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Impares Si obvium habueris senum severiorum CULO

My daughter sussed this one out early:  “This strikes me as the kind of movie your grandma would like.”

And what is there not to like for a grandma?  Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) comes from Argentina to Rome to hand in his retirement papers to Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins).  Bergoglio is modern and hip, as evidenced by his love of fútbol and ABBA, his amiability with common folk, his insistence on sitting up front next to his driver, and his constant painful wincing whenever he sees the trappings of the Catholic Church’s vast wealth (he apparently figured he’d be picked up at the Rome airport by donkey cart and taken to a Tetto Rossa Locanda to meet the pontiff).

The two spar in a dull and obvious manner, Benedict emitting conservative values like an automaton, Bergoglio interjecting with impassioned progressive rejoinders.  They watch some futbol, share a pizza, Bergoglio gives Benedict confession and then himself confesses to having been a bit of a stooge for the right wing Argentinian military junta in the 70s, and whammo – Benedict tells Bergoglio that while his prior plan was to accept the resignation and retire himself, he now sees the light of Bergoglio’s goodness and as such, rejects the resignation and insists that Bergoglio succeed him.

Unlike some, I have no objections to the fanciful nature of the picture.  The two never had such a meeting and never colluded on succession.  But hey, it’s the movies, and as long as you aren’t completely changing the arc or import of history, that’s cool by me.  Who would argue with portrayal of a fictional meeting between Nixon and Johnson?

But if you are going to make it up, you damn well better make it interesting.

“Do you know the Beatles?”

 “Yes, I know who they are,” Bergoglio responds. “Eleanor Rigby?”

“Who?” Pope Benedict asks, “I don’t know her.”

Oh my Lord.

As to the “import” of history, one story line is really quite egregious, as the film portrays Benedict as central to the cover up of molestation in the Church.  Bergoglio is, of course, horrified.  Apparently, digging ABBA and futbol and pizza can expiate any sin.

Pryce and Hopkins do deliver fine performances (they are both nominated for Oscars) but there are maybe one or two genuine moments in the picture, which could have just as easily starred a German Shepherd and a plucky mutt.

Other than some nice, genuine moments between Rey (Daisey Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver),  pretty terrible. Perfunctory, inconsistent, soulless and enslaved to JJ Abrams’ zealous desire to wrap everything up. But it’s Christmas. Let’s focus on the good things.

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This guy (Greg Grunberg).  He plays an overweight X-Wing pilot who looks like a sitcom character.  The only thing he’s missing is a pastrami sandwich in his hand.  Reportedly, the Star Wars folks were all over Carrie Fisher to drop a few pounds for the role, yet this lard ass catches a pass?  I don’t know the other guy.  Without arms, I can’t imagine he/she/it/they are of much value.

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This guy (Mark Hamill).  He appears as a ghost to set Rey straight.  He has an uncanny resemblance to Jesus, until he speaks, and then . . . well.  Not exactly commanding.

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They’re baaaack.  Just in time for Christmas.

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Lando Calrissian and Jannah. While the chatter suggests she may be his daughter, their final scene has more a creepy, “Hey, baby, where you been all my life?” vibe.

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This guy.  Who jumps from a great height onto rock and says, “Ouch!” No lie.

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These guys.  Who follow our heroes everywhere, fortunate in the fact that they never encounter stairs.
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These guys.  Strategery continues to remain a weakness, as the entire fleet is a) lined up like planes at Pearl Harbor; b) wholly reliant on one communications device that allows them to maneuver during attack; c) leaden with exposed weapons in their underbelly that can be detonated with a few grenades, leading to destruction of the entire ship.

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Awfully slow and occasionally deadly dull. It’s 3.5 hours, 1.5 hours of which is trying to get Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) either to his senses or a meeting.

The length and pace, however, may be the least of the film’s problems.  The movie depicts the rise of mob killer and union boss Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and his relationship with his mob sponsor (Joe Pesci) and Hoffa. The novelty is the technological ability Martin Scorsese uses to make his actors younger, but the effect is only so successful. They can only make them so young.  So, you have a 76 year-old man playing a 40 year old man who looks like a 56 year old man who has a six-year-old daughter. Worse, when they are rendered young in the face, they remain old in the body. One scene, where a digitally younger De Niro beats a man, emphasizes the point.  It looks like Bad Grandpa is delivering an ass kicking.

But perhaps the worst part of the film is the fact that there is simply no drama, no tension. Every single character is the exact same person he was from beginning to end. In Goodfellas, De Niro and Pesci were a constant force, but the drama came from watching Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco rise and then try to survive.  In Casino, the entire film centered around the significant changes to the personalities of De Niro, the bookmaker made casino king in fledgling Vegas, and Pesci, the enforcer who gets too big for his britches and in-over-his-head alone in the desert.  The history of those films was compelling, but it did not have to do all of the lifting.

Here, De Niro is the same throughout. Sociopathic, steady, soulless and somnambulant.  It does not make for enthralling viewing.  Your eyes will move to the IPhone more than once.

It looks good, though. Damn good. I’ll give it that.  And there are a few exchanges in Steve Zallian’s (Moneyball, A Civil Action) script that are subtly sharp. But it’s not nearly enough.

