Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
52 Pick-Up (1986)
"C'mon, Slim!" Trashy but delightful guilty pleasure
And the moral of the story is... If you're an aging fairly well to do business-owner with a wife running for city council, might be a good idea to keep it in your pants. I mean, hey, thats what the porno theaters are for and all, right?
52 Pick Up is sleazy, practically X rated (I imagine it got edited down to an R) and would be an excessive neo noir, practically an exploitation flick with the grit it's spitting out, if not for Elmore Leonard being a cracker-jack master at s***bag sometimes-smart-but-also-stupid characters (you know, f-ups), and the delicious twists and turns this takes, which are ultimately all about how Mitchell (Scheider) manages to get the upper hand just enough to keep things moving his way.... Until it doesn't. And good God do John Glover and especially Clarence Williams III own their roles so complerely and make them equally terrifying and campy (Williams's squeaky voice, one for the ages, man).
There are some odd/off technical beats early on - maybe it was because I was seeing it on 35mm on a big screen, but certain tracking shots seemed ragged, and I dont know if that was by design or because Frankenheimer had a lax crew - and I can't shake that Ann-Margaret's character is too smart, or seems to be, to make some of the dumb choices she does at times. Like say, I dunno, leave the house for a while and don't stay where you know these dummy porn jackals will come by since they know where your husband lives - hell, he shouldve moved them out after the first video, but whatever, not a killer to the whole story. So moments like those where logic leaves for plot convenience aren't solid.
For all the illogic and flagrant disregard for good taste that this as (many real world porn stars appear, including Ron Jeremy), this is a helluva good movie because Frankenheimer understands what Leonard is going for: nobody here is exactly likeable, but it's more about watching how one guy will scheme with the other, and Scheider nearly becomes a Sanjuro among these three dangerous boobs. Not to mention on top of everything there is that 80s synth score that I believe is playing the Melodies of the Pile of Cocaine from Scarface. My only regret was not having a glass of scotch to go along with it.
(PS: .... Too bad we didnt get the denouemont where Ann-Margaret divorces his jazz-convertible self and takes him for everything he's got (I mean, you cheat on Ann friggin Margaret, youre lucky she doesnt beat you in the head with roller skates like Roller Girl in Boogie Nights, but I digress).
"I live. I die. I live I die I live I die (etc etc)" Wonderful madness from a master
Finally, someone points out how many damn mosquito bites one gets (especially when filming since one is standing around) when outside for an extended period of time!
I suppose I may be in the minority on this opinion (as I guess I was on Tideland, which is kind of an unsung masterpiece for me), but I liked a lot of what finally is here in Gilliam's Don Quixote. It certainly is messy, but screw it, I like that about it too.
What I think it boils down to aside from all of the madness and all of the mania and madness in what happens scene to scene, are two things in its favor: Driver and Pryce are wonderful as an onscreen pair - another take off on The Fisher King, one a wild dreamer and fantasist and the other a befuddled and perplexed realist - and Toby's journey from being a cynical crank to... Well, where he ends up, is a story of empathy, where a man gives up trying to make sense of things and sees what is pure and great in a guy like Javier-cum-Don. Driver gives it his all (watch as he, uh, does an Eddie Cantor imitation I think at one point?) and Pryce is giving it all he's got (and unlike Williams in King, this isnt a case where we think he may come around from some trauma - this guy is just Daniel Day Lewis times a thousand, and I found it awfully endearing).
The other aspect is the throbbing, gushing comic heart that Gilliam is showing to us and sometimes, many times, ripping open for us bare. I wont pretend to try to second guess every scene and what is from Gilliam saying this about himself as an artist or dreamer or chaser-of-windmills, since it can be equally obvious and maybe not that at all. But there is that scene where Don is put upon and asked by the Russian Alexei and his castle full of costumed peeps and tells him to get on the paper horse. Toby tells him not to, Quixote persists, he does and rides it until he is... Thrown off and laughed at. He has to knit his stocking back in (he laments briefly how hr only has black thread), and Toby's response... Man it's heartbreaking, and that entire section by itself of that humiliation and the aftermath is why I love Gilliam as a filmmaker. It feels authentic and true to something, anything, that is in him, and that's just something I respond to.
I get if this isnt someones jam, or if one finds it messier to a fault. The script doesn't give a whole lot for Stellan Skarsgard or Olga Kuryenko to do aside from one note supporting types (if not antagonists then obstacles of a kind), and the very ending feels like it's a bit... Much to take on a first viewing. But the key stuff that Gilliam wants to get right - weaving this story of what, really, filmmaking and storytelling tries to do, and what it means to be immersed in not just narrative but living for something more ambitious than what ones already got, propelled by these two strong performances, oh and GIANTS at one point and a knight covered in CDs - he does, and he and Nicola Pecorini do incredible camerawork, and (actress playing Angelica, sorry forgot your name, will reedit) is also very good as the sorta romantic foil for Toby.
One of his best? Maybe not. But it burns with passion and energy and is, thankfully, often very funny. It's very very good, if not altogether great.
PS: Interesting to note too, I suspect Gilliam and Grisoni rewrote the script after that failed first go at it to cut down on Quixote scenes and give more to the Toby character (re: in Lost in La Mancha, one of the problems was when Rochefort got injured Gilliam couldn't shoot other stuff around him until he healed up - clearly that changed in 17 years, and Pryce is kind of a supporting performance... Which isnt a bad thing; if he were in it more, itd get annoying)
Jacquot de Nantes (1991)
All the love to Jacques and to cinema itself
I know logically that the many, many cut-always to the Demy film clips break up the flow of the dramatizations of his childhood (and those extreme close-ups of the late Demy, his skin showing I believe the lesions from HIV that would take his life too soon are particularly jarring, sometimes Im not sure in a good way). But emotionally, what Varda is doing here is all of a piece, and (Nazis and Occupied France aside) it all makes me wish I could have been a boy/young man in Frnace in the late 30s and 40s.
