January 1, 2017


Tiny reviews.

COP CAR -- Kevin Bacon (the sheriff) and two pre-teen boys who steal his car.
Great fun. I thought the cop would find the kids right away, but he doesn't.
Delightful tween dudes. Funny, but not really a comedy. So much suspense just waiting for the FIRST shoe to drop. Kind of a modern day "The Ransom of Red Chief." Kind of.
There is NO back story.
There is NO exposition.
We cut in so deep we have no idea who these people really are or what their intentions really are and it totally works without being postmodern or "just the middle of the story" or "just an Act 2."
Brilliant filmmaking.
Kevin Bacon and the boys are a revelation.
6 stars out of a possible 5.

GET OUT -- "Race" relations in the U.S. are complicated. This psychological suspense thriller is a woke, meta, savvy commentary on how crazy (northern?) white people simultaneously despise, fear and envy black people. With an hilarious, unlikely hero: a TSA agent.
5 stars out of a possible 5.

UNDER SUSPICION -- (Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci) While pretending to be shocked and outraged by the rape and murder of young girls, this film is a chic, well-acted and sophisticated defense of adult men's interest in underage girls. Pathetic. If Hollywood is the playground for pedophiles that it's rumored to be, this film is evidence.

SLEEPLESS --  (Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan) Well acted and well filmed with all the state-of-the-art everything (only sore thumb is the repeated use of "dirty cop"), this tense and plot-twisty action flick of big-time crime alongside intimate family drama is just more of the over-the-top graphic and sadistic treatment of the human person that is par for "entertainment" today. Even 10 to 20 years ago, these multiple scenes of creative torture would have been reserved for one small debased scene in a Scorcese film. I can't imagine what a steady fare of this evil is doing to the children of today who are allowed to watch R rated films, let alone the adults.
Oh, and skinny, hi-heeled women in mano a mano fighting with huge male bodyguards? ONLY in the movies.
5 stars for unrealistic: human bodies are not made of rubber. One does not walk away and continue fighting and shooting after crashing through a plate glass window. One does not miss a human target after 5 minutes of shooting an automatic weapon. "Sleepless" is obscene (ditto for "The Equalizer," even though both of these main characters are unequivocal "good guys," doing what they do to protect the innocent....). Of course, this gore-pain-torture-as-entertainment is pretty ubiquitous these days. :(

BOSS BABY -- Hilarious. Reminiscent of "Storks," only way funnier. I laughed uncontrollably at the projectile vomit scene, followed by the toilet head scene. But then again, I have the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy. Alec Baldwin was the perfect choice for the fast-talking, all-business baby. The premise: PEOPLE LOVE PUPPIES MORE THAN BABIES NOW, AND THIS BABY IS ON A MISSION TO FIND OUT WHY. Can you say "pro-life"???? However, strange origin of this baby. He's been manufactured at "Baby Corp." (The puppies come from "Puppy Co.") Or is it so strange?

Some interesting theological overtones: sarcastic-y references to "the Baby Jesus," a TRIANGLE is superimposed on Mom, Dad and kid ("3 is the perfect number"), a take-off on WWJDO, "I've come for your soul!" (riffing on a horror film), baby says: "God, I hate that." In the end, this is about LOVE, specifically family love, even more specifically SIBLING LOVE. What starts out as sibling rivalry turns into: "I want nothing more than a baby brother." A+++. The baby's facial expressions are riotous.

