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I regularly monitor the streaming services for late 60s and 70s flicks. I may have seen them on regular rotation growing up on the 4 o’clock movie. Or my father may have taken me to the theater on his semi-regular weekend visits. Some are solid pictures, enhanced by my own nostalgia. Some are complete and utter poop. Mr. Majestyk is in the latter camp.

Charles Bronson, who squinted through an inordinate amount of theses paychecks through the 70s (Telefon, Breakout, Love and Bullets), plays a Vietnam Vet who just wants to be left alone to chisel the hourly wage down for his immigrant work force and pick watermelons. Alas, local Colorado thugs who want the work for white bums (so they can take a portion of their wages) intercede, Bronson messes them up, and soon, he’s in jail, where he meets and elicits the ire of a hitman (The Godfather‘s own Virgil Solozzo, Al Lettieri, who overacts inversely proportional to Bronson’s napping). Leaden car chases, nonsensical shootouts and wooden dialogue (penned by Elmore Leonard, no less) ensue.

The picture is clearly influenced by Billy Jack, the independent film made a few years prior on a shoestring which racked up a surprisingly healthy box office. Billy Jack is also not very good, but at least it had some camp value and the virtue of originality.

Charles Bernstein’s score is an elongated intro for a Mannix or Banacek. Maybe a McCloud. Gruesome horn, spinet and wah wah guitar. I suppose it is fitting because there is not an episode of one of those shows that is as dumb and listless as this picture.

Though if machine-gunning watermelons is your thing, this one is for you.

Don't Look Up (2021) - Spoilers and Bloopers - IMDb

Alternate title.

“I Am Smarter Than You.”

Adam McKay, the talent who brought you Anchorman and Talladega Nights, is indeed smarter than you and the cross he must bear is that he is cursed to live in a nation of Luddites and buffoons. If you chortle and nudge your partner knowingly during this ball of crap, and maybe even raise an “it’s funny because it’s so true” eyebrow, there is an 87% chance you have a “ If you are not appalled, you are not paying attention” bumper sticker on your car.  So, if you sport that message, or its kin (“Hate Has No Home Here”), this is a must watch!

Added bonus with McKay? Now, he’s not funny.

Two scientists, a clueless Leonardo DiCaprio and a droll Jennifer Lawrence, learn that a meteor is hurtling to earth. When they sound the alarm, every caricature of the fevered dreams of a rich Hollywood do-gooder is introduced, each dumber or more racist or venal or crass than the next, all in service to an obvious, endless sermon poorly masquerading as a black satire.

McKay is the whingy douchebag who used to tack on political messages to films like The Campaign, where Will Ferrell punched a baby and a dog, and The Other Guys, where Will Ferrell played a fastidious NYC detective who was given a wooden gun. It was a fey conceit you could overlook because it occurred during the credits and you were walking out of the theater after watching some boffo fart humor (and here, I kid not – McKay’s Step Brothers is a modern classic, and a lot of McKay’s earlier stuff is the creme de la creme of fart humor).

But now, after some success outside the realm of farts (The Big Short, Vice), he’s made his hobby the main course.

Cringe bad. On Netflix.

De Palma a la Mod

A behind-the-scenes vignette from this film distorts its true putrescence. As the story goes, before scenes, serious actor Sean Penn kept whispering to the out-of-place and in-over-his-head small screen star Michael J. Fox the words “television actor”, to either torment him or to rally him.

It didn’t work. 

That said, while there is no question Fox is terrible, his awful performance serves the purpose of obscuring a host of other faults in this debacle.

There are, for example, hideous performances all around. Penn is execrable, delivering a turn of overacting so extreme you can almost smell it. He’s like a whirling dervish of beef, brew and Old Spice. Young John C. Reilly, John Leguizamo, and Ving Rhames are near incompetent and, like most everyone, entirely unconvincing.

But no one was given anything very good to say anyway. The script by playwright David Rabe is so overt it hits like an ABC “After School Special.” A stagey “What are we doing here, Sarge?” is pretty much every line of the picture.

Rabe served in Vietnam as a medic, which just goes to show that experience isn’t always the best progenitor of art.

