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Yes, yes.  I have no one but myself to blame.  It’s like eating 6 Zingers and expressing displeasure at the ensuing bloat and shame.  But there is awful, and then there is awful on just an entirely different level.

When I was watching Mission Impossible on the IMAX, I saw the preview for The Meg and thought, “A shark the size of a tug boat!?  When he eats bathers, they’ll be like krill.  What can go wrong?”  And fronted by Jason Statham?  As a friend mused, “How is he going to be able to drive a car into the mouth of the shark?”

I expected camp, calamity and chaos.  I got a dead-straight, cookie-cutter snoozer that still managed to entertain, only because the film proved to be so bizarre.  I’ve concluded it was written by someone who just learned English and directed by someone under the influence of Quaaludes.  I have to say, I enjoyed it, even though:

  1. The lead actress, Li BingBing, is so bad, she’s good. She is beautiful, but her acting chops can be best equated to the work of Siri.  I laughed loud and often.
  2. The comic relief, Page Kennedy, is almost as bad. It’s not that he can’t act, but as the sassy, African-American, tell-it like it is, I hate the water stereotype, he was given an impossible task.  Be Kevin Hart.  He’s not Kevin Hart.  He’s not Gary Hart.
  3. Statham seems like he was actually never present for filming. I mean, he’s there, but his mannerisms suggest that he’s acting to a green screen.
  4. Statham’s first 15 lines reference beer. He has to be coaxed to risk the depths “one last time” after his last dive ruined him.  And he is coaxed from some backwater Thai sea town bar, where he drinks a lot of beer and licks his wounds.  And apparently, talks a lot about about beer.  And offers everyone beer.  I have never seen the beer Statham is hawking, but I assume it is Asian, as the film is up to $150 million globally (and $60 million domestic).
  5. The driver – the reason Statham is licking his wounds in the bar until he is called upon to perform “one last time” – is nonsensical. The film opens with Statham and two fellow rescuers extricating survivors of a downed nuclear submarine from the ocean floor.  Statham has to make a split second decision when his fellow rescuers are trapped – go back to save them, or shove off.  He shoves off.  Now, there would be conflict if we, the audience, never learn the fate of the fellow rescuers.  Or better, we are provided information that they died a slow, long harrowing death.  But in The Meg, 2 seconds after Statham makes his fateful decision, the subs blows up.  So, he was right.  Verifiably, provably correct.  And yet, he is pilloried.
  6. BingBing has a child, a precocious sweetheart of a daughter, who stays with her on the underwater research center. The Meg appears at that center.  Thereafter, for some unknown reason, the child is brought along on almost every mission.
  7. That said, I don’t think the child was in any real danger, because people are not eaten like krill. In fact, this picture has a body count just north of Murder on the Orient Express.
  8. But the visuals, you say. The CGI!  They must have made it worthwhile.  Unfiortunately, no.  Most of this flick looked like it as filmed in the shallows of Rockaway Beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One reviewer remarks, “It’s a provocative, serious, ridiculous, screwy concoction about whiteface, cultural code-switching, African-American identities and twisted new forms of wage slavery, beyond previously known ethical limits.”  Another:  “An absurdist, startlingly original Molotov cocktail through the pane glass window of Hollywood, ‘Sorry to Bother You’ is a riot, the year’s craziest comedy and the most demented call to arms in memory.”  A third, perhaps inevitably:  “An impassioned, chaotically accurate response to dark and troubling times.”

Thankfully, Boots Riley’s debut film bears little resemblance to these painfully misguided and rote intonations, beyond being original and absurdist.  Rather, the story of an upwardly mobile telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield of Atlanta, who is just the right amount of bewildered and decent yet persuadable) who loses his way and uncovers the most insane corporate skullduggery since “Soylent Green is people!” is playful, trippy, inventive, and surreal with a few brutally caustic comic bits thrown in for good measure.  It’s decidedly less political than advertised by the critics, and when it is political, the message is so broad and zany, you could affix it to just about any ideology you wanted.

It was mind-blowing to learn that it is the first movie for writer-director Riley, who crams so much visual creativity into the flick it eventually ends in an exhausted mess.  The picture is original in most parts, but it owes a great deal to Mike Judge’s Idiocracy.  It’s also a tad reminiscent of wacky Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, and Scorsese’s After Hours.  Not for everyone, certainly not required to be seen in a theater, but an absolute treat when the price gets right.

