Saturday, June 24, 2017

Lambcast MOTM: The Spy Who Loved Me





I get to talk about James Bond with other bloggers, and it's great.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Hero



Obviously Writer/Director Brett Haley put this project together with a single thing on his mind. The goal here is obvious, give actor Sam Elliot the kind of part that is worthy of his talents but yet seems to have escaped him for his nearly fifty year career. Elliot is iconic to most of the film fans of today because of his role in the cherished "The Big Lebowski". He has a small role as a laconic stranger who imparts wisdom and narrates the story of the slovenly hero in that film. Elliot though has been around a lot longer than "Lebowski". His first movie was "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", blink and you will miss him, but he was the star of one of the films I featured in my original blogging project on the summer films of the seventies. "Lifeguard" has a similar theme to it as this film, a man has to assess the life he has been living.  In that film, he is at the start of middle age, in this film he is closer to the end of life than the supposedly rich middle. He is terrific in both parts, but clearly "The Hero" comes closer to reflecting the life of an aging working actor than the previous movie did in showing us a lifeguard's mid-life crisis.

The script goes all in on making Elliot the only actor who could play this part. While Tom Selleck could give him a run for his money in the mustache department, two other elements would disqualify him. Selleck may have played some cowboys, but not as many and with such effectiveness as Elliot over the years. Second, Tom lacks the sonorous tones that are the voice of Sam Elliot. Both of them get lots of voice over work, but Elliot has a gift, much like Morgan Freeman, Elliot has a baritone to kill for. Both the mustache and the voice are focal points in the story, which happens to be about an actor as loved for his voice and mustache maybe even more than his acting talents. It is a double edged sword because it means he has had only one role that he feels really proud of, in spite of the fact that a lot of people do love him. This gives him doubts about his own worth and combined with the knowledge that he has been a failure as a father, puts him a bit into crisis mode.

There are two or three sets of tropes that can define the story. He is faced with career issues, mortality issues, daddy issues and while many will not want to say it, drug issues. The two films that keep creeping into my head while thinking about this movie are "The Wrestler" and "Crazy Heart". These are other films that use similar points to tell their stories and the comparisons are apt for another reason, they rely on charismatic performances by the central character. Like both of those films, an unlikely younger woman becomes part of the picture as well. In this film, that is actress Laura Prepon, as Charlotte a woman half the age of Elliot's Lee Hayden. In a refreshing change of pace, the difference in ages is an important part of the complexity of their relationship. Prepon gets two chances to read poetry in the film, and she has a very winning way of saying the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay. She and Elliot have great chemistry together in spite of their differences.

There is an important segment of the film where a Western Fan group wants to honor Hayden for his lifetime achievements. Of course this forces him to think a bit about what those achievements might have been. He has the one film he is proud of and a failed marriage and broken family to be haunted by. The sequence could have been a parody of fandom if it had gone the wrong way, instead, it comes as an opportunity to recognize that the source of his life force has been film fans like these. Although fueled a bit by some drug use, his heartfelt speech at the event creates some additional territory for the film to explore. What is an actor's worth? Sometimes it is in their talent, sometimes it is a unique relationship that they have with an audience and sometimes it is just the heat of a moment. All of those force Lee to consider what his life is worth. There was a nice little part in this scene for actor Max Gail, who I don't know if I've seen him since" D.C. Cab". As great as this moment was, a few hours later there is an uncomfortable counter moment in a comedy club, which forces Lee to reassess again where his life has lead him to.

The style of the film is dramatic with comic overtones and is punctuated by frequent dream segments that visualize the metaphorical nature of Lee's self reflection. It is not an action film or a slapstick and many people might be put off by the languorous approach to the story. I was not put off by it but my daughter found it a little slow at times. There is something great however in how the film takes it's time in letting Lee's story play out. Scenes feel complete and never too rushed. The relationship with Charlotte makes more sense with the pace of the film. The interaction of Lee and his neighbor/drug dealer played by Nick Offerman, is languid, in much the way you might expect consumers of particular substances to behave.  The relationship with his ex-wife (played by real life wife Katharine Ross) is prickly and the connection with his daughter is neglected and frigid.  Although there is a Hollywood element to the movie, it does not dominate the action but rather reflects some of the same doubts that Lee has about himself. If you have ever heard the audio clips of Orson Wells or William Shatner doing commercial voice overs, you might think they were being asses. Elliot clearly has a lot of experience in this area so he can convey the frustration of an actor with just a look and a pause or change in pace to reflect his own impatience.

The release is not wide but I'd encourage you to seek it out.   I may put together a mid-year list of films that have distinguished themselves. This movie will have no trouble making my top five. I really liked it and a appreciate the talent of Sam Elliot even more. Sure his mustache and voice are the key to getting us to watch or listen to him, but acting ability carries this film and it is clear that the director meant that to be the case.

Monday, June 19, 2017

It Comes At Night



If you have not seen the trailer above, wait to watch it until after you see the movie. It is filled with visual moments that will take away a little of the mystery of the film. I would not say they were spoilers so much as they are more detail than you want. I can say that when I first saw the trailer I was intrigued by the movie, but I only saw it the one time and I did not recall all of the information that it doled out. That was fortunate for me because the pieces of information that show up bit by bit help add to the suspense of the story. As usual I will try to keep this commentary spoiler free.

To begin with, the title of the film is accurate, but not in the way you expect it to be. There are substantial elements of horror in the story and they are often envisioned as a part of the night time experience of the people involved in these events. There is no prologue or background information, we are introduced to our characters as they are carrying out the inevitable but brutal task of surviving in the world they live in. Something has happened in the world, we never get a clear picture of what it is, but it has brought isolation, infection and paranoia with it. There is a family at the heart of the story and they are struggling to maintain a sense of family identity, surrounded by fear and unpleasantness. Writer/Director Trey Edward Shults has fashioned a claustrophobic Rorschach test for his audience, and there are two excellent performances that get us there. 

Joel Edgerton is an actor that I apparently first encountered in the Star Wars prequels. I did not realize it until I looked him up today, but he plays the young version of Luke's Uncle Owen. He really came to my attention however in 2011 when he was in two high profile pictures within a month of one another. He was one of the two brothers in my favorite film of that year "Warrior". The second was a film that I really ended up disliking and it came out just a month later, "The Thing [Remake/Reboot/Prequel]". In the years since he has had an interesting diversity of roles to play. The role he fills in this film is certainly different from what he has done before. He is a man named Paul, who has created a set of rules that he and his family are living under, in order to protect themselves from the horror that is happening around them. His terse delivery of lines and flinty looks suggest that he is a hard man. In truth he is a dedicated family man who has been forced to become hard by circumstances. One of the reasons a film like this works is that the audience members try to identify with characters and they are forced to ask themselves, what would I do? Paul is faced with tough choices on a daily basis and it may be alienating him from his son.

The son, Travis, played by actor Kelvin Harrison Jr., is really to main protagonist of the film. We see the effect the way the family has to live on his psyche. He is an inquisitive and sensitive seventeen year old, who needs to grow but is being asked to do so under difficult circumstances. He loves his father but seems less and less close to him as more tough decisions have to be made and sometimes Dad just chooses rather than discussing it. This is a dystopian film without a macro view of society, but rather a micro perspective. The horror elements involve tension and uncertainty with the consequences being equally unknown. The imagination creates as much of the unpleasantness surrounding the characters as their actual situation does. The question will arise on several points, Is Travis having memories, nightmares or vision of the future? The tag line in the trailer sets it up very well, the real monsters are created by fear.

