Okay, I've had a head cold all week, it's 100 and a gazillion degrees outside and I need to get some sleep, and I'm already a day and a half past my artificial deadline, so, let's get right to them, the latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting off, with the Oscar-winning feature, "The Hateful Eight" as well as the Oscar-nominated films, "Brooklyn", "Theeb" and "Creed"!
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) Director: Quentin Tarantino
I'll say this, I'm not jealous of too many people in Hollywood but I really wish I had Quentin Tarantino's imagination. He's-, I mean, I get why some might not fully appreciate his latest "The Hateful Eight", hell, I'm not sure I fully appreciate it, but so few talented people, especially talented writers are willing to put themselves out there. Create something so overblown, so bombastically overblown, so epic, and yet, so willing to literally go, anywhere. Anywhere in terms of the characters, the plot, the story, hell the structure of the story. For all it's bombasticness, "The Hateful Eight" is essentially Tarantino's version of "Ten Little Indians". Get some suspicious characters together, trap them in a house in a snowstorm that nobody can get away from or get to, and see what happens, and yeah, since this is a Tarantino movie, that means that people are gonna get killed, and killed violently. His latest neo-Western takes place in Wyoming, post Civil War, and we begin with two bounty hunters crossing paths in the snow, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell), bounty heading to a nearby town to collect bounties. Warren's bounties are dead, but Ruth's bounty, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in her first Oscar-nominated role, which is just, wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, on so many levels that she's only been nominated once. So wrong.) and since they're heading in the same direction, after some discussion, they decide to head out in the same carriage, and they also pick up another hitchhiker, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who happens to be the new Sheriff of the town they're heading to, so, even though he's a relative of one of the most vicious rebel army families in the Civil War, they decide that, since he's going to be the one paying their bounty, or there's a good possibility that he might actually be the Sheriff, they bring him along too. They eventually stop at the last chance place, Minnie's Haberdashery, however Minnie (Dana Gourrier) is conspicuously absent, as well other people who are new to the place, observing Marquis, a new hand, Bob (Damian Bichir) says that he's the new hand, and they run into some other intriguing characters who are also staying at the Haberdashery. there's the town Hangman, the one who's supposedly going to hang Daisy, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) a former Civil War general in his later years, Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern, perfectly cast) as well as Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) the most mysterious of the strangers and O.B. (James Parks). Are these the titular Hateful Eight? Well, probably. Honestly, I have no idea who or how many of the characters he's actually referring to with the title, it seems like, for most of the movie, that everybody's got something hate-able about them, and I think that's the idea. The movie almost seems like Tarantino just wanted to get a bunch of his characters together, and have them kill each other. I don't quite know what to think/make of that, but I was constantly entertained, it was a mystery that I could not solve, I-eh, I mean, I love Tarantino, I don't think he's infallible, and this movie is maybe bigger and too grandiose. It was shot on 70mm, he even got Ennio Morricone to do the score, which earned him his first competitive Oscar; he clearly wants this movie to harken back to the Leone-esque spaghetti western; it's actually kinda bizarre that he picked this story to do that with. It's everything you could want in a Tarantino movie, and maybe that makes it a little less special than some of his other films, which gave us everything and more, but I can't bash it too much. I get those who are dismissive of it, but again, who else is doing this kind of movie, who else would dare, who would try and who would do it so brazenly and so boldly? Nobody else but him.
BROOKLYN (2015) Director: John Crowley
John Crawley's "Brooklyn" received a surprise Best Picture Oscar nomination, as well as two other major nominations, and I've heard the movie is being adapted into British television series, or miniseries, possibly, it's a bit unclear, and-eh, ye-ah, I can't help but to watch "Brooklyn" feeling like it's incomplete. Not that it's not powerful, in a way it is, but it's also a movie that probably should've been a miniseries. That's a weird thing, it's really kind of an oxymoronic thing for me to say, 'cause I've never bought into the notion that, in order for a movie to have more heft and depth that one should add length to the film and there's about twenty movies I can think of similar to "Brooklyn" that prove you don't need to make something longer to make a film seem bigger and grander, and most of those movies are American films from the '30s, '40s and '50s or so. Eh, how do I go into this? In terms of films with female protagonists, one that are, full complex characters, I know the myth is that Hollywood doesn't create those, but the little hidden truth is that they used to, back in the Golden Age, and "Brooklyn" in many ways feels like a movie of that era. Probably my favorite examples of films of that era would be the work of Douglas Sirk, but probably there's also your "Now, Voyager" films, your eh, "The Blue Angel" guy, Josef von Sternberg films, probably the most notable film however, which is unfortunately one I haven't gotten around to see is "Mildred Pierce", a movie, which many of you may remember got remade by HBO in a miniseries recently, which I have seen, so, that might be clouding my thoughts and judgments on "Brooklyn", but that said, this movie, still needed to be way more than it is, and in many ways by that I mean, maybe one hour more than it is? As you can tell by the title, the movie begins, in Ireland, with young Eiles (Oscar-nominee Saorise Ronan) being sponsored by a Priest in America, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent, who's wonderfully delightful) to come to America, and living in a boarding house in Brooklyn run by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) and a job working at a department store. This film takes place in 1951, so it's right at that time when the Italian-American immigrants are in a second or third generation in Brooklyn and the Irish-American immigration are just getting around to being fixed in America, which is probably why, when she is finally, stable enough to be earning money, taking college bookkeeping classes and generally circumnavigating the scene in America, she starts to date and falls for a young Italian plumber, Tony (Emery Cohen). For reasons, I will not explain however, right as they begin to work out a future for themselves, she's called back to her hometown in Ireland for a prolonged stay, that becomes even longer once her mother, Mary (Jane Brennan) invites her to a friend's wedding that takes place after the date of her boat ride back. During that time, she begins getting setup with Jim Ferrell (Domnhall Gleeson) a local golf club member who's recently gone through a painful breakup, and while they're not doing anything, wrong, per se, they are spending a lot of time together. That said, the movie itself, is about, home. The concept, the feelings of losing one's home of creating a new home, homesickness, in more ways than one. The story itself, is not too new, in fact, it really is classical in tale, it's an emotional story however. Ronan, has one of those faces, where you never can tell what she's thinking, and yet, you can tell everything that she's feeling. It's a strong performance, but I still suspect that her emotional journey could've been punctuated more by, having her, go through even more of what she went through. There's part of this film, characters even, that I'm not even mentioning that could've easily become way more elaborated on and instead, The film was directed by John Crawley, the famed Irish director behind such films as "Intermission" and "Boy A", the latter in particular was also about a character who is struggling with having to go home again after being away for a prolonged period of time.
