Sunday, October 10, 2021
Monday, October 4, 2021
Friday, October 1, 2021
This film came out nine years ago, on the 50th Anniversary of James Bond on the Big Screen. Much was made of the fact that the gun barrel sequence did not appear until the end of the movie, but that was really just the exclamation point for the anniversary. There were so many things that were special about the film, it was nice to be reminded of them today. It may be a bit of fan service, but calling the Aston Martin DB5 back into action was a thrilling moment. The final act confrontation was very well staged and technically looked terrific. We also got a great 007 Theme song from Adele.
Monday, September 27, 2021
I can imagine that this worked really well on stage as the actors can feed off of the audience's emotions and the immediacy of the theater brings everyone together. That feeling is hard to replicate in a film. Movies have an influence on the audience but the energy level does not change from each showing. The emotions can only flow in one direction, and the somewhat static nature of a film , even one that is dynamic, does not provoke in the same manner. The difficulty this movie will have is less due to the material and more to the medium.
One of the problems that I have with modern musicals is that the tunes are not distinctive and the lyrics don't lend themselves to singing along. So much of this film is made up of dialogue that is sung and could easily have just been spoken. There are not any extravagant show stopping moments. The closest you get to something that you would describe as a production number is a sequence that takes advantage of social media as a way to advance the song and character. It's as if this movie is the anti- "In the Heights". That movie was all about the wild color and flourishes of a musical, this film is all internal self directed mediation where the songs are basically happening in a persons heads more than anywhere else (there are a couple of exceptions).
The story has it's heart in the right place. The perspective of someone suffering from social anxiety, depression and ADD, is handled with a great deal of sympathy.. In my discussion of the film on the podcast this week, we had a brief debate about whether the lead character of Evan Hansen is the victim or the antagonist in the story. We all agreed he had the best intentions but we also acknowledge that old saying about the road to hell being paved by those kinds of intentions. For my part, I always try to see the context of events to try and judge actions. Evan's deception takes place in circumstances where being honest would be hurtful to others, and he can't bring himself to do that. The pain of the family of Connor is impossible not to empathize with. Connor was troubled, his sister at one point calls him a monster. He was certainly horrible to many others, but that seems to stem from biological and chemical issues more than anything else. The fantasy that Evan concocts would have been fine if he had not crossed a certain line and if Connor's Mother could just accept the story on it's face. Like every sitcom over the last fifty years, one complication has to lead to another and in this situation the result is tragic rather than humorous.
This movie was going to be a hard sell from the get go. In spite of it's credentials on the Broadway Stage, is is not a very appealing subject to most audiences. In the past we have had a successful holocaust comedy and a semi successful teen terminal cancer love story, so why not a musical about depression and teen suicide? The answer is that people go to the movies for different reasons than they go to the theater. The earnestness of your stories intentions don't always translate into a warm audience embrace. We can be manipulated emotionally, but we have to be open to that manipulation to let it have an impact on us. Movie audiences are very fussy about what they will let themselves accept. My guess is that most of the film audience, in these times, will not be receptive to this sort of storytelling.
Friday, September 24, 2021
I did something today that is always fun, and sometimes pays off. I spun the wheel on what to see and went in blind to watch Copshop, the latest from director Joe Carnahan and actor producer Gerard Butler. I have seen a few of Carnahan's films, my favorite of his is "The Grey", the Liam Neeson Wolfpunching story from 2011. Butler has become the King of the "B" movie in the last few years, and he does in fact rule. I had no idea what the story involved, I'd not seen the trailer or read a review. I chose the film entirely based on the combination of these two talents. Boy am I glad I did. This is a tasty bit of nastiness that borrows heavily from the 1970s, and that is my jam.
When the credits start at the beginning of the film, I could swear I knew the music that was being played. It reminded me of a gritty 70s film like "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3". It sounded like a Dirty Harry score. Imagine my delight when I sat thru the end credits and confirmed that the theme music from this movie was basically "Magnum Force", by Lalo Schifrin. There are a couple more music cues in the film that harking to the early seventies. The film does finally get to a contemporary pace and style in the climax, but first we are treated to a slow burn set up that reminded me of so many films from that earlier era that I love. We end up with two guys confined in a space and wonder how and why that are facing off. The ambiguity feels very much like some of those cop films of the dirty New York era but this is set in Nevada.
This is a cross between "Report to the Commissioner" and "Assault on Precinct 13". The two leads, Butler and Frank Grillo, are not good guys by any stretch of the imagination. Their showdown results in so much collateral damage that it will inspire books and movies for years if it really happened. It's not the sort of John Wick violence where there are as many bodies as there are bullets, the dead do have some weight to them and so it feels a little more engaging from a story point of view, without the style of the modern shoot em ups that we have had in the last few years. The best hook in the film however, is the third billed Alexis Louder, who is the real star of the film and I think is making a breakthrough with this part. She plays the cop in the middle, who adheres to a code of ethics and has the skills to fight back when needed. I thought her persona jumped off the screen from the first moment she appeared.
