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Un couteau dans le coeur (2018)
fairly unique take on a tried-true thriller type
The word giallo is thrown around in a lot of the reviews here - and not least of which in the description on MUBI - but it strikes me that Yann Gonzalez isn't necessarily all that interested in getting some shocks or indulging so much in the kill set pieces (not that he doesn't completely, with one involving lots of 360 degree pans revealing in each succession the killer approaching and then slicing away) as much as he is in pushing the colors that hes working with and mixing film stocks and, in his way, doing a meta comment on using art as a way to fight back.
When Vanessa Paradis's Anne goes to a police station to be briefly questioned about one of her actors being offed, this is then cut away to her recreating this with her own actors (Anal Fury 5 quickly becomes "Homocidal," the best pun you never thought of because why would you), and when she thinks she can draw out who may be the killer, she quickly stages a scene of sado-masochism... And gets what she is asking for (in the one scene that is truly suspenseful). What I'm trying to say here is that if you go in to Knife+Heart expecting a usual Argento or Fulci or one of those directors, you'll be not so much disappointed as thrown off.
And yes, MUBI, it is "unapologetically queer", which, you know, good. But it is also unapologetically French: the Italians had their own method of madness when it came to drawing out violent and/or surreal set pieces (one commonality is a lush and vibrant and spine-tingling score), and this has some surrealism as well, like with the black and white 16mm that feels like it's deliberately cut in from another movie.
But it also embraces and in fact demands that it be erotic and push the limits (albeit no actual genitals are seen, they might as well be), and Gonzalez is in love with color in a particular way. When we see red, it feels especially red and fiery; when we see blue, it's particularly somber and sad. And black? Well, that's the name of the game, man/woman - darkness is all around these characters, but what I also find striking is that, for the types the gay actors and some crew are, they feel like real people, which I often didn't get from Italian Giallos.
One issue though is that it is a director preferring style over substance. He loves Paradis clearly and what she can bring, but her role is thin and I never really felt for her (though she is, without spoiling, denied her moment of redemption that should come). Maybe that makes her more tragic, but I just didn't feel it, and that is what also is more French to me than anything - the sense of doomed romance and ennui which... Cool. But it's definitely more of a visual and sensory experience than one for story or real pathos.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Ed Wood for blaxploitation
This is what the old timers call a "feel good" movie, and so do I as I am (sorta) old. Dolemite is My Name was awesome, and in particular a blast to see in a theater with a crowd that was into it (it's in select theaters two weeks ahead of its Netflix drop); in a lot of ways it's more like Scott/Larry's Ed Wood than The Disaster Artist, where once again we a determined and ultimately good-hearted underdog scrap his way into cult film status (in this case as much being a comedic powerhouse too, and showing for and outside and underrepresented community at the time). For all his faults, we root for Rudy Ray Moore, and it's practically without sentimental touches.
I also didn't know much about the BTS stories of how Moore got his comedy shtick down (from homeless, hobos and other folks from the street), or how he put together his movie production through a lot of sheer will, determination, D'Urville Martin (ill get back to him in a second), and a few white guys from film school who could find a plug for the hotel used as "Dolemite Studios." Also, the heart of the movie including those around Rudy who helped him out, especially Lady Reed/Queen Bee (Randolph, who I haven't really seen before but is a stand-out), and writing (with Jerry Jones, Key is LOL) what he knew, and that connecting. The only thing missing is showing the boom mic dropping into the shots(!)
This is amazing work, from writers who know how to do a story where outsider/down-on-their-luck/shut-out creators rise to the occasion in high comedic and dramatic form, and a director (Brewer, his first significant film since Black Snake Moan) who gets how to show black lives and how they matter. And Murphy is astonishingly good and charming and grounded and everything he needs to be to make Moore work... But goddamn if Snipes doesn't steal the whole show. This is the best character and most emotionally rich and fun Murphy's been in 20 years. This is the best Snipes has *ever* been (have I seen him be this funny aside from Major League? No. He's funnier here), as this completely full of himself star-director, drunk off his ass, and one step from directing with a pinky raised. And even he gets some dimension and a key moment where he gives Moore some advice/direction that connects genuinely.
I may even raise this rating up a notch in the coming days. Im not sure, conventional ending besides, I can find a note wrong or off about Dolemite is my Name. This is the most heartwarming thing you may see this year - so strap in with some b****es and some beer! That's... The best I got.
... Pedantic point PS: the "B***h, are you for real?!" scene where Dolamite jumps out the window.... That's from the follow-up, The Human Tornado, not Dolemite proper (in a way that may be giving Martin too much credit that he could stage that). Just the more you know...
The Exorcist III (1990)
Among the most fascinating and bizarre sequels of modern Hollywood
This is so... So... Uncanny. For a number of reasons.
