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Lord of Illusions (1995)
Ay Yai Yai, What Did I Watch?
What starts as a very interesting premise devolves into your typical Clive Barker low simmering homosexual sensibility (the Ryan Murphy BEFORE Ryan Murphy) qualities to all his movies. In this case, the inner being within the inner being and the freaks that come out to attempt to scare you but end up just being a cavalcade of poor monster makeup effects.
You know, I am impressed how much it did predicted arrogant d-bags like Chris Angel or David Blaine. There isn't much of a story there. And a total waste of Famke Janssen. As you don't get to see what REALLY made her famous (remember what I said about latent gay-ness)
Also...why Scott Bakula? Consider that we are use to seeing him on television as a wholesome character. Then try to convince us we should think he is a foul mouth tough guy detective. It doesn't gel in 1995. Maybe 2020, but not back then.
This movie is a total drag (after 27 minutes to the end, I thought it would NEVER end). Somber as most Barker films are. Though not grim, it feels more like a straight to video project. Just seems to not start out with a lot of gas and just get worse.
Season 3 review Only
Now that Dolores, Maeve, Charlotte Hale and Bernard Lowe have escape the western world, they embark on integrating themselves into the human world and fulfill Dolores's plans to overthrow the weak chaotic civilization that we live in now. A surprising tonal shift to the dirt and low tech view of the wild west and the primal urge thrills of the original park, we are now spending time in the wizard's lab.
And it is facinating. Because it draws parallels to our robotic world of mundane living. Enter a schlub construction worker Caleb Nichols. When first introduced to him we get the sense that he is going through the motions of a daily grind. Mirroring Dolores's replayed world, we discover he also takes side jobs on an application called Rico. Which is a little foggy what it actually does but seems like a personal assistant thing where he makes deliveries for shady people. Or, in some cases performs crimes. Through this technology we also learn he suffers with guilt over the death of a friend whom he did a tour with in the military.
Part "Manchurian Candidate" part "Future World" this season makes a LOT of interesting comparisons with our futuristic society now. Where the androids now integrate with humans and actually learn. And what they find out is how fragile their lives are. Or how cheap we see each other. In this case, that a mega computer created by the Serac brothers have bought our collective information and can predict our shelf life. In other words a VERY accurate death clock based on our decisions. Should be know this? Or should you know this is up to date. Would you live your life any different? Can you break out of what a computer calculates as your end? Pretty heady stuff to say the least. But these types of 4th dimensional questions is what makes this series incredible.
I am disheartened to hear that other reviewers are this dismissive about these existential questions. They are great discussion pieces about our society. But does the show's lack of answers seem to frustrate them. Completely understandable. To me, the real "Westworld" begins AFTER the episode ends. Where we discuss it. But in this pandemic lockdown, it's impossible for us to have these conversations. The brilliance of this season is that we do regain the reigned in real world. I this case, violence does not have a reset button. A lot of previous viewers who enjoyed that will receive little of it here. What replaces it is having a more grounded internally conflicted moments that do not allow for unaccountable cruelty (though plenty of moments of that too). What is Dolores's endgame reveals itself, and I'd be lying if I said it was satisfactory. However, it has a melancholic resolution that may uplifted you in terms of artificial intelligence making even more of a human sacrifice than humans would make. It cracks a little of the code that Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg attempted in "A.I." and THAT movie is devastating.
All in all...a great binge watch. Can't wait to see what they do with Season 4.
The Cotton Club (1984)
A Glossy Mess
Yeah, closing in on over 30 years and here I am writing a review...oh well.
There is nothing about this film, aside from style, that one can completely follow. Style and dance and dance and music and more style. In between we have Richard Gere as Michael "Dixie" Dwyer, a coronet player who gets roped into Dutch "The Dutchman" Schultz's (James Remar) gangster world.
What's to love about this movie?
BRILLIANT cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt. INCREDIBLE set design.
As most have written, that's about it.
The script is horrid. The direction by Francis Ford Coppola...decent. And he woefully casts his nephew Nick Cage here as Dixie's hothead ambitious, yet stupid brother. I will never understand the ironic love for this guy. People like him because he does crazy movies making the dumbest choices in cinema (see: "Peggy Sue Got Married"). People call him brave for it. Brave is the guy who paid to let him do crazy stuff.
Any way, a lot of darkness in the making of this film as well. Cocaine cowboys was big in the 1980's and in what became truth being stranger than fiction, a real murder was associated with this movie and with flamboyant producer Robert Evans. These are the original stories of Hollywood...they want to forget and bury. This is when it was fun. Regardless, this movie does have good musical numbers (Gregory Hines tap dancing is annoying. We get it, he's good...at a certain point, the tapping felt like hammering as he's hamming it up. Never got Greg Hines either). The best parts are when people are still. I mean, this is Coppola so the whole thing feels like a theatrical opera. It just never had a story.
Jin ling shi san chai (2011)
Yimou Zhang Is a Master Storyteller
If you know anything about Master Zhang's films you understand he focuses on life as a chain reaction of good decisions and bad and also how sometimes a helpless situation turns on a dime. I suspect he has experienced too many changes of fortune under turmoil that makes him bent on making films to show awful human behavior but also the fallen characters who redeem themselves. One of my favorite of his is "To Live" and here we have a similar anxiety induced story.
