Thursday, March 8, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS #145-PART 2: "BLADE RUNNER 2049", "GOOD TIME", "COLUMBUS", "THE MONKEY KING 2", "KING GEORGES" and "THE CONFIRMATION"!

Ugh. Well, I'm mostly over my previous illness, but still pretty tired more than I usually am. Anyway, Oscar Hangover didn't last too long this year, but-eh, Super Bowl hangover, still on. (Shrugs) Yeah, I know, honestly I'm trying to get to more movies, but honestly I'm mostly just watching and rewatching highlights and clips of the Eagles winning, and then crying emotionally, and then watching more highlights and people reacting and the Parade, and then more highlights and more emotions...- (Sigh) look I might be screenwriter by trade and most of the time I'm engulfed in the film and television sides of entertainment, but there's a reason that if I ever do create a production company, it's probably gonna be called Midnight Green Productions, that's the color I bleed, and most of the time, it's been a painful existence being a Philadelphia sports fan, and um...- (Sigh) it's hard to explain, but imagine you've read a comic book series where the superhero keeps losing. Superman doesn't beat Lex Luthor for decades. Sometimes he gets close to winning, and sometimes he just keeps getting the piss and shit beaten out of him, but he never ever wins, and- I don't know why you'd keep reading such a thing for so long but, you think it would legitimately never happen, and suddenly Superman actually won. That's what being a sports fan, especially a tortured sports fan is like. (Not to mention, Philly sports fan are already crazy beyond normal sports fans to begin with) That kind of emotional release, decades in the making, is the kind of thing me, and I'm sure other Eagles fans are still going through, so... Yeah, sorry, it's hard to push my way through that, but I am.

Anyway, this is Part II of this edition of the Movie Reviews as my previously edition was delayed due to illness and timing, so some of these reviews were written a little while after I saw the movie, a little while longer than I would normally like, (Shrugs) but-eh, hopefully I'll write better reviews later. Or at least better films, SPOILER: This is a mediocre group of films.

Well, let's get to PART 2!


BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) Director: Denis Villeneuve

★★★



(Frustrated sigh) I'm the one who's never thought much of the original "Blade Runner". I haven't seen every version, but I'm fairly certain that at best, it's overrated as Hell. Every clue goes two-ways and the twist at the end doesn't make any difference. Sorry, it doesn't, everything would've happened the same way and there's no guarantee that he wouldn't be effected differently. And frankly, in hindsight, after watching "Blade Runner 2049", why wasn't he just told he was a replicant to begin with? K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant, that didn't stop him from being a Blade Runner, in hindsight, why would it, if he was designed to be a Blade Runner, why would it matter if he knew he was a replicant or not? I hate those mysteries where every clue is a double-clue that both means one thing and it's exact opposite.

That said, there's one other major thing that's always annoyed me about "Blade Runner", and alas, I hate to go back to my anti-Ridley Scott position, but he didn't direct that movie well. In fact, the movie is just boring. I mean, I get why, but Scott's already got a world with no human characters and he's telling a film noir, a genre that generally needs some good characters to work at all, he has none, but then, he spends all this stupid time world-building and beats down the metaphors of the work until it no longer exists, instead of telling the story. Villeneuve has a few moments like that in this film as well, although not as many and not as severely damaging to the storytelling as Scott is, but he's got a few and this movie is very laborious. It also just doesn't go anywhere. The movie dives into a world and warns about a future where replicants are about to take on, the establishment, whatever that even is anymore, but it's all, at the corners of the screen, and instead it's a lot of scenes of, interesting production design standing in for locations. The Blade Runner in this movie, knows he's a replicant, this one named K (Ryan Gosling), his job is to find the remnants of the older blade runners to disengage, as a new owner, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has remade replicants in such a way that they are no longer going to rise us against the humans, 'cause stupid, but he's also become incredibly successful at colonializing again because of them, and they've managed to begin farming on several planets. (He's also a major farming process guru of some kind.) Him and his top replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) are the top villains and they get interesting in K's investigation into a discovery of old bones at an old replicant's farm, which happen to both be bones of a woman who apparently gave birth before dying, but also that of a replicant. Now, this seems like something that actually makes some sense as frightening in this world, the world revolves around the replicants being crucial but a disposable workforce, but if they're able to create life on their own, that changes everything. K's boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) wants him to find the kid and destroy it if possible, 'cause while she'd rather find out who stuffed the poor woman in the box, she realizing the damning effect if the story got out.

