So once again we have survived.

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.
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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…)

Ghost in the Machine

GHOST IN THE MACHINE is the second movie directed by Rachel Talalay, a behind-the-scenes New Line Cinema person who went from assistant production manager on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to production manager on part 2, line producer on part 3, producer on part 4 and then director and story provider for FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE. She followed that with this and then TANK GIRL and now she’s a very successful TV director who has done Supergirl, The Flash, Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc.

Back in 1993 when this came out I knew she was the FREDDY’S DEAD lady but I thought this looked really stupid: a dead killer’s soul gets into a computer and he can control machines? How does that make sense? Finally watching it 23 years later it turns out I was right, it is pretty stupid, and it doesn’t make much sense. But it was worth my time.

Terry Munroe (Karen Allen rocking Dana Sculley hair) happens to catch the eye of a serial killer (Ted Marcoux, DARK BLUE) shortly before he gets into a car accident (he giggles as his car slides upside down through a graveyard) and then is getting an MRI when there’s power surge and becomes a GHOST IN THE MACHINE(s). In my opinion MRI technology has gotten worse, because he gets scanned and given great power in less than a minute. Mine took a couple hours, cost me $6,250 and still didn’t make me into a magical being living inside computers and appliances. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sully

When I heard they made a movie about “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who heroically landed a downed commercial jetliner in the Hudson River, saving everyone onboard, I wondered how you would make a whole movie about that. Well, it turns out the story of Sully is a little more complicated than what I knew.

And I really mean a little more complicated. Not that much more complicated. He landed the plane, and then they said you know what, you might’ve done the wrong thing according some tests we did, and he said well this is why those tests are wrong, and after a while they said yeah you’re right, sorry about that Sully. The end.

So it’s weirdly uneventful for a movie about a famous airline disaster. But as a gentle character drama it’s not bad, the kind of thing that Clint Eastwood can make much more interesting than most directors could. (read the rest of this shit…)

John Wick Chapter 2

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is the solid sequel we always hoped (in fact assumed) it would be. The first film – already a certified modern action classic – had a perfect combination of elegant high concept (legendary assassin comes out of retirement to avenge some dipshits who killed his dog) and interesting world (a society of killers with their own rules, services and even currency). Rehashing the former would make for diminishing returns, so returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad (ONE IN THE CHAMBER, THE PACKAGE) digs deeper into the latter, showing us more about the operations and codes of the Continental Hotel and its affiliates as Wick is forced to repay a debt, getting himself into more and more trouble and testing the limits of his unkillableness.

He’s still trying to retire. The movie has a sense of humor about it without undermining his sincerity. Moments after he finishes cementing his weapons back into the basement floor the doorbell rings and you think “Jesus, what now?” Well, it’s Italian gangster Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio, THE BEST OF YOUTH), who helped him escape the business and now is cashing in his favor to drag him back in. Wick would have to get into the Vatican to assassinate Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST). Throughout the movie Wick finds himself backed into corners and all he can do is keep killing his way out of them. And the more killing the more corners. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fences

FENCES is a wonderful new Pixar movie about the secret world of fences. What happens when the barriers that keep people out decide it’s time to start letting them in? But it’s also the famous play by August Wilson (1945-2005) that Denzel Washington (VIRTUOSITY) has turned into a film as star and director.

There’s no mistaking that this was a play. It’s all talk talk talk, mostly by Denzel. Lots of telling stories. And it mostly takes place in his small backyard, kitchen and living room. He plays Troy Maxson, a bitter garbage man in racially discriminating 1958 Pittsburgh. Ten years before NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. He thinks he might get fired because he recently took a stand and asked why only white men get to drive the trucks. He likes to come home from work, shoot the shit and pass around a bottle of gin with wife Rose (Viola Davis from the Jesse Stone movies) and his co-worker Bono (Stephen Henderson, RED HOOK SUMMER, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA). (read the rest of this shit…)

The Hidden Fortress

Let’s face it, I’m stupid to not have seen all the Akira Kurosawa movies. Usually when I see one it becomes my new favorite movie. HIDDEN FORTRESS is my latest favorite movie.

