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Archive for the ‘Drama’ 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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Tár

Tuesday, January 17th, 2023

VÉRN ON TÁR

By now if you’re the type of person who would see TÁR but hasn’t seen TÁR you’ve probly already heard that TÁR is good and you don’t need me to sell you on it. It is indeed a great acting vehicle for Cate Blanchett (HANNA), a really smart and thought-provoking character study, and just an all around engrossing, original cinematic experience that doesn’t fit any of the templates of the kind of stuff I normally watch, and is all the more captivating for it. So I would encourage you to go through with it.

It’s written and directed by Todd Field, who we of course know mainly as the actor who played Nick Nightingale in EYES WIDE SHUT, and he was also in EYE OF THE EAGLE 2: INSIDE THE ENEMY, BACK TO BACK, TWISTER and THE HAUNTING. He suddenly became an acclaimed filmmaker with IN THE BEDROOM in 2001, then LITTLE CHILDREN in 2006, and then he disappeared into a puff of smoke until finally returning last year holding TÁR above his head like baby Simba.

Blanchett plays Lydia Tár, famous and respected classical composer and conductor, introduced to viewers as well as a live New Yorker Festival audience within the movie with a torturously long list of credits and achievements. She’s giving a faux-humble-but-clearly-very-impressed-with-herself Q&A, saying all her clever lines and opinions, explaining her interpretations of the meanings of famous musical works, brushing off being the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and being called “maestro” and not “maestra.” The audience loves her. She says she’s experienced no gender bias. Maybe just no other woman in history was ever qualified until her. That must be what it was. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Phantom Carriage

Wednesday, January 4th, 2023

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE is a phantom movie that came well before PHANTOM THREAD, THE PHANTOM MENACE, or even my man THE PHANTOM. In fact it hails from way back in the silent era of film. Obviously 1921 is a long time ago, but it was a little ways into the movie before it clicked in my brain that holy shit this movie is a-hundred-and-one-years-old. That’s, like, pretty old. Trends, hairstyles, etc. have changed.

It’s also Swedish, which is a whole other thing. I’ve watched HÄXAN, THE VIRGIN SPRING, THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and the DRAGON TATTOO trilogy from my Ikea couch while eating Swedish Fish and wishing I had a Dolph Lundgren poster, but otherwise it’s a culture I’m completely ignorant about. Wikipedia describes PHANTOM CARRIAGE writer/director/star Victor Sjöström as “Sweden’s most prominent director in the Golden Age of Silent Film in Europe.” He was such an influence on also-very-influential Swedish director Ingmar Bergman that Bergman cast him in the lead of WILD STRAWBERRIES and got the idea of his most internationally recognizable character – Death in THE SEVENTH SEAL – straight from THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Fabelmans

Thursday, December 8th, 2022

THE FABELMANS is the new Steven Spielberg joint that we can safely call the most personal of his career. At first glance it may seem like just another fictional story about a Jewish kid who makes 8mm movies in Phoenix, Arizona in the ‘50s and moves to Saratoga, California and his mom buys a monkey and his parents split up and he moves to L.A. with his dad and goes to USC and tries to break into the film business, but in my opinion it is not a coincidence that this character “Sammy Fabelman” was born at the same time as Spielberg to a similar family and lived in the same towns and did the same things and had the same experiences. From what I’ve read this is not even a loosely autobiographical story, but a pretty direct one about his childhood and specifically about what he got from each of his parents and why their marriage didn’t work out.

