Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Great Moments In... Realized Threats and Sincere Apologies

There was no way that I wouldn't post this whole sequence from A Fish Called Wanda, but it's in two parts - and, I must say, I prefer what I was forced to do by the lack of one unified clip, because both halves of the scene really are great.

Honestly, I can still remember the first time I watched this movie, and I remember howling with laughter throughout, especially this moment. Bless Cleese, Kline, and director Charles Crichton - I really need a good laugh today, they delivered beautifully, and I'm happy to share this clip, on the off chance that you need a good laugh, too:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Great Moments In... Personal Offense

I love A Fish Called Wanda. 1988's mad comic crime film was dead-funny and had a superb cast. Cleese and Palin operating at full Monty Python levels of humor, Jamie Lee Curtis was great, and Kevin Kline... I'm not sure whether the Academy was voting for his character (Otto) or Kline's performance, but that is one Oscar win that I would never argue against. He's one of my favorite film roles ever, and the curse-riddled diatribe here is just one of the minor comedic miracles that Otto pulls off.

If you haven't seen the film, you should be slightly ashamed of yourself, and you should skip this entry and rent Wanda asap. I'm going to watch the movie some time this week, so the following scene has been on my mind:

to those of you who have seen AFCW, just know that I will post the continuation of that scene in a future GMI entry. A Fish Called Wanda kind of has a lot of great cinematic moments.

I have a little free time coming up, so expect Selma, The Lego Movie, Whiplash, Birdman, and several other reviews or double dips to pop up. I'll continue to go through some of 2014's high-profile films, as well as Carrie and a couple of others. I'm not sure whether I'll do all those and then start the TV reviews that I mentioned a few updates ago, or whether I'll alternate.

Just finishing up my 2014 overview, let alone those TV recommendations, will take this blog into April, which will be this site's 6th anniversary. I'll provide an update for when I think I'll actually quit writing here. In any case, I will - as usual - try to make it fun for all of us.

Half a Film Student

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It Follows Review

We open on a quiet suburban street. As a frantic, piercing music cue plays, a young woman bursts through a home’s front door, wearing only modest lingerie and shoes. She races up the road, and suddenly stops 40 feet away, looking back. A neighbor, unpacking groceries, asks if she needs help; the younger woman waves the neighbor off – before running in a full circle back towards the house, where her dad is now on the lawn, asking what’s wrong. Both figures disappear into the dark doorway and whatever lies beyond.

And then the young woman runs right the hell back out, gets into the car parked in the driveway, and burns rubber.

The opening to It Follows hooks you in the space of several rapid heartbeats, and the conclusion of the opener is equally engaging. As the story slowly unspools, the audience finds itself sinking into the tale, as slowly and inexorably as a person struggling in quicksand. Although it’s not a perfect horror film, writer/director David Robert Mitchell has crafted a legitimately scary, fun ride.

It seems like throwback cinema is all the rage these days. Guardians of the Galaxy had an Indiana Jones vibe throughout its opening sequence. Predestination felt like a callback to many stripped-down, no-frills sci-fi films, like Gattaca or 12 Monkeys. And The Guest hearkened back to 1980’s and 90’s stories about psychotic strangers who become tragically attached to normal people or families. That last film probably shares the most similarities with It Follows - and only in part because both possess a synth-heavy score that makes you think of John Carpenter’s highlight reel.

In fact, It Follows is so steeped in the work of yesteryear that it confused one of the friends who saw it with me. She arrived 10 minutes late, and so she didn’t see the woman at the beginning use a cell phone to make one frightened, desperate call. We had a long talk about the picture afterwards, and I had to reassure her that it was set in the present day. But my friend had a point: everyone’s clothing style seems pulled from the 70’s/80’s, the cars are almost all older models, and we don’t see another cell phone for the rest of IF’s running time. All I could think was “maybe Detroit’s suburban kids are behind in fashion, and can’t afford cell phones until they move out.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett is Gone

I would like to ask 2015 to stop killing people that I care for deeply. This is just terrible news. Terry Pratchett was a skilled writer with an incomparable wit, a vast imagination, and a work ethic that was superlative. And the world is surely less bright for his no longer being in it.

I haven't had time to write here (even to give Leonard Nimoy a proper send off), as I continue to watch one of my relatives die slowly and badly. I will try to take time soon to do some of the writing that I haven't been able to attend to.

