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8/10
Aka BOYZ IN THA CREEPSHOW
29 October 2018
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.
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Postal Union (1937)
6/10
slight but interesting
29 October 2018
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.
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Hell Fest (2018)
5/10
wish it is... more than it is
24 October 2018
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.
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First Man (2018)
8/10
conventional in some ways, but its deep well of feeling and experimentation resonates
24 October 2018
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
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Dr. Giggles (1992)
5/10
wonderful and terrible at the same time
24 October 2018
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
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Free Solo (2018)
7/10
A (ahem) gripping human interest story first, near IMAX thriller second.
24 October 2018
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
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Juice (1992)
8/10
its power holds up
24 October 2018
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.
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Maniac (1980)
9/10
one of the most disturbing character studies of all time for a specific reason
24 October 2018
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.
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10/10
one of the great and heart-warming crime films of the 2010's
7 October 2018
"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!
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4/10
I'll take another house, thanks
7 October 2018
I'm not sure why there is still hype around this one (if there really is, I'm going by the majority of reviews on here); it got a remake and I ponder whether the director decided to try and legitimately do better than the first time. The last 15 minutes does get a bit more uncanny (is that sedative a hallucinogen I wonder, usually a sedative, you know, makes people tired) and we see some of the leftover carnage from the kills, plus the killer is finally revealed... But before that, we're treated to about five or six or seven young women who are barely distinguishable - lets see, I know Vickie is the "bad" one and then there is another who is "good" but I already forget her name, so I can assume she'll be there to the end...

Unless if it was the other one - and when the characters act stupid, it doesn't come out from a place that is hamming it up or soaking up something to make it interesting, so it kind of just sits there (im still unclear too about how the gun does or doesn't work, but that may just me being ignorant about such stuff). Once the kills start, they're not terrible and are many but mostly fairly tame compared to your average Friday the 13th sequel - and this movie needed some vicious and creative and bloody kills like a thirsty man in the desert needs water. And while I can suspend disbelief to a great degree, how much these girls are doing while this big party is going on, everyone else totally unaware, to try to look for missing parts of their bunch and/or move other dead bodies is ludicrous (and while it winds down, we never see it *end* - and how cool would it have been to see the killer go through the crowd?)

Even the whole backstory with the mother and the son feels like potential that is at best halfway realized (not a big spoiler, but if you want to see a slightly better spin on similar material, check out The Boy from 2016).

FYI, The Band at the party is credited to "4 Out of 5 Doctors" which is so great it almost makes me fine with the rest of the movie.
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8/10
underrated little gem!
13 September 2018
According to David Kehr's review (which is posted on Letterboxd if you want to find it), he referred to this movie sort of literally as "homework" since, once it got wrested by the clutches of (sigh, fine, "alleged") rapist Harvey Weinstein and Miramax - and why they even greenlit this in the first place is sort of a mystery to me , producer Deutchman (a film professor at Columbia) posted notices all over the place for people to go see it... Well, anyway, if this is homework I wish I could do more of it!

This is a fun and peppy and completely up-with-women AND perhaps more importantly outside of Hillary Clinton (for what it's worth) is the most up-with-women-as-political-heroes comedy that isnt funny LOL like as it is amusing and consistently clever. I could see someone not liking it on the whole because of how broad and big some of the gags go for, but what this filmmaker was going for - having this teen sex comedy (here PG13 I believe) set in that same just-before-fall63-spring64 period when everything changed and can thus join the company of little films like National Lampoon's Animal House and American Graffiti but for girls - was a more than valid idea, and the movie has a lot to say about systemic patriarchal structures as far as economy and social placement in life go. Not to mention all of the major performances from Dunst, Redgrave, Matarazzo and especially Hoffmann who is really the protagonist amid the ensemble, are all having a great time.

... Oh, and try as he might, Vincent Karthiezer is still only giving his second most obvious character/performance here (this before of course Connor on Angel cemented #1 for him). If nothing else, it may be the ultimate sign of success that Weinstein's name is not Executive Producer on the film.
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6/10
it's missing something, but I'm not sure what
13 September 2018
I'll be kind to this film in this respect: Lenny Abrahamson didn't set out to play by the usual (or at least de rigeur) rules that govern a lot of creepy-old house stories, as this is about 90% of the time a drama with some touches of very staid and not-all-there romance, and then in the last third he and his crew try their hand at a couple of sequences where some supernatural entity attacks a couple of the characters left in the Hundred's (sic) Hall in this small provincial English town (which you know is far from most civilization as characters talk of London like it's some far away distant land, and this is in the 1930's I think).

