Tuesday, September 19, 2017

10 for 10: the "Old Things" edition

[10 for 10... that's 10 movies which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie or TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of half-remembered scattershot thoughts? Surely that's doable?   ]

This time on 10 for 10...it's old things...things from my childhood or older.

1. The Maltese Falcon (TCN) - 1941, d. John Huston
2. Spartacus (most of it, anyway...grr PVR/TCM) - 1960, d. Stanley Kubrik
3. Ladyhawke (Rip) - 1985, d. Richard Donner
4. Atlantis: The Lost Continent (TCM) - 1961, d. George Pal
5. House (TCM) - 1977, d. Nobuhiko Obayashi
6. Panic in Year Zero (TCM) - 1962, d. Ray Milland
7. The Ice Pirates (TCM) - 1984, d. Stewart Raffill
8. Grey Gardens (TCM) - 1976,  d. Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
9. Romancing the Stone (netflix) - 1984, d. Robert Zemeckis
10. Breaking Away (netflix) - 1979, d. Peter Yates

...and go...

---
Sigh... I don't know how many times I've seen The Maltese Falcon, and yet I still don't really remember it.  It's a famous film, one of those revered pieces of cinema that people still bring up quite often, and yet, it never really sticks in my brain.  It wasn't even that long ago that I watched it.  A few months back maybe.  There's some noirish spy stuff going on, and Bogart in his quintessential PI role.  But what the hell.  Do I need to Wikipedia this for a refresher?  That's going to eat into my writing time...
...
...
Okay, back... yeah, Dashiell Hammett adapted, that great scene with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre...man, Lorre was just so great in everything, wasn't he.  Such a unique presence.  Man, still not remembering the particulars.

What may make The Maltese Falcon so great is it's forgettableness.  I remember being fully engrossed in the film while also not recalling a single thing about it even though I'd seen it a few times before.  So what could be better than a fully engrossing noir that is just as engaging the fourth time you watch it as the first, just as surprising?

Really, I'm just filling white space here.  I have nothing to say about this of value.  Moving on.

[7:46]

---

Oh, Spartacus.  Epic Spartacus.
You know, I bought a rather pricey Stanley Kubrick blu-ray collection a few years back (it was on a cheap one-day sale from Amazon) and it didn't include Spartacus.  Now of the films in that collection, I'd only seen maybe 2/3rds, so there's still some fresh watching (as well as some intense re-watching) to do, but the one film I wanted to see most of Kubrick's was Spartacus.  I wound up PVR-ing it off Turner Classic Movies, the channel that keeps on giving, and waited for the right time to set aside two and a half hours to watch it.

That Kubrick fellow sure knows how to make a film don't he?  There's such a masterful lens happening in every one of Kubrick's films, such precise shots, such immaculate execution.  Everything has its right place.  It's like staging action figures for a photo shoot, each detail pristine, only these action figures move, and emote like mad.

I didn't realize there was such depth to the Spartacus story, how tied to civil rights and religious persecution it was.  For some reason I was just thinking "gladiator epic", like Ben Hur or Gladiator, but no, it's just an epic in the truest sense, the kind of bloated 1960s film that requires patience, attention, and an intermission for sustenance and relieving one's self.  It's a long-ass film is what I mean.

It's at once engaging and tedious, really taking its time to sit in its scenery and establish its setting.  It draws an audience in, and is perfect for the theatres where people go to escape, and be held captive by an experience.  It's a shame then that its score is so damn overbearing.  It's amazing how a control-freak director like Kubrick could allow a soundtrack to so dominate the aural atmosphere.  It's a great, difficult film, but the score at times makes it unpleasant to watch.

My viewing of the film was cut short by a mis-classification of run-time by TCM, so the PVR cut it off after the 150 minute mark and there was still 1/2 hour to go.  Without a copy in my Kubrick set, I'll just have to wait until TCM runs it again to catch the finale.

[19:52]

---
This poster is somehow both iconic
and really, really awful


I have a distinct memory of going to a birthday party around age 8 or so and part of that party was sitting down and watching Ladyhawke.  I also distinctly remember getting very bored, very quickly and going into another room and playing with the birthday boy's G.I. Joe figures while they watched the movie.  Even at 8, I found fantasy direly boring.  I was a Star Wars and superheroes kid.

About two years ago the wife and I got talking about childhood movies and this came up as one that she'd like to see again.  Having had the aforementioned distinct memory, I thought maybe I would find a used DVD copy somewhere for 5 buck or less and we could watch it.  Well, dammit if Ladyhawke isn't one of the hardest-to-find movies on DVD...not just used, but new too.  So, long story short, we got a downloaded copy from a friend (see what happens when you don't make your catalog available Movie Studios?) and, well, thank god I didn't pay for this.

I'm not sure who thought this soundtrack was a good idea, but this sub-par Jethro Tull synth bullshit kills the film, to the point that I can't see it for what it is other than a janky fantasy movie with an atrociously unlistenable score (seriously, it's worse than Spartacus' times infinity.  Just listen to this and tell me you want to have anything to do with the movie that accompanies it...

[29:57]

---

Man, what to say about this pile of utter mediocrity.  Atlantis: The Lost Continent was made in the early '60's but has that 1950's flavour all over it.  It's old fashioned and goofy, with an utterly simplistic take on romance that is so persistently laughable.  These kinds of lower-tier genre movies from that era were all about funky sets, big ideas and special effects (no matter how bad).  Most wind up being just as bad as this one.

A fisherman finds a woman washed up on shore.  Turns out she's the princess of Atlantis.  The fisherman returns her home, only to be enslaved.  He then leads the slave rebellion.  Atlantis is destroyed, and he returns home with the princess.  I mean, stuff sort of happens in between but that's about the gist of it.  It's as uncomplicated as that.

 The film starts with a narration which establishes a grand scope for this film that it doesn't even try to live up to:
http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1279905/Atlantis-The-Lost-Continent-Movie-Clip-A-Series-Of-Mysteries.html
It's a series of mysteries about how disparate populations across the glob have such weird similarities, intoning that Atlantis is the missing link between these...and yet this concept is never approached again.  Oy.

The sets and minatures are the money shots for films such as these, but they're unimpressive. George Pal has a history as an effects wizard, but in the director's chair, this is a much lazier affair.

[39:38]
---

Oh my god, House.  What the hell do I say about House.

As unintelligible as movies get, House is.

It's effectively a live-action anime, but done with all the craft low-budget 1970's Japanese Cinema could provide.

Somehow House has taken on cult status.  I get most cult films, generally like most of them too, but sometimes they're just too outre for me.  Like this one.  After about 40 minutes I couldn't take it anymore and watched the rest of it in fast forward.  I mean yeah, it's bizarre AF, but it's also nonsensical AF.  I think if I watched Anime, like, at all, it might have been more entertaining as I think House is both an homage and a lampoon of the cliches of 70's Japanese cartoons.

So much soft-focus melodrama and flashbacks and melodramatic flashbacks, horror that's not really horrific so much as it's just weird and goofy (utterly laughable at times) with a soundtrack that is part Looney Toons, part novelty album.  The girls all have odd names (Gorgeous, Prof, Melody, Kung-Fu etc) but they don't seem like nicknames, such an anime trope.

There's nothing scary or horrifying about this movie, except the amount of time you'll lose watching it.  Good lord, man, why.  Why does this exist?  This is a film that is a test of patience (says the guy who could sit through 18 hours of Twin Peaks: The Return] and offers very little in reward.

[49:52]

---

Looking back over 50 years ago, we see what we see now, an obsession with the end of the world.  We've been fretting over the end times since the start of time.  Societies would panic that eclipses were the end of the world.  Religious leaders would predict doomsdays that would never happen.  The Rapture is a perennial favourite, hopefully keeping the flock loyal and in line.  In the 50's and 60's (and 70's and 80's...oh and 90's up through today) we're still pretty paranoid about the whole nuclear holocaust thing.