THEEB (2015) Director: Naji Abu Nowar
I'm fairly certain that this is either the first or second film I've seen from the country of Jordan, at least the first that I can't recall having seen another film from that country which earned it's first ever Oscar-nomination for Best Foreign Language Feature for "Theeb". It's the debut feature from Naji Abu Nowar, who was actually born in Great Britain but grew up in Jordan and you can tell by the story that he's obviously had some Western influences, and that's "Western" as in both Western culture and Western as in, John Ford and Sergio Leone. "Theeb" has the feel of a very classic western story, it's basically a revenge film, and it's a sprawling journey through an ancient and desolate desert full of gunfighters and criminals trying to make their mark through an unlawed territory. This time, the territory is, the early twentieth century during something called the Arab Revolt, which sounds like it can describe nearly half of everything that's ever happened in the Middle East in the last century, but a quick wikipedia search later, this took place, starting from 1916, and involved several Arab countries fighting for independence and freedom from the Ottoman Empire for violating the tenants of Islam. Honestly, I forgot that the Ottoman Empire actually lasted until the twentieth century, but the movie isn't about the revolt, that's just the setting. The title character, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) is a young Bedoin boy, the youngest son of his father who's recently died, leaving the three boys orphaned in the community. A British stranger, Edward (Jack Fox) has found his way to the town and needs some guides to help him get across the desert. Theeb's brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) leads the expedition, but Theeb follows behind despite being told not to. Eventually, they walk into an ambush, and everyone's killed, except for Theeb who sees his brother shot right in front of him. He then, somehow manages to escape death by falling into a well and managing to just hideout long enough for everyone to leave thinking they got him. He manages to climb out and bury his brother. He then runs into a character called "The Stranger" (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh) who he finds out is apart of the tribe that attacked him and his brother, but he manages to gain sympathy enough to head towards Damascus, where they're finishing building the train tracks that connect Damascus and Medina, the Iron-Donkey Trail, which would in future years eliminate the need for pilgrim guides through the once-dangerous terrain. The look of the movie is spectacular, the desert feels familiar, probably cause so many western movies have probably shot there at some point, but also the movie has this gigantic and harrowing scope, which is perfect for this classic revenge story. I'm sure there's aspects of Jordanian culture and importance that I'm probably missing, but still, just as a classic tale, it's very well-done and entertaining and oftentimes intense to watch while it slowly crawls to it's inevitable end.
CREED (2015) Director: Ryan Coogler
A 30-year-old no-name club boxer gets a shot at the World Champion. I've heard this story before, except, not quite. And yeah, I don't know how many caught that, but "Rocky IV" was '85, and this movie appropriately starts in 2015, and Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) was born after Apollo Creed's passing, which was in "Rocky IV", so this really is a "Rocky" story, except of course, it's a "Creed" story. Actually, I'm wrong, the movie doesn't start in 2015, it actually starts, sometime before then, when we meet young Adonis (Alex Henderson) getting into fights in Juvenile Hall. I think it's known or obvious that he's the son of Apollo Creed, but in an interesting twist, he's the son who was born after his passing, and by a woman that wasn't his wife Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who's decided now, for whatever reason to pick him up out of Juvy and into her home, where he finds out about his past. Flashing forward thirty years, the young Adonis works at some white collar job and is getting promotions, but quietly has been driving down to Tijuana for some underground club fights, and he's been winning at them. In many ways, this is kind of an odd story. Boxing is one of those careers that you don't normally see, very successful second generation people entering, at least those that become equal or more successful than their parent(s), although I can think of few major exceptions, including one major world champion right now. That said, the boxing story, even long before "Rocky" was that, the guy, with the hard-knock life, comes from the streets and through his skills as a fighter can come up and rise from the gutter to the world of the fame. This is kinda, the opposite story, a young man comes from wealth, from luxury, he knows more than anybody the dangers of the boxing arena, and is untrained, ill-equipped, but has lots of potential, and isn't doing it for the money, he's doing it, for, well, the battle for his soul. It's a personal journey for him. This is kind of a interesting twist to what most would've probably thought the story would be. The movie was envisioned, not by Sylvester Stallone who earned an Oscar nomination for revising his role as Rocky Balboa when he quietly becomes Adonis's trainer after Adonis showed up at his restaurant one day and then convinced him to train him under the radar (and we learn the big mystery of the "Rocky" franchise, who won the third fight between Rocky and Apollo). He goes by his mother's name last name originally when boxing and making a shocking name for himself winning a sudden match he has with a top contender that trained at Mick's old gym, and eventually, Rocky's suspicious training of the young mystery man leads to people put two and two together. After it becomes revealed, Adonis gets his sudden title shot, against the Light Heavyweight Champion a British troublemaker boxer named "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew, a former Amateur boxing champion and a current highly-ranked professional Cruiserweight, including a WBO title holder) who was supposed to fight a number one contender but instead, he punched him out during the weigh-in, and he's going to jail for seven years after he went crazy with a firearm, so he needs a fight and an opponent to look good for his potentially last defense, and the son of Apollo Creed on the last second is too good to pass up. Adonis, at first doesn't want to do it, especially since the deal would only go through if he changes his name, but you know how this story goes, although you might not. I gotta admit, watching this movie at the end, I was not sure how the fight was gonna go or end, something that, you don't always get in a "Roc-, well, I guess I don't know what to expect from a "Creed" movie now that I think about it. I guess that's a good thing. "Creed" is a pretty good character analysis, maybe moreso than it is a boxing movie, although it certainly feel and come off as a good tribute and continuation of the "Rocky" films and the Rocky character. Oddly, I thought Stallone, while he was good, I thought he was one of the least interesting parts of the film; he carries with it, the mythic grandiose nature that's needed for the part, although it is interesting to note, how little of anybody or anything else in the "Rocky" franchise is in the movie, or even really needed. I think that's both a strength and a weakness however. I know the "Rocky" franchise like the back of my hand, so it's definitely interesting seeing somebody give this a new take, and it really is one. I don't know, I still feel underwhelmed by some of the choices; I'm not sure I'm as high on "Creed" as others were, but I think this is a strong movie, and an introduction to a really strong and complex character that, we haven't necessarily seen in this genre before, and I appreciated that. I'm glad it isn't just, a "Rocky" movie, but with the black guy being the hero and the white guy being the villain, which, a lesser filmmaker could've easily done. I do think Coogler's still young and hasn't quite made a great film yet, but he's getting there and he will some day, and it might even be a "Creed" sequel, who knows?
