Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts

Friday, October 6, 2023


I enjoyed Ridley Scott's Aliens prequel Prometheus, proposed as a first step in the franchise that would establish the beginnings of this sci-fi saga up to the point where we first meet the fabulous action-babe Ripley. Scott's return to the franchise, and to space operas in general, was a joy to behold, with great acting, stunning special effects, a fascinating premise and, yes, a general feeling of creepiness as the hoary warnings against corporate greed and attending evil are made tangible yet again. Not a perfect film, but the scale and power of the storytelling, albeit incomprehensible at times, made it an entertainment worth revisiting. Not so much for the follow-up effort, Alien:Covenant, again directed by Scott. Where Prometheus added some new twists to the Alien mythos, this new effort offers intriguing little ; it is a make – work project. We do discover the origins of the Xenomorph and are expected to marvel at their many manifestations , different kinds, shapes, purposes. But there is something dispirited about this film. There is no spectacle to speak of, no real wow factor, conditions not improved by the pacing, which is strangely led footed. Especially surprising for a director of Scott's caliber: an inconsistent director for quality, even his worse films had a great veneer and, most of , all moved well. Covenant shuffles


The movies that DC Comics have made so far in their efforts to establish their franchises in contrast to that of their competition, Marvel Comics. The uniform negative responses, to be sure, have their points that deserve to be discussed, but the wave of hate seems more a product of the internet's tendency to encourage an echo chamber effect; nervous fans, not sure of what they actually desire from a movie, suspend their critical faculties and dive head long into the noisy bull run of nay saying . Objections are over stated, insults are hurled, feelings are hurt. And still, I like what DC and Warner Brothers have done, for the most part. Not to get off on a longish defense of particular films, I will assert here that Zack Snyder is one of the few directors who gets the dynamism and flair of the graphic novel and produces resolutely beautiful and exciting action sequences, however dark and grim they may be . And, of course,, "Man of Steel" is a masterpiece, in my view. You can find my longer defense of that film elsewhere on this blog. The fact that “Wonder Woman” is presently at 94 percent critic approval on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes makes me smile. Director Patty Jenkins directs with a sure, firm and confident hand, efficiently and effectively establishing the WW mythology as it relates to a re-imagined Greek mythology, the origin story of the young girl who would become the eventual superhero, and the first adventure of Wonder Woman in full costume, in the WW 1 trenches, fighting with the British against the Germans, searching for her foe Ares,the God of War. It works remarkably well, I think. A wonderful cast featuring wonderful work from Chris Pine and Robin Wright. Gal Gadot as WW, a controversial casting when first announced, is excellent here. Athletic, naive, ironic, fierce in combat sequences and sweetly ironic in the comic parts, she turns in a star-making performance.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

'BUGSY" starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening


Had a fine time watching Bugsy recently, a near gem of a modern gangster film. A 1991 effort starring Warren Beatty as Ben "Bugsy" Siegel and a then-unknown Annette Bening as a fast talking , smart woman Siegel takes up with when he comes to 1940s Los Angeles to muscle on the local organized crime boss.  Beatty is effective here as a man of  great charm and sudden violence, a man desiring to be a hard boss, enforcer , gentleman, and lady's man; the sudden swings in his moods and the turmoil that ensues are convincingly conveyed--little tell-tale signs in facial expression, a tilt of the head, a growing escalation in volume and intensity of questions being asked a character Siegel suspects of having stolen from him--are well-played signals that Bugsy is about to go off. This was a break through role for Bening , and she brings a sharp tongue and a quick wit to her portrayal of a lone woman alone in a town full of predator men who are liars, cheats, thieves, and killers all who falls for the charming if erratic Siegel. The recreation of Los Angeles of the period is very well done, and I rather enjoyed the dark tones used to suggest a noir quality--this has an aura of quality black and white photograph that was hand-colored especially well. The film does drag in the middle, but it picks up well, and the casting of Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel, Joe Mantegna  and Bebe Neuwirth is very fine. We must mention a small role for Elliot Gould as a lumbering, likeable , dumb oaf of a thug who is doomed .Directed by Barry Levinson, screenplay by James Toback, cinematographer Allen Daviau.

Monday, January 17, 2022



So much of this project depends on the use of actual clips from the first three films that you're not convinced that director Lana Wachowski didn't have much faith in the ideas that are haphazardly strung together here. To be expected, the action sequences are well-made. The look of the film is dark with desaturated color in all shots to give this enterprise an oddly fetching grubbiness. Still, when they are not fighting, the characters are talking, talking, talking, talking and talking and then talking some more as they hash through plot points and concepts of the three previous films, indulge themselves in some very 90s Baudrilliardisms and stale deconstructive bromides, all of it given with a hurried, breathless pace, none of it really makes any sense in ways that you care about. What you realize is that this whole reshuffling of the Matrix mythology is to set us up for another trilogy of movies, or more even, if this current effort justifies its expense and hype financially. It's not without some laughs, some cool moments, some genuine surprises, but as with most franchise films these days, it's drawn out, it drags too often, you find yourself fast-forwarding to the next action sequence because of all the chatter amid the expressionless looks of sleepy eyed actors cannot keep your attention.


