Archive

2 stars

The Parallax View (1974) - IMDb

A regional reporter (Warren Beatty) stumbles on not so much a plot as an institutionalized corporate conspiracy of assassination.  The closer Beatty gets to the source, the more he realizes that what he initially deemed ludicrous is in fact a chilling reality.  

Alan Pakula’s paranoid thriller was probably more relevant upon its release.  With the shooting of JFK in ’63, Malcolm X in ’65, RFK and MLK in ’68, George Wallace in ’72 (a mere 2 years before the picture’s release), political assassination was preeminent in the mind of your average filmgoer.  And no one does paranoia quite a well as Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men, Presumed Innocent). 

The picture is creepy and certainly makes the viewer feel anxious,. In particular, the movie potential assassins are required to watch in order to gauge their suitability/brainwash them is in and of itself overpowering.

But the film suffers from two significant handicaps.  First, the Beatty character is a cypher.  He is dogged and cynical, but he is invested with no backstory, motive or any other compelling feature.  Given how things turn out, this may be part of the message, but it makes for some stifled yawns as we travel his route to dawning.  Second, the plot is a mess.  Sure, I fully understand an assassination corporation maybe knocking off a true existential political threat once a decade. The Parallax Corporation, however, kills two United States senators and attempts to kill a third, in the space of three years, and even when they have done the good work of pinning it on a brainwashed loner stooge (the corporation’s m.o.), they threaten their entire operation by wiping out potential witnesses after the deed.  I’m not talking one or two witnesses.  After the film’s opening a scene (a gripping assassination on top of Seattle’s Space Needle), nine “witnesses” (it’s not clear they actually see anything) are taken out, a number extraordinary enough that Beatty is drawn in to dig deeper. In the final assassination, a sniper takes down a senator in front of an entire marching band.  That is going to be one helluva cleanup.

This is no way to run a railroad.           

My Favourite Christmas Movie - Home Alone

John Hughes produced and wrote this Christmas classic about a kid accidentally left “home alone” for the holiday. Hughes pushes the syrup, but this picture has more of Looney Tunes-Meets-Tarantino vibe.  What little Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) does to burglars Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci is waayyyyyyy beyond enhanced interrogation.  I had to leave the room more than once, such was the barbarity, but I did see Kevin shoot them point blank with a pellet gun (balls and forehead), burn their heads and hands, smash their faces with full swinging paint buckets and a hot iron, cut a rope line so they crashed into brick, and ice the stairs and litter the floor with tiny cars (resulting in perhaps permanent spinal injury to both men). He also placed sharp objects under the windows, and even a nail, which went through Stern’s foot.  I think variations of tar-and-feathering occur as well, and the kid even uses a live tarantula to terrorize the duo. 

Now, I’m generally a “stand your ground” guy; if you stick your fingers inside the facemask, you get bit.  But this is just too much.

When the mayhem is not in session, the movie is a little ho-hum.  Kevin is not that cute, his family are a coterie of monsters (except for his Dad, John Heard, Gonzaga alum and fittingly nonplussed by the abandonment of his child), and as with almost all John Hughes films, almost every adult is a moron or a cretin.              

8FF0E132-BB1C-4F21-8E41-8783914AB97D

Futuristic flicks from the 70s are a guilty pleasure of mine and I watched a bunch of them with my father growing up. Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes, Death Race 2000. You could count us in.

This one is meh. The world is run by a few corporations.  The executive class is the aristocracy, and they entertain themselves with luxury and regular ingestion of what seems to be a mix of ecstasy and LSD. The sport of the global masses is Rollerball, a violent and deadly mixture of roller derby, lacrosse, hockey and maul ball. James Caan is its biggest star, but for reasons unknown to us, he is being forced out of the game at his peak by corporate titan John Houseman, at a moment when the sport is moving to a “no penalty” phase, which will up the murders and further endanger his teammates.  Caan resists and delves deeper.