THE GOOD DINOSAUR (2015) Director: Peter Sohn
"The Good Dinosaur" is a simple story told well, something that Pixar is quite great at. So great that comparatively, "The Good Dinosaur" really looks more like a minor entry in their filmography, but a minor entry for them is still pretty special compared to most everybody else. "The Good Dinosaur" starts off rather innocuous, it takes place in a world where dinosaurs didn't become extinct and eventually adapted to the modern survival techniques such as farming and grassing cattle; they also live side-by-side in relative peace with the species that we would refer to as homo sapiens. Oh-kay, I'm partially wondering if Pixar didn't accidentally make a movie that promotes the Creation Museum (Yes, that's an actual place) but yeah, they're also I think just completely screwing with everybody who's obsessed with the supposed Pixar-universe conspiracy theories, 'cause trying to put this world into the timeline is just...-, yeah, they're just fucking with people who believe shit like that now. Anyway, we meet a pair of dinosaurs, Poppa and Momma (Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand) as we see they're eggs begin to hatch, the thoughtful and fun Libby (Maleah Padilla), the tough and slightly mischievous Buck (Marcus Scribner) and in the biggest egg, the smallest and most fragile of the siblings, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa). Arlo's the hero, and he's definitely the late bloomer of the group, his job on the farm is to feed the chickens, but he's afraid of them, as well as nearly everyone and everything else. This leads to, what I'm not gonna lie, some very "The Lion King"-esque sequences, including a long journey home. I know, some like to pin everything to being a "Lion King" remake these days, this is the one film where I might actually think the inspiration was fairly direct. That said, the main arc, is of Arlo befriending a human critter named Spot (Jack Bright) who had been stealing vegetables from the silo, and when he's chasing each other, they get swept up by a rapid and now have to find and survive their way home. I mention that Arlo is fragile, and he was and remained. Yes, he falls off things and barely survives a lot of this adventure, but he's born, basically not completely ready to come out, and his legs are somewhat gimpy, more than once, we seem him injure his leg when pushed too hard and it's really amazingly touching pathos that's sinking us in, and really making us feel for the poor kid. Yes, he's a dinosaur, but in this world that's not enough and the movie shows it. I think the movie, might be too simple, if I'm analyzing it from an outsider's perspective, but in all the right ways, it succeeds at telling it's simple tale, simply. There are a few strange choices, like a scene where Arlo and Spot, eat some hallucinogenic fruit, I-eh, I guess that's a funny scene but I don't really get why that had to be there, but the story is well-told and succinct and touching enough for me to care so, it's a big recommendation for me. This happens to be an unusually good animation year, especially at the top, so "The Good Dinosaur" lacks in comparison only to that, and to the expectations of their filmmakers; anybody else we'd be looking at "The Good Dinosaur" more affectionately.
PITCH PERFECT 2 (2015) Director: Elizabeth Banks
I never can tell what movies I review or recommend/criticize/pan will get the most noted reactions, but my 2 1/2 STAR review of "Pitch Perfect" got a shocking amount of backlash to me. I've revisited the film since then, I probably was hard on it, but I still stand by it, there are inconsistencies in the movie, comedy-wise that just don't really work, a little too much gross out humor especially. After being informed by some FB friends who actually are members of A Capella groups, and do compete in competitions, I guess my presumption on the popularity, or lack thereof, of such events and activities were wrong, That said, after watching "Pitch Perfect 2", which I did hope would expand on the first movie, which I've at least grown to appreciate if not outright think is good, I-, I still felt confused by it. There's a few factors, I think the main one is that I just don't know how seriously to take these movies. It's been a few years now, and while some of the Bellas have graduated, many of the new additions from the first movie are in their Senior years. Beca's (Anna Kendrick) in her Senior year and has quietly taken a professional job for a music producer which nobody else knows about, and it's clear she's distracted. The over-obsessed Bella this time is Chloe (Brittany Snow) as Audrey (Anna Camp) has moved onto a new career, running some kind of camp/retreat for CEO's to get in-line,- I don't know what the hell she's running. And there's more focus on Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) who's in a relationship, sorta with somebody, I don't remember who now, and gets the Bellas banned from national competitions after having a bad wardrobe malfunction. Still, though, there's an international competition that the Bellas can compete in, although they have to compete against a major Danish team, Das, led by Kommissar (Bridgitte Hjort-Sorenson), and defeat them in order to regain eligibility for regulated competitions. They can't hold auditions, but they do manage to get a new freshman member, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) who's a legacy Bella- what-, wait, wait, hold on, stop the review, wait a minute-!
What the- Is that Katey Sagal? Um, what-the, okay, um- and she's singing, huh. Okay, um, I- I actually did know that Katey Sagal,- I don't know how many people know how prolific a musician she actually is, I know, Peg Bundy really, or- well, I guess most of you know her from that "Sons of Anarchy" now, but long before that, she was a background singer for Bob Dylan, Better Midler, Olivia Newton-John, Molly Hatchet even, she's recorded two albums of her own, I- I've only seen one seasons of "SOA", I don't know, somebody let me know, if she's ever sang on that show, maybe, but as somebody who's followed Katey Sagal's career, it's actually kinda rare to see her sing in something, even for just a moment. Um-, sorry that, genuinely surprised me.