THE OUTSIDERS -- (1983) This novel-turned-movie about teen boys, written by a teen girl is unusual and eclectic in so many ways. It's set in the 1950's (remember, the 1970's was coming off a 1950's revival) and is reminiscent of "The Warriors," or "West Side Story": highly "produced," old-timey Hollywood. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola! Lyrics written and sung by Stevie Wonder! Starring the biggest brat pack ever: Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Leif Garrett, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Sophia Coppola (little girl) and strange cameos by Tom Waits, Flea and Cam Neely!
The soundtrack is lots of Elvis, lots of rockabilly, lots of twangy surf rock. The story line is pretty simple: Greasers (poor boys) vs. Socs (rich boys). But what's so surprising is that these young men can cry, hug each other, talk about their feelings, express a full range of human emotions. The boys are a mixture of ages and have each other's backs. The feel is more like something from the Depression era--where everyone is "looking for the silver lining" (only this time it's gold). It's beyond pollyanna, and comparing it to today's increasingly rough fare, graphic gore, torture-as-entertainment--the contrast is...virtually unbelievable. Did we really watch such sweet stories not so long ago?
It seems the only reason this was made into a movie was because some librarian and her class in Fresno, California suggested it. (See panel before closing credits.)

ST. VINCENT -- (Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy) This is a heartwarmer if ever there was one. (Incidentally, 2 Chicago Irish Catholics in the lead roles.)
What I like about it:
--Follows Italian filmmaking trope of a grown man and a young boy learning to be men together.
--The Catholic stuff is cutesy and positive. In a modern sort of way.
--The little boy is very mature, takes the big view on everything, and doesn't seem terribly effected by the gargantuan downers in his life. This is very unrealistic, but wouldn't it be nice?
What I don't like about it:
--Prostitution looks...adorbs. (Naomi Watts as a perky Russian prostitute. Yup. You read that right.)
--And, OF COURSE, if your wife has dementia in a nursing home, you need to frequent prostitutes, right?
--Mom leaves kid with grouchy old total stranger?
--Mom sits happily next to ex at elementary school to watch son in assembly (after bitter custody battle)?
--Some things are so sweet as to be unrealistic. Or, rather, very, very optimistic. Which actually might not be a bad thing, especially in today's filmmaking which is often so negative, dark and hopeless (under the guise of "realism"). Film stories can show us POSSIBILITIES. Especially in ATTITUDES we can choose to adopt in life.

SLEEPING GIANT -- This intimate indie Canadian teenage male coming-of-age story is named for the imposing reposing island in Lake Superior off the coast of Thunder Bay, Ontario (finally--Canada exploiting her amazing landmarks in film!). It involves a Dad who knows how to coax (and allow) his son and his friends into manhood during a nature-soaked summer. What's Canadian about it? The accents, "chirping," "eh," and the more simple lifestyle, and way of being. No cellphones. No braces. The minimalistic music is tribal and perfect. The transitions are exquisite. Adam, the main character, finds out this beloved Dad is having an affair. The boys engage in some drugs, drinking and sex talk. Similarities to "A Separate Peace" and "The Kings of Summer," but better in some ways. Nature itself plays a big role, which is also typically Canadian. Not for the kiddos. Too many bad examples: grandma lets 15yo grandson smoke, graphic sex talk--also in mixed company (once), adultery, teens smoking pot with older guy, dangerous stunts....

SNATCHED -- (Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack) Amy the Exhibitionist keeps the raunch-talk to a minimum, but just can't stop herself exposing a breast. Goldie is her amazing queen-of-light-comedy-self, but tones down her super-ditz-self in order that Amy can shine, I'm sure. Amy is genuinely funny when she's G- or PG-13-rated. The storyline is a hoot (a mother-daughter getaway in Colombia goes sour when they're kidnapped) and well-executed. This is old-fashioned comedy: chase/adventure/caper stuff with interesting new situations. There are no agendas or feminist overtones (except for the "you can't degrade me because my self-degradation is worse than anything you can do to me" type feminism). The mother-daughter relationship is actually very tender and so true to life. I don't think we've seen this before. (People are always asking: Where are the women "buddy movies"? This is one--if you can get past several vulgarities.) I've watched some of Amy's standup online. It's unbelievably debased and inhumane. Sadly, the women comedians are so much worse than the men today and are messaging that women really don't care about their dignity, so men shouldn't either.

