Man, 2020's starting off as a busy year, if nothing else. All the more reason to take time out and enjoy some good pieces of entertainment, which is why I will definitely be catching up on "The Masked Singer" on Hulu after I miss it tonight starting my predictions blog. In the meantime, hopefully you can enjoy some movies as well. I've been watching quite a bit lately, but not as many as I'd like to from the last year or so; I've been watching a lot of older films that I'm not reviewing, but if I can recommend some of them, "No Stone Unturned" is a great Alex Gibney documentary about a mass murder in Ireland and the police coverup that helped extend and promote the Catholic/Protestant conflicts there a lot longer then they probably should've, also, "A Woman, A Part", a wonderful indy film about the struggles of being a working actress today. That's Elisabeth Subrin's debut feature and Maggie Siff gives an amazing performance as a successful TV actress who goes back to New York to get back with her old acting troupe firends as she tries to determine her next career path.
Those were the big ones that I'm sad I didn't get around to earlier. Let's now get to the ones I got to, only a little later then most everybody else. Let's get to the reviews!
MARRIAGE STORY (2019) Director: Noah Baumbach
Hmmm. So, there was a time when people wondered if Scarlett Johansson was genuinely a good actress or if she was getting certain parts because of her looks and her youth...- Eh, yeah, I hope that debate never comes up again.
That's my first thought after watching over particular long monologue she has at a therapist's office in "Marriage Story", a movie about a couple getting divorced. It's very Bergman of Writer/Directorn Noah Baumbach with that title, but it's also a little bit Noah Baumbach, who's known for movies about eccentric families and characters but, that's kinda derivitive. In hindsight, it's amazing how powerful his big breakthrough film, "The Squid and the Whale" remains; but he's actually evolved quite beyond that, especially with his Greta Gerwig work who often works as either his star or co-screenwriter, and in real life is his current wife. You do still do see it in stuff like "Margot at the Wedding" and "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" and some of those are great movies, but it's been since "The Squid and the Whale" where I last genuinely felt like I had seen something from his that I can truly personify as him. Perhaps because they're both about divorce, and they're both essentially based on...- well, himself.
"The Squid and the Whale" continues to resonate because it's so personal to him; he was a child of two famous New York intellectuals who got divorced when he was a kid, and "Marriage Story" has some notable parallels to his own divorce a few years back, one that also involves a kid. I say this because I think it'd be disingenuous to discuss the movie without bringing it up, but that said, I wish I hadn't because the movie is damn-near perfect without knowing some of the context.
The context is that Charlie (Oscar-nominee Adam Driver) is a well-known experimental New York theater director who's getting divorced from his actress wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). The divorce gets accentuated as Nicole accepts a pilot offer in Los Angeles and she moves out there with their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) for the series. They at first claim to want this divorce to be civilized and amicable, and they do, but things devolve. Nicole ends up hiring an L.A. lawyer, Nora (Laura Dern) which causes some issues because, even though they lived the majority of Henry and their married lives in New York, according to the law, it seems like they're an L.A. family, and now that she has the kid most of the time, and Charlie has to fly back-and-forth from New York every couple of weeks just to see Henry, it seems more like Henry's home is Los Angeles.
This eventually leads to Charlie hiring an L.A. lawyer, first an old entertainment lawyer, Bert (Alan Alda), at the advice ironically of his mother-in-law Sandra (Julie Hagerty) who went into family law at the end of his career, and then later, Jay (Ray Liotta) when the real mudslinging begins. One of the fascinating details of the movie is just how distorted things get when twisted by the court system and the law. Much of the issues with the movie is the fact that Charlie is so in denial of the reality of his divorce that only way, way too late does he realize just how much his life has to change in order to still be in his child's life as more then an afterthought.
Through these scenes of a divorce though, we get this startling and striking portrait of their marriage, what was good about it, what was bad, and why it ultimately didn't work out and why they fell in love and had a child in the first place. You see there is one movie that looms large over "Marriage Story" and it's not one of Noah Baumbach's earlier films. I don't know how many people bring up "Kramer vs. Kramer" nowadays other then for the fact that it beat out "Apocalypse Now" for the Best Picture Oscar, which, yeah, in hindsight seems ridiculous, but "Kramer vs. Kramer" is still a great movie. It was particularly big at the time as it took down many of the notions that the mother in a divorce was naturally the more maternal and motherly of the parents, and showed a father trying to win the custody of his son. It holds up well even without the context of the times though. That said, "Marriage Story" is the more complete and better movie. It's the film that shows a full, multi-sided, multi-dimensional aspect of a divorce. One that's not just a showbiz divorce or representative of a modern divorce in our time, but it's a look at these two characters and how both their objectives are achieved, manipulated, changed and altered through the divorce process. How their love and affection gets put on the backburner as they perform more then parent for the courts and each other and how their kid gets caught in the middle, even when they try desperately to do just the opposite.
There's two songs performed in the movie back-to-back at the end, both from Stephen Sondheim's musical "Company", which is the definition of an avant-garde musical to begin. One is performed by Adam Driver, almost improvisationally at an afterparty with the theater troupe he oversees. The other is performed by his wife, mother-in-law and sister-in-law, Cassie (Merritt Wever), three members of a close-knit showbiz family in Los Angeles at a party at their own house. One alone, one together with others, all of them performing for their family, and yet showcase what life will be like for Henry now that he's going to be spending the rest of his childhood between two families, two houses and to some extent two coasts of the country. All because once upon a time, his parents were deeply in love with each other, and in many ways still are.
CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) Directors: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
From my review of "Avengers: Endgame"
So, basically after the fingersnap of doom happens, wiping out half the universe, including a good handful or two of all the superheroes we've come to know and love, and for some reason not Captain America, we get the remaining heroes together, meeting at the Avengers secret headquarters, led currently by Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) as a de facto head of S.H.I.E.L.D. essentially. This includes finding the drifting spaceship remains of what's left of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nebula (Karen Gillam) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) as well as Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) by-eh, um,... wait,- who is this CARRYING their SPACESHIP to Earth?!
Captain Marvel? (Alison Brie) Wait, "Captain Marvel"'s a woman? Wait, I was supposed to watch "Captain Marvel" before this film? Where the hell was she for "Infinity War"?! These films were released in the same year; how would I know or even have time to watch one over the other...- Good god this damn universe is too fucking big.
Told ya, I got to "Captain Marvel" soon enough, but why the hell are we just now getting around to her?!?!?!?!?! What the fuck! You make me suffer through all the Captain America's and Tony Stark's crap, well over a decade of their BS and you had this one on the backburner the whole time!!!!!! What the,-, she's the coolest and most interesting one yet!!!! She's a flying uberpowerful intergalactic alien ball of electricity who doesn't a give a fuck! What the-, What the-, How-, What in the hell?- Like, c'mon! She should've been the one who started this thing-! Like-, alright, I'll admit this isn't the greatest of the movies, but she's by far one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel Universe.
So who is she, exactly? Well, she doesn't really know. Apparently, she was found by-eh, a warrior alien race called the-eh, Kree. Taking the name Vers, she's trained by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) to fight off their enemies, the Skrulls who are an invading force known for being, shapeshifters, who secretly infiltrate and invade other planets...- wait are they a bunch of Mystiques? Oh, wait, no, they're naturally green and lizard-like naturally. Skrulls is a lousy name for them; I'm calling them Chameleons.
So, Vers has been trained to fight the Chameleons for years and now she's going on a strange vision-like quest to meet her spiritual elder, or something...- The Kree have technology that allows inside peoples' minds, essentially, and she sees her but she can only gets flashes in her mind, but she meets her "Supreme Intelligence" as she's called (Annette Bening) and this leads her to begin investigating more deeply into her past.
Well, eventually, this occurs after a failed expedition where she ends up abandoned on Earth. In the MID-90s! Wait a minute! She's literally been around this whole fucking time!!!!! I thought I was kidding! Seriously, WHY DIDN'T YOU START WITH HER!!!!!!!!!??????????? My god, "Infinity War" becomes a worst movie every second!!!!!
Okay, whatever, I don't care, nevermind. Anyway, the Kree and the Chameleons, led by Talos (Ben Mendehlson) are both after her, and of course she garners the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. so a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a young Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) eventually gain her trust as she, it turns out was originally human and that six years ago, her Supreme Intelligence, who turns out to have been her boss in a secret air force program died during a crash of a top secret mission onboard on experimental airline craft. Anyway, basically she's Superman meets Jason Bourne, only, unlike Superman, her backstory is actually compelling and done well.
As a movie, eh, tonally it's a bit awkward, but I kinda like it anyway. This is actually one of the more, eh, I won't say goofier, but it's definitely lighter then most recent MCU movies. It's got an interesting vibe that takes an absurdist comedic look at it's character, but not one that's cartoonish or anything; this still feels like a humanist portrayal. I wasn't surprised to find that it was directed by the team of Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck; they're the team behind some other films that took some traditionally serious subjects on the surface like "Half Nelson" and "Sugar" and found some new life in them. I can see how "Captain Marvel" can be a little too generic and uninteresting, especially since she is so much more powerful then everybody else in this universe that it actually is a bit nonsensical that she isn't called upon more often, like in every fucking MCU movie up 'til now!!! GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Takes breath) Ok, calm down, David, calm down. Take a breath.
But, you make her an interesting stoneface wit who has to discover herself while also having to run around the universe singlehandedly fighting her own war while having to occasionally help others, now you got something here. I don't know much about Captain Marvel, or Mar-Vell, as it's pronounced in this, but this is an introduction that makes me intrigued to learn more; even some of the MCU films I liked I have rarely felt that. The movie also has some pretty great action sequences, including a cool train fight scene that also involved a car chase, that felt reminiscent of "The French Connection". It's a cool combination of otherworldly effects with some basic, classic effects.
"Captain Marvel" is more fun then it is good, which I guess is why, while I am still pissing and moaning about it, you don't want to overexpose her, 'cause she basically is an unbeatable force, and the appeal of her is more the character work. Well, I liked her character and her backstory, and the way she approaches the way she's finding out about this. She's basically only got a few years of knowledge and experience in her present mind, but she still has the presence of mind and knowledge of a much older and more observant, wiser person. Like I said, I like the Jason Bourne aspects of her, which, honestly now that I see this possibility, I wish Superman had this kind of inability to know his past, instead of having it all explain to him at that-eh, Fortress of Solitude. That would make it so much more compelling if his past was as much a mystery to him as it is to everybody else in that universe. I think that's why I like "Captain Marvel", this is one of the first MCU films in a while where I've seen some great potential for character development, instead of just seeing an extraneous film that is meant to just be a piece to explain a larger puzzle that doesn't need to be explain.