That said, this leads to K eventually discovering the not-so-surprising underworld of replicant freedom fighters currently hiding out in Las Vegas 'cause apparently in this universe it didn't survive the nuclear blackout years earlier. (Middle finger) Screw you for that one movie. (Annoyed sigh) I guess technically I like this "Blade Runner" more than the original although i'm still not sold that either of them are these great pieces of work. To me, they're more interesting from a philosophical standpoint then they actually are to watch. I get how this idea of a world with replicants running around can be compelling but as a story I don't find it particularly entertaining, or even that interesting a world to experience. I just posted my Canon of Film on "Dark City' recently, which takes so many of the same tropes but has much more to say about them and actually has new and unique ideas both about film noir and the sci-fi genres but also about our lives being taken over by a technological force that it still feels fresh and new. Meanwhile two "Blade Runner" movies in, and it's so lacking originality and ideas and is so stiff and boring that I can't really look at it as anything but a pose. It sounds good in theory but to actually experience it, it doesn't really hold up or have the deeper meanings that people think it has. This is one of the quintessential to me of people wanting and thinking about the movie they wanted to see as oppose to actually looking deeper at the film they really have. (Hell, I partially think that's why Ridley Scott's constantly going through and re-cutting the damn thing over and over again.)

I hate to put "Blade Runner 2049" in the same fate, but the more I think about it, the more it fits as well. This is a movie foreshadowing a war between replicants and higher-ups and how does the movie end? With a climatic fight scene, mostly centered around the lives of three little people who's problems don't really amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. We'll always have Vegas, I guess?


GOOD TIME (2017) Directors: Benny & Josh Safdie

★★★

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Alright, I will finally concede that this is the first performance from Robert Pattinson where I generally can see his potential as an actor. I think some where jumping the gun a little bit by thinking that this performance was award-worthy, but he finally has an energy, personality and intensity that I had never seen before from him. "Good Time", the latest from Benny & Joshua Safdie, the brothers behind "Daddy Longlegs (aka Go Get Some Rosemary)" basically have one real take and that's that their family is really loving and typically full of really awful people. They took a small break from that usual M.O. to work on the underrated "Heaven Knows What" which was distinctive because it was about some other poor sap's homelife surrounded by horrible people, in that film's case, it's author and star Arielle Holmes, a homeless drug addict who was desperately in love with her shithead boyfriend who was trying to coax her into suicide. In this case, we have a poor sap, Nick (Benny Safdie) who's unfortunately a mentally-challenged young man who's controlled and manipulated by his piece of shit brother, Connie (Pattinson) a thief, who is constantly in over his head and has own somewhat talented skill of being a believable and likable enough conman that he can convince others to help him out, even though he's one of those people who thinks he's two steps ahead 'cause he does know how to slither out of a tough situation, but is still usually two steps behind because he usually slithers into one situation that's impossible to get out of into a worst situation that's impossible to get out of. In this case, a bank robbery that he brings his brother in on, that succeeds, but then naturally turns disastrous. At one point, the brother gets caught and sent to jail, and now, he has to figure out how to get the money to bail him out, (The money from the bank is inked, naturally, and now unusable) so they can both escape. At first, this involves borrowing from friends and family, which is best represented by Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) Connie's latest girlfriend who tries to pay with her piece-of-work Grandmother's card, but is decline. Connie then finds out that his brother is now in the hospital after an incident in prison, so he decides to just kidnap him, and this also fails in a spectacular manner, after among other things, kidnapping the wrong patient from the hospital and having to get help from a 16-year-old stranger, Crystal (Tallah Webster) who, the much-older-than-18 Connie, ends up making out with. (Eye roll)

