Monday, May 1, 2017

Passengers by Morten Tyldum (2016)

The concept of "Passengers" is a simple one: Robinson Caruso in Space (Or Gilligan's Island, whichever you like.)
As the Earth becomes more and more populated, the human race has turned to populating other planets.
Jim Preston is a passenger on a ship on its way to one of these planets.  
It's a 90-year trip and the passengers and crew are in hibernation until their arrival.
What could possibly go wrong?  Jim finds out exactly what could go wrong when his pod malfunctions and he wakes decades before the ship reaches its destination.
So Jim is stuck.
He'll die long before anyone else on the ship will wake up and his only source of help or conversation is a robotic bartender.
Then, it occurs to Jim that if he needs a companion, he'll have to deliberately sabotage a pod so a girl he's become enamored with can keep him company.
Yes, he's caught a touch of Space Madness after being alone for more than a year.
Still, his plan is the most cruel and selfish solution to his problem he could ever imagine.
So, he wakes Aurora and of course, the two bond.
Then, Aurora finds out that what happened to her pod was no accident.
Jim had woken her.  He robbed her of her life.
She wants nothing more to do with them, which is problematic seeing as how they're the only 2 conscious people on the ship.
"Passengers" tries to make a statement about isolation and self-service, but it falls short into a tedious, predictable plot with 2 characters who are simply not believable.
It's not convincing at all when Aurora decides to forgive Jim.
Just as it's not convincing that I'll ever forgive director Morten Tyldum for making me sit through a 2-hour exercise in how to sit through 2 hours of torture.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hail Caesar - Joel and Ethan Coen (2016)

Okay, a group of communists kidnap a movie star playing a Roman soldier...
It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it's just one of the many messes Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix, a professional Hollywood "fixer" has to clean up.
Poor Eddie.  His only task is to make sure all the actors at Capitol Pictures stay out of trouble.
He has to save them from themselves, from each other, from the press and, in this case, from communist kidnappers.
Capitol Pictures' prestige movie of the year is to be "Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ," a big budget Roman Film and obvious nod to Ben Hurt.
One day on the set, the film's lead actor, Baird Whitlock, (George Clooney) is drugged and simply carried out of his trailer.
Success to the communists, they can now demand a handsome ransom from the studio.  
Of course there are debates over whether or not demanding a ransom is too capitalistic.
As the film goes on, Mannix ushers the studio singing cowboy into his new career as a dramatic actor, side-swipes a pregnancy scandal, sucks up to religious groups and evades two twin gossip columnists, twins, both played by Tilda Swinton.  
On top of these antics, we're also treated to a handful of musical numbers as we follow Mannix around the studio.
Caesar! is one of those films you don't realize is a comedy until after you're started laughing, which when you're critiquing satire, is a compliment.  Most of the jokes in Caesar! won't be recognized as such.
I myself will have to revisit it several times if I want to appreciate all of its humor.
And that's the question: "Do I want to go to all that bother?" 
I sat here for a while trying to think of the answer to that question and finally, I've come up with my answer: "Yes, it's going to be worth it."  
This better than your typical Coen Brothers film.  Many of their films can be problematic when it comes to condescending to its own characters, and you see some of that here.  
But a little bit of that can be forgiven if the story is straight with the audiences and Hail Caesar! is.  So yes, I will watch this film a couple more times over the next year or so, when I'll be able to deconstruct it finer.
In the meantime, if I were you, I'd find a way to pick this up because in the long run, Coen Brothers' films are usually worth it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

T2: Trainspotting - Danny Boyle (2017)