The studio who put this out may have been between a rock and a hard place: how to sell a movie that has the veneer of Gothic Horror, but doesn't have the passions of a Jane Eyre (I believe Focus Features, which also put out the 2011 Eyre, put this out too), or Crimson Peak (which I now love even more for just GOING FOR IT as far as a massively extravagant stylistic experience). And for some reason, perhaps due to the bankability(?) of Domnhall Gleeson - who I like a lot generally, especially now as General Hux in the new Star Wars - it was released on more screens than it should have been at an inopportune time. I wish it had done better in some capacity, maybe at an earlier time in the year when people might not be busy with the Back to School season, or with less awards-fare competition, but.... it may just be that it's "Alright" quality was going to leave it struggling. Not to mention that poster; like, what the hell IS that? Terrible.

Anyway, The Little Stranger isn't as dull as you've heard, at least if you stick with it past its opening half hour. Except for a somewhat nutty and make-up overloaded performance from Will Poulter, it starts off as dry as an eraser-board. Maybe some of it is due to the mood of this emotionally tight English feeling of the early 20th century, or the place this Hall is at in general, but it is hard to get into this mood at first with the color scheme on the gray side (which, yeah, again it is England on any given day, I get it). Once the plot really kicks in as far as it goes, that this Dr Faraday becomes ensconced with this family, most especially Ruth Wilson, and they showed a bit more of Faraday's backstory of his attachment (or his unspoken terror) of the Hall from when he was a boy, then I started to want to know more about what was going on and where it goes to.

And with Gleeson here, he's... good, but something I can't really vocalize or think right now holds him back somehow. That may be by design, either in the writing or from Abrahamson, but he is *so* reserved that you suspect he may be hiding something, until it is beyond the point of caring what it may be about. He may be both entirely right *and* entirely wrong for this part, if that makes sense, as a doctor who is supposed to ignite something in the Wilson character - will she leave this place, maybe marry, find some other path in life than staying in this house, and she actually has a more interesting arc in that respect than he does -but ultimately there's complications if nothing else from the Hall itself... or the perception of things going on in it. So I'm not going to say he's miscast, as he does what he can, but maybe it's some misdirection somehow, or that if there was something more in the book this was based on it never got off the page.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I'll still be happy to see a performance from him that is just 'Okay' than by many others who don't rise up to the challenge. And Poulter, Wilson and Charlotte Rampling are all doing excellent work from what they're given (Wilson particularly near the end reminded me why I grew fond of her difficult character on The Affair). And the Hall itself can't help but he an intriguing location to shoot in. However, when this reaches into its last third, I can't help but feel its dips into horror take away from what would be a more... I'm not sure, emotionally complex given how much the filmmakers try to make it more about the characters than about the kind of schlocky jump scare horror effects that go out to the popcorn audiences. In other words, I get why it does become a horror movie in its last third, but something feels lost in the process.

This may seem like a higher star rating than it deserves, but I didn't dislike this film. I think Abrahamson is too skilled at making good scenes and some impactful images (i.e. Poulter burning that bookcase, the dance scene) for it to be a total disappointment. That said, after the one-two punch of ROOM and the underrated rock and roll trip FRANK, it feels like a step down in some way that's hard to articulate even after stepping out of the theater.
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7/10
the off-the-charts likeability makes up for a mountain of cliches
23 August 2018
This reminds me in a way of Love, Actually in a specific sense - both that and this are gigantic, stadium-sized collections of cliches. But this is to the benefit of what director Jon M Chu is after here: if you have everything, then it's preferable to only having one or two bad ones that stick out. You have here the loud and sorta-funny best friend; the gay caricature who is the one in the family who is the black sheep only not called that; you have the *costume change montage* which was already a joke 25 years ago in Dumb and Dumber; you have the third act twist/reveal, easily the most befuddling and ill-executed thing that comes about because, hey, there's still time for one more conflict; and you have the b*tchy mom of the guy who says in the trailer (and thus in the film) "you will never be enough."