It’s another one with Toshiro Mifune playing a badass warrior, but it starts on two buffoonish peasants, Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara). They’re all dirty and their clothes are torn up and they’re arguing, blaming each other for the shit they’ve just been through. One of them got the bright idea they could make money fighting with the Yamana clan, but they got to the battle too late and were mistaken for the losing Akizuki clan and forced to help bury all the dead bodies. And shortly after this they get taken prisoner again, locked up in the vanquished Akizuki castle and forced to dig for their hidden gold until there’s a riot and they escape.

On the lam they accidentally break a stick that has a piece of gold inside, marked with the Akizuki seal. What the hell? And while they’re checking all the sticks in the area for more gold they run into Mifune. He starts bossing them around without telling them he’s General Makabe Rokurota of the Akizuki clan and that he’s trying to sneak the clan’s gold and their sixteen year old princess Yuki (Misa Uehara) to safety. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Postman

I seriously have been meaning to see THE POSTMAN ever since 1997 when it came out. I thought it sounded like a cool idea, and I seem to remember first hearing of it as an upcoming George Romero movie in a Fangoria Terror Teletype. But then Kevin Costner made it and I guess everybody saying such bad things about it kept pushing it down my list.

Well, I would like to thank everybody for that, because 19 years was exactly the right amount of time to wait – all the sudden there is upheaval in our country that makes this particular dystopia weirdly appropriate. Yes, it’s very corny, with slow motion images of triumph made all the more syrupy by a James Newton Howard score. And yes, it is three hours long, but still seems rushed at times, with odd time-passage issues and major scenes that fade in and out like a “previously on THE POSTMAN” highlight reel. But it has a uniquely optimistic spin on post-apocalyptic fiction, and man does it speak to me right now.

Kevin Costner (who directed from a script by Eric Roth [MUNICH, ALI], then rewritten by Brian Helgeland [PAYBACK, BLOOD WORK, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER, LEGEND]) plays a nameless wanderer in post-Doomwar 2013. The oceans have dried up (reverse WATERWORLD), civilization has collapsed and you gotta do a chemical test on water before you drink it. He’s traveling the Utah salt flats with his load-carrying mule Bill, looking for settlements where he can perform Shakespeare scenes in exchange for food. But he’s in one of these towns when the Negan-from-The-Walking-Dead-esque tyrannical warlord General Bethlehem (Will Patton, BROOKLYN’S FINEST, ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL) comes through with an army on horseback conscripting ten men from each town. And they choose him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Split

Request: please be extra careful in the comments not to give away that one surprise thing where people might see it by accident.

SPLIT is M. Night Shyamalan’s odd little thriller about three teenage girls abducted from a parking lot and kept locked in a room by a man calling himself Dennis (James McAvoy). Terror turns to confusion when he starts coming to the room talking different, acting different, claiming to be different people. It turns out Dennis is just one of 23 personalities in this guy, and they don’t all necessarily support what he’s doing.

Logically you assume this kidnapper is gonna be a rapist or killer, and these may be true, but for now he’s being told to cool it by “Patricia,” a female personality who shows up occasionally to make the girls mayo sandwiches and assure them “he’s not supposed to touch you.” Oh, okay, that’s comforting. He also shows up as “Hedwig,” an 11 year old boy who likes to dance and listen to Kanye West and giggles a little when he warns them that “The Beast” is coming.

I haven’t always been on board for McAvoy (WANTED, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, X-MEN FIRST CLASS), who’s obviously a good actor but seems weirdly prone to playing heroes who are a little too douchey to completely root for. But here he’s truly great. Each character has a different voice, accent and body language – you can recognize them even before he speaks, even if he doesn’t change his clothes. (Though he usually does. He seems to be very fast at it.) McAvoy is clearly having alot of fun with this, taking his acting skills and doing a bunch of donuts and wheelies and shit. Going off jumps.
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