First comes an opportunity, then comes betrayal.  T2: Trainspotting centers around the connection between betrayal and revenge.
Sitting down to watch T2, I went in with two questions.
1) What's happened over the past 20 years with this cast of characters, none of whom had a likely long self life.
2) Is this going to even come close to the feverish brilliance of Danny Boyle's 1996 original breakthrough, Trainspotting? 
Mark Renton is back in Edinburgh after 20 years and his friends are pissed.
The original film ended as Renton stole 12,000, the take from a profitable drug deal, from his three best friends, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie.  
On top of that, he called the cops on Begbie, wanted for armed robbery and the violently dangerous bully of their little group. 
Renton had returned Spuds take from their deal at the end of Trainspotting and he's the first person Renton visits now that he's back.
Surprisingly, Spud is not thankful for the cash Renton had left him.
It seems that the money financed Spud's immersion into the world of heroin, which has dogged his life with the losses of his wife and child, and any hope he'd ever had about holding down a job.
Spud is so far gone that when Renton calls on him, he's in the act of attempted suicide.
He doesn't emotionally move far away from that sad despair until the final act of the film.
Renton finds Sick Boy the sleaziest kind of professional blackmailer.
Sick Boy's partner in crime and girlfriend, Veronika replaces Diane as the focus of Renton's dysfunctional lust.
The sadistic and vengeful Begbie has escaped from prison to find out that Renton is back.  
That means Renton is not safe, nor is anyone in the path from Begbie, even Spud and Sick Boy, to his revenge.
It's unsure whether Renton's other friends will stand with him through this mortal danger because of how he'd burned them so badly 20 years before.
But Spud and Sick Boy know that Begbie is a danger, even when he's not hunting down Renton and any of his possible accomplices. 
He's volatile and unpredictable and they can sleep better when he's back in prison.
So after all this works itself out, the questions is does T2's entertaining sequences, and the nostalgia from the first film equal the amazement we all felt 20 years ago when we walked out of the theater speechless, knowing we had just watched cinematic history.
In a word, no.
A large part of the fun of Trainspotting was being introduced to these characters and their insane natures. 
Now that's been established and the first act of T2 feels noticeably emptier.
It doesn't feel like they're reintroduced them properly, even though it answers some questions about how these 4 have been spending these past 2 decades.
The answer is that none of them have been doing much of anything, nor have any of them grown as people at all.
In the end, we're left with a lovely little film in and of itself.
But it doesn't even come close to Trainspotting's hyperactive intensity.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The 2017 Cannes Film Festival

It's the time of year when the best and wettest dreams of any cinophile come true.
The selections for the 2017 Cannes Film Festival have been announced, and it's thrilling.
New films from Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Somewhere,) Noah Baumbach (Francis Ha!, Greenberg,) Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, In the House,) Todd Haynes (Safe, Carol,) and Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Das Weisse Band,) will premiere at the Fest.
Coppola's remake of Don Siegel's 1971 film "Beguiled" centers on a Civil War era girls school and how their lives are disrupted by the presence of a wounded soldier.
Baumbach will show "The Meyerowitz Stories," a story about an estranged family that reunites to deal with their aging patriarch.
Ozon's "L'amant Double" is about a woman, played by Jacqueline Bisset, who falls for her psychoanalyst.
Haynes presents us with "Wonderstruck," a film about the bizarre connection between a modern-day boy and a girl from half a century ago.
Haneke will premiere "Happy End," a film about the European refugee/migration crisis, starring Isabelle Huppert.)
(Side note, Huppert was robbed of an Oscar this past year for her performance in the subtle and violent film "Elle.")
In addition to all these releases, David Lynch will premiere the upcoming continuation of "Twin Peaks" and Jane Campion brings her show, "Top of the Lake: China Girl."
And not for nothing, but this year's Fest is chock-full of womany goodness.
Out of the 49 film being shown at the Fest, 12 of them come from women directors.
It's not quite equality, but hell, we'll just keep marching down the right path and get there soon.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Greasy Strangler by Jim Hosking (2016) - "Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie!"

"The Greasy Strangler" is an odd duck of a film that centers on, Big Braydon, a man-child who lives with his father/landlord, Big Ronnie, an old man whose interests are disco and grease.

Braydon is a severely socially limited man.  
To be honest, he made  me think of the worst-case scenario of what Napoleon Dynamite could grow up to be.
Braydon's boring life is shaken up by when he starts to suspect that Ronnie is the serial killer known as The Greasy Strangler.  
At the same time, he meets Janet, played by Elizabeth De Razzo, and falls in love.
We, the audience already know that Ronnie is indeed The Greasy Strangler as we've seen him in action.
Ronnie's murders are more gross than gruesome.
It feels like the worst thing for his victims isn't death as much as it is having those greasy, greasy hands around their necks.
The story follows the murders and an insane love triangle between Braydon, Ronnie and Janet.
Of course, these two story lines come together to give us a bizarre twist before its puzzling ending.
Throughout the film, I kept being reminded of John Waters.  
It's as if director Jim Hosking was brought up on a steady diet of Pink Flamingos.
It's obvious that Hosking set out to make a cult classic.
After one viewing, it looks like he succeeded, but we'll have to wait a decade or so to see if we're still watching "The Greasy Strangler."
In the end, this film is as disgusting and hilarious as the title suggests.
Everything Ronnie eats is either cooked in, slathered in, or dipped in grease.  
Yes, you will cringe while watching this movie.
Whether you're a Waters fan or like cult films, I highly recommend you watch "The Greasy Strangler." 
It really is a wonderful, revolting experience.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Nightmare is a Comfort Blanket