First off, maybe George C Scott protested his Oscar win for Patton because he could see into the future and thought he really deserved it for the scene in Exorcist III where he talks about having to look at the carp fish from his wife in his bathtub(?) One can dream.
I should note seriously that he is quite good here, being what should be the closest thing to an audience avatar (which, in this case with Blatty, means not entirely so much) as he is investigating these twisted murders by a serial killer called "Gemin" - who everyone thinks died 15 years before, when that little McNeil exorcism thing happened - just as Father Damien Karras did... Except the killer's real M.O., kept out of the press, keeps appearing with these victims, including a 12 year old and some priests. Scott manages to coney a lot of frustration and pain and anguish, at times subdued and other times not at all in that BIG Scott performance way, and he is something that, if only somewhat, can keep us tethered to some sort of reality (carp and all).
I think an issue in this film is that Blatty never got the memo from David Fincher when he said his line about people thinking there's five ways to shoot and scene, but in reality there's actually two, and one of those is wrong. And while Blatty made this before Fincher said that, the main idea applies: Blatty shoots scenes, not all the time but enough I could notice, in ways that say he either doesn't know where to put the camera just right or doesn't care or is just experimenting because he thinks the material calls for close-ups HERE when it should be a wide or medium. This also goes for the pacing at times, where a character will-in on a previous scene with a line or it's a hard CUT to something else. But this is in scenes establishing characters and the stakes in the first act for the most part, and it creates this weird feeling that Blatty may or may not have intended. It sure kept me on my toes (it's a movie to put the phone down and just WATCH), and even the direction of certain supporting players (like that one nurse that *yells* her dialog for some reason) is also off-kilter.
That's the phrase to look for here is off-kilter, which would be fine if this wasn't meant to be a sequel (of sorts, or spin-off or follow-up, whatever you want to call it) to The Exorcist, and despite the studio monkeying around with Blatty and forcing the title and franchise on him (though the book, Legion, does follow Kinderman and is in this world), Blatty is sort of defying the stark/documentary type of realism that was set up in the first story, which made it so horrifying, and since he is a true believer in this stuff (Friedkin, who wasn't, brought a different take on it), that also makes it... Odder.
Like, is the conflict that Kinderman isn't a believer and has to become one to stop this possessed killer, who happens to take on the face sometimes of Karras (Miller returning... for half of a performance, allegedly due to his drinking problem he couldn't remember all the lines to Blatty's turducken-sized monologues for Vinamen) Or is it simply a mystery with a particularly twisted horror bent that includes some gory details?
So what elevates what is a bit of a mess of a horror mystery, even before it gets to the climax - where the studio spent 4 million because they ordered that Blatty had to make it a full-blown Exorcist movie for several minutes? The scenes with Miller and Dourif in that dark mental hospital cell are masterful and remarkable, tense and even terrifying for how effectively Blatty is shooting and cutting together, the lighting and staging, what are long dialog/monologue scenes, the cracklingly good performances from these two men who tap into not just the evil but the misery and diabolical thrill of beong evil, and that for as long-winded as it might seem (particularly the second round, the first scene, where it's almost 50/50 Miller and Dourif, is aces)... It finds its footing and feels unique in that way where it can get under our skin. A good ten minutes of this is as unique and brilliant as any great horror movie ever.
There are a few other moments of creative filmmaking too, like that long sustained take showing the nurse doing her work in the hallway that leads up to a OH HELL moment, and a chase and confrontation in Kinderman's house that has energy and terror, and also that surreal (if short) sequence in the heaven waiting room, featuring the scariest jazz ever.
I cant say Exorcist III is particularly great, but watching it now almost 30 years later there's a lot to admire about it too. I even admire the warped go for broke level of horror of that finale (I do intend some day to watch Legion the director's cut). It's not the sort of movie most of us would expect from a movie called Exorcist III, but it has a closer look and tone than (certainly) Exorcist II. And if it is at times Cinema-by-Committee, then at least that wild almost amateur but creative novelist Blatty got to flex a little.
Miike is as Miike does
If this isn't one of Miike's major triumphs, with his graphic sense of a graphic-novel there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-top-to-go-over Yakuza-set crime movies, First Love is still a welcome return to the form of what fondly got me to watch a few dozen of his work over the years (not exaggerating, and I'm sure I'm missing so many more to see).
The last twenty minutes is where it gets into that sweet spot of a wildly and cartoonishly violent series of fights and kills, set and shot brilliantly in a department store, but before that there is a mix of super-dark comedy with a kill-happy guy, played with such glee by Shota Sometami (he's even surprised at himself how many he kills over the course of one night, including an old lady), and a (for Miike) 'sweet' kind of meet-cute where a boxer - who has just been told he has a terminal tumor in his brain - and a young street woman - who keeps seeing her dead abusive father in hallucinations form (possibly from early withdrawal as the kept woman of another Yakima and his lady, and don't get me started on her and her crazy ass - run into each other on a street at night and have to flee... Till they get caught. But what then?