It's fairly simple...the Japanese in 1937 have sacked Nanking. And as Catholic girl students attempt to hide in a church/convent, in drops an American mortician tasked with burying a priest. He discovers that there isn't enough of the priest to bury but by then it's too late and is trapped with the schoolgirls. A few moments later a group of prostitutes from a local brothel decide to hide out there as well. The Japanese post up there with a more devious plan for the girls. The plan is to sneak them out, past the Japanese.
Without getting too much into the twists and turns...I need to warn viewers this film is brutal. I mean...just awful violence bestowed on everyone involved. Children and women are not spared. And the violence, while shocking, seems to be tame compared to the real stories of Nanking. China's version of the Holocaust. It is ugly, mean and most likely accurate. To the Japanese, most likely shameful. Which seems to be why we've glossed over its history.
But this is about redemption, goodness through dark and...digging deeply for humanity in absolute chaos. In this type of war, the casualties are endless and every body counts. The Japanese are portrayed as ugly screaming monsters, but that would be the perspective of a 13 year old girl recounting the events.
This is a very haunting film and sometimes, it really makes you search your own humanity to learn from hate and anger and find...salvation.
A truly gifted flick
The Last Tycoon (2016)
A Sweeping Look Into The Birth Of Modern Hollywood
Nothing has changed. We can believe that corporations have taken over Tinsel Town, but in this version of "The Last Tycoon" creativity has always been controlled by committee. So the filmmakers out there that think they are autonomous, without using your own money, it 'aint happening.
That aside, the story is of wunderkind Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer) a ambitious young studio executive who is known to fix movies within the walls of Brady-American International, a fictional movie studio run by Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer). During the depression, they both attempt to save the studio from outside forces including the rise of stars and divas, and dark secrets of actors, the dynamics of writers and producers and so forth. Coming into the story, we also have Brady's daughter Celia Brady (Lily Collins) who is at the edge of adulthood and fixated on making her own way into Hollywood, and also Brady's wife Rose Brady (Rosemarie DeWitt) who has a history with Monroe whilst Celia holds a burning crush on him.
Admittedly, I know very little about the book, which was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. But I've seen the late 70's version, and they both do really good things. The issue with the 70's version is that it gets TOO melancholic. This skates a very tragic line since Bomer's Monroe plays a little more buoyant and hopeful than DeNiro's Monroe, who plays it brooding and bullish.
The series has some great moments (somewhat predictable but still satisfying) and makes nods to Hollywood lore. Louis B. Mayer's (Saul Rubinek) close to making "Wizard Of Oz" a Shirley Temple reference, and also a curious one with Margo Taft (Jennifer Beals) whom I can only assume is suppose to be Merle Oberon. Any way, this does suck you in. And I loved the production design. The characters have their intentions known and fascinating when they cut between the stories. You can keep up.
IF you are interested in old Hollywood, this is a great series to remind you that movie worlds were once made by people who really cared about the content.
Pet Sematary (2019)
A Dud That Should Be Buried
I respect the movie makers to attempt to make this their own. But what it ends up doing is turning it into something of a hybrid slasher to zombie flick. Or perhaps it was always a zombie flick.
The problem stems from very bland characters. Jason Clarke, who is normally a fascinating guy, seems so bored from the material. His dead expression doesn't translate as "burned-out big city doctor" but just burned out (perhaps from his recent slew of projects he's involved in). Also, none of it was scary. To be fair. The original adaption wasn't that scary either. This version felt even less about the deep loss and more about how to connect the dots. For instance, the procession of children who hold a ritual burial for a deceased pet. Okay, where did that ever go. And what happened to those kids? Did this line of plot ever come back? No. Only to be creepy...ish. As a friend once said "seemed filmed just for the trailer."
The source material has always had a major flaw. In a way, we sort of know that death will come and it will involve resurrection. Okay...so? We've seen this already. What I feel the story lacks is a LOT of character building. Since the most interesting character background is actually the mom Rachel (Amy Seimetz) who isn't remotely absorbing everything that is actually happening. Or it happens too late. To be fair, Denise Crosby wasn't exactly hitting it out of the park either. But we do get to see a relationship with the sister whom she is haunted by.
And this review obviously wouldn't be complete without comparing Juds. There is a presence around Fred Gwynne that NO ONE will ever touch. And, in a lot of ways, that is probably the most egregious reason as to why this remake should not have been done. I believe the makers of this didn't consider the absolute iconic nature of Gwynne's performance. While hammy and sometimes ridiculous Maine accent, he sold it. For some reason John Lithgow seemed lethargic and at some points...confused. He embeds himself in the family in a very unnatural way. And there is nothing particularly interesting about him that makes Ellie (Jete Laurence) find fascinating. Other than they needed to get that out of the way fast. Lithgow's gruff approach doesn't add the warmth that Gwynne provided. FInally, when all Hell breaks loose in the movie, I just didn't feel it was worth the time. Look, it's damn near impossible to scare people anymore. The "secret" change that is involved here isn't that mind blowing as it thinks it should be. It just makes you feel the gimmick more. The 1989 movie wasn't great shakes, but at least it got really tragic fast. And you felt the loss more. Emoting to get the audience to emote DOES NOT WORK. And definitely doesn't work when one of your better assets becomes the one thing they have to destroy. Ugh.
It's just a movie that really makes you wonder why it was even made.
Le locataire (1976)
Deeply Flawed But Still Very Watchable
Hard to imagine, if you've followed careers like Darren Aronofsky, that you won't see it's influence. Years after the brutal death of director Roman Polanski's wife, actress Sharon Tate, one wonders if the deep suspicion and paranoia of random acts of humanity don't creep into his work. It must. And I don't blame him.