If anything in this life is comforting, it's familiarity.  It's a little odd that finding and re-watching on Netflix "A Nightmare on Elm Street.
It feels just like a worn and warm comfort blanket.

Monday, March 27, 2017

30 Best Films Passed Over by Marty, The Doc & Jennifer in Back to the Future

I'm far too late to be posting on this, but I love lists so and you'll indulge a temporarily disabled genius who's been up to his eyes in prescription medication, right?

So I understand that this should have posted in 2015 and that this post is now coming a year and a half too late.

In the year 2015, much ado had been made about the 30 years that have passed since Marty, Jennifer and the Doc traveled into their future and right into our present. 

Most of the speculation has centered on the technology and fashion, but I don’t care much about that.

I care about cinema, maybe music, but not much else.

So, here are the 30 best films these characters skipped over when they sling-shot themselves from their present, 1985, all the way to 2015, our present.

To be short: the finest 30 films of the last 30 years.

As always, the list is in descending order, as all lists shall be.  (And you'll pardon me, but I couldn't quite stop, so this will be the top 31, not just the top 30)

31) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer by John McNaughton - 1986
"It's always the same, and it's always different."

30) Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold - 2009

29) Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin - 2011

28) Fight Club by David Fincher - 1999
"I am Jack's Broken Heart."

27) Frances Ha by Noah Baumbuch - 2012

26) The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese – 1988

"It is accomplished!"

25) Crash by David Cronenberg - 1996

24) Blue Velvet by David Lynch - 1986

"Mommy!  Mommy!  Baby wants to fuck!"

23) AntiChrist by Lars von Trier - 2009

22) The Devil’s Rejects by Rob Zombie - 2005

"I am the Devil and I am here to do the Devil's work."

21) Repo! The Genetic Opera by Derren Lynn Bousman - 2008

"It's a thankless job!  But somebody's got to do it!"

20) In the Mouth of Madness by John Carpenter - 1994

19) Beauty and the Beast by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise - 1991

18) Her by Spike Jonze - 2013

17) Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick - 1999

"Oh, if you men only knew!"

16) Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch - 1995
15) Heaven by Tom Tykwer - 2002
14) Secretary by Steven Shainberg - 2002
13) Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson – 1999
12) True Romance by Tony Scott - 1993
11) Girl with Dragon Tattoo Trilogy by Niels Arden Oplev and Daniel Alfredson - 2009
10) The Princess Bride by Rob Reiner – 1987
9) Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro - 2006

8) Blue by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 1993
7) Lost Highway by David Lynch - 1995
"We've met before, haven't we?"
6) eXistenZ by David Cronenberg – 1999
5) Safe by Todd Haynes – 1995
4) Breaking Waves by Lars von Trier - 1996
3) Never Let Me Go by Mark Romanek - 2010
2) Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche - 2013
1) Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino by 1994

And, as most of you likely already know, narrowing your favorites down to a finite list can drive one crazy, so here are a few runners up:
(And just for the dick of it, I'm numbering these, too.)

45) Howl by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman -2010
44) Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino - 2009
"Au Revoir Shosanna!"

43) Leaving Las Vegas by Mike Figgis – 1995
42) Enchanted by Kevin Lima - 2007
41) The City of Lost Children by Marc Caro & JeanbyPierre Juenetby - 1995

40) Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch - 2012
39) The Butcher Boy by Neil Jordan – 1997
38) Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola – 2003
37) Heavenly Creatures by Peter Jackson – 1992
36) Deconstructing Harry by Woody Allen - 1997
35) Rosewood by John Singleton - 1997
34) The Piano by Jane Campion - 1993
33) Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky - 2010

32) Trainspotting by Danny Boyle - 1996