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Archive for July, 2018

Eighth Grade

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

EIGHTH GRADE is a beautifully true high definition close-up on the most awkward of ages. You don’t feel like a kid anymore, but the high schoolers you’re about to be tossed in with seem like adults, and you haven’t even caught up with the kids your own age. If you’re Kayla (Elsie Fisher, a voice in the DESPICABLE ME film saga) you pride yourself on knowing how to conquer life – in fact your hobby is creating Youtube videos giving friendly, positive advice – but really you feel like every single other person knows what they’re doing and you don’t.

The movie isn’t in first person, like I’m describing it here, but it’s almost that intimate. So much of it stays close on her face, the kids around her a little out of focus. From her terrified expressions you can feel her chest about to implode with tension, but you can also tell that nobody notices. They’re off in their own world. They don’t even look at her.

For my money this is an improved grade of WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. It captures the nightmare of social awkwardness without having to exaggerate the ugliness of the world. It’s not mean. It’s real. Sure, there’s cringing, but it’s organic cringing, not pushed-to-the-limit cringing like we enjoy in Curb Your Enthusiasm and stuff. The events are mostly mundane – a birthday party where she doesn’t fit in, a trip to the mall with older kids – but they feel as heavy and monumental as they would at that age. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Monday, July 30th, 2018

On the way home from the new MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE I mentioned to a grocery store checker that I had just seen and enjoyed it. He asked if I was a big fan of “the original series” and as we discussed this I realized that he just meant the other movies. He’d forgotten it started as a TV series until I mentioned it.

This is one of those things as you get a little older, you lose track of how much time has passed. It also happened with JURASSIC WORLD a few years ago. In my mind JURASSIC PARK was an ongoing series that had made it to part 4. But to a whole generation it was holy shit remember that movie we saw in our youth, now a million years later can you believe they’re bringing it back for a new version, oh the nostalgia?

And lately I’ve noticed people declaring the stealth greatness of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series, as if this wasn’t a thing you would be aware of just from watching popular mainstream movies. It reminded me of when FAST FIVE came out and suddenly a whole bunch of critics picked up that those movies were fun. Yeah, no shit. The only other people in on this secret are the, you know, however many paying customers it takes to get a series to part 5. (read the rest of this shit…)

Small Soldiers

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

July 10, 1998

SMALL SOLDIERS is an effects-driven, Spielberg-produced, released-on-July-10th sci-fi movie. But it’s about killer toys (or at least potentially killer toys?) and the hero is a kid and it’s not a CHILD’S PLAY movie (it’s rated PG-13) so I’m not sure it was really seen as a movie for adults. To me and surely many others who saw it the exciting thing was that it was directed by Joe Dante, who hadn’t had a film since MATINEE five years earlier. And with him and Spielberg doing a movie about a young man fighting out of control small things raising a ruckus in a small town, obviously everybody had visions of Gremlins chomping on their heads.

Alan (Gregory Smith, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN) is a maybe 14 year old kid who works at his dad (Kevin Dunn, MARKED FOR DEATH, also in GODZILLA, ALMOST HEROES and SNAKE EYES that summer)’s toy store, one of those ones that only sells wooden blocks and airplanes and shit, nothing based on cartoons or movies (so there’s not an anti-GODZILLA in-joke here). His dad actually has a specific “no war toys” policy. But one day his friend the delivery driver (Dick Miller, of course) has another store’s shipment of new high tech talking action figures called the Commando Elite. Alan thinks they would sell better than Lincoln Logs or whatever and convinces him to let him take a set. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pi (a.k.a. π)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

July 10, 1998

PI might be the most impactful of the summer of ’98 indies, at least in the sense that it introduced filmmakers who continue to be relevant 20 years later. It’s one of the old fashioned, scrappy, less-than-a-million dollar shoe-strings-and-boot-straps indie debuts, by which I mean it’s in black and white. Actually, 16mm high-contrast black-and-white reversal film. Vincent Gallo claims he fired Dick Pope as cinematographer of BUFFALO ’66 because reversal stock was too hard for him, but here’s director Darren Aranofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, two Mr. Nobodies out of nowhere and they know how to use it. I like this kind of look, the grain dancing around, creating shadowy faces. It’s so opposite of how low budget movies usually look now that they’re digital.