Watch and see if you can hold your breakfast. 

Brian DePalma’s direction is also inapt and self-indulgent. I can think of few directors less suited for the material. There is a scene where Fox’s fellow soldiers attempt to frag him by putting a grenade in the latrine where, for no reason other than an ostentatious build-up, Fox has gone to attempt to light a cigarette, interminably. Because, when you want to smoke, no place is better than a Vietnam shithouse surrounded by big pails of excrement to enjoy it.  His lighter won’t work and after trying it for the umpteenth time (maybe more than 15, he really wants that smoke), he drops it, and lo and behold, the grenade is reflected off of the lighter’s stainless steel.

A Vietnam picture is no place for mimicking Hitchcock badly.

It gets worse. When Fox survives, he sees one of his tormentors, Reilly, peeking at him from behind sandbags, and all I could think of was 

The film also sports terrible art direction and location scouting. Vietnam looks like Disney’s Jungle Cruise, an incredible feat given some of it was shot in Thailand. Wherever they were, the actors were serviced by some of the best spas and salons available to them. I just never knew the combat experience in Vietnam was so tidy. Fox in particular looks like he was steam cleaned in every scene. Even when he has a head wound, his bandage is so brilliant white, it almost looks like a headband missing a feather. 

Finally, there is Fox’s height. In the old days, an actor’s short stature was taken into consideration. They’d put him on a hidden box, or shoot him from an angle that would favor him. Hell, in a tracking shot, they’d even build a trench for his leading lady as they ambled down the street.

Most film actors are short. 5’7″ seems to be the norm , but at 5’4″, Fox is diminutive, near tiny. Yet DePalma offered him no help. In the scene above, he grabs a taller soldier, a “cherry”, by the lapels to chew him out. He looks like a toddler clinging to an adult’s overalls, which is fitting, because for most of the film, with his childish, plaintive-comic mien, Fox presents like he lost his Mommy in aisle five of the Long Binh PX.  Yes, he’s short, but that’s not the whole of it. There is not an ounce of gravitas in the actor. “Oh, Jeez” sounds perilously close to “Oh Jeez, Mallory.”

The film is based on an actual war crime. What a woeful remembrance. 

Da 5 Bloods movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert


I ran across this today on The Ringer:  “Sadly, having been snubbed by the Globes and the SAGs, Delroy Lindo would do well to even get an Oscar nomination—let alone win—for his career-defining performance in Spike Lee’s Da 5 BloodsDa 5 Bloods may struggle to get any Oscars love outside of a Supporting Actor nod for the late Chadwick Boseman, as Spike Lee also failed to garner a WGA nomination for his screenplay. All told, it’s a disappointing outcome for one of the best films of the year. (Granted, the Academy doesn’t have the best track record at recognizing greatness—Green Book won Best Picture just two years ago.)”

I’m more than happy to kick Green Book until I’m blue in the face. And when I saw Da 5 Bloods many months ago, I was just happy to leave it alone.  But now, it may well garner some awards, so, I am duty bound to weigh in.

The picture is awful.  Didactic, overwrought and pointless, with a decidedly cheap feel.  While Delroy Lindo is a force, he is unrestrained to the point of wince-inducement.  His turn as a Vietnam veteran who has gone over to the dark side (he wears a MAGA hat) is so over-the-top, I started to fiddle with my phone because I felt bad for him, for the other actors, and then, myself.  To call his turn “career-defining” may well be accurate, but if that is meant in a good way, what a horrible verdict on his fantastic work in Clockers and Crooklyn, two excellent Lee movies where Lindo soars rather than perspires.

The film is also wildly uneven, at turns madcap screwball and then deeply serious.  Lee had the same problem with Black KkKlansman, but that picture at least held together as just barely watchable (until the atonal offensive coda shoe-horned in at the end). 

Da 5 Bloods also looks and feels like a low-budget student film.  Lee makes the Mỹ Sơn temples look like a place the Brady Bunch found a haunted Tiki idol.  Worse, Lee doesn’t really know what to with action sequences (see The Miracle of St. Anna), so all the running around just comes off like kids playing war.