Anyway, where was I? Um, yes, they have a new Bella, and they now have to compete for the International title and, honestly I probably laughed more during "Pitch Perfect 2" than I did for the first one, it probably helps that Elizabeth Banks, who's taken over as director for the franchise as well as being the annoyingly absurd commentator along with John Michael Higgins, has a better sense of the absurd and comedic than the previous director, but I don't know, I don't think that made the film better overall. I would've given it a pass, but I really kinda thought the ending performance sucked too. It was sorta done, cheaply, wasn't that impressive and really underused Katey Sagal, both as a comedic actress and as a singer, I-, I just didn't really get the ending, or even why that would win, and that left me cold. I don't know, I still just find these films, just inconsistent, some moments really good, some really not, and they never really get the tone right between the comedy and the serious love of a capella that the movie has. Maybe it's me, but I find myself appreciate, but underwhelmed by these "Pitch Perfect" movies.
THE ASSASSIN (2015) Director: Hsaio-Hsien Hou
The latest film from the great Taiwanese director Hsaio-Hsien Hou is "The Assassin", and it's one of the most admirably pretty films made this year, and that's the best thing I can say about it. It's actually kind of a strange film and subject for Hou, it's a period piece that takes place in 9th Century China, and while it talks a lot about the political activities of the time, which, for this film's sake's we'll simplify in that, one Province is rebelling against the rule of the Imperial Power, but really, like Hou's best work is a more introspective piece focusing on an assassin, Nie Yianniang (Qi Shu). Her latest assignment requires going to Weibo, the aforementioned rebel Province and kill Tian Ji-An (Chen Chang) the local ruler and a major Rebel leader. He also happens to be Yianniang's cousin. She was taken from the Province and trained to serve the Imperial Court since she was young and is now their assassin, but now that this mission is given her, she begins to have some doubts about what to do. That's pretty much the entire movie, and boy does it feel like it. Hou is a great director, I deeply admire his film "Three Times" which had three different romances in three different time periods; each time using the same two actors for the main roles. His "Flight of the Red Balloon", was a bit long and a bit meandering but I enjoyed that film too; I'm told his earlier work is much better, but I haven't explored those films yet. That said "The Assassin", is just dull. It's waiting around in a painting-perfect scene to painting-perfect scene until something may or may not happen. It almost lulls you into sleep until suddenly there's a strike of violence. It actually reminds me most of "Ashes of Time" the Wong-Kar Wai film that took 14 years to "complete" in it's final cut, despite numerous different versions and previous releases completed over the years beforehand and which Manohla Dargis, once described the plot by saying, "See, there's this swordsman...". She didn't go on from there, that's literally all she wrote about the plot of that movie, and after seeing that film, I'm amazed she got that much, and "The Assassin" is not much deeper. Wong-Kar Wai's one of those directors who I often think is way more flash and style than substance, and I've often found myself in the minority criticizing many of his usually critically-acclaimed films. I'm not sure why Hou decided on this film for his next project, I guess he was inspired by some of the Hong Kong period martial arts movies that I'm told is often placed in a subgenre of films called "Wuxia", those "Crouching Tiger..." type films that are part-Western and part Martial Arts movie, a la, only using Chinese eras and past time periods for inspiration. I usually am okay with that but I really didn't see much of the appeal of "The Assassin" outside of the technical aspects. It's a pretty-looking movie, the costumes were good, other than that... (Shrugs)
GRANDMA (2015) Director: Paul Weitz
If I could've diagrammed a character that was practically written for Lily Tomlin, and a story and plot that's basically mapped out for her, this probably would've been it. Honestly, I'm-, I'm kinda baffled by some of the overly positive reviews for "Grandma", that's not to say it's a bad film but, isn't this almost predictable, almost too expected? I'm actually pretty tempted to give this a negative review to be honest, based on the standard I don't really talk about much, The "Is there anything in this movie that I couldn't have done just as well/better" than the filmmakers? Well, I can't act like Lily Tomlin, but seriously, I-eh, I don't know, this feels like it's too stripped down to be anything more. Tomlin plays Elle, one of those old-time hippie intellectuals we basically imagine Lily Tomlin playing, hell, I think she did play this role in Paul Weitz's last film, "Admission". This one's a once-famous poet during the era of Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinam. It's only recently after her wife has passed, and now she's breaking up with her girlfriend, because she's too young and doesn't want to hinder her future by staying with somebody like her, let's see who's too perfect casting to be playing the role of Olivia for an extended cameo, hmm... (Judy Greer). Yeah, that's about perfect. Anyway, shortly after that, her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) makes a surprise visit. She needs money for an abortion, and quietly. For, reasons, she doesn't have it herself at the moment, and then the movie becomes one of those movies where we see the main characters are going around town, searching for something or someone, in this case, money. First they stop by the boyfriend's house, Cam (Nat Wolff) and Elle beats the shit out of him, that was funny. She tries selling books to Olivia's boss at the coffee shop, Carla (Elizabeth Pena, one of her last performances), she goes to a tattoo artist that owes her money (Laverne Cox), she meets up with an old flame, (Sam Elliott, who seems to be all these kinds of movies lately) a few others, eventually they find they're way to her daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), and telling her everything, obviously this is behind-her-back, 'cause, well obviously it is. There's plenty of films out there like this, that follow this structure of characters going around town looking for something or someone, hell, I'm reviewing two on this blogpost, but I think the movie that actually most reminded me of "Grandma" was "A Better Life", partly because that film was directed by Chris Weitz, who is Paul Weitz's brother, so the comparisons are gonna be hard not to notice, but yeah, that movie had a lot more weight to it and a lot more stakes going for it. Yeah, it's basically a modern version of "The Bicycle Thief" it was powerful and emotion, and "Grandma" is basically the exact opposite. I mean, it's well-acted, it's got it's comedic moments, the cast is great, but the movie is under 80 minutes long, there's very little stakes brought up, with either character really; I don't want to simplify abortion, and no I couldn't help but be reminded of "Juno" watching this film either, having just recently re-watched that to put in the Canon of Film (Although they do take a good shot at that film that I found funny) but yeah, this isn't like, the most difficult time ever getting money for an abortion, it just isn't. I mean, it's cute, it's fun, it's short Tomlin and everyone else is okay, but there's still not much to it. I don't know, I guess I like it enough, but I wish there was more and something not-so-obvious. And Judy Greer was completely underused btw.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015) Director: Gennedy Tartakovsky