The picture mixes futurism and corporate skullduggery, but the latter is simplistic, and Caan’s attempt to get to the bottom of things is haphazard and a little dull. Caan also can’t convey the emerging intellect that could drive his lummox of a character to ask deeper questions. He seems as if he senses the silliness of the endeavor, and appears to be wincing at his own involvement.  Also, Houseman is really not a very good actor, pretty much at the level of his old Smith Barney commercials.

But the flick has its fun moments.  And even though one doesn’t equate director Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, And Justice for All) and “action,” the Rollerball itself is good, clean, bloody fun.

On Amazon Prime.

How Jennifer Lopez's fashion inspired the real-life 'Hustlers ...

Jennifer Lopez is a revelation, but what she reveals is what we already knew from the Super Bowl; she has a super-human ability to keep a middle-aged body toned, flexible and sexy.  Bravo, but as Demi Moore proved in her stripper film, solid moves on the pole can only take you so far.  Lopez is cunning, and commanding, but she is little more, and she cannot make up for the amateurish performances of her cohorts, a bunch of dancers-with-hearts-of-tin who sign on to her scheme.

When the movie focuses on the crime, it is light, watchable, brisk entertainment.  The strippers engineer a lucrative con outside the club, where they butter a mark up, slip him a roofie, max out his credit card, and when he wakes up, he assumes he had the night of his life (and if he is shocked at the price, what is he going to say?)  There is real humor and juice in these scenes.

Unfortunately, they are interrupted by the dull story of our protagonist Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians), a girl who just needs a Mommy (Lopez) to show her the tricks of the trade.  Wu is not a very good actor, and her little girl lost routine seems silly (strippers are many things; guileless ain’t one of them).  Wu’s naivete, however, is a necessary predicate to the lamest part of the film, because first time feature writer-director Lorene Scafaria is set on saying something about family and loyalty and the rest. When the gals are all together, their essential goodness and mutual support flows freely as they bestow gifts upon each other and extol the virtues of famil . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Scafaria also uses the interview/flashback technique to tell the story, so we get the prim, white journalist (Julia Stiles) interviewing Wu after it has all gone to shit.  I suppose Scafaria wanted to juxtapose Wu’s hard-bitten travail with that of a privileged, educated writer, but the exchanges are clunky.  An example:

DESTINY What’s your name again?

YOUNG WOMAN Elizabeth.

DESTINY Did you grow up with money, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH We were…comfortable.

DESTINY Right. What’d your parents do?

ELIZABETH My dad was a journalist. And my mom’s a psychiatrist.

DESTINY Where’d you go to school?

ELIZABETH Brown. For undergrad.

DESTINY What would you do for a thousand dollars? Of course the answer depends on what you already have and what you need.

This might have worked if Wu herself didn’t seem like she was rejected from Brown but got in to Bryn Mawr instead, and if Scafaria fleshed the conversation out a little bit (ELIZABETH:  “I need it.”  That sounds like want any criminal would say, no?).

Instead, it just lays there, flat, interrupting the caper and making both characters even more tedious, if possible.

Image result for Echo in the canyon

Jakob Dylan’s enterprise (re-recording a lot of Laurel Canyon, jangly folk rock and putting on a show) is the heart of this documentary, which also features Dylan quietly listening to the usual suspects (David Crosby, Tom Petty, Roger McGuinn, Jackson Brown and many more) go on about what made the Laurel Canyon sound and scene what they were.  For the most part, the interviewees seem to have no idea, but man, they sure dug the vibe.

The documentary is pretty pedestrian, Dylan being a particularly inapt choice for interviewer (there are times he looks like he fell asleep, which is hard to do in front of the Gary Busey-esque Stephen Stills).  The narrative is also a bit of a mess – is this about the sound, the place or why The Byrds broke up?  is it the film of a tribute record/show?  or is it about Dylan’s seemingly excellent directional skills as he drives around LA?