 A well-made piece of action-adventure, and a unique premise, to my mind, but nothing to brag about if you're the screenwriter or the director. There is nothing technically amiss with the motion picture; every scene set up achieves what it's supposed to do, the actors are fine , the pacing and editing keeps matters moving along. The problem is that the matters that are kept moving are hackneyed tropes. You can only repaint an old wreck of a vehicle so many times before the dents , scratches and pockets of rust show themselves through the thickest coat you can put on it.


A fine , dark comedy that presents audiences with characters viewers want desperately to relate to in some way, an urge the filmmakers deny. There are times when you feel inclined to cheer for Rosamund Pike's character as the heartless and irrationally ruthless tries to surmount grim challenges the tautly constructed plot foists on her, only to have your heart strings strummed, more than just a little, but the sad eyed frustrations of Peter Dinklage's portrayal of a deep- souled yet equally heartless Russian mob boss. But filmmakers are quite adept at intervening at those plot points where viewers might invest there sympathies in a single character's plight: at crucial points we get reminded that although there is a veneer of "relatability" to all protagonists and antagonists (Pike's and Dinklage's personas switch positions a time or two here) we get reminders that these folks are monsters, sociopaths, dedicating themselves to doing awful things that ruin the lives of innocent people. The ambivalence adds to the tension and makes the comedic critique of corporate capitalism effectively cutting.

Saturday, December 5, 2020



Mank, the new David Fincher directed feature film on Netflix, answers a question for many fans of the Orson Wells masterpiece Citizen Kane, who exactly was Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter? Effectively portrayed by Gary Oldman, managing to be both flamboyant, folksy and occasionally enigmatic , the film lays out in flashbacks and fast-forwards the tale of a gifted alcoholic playwright and screenwriter who, in financial arrears, agrees to write a screenplay for Wells  and take no screen credit for the writing. All told, I thought it was a fine motion picture, with sharp writing, a well-selected cast who perform admirably, and solid direction from Fincher who, I believe, knows exactly how long to linger and when to leave a scene for another piece of the story. From my recollection of other of his works--Fight Club, Zodiac, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl-- the man has a superb sense of how to pace a film drama. And, as with the case of Gone Girl, he is especially effective with the ever problematic flashback ploy; it's my view that he was seamless in the transitions between the present-day storyline and past events in Mank's life without losing coherence. And the film is visually gorgeous, a beautiful black and white composition that provides a well-shaded, dreamy quality without lapsing into over-stylized unreality. And I don't particularly mind that there is not a particularly heavy dramatic arc the lend this film a contrived gravitas. Mankiewicz is an interesting personage involved with the creation of what's considered one of the finest movies ever made, and partially fictionalized or not, the level of attention brought to his personality serves the subject splendidly. This is , to be sure, the kind of movie engineered, however artfully, to allow the leading man to chew up the scenery with a bravura performance, but it is a relief that Gary Oldman's portrayal of Mankiewicz is steady and consistent, the quirks and mannerisms fluid and understated. There is a wonderful cohesion between all the movie parts. I thought Mank was a satisfying watch.

The trailer makes it seem that there is something more sinister afoot, but what we actually have is splendid and finely written portrait of a gifted man limited in his work and production by an alcoholic ennui and cynicism  ; Mankiewicz .  a presence that is droll, melancholic, ironic, erudite, truth-telling, is seen in the Fincher film ( interestingly, the screenplay is by David Fincher's late father Jack Fincher, who wrote the script about fifteen years ago) who views himself as an artist dedicated to truth, beauty, and authenticity and yet finds himself making deals and compromising his idealism in order to scrape by financially. Oldman brings he is the best set of talents to creating the intellectual shambles that is this screen version of Mankiewicz, and it is rather a pleasure to see recreations of L.B.Mayer, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davis, and John Houseman, names from the film and California history books brought to the screen dramatically but not cartoonish. Fincher, the director effectively creates the period and mimics the baroque style of Wells from Citizen Kane--lots of deep focus, a black and white style with any manner of shadings that make this whole thing seem otherworldly. The center of this story, though, is Mankiewicz,  Mank,  an interesting character whose story  is of a man who ought to have achieved far greater fame and renown by dent of his talent, but who seemed intent on sabotaging his future with drunk escapades and a compulsion to speak of things political and ethical that didn't sit well with his higher-ups. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

