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About me

I'm Jason. I'm a film, literary and pop culture enthusiast. Got a soft spot and deep love for animation, comics and nerdy things that go in tandem with them.

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Rolling Stone's 40 Greatest Animated Movies Ever (40 items)
Movie list by JxSxPx
Published 3 weeks, 3 days ago 1 comment
EW's The 25 Best Texas Movies (25 items)
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RS 500: Part 5 (100 items)
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Favorite Directors (45 items)
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50 Great Movies That Were Not Nominated For Any Os (50 items)
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Pal Joey

Posted : 2 days, 3 hours ago on 22 July 2016 02:59 (A review of Pal Joey)

I have a very large soft spot in my heart for Frank Sinatra. I find his trajectory from teen idol crooner, to movie musical superstar, to well-respected dramatic actor to be an awe-inspiring run of high-quality artistry. Here in Pal Joey all of those various elements, along with Sinatra’s innate streetwise and smart-alecky impeccable cool, into one hell of an entertaining star vehicle.

 

It’s not just a great showcase for him though, as Rita Hayworth, the Love Goddess, gets one of her last great roles as wealthy widow Vera Simpson. She slowly steals the film from Sinatra, and he knew it too as it’s partly a reason for her top billing. Her singing voice is dubbed outside of the introductions to both her numbers, but she throws herself into the musical and dance sequences with a wild ambition. “Zip” is a charmingly sexy laugh riot, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is a sensual delight that recaptures some of the explosive Gilda magic. It also takes one hell of a woman to smack Sinatra down to size, but Hayworth’s withering line deliveries and clipped purrs does the trick repeatedly.

 

Shame about Kim Novak’s nothing of a role, though. It’s an ingénue part, a good girl who tames the naughty boy with her virtuous charms. Lord knows Novak’s chilly, sexy, slow-burn take on “My Funny Valentine” is enough to make a sinner repent (even if, much like Hayworth, her voice is dubbed). She tries her best, and she’s sensational in a scene where she comes on to Joey in a drunken stupor, but there’s not much for her to do. She tries her best to keep up, but she’s out-gunned by Sinatra’s natural charisma and Hayworth’s dynamism. I will say this, I adore that touch of lavender they added to her hair. It makes her presence pop that much brighter as it catches the light in certain scenes and gives her hair a shimmer that is either silver or faintly purple.

 

If the part of womanizing cad Joey feels tailor made for Sinatra’s casual, detached, and sarcastic screen presence in both dramatic and musical sequences, then you should know what a star vehicle is. Loosely reassembled from the Broadway show of the same name, this Pal Joey is definitely prettier and cleaner in presentation and execution. The lurid and salacious acts of the story are implied rather than spelled out, much like the other famous John O’Hara adaptation, BUtterfield 8.

 

It doesn’t take much mental contortions to fill in the lines, between Joey’s unique lingo and the central love triangle’s transitions of power and affection. Like many movie musicals, Pal Joey is primarily concerned with this love triangle. Joey Evans, an ambitious song-and-dance man, has to keep moving from town to town thanks to being something of a louse. He winds up in San Francisco where he takes a liking to an innocent showgirl (Kim Novak), before becoming the plaything of a wealthy widow (Rita Hayworth), and still burning a candle for Novak’s nice girl. The rest of the story plays out exactly as you think it would, with the Production Code demanded redemption and happily ever after.

 

Yes, the plot is flimsy. But most movie musicals are if they’re primarily romantic comedies, and this certainly fits that bill. Films like this are best watched as displays of movie star charisma and high-level production values in service of a great songbook. Pal Joey is one hell of a movie based purely on these strengths. It may not outrank MGM’s output during the same era, but for a more modest budget to play with, it holds its own quite nicely. Of course having a score featuring Rodgers and Hart classics like “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “I Could Write a Book,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” and “My Funny Valentine” most certainly helps.

 

There’s a ton of color, charm, and urban wit on display in Pal Joey, and it’s one hell of an entertaining way to spend two hours. Maybe not the most essential entry in any of their bodies of work, but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the best second-stringers. That sounds like faint praise, but I really adore this movie. I think it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with films like Guys and Dolls, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or Kiss Me Kate for sheer joyous entertainment.  