Here is a pretty simple concept. Man rents an apartment where a woman was said to have committed suicide. He decides to visit the woman in the hospital (she having fallen into a coma and eventually dies) and goes into what, a few describe here, as a Kafka-esque wormhole.
I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it does have a very uncontrollable meandering segments of surrealism that falls also under a flick like "After Hours" where things happen to our hero, despite attempting to control it. Eventually, he is consumed by the paranoia.
In a sense, this may be Polanski's most personal film. In that death and life have a cycle. And there are very little few things you can do to control either. And if you fight it, you are going upstream. And it will be an unending nightmare. To that, it is a very watchable film. However...for those who can't stand those types of movies where you nitpick at the small things in order for the hero to right his own ship (much like in horror films where you scream for the teenager not to go down stairs where the killer naturally resides) this film will NOT be for you. Many occasions he does the dumbest things and says the most inane dialogue to keep the feature length pace. In any ordinary world, things are solved with just simple clarity. This film doesn't exist in that world.
The dark carnival nature of the film also adds to an uneasy footing for us as viewers. We don't necessarily identify with the protagonist because he isn't more active in his life. Perhaps that was the point. To me, the very European nature of the film may also turn many off. There is very little structure. Which doesn't require it when you have mental breakdowns and are in an enclosed space. One also wonders why the citizens of Paris, France speak in American accents. Ex-patriots, perhaps? Not sure. But that in itself is unnerving. I think for arthouse cinephiles, this will satisfy very much. For everyone else, it will annoy.
Written In CoronaVirus 2020
When this popped up on Amazon Prime, I felt compelled to revisit a movie I'd seen in the theater back in 1985 at a camp retreat. I recall liking the film A LOT. And now in 2020...I LOVE this film!
Marvel "The Avengers" and movies like this owe a LOT to this film, in that it set the template to what we were too cinema slow to understand back then...that violence, humor and government corruption can be put into a movie. What do you think "Captain America" was all about? This was the mold in which superhero movies today are based on (whether they realize it or not).
Without getting into plot, it is a fun and sometimes incredible stunt heavy movie. The fight on the Statue of Liberty is mind blowing considering there was 1) NO computer graphics and 2) solid wire work. Even more crazy is the fact that they put actor Fred Ward in a LOT of these precarious situations. Especially when you realize much of the "training" is done to supplement what Remo must do later. It's actually smarter than most (director) Guy Hamilton level James Bond entries.
Much has been said about Joel Grey's portrayal of an old Korean man. To be fair, much of the jokes are more at Remo's expense. And much was in light of how Americans were seen as hamburger eating slobs. And yes, there are off-putting moments of wisdom through obviously forced Asian accents. But it really isn't as offensive as I remembered.
Rebuilt, remolded and recruited Remo is what we see as comic book heroes today (*I never read the books to which these were based off of). IF the DC universe was smart, they'd start snapping up these books to adapt for their next franchise.
Je T'aime, Au Revoir (2014)
A Filmmakers Cruel Journey
If you've ever attended film school you will understand this movie. It is a drama filled up and down of personal relationships attempting to break into the industry while also following your dream.
Matt Ukena plays the forlorn director who attempts to find deeper meaning through his films. He recruits his muse played by Ashley Moret who epitomizes every single detail of a struggling actress willing to put herself in a project. Knowing full well what feelings the director has developed for her she strings along Matt however, she is not to blame. One gets the feeling of a platonic arms length relationship on her part but unfortunately as a dreamer and hopeless romantic, Matt doesn't see past this. This is the subtle nuance that transcends the typical corny melodrama. That there are no "good guys" or "bad women" but just trying to live amongst the struggles of Hollywood. We want to judge but we can't.
What I absolutely love about this film is that it creeps up on you. We traipse along with him to feel all his anger, pain, betrayal and ultimately...well it's hard to describe...perhaps...existential resolution of his art being an outlet for life's pitfalls. It is bittersweet, melancholic and thought provoking for any artist who always attempts to organize reason, control and life's unpredictability.
This film is also vastly different from director Bennie Woodell's wheelhouse but seems to be a lot more comfortable here than the ultra-violent macabre previous flicks. To that, I wish he'd make more of these.
This film will have a lot of people conflicted over the content and it's primal nature. As filmmakers, you will be captivated by the construction of a film that is simplicity at its finest. As anthropologist we may be uneasy about its voyeuristic eye towards pubescent women.
Director Nicholas Roeg is a dirty old man who likes to watch innocence turned to debauchery. Much like his other films, he does make us question our internal moral compass: if he is making these films, and I enjoy them, what does that make me? But they are also pop art. The intercutting of two occurring events for effect is a modern trope now. Much like Russ Meyer, he knows the snappy quick shot juxtapose with sexual imagery taps into our animal core.
But this movie is also about survival and the advent of modern technology taking away our ability to adapt to nature. And ultimately our empty feeling of loss because we are no longer hunter/gatherers but bored cubicle dwellers who aren't functioning off fight or flight responses. This is the true lesson to be learned. Which makes it more poignant that it is two children who ultimately go through this trek. A lot also has been said about the nudity of Jenny Agutter. Who, without knowledge of laws in Europe, I can say...it's filmed mostly as like a home movie. The notorious nude scenes of her have moments where you wonder if the exploitation isn't too much. I still question it, 45+ years later, but the point of it was to shed the skin of uptight society which claims the lives of many who live in fast paced stressed world (as is tragically displayed at the beginning). Now for those who criticize the dense message, it's really not hard to see how much living a more primal life is what's being told. It's that feeling for when you've gone camping. Real camping where you build your own fires and cook your own food over the fire and look up at the sky when you realize as you come back to "civilization" how the open air was pure tonic. Perhaps that is what I get from this film.