It's almost sort of, hmm how shall I say, quaint in that 90's era of Tarantino rip-offs way that this largely takes place over one night and while it involves some warring gang elements and outrageous side characters (oh hey master swordsman with one arm), mostly in the plot, it's more concerned with the .. Idiosyncrasies of the characters (or, perhaps, like Miike's Into the Night(?) All of the details are Miike's though, and if I feel like I've seen it before it's only because I've seen too many damn movies in the course of my life - had this been one of my first times seeing his work, I'm sure id be like "Whoa, where have YOU been all my life??"
First Love is a work by a confident master of his craft about to enter his fourth decade of filmmaking, but it has the energy and take-chance spirit of a young director who wants to impress us. My heart wants to give it an even higher rating, especially because it is so much fun in that department store finale and for loving Miike as one of world cinema's few remaining Great Wild-men Who Happen to Be Able to Do It All. But if I take a step back I know the story is a bit repetitive, and the main couple of Leo the Boxer and Monica the Hallucinating Addict, are passive characters.
All the same, this gave me what I wanted and is a good Yakuza thriller. And 20 seconds of psychedelic animation can go a long way.
(REEDIT - yeah... I bumped it up to 4 stars. It's closer to 3 1/2, but in a world where Ang Lee is making soulless stuff like Gemini Man, Ill take this any day)
Gemini Man (2019)
It's fine... and it could be more
So, at first, I was thinking while watching this ho-hum CIA betrayal script unfold with skillfull-but-soulless direction from Ang Lee and starring three actors - Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Clive Owen, who are in 'we'll do what we can with what we got, best we can, which may be variable depending on the scene', that this could've been ripe stuff that someone like Paul Verhoeven (in the 1990's especially) would have made into the stuff of iconic weird-clone-action stuff of legend, that even if he took like 90% of the script and just shot it. But then it occurred to me, in particular in the last act, that what this most reminded me of - or what I wanted to be at home watching (again) instead - was The Boys, the new Amazon series that has some key elements that can't help but be comparable involving government-science experiments on Super-Killing-People, and then consequences when one person who looks as the "Parent" see their progenitor go a little... off.
I may be off in that comparison, or I may be giving Gemini Man too much credit in even comparing the two. The fact is though, this movie has a lot going for it, or at least some semblance of potential, and it isn't all unrealized. The flow of this movie is that the first quarter to third, being the set-up, is largely flat and only somewhat interesting because Smith and Winstead have OK chemistry (not great, but OK, passable, a GED level - Good Enough Diploma level); then, once the two Will Smiths discover each other, as the younger Clone is sent to kill the older one (aka "Clay Jr", named after Owen's super-villain with his Gemini program), their scenes together - Smtih acting off Smith - is actually incredible and full of emotion that may/may not be earned but, who cares, Smith(s) sells it; and then the last act becomes... kind of just another crap action movie, with one particular twist that gives Ang Lee a few minutes to try and flex the old comic-book movie muscles, which feels just goofy and, frankly, if I want to see this, I can check out Winter Soldier again (or, for that matter, that wonderfully dopey five minutes of Avengers: Endgame where Cap fights himself).
Anyway, what Gemini Man is, for all of its slick beats and a pretty cool motorcycle chase, something that just doesn't carry much life to it. It's not something that's so awful that one will go to social media and make it into a larger deal than it is (like a certain other movie out right now), nor does it feel fresh. It *should*, but I think a lot of that has to do with a perfectly serviceable, and at least half of the time unremarkable, screenplay that has David Benioff's strengths and weaknesses on full display. I wanted more of the HEART of this matter of what Jr was going through, and perhaps there could have been a whole other movie just set in the world of the Gemini program (a hint of it is seen when we get a glimpse at how the training program runs almost like, well, a giant darn Blockbuster movie production - though in this case to send off super-killers to other countries for "bad" deeds).
At the end of the day, though, this is just... Fine. There. What it is. And, frankly, I expect more of everyone here; it sounds cruel to say that a filmmaker doesn't have his heart in it, a feat that takes years out of someone's life, but here we are. I miss the Ang Lee of The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution. Get back to drama, dude, it suits you like purple on Prince.
A good entry point into the 1940s Lawrence Tierney ouevre
Id like to think Altman (24 at the time) wrote that Mike Carter listening to the Exposition Lady on the Many Records scene himself (it slaps, especially the bit where the woman talks to the person listening in), plus that amusing set piece at the eye doctor's office.
Bodyguard is somewhat Meat and Potatoes 'Some-Mug-Set-Me-Up-Ill-Find-Out-Who-Can't-Go-To-the-Cops-Whaddaya-Crazy piece of pulp, elevated by some decent if occasionally uncanny direction from Fleischer (watch for those EXTREME close-ups and quick zoom-ins - say, maybe this did influence Altman after all) and in particular Tierney, who plays this ex-homicide detective turned bodyguard turned Man Solving His Own Frame-Job with some quick skills, a bit of wit and a number of swift punches and choke-holds (not to mention disguises, re that Eye doctor scene). Everyone else here is more or less serviceable, but his presence single-handedly makes it compelling; in another world, he couldve been a more hard-boiled Dick Tracy.