That is, until it becomes one with the post-credits sequence at least. Yeah, it loses a half-star for that. Although I do like Fury's cat. He's pretty cool. And of course, I love the soundtrack, late '90s post-riotgrrl punk Lilith Fair rock is the very best of all music, and I will hear nothing of any oppositing views on this. Let's just all agree that more soundtracks need Hole and Garbage on them and leave it at that.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019) Director: Jon Watts
“Spider-Man: Far From Home” apparently marks the first feature film in the MCU that takes place after the Avengers franchise, which finally fucking ended with “Endgame”, ironically the best of the “Avengers” movies, although still not a good one. Anyway, it’s been five years since what I’m stilling calling the Fingersnap of Doom from “Infinity War”, and less then a year since the um, (Shrugs) “Fingersnap of um-, whaddyacallit, eh, Resurrection” I guess; they call it the “Blip”, which sounds like a failed streaming service competitor to Youtube to me, but…- (Shrugs) and now, both Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) are back and now Spidey’s going on his newest crime caper mystery, eh, a class trip to Europe...? Whaaaaat?
On top of this setup just being, um..., kinda flimsy/just okay, this school can afford a class trip to multiple vacation destination in Europe but they can’t afford proper buzzers for their goddamn trivia teams?! (YES, I am still obsessed with this issue!)
The movie also, look, I don't want to give anything away, but it's basically "The Incredibles". And if it wasn't just, an absolute remake of "The Incredibles", it'd actually be ridiculously predictable, even for Marvel. In fact, this is genuinely the first MCU film that I would genuinely call "cartoon-y" in the worst possible sense. I was looking forward to this one, because i actually I enjoyed "Spider-Man: Homecoming" but this one, just fell way short. I would probably still recommend it though, because the fun parts of it I liked, I liked a lot, but it's such a forgettable movie, and then it had, not one, but two bad and stupid post-credits scenes, and yes, I'm taking away a half-star for each of them. It's time to give this shit up people.
Anyway, yeah, I'm back to wondering why "Spider-Man" is so beloved again after this one. This isn't the worst side-adventure of a side-Avenger, but yeah, maybe if Spidey wasn't trying to go on vacation, this movie wouldn't have felt like it went on one.
DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME (2019) Director: A.J. Eaton
I think it's fair to say that, David Crosby is one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of rock'n'roll. He is the namesake charter member of two bands in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and no member of either band wants to have anything to do with him anymore. He's an outspoken political activist and yet the most amazing aspect of his life and career is that it's still going on. The only reason that we're not more fascinated and amazed that Crosby is still alive is because Keith Richards is still alive, and honestly, I think it's a toss-up on which one did more drugs. Crosby's also had a particularly strange life. He was the son of an Oscar-winning Hollywood cinematographer, so he actually has some knowledge to call out Eaton over whether he's getting a good shot. There's lots of famous shots of Crosby out there, a lot of them he recreates, and as the 78-year-old diabetic heads out on another tour for a latest in a sudden string of solo albums he's made, we get a look back and reflection on the famous spots in Laurel Canyon where basically the California folk scene was invented, and practically in the house that we see him revisit; the house that Graham Nash wrote about in "Our House", and the one where he lived with and help start Joni Mitchell's career, before she couldn't take it anymore and wrote a song about him as a breakup. I suspect there's a lot of famous artists angry songs written about David Crosby, which is kinda amazing, 'cause even at the time, he was often the one singled out as the face of the hippie sixties era, especially the Woodstock and post-Woodstock era. Hell, he literally was the voice of Woodstock as he and several other artists appeared on "The Dick Cavett Show" literally, the day after the concert.
Several of those contemporaries of his are dead now, literally, like Cass Elliot, Jim Morrison, who he personally hated and to some extent still has some anger towards, and most notably for Crosby his then-girlfriend Christine Hinton who died at age 21 after a car crash, probably caused by him indirectly as like much of everyone that hung around him too long, they became junkies. I can think of parts of Crosby's life that aren't even explored here at all that others might think are subjects for their own movies. Dennis Hopper did, as he based his character in "Easy Rider" on him, which Crosby claims he should've played instead. He probably would be a good actor, honestly.
Basically, the movie is a chance to listen to this cranky old man talk and reflect on his several decades of experiences, experiences that still haunt him and in many ways are still occurring. Oddly, he notes that he's the only member of CSNY that never had a solo hit, and part of that is that, as he admits, despite his ahead-of-his-time skills at fuzz guitar distortion and even beating Dylan to the idea of electrifying folk music, Crosby, is a melody singer. He has a beautiful voice, and despite some critically successful solo albums, and despite the erratic and tempermental behaviors that have plagued him for decades, he remains the most soothing singing voice out there, and it's a singing voice, meant to play meloday. He oddly enough needs others around him more than most, and yet he's the one most likely to have them stray away from him.
I don't know how often David Crosby is thought of or brought back up in the public discourse in terms of the all-time greats, so perhaps "Remember My Name", is an appropriate title for this biopic on him. Yes, it's a reference to his early freak rock progenerate album, but mostly, Crosby's parade of contradictions is something that needs to analyzed both through his career, and as a man, and this movie succeeds in trying to embrace and empathize with that, even during those moments when he's the most self-reflective and honest about his troubled life, he can at times be closed in on the details. I get it, who wants to go over those details. It's nice that he's overcome all that and come out more determined to make a scene and put out more outspoken material and songs then ever now.