The film is not great, it has plot holes and unbelievable recoveries from gunshots that undermine any credibility. You won't care however because it is entertaining as hell for those who like the plot to play out over the course of the film and not have everything handed to them is a series of fast cuts designed to get the adrenaline jumping. Butler does very limited action duty, and Grillo is not attempting any martial arts moves. This is a shootout at the end of a psychological puzzle, and it satisfied me completely.
Thursday, September 23, 2021
There is probably no more discussed, written about, argued over and idolized film than "Citizen Kane". What is amazing is that it has remained near the top of so many lists of the greatest films of all time, 80 years after it first appeared. The reasons are straightforward, "Kane" created the template that so many films that came after it also follow. The visuals are creative, the movie is shot from non-traditional perspectives in most of the scenes. The Edits are integrated into the story, they are not simply stopping places before the next scene. Film Noir owes a deep debt of gratitude to Gregg Toland who shot "Citizen Kane" like it was a noir story. The film also gave us Bernard Herrmann, who would go on to create unforgettable scores for a dozen iconic films.
Far be it from me to commit to trying a new take on the classic, this will simply be a few random observations that I made at my screening. To begin, if you were seeing this for the first time and watched the opening five minutes, you would think this was a horror film. It is possible that some could classify it that way, but most of us get past those trappings as the story plays out, although by the time of the conclusion, you may revert back to that original impression very easily.
The characters in the story appear at different ages and in various degrees of warmth or aggravation with the title character. The one exception that I noticed was Everett Sloane's Mr. Bernstein, who somehow managed to roll with every mood that Charles Foster Kane went through, and still remained loyal to him. Maybe that would classify him as a sycophant, but after everything plays out, I thought he was the one character in the story who you could always feel sympathetic towards. Joseph Cotten's Jed Leland becomes a self righteous hypocrite, in spite of the fact that he is basically correct about his friend Kane. I hope that I hold no grudges so long that I could not reach out to a former friend near the end of their life and provide a small amount of solace by giving them a phone call.
Orson Wells accomplishment with this film was something incredible for the level of film experience that he had, which was basically none. Regardless of the controversies over the screenplay, the author of the film is pretty clear and you can see his imprint on every frame of the movie. "Citizen Kane" does not need me to recommend it, my only purpose is to remind you that it is out there, waiting for you to discover for the first time, or rediscover for your thirtieth time.
Monday, September 20, 2021
Long in the tooth and slow in the gait, Clint Eastwood still has enough star power to wipe most other performers off the screen. This 91 year old national treasure keeps working and making the cinema world a better place as a result. While "Cry Macho" may not be up to the standards of his greatest films, it is certainly entertaining enough and it speaks to issues that seem contemporary, even though the film is set forty years ago.
Many Eastwood films have featured him in the role of mentor to a younger character. "Gran Torino" was all about a cross cultural lampooning and deconstruction of supposed "toxic masculinity", so it is not really a surprise that this film treads familiar ground. Clint's character Mike Milo, is a used up man, without much to look forward to except release from this world. When his estranged friend and former employer played by Dwight Yoakam enlists him to go to Mexico City and essentially kidnap his 13 year old son from the Mother that he has divorced, Mike sees red flags but also a chance to find some purpose to his continued existence.
There are a couple obvious problems that I want to discuss early and get out of the way. The dialogue in the two set up scenes is not good and the performances by the two leads live down to that quality. The film starts to feel like it is just conveniently setting up the road trip for us without bothering to make the characters that inspire it feel believable. The "antagonists" in the movie are the kid's Mother and her boyfriends and entourage. They are also not very believable, in fact there is one moment that may cause a spit take from the audience. But...once Clint and the kid connect, the picture is on much steadier grounds and the characters begin to feel more as if this is a story worth telling. Young Eduardo Minett is a slightly more natural actor than his counterpart in "Gran Torino" was, but both performances feel a little amateurish. The character of Rafo does start to grow on us, in spite of some adolescent faults that are irritating early on.
The connection between the man and the boy is of course the main point of the story, but there are some surprising detours along the way, including some time spent in a small Mexican town and the people of that town. In particular, the two fugitives, find a stronger familial bond then they have experienced in a long time. This interlude is the strongest part of the story and will make you want to forget what has been set up and instead settle down with the possibilities that are now presented to the man and boy. Eastwood's directing style which has always focused more on character than cinematic flamboyance, seems a perfect match for this section of the movie. There is some gentle humor and only a little tension during these sequences. Once they hit the road again, there is an opportunity for Clint to do some basic action that is still acceptable for his age. The tension in his film "The Mule" from a couple of years ago was mirrored almost exactly when a couple of federal Mexican police pull over the two and we get some sly dialogue that apes the earlier film.
The film will have to make due with an older audience because the things that draw in the typical movie crowd these days are largely missing from this. No real gunfights, barely any fisticuffs, no action scenes per se and a romantic relationship between characters that could be their grandparents. This may be a film that works with Warner's HBO Max/Day and date simultaneous release. I hope older audiences will go out to see the movie, but if you can't bring yourself to do that, click the watch button and enjoy an efficient little drama that starts off shaky but finishes well.