Panic in the Year Zero (which totally seems like something different if you write it as Picnic in the Year Zero as I keep doing for some reason) finds a family heading out of Los Angeles with a trailer in tow on vacation only to have some strange events occur around them.  Soon they catch wind of the fact that LA has been nuked, and the family desperately tries to find solace and sanctuary in the midst of the chaos.  They find themselves in desperate scenarios, doing things they can't believe they're doing (mostly it's just writer-director Ray Milland in the lead role doing these things, but compared to the young punks, he's still acting saintly.

As far as end-times movies go, this one is rather light on the grim realities of societal collapse, because it was the 1960's and the true horrors of human nature were best suggested then, not visually realized so literally on screen, like they are today for all the dum dums who wouldn't get it otherwise. Enough happens that it's like a lite version of, well, every one of these types of movies since, from Night of the Living Dead through to It Comes At Night.  Panic is actually quite watchable, if thin, and of course, too patly resolved as was expected at the time.

[59:58]

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Woof.

There are some gems in 1980s sci-fi that never hit it big, but have their own distinct flavour and style that makes them more and more intriguing as they age.  Films like Lifeforce or 2010 or Dune are well-executed effects extravaganzas that have failings elsewhere but are still wonders to behold.  Ice Pirates so wanted to be that, but man, is it awful.

Water is scarce and tightly controlled so our heroes shanghai and rob transports, stealing their ice, when on one mission they manage to kidnap a princess.  From our first look of the utterly horrendous models of the poorly designed, poorly constructed, poorly shot spaceships to the hinky special effects, to the absolutely atrocious costume design, it's mere minutes before one realizes how stupendously crappy this movie in (let's not forget seeing an alien on the toilet...never forget).

The film tries for high-spirited pirate adventure attitude, but never commits fully to the premise.  All the actors are game in their roles. Bob Urich, Mary Crosby, Angelical Huston, Ron Perlman, and Michael Roberts all try to sell the hell out of this just atrocious, poorly visualized, shoddily constructed movie.  I have to give it to the film though that it does come up with a pretty spectacular (at least conceptually) final battle sequence where everyone's life accelerates at an astonishing rate (not just aging, but moving through moments in their life) as they fight for whatever it is they're fighting for.  It's a fun sequence, though still utterly campy and badly done.

There's a good movie here somewhere...concepts are sound, but man this is not the way to do it.  If there were a big budget modern remake, it's very possible a good space-comedy-pirate-adventure movie could come of it.

[1:11:23]
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I've heard of this movie a number of times, quite often referenced in comedy as a "Grey Gardens" situation.  This is a documentary film about two relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a mother-daughter duo who Edie and Edith, who live together in utter squalor in an otherwise highbrow Long Island estate, dubbed Grey Gardens.

Modern television has covered troubled personalities like these ad nauseum. Turn on any episode of Hoarders, and you will see Edith Bouvier Beale.  Only Hoarders and its kin tend to exploit the lower class in their exposition of mental health disorders, while Grey Gardens is a look at the troubled upper class (not that Edie and Edith are upper class any longer).

It's a captivating film, piecing together the status of Edie and Edith's relationship. Who is dependent on whom?  At first it looks like Edie was dragged down into Edith's squalor, but it quickly comes around that that they're both enabling each other in their dire situation.  Edie is constantly talking about her former suitor, all the boys who asked her to marry them, all the men who her mother scared off.  Edie still has a sense of glamour about her, having been a part of the upper crust, but it's trashbag glamour now, as she tries to conceal all that she dislikes about herself, and deflects any of her known issues on her mother.

Edith, meanwhile, revels in the past, of her life as a singer, and is constantly singing in the 1920's-style warble that is like knives in the ears but was popular at the time. Edie often joins her, when she's not telling her to shut up.  They live in one room of the manor, cooking on a hot plate, eating out of cans.  Cats are everywhere, having the run of the house which is one sneeze away from being condemned.

As I said, fascinating.  But as much as this film could have been exploitative, one becomes very concerned about this duo, and Grey Gardens and the Edies history is extensively documented online.

[1:22:51]

---

Oh my god, I watched another Robert Zemeckis film.  I had sworn off of his movies after...what was it called?  What Lies Beneath perhaps?  I dunno.  There's not another director whose films grate on me so cloyingly and consistently.  I just can't with him, I just can't.

But then there's Back to the Future.  That's a (mostly) great trilogy.  It has its problems, and its Zemeckis-isms, but it's (mostly) great.  Same with Romancing The Stone.  It's such a Spielberg-lite film, and yet how can you not just get behind Kathleen Turner's romance novelist-turned-action hero Joan Wilder?  I mean she writes novels about women who long for a roguishly handsome, dashingly complex man-of-action to rescue them from their boredome (or whatever perilous situation she devises) but even after meeting Michael Douglas' Jack Coulton (fitting the rogue bill to a tee) as she tries to navigate the Columbian jungle in order to pay her kidnapped sister's ransom, she's the one who leads, fights, and figures out the solution to her problems.  Jack's more support than savior. 

It's unexpected, such women's liberation even from a film in the 1980's.  Today there's still a need for heroic female leads, but certainly far more movies with tough heroic women come out these days than ever before.  But its refreshing to look back and see from time to time a Ripley or Joan Wilder, a woman doing it for themself.

[1:31:41]

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Man doing these 10 for 10 things are a slog.  I'm exhausted, and so unenthusiastic about Breaking Away, a perfectly decent and enjoyable coming-of-age film, that I kind of just want to leave it at that.

This is a film about a kid obsessed with Euorpean bicycle racing, and about his friends, and his family in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana.  It's a well-stocked cast, with young Dennis Quaid,  young Daniel Stern, young Jackie Earle Haley, and Paul Dooley as the dad, all working to deliver a very fine light drama about growing up in a town where the educated class and the working class are often in conflict.

There's not a tremendous amount of serious drama, and the comedy is sparse, but it all works together for a gentler teen movie than your Fast Times or Dazed and Confused or Superbad.  It's kind of a template for the John Hughes era of teenager movies in many ways, though less quotable for sure, but essential viewing for fans of this genre.  For a film from the late 70's though, it holds up tremendously well.  The themes of belonging and worrying about the future are kind of timeless.

The big bicycle race that the film leads up to is a hot mess, though, logically and practically.

[1:41:04]


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

2017, James Gunn (Super) -- cinema

I have decided that each cinema viewing will never get relegated to the "3 Short Paragraphs" nomenclature, whether I have more or less than three paragraphs to say about the movie.

If you recall, I wasn't a huge fan of the first one. And no, that is not the typical passive aggressive way of saying I didn't like it; its just that, not a huge fan. The best thing about the movie is that it generated a lot of conversation between Kent and I. In his own write up, he says it best, "it was just the condensed, Reader's Digest-light version of what felt like it should be a much longer story." I have seen it half dozen, half paying attention times on Netflix since; I have softened to it, more enjoying bits than the movie as a whole.

But surprise surprise, I really completely fell into this one.

Where the first one introduced the characters, letting them save a planet from a Big Bad, and established themselves as the self-named Guardians of the Galaxy, this one picks up with them hiring out on that name. In a brilliant opening sequence, where Baby (but growing up!) Groot does a dance number to E.L.O. while the team (badly) fights a toothy alien monster in the blurry background, we are reminded to smile when we watch this movie. James Gunn wants us to have a good time.

If they didn't really save the galaxy in the first, they do this  time round. This is a truly grand scale movie, that doesn't just explore Peter Quill's mysterious past (why was he taken from Earth) but also shows how this team will fit well into the cosmic story coming. Even if we accept that the characters are not their mega-powered counterparts from the comics, they show they can hold their own against cosmic powers here.

<spoiler>Do I really have to say this now?</spoiler>

And that cosmic power? Ego, the Living Planet. Yup, Peter's dad was a god (small 'g') who wandered around the galaxy impregnating aliens. Based on his name (apt) and his attitude, I wouldn't be surprised if he stuck with planets where he could be male, and could be portrayed as a handsome example of such. Ego's life-force is tied to the planet of his origin, whereas his humanoid body is just an extension, as he desired to understand these beings that were everywhere.

