So once again we have survived.

Ms. 45

featuring Abel Ferrara as “First Rapist”

MS. 45 is a simple, palatable slice of early sleazy arty Abel Ferrara. Much like his previous film DRILLER KILLER it’s his New York art scene take on a genre movie, and a great time capsule of that world, but it’s a much more captivating story and – crucially – the people in it are far less obnoxious. Instead of playing the insufferable lead, Ferrara just plays an alley rapist in a Halloween mask at the beginning.

Yes, it’s a rape-revenge story like THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE, and also a vigilante movie like DEATH WISH. The rape scenes are as disturbing as any, but mercifully short compared to I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE or something. The vast majority of the slim 80-minute running time is given over to our 17-year-old protagonist Thana (Zoë Tamerlis, later known as Zoë Lund)’s urban murder spree. When she beats a rapist to death with an iron she could report it as a legitimate case of self defense, but she makes the less orthodox choice of hiding the body and using his gun for the .45 caliber execution of adult men who make moves on her, attempted gang rapists, pimps she sees beating prostitutes, etc. A fun new hobby for a young woman living on her own in the city. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The last Guy Ritchie movie I watched was the first SHERLOCK HOLMES. When it ended I realized first that I wasn’t sure what the mystery was that Sherlock Holmes had solved, and then that I was having a reaction from accidentally combining medication and alcohol. But some people told me they saw it undrugged and didn’t know what the mystery was either. At any rate, I had long since given up on Ritchie since the initial excitement of LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, which I have not revisited.

That’s why I took much too long getting to THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., a fun, charming, stylish summer blockbuster Cold War spy thriller that represents Ritchie at the very top of his game. (read the rest of this shit…)

Get Out

GET OUT is a crazy, racially themed horror-thriller written and directed by Jordan Peele of the comedy duo Key & Peele. And you know how sensitive I am about this, so I’ll just say right here that I consider this a horror movie that’s funny, not a horror-comedy. That’s how I prefer it. There are some big laughs, but they come out of the characters and situations, not at the expense of taking them seriously.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, SICARIO) is a young photographer who’s going on a trip with Rose (Allison Williams from Girls), his girlfriend of five months, to meet her parents. One thing he’s nervous about: she hasn’t told them he’s black. She swears it won’t be a big deal. Swears it. (read the rest of this shit…)

‘Round Midnight

I got the distinct feeling you guys were bored to death when I did a mini-jazz series after LA LA LAND came out (reviewing MO’ BETTER BLUES and THELONIOUS MONK: STRAIGHT NO CHASER). You know, you follow your muse, and sometimes your muse is heading out north when the zeitgeist already got on a plane going south two days ago. But I’m glad I went on that kick if only because it inspired me to finally watch ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT (1986), French director Bertrand Tavernier’s beautiful tribute to the scene of American bebop players transplanted to Paris circa 1959. Real life saxophone legend Dexter Gordon plays fictional saxophone legend Dale Turner as he tries to recapture inspiration and meaning during a stretch of depression near the end of his life.

With his froggy voice, tired eyes and odd sense of humor, sixty-something-year-old Gordon’s is a non-actor performance so compelling he was nominated for the best actor Oscar. Of course he also plays live music all throughout, so Ryan Gosling wouldn’t have been as good in the role.

(The Oscar went to Paul Newman for THE COLOR OF MONEY. Herbie Hancock did win one for ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT’s score, taking out James Horner’s ALIENS and Ennio Morricone’s THE MISSION.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Oscar shit 2017

I’m a little less excited than usual for the Oscars this year. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing I’m passionately rooting for, like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD last time. Or maybe it’s because shit is so bad it’s harder for me to care about the small stuff at the moment. But I still like the tradition and as usual I made sure to watch all of the best picture nominees, so here are a few thoughts on that.

Yes, you are correct, there is no way to scientifically measure or rank the artistic success of movies, and there is politics involved and my very favorite movie of a given year never wins. But I think this year is a real good example of how you can look at what got nominated and get a good idea what our country, or at least our film industry, cares about at this moment in time.

Take HELL OR HIGH WATER. Personally I thought the political subtext was the clumsiest aspect of the movie, but I’m sure it’s what got it nominated. Not just a cops and robbers procedural, it’s about farmers and war vets tired of their people being screwed over by the banks. And beneath that it’s a reminder of the history of our country and who it was stolen from. I should watch it again because I bet it wouldn’t seem as heavy-handed as the first time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Guy and Madeline On a Park Bench

Before LA LA LAND, before WHIPLASH, before writer/director Damien Chazelle graduated from Harvard Film School, he had already started his first feature, the musical GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH. Guy (Jason Palmer) is a young trumpet player, Madeline (Desiree Garcia) is someone he has apparently been dating, and she is looking for a new job and apartment and boyfriend throughout the movie. Another woman, Elena (Sandha Khin, RUNNER RUNNER), gets at least as much screen time. Guy meets her on a subway, but she was not on the park bench so she’s not mentioned in the title, which for reasons unclear to me is only concerned with who was on a park bench. Keep your eye on the ball, title.