White Out

Beyond White Space (2018) - Rotten TomatoesI came across Beyond White Space somewhere on the net, a space opera set far off in the future when the earth is running out of resources and much of human commerce now takes place in the darkest depths of outer space. A crude summary, but it sounded promising and worth a watch. It was not. It's a shame that this film is so sluggish and dim-witted in spirit because it has a convincing, future-grunge look to it and contains, really, an interesting premise that would have made for a smart sci-fi movie. Without giving away anything essential, which is not a hint that readers should visit this sluggish and shuffling enterprise, we have what might have been a space version of "Moby Dick", centering on an obsessed captain endangering his crew in pursuit of a giant creature capable of living in the vacuum of outer space. This creature, incidentally, guards against planetary fortune seekers, stragglers and pirates from entering a fabled part of the outer reaches called White Space, rumored to be an actual Heaven the space creature keeps out of our reach. Again, an interesting premise that gets stepped over by one-dimensional characters, stiff acting, and lead-footed pacing. The film looks great in parts, but there is a claustrophobic feel to the thing that never lets up; you have the feeling of someone shoving their camera phone in peoples faces for ninety minutes or so. That can be effective in the right hands, as I'm thinking of the 1st "Cloverfield" movie, but this is that rare thing, slick incompetence.

Saturday, June 13, 2020


The Way Back review: Ben Affleck finds redemption in sobering ...A pleasant surprise, I watched THE WAY BACK starring Ben Affleck last night. Turned out to be solid film, a story of a grieving father with a drinking problem presented with a chance to redeem himself by becoming head coach for his old high school basket ball team. All the expected moves are here given that alcoholism is the basis for the fiction-- scenes of the gloom and despair and ruinous drinking, the lies, the family squabbles, the bitter meetings with the former wife, the chance for a new leaf, the encouraging progress on all the characters' issues, the Fall,the climb back up. The director does not glorify the gloom, wallow in the despair, preach about the cure as one might expect given the creaky cliches that threaten to capsize this film, but rather maintains a sturdy hand in developing characters, filming some excellent game sequences (that brought a smile to my face when the fictional team started winning), and allowing a certain amount of space between lines of dialogue or interactions to have scenes have a naturally laconic, realistic edge. The cast is universally strong, though one should look for any deep diving into character analysis; matters of the heart and soul are sufficiently laid out on the surface , more than adequately diving us pretext and context for this well handled drama. It's not giving anything major away to mention that the wayfaring coach and problem drinker is shown here getting a handle on his sobriety and commences to live a life with guarded optimism and realistic expectations--remember, genre movies behave in predictable ways--but I do find it a relief that the film makers side step the whole support group element--AA sharing, the God talk stuff--and stay with the narrative at hand. Though the story isn't as efficient as it could be, it is wisely lean in the telling, which is not to say it's skimpy. Especially for a film with a Catholic School and priests figuring largely through out, all the spiritual awakening issues, if there are any , are off screen. There is a quibble with some inconsistency with the narrative pace and flow, though, as the film gets distracted with scenes that are not needed, or followed up upon, but Ben Affleck's performance, sullen, gloomy, melancholic with convincing bits of better moods and motivations , is rather masterful and cumulatively powerful, one of his career best.  Worth a watch.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


The fact of the matter is Avengers: Endgame brings the first phase of the Marvel movie saga to a close, all eleven years of overlapping superhero movies in an exhausting connected universe. The shared universe is exhausting, yet, but also exhausted, as in a tired, used up, of gas, predictable. Though the fanboy in each of us wants superhero movies, as a genre, to remain fresh and diverting and, like The Western or the Horror film, to remain a lively genre for writers and producers to delve into, Marvel products, at the second half of their decade-long run at least, have gone from fresh and spunky and reflecting lively energy to being a predictable set of plot motions, no less so, say, than later seasons of Law and Order where longtime viewers can literally count the beats of each scene, know what cues will signify a crucial piece of evidence, how long one has to wait for the Surprise Twist. 

For all the expensive gloss, impressive professionalism, an authentic sense of humor, and a surfeit of superb actors doing outstanding work while wearing spandex costumes, the movies, all 21 of them, including Endgame, seem less and less engaged with a big story, the unfolding of a saga, the moral dilemmas that arise when good vs. evil than they do with becoming more manic, chattier, glibber, frenetic to no natural effect; the present movie takes up nearly three hours cramming in as many characters as possible, from all the film, citing plot points from many films to prove, again, that these stories are connected, and, perhaps reflective of the sense as mentioned above of exhaustion that has pervaded many of Marvel's releases in the half-decade, there is much desultory discussion, digressions, and disquisitions among the characters about how tired they are, how disillusioned they are becoming, how hard it all seems. It leaves unsaid how bored the performances seem, bored to the bone. 