This is not a traditional horror film and if that is what you want and expect you are likely to be disappointed. It is however a truly frightening film which build up tension, creates horrific anticipation on the part of the audience and then asks us to judge our selves. What would we do?  There are a couple of jump scares but it is the paranoia and rationale follow through of the philosophy of survival that Paul has adopted that creates the real terror here. There are moments of tenderness by all of the characters in the story, but they underline the dangers that this necessary route to survival would result in. It will certainly leave you doing more thinking than quaking in your boots, but they will not be the comforting thoughts that arrive at the climax of most horror films.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) 70mm

This is the kind of treat that might keep me from moving out of Southern California in spite of the traffic, social culture and politics. You just don't get to see "John Carpenter's The Thing" in 70mm most other places.I'm a fan of the American Cinematique at the Egyptian Theater. While some of my blogging colleagues are dismissive of the programming [one said it's great if you want to see Lawrence of Arabia four times a year (which I do)], there is a lot of programming that would not be the same in the smaller Aero Theater on the Westside. Tonight's experience means more because it was shared with a sold out audience, a group of standby folks queuing up in the hopes that there are some cancellations and a sound system that does justice to the film in an audio space made for it.


The one drawback of the screening was that the film stock is a bit faded. Seeing how this 70mm print is one of the few in existence and that the film is thirty-five years old, that was a small price to pay to see this horror classic. The six track stereo sound more than compensates for the slightly red hue of the print. Listening to Morricone's haunting electronic score while watching the images of Antarctica swirl by is a definite treat. The sound effects also benefit immensely from the complex sound design combined with the multi-track recording.

There are so many things to appreciate about this film that it is hard to stay focused. I will try to concentrate on three or four elements that always impress me whenever I watch this film. The first "thing" that jumped out at me tonight was how creepy the film is before we even know what is happening. The supposedly mad Norwegians tracking the sled dog across the snow and shooting at it without much effect is just the start of a disturbingly effective canine performance. When the husky reaches the American compound and Clarke scratches him around the neck to reassure him, the dog is sort of cute. Subsequently though we see that the dog is watching everything. It stares out the window at the search party that goes back to the Norwegian installation. It quietly observes the goings on at the American base with a steady eye. As it moves from room to room and encounters a figure that we only see in shadow, it seems to be acting so deliberately and thoughtfully that it can't be a normal dog. Finally, as the dog is lead into the kennel with the other dogs, it's approach is awkward and not dog like at all. This is all part of the methodical set up that builds to action rather than having action fill the screen constantly.

Once the dog is introduced to the kennel, the second great "thing" about the film that everyone who loves it talks about gets introduced. This movie is filled with special effects shots and monster creations that are not just on screen. This film was made with practical effects that the actors interact with and . Their presence in each scene feels so much more normal than the CGI creations that are found in the inferior prequel from 2011. The slime covered "thing" that is morphing into the dogs is disgusting to look at but we can't look away either. The tendrils that penetrate the other animals wave in a manner that was not created in a computer but looks like it is organic as they flip around like so many air hoses without nozzles. When Copper applies the defibrillator to Norris, we get a real shock with blood and sinew and bones being snapped. Rob Bottin and his crew make these effects dramatic, disgusting and at the same time believable. When the legs sprout from the dismembered head of one of the scientists, after that head has used an elongated tongue to pull itself to safety, you might be tempted to say the same words that come out of Palmer's mouth, except we know Carpenter is not kidding, he wants us to laugh sure but mostly to be horrified, task accomplished.


Since it is my daughter's birthday at the end of the month, I gave her the gift I picked out a little early, it is a design from this scene on a great t-shirt provided by a company called Fright Rags. One of my online correspondents works for this company and they have licensed images from this movie that show how the practical effects look so much better, even when they are being rendered artistically.

One final topic to include in this brief post on what many would consider the greatest horror film of the last half century, the star Kurt Russell. R.J. MacReady is an intemperate iconoclast that somehow manages to be a figure that all the other men at the station look to. Part of  the reason may be that they trust his competence as a pilot, after all he makes two hazardous trips to the Norwegian camp and returns with more information each time. Also, he has a cool demeanor as the crisis gets hotter and he manages to best them all when their paranoia turns on him. Any of those things might inspire confidence in him as a leader, but the biggest asset he has is that he is played by Kurt Russell. Russell is in full badass mode coming off a previous Carpenter film, "Escape From New York" just the previous year. He has a thick mane of hair, much like the king of the jungle, and his machismo is indicated by the awesomeness of his beard. Only a guy with this much charisma can carry off the weathered and bent out of shape sombrero that he wears in the film.

There are dozens of other little moments of perfection spread through the film, but I will leave most of them for a more elaborate post, maybe in my series "Movies I Want Everyone to See". It is a good film that shows how quickly character can be created on screen. There are a half dozen good laughs in the movie that would put some of today's comedy films to shame. The cast of actors also deserves praise and credit that I simply don't have time for today.  There is at least one more screening this week at the Egyptian. If you are within a fifty mile radius and don't go to see this, you will hate yourself later.


Big films on the Big Screen, that's why I love going to the Egyptian Theater!!!



Friday, June 16, 2017

47 Meters Down



Anyone who has cruised by this site, but especially at this time of year, knows that JAWS is a driving force in my movie life. Shark movies can be fun, stupid, exciting or irritating. Sometimes they can be all these things at once.  "47 Meters Down" is no Jaws, but it is certainly better than two of the three Jaws sequels, and as a summer diversion it is pretty much what you want for a warm afternoon or a cool evening with a romantic partner. You will get a lot of comparisons in this post, let's face it, there aren't that many shark movies, and those comparisons should help you decide if you want the take the plunge and spend your hard earned cash.

The two young leads in the film play sisters who end up on an off the books excursion while staying at a Mexican resort. The premise combines some of our worst fears. We are in a foreign land, trapped in waters that we cannot see through, running low on oxygen with sharks surrounding us. If you look up the word nightmare, most of this should appear there. The movie simply has to find a credible way for these events to play out so that we will be willing to endure it all. For the most part, things move as they might if this was a real story. After the set up, the girls are the only characters we actually see for the most part.

Director Johannes Roberts uses some dynamic photographic effects during the titles to create some foreshadowing. He and his co-screenwriter Earnest Riera build in enough complications to keep the time on the ocean floor dramatic and tense. Sometimes, as in most films of this ilk, the events seem to pile up just a little too much. It is true that we need some dramatic tension based on the environment, but every action turns into a complication designed to keep us squirming in our seats a few minutes longer. The dialog is also a little spotty. There are way too many premature celebratory moments between the sisters, and they sound odd coming from frightened people still trapped on the bottom of the sea.

I don't know anything about diving, but the ability of the girls to speak to each other seems a little suspect to me, but it might be possible with the kind of equipment they are using. While I appreciate the choice to eschew events on the surface during the crisis, it means that we get a lot of long periods where the girls interaction feels a bit awkward. The scenario in  last years "The Shallows" made verbalized conversation unlikely, but the words spoken in that film felt a lot more real than what is happening here. "Shark Night", "Bait",  and "Open Water" all have different elements to them to keep the story going in each of those films, so I guess it's not a surprise that the combination of events here plays such a big part in this story.

So for comparison purposes I'd put this on a par with "Jaws 2", it is a shark movie with other things to distract us from the fact that the sharks are not constantly attacking. "The Shallows" is a much better movie, but then the lead in that film did not have to try to emote through a three paneled diving mask and radio mike the whole time. If you pay close attention to what is said in the film, you will see a bit of a twist coming from a mile away. The only surprise was how long they played it out. Some of the teens behind us were unhappy with the climax of the movie but unlike some other films this year, this ending felt more deserved to me. We have our annual big screen trip to see "Jaws" scheduled for next weekend, until then, this toe dip in shark infested story telling will do. It can't sit on the same shelf as the Spielberg classic, but it fits in nicely next to "Bait" and "Deep Blue Sea".

Cars 3




Most of the movie blog world is full of contradictory positions. You can find people passionately defending "The Tree of Life" as a poetic masterpiece, whereas others see it as a self indulgent, experimental film with little plot, weak characters and the most boring use of fantastic photography you can imagine. There are people who love "Rogue One" and haters who see it as destroying the underlying concepts of the Star Wars films. With that diversity of opinion so widespread, it probably says something that "Cars 2" is universally despised as the weakest Pixar film ever. "Cars 3" is an attempt to restore the franchise to a more satisfying status in the film world. People who never liked "Cars" in the first place will probably not be moved, but, if like me, you loved the original film and hated the sequel, you will probably be happy to know that this movie largely works.

