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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The Banshees of Inisherin

Monday, February 6th, 2023

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is last year’s best picture nominated movie from writer/director Martin McDonagh, and I think my favorite from him so far. (The other best is his debut IN BRUGES, and he also did SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI). This one is set in 1923 in a small island village of Ireland, and concerns the simple topic of two old friends after one of them decides they shouldn’t have any contact with each other anymore. It’s not in response to some specific action, it’s a decision to redirect his life, and a rejection of the value of spending any time with this other person. It’s a sad movie and also a really funny one. Since it didn’t make me cry, despite my middle age status as an easy crier, I say it’s more funny than sad. You may disagree.

The rejected party is Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell, DEAD MAN DOWN), who opens the movie in comical obliviousness, walking into town saying hello to everybody he passes like it’s a damn Disney movie. There’s even a rainbow. But when he knocks on Colm (Brendan Gleeson, TURBULENCE)’s window Colm won’t acknowledge him, and later at the pub won’t sit with or talk to him. And after some pushing Colm tells him the friendship is over. (read the rest of this shit…)

Infinity Pool

Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

When I first encountered the trailer for INFINITY POOL I spotted Mia Goth, who gave one of my favorite performances last year in PEARL, so I knew I would be seeing it. Then I noticed Alexander Skarsgård, star of one of my other favorite 2022 movies, THE NORTHMAN. And at the end I learned it was the new one from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, whose 2020 film POSSESSOR really knocked me on my ass, so this was a first show opening day kind of deal for me. And it lived up to my hopes.

It’s the story of novelist James Foster (Skarsgård, 13, BATTLESHIP, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, GODZILLA VS. KONG) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman, STEP UP REVOLUTION, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON) on vacation at a resort in the exotic foreign land of Latoka. It’s a beautiful place on the sea, but it’s creepy – fenced off with guards, tourists aren’t allowed to leave, so the closest thing to visiting the locals is going to restaurants in the resort’s fake downtown area. James is already thinking he was an idiot to believe this trip could break his six year lack of inspiration since publishing his one obscure and poorly reviewed novel. (read the rest of this shit…)

Women Talking

Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

WOMEN TALKING is the new best picture nominated film from writer/director Sarah Polley, who is minor-key beloved as an actress for people around my age (THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, GO, EXISTENZ, DAWN OF THE DEAD, SPLICE), but these days is more known as an acclaimed filmmaker (she directed AWAY FROM HER, TAKE THIS WALTZ and STORIES WE TELL). Now I’ve finally seen one of the ones she directed, and it lives up to her reputation. It’s based on a novel, but I would’ve guessed it was based on a play, because it’s one of those stories with a really concise but heavy-duty set up to put a top shelf ensemble of actors into a limited location (in this case a hay loft) with much to discuss, debate, and decide. Kind of a 12 ANGRY MEN deal, except there’s very intentionally only one man with a speaking part in the whole movie. And he’s way more sad than angry.

Canadian author Miriam Toews wrote the novel as a “reaction through fiction” to a real thing that happened in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia. So bear with me – this is awful. In an isolated religious colony (here seemingly in the U.S.) women and even young girls have, for some time, been waking up bruised and covered in blood as they have been repeatedly knocked unconscious by cow tranquilizer and then raped. For years they’ve been told by the elders that they imagined it or it was the Devil or a ghost or a punishment from God or all that kind of bullshit. But before the movie begins our young narrator Autje (Kate Hallett) and her friend Neitje (Liv McNeil) caught one of them running away, they got him to name the others, they were arrested and taken to jail. The men of the colony have gone to the city to bail them out, and given the women 48 hours to forgive them, or they will be excommunicated. Can you believe that shit? (read the rest of this shit…)

Geostorm

Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

I guess time flies, because I’ve kind of wanted to see GEOSTORM since it came out, and I didn’t realize that was more than five years ago. It’s the theatrical feature directing debut of Dean Devlin, former writing/producing partner of Roland Emmerich. Devlin wrote the script with Paul Guyot (two season 2 episodes of something called “Felicity”; also Chow Yun Fat’s assistant on THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS).