LIMITLESS -- (Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro) Would you take a drug that would let you use ALL of your brain, so you could get incredible amounts of work done, have a 4-digit I.Q. and, of course, become very, very rich? What if you weren't sure of its long-term side effects? This is an exciting and very watchable thriller, but too much sadism, unblinking gore, Machiavellianism, torture-as-entertainment (see "obscene" above), and winds up being an argument for mind-enhancing drugs, and maybe all enhancing drugs (don't forget to include energy drinks here, either). The movie was made in 2011, but it would have been incredibly responsible to make a film like this today with the resurgence of recreational drugs like heroin, and the current epidemic of opiod abuse and fatalities. "Limitless" has an eponymous spin-off.

CRIMINAL -- (Kevin Kostner, Gal Gadot, Gary Oldman, Ryan Reynolds) A CIA operative dies with crucial information in his brain (Reynolds). A criminal psycho (Kostner) with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex has the operative's brain "downloaded" into his, in order to recover the information. Along the way the psycho becomes a bit civilized and falls in love with the CIA operative's wife (Gadot). This is an old-school "spies that save the world" plot with hi-tech filmmaking. Kostner and Gadot are just such warm and likeable actors. The body count is high, but this movie is good-hearted, not mean-spirited. I do recommend. Good to see Kostner again, and he's great in this unusual role. But then again, I've always liked Kostner. And yes, I liked "Water World." Deal with it.

3 DAYS TO KILL -- (Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld) Another huge body count, as a former spy(?) tries to reconnect with his wife and teenage daughter. This is much more a comedy than "Criminal," with some hilarious moments involving a ringtone, and some sappy but devoted scenes with his daughter. McG's svelte directing and cinematography (and some great car chases) top off this violent but fun flick.

CRIMSON PEAK -- (Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam) Super atmospheric. Victorian creepy (the best kind of creepy!). Lush sets. Stunning FX. Lavish, flowy costumes. A bit too much violence and head-on brutality. Jessica Chastain's best role ever (who knew she was such a great villainess?). Mia (Aussie) employs her opaque "musing on my role as I go" almost-method-acting style of acting. Hiddleston's eyes are riveting. Hunnam (the Brit with the American vibe!) is solid, but looks like he's ready to laugh at any moment (not taking the role serious enough or something: a bit tongue-in-cheek). Now I know what's so great about Guillermo Del Toro. You simply cannot look away for a second (except for the gore). Total eye candy. The attention to detail is intense. Stay for the credits (finishes the story off). This needs a spin-off TV series. "Ghosts are real, this I know."

SOLACE -- (Anthony Hopkins, Abbie Cornish, Jeffrey Dean Morgan) A pro-euthanasia serial killer and a pro-euthanasia film. Skip this one. Hopkins and Morgan are good, but the "culture of death" theme, amateurish directing and old FX make this turkey a time-waste.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN -- (Eva Green) A wonderful, fantastical children's fable, except (and it's a very big except) for the monsters eating human eyeballs, especially those of children. Very graphic. Not for impressionable wee ones. In a book, kids can giggle and imagine it themselves. In a film? Yucko!!! Otherwise, loved it, enjoyed it. Eva Green is marvelous. Kid-positive message. Main character is a teen boy whose Dad is pretty useless, but the teen has a fantastic relationship with his caring and heroic grandfather.

THE INTERPRETER -- (Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn) SPOILER ALERT! An interpreter at the UN overhears an assassination plot to kill the leader of an African country and reports it to authorities. But it turns out the interpreter is actually from that country herself. Where does she really stand with regard to the plot? Which faction is she with? A Secret Service agent assigned to her isn't so sure she wouldn't be happy to see this leader taken down. A charming love story develops between them, and--wonder of wonders!--they never jump in bed with each other! In fact, in the end, their lives will take them in separate directions. This is a marvelous example of how #6 TRUE LOVE may not always turn into #7 MARRIAGE (the only place for sex). And that's OK. (7 Stages of Love from Karol Wojtyla's "Love and Responsibility")

THE DROP -- (Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Galdofini, ) This Dennis Lahane crime story set in a bar in Brooklyn, NYC, is perfectly, perfectly executed with a simply perfect score. A perfect film. It is a curiously international effort (actors playing Americans): Hardy (British), Rapace (Swedish), Schoenaerts (Belgian), director: Roskam (Belgian), cinematographer: Karankatsanis (Greek)

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY -- So tediously boring I almost fell asleep (and I NEVER fall asleep watching movies). Despite its top-notch cast, not only is it unwatchable, it's unbelievable and unfollowable: just a bunch of cut-too-short snippets strung together. All I could gather is that there's a Soviet mole in the British intelligence. But (another thing I NEVER do) I stopped watching because "I can't even," and I didn't even care to find out who the mole was. TTSS is that poor of a film.