(Sigh) Yeah, sometimes I just need to kick off the dumb thing on my Netflix queue to prepare for the more interesting things, okay? So, with that in mind, let review,"Hotel Transylvania 2". The second sequel to a movie I originally panned that I'm reviewing this week. (I swear, sometimes it's like the people who makes movies aren't even listening to me.) Actually, going back, I probably was a little mean to the original "Hotel Transylvania"; I only gave it 1 STAR originally and looking back at my review, eh, well, I make a good argument against it, but in hindsight, I guess there's nothing "wrong" with the original, or even this sequel, it's so just so uninspired that I-, I mean, I can watch this movie but all sorta laugh occasionally, kinda enjoy it, but all I can think it, "Who cares? Why bother?". I didn't bring up in the review of the original film, how much of an Adam Sandler production the movie was; I didn't really think about it actually. Honestly by the "Happy Madison" standard of Adam Sandler movies, I actually thought it was pretty decent. Honestly, I've never understood the appeal of Adam Sandler, even as much as a fan of the early '90s "Saturday Night Live", I thought Sandler was by far, the weakest link of those casts; honestly I think Rob Schneider is way more talented and interesting than Sandler ever was, Schneider at least seems to be trying to be funny and come up with original ideas; they might be bad, really bad ideas, but Sandler's films, what few I'm managed to force my way through, they're all kind of the same. I mean, think about it, Sandler plays his weird and supposedly loveable quirky self, who's sexually depraved and/or inexplicably violent outsider who learns to care/love something that's outside of his normal self, through, X character, usually a girl, maybe a kid like in "Big Daddy" or what's that awful one with Andy Samberg, besides this one, uh, "That's My Boy", and in between, there's childish, immature, humor that's not that much improved upon on the fart joke. Silly stupid voices and what would barely qualify as characters in a bad improv troupe. I'm not trying to say he's untalented, he is talented, and he can be a good actor at times, and his stand-up is pretty good, but good enough to be left to his own devices to make movies? Nooooooooo, no, no, no. I mean, some people who actually liked at least his early work, and talk about how they're disappointed that, he's basically just kept doing the same thing and how they're biggest disappointment is that he never really evolved to do more thoughtful and intelligent material, while still retaining his comedic tendencies, and all I can honestly think to respond to that train of thought, is to you weird and say "What the hell were you on during the '90s that made you think that?" Seriously, what the-, yeah, smarter more observant comedy version of "Operaman". Yeah, I hate to break it to you guys, but that was, his observant intelligent material. Anyway, that's my Sandler rant back to, what-the-hell am I rev-, oh, "Hotel Transylvania 2", well it's years later and Dracula's (Sandler) daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) has now married Johnny (Sandberg) and they've now had a young kid, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), the name came from his human grandparents as Linda & Mike (Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman) point out, although Dracula still calls him Denisovich, 'cause that's a vampire name, supposedly? (Shrugs) Anyway, Dennis is five years old now, and he's seeming much more human than vampire, which disturbs Grandpa Dracula, especially since his fangs haven't come in yet, which should be around this time, if he actually is a vampire, apparently; this vampire universe is weird, seems to make up it's own rules as it goes. Anyway, the movie is Dracula trying to get the vampire side out of Dennis while Mavis worries about whether or not to move to California, thinking Dennis is a human and might be more safer if he wasn't surrouned by bloodthirsty monsters. (Sighing yawn) This is what I mean when I say that Sandler movies are all the same and the first movie and this one is so uninspired. You have the monster mash of characters, and they're animated, and this is the best you can do, shove Frankenstein, (Kevin James) Dracula and The Invisible Man (David Spade) into the most basic of family comedy narratives as a parable for, parenting? When Sandler was coming up, 25 years ago, Steve Martin was making remakes, of movies, that already had this formula, and he somehow, shockingly made them seem original and new then. I just-, yeah, I'm done with this review; like I said, I'm not even sure why I'm bothering with it at all. Yeah, it's technically better than most of Sandler's other stuff, that just makes how boring and unfunny Sandler's other stuff actually is.
LOVE & MERCY (2015) Director: Bill Pohlad
Could this have been a good film? That's the question I kept pondering to myself after watching "Love & Mercy", the latest project. made about The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson in particular. For those unfamiliar with The Beach Boys, what the hell rock have you been living under? For those unsure about the story of The Beach Boys, well, that's far more complicated. Brian Wilson (John Cusack) is one of those really few actual musical geniuses out there still around. The amazing part is that, he's still around. Right around the time they were at their commercial peak, around the mid-sixties, (Paul Dano) he was on par if not equal to The Beatles in compositions and their album "Pet Sounds" despite not being a successful album at first, is now regarded as one of the greatest of all-time, the album did transform the band from just the best band that was capitalizing on the early '60s surf music trend to one of the greatest pop bands of all-time. He then, went a little, um, I don't know the clinical word, but let's say crazy. He stopped touring and only performed on the albums, and then was when he was capable of working. He spent much of the '70s, stuck in his house. The movie "Love & Mercy" shows us both, his past, and a little of how and why he started to lose his mind and in the early '90s, when he finally starts to get out and even begins dating a local car saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). It's around here where, another part of the story starts to come into focus, because he spent most of this time being "sick", under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy is one of those pop psychologists, who actually cared for several Hollywood clients at one point, but at this point, under his 24-hour therapy approach, which basically means he controlled every aspect of his clients' lives. Yeah, it's worst than you think it was; he basically kept Brian Wilson thinking he was serious ill in order to profit off him. The movie documents how, through Melinda, eventually getting other members of the Wilson family involved, was able to eventually got a restraining order on him and eventually his license revoked after his "treatments" and practices were exposed. Wilson's been surprisingly active ever since, not overly so, but not exactly, hiding in drug-fueled dazes for years now. Yeah, how do you tell this story? I guess Bill Pohlad, in his directorial debut (He's mostly noted for being an Oscar-nominated producer until now) gave it a decent shot, but this movie is not only disjointed, but honestly, it's just a slough to get through. It's interesting, but it's still pretty boring, and again, there's been attempts at telling The Beach Boys story before, and you almost have to know most of those stories just to kinda follow "Love & Mercy". I have no doubt that it's probably close to accurate of the events that it depicts, but in action and tone, hell Brian Wilson actually contributed some beautiful songs for the soundtrack, but despite some interesting performance, especially from Banks and Dano, and of course Paul Giamatti is always good, "Love & Mercy" is a bit of a bore. It's either not enough of the old Beach Boys or not enough focusing on Dr. Landy's control of Wilson; I'm not sure which, in fact I'm not sold that the splitting up of and going back-and-forth between the two eras of The Beach Boys was a particularly idea in general. That said, this isn't a story that seems like it would've been that possible to film compellingly to begin with. I might and hope I'm wrong about that, but I don't think "Love & Mercy" is it.