Alien: Isolation (2014)
A Nostalgic Anxiety Riddled Hug
If you've studied the movie as I have, you know they went to great lengths to make this game as authentic as it can be. And BOY, is it top notch! Love that they got the crew of the Nostromo, beyond Ripley, to offer some voice work.
The learning curve is steep. It's a dodge and hide and seek game, but the rewards of seeing familiar sights...deja vu moments to be honest, makes this game a must for the fans of the film.
A lot has been said about the slow paced, trapped in a corner feel. I COMPLETELY understand this. All it is is a constant anxiety attack and listening intently to noises in the dark. This is an immersive "Alien" experience as I imaging Ripley must've experienced it. In this case, Ripley's daughter, Amanda (whom we heard about in "Aliens" (1986)). It really makes you revisit the past.
Though there is a lot of cross over which would've made a pretty decent bridge between "Alien" and "Aliens" specifically because you do see other ventures to "LV-426" this is a haunting trip and worth it if you can bear the frights. The AI seems to be incredibly smart to your movements.
I've never felt this level of panic before in any game. That is an impressive feat. It's a great jaunt through the classic and a REALLY smart way to relive the first "Alien" without it treading over the storyline of it.
City of Joy (1992)
I would never be one to begrudge the enlightened search which seems to follow The Swayze. Or criticize anyone in search of his own humanity, Even in a ridiculous flick like "Roadhouse" somehow he seems to inject it with some philosophies of life. Even if it's as simple as "Be nice."
So it hurts me to say how weak of a film this is.
The story is of a man who migrates his family from the farm into the city of Calcutta to life in a slum district ironically called the "City of Joy." There a ruthless rickshaw/landlord rules with a harsh hand. Knowing that "his people" are weak animals who are treated like beasts of burden. As he exploits them with heavy taxes while working them to death, he rationalizes it as keeping an arms length to poverty (sound familiar).
Enter, The Swayze, as Max, a deeply troubled doctor who seems to specialize in pediatric medicine/surgery. He is lost to the cause after losing a young patient and concludes that his goals in life were heaved on him by his father who belittles his life choices and guides him through abuse.
To escape he heads out to India, and lives a hedonistic life. He disregards his personal safety. He is lost. One drunken night, he runs into Joan (Pauline Collins), an Irish woman who had posted up in the slum to, occasionally offer her limited medical services. So a doctor showing up seemed to be her godsend. Until she discovers he is so disillusioned by the efforts of the medical profession. The rest is pretty cookie cutter, and somewhat...predictable.
The concept is great, the execution felt like they didn't trust the material. So many instances would've played better if they weren't said. So many moments ruined by telling us how to feel rather than just feeling them. And quite frankly, The Swayze is REALLY mis-casted. He doesn't have the chops to play a ruined man. But I understand his likeability and it's hard to ever hate on him.
To me, this film really wants you to feel something. But it's so uneven. One minute he hates everything about the city and all that is going on, and the next, he loves everything. It's conflicting messages like this that cause it to feel disingenuous. But also, how the people react to him. They readily accept his culture as being the superior one. Probably true. But it's heavy handed and trite. The moments with Pauline Collins is somewhat awkward as well. She antagonizes him with questions about faith. And challenges him about his own humanity. The problem here is...he never wanted to be a doctor but was forced to by his father. So, we never understand why a few weeks in Calcutta would change his view. Especially as he lays it out. The people never do seem to have changed him. Only that he tells us he did. And that makes it dead in the water.
I like the efforts director Roland Joffe did to get it accurate. Shooting in the worst environment possible. I could imagine it was a enormous pain. But it really pays off. The film would be a decent double feature with "Out of Africa" for it's score. Here Ennio Morricone does his best John Barry. Sad that so much work went into this film, and it just felt middle of the road. Disappointed to say the least.
I Am Legend (2007)
There is no joy in crazy town.
How appropriate it is now that we have a virus in 2020 that is running the same path as what this one in this movie is. Tragic, sad and melancholy. I believe Will Smith was channeling Arnold Schwarzenegger in "End of Days" because the ultimate sacrifice doesn't necessarily pay off.
In the case of Will Smith, something about him bugs me. He can never be...uncool. Even when he's doing a sing-a-long with "Shrek" he's still...that cool dude. Then when he attempts to show vulnerable, he is still trying to be cool. In that attempt at retribution scene with a car. By the way, it was his stupidity that got his dog killed. And also that got all those people killed. But he sort of owns up to it. It seems Will Smith's name got it made.
There was so much more fun to be had in "Omega Man." He understood the fun of being the last guy on Earth. He didn't fearfully tread through life but accepted it. Charlton Heston understood this. And he was cool. Will Smith is also a doctor in this. Sure. If he's a doctor, I'm an astronaut.
So so many questions. Like he created a fortress of metal, bolted railed sliding doors. Uh-huh. Where? From Home Depot? His house...have you seen a bigger house in NYC from a doctor's salary? What did he do? Sell Russian secrets. That basement alone. A grenade takes out every one of the monsters in a basement. It's a grenade.