THE GREAT BEAUTY -- (won the 2014 Oscar for best foreign film) This is NOT a film. It's a stuck-in-the-60's Fellini daydream. A lecherous, 65-year-old, has-been, elite man-of-the-arts slouches around Rome with his equally vacuous friends commenting on the arts and Italy. Stupid nudity. Stupid everything. Narcissistic and solipsistic. A vision of hell. I stopped watching after 30 minutes of this 2hr20 min film because, as the main character says: "At 65, I've decided I will no longer do things I don't want to do."

AN AMERICAN FABLE -- This PERFECT little life-affirming film was written and directed by Anne Hamilton. It could also be called "The Man in the Silo." Excellent use of subtle foreshadowing and symbolism throughout. Sprinkled with stories within stories, riddles and fantasy images (which I learned at film school is a good thing to do). Just a PHENOMENAL ending, unlike any I have ever seen.

THE OFFICE (American series--NETFLIX) -- This incredibly popular, deadpan, hilarious, addictive series not only has a heart, but some principles. The cast is a populous ensemble that shouldn't work, but it does. The sweet Jim & Pam romance always avoids talking about sex or any kind of crassness. In fact, Pam won't move in with Jim until they're engaged. These days, that is grounds for consideration for beatification. SPOILER: As soon as Jim and Pam are married, they have two children in quick succession. Although super-ordinary, theirs is, in some ways, a fairytale marriage.

The premise is that a doofus, clueless, frequently inappropriate-in-every-way boss (Steve Carell) is ineptly running a dying paper supply company (with antiquated methods and the awkward name of "Dunder Mifflin") while the big box companies bury them on the recycle bin of history. But Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is a bonafide human being. Michael's JP2-approved personalism is on full-strength display in S:4/E:5 and S:3/E:16. Michael will fiercely defend the humanity of each of his "family" members (employees) no matter what. They come first. Always. 

The Christian figure (Angela) on the show is skewered for her Christianity. She is consistently severe and mean with everyone BUT also has double-timing sex with her boyfriends on the side. One rather sad and shocking scene was an office Christmas party where the gay character (Oscar) comes in with his boyfriend when Angela is singing "Little Drummer Boy." Just at the sound of that song he tells his boyfriend they need to get out of there. Oscar (as well as Jim and Pam) are the only "normal" ones on the show.

As great as Steve Carell is, he is rivaled as the real star of the show by his loyal-to-the-death sidekick, Dwight (Rainn Wilaon).

Added bonus: political-correctness is not allowed on this show. 

For the most part, "The Office" is smart, humane, nuanced, clever, joyous, old-fashioned human fun. Seasons 6+ begin to flounder and sadly devolve into non-stop graphic sex talk. Adultery is the lightest of jokes. So unneeded because "The Office" does situation comedy, slapstick, etc., so well. But the end redeems itself and baldfacedly tells us that the whole series is about "the beauty of the ordinary." Jim and Pam's contemporary courtship/marriage is a shining jewel in the midst of what is often Hollywood's ash-heap of despaired-of true love and male-female relationships.

THE ICE STORM (1997) -- This juvenile, pathetic, soulless excuse for a sophisticated, "brave," ground-breaking film defies logic. It boggles the imagination as to why anyone couldn't easily see through this adolescent nonsense. Every scene is short, stilted, strangulated and episodic. There's no character development, no coherent plot. The dialogue is beyond immature. The entire film seems to revolve around the writer's historic uncovering of the swinging 70's practice of wife-swapping. Spare us.