To spirit things along, to pick up the pace, they expected set pieces and the scheduled appearance of every MCU hero from the 11 years of movies. This makes me think of nothing less than Fibber McGee's Closet, a closet so far beyond capacity that a chance opening of the door threatens a city-wide catastrophe. There is much summing up, explaining, complaining, and large chunks of shtick. They mean us to have a teary-eyed farewell to characters we've come to love as this chapter of the Marvel Universe closes, and they pass the torch on to the next generation of costumed clods. The manipulation of audience emotion was as ham-handed as the pacing was lead-footed. 

This three-hour ordeal just made me wish everyone on the screen would die and we could all go home at last. The hard fact is that Avengers Endgame is less entertaining than watching a dog pinch a loaf on your front lawn. It is an awful movie.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"THE AVENGERS: Infinity Wars" three hours of frantic, distracted agitation

Image result for thanos
The Avengers The Infinity War is a big, fat, slobbering mess of a movie, a gluttonous rampage of straggling superheroes, thinly connected storylines that are incomprehensible if one hasn't seen most of the Marvel movies that have come out in the last ten years. It is a great looking film, colorful (for a change, as Marvel films have tended to have a bleached out effect for most of what they have done so far), the special effects, especially the special effects, are cast cleverly, and the set pieces are spectacular are satisfyingly effective. But to what purpose, to what effect? One can say that everything that has happened in the films over the last decade have led up to this moment, which I think is the problem; Infinity War cannot stand on its own, it cannot excite without the fan boy's obsession with the smallest bits of detail and information from random Marvel efforts. And it switches from one part of the earth to a sector of the Universe, another planet, a dimension, from Villain headquarters to intergalactic weapons foundry, constantly, disconcertingly. 

That is to say that the editing is such that the movie finally does not add up to anything you find quotable, revealing of grim intentions under the professed declarations. Thanos, the villain, does announce his intentions and fulfills his purpose by Movie's end, and the effect is, admittedly shocking and effectively deployed, but it's little more than a sequence of competent magic tricks by a competent trickster who has one amazing effect for his finale. After you go wow, spend some time yammering about what comes next, you realize there was only one spectacular effect that made the grade, and that it wasn't enough to bring the wild twines that form this movie's unsporting narrative together in a way that made more it more than quips and clashes. Mind you, I did like the movie. Very entertaining as a distraction, but like Marvell's Black Panther, epic-ally overrated as masterpieces of cinema. But standards Marvel helped established, they are mere, merely okay. 

Finally, it its race to tie up a decades worth of plot lines and themes from fifteen or so amazingly profitable movies, watching this film was not unlike watching cable TV with a meth-addled tweaker who had the remote control, unable to make up its mind whether to sit, shit, stand, watch the news, jerk off, take apart a bicycle or simply die. Even after all this time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe cannot transcend its self-created cliches. So what comes next? At this point, does it matter? Doubtless, they'll continue to show their technical mastery, but for narratives, ideas, surprises? That rut only gets deeper.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bland Panther

It's advisable to not read film reviews beyond the headlines if even that, prior to buying a ticket and waiting for the lights to dim; being delighted or disappointed with a film after walking into the theater with merely reasonable expectations--rather than desires jacked up and exceeding sanity with big media hype. Like a film, hate it, or give a slight, impassive shrug. the experience doesn't feel like you've been manipulated, pavloved so to speak, into craving a sweet and worthless piece of pop culture hype. And if you loathe the thing you've viewed, you are at least allowed to walk away from the theater feeling only disappointed and not betrayed by a noxious cabal of scheming film critics. And so, let me say that Black Panther, a new Marvel release presently annihilating competing films at the box office and the recipient of ludicrous amounts of praiseworthy hyperbole, gets a shrug of the shoulders, a rock solid "meh", a half-nod, a quick exit to the dustbin of memory. So much is read into this film being a harbinger of a new social movement, a religious event, an event signaling the movement of history's tectonic plates that it would seem apparent that what we have, among other undisclosed symptoms, is the jargon-ated babble of movie critics desiring to effective social agents and diagnosticians of the dialectic.

 They don't want to be movie critics, they want to be public intellectuals, they want to be taken seriously. A couple of things at work here, the first being that I, comic reader and superhero movie fan among many other high and low culture obsessions, have become a bit bored with the formula Marvel is putting forth. While the movie, as with all their product, is a technical marvel and moves along gracefully, the narrative, the emotional connections, the dramatized philosophies argued herein, do not rise above what's come before in Marvel's increasingly crowded gallery. Yes, they do try to address matters of race and privilege, but the context here is too ridiculous and "safe" for any urgency to get across besides obvious points for the plot to turn. DCU got it right in Man of Steel in which the catastrophic release of unchecked superpower destroys the city where the combat took place, all in the name of two causes that had well-articulated, if too convenient rationales. The cardboard patriotism of Captain America, in the MCU, is transferred to the amazingly un-charismatic nationalism of Prince T'Challa /Black Panther. And so, it goes.