BORDER (2018) Director: Ali Abbasi
Last year, the Swedish film "Border" received an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, which marked a continuation of the Makeup Branch's insistence on not giving a fuck, and nominating whatever the hell they wanted to, despite whether or not anybody heard of it or even liked the film. Normally, I'd be more critical of this behavior, but after this year's batch of lazy homogenous Oscar nominees, and seeing that the Makeup people still decided to say, "Fuck you, we're nominating the "Maleficent" sequel," you know what, I'm in a generous enough mood to side with them this time. Besides, they weren't wrong on this one, the makeup is genuinely amazing, and critical to the movie. The movie itself though..., um..., this is a weird one.
It's the kind of weird, that makes me possibly willing to concede that, perhaps it's a little over my head, perhaps this would play better in it's native Sweden where I suspect some of the details of the movie have greater cultural meaning and relevance. As to me though, especially with the makeup acclaim, my observation is to look at the movie, essentially as an old-school monster movie. The kind that the makeup people would love, those "The Wolfman", those "Frankenstein"'s those classic Columbia-era monster movies, those Rick Baker showcases. It's a different kind of that kind of movie, but it's definitely within that medium. Although, it's definitely got more fantasy aspects then horror, and it also takes place in a modern world of-eh, border security.
Tina (Eva Melander) is a quiet and somewhat neanderthal-looking young woman who works at border patrol at a Swedish port, and is particularly good at her job. Why? Well, she has an uncanny ability to smell human-, well, emotions are the wrong word, but she can sense when they're doing something that they're ashamed of or something bad. We see her in the beginning manage to sniff out a guy who was sneaking in a computer disc full of child pornography. This leads her to getting work investigating the child porn underground, meanwhile she's begins a bizarre friendship with a similarly disfigured man, Vore (Roland) who she also found suspicious as he, or she as it may turn out, was passing through the port. There's a lot of strange aspects to this film, but sexual fluidity and identity is one of them, because apparently, Tina's longtime suspicions about her true nature are indeed correct, in she indeed not human, but something else. When she ends up making love to Vore, it turns out she ends up having a penis that she didn't know about come out of her.
You might sneak these are shocking revelation, but "Border" is full of them. I'm leaving a few things out, partly to keep secret what's going on, but also because I'm not certain I understand them. Mythology was never my forte to begin with and Swedish folklore is even more of an obtuse subject for me. I think that helps though. Glenn Kenny's review of the film insists that the less you know going in, the better the film will be and he's right about that; this is a movie where those who generally appreciate a deconstruction approach to storytelling will probably best appreciate this film, but I can also see that backfiring too. "Border" is aptly titled, not just because of it's protagonist's job, but also because how difficult the movie is to categorize. It's on the border of a few different genres, but it doesn't quite equal to one specific one. In fact, I do wonder who exactly this movie is for. The closest comparison I can kinda come up with for a movie is another Swedish horror with fantasical elements to it, "Let the Right One In" a story about a friendship between two little kids, one of whom is a vampire. That movie is much more approachable though; it even got an American remake, something that I just can't imagine this movie getting. "Let the Right One In" has a sure foot in some classic tropes of children's lit, despite some of the more horror-influenced aspects of it. "Border", feels like it's combining even more genres together and making a great point then "Let the Right One In", but I find it much more difficult to make all these pieces form into a completed puzzle without forcing it.
Perhaps I am just being trolled by this movie though, and I'm making too much out of certain details and too little out of others. I'm debating on this one, but I guess I'm falling on the side of this movie being good enough to let the audience and public decide for themselves, so I'm gonna recommend it, but yeah fair warning, this gets weird, and you might want brush up on your Swedish fairy tales and folklore.
Oh-kay, I'm gonna have to get this over with. Um, "Halloween",...- look I actually have quite a few horror film friends; many of them I've known for years, I appreciate their obsession and fascination with all things horror, although I can't say I share it. They know it's not my genre, but I try to understand and appreciate the genre the way that they seem to. Most of them, have a lot of great affection for John Carpenter's seminal teen slasher, "Halloween". It's essentially the progenator of a lot of modern horror, it's been stolen from, remade and parodied to death; like this alone is the second direct remake of the film, and that's not including the-, I don't know dozen or so sequels? I lost count a long time ago. Now I don't know what most of you think of those movies, and to be honest, I haven't seen most of those, so I don't really have an opinion, but for most of my friends in this fandom, the original film is an unquestionable classic and John Carpenter is a god of action and horror, and they genuinely consider "Halloween" to be one of the scariest movies of all-time.
Look, I'm not gonna argue with them, they probably have a better grasp of the genre and of it's director then I do...- (Sigh) but as to the original film, I just find it funny!
I don't know how I'm misinterpreting this or something, but like, "Halloween" is a comedy to me. A decent comedy, but I can never take this franchise seriously, the original's just goofy to me. And normally, I'm not terrible at misreading legitimate horror as grand guignal horror, I put on "Re-Animator" and laugh like everyone else; I can appreciate some Sam Raimi, (I mean, not the ones everybody else seems to like, but "Drag Me to Hell" I think is pretty accurately intended to be horror-comedy, right?)
