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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Gas Food Lodging

Thursday, August 4th, 2022

“Women are lonely in the ‘90s. It’s our new phase.”


July 10, 1992. Future Grammy-winner “Baby Got Back” had just hit #1 on the Billboard charts, questioning Eurocentric beauty standards in American culture and allowing Seattle’s best known rapper to perform on top of a giant fiberglass ass. In arguably more feminist news, we have our third woman-directed movie of the summer (following POISON IVY and A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN).

GAS FOOD LODGING* is another one from IRS Releasing (RUBIN & ED, ONE FALSE MOVE), and it’s the sophomore film from writer/director Alison Anders, whose debut BORDER RADIO (1987) (co-directed with Dean Lent and Kurt Voss) had been nominated for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. This one’s loosely based on a 1971 young adult novel called Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt by Richard Peck, but it fits pretty well into this period of American indie cinema when Anders’ future FOUR ROOMS neighbor Quentin Tarantino hadn’t arrive yet and directors were more influenced by her former boss Wim Wenders (she was a production assistant on PARIS, TEXAS). It’s about two sisters growing up with their single mother in a mobile home in dusty (fictional) Laramie, New Mexico, and doesn’t try to bullshit you with much more of a hook than that. That’s what Anders is interested in. (read the rest of this shit…)

A League of Their Own

Thursday, July 28th, 2022

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (which opened against BOOMERANG on July 1, 1992) is a very nice and pleasing mainstream period sports comedy-drama from director Penny Marshall (JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH). It’s a fictionalized version of one of those true life historical events you hear about and think “Yep, that’s a movie” because it reads so much like a high concept movie pitch: during WWII, when so many American men were sent to fight overseas, some enterprising baseball executives started the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to keep the sport in the public eye. Though they endured all manner of sexist indignities (like being forced to wear skirts and pretend to fit various feminine stereotypes) they also were good at what they did and took their shot to show it off.

Geena Davis (FLETCH) and Lori Petty (CADILLAC MAN) star as Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller, small town Oregon sisters who run a dairy and play catcher and pitcher on a softball team. One day a scout named Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz*, THREE AMIGOS) attends a game and wants Dottie to try out for the A.A.G.P.B.L. She’s happy with her life and uninterested, but agrees to go if he’ll give Kit a shot too. (read the rest of this shit…)

Top Gun: Maverick

Tuesday, May 31st, 2022

Well, the crazy sonofabitches did it. They made a 36-years-later-part-two to TOP GUN. Tony Scott had actually developed a script and scouted locations before he died. Eventually the duty fell upon Joseph Kosinski, who had previously directed Cruise in OBLIVION (2013) and who ushered in the age of legacy sequels with the 2010 smash hit cultural sensation TRON: LEGACY [This review’s factual accuracy is disputed].

I gotta admit that I was unreasonably excited just to hear the electronic beat of Harold Faltermeyer’s TOP GUN anthem over the production company logos – I love that synthesized gong sound – and it’s kind of comical how much they mine that type of nostalgia at the beginning of this movie. The original opening title card, the original theme, “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, similar footage of jets landing on an aircraft carrier – is this just gonna be a re-enactment?

Then we reunite with Captain Peter “Pete” “Maverick” “Mav” Mitchell (Tom Cruise, THE MUMMY), fittingly working as an experimental test pilot. He dons his old patch-covered leather jacket and aviators (both kept in places of honor as if he understands their iconographic significance) and rides his motorcycle very fast to the hangar. (read the rest of this shit…)

Only the Brave

Monday, May 30th, 2022

Before TOP GUN: MAVERICK, director Joseph Kosinski did a movie with a few of the same actors that did not receive as much attention. Released in 2017, ONLY THE BRAVE is the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite fire fighter crew in Prescott, Arizona specializing in clearing fire-fueling plants and starting controlled burns to cut off the spread of wildfires. Warning: the story is tragic, and this is a crier. But it’s a great movie.