In a way, it feels kind of like an excellent midway midway between Cinema Paradiso (which I like but I once called too "shmoopy" and I stick but it) and Au revoir les Enfants (which I love, but has a slightly harder edge and sadder overall feeling). Varda gets natural performances, and it's a striking and cool balance between warmth and a frank realism (ie boys showing a girl their little penises is treated as a cheerful activity, for both sexes).
And really, you don't get this in cinema practically ever - a husband and wife filmmaking pair, both playful and innovators. where the latter made a literal cinematic love letter to the former after he died (albeit Demy was writing his memoties when he died) - that would make it important by itself. That it is also beautiful to look at in black and white and is edited like a wonderful dream makes it even more special: it's a love letter to her husband, but also to cinema and creative perseverance itself; when he as a boy makes the little hand-cranked projector, it feels like a small miracle.
Fool for Love (1985)
A flawed adaptation of a great play
I came to Fool for Love, and am looking at what I just saw, from a position that won't be like some of you trading this: a few years ago, I saw an off-off Broadway production of Shepard's firestorm of sexual comedy and anguish, and I had no exposure to what it was before. I was awestruck by how much Shepard's play packed in one room, which is in the motel (the father "spirit" appears as a figure by the stairs), even featuring at one point some explicit nudity (a monologue that May delivers to herself, which one can barely hear in the film version as Shepard is outside looking in, is stark naked and it makes for an extremely vulnerable position to be in), and is a work that is darkly funny, intense, but the overall feeling is heartache and loss. It feels so suited for the stage, all of those monologues about a past gone included.
Altman and Shepard as screenwriter open up the production, but it doesn't add to what was already there on the stage. On the contrary, this is a case where Altman shows what characters are describing from their pasts. At first, this works. Kind of. When we realize this seeming derelict at this motel played by Harry Dean Stanton is meant to be May's father (and, gasp, Eddie's, which comes after we had a whole opejing act where they, you know, appear to be ready to rip each others throats), he tells her about a memory of pulling off a road to be surrounded by cows. He describes it in narration, and we see it, and how this is edited and weaved together with Basinger and Stanton largely works dramatically.
Where it doesnt is in all of those scenes after, where our two half sibling/estranged lovers tell confused Randy Quaid about their pasts, it's all too much. The images are not filmed or acted well in these flashbacks (except for a shotgun blast that is, um, a great goddamn shotgun beat), and this approach doesn't make these decidedly theatrical monologues any more... Cinematic. The writing of what the actors is saying isnt bad, but the combination just falls flat.
Why watch it then? Harry Dean Stanton, Shepard and to an extent Basinger bring it to these characters. Stanton especially couldn't give a bad performance if he tried, but in this case he was already on the hot streak of his career (look up what he did in 1984, how many actors had that great a year in modern American film?) He has a man here who is a Ghost of Non-holiday Past, and one who sees his children a certain way. Will they live up to what he expects? Will he disappoint them even as this theatrical apparition? He is also playing haggard and a bit drunk and aimless, and Goddamn is he a treasure every second on screen. If this is a less successful Altman film, it's not because of him, or for lack of Shepard trying with a role he wrote (though originally not for himself, and I lament that Jessica Lange couldn't play May, ironically because she was pregnant with Shepard's child).
Overall, I wouldn't say don't check out Fool for Love, but you can wait if you're just getting into Altman, and it's certainly not the stronger of the two Stanton/Shepard films of the 1980s (Paris, Texas wins by many miles). The main issue comes down to this: this is a filmmaker, via this writer, sort of... Going on auto-pilot. It doesn't feel special outside of what the actors more or less bring.
"Nobody understands cricket - you gotta know what a CRUMPET is to understand cricket!"- Raphael, Ninja Turtle
This is pretty darn far from being subtle, indeed everyone here is a type (both the lovable and ornery but we-can-change-our-minds-via-song/dance Indians and the uppercrust British who use the word 'Bloody' in every sentence), but I enjoyed the corniness of it, and it's about a convoluted game so it gives the audience time to learn what its about... As far as can be expected. It's handsomely made, has some good (if standard) storytelling turns, and oh, the dance sequences are lovely and a lot fun to watch, especially scored to Rahman.
A particularly not very strong point: the love "triangle" which doesn't make much sense when one of them, the white lady Elizabeth, can't speak the other's language, and so can't Bhuvan. But, that's what is simply done in these movies do you roll with it, or try to. Luckily, this gets pretty much jettisoned once the cricket matches come up, and it's then all about the sports movie hystrionics - which I also enjoyed (often against my better judgment), in large part because, well, it looks like they'll lose the game (BUT WILL THEY!??!)
And damn does Aamir Khan (the, uh. Jack Nicholson of India? By that I mean great at comedy, drama, charming, fine at singing, and uh, ok not sure how Jack dances and all) have to act his ass off to make this work as our hero - certainly when our antagonist, played by Paul Blackthorne, seems to be cast because the producers said, "we want Billy Zane... Oh, not available? Get his... Less pricey counterpart!"
Big Bad Mama (1974)
Big Bad Dickinson (and Dick Miller!)
I want to find out what Tom Skeritt's character uses to make getting shot in the leg the most painless thing ever. Tis but a scratch, I guess?
This is a wonderful pile of B movie. It knows it only exists because Bonnie and Clyde was such a phenomenon (Clyde even gets name checked at one point), but that's not a problem because it has its own knowing cachet of fun and sleaze. You like being with Angie Dickinson's MacLatchee since she has energy to burn and attitude to carry, and yet she doesn't make her feel like a cartoon. Shes a flesh and blood person (and, yeah, the flesh comes into play a couple of times, it cant not, it's Corman New World drive-thru Free all), and you care for her, or at least I did.
And sure, not all the supporting work is exactly great - I mean the actors cast as the daughters, but they're just types anyway and the script knows it, albeit if they get in trouble (ie the guy who stumbles in to the house to steal from them after the first bank robbery) they can hold their own - but Skeritt is playing this like it's any other major film and is excellent and fiery and natural, and Shatner is... Shatner of course! He brings so much Southern-fried sleaze while simultaneously bringing that Shatner-suave quality that one saw all the time as Kirk.
