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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

The Revenant

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

tn_revenantRight now THE REVENANT (from executive producer Brett Ratner) is being marketed as an Important Awards Contender type movie. It’s the year’s most Oscar-nominated film and the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama, so until THE BIG SHORT won the Producer’s Guild award the other day it seemed like the frontrunner for the coveted title of Answer To Trivia Question About Which Lesser Movie Got Best Picture Instead Of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

It’s the latest from Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the least fun of the Three Amigos, but the one who got best picture, director and screenplay last year for BIRDMAN. He’s also a guy who talks real passionately and is charming in interviews, but in print or out of context can sound like a pretentious asshole, for example when he said that his excellent new western is not a western because it transcends pathetic human genre:

“Western is in a way a genre, and the problem with genres is that it comes from the word ‘generic’, and I feel that this film is very far from generic.”

(Genre actually comes from the French word for ‘kind’ or ‘type’.)

But fuck all that. That’s a distraction. On its own, THE REVENANT is the kind/type/genre of pure, undiluted, immersive filmatism that I love. Unafraid to go long stretches without dialogue, or to have the minimal exposition mumbled through an unintelligible accent, it plunges us into a world (1823 fur trappers and hunters under siege by Arikara Indians) and doesn’t give us any instructions on how to get home. It trusts that the dense atmosphere and simple, action-based narrative will lead the way. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lila & Eve

Monday, January 25th, 2016

tn_lilaandeveI had to give LILA & EVE a shot because of my love of different types of vigilante revenge movies. In this one the titleational duo are two women (Viola Davis [from the JESSE STONE movies] as Lila, Jennifer Lopez as Eve) who meet in a support group for mothers of murdered children and decide to ignore the group’s core principle of learning to accept what you can’t change.

Like Neil Jordan’s THE BRAVE ONE with Jodie Foster, this tries to lean harder on the respectable drama side than the satisfying DEATH WISH one. Lila’s son was killed in a drive-by shooting, most likely not meant for him. When she waits around all day to talk to the detective in charge (Shea Whigham, FAST & FURIOUS) he doesn’t even recognize her. They discuss the lack of progress in front of a picture of a dead white cheerleader who has her own task force.

But Eve won’t have it. She pushes Lila to go out to the block where it happened, find the criminals that work there, question them, work their way up the ladder until they find who did it. During their first parking lot confrontation the guy pulls a gun and Eve shoots him. Now they’re killers. She takes his phone and uses what she finds on it for further detective work. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

tn_tuckerlucasminusstarwarsTUCKER, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (CAPTAIN EO), glorifies two of executive producer George Lucas’s favorite things: cars and artistic independence. It’s a starry-eyed, big-band-jazz-scored paean to Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges), an innovator who failed to conquer the post-WWII car business, but at least made a cool car.

The titleistical dream is the idea of the Tucker, “the car of the future today,” a sleek, futuristic sedan with the engine in the back and three headlights that he says will move with the front wheels for safety. He’s just a dude with a scrappy company working out of a barn who invented some turrets for the army and a tank that they rejected because it moved too fast. He still owns one and uses it to drive the family into town to get ice cream. Nobody will invest in his dream until he gets it into a magazine and just acts like it’s something that’s happening. Next thing you know Martin Landau is able to get him meetings and investors. The Secret!

In one sense Tucker is full of shit. He thinks he can make this car, but he lets people believe he already has. He pushes his sons and trusted collaborators into overdrive to figure out how to build a good-enough prototype in time for the big unveiling. Like a movie trying to make a summer release date. The dream runs into the reality of unforeseen problems and limited time and resources, but he’s happy to just build a thing that looks like the concept art. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ricki and the Flash

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

tn_rickiBefore we get back into the Lucas-Minus-Star-Wars series I wanted to play a little catch up. Here’s one of my favorite movies of last year, and I bet most of you haven’t considered seeing it.

In RICKI AND THE FLASH Meryl Streep (BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY) plays the broke-ass leader of a California bar band who’s on an unlikely mission to Indianapolis to cheer up her daughter Julie (Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer), because her husband left her. One thing is, Ricki abandoned the family years ago to follow her rock and/or roll dream, and they never forgave her for it and rarely talk to her. But Julie’s gotten so bad that her dad Pete (Kevin Kline) gets desperate enough to break that emergency glass. It’s a fish-out-of-water story where the fish has no money and has to stay in your guest room and you don’t want her there but you try to be polite and also you have to pay for her cab.