TANGERINE (2015) Director: Sean Baker
It is surprisingly difficult to describe the events in "Tangerine" without it seeming like at least one episode of "The Jerry Springer Show" and yet this is one of the rare times that that's not a negative remark against that show, it's actually a positive, 'cause...-, well, I'll just say it, it's one of the few shows that's actually consistently over the years, featured transgendered people and looked at them, not as, freaks or any other kind of outsider, just as human beings struggling with the day-to-day struggles of dealing with people and being in love. No, seriously, I'm not being ironic with that statement. Shame on you, 99.9% of the rest of television. This is the second feature from indy director Sean Baker; I greatly admired his first film, "Starlet" which was also about the unusual relationship between two women, including one that worked in the adult entertainment industry; a relationship between a porn star played by Dree Hemingway, (Yes, Mariel's daughter, and she looks just like her) and an 87-year-old neighbor played in her first and only performance by the late Besedka Johnson. "Tangerine" feels about as far away from that film as possible, although oddly it's much closer than it would seem. Shot on an iphone of all things, and feels like the camera was always directly into the sun, the movie begins at Donut Time, where Alexandra (Mya Taylor) is meeting up with Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) after she just got out of jail for a month. Both are transvestites who were born men, both are African-American and at least for Sin-Dee, and I don't remember if it was ever outwardly said, but I presume Alexandra at some point in her life, work as prostitutes. It's here and right away where we find out that Sin-Dee's boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransome) is having an affair with one of his other girls. This sends a determined Sin-Dee, who's got a short fuse and a helluva fire streak around town. First, looking for the girl, and then through the girl looking for Chester. Meanwhile, Alexandra, abandons the search, partly 'cause, considering what Sin-Dee could and probably will do, it's better she not be a possible accomplice, but also because she has a performance later that night at a local bar/nightclub. She's a performer and singing at the club is her outlet of expression, and Sin-Dee's promised to make her performance no matter what, even if that includes, literally, dragging and beating around the mistress, named Dinah (Mickey O'Hagan). There's another character, a taxi driver named Razmik (Karran Karagulian) who knows the prostitutes and has a crush on Sin-Dee, and decides to leave his home at night to go see Alexandra's performance hoping to see Sin-Dee. Oh, and you can't tell, 'cause it's Los Angeles, but this is all happening on Christmas Eve, and he does have family visiting, not to mention a wife, Ashken (Alla Tumanian) and kids, and a visiting suspicious mother-in-law (Yeva) Luiza Nersisyan who aren't aware of his friendships with the prostitutes. "Tangerine" plays out, basically as your most ridiculous sex farce would play out, I mean, you got two transsexuals, a hooker, her pimp, the foreign cab driver,... all at the donut shop, I mean, this is pretty absurd plotwise, and all these characters seem to exist in their own little corner of the world, or whatever planet Los Angeles is on. That's on surface though, underneath is this vibrant tale are some of the most interesting and flawed-as-hell characters I've seen in recent film. "Tangerine" doesn't dwell on the fact that these characters are transsexuals the just are who they are and that doesn't by any means make them, perfect, for that matter even nice or good people. If anything, the fact that they are transsexual problem exemplifies all these other flaws more, two characters trying to circumnavigate the world while they're not even capable of living within their own skin. I think, the story and plot, are somewhat thin, but that's a minor complaint; the plot's only there to get us to learn about these characters and their world and it does that incredibly well. The last touching scene is quite powerful with the two girls at the laundry, after this very long and difficult day, fighting themselves, fighting each other, fighting others, and still having themselves and only themselves to help out each other at the end, when they both need a shoulder to cry on most of all. I hope there's more films like "Tangerine" in the future, both from Baker and posssibly from these actresses, both of whom are appearing in their first features, but in general too, I'd like to see more movies like these.
THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (2015) Directors: Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson
(Throws my hands up in the air, and shrugs)
Some movies are just beyond criticism, or for that matter criticizing. I'm only moderately familiar with avant-garde filmmaker Guy Maddin's work; I've definitely heard and known about him for some time, I even reviewed his film "Brand Upon the Brain: A Rememberance in 12 Chapters", a negative review of that film which began be me writing, and I quote:
"Look, I'm all in favor of experimental filmmaking, but what the hell was this?!"