Co-writer Sean Gullette (TRAITORS) plays Max, a genius mathematician obsessed with his thesis that “everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.” When he was a kid, he says, he stared into the sun, and this gave him an ability to notice numbers everywhere. He’s fixated on discovering patterns in long sequences, a hobby that first-time director Aranofsky has fun trying to make seem cinematic through fast editing, the cool guy electronic dance music of the era and pre-THE-MATRIX lo res on-screen strings of numbers. Also he figures out how to get some foot chases in there (Max thinks he’s being followed). (read the rest of this shit…)

Armageddon

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

July 1, 1998

“There was some criticism that I made NASA look dumb in certain places. In fact if you heard some of these asteroid theories of what they are thinking of doing, it just sounds asinine.” –Michael Bay

ARMAGEDDON is Michael Bay’s third movie, but in some sense it’s the one where he revealed his true face to the world. There were plenty of examples of his style and character in BAD BOYS and THE ROCK, but it was ARMAGEDDON that first presented the full breadth of his trademarks: awesome awesome macho bros, pretty pretty sunsets, government employees portrayed as insufferable weiners even though they’re in the right, spinning cameras, haphazard editing all over the fucking place, chaotic mish-mashes of explosions and sparks and machinery and debris and smoke and crap, beautiful shots of people in various locations around the world, weirdly hateful characters presented as cutesy comic relief, an army of highly qualified writers seemingly locked in a cage and forced to duct tape a bunch of dumb ideas into the most unwieldy structure they can come up with that has a running time at least 30 minutes longer than the story has earned, and of course an ensemble of talented actors improvising jokes with no regard for any sort of desired rhythm or tone of storytelling. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sorry To Bother You

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is an absurd, inventive new comedy that’s so playful and funny that its acidic satire of soul-crushing capitalism comes across a little more like an inspirational rallying cry than blind fury at a seemingly insurmountable wall of corporate greed and dehumanization. Though it’s that too.

If I was required by law to describe it in terms of movies that already exist, I’d say “low-wage OFFICE SPACE by way of Michel Gondry.” But fuck the law, because it feels like something very new, distinctive and of the moment, from the cast headed by Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson to the soundtrack to even the cool fonts and logos by children’s book illustrator J. Otto Seibold. Stanfield plays Cassius Green (yes, it’s a pun), who lives in his uncle (Terry Crews, STREET KINGS)’s garage until he finds his calling (oh shit, another pun) at a new telemarketing job. I mean, the place is a hellhole on the verge of a strike led by Squeeze (Steven Yeun, formerly of The Walking Dead), but he turns out to be really good at it after co-worker Langston (Danny Glover, PREDATOR 2) teaches him the secret of the “white voice.” It’s not mere code-switching, but a near supernatural channeling of a voice with no worries that he manifests by being dubbed by David Cross (ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS). It’s a broad and hacky joke made almost profound by its layers of subtext and power to creep out his friends and loved ones. (read the rest of this shit…)

Skyscraper

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

We had DIE HARD on a boat and DIE HARD in a bus and DIE HARD on a train and DIE HARD in a hockey stadium and a couple DIE HARDs in malls and DIE HARD on piano and DIE HARD still in a building but not as good with Anna Nicole Smith (called SKYSCRAPER) and now we have DIE HARD still in a building but not as good without Anna Nicole Smith (but still called SKYSCRAPER). Dwayne Therock-Johnson plays Will Sawyer, former FBI agent turned small time security consultant given the huge break of overseeing the opening of the residential upper half of a fictional 225 story world’s tallest building in Hong Kong.