I'm still barely beginning as there's a lot more to this, essentially one wild night that gets more and more out of control. "Good Time"'s best talent is it's kinetic speed, and that is quite the benefit and an unusual one from the Safdie Brothers who tend to be more slice of life in their work until now. There's still enough of what I liked in their other films that I will recommend "Good Time" but this is a bit like watching a trainwreck in slow-motion and honestly, I think the movie went off the rails by the end. This is when it would be better for the film to be more slice-of-life instead of being so kinetic intense to the plot. It definitely fits with the Safdie's work but I wish their more naturalistic tone complimented a naturalistic story. That said, this is a powerful film with strong performances, I didn't even mention Barkhad Abdi as a security guard that gets taken advantage of, although everybody gets taken advantage of in "Good Time" by Connie, and yet Connie, doesn't really have the ability to get that far. This might be the Safdie's most fatalistic feature yet, which is itself weird to think about but there isn't much to cheer for in this film, and that's something that's lacking from their earlier work. I get it's an interesting experiment for them and these are the biggest names they've worked with yet, but it's still a marginal recommendation from me 'cause I know they can do better.


COLUMBUS 
(2017) Director: Kogonada


★★★

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Huh. Okay, first off, I watched this on Hulu and there's a half-way decent chance that the TV I watched it on might've had the lighting off, 'cause this was a weirdly darkly-lit film. That doesn't usually bother me, 'cause I usually that address, but I suspect my old-ass TV, might've accidentally changed the setting and had the lighting tampered with, 'cause -, I don't know, maybe he was going for a Gordon Willis feel, but it didn't seem right to me, so.... take that for what you will. Also, this movie's kinda just, um...- well,...- how do I describe this; I feel like this film had a lot of inspiration behind it, but I'm not quite sure it had any real story direction.

So, the film's Director, Kogonada, is a famous video-essayist, who specializes in pieces on classic arthouse analysis. (Shrugs, searches "Kogonada Video essays" on Google.) Oh, okay, he's more prominent on Vimeo; I really should check Vimeo out more often.

https://vimeo.com/kogonada

Well, I'm looking at some of his work while I write this, and yeah, he seems interesting. It's seems like he's done some work for Richard Linklater among others in the past, but he's definitely more influenced by Eastern filmmakers. He does pieces on other filmmakers too, but he mentions names life Ozu as an influence, I'm looking at his video now on Koreeda; yeah, I can kinda see where he's coming from with "Columbus", which has a slice-of-life tone, the characters that are fascinated with talking about, basically the meaning of life or lack thereof. (Shrugs) I will say though, that the name that struck me while watching "Columbus", was Michelangelo Antonioni. Not necessarily stylistically, but because of the film's fascination with architecture.

I had to look this one up, so the movie is titled and takes place in Columbus, Indiana; which would've been like my sixth choice if I had to blindly guess what "Columbus" they were talking about, but actually it makes sense. Apparently this home of Mike Pence, (Eye roll) and only about 44,000 other people is apparently ground zero for modern architecture and public art. Seriously, every architect you can name from the last 3/4 century, apparently has a building of some cultural or historical importance. Like I said, when I think use of architecture in film, I think of Antonioni, 'cause architecture isn't so much a symbol as it is a setting.

So, the Jesse and Celine, sorta, of this movie are Jim and Casey (John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson) Jim, is the son of a famous architect who was in town giving a lecture series, but then fell ill and is now in a coma. Casey is a high school graduate who works at a local library, and the movie is basically going back-and-forth between her talking with Jim or her talking with Gabriel (Rory Culkin) a fellow co-worker. In between, there's some other splices of scenes, most notably with Casey and her dysfunctional mother Eleanor (Parker Posey). But, Jim and Casey are both stuck in town and both are dealing with their parents' current situation, so they talk and they both have architecture in common, and they're surrounded by it. I guess if this movie was made in Las Vegas, we'd be seeing this movie go up and down the Strip (Naturally in the wrong order) as the main pairing dissect and analyze the history of the casinos.