So why do I still on some level recommend it and kind of enjoy it? Because it does the cliches with a good amount of careful, if shallow attention. And Michelle Yeoh is the mother and is pretty much a perfect, an A plus performance who elevates all of her scenes in the middle of what is a B, maybe B minus movie as far as its substance. And I can let a lot go if the main couple is charming and have genuine chemistry, and Henry Golding and Constance Wu have chemistry and charm to burn (it's almost kind of like another cliche, one we saw in Fifty Shades of Grey, up to a very screeching point, but also done as it should be if it has to).

The Socialist/dirty Commie in me feels some revulsion to all the opulence, but at the same time I get it as pure escapism. This reminds me too of what was done a lot in, say, the Sex and the City movies, but again the characters by and large are less intolerable (if not more tolerable or likeable). They're all types, but Chi gets it and knows his audience will eat it up - this is on a level total rich-people porn and it is there in the food too (I want to eat all of it fyi, but I digress). What makes it stand out of course is that it is specifically about this world and culture, and so there's more to chew on with that than if it were bland white people. Representation IS important and all of them are heightened because of the setting and the nuttiness even has that too (Ken Jeong for the first time since... When did Community end again, is funny).

So, yeah, if someone told me this was one of their favorites to watch (many many times) with a good pint of ice cream in ones PJs, I wouldn't begrudge them for it. Even for all the BS in it that I dont like or care for, it's not worth getting angry about it. And hey, all from the director of...Jem and the Holograms?
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7/10
a pleasant and subtle surprise!
23 August 2018
Hey, sometimes I am in the room and my wife puts on a movie and I am just compelled to not leave due to laziness... But then it turns out to not be too bad a thing thats on! I ponder and will assume Netflix did this to whet any appetites of those having just seen Crazy Rich Asians (which Netflix originally bid on to produce) and wanting more Asian-led rom coms.

More than that, it's shot with what look like (to get oddly technical) good prime lenses so that it doesnt have that sort of cheap look that TV or even other direct-to-Netflix movies have sometimes. I feel bad this didnt get a chance to be seen in theaters, but on the other hand this may get seen by a lot more people than if it were only in theaters a couple of weeks and then brushed to DVD.

This doesnt mean it is without some of the conventions of the genre (I guess they try to get around the "Gay Best Friend" by not making him exactly a "best" one - also, a token, which we haven't seeb un a while I guess). It also has the most non-"ill kill you!"-reveal reveal in a long time. But the main characters have great chemistry and it doesn't feel forced for a moment - or, at the least, I like seeing these two figuring things out as young people sort of stumbling into romance.

And Lana Condor having a star-making turn here aside (she's pretty, but her acting is subtle enough to make this premise not seem too ridiculous), there's a guy here, the other male lead who I forget his name now, who seems to be the high school clone (in voice especially) of Mark Ruffalo.
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The Vanishing (1988)
9/10
three thoughts
23 August 2018
First thought: if you need a lesson in what superb psychological direction is all about - how to cut between subjects, how to space people and create a mood through distance/closeness, editing and writing to make a suspenseful and surreal mood - watch when our lead man and the woman he is reluctantly with at Bois Vieux walking up the hill. In five minutes Sluizer gets us inside his head with minimal dialog and only one freak-out when he finally lies down in the grass to scream his love's name.

Second thought: this director is so confident that he makes a flashback, to *the* pivotal scene of the story at the gas station, to something where we know or should know how it'll go have real suspense (so many mis-directions, and a pov that we know we cant fully trust either), even down to an object we thought was going to be used tossed aside. Part of this should also be noted for the actor playing Raymond, Bernard Pierre Donnadieu.

Third thought (on the end): ... God. Damn. You'll rarely see something bleaker but also a story that earns it.
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8/10
Magnetic lead performance, good but not totally great silent classic
20 August 2018
John Barrymore is so captivating, gnarly and creepy, wth his clawed fingers and sort of cone-head (if not scary exactly) as Mr Hyde, and has a good dispositiom as Dr Jekyll too with his wide eyes and nice face, and the direction has enough pre-film-noir and horror gothic fluorishes that one can overlook how there doesn't seem to be that much rhyme or reason to when Jekyll decides (after the first time, and the exception of one scene where he turns in front of another man in a dissolve) to keep going into Hyde mode.