I'm not sure if it would be quite as memorable without its star and a few above average twists (and one I called halfway through... Yeah, I wasn't quick on the draw this time). A true blue B movie that goes by like reading a crumpled paperback on a commute.
(Really, much as I kid, the Altman part is a bit of a foot-note, one of four credited writers, and he didn't go back to movies gor another nine years)
"What you want and what you get are two different things."
This is an unequivocal failure of storytelling. I watched with my wife and she was as baffled as I was. She said she couldn't tell someone else what this movie... Is about. I responded, "well, Gotti does... Things? There are events?" And she responded, "Really? Does he? Are there??"
This is about nothing, except 60-something John Travolta desperately keeping, clinging to, his hair piece on (oh just one, sorry, I mean multiple ones). The only thing I can say about it that isn't horrible is the cinematography, but that just underscores how much of a complete disaster this was put together; all the darkly shaded shots can't hide that what's IN the frame is nonsense. I rarely stop watching movies while at home - I made it all the way through Loqueesha and The Snowman, for Gods sake (in retrospect the latter was easier to follow) - but this was bad like when we throw out some meat and in the day or two before it's time to take out the garbage it stinks up the kitchen like a dumpster. I made it an hour in and couldn't take it anymore. This is ATLAS SHRUGGED PART 1 bad. This is Gangster Movie ad Vomit. And even if it wasn't an incoherent boondoggle, it's got every cliched rock and roll (or PITBULL?!) music cue and act of overwrought violence you could ever/never ask for. And I don't know if I can even put all of the fault at Kevin Connolly's feet - though I'm sure there's some - but rather the two *dozen* producers and various post-production staff on this. Did they try to SAVE this?
Oh, I do need to give a shout-out to Travolta as old-man Gotti in prison with a testicle-sack chin ala Thanos.
Sennen joyû (2001)
Satoshi Kon's tragic-comic surrealist love letter to Japanese cinema
First and foremost, or what it appeads to be in abundance, marvel of storytelling, though that really means it all comes down to the *telling* part. The story itself, if laid out in its basic terms, might not seem so complex: an aged actress who left the industry behind decades before recounts her experiences in film, but most especially the search for a sensitive young painter she met, and how it encompasses the history of modern Japanese film... Which also means an actual "millennium", possibly, anyway.
Yet what is complex is how Kon ties each segment together, which is something that has to be conceived of on the page and yet also takes artists who not only understand structure but know it so well they can bend it and push it. This is a master's class in how to transition from one moment to another, from one period to another, from a setting and a costume and a feeling that isnt jarring, but is instead keyed into a total dream logic.
David Lynch did a similar technique (I think anyway) with Inland Empire a few years later, though that didn't have a key journey to pull it together (here it's the searching, or in Chiyoko's words "the pursuit"). The one thing that... I won't say concerned but something I noticed for about halfway through is that, as astonished and captivated I was by Kon's sheer daring as a filmmaker, and that he could manage to pull off not only taking the audience through these moments (maybe even shards) in time and also include the documentary filmmaker characters into the scenes and for that to somehow work too (and it almost shouldn't, like simply seeing the camcorder the man is holding could break the spell), I wasn't totally connecting with it emotionally. Like, my brain was saying" "this is a sort of conceptually great film, but I don't find myself as torn apart as watching Perfect Blue or even Paprika)...
And then it comes out what the background of the main documentary filmmaker, Genya, interviewing Chiyoko is all about, that he used to be on set but never approached her (how could he as a lowly crew person), and it hit me that there's a greater story being told here. As much as her own obsessive quest consumed her, she might have taken for granted what an impact she made on other people, or who else did connect with her (maybe life is a series of being protected and protecting others), and in a sense it's this filmmaker's emotional story that makes the whole thing complete. I do hope to visit this again and I have the sense, like with all of Kon's films, more will be clear.
For now though, Millennium Actress is fascinating as a piece of reflective Japanese film history (particularly with Setsuko Hara - and yes, I believe I saw a ground-level Ozu shot during that one scene in the house that is the film scene within the film being made), absorbing in the direction and how Kon goes about the precision of moving through a consciousness, which is a MAJOR achievement to pull off as seamlessly as this is (one minor nitpick, the music at times is a little too cheap-synth sounding), and it hits one in the heart once it comes to the conclusion.
