I feel like I should hold off on posting my next Lucas Minus Star Wars review, because the world is mourning David Bowie and doesn’t want to read about Michael Jackson in space. So consider today a moment of silence. Sincerest condolences to Mr. Bowie’s family, friends and fans.
M. Night Shyamalan has had one of the harshest popularity drop-offs of any name brand movie director. THE SIXTH SENSE got him a couple films worth of “could he be a new Spielberg?” goodwill before the love affair ended non-amicably. He rubbed many of us the wrong way by becoming increasingly self-aggrandizing as his movies got more and more misguided, arguably culminating in the ridiculous LADY IN THE WATER, where the villain is a pompous film critic and Shyamalan himself plays a writer whose work is destined to inspire the next Martin Luther King. Of course, most people limit their critique to making fun of the twist endings he used to do and xenophobically refusing to expend a regular amount of effort to learn his last name. (SHAW-MUH-LAWN, guys. Fewer syllables than Tarantino or Kurosawa. You can learn it.)
These days he doesn’t even get a fair shot. AFTER EARTH, for example, did not deserve the disdain it got. But I think we’re fair in assuming he’s not gonna turn out to be a great director for the ages.
THE VISIT is not a rebirth of the once promising writer-director, but it’s a positive step. It shows an awareness I didn’t know he had. Instead of floundering with ambitions far beyond his abilities he’s decided to slum it in the middling subgenre of the Jason Blum produced found footage/fake documentary horror movie (see also: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 1, 2, 3, 4 and GHOST DIMENSION, THE BAY, AREA 51, THE GALLOWS, UNFRIENDED 1 and 2). While the format is usually used as a workaround for filmmaking competence and professional actors, Shyamalan treats it as a creative challenge. It never seems like laziness, it seems like a puzzle. Can he use this “kid with handheld camera” bullshit and still get in some of his favorite things: great performances by young actors, some beautiful shots, some sadness and sentiment? (read the rest of this shit…)
Before 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…)
Before THE HATEFUL EIGHT, Kurt Russell first teamed with his crazy mustache on a different ensemble western with bursts of outrageously brutal violence. BONE TOMAHAWK is kinda like a John Wayne movie that happens to bump into CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST for a minute. But don’t get too excited about that high mash up concept. For the most part it’s a straight up western, for people who enjoy westerns. It’s just that it’s got a scene or two that might make a few of those guys spit out their coffee.
In the opening scene two murderous bandits, Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette), trespass on some kind of skull-decorated burial ground that Indiana Jones might be able to tell them about. They were just talking about what’s proper to do with the Bibles of the travelers they murdered on the road, but they do not show the same concern for this particular culture. Anyway, they get into some trouble, you could say.
Purvis escapes and makes it into the town of Bright Hope, where he is not welcome, and quickly ends up shot and arrested by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell). But during the night some kind of savages attack the jail, tearing one man apart and abducting Purvis, a deputy (Evan Jonigkeit, Toad from X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST), and a local doctor (Lili Simmons, who I guess is on Banshee, but I honestly thought she was Katherine Heigl). She was at the jail to attend to Purvis’s bullet, and yes, for the record she drops the slug into a metal canister. Anyway she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, she gets abducted. Most of the movie is about the rescue party traveling to cannibal territory to try to get them all back. (read the rest of this shit…)
For four years now it’s been my tradition to kick off a new year with Clint Eastwood. This year I’m starting it with Clint and a rowdy gang of G.I. goofballs including roughneck Telly Savalas, new agey Donald Sutherland, bitter wiseass Don Rickles and young, harmonica-playing, exactly-the-same-looking Harry Dean Stanton (credited as Dean Stanton). It kinda feels like one of those fun ensemble war pictures like THE DIRTY DOZEN or THE GREAT ESCAPE, except the idea behind it is much more cynical.