He reconnects with Peter, dialing into Quill's desire to have familial connections, a past and a family. That is why I connected with the movie; because of the emotional quotient it allowed itself to have. From Peter and his dad, to Peter and Gamora exploring what they have, to Rocket and his anger, to Gamora and Nebula and finally, shifting Yondu and the Ravagers from background characters, to the forefront. In case you don't know, Yondu is actually a member of the original Guardians, in the comics. There was just so much emotion in this movie, and that roped me in.

I also found that Gunn balanced the humour and the action better in this one. I found that the humorous elements were more extensions of the way the characters would really act, instead of funny bits to make us chuckle. The way Rocket deals with the Ravagers was pure Rocket, and of course, Groot is always am Groot.

Its funny, where Kent saw this one as the lesser of the two, I saw this as the better. I think they were able to dispense with the setup the first required, and just dive into the characters and their dynamic. That didn't require them to be together the entire time, but when drawn together for the final battle with Ego, they all worked together like the dysfunctional machine they are.

And and and, Ego had legit, fleshed out motivations for his properly galaxy wide actions. So, this time they really guarded the galaxy from a proper super villain.

P.S. Would someone explain to me why rainbrow brite colours are so prevalent in this one? Why is the galaxy so neon?

P.S.S. What's wrong with a Zune? I love mine. But really, Peter just needs to get over it and visit Earth properly to grab an iPod and someone's external HDD with thousands of songs.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Here Alone

2016, Rod Blackhurst (Alone Time [short]) -- download

I didn't realize, until I began to recall this movie for the writeup, that it sunk rather thoroughly into my psyche. For the past few months since I watched it, I have had a recurring half-awake morning dream. In it, I am living alone in an Airstream trailer near the shoreline of the Bras D'or lakes where I grew up. Its an isolated spot, always shrouded in mist, in a rural area where few lived, even before a zombie apocalypse depopulated it. Its not so much a zombie dream, as it is a living entirely alone dream, a hermitage kept tense by the ever present chance of either the murderous walking dead, or other people who may want what you have. This movie was all about that mood.

Ann lives alone in the woods, after escaping the fast-zombie-probably-not-undead plague that has destroyed the world. She escaped with her husband and infant son, but they are not around. Key the memories of those tragic events. She scavenges from surrounding homes, through the woods under the fence and across the fields, but not before covering herself in filth (her own filth) to mask her living human scent. This is one of those indie introspective movies, something my own story vignettes always seem to degrade into, less about the zombies than it is about a woman alone with her loss. It is interrupted, as it has to be, by her bumping into a man and his teenage step-daughter and making the choice to hide & protect them.

The Road set the stage for all further post-apocalyptic movies about isolation and loss. In much the way this one sunk into my own brain, there is something in ever social humans, that must always consider what it would be like to be forced to live alone. The poignant bit that this movie tries to make, is that it is sometimes harder to choose to return to the world... well, what is left of the world. Ann lost everything that was dear to her, but that shouldn't force her to end her life. The problem is that while the point of the movie is very apparent, it isn't presented well enough for us to really care. But it was a decent effort, that atmospherically captures the idea if the acting and plot couldn't.


Friday, September 15, 2017

20/20: #20 The Tick

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20-ish days...
That went well.]

2017, Amazon Prime - 6 episodes

The Tick comic book, when it emerged in, I want to say, 1989? was an underground success, to the point that Tick comics have been in continual creation ever since (though largely as a series of mini-series with sporadic publishing dates).  The Tick cartoon emerged in 1994 on Saturday morning Fox programming, and was a moderate hit with kids, but likewise a moderate hit with the college crowd.  I came to Tick with limited exposure through the comics and cartoon, but was fully on board with the Barry Sonnenfeld-produced, Patrick Warburton-starring live action the Tick in 2001, which, unfortunately, didn't even air all its episodes before Fox gave up on it.  It's had a healthy existence on DVD, which is more than I can say for the cartoon (where only 2 seasons have been released domestically, and even then each of the seasons is missing at least 1 episode).

Still, the Tick is kind of evergreen, it's a sort-of satire of superhero comics, but also just a straight-up lighthearted superhero tale.  It's never all that serious and it's genuinely fun.  Both my kids, with a 7-year-gap between them, love the Tick cartoon and they get it when my wife and I make casual or offhanded references from the show.  While the Tick is no Spider-Man or Batman or Mickey Mouse, the character and his strange, weird world have penetrated popular culture, and will continue to do so so long as its small and loyal fan base continues to dig what it dishes out.

The latest the Tick live action series from Amazon Prime certainly fills that need, but changes the scope of how the Tick has typically operated.  For the most part, in any media to this point, the Tick has been largely episodic, with self-contained stories and little narrative through line, but this run, which reunites the character with its creator Ben Edlund as showrunner, is servicing televisions modern, binge-minded nature. 

Arthur is, as he often is, the central focus, the grounding point. Here he's fleshed out as having some psychological disorders, anxiety and the like, which his sister Dot has made it her mission to keep in check.  Most of this stems back from childhood, where Arthur witnessed the super-villain the Terror force his favourite superhero team's ship to crash land on his dad, and then murder the super team in front of him, and then eat his ice cream.  Decades later Arthur is obsessed with the Terror, believing that he faked his own death, and spending most of his spare time looking for clues to his existence and whereabouts.  On one stakeout, he meets the Tick, and at first is unsure whether the Tick is a product of his own psychoses, or if he is actually the Tick, or if the Tick is indeed real.  He's very surreal, whatever the case.

The first episode was produced as part of Amazon's annual pilot projects, and was popular enough to be greenlit.  Nearly a year passed between the pilot and production of the remaining episodes but it's fairly seamless with the one major exception being the drastically different, and vibrantly bluer look to the Tick.  In the pilot the costume on Peter Serafinowicz is meant to evoke an insectoid feel, and a bit more of a natural sensibility, but going into production they wisely made him more flashy, bulkier and vibrant, more fitting with his place in the show.

The main thread of the 6 episodes has to do with Arthur and the Tick bonding, all while establishing the tremendous cast and their relationships with one another, and seeding in a bunch of background items, like the "Dinosaur Neal" analogue in "the very large man".  It's a darker version of the Tick, more cynical, more violent, plenty of swearing, but the Tick himself remains virtually unchanged.  From comics to animation to both live action, the big, blue dope has been fairly consistently written, exceptionally altruistic, equally oblivious, and utterly high spirited.  The endless enthusiasm Tick exerts would be exhausting if it weren't so amusing.  Here the Tick is used sparingly, perhaps too much so.  I really craved more and more Tick as it went on.

I've loved Serafinowicz since first really noticing him in an episode of Black Books, he's got an amazing charm and presence and I've enjoyed absolutely everything he's done, from Big Train to Spy to Guardians of the Galaxy to the little seen Will Arnette series Running Wilde.  That said, I was worried about him as the Tick... but then I shouldn't have been.  With incredible comedic timing and instincts, as well as a penchant for mimicry, he's able to replicate the Tick from the cartoon almost perfectly (a hint of his Britishness cuts through from time to time) but with his own panache to it.

Sure the effects are Janky and it's not as bizarre as the cartoon, but it remains boundlessly entertaining.  My biggest complaint would be the season is just too damn short.  Just like the last live action version of the Tick, I just want more.






Thursday, September 14, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Life

2017, Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) -- download

This is one of the long list of current movies I should have seen In Cinema. But, I am just Not That Guy Anymore. I am not the one from Ottawa who saw every movie that was in the theatres at the time. I am not the one from Ottawa and Montreal who loved the rep cinemas and their collections of older well-loved movies, the crowds who were often more fun than the movie choices themselves. I am not even that guy who created the blog with Graig Kent, because we were strolling out to film fest movies, and genre premieres and arguing over drinks about why a movie was great or greatly terrible. I am now that guy who just wants the couple behind me to shut the fuck up, that the old guy to my left to just turn off his fucking smartphone and the audience to just generally settle in and watch the trailers. So, I don't get out to The Movies as much as I used to, and often when I do, I am not sure I really wanted to.