But this is a solid example to show to someone of what the Corman "style" amounted to: give the audience some violence (her it's machine guns and gloriously sloppy fights and old time car chases) and tits (and there's that), and as long as it's every 10/15 minutes, you can put in however much artistry or good/so-so acting as possible - all within 90 minutes (or under) preferable. Again, this isn't anything too deep, and it's very episodic, but just having as giant and full-bodied a woman at the center, who enjoys men but doesn't *need* them, not never no how and stands up for herself every chance she gets may be enough of a feminist statement, unintentional or not.
Oh, and Dick Miller! Any movie that gives him a sizeable (and wildly entertaining) supporting role, not just a cameo, gets a big bump in my book... And yes, that goes without saying I know he has a New York accent here and it makes no sense, who cares DICK MILLER!!
The Beach Bum (2019)
in a nutshell: full blown madness, dark/violent/nihilistic comic excess, and I liked it (I think)
How much you like or dislike this movie depends on how much you're into Matthew McConaughey and Harmony Korine making their Cheech and Chong/Hunter S Thompson flick (well, Thompson but as a poet and more The Dude than Raoul Duke).
This is funky, loose, crazy, and dumb, but often wildly funny. I dont know if Korine is going for a terribly deep message, and thats ok! It veers into mania and real darkness and terror, and it is legitimately shocking because he's got his chops as a provocateur (in part because Debie, for all his filters, has a sense of naturalism alongside his director), but the whole experience is riveting. It's his most "conventional" movie in that it isn't aggressively full of oddities, but that doesn't mean it doesn't dance enough there to be what it is.
I knew at times I shouldn't be laughing, or at least questioned it, and I think I can see someone coming to it and not having any of it. I wouldn't be mad if someone told me this got on their nerves - like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it'll either hit you or it won't. For me, I dug McConaughey (how much this is how he is deep down and how method or who knows what for it, don't care, I was equally charmed and repulsed and couldn't look away) and I dig seeing Martin Lawrence, as the world's greatest dolphin tour guide, make a quasi comeback in one of the more insane comic set pieces I've ever seen. It keeps you on your toes and doesn't let you know how to feel about the shenanigans go down.
Soundtrack is an all-timer (give or tair a Creed song).
Five Feet Apart (2019)
A wonderful performance tops a mediocre sick-love story
As others have noted already, Hayley Lu Richardson is not only the part of this movie that holds it together, she single-handedly makes a (at *best/least*) two dimensional John Green rip-off (do we call this Greensploitation?) feel genuine and heartfelt and rising above the cliches. It may be that she just stands out so wholly because the rest of the cast is just competent and OK (including Cole Sprouse, who seems to have tried to channel a young American version of the form of Richard E Grant, and would have succeeded had he not been so bland), but she is simply one of those small revelations right now in the movies: charisma and charm but a seriousness and depth of soul that balances out the adorable quality. It's an A minus performance in a C plus film.
... Oh, I'm sorry, did I say C plus? Um... Well, look, this movie does some good things for the first half to two thirds when it tries to not be so melodramatic and the characters can interact and the script gives some decent lines to two sick lovebirds... Not to say it isn't fighting against two giant types, one sorta muted (Black Sassy Nurse), but not too bad because she's, also a flaw as a missed opportunity, underdeveloped and underused as a full person in this story, and then, hold on folks, the (in Patton Oswalt voice) GAY BEST FRIEEEEEEEND!
Like... C'mon, writers, this is what we have in 2019 (and just a month or so after Isnt it Romantic?) The gay dude who is there to literally be the sound-board for our leading lady (and sometimes leading artist-bro)? And maybe, for a moment or two, the filmmakers try to give him a little dramatic weight, but that gets deflated once his fate is revealed (spoiler: he also gets that bit where he gets to say to someone at a party, "oh I cant wait to see so and so next week" and I just put my hands over my face saying, "oh no, not *this* old gag").
But I tried with Five Feet Apart, and to the director's and writer's credit they were trying (somewhat, but points all the same, like giving out gold stars and so on) to give this some pathos, and surrounded by the physical component of Cystic Fibrosis, where the characters can't touch and have to be in this space away from each other, and if I wasnt fully engaged like with a Green YA medical-sad-amusing romance I was at least letting it take me along and wasn't all that stupid and infuriating a journey (save for the occasional "ill brood on the roof ala My Sister's Keeper).....
But then the last fifteen minutes happen, and it turns into complete BS theatrics and hysterical nonsense, with sudden twists, a decision by a character that simply doesnt make sense based on what we have known about (spoiler) CPR *FOR DECADES*, and a final scene that you can tell the filmmakers are practically screaming from a bullhorn by the video village on set "CRY you're gonna CRY NOW RIGHT? Flow my tears, the carpetbaggers said!" But.... Yeah, no, this is all rushed hooey.
If this kind of movie with a melancholy soundtrack and amiable and more or less talented leads and a warm and too gooey for its own good heart appeals to you, then go ahead and check it out once it's invariably on Lifetime in two months. Otherwise, you'll be left pondering a couple of things while not necessarily paying 100% attention to the plot, such as a) why doesn't Stella have anymore OCD after, oh, about an hour into this when it was clearly established as a key part of her character early on (and I know As Good As It Gets did that a little too, but not like this); and b) whatever happened to Claire Forlani? Hmm.
RIP Dick Miller
Kind of a ... simple movie in a lot of ways - a kid dreams (hallucinates?) a spaceship, he teams up with a kid who sort of saves him from bullies and his science whiz-kid friend (the Quintessential "Hey, why don't you sell one of your inventions you seemed to make offhandedly and make millions but you wont cause Movie" kid character) and they... Build it, and fly around, and then go off to another world.
This is a perk because it allows Dante's fun to come out (and that Jerry Goldsmith score, goodness gracious), but I also could have used more... Personality from these kids, past their single defining traits (which they play fine, but it's not anything past that). And while I don't see in the storytelling per-say, as far as story construction, that Dante didn't get to finish his cut (not that it was tampered with, it just got released before tweaks were done), there is a "and then..and then...and then" quality that makes it basic on the level of a children's book, and I do see it in some of the VFX in places.