In my household Mrs. Vern is the fan of disaster movies. The best ones make her giggle. She loves the broad stereotypes, the corny speeches, the cataclysmic destruction, and especially the montages where different countries set aside their differences to save the world together. Unlike me she likes INDEPENDENCE DAY, but she’s not one of the people who considers it to be an actual well made blockbuster movie. She just finds it a little more hilarious and alot less annoying than I do. So she’s the reason we saw and got a kick out of 10,000 B.C. and 2012 in the theater and MOONFALL on video. I skipped THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and she still gets excited and explains to me what’s happening when we come across it on cable. So although I would like to take credit for reviewing this as part of some post-PLANE Gerard Butler study, it’s really because she spontaneously decided the time had come to watch it, and I agreed it was a good idea.

Butler plays Jake Lawson, the chief architect of a web of climate-controlling satellites built through international cooperation in the futuristic year of 2019. Nicknamed Dutch Boy (a term I really got sick of hearing), the system successfully neutralizes climate-change-exacerbated weather events. (read the rest of this shit…)

Babylon

Monday, January 30th, 2023

There’s a surprising amount of shitting, pissing, and puking in BABYLON, the bawdy fictionalized-early-Hollywood period comedy-drama from writer/director Damien Chazelle (writer of THE LAST EXORCISM PART II). It opens with hard-working studio assistant Manny Torres (Diego Calva, Narcos: Mexico) trying to impress his bosses by helping organize a crazy mansion party/orgy, and he has to figure out how the fuck to get a rented elephant up a hill. While pushing the way-too-small truck, the elephant gets spooked, and the wrangler (Jimmy Ortega, “Sicario #1,” SABOTAGE) is graphically showered with feces from above.

I appreciate that it’s a surprisingly JACKASS way to kick off a movie some had purported to be Oscar bait, but it’s narratively odd. It must be intended to establish the lowest-of-the-low start to Manny’s career in the movie industry, but he doesn’t seem to get any on him, so it kinda seems like stolen valor to me. Shouldn’t the wrangler be the one getting the meteoric rise? Oh well. Maybe that’s the sequel.

This party scene could be a short film unto itself, and it introduces each of the characters whose ups and downs we’ll be following throughout the movie, chief among them Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN), an aspiring starlet from New Jersey who’s not on the guest list, but Manny takes pity on her and sneaks her in. She peer pressures him into doing a line with her and they have a vulnerable moment that will connect them for life, sharing their Hollywood aspirations. (read the rest of this shit…)

Emily the Criminal

Thursday, January 26th, 2023

Aubrey Plaza is funny. I first saw her in FUNNY PEOPLE, and then I knew her for years as April on Parks & Recreation. She seems hip for a sitcom star, and for a decade and a half has been able to oscillate between mainstream comedies and indie movies. The one that gave me a new level of respect for her was INGRID GOES WEST (2017), a dark squirm-inducer where her titular character moves to L.A. to try to become friends with her favorite Instagram influencer. It’s a very layered character and performance, but it’s a funny one. She’s funny.

What’s surprising about Plaza in EMILY THE CRIMINAL is that she’s completely engrossing without being funny at all. She makes one or two bitter jokes, but this is a gritty, very grounded crime drama. Those withering looks of disgust she gave as sullen teen April Ludgate have evolved into more mature and considered looks of contempt for the system, and humanity, and all this bullshit. (read the rest of this shit…)

Step Up: Year of the Dance (a.k.a. Step Up China)

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

STEP UP: YEAR OF THE DANCE (a.k.a. STEP UP CHINA) is a Chinese production developed by Lionsgate as an official entry in the STEP UP franchise, though it’s not connected by any characters. It was released in China in 2019 and apparently here (digital only) in 2020, but I didn’t find out until recently. I watched the English-dubbed version that’s on Tubi because I wasn’t sure if the VOD release would be different. (That’s not the ideal way to watch it, I imagine, but I got over it.)

