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2018

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Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animated picture is charming and inventive.  Not as compelling or brisk as The Fantastic Mr. Fox (there are moments when the wizardry is doing too much of the heavy lifting), but still, very winning.

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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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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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After Paddington 2, it made sense to watch Jumanji 2 (next up – Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Vol. II).   We loved it.  It moves like a freight train, and the gimmick of having the modern teens stuck in detention (ala’ The Breakfast Club) stumble on an old 90s video game, which literally sucks them in, is handled expertly.  Better, when they come out on the other side, they are in the adult form of their video game characters (one poor, vain teen queen is encased in the plump body of Jack Black, while the football star is relegated to the diminutive Kevin Hart).   The juxtapositions are hilarious; in particular, the cranky and unnerved Hart, who can make you laugh in spite of yourself in the lamest of vehicles.  One minor complaint – the video game world was dazzling, but the villain (Bobby Cannavale) was wasted.  A more robust baddie was in order.

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I caution you.  I’m a sucker for westerns, especially modern ones, because they are so few and far between. The last good one was Open Range, and that was 15 years ago (I don’t consider the brilliant The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to be a traditional western, but you have to go back to 2007 for that one, and the Coen Brothers True Grit from 2011 is a remake, so, it is also exempted).

I also concede that this film is a bit heavy on allegory and peace pipe mumbo-jumbo.  That said, I loved it.  Set in 1892, Christian Bale plays an embittered officer tasked with transporting an Indian chief (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico to Montana.  It is a laborious task made even more so to Bale because a decade earlier, Studi massacred Bale’s men, much as Bale massacred many an Indian.  During their trek, they come across a brutalized, in-shock Rosamund Pike, a frontier woman who lost everything to marauding Apache.  Along with a dozen other supporting characters, the group makes it way through the forbidding and harsh land, and God help me for writing these words, but in the doing, they come to an understanding about each other and their past deeds.  Written and directed by hit-or-miss Scott Cooper (Black Mass, Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), this is a sprawling, expertly shot picture with a heavy dose of melancholy and a serene, mystical side that evokes Terence Malick (in a good way).  Several scenes were deeply affecting, and the acting is committed and mature.

I couldn’t get enough and will gladly suffer the slings and arrows of my position, because you damned cynics ruin everything.