“The Pearl” as it’s called due to a round structure at the top is owned by rich dude Zhao (Chin Han, THE DARK KNIGHT, GHOST IN THE SHELL), who we later find out is being shaken down by some tactical mastermind guy (Roland Moller, ATOMIC BLONDE) whose guerrillas infiltrate and set the building on fire. Will is outside of the building when it happens, but he gets blamed for it and must evade the police THE FUGITIVE style and figure out how the hell to get onto the building because his wife (Neve Campbell, WILD THINGS!) and twins (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell) are on the 96th floor. (read the rest of this shit…)

Out of Sight

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

June 26, 1998

OUT OF SIGHT pretty much struts onto the screen, David Holmes’ funky organ already jamming on “It’s Your Thing” as the Universal logo spins, George Clooney as Jack Foley storming out of a situation that we’ll only understand later, his frustrations underlined by freeze frames, when he spots a bank across the street. And he goes over unarmed, alone, winging it, and robs the place.

Clooney had already become a superstar on ER and proven himself big-screen-worthy in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but it was Steven Soderbergh who taught him to cut down on his trademark head-bobbing and become a real movie star. Wearing a suit I thought I heard somewhere was inspired by Cary Grant’s from NORTH BY NORTHWEST, he manages to charm his poor bank teller victim enough that when he tells her to have a nice day as he’s leaving with the money she reflexively says “You too.”

It’s a small, funny moment, but it’s also important. We have to believe this guy is so damn charismatic that the federal marshal who witnesses him digging out of Lompoc and gets thrown in the trunk of a car with him will fall for him. And Clooney pulls it off. (read the rest of this shit…)

Buffalo ’66

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

June 26, 1998

Look, I don’t want to brag, but in 1998 I was twenty years younger than I am now. I had the youth. The vigor. The open-mindedness and enthusiasm for things that seemed new and different. I had less of the anger toward people who get on lawns – if I had had a lawn I would’ve invited the youths to hang out on it and talk about youth stuff like did you know Lauryn Hill is doing a solo album or what is up with these Furbies or have you heard about this new WB show coming out in the fall they’re calling it “Ally McBeal in college” I don’t think I’ll watch it but it’s something I read about.

What I’m trying to do here is establish why it’s a good thing that in 1998 BUFFALO ’66 seemed like a great movie. I mean, I haven’t entirely turned my back on it. It’s still interesting. It has many positive qualities. But I definitely question it more now.

It’s easy to see what was appealing in that moment. Star/director/co-writer/composer Vincent Gallo plays Billy Brown, a just-released convict who looks like he inspired half the dudes who were in American Apparel ads (I mean, look at that striped muscle shirt). With cinematographer Lance Acord (first feature for the music video d.p.) he shoots scuzzy locations that seem like the stale refuse of the ’60s and ’70s: cracked parking lots, a bowling alley, a motel, a tiny house decorated in Buffalo Bills memorabilia. Chic, magazine ad ugly. I’m actually kind of surprised it’s not in black and white, but the muted color palette is one of its most striking features. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dr. Dolittle

Monday, July 16th, 2018

June 26, 1998

DR. DOLITTLE starts the same way DIRTY WORK did: with Norm MacDonald narrating a wacky story about the main character when he was a kid. But instead of being the main character himself and talking about a dog getting violated by another dog, MacDonald turns out to be voicing a dog named Lucky who later gets violated Jeffrey Tambor. The main character is a live action human played by the voice of the dragon in MULAN, Eddie Murphy.

John Dolittle is a medical doctor with a gorgeous wife named Lisa (Kristen Wilson, who played Robin Givens in TYSON) and cute daughters Maya (Kyla Pratt, LOVE & BASKETBALL) and Charisse (Raven-Symone of later-Cosby-Show fame) and he’s kind of a self-absorbed dick who’s in such denial about having been able to talk to animals when he was a kid that he refuses to even learn what type of animal his daughter’s guinea pig is. It says right there in the title that he’s a doctor, but they still give him the standard issue Workaholic Dad Neglects His Family storyline. His office is working on a Big Merger that would make him rich, and his partner Dr. Weller (Oliver Platt, EXECUTIVE DECISION, also in BULWORTH that summer) is always hassling him because they have to impress Mr. Calloway (Peter Boyle, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, had been in SPECIES II in April) into signing The Big Contract after The Big Presentation. (read the rest of this shit…)