I'm not sure what to make of this film honestly. I think it works more in theory than in practice, 'cause honestly, if you don't know the significant importance of Columbus, Indiana regarding the architecture world, this film could completely go over your head, on the other hand, I don't think there's much else. This isn't really a romance, and I can't really call it a "Strangers in a Strange land" film a la "The Before Trilogy" or "Lost in Translation", because only one of the main characters, of the ones that are awake enough to talk, is a stranger. This is what I mean when I say that there's a lot of inspiration, but not a lot of story. I guess that's apart of it, but on the other hand I kept just wondering what kept these two talking to each other. And talk to each other a lot about, architecture. I'd bet money that this does relate to local Indianans more than it does me, believe me, I've had some conversations with visitors where basically all I did was pontificate on things like the odds of every bet in every casino betting game and whatnot, but then again, I live in a tourist town, we're supposed to do that. Casey just seems to talk to others because, it's a movie and she's girl we're fascinated over so she better have something interesting to say. (Shrugs)

Maybe if I caught up on my Frank Gehry and I.M. Pei I would get more out of this film, so I guess I'm recommending it, 'cause it is strange and interestingly different enough; I just hope there's more to Kogonada in the future and that he has more stories of his own that he can tell me that are fascinating, as oppose to just talking about how great the works of others are. Although to be fair, based on his video essays, he is really quite good at talking about the works of others.


THE MONKEY KING 2 (2016) Director: Pou-Soi Cheung

★★

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I looked back at my notes on "The Monkey King 2" before writing this, apparently all I wrote was, "I just don't get this series. I think it's a..."- and I didn't finish the thought. I'm not sure I had any thought to finish honestly. I actually double-backed even and watched "The Monkey King" before going into it's sequel that for some reason was deemed quality enough to deserve an American theatrical release; I'll give them this, they're right that the sequel is better but...- this is another instance where I just feel like I'm not adept or knowledgeable enough about a culture to properly qualify a film; this is some bizarre mix of, if Stephen Chow wasn't as good and he tried to make a live-action "Kung Fu Panda" franchise, only with a monkey; that's about the best I can come up with to describe whatever the hell this franchise was that burned my corneas for a little over four hours of my life.

Apparently this is another retelling of "Journey to the West" a novel I'm starting to think I better read up on if I'm gonna understand Chinese culture. It's a different chapter in that story and one that's about 500 years after the events of the previous film and The Monkey King or Sun Wukong (Aaron Kwok) has to escort Guowang (Fei Xiang) to India on a pilgrimage to find some holy document. There's several other subplots here, but it's- I can't follow most of this. This movie, to me, was just the green screen equivalent of watching static. It's strange and alien, but not in any way that makes you compelled to seek out more about it; it's the kind of way that makes you suspect that even Hong Kong is probably a little bit embarrassed by the product. Like being introduced to a culture through it's worst reality show kind of embarrassment. If you're interested in anything this cartoony then I guess there's nothing wrong with this, but I feel like I've seen better versions of this story done in this style by somebody who's more adept at using the artificiality of the style and effects to their advantage to help us accentuate and care about what's going on. Maybe animation would've been a better medium than live-action, I'm not sure. Personally this is my equivalent to whatever the term "Uncanny Valley" is supposed to mean. (Seriously, I've never understood what the hell people are talking about with that term regarding animation; but see live-action shit like this, now I kinda understand it)

I'm giving it some slack, there's talent and craft here but if you can put up with it, good for you, me...- this is just too zany to take seriously.


