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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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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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This is a dinosaur, a sweeping, big budget 70s war flick loaded with A and B+ stars of the time, directed with an accomplished economy and flourish by Sir Richard Attenborough (Gandhi).

Imagine the equivalent of this cast in one movie today:

OSCAR WINNERS

Laurence Olivier

Anthony Hopkins

Robert Redford

Sean Connery

Gene Hackman

Michael Caine

Maximilian Schell

OSCAR NOMINEES

Elliot Gould

Ryan O’Neal

Liv Ullman

James Caan

BAFTA WINNERS

Edward Fox

Dirk Bogarde

The picture is appropriately cynical for the post-Vietnam era, as the movie depicts the tragic clusterfu** that was World War II’s Operation Market Garden, an ill-fated attempt to cripple Germany quickly post-D Day via a lightning paratroop strike into Holland.  Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, due in no small part to bureaucratic incompetence and the willful ignoring of intelligence.

This is a solid, meticulous picture that manages to let stars be stars while incorporating the performances seamlessly into a well-thought out and accomplished military drama.  William Goldman’s script is also very moving, empathetic to the plight of the foot soldier and bereft of a lot of hoo rah!  There is only one casting weakness.  I get that you wanted “young” for General James Gavin, who was 37 years old at the time of the operation, but O’Neal is just too pretty and soft for the role, and his attempt to overcome it (being stern) is unavailing.

Some fun tidbits:  The stars took a pay cut, agreeing to a $250,000 weekly fee.  Also, with two lines, and a spot right behind Redford on a collapsible boat in a brutal river crossing, it is none other than John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin from Cheers).  Spoiler – Cliff doesn’t make it

 

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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!