Sad yet not without some hope, this is Bergman finding his powerful voice
What starts off seeming so simple eventually, in a leisurely but sure way, becomes tragic and poignant. Bergman built up to this film after a few early works, and while imperfect (I think the two leads have chemistry, but Nilssen is given a greater character arc than Malmsten, who isnt bad but isnt up to her level as far as expressiveness and range), it feels like a complete and fascinatingly light-and-dark combination of poetic realism.
It's at times light and sweet, with a montage of the two young lovers connecting and having fun and fooling around, plus a little animated sequence (!) the two "watch" that is almost the plot laid out, and at other times there's suggestions of incest (kinda, it is her overly adoring and bitter uncle after all, played by Funkquist) and, ultimately, how Marie realized by summer's end if there is a God, she hates him with a passion.
The dynamic and unconventional use of the camera (ie what he does with it when an aawful and life changing noment happens to Henrik is amazing); the brutal power of memory ("I forgot Henrik" is meant to haunt the character, and it comes off well); the discontent and genuine malaise of an artist; the wise contemporary who can see through and bring insight (this happens near the end), it all shows a filmmaker gaining command of his craft in service of his greater ideas and passions.
If it's not one of his best it's only speaks to what would lie ahead (he made this when he was 32). Im also *really* curious to see the American recut version, "Illicit Interlude" which, like Summer with Monika (which would make a natural double feature if there ever was one), got added nude scenes to appeal to the skin-flick audiences.
The Farewell (2019)
the lies we tell others, and the lies we tell ourselves - beautiful film
It can be argued, as I will, that, wherever Shuzhen Zhao came from (it is her *only* screen credit to date), she delivers one of the sweetest, warmest, most equally profoundly and simply human performances this decade. Holy moly! I don't care whether she was a professional actor before this or not, she gave me all the feelings.
Lulu Wang's film explores how this family, this culture in China and the East, have to be deceiving when it comes to not delivering the news of a fatal diagnosis (as someone says here, it isn't the cancer they think kills, it's the *fear* that is connected with it), and at the same time it explores how we lie all the time in small ways. Lies in family can be tricky; if you're married to someone, lying to them is wrong, or at least should be seen that way. But little lies to a parent or grandparent (for example, "Are you alright?" "I'm fine" or "Did you get the news about the Fellowship?" "Still waiting" or "Do you need money?" "I'm fine" or this or that here). those don't seem to matter so much, since it's more about protecting oneself. It may be a selfish act, but more often than not we as people have to balance how much or how little we say when keeping bits and pieces of information (even, especially even, when it's about our well-being) from those who may, oh I don't know, worry a bit more.
In other words, we're all kind of messed up in that way, and at the same time it's seen as something acceptable - hell, sometimes we can just tell when a family member isn't being truthful, but why say anything about it. Indeed early on here, with this story being about how the family of a Matriarch Nai Nai (Zhou) come together for what on the surface is a wedding but is really not deeply felt and is actually about them coming together for a long goodbye as Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer (even the doctors don't tell her, or if they might, the family intercepts the info to not tell her), I wondered if Wang might go in the direction that Nai Nai *knows* that she is dying, but is putting on a kind and brave face since that's just how she is. But then she says one thing to Billie (Awkwafina) about seeing her marry one day, and it becomes clear she truly doesn't know.
What's the saying though, ignorance is bliss? One of the major strengths of this film is that it is deeply philosophical about life and death - I spent a lot of time during and after watching the film thinking about if I would want to know if I was terminally ill, or if I would tell someone close to me like my own mother, or visa-versa - while at the same time being a very warm and inviting film. This isn't a film about how the end of one's life impacts those around that person like, say, Michael Haneke's Amour; this isn't something where you feel the filmmaker being so rigorous that, regardless of quality, once it's done you never want to go near it again. The ideas expressed here are largely anchored around Zhou's performance who, I must say this again, is a total dear, but at the same time isn't someone exactly depicted as naive, she has an emotional intelligence that carries so much, and makes one think about (if one has them) of those times an elder in a family brought people together (a key point, and this is a minor spoiler but it's OK I think to share - she had to do something similar of this lie to *her husband*, so she knows the tradition herself).
If anything, the tenor of this movie reminded me a lot of Yasujiro Ozu's work. Not so much in the direction of compositions, as I think Wang is a bit less formal in style (there's one part that even made me think of Wes Anderson), but in the writing and acting it's there, the subject matter and how the parts move along. Or, let me be more specific, it's like if we had a new Ozu, but it was more from the POV of someone who, via Billi (who is playing a version of Lulu Wang), is and isn't of the culture, so the conflict is the main one but it's also there in family dynamics. What isn't said is as important as what is, maybe more-so (that scene at *dinner, where what's expected of one's life is brought up and rolled about), and in nearly every beat we we wonder if Billi might break and just SAY it (or, at one key point, the groom at the wedding).