The picture follows no line very long and when “old friends” like Michelle Phillips or Brian Wilson drop by the studio as Dylan works on their tunes, well . . . “awkward” would be understatement.  Wilson’s snippet in particular underscores the problem.  Hailed as a master of a golden age, when he comes in to see how Dylan is faring with one of his tunes, the only usable footage is Wilson asking what key they’re playing the song in.  Hoo boy.

It’s as if the musicians have been asked so often about “their time” that the answers are rote. All the pulp has been squeezed out, they realize it, and so they compensate with content-less emotion.  Such is their banality, the film uses up footage of Dylan driving in LA, or we get the obligatory Petty and Dylan walking into a guitar store, or Dylan strolling into a record store and appearing like a man looking for directions.

And the movie is only 1 hour 22 minutes.

The best parts are the snippets of song for the show, which includes Beck, Fiona Apple, Nora Jones, Jade Castrinos, Cat Power and others.   But, to be even more of a curmudgeon, Dylan is such a musical barbiturate, even those numbers feel a little lackluster.

Currently streaming on Netflix.

p15073018_v_v8_aa

From Lauren Greenfield, the writer/director of The Queen of Versailles, this documentary tries to be both an anthropological study and photo-journalistic essay of wealth. We are introduced to rich people in LA who get cosmetic surgery for their dogs, rappers in Atlanta who litter strip clubs with currency, porn stars who hope to emulate Kim Kardashian, escorts and limo company execs who sell the veneer of being rich for an evening or an assignation, and a whole host of ostentatious sellers and buyers.

The stories aren’t necessarily new. Excess is a strong component of who we are and coupled with the desire to judge, the sneering at folks who are the most brazen and gosh while we engage in miniaturized versions of their sins is damn near a national past time.

The director’s own revelation of being a small part of it, a gawky teen at a tony LA high school dropped off a block from school so her peers wouldn’t see the car her father drove (and he’s a doctor!), suggests we should trust her as a narrator.  But Greenfield can’t hold a line. She eventually muddles the message, at one point, confusing excess with being a workaholic, a cheap and errant way to shoehorn her own story into the feature.  It’s a bad fit, and her interrogation of her ambitious mother and bright son in the service of the subject is off-putting.

Still, the film eventually crashes when it morphs from a broad review of wealth culture to wild individual stories followed by a “where are they now?” coda that feels every bit as exploitative as the society the director is attempting to depict.

The documentary is also peppered by lofty, laughable socio-political commentary from Chris Hedges, a dummy extraordinaire whose platitudes are in stark contrast to the film’s more understated tenor. The picture is best in presentation, not catechism.

Hedges, however, does scratch an itch: “It’s kind of like the end of Rome . . . Societies accrue their greatest wealth at the time of their death.”

We shall see!  On Amazon.

E7F37A5D-79A5-4BD3-805B-E7F98B533CA4.jpeg

The first half is a blast. Following the model of Across the Universe, director Dexter Fletcher incorporates Elton John’s music into boffo biographical song and dance numbers (the movie takes the current model and reverses it; it is ready made for Broadway), and Taron Egerton is winning as our shy, brilliant, budding rock star. The depiction of his rise is light, whimsical and fun.

But the second half of the movie, much like the middle third of John’s life, is a bummer. The choreographed song and dance numbers give way to trippy, psychedelics that are not only a drag, but repetitive and tiring.  John drinks, drugs, orgies, wears more and more ridiculous outfits and goes lower and lower, much like your eyelids.

It ends precocious, as John confronts his annoyingly minor demons (overbearing mother, distant father, not-as-advertised first lover)  in a rehab group therapy.

Not quite where a film-goer wants to end up, even if it worked out for John.