This is just a boring sad flick. Good for quarantined life, if you want to create more panicked nonsense (this site censors thoughts) in your mind. Monsters look cheap. CGI cheap. This was a colossal mess.
Brotherly Hate In the 1-7
Looking back on this movie, sorry, I agree with Scott Glenn's character Axe...when government corruption creates the window of opportunity to sacrifice lives to commerce, action must be taken. Standing in the way, is whiny, annoying Beta male William Baldwin who plays younger brother Brian McCarffrey to Kurt Russell's charge in firefighter Stephen McCaffrey.
The film is wonderfully directed by Ron Howard, withe exception of Baldwin. He's annoying. But this is a story of brothers and Kurt's Russell's chops make Baldwin look outmatched. Sort of works for the movie since, in the flick he is as well. But, much like "Top Gun" glamorized and recruited fighter pilots, I'm pretty sure this did well to recruit fireman.
Coming of age story, where the lead is nowhere as interesting as the side characters is what is really aggravating, and nearly sunk the firetruck. There are plenty of laughs and tears, but somehow falls really short. But this was passed off as fluff. Sad, since I can't imagine another film where Rebecca De Mornay deserved an Academy nomination for supporting. Or Hans Zimmer for that heart tugging score. Or Robert DeNiro for his performance as a fire inspector. You see how young man Baldwin is outmatched. But they also saddled him with a very underperformed Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose baby voice just doesn't do it. But again, a solid outing by director Ron Howard. And lenses like a cologne commercial by Mikael Salomon. Give credit where credit is due.
Cutter's Way (1981)
A Detective Movie Without Any Authority
In the darkly comedic world of Southern California comes this gem of a detective movie, except no one is a cop. Instead, we find raging drunk Alex Cutter (John Heard) brutally traumatized by war that he spends his days in a Bukowski drunken cloud trying to fight any fight. When one night, his best pal Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) witnesses someone who dumped a dead body.
When mentioned to Cutter, suddenly he has a moment of purpose and sets out to solve the murder of a young hitchhiker.
Does it matter who really did it? Sort of. The McGuffin is actually the murder, the rest is an adventure between two friends who are living on the fringe of the ultra-wealthy. In a way, a dissection of how the powerful keep these people at bay. And it is funny. Not that Heard's performance of Cutter is amusing, he's abrasive, ugly, and downright mean. If anyone has ever been around a mean drunk, this is that in spades. What is surprising is how well this movie holds up. It's got nice slow moments between all the players, okay to slowly burn through the day to day of...day drunks, night drunks and friends who love other friend's wife. If you approach this movie for action packed violence, it's not that. It's a great behavior study with genuine drama. Beautiful work also by Lisa Eichorn playing Mo, the long suffering, somewhat enabling wife of Alex Cutter. She appeases his alcoholism due to some deep obligation (and, maybe, some pity). They have drifted apart, and seem more roommates than spouses. To me, she anchors what we're all thinking. Especially when they set out to truly solve the mystery through shenanigans. In a way, it's almost like "Stand By Me." In that, the efforts to see a dead body meant much less than the adventure to get there. By the time you get to the resolution, it really doesn't matter. Most will feel cheated by the ending. Director Ivan Passer (admittedly this is my first Passer film) really allows moments between the actors to develop. It's great in the sense that they feel like real people. And that sometimes it is as simple as fighting with neighbors, getting drunk and doing dumb things. Spinning our wheels until we find some purpose. This is a human story. Beautiful work by cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth as expected. It holds up to the years. Surprising this was 1981. Looks great! Anyway, it's a fun romp through the rich life through the eyes of poor. A solid yarn!
Last Action Hero (1993)
Okay, It's Not Perfect
I recall having massive expectations for this movie back in 1993 and after watching it with friends, we came out...well, shell-shocked.
Fast forward, 2020 and I popped in the blu-ray again. Though not perfect, this is one of those movies that loves movies...specifically action movies and has the insight to parody itself. Most notably because writer Shane Black who was responsible for late 80's early 90's action flicks like "Lethal Weapon" or "The Last Boy Scout." Two movie I wore out my VHS tapes on.
Helmed by action maestro John McTiernan, I kept wondering what could possibly go wrong?
Probably because the kid, Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien) is pretty obnoxious. (as some other reviewers had mentioned). He's supposedly a film fan and spends a great deal of time nagging Jack about the tropes of action movies. This is like someone poking you in the chest throughout the movie. He's shrill and unpleasant and now we're left to spend hours with him. It's worse than babysitting (same reason why I hated "Scream"). This meta comedy works well, if you're a fan, and if you can ignore this kid, the rest is really entertaining. You get funny one-liners and silly humor. A lot of inside jokes about buddy cop movies but also you get a lot of great cameos (Robert Patrick and Sharon Stone as the most notable).
To me the blend of action comedy probably could've worked better if not everything was thrown at the screen. Maybe an example of too much of a good thing. Though, McTiernan is a genius as juggling all the storylines and pace, it still sags heavy due to the inability to drop great jokes (the video store is a GREAT moment, but it probably could've been trimmed in writing). Which is what I think this movie sort of lacked. A fine tuned focus. It's fun in so many parts, and goofy and I'm aboard, but then they throw in these odd moments (pulling a hair from her head) which drags things out too long. It does feel, and has been confirmed, things were being written as it went along. No final script means a LOT of problems (also a very short post production schedule). Also, when they do get to Danny's "real world" you feel the heaviest part of the movie because the fun seemed to be over.
