Explore
 Lists  Reviews  Images  Update feed
Categories
MoviesTV ShowsMusicBooksGamesDVDs/Blu-RayPeopleArt & DesignPlacesWeb TV & PodcastsToys & CollectiblesComic Book SeriesBeautyAnimals   View more categories »
Listal logo
All reviews - Movies (940) - TV Shows (89) - Books (2) - Music (122)

A Night in Old Mexico

Posted : 2 months, 2 weeks ago on 29 September 2017 03:55 (A review of A Night in Old Mexico)

A star vehicle in the worst sense in that nothing else matters but the central performance, not the litany of narrative pileups nor the incoherent tone or the shaking supporting characters. Nothing else matters but Robert Duvall chewing the scenery as an ornery old bastard. A Night in Old Mexico is best when it simply rests its camera on Duvall’s weathered face and cantankerous persona.

 

A Night in Old Mexico opens with a Dylan Thomas poem, and you know exactly which one it is. This lack of subtlety from the opening frame is a warning shot. Rage Duvall’s character will, against everyone and everything. This is Rebel with a Cause and Life Alert. We open with his character losing his land, reuniting with his grandson, and traveling down to Mexico to die. Along the way there’s some purloined money, drug dealers and gangsters, a little bit of age inappropriate romance, and enough narrative contrivance to make even soap opera writers think it’s all a bit much.

 

The only interesting supporting player is Angie Capeda’s stripper that gets roped into a chaste romance with Duvall. She comes into the film with a bang, chastising the drunken, lecherous boors who demand she take her top off while she’s trying to sing, and then quickly shrinks back into a narratively tidy “girl – romance object” box for the remainder of the film. Capeda’s trying to build something out of this stripper of not-quite-gold, but she can only go so far with the thinly written role. She does better than Jeremy Irvine’s limp noodle grandson. He sure is pretty, but that’s about all of the dynamic he’s allowed to express, and he can’t hold a candle to Duvall’s depth and breadth of emotional range and vulnerability.

 

This is a tall tale with a nice sense of atmosphere, but everything bows down to Duvall and his character. Nothing else deserves development as this is but a towering monument and reminder of what a rich actor he is. He makes the trip down to Old Mexico a mixed blessing.



0 comments, Reply to this entry

Lullaby

Posted : 2 months, 2 weeks ago on 29 September 2017 02:42 (A review of Lullaby)

It may sound heartless to knock a film about a man dying of cancer asking his family to respect his wishes to die, but Lullaby treats every single scene and character interaction as an excuse for volatile explosions and never modulates. There’s also the problem of the film taking symbolic gestures at literal face-values, like a daughter filing an injunction against her father’s wishes only to be told that she must present a compelling argument for his remaining alive. There’s an overabundance of moments like this in Lullaby that smother the more emotionally candid moments and tip the film towards the maudlin.

 

At least Lullaby is stacked with an impeccable cast. Many of the players are stranded with little to do, like Amy Adams’ supportive ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Hudson’s motor-mouthed nurse with a penchant for expletives, and Terrence Howard as an emotionally invested doctor. They do fine with the material, but the material doesn’t ask much of actors of their pedigree and caliber. It does offer better roles for Anne Archer as the grieving wife and family peace-keeper, Richard Jenkins as the dying man begging his family to respect his wishes, and Jessica Barden as a dying teenager. The three of them could easily beg the audience for sympathy, or they could turn on the waterworks and demand crocodile tears from the audience, but they play coy scenes of heavy sentiment with unexpected edge. Barden in particular knows that she’s got the character that’s easiest to feel sorry for, but she never asks us to, and occasionally reveals moments of bratty behavior and snark that feel typical to a teenager and forsakes playing her character as a saintly wunderkind.

 

Hovering above it all is Garrett Hedlund in a performance that belongs in a better movie. Lullaby fails to make his estrangement and bitterness towards his father believable, but Hedlund tears into the material in such a way that we almost buy it all. The narrative never gives him a tether for why or where this dissatisfaction comes from, but he manages to create a believably layered performance in spite of the limitations. He makes the material better than it really is, and he juggles the anguish, repentance, and the ever-shifting familial dynamics with aplomb. If only Lullaby had risen to his level we would really have something special here. As it is, it’s a bit of a schmaltzy euthanasia story that’s emotional manipulative in the worst of ways.    



0 comments, Reply to this entry

The Double

Posted : 2 months, 2 weeks ago on 29 September 2017 02:25 (A review of The Double)

Here is a film that I admired more than I enjoyed or embraced. It clearly wears its influences too loudly with Brazil looming largely over every single frame. The Double suffers in the unintentional comparison, but it borrows the oppressive production design from that film while forsaking the human qualities. There’s also a sideways sense of humor that recalls the work of David Lynch, but again, it’s more obvious influence sleeve-wearing than it is successful adaption of said style.

