Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hail Caesar - Joel and Ethan Coen (2016)

Okay, a group of communists kidnap a movie star playing a Roman soldier...

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 Hur.

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. You don't realize "Caesar!" is a comedy until after you're started laughing, which when you're critiquing satire, is a compliment. 

And that's the question: "Do I want to go to all that bother?" 
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.

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.

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.

Most of the jokes in Caesar! won't be recognized as such.

I myself will have to revisit it a few times if I want to appreciate all of its humor.

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.  

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 attempting 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 the hyperactive intensity that defined the original "Trainspotting."

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. 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 not only the murders but an insane love triangle between Braydon, Ronnie and Janet.

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" and "Hairspray."
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.

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.

Of course, these two story lines come together to give us a bizarre twist before its puzzling ending.

It's obvious that Hosking set out to make a cult classic. And I think he did. History will tell.

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.