I would never call this the disaster that the 90's labeled it. If anything, it is a time capsule to the action genre of its day. A perfect collection of pop culture history, if you take the time to watch.
Coyote Ugly (2000)
20 Years Later Revisiting This
After 20 years, I'd have to say...it doesn't hold up that well. BUT, that's not to say, it brings a tug of nostalgia for that era of Jerry Bruckheimer slick music video retreads of "Flashdance"
A lot of it is due to Diane Warren's corny soundtrack music. And those of us who were in college by now, have a slight shiver when we hear her anthems. Which nearly toppled another Jerry Bruckheimer gem "Con Air" with "How Do I Live Without You" Oof.
The present day woman would consider that dis-empowering to be so attached to a man (or perhaps this could be used towards other women). Speaking of which, the topic at hand is "Coyote Ugly." Presumably, an article led to this story (written by Gina Wendkos). I recall a friend had moved to New York City and discovered a bar called Hogs and Heifers, which shared very similar rambunctious behavior (nailing bras to the wall). And dancing on bars and so forth. In Jerry Bruckheimer world...it's PG-13. So none of the topless stuff is displayed (unless you get the unrated DVD/Blu-Ray which shows Piper Perabo's funbags).
Though this movie is about making it in the big city, it is somewhat laughable at the truncated timeline. Within a few weeks Violet Sanford (Perabo) becomes the hottest songwriter in the country with a number 1 hit that is sung by Leanne Rhimes. And though these girls are suppose to be world and tough, the painfully model casting of...Tyra Banks, Bridget Moynahan, Izabella Miko and Maria Bello set this in a truly fantastical mystical world I'd reserve for...um...say Hollywood. If that was the intention than kudos to director David McNally. To me, it seems less genuine. Jennifer Beals would seem like a dog up agains these girls. Any way, great to see John Goodman pop up as Violet's New Jersey dad (though still seems like he can't shake that Dan Conner-ness) and Bud Cort's very small cameo. Clearly this movie was made to rake in the jiggle factor. So, cheers to them for recognizing what it exists for. Also special note to cinematographer Amir Mokri. Great lighting. I feel this may get a re-release in the future. That will stand up well.
While beautiful to look at, I am astonished how anemic the movie felt.
While director Rob Cohen (taking over for Stephen Sommers) knows how to start a movie, somehow this one gets muddled in too many logic flaws. And the worst thing that could happen to a movie, which is...the characters are dumb.
I'm also perplexed on, casting of Luke Ford as the son, Alex O'Connell, when he appears to be in his mid-to-late 20's while Brendan Fraser seems to be in his early 30's. WRONG! At least give Brendan a greying beard or something. The guy is still yoked (for a 1940's guy who had been sitting around with no adventures in the last 8 years besides flyfishing?). Poor choices like this sink the ship. And though we grew accustomed to Rachel Weisz's Evelyn O'Connell (which lingers with a heavy feeling of dread)...Maria Bello does do the best she can with weak material. To me, they probably should've casted an Englishwoman. But Bello seemed hot off of Jerry Bruckheimer reparatory troupe, so...why not? This movie just has a very straight to video feel. Not that the concept wasn't an interesting one. It seems Jet Li was woefully placed as a "favor gig" to China-a-phile Cohen. He's not given much...like The Rock before him. To me, it's all wasted time to re-create a sense of wonder that was from the first one ("The Mummy Returns" wasn't that great either. Looking back, it's actually a slog).
A few others things that seem lazy is casting Michelle Yeoh, whom, as a witch, reads incantations in English. Can't explain why. And her daughter and her speak to each other in English, though...they speak Mandarin before that. Why? These things matter, and it seems lazy when they drop details, when this movie is all about details. Though the production design is draw droppingly beautiful (Shanghai in particular), the cinematography of Simon Duggan does add a ton to the nostalgic feel of that era. It's glossy and it glitters, but the story really and resolution will leave you...flat. It was a nice attempt.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
A Near Impossible Movie To Review
I loved this movie. I mean, it strikes to the core of a simple concept, an alien to Earth who sees how awful we are as a species. Isn't that great?
Same most likely is said about immigrants. Legal ones anyway. The culture shock, the distant confusion. It's a beautiful thing to see how we relate when we have nothing to relate to. In other words, without our preconceived prejudices, how do we view humanity.
In this case, inspired casting of David Bowie was the answer. Even resembling an alien, Bowie glides through this movie with the ethereal quality of part angel and part alien. He is baffled by our culture but understands it's function: commerce. To that his ingenuity to trade gives him untold wealth. But it's for a greater cause which is revealed much later. Along the way, he seemingly falls in love with a woman (played perfectly by Candy Clark). Whose neediness and somewhat frail emotional character (alcoholic) makes her latch onto the alien even after discovering his truth. A scientist is also pulled into the story (Rip Torn) who uses a moment of a career adjustment to re-evaluate his self-destructive behavior. And thus is Nicholas Roeg's tossed salad of a film beyond the core concept. Because it is so strong, the rest in surreal wild cinema makes it a mesmerizing gem.
To those who are expecting entertainment, I would say skip it. It isn't what I would consider "entertaining" It is a study on mankind thru the eyes of an alien whilst babbling offbeat dialogue and contemplating our existence. To a lot of people, this is a slog. To others, it will touch deep.