Quite despite the claims that BP is a game changer or brings things to the next level so far as their connected universe goes, I found it a bit tedious, albeit a bright, shiny, noisy kind of tedium. For whatever reason, there is a herd mentality among film critics when it comes to certain motion pictures, and what has been written and said about Black Panther so far regarding judging its value as a distinct, different and arguably inspired bit of filmmaking loses intellectual rigor and floats too easily to the helium heights of hyperbole. It begins to resemble Resurrection theology more than anything else; that it's being argued that a fantasy epic re-frames, redirects and clarifies the discussion of and policy decisions about what seems intractable evils in our society underscores how pathetic we've become. A Marvel motion fantasy gets credit for clarifying and grounding our discussion of racial injustice and violence while Kathy Bigelow’s fact-based Detroit, an unflinching recreation of the causes and conditions behind the worst race riot in American history, is given a brief flurry of positive reviews and then quickly shuffled out of the spotlight. That ought to have been the movie, of all movies, that would have sparked a brutally frank discussion of the pathetic state of race relations in this country. But it wasn't.  This is pathetic, grimly pathetic. We cannot even pretend that we're going to talk about race in this country unless it's framed by a glitzy and shallow fantasy. With appropriate respect to Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, who ably moves the movie through a script that suffers from attention deficit--the story hopscotches around locations in real- time parallel developments and an over-reliance on flashbacks, this project waddles when it should run, races at times when it needs to resonate, overstays in expository scenes that cry out for more efficient writing. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Justice League is a fun super hero film and Zack Snyder is a great director. There, I said it

Justice League
Well, yes, this is too predictable, perhaps, but I saw Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder, and yes, predictably (perhaps) I enjoyed the film quite a bit. I will skip the usual apologies fans of the film have made in the face of (predictably) negative reviews to the work, the "it's not a perfect film, it has some problems, but it's lighter, has great character interaction and there is good humor in it to..." I read that so many times this last week in comment sections following printed and on line reviews that it's become something like the lines of dialog in a favorite movie you see over and over and over again and yet again after all those times, where your lips move in sync with the characters on the screen as they mouth them. I say that because that while I agree with the sentiment, my principle reason for enjoying the film is because I think Zack Snyder makes enjoyable comic book movies; he understands comic book aesthetics more profoundly than any other director currently working , definitely more profoundly than critics and a good many comic movie enthusiasts give him credit for. 

Without going into his body of work for a lengthy, film class lecture kind of thing where you might think that I expect you to take notes , I'll assert plainly that Snyder succeeds, to my satisfaction, because his movies resemble the florid, visually stunning, sense jarring, thematically complex and often incomprehensibly plotted graphic novels that have emerged as a seriously considered format in the industry. Man of Steel, Sucker Punch, Batman v Superman , derided by reviewers and crabby fan boys for being too long, too slow , too dark in tone , theme and actual color scheme and and unrepentantly grim in pessimistic in outlook, are elements that have impressed me with what's going on with the level of storytelling across all the comic book publishers of note, but DC especially.

One of the reasons I like Zack Snyder movies, especially his comic book adaptations, is that they play on the screen fairly closely to the experience of actually reading comic books. Flashy cuts, extended action sequences that are supposed to be at high velocity but which are slowed down effectively to create tension, stunning , effects laden vistas that provide the grand off-planet elaborations of a Jack Kirby--Snyder pretty much does all this and does in a dark/grim tone that has been the DC Comics world view for decades. Plot holes, lack of Strindbergian depth in characters, murky plot lines, unclear villian motivation? The lauded comic books from which Synder draws his ideas are guilty of all this, famous for it actually. What he does with Justice League, even in its comprimised and truncated state, is wonderful entertainment, a fast headlong dive into action, banter, visual splendor, with out a wasted moment. There are faults to find, sure thing, you betcha , you bet, but an application of an over prescribed skill, the willing suspension suspension of disbelief, helps the more finicky among us to enjoy the film while it's playing. I recieved my money's worth.

 He has, of course, taken liberties with canon and adjusted his  borrowings to fit the more narratively  constricted needs of movie making--absolutely no one can afford to adapt a comic book story line in its entirety-- but he has done so with flair and daring and has, I believe, constructed a credible, compelling, dark and grim DC universe, reflecting that company's house style, and brings us, at last, to Justice League, a lighter, yes, a faster paced, yes, a funnier, yes, movie than than the filtered strains of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche pessimism that characterized the previous films he directed. The films are an evolution of circumstances, from being hopelessness and dispirited and becoming  to actual hopeful  and  revitalized spirit .