But I should add that I am extra upset, as Terry was a brilliant person and he had been diagnosed a while back with premature Alzheimer's, which had an impact on his ability to physically write as well. As I now well known, there's nothing worse than when a person's mind is taken away from them. And, when his problem was first diagnosed, Terry had the style and good humor to break the news in a post that he titled "An Embuggerance." (I can't link to the original post, as Paul Kidby's site has likely crashed)

I love you, Terry, and I already miss you. Rest well.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy is Dead

Leonard Nimoy is gone, and all I can think is FUUUUUUCK! I said it aloud, surrounded by coworkers. He was the best.

More later.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What's Next

Well, the goal of reviewing 2014's major movies before the Oscars went nicely enough. It wasn't a perfect success, as 6-7 notable pictures are yet to be seen (much less reviewed - expect a Selma review next week), but today was more of a guide post and motivator than it was a deadline. I got lucky, in a way, as last year truly had a wide selection of fine films...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Edge of Tomorrow Review - Flawless Victory

So, when this past Summer did suck for me, it sucked hard. A close friend passed on, I was working massive hours, doing everything I could to freeze a proper public face onto myself while dealing with various problems and snafus, one of my cousins needed treatment for cancer - and, before I knew it, I had a close relative grow terminally ill. While only a few things might have helped make the struggle easier, I know I would've felt better if I had gone out to see Edge of Tomorrow in June.

It's kind of ludicrous, but I kid you not (and I kinda trashed the subway ad, too). I had a pretty rough week when I saw EoT over the past month, and it brightened up my day immediately. I think I was as pleased to see a really, really good sci-fi/action film as I was to see a badass woman at the fore and to have Tom Cruise star in a movie that had him playing against type.

I've felt Tom Cruise burnout for a while. I was planning on writing a whole post about this, but he almost always plays the same character, and his selection of movies generally leaves me cold (I'm looking at you, Jack Reacher). I actually avoid his modern films, despite liking him back in the day - and though I defended him (only) when he was treated unfairly, it says a lot that his massive CV has only been addressed here in the form of Valkyrie, Mission Impossible, and MI: Ghost Protocol.

And, although I wasn't convinced to see Oblivion - whose reviews were "it's good, though a little predictable because it's very derivative of 10+ other movies" - the praise for Edge of Tomorrow (which has been retitled Live. Die. Repeat. for rental and home video) was simply too positive and too uniform for me to ignore. Now I know that everybody was right and that I should've watched it in the theater. Damn.

A news montage (which is kind of a cliché) fills us in quickly: a meteor fell in Eastern Europe, hostile aliens stormed out from it, and then swept through the whole continent. 5 years into the war, humanity is losing, and a massive push will try to keep the creatures from spreading to the Western Hemisphere. And who's the public face of the war? Who drums up support with the media? Major Bill Cage (duh, Tom Cruise) and his big, handsome face.

But the next scene, which takes place in England, shows us something completely different. Bill utterly chickens out when the General in charge (Brendan Gleeson) tells him to fly in with troops and record their struggle. Tom flatly says that he joined to use his media skills to help, and has no intention of being near danger or combat, much less a potential massacre as humans storm the beach at Verdun, France (someone remembered their WWI history).

Friday, February 20, 2015

Predestination Review - Mostly Impressive

Predestination was recommended in passing by a friend, and I have to think that it's a lucky thing for all of us. I won out because I got to see a fairly-good sci-fi film with some great elements and a couple of significant flaws. You win out because it's easy to spoil this film, so you won't have to read through another 1700-word review (actually, I guess we both win, there).

From it's its (I hate you, autocorrect) opening moments, Predestination uses some quick conversation and voice-over to convey a simple premise: Ethan Hawke plays an unnamed guy who's a time cop - no, not that one, but rather someone who's sent back in time to prevent certain crimes. We get no explanation of how that's supposed to work: do the future folk know how time will change when they alter it? Are they only going after other future people who commit crimes in the past?

We have no idea on any of that. All we learn is that Hawke's character has a pretty good healthcare plan.

From there, we get to Ethan, tending bar in 1970's Brooklyn. All we know is that he's trying to prevent a bomber/arsonist from killing a vast number of people there, and that the date of the bombing keeps changing. In walks another unnamed character, played by Sarah Snook, and the two get to talking because the bar is otherwise empty.