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What good can be said of this 1987 blockbuster that, along with The Untouchables, catapulted Kevin Costner to stardom?  Not a lot.  The film does not age well at all.  It is blocky, flat and some of the chase scenes are comically leaden.  Costner running from computer room to computer room is Hardcastle and McCormick fare, and waiting for the printer you had in college to deliver the coup de grace is pretty damn funny.  Director Roger Donaldson’s work (Cocktail, Thirteen Days, Dante’s Peak) is as pedestrian as it gets.

Then there is Will Patton.

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As the bad guy, he is so over-the-top, it’s hard to stifle a laugh.  His devotion to the Secretary of Defense (Gene Hackman) is akin to that of a coked-up Moonie.  He almost looks hypnotized.  And is he trying to sneak in some homoerotic longing for Hackman?  Bob Duvall, sure.  But Hackman?  It’s crazy.

That said, this dinosaur can make you nostalgic for the days of actual sex appeal in pictures.  Costner and Sean Young didn’t have a story, but they sure had chemistry, and in the days before VCRs gave way to the internet, that kind of sizzle was both bankable, a treat and a minor staple.  Think Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), Debra Winger and Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward in Against All Odds (1984), Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis in Witness (1985), Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy (1986), Mimi Rogers and Tom Berenger in Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer (and Kurt Russell) in Tequila Sunrise (1988), Pfeiffer and the Bridges brothers in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), even Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost (1990).

It didn’t always work (check out Al Pacino with Barkin in Sea of Love (1989), hoo boy, Barkin looks like she’s kissing a hobo),  Still, these were romantic and racy mainstream films that presented non-comedic stories but relied on the strong and compelling mutual sexual attraction of their leads.  We just grew out of these kinds of movies and “sexual chemistry” became quaint, jettisoned for talky, quippy, modern rom-com dreck.  1992’s overt Basic Instinct, where Sharon Stone had to give a glimpse of her hoo-ha (trademarked) to keep folks interested was the end, and now, we are in mannequins-in-bondage land (Fifty Shades of Dull).

Don’t believe me?   Take in 20 minutes of Passengers, a recent sci-fi flick that accidentally becomes reliant on real desire between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  It’s ugly.  These two couldn’t ignite enough heat to juice a GameBoy.

But I digress.  No Way Out is awful, but also, a little sad.

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The movie gets an automatic half point deduction because it was so intense and gripping that I had to leave the room a few times and scream to my family, “What’s happening now?”  I have to assume there were some problems with the picture during those moments.  Otherwise, John Krasinski’s sophomore effort as a director is taut, assured (you feel he really had a vision as to almost every scene), and at the right times, edge-of-your-seat terrifying.  It is also bolstered by wonderful performances that are necessarily non-verbal.  Krasinski is moving as a beleaguered father trying to protect his family, and Emily Blunt’s travails as she communicates them are almost too much to bear.

The only thing you need to know about the plot is that the monsters can hear EVERYTHING!

 

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I stumbled on this Saturday, and it took some time to figure out what I’d gotten myself into.  Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) is a relic from the civil rights era, still fighting the good legal fight with his more prestigious mentor in a musty LA office.  While the mentor is the dazzle, Israel is the quirky brain.  But soon, like Bumpy in American Gangster, the mentor dies, and Israel is set adrift.  The firm is closed and now, Israel has to fend for himself, eventually taking a job with a criminal defense mill helmed by a slick former student of the mentor (Colin Farrell) whose firm has gone all corporate and Johnnie Cochran.  Will Roman kowtow to “the man” and play the game or will his deep conviction to the plight of the downtrodden and forgotten snap him back from the pit of doom?

That’s essentially the story, and it is told in a clunky and plodding manner.  Writer-director Dan Gilroy tries to give it some zest, but the only vigor comes from the fact that Israel is clearly on the spectrum (this must be a thing now; even Ben Affleck has donned the autism robes).  This allows Washington to mug and riff, which he did well enough to earn a Best Actor nod, but his work is in the service of an at-best pedestrian and at-worst mind-numbingly boring tale.  Gilroy’s last effort – Nightcrawler – was a sharp, edgy commentary on tabloid culture.  It’s a shame he followed it up with this schmaltzy morality tale.

