Like many of you I was a pretty big fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s UNBREAKABLE when it came out in 2000. It was a different time. One year after THE SIXTH SENSE, the idea of Shyamalan as a master of suspense was not a punchline, and quiet, sad Bruce Willis characters were fairly new territory. It had only been about a month since the very first X-MEN movie came out, and would be years before Batman began and the Marvel Cinematic Universe followed, so when we were blindsided by the opening title card of oddly useless comic book statistics, and Samuel L. Jackson (THE SPIRIT)’s character proceeded to make grandiose generalized proclamations about the comic book mythology, it was semi-forgivable. The ads gave no hint of this, but the movie took the idea of super powers and put them in a grounded suspense thriller context that felt like a pretty new combination of flavors at the time.
Sixteen years later Shyamalan had been a laughing stock far longer than he’d been a respected auteur, and the popularity of SPLIT counted as a comeback. Though I found the “oh, this was actually a super villain origin story” ending a little anti-climactic, I thought most of the movie was effectively creepy and I was really impressed by James McAvoy’s playful turn as the many personalities of “The Horde.” And of course I enjoyed the wacko reveal at the end that it was I DON’T THINK THIS IS A SPOILER ANYMORE taking place in the same universe as UNBREAKABLE.
Now, finally, Samuel L. Jackson is… GLASS. Except he gets a “with” credit. McAvoy gets top billing, because he does the most acting, by many different meanings. (read the rest of this shit…)
One of my favorite movies last year was Steve McQueen U.K.’s heist movie WIDOWS. I feel like it got a little less attention than it deserved, but it stuck in my mind for weeks. So I got curious about the source material, a 1983 mini-series written by Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect). It does exist as a PAL DVD but I don’t have access to it. I did, however, find a 2002 remake (also scripted by La Plante) that was an earlier attempt at an American version. This one takes place in Boston, though it was filmed in Toronto.
As I expected, this isn’t a patch on a patch of the McQueen version’s balls, but I was able to enjoy it for what it was. Keep in mind this aired on ABC, and at a time right before TV started to evolve into what we have now – The Shield and The Wire started that year. And also American Idol and The Bachelor. So this is the type of television event where you might roll your eyes a little at first, but then you get drawn in. And it’s interesting to see an alternate take on the material. The heist is different and the characters have different backgrounds than in McQueen’s, but the story isn’t too far off.
Mercedes Ruehl (LAST ACTION HERO) plays a pretty different version of Ms. Rawlins, who brings together her fellow widows of a heist gone wrong to finish a job their husbands had planned. She’s meaner and bossier than Viola Davis’ version, more of a mob wife. And she has the original name, Dolly. When she first encounters the other widows at the morgue she acts like they’re beneath her and has no interest in talking to them. When she later wants their help she still doesn’t really treat them as people she has something in common with. Ruehl is really good as a tough lady who eventually softens as she comes to see the others as cohorts instead of employees. (read the rest of this shit…)
(as in a bust during a buy)
Every so often in the world of action movies something or someone comes along that throws down the gauntlet and inspires others around the world to try to match it or top it. THE MATRIX, TAKEN and JOHN WICK are three that might qualify based on imitation alone. I think ONG BAK really started something with its insane stunts and flying knees and elbows originating from a country not previously known for movies. More recently THE RAID ignited an Indonesian action film scene and inspired people in other parts of the world to push the envelope in their own ways.
I’m not just talking about copycats. They might even become classics in their own right. Case in point: the amazing 2018 Philippine drug raid epic BUYBUST, which would’ve definitely made my best of the year write-up if I’d seen it in time. It’s kind of like THE RAID meets ELITE SQUAD. A highly trained team of drug enforcement agents go into a favela-like part of town tailing an informant (Alex Calleja) who is wearing a wire for a transaction with the vicious druglord Chongki (Levi Ignacio) in an attempt to draw out his boss, the elusive Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). It turns out to be a setup, the drug gang guns down most of the team and the surviving agents have a long, grueling night battling their way through endless attackers in a labyrinth of narrow, crowded passages and corrugated roofing while trying to figure out who betrayed them and where to find Biggie. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE EQUALIZER is not a great movie, but it is part of a great American tradition to allow the finest actors an opportunity once they get older to make movies where they pretend they’re Steven Seagal and break dudes’ arms and drill ’em in the head and stuff. To help people. Very loosely based on the ’80s tv show, Denzel Washington (MALCOLM X, RICOCHET) played Robert McCall, a mild mannered, O.C.D.-having widower with ugly sneakers who works at an off-brand Home Depot and also happens to be an ex-secret-agent badass, so when he sees enough injustice he decides you know what I’m tired of being hoodwinked and bamboozled, I’m gonna vigilante the shit out of these Russian mobsters or whoever.