All of that aside, even if the film had been passable, it could never have overcome the Road Runner-esque demise of a character who you just knew had to step on a land mine hidden in the jungles of what appears to be Tarzana.  He’s backing up and you just know it, and then, the cartoonish visual aftermath . . .

You can’t believe it. 

On Netflix.

Twilight (1998 film) - Wikipedia
Still of The Night: Amazon.fr: Meryl Streep, Roy Scheider, Jessica Tandy,  Joe Grifasi, Sara Botsford, Richmond Hoxie, Rikke Borge, Josef Sommer,  Irving Metzman, Larry Joshua, Randy Jurgenson, Robert Benton, Meryl Streep,  Roy

Robert Benton was no slouch (Kramer v. Kramer, Places in the Heart). Indeed, he wrote and directed one of my favorite films (Nobody’s Fool), and I could watch Paul Newman sell Tang. Throw in Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman and James Garner (and super young Reese Witherspoon and Liev Schreiber) in a noir-ish tale of an old Hollywood murder and it seems can’t miss. But miss Twilight does. Sarandon is too young for the role of the former grand dame and the love story between her and Newman is unconvincing. Worse, the mystery is just not that intriguing. Still, the picture has Newman, who is wry and world-weary in that Newman way. Hackman is fantastic, as always, and Garner is just the right mix of folksy and sinister.

As for Still of the Night, it alternates between psychological thriller and moody, smoldering romance. It is terrible at both and badly cast as well. Roy Scheider is best caustic and as a man of action, a terrible choice for a quiet, introverted psychologist. Meryl Streep as a breathy young ingenue wrapped up in a murder is all wrong. She’s many things, almost all good, but carnal and smoldering ain’t in her bag of tricks. Her performance nears a Saturday Night Live character.

The film is drab and clunky. It has aspirations to be Hitchcockian, but it lacks all of the care.  The romance is preposterous, and the score is sickly sweet. And as a whodunit, the killer can really only be one person.

Both on Amazon Prime.

The Midnight Sky's Heartbreaking Ending, Explained | CBR

George Clooney’s overly meditative, end of the world film makes the initial mistake of not quite telling us what happened to the planet. Something about radiation, and since he is alone in the Arctic, we are alone with him and his flashbacks and perhaps his hallucinations as he dies of cancer. But once you get a sense of the kind of ridiculous, ass-backward people living in the future, the cause of their extinction is of no great moment. They say chickens are so stupid they’ll drown in the rain. That’s us forty years hence.

But Clooney has one last task before he perishes.  He must get word to an incoming space vessel from Jupiter that the world has gone to pieces.  They have been on a two year mission and soon, they will be “in range” and Clooney can tell them, “Go back to the habitable moon near Jupiter.  Great danger here.”

This film is set in 2049. 

Now, imagine I am Peter Finch.  I want you all to stop reading, and go Google, “How long does it take to send a message to jupiter”. 

Result:  “approximately 35 minutes.  Radio waves travelling at 300,000 km/second would take approximately 35 minutes to reach a satellite orbiting Jupiter depending on alignment, and the same time to travel back to Earth, equaling about 1.2 hours.”

But filmvetter, you might say, the radiation threat just came on so quick there was no time!!!  THERE WAS NO TIME!!!!!!

Nonsense.  When the ship does get “in range” of Clooney and they establish contact, a message is downloaded (ha!!!) from the wife of crew member Kyle Chandler.

In it, she states that she is being evacuated and their sons are sick.

So, this calamity took some time.  Indeed, the opening scene shows continued evacuations and there is a later reference to survivors underground.

I guess in all the panic, however, no one thought, “Hey, let’s send a raven to the incoming ship from the potentially habitable moon off of Jupiter.” It’s like the president was George Costanza and someone yelled, “Fire!”   

It gets worse.