I won't say that I'm changing my review of that film after seeing "The Forbidden Room", which I am recommending, because, yeah, "Brand Upon the Brain..." seemed disconnected beyond reason and hope to me, even under the guise of referring to it as a "Rememberance". "The Forbidden Room" is definitely more connected than that, it's clearly some, maybe not-so random combination of quirky comedic looks into, what I guess are looks at classic Euorpean cinema dating back to Melies to, what I presume are terrible Danish instructional videos on taking a bath. How to describe Guy Maddin; I guess he's kinda like, if Jean-Luc Godard wasn't lazy. Okay, I know I'm gonna get some smack for that, but yeah, compared to Maddin's recent work, I'm gonna call Godard, lazy. Say anything you want about "The Forbidden Room", literally anything, 'cause I'm not sure what to say about it, but you can't it lazy. It's definitely an ambitious avant-garde mess. Can I follow it? Some, maybe if I paid closer attention, I could've understood more, but I think I understood enough, enough to know that trying to understand any of it, is completely missing the point of it. Maddin is an enfant terrible and above all others a surrealist, to the nth degree. "The Forbidden Room" should probably be watched more like "Un Chien Andalou" or some other Bunuelian piece of insane dream logic and not so much as a piece of coherent storytelling. Symbolically though, I felt that whatever this was, it was clearly made out of love and affection for cinema, all styles, including and especially classic films. One of the common motifs in something that I've rarely seen in modern films, title cards. Like, in silent films, title cards. You rarely see those, and they're throughout the film, even though there is song and dialogue. They're there for tone and mood and background during some of the sequences, others go without it and have dialogue. I'm told there are seventeen different stories going on in "The Forbidden Room", which sounds about right, and I guess if one or more interests you more than just as a fancy add, then watching and waiting for the next part of that story is worth waiting for. For me, I looked at the piece as a whole, and as a puzzling piece of avant-garde emotional storytelling. Movies like these, you can either like or hate for various reasons, I think the idea is to simply be effected by it, not whether or not anything else matters. Well, I thought about it, and I feel that in regards to "The Forbidden Room", I was effected for 3 STARS. Maybe on another viewing I'll be more affected kinda like Godard's "L'Histoire du Cinema", but I doubt this will ever effect me that much. It's a lot of effort to express something; I can appreciate the effort, if nothing else at least.
THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2015) Director: Peter Strickland
How do I get into discussing "The Duke of Burgundy"? Okay, remember how I gave a positive review to "Fifty Shades of Grey"? Ye-ah, I gave it 3 STARS, and I've gotten a lot of shit for that, I do stand by it, but I get it why most of the public, were, no pun intended, turned off, by the film. Well, to those who were, "The Duke of Burgundy" does it right. Really right. The movie begins and looks like "Emmanuelle" but plays more like "Persona" and it begins with a young maid, Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna) who riding through the woods on her bicycle to knock on the door of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) a seeming stringent and coarse, had to look this up, lepidopterist, basically a scientist who specializes in, survey says, (Tense pause) butterflies. (Although she could just be an entomologist who focuses on butterflies) and then, they go into an interview sequence which seems like a-eh, huh; um, she seems to be a little, o-ver-ly, dom-in-ant towards her maid, in a per-tic-ul-er-ly, um,... yeah... God this is a hard movie to review. Well, spoilers, the dynamic that we first see, is not the actual dynamic. Yes, Evelyn, for intensive purposes is submissive to Cynthia, but that's not really explaining what that means. You see, in a BDSM relationship,- a healthy BDSM relationship, the submissive is actually the one who's controlling the situation, and you see that here. Evelyn has numerous kinks, but many of them revolve around these very pre-planned and pre-scripted, literally scripted scenarios that she and Cynthia play out, numerous times. They do go out and experiment and seek out other new things to bring into the relationship, for instance Cynthia tries to buy a bed in which she can put Evelyn in for her birthday, but they instead get her a trunk which Cynthia ties her in and locks at night. (They passed on something called a "human toilet", which I have absolutely no idea what that is, and thankfully I could not find it on the internet.) Between these sexual kinks and excursions, they often go see some expert talk about some new discovery in crickets or moths or whatever,- boy people who have these elaborate sex lives in movies seem to have unusual careers a lot, remembers the glaciologist in "Nine Songs"? Actually, I'm being deceptive here, there's no actual "sex" in "The Duke of Burgundy", in fact there's not even any visible nudity. What we get instead, is the dynamics of their relationship, which by the way, is pretty romantic much of the time. Othertimes, not so much. When Cynthia gets angry she starts to actually become a little more dominant, not to Evelyn's desires, although Evelyn's desire is, basically be Cynthia slave and do whatever she wants her to, or have done to her, and that's not necessarily something Cynthia wants twenty-four hours a day. The argument is often whether Evelyn will sleep in the bed or in the trunk. It's a very, secluded little world of romantic taboos, which already begins with, whenever this movie takes place in, upper class lesbian couple enough is somewhat against the norms, and they're practically "The Addams Family" inside. Yet, they're a couple who go through a lot of strains over the years and you see that in their sex life. They play one scenario three times, one involving a manual typewriter where something's not done correctly, (Insert your own "Secretary" joke that's not what the scene's about) and each time, they do it, the way they do the routine, is effected based on their mood and how they're feeling about each other, and the last time they do it, the scene breaks down, and they break down, and they try to continue it, but it's not with the same vigor and love they were before. They're sexual dynamic has been altered, they're emotional dynamic is altered too, and both of them are just wondering whether they'll get it back again or whether or not this relationship is what's best for both of them. There's so many complicated emotions in this scene and it's earned. Led by two great actresses who excel at playing one of the most memorable romantic couples I've seen in films in a long time. "The Duke of Burgundy" isn't just a movie about what it means to be in love or fall in love, but how that love is expressed to each other, and how that itself changes over time, and that's universal no matter how many spankings are sex toys one has in their relationship. This is the second feature I've seen from Peter Strickland who loves diving into different genres of movies and finding a brutal reality of them, whether that's literal or emotional, he did that with one of his previous films, the strange but weird, "Berberian Sound Studios", and he more than excels at it here. So far it's the best film I've seen of his; I have to catch a few features of his I've missed in the past to flat out call this his best but it's definitely one of the richest and most erotic love stories I've seen in a while. If you really didn't like "Fifty Shades of Grey" because it didn't depict BDSM in a healthy, realistic way, than really seek out "The Duke of Burgundy", of course, seek the movie out anyway, it's a really good one.