Maybe I watched this too late or something, but I think of "Halloween" and I think, "Oh god, this evil mass murdering psychopath's trying to kill me, let me hide behind a wooden door, in a closet, and-eh, I know, a COAT HANGER! That'll combat him! LOLOLOLOLOLOL!
And I know I'm wrong about this, 'cause it's not just my friends, even most of the critics I admire from the time listed "Halloween" as a classic original horror film, but I don't know. It might've been original, I guess, but I can't get out of my head that I think it's just not something I should take that seriously. Even at the time though, I find it weird that this was considered legit scary at one point, "Carrie" had come out they year before; that movie is legitimately frightening. Or "Don't Look Now", that movie is the film that "The Shining" always tried to be, there's not just mindfuck horrors in those films, but they're also much more complex and fascinating and frightening to me. Hell, "The Exorcist" and "The Omen" were out earlier in the decade, and I can't get past the feeling that "Halloween" has always by comparison seemed childish. And not because it's mostly about dead teenagers, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" scares me to death, and that's a dead teenager movie that's been mocked and parodied for years as well, and that's one a classic. Okay, "Friday the 13th" I just find irredeemably stupid, but I always find myself conflicted about "Halloween". It's too well-made and unique to disregard completely but most of it's storytelling and characters are too simplistic or one-dimension for me to read it as legit horror; so I guess I read it as comedy to try to split the difference?
So that's always the mindset I have to combat when trying to analyze "Halloween" movies, of which I've seen, the original, and for some reason "Halloween: Resurrection"; I think it on the TV while I was donating plasma or something; other than Busta Rhymes, I don't remember much about that one. I do recall that Rob Zombie tried to restart the franchise not too long ago, but I don't think it caught on. I seem to remember that one being more focused on Michael Myers's background, which, I've always thought was a bit questionable in these movies, especially when the character has such noted teleportation powers as Michael Myers; I think the less explanation the better.
Anyway, we've seen Zombie's version, we know Carpenter's vision, I should look up who directed this one; I must've forgot to mention it in the beginning like I normally do, but in any case, who do we get this time around trying to reboot this? Some other horror favorite; Eli Roth? Jordan Peele? Jennifer Kent? Maybe somebody twisted like the Soska Sisters? Or Julie Ducourneau, that might be interesting; who do we have who's got John Carpenter's blessing to do a direct sequel decades after the first direct sequel? Who the new upstart voice of horror who directed this one?
Director: David Gordon Green
Well, I guess I wasn't expecting Shane Ryan but, hmm.... I mean, I'm not entirely surprised by that, but boy have I had mixed feelings about him for awhile.
So, it's hard to remember all this now, but David Gordon Green was one of the big up-and-coming American indy directors of the 2000s. In my mind, he basically is southern gothic filmmaking, even moreso than say Terrence Malick might be. I still have to get around to his debut "George Washington" but I still love his follow-up, "All the Real Girls"; that's one of the most underrated films of the century, and is one of the most beautiful and emotional modern love stories ever made. There is such a gorgeous sense of Americana in his indy work, "Snow Angels", "Undertow", "Joe", even "Prince Avalanche," which I didn't even like that much, but it's so easy to get drawn into his worlds,- he's basically the progenitor to Ramin Bahrani, only more of a sense of languish and painterly observant views on life.
Then, one day, he started making Hollywood movies. I think originally we kinda thought he'd be like Richard Linklater and take the occasional big budget project to fund his smaller more personal stuff, and like Linklater he started off pretty good at it. "Pineapple Express" was fucking hilarious. But, at some point, he kinda stopped doing that too. He worked a lot with Danny McBride on his films and TV shows, which makes sense; he basically discovered him when he cast him in "All the Real Girls" and once McBride made it big, he got Green some work, but he's basically been a go-to Hollywood filmmaker for awhile now.
He made "The Sitter" and "Your Highness", two "comedies" that made a lot of worst films lists, especially "The Sitter", which I haven't seen yet, but I did see "Your Highness", which, was uh,... yeah, that was bad. Honestly, for a guy who used to be really interesting; I've skipped a lot of his films lately. "Our Brand is Crisis" and "Manglehorn" are still stuck deep on the bottom of my Netflix queues somewhere, and while I did see "Stronger", which was a decent movie and all, had good performances, definitely well-made, but if I wasn't looking at his IMDB page right now, and you put a gun to my head right now and asked me who directed "Stronger", I would not have known that answer, and I would've never have guessed David Gordon Green. That might not mean much to you, but that is mindboggling to me; this guy, a decade ago, was one of the most distinctive and unique American filmmakers, of all-time arguably, definitely in my lifetime; the idea that I can ever confuse a David Gordon Green movie for anything else or vice-versa, like, even right after he started making Hollywood movies, that just does not compute to me. There's nothing wrong with going from indy darling to Hollywood elite, that's-, that's common; nearly everybody does that, but, no matter the budget, I'm never confused a Scorsese or Spike Lee movie for somebody else? The fact that he's basically become another director at this point, is...- I don't know if this evolution is bad or anything, but I do feel disappointed in him. I don't need him to keep making the films he did two decades ago, and he shouldn't, but I do want to recognize the guy who made those films then, in his films now, and more and more, I'm just not seeing that.
So, now, he's doing "Halloween".