It’s also about him becoming a filmmaker, but those things are related. Just like Batman’s origin story, Spielberg’s starts with a kid being taken to the movies. (Had it not been for that mugger, maybe Bruce Wayne would’ve directed READY PLAYER ONE.) Five-year-old Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-Deford) is in line to see THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH at a theater in New Jersey. He’s never seen a movie before and doesn’t really understand what it is, but he’s scared because he heard something about the people being giant. We get a handy encapsulation of his parents Burt (Paul Dano, TAKING LIVES) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams, SPECIES) in the differing ways they try to comfort him. Burt, a computer engineer, tells him about the projector and the projectionist, the still photos moving really fast, the concept of persistence of vision. Mom, a talented pianist, says it’s like a dream that you don’t wake up from. As Sammy grows up he’ll apply Dad’s scientific brain to his obsessions with cameras, editing and effects technology, and his mom’s artistic soul to everything else. (read the rest of this shit…)

Light of Day

Wednesday, December 7th, 2022

Some time around the mid-‘90s I took a weekly screenwriting class for a while, and the teacher loved Paul Schrader. He seemed to bring him up in every class. The guy who wrote TAXI DRIVER. The guy with the strict Calvinist upbringing. Eventually he had us watch a Paul Schrader movie, and he chose LIGHT OF DAY – the one where Michael J. Fox plays in a rock band with Joan Jett. I had seen it before and I didn’t dislike it but I thought it was a weird choice to represent Schrader. I think maybe the teacher hadn’t seen it yet.

But, you know, after THE CARD COUNTER last year and finally watching LIGHT SLEEPER this year I was kinda high on Schrader and thought it might be worth going back to this one to see if there was something I was missing. Well, no, not really, but that’s okay. It’s not in the vein of those ones I just mentioned and it’s not as powerful or as distinctly Paul Schrader, but I don’t think anybody else would’ve made exactly this rock ’n roll movie.

I used to think of it as corny because it’s a rock star acting and a sitcom star rocking, but what’s cool about it is that it’s thoroughly working class. It’s about a band, but it’s never about the record label guy is coming to the showcase and it’s their big chance and they write a hit and they get the cover of Rolling Stone but then it’s the pressures of fame or whatever. No, they’re just a small band that plays at a little tavern in Cleveland called the Euclid (“the Euc” for short) and they try to keep that gig or set up a small tour or play in a different band that will pay better. They do pull a pretty good crowd for the size of the place, but they’re not famous. Nobody knows who they are. And they gotta have jobs. (read the rest of this shit…)

Monday Morning

Tuesday, December 6th, 2022

MONDAY MORNING (1990) is the only movie written and directed by the producer Don Murphy (NATURAL BORN KILLERS, DOUBLE DRAGON, BULLY, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, TRANSFORMERS). I’ve been kind of fascinated by him since his furious all caps attacks on people for saying the wrong things about his productions on AOL message boards back in the Hyborian Age, so when I saw that a movie he actually directed came out on disc from MVD Rewind I got curious.

It was actually his USC thesis film, but he managed to sell it for release on VHS under the title CLASS OF FEAR. They promoted it like an exploitation movie, but it’s more of a corny drama, almost an After School Special. It does not show many signs of directorial vision that I could pick up on, but maybe Murphy deserves credit for recognizing that and going into producing instead. I’m not gonna hold it against him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rhymes For Young Ghouls

Tuesday, November 29th, 2022

RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS (2013) was the first of two features by writer/director Jeff Barnaby. I didn’t know about him until I saw his really good 2019 zombie movie BLOOD QUANTUM, at which point I was excited to follow this new director who was around my age and seemed real interesting in interviews. Tragically that was his last film – he died of cancer last month. That’s a real damn shame, but I encourage you to check out his small body of work. He’s got a real interesting perspective as a guy whose politics grew from seeing some shit growing up in the Mi’kmaq reserve in Quebec, but his genre influences taught him to make movies from that point-of-view that are entertaining, not strident.

While BLOOD QUANTUM is straight forwardly Barnaby’s take on the zombie post-apocalypse genre, this one is something more distinct. It’s kind of a small time crime tale, set (like BLOOD QUANTUM) in a fictional reservation called Red Crow, but in 1976 (the year Barnaby was born). Reservation Dogs star Devery Jacobs (credited here as Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs) plays Aila, a teenager who has been running the family weed business since a drunk driving accident killed her brother and mother and put her father in prison. (read the rest of this shit…)