It’s technically impeccable. As on his previous movies TRON: LEGACY and OBLIVION, Kosinski has Claudio Miranda as his director of photography. Miranda also shot THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON and LIFE OF PI, so obviously he has chops. I don’t know what amount of pyrotechnics vs. cg they use, but many fire scenes are much more convincing than THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (though I liked that movie). It’s a high level of filmmaking craft, but the thrills and adventure and shit are honestly backdrop for a story about people, with uniformly strong performances and very effective characterization in the script adapted by Ken Nolan (BLACK HAWK DOWN and, uh, TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT) and Eric Warren Singer (THE INTERNATIONAL, AMERICAN HUSTLE, an episode of Æon Flux) from the GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn. (read the rest of this shit…)

Night on Earth

Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

“Like Popeye says, ‘I yam what I yam,’ right?”

 

On May 1, 1992, Fine Line Features released Jim Jarmusch’s NIGHT ON EARTH on a mere 40 screens. By comparison, LEAVING NORMAL was released to 362 screens on the same day, and nobody ever heard of that one. But this was a well marketed limited release – I knew NIGHT ON EARTH existed, and in fact went to see it on one of those 40 screens, specifically the one that was upstairs at Seattle’s Harvard Exit Theatre (1968-2015).

This is Jarmusch’s fifth film. It’s possible I’d seen STRANGER THAN PARADISE and DOWN BY LAW already, but I suspect I rented them after seeing this. (I know I’d never heard of PERMANENT VACATION and saw MYSTERY TRAIN later.) So I may not have realized that by his standards it was kind of commercial: in Winona Ryder (who had BEETLEJUICE, HEATHERS and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS under her belt and was about to do BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) he had his biggest movie star to date, and despite its simplicity it sure seems to have a bigger budget than his previous films, since it’s filmed on location in four different countries. (read the rest of this shit…)

Benny’s Video

Thursday, February 24th, 2022

BENNY’S VIDEO (1992) is a disturbing psychological drama about a teenager whose fascination with violent videos blooms into actual sadistic violence. And you know how it always seems like parents have no idea what their little brats are up to? Well, when this kid’s parents find out about it they don’t have what most would consider a healthy or ethical response. The movie is very dry and unnerving, well made, and easy to read as a judgmental statement by someone who’s completely full of hot air – all trademarks of writer/director Michael Haneke’s early work. I don’t mean to diminish his filmography as a whole, which mostly does not deal with this theme of violent media’s connection to real violence. But this is his sophomore film, coming three years after his acclaimed debut THE SEVENTH CONTINENT and five years before the similarly themed FUNNY GAMES.

It opens with real video footage of a pig being killed with a bolt gun. After it dies, the video rewinds and replays in slow motion. As with FUNNY GAMES, I got the feeling Haneke was saying, “Isn’t it disgusting that you sick fucks watch this shit that I put into a film and advertised and encouraged you to watch?” But in the case of FUNNY GAMES, I gotta concede that I would indeed watch violent movies like that on my own accord. I would not have purposely sat down to watch a video of a pig dying. So you definitely don’t have the high ground on this one, professor. (read the rest of this shit…)

For Love of the Game

Monday, January 24th, 2022

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I said to you that day in the condo.”


Okay, we have now come to the one “Wait— what?” of the Raimi filmography. His MUSIC OF THE HEART. We saw him completely switch up his style for his last movie, A SIMPLE PLAN, and it was obviously very different and more “normal” than anything he’d done previously. But it wasn’t totally out of the blue for him to make the leap from horror to dark suspense thriller. It had some overlap with the crime films by his friends the Coen Brothers, and it had a great role for Bridget Fonda, who had previously done a cameo in ARMY OF DARKNESS.