KING GEORGES (2016) Director: Erika Frankel


★★★

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I've done quite a few things and gone to quite a few places in Philadelphia, most of which I'm fairly proud of, one thing that I haven't done and sadly, never will now is go and have a mean at Le-Bec-Fin. "King Georges" is Georges Perrier, a Philadelphia institution and a mammoth in the culinary world. His restaurant was the standard-bearer for classic French cuisine and dining in this country for decades. It was always way too expensive for me and my family to ever go, but the upper crust and elite, it was the diamond of fine dining. It's since closed, unfortunately and "King Georges" documents the last couple years of the restaurant and Perrier, who's a determined personality. There's several foodie docs out there on the running of restaurants and to be honest, they're all pretty much the same since anybody who runs a successful restaurant is basically married to it. "Le-Bec-Fin" in it's glory days was the premiere standard of elegance in dining. An elegance that frankly is outdated in most foodie circles, which is hard to fathom for Perrier, and to some extent, his executive chef Nicholas Elmi, a name people in food circles will also immediately recognize since he's gone on to major acclaim now, including winning Season 11 of "Top Chef" and a James Beard Award with his new Philadelphia restaurant, Laurel. It's interesting to see the evolution of him as well, as Perrier is winding down and starting to close and sell his restaurant and figure out what next step he'll take in a foodie and culinary world that's passed him by and yet see the top people who he's inspired and mentor begin to take it over from his influence. Perrier is an old-time French-born chef, he's loud, boisterous, obnoxious, a stickler for standards, and he had adapted to the local color. He has season tickets to the Eagles, even still, although he barely understands football. He definitely fit in with the culture. Philly's weird, foodie-wise 'cause it does have some high-end places by the best chefs in the country, but it's also a place that's probably more familiar with less food that's less sophisticated in tastes. And there's a great charm and good food related to this, but frankly I'm amazed some of these places like Le-Bec-Fin stayed opened and popular as long as they did, and Perrier helped start and develop that culture in the city.

The movie is brisk and entertaining, it's basically a quick little documentary about a great chef and what he means to food and the city, and not much else, which, I'm okay with. Sometimes, you just want a nice little documentary and sometimes that's all you need. I wish I could eat it instead of watch it, but all foodie docs have that issue.


THE CONFIRMATION (2016) Director: Bob Nelson

★★★

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"The Confirmation" to me was kinda like "The Bicycle Thief" only imagine it from the kid's point of view and the father is a complete fuck-up. (Shrugs) At least, that's what I got out of Bob Nelson's directorial debut; he's most famous for writing Alexander Payne's "Nebraska", but I guess there's other themes going on. The movie is bookended by the young kid, Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) by going to Confession where at first he tells Father Lyons (Stephen Tobolowsky) that he hasn't committed any sins, but by the end he's committed quite a few because of his father, Walt. (Clive Owen) is a struggling alcoholic who just barely is allowed to be with his son for a prolong period of time. His ex-wife Bonnie (Maria Bello) is remarried to Kyle (Matthew Modine) and she allows him to have Anthony for a couple days while they're on a brief trip. Walt's a freelance carpenter between drinking and hasn't had work in a while, but a job opens up after he accidentally stays at a bar too long while Anthony was in the car. The next morning, he realizes that his tools are stolen. That's where "The Bicycle Thief" aspect comes in, they're special tools and he needs to track them down. (You could also point to Chris Weitz's "A Better Life" as inspiration as well, I guess.) From there, they both go around town, while trying to get to know each other and find the tools. This includes telling a lot of lies and committing some crimes and nearly getting killed a few times,  Also, making an effort to make sure his Dad wouldn't drink. Oh, and Walt didn't pay the rent, so they got kicked out of his place and had to break into his mother's for a bit...- the movie is basically one long collection of crimes and misdemeanors that the kids see and tries to rationalize. At the beginning, his stepdad has made him very religious, but he's still figuring out the world in that way that we all are as kids as that age, and doesn't quite understand or realize what's really going on, like when he presses the "Give to Charity" button on the change machine at the supermarket, while Walt's trying to collect money for-, well, he's broke. There's other good performances as they go from interesting character to interesting character trying to find the box of tools, Patton Oswalt and Tim Blake-Nelson most notably.

This was a better movie to watch than it is to write about. I'm making it sound more generic than it is, but it is a lively and well-made slice-of-life. I think it's just one of those film's that's predictable. I basically know every beat that's about to happen or could happen, and that made it a little disappointing. It's not the most original story, but I don't think that's too much of a negative. It's just hard not to compare the movie to the better similar films it's clearly trying to emulate. For what it is though, it's got it's charms and it's well-made enough to recommend.
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