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Great premise.  A failing singer-songwriter discovers he’s the only person who knows The Beatles music. They existed for him and him alone. And so, he pawns their songs off as his own on his way to superstardom.

So far, so good. Then, straight to the ditch, for so many reasons.

The “being the only person who knows the Beatles thing” happened because, well . . . we don’t know. There is some sort of worldwide electrical short and that’s that. Apparently, Coca-Cola and cigarettes never existed either.  Incredibly lazy.

The lead (Himesh Patel) is weak, uninteresting and one-note (confusion and skepticism are how he reacts to most everything) and as much as Lily James (his manager) tries, there is no connection, no chemistry. She’s been mooning after him since grade school and it is hard to glean why.  He’s kind of a drip.

His own music is bland.  They should have done more with this, with him struggling to accept that until he could cadge The Beatles catalogue, he was a pretty bad musician.

Kate McKinnon is funny. But as the slimy LA music exec, she’s way over-the-top and atonal, just this side of an SNL character. The music industry is, of course, portrayed as shallow and cynical, but in such a cartoonish way, it doesn’t work.

There is a “me or stardom” scene between James and Patel that is nonsensical. There was no need for the ultimatum, but it is given and then immediately reneged upon.

The film is surprisingly boring, with a lot of filler montage as Patel gets bigger and bigger.  However, we get none of the perils or glitz of stardom.  He could have met anyone in the industry, and the producers selected Ed Sheeran, a red-headed Ambien?  He doesn’t meet Jagger?  Come on.

The end is atrocious. Patel has an inexplicable visit to the real John Lennon (who became a sailor) and as a result, turns his debut performance into a confession to the crowd, followed by a rejection of riches (he releases all his Beatles tracks on line for free).  On the subject of riches, the real Lennon was quite eloquent:

PLAYBOY: “But that doesn’t compare with what one promoter, Sid Bernstein, said you could raise by giving a world-wide televised concert… playing separately, as individuals, or together, as the Beatles. He estimated you could raise over $200,000,000 in one day.”

LENNON: “That was a commercial for Sid Bernstein written with Jewish schmaltz and showbiz and tears, dropping on one knee. It was Al Jolson. OK. So I don’t buy that. OK?”

PLAYBOY: “But the fact is, $200,000,000 to a poverty-stricken country in South America…”

LENNON: “Where do people get off saying the Beatles should give $200,000,000 to South America? You know, America has poured billions into places like that. It doesn’t mean a damn thing. After they’ve eaten that meal, then what? It lasts for only a day. After the $200,000,000 is gone, then what? It goes round and round in circles. You can pour money in forever. After Peru, then Harlem, then Britain. There is no one concert. We would have to dedicate the rest of our lives to one world concert tour, and I’m not ready for it. Not in this lifetime, anyway.”

Now, how they should have done the film is as follows.

* The Beatles work is erased from the public consciousness

* Patel steals the songs and becomes famous

* He loves, loves, loves it but starts to fall apart from the fact that he knows he’s a fraud (and the cocaine and chicks and the loneliness)

* James comes to save him and then, he confesses

* The walls start closing in as four old men from Liverpool named Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starkey, who have all grown up to be different things, hold a press conference explaining that Patel must have stolen some of their songs because they wrote some of them (they have notes from their childhoods, some lyrics, but since they never coalesced, at best, it is old, Quarrymen stuff)

* The media treats the 4 men as jokes, because they seem ridiculous

* Patel becomes more unnerved

* After one of his shows, Lennon and McCartney corner him and beat him up

* At that point, James convinces Patel to make it right

* He does, by forming the band The Beatles with the real Beatles and holding his own concert on the roof

DARK ENDING

* They suck

* Patel says, “Sorry guys, I tried” and they thank him for the opportunity

HAPPY ENDING

* They’re awesome and they’re huge!

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Finally got a chance to see this. It’s bad. Green Book bad.

It starts as a mildly amusing, slick sit-comish comedy structured on a ridiculous premise – in the 1970s, black Colorado cop Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) calls the KKK to join up, and they are eager to have him, so after first contact, he has to use his white partner (Adam Driver) for face-to-face meetings, which creates unnecessarily close shaves.

Why not have Driver simply make the calls and handle the meets?

The answer is – wacky hijinx!  And there’s plenty of that.

Eventually, the funny gets less funny and the picture lapses into an absurdist procedural punctuated by overt, earnest philosophical discussions that would make kids in an Oberlin coffee house roll their eyes.  

Perhaps sensing the lightness of the fare and his own elapsing clock, Lee goes heavy at the end, utilizing actual footage from the Nazi rally in Charlottesville.  It’s like appending pictures of James Meredith’s shooting at the end of a poignant Different Strokes.

It’s a cheap ploy that seeks to elevate the zany caper that preceded it to serious statement.  Worse, as pointed out by Boots Riley, director of the infinitely better Sorry to Bother You, Lee’s film is based on a true story, and a less convenient aspect of that story might be that the real Stallworth was infiltrating black organizations to their detriment.

Ah well.  

You gotta’ give it to Lee, though. He knows his audience and he oversauced this goose good. Heck, he almost pulled it off. 

Alas, Oscar found another cheesy race fable to take home the gold. 

Curses!

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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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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!!!