 In short, spoiler free if you haven't seen the previous Snyder DC adaptations, these are superheros who have something to fight for,  to defend and protect the world with a conviction that, I think, is effortlessly conveyed here. Justice League moves quickly , with swiftly conveyed introductions of Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg as the team is brought together for the first time, the action sequences have a balletic beauty only Snyder accomplishes, and the interaction among the heroes , especially in how   they learn to work as a team and in the dialogue, yes, full of jokes, is attractively presented, without a sour note being heard. Justice League, I am offering in this belated note, is a good time at the movies, a super comic book movie who has, to my thinking,brought that adolescent experience of 'theater of the mind" while reading new or old comics under the bed sheets, with a flashlight, to the screen. He , like many of us, remembers that experience and does wonderful work here and else where to bring to movie theatres where you all should be , right now, watching Justice League and having a raging good escape from what  is inane and ugly in this reality.

Ironically, it's been a common complaint with Synder's super hero films, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman especially, is that they are too long and leaden in pace, and yet the relatively two hour running time of Justice League has drawn the reverse complaint, too short and too rushed, just as fervently. Obviously the nearly three hour lengths of the first two films bothered me not at all since I'm inclined to appreciate Snyder's dually Wagnerian, eye popping aesthetic, but I do think that the shorter two hours for Justice League works much to its advantage. That is to say,this film had a briskness that prevented it, for me anyway, from seeming weighed down at all. Plot inconsistencies , not enough background on the new characters, an underexplored method toward Superman's revivification --all common complaints of the new picture and, perhaps, they have merit worthy of longer discussion. 

But since this is a comic book movie geared, I'm sure, to emulate the tone and thematic depth of the DC print versions of these characters--Snyder and company are adapting a Superman and Batman et al, not Tolstoy , not Faulkner--I picked up on the dynamics of the action, which are, of course, very comic booky and an element that made this a pleasurable experience. And since this an origin story involving the creation of a long standing fictional institution and the introduction of three additional heros DC and WB want to make into stand alone franchises, we have to consider exactly how much time to dedicate to the narrative side streets and background information for the birth of the JL and who and what the new characters are about. My guess is that had what hard core fans of the individual characters considered to be a deservingly full introduction been included, the movies run time likely would have pushed past three hours. The movie would have been a slog and weighty , too much so even for my Snyder-tolerant mind set. Movies, especially super hero movies, should move, if nothing else.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Even in movies, the dead should remain dead

Saw’s Billy the Puppet; Han Solo; Superman; and Colin Firth as Kingsman’s Harry
So little of what passes as cultural commentary on the internet is trivial and distracting like an itch you can't scratch that it comes as (very) mild surprise that one of the opinioneers delivered a grouse worth considering. An uncredited scribe in The Guardian mentioned and elaborated on an element of many super hero films that is , perhaps, killing interest in the genre: viewers cannot depend on a character remaining dead if he or she gets killed . The story makes the point that there have been so many deaths-and-miraculous-resurrections of characters that a viewer's willing suspension of disbelief refuses to kick in; it becomes more a matter of plot mechanics than catharsis.

It is one thing that Superman, presented to us as deceased in Batman v Superman, reenters the action in the upcoming Justice League  , since DC has generally made sure the Man of Steel was represented on screen in Christ like terms since the  beginning. It just makes sense just to remain consistent with the analogue and to consistent as well with the comic book canon; Superman simply must come back from the dead. Every dead character returning to the narrative fold, though, kills the fun of these things. Which brings up the point this piece strongly suggests, the nagging question as to why audiences continue to bother showing up for these things. I know it's been predicted often,  but there is a tipping point for this material. We're saturated ,carpet bombed, pummeled with creeps in capes destroying fictional cities and a fantastic and devastating fall off in attendance looms sooner than Hollywood might think. This is to say the studios need to diversify their crops.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok is the distraction we require

Image result for thor ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok nearly lives up to the hype, with the accent being on Marvel's patented triplicate move, slick action, lots of jokes and a particularly intense emphasis on making sure the movies from their studio tie into together. It wouldn't be unfair to say that the movie would be incoherent for plot and character if one hadn't seen a long string of other Marvel brand films, in the right sequence. Perhaps part of the promotional hype should have been for Marvel to own the potential impenetrability of this film's core rationale for those other less familiar with this connected universe and provided for them a list of titles to view beforehand. All the same, Thor and Hulk seem less Avengers than they do Hope and Crosby of the 'Road" movies. Is the ramped up comedy a good idea? Yes, since is this is only good Thor movie of the three that have been made. The laughs were honestly achieved from character interaction , personality clash, the whole shot, and the humor were managed much, much better than the repetitive joke-fight-joke-joke-fight tedium of Civil War. Marvel movies are Disney movies, after all, and franchise films are required in this studio to very much resembling in style and tone what was made before; for them, judging their movies becomes how well the individual directors made the house style entertaining and just a little different. The present movie is an inspired variation on the formula.

