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Monthly Archives: March 2019

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A filmmaker who can communicate his vision entirely is a rare thing, even if the vision is too reliant on cruelty.  Yorgos Lamthinos’s The Lobster was as original as it gets, but also sterile, unfeeling and kind of unpleasant.

The Favourite is more traditional than the futuristic The Lobster, a period piece of court intrigue, but it shares its iciness. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone vie for the attentions and favor of Queen Anne. Weisz wants power, Stone security. Their war has its moments, particularly, a biting sense of humor that reveals itself now and again.  They also share a weary, dim view of their male dominated world; the men are for the most part fops, suck-ups, and/or brutes, and it is amusing to watch Weisz and Stone endure them.  Yet, their single-minded pursuit of the upper hand is solely rooted in the base instincts of survival, so it’s hard to gin up any empathy. You’re detached from their fates, and the accompanying pain.  They flash as human, but they don’t really seem it.

The performances are stellar.  Olivia Coleman’s turn as the mercurial and insecure queen, for which she won the Oscar, is a masterful blend of the sympathetic and comic. She is the ultimate tormentor, but ironically, she’s the only one you feel bad for.

It’s a technically adept yet cold and un-involving picture.  Lamthinos (who reminds me of Darren Aronofsky in his penchant for brutalization) also has a morbid fascination with bodily functions, which doesn’t help.

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The crossover movie that speaks to kids and adults is a tough trick.  Guardians of the Galaxy is the model.  The characters have to be winning, It has to be smart but not obtuse, and what can be mutually enjoyed (action, wise-crackery) must be primo.

Solo fails all of these prerequisites.  At the outset, we get “Long ago, in a galaxy far far away . . . “  Followed by several more paragraphs setting the scene and presenting the quest, which in this case, is the obtainment of everlasting life and power enough to challenge evil in the galaxy.

I’m fucking with you.  The quest is for fuel.  Yup.  Fuel.  I mean, not as bad as one of the Lucas pictures (1, or 4, who knows?), where, if memory serves, the primary issue was taxes.  But still, pretty bad.

The dull goal is matched by duller characters.  Young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) apes the original via the sole utilization of a smirk.  He’s a better choice for a young Paul Rudd, not Harrison Ford.  He’s not as bad as Hayden Christenson as Darth Vader the teen, but he’s close.  After him, bad guy Paul Bettany, well, his thing is that he gets angry.  And then there is Woody Harrelson, the grizzled smuggler and thief, who keeps telling Han, “Don’t trust anybody.”  Then he pulls him close, points to his own head, snaps a Polaroid, waves it, blows on it, shoves it in Han’s pocket, and says “Anybody!”

After these dolts, it’s just a bunch of facsimiles of all the weird variations one can find in the galaxy.  “Hey look, it’s clarinet head!”  “And there’s suckhole face!”  “And does he have 5 arms?”  “Ah, I get it!  That’s why they called him ‘handy’ a minute ago.”

And then there are the droids.  In the first picture, we had the gold guy who spoke with a British accent and was amusing, like having a character from Downton Abbey in the future.  He said things like “Goodness!  Oh my!” and “My heavens!” whenever someone shot a laser near him.  I could see a droid maker coming up with such a program, a little pizzazz in the automaton that normally performs light-dusting and household repairs.

Now, however, all droids have been imbued with feelings and opinions and agency.  Who the hell wants a droid that may start a wage strike?  The writers, that’s who.  It’s too ridiculous, even for this pretty ridiculous vehicle.

The script itself is similarly idiotic.  The characters just bounce from place to place for small and uninteresting reasons.   “Who is that?” Is generally followed by a long definitional response.  “That was close!” elicits “Not as close as the parseck gleep glop on Miki Roo Roo!”  Characters say banal things to Solo throughout, followed by or including “kid”, as in “You got moxie, kid!” Or “I’ll give you this.  The kid’s got guts.”

That leaves the action sequences, which are required to dazzle.  They don’t.  They’re rote and uninspired, delivered in a look dark as dishwater.  Worse, the soundtrack is phoned in, as if the John Williams score was presented as Muzak on an AM radio in Harrelson’s pocket.

This entire picture feels like a 4-D Disney ride that would be fun for 7 minutes.

But trapped in it for over 2 hours? Excruciating.

And you know Han and Chewy make it. They have to. So, there’s no drama. Nothing hangs in the balance.

Donald Glover does a decent young Billy Dee Williams and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) lends some gravitas to the endeavor.

On Netflix.

 

 

 

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We always loved Baby Boom because the toddler reminded us so much of our daughter, in that she was adorable. I concede, one’s own daughter is always adorable. But our daughter was and is, objectively, adorable.

I digress.

Baby Boom is currently on the Showtime rotation and in watching to see the facsimile of our daughter, we caught the entire picture. The little girl is still cute. The 1987 film, however, does not travel as well as the kid.

Diane Keaton is the go-go Manhattan executive on an upward trajectory when a long lost and recently deceased relative delivers her a beautiful little girl via will.

It’s a broad comedy.  I can accept that a baby would be delivered at the airport at the mere stroke of a pen. I can accept that the cutest baby in the world would almost be transferred from a Manhattan agency to a cold, poor, backward Iowa couple. I can accept that James Spader in a suit is a villain. Well, that last one is a requirement for 1980s films.

But after Keaton keeps the baby, she is so inept – as demonstrated by numerous silly vignettes of a Weekend at Bernie’s stripe –  it becomes unfunny.  She deposits the baby at a coat check. She can’t negotiate a disposable diaper. She feeds the doll pasta and red sauce.  Hilarity does not ensue

It’s just easy, schlocky and weak. And when she is jettisoned by her company, you don’t have the sympathy for her that you should.