In The Martian, I raved about Matt Damon’s intrepid skills when he was stranded, and I also nit-bitched about the hip slackers on the ground (“the people who work at NASA have a certain blasé “I worked in a Blockbuster and I will never wear a uniform again” mien”)

I owe the NASA staff in The Martian an apology.  They were the cream of the crop compared to this lot.  And while Damon was dexterous and tough, here, the crew presents as a mixture of incurious and frivolous.  When they learn that life on our planet has not only changed, but that the planet is lethal, half of them somberly insist on going to their homes to face certain death. They literally abandon ship.  The other half head off back to Jupiter with a badly damaged vessel minus two critical team members. But all four seem unperturbed. Where is Chuck Heston and “You maniacs! You blew it up!” when you need him?

Oh, and the two who are Jupiter-bound are Captain Daniel Oyewelo and Felicity Jones.  It appears the good captain has been at it with the crew, because she is pregnant with his child!  Another crew member, Tiffany Boone, throws up several times because she has to make her first space walk. And she’s not even the one who is knocked up.

Or is she?

Mind you, this was not a 20 year voyage.

It was two!!!!!!!

(A good friend did note that at least the movie progeny will be something special, as the offspring of a filmic Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.)

Alas, NASA, apparently, becomes the DMV in the future.

Ultimately, the film is not only stupid, it is depressing. In the future, we supplant bravery and common cause and sense with uber-narcissism.

The schmaltzy, arty ending is insufferable.

Adding insult to injury, there’s a crew sing-a-long to Sweet Caroline. 

Oof.

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When I saw the original Midway in 1976, it was notable for four reasons. First, the movie was good, smartly re-creating a confusing and often complicated naval battle while inserting a family drama (a young aviator is in love – with a Japanese internee – and needs his father and high ranking Navy officer to get her out of custody). Second, the film seemed out of fashion even for its time, loaded with classic movie stars like Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, James Coburn, and Robert Wagner, and, of course, Charlton Heston.  Third, the film, like two contemporaries, Rollercoaster and Earthquake, was presented in Sensurround (I wonder if Heston, the lead in Earthquake, was the only actor to ever have parts in two Sensurround movies).  For the uninitiated, Sensurround was a gimmick (like Smell-o-Vision) where theaters installed  large, low frequency, horn-loaded speakers, so every time a bomb dropped on screen, the entire theater shook. That was pretty cool.  Lastly, when I saw the picture, some kids were throwing popcorn and goofing around in the front row, and an older man came down and picked up one of the boys by his shirt, shook him violently, and then told him to “shut the hell up.“  That was really cool.

The remake is an absolute abomination. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with more clumsy exposition.  Just one example. Paraphrasing, Admiral Halsey (Dennis Quaid) sits on an aircraft carrier and says to his aide, “See that man down there. That’s Doolittle. He’s one of the greatest pilots ever. He’s going to bomb Tokyo and because he won’t have enough fuel to get back, he will have to ditch his plane in China.”

And regrettably, the aide does not answer, “ I know dipshit. I was in the meeting. Do you think I’m deaf?”

If the dialogue is not overt, it is so corny as to make you wince. A taste:

Dick Best: I don’t know how to lead these men.
Ann Best: They’ll follow you anywhere.

***

Wade McCluskey: Men like Dick Best are the reason we’re going to win this war.

***

Wade McClusky: Every time we go up in one of those planes, there’s a chance we won’t come back. Now, it’s hard to follow a man who doesn’t know that. Or even worse, doesn’t care.

***

Dick Best: [to his men] I’m not going to sugarcoat it, boys. Nobody thinks we can go toe-to-toe with the Japanese. Not in a fair fight. Today, we’re going to be big underdogs. Me? I think the men in this room can fly with anyone. Maybe that’s because I’m a cocky son of a b**ch. But it’s also because I’ve seen what you can do. You’re ready for this.

Clarence Dickinson: We’re going to give them a shellacking.

***

William ‘Bull’ Halsey: God bless those boys. Turns out all they needed was a fair fight.

Worse, as delivered by the actors in this Roland Emmerich crap-pile, the lines come of as perfunctory and insincere.  Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz seemed to give a big line his absolute all.  Woody Harrelson as Nimitz sounds somewhere between talking to Sam and Dianne at Cheers and late for a dinner reservation.  Apropos for a film that reduces a historical and tide-turning naval engagement to a commercial for what I expect will be a first-person shooter/flier video game.