Ricki is a rare and precious thing, a lead role for an actress – an older actress, even – that gets to be complex and flawed and also funny (not to mention sing and play guitar!). She’s a strong personality and also a mess and possibly racist and hates Obama and also it turns out she knows how to be a good mother and friend. I mean, now she does, but where the hell was she before? With this cause healing, or only increase resentment? Streep, not surprisingly, goes to town with the role and seems to be having a great time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mishima: a life in four chapters

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

tn_mishimalucasminusstarwars

This is the story of Yukio Mishima (Ken Ogata, VENGEANCE IS MINE), once “Japan’s most celebrated author,” but now largely known as a crazy who commited public ritual suicide. Paul Schrader’s complex, lushly produced film weaves together both sides of the writer’s legacy, illustrating what he called “the harmony of pen and sword,” an attempt to fuse his art and his actions into one.

It starts in 1970 the morning of the day when we know from the onscreen text that Mishima is going to take “4 cadets from his private army” to a military base, kidnap a general. Mishima, and those of us who have heard of this incident, know he will make a speech about the soul of Japan and then cut his belly open with a sword. But he doesn’t seem nervous. He skips breakfast but has one last leisurely morning, reading the paper, enjoying some tea in his lovely backyard. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kagemusha

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

tn_kagemushalucasminusstarwarsIn 1980, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola presented a film by Akira Kurosawa, KAGEMUSHA. It opens with a five minute static shot of three almost identical looking characters sitting in a throne room in their fancy robes, two of them talking about the other one. You got the emperor Shingen there in the middle and his brother is on his right telling him about the guy on his left, how he spotted this petty thief about to be executed and noticed that he looked like the emperor and would make a good double for him. Sure enough he’s a dead ringer. It’s a real good find, this could work out great, right? But the double is kind of belligerent and crazy, and also he very reasonably chafes at the idea of being called a criminal by a guy who has killed thousands in wars and executions.

Maybe with some training though?

I guess people compare KAGEMUSHA to that movie DAVE, where Kevin Klein is a lookalike who has to replace the president, but I haven’t seen that one, so I’ll compare it to FACE/OFF, where a cop pretends to be a criminal? I don’t know. Anyway, the job gets more serious when the emperor gets hit by a sniper and before dying makes his boys promise to keep his death a secret for three years. I didn’t get this at first, but I think it’s because his heir is his grandson, a little boy. Gotta let him grow up to be at least 7 or 8 before tossing him in the deep end. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Graffiti

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

tn_americangraffitilucasminusstarwarsI honestly had never seen this movie until now. So this will likely be the last George Lucas directed movie for me, unless he ever goes through with making those inaccessible art movies he always says he wants to make. AMERICAN GRAFFITI is different from the other ones he directed  because it’s the only one that’s not in space or in a futuristic dystopian worker colony under the earth. At least as far as is revealed in the text. Also it’s his only directorial work that has, like, wall-to-wall jams by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and The Platters and people like that. Maybe he shoulda done that trick on ATTACK OF THE CLONES to make the young love go down easier.

Yeah, it’s weird that this is a really distinctive, personal and hugely influential film that was Lucas’s big breakthrough in Hollywood, and then he never did anything much like it again. He just let other people make Happy Days and shit while he was tinkering in the FX lab.

I’m not sure what the title means exactly, but it’s kinda too bad they used it for this because it would’ve made WILD STYLE seem more epic and important. This is the story of a bunch of Los Angelenos Modestenos graduating high school in 1962, and having one last night out together before some of them leave to begin their adult lives. Curt (Richard Dreyfuss playing a teenager just two years before JAWS!) is supposed to leave for college on the East Coast the next day, but he’s getting cold feet. Steve (Ronny Howard, later star of Happy Days) is also leaving and wants to convince his younger girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams, later star of Happy Days spin-off Laverne & Shirley) that they should still technically be together but also see other people. Terry (Charles Martin Smith, later in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY) is a huge nerd who borrows Steve’s awesome car to drive around and impress people. And John Milner (Paul Le Mat) isn’t going to college, so to him it’s another night as the tough guy cruising for girls in the area’s most badass yellow drag racer. But then he gets tricked into picking up somebody’s little sister Carol (Mackenzie Phillips), cramping his style. (read the rest of this shit…)

Creed

Monday, November 30th, 2015

tn_creedThe world is hard and shitty sometimes, but also sometimes it’s beautiful, and with some luck, some talent and some very hard work, unlikely things can happen. For example, what are the chances that director Ryan Coogler, after his true story police shooting drama FRUITVALE STATION won awards at Sundance and Cannes, would want to use his window of opportunity to pitch a movie about Apollo Creed’s son? And then what are the chances he’d convince Sylvester Stallone to play Rocky Balboa in it and a studio to make it? And finally what are the chances that it would both honor the history of the ROCKY movies and chart its own path to be something new? I don’t know what the odds are, but CREED beat ’em.