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Middle of the Night

Posted : 2 days, 4 hours ago on 22 July 2016 02:18 (A review of Middle of the Night)

To hear Kim Novak tell it, Harry Cohn didn’t want her anywhere near this low-key story of a May-December romance. Cohn didn’t want Novak’s glamorous, icy sex goddess persona compromised by playing a character so vulnerable, damaged, and needy. But Novak was a shrewd mind, and she knew Middle of the Night was one hell of an opportunity for something tougher, meatier.

 

She was right, of course, just as she had been that Vertigo was a film for the ages despite the indifferent modern reception. Middle of the Night is in the upper echelon of her film work, and Novak frequently names this film as her personal favorite. No wonder, as she plays a character with a large emotional range, utilizing her natural melancholy into a deeply engaging portrait of a brittle woman desperate for love and affection.

 

Novak’s receptionist finds it in widowed businessman Jerry’s (Fredric March) arms. He bursts with love to give, and one to accept it. She needs a father-figure, a lover, and someone to help her break her habit of caving in to her ex-husband’s romantic advances. Their romance is unconventional, and met with judgment and scorn by the friends and family members orbiting their lives, but they find an anchor in each other.

 

At the time of release, March got the bulk of critical praise for his finely tuned performance. No shock that, as March was one of the more dependable actors of his generation, consistently giving complex and rich life to a large variety of characters over his forty-four years in front of the camera. Yet it’s Novak that was a real surprise for me here, sinking her teeth in Paddy Chayefsky’s script like a starving artist instead of an established star persona. Her voice is pitched higher, frequently sounding pinched and struggling to get the words out in a coherent manner. Her body trembles, and her unease in life is palpable in her nervous energy.

 

Middle of the Night is a small film, but one packing a big emotional punch. Director Delbert Mann, of Marty fame, is well within his wheelhouse here, creates believably cramped apartments, and rumpled working class faces. It helps that aside from Novak and March, Mann populates the cast with character actors like Lee Grant and Martin Balsam, both of them sensational.


If the film has any fault, it’s that it never completely breaks free from its stage origins. So much of the film takes place in interiors and it occasionally dips into filmed stage play territory. This minor problem is forgiven easily between the towering strengths of the naturalistic performances, wonderful dialog, and deep emotional honesty on display. It doesn’t have the critical or popular appraisal of other Novak films, but Middle of the Night deserves a reevaluation. It’s one of the best films in her career.  



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Bell Book and Candle

Posted : 4 days, 2 hours ago on 20 July 2016 04:09 (A review of Bell, Book and Candle)

In the right role, Kim Novak’s detached glamour and chilly braininess could be used to great effect. In 1958, two of the best films to utilize her strengths as an actress and screen presence allowed for her to play roles that mirror each other in unique and strange ways. Vertigo is the more lauded classic, for obvious reasons, but Bell Book and Candle is a thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy.

 

Both films star Novak and James Stewart as lovers circling each other in erotic obsession and longing. Vertigo positions Stewart as Hitchcock’s proxy, willfully recreating the pliable starlet into his dream woman, before driving her mad by trying to force her into a limited role. Bell Book and Candle has Novak as the main aggressor, partially out of boredom with her life as a Greenwich Village witch, essentially living in a state of extended adolescence. Novak’s witch is too happy to throw her powers and immortality for something real, and the parallels between the two roles is evident as Bell Book and Candle plays Vertigo as a whip-cream light romantic comedy, complete with a happy ending for the pair.

 

What makes Bell Book and Candle really intriguing is the same thing that energizes many of Novak’s better performances, the tangible connection the actress is making with the role and her real life. One could easily imagine the actress reading the script and finding the bohemian witch’s longing for real experiences and see her slyly smile and nod, understanding that push-and-pull as a sex goddess yearning to break free. Novak’s joy in the role emanates off the screen, and her natural chilliness and removed nature works well here. The moment where she learns that she’s fallen in love and developed the ability to experience emotions is pure glamour and craving as her placid face artfully cries a single tear.

 

Granted, the major reason to watch this is for Novak’s strong leading turn, but Bell Book and Candle is a movie of many charms. Witches and warlocks are merry pranksters here, hiding out in hip underground clubs and using their stores as fronts for magical pastimes. The most powerful witch is Kim Novak, and she spends most of her time longing for domesticity and a normal, non-magical life. (Hey, it was the 50s, what can you do?) Despite a choice to live a mostly magic-free life, her brother (Jack Lemmon) and aunt (Elsa Lanchester) are constant sources of mischief and mayhem.

