Sunday, June 27, 2021

F9 The Fast Saga

 


I have been a sometimes fan of the series. I have never seen 2,3, or4 and only half of 5. 6,7, and 8 as well as Hobbs and Shaw are in my back pocket. Frankly, there is nothing to say about this except it is stupid, but I enjoyed watching the stupidity. 

The substitution of Jon Cena for Dwayne Johnson allows Vin Diesel to be the focus of the film, and that's fine. There are a couple dozen secondary characters that some people seem to like but all seem to me to be replaceable at any time. OK, maybe Tyrece Gibson as the main comic relief would be a little tough to replace, but otherwise, they are cardboard cutouts being moved around the set pieces.

Most of the film is made up of one outlandish chase, race, or fistfight punctuated with some flashbacks that explain most of what is happening. Don't worry about following that, just keep your eyes on the screen for the next impossible stunt, physics defying escape or miraculous moment of self awareness. This film goes full meta, acknowledging  how silly it is and even nearly saying "we are a movie". 

There is no sense in analyzing any of it, or critiquing the story. this series jumped the shark years ago, it's now just a question  of what the next shark is. I may be in spoiler territory here, but don't worry, it was going to come out somewhere anyway, this is the "Moonraker" of the series. They make a bunch of corny jokes, and go to space. I'm only surprised that Roger Moore did not show up with his laser equipped Space Shuttle to help out. 

F9 was the subject of this week's Lambcast, and we spent an hour just laughing at all the idiotic coincidences, resurrections, and tropes these films wallow in. I will post a link here when the podcast is live, I will credit Mark Hofmeyer, for coming up with my favorite title for a movie next time. "Fast Ten Your Seatbelts".  That's better writing than anything in this pile of stuff that is instantly disposable, but fun while you are disposing of it. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Sparks Brothers

 


So, I've seen the new Edgar Wright film, have you? No, I'm not talking "Last Night in Soho", that comes out in October and it looks to be scary fun. This film is a documentary about the eccentric band "Sparks" and the two brothers that are the heart and soul of musical integrity. Someone once said that rock and roll and comedy don't really mix well, but that person had never heard Sparks, or maybe that's why they never heard them because their offbeat sense of humor keeps the pop market from fully embracing their music. 

This was a father's Day activity for me. My daughter, who barely had any inkling of this band, found the subject  delightful and fascinating. I was slightly better off than her in approaching this, I knew of Sparks during their second phase, and I enjoyed their music, owned a couple of albums and even went to see them once live at the same amusement park that they filmed a movie appearance in. I was a casual fan, who lost track of them, and now I wish I was the kind of person who had all of their albums and had been following them for fifty years. 

Well there is an abundance of Talking Heads in the documentary [the interview style not the band], there are also performance clips, news footage, chat show appearances, and intriguing music videos to bring us all up to speed. Ron and Russell Mael are not British, though many might think so since much of their breakthrough work was first successful in the United Kingdom. They are in fact Southern California boys who unfortunately went to UCLA, but do not seem to have been permanently harmed by that experience. The older brother Ron, is the Principle songwriter and keyboardist for the band and his younger brother is the lead singer/frontman of the band. They have had various other musicians, in and out of the band over a fifty year time span, and many of them appear in this film as do a legion of their admirers. 

In movies, there are several uses of "Sparks" music. One of my late wife's favorite films was the 1983 film "Valley Girl" and there were two Sparks songs on that soundtrack, "Eaten By The Monster of Love" and "Angst in My Pants". My favorite film of 2010 was "Kick Ass" and it features a moment with their first big hit "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us". In the documentary, there is a discussion of the era of KROQ radio station in Los Angeles and how influential it was in getting New Wave acts played on the air, Sparks, while not a New Wave band per se did get covered on that station. In the years 1980 to 1983, my radio was always on that station number and that's how I heard about Sparks appearance at Magic Mountain for a Halloween show. The band made a brief musical moment in the movie "Rollercoaster"  in 1977 at the same park, but in the Halloween show, they played the same stage where the Puppet show headlined and "Spinal Tap" got second billing. It's also the stage featured in "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park", and coincidentally, my Father played that stage in 1971 right after the park had opened, I worked with him for two weeks at the holiday period. 

The band is prolific and continues to be eccentric. This film was two hours and fifteen minutes, and we saw it at an Alamo Drafthouse with a thirty minute lead in hosted by director Edgar Wright, so the whole experience was even longer. It still felt short, especially in comparison to "In the Heights" which we had jus seen a couple of days earlier. If you are a fan of the band and their music, you really should get out to a theater to see this. If you are not a fan, you should go see it and become one. 