Life is one of those movies where the paranoia of extra-terrestrial life being a killer alien is proven accurate. The ISS is awaiting the return of a probe from Mars, which has a sample of soil that could and does contain dormant, amoebic life. You know, safe stuff that we can observe under a microscope in a box with those gloves. Of course, it immediately grows bigger and after they zap it a few times, to inspire life, it gets hostile. And bigger, and more hostile. From a plot, its been seen a dozen times. Kill it, before it kills all the astronauts on the ISS.

What makes this movie, and I am not sure how they got them all in there, are the stars. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, and some recognizable B's like Rebecca Ferguson (the spy in the yellow dress, from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and Hiroyuki Sanada ("that Japanese guy"), make this an enjoyable cast in a C-grade movie. Ryan is Rory Adams, playing a typical Reynolds likable asshole. Unfortunately he is first to die; I guess he got some good money to do a short bit. After his death, the rest of the movie is about containing the homicidal giant amoeba while maintaining the protocol that, should it escape, they are to sacrifice themselves before letting it get to Earth.

[added 9 hours later?]

Bonus Paragraph: Oh oh oh, I completely forgot to add in why I actually thought I should have seen this in the theatre. One of the tag lines for this movie was Alien meets Gravity. Its not exactly accurate as it is pithy, but its an apt description. Gravity just looked good, from all the tech space mashup stuff to the beautiful use of lighting; this movie does a enthralling job of envisioning an active ISS and crew.  I love that kind of stuff. From the Alien point of view, its less xenomorph than it is The Thing with its amorphous blob creature doing all sorts of "where the fuck is it" shit. And all of this just fits better on a large screen, in a dark dark room. Alas, I know that I would have had to find a time when nobody else was watching (which shouldn't have been hard, considering it bombed) to truly enjoy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wonder Woman

2017, Patty Jenkins (Monster) -- cinema

Wonder Woman was the only good thing about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Sure, Batfleck looked good in the suit and visually the movie is stunning, but did not like it. I did like this movie, a lot, but not quite to the level of love. I did not jump on the hype chariot.

In the last movie's write up, I mentioned that DC needs its Marvel-like setup movies; standalone flicks that will lead is to the Justice League movie. If anything this movie, set in World War I, is its Captain America: The First Avenger. Its not just the war angle, but also being a period piece means they have to deal with the idea of an absence of superheroes. They also have a magically influenced, mad Nazi commander with super science experimentation going on, and they even have a colourful cast of soldiers, giving Diana her Howling Commandos. But stealing a base plot idea doesn't actually lessen the movie.

Steve Trevor comes along as the extraneous male lead, to introduce Diana to the world outside her island paradise, the world of Man, the world of strife, violence and pain. In a lot of ways, all the male European and American characters in this movie are extraneous. They exist to lead fish-out-of-water Diana through Europe and the war, so she can do her super powered best to surpass their efforts.

I have to admit, I was not entirely drawn into this as the Ideal Feminist Movie. Sure, we have a female director leading a movie with a powerful, capable female lead character who entirely holds her own. Maybe I was expecting more, maybe I was more convinced that the Hype Machine is much too crafty these days, playing on people's desires for something to be better than it is. When the Machine says, "Finally, a movie comes along that is...." I ask, "Is it really all that?" I think we need a movie that is more than Female Director, Female Lead for this to be the Best Thing Evah. Maybe from the context of superheroes, this is where we needed to go but I am not sure. Convince me, please.

But I did like this movie a lot.

Gal Gadot looks so good in the outfit, and I am not talking sexy (she is that, though) but powerful. This version of Wonder Woman, whom I really know mostly from the cartoons, with sword and shield, is a powerful figure. She stands up to bullets and bombs like they weren't there. We know this isn't a wholly Amazon thing, as many of her sisters died on the beaches under the guns of Nazis, but she carries off her role as the premiere Amazon living weapon quite well. Those slow-mo's that so many people dislike, I rather enjoyed, as she broke guns into shards, knocked Nazis senseless and deflected bullets like so many  hornets.

And I hate hornets.

P.S. Kent and I need to really focus more on the model of this blog, which is that we Disagree, but we do agree on this one.

20/20: #19 Sleeping Giant

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20-ish days...
Finishing it off strong...]

2015, d. James Klopko - The Movie Network
This poster is a little dramatic, and doesn't
sell the film well at all.

I grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  It's a remote city of a little over 100,000 people at the westernmost point of Lake Superior in Canada. It's the hub of an area of Canada known as "Northwestern Ontario", but despite being a "hub" it's still in many respects very isolated.  I used to refer to it as being "8 hours from nowhere".  An 8 hours drive east gets you to Sault Ste Marie, 8 hours west is Winnepeg, and 8 hours south is Minneapolis.  (Canada is so vast we conversationally measure distance in travel time more often than Kilometers).

Growing up a bored kid, interested in artsy things like writing and drawing, comics and film, I found Thunder Bay to be a crippling place to live.  If you're outdoorsy, which I'm not, there's no shortage of things to do all year round, but if you like music and culture, it was quite lacking in the 80's and 90's.

As a teen it seemed obvious that Thunder Bay was not on the map.  We weren't represented in popular culture in any way (our biggest name export was Paul Shaffer - he even name checked T.Bay in a commercial he starred in - and there's always a bit of an ado around the fact that Neil Young lived there for a brief time), to the point that I can think of only two instances where I saw Thunder Bay in a scripted film or television show: Bruce McDonald's Highway 61 and the TV movie Calendar Girl, Cop Killer: The Bambi Bembenic Story.  The former only references the town, really, while the latter did wind up in Thunder Bay where the fugitive Bembenic holed up, it did not shoot in town.

So Sleeping Giant is a bit of a big deal... an actual movie shot in the area, referring to the peninsular mesas that look like a giant laying on its back that is a core symbol of Thunder Bay.  The city itself isn't used, and only one aerial shot of the city is actually seen.  The film takes place a half hour outside of Thunder Bay in Shuniah, a remote, cottagey area I've never actually been to.

The film follows the lives of three teenage boys.  Adam has just moved to the area, although his family had visited there frequently.  Nate is a long time resident, living with his grandmother, and Riley is his cousin who visits every summer.  Nate is a loudmouth, can't stop talking.  He's a provoker, fond of goading, chiding, cussing people out...he would be offensive if any of it was expressed with any real emotion, but the truth is clear...he's bored.  So he smokes, he drinks, he gets high, he eggs houses, sets off firecrackers, jumps off cliffs into superior, throws rocks at animal carcasses...all too typical teenage boy stuff.  He says, half-jokingly (or perhaps not) that he wants to be an astrophysicist, but whether it's learning disability or attitude he's failed math twice and he's all too aware of how far out of reach any of his dreams are.  Riley quite happily tags along with his cousin, and seems to have no real desire to do the things they get into, but no reticence either.  Adam is quiet, gentle, and not really into most, if any of Nate's shenanigans, but he and Riley made fast friends, and, well, he's bored so he'll follow them anywhere.

Each of the three boys shares equal screen time, though I would say Adam gets a bit more of the focus than Riley or Nate.  There's a lot unsaid in the film, but also a lot inferred.  Adam is a confused kid, having learned that his father is having an affair he becomes somewhat obsessed with his dad's mistress, and likewise he obviously has strong feelings for Riley that he doesn't quite understand.  When Riley starts dating Adam's long-time friend Taylor, a girl both his dad and friend are trying to push him into doing something more with, he doesn't know how to feel.  He's angry and hurt by both of them, though clearly it's Riley he's longing for more with.

This isn't a story of kids in Thunder Bay, because they aren't in town. There's no real landmarking happening, so I was never pulled out of the movie, though it really did take the first hour for the drama to escalate into something quite engaging and meaningful.  The deliberate pace of the opening hour works well to establish the boredom and the friends-by-proximity nature of remote living.  Even if you don't like someone, even if you wouldn't consider them a true friend, you still hang out with them because they're there, and better to spend time with a shitty person than be alone with yourself too long, right?