 

James Stewart lives upstairs and is in the book publishing industry. Novak is absolutely crazy about him, and even at 50 years old, Stewart is still his charming, everyman self. But he’s engaged, so what’s a single witch to do? Cast a love spell on the poor sap, of course, as one does. It’s a lot of fun watching Stewart do some solid physical comedy and mug for the camera, long limbs fumbling and face contorted as he tries to make sense of the strange occurrences around him. In the scene where Novak places the spell upon him, her erotically fixed glare and gentle purring are enough to drive any man wild with desire.

 

The supporting players are a colorful bunch, with the aforementioned Lemmon and Lanchester joined by the rounded elocution of Hermoine Gingold and the gravel voiced Ernie Kovacks. They’re all wonderfully spry here, with Gingold’s respected and powerful grand dame witch and Kovacks’ alcoholic reporter getting high marks. The only thing keeping me from declaring Bell Book and Candle a homerun is that strange, slightly bitter aftertaste of the 1950s establishment hive mind. Novak and Stewart have great chemistry, but why does the witch have to give up her powers to gain her happily ever after?



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Jeanne Eagels

Posted : 5 days, 3 hours ago on 19 July 2016 03:03 (A review of Jeanne Eagels)

Has any sequence better symbolized the treatment of Kim Novak than the opening of Jeanne Eagels? A wide-eyed beauty with dreams of performing, she’s paraded around with the empty promise of a crown, before cruelly being thrown to the sidelines. The parallels to Novak practically write themselves.

 

There’s another scene where she’s asking, no begging and demanding for the chance at something meatier than being a cheesecake model, shot down, thrown to the hungry masses, and coolly performing the seductive motions while waiting for something better. The lines between the upcoming starlet and the doomed star blur repeatedly throughout, and this tension and synchronicity between the two keeps Jeanne Eagels engaging even when it drips into formulaic territory.

 

Shame that Novak’s strong work here is overshadowed by a script that is by turns engaging, frustrating, melodramatic to a fault, and generic formula drivel. The truth of Jeanne Eagels’ life was fascinating, but the script is happy to take a two-thirds-fiction/one-third-fact approach to her life. We never get a sense of the contradictory, driving forces beneath her glamorous star persona, and the film treats her as unlikable to a dangerous degree.

 

Any sympathy we engineer for her is purely from Novak’s work, a favorite performance of the actress and with good reason. Sure, she’s a little awkward as the innocent-but-driven ingénue, but once she becomes a destructive grand dame the placid surfaces of Novak’s face practically shine with glee at getting to tear into juicy dramatic incidents. She quakes with palpable vulnerability in a scene where she places a child’s hat upon his head, and turns feral in numerous scenes of Eagels’ drunken antics. Her death-walk to the stage is harrowing and haunting in equal measure, with her features turning mannequin-like and the light dimming from her eyes. She also looks sensational in the period costumes and makeup, with the heavy, smoky makeup accentuating one of Novak’s best features as an actress, her limpid, mercurial eyes.

 

Jeff Chandler and Agnes Moorehead do solid work with limited roles. Chandler is stuck as the long-suffering love interest, the man who stands by as Jeanne destroys herself with booze, pills, and other men, rushing to swoop in as a white knight. Chandler and Novak have numerous scenes of tangible erotic chemistry and romantic pull, even when the script fails their love affair, the actors at least invest some time and energy in making it somewhat palatable. Moorehead swoops around numerous scenes as Eagels’ acting tutor and surrogate mother-figure. By this point in her career, Moorehead could do this role backwards, with her eyes closed, and half-asleep. She invests more energy and dynamics into it, as she should befitting an actress of her caliber, with a scene where she fights with Jeanne Eagels about her drug abuse a particular standout.

 

 

Director George Sidney normally known for his musicals and comedies, and he equips himself well with the heavy dramatics of this story. Sidney keeps the film moving and crafts a few scenes which linger strongly in the memory. Jeanne’s horror at the discovery of an older, washed-up actress’ suicide is a tense examination of the price of fame and a strong contender for best-in-show. Pity so much of the script never lives up to these high-points, but Jeanne Eagels is an entertaining enough movie. There are far worse films to spend two hours with, and it’s one of Kim Novak’s more intelligent and fully-realized roles.