There are also too many title cards explaining dialog when it's not always needed. In a way this is one of the first superhero - or in this case super-villain - stories as he has this secret identity and people dont seem to see it's the same guy with a squint of the eyes. And the ending has the power of a werewolf movie at its finest (which, mytbically speaking, the similarities are clear)

A highlight: Jekyll dreams a giant spider (superimposed on the celluloid) is crawling up to him in bed.

PS: the Kino Lorber DVD has most of the same repeating score as was used for Les Vampires.
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Surf II (1984)
4/10
#metooWhat?
6 August 2018
First of all there is NO Surf 1, in case you were wondering.

Surf II, which involves kind of sort of (which means BARELY) a story involving a "high school" dweeb who looks 30 getting payback on all those surfing nimrods for giving him some new body parts via slipping a drink or I dunno, doesn't hang together so much as it ambles from set piece to set piece and most of it doesn't work. And yet...

How was this not a Troma movie? (Come to think of it, Poultrygeist had a slightly similar gimmick except in a fast food joint instead of the beach). But then again they wouldn't have paid for the Beach Boys and Voodoo Radio. This is really really really really really really really really... Really dumb.

But it has its moments of complete odd weirdness amid the bad comedy and good god when it gets gross, it actually is extremely gross (a particular scene where one of the Buzz cola zombies and one of the fat guys are in a Marion in Raiders duel involving... Whatever is on the beach is perhaps the grossest scene ive ever seen and heard; it's an audio-visual nightmare, though you almost cant look away until you... Can).

Two highlights: the synced up families talking in split screen, and an autopsy that is a blatant but funny Jaws rip-off.

#metoowhat?

Oh, and Cleavon Little does make things always a littke better though.
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5/10
could've been better, could've been a lot worse. Denzel's first sequel: it's ok
30 July 2018
As much as this is in the first half an ad for Lyft, if this can also get even a few people interested in digging in to Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, it should be seen as a successful endeavor (however a minor point that seems).

And yet this is one of those times sitting in a theater where I could feel the sagginess and off-pace of the narrative. This is all too long and not interesting enough; the first movie had the element of taking the audience off its guard because (if one was going in totally blind) McCall doesnt do his expert Batman/Ritchie era Sherlock Holmes fighting until a half hour into it. Here, it's like getting a season of a TV show condensed into two hours, but that ironically makes it feel longer (I could imagine a season could let us see development between Miles, the second tier kid from Moonlight, and McCall, but here it has to be condensed so it can eventually catch up with the main plot involving Melissa Leo and her demise).

Some of the action is still solid, and the hurricane ending is enjoyably staged, but it's that thing where a director is capable of individual scenes and set pieces, and then when it all is strung together it doesn't all work. With a lessor star this would have been really interminable, or if the action had been even chopper than it is. 5.5/10
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9/10
a blast of Hollywood spectacle, with McQuarrie coming out technical guns blazing
30 July 2018
Henry Cavill didn't save his mustache for Justice League for a simple reason: he knew he would need it for the much much MUCH better movie (and if nothing else the one with a million and a half times less CGI, or at least the kind we can notice).

This (the best of the series, though it's been a while since Ghost Protocol so recency abounds) is a glorious, breathless and wonderfully directed encapsulation of the series - and the finest slam-bang twisty-screwy plotty spy movie of its kind since Skyfall - while delivering a compelling plot and believable (while surely at times ridiculous) action set pieces. I mean, yeah, the hype is real as a heart attack. I, as well as the audience, did find ourselves laughing at times at how preposterous it gets (and don't front, it does), but it was how you are on the cliche of the HOLY WTF roller coaster.

It also doesn't act like the audience are *idiots* or at least gets smug about the ridiculous feats, which is the key difference between this and the Fast & Furious movies, as though McQuarrie and Cruise and everyone are in on it, but they're elbowing us in our seats as we watch like, "hehe aint this great! Or, to put it another way, as my mom put it afterwards, "the cinematography was like I got to be there and see sights!"

Something else no one else I think will point out: how cool is it when we get Ving Rhames being good in a movie that's also really good? I wish he got to do more than this series, but it's a pleasure to get Rhames when we can (that isn't just like straight to video).
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Whitney (2018)
7/10
one of Patrick Bateman's heroes!
17 July 2018
Just kidding!