Image result for cold pursuit

I love these movies.  Almost as much as Denzel Washington’s Equalizer movies.  More so than the John Wick flicks.  The structure appeals to me.  Somebody does something awful to the family or friends of our hero, and he goes injudiciously, satisfyingly nuts.  Better, there is no nuance.  The bad people are awful.  Unequivocally grotesque.  In the latest Equalizer II, a group of entitled rich boys, in a swank apartment, just drugged, date raped, and filmed an intern.  Lucky for me, the Lyft driver they called to pick her up was. . .

Awesome, right?

In John Wick, the bad guys didn’t even kill Keanu’s family member.  They killed his puppy!  But not just any puppy.  It was a puppy delivered to him by his wife, who had just died of cancer.

Keanu Reeves action movie John Wick, reviewed.

Death toll for one puppy?  Seventy-seven.

Unlike Wick, Liam Neeson isn’t a numbers junkie.  But he’s still pretty lethal, as we found out in Taken, when Serbs or Croats or whoever it is from Eastern Europe you can still use as bad guys without the Anti-Defamation League up your ass took his daughter to sell her to sex traffickers.  So, Neeson, a former Special Forces, CIA, Green Beret, SEAL type (I dunno), uses his “very particular set of skills” to get her back.

In this flick, Neeson is a dude who plows the roads of snow.  That’s it.  That’s his “particular set of skills.”

No matter.  His son is offed by the Denver syndicate within, oh, six minutes.  Neeson has it sussed out in about 13 minutes, and then, he works his way up the chain, killing dudes, until he gets to the top (his wife, Laura Dern, leaves him somewhere early, which gets her out of the way for more killing).

The flick is occasionally satisfying, but as directed by Hans Petter Moland, it has some delusions of being arty.  The retribution-fest is interrupted by falderol about a local Indian syndicate who got crossed by our bad guy, with sadness expressed at the rape of the land by ski resort.

Boring!  More bodies, please.

So, this is meh.  A few decent lines, an okay villain, but not enough corpses and a little too much chatter.

Available at Redbox and soon to cable.

A bit of a critic’s darling, I can see what impressed: the raw feel of the characters, and the film’s unstinting portrayal of loss to a mother (Andie MacDowell) and her two adult sons (Chris O’Dowd and James Adomium) after their husband and father succumbs to a long term illness.  We see the family at different intervals before, during and after the disease, and there are moments of real tenderness and pain that affect each of them.  In particular, MacDowell, an acting teacher, has a wonderfully realized moment where she cruelly unleashes on a student during a read, and Adomium references larger issues of death in a stand-up routine that starts uncomfortable and then rights itself.

What’s bad?

O’Dowd.  He’s way too overt as the weak son, the charmer who resents his mother for any number of reasons, but perhaps mostly, because she is strong.  O’Dowd plays it much too Oedipally, and he oozes rather than acts.

The segmentation of the story into pieces is also problematic, a double-edged sword.  A few scenes seem like well-presented one-acts.  But more often, the characters are doing things that are not supported by what we have seen before.  We are left to fill in the gaps.  One such rather unforgivable one is the absence of the relationship of the characters with the deceased.

Finally, if you take all the high-stress, histrionic and embarrassing scenes of a family’s life for a few years, and make a movie of them, they will not come off as relatable, but rather, alien and masochistic.

Another sweeping war epic from my past, along with Waterloo and Zulu, this one introduced me to the “stiff upper lip” Brit.  Unlike those films, this picture just doesn’t hold up at all.  Directed by Guy Hamilton (who had a much better time of it with four Bond films), the film is overly reliant on air battles that perhaps seemed impressive at the time, but now, are flat, difficult to comprehend (you rarely know which character is in which plane) and without drama.   Worse, what happens on the ground is remarkably staid and uninvolving.

It is, however, loaded with the cream of British actors (Michael Caine, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Trevor Howard, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Edward Fox and Robert Shaw, to name a few), and of particular note, it features a strikingly handsome Ian McShane, who aged into the craggy, rough Al Swearengen of Deadwood.  You can see what Emmanuelle’s Sylvia Kristal saw in him.

 

Image result for The battle of britain Ian McShane