Despite everything I just said, I don't think he's a bad choice at all for this. In fact, I like the idea of him tackling this. One thing that does separate David Gordon Green from other filmmakers was, despite his love of certain indy aesthetics, he actually was a great connoisseur of the classics. A lot of his best films, even his indy films, were basically just modern takes on some pretty distinct and classic films. Even horror, "Undertow" was basically a new-age southern gothic version of Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter". Even how he toys with narrative expectations in comedies like he did in "Pineapple Express", one of the reasons that's still his best of his Hollywood films is because of how well he circumvents of the expectations of the big-budget stoner and action-comedies of the day, and of the past. He's also made good movies about the perils of youth and being young, so, yeah, "Halloween" actually fits both his noteworthy career directions.
So, let's get to the movie itself. It's, well, it's okay. I mean, I didn't laugh as much, although I-, yeah, I did find a bit of it funny. I mean, what teenagers go out dressed as Bonnie & Clyde for Halloween, anymore, and if they did, and they were going to do a "twist" on it,- well, I won't give away what they did, but I did think of better twists they could've done.
The teenage girl is Allyson (Andi Matichak) she is the daughter of Karen (Judy Greer) and most importantly, Karen is the daughter of Laurie Strode (Jame Lee Curtis), who in this version has become one of those singularly-obsessed freaks who has several locks, booby traps, canned goods and ammo to her house in the middle of the woods that no one can get to. Understandable, I guess. I guess it's admirable that Jamie Lee has done so much for this franchise, frankly I wouldn't have if I was her. I do like how we're introduced to her through an interview with a pair of true crime podcasters, Aaron and Dana (Jefferson Hall and Rhain Rees) and she tells them to basically fuck off, 'cause, you know, screw those people. (Seriously, those 'true crime' enthusiasts, I think we can all agree they've done enough damage, right?)
Meanwhile Michael, who's actors, James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle are credited only as "The Shape", has escaped from jail, again, and now the police are after him, led by Officer Hawkins (Will Patton) who was apart of the original attacks forty years ago, and Doctor Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who's the latest in a long line of psychoanalysts who for some reason want to study the evil and supernatural. I can't believe there's two movies where there's the evil idiotic doctors trying to stop supernatural beings from being supernatural and somehow the M. Night Shaymalan one got the twist wrong and the "Halloween" sequel got it right, but here we are.
Mostly, the movie goes through a pretty normal script from here. It's Halloween, people are getting killed, mostly teenage babysitters, although not stupid ones this time around...- Well, not as stupid, anyway. Actually, I do like it's the idiotic male friends of Allyson who seem to be the ones ruining her night, before Michael Myers shows up anyway, seeing those idiots get themselves is pretty funny. It's a very #MeToo "Halloween" in my opinions, and you know what, I'm okay with that. I always hate how the teens who have sex keep getting killed in these films and the virgins end up living, so, it's nice to occasionally see virgins get killed in these films. Not sure, dry-humping and making out with-, somebody who I'm presuming was going as Taylor Swift from "Cats" for Halloween, except her outfit was painted on, should be worthy of death-from-slashing, but again, I'm considering this an improvement.
Look, I'm being flippant, but I do like "Halloween" and yeah, I'm still putting the original and even if this one is slightly more in the MTSK3000 rotation then the, legit scary rotation of horror, but I like the original, and this movie takes what I like from that one and improves a lot of it. The last half-hour is pretty damn cool, as all three Strode women must take on and somehow take out Michael Myers, and I really love the implication that Laurie might be just as supernatural and incapable of death as Myers is. Honestly, that's maybe my favorite aspect of the franchise so far, 'cause oddly, it makes way too much sense come to think of it.
This is a weird one for me admittedly, but if you like the original for being scary, this isn't as frightening, but it's got enjoyable scares, I guess and more then that it's a good catharsis after forty or so years. For those who find it comedy, it's got some of the same laughs and it's still cathartic as well. I'm still lukewarm on the franchise, but the film itself, I enjoy.
BUMBLEBEE (2018) Director: Travis Knight
Oh, god, boy do I hate my life some days.
Okay, look, I think I've mentioned how allergic I am to "Transformers". I have always, always hated this franchise, long before the idea of the movies came around, 'cause I thought the original shows sucked. Hell, I thought the toys sucked. Like,- I guess as an adult, thinking about it, I can understand why I'd want my sentient robot to turn into a car, but I have no idea why I'd want my car to turn into a sentient robot. I think I may have brought up my first experience with "Scooby-Doo" at around four-year-olds, and this being the first moment that something was legitimately too stupid for me. Around the same time, is when I first got exposed to "Transformers" but I honestly never gave it enough attention to truly know that it was too stupid for me, 'cause I would see a few seconds of the TV show and say, "Nope!" and changed the channel to "Captain Planet" or something. ("Captain Planet" was cool; shut up!)
Anyway, I've gone out of my way to avoid this franchise as much as I can, and obviously that includes the movies. I mean, I am happy there are people like Lindsay Ellis out there who do have an appreciation for the franchise and are willing to go into half-hour long video essays detailing and analyzing every aspect of this thing, 'cause honestly, it does need analysis on that level, especially how big and-eh, "Popular?", at least according to CinemaScore and the Box Office this movie franchise has become, but frankly, I have just used every excuse to avoid these movies 'til now.