As with the original film, there is a moral lesson to be learned here while you are enjoying the action and humor in the story. Very distinctly from the second film, the theme is not heavy handed, political and surrounded by silly story telling that makes no sense. "Cars 3" is an elegy of youth and old school practices. Maybe we can do things better and faster than we once were able to, but the joy of getting there is being lost and something important goes along with that. Lightning McQueen has had his time in the sun, but there is a turning point in our lives that everyone has to face. The question is simply, how do you hold on to your beliefs and dignity when the time has come?  Anthropomorphic automobiles are a strange way to confront this concept, but they fit it so well. Everyone who likes listening to music on an LP played with a stylus, or watching a film presented on a Laser Disc, knows that they are out of time and place, but the appreciate anyway.

There are two very positive things about how the story is handled here. First, while due acknowledgement is made to the secondary characters in the original story, they are mostly backdrop for this film. That means you will get far less Mater and Radiator Springs. The smaller dose of Lightning's best friend is the biggest relief. Larry the Cable Guy should not be the lead character in the movie as he was in "Cars 2".  We get just enough to know that he is still a part of Lightning's life, but that puts him on a similar level with the other Radiator Springs characters. Paul Dooley and Bonnie Hunt and Cheech Marin all reprise their roles. I did notice that Michael Keaton was not doing the voice of Chick, and that hurt a little, but for the most part the characters who make an appearance are satisfying. New characters played by Nathan Fillion, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer and especially Cristela Alanzo are all effective at making the story feel a bit more fresh. The second positive in the characters is that we get a fitting exit for the late Paul Newman and his character of the Hudson Hornet. With just a few pieces of dialogue and some nice moments of recall, there is a more satisfying meaning in his characters absence.

One more thing that the film does right is keep the story as closely tied to racing as possible. There are at least three big race segments and they work really well at building story and tension. As Lightning and his new trainer Cruz Ramirez put together a plan for his battling a new rival, we get a good transition story that shows us some of the themes that I mentioned earlier. We need to recognize that the world changes, and sometimes we have to adapt to those changes. Lightning is still the hero but everyone needs to be cognizant that he ain't what he used to be. Owen Wilson's laconic delivery and frustrated tone of voice manages to make these growing (old) pains feel more real than we should expect from a movie with talking cars.

As is usual, even in those movies where the story has failed, the artistry remains. There are some amazing parts of this film that feel so photo real that you might wonder why they bothered to create those images instead of just directly filming them, Of course there are also several moments that could only existed in an animated world as well and they look pretty spectacular as well. The humor is not quite as strong as the original film, and there may be times when the little ones will feel a bit bored, but there is another race or visual gag coming so be patient. It may not move as fast as "Cars 2" but it is a lot more valuable Car Trip to take.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Mummy (2017)



How is it we know that a movie is exceptional? One of the ways that we can reach such conclusions is by making comparisons to other films. A movie that is mundane will pale in comparison to something really strong. Excellence can therefore sometimes be measured by mediocrity. That's why we need films like "The Mummy", they show us how good films like "Wonder Woman" really are. I am not implying that this movie is bad, simply that it meets no standard for greatness except one, and that is the most obvious selling point for the film, it stars Tom Cruise.

I am probably a Cruise apologist. Of the forty plus movies he has made, only a handful have been clunkers. I would include his last film, "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back"  in that handful of dismal efforts. This film is miles better than that weak sauce film from last year, but that does not make it great, it makes it average. Cruise as usual is winning in his role, in spite of the fact that his character is designed to be a thoughtless douche-bag who fails to follow orders as a soldier, steals from women and generally engages in the kind of archeological theft that Indiana Jones was accused of, without having any scholarly justifications for his actions. Tom just has charisma and it turns even vile characters into people we are willing to watch. As I said, this is the one big selling point of the movie. Cruise puts in as much effort as anyone can to try and bring this story to life.

The film is basically an action movie with a horror theme that needs to be a little more horrifying. There are a few creepy moments, like the camel spiders and rats that seem to be under the command of the villainess of the story. An ancient creature inadvertently raised from the dead and determined to bring the evil lord she made a pact with into the flesh, she has chosen Tom's character Nick, to be that vessel. So there is a monster and a curse but there are also stunning aerial stunts and chase sequences. With a half dozen jump scares that become progressively less effective, the film barely feels like a horror movie at all. Still it is mildly entertaining in creating a universe for these characters to exist in and providing a series of hoops for them to jump through.

A few of the things that make this movie passable include the two female leads. Sophia Boutella as the ancient princess returned to the world looks exotic enough and she grimaces well in conveying a sense of evil. Annabelle Wallis is sweet enough for us to sympathize with and hope the best for. Neither could carry the movie but they don't have to with Cruise in control and a scenery chewing middle aged matinee idol ready to turn into Mr. Hyde at any moment. Just like the pygmy zombies that were so fun in one of those Brendan Frasier Mummy movies, this update has something cool to sell it in the effects department. zombie crusaders. They are solid and they look especially creepy in the water.

A lot of people have been bad-mouthing the start of a new "Dark Universe" from Universal Studios, but everyone else in the film business has a steady supply of material to exploit and Universal is simply trying to keep up.  Their iconic monsters are laying around doing no one any good unless new stories are written for them, so the studio is following up. The paranormal team led by Dr. Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe may not be the Avengers, The Justice League or even Transformers, but hey can be entertaining if given a chance. I can't say this film is a bright start to that future of serialized stories, but it is not the failure that others would have you believe. This a a popcorn picture, disposable as any other fast food product of our consumer society. There is a place for romance novels in literature, hamburgers in dining circles and Fords in the car business. "The Mummy" reminds me of one of those mid-range sedans from Ford, it will get you where you are going but nobody will be bragging about the cool ride you showed up in.  You may look over at that Lincoln in the next theater, but if you have already driven it and know what a nice ride it is, watch this film. It will fill your two hours and remind you that it is just a car, and there is luxury out there that you can still aspire to.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

TCM/Fathom Events: 45th Anniversary of The Godfather

Sometimes you just have to sit in awe of what great film makers are able to achieve in the hot spot of their careers. For the ten years between 1969 and 1979, Francis Ford Coppola was the undisputed king of American Cinema. Four of his films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, two of them won the award, and a third film that he wrote also was named Best Picture. This evening I celebrated in 45 years of basking in his masterpiece, "The Godfather". I surreptitiously read the book when I was fourteen years old. I know my parents would not have approved but it was something everybody was talking about so I took a paperback copy with me around the corner from our apartment building and sat on a curb, devouring it for several days. Sure I memorized the racy bits, I was 14, but I also could tell this was a tremendous story and it should make a heck of a film. I'm not sure how I managed to talk my Dad into taking me to see it, but I know we went that Spring, when the lines were long and saw it in the Alhambra Theater. I was maybe a little self conscious sitting next to my old man when the nude scene showed up, but the rest of the film was so powerful that such discomfort never detracted from the experience. That was 1972.

I'm sure I saw the film a couple more times in the following two years as I awaited the sequel, a concept that up to that point was largely the realm of genre films.  One of the first dates I had with my future bride involved dragging her to a double feature of the two Godfather films, one where it turned out they decided to skip an intermission between movies. So my girlfriend and I sat there for six and a half hours straight, and she still married me a few years later. The film was one of the first acquisitions I made when VHS tapes came along. Before the price points dropped in the mid-80s to create a sell through market, most films were only available for $70 or $80 bucks, and this was more than thirty years ago. I pulled that trigger as soon at I could. It was a substantial commitment for a young married couple, and I was trying to get by on part time teaching. That's how important as a piece of art and culture it was and is to me.