The film captures that essential feeling of isolation, of remoteness, and what it's like to grow up in it.  Without things to do, without structure or engagement, and without exposure to other ways of life, it's easy to get self-destructive.  Nate is the most self destructive, because he's always where he is.  Riley escapes back to his own life when summer is over, while Adam is from elsewhere...he's seen another life.  Living with his grandmother it's too easy to interpret Nate's troubles stemming from a lack of parental guidance ("If I had a kid like me..." he muses).

Sleeping Giant is not a unique film, in the sense that there's been dozens upon dozens of indie films about teenage boys coming of age over a summer, and it's Northwestern Ontario-ness is sadly only slightly prevalent (as I think the script is trying to be more broadly relatable by not invoking too much local flavour) but it's a remarkably well acted film, and it has a sincere, grounded depth to it that a lot of other films of its kind ignore in favour of more Hollywood-like showy and manipulative character and plot turns.  If you can get past the fact that teenagers really, really suck, then it's a great film that gets into some of the reasons why they suck to much.

----

PLUG
I should note that an old friend has written a new book set in Thunder Bay, crossing dual timelines of 1994 and 2004.  To be reductive, it's a Canadian High Fidelity (High Fidelity being my favourite book, that's high praise indeed).  It's called To Me You Seem Giant by Greg Rhyno. I'm only one and a half chapters in, but I'm already right into it.

Quote:
You know that song Neil Young sings about a town in North Ontario and how all his changes happened there?  I always wanted that song to be about Thunder Bay, but it's not. Thunder Bay isn't the kind of place you write a song about.
Now, this is an awesome statement, because it's so true.  Except for the fact that Rhyno has written songs about Thunder Bay with The Parkas and now a book.  So it's filled with irony at the same time.  I love it.

Go get it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

20/20: #18 Westworld

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20-ish days...
20/20 : Established, July 17, 2017.]

1973, d. Michael Crichton - TCM
What a poster though...

I had this book as a kid about Science Fiction movies.  It was a hardcover book with a slipcover that had E.T. on the front.  It was a book that I don't think I ever read cover-to-cover, but I flipped through every page countless times.  At one point, I started crossing out the films I had seen in the index at the back.  I need to dig out that book, wherever it is, and have another look, because I must be getting pretty close to having seen every picture featured in there.

If there was one film in that book, though, that I had minimal desire to see, it was Westworld, if only because I didn't start really getting the appeal of westerns until I was in my early 30's.  I mean a science fiction movie where people go on vacation in a western setting where the denizens are robots, but you know, not robot-looking-robots, but people who look like people but just play robots being people... nah, that wasn't for me.

Now days, obviously, the reinterpreted, thought provoking Westworld is not only awesome, but one of the best things on television (both David and I agree) so when I saw the original Westworld was coming up on one of Turner Classic Movies rare genre nights, I made sure to PVR that sucker and watched it the very next day.

What's most apparent about the vintage Westworld is how underdeveloped it is.  That's not just in comparison to the rich emotional and complex philosophical layers not to mention the (SPOILER) multiple timelines (/SPOILER) that add a resonant depth to the first season of the HBO series, but compared to any halfway decent action/sci-fi movie.  Old-timey Westworld is atrociously thin on character development, to the point that the "protagonists" (James Brolin and Richard Benjamin) are just two guys on vacation.  There's no real personality, or backstory, or reason at all to give a crap about them as they explore the Westworld theme park and all the pleasures and excitement it represents.  They have shootouts with robots, and they have fistfights with robots, and they have sex with robots, and they ride horses (are the horses robots?), but when the theme park's central computers start acting up, turning the robots homicidal, I mean, it's foreshadowed from minute 5 of the film when the advertising voice keeps telling us how perfectly safe it is.

We get glimpses as Medieval Land and Roman Land too, checking in with other passengers that came in on the same train as Brolin and Benjamin, but they're even more thinly developed.  There's also most curious cutaways to Dick Van Patten, in a largely silent role, that I suppose are intended to be comic relief, of the schlubby guy trying to have fun but getting foiled by his own modest clumsiness.  Take that dork!

The film takes us behind the scenes too, into the base of operations for the trio of theme parks, where we're made aware of the first signs that things aren't going right.  Decisions are made as to whether to keep things going or shut down, and obviously they make the wrong decision, but things also escalate from zero to murder in the matter of one day, so they didn't really have a lot of time to act.  When they get locked in their control room, which for some reason is air-tight, well, they all die, and again they have no personality, so we don't really care all that much.

This is more "proof of concept" than a film. It took almost 45 years, but eventually it yielded exceptional results (or rather, director-writer Crichton recycled the basic premise, but used dinosaurs instead in 1990 and that was a bit better realized...or Yul Brenner's gunslinger robot's influence on the Terminator franchise).   One standout aspect of the film though is a rather incredible score (give or take the odd mis-cue, like the hackey bar brawl), which I think the Exploding Head Movies podcast should cover (if they haven't already).

20/20: #17 Sausage Party

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20 days...hee hee...
...almost there!]
Suggestive wiener

2016, d. Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon -  The Movie Network


My appreciation for the output of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg has been pretty vast [note to self: fill in links to Rogen-Goldberg productions below], even their lesser efforts are still like A-level Kevin Smith films (you know, instead of the typical B- or C-level Kevin Smith film).  There's a crassness to any Rogen-Goldberg screenplay, but also some genuinely original wit, an idea to explore, a stance on that idea, and some solid execution.


I resisted seeing the hard R-rated Sausage Party in the theatre mainly because the trailers made it out to be strung-together sequences of cheap innuendo and even cheaper visual gags starring anthropomorphic, foul-mouthed food.  Not really my thing.


Yet, after seeing the thing (on an app on my phone, you know, the way movies are supposed to be watched), I can't help but be somewhat impressed, even if, for the most part, I found the film's humour cheap, crass, and obvious.  What impressed me so much was the lingering feeling that I had afterward, that if you took out all the sexual innuendo, all the swearing, and the big orgy scene, you have at its heart a Pixar movie (at one time, pre Cars 3 or The Good Dinosaur, comparing an animated film to a Pixar effort was high praise, and it still is, but it just means a little less now).

add legs+pull out focus = less suggestive
Sausage Party's core story is about belief, and the nature of belief.  In this world, food in the grocery store has created a mythology about the great beyond, the world outside of the store.  It's their heaven.  Of course, there's division amidst the food aisles about what exactly is there in the great beyond, but the core belief in something greater exists.  But when a food item is returned, he details the horrors he witnessed, the gnashing, masticating horrors of the outside world.  Frank (a wiener) takes it upon himself to try and educate the masses as to what awaits them, but ultimately the truth falls upon the deaf ears of the food already committed to their beliefs in spite of any evidence.


There's other stuff too, like Franks love for Brenda (a hot dog bun) and the accidental creation of a juiced-up adversary, the Douche (the second time Nick Kroll has played a character with that name, see also Parks and Recreation), but that nature of faith, of belief is an unexpected and fairly strong underpinning for a stupid dick-joke movie.


I enjoyed the film's playful sense of logic, how it negotiates the world of food and the meta world food inhabits.  It would be insane if all our food had emotions and feelings and thoughts and wants and desires like it does here...I mean, this could have easily been a vegan/vegetarian screed but it almost advocates that eating any food is murder.  There's shades of Toy Story for sure, while one sequence emulates the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan amusingly.  It's not going to be for everyone...hell, it's not really even for me, and yet I'm glad I saw it.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

2017, Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) -- cinema

For months before the movie, a coworker who guesses at my pop culture enjoyments, kept on asking me about the movie and sending me the latest trailers and clips. I often responded with squee-s. He guessed this was my kind of movie, a big flashy space opera full of aliens, spectacle and over the top heroics. He was right. Of any movie of the summer, this was my only real blockbuster.

Valerian is based on a big french comic book. No, I haven't read it, beyond a few intro pages via a website. It makes me regret not having mastered basic french reading so I could have bought those big, hard cover books from that little store on the Plateau when I lived in Montreal. The Big Science Fiction of the European variety always attracted me, and not just the rampant nudity (though to my younger self, that helped) but more the scale. The worlds, that I know best from artist & creator Moebius, were so much larger and grander than anything America created. You can easily see how Lucas was inspired by these stories, in his bid to create Star Wars. Beyond the direct lifting of many elements, you can see how he came to the big, robust galaxy for his own world, by way of this comic.