That said, ignoring my biasness and ignoring my equally queezy feeling about Michael Bay, should I have? I mean, look I am not a kid, or adult, who was ever fascinated by robots beating each other up. I can't even get into BattleBots competitions that much, and those are real robots battling each other in a cage. Hell, I could never get into action figures; plush stuffed animals all the way, but-, can this actually be done well? The idea of sentient robots battling each other, in a world where, for some reason, humans also still exist. Um..., eh-um...- well, I guess there's no reason these blatant advertisements couldn't be in something good. But then I hear the word, "Decepticon" once, and I'm just fucking done with it.
You see, the '80s had a massive deregulation of businesses laws, so when companies became allowed to promote and advertise however they want, they started coming up with products to sell to kids, and then they decided that whatever they could sell, they can turn advertisements into something that resembled legitimate. It's not unusual for cartoon characters to become franchise for marketing and toys, Walt Disney basically invented that, but when you do it the other way around, it's pretty obvious and clear; at least to me it was. That doesn't necessarily mean something is bad, I genuinely still have affection for the Care Bears or the California Raisins, which were equally blatant advertisements that were just as flimsy pieces of actual art, but there is clearly a point, where clearly nobody's putting effort into this, and it's just something that's made to be sold. I put "Transformers" directly near the top of that list, and I know some people think otherwise; I'm heard people defend the original animated Transformers film for having one of the genuinely saddest deaths scenes in childhood literature, but I-, I just can't buy into this. If my toys are coming to life, they're not turning into killing machines and going to war with my other toys; my imagination was much more akin to the "Toy Story" toys' adventures as a kid.
So now we get, "Bumblebee", the first "Transformers" film that's generally gotten decent reviews across the board since the original, one of the few that Michael Bay wasn't directly involved in, and is made by, somebody who's actually a good filmmaker; Travis Knight, the director before the great Laika animated film "Kubo and the Two Strings", and it's about a particular character in "Transformers", eh,- I don't really know any of these characters to begin with, but this one is "Bumblebee". (Dylan O'Brien) one of Optimus Prime's (Peter Cullen doing a really good Liam Neeson) soldiers who loses his voice after a fight with a couple of Decepticons and is simultaneously sent to Earth, in the 1980s...- again with the-, goddammit,...
SIDEBAR: STOP having your FANTASY/SCI-FI FILMS take place in the PAST! I don't care how alternative the universe is, no matter the film, IT DOESN'T WORK!!!! And no, "Star Wars..." is not an example of how it does; there's no evidence to indicate that "Star Wars" even takes place in a universe where Earth exists to begin with. Yeah, I know, I've praised several films that do this, including one earlier on this blogpost, but this is still stupid, no matter what. You don't get to rewrite history like this. It doesn't go, "Millions of generations evolved the homo sapiens, then one day, years ago, sentient fighting robots that turn into cars came appeared out of the fucking sky!!!!!!"
Anyway, a now voiceless Bumblebee is on Earth disguised as a Volkswagon and keeping radio silence while he tries to beginning preparing to make Earth a safe haven, inevitably for Optimus Prime and is Autobots to live comfortably, and form as a new home base for their inevitable future scraps with the Decepticons. Um, I'm not exactly sure why Optimus Prime chose a planet a population of several million people to become the robots new home...- (Giants robots come to Earth to make it's their home planet...- Okay, I know I'm new to this, but are we sure the Autobots are the good guys?!) That's when B-127, as Bumblebee is originally known, is discovered by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) an eighteen year-old misanthropic gearhead who's trying to rebuild her Dad's old car. She ends up buying him and pretty soon realizes that she's got more then she bargained for.
Okay, I'll go with the easy punchline, this is either the Best Transformers movie so far, or the worst Herbie remake ever!
I don't know what to say, she buys a volkswagon that communicates on it's own and talks to her in particular. I mean, okay, it's not through the horn beeps like Herbie, Bumblebee talks by, um, switching up the radio stations 'til they say what wants to say through the music that's playing? It helps that Charlie is a feather-haired tomboy with a huge '80s pop and alternative cassette collection, even if The Smiths are heavily overrated and The Replacements were the real great '80s alt-rock band, but whatever. (Also Bumblee's wrong about Rick Astley too, who gets way, way, waaaay too much crap.) but, yeah, I'm sorry, this is just a Herbie movie remake.
So, Charlie and
There's some antics, there's some confusion, and eventually a final battle, and that includes a bit of foreshadowing regarding the fact that the Charlie, was once a, highly-skilled diver, that,... um, - (Sigh) look I like foreshadowing, and implanting pieces of info about characters to use later, but, that was a bad use of it. I won't go into it entirely, but like, that could've been cut and you wouldn't miss anything. Also, it makes no sense, she's an emo-gearhead who's more into music and the cars she's fixing then she is the bicycling neighbor with a crush on her, Memo (Jorge Landeborg Jr.), who's a nice enough guy, especially in the world where the mean girls and boys are just beyond obnoxious, (Oh yeah, there's a weird sequence where she's picked on by other kids while she working at her job at the mall, that I just-, like, I-eh, I didn't get what they were going for there.) but she also used to be a diver?