Sarah relates her story to the barkeep, and it's really my favorite part of the entire movie. Hell, it's one of my favorite parts of any movie from 2014.

We learn about the tough life that her role has lived, and how her excellent academic performance and good physical condition led her to apply to a 1950s/1960's astronaut program designed for women... Of course, given the time period, we learn that part of the reason this opportunity has become available is that scientists are worried what those astronauts will do if they can't get laid (f--k you, patriarchal pigs). Rather than being offended or feeling threatened, Snook's part keeps her eyes on the prize.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gone Girl Review - Gone Girl Gone Wild

As my friends and I watched David Fincher's exceptional 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn's hit novel Gone Girl, one thought kept repeating in my mind:
that poor cat

While the movie is a good, twisty story, and while Fincher's direction remains superb, there are three likable characters here: Rhonda Boney, the lead detective (Kim Dickens, whose work in Deadwood I missed, but I've loved her since Zero Effect); Margo, the lead male's sister (Carrie Coon, who I'd never seen before); and that glorious feline up there, who I will call "Mrs. Featherswat."

And repeatedly, I hoped that the movie would have the gorgeous, well-balanced, smart, capable Margo adjust her hot librarian glasses (that's what I call that style), scoop Mrs. Featherswat up in her arms, and that we'd next see them on a beach. Margo would open a new, popular bar, free from her moronic, thuggish douche of a brother and her needy, bonkers, sociopathic murderess sister-in-law. Mrs. Featherswat would pass the time by laying in the sun, catching fish, maybe starting a family...

But that was not meant to be.

Gone Girl is the story of a 40-odd day marital saga that becomes a nationwide craze. What was supposed to be an unhappy couple's anniversary turns into a nightmare, as Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home to a missing Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and much broken furniture (what will Ikea think?). The police get involved, and evidence quickly suggests that Nick killed Amy. The story becomes sensationalized, as Amy is a/k/a "Amazing Amy" (basically, what if Dora the Explorer were her parents' book series, with Amy pitched as their inspiration). Secrets about the marriage continue to spill out, Nick looks more and more culpable, and everyone grapples with two big questions: why is Amy missing, and did Nick murder her?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Guest Review - He's the Guestiest

The Guest is not a complicated movie, but this is not a problem. In fact, it's a fine throwback to simpler times. Do you remember House of the Devil? Yeah, the same way that HotD felt like a thrilling and moderately-successful supernatural 80's horror film, so too does The Guest feel like a thriller/slasher from 30 years ago.

David is a guy who we first see run down a road with a pack on his back. By the time he meets the Petersons - the family at the heart of this story - everything is made clear, either overtly or indirectly: the mother and father are sleepwalking in the wake of their oldest son's death in military service. Their two surviving children are obsessed with their own teenage problems, while the parents just blankly, mutely coast through the wake of the tragedy. In pops David (Dan Stevens), who was part of their son's squad - David says he's fresh out of hospital, and is following through on a promise to check in with, comfort, and look after his pal's family before he moves on.

The problem is that no one is ready to move on at all. Mom (Sheila Kelley) is a distracted mess of a person who just keeps things moving without actually fixing or even addressing much of anything. Dad (Leland Orser, brilliantly-disguised by a pornstache) is too busy worrying about his insecurities - especially ones related to his wife's happiness - to do much of anything, either.

But David is pleasant company - mom has a connection to her dead boy, and dad has an adult male to talk to, so both parents keep inviting David to stick around. Meanwhile, their daughter is dating a local drug dealer/musician, and their youngest son is getting his ass kicked by bullies every day. As the parents push David into their children's lives, their guest learns a lot of secrets about each kid. This newest addition seems like he might help heal the Petersons' wounds, but the atmosphere of the film makes one thing clear: there's a chill of doom every time David gets more involved with his hosts.

I wanted to see this movie the second I learned it was the sophomore effort of Adam Wingard (director/editor) and Simon Barrett (writer), the guys who made You're Next. I have to know what these guys get up to, just like the sheer quality of the writing and execution in The Babadook ensures that I'll catch Jennifer Kent's next feature. Although I don't regret missing tG when it came out in September (I was very, very busy), I'm quite happy I went out of my way to watch it as part of my big 2014 review-athon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The One I Love--These Spoilers Go to 11!