After getting demoted, Keaton takes the baby to Vermont, buys a dream house that is actually falling apart, meets rustic veterinarian Sam Shepard, fights with him until he forcibly kisses her, then has rewarding and fulfilling sex with him, and then starts her own successful baby food chain, all to the standard twinkly saxophone and Kimball organ score of the time. Whereupon, the corporate heels call her back to offer her the moon for her little company.

She declines, delivering a confused declaration of independence, a stemwinder announcing that 1) she should not have to choose between family and work; 2) she should not have to move operations from quaint Vermont to Cleveland; 3) James Spader is a rat; 4) she may just take her baby food company national herself; and 5) oh, she’s having rewarding sex with Sam Shepherd.

Except 1) they offered her $3 million and a COO job at nearly $1 million per, but it was the opening offer and she could have asked double, while getting a ceremonial board seat or do-nothing exec slot with an ample salary; 2) they said at the outset the move to Cleveland was negotiable; 3) she could have insisted Spader work the account and tormented him unmercifully, or she could have asked for his head to seal the deal; 4) there is no way she could take this company national; she can’t operate a pair of Pampers; and 5) swooning, with an actual sigh, about Sam Shepherd in a business meeting reinforces a lot of the stereotypes the stemwinder was supposed to rebut.

But the baby is adorable.
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When Spike Lee acted like a petulant fool after BlackKKlansman lost Best Picture to Green Book, it seemed silly, and given the mediocrity of his own picture, a sad stunt.  But I get it Spike. I apologize.

The story of classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahersheela Ali) who enlists Italian bouncer Tony Lip from New Yawk (Viggo Mortenson) for a Southern swing of concerts in 1962 is so chock full of cliche’, it borders on spoof.  Ten minutes in, you know that the hotheaded Tony will hit a cracker cop, the cultured Shirley will play boogie woogie in a honkey tonk, and they will teach each other, oh, so many things.

Sadly, it is not a spoof.

This picture is atrocious. Simplistic, repetitive, nonsensical, and boring.  It has no idea what it wants to be. A civil rights era Odd Couple?  A moral tract about role reversal and rejection by one’s own race?  A road movie?  It does none of it well.

But it has a white guy teaching a black guy the joys of fried chicken, so, there’s that.

The characters lack any consistency. When black men perform repairs at his apartment, Tony throws away the glasses the men drink water from, such is the viral nature of their cooties. But in the blink of an eye, he is driving a black man around, comfortable not only with his boss’s skin color, but his homosexuality.

’Cause he’s been around nightclubs, and tings, day get, complicated. Mangia, manigot, caprese, spumoni, to da’ moon, Sbarro!

And while Shirley is supposedly working the southern swing in solidarity with Nat King Cole, who was beaten years earlier for playing white music, he also inexplicably plays private affairs at the homes of cartoon bigots. For what, I don’t know. Cash?  Self flagellation?  And when rich Southerners have a cultured pianist perform at their homes and eat dinner at their table, he is still sent to the wooden outhouse to pee.  Jesus, even in The Help, the bathroom had plumbing.

Making matters worse, Viggo Mortenson’s tough guy driver from da’ Bronx is so broad, so exaggerated, you can’t believe what you’re seeing. He’s half Joey from Friends, half The Fonz. He actually says Ba Fongool.  Or Ba Fon Goo. Or whatever they say in Chef Boyardee commercials.  He’s brutal to watch, yet, a thing to behold.

It ends sweet and there is charm in its insouciance as to its own plausibility or depth, but that gets you exactly one star.

Oscar?  Fuggedaboutit!!!

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This received an 89% on Rottentomatoes.  I can’t imagine why, unless the answer can be found in the desire for heartfelt tributes to other trivialities, like Luke Perry.  Or Silly String.

The film is mundane, there is nothing new to learn (“oh look, Andy Warhol . . .oh look, Truman Capote”), and ultimately, the story of a disco nightclub open for less than three years can only be so compelling.  Of course, when the various interviewees fix the heyday of that nightclub into the fabric of our times and who we are as a people, all the coke, sex and disco balls in the world can’t erase that blot.

I will give it this:  I laughed when one of the employees explained that Mick and Keith could get in for free but the rest of the Stones had to pay the cover.

Currently available on Netflix.

 

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One of the best of the year, powered by Melissa McCarthy’s misanthropic turn as a struggling biographer in the leanest of times. Unemployed, unpublishable and unliked, McCarthy (playing writer Lee Israel) hits upon a scheme to forge letters from the ranks of Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker and soon, her money woes are over. The endeavor also fills an artistic void. She takes pride in her turns of a phrase and bon mots, her work put in the mouths of giants, and she is invigorated. It all goes bad, as it must, but it is eventually to the good.

I can’t say enough about McCarthy. She inhabits the skin of Israel, with a vicious self-protective quality and a reflexive meanness. Yet you invest in her. Her bitter exchanges with her agent and attorney are both hilarious and poignant.

There is good in her, and a hell of a lot of hurt, both of which are unearthed by her chance friendship with an elegant scammer and libertine, Richard E. Grant.  McCarthy and Grant were rightfully nominated for Oscars and it is a joy to watch him match McCarthy’s desire to be left alone with an insistence that they will be friends.  Their hi-jinx and commiseration are the heart of the film.

I was blown away by the fact that this is director Marielle Heller’s first major feature.  It felt like the work of an old hand, steady, confident and mature. The movie skips with ease but pauses for moments of true beauty and consideration.

This is an elegant movie, folding how much people need each other into a very funny, well-told story.