or how she asks questions sensationalizes these kids. It creates empathy because, hey, this could have been me or you or anyone else. The humanity is unvarnished, exciting, and distressing. A particularly eerie highlight, so to speak, are parts of an interview she has with a junkie who is... What that looks like.

"Where are you going to be five years from now?" "Drunk!"

PS: look for a Dudes movie poster on one of the walls at the party scene.
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10/10
"You can't hate (a city) unless you love it."
3 July 2019
You know, as someone who has been an almost New Yorker my whole life, I'm not sure if truer words have ever been spoken about a city (and to a... Hey, that's Thora Birch in a movie again!)

It's hard for me to find the right or easy words to compare this to other films because Im not sure I've seen something quite like it. Maybe there's aome fluorishes of cinematic (and I mean fully, lyrically, poetically, if not quite to the philosophy plane) that Malick does, but only in fluorishes. Someone I read said Scorsese in some of the surreal touches. But this has such a lush look and feel, and in depicting not just how a place is on the surface but how it feels and its soul, what the people mean in it as well as the smoke and fog and the flowers and trollies and the whites and the blacks and those in between, that it feels akin to a city symphony film... That also happens to have a strong story about two friends trying to figure out their place in life/the world/San Fran/that house that was (but wasn't) build in 1946 by our heros grandfather.

It's a film by Joe Talbot - and holy moly do I want to see everything he will do for the rest of his life - that doesn't shy away from, for lack of a better phrase, lifting ones spirits while at the same time depicting the people in these places as honestly as possible. That may be slightly Scorsese as well, without as much or the usual element of street crime... No, that is there, but it's like this presence that is there but, one hopes, only on the periphery... Until it isn't. These two friends just want to live on their own terms, as far as the basics of a place to live that makes one feel at peace, and also for a place to create (one draws and writes plays, the other keeps fixing up the house to look just right).

What's against them? The conflict? Oh, systemic racism and poverty, class warfare, throw in some gentrification too; an interesting but important side note too is the detail that the neighborhood with the coveted house used to be Japanese dominant, until WW2 changed that with the camps, then black people cane in (and then the... Last 25 years of making everything prohibitively expensive to live in a city that isnt on the fringes). One (more ignorant) might look and say, "pffft, get a job and work so you can get that house, or who even needs that house anyway."

But this is ignoring everything that makes up the foundation of these young men and what their options are. At the same time, this is all larger-issue points that come up when looking at the films characters and this beautiful but complicated (and sometimes quite violent) world of San Francisco. Why it's so great is that the filmmakers find fresh and original ways of bringing visual umph and lift to the emotions they're feeling - or that they would like to feel, or aspire to.

Like Moonlight, this is a filmmaker (I mistakenly assumed he was black but looking at Talbot that's not the case, albeit a native of SF) looking at life in a city and showing us something we either may have not seen before or not in such a way that demonstrates what cinema can do. It can bring us up as well as crash us down. It can find the unique and... Unusual people who may be frankly neglected by those in a city who would look the other way (or not at all). It can make us laugh at some absurdity, or, in a lot of cases here, make us unsure what to feel at times, like at one point where the theatrical playwrite artist comes in to the group of street guys (all of course talking s***) and acts as though he is putting on a play with them (a Stanislavski mention gave me a big laugh). And it can make us wonder what is in ourselves and what we want out of life and what it can provide as well as easily/tragically/crushingly take away.

This feels really special, in ways that another viewing will hopefully make clearer. AND it's the *other* (superior) black-led film this year where "I Got 5 On It" gets belted out.
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The 'Burbs (1989)
8/10
The *other* (superior) 80s Tom Hanks movie involving a house and tomfoolery
23 June 2019
The *other* 1989 movie where the main character staggers all covered in ash near the end and... Yeah that just rocks (and here something *does* blow up, kids!)

At first, I wasn't sure completely about this movie. By this I mean, I was admiring it for the first few 5-10 minutes, but I also thought "hmm, maybe Dante is laying on his manic/giant cartoon dollies and zoom and BIG choices style a tad thick here - even complete with a somewhat unnecessary Leone homage." But then two things happened: first, the story really got cooking, with the constant paranoia and the Hammer horror aesthetic. And secondly, it clicked why this works: these guys, Hanks and Dern and (looks at notes) Ducommon are man-children (or really 7 year olds in grown ups bodies) with Carrie Fisher as the one grown-up - aka, Mom - and it's all just madness.

And yes, even with the climax and where this leads to (oh Henry Gibson, the best. Just ::chefs kiss::), it doesn't diminish how absolutely nuts these suburbanites are. Every step of the way, the film is not showing these dudes in a light where we're made to fully get on their side (well, Hanks can do that in his sleep, and he helps add a human dimension where the others are playing to type, even Dern), and that's the only way this can work in its core. The rest of the madcap and horror is like icing on the cake.

And really, we all are nuts, is what I want to add. I don't know if it will be on everyones comedic wavelength (my wife as a night time cuddle buddy was meh on it, and I wasn't going to judge her for that, different strokes is all), and I think I just found so many awkward beats totally uproariously funny (every second where Fisher Hanks and Dern go to the house midway through to meet the neighbors is gold, leering facial expressions from the ICONIC Brother Theodore included). Dante's aesthetic takes a few minutes to take off, but once it does, it's like digging into a bowl of candy... But it's got a real KICK to it.

Plus, Dick Miller, naturally. And I do like what Carrie Fisher does with her hair!
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