THE NEW GIRLFRIEND (2015) Director: Francois Ozon
Francois Ozon, he's one of the more eclectic and erratic directors in recent years. I can't quite get a hold on him. Honestly, I've seen almost all of his feature films and I'm-, I'm not quite sure why. I mean, I know it's not that difficult or unusual for French films and filmmakers to make their way to American audiences, it's a lot easier than say, eh, African films, per se, but still it's a bit surprising that Ozon's films keep making their way here. Still though, his films are pretty high profile in my circles, they keep making it to American theaters, they often star some recognizable names, I feel like he is supposed to be an important filmmaker that I should know and keep track of, but I feel like I'm doing that, just, because and not really because I think he's actually any good. That's not fair, he's actually made some amazing films, "Under the Sand", that film came close to making my Ten Best List the year that came out, "Swimming Pool", that's a good erotic thriller, "Ricky" is-, um, uh, strange. Um, yeah strange. I guess it's good but it's mostly strange. But still, I look at "Potiche", which is fine fluff I guess but I didn't need to see that, and I look at "8 Women", one of the worst musicals I've ever seen, and calling it a "musical" is actually a bit of a stretch, it's more of a locked-in mystery which for no reason what-so-ever happens to have a couple musical performances in it, and I kinda myself scratching my head and trying to remember why the hell I like this guy. (Or why I'm supposed to like this guy) I mean, I get the same sense with other filmmakers too, it took me a while but I think I know why this reaction to Ozon, it's 'cause there's another French filmmaker I'm supposed to like and appreciate more than I do who I've seen more movies from than I probably think I should have, and that's Claude Chabrol. I know, legendary director, New Wave, or Post-New Wave, yada, yada, yada, honestly I kinda get why people appreciate him, and I even think he has a couple really great films like "Le Boucher/The Butcher" and "Merci Pour Le Chocolat", but most of the time I find that, he was just annoying. His thing was to start you off thinking you were watching one kind of traditional movie and then swerve you and then lead you into another kind of a movie usually one that's more cerebral and introspective, normally I don't hate that theoretically, but with his movies I actually kinda feel like he's just, screwing me instead with me instead of making a movie, and I'm far less impressed with him than most are. I get the feeling Ozon might be inspired by him. I guess in general I prefer Ozon's films overall but it's wearing on me a bit having to go through his movies. That said, "The New Girlfriend" is one of his good ones and it actually integrate the subtle swerve of what the story is going to be and drift into something new rather thoughtfully and seamlessly. The movie begins as we see the friendship develop between Claire (Anais Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco). Well, friendship, I guess is technically the right word, for all-intensive purposes Claire was in love with Laura. I say "Was", because shortly after she gave birth to her first kid, she passed away due to complications from, um, plot convenience, I guess, and Claire gives the eulogy that she will look out over her kid and her husband David (Romain Duris). Okay, she's actually with a guy herself, Gilles (Raphael Personnez) but yeah, she was in love with Laura, and it was at this point, where I figured where the movie was going, she's gonna start hanging out with David and watch the kid too much, and she'll end up with David, a la, a "Single White Female" thing, or they'll fight because she wants that, and then she shows up at the house, and David is dressed like a woman. I-eh, nope, I did not see that one coming. Okay, forget the kid, no really, forget the kid, they tend to forget that she exists most of the time, because they become engrossed in this secret, which he claims Laura knew about and that but he only dressed as such around the house, but he does it a lot more now that he has nothing to lose. Laura, becomes fascinated with this secret and this possibility then, leads to the romance with David, who is slowly going public as a transvestite as a woman named Virginia. However Laura falls in love, with Virginia and not with David, and this leads to several complications involving, well how their affair is actually gonna work, or could work. Anyway, this is a strange movie, I'm not entirely sure the movie completely works; I get what it's going for, although ironically this feels like the 3rd or 4th movie I've seen this year about a romance involving a person who's trying to deal with gender identity issues. At least all of them are relatively nice, positive films about such a thing; we've come a long way since "Boys Don't Cry", which I gotta remember to add to the Canon of Film at some point. Anyway, "The New Girlfriend" had potential to be a lot more, I think it's a bit too comedic and quirky for me to totally take as seriously as I suspect the film wants me to, I guess that's not a bad thing overall though, so I'm recommending it, barely. At least this time when the movie switched into another genre, it switched into a more interesting movie.
MATCH (2015) Director: Stephen Belber
I really don't know too much about Stephen Belber, the famous playwright behind "The Laramie Project", which I haven't seen. The only thing of his work that I have seen was the Richard Linklater adaptation of his play "Tape", which I liked a lot and except for the fact that like "Match", it's basically a three-person play, they don't seem to have that much in common. Well, that's not exactly true, there's also the fact that, at least one person is coming into the situation, with an ulterior motive. The main character is a Juilliard ballet professor Tobi Powell (Patrick Stewart) a veteran professor who once was famous, and loves to take any and all opportunity to pontificate on his long career. He gets the opportunity to do that when a couple come in, Mike and Lisa (Matthew Lillard and Carla Gugino) under the guise of doing a research paper on the New York dance revolution in the '60s. The real reason for their visit is that Mike could be Tobi's son and they're insisting on him taking a DNA test in order to find out for sure. Going into, why now, how they go about this revelation and what happens after is basically what the play is about, so I don't know exactly how much I can get into here. Basically, Tobi met Mike's mom in the '60s, and she passed away without ever confirming to Mike who his father is, but that she did at least strongly imply that it could by Tobi. They were dating at the time, but it was the sixties and everybody was dating everybody. It's not even really clear that Tobi is straight; he's definitely effeminate and he pontificates on his love of cunnilingus at one point, but yeah, the main conflicting dynamic is homophobic son, finally meeting his gay ballet dancer father, potentially. I usually rave about movies like this. Few characters, feels like a play, few settings, etc. Lot of dialogue, etc., but, eh, "Match" feels like it's very abrupt and not that substantial. The ending, and I won't give it away, but it doesn't help if you take the last reveal of information at straight value, which, unfortunately there's not; I think it takes a lot out of everything that happen for no apparent reason. It's well-acted, but I'm not sure this is one of Belber;s more interesting or even complete pieces of work. I don't know for that for sure, but still.... "Match" is harmless and well-acted for the most part, but I can't help but be sucked out of it's qualities by really not using them to the fullest. The play feel incomplete but more than that, it feels sorta pointless. There's a great play here somewhere but this wasn't it. It's better as a movie, but I don't know; I think defending this one is a bit of a tall order for me this week, so.... I'm borderline, but I don't really think there's an absolute need to see match, so I can't really justify a recommendation, but I won't stop anybody from trying to see it either. Maybe it's worth a viewing or showing, maybe not.