In the Heights

 


The Tony Award Winning Best Musical, from the creator of "Hamilton", is finally a movie after several starts and stops in the production process. It was due out last year and the pandemic delayed it like a lot of other films. That might be doubly unfortunate because sometimes timing can make a difference in a movies fortunes and I think this one may have missed the mark. The world is an angrier place than it was a year ago, and the generally upbeat tone of this film seems at odds with the cultural climate of the diversity issues that are being discussed now. Rioting and looting to musical numbers is just not the same. 

I will admit upfront that this movie and the play were probably not made for me. Hip Hop music can be invigorating but the frequent absence of melody and the near conversational lyrics, don't pull me in the same way a traditional Broadway showtune does. It feels to me like there is no hook, and the chorus in most of the songs is not memorable enough to be catchy either. That doesn't make it bad, it just makes it far different from what I expect in a musical and that diminished my enthusiasm for this film. 


Another problem I had with the movie is the overproduction in every musical sequence. That sounds like an oxymoron but the film feels like it is trying to top the last sequence every time a new moment occurs.  So it is often a bigger crowd, a more elaborate environment, wilder dance moves and bigger emotional bullet points. It gets exhausting. One of my on-line friends quoted a critic who suggested it was like watching a film length Coke commercial. Everything is gracefully shot, swiftly choreographed, but ultimately a bit shallow. The colors and the lighting pop, but not in a stylized way, just in the cheerful way you might try to sell soda with.  Director Jon Chu has a talented eye but could use a little restraint at times. The film feels like the writer and the director want every song moment to be a show stopper, and that puts the characters in the background of their own story. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda is certainly a talent that can create something compelling. He managed to make the founding fathers hip, and bring attention to American History in a contemporary way.  His love story here is a bit problematic., in part because it is so overstuffed. Usnavi loves Vanessa, Benny loves Nina, and Usnavi and Benny both love their neighborhood and want everyone else to do the same. If the story stuck to those characters it might work better, but we have a story about Usnavi's adopted Grandmother Figure, his cousin, Nina's Father, Vanessa's dream, the women at the hair salon, the closing of the car service, the dream of opening a beachfront bar, the kids in the neighborhood, Usnavi's role as story teller, it just gets exhausting, and it does so over a period of two and a half hours. I don't want to sound like Emperor Joseph II from "Amadeus", but "there are just too many notes."                                                                                                              The movie is well made and performed. Anthony Ramos as the lead is fine, he appears to be experienced with Lin-Manuel Miranda having performed in "Hamilton", although I first noticed him as the more sympathetic of the two crooked FBI guys in Honest Thief" last year. Except for Jimmy Smits, everyone else in the show was new to me, but they all seem talented, but don't get as much opportunity to shine as is necessary to make the characters engaging. I liked the movie but not enough. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Cruella




Cruella is the next in a long line of Disney films designed to exploit their previous properties and put a reboot Twist on them. So although there are Dalmatians in this film the movie is not really about the dogs. This is an attempt to reimagine Cruella de Vil as a sympathetic character gone wrong. In the long run not much is going to change on the main stories except our perceptions of these characters as they appear early on and then return in their original form.

I didn't expect a great deal from this movie and I was pleasantly surprised and how much I enjoyed it. Much of the credit goes to the production design team who's amazing designs for the mansion, the workshop the cars, and all of the technical things that get used in the film are a lot of fun. In addition special notes should be given to the craftspeople who designed the clothes that were worn by the various characters but especially those made for star Emma Stone. She wears these outfits and commands the screen simply by looking outlandish and confident while doing so.

The plot of this film imagines Cruella from her earliest age until just before the events that makeup  101 Dalmatians. Cruella appears to be the orphaned child of a former acquaintance of a fashion designer, The Baroness. Of course appearances always turn out to be slightly skewed in a movie like this and there will be plot turns that confound us, amuse us, and in the long run make a little bit more sense then they probably should. I like the use of characters that are referred to in the previous films and they also have been given revised backstories. Jasper and Horace, who are Cruella's henchman in this version of the story, turn out to be orphans that are similarly abandoned and are using petty crime as a way to survive. The movie really get started when characters get together and start plotting for Cruella to get into the fashion industry that she is always dreamed of being apart of.