The emotions that comes from these conflicts and the questions of how to live one's life and face a death and if we are connected to the rest of the world... it never feels forced upon us because it a) comes from being gentle with the observations, and b) Wang finds a perfect balance with sweet humor and achingly raw pathos. There may be one or two points that don't so much not work but feel familiar - a panic run Billi has near the end to stop something from happening, and a song as they leave that does feel sentimental - but I don't care. This is a great, great film about so many things, and if nothing else it's about having someone you love in your life and what that responsibility, cancer or not, entails. It's intimately and at times painfully connected to the troubles of the human condition, and (not but, and) it does so with things like a father and daughter at the wedding doing karaoke to The Fugees "Killing Me Softly".
One more time, give Shuzhen Zhou a round of applause, or just a giant hug!
Underrated Altman NASA drama pre Apollo 11, also for young Caan and Duvall
I started this, perhaps unfairly but I couldn't help it, trying to find the Altman parts or style or maybe just Altman-isms, and at first I wasnt so much disappointed as I was taken down to earth with what I should have expected. This was a transitional film for the director, not making his first feature entirely but after working on countless TV episodes in the late 50s and the bulk of the 60s got his first break with a major studio. In general, I get the sense he had to stick to the script, both literally and figuratively, since there was probably a good bit of money on the line (I'm just guessing based on whats on the screen, and that includes usage of actual locations with NASA's approval). To make a film on time and on budget? Sure, why not show them he could do it, right?
What muddies it further is the varying accounts of what happened after shooting wrapped. According to Altman, the film was taken away from him by the studio - Jack Warner, still there near the end of his time, didn't like the overlapping dialog - and in the Oral Biography book on Altman the ending was noted as being altered in particular (I don't know if I could sense altering exactly and it's kind of a bold move Caan's astronaut does with the flags, but it does just kind of... End, like there could be more and there isn't).
But according to the producer of the film (this is from the TCM lady who spoke after the movie aired as part of their moon series this week), apart from a few technical tweaks, the film was Altman's cut and Warner approved it. Could it have been some after-the-fact griping from Altman to make what feels at a lot of times more like him in TV director mode? Im not sure ill ever know for sure, though I wonder if that may be closer to the truth (maybe the film didnt make money, which was the more important thing after all career wise at that point... luckily MASH was around the corner, but I digress).
So then what is Countdown? A rather stready, at times subtle drama that deals with the politics and bureaucracy of putting together a space flight ( and dont forget the darn Ruskies, albeit that is really not played up as far as making caricatures of Russians or ramping up anti-Communist sentiment, it just shows the space race how it more or less was) more than a thriller or giant visual spectacle. And Altman had Caan and Duvall even before Coppola got them for the Rain People, and they find every right way to play the dialog their given.
Is it always great dialog? Eh, maybe not, but it's usually pretty good to decent, and sometimes Caan gets to play an emotional beat that is significant; my favorite scene is one that I feel like Stallone also did in Rocky, where our protagonist before the big event is in bed with his love and quietly talks his doubts out (Altman's camera glides slowly down and away from them across the room, a really cool little shot). We spend most of the film, in fact, dealing with the ups and downs (mostly downs) of both Caan and Duvall's character dealing with an organization that doesnt seem to fully know what they're doing.
Maybe this is what Altman latched on to (and by the way, there is a bit of over-lapping dialog here, not to how far he'd take it later, but it's there), which is questioning authority figures, even in - especially in - such extraordinary a thing as going to the goddamn moon. He does also deal with some suspense, if nothing else because he has to, and does that well once our astronaut is about to land (OR WILL HE?!)
Last point: along with not being quite sure with what the Altman connection fully was at first - until, generic but competent music score included, I took the film on its own terms and enjoyed it - I wasn't sure about Caan in this part either. Wasnt he a bit too... Big emotionally speaking to play a reserved astronaut? Turns out he cracks into him and makes him sympathetic even as the character comes off as brash or even arrogant. Like Duvall, he was hungry for a good role, and he got one and tore into it.
Three cowboys and a lady
Though the Othello connection is very loose at best - Shep is basically told outright by Pinky in one scene about his wife being (likely) unfaithful, and it sets him off right away, though the fallout from this is staggeringly dramatic - I found Ernest Borgnine was my favorite of the three main male leads here (Bronson is decent but doesn't count as having much heft aside from being the one genuinely good dude here).
Steiger is playing it as BIG as he ever did, and he brings it with his pre In Heat of the Night Southern drawl, and every sweeping gesture and makes Pinky a full-blown self righteous pig, while Ford is perhaps underplaying the title role (he does get one really terrific and gripping scene when he tells the girl with the Christian wagon trail about his background with his parental horrors), so that leaves Borgnine as thjs cattle rancher to play this man naturally and even kind of sympathetically. He literally doesn't know what bombshell is about to hit him, and he flies off the rails, but before this he is a fun-loving and earnest man who is a product of his times.