THE PAPER CHASE (1973) -- Another non-story with no beginning, middle or end. Timothy Bottoms plays a brainy, well-rounded Harvard law student who falls in love with a liberated Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner)--who just happens to be his toughest professor's daughter. BW is firmly in charge of the relationship by her constant dismissive whimsy (she doesn't want to be tied down to anything or anyone) and also firmly anti-Establishment (while firmly benefitting from everything Establishment). "The Paper Chase" is about as tense and interesting as "Jonathan Livingston Seagull."

WIND RIVER (2017) -- Jeremy Renner is utterly believable as a Wildlife & Fisheries man embroiled in a woman's murder on a Native American reservation (it's close to home because he also lost a daughter). Elizabeth Olsen shines as a tough FBI agent. This film sets out to honor Native Americans (Tantoo Cardinal and Grahmam Greene also star). There's a bit of a non-gorey bloodbath, but the point is good people "going the mile" and honoring other "good people." It is a Hollywood "just" ending, if not a merciful one. Very well-acted and constructed, with only two slightly-hokey short speeches.

THE WOODSMAN (2004) -- Kevin Bacon plays a pedophile on parole, just released from 12 years in prison for molesting (he "never hurts them," he "just" seduces them) young girls ages 10-12. This is a ridiculously sympathetic and unrealistic film. He's quickly "cured" by the love of a good woman (Kyra Sedgwick, of course) and a new potential victim (11 years old) who helps him to empathize with her (eureka!) Oh, and then he beats up a fellow pedophile for being a pedophile and gets in the good graces of the cop keeping an eye on him. Give me a break. Ironically, 2004 was two years after 2002 when the Boston clergy sex abuse scandal broke. It was already public knowledge by then that pedophilia is not curable.

WANTED (Netflix Series) (2017) -- An Aussie "Thelma and Louise." But are either of these women really innocent as T and L? It's tense, the dialogue is realistic and amusing. Lola and Chelsea are an odd couple, similar to Thelma and Louise: one older and street-smart, the other a bit ditzy and naive. AND they have their unseen guardian angel male cop working for them. Lola and Chelsea both talk about "distant" fathers. [Think for a moment about how many screen characters have chats about these types of fathers....] Over all is the "life-affirming" Australian acting and filmmaking spirit--not to mention the beautiful sun-drenched Australian countryside. There are two sad and unnecessary murders (one while ironic, humorous music plays), but this is not really about gore or gratuitousness or violence. It's about scrappy people trying to survive. We believe every single words that comes out of the older "Louise" character's mouth. She's just so tough and world-weary, and every word is weighted.
HOWEVER, as with any interminable "series":
As the episodes start to mount
sadly, so does the body count.
As they win every hand in this game
our suspended belief begins to wane. :)
As is ever more common, when running out of plot-points, character development and dialogue, "Wanted" turns to what I call "the killing spree." The ending is incredibly anti-climactic.

This documentary by her nephew is a slice of life of the lifetime of Joan Didion. However, so little of her actual writing is employed (coupled with her cultivated "writer's mystique") that I feel I still don't know Joan, the writer. There are tidbits of her adult 1950's life that show just how radically things changed in the 1960's--a period of massive upheavel which she chronicled for various top USA magazines. I've read other bits by Joan on my own, and it's clear that as a disciplined writer (and according to her reserved personality) she did not appreciate disorder in civic life. I learned a few new things about the Manson Family killings, runaways and drug use during this time. But even how she coped with the tragic deaths of her husband and daughter are cloaked in a great deal of silence. Joan is now so old (and has MS) that I think it was even difficult for her to express her pain (I supposed we have to read her book: "The Year of Magical Thinking.")