 

The worst problem with The Double is the lead character of Simon, a diminished little creep that practically wreaks of Nice Guy™. You know the type, and if you don’t, ask the women in your life. He creepily moves into the apartment complex across the street from his object of obsession (Mia Wasikowska), goes through her trash several times, and still somehow gets off easily by ending up with the girl and besting his doppelgänger. Simon is a meek little man who can’t seem to string a single sentence together without an apology, yet he also projects a simpering rage that he’s not been given what he should have. Much of this renders The Double as a beta-male tantrum, so your mileage may vary at the various humiliations and jokes at his expense.

 

Where The Double succeeds is as an excuse for Jesse Eisenberg to strut his stuff as an actor. He has to play two extremes in personality, and both of the performances are smartly textured and fully realized. Granted, Eisenberg as an arrogant prick is probably not much of a stretch if you’ve read his essays in the New Yorker, but he still nails the dichotomy and tension between the two characters. His version of James, the arrogant half to Simon’s meek one, is like his performance in The Social Network gone broad, big, and for dark laughs.

 

And while the film clearly is heavily indebted to the works of Lynch and Gilliam, it still looks quite lovely. The world of the film is a strange other, a hodge-podge of various timelines buttressing against each other, and a heavy dose of grim and grit slathered over everything. At times the world is so dark that the Catch 22-esque bits of circuitous and satirical humor are the lone bright spots in this world.

 

The tone of icy detachment is suffocating, and eventually proves to be an arm’s length towards embracing the film in a more profound way. The characters are held at a distance, and this could have been deeper both thematically and emotionally if the film was interested in exploring the isolation and exhaustive loneliness that’s clearly the hallmarks of this world, but it’s not. The Double is a gloomy march towards an extended fit when it could have easily been a raging lament.



0 comments, Reply to this entry

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Posted : 2 months, 3 weeks ago on 23 September 2017 10:37 (A review of Alice Through the Looking Glass)

For all of its narrative faults and condescension towards modern sensibilities, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland still possessed enough of his unique visual eye and thematic obsessions to prove interesting in spots. Alice Through the Looking Glass suffers from the loss of him, but also from fully removing any semblance of narrative tether to the source material. What we have here is an entirely original (I use that term loosely) story that just so happens to involve the immortal characters from Lewis Carroll’s works.

 

This is simply a garnish, gaudy, eye-searing mess. A cacophony of action buffeting against the screen for nearly two hours that signifies nothing it makes you wonder why it even exists at all. Of course, Burton’s film ranking in over a billion guaranteed the presence of a sequel sooner or later, and it’s downright shocking that it took six years for it to happen, but that doesn’t mean it needed to. I can’t imagine anyone playing devil’s advocate for this thing.

 

The film opens with Alice captaining a cargo ship and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as the opening salvo for the latest entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Does this close a loop on Disney’s “brand deposits,” or is this the cinematic equivalency of watching a studio act as its own Human Centipede? The answer quickly leans towards the second option as the story interminably chugs along.

 

One of the worst offenses in Burton’s film was Johnny Depp’s gonzo Ronald McDonald variation of the Mad Hatter, and Alice Through the Looking Glass never blushes away from orientating the narrative around him. It means more of Depp’s exhaustive mugging for the camera, and more of watching a once great actor increasingly cease to give a shit about his craft or quality of work.

 

We meet the Mad Hatter’s extended family here, and for some reason, they all appear with normal pallor while Hatter looks like a Goth kid got a neon makeover. This detail alone doesn’t make any sense, and neither does the rest of the time travelling narrative or the mystery of why the Hatter is the most important person in Wonderland. Other than the fact that he’s played by the biggest star in the cast, there’s never a good reason given behind centralizing the narrative around him and routinely hinting at a creepy, limp romance between him and Alice.

 

He’s not the only character we get the back story on, as the Red and White Queens long-time rivalry is revealed to go back to a dumb childhood fight. We don’t need tragic histories for these characters to invest in them. They’re creatures of pure imagination and fantasy, and they should remain that way. Trying to humanize them makes them woefully uninteresting, even if Helena Bonham Carter’s over-sized toddler reading of the Red Queen is still a riot of entitled rage. Alice Through the Looking Glass continually makes these lazy contortions towards human emotion, but they’re always lost amid the garnish CGI displays and flaccid character motivations.

 

Nothing works here. The greatest irony is that the mistakes of the first film are not only repeated, but blown-up into gigantic proportions all the while we’re hammered with the theme of the past being impossible to change but necessary to learn from. I see that Disney learned the wrong lessons and merely chased the dollars. They threw more money than I could dream of into this thing but forgot the simple, important things like story, characters, motivations, and coherence.



