KEEP BUSTIN'

Brooklyn

tn_brooklynbestpictureBROOKLYN is my best-picture-nominee-completist viewing for this year. When the nominations were announced the only ones I hadn’t seen were THE REVENANT (which was about to come out and I was excited to see), ROOM (which I had been told was very good so I was already interested) and this one (no interest). And I’m not saying it changed my life or nothin, but it’s a good movie I never would’ve watched otherwise.

Saoirse (pronounced sur-shuh) Ronan plays Eilis (pronounced AY-lish) Lacey, a young woman who works in a shop in a small town in Ireland in 1952 (pronounced nyn-teen-fiff-tee-too). But she doesn’t get paid much and  people are starving and her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott, RESIDENT EVIL) arranges for her to go to the U.S. where there might be better opportunities. A priest (Jim Broadbent, SUPERMAN IV) sets her up with a home at a boarding house, a job at a department store and even night classes in bookkeeping at a college.
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Room

tn_roombestpictureROOM is a movie that would be better to know nothing about. I knew a little more than I should’ve, and that wasn’t too bad. But if you were planning on seeing it anyway, read this later.

It’s mostly a two-person movie: a mom (Brie Larson, GREENBERG) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay, THE SMURFS 2), who is turning five today. But they can’t go to Chuck E. Cheese or something because they live inside a small room that they can’t leave. It has no windows except for a skylight.

I wonder if they’ll do straight to video sequels like they did with CUBE. Hopefully they saved the set.

But they make do. She has the ingredients to make a humble birthday cake. No candles, though, which makes him cry. They decorate Room, as they call their world, with garbage, call objects by names like it’s Pee-wee’s Playhouse, do regular exercises and play games to keep their bodies and brains okay. They thread together a bunch of eggshells and draw a face on it: “Egg Snake is our longest and fanciest friend,” narrates Jack. Livin it up.

Like THE LOVELY BONES this is childish fantasy used as an escape from evil and tragedy. They don’t come out and say it at first, but Ma was kidnapped and locked in here at age 17, and gave birth two years later. So that tells you who the father is. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spotlight

tn_spotlightbestpictureSPOTLIGHT is another one of the best picture nominees. I’d already seen it anyway. It doesn’t seem to me like signs are pointing to it as a potential winner, but it definitely feels like your traditional perfectly-good-movie-that-wins-best-picture-and-makes-you-resent-it. Unlike BIRDMAN or ARGO it is not about actors or Hollywood, except in the sense that it allows actors to shine in a big cast with mouthfuls of dialogue. But the appeal is they get to portray professionalism, a courageous Fight Against the System, and a true story about a heavy topic: the massive cover-up of child sexual abuse among Catholic clergy.

It’s an ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN type deal. The Boston Globe‘s “Spotlight” team of reporters who do long-term investigative journalism sort of stumble across this thing, an old story that no one paid much attention to that has bigger implications. They talk to victims, look at records, connect the dots, do the math, and start to suspect that the atrocity is much bigger than anyone realized. If it’s 3% of priests, let’s see, how many priests are in Boston? And 3% of that is… HOLY SHIT, that’s too many molesters in my opinion.

They discover lawyers who were involved with settlements between the families and the church. The families were led to believe the church would punish the abusers and getting some money for the kid to live off of would be the best thing to do. Whoops. They just made them move and let them keep working. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Big Short

tn_bigshortbestpictureDo you remember the Will Ferrell movie THE OTHER GUYS, how the end credits were a big animated info graphic about the banking crisis? It connected to the scheme by the villains in the movie but seemed jarringly serious at the end of a cop movie parody from the director of ANCHORMAN where Ferrell carries a wooden gun, has an evil pimp alter ego and has a chief played by Michael Keaton who quotes TLC all the time and works a second job at Bed Bath & Beyond. That’s why it’s not completely out of the blue that its director Adam McKay has made his first non-comedy, THE BIG SHORT, which has been nominated for many awards including Oscars for best picture, director and adapted screenplay. This is not the classic funny-man-yearning-for-respectability-with-corny-Oscar-bait-movie gambit. This is a rage that’s been fighting to get out.

Based on the non-fiction book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Moneyball author Michael Lewis, the movie tells the stories of several small-timers and outsiders in the financial world who had the foresight to see that the housing market was built on fraud and was destined to collapse. They figured out a way to basically bet against the banks, who gladly accepted the offers because they believed their own lies. They thought these people were crazy and giving them free money. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lucas Minus Star Wars: What have we learned?

tn_lucaslucasminusstarwarsThank you for indulging me these last few months as I went through all 44 years of George Lucas productions, from the one he made when he was 27 (THX 1138) to the one he made when he was 70 (STRANGE MAGIC). As you know, I’m interested in how Lucas created possibly the most beloved thing in pop culture history (the original Star Wars trilogy) and then became nerd culture’s biggest pariah when he came back to the series later in his career. The Star Wars phenomenon (both its dark side and light side) is so blindingly powerful that it eclipses everything else he’s ever been associated with. I thought it would be valuable to look at his filmography but with Star Wars removed from the equation.

Kind of. You may’ve noticed that I’m too fascinated by his idiosyncratic later work and much of the world’s fanatic hatred of it to leave it out entirely. I couldn’t help but find foreshadows and echoes of the prequels in most of his other movies. I tempted fate by bringing it up again and again, showing (as I was discovering it) that the prequels fit into a larger body of work and obsessions than just that one particular saga about the space conflicts. I want to thank all the commenters for not falling too much into another debate about prequels and special editions even though I kept leaving an opening for it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Strange Magic

tn_strangemagiclucasminusstarwarsThe most-likely-last George Lucas production – released after selling Lucasfilm, but made mostly before – is also one of the most mysterious. When the trailer was released a few months before the movie, most of us had no idea that a George Lucas animated film had been in the works. There had been rumors reported about a fairy related project, but I don’t think I’d heard them. For once Lucas was able to avoid the pitfalls of anticipation and expectations.