In a sense this is a story about men who were - and were in 1956 and still are - products of their environment and upbringing, and the times they're in. And yet, the cold hard truth behind it all is that what makes a man is what he does with himself. Pinky has no compunction being a nasty SOB that think what's his is his (including Shep's wife, and French plays her scenes with Steiger into high voltage melodrama terrain, which is effective because of how they're subverting expectations for a Western - it's this that makes this the B side to the Searchers as far as 1956's Study in Toxic Masculinity). Shep is who he is and it makes him honorable but also unable or just not interested in communicating with his wife. And Jubal overcame his tragic upbringing to be... A decent and heroic guy caught up in some stuff.a
As for Mae... She too is a product of her times, I suppose, but also lack of options. I saw someone on here say it was misogynistic how she was depicted, being so ready to jump in the sack with the first man she saw, but I think there's more to it... And at the same time, perhaps not. As the major female character, she does decide she's ready to cheat, and one considers it being Hollywood still in the "Code" era if she does then it'll be hell to pay (just for calling Jubal's name in bed to Shep is enough to condemn her).
But I also thought Daves tried to make her if not totally sympathetic theb understandable. She's not painted as some devilish harlot or someone who's that over the top. She's just a lonely housewife with nothing to do, no kids, no options and to even leave would be folly. I felt for her, as broadly as she may have been painted.
The story may ramp up too quickly to a bit of a frenzy for the climax and then so tidily - how Pinky, who is one of the ugliest pieces or work in a Western as I've ever seen, manages to get so many on his side is something else - and the Wagon trail characters (and actors) are rather basic and thinly drawn. But Jubal overall is sharp, unique and torrid, and some good 50s widescreen helps.
Another essential look at LA kids 15 years after Decline 1
It's a small but significant crime that this didnt receive diddly squat in distribution at the time it was made; I shouldve been able to rent this from my local Blockbuster like 40 times in high school (or at least as with Decline 2 get it on eBay - the first one I got through bootleg from I can't remember where). I just dont see why an indie distributor wouldn't take this as seriously as any other documentary about marginalized people (yes, including the final title card that all profits will go to the homeless and childhood abuse victims).
This could be criticized as not as organized as the first Decline, like there are a few points where it comes close to a home movie (albeit, what a home, or lack thereof), and it may be repetitive in its points and I may have liked to have seen a few more people from the "old days" (Flea and the former lead singer of Black Flag make appearances). But I dont care. It's a Decline doc!
It's an essential document of young people, often genuinely abused and neglected since, well, they're not living on the streets just for kicks, and some talk about being force fed alcohol as babies and being beaten and neglected - and a sadness covers a lot of this. I don't think Spheeris intended that necessarily, but she also doesn't try for anything for effect inasmuch that her approach to camera and cutting or how she asks questions sensationalizes these kids. It creates empathy because, hey, this could have been me or you or anyone else. The humanity is unvarnished, exciting, and distressing. A particularly eerie highlight, so to speak, are parts of an interview she has with a junkie who is... What that looks like.
"Where are you going to be five years from now?" "Drunk!"
PS: look for a Dudes movie poster on one of the walls at the party scene.
"You can't hate (a city) unless you love it."
You know, as someone who has been an almost New Yorker my whole life, I'm not sure if truer words have ever been spoken about a city (and to a... Hey, that's Thora Birch in a movie again!)
It's hard for me to find the right or easy words to compare this to other films because Im not sure I've seen something quite like it. Maybe there's aome fluorishes of cinematic (and I mean fully, lyrically, poetically, if not quite to the philosophy plane) that Malick does, but only in fluorishes. Someone I read said Scorsese in some of the surreal touches. But this has such a lush look and feel, and in depicting not just how a place is on the surface but how it feels and its soul, what the people mean in it as well as the smoke and fog and the flowers and trollies and the whites and the blacks and those in between, that it feels akin to a city symphony film... That also happens to have a strong story about two friends trying to figure out their place in life/the world/San Fran/that house that was (but wasn't) build in 1946 by our heros grandfather.
It's a film by Joe Talbot - and holy moly do I want to see everything he will do for the rest of his life - that doesn't shy away from, for lack of a better phrase, lifting ones spirits while at the same time depicting the people in these places as honestly as possible. That may be slightly Scorsese as well, without as much or the usual element of street crime... No, that is there, but it's like this presence that is there but, one hopes, only on the periphery... Until it isn't. These two friends just want to live on their own terms, as far as the basics of a place to live that makes one feel at peace, and also for a place to create (one draws and writes plays, the other keeps fixing up the house to look just right).
What's against them? The conflict? Oh, systemic racism and poverty, class warfare, throw in some gentrification too; an interesting but important side note too is the detail that the neighborhood with the coveted house used to be Japanese dominant, until WW2 changed that with the camps, then black people cane in (and then the... Last 25 years of making everything prohibitively expensive to live in a city that isnt on the fringes). One (more ignorant) might look and say, "pffft, get a job and work so you can get that house, or who even needs that house anyway."