For special effects set pieces, this effort is among the best of the year, diluted a notch or two for crowding too many into this two-hour movie. It works much better than the previous EF fiesta Valerian, which I thought was merely busy despite the amount of money spent constructing that confounding mess. Thor: Ragnarok has the benefit of character recognition--despite what I've already said about potential plot incoherent, the host of characters are known commodities, and well portrayed, full of plausible quirks and comic nonchalance. Matters move along briskly, the spectacle builds well, and the decision to use the design ideas of comic book genius artist Jack Kirby and Thor co-creator is a way to differentiate this picture from the three tepid films in this franchise. It has the psychedelic visual style of Kirby used to good and effective measure here. 

This isn't the game changer for the Marvel Universe that fans are hoping for--for all their polish, crafted fury and a sense  of ongoing wit, Marvel films have fallen prey to a lurking Disneyism that has all but infiltrated the rebel spirit of the comic book ethos and has made each hit they produce to be otherwise indistinguishable from the one    before it. Spectacular effects, superb editing, snappy dialogue, in that order or similarly changed   up to minuscule degrees, are what dominate this connected universe, and there is a mounting tedium in their ongoing slate of releases, which explains why the punchlines are ramped up in this production and that the small amounts  of self-reflective dread and existential moments are removed or reduced to all but inconsequential plot requirements. If that's the case, it works on its own terms, a distraction from real-world headlines that inform you that the world is filled with awful people doing hideous, heinous, ugly things to other people. This was a hoot, a laugh, a nail-biter, the entertainment we need. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Best movies of 2017 so far, Part 1

1.Blade Runner 2049
Not a film I anticipated with any great optimism, as Ridley Scott, the director of the first film, a masterpiece recognized only after its unspectacular theatrical performance and the oh-hum reviews, was an erratic director, to be kind. He was very capable of making movies that while boasting an attractive style, would let you down with half baked story lines and conventional Hollywood endings, whether they be     upbeat or bleak by the end of the last reel. Fortunately, smarter judgment prevailed and director Dennis Villeneuve--Sicario, Arrival, Prisoners-- was brought on bard to extend the replicant saga. Fittingly, the film is a luscious, lovingly detailed and poetically blurred vision of a polluted and decimated Los Angeles and western United States, and the enticing and confounding issues that arise from the creation of very human like androids to essentially function and exist as nothing other than a disposable slave class remain with us. The smart matter here is that the right story elements are drawn from the original film,the right characters are brought back to furnish       us with ideas as to how matters have changed over thirty years , the mysteries have deepened more so , and the mysteries remain. BR 2049 has all the issues the lured us in from the original motion picture, but it is its  own majestic,dystopian saga. It is equal parts meditation, philosophical debate, action movie, love story and, above all, a mystery, all the strands perfectly fused together seamlessly. This film is a masterpiece.

2. Wind River
Related imageDirector Taylor Sheridan slowly, ominously unfolds a murder mystery on an Indian reservation in the hard cold winter  of Wyoming , a drama with a muted , slow build, like the most emotionally complex of pieces of music, which  brings together a tracker (Jeremy Renner)_ and an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olson).Less a mystery, actually,than an effectively tooled investigative procedural, the investigators, a pair from realities alienated from each other in thinking and personality --one taciturn,deliberate, the other vocal, questioning, proactive--sift and probe and poke through generations of male culture,both white and Native American and makes you  how the worst aspects of human inclination--seeking power, dominance, submission, exploitation--are made worse tenfold at the local level with the merciless scramble for diminishing resources. Political implications aside, this is a beautifully shot film--snow capped mountains and forests have rarely been photographed this beautifully --and the choice to lens many wide shots to give a scope of the bigness of the land and the harshness of the  weather serves as a poignant contrast 