Clint plays Kelly, a once great soldier, demoted and disillusioned after an incorrect order caused him to blow up some of his own men. When he finds out about a stash of gold bars in a German bank he finally has a mission he can believe in again: get together a crew to penetrate the enemy lines early and get the loot. Everyone thinks/knows it’s crazy, but the lure of the bling is enough. In fact, they have trouble with more and more people joining the group and expecting a share.
At times it can be kind of a broad comedy, and with that old timey type of military humor where they complain about their job but they just talk about hating to have to lug heavy things around, or get bossed around, they don’t talk about the psychological trauma of having to kill people, or almost being killed, or seeing their friends killed. But in a way this is a very subversive movie, because here’s The Great War, the one we can all get behind, the one that made them The Greatest Generation, and our titleistical heroes never even mention ideals or what they’re fighting for. What they end up getting behind is a big payday. (read the rest of this shit…)
Well, it’s been a year again. 365 days of 2015ness have passed, that much I know for sure. I did not manage to become a successful or highly paid individual yet. I lost some family. The world lost Darren Shahlavi, Roddy Piper and Wes Craven. A bunch of less celebrated people got shot and blown up all around the world. I’m against it. Stop doing that.
I’m gonna focus on the positive though. My life is mostly good, and I make it through the bad days in part because of you guys and what we do here. I think I had a year of writing that I can be proud of. Let’s go over some highlights.
As is my tradition now, I started the year with Clint, revisiting THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Later in the month I saw his AMERICAN SNIPER, which I still think is more complex than it got credit for. And if you think that makes me a war apologist, fuck you. I didn’t see you seeking out actual Iraqi films about the war like AHLAAM to write about too. That was me that did that.
Speaking of Bradley Cooper movies, I finally reviewed THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, so I can include a link whenever I mention Cooper for any reason. In that sense I really made alot of progress this year.
(read the rest of this shit…)
(SPOILERS. This is a don’t-read-before-seeing-the-movie review.)
Quentin Tarantino tries out a couple new tricks in his new one, THE HATEFUL EIGHT: he shot in extra-wide 65mm Cinemascope, and helped hook up a bunch of theaters with 70mm projectors (and projectionists, I assume) to show an early, longer version of the movie complete with an overture, intermission and program. He got Ennio Morricone to compose and orchestrate some new music for it (Tarantino’s only previous original scoring was some bits by RZA and Robert Rodriguez for the KILL BILLs). But it also feels pretty familiar: his second extreme-racism western in a row, with chapter titles like KILL BILL, full of conversation suspense scenes like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, mostly one location like RESERVOIR DOGS, some non-linear jumps like most of his movies, and a cast with plenty of his regulars (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, James Parks, Zoe Bell, Waltong Goggins [I almost forgot he was in DJANGO UNCHAINED). Just as INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS got away with some out-of-the-blue, seemingly incongruous narration by Jackson, HATEFUL EIGHT follows up its intermission with some omniscient narration that you suddenly realize is Tarantino himself. I can see why some people would hate that, but I loved it. I mean, who are we fooling, we all know it’s this guy talking to us through this movie anyway. And it helps kick off the second half with an energy the first was lacking.
Here’s something brand new for a Tarantino movie: I didn’t immediately love it. I’m honestly still trying to figure out how I feel about it. I’m not sure I get it. I remember that with both INGLOURIOUS and DJANGO I had misgivings on the first viewings that later seemed completely irrelevant. With the former it was thinking that Brad Pitt seemed like Brad Pitt playing a funny character, he didn’t inhabit the character the way previous Tarantino leads had. With the latter it was that Tarantino had never done a movie that followed one character chronologically, and it seemed kinda too simple for him. Both of those seem like dumb complaints to me now, and I loved both movies without reservations on subsequent viewings. Even so, their first times I liked better than this first time. (read the rest of this shit…)
Jennifer Connelly’s first movie was Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (as the young version of Elizabeth McGovern’s character). Her first starring role was Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA, aka CREEPERS. Then she did some normal teen movie, but the one after that was LABYRINTH, directed by Jim Henson, where she’s co-starring with David Bowie and about a hundred different puppets. That’s a crazy career already, years before she got an Oscar.
