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2017

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A charming, old-fashioned documentary about the obituary writers who work for The New York Times, the picture is a tight and compelling look at a particular craft, revealed in interviews with the craftsmen.

I love obituaries from the Times, and there is a certain sadness in watching picture documenting an art form whose biological clock is ticking.  Their work is substantial, and it is a treat to see them tell us about what they do and how they go about it.  But it is bittersweet, because the dusk approaches.

I only had one criticism.  While the obit writers freely regale us with their worst errors, the tricks of the trade, and the challenges of an often-time sensitive endeavor, director Vanessa Gould never inquires too deeply.  For example, we hear about the conflict of deaths (Farrah Fawcett passing the same day as Michael Jackson) but nary a word as to how these writers deal with figures with controversial pasts (I would love to have had the obit writer discuss the decisions he made with Jackson’s piece).  Also missing is whether famous folks who die have pressure exerted on their behalf by their handlers and/or family.

Still, a fascinating documentary.  Available on DVD (I still get one a month from Netflix).

 

 

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Arty, messy, self-indulgent and obtuse, a very bad movie. Joaquin Phoenix plays a violent loner with a side line finding missing children and beating their abductors with a ball peen hammer. He himself is plagued by childhood trauma, trauma from the Iraq war, and even more trauma from his time as a border agent? I don’t know. It’s all in flashback and unnecessarily muddled.

He catches the wrong case, saving a pre-teen girl from a sex ring who just happens to be the favorite sexual partner of the governor (Allesandro Nivola, who has zero lines). That’s right, the governor of the state of New York is a pedophile, and at his disposal are numerous police officers and security men who will murder on his behalf so he can continue his disgusting practice. Hell, Trump can’t even get people to shut up about cadging Hillary’s emails.

But I digress.

Really dumb, with the primary feature of creating lethargy and numbness in the viewer.

But what do I know?  It got 89% from rottentomatoes.com. Currently on Amazon.

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This is a competent, amusing, even mildly affecting film, but ultimately, it is no great shakes.  It presents the story of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a mysterious no-talent who bankrolled, directed, wrote and starred in his own film, The Room, which was so terrible it became a cult classic.  Wiseau is indeed awful in all respects, so there is a lot of cringe-worthy viewing.  His idiosyncrasy and idiocy, however, travel only so far, and when there is nothing more to plumb from this weirdo wannabe, the mind wanders.  There’s nothing to root for (Wiseau is a bit of a cretin to his cast, collaborators and friends) and the film doesn’t compensate with enough humor.  So, it’s fine, but forgettable.

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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 story.  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.

 

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.

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The orgasmic acclaim is a little much, but this is mostly good fun. A little Lion King, a little James Bond (they have their own Q, who shows off the technological gizmos, and a CIA operative Felix Lighter) and even a Millennium Falcon. There’s also some simplistic politics thrown in. Should Wakanda, a magical African kingdom powered by vibranium (a kick ass metal that provides strength, power and wealth) stay hidden in its borders or should it come out from shadows and take on the world struggle for the black and dispossessed?

I dunno. Who cares? Let’s cut the high-minded chatter about what happens when vibranium becomes plentiful and get to clever quips and fisticuffs.

As with most of these movies, it is weakened by the need to have comic book characters in silly suits address weighty matters (guess what? Vibranium is going to revitalize Oakland!) but as these things go, it’s a solid popcorn flick, and the action is first rate.

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Just as Dunkirk was an ode to English pluck and a representation of the viscerally brutal and arbitrary nature of war, The King’s Choice serves the dual purpose of a national homage to Norway’s resistance in the face of a Nazi invasion and the strain placed on the powerful and the ordinary in such circumstances.  Norway’s King Haakon VII, is a sweet, doting grandfather who is constitutionally deferential to a democratic body that is crumbling under the weight of events.  He must bolster the government while staving off the more muscular, ambitious desires of his son, which carry with them an implicit criticism of his father as weak.  Indeed, as the king suffers from a bad back, we often see him in a fetal position on the floor or a bed.  Meanwhile, the German attaché, who is juxtaposed favorably with the uncompromising Wermacht, desperately pleads with the king to accede to Hitler’s demand for submission, knowing that failure to do so totally will mean the deaths of many innocents.   The tension is palpable, the pace gripping, and the quiet moments – especially the scenes showing the effect on the families – poignant.