 

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This expensive, sweeping, surreal saga was an international production but most of the heavy lifting was done by the Soviets, who lent their land, 17,000 soldiers, their director and many millions of dollars to re-creating the battle.  From Wikipedia:

To recreate the battlefield authentically, the Soviets bulldozed away two hills, laid five miles of roads, transplanted 5,000 trees, sowed fields of rye, barley and wildflowers and reconstructed four historic buildings. To create the mud, more than six miles of underground irrigation piping was specially laid. Most of the battle scenes were filmed using five Panavision cameras simultaneously – from ground level, from 100-foot towers, from a helicopter, and from an overhead railway built right across the location.

Actual filming was accomplished over 28 weeks, which included 16 days of delay (principally due to bad weather). Many of the battle scenes were filmed in the summer of 1969 in often sweltering heat. In addition to the battlefield in Ukraine, filming also took place on location in Royal Palace of Caserta, Italy, while interior scenes were filmed on the large De Laurentiis Studios lot in Rome. The battle sequences of the film include about 15,000 Soviet foot soldiers and 2,000 cavalrymen as extras and 50 circus stunt riders were used to perform the dangerous horse falls. It has been joked that Sergei Bondarchuk was in command of the seventh-largest army in the world.  Months before the cameras started filming, the 17,000 soldiers began training to learn 1815 drill and battle formations, as well as the use of sabres, bayonets and handling cannons. A selected 2,000 additional men were also taught to load and fire muskets. This army lived in a large encampment next to the battlefield. Each day after breakfast, they marched to a large wardrobe building, donned their French, British or Prussian uniforms and fifteen minutes later were in position. The soldiers were commanded by officers who took orders from director Sergei Bondarchuk via walkie-talkie. To assist in the direction of this huge, multi-national undertaking, the Soviet-Ukrainian director had four interpreters permanently at his side: one each for English, Italian, French and Serbo-Croatian.

The expanse of the endeavor is breathtaking and the efforts of the Soviets are plainly evident in the cinematography:

The script is, well . . .  dated.  The players intone with great import, and before most lines, they damn near lean into the frame.   As Wellington, Christopher Plummer is so effete and aristocratic, he approaches the Monty Pythonesque.  I implore you, go to 4:03 of the above scene for my brief in support.  Yet, somehow, he works.  Rod Steiger’s Napoleon is a raving consumer of all things Lee Strasberg, yet he too seems to work.  Indeed, one of the charming qualities of the script is when, in the middle of the goddawful melee, the soundtrack goes silent and we hear each man’s thoughts in voice-over.  “Who is this man, who fights on his ass,” Napoleon muses as he watches Wellington dig in.

Full disclosure:  this move was a staple on the 4 o’clock move when I was growing up and along with Zulu and Where Eagles Dare and countless other war pictures, informed my young sensibilities in the areas of hyper-masculinity, glory, bravery under fire and all the rest of it.  White collar life is empty of such things, so my emotional nostalgia may be at play here.

Still, it is really a wondrous picture to watch.

An incisive, engrossing documentary which synthesizes the artistic and cultural impact of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and in particular, the murder of poor Janet Leigh (the title refers to the setups and cuts in the shower scene), with a technical analysis of its construction.  Segments of the interviews of filmmakers, actors, critics, and academics are conducted as the commenters watch the scene.  It is a neat touch to have them affected and excited as the murder flickers before their eyes, some mesmerized, some providing a play-by-play, all in awe.

Many of the memories are wildly entertaining.  Peter Bogdanovich’s recounting of the theater erupting in screams that matched Bernard Hermann’s score is particularly vivid.  There is also an impressive amount of film scholarship tying Hitchcock’s technique and evocation to previous works of art, and a solid case is made that the picture constitutes “an act of aggression [by Hitchcock] against fans, critics, and actors.”  And if you ever want to know what was stabbed to give the effect of a knife piercing flesh, you will have your answer.

There are some stretches that get a little high-falutin’ (mainly from the film academics, who, naturally, see import in everything).  There are also some questionable participants, including the kid from Lord of the Rings (who has no appreciable connection but seems fan-boyish), while one interviewee, the estimable David Thomson (who wrote the brilliant The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock taught America to Love Murder), gets one comment, which is criminal neglect.

Currently on Hulu.