(In the interest of full disclosure, this wasn't a movie I saw as a kid and kept inside of me all my life like the Gremlins movies, I'm seeing it now as a grown man so what interests me more is the largely background familial stuff, how the kids are from varying households, and the occasional satirical touch from Dante, so take that as a grain of salt - albeit I think this probably holds up better than The Goonies which is from the same year and the same ballpark of Kid Wonderment fantasy).
It certainly has its sweet charms, I think Ethan Hawke right away had an engaging screen presence (as far as untrained child actors go). and as I said Dick Miller is perfect in every second of his allotted screen time. And the more it sinks in, I enjoy the message more about why the aliens are how they are; come to think of it, it has more in common with The Twilight Zone than your typical 80s coming of age saga. So in other good news, it starts as a kids fantasy sci-fi, and in the last third becomes a weird subversion of alien encounter stories.
Speaking of which, this is also one of those times I wish the credits had been at the end and not the beginning as I had no idea Rob Bottin was the effects artist until the opening credits... And made me just itching in anticipation for when they'd show up. Luckily, they didn't disappoint.
Into the Night (1985)
Grand Theft Auto: Goldblum Nights.
First off: Michelle Pfieffer plays not a single note wrong. Not one. Whether she's genuinely freaking out or using her cunning and sly personality to get out of a jam (thanks hapless cops!), this is among her top tier roles. In a just world she would've been nominated for like all the awards there are for such a performance. And Goldblum channels a charming insomniac like nobody's business.
Though I kinda regret not seeing Into the Night until now, it was fun to play spot-the-director in this (also with some wonderfully gnarly turns from Bowie, Bruce McGill and Richard Farnsworth). It's not totally up to par with After Hours, but it has its own idiosyncratic level of dark comedy and gritty violence, only with Landis's flair. The main diamond plot itself is only alright, but that's more or less the MacGuffin anyway. In that sense this is like a madcap Hitchcock thriller, and the details, all the joy and intensity put into the set pieces (and the little conversations too) is Landis in top form.
Last note: I wonder if Landis was working something personal out not even so much from the directing part so much as casting himself as the nastiest/quietest of the murderous thugs (who also meets a... interesting fate in the airport near the end).
My God - it's full of answers!
- A fascinating point: this is a sequel to 2001 that would not have this production design without coming after Alien (and in other ways too Hyams I think, consciously or not, was influenced by it- Helen Mirren has Ripley hair and arguably her attitude, if Ripley were a Russian officer in space- not to say it was uncommon, but it's what it is), yet it is still very much a sequel to 2001, so I really loved looking at this film for that hybrid aspect. This may also be as a result of having an Alien-like premise, of a rescue mission gone awry. Everything aesthetically, from the costumes to David Shire's peaceful (if not all awe-inspiring) score to Richard Edlund's special effects, are solid gold.
- Everything about when John Lithgow's engineer goes into space to open the other ship is perfect; he brings a terrified human reaction to it that, frankly, was either missing or subverted in Kubrick's film. However...
- Hyams great sin is to over explain things. I dont even mean with the film overall as far as answering things left ambiguous or just open for interpretation (though there is that); I mean liken when Heywood Floyd has narration as if it's Star Trek and his Captain's Log to his wife explains things we can already get without it (ie the explanation, really to the audience more than to her, about the ship flinging around the planet, or the thoughts about Europa). I know Kubrick and I suspect someone like Ridley Scott would leave it wordless and the audience would get it, not to mention it would feel more of a piece with 2001 at least in directing terms.
And yet, this is a good film when looking at it as a straightforward search-and-rescue science fiction film, what Id assume is a faithful (maybe too faithful) adaptation of Clarke's work, it has an inspiring message about Americans and Russians somehow coming together, and maybe some day I will return to it... But I know it won't be like I do 2001, which worked more like a piece of grand philosophical-psychedelic opera than a traditional film.
Oh, and Keir Dullea is terrific here. So is the late Douglas Rain, in particular his performance with Balaban in the climax (that helps to make up for a lot that I had issues with, it's actually a wonderful arc that HAL gets to complete that I didn't even realize was an arc until it happened like it does).
PS: Sure, write off Squirt, Heywood's daughter from 2001, with one line... But what about the Bush Baby damn it?!
Sorry but this was a miserable viewing experience
At the movie theater I go to (the Clearview Bow Tie in Montclair, NJ), there's a wall where people can write short reviews and post them. I wrote for the Oscar nominated live action short films overall: "Holy cow, these shorts were a barrel of laughs!"- (signed Lars von Trier, probably). I think a lot of that feeling comes in particular from this short, which is basically 20 minutes of misery porn in the guise of an "important" look at a stomach churning true story from 25 years or so ago when two ten year olds killed (and is more than strongly suggested raped) a toddler in Northern England.
I think that the controversy regarding how it was put together is one thing; I didn't know about this until reading some reviews on here, and it is ghoulish and unseemly of the director to make this without informing the *dead baby's mother*. The actual quality of the thing is another, and that's where I have an even greater issue. The director has less than zero sense of a) making it a unique artistic statement (a film like Son of Saul, for example, is a traumatic cinematic experience, but it's because of how it's shot and presented that the artistry transcends the horror of the real life story), and b) avoiding melodrama.
Detainment should have been, at best, one of those documentary TV shows where the dramatization happens in little parts between the interviews with the real-life subjects. The way it's shot is screaming at you with the mis-en-scene, close-ups and "realistic" hand-held of the day-of with the kids and the baby, plus overbearing music, and while there is something on an intellectual level that can be striking (who is a true sociopath/psychopath and who is just misguided and stupid as a kid can be seen between these two killers), emotionally it's a thousand grim sledghammers banging away at the same time.
Sad story? Sure. Should it have been made into a motion picture done up with lots of good quality equipment and professional acting? I dunno. But it's not an experience I ever want to revisit for the rest of my days.
To Dust (2018)
Unlike anything else you'll see in this (or most) year(s)
I can safely say To Dust is... Quite unlike most movie - or maybe any movie - about grief I can think of... uh... Maybe it's reverse Hassidic Frankenstein?