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Picnic

Posted : 5 days, 8 hours ago on 18 July 2016 09:52 (A review of Picnic)

Even in 1955, I find it hard to believe that this was wild, transgressive, erotically charged cinema. Not in a decade that gave us Nicholas Ray’s subterfuge of teenage ennui (Rebel Without a Cause), two of Billy Wilder’s naughtiest comedies (The Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot), and numerous Tennessee Williams adaptations (A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof being the cream of the crop). In contrast to those particularly daring and sexually knowing works, Picnic has not aged particularly well.

 

I’m sure there’s still some power packed into the stage show, but the movie does not unfold with the same energy and sense of creation. Director Joshua Logan is too fond of set-ups and compositions that call to mind a proscenium stage instead of a lived-in small town. Too often they’re all crowded around each other looking towards the camera, instead of some facing away from us, or moving in a more organic way.

 

Logan’s always done well with actors, look no further than some of the career-best work he pulls from Red Buttons in Sayonara and Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, and his ensemble of female players are all delivering the goods here. Betty Field, Susan Strasberg, Verna Felton and Cliff Robertson are uniformly solid. Rosalind Russell is the prime supporting player, constructing a desperate and vulnerable woman afraid of her impending spinsterhood. Russell tears into her scenes with a ferocity that borders on the terrifying, especially in scenes where she’s drunk and her voice alternates between a melodious upper range and her cigarette-torn lower register. Arthur O’Connell underplays many of his key scenes with her, giving their romantic pairing an aching tremor and sparkling energy that much of the film lacks.

 

While I generally have mixed feelings towards Kim Novak’s work as an actress, she’s a fine form here. To hear Novak speak about the role, she was Madge. A beautiful girl desperate to be seen as a whole, complete person, as something beyond her genetic blessings. That core of truth is present throughout her work, and she brings a fragility and empathy to the role that another actress may have skipped over. The first time I watched the film, I found some of Novak’s line-readings zombie-esque and extremely passive, but I find this to be the correct choice the more I think about it. Madge is a girl entombed by choices made for her, by people only capable of seeing the outer shell and not the deeply unhappy girl underneath. Her numerous scenes of daydreaming stares and erotic longings are indelible.

 

The other major problem with Picnic, besides the general sexual hysteria that’s played slightly tone deaf by Logan, is the casting of William Holden as the transient bad boy. Holden’s dark, smoldering charms, his world-weary vocal cadences and natural cynicism are a good match for the part, but he’s clearly too old for the role. His scenes with a dewy Novak don’t play as believable romance, and the major efforts to de-age him appear silly when he stands next to Cliff Robertson, who is supposed to be a former college buddy. Holden his many of the checklist requirements for the part, and does a commendable job in selling it, but the role remains one of his inessential compared to juggernauts like Sunset Boulevard or Stalag-17.


While Picnic is loaded with overwrought emotions and purplish prose, it looks and sounds fantastic with lush cinematography and a pleasant score. A good trimming would have done this film a world of good, though. How many scenes of the townspeople and random events of the titular picnic did we need? Several of the sequences, mainly in the final thirty-minute stretch, feel as if they drag on and on before just stopping from a lack of energy. It's never awful, and for a certain camp value it's kind of amazing, but Picnic is mostly frustrating. it hovers in that film limbo where a few edits could have turned it into an essential classic.



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X-Men: Apocalypse

Posted : 4 weeks ago on 25 June 2016 09:28 (A review of X-Men: Apocalypse)

After very smart, adventurous entries in the X-Men franchise in First Class and Days of Future Past, Apocalypse cannot help but feel limp and perfunctory at best. The major problem is that the franchise has committed for so long to sticking us with heroes and villains that blur those lines, with actions taken by characters like Magneto and Mystique feeling more heroic than the choices made by Xaiver and his students at various points throughout the series, and Apocalypse indulges in the dullest of comic book clichés. There’s an omnipotent and omnipresent villain hell bent on world domination, destruction, and rebirth where the human stakes get lost in the shuffle.

 

Lord help me, but I never could vibe with Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, a bit wasted in the role) whenever he’d appear in the comics or cartoons. He felt completely ridiculous in execution, but impressive as a concept. The world’s oldest mutant emerges in the present day, both horrified and intrigued by what he has found, goes about the process of exterminating humanity and handing the world over to the mutants, especially his chosen ones. The problem always arose in the simple fact that Apocalypse is all bluster and rhetoric with no follow-through. For all his proclamations of obscene power displays and evolutionary superiority, the X-Men could always roundly defeat him.