By way of the opening credits, we see how this far future was established by Earth and its diplomats. As alien, after alien visits Earth, the various (and unified) nations welcome them into orbit. As hundreds of years are depicted, visit after visit, one cannot help but notice that very few of the welcoming dignitaries, diplomats or leaders are women. Again, the future is white and male. Le sigh. But all these visiting aliens lead to the establishment of Alpha, the City of a Thousand Planets, which pushes itself out into deep space to allow mother Earth some gravity peace.

We are introduced to young & beautiful Valerian (Dane DeHaan; Chronicle) and Laureline (Cara Delevinge; Suicide Squad) agents of the human based government that protects and runs Alpha. So, to get it out of the way, the miscasting of these two is a weight the movie can almost not carry. To say that Delevinge is the better actor of the two already says a lot, but whoever thought DeHaan with his perma-adolescent appearance and reptilian visage could be the Han Solo / Buck Rogers / Flash Gordon analog is laughable. I was never once convinced he was capable or as appealing to others, as they (he himself?) continually say he is. Alas, who cares -- the movie works without them.

The two are tasked by the government to bodyguard Commander Arun Flitt (Clive Owen) during a summit convened to discuss a danger that lies at the heart of Alpha. Aliens attack, kidnap the Commander and the two make chase. That's the core plot of the movie, rather uncomplicated and direct. The plot as to why there was a kidnapping is familiar, but leads to some later thoughts.

In classic Besson style, the movie is more about the dressed up setting, than the simple, direct plot. From the intro (to Valerian & Laureline; there are a couple of intros in this movie) we are shown a magical, scifi world of virtual market places and countless aliens. From the intro where we are shown a full CGI alien paradise that is destroyed by crashing space ships, we get some utterly stunning world building background. And via the run through the various alien environs that make up Alpha, Besson gives us more aliens than the Mos Eisley cantina. I loved every moment of every background. But the movie kept on interrupting it by having the two stars interact.

Seriously; about half way through the movie we are supposed to believe charming rogue Valerian is now in love with his subordinate agent Laureline -- rich, independent and utterly oblivious to Valerian's charms. But of course, then she begins to fall for him. Is it unbelievable because she is a bad actor or because he is so utterly unconvincing as a love interest? I don't know.

**Spoilers**

The climax of the movie reveals that Commander Flitt was the leader of the human (Alpha) forces that allowed the planet we saw in one of the intros be destroyed. Only a few of these Avatar style space elves escaped to become the kidnappers. There has to be something being said in that a space faring government, originating from Earth and claiming its own centricity in the universe, begins by wholly excluding women from its ranks, and continues by utterly ignoring an entire planet of intelligent beings, to win a war... or even just a battle.

I am not sure I truly believe Besson plotted the movie that way, but I like to ponder it, as Kent knows I often do with movies. It might even explain why the utter vacuous Valerian is so high a rank, and his Sergeant seems to be just a pretty girl from a well place family. Perhaps his own commentary on how casting has to be done in Hollywood, where the young, white elite still rule to this day? Nah? Well its worth hoping for...

Also, two performances of note. Rihanna plays a doppelganger sex slave Bubble which is one of the most enjoyable sequences. Valerian rescues her from brothel owner Jolly (Ethan Hawke) partially because he doesn't like the life she has led since being sold to Jolly and partially because he can use her to rescue Laureline. Again, something to be said about the less than heroic nature of our leading man. And Hawke himself as Jolly is hillarious Besson standard. Like Gary Oldman in Leon or Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element, this is an over the top character, so much fun to watch, as annoying as he is.

Kent also saw...


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Get Out

2017, Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele) -- cinema

My word of the week is (was, when i started writing this) "dumpster fire" and that pretty much describes the current race relations in the US. In many ways, Canada is not much better but we tend to think we are, because we are generally better at keeping our mouths shut. But in the recent years dispensing with all sense of what can be said (i.e. freedom of speech) vs what should be said, a lot of closeted bigots have opened their gaping yaws. And note, I haven't even mentioned Donald Trump despite him making it an American Way to think in this manner.

So, bravo, complete and utter hoo-rah for Jordan Peele to come along with an utter chilling story of a black man in a very scary white situation. His is a very very skilled horror cum thriller story, but its brilliance is in how it relates the political situation going on currently. As a Average White Guy, I felt completely and utterly uncomfortable watching this movie, which was entirely intentional and appropriate.

Chris (black) is being taken by his girlfriend (white) home to see her parents, her very rich parents in The Country. The introduction is all about this discomfort. Has she told them he is black? How will they react? Are they stylishly not-racist or just good at hiding their feelings? All the conversation bits happen, including the idea of a very urban kid heading out to spend a weekend outside the city. He's uncomfortable, we're uncomfortable and the only one not is her. She is very very confident it will all work out and that Chris will enjoy his weekend. Alarm bells!

The trip along the country road sets the tone. A bigoted cop cannot help but demand ID, and the over protective girlfriend intimidates the also white cop into backing down. Chris is just not happy to be there, instantly regretting his decision to step outside his comfort zone. Again, I am twisting and turning in my seat. Once they arrive at the house, things just continue to get weirder as the over-compensating parents (ultra hippy Catherine Keener and The Cabin in the Woods Bradley Whitford) mix scenes with "but they were hired by the grandparents" black servants. Chris begins to wonder if he is in a horror movie.

That's the thing, this is not trying to be an ultimately original horror movie. The scares from guessing what is going on and feeling complicit. Oh fuck, oh shit, they really are going down that road !! This is not a slasher movie where Chris will be first to die. This is all about, and only about Chris. Peele knows who his audience is, both white and black, and plays it up for them. He also knows the tropes and pop culture elements of horror movies, and devises a self-aware movie that both plays on the best aspects of them.

I know how I reacted as a typical white male. But I am curious as to how the black audience reacted. Was it ground breaking for them? Over the top? Too moderate? Just another horror movie? In the end, the experience is very personal, very based on your own experience, which I believe is what Peele intended.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

20/20: #16 Twin Peaks: The Return (second half)

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20 days...
...two in one day!]

2017, d. David Lynch



I was pretty high on Twin Peaks: The Return in my review of the first half, having watched it all in a rather brusque 2-day binge-fest.  At the time of writing had decided to wait and stockpile the remaining 9 episodes, as I felt that the binge watch made the slower parts less painful and the intriguing parts had better payoff.

Well, I couldn't wait.  I would up watching episodes 10 and 11 back-to-back, but went pretty much week-to-week from therein, and man it was not only an infuriating experience but I've gone from loving it to almost bitterly loathing it.

The tangential nature of the show, the means-nothing asides, the Audrey Horne diatribes, the seemingly endless Dougie Jones escapades, the awkward line readings, the cheesy effects, the just bum-fuckery of it all got to me.  When you don't immerse yourself in it, the corniness and rudderlessness of the production constantly slap you in the face, jarring you out of the reality the show/movie has built for itself.

Twin Peaks: The Return is a behemoth, David Lynch's 18-hour art-house experiment that has allowed all his childhood influences and directorial impulses manifest, seemingly at random.  You can tell there's a solid story in the through lines, but the meandering pace (all that footage of driving... splice it together it probably takes up a whole episode) kill so much of the momentum each storyline has.

There's little satisfaction to be had here.  There's the odd bone-throw like Nora and Big Ed finally getting together after all these years, there's Cooper's return (in episode bloody 16!), there a wonderful moment for Lucy in the penultimate hour, and a really sweet and solemn goodbye to the Log Lady/Catherine Coulson, but it's all buried in Lynch's perverse desire to explore randomness.