I've seen it several more times over the years, on the big screen. The last time was two years ago when it was accompanied by a live orchestra performing the score for three hours as the film played for nearly six thousand people in what was at the time the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. Tonight's screening was nothing so fancy. It was a 4K projection at a Chain Complex on a Wednesday night. There were maybe twenty people there, but when it was all over several of us spoke to one another about what a wonderful experience it was. There was applause at the end of the movie, and the somber silence that always comes when that door gets closed on Kay's face.

I tried to watch things that I did not always focus on in prior screenings. There are two exceptional moments when the camera slowly takes in what is happening in front of us and lets the anticipation occur without fanfare. The reveal of exactly what it is that Jack Woltz has in his bed is horrifying enough. We watch as he turns in his sleep ever so slightly, then the satin sheet gets pulled down from his face fairly slowly. He feels the dampness but hesitates just a moment, the right amount of time before he throws down the bedclothes past his waist, and then, there is the quick reveal of Khartoum and the lingering horrified cry of fear and anguish from the movie producer, which extends in a echo as the scene shifts to Don Corleone with just the slightest of smiles on his face. The whole scene is iconic but watch how the pacing builds it so well. The second spot I distinctly remembered is in the restaurant before Solozzo and Captain McClusky make their exits from the story. We know what the plan is, we can see tension on Michael's broken face but we have to sit still as the waiter, brings a bottle of wine, shows it opens it with an old fashioned corkscrew that takes some time, and then pours a small amount into a glass that Solozo then extends to Michael. Waiting for the waiter to go through that whole ritual, without any dialogue, just the characters sitting there waiting themselves, it is something you don't see in movies anymore. 

There are a hundred other moments that deserve some attention, but that will have to wait for another time. Everyone reading this has almost certainly seen this film and if you haven't what the hell is going on? Make an effort to share this experience with a group of strangers in a dark theater. Be prepared to try and catch your breath as it is stolen from you by the brutal poetry of this story and film. There is a reason that many consider it the greatest film ever, it is visual and emotional perfection.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

KAMAD on Lambardy

I haven't listened yet, I wonder if I win. Listen in yourself to find out.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Double O Seven Double Feature: Tribute to Roger Moore


It was a sad day and a joyous day, all rolled into an afternoon in the cinema. Sir Roger Moore, who was the third  007 in the official series of films, passed away just over a week ago. As they did with Gene Wilder and Prince last year, AMC Theaters arranged nationwide screenings of some of his work as a salute to the star of seven James Bond adventures. People who do not understand the film business complained last year that AMC was cashing in on the deaths by selling tickets to the older films. The overhead for these special presentations and the screens that they have to give up to arrange them, will hardly cover the cost of putting this together. Maybe as a way of defraying these criticisms, whatever proceeds came from this presentation were donated to UNICEF, an organization that Roger Moore had served as an ambassador for several years.

For a generation behind me, Roger Moore was James Bond. He started making these films in the seventies and was the primary Bond of the 80s as well (no disrespect to Timothy Dalton). Gen-X had a suave, pretty and humorous Bond to admire. Moore was never the physical threat that Sean Connery was, but he had the fashion sense, snobbery, and tongue in cheek attitude necessary to carry the franchise through a transition period. The Bond films were solid money makers, but they were not the blockbusters that the mid-Connery era films were. Roger Moore stuck it out though two solid films, and in his third outing helped return the series to the heights it once had. Even though the films were big and successful, they became a little too silly to have the status of "classic".  "Moonraker" and "A View to a Kill" are fun entertainment but are also a bit embarrassing. There is however one Roger Moore Bond outing that qualifies for almost all 007 fanatics top ten list, and that is "The Spy Who Loved Me".

The two films chosen to represent Moore as James Bond in this tribute include that one, truly extraordinary 007 adventure, and then also his most serious outing, meant to restore the franchise to Earth after the shenanigans of the previous film. In an interesting choice, they actually played in reverse order for my double feature at least.

For Your Eyes Only


Fans of 007 who have read the books, will certainly appreciate the grounded nature of this entry. The story does not concern a megalomaniac trying to destroy the world, but rather a mercenary double agent who simply sees profit in selling out to the Soviets. It also includes bits and pieces of short stories and scenes from other Bond novels that had not been included in the films made of the original books.

As an illustration of the more serious tone of this story, Bond actually refrains from sleeping with the ingenue who seems to be a third his age. The romance angle that does get exploited concerns two grown women, neither of who look too young to find Roger Moore attractive. There is also a two pronged revenge story at the heart of the movie. The main Bond girl played by Carole Bouquet, is trying to kill those responsible for the murder of her parents. Bond himself pursues one of the villains in retribution for the killing of a friendly station head that Bond had trusted. We even forget the macguffian for most of the film as this pair of vengence stories plays out.

In one of my favorite scenes in a Roger Moore Bond film, 007 races up a series of staircases to outflank an escaping vehicle that has to use a switchbacked road to reach the top of a hill. As Bond shoots at the vehicle it slides off the road onto the edge of a cliff. As it barely clings to the top, the murderous assassin is trapped in the car. Bond walks up to the vehicle, reminds him of the agent that he murdered and then kicks the car in a cold blooded move, sending it tumbling down the side of the cliff to it's demise. It's a great moment for Moore to show he is not just a pretty boy playing at espionage.

Although the title song is solid, with Sheena Easton looking gorgeous in the background of silhouetted nudes in the title sequence, the rest of the score is a disappointment. I like Bill Conti but the electronic instrumentation in the first half of the film drains the action sequences of any tension. The music tightens up in the last third but by that point, some people may have tuned out. The film adds considerable charm when Topal shows up first as a suspect and then an ally of Bonds. There are two awful aspects to the film that you should be warned about, and neither of them is the fault of the lead actor. Bernard Lee, who had played "M" for almost twenty years, died as the movie was filming and the chief of staff of the Secret Service is thus filling in while "M" is on leave. The actor they cast and the direction he was given, create one of the least pleasant characters on the British side in all of the 007 films. For the stinger at the end of the movie, they simply could not resist the novelty that the head of state at the time was a woman, so a Thatcher doppelganger is used for a punchline.

The Spy Who Loved Me


Ian Fleming's least favorite of the books he himself wrote, is turned into a film that almost everyone will love. It has no connection whatever to the original story and uses the title to build the premise around. In the seventies, the Soviets were still an enemy, but the notion of British and Soviet intelligence working together provides an irresistible twist to the film. This film does feature a rich villain with plans to wipe out the population, but it is all the by-play between the two spies that provides most of the fireworks in the movie.

Roger Moore was at the peak of his physical attractiveness for this movie. He was a mature man who looked like he could engage in a fight, woo a woman and still look good in his clothes afterwards.

His pairing with Barbara Bach as agent XXX makes some sense since both sides are missing nuclear subs, and the two of them look great together thorough most of the film. Of all his co-stars, Bach is the one that provided the most chemistry and helped Bond feel more real than he had in a long time.

 "The Spy Who Loved Me" celebrates it's 40th anniversary this year. It was a huge box office success and is probably best remembered for the title song, the villain "Jaws" and the parachute escape in the pre-title sequence. There is so much to recommend this film that you could put your finger down at any spot and have something good to say about that moment. The whole sequence in Egypt around the pyramids and ruins was beautiful to look at and nicely staged. The battle on the super tanker is a well put together action sequence. The chase sequences on the island of Sardinia were also excellent, and they feature the second best car 007 ever drove. A Lotus that doubles as a submarine.

When I was in London a year ago, I added myself to the film legacy of the submersible car by posing for a picture with it in the Bond Exhibit at the national film Museum in London.

Moore has another great tough guy moment in the film when he flicks a hand off his necktie and sends a secondary bad guy to his doom by doing so. He then straightens the tie and makes a typical Moore quip.