This is quite good, better than your average Behind the Music episode due to the access to the interviewees and how much they opened up - McDonald is also solid as an interviewer and makes sure to ask follow up questions much as possible - and there are many candid home video clips of Houston that add to the subject matter (the best being a bit where she decries Paula Abdul but not before her mother Cissy shittalks Janet Jackson).

McDonald and his editors take pop culture and politics and make damn sure through montage to compare and contrast in literally smashing pieces together that Houston's music couldn't be disentangled from the times they were in. How she became so monumentally successful? What was the world she was in? Somehow only she could pull off the Star Spangled Banner as a black woman to such a way everyone else since aspires to that.

Downsides: it has the predictable arc due to knowing a pop stars history, but the tragedy here is that there were so many who were there for Whitney and she succumbed to her addictions.
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6/10
It feels okay to Purge...
6 July 2018
This is unabashed and unadulterated exploitation, but it is exploitation for 2018. One day people will look at this the same way we look at Wild in the Streets from 1968 or The Running Man. It beats you over the head with a shovel with its message and exposition (oh the script, my god it hurts).

But the action is good and bone crunching, the character Skeletor (yes, that's his name) deserves his own fuller movie, and there were some scattered ideas I found compelling and fascinating, especially how the NFFA goes about really kicking the Purge into highest gear as a means of depleting the lowest tax income bracket. It's full of types both white (the one dimensional douche pushing the agenda in the control room) and black (the one woman who is both sassy and funny). But most of the actors are committed to this material, and the blunt force is felt.

Again, this isnt exactly a *good* movie - this is one where a woman literally gets her vagina grabbed by a creep in a mask, because again it's a movie with the red MAGA hat as the poster - but I certainly was never bored, and it got my brain going.
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7/10
The Wasp and the Ant Man
6 July 2018
Where Infinity War went for big ambitions and didn't fully hit the mark (I know I'm likely in the minority on that, don't care), this aimed (adjust tie) smaller and succeeded at what it set out to do completely. I find it hard to be too harsh on these Ant-Man movies; they're like likable puppy dogs, though they are not without the typical Marvel set-backs like a lukewarm villain (or I should say the writing isn't so blah as much as the performance is like it should be in a CW show up against the rest of this cast) and some clunky exposition and mumbo jumbo involving power levels in the Quantum Realm).

But the third act set piece chase in San Francisco is basically like a much, much funnier Inception with a good sprinkling of... The car chase from The Dead Pool comes to mind (not that one, the Eastwood one). It's all kids stuff, or I should say more correctly family friendly stuff, but maybe after dumb and/or dark malarkey like Jurassic World 2 and Sicario 2 this hit the spot as needed light, occasionally trippy sci fi entertainment. It's not one of the best of Marvels 20(!) movies in 10 years, but it's among the breeziest and funniest.
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9/10
Tragic warts and all look at Manilla in the 1970s
2 July 2018
As always with a film like Manila in thr Claws of Light, context counts above all. This is a story that has a setting in the Phillipenes of poverty and a crushing sense of 'got to get by on the skin of my teeth', not to mention the exploitation of... Everyone, whether it be through work by day, by night, human and sex trafficking, the works (only drugs seem to be absent here, but im sure where were on the margins if not out in the open). The sense of repression in this society makes Italian neo-realist cinema seen quaint, and that is a strength of Brocka's film because he is putting up a lens through how he sees it: this is horrible, this is punishing, and the only thing that can be a light is if people care about one another.

Though the thrust of the story is if Julio will find his beloved Ligaya in Manila, we dont get to that resolution until two thirds of the way into the film. Primarily this is about how someone who is an outsider to the city as Julio is from a seaside village (though still very much of the culture and time and place), and so we are also those outsiders. This is not meant to be a subtle trip - the horrible boss of the construction workers, being paid 2.50 a day but on paper it's 4, often is munching on a cigar and has the boss ethic of any given sweatshop in history - but thats not really a detriment. We believe this setting because we believe the people. I assume most of these players are not professionals, and they do well under Brocak's direction and tight budget. So when Julio is out in the streets, or outside the building where hes mostly certain Ligaya is being stowed away, it doesn't feel like we are seeing something so set apart from a reality we can see. On the contrary, this is poverty and thr decimation of working class people everywhere.