Instead of resurrecting a body to life it's bringing the body to get into the Earth quicker?! This is followed to some wonderfully bizarre extremes.
The main character is a bit hard to really get into due to his... Ways about him, which is being stubborn and prickly and totally set in his mindset regarding the body and the soul (not a slight on the actor, he does what hes asked to do), and Broderick acts his Brodericky self off. It's a truly interesting independent film dramedy that doesn't compromise really, which is a strength and a detriment. It's a view into a hermetically sealed world done with humor, even if it's hit or miss, and genuine pathos.
Thank you for getting into producing, Ron Perlman!
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
This rating may be a touch generous, but what the heck, New year, keep a positive attitude, right?
Blunt is great, wholly becoming Poppins; Lin-Manuel Miranda has fun (though the accent isn't exactly any less terrible or potentially offensive to those bloody cockneys); Whishaw and Mortimer are pitched just right; the entire thing has a sincerity that I appreciated; then, when it goes into the 2D animated scenes, that I really really loved. That was the nostalgia that got to me 1000%, as a dead-on tribute to the Wolfgang Reitherman style of animation of the 60's and 70s (I almost want to give that section of the film its own Oscar, magic all the way). And a few of the songs and dances are really good and cheerful and sorta memorable.
But the plot is nearly totally the same as the Christopher Robin (more my speed when it comes to bringing back old-school Disney with panache), which was also-kinda-sequel-soft-retriboot (combo of reboot and tribute) and like that film it has MAJOR problems in the last third as far as *even in the logic of a cheery merry who cares children's film* is ludicrous. (Lets just say to make another pun there is a... VanDyke ex Machina that happens).
And as great as Blunt is, Poppins isn't that necessary to the story, as far as what she is there for on a practical level to be an active agent.... On the other hand, she makes it feel like you're eating tons of cotton candy at Disneyworld, which is what it has going for it, so emotionally I get it (and hey, kids, if you're feeling down because... Mom died and the house will be foreclosed on, here's some dolphins in a bathtub!) All this said, and as critical as I am of all this, I generally had a better time that I expected; not since Frozen have I seen a Disney product so calibrated to a tee for it to go immediately to Broadway in a year or so.
Some other notes:
- Meryl Streep is one of the weaker parts, both in song and in the set piece (her part in the film almost reminded me of one of those ridiculous cameo bits the celebrities did in Oogieloves). Which means of course she'll get a best supporting actress nomination BECAUSE STREEP RIGHT?
- Also, when it comes time, around, oh let's see, 2072, that we get the Disney Mary Poppins Strikes Again (on an EyeLidFlix near you), will that be set during the swinging 1960s London as it focuses on these three kids as adults? If I'm still alive I'm game, and hope to see Miranda tell the stories all over again.
Fukushû suru wa ware ni ari (1979)
a disturbing and provocative slow burn, but totally worth it
The *other* infamous bone-throwing-in-the-air scene in cinema history (though in this case bones plural is more accurate).
Iwao Enokizu is that rarity: an antagonist who also acts as the protagonist in his own story. This doesn't mean he is the only significant character going on here. There's also Iwao's long suffering father, and the woman Iwao decides to marry, sort of on a whim to piss them off, even as he doesn't love her (and has kids with them, who we barely see, making him not a father much at all) and leaves them behind after he gets out of prison and starts his killing spree, and most important possibly is the woman who runs an Inn-chm-brothel where Iwao gets into an unlikely relationship with her while she fights constantly with her own mother (Iwao by the way is in disguise initially as a professor, and Ogata, who you might remember as one of the Mishimas in Paul Schrader's film, has an unassuming look that is to his advantage even as his face is plastered on wanted posters). But this does mean that he drives the action forward, is the one we're seeing this story progress with, and yet it is always clear that Imamura doesn't mean for us to identify with him.
That doesn't mean, on the other hand, that Imamura shoots his film or has his script be so cold that we dont see humanity happen. Or, most importantly, that despite the brutal kills (and there are some harrowing and nasty murders here, some with blood, others just by how intense its played and how unflinching it is with camera angles and editing), Iwao is always shown as human, and the main supporting cast around him are fully fleshed out beings who live their own lives not always connected to him. Indeed, there's the whole subplot (of sorts) with Iwao's dad and the dad's daughter-in-law and their burgeoning love (there's an extremely sensual scene between the two of them at a hot spring and, for all the sex Iwao does with other characters, he is never this... Intimate).
This film is startling and shocking not (or not just) for the acts of violence and sex that occur - though they are shown graphically, and while I dont think Imamura is a director who in any way (at least on a first viewing) I can sense has a dislike or problem with women, he is depicting violence against them, both physically and mentally, and nearly every major speaking female role here has to deal with rapey and forceful and abusive men, and if you need a content-warning for that before you watch, there you go - but for the layers of humanity that it strips away until bare.
It would be easy to show Iwao as a guy who is simply out for blood, but he is also not what we see in serial killer movies as the other type of the super-genius killer. He's not Leatherface or Lecter. He's just a man who started doing other crimes and being rebellious as a kid, as we see in flashbacks, and even went to jail for a time, but once he kills there's an intelligence (a conman element to him, like scamming strangers out of money like as a fake lawyer in court, is a darkly comedic scene and there are a few here, another surprise for me given the early scenes) but also real emotion too.
This woman at this Inn, Haru, loves Iwao even after she finds out that he is a killer on the run; actually, much to Iwao's at first bafflement, acceptance and then embracing, she has an even greater love for him after her initial shock wears off. There's an extremism to how this relationship unfolds, but because Imamura has taken the time to develop things, almost imperceptibly building up the dynamic in this slow burn of a film (it runs long enough that I anticipate it moving quicker on another watch), it doesn't feel that unrealistic. His approach leans towards documentary realism, but there's times he will rely on a long take not just because it makes the most sense but for psychological realism. And he does cut away when he should or has to, but how long at times we stay on a scene and he confidently keeps characters in a medium shot, it's radically effective.