My podcast friend Michael Scott of Action For Everyone shares my love of the STEP UP series and the dance movie genre, and we’ve talked about doing a STEP UP episode some day. He always says that dance movies are martial arts movies, and this one really literalizes that notion. It actually starts with a fight, and has more of them later, and the central dance crew find their success by starting a fad of “kung fu street dance.” So it makes sense that YEAR OF THE DANCE is directed by the great American stunt veteran and martial artist Ron Yuan, who you’ve seen in many movies including DOUBLE DRAGON, BLOOD & BONE, THE ACCOUNTANT and THE PAPER TIGERS, and who recently directed BLADE OF THE 47 RONIN.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Blade of the 47 Ronin

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

You know me – I’ve always been fascinated with DTV sequels. One of their endearing qualities is that their modest budgets allow for a different type of crass commercialism than regular Hollywood – they try to cash in on familiar (or even unfamiliar) titles that would never fly on the big screen. That gave us the miracle of the UNDISPUTED sequels, but mostly just stuff where it was funny that it existed – loosely connected followups or branded rehashes of CRUEL INTENTIONS, WILD THINGS, ROAD HOUSE and HOLLOW MAN, for example, many of which I reviewed for The Ain’t It Cool News at the time.

Thanks to Universal’s direct-to-video division, 1440 Entertainment, that tradition is still going strong, and arguably making a comeback. Back in the aughts they brought us SCORPION KING and DEATH RACE sequels, they revived Chucky in the great CURSE OF CHUCKY, they started making JARHEAD sequels for some reason, and brought to life such unlikely part 2s as THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2, KINDERGARTEN COP 2 and HARD TARGET 2. In 2018 they even made a DTV sequel to UNBROKEN, that war drama directed by Angelie Jolie, and in 2019 they did BACKDRAFT 2, INSIDE MAN: MOST WANTED, DOOM: ANNIHILATION and UNDERCOVER BROTHER 2. That last one I tried to watch because Michael Jai White is in it, but I gave up when his character went into a coma near the beginning. Still, I appreciate its existence because it keeps me on my toes. It reminds me that any movie, no matter how old, no matter how forgotten, no matter how how-the-fuck-would-you-make-a-sequel-to-that, could suddenly have a DTV sequel. And it would already be filmed and have cover art by the time I found out they were doing it. You gotta be aware at all times. (read the rest of this shit…)

Vesper

Monday, January 23rd, 2023

VESPER is a unique 2022 sci-fi movie that just came out on video. I never heard of it before but it looked cool, so I rented it. And my hunch was right – it was cool, so now I’m telling you about it. That’s how it works.

It’s a gloomy but hopeful small scale post-apocalyptic tale in an interesting reality. It features dystopian wealth disparity in the tradition of LAND OF THE DEAD, ELYSIUM or FURY ROAD, but in a world that seems a little more influenced by NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND. At some point in the past there was an ecological crisis, and scientists tried to stave it off with genetic modification, but that backfired. Man-made viruses and plant species spread across the world, wiped out many people and animals, and made the earth useless for growing edible crops.

No problem. Word is oligarchs get to live comfortably in strange structures called citadels, even having manufactured clones called “Jugs” as their loyal servants. But we stay with the poor as they try to survive out in the mud, trading scarce commodities to the citadels for seeds that the fuckers genetically modified to only yield one harvest. Like copy protection. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Woman King

Thursday, January 19th, 2023

THE WOMAN KING has an irresistible hook that made it a hit: Did you know there was an all-female military regiment in 1800s West Africa, “THE MOST EXCEPTIONAL FEMALE WARRIORS TO EVER LIVE”? Now that you do, wouldn’t you like to see them kicking ass on screen, fighting off the invading “Europeens,” with Academy Award winner Viola Davis as their badass leader?

For me the answers to those questions were no, I don’t think I did, and yes, of course I would. I meant to see it in theaters, but I missed it. Reviews were mostly positive, but I remember them seeming a little subdued. Maybe I misread them, or maybe they wanted it to seem more like a Very Important awards season type movie to really get behind it. I think it has plenty of substance to it, but director Gina Prince-Bythewood (THE OLD GUARD) doesn’t treat that like the main attraction, and she shouldn’t have to. There’s a precedent for crowd-pleasing historical action dramas winning best picture, but BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR could pass for highfalutin without having to address any issues, you know? They just had to make a rousing speech about bravery and killing a motherfucker, nobody expected them to say something deep about the world’s problems. (read the rest of this shit…)