But this is ignoring everything that makes up the foundation of these young men and what their options are. At the same time, this is all larger-issue points that come up when looking at the films characters and this beautiful but complicated (and sometimes quite violent) world of San Francisco. Why it's so great is that the filmmakers find fresh and original ways of bringing visual umph and lift to the emotions they're feeling - or that they would like to feel, or aspire to.
Like Moonlight, this is a filmmaker (I mistakenly assumed he was black but looking at Talbot that's not the case, albeit a native of SF) looking at life in a city and showing us something we either may have not seen before or not in such a way that demonstrates what cinema can do. It can bring us up as well as crash us down. It can find the unique and... Unusual people who may be frankly neglected by those in a city who would look the other way (or not at all). It can make us laugh at some absurdity, or, in a lot of cases here, make us unsure what to feel at times, like at one point where the theatrical playwrite artist comes in to the group of street guys (all of course talking s***) and acts as though he is putting on a play with them (a Stanislavski mention gave me a big laugh). And it can make us wonder what is in ourselves and what we want out of life and what it can provide as well as easily/tragically/crushingly take away.
This feels really special, in ways that another viewing will hopefully make clearer. AND it's the *other* (superior) black-led film this year where "I Got 5 On It" gets belted out.
The 'Burbs (1989)
The *other* (superior) 80s Tom Hanks movie involving a house and tomfoolery
The *other* 1989 movie where the main character staggers all covered in ash near the end and... Yeah that just rocks (and here something *does* blow up, kids!)
At first, I wasn't sure completely about this movie. By this I mean, I was admiring it for the first few 5-10 minutes, but I also thought "hmm, maybe Dante is laying on his manic/giant cartoon dollies and zoom and BIG choices style a tad thick here - even complete with a somewhat unnecessary Leone homage." But then two things happened: first, the story really got cooking, with the constant paranoia and the Hammer horror aesthetic. And secondly, it clicked why this works: these guys, Hanks and Dern and (looks at notes) Ducommon are man-children (or really 7 year olds in grown ups bodies) with Carrie Fisher as the one grown-up - aka, Mom - and it's all just madness.
And yes, even with the climax and where this leads to (oh Henry Gibson, the best. Just ::chefs kiss::), it doesn't diminish how absolutely nuts these suburbanites are. Every step of the way, the film is not showing these dudes in a light where we're made to fully get on their side (well, Hanks can do that in his sleep, and he helps add a human dimension where the others are playing to type, even Dern), and that's the only way this can work in its core. The rest of the madcap and horror is like icing on the cake.
And really, we all are nuts, is what I want to add. I don't know if it will be on everyones comedic wavelength (my wife as a night time cuddle buddy was meh on it, and I wasn't going to judge her for that, different strokes is all), and I think I just found so many awkward beats totally uproariously funny (every second where Fisher Hanks and Dern go to the house midway through to meet the neighbors is gold, leering facial expressions from the ICONIC Brother Theodore included). Dante's aesthetic takes a few minutes to take off, but once it does, it's like digging into a bowl of candy... But it's got a real KICK to it.
Plus, Dick Miller, naturally. And I do like what Carrie Fisher does with her hair!
True Stories (1986)
"It's all true!"
I have no way of proving this, but I suspect Wes Anderson watched this as a budding creative person like 600 times. Not sure if that matters, but next time you hear someome saying "oh that Wes Anderson is so original!" You can... Put this disc in their hands.
As wonderful and odd and wonderfully odd this all is, what makes it have a soul and a core is that Byrne is not making fun of the people - at least not in a way where we are supposed to laugh at them for being small town guys and gals, "like, my god, look at this local yokels and how they talk funny and uh work at that factory." If we laugh, it's simply because it's lines or actions or shots that are completely out of left field (ie that dinner scene with Spalding Gray and his family, where everyone is next to each other but asks one another to say this or that to the other, and then Gray uses food on the table to show what making microchips is like).
No, if Byrne has a target, it's at commercialism and marketing. And despite it feeling all light and at ease with what it's presenting - I never felt a darkness to it like, say, I do with David Lynch (i have that on my mind specifically as I took a break from a rewatch of Twin Peaks the Return to watch this, and there is an embracing of humanity among the 'strange' that makes them kindred spirits) - it does always feel real and legit. Puzzlin' Evidence, for example, stands out as a set piece for it being a gospel choir, but also because it feels to have some anger (if only in the visuals) behind the pop and quirk of it all.
Someone once said a movie is a documentary of itself being made. This takes that to a whole other level. It's as much of a celebration-cum-condemnation of America, with music too, as Nashville (if at times dipping in a few bits into music video editing to keep it from like the "masterpiece" level for me). But if someone told me this was their favorite movie, who would I be to disagree? And the secret MVP of this? Cinematographer Ed Lachmann
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.