I wish I could say this was a perfect film, but it doesn't have a completely airtight structure. He cuts back to Shizuo (the "ex-ish" wife) and Kayo (dad), but those scenes with then really make an impact the most when it's still in the framing of Iwoa in the first half of the film. Once he is at the other Inn as the professor, when Imamura cuts back to them it doesn't feel right somehow. Also, I think if he had trimmed those bits it would have made a greater impact once Iwao finally does see his father again (the penultimate scene actually, which is amazing).
This complaint aside, this is a truly engrossing and unusual epic that I plan on revisiting some day - maybe not right away, but certainly I will get this on bluray - and it has such a committed and sparingly simple performance by Ogata, simple as in he isn't pulling punches with how he gets to the ugliest truths of this man.
Damn Japanese Catholics, man. And I thought Silence was the most disturbing Japanese-set story involving that!
Les plages d'Agnès (2008)
As life changes and the world goes through other developments, the beaches stay the same.
It's not too often a filmmaker will give us a full and unambiguous autobiography on film; if we find out about who they are, he or she will bring themselves into the art that is ostensibly other stories. Agnes Varda looks back on her life using cinema and it is among the most unique things I've ever seen - though it is not inconsistent with many films she has made before (The Gleaners and I comes to mind) as far as her life being inextricably and most often joyfully being connected with her work. This doesn't mean she doesn't shy away from the pain as well; the parts regarding Jacques Demy in his final years are somber and tender.
Pure, unadulterated imagination, heart, empathy, a light yet wholly potent surrealism, a seemingly endless connection to other people, art, photography, and of course those cats (including an eccentric cameo by Chris Marker). I feel like I got a lifetime in just a little under two hours. And how about her cardboard car that she tries to park into her tiny garage!
And it's the kind of wonderful and priceless piece of autobiography that has digressions (one of which about Jim Morrison). It may help to see at least a few of her films before going into this, but even if you only have a cursory knowledge of film history or Demy or what have you, it's still effective and affecting as a story that contains many stories and is about getting us to see the world as vibrantly and daringly as she does.
As life changes and the world goes through other developments, the beaches stay the same.
God Told Me To (1976)
Larry Cohen at some of his most Larry Cohen-iest: crude, crazy and mostly compelling
First off, a nitpick (or maybe just pointing out a flaw in the time of the year this is set in): early in the film is that wonderfully nutty scene where pre-fame Andy Kaufman is the cop in the St Patrick's Day parade, and then... Just a day or two later, or maybe it's a week, hard to tell, Tony Lo Bianco gets his ass kicked at the San Genaro festival in Little Italy, which to my knowledge happens in September. I know Cohen had to shoot crowds when he could, but anyone with just a cursory knowledge of NYC through the year would know... Eh, forget it.
This doesnt always have the sharpest direction, if anything some of the cinematography and editing is slapdash if not sloppy and direction of some (but not all) of the supporting actors results in flat work. And yet that almost doesnt matter because of the 1000% grit level of this thing, shot all without permits and by the seats of their pants (on some of the same streets Scorsese was shooting Taxi Driver at the same time), Lo Bainco makes for a convincing and stable presence as this flawed but dogged cop in the lead surrounded by bad cops and uncanny citizens, and the script has such a magnificently tense first act and bizarre turns with this supernatural WTF bent that I was always engaged, never totally bored, and it's a unqiue entry in mid 70s paranoid New York cinema.
And despite my griping on the direction and editing, Cohen gets some intense set pieces (that boiler room is eerie as all get out) and shots at times, in particular in the first half, and then Sylvia Sidney shows up, and... Look, you can see the seams in this, and Cohen in some respects did a not remake so much as reimagining of this into Q years later, but when it works, it's a one of a kind "B" movie.
::Dick Cheney Penguin noise::
Such a fascinating and unexpectedly engrossing first half - curiously, actually split in half by "those" end credits - that it's a shame the second is a cliff-notes style simplified mess. And I know that for a lot of audiences, younger viewers especially who either were kids or just didn't really know what was going on from 2000 to 2008, this will may be extra interesting or OMG what was all that but... I have to speak for myself, and it got to be less... Just less the longer it went on.
Bale is magnetic, so is Adams who is channeling the same scary energy she had in The Master, Carrell is also a lot of fun, and there's some parts that are funny and startling and it manages to give us about 90% monster and 10% decent human being, which is kind of incredible. But by the end, like Oliver Stone's W (and McKay is channeling Stone far more than Stone did in that film), I wonder what is this person? What does he actually want? Is being a mediocre white man all that its about? Is it only power? Greed doesn't even see to be a big deal here for Cheney, who got rich as all get out from the Halliburton, nevermind the so-called war. So... What is it? The very end when Bale faces the audience may hold a clue(?) I don't know if smug is the word Id use for all of this, but glib is definitely it. And the style of The Big Short, even if it isn't pushed so far, doesn't work for it. It either needed to be full Strangelove (or better yet, the wild and erratic politics of The Favourite which is also out now), or maybe more traditional or focused. It's a B or B minus paper that should be an A. And it isn't.
The She Beast (1966)
this is one of those 'What did you expect?' titles. it's... alright
The first ten minutes show that Reeves already had his mind on period settings, and could direct it with fire and passion. To come to this after seeing Witchfinder General is to realize that, hey, someones gotta start somewhere, and yet after those ten minutes it's hit or miss. And... Sadly, more miss. John Karlsen as "Count" Van Helsing - yes, he's a descendant in modern times - is so wooden that it's almost painful everytime he speaks on screen, like hes that lacking in emotion past his one note.
But it's nice to see Barbara Steele, if briefly (and for a moment she is quite... Sexy), the widescreen cinematography is exquisite, Charles B Griffith of countless Corman films does 2nd unit direction, and the resurrected witch of the title is a solid B movie make-up job and engaging performance (nothing too fancy, bit not a war crime to look at). It's a first film, and by those standards it's alright. It takes some chances on going for gruesome violence and clearly Reeves has a love for monster movies and doesn't take it to be a joke, not to mention it clocks in just shy of 80 minutes and doesn't overstay its welcome.