 

This problem reoccurs throughout the film, which devolves into the worst instincts of comic book cinema in the final confrontation between all of the parties. We already know Apocalypse will be stricken down, and he is in a gigantic orgy of collateral damage, cities in ruins, and generous uses of mutant powers. At least Bryan Singer has consistently kept his action sequences coherent and free from the visual kinetics bordering on incoherence of a Zach Snyder.

 

Perhaps the indifference of this sequence isn’t a result of any deficiencies in this movie in particular, but the abundance of comic book cinema over the past decade. For all of the might, and much of the narrative plays like we’re supposed to be overwhelmed and impressed with Apocalypse as a threat, it still feels limp. Marvel has dominated the look and feel of these films for so long, complete with third-act demonstrations of massive destruction, and they’ve created a more enjoyable entry just a few months prior in Captain America: Civil War which found a way to keep the human interest and element at the heart of the zip-pow-bang theatrics.

 

Yet there’s still the overwhelming problem of a franchise dedicated towards outsider perspective and working as an exaggerated moral parable focusing so hard on the straight, white, male gaze. Characters and voices unique as Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) are quickly tossed aside for a sixth go-round of the Magneto/Xaiver show. Hell, there’s even a completely unnecessary sequence showcasing Wolverine’s origin, again, which at this point is as tiresome as Spider-Man’s and Batman’s. Although the returning cast members are still uniformly strong, with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender tearing into the parts as if they’re great roles from the English tradition.

 

Apocalypse is at its most entertaining when shifting the focus to the younger class of mutants, including a green Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), moody Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), comedic Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), wiseass Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and tortured Angel (Ben Hardy). Even the various scenes of Apocalypse assembling his new horsemen are fairly interesting, with only one leaving a queasy taste in the mouth. Caliban (Tomas Lemarquis) and Psylocke’s underground lair is a fascinating side-plot that deserves more time and attention than it gets. There’s a flurry of fascinating ideas that deserve more exploration.

 

I think it’s about time that the franchise’s reigns are handed over to a different creative team, as Singer only cares about a small batch of characters, frequently leaving females and people of color in supporting roles that start strong then vanish. X-Men is an ensemble piece at its best, and in a few bright moments involving the younger students, Apocalypse shines brightest. There’s nothing overtly awful about it, but after shaking up the formula with its two prior entries, this feels like a big comedown. We’ve seen this kind of comic book film before, and much better. It’s good, just not great.



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Sex and the Single Girl

Posted : 1 month, 4 weeks ago on 25 May 2016 02:41 (A review of Sex and the Single Girl)

An entertaining blast of stale air. There’s one for the front of the DVD!

 

Look, sex farces are harder to successfully complete than they may appear. Rock Hudson and Doris Day made it appear effortless and charming together (and separately) in films like Pillow Talk, but there’s real hard work underneath that shiny artifice. Cary Grant, the penultimate performer in romantic comedies, could play any of the male parts in this film with his eyes closed and backwards at any point in his career, but that would belie the tremendous craft and care that went into making it all work.

 

Sex and the Single Girl has a few gripping moments of breeziness and wit, mostly found in the criminally underutilized Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, and Mel Ferrer, but flounders a bit when left in Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood’s hands. Curtis has the right kind of wise guy charm for this material, but Wood was much better in tortured roles that put her doe-eyed beauty on its head.

 

The story, which only borrows the title from Helen Gurley Brown’s book, concerns a tabloid writer trying to do an expose on a young psychologist’s institute concerning martial and sexual problems. He borrows the identity of his happily married buddy (Fonda), and ends up pulling apart and bringing together not only his relationship with Wood, but Fonda’s with his wife (Bacall). As far as sexual farce and romantic comedy premises go, there’s a meal to be made of it, and one wonders what Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond could spin out from it.

 

The problem is simply this, Wood and Curtis have a passable chemistry, but they don’t get too many legitimate laughs to play out. Fonda, Bacall, and Ferrer could the wackier, hornier characters, and the majority of the good jokes. Then there’s other supporting players orbiting about that don’t bring much to the narrative, like Fran Jeffries, who was brought in primarily to provide numerous musical distractions that pad the running time more than they thrill.