This incredibly unrealistic, whole-new-low of a teen flick is just so sad. "DUFF" stands for Designated Fat Friend. A frumpy-looking teen's two besties are "hot chicks." DUFF's make them look even better and are kind of brokers for guys getting access to them. The main character doesn't know she's a DUFF until a childhood guy friend blurts it out. The two good things about the film are: the DUFF fights back (but it seems this kind of a revelation would have an adverse-reverse effect), a cool guy likes her. Oh, and of course, the "DUFF's" mother is also dating and the cool guy's parents are getting divorced. It's interesting with what gravitas (thank God) screenwriters still make children see divorce. If there's any lightness, it's usually on the part of the adults.
Lots of degrading sexual talk (you know--yawn--mostly the equal objectification of men). Men and women's sexuality are almost interchangeable, however. Girls need to "grow a pair"? Really?
Oh, and of course all teens watch porn, so it seems the DUFF is watching older, tame porn and needs to get with the newer stuff.
And all heaven weeps.

A slapped-together little dramedy about the losers at Table 19 at a wedding (not too much time or thought has gone into this little carbuncle--the gem). Crass. BUT there's also something incredibly sweet about two particular couples whose relationships are on the rocks--when we all know they really should stay together. But how can they make it work again? How can they crawl up from their self-imposed abysses? Well, if you don't know what love really is or marriage really is (looking at you, our present culture), starting with "forgiveness" is not bad at all, not bad at all. AND there's a baby involved here. In a world of screw-ups, the baby is seen as "the perfect screw-up." In a good way. The best possible way. Nihilism has just been annihilated. :)

Good scary fun. Don't care for James Franco? He's not really the main character. 

Dismal, dreary, ghastly, mournful. Dreadful view of the human person and afterlife.
Huge, "brilliant" speech in the middle by some guy who knows more than God-Who-Is-Love.
Abysmal eschatology. Hopeless. The more we stray from the Biblical worldview, the more our imagination returns to been-there-done-that-already paganism. It's an endlessly looping, reincarnating cycle, NOT a linear "story." This was NOT a story. A story has a beginning, middle and end. Like each of our lives, like history. Salvation history. (This film is truly episodic with a capital "E." It's really about clinging to human love beyond the grave. See the film "Ghost" and countless other films. Not a bad thing, that. But don't try to tell us about the bigger picture if all you believe in is physics. If all you believe in is physics, why do you believe in love at all?)
BUT perhaps there IS the image of purgatory here? Purification and then one is "released"? Perhaps, but I doubt it. But, anyhoo, what is eternity without God?
I think the filmmakers were really trying. But no.

A beautifully "shot," fantastically acted, harsh film about a mild-mannered money man who--through a series of unfortunate events--becomes a hardened prisoner. But all that he does he does for his family. "How far will a man go to protect his family?" This far. On one hand, he faces the conundrum of conundrums. However, the story has two "fatal" flaws:

1. "Money" (his prison name) could've just been a "wimp/victim" and refused to kill in prison (because it's wrong--5th Commandment) in the beginning. Nothing would have happened to his family (although he might have eventually gotten killed himself. They were in no danger at this point.
2. Why doesn't his fair and kind parole officer offer him and his family witness protection? We could have at least heard that conversation even if Money rejected it because he doesn't think they could actually protect him.

So, in the end, this is an amoral film without a compass. And we will see more and more of these films in postmodernity. There are no absolutes. The Commandments don't matter. All is relative. But Money chooses his family as his absolute and sacrifices all for them. All. I suppose if a man doesn't believe in the 10 Commandments, he will have to choose his absolutes, and then he will be measured by them and against them.

(Jason Momoa) Not bad. Man protects his Alzheimer's Dad and little daughter from dangerous drug dealers. In the snowy wilderness. See "Wind River" above. "Wind River" has more of a story.

DO NOT WATCH THIS. I love Australian films. But I regret having watched this "beautifully" filmed, incredibly acted, blood-chilling, killing-a-young-family-for-sport, unredeeming, unredeemed, unredeemable film. Halfway through I got a very bad feeling that this was not your typical, "life-affirming" Aussie offering. I should have shut it off, but I did not. It is depraved and gratuitous and pointless (the killings and the film). This should never have been made.

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