It's a certainty that the show was assembled in the editing room, that very little of how the show plays out was scripted as such.  Perhaps the Gordon Cole, Albert Rosenfeld, Tammy Preston, Diane Evans thread was one straight script, and the Dougie Jones story another, but the mixing and meandering between became quite tedious.  The stories we start to explore, like Shelly Brigg's daughter's turmoil, or Harry Dean Stanton's neighbourhood samaritan, or almost anything that happens at the Bang Bang Bar... they aren't given any satisfactory purpose, nevermind any resolution.

Even if I had sat through Twin Peaks: The Return's second half in one or two sittings, while I may have been more appreciative of the unique craft with which Lynch puts together his stories, I still would have been wholly pissed off with the finale.  In the show's final hour, instead of bringing things to a close or even just letting the existing events linger, Lynch saw fit to give Coop another journey, that took him to yet another strange realm, with Diane and Laura.  We got barely 20 minutes across 2 episodes of bright and perky Coop, before the finale left him poker-faced, confused, and almost bumbling through reality, not even in a heroic Dougie Jones style, once again ending with a whole pile of questions, this time with little apparent intent to answer them.


20/20: #15 The Leftovers Season 3

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20 days...
...*cough*]
[this so took longer than 20 minutes...oops]

Season 2 left Tom Perrotta's source novel in the dust, with Perrotta, Damon Lindleof and Mimi Leder making some very bold strokes to change not only the tone of the series but its meaning.  The first season was clearly about loss and depression (and not necessarily how one relates to the other), the second was a search for security as one tries to overcome their loss and/or depression (I like David's take that it's about a need to find meaning in mystery, because it's definitely that too).  The third season, is all about faith, and from the opening moments it tests its audience's faith in storytelling.  Like how the second season began with its primitive humanity metaphor, the third season opens in a small town in the 1800s.  Told wordlessly with the soundtrack the only audible aspect, we witness a family on their rooftop, then attending church where dates are crossed out, new dates are chosen and eventually back on the rooftop again.  They're predicting the Rapture and waiting for God to take them.  Time and again dates pass, and the predicted date changes, and eventually the wife in the family is the only one on the rooftop, her faith unwavering where her husband's was shaken.  She suffers in the rain, she's laughed at by her neighbours, and her husband looks at her with both disdain and pity.  But she has faith.

Season 3 blows up (in some cases literally) most remnants of season 1.  It's three years after the end of season 2 (and 7 years after the Departure) and that heavy-hearted, gut-punch of a season is in the past.  And yet, for Nora Durst and Kevin Garvey, the past seems to have circled in on them.  Nora is yet again facing the loss of a child, with Lily back with her birth mother, and Kevin is chief of police in Jarden, like he was back in Mapleton.  Despite their pact to always be honest with one another, Nora is secretly bitter behind Kevin's back, angry at the world, without any closure.  What Nora has that is new is great, it gives her purpose, but she doesn't believe in it.  Likewise Kevin, whenever he gets a moment to himself, suffocates himself to bring himself to the brink of death... he needs it to feel alive (like that time he died and was an international assassin in another reality).  They put on a face of bright cheerfulness with one another but deep down they still hurt. 

Well, actually, it's not so much that they hurt, but that they're petrified of being hurt again.

Nora wants to run away.  Kevin wants to run away.  Both are so afraid of the other person leaving them that they can barely stand the happiness they feel when they are together.  They're like skinless people, all raw nerves exposed.  Just living is torture.


But faith.  They have no faith in their love for each other.  Meanwhile, Matt Jamison believe Kevin, following his death and rebirth last season, is a new messiah, and begins writing scripture with John and Michael.  Matt needs to have something more to believe in, and so do John and Michael.

Meanwhile, the world anticipates the end of the world in the coming weeks.  It's a joke in most cases, but anxiety is high because enough people need something to believe in that they believe that the end times are near. Kevin's father, who went to Australia in season 1, comes back into the fore with a stupendous episode following his travails across the Outback.  He's a believer in the Great Flood that's coming, and he believes that only he can prevent it.  To do so he appropriates tribal songs, dances and rituals, performing them across a "song line", frequently arrested in the process (I quite love the tightrope walking this show does with his cultural appropriation, and toying with our belief in whether it's justified or not).  Scott Glenn's bravura performances (here and in Marvel's Defenders) never ceases to amaze... he plays a type, but he plays it sooooo well.

A running gag involving the 80's sitcom Perfect Strangers pays off in the second episode, with Mark Lynn Baker making a return to the show to try and coax Nora into believe there's a device that can take her to where the departed went... and that it's in Australia, and she needs to bring $20,000.  Kevin tags along, not to go find his father, and not really sure why himself.  While there, he begins to hallucinate which brings Matt, John, Michael, and his ex-wife (now John's wife) Laurie to Australia (where Matt has his own test of faith on a sex cruise ship).

It's a truncated season of only 8 episodes, but each one is monumental, just loaded with importance for the characters and packed with meaning for the over-arching metaphor of both the season and the show.  The final note is that love is another type of faith, and that in order to be in love you have to have faith in the other person to reciprocate it.  The fear of being hurt often tests that faith and all too often wins. 

Does the show give us a satisfying ending?  One of the best ever, I'd say.  It provides some decisive answers, and yet, by telling and not showing it leaves a lot of room for questioning. As much as the first season weighed heavily on my heart while watching, and the second season got a little too mired in its own sense of mystery and myriad of confrontations, this third season is an absolute gem.  Every episode has its own character journey, its own story that starts and ends but all come together to form a whole for the season and for the series.  I can't say I'd watch the entire series from start to finish again, but I think I would watch season three multiple times in a heartbeat.

I come back to what brought me here... "best show on television"...? I still hesitate to go that far, but one of the best seasons of television, for sure.  You can't really take season 3 without seeing seasons 1 and 2, but the journey through them completely pays off.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

20/20: #14 The Leftovers Season 2

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20 days...
...ahahahahahaaaa. Ahem]
 
Kevin drowning plays into much of Season 2

Where season 1 of The Leftovers was rather blatantly a metaphorical exploration of loss and depression, season 2 is a lot harder to peg.  The tonal shift is pretty immediate, starting with the opening theme, which you would almost think that you've started watching a compltely different show.  Moments later things kick in during prehistoric times, following a primitive human woman as she gives birth, forages for food, and defends her baby from a snake, ultimately succumbing to its poison.  Helpless, the baby is found by another primitive woman and the season begins.  It's a new town - Jardin, Texas - and a new family to follow -the Murphys, leaving the audience to wonder if each season is going to explore the aftereffects of the departure from a wholly unique perspective.

Jarden itself is wholly unique in this universe.  It's now "Miracle National Park" because it's the only place in the world where none of its residents departed.  As such it's become a place of legend and faith, where people believe all manner of spiritual and superstitious rhetoric... the city's tourism thrives on it.

Soon, we see remnants of the past season.  Father Matt Jamison is taking over the local parish for a time, his comatose wife Mary in tow.  We follow John Murphy as he makes his rounds, ignoring some of the superstitious actions of the townsfolk (like a man slaughtering goats in random establishments) while violently rejecting others (John throws his childhood friend - who does palm readings on visitors - out a window and run him out of town).  John, doesn't believe in the miracle of Miracle.

Season 1 and 2 collide by the end of the episode when the Garveys move next door.  Kevin and Nora obviously together, with Holy Wayne's baby (which they found on Kevin's porch in the final minuest of season 1) and Jill as a decidedly different nuclear family.  Episode 2 catches us up on Kevin and Nora's journey from Mapleton to Jarden, and throws us deeper into Kevin's troubles.  Still sleepwalking, and still haunted by Patti, Kevin awakes from the mud at the bottom of a newly-drained reservoire with a cinder block tied around his ankles after an earthquake.   Up at the top of the reservoire John and his son search frantically for John's daughter and her two friends, who appear to have departed, a bold rejection of Jardin's miracle.

These events shape the rest of the season, but are by no means the only focal moments or curious incidents.  Season two is far more upbeat, far more curious, and far more bizarre than season one.  Less grounded in emotions, season 2 takes wild stabs at the characters lives, upending them in surreal ways, just to see how they react.  Kevin's trying to be a good, honest man for Nora, but he questions his own sanity (despite Patti telling him otherwise), and he knows his nightwalking can lead to sever trouble.  It's a season where the characters are looking for security and normalcy and belonging in a world where surreal and supreme upheaval can happen in an instant. 