3.Baby Driver

Writer and director Edgar Wright, we've read, has directed a heist film that is as much a musical as it is a crime comedy. Well, yes, in as much as the title character, actually named Baby Driver, loves to prepare special mix tapes while dancing , highlighted frequently in this film. The steps actor Ansel Elgort executes in these scenes are fairly  elegant indeed, Astaire like to a degree.  Don't let that stir you    off, though, as what Wright creates is in keeping with previous work , which is zany, witty,  subversive of the genre he's working in, but never so busy   with his technical virtuosity that he forgets to bring the fun the audience came for. Our hero is a fantastically gifted getaway  driver indentured to a ruthless crime master .Finding love at last, Baby finds himself attempting some impossible ploys to free himself of teh clutches of his boss so he  can go off and find happiness and some kind of normalcy after a life   of forced criminal activity. Not an  original premise, but it's merely the  starting point    for Wright, he subverts the cliches , veers in another direction other than where you expect him, expands and contracts the minimal plot particulars, and keeps matters moving, moving , moving with a quick but sure sense of how to keep the many balls he has in the air from hitting the floor. Wright also draws fine performances from Jamie Fox, Jon Ham and the ever effusive Kevin Spacey as the harshly ironic crime boss. Expect double, triple and quadruple crosses here as the matters pile on, and expect many a "WTF?" moments and to burst into laughter at unexpected moments. Baby Driver is an exercise in    exhilarating virtuosity.
Director and writer Jim Jarmusch at his best, a seemingly trivial and glancing examination of a Paterson, New Jersey  bus driver also named Paterson whom we get watch as he goes about his day, waking up next to his   wife, clocking into work, driving his route around the downtown area (it seems), listening to rich chunks of fascinatingly inane small talk from his passengers and, most telling, having lunch. Paterson the driver, living in Paterson the city, echos the legacy of Paterson the epic poem by William Carlos Williams, the great American poet and and a Paterson native son. Paterson, the driver,  writes poetry on his lunch break, and in the course of the film viewers have the only film about a poet I remember that showed the writing process in effective movie terms. The poem, in the driver's hand writing, appears on the screen as he composes and we listen to the poem in his voice being created; revisions are made, lines and words crossed out, new phrases are introduced, what begins as seemingly prosaic and ordinary becomes something extraordinary , worh noticing, an idea beautifully expressed and preserved in words. This is the beauty of Jarmusch at  his best, finding rich and resonating veins from the   everyday, bits of modern life uncluttered and made just slightly odd. Humorous, touching, perfectly disarming , this movie is also particularly in small pleasures that are matter of fact,   bits of surprise with no fanfare, one of which    is that the Paterson the driver/character living in a city named Paterson which is also the title of an important American poem is portrayed by Actor Adam Drive. Intended  or by coincidence, I think  that is very, very cool  in a satisfying small way.

Related imageColossal, a fine indy film written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. The premise is this: a young woman loses her job and boyfriend in NYC and, unable to find work and broke as well, moves back to her home town to stay in her parent's empty house. At the same time, a giant monster begins to destroy Seoul , Korea . The woman realizes after a while that she has a mysterious but very direct connection with the monster destroying a city a half a planet away. Science fiction, romantic comedy and psychological thriller in a well executed fusion of what would conflicting genres, writer and director Vigalondo does not merely mash together disparate kinds of pop culture, but instead weaves them together. Without going into tidbits that would spoil the film, I would just add that the script is as tightly constructed as it is wildly imagined and it requires to suspend our disbelief a little further and, in a more challenging aspect, to suspend it in ways not usually demanded of us as viewers. Think of this: if one's actual life seems to slip, merge, evolve and abruptly change tones, perceptually, from being a comedy, tragedy , romance and soap opera in the course of month, a week, a day, why wouldn't this also hold for a fictional , more fantastical world? Colossal does , I promise, contain all the elements I've mentioned, and they are pertinent to the story being told, but this a narrative with the varied genre restrictions removed. For all that seems fantastic and scary, the players and their situations and how they respond to the changes that happen to them are, (ahem) human, all too human. Odd, quirky and defying genre expectations, this is splendid and engrossing story, with a perfect ending to seemingly unresolvable complications that you didn't see coming. Fine performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.

6.Wonder Woman
Related imageDirector Patty Jenkins directs with a sure, firm and confident hand, efficiently and effectively establishing the WW mythology as it relates to a re-imagined Greek mythology, the origin story of the young girl who would become the eventual super hero, and the first adventure of Wonder Woman in full costume, in the WW 1 trenches, fighting with the British against the Germans, searching for her foe Ares, the God of War. It works remarkably well, I think.  A wonderful cast featuring wonderful work from Chris Pine and Robin Wright. Gal Adopt as WW, a controversial casting when first announced, is quite good here. Athletic, naive, ironic, fierce in combat sequences and sweetly ironic in the comic parts, she turns in a star-making performance. Gadot hasn't the broadest range as an actress, a fact that led the objections to her being casted in the role of the defining super heroine, but what she does here is akin to what other limited-commodity screen thespians have worked well with, which is to perform splendidly within the limitations. An imaginatively creation of both alternative history and alternative history, stylized grandly but not overbearing, exhibiting recognizable emotion and conviction among the characters yet avoiding preachiness and sentimentality, and above all else, sufficiently, effectively, efficiently action packed,