He may not have been everybody's  favorite 007, but he made more of the official Bond films than anyone else. He is the first of our 007s to make the jump to the next great adventure and we should all miss him as a human being. Lucky for us, he had these two outing to leave us with the best of impressions.

Links


For Your Eyes Only 007 Countdown


The Spy Who Loved Me 007 Countdown


The Spy Who Loved Me : Summer Movie Project

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman

Well, we have waited a long time for this and it is finally here. A DC Universe film that makes you anxious to see another DC Universe film. With iconic heroes like Batman and Superman and villains like The Joker, it still took a woman to put them on the right track. Men just can't ask for directions. Fortunately we have two women to thank for bringing these movies back from the brink of disaster. The perfectly cast Gal Godot and the very talented director Patty Jenkins. They have managed to make a film that is watchable but also memorable. The best thing the film does is give us a central character that we can root for and care about. Diana, Princess of Amazons, who has spent her whole life preparing to fight. We get to see that preparation but even better than that, we get to witness her explode into the world in a romantic period piece that has a great mix of reality and comic book silliness.

There are two distinct worlds depicted in this film. The first is the seemingly idyllic island that the Amazons life on, without the need for men. The only child on the island is the daughter of their Queen, Hippolyta. She tells Diana that she was molded out of clay and brought to life with the breath of the god Zeus. There is no sense of time in their world, so as Diana grows, it could be  over twenty years or twenty-thousand. She definitely has enough time however to become the greatest warrior ever among her people. Her mother despairs of her becoming a fierce instrument in the battle against war, but her Aunt Antiope, the current bad ass of the clan, knows that it is Diana's destiny. The whole section on the island is told with efficiency and with as little excess as possible, while still filling us in on the legends and backgrounds of the characters. Certainly there are some blank spaces and questions, but director Jenkins manages to keep us focused on the main issue, which concerns Diana's role in fighting back against the God Aries, the lord of war.

Chris Pine continues to impress in his starring roles. This second fiddle part is certainly not as challenging as his role in last years "Hell or High Water", but it does put him in a high profile blockbuster for another consecutive year. Between his Steve Trevor and the leading lady, it is nice to know that pretty people will always be able to find work. Gal Godot is the not so secret weapon in this film. She has a look about her that can be haunted one minute and determined the next. That she has a face that could break a man's heart and moves (admittedly enhanced by technology) that could render her the greatest action hero ever, does not hurt this film a bit. The sincerity of her demeanor at times when combined with her outright sexiness, should make massive fans out of those who watch this movie.

One other reason that I think this movie works better than "Man of Steel", "Batman vs. Superman" and "Suicide Squad", is that it is set in a more nostalgic period when cynicism was seen as a vice rather than a virtue. Scowling villains are not confronted by scowling heroes, but rather by open hearted optimists who see evil and while they may have some doubts about what is good, they want to do the right thing for the right reasons. Diana is so innocently hopeful that she is going to save the world, that when she experiences doubts, especially about humans, it is more believable that she can make a good choice in the long run. Her heart breaks when tragedy strikes at home when she and her Amazon family first confront modern man. She experiences the same slap in the face when she sees that even good men can be faulty in too many ways. The fact that we are capable of making an act of self sacrifice also an emblem of love, leaves it's mark on this Princess.

Spanish Actress Elena Anaya and veteran character actor Danny Huston, serve as the tertiary  bad guys, the ones that draw the focus of our heroes immediately. Mankind is the secondary villain, and it will survive to challenge Diana Prince in the future, as we already know from our earlier DCU experiences. The main villain is exactly who you think it is going to be. When he appears on screen, you just know that something else is going on here. Since it is a movie and film is a visual medium, there will be a cinematic confrontation. It ends up a little too much like all of these stories do, with  an ultimate power being battled on the most basic physical front rather than on a more cerebral level. Still, it measures up to the kind of fireworks you want out of a movie based on a comic book.

The battle sequences on the beach of Diana's home and in "no mans land" at the front, are two stand out episodes of the story. We also get two fish out of water stories for the price of one. Steve is befuddled by the ancient matriarchy he has fallen into and Diana is horrified by the ugly modern world, trapped in what seems like never ending war. The side characters in the WW I story are just interesting enough to be worth including, but since the story is not going to stay in this time period, it is understandable that they do not get too much backstory or time. The romance works the way wartime romances usually do, in spite of the short time period that couples have for bonding. I love the look of the film in both the mythical and battlefield visions. I could hear that Wonder Woman Theme come on in most of the scenes and still get goosebumps. I really liked this movie, and while it does have some story issues, they won't bother you much. Instead of worrying about a lack of backstory or the tie in to Greek mythology, the real Wonder of Wonder Woman is how do we get more of Gal Gadot in all of the DC Universe?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales



Well if you were one of those people who had been encouraged by early word that this edition of the Pirates franchise was measurably better than the last one, be prepared to be disappointed. It is just as limp and unmemorable as "On Stranger Tides" but it does have the advantage of having a better title. Being honest with you all, I liked the movie well enough as I was watching it, but it is a nothing burger in the long run. You will not care about or be moved by the characters here in any lasting way. For a couple of hours they will do things in front of you, some of which are amusing but none of which has any bearing on the world.

Johnny Depp was a star before this series started but he became a "superstar" once Captain Jack became his signature role. His return to the role feels very passive. Whereas he was the protagonist in the original film, he has become more and more a secondary character in the subsequent movies. Jack is a passenger as we are on these elaborate voyages. The character does not really initiate any action but rather participates in the elaborate Rube Goldberg sequences of action and comedy. The most memorable visual gag I can recall from seeing the movie this morning concerns the blade of a guillotine, rising and falling towards Jack as the device itself tumbles through space after an explosion. It requires almost no engagement on Depp's part, with the exception of some facial mugging during the sequence.

The story actually concerns two other characters, the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, and a women who is accused of witchcraft but claims simply to be a scientist. The connection between these characters is accidental at first but as plot threads revel themselves there is little chance that this is all going to tun out to be a coincidence. That is one of the major issues I have in feeling connected to the films after that first endeavor, the characters seem to randomly connect and then bond, betray and reconnect as the script demands rather than what the characters do. Geoffrey Rush's character Captain Barbossa has evolved so much from the antagonist of the first film, to hero of later movies that it makes my head swim. Maybe this is where the precedent for those "Fast and Furious" allegiance shifts came from. This movie is stuffed with secondary characters who are attached to the plot but do nothing to move it forward, and then they are in with the core group and out in the next scene. I just feel like waiting to the end to see what point of view I am supposed to have for anyone.

A second major issue for me are the plot points concerning the sea curses and legends. They always seem to come out of nowhere and are explained quickly without much rhyme or reason. That's because there is another one coming at any minute. The logic of the compass makes no sense at all. It is unimportant until it suddenly is. There is a map that comes out of thin air, requires the magic of a blood moon to be able to see, but that can;t be read until it can be, with the help of a crystal that somehow allows a star map to function. What?, you might ask. Don't bother, in a second,  dead pirate hunters will not be able to exist on soil, then they can possess a body but never come back to their own corpse, until they can. It is all completely arbitrary.

Depp has some funny lines but he frequently is so into the alcohol soaked line delivery that has been selected for him that you don't get their full impact. The elaborate and complicated battle that has Javier Bardem's character chasing Jack from ship to ship using the canons as platforms to jump from and land on, is so darkly lit that you miss some of the fun of the sequence. None of the swordplay has the energy or sense of swashbuckling verve that made pirate movies fun in the first place. Heck, I liked the zombie sharks as much as anyone but here needs to be some byplay and conflict between the characters. Mostly we just get Bardem slathering after Sparrow without much of a plan. It's frustrating when you can see possibilities for a great character driven action movie but the next visual set piece is going to stop it short. If you are a regular reader here, you know I don't give stars or number ratings, I just try to give my feelings after the experience. I did not have any strong feeling about this one way or another. So that will probably tell you that the three above the title stars are a lot more stars than I would give.