Had things gone a little differently maybe we’d all be excited for Denzel’s much-hyped return to the popular VIRTUOSITY franchise after sitting out the last three, but we play the cards we’re dealt, so THE EQUALIZER 2 is Denzel’s first ever sequel. Also back are director Antoine Fuqua (BAIT), writer Richard Wenk (VAMP, 16 BLOCKS, THE MECHANIC, THE EXPENDABLES 2, COUNTDOWN, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK), Academy Award winner Melissa Leo (who played a different character on an episode of the TV show in 1985!) as his old agency boss Susan Plummer, and Bill Pullman (CASPER) as her non-ass-kicking husband.
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After MOONLIGHT I was gonna see the new Barry Jenkins movie no matter what. Didn’t have to ask what it was about. Probly wouldn’t sound like my thing anyway. If I had asked, the answer might’ve been something like “in early ’70s Harlem, a young woman and her family try to clear her fiance who has been falsely accused of rape.” But that would’ve been misleading because it’s not at all a thriller or a legal drama. There aren’t any plot twists or shocking revelations. We never see a courtroom. The background is the inescapable, self-perpetuating undertow of an unequal justice system, but the foreground is a story about love, not just between this couple but between them and their families.
Like MOONLIGHT it’s gorgeously lit and photographed by James Laxton (YOGA HOSERS), has thick mood and atmosphere, a strong sense of the character of its setting, and a cast full of revelatory performers, people you just want to be around, faces you want to (and get to) stare at in vivid closeup. The two lovers, Tish Rivers (KiKi Lane making a great debut) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James, who played John Lewis in SELMA and Jesse Owens in RACE), absolutely beam with infatuation. We hear a little bit about them growing up as best friends, but we don’t need it. Their eyes tell us how enamored they are of each other.
But Fonny is, as Tish puts it, “behind glass” when she brings him news that they’re going to have a baby. And not for the last time we will hear firm, assurances that things will be okay, people will stick together, odds will be overcome. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’m usually an optimist, but I had no confidence at all in Rob Marshall directing a sequel to MARY POPPINS, despite the obviously well-cast Emily Blunt (THE WOLFMAN). I’m happy to report, though, that all involved did a great job and MARY POPPINS RETURNS is a warm and enjoyable revival of old school Walt Disney cornball musical family entertainment, for those who might be interested in such a thing.
I really didn’t know what I was talking about with Marshall, to be honest. I’ve never even seen his Academy Award winning CHICAGO. But I was so bored watching PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES that it completely put me off a series I had loved up until that point. I didn’t trust him taking a crack at this much more sacred Disney ground, especially with a script from the guy that did fuckin FINDING NEVERLAND. But in retrospect Marshall had pretty good qualifications for this one. I’ve subsequently learned of his love for MARY POPPINS as the first movie he remembers seeing, his seriousness about honoring the original tone and using material from the P.L. Travers books, that he had Marc Shaiman (MY GIANT) start recording the score beforehand so he could play it while filming, and that he got the cast to rehearse the song and dance numbers for months, something he took from his days as a dancer and choreographer for the stage. Having seen it, all of that makes sense. (read the rest of this shit…)
I saw a trailer a couple times for this upcoming American movie called MISS BALA, and I thought looks good, but wasn’t that already a movie? Yes, in fact it’s a great Mexican crime/suspense drama from 2011, so thank you, Hollywood, for giving me the urgency to watch it so I don’t feel like an asshole if I see the new one. And not taking as long as you did getting me to watch BEN-HUR.
Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman, WAR ON EVERYONE, ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE, ANNABELLE: CREATION) is a young woman living in Tijuana with her dad (Javier Zaragoza, GET THE GRINGO) and little brother (Juan Carlos Galvan). We don’t know much about her beyond the impression that we get from her mirror, seen under the opening credits: it’s collaged with photos of her with her friends and magazine clippings of Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, some anime lady, etc. But when she goes into the city to enter the Miss Baja California pageant it seems less like a dream of hers than just something fun to do with her best friend Suzu (Lakshmi Picazo, later on a show with the cool title Ask God For Forgiveness… Not Me). Laura is tall and gorgeous, but doesn’t seem to give a shit about that. She wears sloppy, loose jeans and walks into the audition with her pageant dress still wadded up in a plastic grocery bag. (read the rest of this shit…)
Weird, but true: turns out you can make a TRANSFORMERS movie that’s sweet and funny, with sensible, reasonably concise storytelling that never feels like it’s whacking you in the face with a frying pan, and has characters you can care about. Even a human female one! All you gotta do is get the director of KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS and a script by Christina Hodson (SHUT IN, BIRDS OF PREY).
Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg are both listed as executive producers, but BUMBLEBEE definitely feels more like the latter, taking heaps of inspiration from E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL but none that I noticed from ARMAGEDDON. Set in 1987, it does work as a prequel to Bay’s TRANSFORMERS (2007), telling the story of a soldier robot who flees the war on his home planet of Cybertron to hide out in California disguised as a car and wait for the others while evading the secret government agency Sector 7 and two evil Decepticon robots voiced by Angela Bassett (STRANGE DAYS) and Justin Theroux (MIAMI VICE).
But that’s all going on in the midst of a teen movie centering on Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld, 3 DAYS TO KILL), who has just turned 18 and has been going through some shit ever since her dad (Tim Martin Gleason) died suddenly an unspecified few years ago. She resents that her mom (Pamela Adlon, THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE) has a dorky new husband (Stephen Schneider, 2012: SUPERNOVA), she fights with her little brother Otis (Jason Drucker, BARELY LETHAL) and gets into it with mean girls like Tina (Gracie Dzienny) and hunky asshole Tripp Summers (Ricardo Hoyos, Degrassi: The Next Generation) who embarrass her while she’s working at Hot Dog on a Stick. Not necessarily unrelated, her favorite band is The Smiths. (read the rest of this shit…)
NOTE: This movie’s win for Best Picture – Drama last night at the Golden Globes has been received with controversy, mostly involving the morality of rewarding a director who is awash in allegations of sexual assault. I barely mention that aspect in this review because I was able to separate the art from the artist and completely reject the movie on its own merits. It would be an embarrassing choice even if it was made by saints.
You know I’m a positive guy and I don’t do negative reviews that often, and also I tend to think even movies like ROBIN HOOD are okay. Lately though I’ve been watching last year’s awards-nominated type movies to prepare for the season and now I’m finally seeing movies I really don’t like.
I’m afraid I must report that BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is the new gold standard for horse shit musician biopics. It feels simultaneously adapted from Wikipedia and fudging every single detail for pandering dramatic license.
Rami Malek (NEED FOR SPEED) thankfully abandons his one bug-eyed expression of intensity I decided I was done with after the first season of Mr. Robot. Instead he throws every actorly actor thing he’s got at playing Freddie Mercury, frontman of Queen, essayers of the HIGHLANDER theme (not pictured). Many have said he’s great in the role, and I don’t entirely disagree, but it is a fact that I spent the early scenes wondering why Malek believed Mercury should always look like he was sucking on a lemon.
Then they started talking about him having extra teeth and I remembered hearing something about Malek’s special dentures for the role. And pretty much for the entire rest of the movie I couldn’t stop thinking he was struggling to keep those things in. You see the mouthpiece poking out of his cheeks, his lips frequently moving over it, preventing it from popping out. I kept thinking how sore his face must’ve been.
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SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is the 7th motion picture starring Spider-Man (not counting unauthorized Turkish ones), the second Sony In Association With Marvel movie of 2018, and probly only the third biggest Marvel Comics movie of its year. But I honestly think it’s revolutionary. Not necessarily for super heroes – its story of colliding alternate dimensions is clever, but built on familiar comic book traditions – but for animated features. Somehow Sony, who had been considered so clueless about what to do with Spider-Man that they had to farm him out to Marvel, found people who knew how to celebrate the vast history, meaning and potential of the character in a completely new cinematic way.
So much has been done in computer animation since TOY STORY. There have been many great achievements in the form, including two funny super hero movies in the INCREDIBLES series. But the kineticism and print-inspired graphic playfulness of SPIDER-VERSE feels completely new. The Spider-men-and-women run and flip and swing and glide in exaggerated splash page poses true to the history of cartooning but rarely possible in computer models. They’re (mostly) rendered in three dimensions, but with line art details and outlines and Zip-a-Tone dot shading. Some shots or characters are done in traditional hand drawn animation. Backgrounds sometimes have spray paint coloring in honor of the movie’s graffiti writer protagonist. Comic book description boxes, sound effects and motion lines – most importantly Spidey-Sense wiggle lines – appear on screen. The filmatism includes split screens, pseudo time lapse, jump cuts and hotshot flying camera moves that seem more at home in this cartoony animation than in the special effects movies where they have to pass for live action. (read the rest of this shit…)