It is sloppy, and there are things like the witch coming towards the camera after attacking someone and it looks cheesy, and the climax is what disappoints me the most as a goofy car chase. Yet all in all, it's good for a late night viewing with a glass of scotch and appropriate expectations.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
remembered for so much, and it's actually a pretty good movie
Tom Cruise is so Tom CRUISE here he out Tom Cruises when Ben Stiller has done Tom Cruise (or should I say Tom Crooze?) He is practically everything that he has ever been asked to do as an actor, minus the running and action stuff (oh, no, wait, he does run a little bit in the climax, how about that) and it's one of his major performances (to the point where I wondered a few times if this could be an unintentional sequel to Risky Business). He, and not Cuba Gooding Jr (who is fine but given a largely two dimensional character, a type to be sure), deserved the hell out of that Oscar. This is his movie, and he rules at every moment.
The movie around him is fun and entertaining, and it's Cameron Crowe also at his most...Crowe-ish (for better or worse, mostly better, from his can't-help-himself wit to the musical choices, from the Who to Miles Davis), though not as deep as it might think it is early on. It also has a wonderful turn from Renee Zellwegger, a sleazy turn by Jay Mohr, and Jerry O'Connell for a few key scenes in one of his best turns (hey, no small roles, right?) The key thing for me about all this: Jerry Maguire was one of my cinematic blind spots until... Well, now.
I knew all of the major cultural references (it's just how it is, whether it's seeing a parody long before the actual source, to a Patton Oswalt bit about seeing it on Christmas), and seen a few scenes here and there, but I'd never seen it start to finish. What I come away with is... It works. Mostly. Largely on movie star charm and some snappy Crowe dialog that only occasionally is too, uh, cocky for its own good.
It also is a much more compelling story when it's focused on the sports world, and the first part seems to be indicating it'll be largely about that. And then roughly halfway through, when the thrust of the story should be about how Jerry picks up the pieces and gets back on track, Crowe remembers he wants to kick in his romantic comedy/drama plot and it takes over. Arguably, a bit too much and yet, there are some really touching scenes late in the film between Cruise and Zellweger, like it almost makes up for a sluggish middle.
Jerry Maguire, not without flaws, is what used to be a quality example of a popular and massive Hollywood hit in the mid 1990s. I wonder now if it would go straight to Netflix or not, with a different star. Is it still an iconic Hollywood piece of the 90s? I dunno. But I did laugh. And I could see how Crowe could go down the path he has for the last 15 years.
Green Book (2018)
Just okay when all is said and done
So, let me get up on the soap box here for just a second ::steps up, clears throat::
It may be because I have inhaled as much of the non-fiction of James Baldwin the past two years, or that I have simply paid halfway attention to whats going on in this part of this decade, or that I live in the general area that Tony Lips did (the tri-state area in the North-East), but I think Green Book underestimates the racism of the North at the time. It's often been a misconception, usually by white people (and maybe at one time when I was much younger), but just because you live in the North and around liberal areas doesn't mean that things are less racist.
Indeed, it's that more subdued racism (what MLK dubbed those "white moderates") that make a lot of trouble. From socio-economic segregation of a sort - notice that in the Bronx neighborhood Tony's family and friends live there are no black people, and the "No Coloreds" signs are not up but they're just... Not there, and not allowed. Not really, anyway.
To the movie's credit, it does touch on the fact that there is this racism that is there with working-class Italians (not that it's any great revelation in American cinema - Do the Right Thing was made decades ago and dealt with Italian caricatures, literally making pizza, being face to face with African American people with much more insight and drama/comedy etc); there is one telling beat where Tony comes home as two black handymen are working on the Lips' family kitchen, and they're given some lemonade in two glasses. When they leave, Lips puts the two glasses in the trash (and later, Linda Cardellini's wife takes them back out). This is good visual storytelling that makes the point clear: once Lips gets tasked with the plot of Green Book, which is to drive the good Doctor (Mahershala Ali) across the mid-west and deep South, there will be problems but not just with those they come across.... But then it's kinda-sorta dropped for a "feel-good" movie about race relations.
I don't know about you, but in 2018, living in just everything that's going on now (in daily news, a campus in Mississippi got vandalized with numerous nooses hung about for tomorrows Senate vote for example), I'm not sure if that's what we (white people, even more than blacks or other minorities) need to see. All this said, the movie does a good job, at least for the first two thirds, of getting an entertaining buddy story between these two Characters, with a capital "C."
And to the actors' credit, Ali and Mortensen tap into the cliches of a, well, bouncer at the Coppacabana and classically trained PHD pianist (fluent in multiple languages, which does pay off at a key point by the way, nice writing), and whenever they are on screen I believed the actors in what they had to emote or tried to do. It's even got funny scenes and beats and lines, and while I can count the number of laughs (at least five, at most six), they are genuine laughs. Farrelly knows how to get two guys working together on screen - he's known since Dumb & Dumber - so that part is fine.
But then there's that last third in particular when it hunkers down into hammering its message about race relations (if you've seen the trailer, that scene in the rain with "if I'm not black enough and Im not white enough" etc is a cringe-tastic as it seems) and the simple attitude that after two months Tony Lips is now way cooler and, more crucially at the end, all the rest of his friends and family there for Christmas Eve are magically okay now with the ::insert Italian slang word for racist epithet here:: coming to dinner. But this is all without any real work outside of a few goopy scenes where the good Doctor helps Tony write letters to Mrs. Lips (sorry I forget his real last name right now) so he must be awesome outside of the brilliant piano playing.
The movie does go a ways to make Ali's character flawed too in some basic ways - as a musician on the road he's become a loner, estranged from a brother and divorced - and in one way that I don't think is meant to be seen as a flaw, but comes up as a "huh" bit where Tony has to get Doc out of a bind when he is... Caught in a gay moment with another man at the YMCA(?!) Okie dokie! So that also don't be a big deal since hes just Tony's boss and no judgment and we'll just leave his sexuality as something that doesn't get any more screen-time because RACISM needs to get the top shelf over homophobia and that entire grenade which... What was that??