Like LA LA LAND this is a tribute to old fashioned musicals and jazz and blossoming romance, but stylistically it’s completely different. Shot in 16mm black and white, it has a nice, timeless look (I would’ve guessed it was earlier than 2009). The cast is all non-actors, the style is cinema verite, none of the dialogue, or even the story, seems at all scripted. It’s just kind of a series of unfolding events and encounters. It’s a while before any of those are actual musical numbers, but we often see Guy playing gigs, and giving Madeline what seems to be a real first trumpet lesson. Later she gets a drum lesson from Chazelle himself. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t go J.K. Simmons on her.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Hacksaw Ridge

HACKSAW RIDGE is a twisted, uninhabitable mass of rock with a steep edge and riddled with secret caves, one of which is home to 2×4-carrying WWF legend “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. But there is no movie about that so until then we’ll have to make do with director Mel Gibson (APOCALYPTO)’s identically titled HACKSAW RIDGE, the best-picture-nominated movie based on the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN), the only WWII Medal of Honor recipient who was a conscientious objector. See, he wanted to do his part to fight Hitler, but he didn’t believe in killing or even touching a gun, so he went as a medic and was really fucking good at saving people’s lives. A reverse AMERICAN SNIPER.

I wonder if he traveled through time if he would kill Baby Hitler, or just try to give first aid to other babies fighting against Baby Hitler? It really makes you think.

The first half or so is before he goes to war. We see him as a little shit, constantly running and climbing and getting in violent scraps with his brother Hal, with no intervention from his drunk asshole dad (Hugo Weaving, BABE), a WWI veteran. Desmond could easily turn into the town bully, but maybe it’s his intense devotion to the family’s Ten Commandments poster that ensures he’s a big dork by the time he grows into Garfield. On one INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE style conveniently fateful day he discovers the two other loves of his life, because he 1) rushes to heroic action in administering a tourniquet and getting an injured person to a hospital where 2) he spots a beautiful nurse (Teresa Palmer, POINT BREAK remake) and decides he will marry her.

But not until his first furlough, because shortly after successfully wooing her he announces that he has to enlist. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lion

LION is one of those movies I never heard anybody talk about, but the Weinstein Company somehow got it a best picture nomination. That’s okay – it’s a well made movie and a powerful story, the kind of thing you go to this time of year and you cry and you’re uplifted and in this case I feel no shame about it. It’s based on the memoir of Saroo Brierley, who when he was a dirt poor peasant kid in India got very lost and never found his way back for 25 years.

Sunny Pawar as 5-year-old Saroo is one of those situations like past best picture nominees ROOM or BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD where a director (Australian TV guy making his feature debut Garth Davis) gets an almost supernaturally good performance out of a tiny little kid. Raised by a single mother (Priyanka Bose, JOHNNY GADDAAR) whose job is moving rocks, Saroo and his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) go out in the day and find ways to scrounge up a little something, like they hop a train to steal coal to sell to buy two little baggies of milk.

The disaster comes when Guddu leaves Saroo at a train station while he goes to do something he says is only for bigger kids. Saroo falls asleep and is scared when he wakes up and his brother’s still not back. Looking for him he slips onto a train which, to his terror, starts moving before he can get off. It’s an empty train so he ends up trapped and traveling for days, finally getting off somewhere where they don’t speak Bengali. The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. He’s in this terrible situation and he can’t even tell anyone. They just think he’s an annoying kid blocking them from the ticket window. They push him out of the way. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Great Wall

THE GREAT WALL fulfills two different personal moviegoing habits of mine:

1) trying to see some of the higher profile Asian imports that play at the AMC theater here

2) going to lightly attended afternoon shows of almost every fantasy sword-dude movie that comes out

Maybe you can’t call this an import, because it’s produced by Universal and Legendary, it’s mostly in English and its star Matt Damon (SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON) is an American white in my opinion. And maybe you can’t call it a fantasy sword-dude movie either, because it’s more in a fantasy bow-and-arrow-dude vein. But it is from the great Chinese director of lush historical epics Zhang Yimou (RAISE THE RED LANTERN, HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS), it’s the most expensive movie ever filmed entirely in China ($135 million), and it was released there two months ago and had already made $224.5 million worldwide by the time it came to us. So it’s close enough to these two categories that it piqued my interest.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Tank Girl

TANK GIRL is a messy, silly, winkingly obnoxious version of the ’90s expensive b-movie, one of those weird ones that doesn’t exactly work but is kind of charming just because they had the gall to try. John Waters producer/FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE director Rachel Talalay somehow convinced MGM to pump money into this adaptation of a cult British comic book about a smartass punk girl driving a tank through post-apocalyptic Australia. (Other MGM releases in 1995: FLUKE, SPECIES, GET SHORTY, also distributed THE PEBBLE AND THE PENGUIN, HACKERS, SHOWGIRLS, LEAVING LAS VEGAS, GOLDENEYE, CUTTHROAT ISLAND.) The movie’s story of facing off against a typical bad guy, even fighting him to the death on a raised catwalk for the climax, is too half-assed and conventional to work, but the frenetic style and goofy tangents are a successful extension of the main character’s personality.

Lori Petty (BATES MOTEL, POINT BREAK) pours every drop of hyperactive tomboy playfulness in her voice and persona into the character of Rebecca, who is never specifically called Tank Girl but does steal her would-be namesake when she escapes imprisonment by the wasteland’s fascist oppressors, Water & Power. This militarized corporation hordes the last of the water and cruelly attacks anyone who finds their own source. In my opinion they are not a good company to work for; when they fire employees they kill them with machines that harvest their body’s water content. (read the rest of this shit…)