It Chapter Two (2019)
Proved My Suspicion
Admit to yourselves, those who championed the first re-boot of this that you haven't seen it since. That being said, this is absolute proof your gauge was painfully off the first time. These kids have personalities built into a box and not one person that I cared about more than the 90's "IT" And it wasn't because of Tim Curry. He's great and will never be outdone (sorry kid who played him in this one, you aren't charming enough to be creepy as Curry was). The 90's was pure adult cinema. This is...some video game retro trash.
This movie (if you can call it that) drops us RIGHT at the end of the first chapter. Where they supposedly defeated the being that kills children yet goes into hibernation when the Losers Club thwart Pennywise's spree. 27 years later, their 40's version get called back into action. Here we learn they are all successful, yet do not remember their childhood past in Derry. All the better, since the traumatic events of the first one sent their memory into hiding as well. When called together by Mike Hanlon, they vow to end the terror once and for all.
I truncated the synopsis because...well, the more I think about this one, the more I really hate the people involved.
First, they steal the back and forth between past and present from the 90's version. Yet, somehow, that version was much more effective. This one has that gimmick where they run past their former self. Basically a memory that crisscrosses and such. This novelty wears down fast. And we get bits and pieces of their life as adults.
The 90's version really nailed the sense of their older selves. Again, they did the perfect casting by putting in...known television actors. This was a stroke of genius because the director most likely knew we bring our own baggage with them. Annette O'Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Dennis Christopher, Harry Anderson, Richard Thomas, and Richard Masur. Absolutely brilliant because off the bat you really cared for them (with their history as good people in sitcoms and night dramas and cult films). Similar with their child counterparts.
In 2017 and 2019 "It" I really have no idea who any of these people are. James McAvoy is PAINFULLY mis-casted as Bill Denborough. As is Jessica Chastain as the grown up Beverly Marsh (though curiously, the teenage Bev in the original was bad casting). I never got the sense any of these adults lived a complete life. The abusive father tied to the abusive husband idea is tiresome. In the 90's version it hits you a little harder, since O'Toole played her more as a woman who was abused versus Chastain's baffling take as a woman who is affectionate to her abusive husband.
Any way, it gets REALLY tiresome when Pennywise becomes the spider and the resolution seems tacked on and...well, let's be clear, even Stephen King had no idea what "IT" was. So we get this overly computer generated VERY unscary thing.
There's too much to pick apart. It's just an awful money grab flick that totally lost that charm of fear. This became a dumb actioner, a woke it's okay to be gay thing, and well, it's a modern take. And when the dust settles I was surprised at a nearly 3 hour run time, it still felt like nothing happened.
I feel, these days, when they hand out assignments to make a movie, the statement is "don't screw it up" Life experience truly creates this, and somehow I feel the writer and director both need to live more life to know what makes nostalgia important. It isn't just rattling off pop culture references.
A Very Anemic Attempt At A Darker Film
I suspect midway through the production, the powers that be probably thought Kristen Stewart was painfully mis-casted. It's not from her trying but there are dead eyes that search the core of her empty soul that isn't and will never be Jean Seberg. Supposedly a passionate freedom fighter and a champion of the unjust, this version of Seberg seems like a spoiled unhinged brat who traipses through some darker stories of the FBI and their battle with the Black Panthers with the efforts of a school project. Not that Anthony Mackie doesn't give what he can. He's solid in this, but it's just the content and script was D.O.A from the launch. For one simple reason...it's not that interesting.
I'm sure the truth was much more interesting, but in this new world of being sensitive, making a 1960's film with a 2019 sensibility makes zero sense. It rather lacked the conviction of its story and seemed to not want to touch what was truly eating Jean Seberg.
The other big problem is that you can't paint one a victim but have her self-destruction shown as the result of the Feds cracking down on her when she a) had extramarital affairs b) popped pills c) was clearly mentally ill. I understand if you want to paint her mentally unstable, but to infuse her into a militant cause does their story an injustice and definitely makes her a very unsympathetic character. We get it, she is not a perfect person. What the filmmaker didn't understand is, we already carry this baggage with us, as she is an actress. If I were to creatively criticize, it would be to paint her first as a shallow person. Full of jaded attitude towards celebrity. Something drives her to the cause and then continue. Instead, it seems like a frivolous charge into a cause because...um..she's bored? Not good enough. And I doubt there ever was a reason. That said, the blandness of the film is what you leave the theater feeling. Kudos though to the production design and also, cinematographer Rachel Morrison's amazing lighting of this pic. Perfect framing and nails the scope of the 60's. That is the only thing worth the time.
The Invisible Man (2020)
An Abusive Relationship's Worst Nightmare
Part ghost story, part psychological thriller...if you've lived in the time of late 80's to early 90's thrillers such as "Final Analysis" or "Basic Instinct" you will appreciate this movie a lot more. Resident pasty victim Elizabeth Moss plays Cecilia, fresh off escaping a bat-nuts husband now has to contend with his suicide. She is traumatized to the 1000th power and now lives in constant fear regardless of his supposed death. In her escape, she has been "gifted" a lot of money, IF she can keep out of trouble. What a strange addition to a will, you say. Yeah, BIG dumb thing. However, she takes his gift but is now haunted by some apparition that creaks floorboards, pulls sheets off beds and so...well, typical for a movie like "Paranormal Activity" Unfortunately, the trailer gave away a lot. In fact, wish it wasn't named the way it was, because we know science is involved. How much science? No one seems to care. Only that the master of optics has created something that gives him powers to take his abuse to another level. Do they ever explain why the somewhat less than modelesque Moss gets the stalker treatment even though smart, handsome science guy can have ANY girl he wants? Nope. Only that that is pretty honest to what an abusive relationship can look like. Power and picking on the abused.