Though criticism of the Marcos regime is not explicitly stated, it doesnt have to be. It's implicit in how so many of the people Julio comes across are mistreated (and of course some corrupt cops here and there who make no bones about stealing money and walking away help along the struggles), and of course for the women exploitation in the world of prostitution is exploitation of workers (just happens to be sex). Julio is as close as we can get to a moral compass - while his coworkers go one by one with a Booker he refuses, despite the pressure from the pump, for example - and his visions of the past are what he clings to. He doesnt see any life for himself without her, which makes for a good goal for the story, but is also his weakness - he loves this woman so much that nothing else can change for himself.

If I had a nit to pick some of the flashbacks, while effective when done in sorr of subliminal ways, become frequent to the point of repetition because what else would there be to put in this cut or scene (or it may be the flashbacks themselves don't vary, it's just the same image of Ligaya in the beach). And yet my one criticism is addressed in a way by the time the movie gets to her and the two are reunited. So many scenes, in scene after scene, almost it feels like a pattern deliberately where the idea is, "THIS is what is happening to this overworked/underpaid/tragic person being exploited by the ruling classes," and while it could easily dip into propaganda I dont see this as some negative in that Brocka's passion and intensity as a filmmaker, the commitment to realism, takes away a feeling of "this is an *agenda* as it"s about these people who exist. But all these scenes are really leading up to Ligaya, who was exploitated just about the worst of all - in one long take that seems to last for about seven or eight minutes, she tells her story to Julio in a bedroom, and it's wise to not cut away. We are here listening to her story, and unlike at other points there is no cutting away; we have to picture this for ourselves.

This is a sad and depressing story, but I didnt feel like it is a giant let down to watch because of the anthropological nature of how it's presented and how the melodrama escalates so believably. As Scorsese says in the intro on the criterion disc, this is a movie made for the people.
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Beast (III) (2017)
8/10
A sex, dangerous neo noir with some nerve and Umph
25 June 2018
A rancid, black-hearted take-no-prisoners British (specifically, Jersey!) neo-noir about a young woman and her new boyfriend who may be a mass murderer. It picks up most of its verve in the last several minutes, but before that this features a career-making performance by Jessie Buckley (Johnnie Flynn isnt so bad either), and it actually has a gothic streak underneath all its modern-day Britishness.

My wife commented that this had in tone some similarity to last year's Lady Macbeth and I could see that up to a point. The question remains: who is the beast? In the scope of noir films, it's not as uncommon, and Im not sure if every one would still be so on edge after 14 years from Moll'd "incident," but it has such strong execution and has such a distinct place it helps make it work.

It's a nasty piece of character study work that, had the code not been so in place, I could have seen a variation on this being made in the 40s and 50s (as a low budget or poverty row pic of course). Not to mention a good sexual charge as well. Some of the pacing could be a little tighter is the only criticism.
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SuperFly (2018)
5/10
When producers Joel Silver and Future colide...
25 June 2018
There are chunks of this that are not well directed or edited, and there's a part halfway through where the movie just stops, like screeching to a halt, so that "Director X" can stage a music video where Priest has a threesome with his polyamorous(?) ladies in the shower (sure it's sexy and a good song, but it was something out of another movie, like a sleazy 90s Cinemax one).

But.... The second half gets things to a slightly more topical area involving crooked cops (though it might have been even more creative if they hadnt been *that* corrupt, just your average racist white pigs), the drama picks up and the filmmaking embraces some of the schlockier beats (a car chase through a park has an astonishingly funny ending). It also sunk in as the movie went on how many actors are really trying and taking this as seriously as they can - Michael K Williams and Jason Mitchell for sure, and Jennifer Morrison is having more fun than I've seen her have in a long time - while Trevor Jackson does fine, no more or less, as well as Youngblood Priest the "Superfly" (not amazing OMG career-breakthrough, certainly not bad at all).

Oh, and the last five minutes of this almost makes me want to whole-heartedly recommend this - I regret not seeing this in a predominantly black theater (or not during a sparsely attended matinee) just for the reactions - but it is still cheesy AF and the "Snow Patrol" opposition gangbangers are total Saturday morning cartoon characters.

How it compares with the original? It's been a while since I saw that one, which is definitely no classic (it's rightfully best remembered for Mayfields great great songs and score), so I suppose... On par? 5.5/10

THREE DAYS LATER: nah, the original is better.
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