Strange things happen in Jarden, and keep happening, but are they metaphysical in origin, or man-made?  A trick of the mind, or a trick on the mind?  The reality in this show is all of the above, it's determining which is which that's both fun and frustrating.

In my write-up of season 1, I noted that I was drawn to the show because of the critical reception, the label of "best show on TV".  The truth is it is very engrossing, somewhat frustrating, but quite enjoyable. There's a lot of absurdity in this show and the twists get so wild and broad that they defy "good/bad" labels.  It's really a show where "your mileage may vary" truly applies.


Friday, August 18, 2017

20/20: #13 Dunkirk (IMAX)

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) this month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20 days...
...*cough*... yeah]


2017, d. Christopher Nolan - IMAX

Every time a new Christopher Nolan movie comes out, I feel a twinge of sadness, as I'm reminded of a dear friend, Braz, who passed away in 2013.  We use to have rather glorious debates about Nolan's movies.  Where I have yet to be truly disappointed by a Nolan film, always enjoying the experience both in scale and technical proficiency, Braz would almost dismiss the technical and look for the heart and the heat.  Nolan's films are accomplished puzzles, thrilling and stimulating intellectually, but at the same time Nolan almost has an inability to make a picture where it's the characters or the characters' emotional (or erotic) journeys that take precedent.  Interstellar, with its father-daughter connection, is about as close as it came, but even then there's still an overwhelming sense of distance, and it was the space travel and unique robots that drew and dazzled the masses.  The closest we get to a love story in any of Nolan's films was perhaps Memento (but that was really a mystery), or Dark Knight Rises (which put Batman and Catwoman together almost by default), or Inception (which was more about loss that love).

Nolan's latest, Dunkirk, is remarkably affecting.  You certainly feel a lot watching the film.  But it's not an emotional connection to any character, it's all situational.  Nolan makes you feel the gutwrenching pain of war, its brutal uncaring nature, its randomness and maliciousness.  War is all about throwing bodies at a problem, particularly early in the 20th century.  So when 400,000 English soldiers are pinned down on the shore of Dunkirk, France, with only the French army staving off the direct onslaught of German forces, you feel the hopelessness, the desperation, the uncomfortable pain of the inevitable.  When you see how desperate dying men are as they get bombed or drowned or picked off you feel, you can't not feel.  Nolan knows how to capture a scene.

War is horrific, but unlike Saving Private Ryan which used its opening half hour to show the horrors of war with a visceral Grand Guignol-style bloodbath, Dunkirk is an almost bloodless affair.  Nolan, for all his inability to connect emotionally with his characters, here he masters the ability to connect emotionally with moments, with groups and a crowd, to feel the weight of the situations.

Once again, Nolan crafts a film with a fracture timeline, and makes it logical and sensible as a single narrative.  It's something he does with seeming ease at this point.  The story features three timelines, the one hour flight of a trio of RAF fighters over the straight of Dover, the one day journey of small private fishing and luxury boats to rescue the trapped soldiers, and one week on the mole (a sort of pier or breakway crossing the water) on the beaches of Dunkirk.  When the stories start to cross in the third act, it's absolutely awe inspiring.  Events you saw earlier in the film present themselves from different perspectives, providing additional context.  It's what Nolan does, and it's astounding.

The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is breathtaking.  He captures intimacy with equal adeptness as isolation.  Hoytema uses the IMAX scale to maximum effect (roughly 80% of the film is in that scale) composing some absolutely stark and beautiful (yet equally awe inspiring and heavy with meaning) imagery.  It's a gorgeous film.

It's hard to say that I enjoyed Dunkirk.  It's a remarkable movie, but its effect is overwhelming.  It's uncomfortable, unbearably so.  It's hard not to empathize, and it's even harder to try and realistically picture one's self in such situations.  By stripping away character, by stripping away almost any connection with the actors by giving them very little dialogue (mainly they're just acting or reacting to the situation), there's only the events themselves that we can connect to, and as foreign as they are to our daily life, the reality is they happened to real people, perhaps even a parent or grandparent.  Without ever making a single statement, it's as potent an anti-war screed as ever.  And yet, with even a nominal understanding of what World War II was about, the necessity of fighting that war is hard to ignore.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

20/20: #12 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) this month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20 days...
...Well... 10 days with a 20 day break then one post and another day break.  Sigh]

2017, d. Luc Besson - in theatre


It's been said that this is the film Luc Besson has been wanting to make his whole life.  He's been an unabashed fan since childhood of the Valerian and Laureline series of comics (popular in Europe but barely known in North America).  His 1997 somewhat-classic The Fifth Element was in many ways an homage as well as perhaps a proof-of-concept for a Valerian film.  It took him 20 years, but with a massive number of commercially successful productions under his belt (most as producer, but a few genuinely great directorial efforts as well), and technology finally at the state that it is, Valerian could be a reality.

Now you know at this point I'm a big time comic book nerd, and I have to be absolutely honest in saying that not only have I never read a Valerian comic, I've never even heard of them.  It's been said that they are quite influential, even upon Star Wars, which makes me wonder how I've never came across the name or thought to seek them out.  Sci-fi and comics, big space epics, things that influenced Star Wars... those are, like, my things, man. 

It's unfortunate then that Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets doesn't feel like the influencer, but rather the influencee.  It feels at time partly like Star Wars (more the Phantom Menace than any other entry in the series) and Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy and a multitude of other stories which are probably the bastard descendants of Valerian's influence.   It unfortunately never feels innovative.  That's not the worst thing in the world.  Countless films, even really good ones, emerge without innovating strictly by telling a fun story with likeable characters.

So is VatCoaTP a fun story with likeable characters?

Sure.
It's fine.
Really, it's just fine.

The story is kind of classic 1960's-style pulpy sci-fi.  There's space faring and aliens and action and romance, all wrapped around a mystery (that's not really much of a mystery... conspiracy, perhaps?) that plays out engagingly enough over it's two hours but doesn't seem epic enough in scope to really justify the nearly 200 million dollar expense.  The story is more like a mid-level Star Trek adventure, and never feels sweeping or space operatic.

It's visually fantastic, suitably overloaded with details really dazzling the eye.  The design juggles the beautiful with the chaotic on a regular basis, and there's regularly something curious to behold.  Yet, there are still moments where it feels, spartan an low budget.  Hallways which should be bustling with people and creatures are empty and one big set looks exactly like an airplane hanger that's been converted into a film studio...as if the visual effects people forgot to busy it up.  For the film's rather grand big budget, Besson's all too frequent dabbling in modestly budgeted action/adventure films (Taken, Lucy, The Transporter, etc) has given him an eye for shooting economically, not extravagantly.

This is never more true than in the casting, which is probably where I should have just started and stopped when talking about this film.  Seriously, Dane DeHaan?  He's supposed to be the handsome, upright, swarthy, intergalactic playboy leading man?  The guy with the baggy eyes and sickly gaunt face.  I don't want to be too harsh on him because he's a decent actor, but he's not even close to being Han Solo, or Peter Quill, or Captain Kirk (either Shatner or Pine).  He's not unlikeable, but he's not 10% as charming or charismatic as this film absolutely needs him to be.  He's not as tough or handsome, he's not as convincingly resolute in his duty as the character's defining trait of the comics. Cara Delevigne holds up a little better in the charm department but her role as Laureline isn't the equal of Valerian here (though it should be), and so less rests on her shoulders.  The chemistry between the two is adequate but it should be much steamier.  DeHaan just doesn't have "it", and the film's lack of success rests almost solely on that casting decision.

Really. 
Because even with DeHaan in the lead, if another Valerian film was made, I would be there in a heartbeat.  This film isn't an origin story, but rather feels like a part of a larger series of standalone adventures.  A more inviting, attractive, charming actor would make people desperately want to spend more time with Valerian (same with Laureline), but, I have no such desperation.