In The One I Love, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are a couple experiencing marital trouble--the easy pleasure they used to take in each other is now work, and the little things they used to find endearing about each other are now abrasive. The silence when their therapist (Ted Danson) asks about their sex life is all the answer anyone needs.

The therapist suggests a getaway to a vacation spot he knows. A chance to get to know each other all over again. To be "renewed." They arrive at a beautiful estate, and the change of scenery seems to work. Then it starts to work really well. And then things get strange.

How strange? Well, the awesomely enigmatic trailer doesn't say, so I won't tell without a spoiler warning:

If you don't want to know more, go see it and come back. Seriously, it's on Netflix Instant, it's about 90 minutes long, and well worth it. Before the spoilers start, I can say that while Duplass is one of the big names of mumblecore, this isn't one of those films. Both Duplass and Moss give wonderful, clear-throated performances in a film that's thought provoking and funny. It's one of the best 2014 movies I've seen, very highly recommended.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Grand Budapest Hotel Double Dip: Odd Thoughts

So, when I was watching Grand Budapest Hotel, I started to wonder if Wes Anderson's hyper-meta movie about storytelling had some even more meta elements going on. Specifically, I was wondering if the magnificent group of actors and actresses here - and, really, GBH has so many ringers that I almost want to grade it down - was being used in ways that recalled their prior roles. An additional hypothesis was that, in some cases, Anderson was calling back to other aspects of his casts' respective resumes.

It's weird enough that several performers, like Lea Seydoux, are in the kind of mid/far-range set ups that barely allow you to see who they are. I actually didn't recognize her. Also, there's one shot where Fiennes is standing over Goldbum, which is impossible because Goldblum is 6'4"!

But I noticed that Harvey Keitel's part has the same tattooed prison thug look

no, seriously, Harvey Keitel,

that adorned another of his work mates - Ed Norton in American History X. Keep in mind that, throughout this story, Keitel plays a criminal planner, like Mr. Wolf in Pulp Fiction. Meanwhile, Ed Norton plays an Inspector-type who is very similar to that of someone who played a secondary antagonist against him - Paul Giamatti's role in The Illusionist. In Illusionist, Giamatti played a smart detective who's gotten on the wrong side of an investigation involving the under-handed dealings of wealthy people out to harm underclass folk. Here, Norton does much the same, and portrays (like Giamatti) an antagonist who doesn't become "a bad guy."

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Only Lovers Left Alive - Tilda Swinton gets WHITER?

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a moody artist with a reclusive life in Detroit, recently intent on committing suicide. Eve (Tilda Swinton) is his wife; she reads a lot and hangs out with an old friend (John Hurt, as Christopher Marlowe) in Tangier. An unexpected call from his spouse leads to a reunion between this pair - people who are utterly intimate, despite living apart. So what happens when this couple, equal in depthless knowledge and passion, reunites? Only Lovers Left Alive tells the story of one such reunion that's at least 100 years overdue - because Tom and Tilda play vampires.

Jim Jarmusch loves character study stories about people in peculiar moral quandaries. In Dead Man, a fairly-average chap is transformed into a hunted outlaw, something which he does not bring upon himself at all. In Ghost Dog, a hitman follows the samurai code that requires him to do the right thing even when everyone - including his master - does the wrong things for the very worst reasons.

And for all the similarities between his earlier work and his latest, the biggest difference is that this effort doesn't really have much of a story to it at all. In fact, the first 40 minutes of this movie feel like a lot of hyper-brief vignettes. Rather than take all this as damning criticism, it's an observation that means I'm all the more impressed by how good this picture is.

Usually, a cinematic story needs things like, e.g., a storyline that plays throughout the movie, an arc for the lead character, and/or a series of minor plots that do or don't play in to the overall story. One exception to that general narrative scheme is the "character study." There, it's not so important that the major event that kicks off the movie is connected to the major event that closes the movie. And, although they can have an arc for their lead role(s), these pictures are not required to have those, either.

For a viewer, "character study" basically means "watch X role go through X stuff." You are won over (or not) by experiencing the hopefully-interesting things that the character does, or by witnessing what the film has to say about the role's nature as a human being or people as a whole.