As far as the sort of if not feel good then *don't feel bad* kind of movie released by a big studio, it's not as tone deaf and potentially harmful as a Crash; it has more of the feel of a better(ish) thing that Stanley Kramer would have made (down to, if Poitier was around he would be ideal for this part): it doesn't shy from the issues, and on the contrary it tries to show what everybody (even the racists) know, which is segregation-by-law can't be sustainable.
But when it comes to depicting more essential details about character, about really digging into Lips past his love for his wife and not being *that* bad because, hey, he turns down offers by the local mobsters for work even when he's down, right(?) it doesn't hold as much water. Should I wholly believe Lips wont throw out again glasses that happened to touch mouths of black working class workers, despite himself being working class, because he got Lessons in Life (and visa-versa he gives the Doctor some "Street Life" lessons)? Not sure that I do.
Why the six star rating then? When it means to be simply well-acted and more character-driven entertainment, it works - not to mention the greatest product placement for KFC in cinema history - and I enjoyed seeing these two do the absolute best they could with what they had. It's a mild recommendation. But compared to what else you can see from this year - Blindspotting, Blackkklansman, Sorry to Bother You, to an extent The Hate U Give - it's weak tea.
Thank you. ::steps off::
The World According to Garp (1982)
acting over substance
Im not totally sure if the feminism here, which *is* satirical but has a dimension to it that is meant to be taken very seriously, has dated poorly or is more relevant than ever. Or if it's both, and not I think that shouldn't diminish, or not, what it has to say now, I just mean unto itself.
Some of that aspect is interesting and some of it doesn't quite work (or maybe it's little bits that may be from the Irving book that work better in a book, like the nerdy girl who becomes a nerdy woman who keeps being around when Garp is doing something sneaky. I just don't get it. Yes, even with how it "pays off" at the end, which was meant to be a shock but comes off as random as all get out).
But the acting here, all around, is phenomenal. Williams proved he was the real deal with a character and performance that was five-dimensional, not just three, and then there's Hurt (in one of her best turns), Lithgow (Oscar nomiated and rightly so), and Close in her *screen debut*. Even if the writing being hit or miss, as at times an extremely weird and odd and quirky and other times darkly dramatic story, the acting makes this a must see.
The World Before Your Feet (2018)
A truly interesting document of places and the man who finds them
In case you needed definitive proof how *safe it is in New York City in this decade, look no further. This doesn't have necessarily the most top notch or artistically ambitious direction (the cute score and reliance, maybe over-reliance, on drones for those BIG shots), but damn if this isn't one of themost fascinating documents of the human spirit in a long time. You learn enough about the guy, Matt Green, to understand but at the same time not fully understand why he's doing this. That may sound off, but you don't need to know his full back story; a few key details about a younger brother, a bike accident, and two ex's are enough.
What makes it a subject worthy of cinematic exploration is really just... Seeing him walk. Sometimes he interacts and talks with the locals, other times he tells us a fact about something, like a tree that is the oldest in New York City, or landmarks in cemeteries that we take for granted or even the first birth control center from 1910's. Like the Mister Rogers documentary this year, the movie is really about human connectivity and how , if you're open to what's out there and are genuinely curious, the World isn't such a bad place.
* at least if you are white and man, but still I think my points can still be valid here.
A blast from start to finish
Seeing this again, I'm convinced this is THE major Michael Mann movie that he didnt make, only driven by women and how in practically every step of their lives, when they're not dealing with loss on one level or another, it's a fight (emotionally and physically) to not be completely dominated by men. It has to be fight since men like, you know, the Robert Duvall character and to an extent Lukas Haas too, rule over all. And every Gillian Flynn scripted twist in the story (and you know she had to have been the one to get those third act OH SHIT moments in there) emphasizes this.
This is that perfect kind of cinematic alchemy where it's a tight-as-a-vice crime genre storytelling - theres a lot of detail and what seems like a lot of plot, but it never bogs the actual flow of the story as it needs to be - with a substantive and heart-wrenching drama that uses Chicago as not just another city but a city that involves all of THIS that is happening involving race and gender and above all class inequality (and lest we forget women have to fight or at least subvert themselves from being second class citizens - look at when Jacki Weaver tells her daughter to put up her body for men to use since, well, that's a way to make good money ("and if you're sweet," she adds as if completely unaware of her being in this locked-in-step idea of what women can be or do in society).
So it's politically alive and socially alive, it doesn't get preachy about it (and if it ever is, it doesnt stop the movie), the cast is across the board fan tastic, from Viola to Cynthia (what a year shes had huh) to... Lukas Haas look at him in a movie where he gets dialog for once, a star-making turns for Debicki and another notch on Kaluuya's major performances, and Robert Duvall who is still Robert damn Duvall, and it's a sensational and at key points unconventional heist movie.
This is all so great a work of what Hollywood is capable of when it gives talented artists room to thrive that it even comes as close as possible to redeeming the plot conceit of The Book of Henry. The BOOK OF HENRY!!!?!?!
Babes in Toyland (1934)
Man, I want that Barnaby's sideburns!
I don't recall this being part of my yearly childhood rotation - parts seem familiar, so I probably saw it once, but it never really registered - and seeing it now as a grown-ass man, I found it perfectly charming and a near ideal example (aside from Midnight Summer's Dream) of the sort of wholesome musical fluff MGM were masters at creating. Giant, elaborate sets, peppy musical numbers, nightmare-fuel costumes (that mouse!), and in the middle are Stan and Ollie providing a much needed injection of modernism into the fairy tale aesthetic.
In a way, this is kind of like a proto-Shrek, aware of itself and its fairy-tale conventions, if only because of its two stars and their own comic timing, except here it's more timeless due to the black and white photography (I didnt watch the colorized version), and because of the MGM/Golden-age Hollywood production, from the non-stop music to the innocent-but-not-too-innocent tone - yes, mortgages and foreclosures included. I wouldn't rank it as fully great, yet I'd be lying if I said I wasnt giggling consistently throughout, and not just from the Stan & Ollie bits. It's the kind of family entertainment where you gather everyone around, make hot cocoa and dig in. And who could give a "come on!" 4th-wall breaking look like Hardy?