 

There’s still plenty charming about Sex and the Single Girl, but a better director could have found the rhythms and edited more judiciously. The climatic chase to the airport just keeps going and going and going, past the point of being funny and into the point of needing a good trimming. This is a slightly dated, middle-of-the-pack affair from a decade that spawned some truly daring and memorably sexy romantic comedies. There’s nothing wrong to the point of negativity with Sex and the Single Girl, it’s just a mid-shelf entry in everyone’s body of work.



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Captain America: Civil War

Posted : 2 months, 1 week ago on 17 May 2016 06:52 (A review of Captain America: Civil War)

This is what the thematic material of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice looks like when it’s injected with, you know, joy, emotional coherence, and narrative thrust. Not that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is without its own problems, there’s the frequent lack of prominent characters of color, female heroes leading the way, and a general sameness in structure for the films. Captain America: Civil War sets to push those boundaries and limitations, while never completely transcending the thick borders mastermind Kevin Feige has placed around the franchise, Civil War emerges as the best work from the studio, and still the most satisfying Avengers film, without actually calling itself Avengers.

 

Let’s start with the major trapping of Civil War, and all of superhero cinema really, which is its dependence on mass collateral damage. The plot machinations of Civil War depend on exploring and questioning the constant destruction of property and untold civilian causalities as a result, then breaking away from these lip-serviced thoughts to demonstrate more technical wizardry in mass destruction and rubbery bodies thrashing into each other.

 

While this persistently undermines the general dramatic tension and narrative thrust, Civil War is still continually engaging. The great thing about the Captain America films is that they simply have to preserve him from movie to movie to ensure that he’ll be around for the next Avengers film, and they’re frequently free from the painted corners of, say, Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World which shoved too much extraneous narrative threads from other sub-franchises. Civil War is a meeting of them all, with Cap leading the way, as it should be.

 

What’s shocking is how smartly and effectively this film introduces our third go around of Spider-Man, the first one to appear like a believable high schooler and successfully translate the lovable smartass from the comics to the big screen, and our introduction to Black Panther, which just had me ready and waiting for his 2018 solo film. These two slip into the established narratives with ease, providing unique voices and much-needed levity to some of the darker twists and turns.

 

I know that Joss Whedon was proclaimed the savior of superhero cinema with Avengers, but the most successful writer(s)-director(s) for the MCU has been the Russos. They find a way to marry humor, heart, thrills, spectacle, and quiet moments of character development into compelling popcorn entertainments. The Winter Soldier was one of the best comic book movies, and Civil War takes that platform and builds something bigger and better off of it.

 

The long list of names, faces, powers, and locations can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, but the Russos find a way to make decades of material into digestible chunks. They manage to make the obligatory beats into thrilling moments. Look, we all knew that another Spider-Man could be met with groans and eye-rolls, but Tom Hollander’s gee-whiz approach to the role, complete with a never-ending series of snarky comments, makes him a rooting interest.

 

Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther practically steals the movie from all of the long-running establishment, finding the grace and regality in the role. Hopefully his movie star charisma will lead to a career rivaling the likes of Denzel Washington. Thought was put into how to utilize these characters, and while some still get the short-end (Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch deserve more to do), they still manage to get brief moments to shine.

 

What smacks you in the face about Civil War is how closely it follows many of the same beats and themes of DC’s Batman vs Superman, but how it contrasts what that film did poorly. My god, imagine it, a film bringing together the titans of a comic publisher’s body of work, and finding the fun in it! Imagine that! And I didn’t even hate Batman vs Superman, so imagine how those that did must feel watching this film.

 

Marvel still has a long way to go in catching up with DC’s representation of minority characters (check the line-up of Suicide Squad, and the makeover of Aquaman) and female-led vehicles (next year will finally see Wonder Woman getting a solo film after decades of development hell), but Marvel’s ability to coherently tell a story that isn’t lackluster in live-action is unrivaled by its major competitor.

 

Now, if only Marvel could do something to make Thor’s solo films as interesting as the source material…. 



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Inside Daisy Clover

Posted : 2 months, 1 week ago on 17 May 2016 04:56 (A review of Inside Daisy Clover)

What exactly is Inside Daisy Clover trying to be? Semi-pornographic name aside, at any given moment, it operates as two or three different movies each trying, and failing, to achieve maximum attention. There’s a serious drama about a ragamuffin street urchin, a biting satire about the Hollywood star machine, and a lackadaisical musical. In fits it’s interesting as a well-made movie, but it general waffles between camp entertainment and a slog to get through.