There is a long sequence where Cruella is poorly used as an entry-level member of the Baroness' Empire. The idea that she ends up scrubbing floors and being ignored despite her good ideas is maybe a little trite but it's played for good comic effect. Emma Thompson provides great opposition as the heartless and manipulative fashion maven that Cruella is up against. The best parts of the movie are the three or four dramatic moments when Cruella's designs upstage the Baroness at key moments, typically a fashion show. These are usually presented as clever tricks or reversals of the Baroness own plans. They are also very well designed and have a great visual flair to them. That flair makes it feel as if the Fashion World could operate in these sorts of ways. The Cruella character becomes the Banksy of the Fashion World, a renegade artist with a sense a panache. Of course the more she is blocked by the Baroness the more fantastic her revenge scenarios become.

If you were thinking of taking your children to see this film, think again, because one of the major plot points involves the murder of a woman. That death is followed up by another plot to murder another woman. Then we are given a situation where there might be even more murder involved. And there is plenty of cruelty to go along with the plotting. There are Dalmatians in the film and in the early part of the movie they are villainous. Two other dogs are the charming heroes, if you can call criminals heroes. The fact that in the end the Dalmatians become a more important part of the plot, really has nothing to do with the original movies. This is not a kids movie with dogs, it's a movie made for adults based on characters from a kids movie. It would not do you well to confuse the two because your kids could very well end up traumatized by some of the things that take place in the plot.

It's a little schizophrenic that sometimes we see Cruella as a victim and other times see her as the perpetrator of something evil. Admittedly the character is evil but actress Emma Stone holds back on making Cruella completely irredeemable but only stopping short to keep a PG-13 rating. I found the movie very entertaining and funnier than I expected. Worth a watch for adults, but beware bad dogs. 




Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

 


The original film came out four years ago, and was obviously successful enough to spawn a sequel. The high concept of The Hitman's Bodyguard is all in the title. This film is no more subtle than the original. It hits you in the face with the premise, follows it up with a lot of mayhem, and then tops it with enough vulgar language for three Al Pacino and two Samuel L. Jackson films. This is the embodiment of mindless entertainment, it often makes no sense whatsoever, but you won't care because you are shame laughing the whole time. 

I said it in the review of the first film, and I will repeat it and emphasize it here, Selma Hayak not only gives Jackson a run for his money, she clearly wins. It must have struck the writers of this film that doubling the use of the f-word by Jackson's character's wife would be funny, and they calculated correctly. Hayak delivers the good twice as much and frequently in a second language which makes this even more preposterous. She is a songbird with the f-word. Poor Ryan Reynolds has to make due with using the word mostly as a rejoinder to the other two. He can barely get a f-you in edgewise. 

It's not entirely clear why the love interest for Reynold's character in the original film was left out, although she would have been superfluous to the story with the direction they have taken here. Instead, they have inserted a character for Morgan Freeman to join the cast and get a paycheck. He also gets a few choice f-bombs but some of the biggest laughs he generates are from Reynold's worshipful description of his voice. 

Appearing as the bad guy is Antonio Banderas, who does most of his acting with silly hairstyles and even sillier clothing choices. I would have appreciated a bit more by play with Banderas and Hayak, they were once matched together in another hitman story, "Desperado"  about twenty five years earlier. They do get a fight scene towards the end, and unlike the Robert Rodriguez film, this one is often played for laughs. In fact most of the action in the film has a comedic element to it. 

There is plenty of blood to go around, and many of the deaths are done for comic effect. Ryan Reynold is first billed but once things get started, he becomes a supporting character to the married couple of Jackson and Hayak. He is quite a bit the Coyote to everybody else's Roadrunner. He gets dropped, kicked, run over, shot, stabbed and generally abused, but is right back up for the next sequence, ready to do it all again. 

The story is not as strong as the first film was, although neither is particularly sturdy. I do think there are more laughs in this film and that makes it a winner in my book. This is entertainment that is crude and disposable, which means for adults, you can enjoy your date night, drink to your heart's content, and not worry that you don't remember much about the movie the next day,...you don't need to. 



Friday, June 11, 2021

80s Nostalgia Central

 


If you were not aware, I am in essence, continuing the original project that launched this blog, with another project focused on the Summer Movies of the 1980s.  We are only a few days in so it would be easy to catch up. Those of you who have followed or subscribed to this Web Site are encouraged to do the same on this new project. The Kirkham A Movie A Day blog page will continue, this is just something extra for the Summer Season. Come on over and have some fun.