Look, there are a TON of questions left unanswered, but for a late February movie and with unrecognizable actors, it's a homerun...I'd say. Let your expectations be what they are, but I like Moss. She's like Jodie Foster's little sister. And hard to believe she is the same person from "Mad Men" or the earlier reviewed "Her Smell." I would say, in terms of having REAL women play these roles, it's great to see her in a lot of these flicks. Empowering as it may seem or "woke" as it may try, it's still a solid thriller in the above mentioned films. A LOT isn't just special FX heavy, it's actually simple tricks to give you the creeps. And made even more impressive that most of the time, Moss acts to nothing.
Henrietta Bulkowski (2019)
A Story Of Determination
A woman afflicted with an unfortunate hunchback is not give the proper medical clearance to fly. So with with grit, spit and determination decides to rebuild a junker that will prove to all no perceived disability will prevent her dream. Though you want the end to be more grounded in reality, metaphorically speaking we can be rewarded for our efforts in some spiritual way. We can assume a few things in the wake of the end result but I imagined angels. Which require no Earthbound logic.
Her Smell (2018)
The 80's and 90's Punk Rock Boiled Down To Sweaty Backstage Antics
If you've survived the 90's era punk rock scene, a lot of this will ring true. Drawing from the misbehaviors of Axl Rose and (I presume) Courtney Love, Elizabeth Ross plays Becky Something, the front woman for the underground success band Something She. When we first come across the fried out Fraggle, she is backstage with the rest of her trio, bassist Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin). Obviously success has gone to Becky's head, which causes her to vamp about all the inequities she's faced in life and all the miseries she insists to burden others with. They aren't all angels, but Becky goes beyond the party lifestyle into stretching the bounds of tolerance. Especially to a rival Zelda E. Zekiel (Amber Heard) who recognizes Becky's talents and wishes they'd tour together. Instead, she's met with the acid tongue of Becky. And so it repeats itself.
"Her Smell" isn't necessarily a cautionary tale of the rock business, as that's long dead. But it makes you wonder why it was made. My only guess is that it is a glimpse at a bygone era when a rock star life will catch up to you. And we have never really seen this from a female perspective. In most cases, Hollywood uses an established band and makes it a biopic. As in "The Runaways". In this case, the essence of bands like Hole or Bikini Kill is enough to elicit the response.
It's not anything new you haven't heard about poor behavior of damaged people BUT Elizabeth Moss absolutely owns the role and it's impressive how deep she got into this truly unlikeable person. Kudos to writer/director Alex Ross Perry. If you aren't familiar with his work, "Queen of Earth" is a very odd, inaccessible actor's exercise. Hard to watch, so I was very happy that this does have more accessibility when it comes to the story. Also, the dialogue is pretty solid. The cruelty a degenerate rock band inflicts on each other seemed real.
Too Much Cotton Candy Will Make You Sick
Dear director Cathy Yan, exactly what was the marching orders when it came to this movie? To out-Schumacher Joel Schumacher?
This movie is as schizophrenic as the lead character Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) straight after a breakup with the non-existent Mr. J. Or Joker if you're nasty.
Immediately antennas should perk up as to how a jilted love burned woman should react. Naturally it's to draw attention to herself.
The often adorably huggable Harley is the result. Now the story jumps back and forth, rewinds and is told through so many different timelines and perspectives that what ends up being is that you realize their gimmick is to hide an incredibly thin plot of a pickpocket kid who heists a very important diamond that a vicious crime boss wants. That in the form of Black Mask (Ewan MacGregor).
Now it's a simple line made to be more complicated then it should.
I admit I did laugh once in this entire...well, messy tale. Which I figured it would be a laugh out loud dark comedy. It's not. It's very self aware and mean. And the entire time you are thinking...where is Batman? Where is Commissioner Gordon, and are we REALLY in Gotham? Awful thoughts to have.
Also a middle aged Rosie Perez will not be able to take care of herself. The other "human" person is that of Dinah Lance (Jumee Smollett-Bell) who I desperately wanted to like. She isn't funny and delivers lines like she's passing gas. Not fun at all. The brightest spot is emo'd out Helena Bertinelli played with a great deal of subdued frazzled trauma adult Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Doing what, I presume, Audrey Plaza probably could knock out of the park. I love M.E.W. but...she is given so very little.
The rest turns into an oddball circus that amounts to nothing but a lot of loud grrl rock over them kicking men's butts. There seems to be another movie buried under this one.
I became a huge fan of Christina Hodson after "Bumblebee" Somehow she captured the sweet innocence of the 80's in that one. In this, it feels like she is shoehorning a tough gal action flick but not knowing what makes a revenge story so satisfying. We don't feel for Harley at all. Which I think is because they are handcuffed to horrible legacy of fandom. There is a moment when she gets betrayed by a side character, and I am lost as to how, in her sociopathic/psychopathic nature it effects her. Perhaps it's borderline personality that drives her. But we never see that. Unfortunately, they want us to like unlikeable person.
Ella Jay Basco, who plays the Diamond pickpocket'r, Cassandra Cain is awful. Sorry, kid your screen presence is as welcomed as poison ivy. She is ungrateful and bratty and...yeah, we get it, she's suppose to remind Harley of herself. But she's obnoxious and I'm not sure director Yan understands the difference.
As I went for fun, this offered an empty shallow painful all tell and no-show. A very simple diversion for a boring February. Not a disaster but a disappointment.