Baywatch




This is clearly an attempt to emulate the success of previous big screen adaptions of TV material like "21 Jump Street" and mix some love that fans have for the original with an irreverent sense of raunchy humor. For the most part I'm afraid that it fails. While there are moments that spark laughter, they are usually connected to our expectations and not to anything original. I suppose that if you spend enough time with a penis and scrotum on screen, being handled uncomfortably by an actor. and others are enjoying the discomfort, then there will be a smile or two. Uncomfortable humor works because all of us are seeking a way to manage the discomfort without being too obvious, and a laugh is a good way to do that.

This is the kind of movie that teenagers should probably love, because the humor is raunchy and the characters are outrageous. The problem is that most teens won't appreciate the "Baywatch"  context and adults that remember the show will be turned off by the vomit, erection and body fluid jokes. Having never seen a single episode of the TV show myself, I still had a sense of what we are supposed to be relating to because the original "Baywatch" was a cultural phenomena that everyone had heard of. I get the slow-motion jokes and the long shots of pecs and asses. It is a beach aesthetic that draws people to the concept in the first place. So why the screenwriters spend so much time on issues that are not connected to what is happening on the beach is curious. The bad guys in the story are so cartoonish as to be annoying. What is supposed to come off as a parody like an Austin Powers film, feels like an incomplete film or a different movie entirely.

I am a fan of Dwayne Johnson. I think the guy has great charisma and a good sense of self. That said, this is maybe his least effective outing in a while. His dialogue is so overloaded with double ententres and mocking pop culture references that they don't usually get a chance to hit. His Mitch never calls the new guy played by Zac Efron by his characters name. He uses a whole series of boy band, pop star and movie or TV references to diminish his new partner. The problem is that there is a new one every twelve seconds and the sting of the previous joke gets buried under the next one which is not quite as funny. The pacing of the movie is all over the place. Scenes that should be quick and too the point get belabored and the ideas that should get more set up are just tossed away. A five minute gag about a guy with his junk stuck in a beach chair is the turning point, after that everything goes soft and that scene happens early on.

When the titles came out of the water like a technicolor tidal wave, behind our hero as he strides out of the water with a guy in his arms, I was ready to give this movie a hearty endorsement. But it doesn't take long to get out of that mood. Even though there are funny bits of business and satire in the story, the movies tone is just not consistently humorous enough. We are being delivered the jokes through a redemption plot that is too  long and repeats the same points multiple times. Then the film turns into a chase film with comedic overtones, until the punchline turns out to be a fistfight that results in no movement of the story forward.

I've already spent more time on this than it deserves. The movie is a stiff that will disappoint your expectations, if you had any, and surprise you not one bit. There is a generous use of loud hip hop music and the dialogue is frequently punctuated with the "F" word. If that sounds like it is for you, maybe you can enjoy this more than I did. Nothing that happens here makes me long for a sequel or to catch up with the original series. It just sits there and afterwards you have to question what brought you in in the first place.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lambcast: MOTM School of Rock


I again join other film fans on a podcast to celebrate a movie we loved.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

F8 of the Furious

OK, it's time to fill your tank, strap yourself in and forget everything you learned in science class. We have another entry in "The Fast and the Furious" franchise to watch.This logic defying, cheesy dialogue spewing, CGI mismash, is what I like to refer to as "Craptacular". It doesn't need to make any sense, it just needs to entertain us for a couple hours on a sunny weekend afternoon after we've had a nice lunch and we are looking for some air conditioned silliness. "F8 of the Furious" as I insist it should be spelled,  has a lot of things going for it despite the cockamamie story telling, paper thin characterization and 1000 yard stare machismo. I don't anticipate these films like some people do, In fact I was not even sure I would see this one. But when the history of my life is written, I won't hate myself for having enjoyed these movies a bit. They feel like summer.

From where I sit, the best things about this series are it's most recent additions. I missed the film where Dwayne Johnson first showed up as a character in these, but he is a guy that oozes charisma. Jason Statham is in his third one of these movies, having a brief cameo in 6 and then being the main bad guy in 7. Whatever they are paying these guys it is worth it because they inject the most energy into the movies of any of the actors. Kurt Russell shows up in a suit and tie for a few scenes, and his swaggering smarminess as a spook with no name, brings a smile to my face. If only Scott Eastwood were as much fun as the intern version of Russell's character.

Two new additions for this film are the ladies that figure heavily in the plot. Charlize Theron steps in as the villain for this edition of the story. She has tightly weaved hair extensions and a badass attitude. It looks like she was saving all her action chops for "Atomic Blonde" later this summer, because in her role as Cipher, she primarily barks orders and frantically types. In another of the mindless film sequences over the years, cyber hackers attack, block and outwit each other as we see who can really reach 70 words a minute on their laptop. Maybe if we edit it together tightly enough and inject some screen shots of computer graphics, it will feel like an action piece. [No it doesn't]. After giving us a dozen reasons to hate her and be ready to cheer for the comeuppance that we have been waiting for, there is an unsatisfactory close to her story. In all probability, we will see the same plot twist that has happened in every one of these films happen in the next one. Also stepping in in a brief scene is Dame Helen Mirren. She doesn't get to do much but she can act everyone else in the film right off the screen just by sitting there.

For thirteen years people have piled on Pierce Brosnon's last outing as 007, for some of the same reasons that they have embraced this franchise. CGI cars that defy gravity, preposterous super villains with all powerful knowledge, stunts that induce as much laughter as excitement, and jokes that don't produce either laughter or much character. With the exception of Statham's sequence on a plane, the humor here largely falls flat. Since I am at heart a sentimentalist, I sometimes find myself being drawn into the "Family" motif that strings these films together. Who doesn't like a hardy laugh as you celebrate your victory of a new bad guy by breaking bread and forming an alliance with the last bad guy. As I said earlier, it doesn't make a lot of sense but cracking the whip on a movie like this is a little like kicking a puppy. It ties so hard to please you that it is just wrong to punish it when it drops a turd on your carpet.

If you think you can take a giant grain of salt and choke it down, than you will almost certainly enjoy a car chase with a submarine, or a parachute jump that would make D.B. Cooper proud. You probably won't care that a convoluted double cross is arranged without any explanation or that people leaping out of cars traveling well in excess of the speed limit results in no physical consequences. "The Rock" doesn't need the force to levitate his opponents off the ground, Statham doesn't need gravity to interfere with a good fight or foot chase, and Vin Diesel doesn't need to act to star in a movie. All of these things are still more believable than finding enough clear road to chase on in New York City on a weekday afternoon.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Alien Covenant

There is always hope that a movie you have doubts about will overcome them and manage to please you. No one goes to a film hoping for disappointment, although we often go expecting it.My level of excitement for "Prometheus" five years ago was through the roof. The fact that it let me down has not vanished from my memory. In fact. it is a warning beacon, just like in the original "Alien" and also like in that original story, it was misinterpreted. You would think after all the crap he got for the last film in the franchise, Ridley Scott would stop visiting it or at least have a better vision of what he wants to say. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. "Covenant " is a let down. It's not as big a let down as "Prometheus" but that's because we were alerted.

When the "Halloween" story got franchised,  there was an attempt with one film to try something different. "Season of the Witch" had nothing to do with Michael Meyers, and the objective was to make the franchise more of an anthology concept using the idea of Halloween as the connective tissue. I think that would be a good approach to this film series. The adventures and horror should be concentrated around new ideas and new aliens each time. Than you would not have to keep trying to figure out how all of the stories fit into a time line or make sense in light of the last film. This movie might have been better if it was not trying so hard to be "Prometheus Part 2" without actually saying that.