Michael B. Jordan (who also starred in FRUITVALE) plays Adonis “Donnie” Johnson who, as an orphaned teenager in and out of group homes, discovered he was the son of the most famous boxer in the world. Moving to the Creed mansion with his father’s wife Mary Anne (now played by Phylicia Rashad instead of Lavelle Roby or Sylvia Meals) takes his life straight from ROCKY to ROCKY III. Hungry to comfortable. As an adult he’s successful in a corporate job, but sneaks off to Tijuana for small time fights.

At his dad’s home gym Delphi in Los Angeles (who must’ve inherited some money from him if that’s supposed to be the same gym from III) nobody will train Adonis. It may be at Mrs. Creed’s request or maybe they just don’t believe in him, but they think it’s too dangerous. His father died in the ring. I love how much of this film’s drama comes specifically from what happened in the most ridiculous sequel. Maybe this will redeem IV for those who think it ruined the series by removing Apollo from it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rocky Balboa

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

tn_rockybalboaI already reviewed ROCKY BALBOA when it came out, but it’s such a great movie I wanted to checked in on it again.

It’s hard to believe this humble character drama is Stallone’s directorial followup to the rock n roll tall tale ROCKY IV. The style, the content, the tone, even the character are from different planets. This one has zero (0) Survivor songs in it and it reminds me less of ROCKY IV than of later Clint Eastwood directorial works: quiet, mournful, wintery colors, gentle piano scoring, character driven, raw. And the trashy people who give Rocky a bunch of shit at a bar could be family members from MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

This is a more pure ROCKY I throwback than ROCKY V was because Rocky’s life is simple, humble and gentle again. He’s not poor – he owns a restaurant called Adrian’s – but that’s not exactly high roller shit. He actually runs the place, seems to be there every day to greet customers, does the hiring and shops for some of the ingredients himself. It’s small, and Paulie makes fun of his “Italian food made by Mexicans.”

That Adrian has died since part V is crucial. Even in V, when Rocky lost “everything,” he didn’t lose Adrian. Rocky is alone again, but seems to take it in stride, because he’s Rocky. Although the beginning is specifically about marking the anniversary of Adrian’s death by visiting important places like the ruins of the skating rink where they had their first date, I get the feeling that the shot of him sitting contently at her grave in a folding chair is a pretty regular occurrence. And I love that Paulie lingers uncomfortably on the perimeter just like he did in II when she was in the hospital. He’s very aware that he’s an asshole and doesn’t deserve to be near her as much as Rocky does. He’s tormented by how he treated her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rocky V

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

tn_rockyvI think ROCKY V is the least enjoyable of the ROCKY pictures, but I admire its intentions. This is actually my first time watching it, and maybe it plays better when you watch them all close together. I know it was poorly received when it came out, and I’m sure some people were confused that it wasn’t more of the mountain-conquering commie-smasher Rocky had turned into when we last saw him five years earlier. But like I said, the ROCKY series evolves with the times. Allow me to submit to you an acknowledgment that appears on the end credits:

“We wish to express our gratitude to the Soviet government for granting us the use of their Aeroflot jet.”

With Reagan and the Cold War in the rear-view mirror and Survivor on indefinite hiatus, Stallone decided to shed some of the ’80s-style excess of the last two sequels. The world had changed again. People didn’t even care about Rambo anymore. Stallone’s last movie had been TANGO & CASH, which did okay, but was a troubled production and got poor reviews. He was obviously itching to try something different, because he followed ROCKY V with OSCAR and STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT. But first he felt it was time to put the tiger jacket in the closet and bring back the underdog. This was his first attempt, before ROCKY BALBOA, to go back to Rocky’s roots as well as to deal with his advancing age. (read the rest of this shit…)