I guess there are ways to combine human and giant robots together; I liked "Real Steel" better then I should've but that mostly worked because it was essentially just "Rocky" with robots, while, like I said, this isn't even a good Herbie movie done with "Transformers". This is, "Herbie Goes Bananas" or "Herbie: Fully Loaded" meets "Transformers". (Actually, to be fair, I haven't seen"Herbie: Fully Loaded," maybe that film's okay) I mean, the relationship between the kid and the car is done better here then in "...Goes Bananas", which ironically was the only good part about that film, so that's something. Actually, I guess this isn't terrible for what it's trying, but too much of this just doesn't work. I like Hailee Steinfeld, and I like that she can make me feel that she can genuinely cares about a robot that turns into a Volkswagon that isn't really there. I think her character and character arc is strong and that is especially refreshing considering just how ridiculous a bro-fest most anything Michael Bay touches is, even the few things he's done that are actually decent like "Pain & Gain". I attribute that mostly to Knight's directing and to the script by Christina Hodson. Yes, it does very much help that this franchise is approached from a female perspective.
I do have to knock John Cena though, this isn't a great performance from him. Like, he's a very good comedic actor, but sometimes he does struggle with roles that would probably be better if he were to tone it down and play them much more seriously, or just, be understated with them. I kinda watched his performance feeling like Dwayne Johnson would've been better-suited for it then he is, which is really unfair; I shouldn't compare their work just because they're wrestlers-turned-actors and have taken on similar kinds of roles in the past, but yeah, I like Cena, but he needs to work on his dramatic range. Then again, this could just be some bad writing or directing choices too; I didn't like his beginning sequence with the paintball gun. To me, that set the wrong tone; something in this movie needs to be down to Earth enough to appreciate and contemplate the ridiculous insanity around him, and it should've been him.
I imagine this is probably as close as I'll get to liking a "Transformers" anything, so I can't be too hard on it, but-eh, I still can't force myself to recommend it either. I can see why others probably gave it some leeway; but yeah, I'm not able to get myself there, sorry. Maybe if Bumblebee had better taste in '80s alt-pop/rock....
BLACK '47 (2018) Director: Lance Daly
Look, I'm probably gonna by the toughest critic of this movie that you're gonna find, but this movie was a rough chore to get through. It's not a bad movie, it's actually very interesting, but it was so slow and monotonous and...- I just- I couldn't deal with this. "Black '47" was the first time in a long time, I was debating whether I could even finish the movie. It's not that bad, so I pushed my way through it eventually, but my god this movie was just,...
Maybe it's the setting that's bothering me. The title "Black '47" is reference to the time and location, it takes place in Ireland in 1847, right at the peak of the potato famine that took several thousands lives and pushed those who did survive into starvation and poverty, if they didn't somehow manage to get out and immigrate to America. On the one hand I appreciate the details that's put into trying to recreate this era of Irish history, but,...- well, you remember that film, "The Invention of Lying", where there's no such thing as acting so movies were just great narrators retelling stories of history, and Ricky Gervais's character got stuck with the 14th Century from his producers, so he had to write about the Bubonic Plague? That's kinda what I feel like I watched here. I appreciate recreating the setting, but I don't think I wanted to see that.
And I can kinda appreciate the narrative, basically, "Black '47" for all-intensive purposes, is a classic western that happens to take place during the Irish potato famine. A deserted soldier named Feeney (James Frechville) has returned from the wars in the Middle East. His home is now decrepit, his family has been killed or died off, and he decides to take out revenge against everyone involved. Eventually the Crown, who has control over Ireland at this point, and there's a lot of history involved with that better knowledgable historians can discuss, but they hired a disgraced policeman named Hannah (Hugo Weaving) who's currently arraigned for murdering a witness to go out and help the Crown find and kill Feeney. They were soldiers together during the Anglo-Afghan War, the one from the 1840s and he knows how difficult this guy is to take in. Basically, he's the 1840s version of Liam Neeson in all those "Taken" films, only the bad guy.
Eventually, after he's hung a judge and killed several others involved with the family, they realize that his next victim is Lord Kilmichael (Jim Broadbent) and they begin guarding him, as do several of the townspeople after Kilmichael puts up a bounty, i guess the leader of this group is Conneely (Stephen Rea). There's also some good supporting work from people like Barry Keoghan and Freddie Fox, and there's one particular image involving this strange way the ash-like dust comes over his face and beard, that's just creepy. It's really well done, but the effect is that Frecheville looks like an old bust of a Civil War General.
I'm a bit torn on this one, 'cause there is some really strong execution here, and this is a decent setting for this story, but this story is just not compelling. At all. It's not entirely predictable, but the movie is focused on where and when it's taking place, that I just don't care why it's taking place. The idea of a classic-style western in this world and timeframe, that can work. It's worked in literature before, and I know John Ford tried to adapt Liam O'Flaherty's "Famine" once or twice; Ford, on top of western occasionally made films that took place in Ireland like one of my favorites, "The Informer" and most notably "The Quiet Man", and they were essentially western stories but in Ireland, but not this era of Ireland, westerns. Lance Daly is an Irish filmmaker; I can see why this appeals to him, but this is just a slog to get through. Somebody's gonna eventually remake this story, and tell it well. Somebody's gonna start with a compelling characters and backstory, and then they'll enter into this period of history, and that would be more fascinating as opposed to, starting with this desolate, death-ridden, era of Ireland, and then try to force a western narrative into this world. The way this storytelling is done in this movie, is just so wrong, that it completely bogs down, a lot of what's good about both the narrative and the setting. And the crafts of the movie as well. This is one of those movies that was a pain to sit through because I just did not want to be here, and it's not because of how ugly and horrid this part of Irish history is, it's that this movie didn't compel me enough through the way it told it's story to convince me to want to stay here with it.