Here is how someone wiser than I and less blinded by the hope that Scott could get Alien right again put it, according to my daughter, "Alien Covenant"  is  a hybrid of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection sprinkled with Prometheus as a topping." If that sounds like a tasty concoction to you, by all means indulge. To me it sounds like adding onions to a PB and J made with whole wheat bread and "natural" peanut butter" . That is a lot of ingredients that I don't care for being combined to make something else I don't care for. I never go into spoilers in these commentaries because I want you to listen to my opinion about the film, not my reconstruction of it. I do however have to occasionally mention components that are part of the story. To begin with, just assume anyone who's name you do not have in your head after the first ten minutes is going to die in the story.  Also, assume that the reason they die is that they do something stupid, inappropriate for the moment, or in violation of a protocol. The story telling in this movie is just irritating.

Katherine Waterston does make an effective heroine in the film. I did not recognize her at first but then it dawned on me that she was one of the charming new additions to the world of Harry Potter, having played Tina in "Fantastic Beasts". There are a couple of dramatic moments, an intense scene or two, and a realistic portrayal of someone forced into making decisions she does not want to. Michael Fassbinder has dual roles in the film, both of them as synthetics and each one with some distinctive personality characteristics. The novelty has worn off a bit and the character David is not much more than an Evil Genius, with no real heart. Walter, the more contemporary [or should it be more futuristic?] synthetic person has very little personality for most of the film. There are two turns with his character that make no sense whatsoever, and they are the things that are supposed to launch the last act of the film. Billy Crudup is the man who reluctantly assumes command after an early catastrophe, and there is supposed to be a backstory that involves his faith and how it may have effected the decisions about command in the first place. That story goes nowhere and he is reduced to making the same kinds of silly choices that every other person in these stories makes. Danny McBride goes by a nickname, wears a cowboy straw hat, and doesn't get to show any of the obnoxious charm that might be his reason for being in the film in the first place. I was a little surprised by two uncredited performances, both are early in the film, one makes a little sense, the other must be an inside joke because it was completely unneeded.

The movie looks solid, but it lacks the pizazz of  it predecessor,   which was the main redeeming quality of that film. For me, the best part of this film was the use of the original Jerry Goldsmith theme as a motif in the opening credits. So, thirty seconds in, it is mostly downhill. The third act is a logic defying series of events, designed to sucker punch you in much the same way as "Life" attempted earlier this year. That movie pissed me off and this one leaves me with the same irritated feeling.

Since my dander is up about the film, let me add my two cents about the experience and presentation. We chose a theater based on when the film was playing, and it was not one of our typical haunts. In fact, we ended up paying a little extra to see the film in a "Dine-In" experience. I have always had my reservations about the concept, but since we had driven out of our way and already paid a premium, we went with the flow and ordered concessions off the menu and had a "usher/waiter" take care of us. Other than popcorn and soda, we splurged on nachos, but not the kind that come in a box with melted cheese in a plastic container. These were restaurant style with guacamole and other toppings. They cam twenty minutes after the popcorn. The traditional movie fare arrived before the film started, the nachos did not. The soda we ordered came not in a large cup like the overpriced style at the concession stand, but in a medium sized plastic cup designed to look like a glass coke glass.  The size of the serving, which I was sharing with my wife was diminutive compared to a regular theater, and insured that we would need a re-fill to go with the spicy nachos during the movie. So we got a second visit from the "usher/waiter" while the film was running. He returned a third time with a check in a folder, much like a restaurant, that I would need to sign before we left. A fourth visit was made to try to collect the glasses and silverware that we were not yet finished with. Also, the button for calling for service is over my right shoulder, and it is surrounded by embedded lighting that identifies the theater chain. So the whole time I am watching the film, I have four interruptions and a light in the corner of my eye. Fortunately, the black cloth napkin I was provided, draped nicely over the service button and removed that distraction. Now, if only everything we ordered could arrive before the movie began, we would have half as much to object to. Frankly, eating hot food off a plate, set on an attached tray, in the dark is a pain in the butt as well.

So, I can now say I have tried it, and it is officially more cumbersome than eating KFC in the car while at a drive in. Maybe if I had ordered the hard liquor from the bar, I would not have minded so much, but since I don't drink, and I have a low tolerance for people who can't hold their liquor well,  this was never going to be a solution for me. If that is how you roll, more power to you, but in the future, I'd rather stand in line at a concession stand, juggle my purchases in my arms walking back into the theater, and be left the hell alone while I am watching a movie. I've now had the "dine-in experience", and I'm not sure if it was more irritating than the movie, but I do know I won't be doing either one of them again.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2





Let's be clear, you can't catch lightning in a bottle twice. Your emotional reaction to a previously experienced event will always be influenced by that previous experience. So, inevitably, a second helping is going to go down differently than the first. That said, Volume 2 of this franchise from Marvel Studios, maintains the right tone, humor and high production quality of it's predecessor, while adding some interesting layers to the story and characters. It is a great follow up which will leave you with another sense of euphoria, but it won't quite be like your first piece of the pie.

I swore five years ago that I would stop going to these late night preview screenings on Thursdays. After having left the house at six am, worked at my desk for almost three hours, taught for more than four hours, attended a meeting late in the afternoon, drove to another campus, taught two more hours, rushed home, took the dogs to their training class and finally returning home at 9pm, I got up after eating and went to a 10:30 pm screening. With trailers and movie, I did not get to bed until 2 am. I'm not whining, I'm simply explaining that it was a long, complicated day and I'm bushed. Still it was totally worth it and if my prose comes across a little toasty in this review, well, that's the reason why.

For several years now, I have used an example in my classes about how cultural references from different generations can be misunderstood. For instance, one time in class, as I was passing back grades, one of my students was named Phillip, and when I called his name I joked that I really just need five bucks worth. People who who have only ever pumped their own gas might not get that. Another time, my student got her quiz back and when I called her name, "Brandy" , I said , "you're a fine girl, what a good wife you would be". I got horrified looks from millennials who thought I was hitting on this poor girl and did not get the pop culture reference. After this movie, that will never happen again. As much as this film is a product of today's Hollywood, the cultural appropriation of late seventies and early eighties pop music and culture is one of it's strongest points. Hearing the great Kurt Russell, quote the lyrics of a pop song from 1972, as a way of summarizing his characters plot line was just perfect for an old guy like me. Baby Groot should sell a million copies of ELO's greatest hits, and if you don't have Fleetwood Mac's "the Chain" on your music feed, you will.

Our main characters are known quantities at this point. There really are not a lot of surprises when it comes to the way they act and talk. Writer/Director James Gunn and his screenwriting collaborators have a clear understanding of the emotional neediness of Star Lord and match it with cocky bravado at every point. Rocket is a badass for some clearly emotional reasons, but you don't expect them to be as poignant as this film manages to make them. There are several new characters in the story but the best narrative belongs to two characters from the first film who take a more prominent role in Volume 2. Nebula has daddy issues like everyone in the story, but she is taking them out on Gamora. Their relationship continues to splinter, mesh and then separate again on a regular basis.  The surprise feature character is Michael Rooker's Yondu. This turns out to be the key reason for this movie working as well as it does to supersede comic spectacle and actually achieve some emotional resonance. Who'd have thought that?

Drax continues to be one of the oddest comic relief characters in films. David Bautista's deliver of deadpan insults and bon mots earns him some acting cred in the range he handles very well.  Zoe Saldana has the narrowest story developments in the film, but Gamora still manages to be an important presence in the story. New character Mantis has the sincerest demeanor in the plot and her by play with Drax is a highlight.


Peter Quill gets to be the hero of the story, but it ends up being a position that is well earned and paid for. The Guardians add a few new enemies to their list of folks they have to watch out for. You can see a few threads of future stories lurking in the background, but the one major story from the previous version is cleanly tied up here. Not having heard of this comic series before it became a film, much less having ever read one comic, the denouement of  the family story was a good twist that made the film a lot more interesting.

The special effects of the film are impressive. We went to a 3D IMAX showing and it showcases the space battles and weapons very well. The soundtrack is loaded with music that if you don't yet know, you will because it is used so well in the story. There are some nice details in the film that you may miss if you don't watch closely.  For example, I'm pretty sure Peter's grandpa is in one shot very briefly. It wasn't necessary but it shows that the film makers care about details and in this Universe, details seem to be pretty important. If you liked the first film, you should be more than satisfied with Vol. 2. And if you like Mary Poppins, you'll love Yondu the most.