This one is pretty different from the Argento one. Yes, she still communicates with bugs, because there’s a worm in one scene who gives her a helpful tip and invites her in to meet his wife. But there’s no monkey going nuts with a straight razor, and no Goblin. Just goblins.
She plays Sarah, a teenage girl who one day during a bratty fit about having to babysit says some fantasy nonsense that actually summons goblins to take away her toddler brother Toby. Whoops. To get him back she has to make it through a labyrinth to the Goblin King (Bowie)’s castle in 13 hours. Except for the king, the goblins and the inhabitants of the maze are all puppets and special effects creations. Designed by artist Brian Froud (like Henson’s previous movie, THE DARK CRYSTAL), they still have cartoonish looks and personalities, but with more realistic texture and detail than Muppets. They seem like closer relatives to Yoda than to Cookie Monster. (read the rest of this shit…)
In the early ’80s, a brutal guerrilla war was going on in Nicaragua, with an army of terrorist counter-revolutionaries, or contras, fighting against the leftist Sandinista party that was in power. The contras were funded and trained by the U.S. and called “freedom fighters” by President Reagan. Most Americans didn’t really pay attention, so the cinematographer, documentarian and sometimes narrative film director Haskell Wexler – who died yesterday at the age of 93 – decided to make this fictionalized movie about it.
Eddie Guerrero (Robert Beltran, LONE WOLF MCQUADE) is an American special forces soldier following up his Vietnam tours with a secret mission in Honduras. He works with Ruben (Tony Plana, HALF PAST DEAD 1-2) to train some soldiers who go over the border into Nicaragua to fight the communist Sandanistas.
Then we meet some of these communists living on a farming cooperative. They are peasant women and teenage boys with AKs trying to defend themselves from the contras who keep coming in, burning their crops and taking their sons, forcing them to join up.
We see how that works: they come into town, spray some bullets around, throw the young men on the ground and tie them up. While they’re there Eddie doesn’t really know what’s up yet, but he wanders into an old lady’s kitchen and gets an earful about his side and how she hopes he dies. He takes one of the tortillas she’s making and eats it, so maybe he’s more of an asshole than we realized. (read the rest of this shit…)
I don’t like to say I have a favorite movie. There are too many great ones that I love for too many equally meaningful-to-me reasons. But if I had to choose one, like if you had to register your favorite movie with the government or something, maybe it would be DIE HARD. I wrote a piece about it before, but that was 16 years ago, I was a different person then, and it’s embarrassing to me. So let me try again.
Many of the reasons I love DIE HARD are self evident. By now most people have caught on to the fact that it’s an extremely well made, ridiculously entertaining popcorn masterwork. The story is so perfect and elemental that it became a template, a name for a reliably entertaining subgenre of action movies. This is a testament to the genius of the setup by Roderick Thorp in his novel Nothing Lasts Forever, its remolding by screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, and its precise cinematic execution by director John McTiernan, cinematographer Jan de Bont, editors John F. Link and Frank J. Urioste, composer Michael Kamen, etc. They crafted a pitch perfect introduction of this character (based around the charm and humor of Bruce Willis) and unrolling of the sinister plot he’s about to crash head first into. And then it escalates into spectacular crescendos – the explosion in the elevator shaft, the desperate leap from the roof and bare-foot-kicking-through of the window – that, in their somewhat grounded context, continue to feel enormous even after movies (including its four sequels) have gotten bigger and bigger for nearly three decades. In retrospect it wasn’t the amount of C-4 but the placement of it that caused the ads to vow it “WILL BLOW YOU THROUGH THE BACK WALL OF THE THEATRE.”
(read the rest of this shit…)