Unfortunately, he did it for a pretty lousy film. I’d have to say this is my least favorite Lucasfilm.

Somewhat inspired by A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, this is a story about fairies, elves, and I want to say goblins. Princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood, THE WRESTLER) calls off her big wedding when she sees her hunky fiancee Roland (Sam Palladio) messing around with some other ho, then she gives herself a makeover and acts tough and swings a sword around, because of empowerment. “Good Girl Gone Rad,” says a poster they made of her. Meanwhile the displeasingly designed Sunny the Elf (Elijah Kelley, who played Joker in RED TAILS) wanders into the spooky part of the forest to steal a monster called King Bog (Alan Cumming, EYES WIDE SHUT)’s magic love potion and use it on the other princess, Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), which causes Bog to retaliate by kidnapping Dawn, and then everybody else goes to try to rescue her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Red Tails (revisit)

lucasminusstarwarstn_redtailsBA great historical epic could be made about the Tuskegee airmen,  the all black squadron of American fighter pilots in WWII. That’s what George Lucas thought back in ’88 when he started developing RED TAILS. He put together a script that he compared to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (or NED OF ARABIA to Young Indiana Jones), a three-parter about their training, then their heroic battles, and then coming home to a racist country and Jim Crow laws that don’t give a shit that they’re heroes.

Eventually he decided that was too much for one movie and, like with STAR WARS, chose the middle chapter to focus on. But he also decided that he didn’t want it to be serious grown up drama. He thought it could be a fun movie for black teenagers. It’s an approach he had trouble selling to director Anthony Hemingway (The Wire), but even more to critics, who rejected the movie wholesale, often with some shaming about the movie they thought it should’ve been. (read the rest of this shit…)

Anomalisa

tn_anomalisaANOMALISA is a sad, sometimes funny story about loneliness and petty, ugly human nature. If I told you it had some bizarre, seemingly unfilmable premise then that would all add up to tell you it was a Charlie Kaufman film, but it actually doesn’t have that. It’s just about a guy who travels to Cincinatti to speak at a convention and the night he spends at a hotel. Nothing crazy. It’s mostly very realistic, a frank look at relationships between men and women. It’s animated, though.

It’s all done in a beautiful and unique form of stop motion. Other than being made with small materials it’s almost entirely an attempt at naturalism, no cartoonish stylization at all. One exception is that they left the seams between the mouth and eye sections, which in other movies done with this technique such as PARANORMAN or THE BOXTROLLS were digitally removed. But this is a Charlie Kaufman movie so pretty much everything that seems a little strange – those seams, the androgynous facial structure of most of the characters, one actor providing most of the voices – turns out to be intentional and thematic.

We could compare this to Wes Anderson’s THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX as another unusual stop motion feature that fits naturally into the filmography of its live action auteur. But that one emphasized the hand-made-ness, showing off the imperfections in animating fur, using cotton balls for clouds and puffs of smoke. ANOMALISA miraculously mimics human intimacy in rubber. (read the rest of this shit…)

Knock Knock

tn_knockknockKnock knock. Who’s there? Two young girls that say they’re looking for some party and their phone is dead and Keanu Reeves lets them in. Two young girls that say they’re looking for some party and their phone is dead and Keanu Reeves lets them in who? Two young girls that say they’re looking for some party and their phone is dead and Keanu Reeves lets them in and at first it seems innocent but then they keep flirting with him and he keeps trying to be good but then they get naked and throw themselves at him and he puts up a good fight but eventually the boner seizes power. And then things get bad.

Reeves is playing a guy named Evan, and in the pre-knock-knock part of this latest Eli Roth movie we see what a good life he has. A beautiful wife (Ignacia Allamand, THE GREEN INFERNO) who’s a successful sculptor, a big fancy house in the Hollywood hills, two loving kids who make him breakfast for Father’s Day, and who he likes to play with and do funny voices for. He’s an architect, but a cool one who used to DJ and still has his vinyl collection to listen to while he works.

So when the rest of the family is away on a beach vacation while he finishes up some work, and these young girls (Lorenza Izzo as Genesis and Ana de Armas as Bell) show up at his door in soaked-through party outfits, he has every reason to not succumb to their charms. And the most fun part of the movie is the long, drawn-out attempt to just be cool and adult and take them at their word and just help them out. As they start to get more personal and then talk frankly about sex, and sit close to him and find excuses to touch him, he keeps trying to steer the conversation back to appropriateness, and repeatedly gets up and moves to other furniture, a somewhat comedic game of musical chair harassment avoidance. When suddenly they’re naked and straight up offering sex he’s angry and trying to get them to leave. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bangkok Revenge

tn_bangkokrevengeBANGKOK REVENGE is a story about, yes, some type of revenge that takes place in or near Bangkok. It starts out almost like a Thailand-set remix of HARD TO KILL where the good cop attacked by the corrupt cops is not that hard to kill, he dies instead of going into a coma, so it’s his son who has to set things straight years later. The kid, Manit, got shot in the head, but he survived, and like Sonny Storm (or the Skywalker twins) he was hidden away from the bad guys. In this case it’s a kind nurse who sneaks him to a friend who, reluctantly at first, gives him shelter and martial arts training.

Actually, at this point it switches to KICKBOXER. Young Manit trains on roped posts and hanging coconuts, aging to adulthood (and the actor Jon Foo) during a montage. They even do the scene where the teacher takes him to a bar and convinces a bunch of toughs that he talked smack about them so he’ll have to fight them off. The fight is done in an interesting, partially successful handheld POV type approach. (read the rest of this shit…)