But for the love of God, where did FOR LOVE OF THE GAME come from? The answer he always gives is about the only answer possible: he likes baseball, he liked the script, he wanted to try something different. I knew that was what it was but I always figured it would be worth watching some day. “Some day” came 22 years after it was released (now), and I’m actually surprised that the only Raimi I noticed in it at all was Ted Raimi in a cameo as the doorman at a party. I figured there would at least be some cool shots of baseballs flying. The premise is that maybe-about-to-retire Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner, SIZZLE BEACH, U.S.A.) reflects on his failed relationship while trying to pitch a perfect game. You’d think there would be some attempt to experiment with different ways to show a pitch on film, as THE QUICK AND THE DEAD did with gun duels. But it’s not that kind of party. (read the rest of this shit…)

Being the Ricardos

Wednesday, January 5th, 2022

BEING THE RICARDOS is a straight-to-Amazon movie, the latest from playwright turned TV show creator turned screenwriter turned director Aaron Sorkin. It tells the story of one week in the lives of ‘50s sitcom icons Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, when a radio show had reported on Ball registering to vote as a communist in 1936, and they went ahead preparing an episode of I Love Lucy thinking their careers might be over.

Because this is Sorkin, and a movie, it’s about how a beloved American icon could’ve been taken down by the red scare, but it’s also about the nature of comedy genius, the struggle for artistic freedom, workplace dynamics, and marital strife. Sorkin piles on the separate events of Lucy telling the network she’s pregnant and of discovering Desi’s infidelity, leading to the end of their glorified-on-television marriage. I spent the whole movie thinking “These couldn’t possibly have happened in the same week, could they?” and of course no, they did not. (He also changed which episode was being filmed.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Make It Happen

Tuesday, December 21st, 2021

As you know, I sometimes enjoy the dance movies. So when I was preparing my review for KATE a while back and realized there was one starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, I knew I had to see it.

It’s called MAKE IT HAPPEN and it’s about a young lady who tries to make it happen. It came out in 2008, when Winstead had just done DEATH PROOF and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD and was about to do SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. She plays Lauryn Kirk, a small town Indiana dancer who dreams of going to a prestigious dance school in Chicago. It’s the standard “Ever since Mom and Dad died…” situation: her and her older brother Joel (John Reardon, WHITE CHICKS, FALLEN, later “Young Kevin Flynn / Clu [body double]” in TRON LEGACY) only had each other and are very close and he’s overly protective of her. They run their dad’s garage, with her working as bookkeeper, but she’s going to Chicago to audition for the school, and he’s in denial that she might really be leaving.

Of course, the auditions are hard, and she fails to impress the openly snobbish admissions guy (Gordon Tanner, HOME ALONE: THE HOLIDAY HEIST). To be fair, her standard hip hop moves don’t seem impressive, but he really should be more friendly when giving her the terrible advice to be “softer, more sensual and feminine.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Flashdance

Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

If all you care about is plot, FLASHDANCE isn’t very good. There’s not much to it, just two central threads, both lightly sketched. First is the story of a talented young dancer who wants to apply to a ballet academy, but believes that her modern style will be rejected by snobby gatekeepers. We’ve seen so many more detailed variations on that theme in BREAKIN’, STEP UP, CENTER STAGE, STREET DANCE, etc. that this doesn’t seem like much.

The second thread is a romance between her and her boss, who’s twice her age, is completely transparent that he’s interested in her because he saw her do a sexy dance, is not particularly hot himself, keeps hitting on her after she says no, pisses her off by secretly using his connections to get her an audition she wanted to earn, and is forgiven without ever doing anything to make amends. At best, you understand her having a fling she’ll regret later, and hope she broke it off within the week. It’s hardly a romance for the ages.

And yet I kinda loved FLASHDANCE, because it feels like every other thing besides the plot goes above and beyond. In the case of the cinematography it goes above and beyond and loops back under and then goes above again. It’s Donald Peterman, who had shot WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and a couple others. He later became Ron Howard’s guy (SPLASH, COCOON, GUNG HO, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS) and Barry Sonnenfeld’s guy (ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES, GET SHORTY, MEN IN BLACK) and he did STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME. Okay, I’m not sure what to make any of that, but he also did POINT BREAK, and that’s an impressive credit. (read the rest of this shit…)