 

Once more Natalie Wood is hired to play a character far younger than her actual age, and by this point her child-like innocence and beauty had morphed into a mature, ethereal beauty. In her best performances, think of Rebel Without a Cause or Splendor in the Grass, her doe-eyed innocence masked a fractured emotional core or a flinty survivalist. Inside Daisy Clover gives her another chance to give this character a spin, but Wood is clearly a decade too old for the role, and she overplays the tomboy nature and aggression.

 

Despite solid appearances in West Side Story and Gypsy, Wood was also not much of an authentic musical performer. Her actual vocals in one scene leave much to be desired, but at least her dubbed vocals here actually work with her speaking voice. Her lack of ease as a musical performer was put to effective use in Gypsy, as Gypsy Rose was supposed to be awkward and unsure as a performer until finding her footing in the final stretch as a burlesque stripper. The lone musical number that sticks in the mind for all of the right reasons is that breakdown she has while doing vocal dubbing in a recording booth. Wood’s naturally expressive eyes swirl with a flood of contradictory emotions, and she quakes with alternating vulnerability and rage.

 

While Wood seems adrift in the role, she’s surrounded by a series of supporting actors who make the most of their limited screen time. Christopher Plummer does another run through of his very oily early screen persona, practically dripping with menace and twirling an imaginary moustache while doing it. Ruth Gordon plays Wood’s mother, suffering from dementia, and praise be to Gordon for her low-key scenery chewing. Gordon was one of the cinema’s great eccentrics, look no further than her Oscar winning role in Rosemary’s Baby and Harold and Maude for more proof. Roddy McDowell doesn’t have much to do, but his presence lends a certain melancholy air to his few scenes, as they are loaded with the knowledge and baggage of his time as a child actor show pony.

 

It’s as disjointed as looking into a series of funhouse mirrors, but there’s still a few scenes, performances, and moments of dark satire to recommend a cursory viewing of Inside Daisy Clover. I can see a cult for this film’s strange mixture of camp-horror, satire, and lugubrious drama, but count me out of it. I’m a fan of Natalie Wood, but this is bottom shelf material, for sure.



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The Jungle Book

Posted : 2 months, 2 weeks ago on 4 May 2016 11:35 (A review of The Jungle Book)

For some reason, Disney does quite well in adapting Rudyard Kipling’s immortal stories of a young boy raised in the Indian jungle and his various animal friends and foes. This live-action version (for lack of a better term, as much of it is CGI) leans heavier on the Kipling source than the swinging 60s animated film, and it’s all the better for it. Many scenes are directly from the stories, bits of dialog and poetry including the jungle law and wolf pack song are faithfully transplanted, and a few characters are restored to their literary source.

 

The Jungle Book only goes weird when it diverts back to the 1967 for material, or in a few adaptation choices and instances of animation driving us straight into the Uncanny Valley, but it is an otherwise smart, solid, and wildly entertaining piece of movie-making. Praise be to some cinematic entity for this, as Disney’s penchant for live-action re-dressings of its beloved animated properties have been a decidedly mixed bag, leaning far heavier on messy misfires than success since Tim Burton’s hollow-but-entertaining re-spin of Alice in Wonderland hit a billion-plus dollars at the box office in 2010.

 

Director Jon Favreau assembled a murder’s row of movie-star vocal talent for these iconic roles. High marks go towards Lupita Nyong’o as the protective maternal wolf Raksha, Bill Murray’s laconic and insouciant Baloo, Christopher Walken giving King Louie his bizarre inflections, Ben Kingsley lending Bagheera the intelligence and gravitas he requires, and Idris Elba making Shere Khan a ferocious and deliciously menacing villain.

 

The only major vocal talent that felt at odds with the character was Scarlett Johansson’s gender-swapped Kaa, reduced once more to a villainous character and a one-scene wonder that’s more exposition dump than anything. The scene starts off well, building up a real scene of dread and impending doom, before crumbling under the weight of Kaa explaining the already obvious connection between Mowgli and Shere Khan. I wish the film-makers had restored Kaa’s rightful place in the story as one of Mowgli’s strongest, oldest allies and a major presence in rescuing him from the monkeys instead of repeating the 1967 film’s choices.