Also, the Naval personnel are so spot clean and well coiffed they look like cast members in Jersey Boys. Or 1/5 of the Village People. Or the kid on a Cracker Jack box.

Finally, not only is the picture anachronistic, with characters saying things straight out of 2020, but it even has a modern message at the end.

BD8E29F0-CCA9-450B-BF3C-9FB9383F7E0AImagine Patton or Saving Private Ryan ending with such a dedication to the Wehrmacht.

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Elizabeth Moss plays a Courtney Love/Patti Smith-type frontwoman for Something She, a band she creates and then destroys through narcissistic, destructive, drug-fueled misbehavior. We are treated to her downfall in five separate scenes at varying intervals in her career. There’s not one scene that is not uncomfortable, Moss’ overacting is over indulged (my wife says she doesn’t really have facial expressions so much as different sneers), her character’s musical talent is not evident (Something She’s music sucks) so the entire endeavor feels like punishment, and it ends with some kind of cringe-worthy, unpersuasive, girl power mumbo-jumbo.  Just awful.

On HBO.

A7D1985B-625D-443D-8D36-B9FDE507C6FEA colossal failure, saggy, haphazard, wholly disinterested in its own mystery, and unforgivably unscary. The boys (and one girl) are back in the town of Derry because our favorite clown has returned after 27 years to feast. In order to consign him to the depths once again, they have to undergo torments/flashbacks individually and then as a group. Why is poorly explained (something about a ritual and native Americans in the nearby woods).

The script has no keys to locks, no trail of breadcrumbs, no rules and hence, holds no interest.  
The picture doesn’t hold together or tie up and drags interminably at over 2 and a half hours. On the upside, Gollum from Lord of the Rings makes an appearance, we get to see Bill Hader vomit (twice!) and true love and belief in yourself conquers all. 

 

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I had the misfortune of catching half of Cate Blanchett’s fun, sumptuous and engaging Elizabeth recently. The comparison makes this turdfest even more unbearable.

Sairose Ronan is fiery, wild eyed, and indignant as Mary Queen of Scots, perpetually perturbed and always speechifying.  Margot Robbie is her nemesis Elizabeth, but Robbie appears way out her depth. She acts like she’s in a high school production.

The performances, however, are the least of this picture’s woes.

The script is charmless and dull. Intrigue has no deftness. People just argue briefly, declare and then act.

The lone battle scene is so badly handled, you don’t know what the hell is happening.  It presents like kids playing war in the backyard.

The script is also obsessed with its feminist hot take, particularly with Mary, who is put-upon by a man’s world and way ahead of the curve.  Mary’s ladies in waiting are like The View, and Mary is forced to rape her homosexual husband (very unconvincingly) to have an heir.  John Knox inveighs against Mary, not because she was a Catholic, but because she was a damnable woman who enjoyed sins of the flesh (he calls her “whore of Babylon”, “strumpet” and “harlot” in one speech).  We even get to see Mary menstruate.

Elizabeth gets in on the act as well, hectoring her male advisors with “we could do well worse” than Mary as queen and bemoaning Mary’s fate with “How cruel men are.”

Girl power, apparently, trumps Power power.

Indeed, when they eventually meet, there is no enmity. Just a couple of gals dishing on inequity, the glass ceiling and the unfairness of it all.

Until Mary gets wild-eyed and entitled and the girl power card loses its oomph.

Then, bitches get stitches and Mary is locked away, eventually to be beheaded.

The writer secures revenge in the post-script, however, lording Mary’s fertility over Elizabeth’s mere 44 year reign.

Modernity infects this dog in many other ways. When Mary’s gay attendant stops just short of breaking into a show tune, and pulls himself up short, the modern and reformed Catholic soothes him with a “be whoever you wish to be with us” (when he sleeps with Mary’s husband, kneels before her and begs for forgiveness, she soothes him again – “you have not betrayed your nature”).  Before battle, she assures one of her Protestant soldiers that should they die, they will all see the same God.

Best line. “I will not become a lady Henry VIII dispensing husbands as he did wives.“

A massive bag of crap. And no fun!