AMC IMAX Bonus Cards for Stubbs Members, Jealous?



Friday, April 28, 2017

Their Finest



I had a Friday Afternoon free, my daughter was home and suggested we see a film. I checked Flixter to see what was new and available. "The Circle" had lousy ratings, but that does not always discourage me. "How to be a Latin Lover", no, that's not going to happen. Then I saw this, a movie that I'd never heard of but which featured a World War Two Setting, the making of a film, and it had Bill Nighy in it. Why the hell was I not already at the theater? Twenty minutes later we were, and boy am I glad I happened across this.

This film went from not even being a blip on my radar to being my favorite film of the year so far. It has many old fashioned elements so it may not seem like a film modern audiences will flock to, but they should . The old fashioned story telling, character development and plot are just the ticket for people who want a movie that does not feature super heroes( at least until next week), car chases, and hipper than thou irony which is unearned. This film has a romance, a war to win, a movie to make, and enough heartbreak to last for the summer. People who love movies will appreciate the title of the book it is based on and it will make the current title make more sense. ["Their Finest Hour...and a half"].

In the months after Great Britain was forced to retreat from the continent, and stood alone against the monstrosity of the Third Reich, it's morale was battered. The blitz was taking place and Londoners were forced into shelters if they were lucky, and dug out of the ruble if they were not. A young woman, who did a cartoon for a local paper, gets tapped to assist with the script of War Time propaganda films. As the head writer terms it, "the slop" you know, women's dialogue. The film makers are struggling to find the right tone for the informational films that are shown between the regular features. A Hungarian producer, anxious to make a great film to aid the war effort comes across a story that might be just the thing to lift up a beleaguered population.

Gemma Arterton, Miss Strawberry Fields herself, plays Catrin Cole, a woman struggling to stay with her artist husband in London during the bombings, so happy to have some work to pay the rent. While it is a little quick to go from punching up lines in a PSA to co-writing a script for a major production, it is a lot more believable than the old line of going out as an understudy but coming back as a star. The film gives us glimpses of how she might re-write dialogue to be more appealing to a female audience, and sometimes change the tone of what is going on. Sam Claflin plays her sexist boss, the main writer of the film. Their story line is full of ups and downs that seem natural in the wartime circumstances and the date at which the story is set. Sexual politics and gender warfare have existed a long time before the sixties and here is a case where it breaks out at just the right time.

Cast as an aging matinee idol of a series of disposable detective thriller, Bill Nighy is an actor who reluctantly is cast in a part that is perfect for him. The way in which it all comes about is also a part of the background of the film. With a name like Ambrose Hilliard, you almost don't need the character to have an actor to go with the part, but Nighy fills the movie with some great moments of pathos as well as humor. My daughter thought we were going to see a comedy, and we did, it's just that it's a human comedy, and that includes the sad with the happy. The funny bits are all great, but Nighy really shines in two dramatic sequence. In one, he joins the film crew and cast in singing old homilies that bring the group together like music must have done during war time. Later he has a few minutes of philosophy to share that helps propel the movie to the ending that it really does deserve.

The randomness of destruction and the capriciousness of the heart are subjects of the movie as well. I  know the Brits must have wondered what their American cousins were doing on the sidelines during this period. They soldiered on as best they could, with tragedy a moment away or a step around the corner. When the film making process is shown on screen, we get some nice behind the scenes laughs, but when the completed film is revealed in bits, I dare anyone to be able to keep a dry eye. If this film had really been made, we might have joined the war effort before Pearl Harbor. Sure it was propaganda, but it probably would have worked like gangbusters.

This movie had no ads, promos, billboards or other marketing to sell it, at least here in the states. That is an absolute shame. With the Christopher Nolan film "Dunkirk" ready to screen this summer, this is a perfect appetizer. The story of the rescue of British soldiers is a key ingredient in this picture. We are spared the impact that the war had on individual soldiers but we get a good dose of what it did to folks on the home-front with this movie. Oh, and just in case you are not sold on the film yet, Jeremy Irons pops in for about three minutes of perfection, and makes you remember how great he is in almost everything he does.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Jackie Brown on the "Walt Sent Me Podcast"



                                      I am a guest on this great podcast with Kristen Lopez and Todd Liebenow. We talk Disney News, discuss the Cartoon Short "Who Killed Cock Robin?" and worship at the alter of Pam Grier. Listen in, I think you will really enjoy it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Free Fire


There is something just great about a movie set in a single claustrophobic location, filled with criminals. "Reservoir Dogs" by Quentin Tarantino served as his introduction to the world. The colorful characters and bantering dialogue were a swift kick in the pants to movie fans who had become jaded by traditional action thrillers. Just a couple of years ago, he plagiarized himself with another location bound crime film, this one set in the old west, "The Hateful Eight". While he has played with the idea of a single location, both of those films involve substantial flashback stories that take us from the set spot to other locations during the run time of the movie. "Free Fire" does not do any such thing. Everyone arrives at the location, and then the rest of the film takes place exclusively in those confines.

This is basically a criminal deal gone bad, that ends up in a shootout. It sounds very basic and from the perspective of story, it is. There are however a few tweaks that director Ben Wheatley and his co-screenwriter Amy Jump throw into the concoction.  For instance, the spark that lights the already intense situation has nothing to do with the deal. By coincidence, a couple of hotheads with a beef are in the two factions and tempers flare around a bunch of volatile people. Almost all of the characters are given some distinctive personality quirks in a short set up, and as a result we know that even when they are allied with another person, their inclination is likely to be to shoot.

Like most films featuring criminal activity, the parties are not entirely reliable. There are a number of double crosses and switches of loyalty. When bullets start to fly, often the direction you point your gun in is largely determined by where a previous shot came from. Early on, one character quizzes another, trying to reassure themselves, "You're not FBI are you?" "No. I'm IFM, In it For Myself." By the midway point of the film, pretty much everyone has joined the same group.

The stars of the film are Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and Academy Award Winner Brie Larson. Larson plays Justine, a go between for the IRA group that wants some weapons, and the black-marketeers that are willing to supply them.  Her part here makes a little more sense than her recent turn as a photo journalist in "Kong: Skull Island",  but she basically serves the same purpose, to be the sole representative of her gender with a part in the story. The humor that is the main selling point of this film is enhanced by her presence as a distraction to the others and an opportunity to use some lines of dialogue to promote gender equity in a more unusual way. Hammer is the cooler than thou broker who always has a bon mot to drop. Sometimes he insults the players, often he is incredulously commenting on the circumstances. Copley is the ace in the hole for the movie. His first appearance provokes laughter as his suit is so clearly a 70s cut and his hair and other styling reek  of the decade. His odd South African accent, combined with a belligerent manner and a chip on his shoulder make for a great character that you can just tell will be the source of all kinds of amusement.

I should mention two other scene stealers as they are the ones who lite the fuse and just won"t let it burn out during the story. Sam Riley is a weaselly junkie, brought in on the job simply to load weapons and act as back up muscle. Everybody in this movie kicks his ass to some degree or another. Jack Reynor, who was the standout supporting character of the older brother in "Sing Street" last year, adds another great character role as a counter part local thug who has a surprise connection to the other character. Testosterone induced violence, flavored with a heavy dose of grim humor, and a seemingly endless supply of ammo, makes this film sing as well.



 
Our attendance last night was at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood, where there are frequent guest appearances to promote a film. Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer were there last night and will return this evening to talk about some of the behind the scenes stories of the film. Both men were avuncular raconteurs who regaled us with amusing anecdotes about hair, wardrobe and the use of fire on set. The half hour was fun but not particularly deep. Let's face it the movie isn't deep, it is just entertaining as were the two stars.
After the Q and A.


Costume Display in the Arclight Lobby