 

A similar thing happened to me with the continuation of Baloo as a lovable slacker instead of one of Mowgli’s wisest allies, and an honorary member of the wolf pack. I understand that within the Disney canon, this version of Baloo is highly iconic, but with Bagheera, Shere Khan, Akela, Raksha, and the elephants operating much as they do in the source material there’s a certain imbalance that happened for me in keeping him the same. I’m sure other audience members could easily forgive this, and it didn’t hold back my enjoyment in any meaningful way, but it’s more of a creative choice that I think could have been done differently.

 

In contrast I found keeping King Louie a non-issue, and enjoyed that they changed him from an orangutan, which is not native to India, into a gigantic prehistoric ape that was, specifically a Gigantopithecus. Walken’s off-kilter performance of “I Wan’na Be Like You” is a blast of pure oddity, and makes for a very fun and lively credits sequence when its reprised in full at the end. A scene where he chases Mowgli through a crumbling palace is the one most fraught with tension and thrills, and Louie’s animation is breath taking in these moments looking startlingly realistic.

 

Honestly, there’s not much to complain about with The Jungle Book aside from minor squabbles. If the worst I can say about it is that the CG-heavy scenery and animals occasionally look like expertly rendered video game cut scenes then it’s already ahead of most major blockbusters in producing effects that aren’t rubbery looking. At times the absolute refusal to look like reality but an imagined jungle of a fairy tale only enhances the mythic qualities of the story.

 

And I haven’t even begun to discuss Neel Sethi, the newcomer who headlines this movie with charm, heart, grace, and enormous pluck. Hopefully, Hollywood will find future vehicles for his demonstrable gifts and charisma. Sethi is a real find, and I hope to watch his career blossom in the ensuing years as so much of The Jungle Book succeeds or fails upon his believable interactions with creatures and environments that weren’t there during production.

 

If Disney can keep the momentum and lessons learned from this highly successful and pleasing re-do of their animated features in future releases, maybe I won’t dread watching Dumbo, Pinocchio, Cruella, Night on Bald Mountain, and whatever else they’ve got planned try to find some of the original magic of those films. The Jungle Book is a resounding success, but is it a sign of things to come or just a one-off wonder of right creative team meeting the right material? Only time will tell, and Disney has no plans of stopping the self-immolation any time soon. 



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Posted: 2 months, 3 weeks ago at Apr 29 15:46
At last! I'm finally done with this list...
Thanks again for your help.

If you are interested, you can check the end-result :
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Posted: 3 months, 3 weeks ago at Mar 30 15:29
Thanks for your help! The list has been updated :
http://www.listal.com/list/listals-100-films-see-before-4551
Posted: 5 months, 1 week ago at Feb 11 16:24
Yes, it is once again time for our yearly tradition. What is the best movie, according to you, Listal member? What are you waiting for?!? VOTE!!!!

http://www.listal.com/list/listals-100-films-see-before-4551
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Posted: 3 years, 3 months ago at Apr 8 14:36
hi friend check out my new list .
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Posted: 3 years, 3 months ago at Mar 30 14:02
This might just sound schize, but thanks for re-writing my "Pocahontas" review-- saves me the trouble of figuring it all out *again* myself, a-hahahaha....
Posted: 3 years, 4 months ago at Mar 18 22:57
Thanks for participating in my lists.
Sorry, but you can't do another top, really sorry.
But thanks.
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Thanks for taking part in my musicals list!

I also know how you feel, I found it hard to limit my choices down to 10.
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hey friend check out my new list. hope you like it
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Posted: 3 years, 7 months ago at Dec 21 16:14
Hello there! I enjoyed your review of Dracula and took myself the freedom to link it to my Universal Horror Films - Best to Worst list. Hope you're fine with that!
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Thank u 4 your comment on the muses list. Suggestion added.
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I'm working on a new project. Maybe you can check it out and help me. From which State are you from? and in which State are you living right now?

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Posted: 5 years ago at Jul 16 13:06
I'm working on a new project. Maybe you can check it out and help me. From which State are you from? and in which State are you living right now?

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Posted: 5 years, 8 months ago at Nov 18 1:19
O.O Thanks!!
Posted: 7 years, 6 months ago at Jan 12 20:17
cool reviews =]
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Hey man, I see you're pretty new, I'm loving the reviews though! Great job.

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