0 comments, Reply to this entry

Cinderella

Posted : 2 months, 3 weeks ago on 21 September 2017 02:45 (A review of Cinderella)

To borrow a quote from Lady Tremaine, “this thing is so old-fashioned, it’s practically falling to pieces.” I’m of two minds about this thing. On one hand, Cinderella is almost refreshing in its single-minded determination to play things straight and without winking at the audience. On the other, they relatively few new additions added to the narrative hinder the entire thing by placing safely in a cocoon. There’s no risks, but there’s also no rewards.

 

Ironic considering that Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, instructed Kenneth Branagh to take all the time and resources he wanted to make this one for the ages. Well, all that ended up on the screen was a practical beat-for-beat remake of Disney’s 1950 animated original. It’s workman-like without a trace of personal artistry or vision. It’s merely the aesthetic of the Disney Silver Era played out with flesh-and-blood actors.

 

This makes for gorgeous costumes and highly-detailed sets, but it also means there’s not a lot of interest in the narrative going on. The theme of the film boils down to “have courage and be kind,” and we’re never allowed to forget this phrase for longer than ten minutes throughout the running time. If it’s to be something of a personal mantra for Cinderella, a driving force and coping mechanism to get her through the abuse heaped on her by her stepfamily, then the film largely fails to explore that darkness. After all, real human emotion would get in the way of the watercolor aesthetics of the film.

 

And that is the major problem of this Cinderella. It is more concerned with establishing a series of gorgeous looks and images than it is with exploring the psychological terrain of its characters or the real emotions going on underneath. Cinderella seems remarkably well-adjusted all things considered, and prone to several moments of escape. It makes her eventual rebellion against her stepmother fairly toothless.

 

Cinderella could easily be renamed Mary Sue in this as she is bereft of flaws and interior life. None of this is to take away from Lily James’ performance. James is lively, lovely, and simply buoyant throughout, it’s just that the script doesn’t give her a lot of wiggle room to really explore the character. But think of Anna Kendrick’s neurotic variation of the character in Into the Woods. You saw and felt what the years of abuse had done to her, you understood why she dreamed and wished as hard as she did. James’ Cinderella takes off on horseback and meets the prince (Richard Madden, tasked with being handsome and nothing more) in the woods, and you wonder why she ever returned to this hellhole.

 

The only characters that make any kind of impression are her wicked stepfamily. The two stepsisters, played with manic comic energy by Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger, are entertaining to watch as the actresses fearlessly dive into playing grotesque, bratty creatures. While Cate Blanchett, as she often does, walks away with the best-in-show award for finding ways to expose layers of deferred ambition, jealousy, and heartbreak. She makes you understand how someone could be driven into being so cruel, and she plays a lot of it for dark comedy. Blanchett’s clearly playing the role as if the script hewed closer to the original fairy tale, and you spend a lot of time wondering if she’s going to cut off the toes and heels of her daughters to see her ambitions come to fruition. No dice, as the film is all about lip service to deeper issues and striking glamorous poses.

 

Even worse is the way that Cinderella squanders its tony cast. Derek Jacobi is wasted as the king, and Nonso Anozie merely exists as an exposition dump and plot advancement. The worst offender is powering through Helena Bonham Carter’s daffy reading of the fairy godmother. That scene should be the centerpiece of the film, but Branagh sacks Carter with ridiculous fake teeth, bad old age makeup before her ethereal reveal, and hits the fast-forward button on the action. Carter’s clearly game for it, but Branagh just wants to power through the beats as fast as he can.

 

Originally, Mark Romanek was attached to this film, and he was let go for wanting to take the story in a darker direction. Man, what might have been with a director as audacious as him. Don’t believe me? Check out his myriad of impressive music videos for proof. What we get is enjoyably bland, too safe for its own good, and entirely afraid of dealing with the social critique at the heart of the story or the complicated human emotions swirling underneath. This Cinderella is all glossy surface textures, and as dreamy and enticing as they are, pretty pictures aren’t all that a film can be.



0 comments, Reply to this entry

An American Werewolf in London

Posted : 2 months, 4 weeks ago on 15 September 2017 04:16 (A review of An American Werewolf in London)

With the deft mixture of body horror, gore, and irreverent humor, An American Werewolf in London could just as easily be retitled National Lampoon Takes a Stab at Hammer Horror. The results work far better than anyone could ever imagine, much of this thanks goes to the combination of director John Landis, finding a deft blend of dark humor and scares, and makeup genius Rick Baker, winner of the Oscar’s first competitive Best Makeup award for this film.

 

It begins fairly auspiciously, with two American college students backpacking across England and stumbling across a small pub in the Yorkshire moors. After asking one too many questions, they get expelled from the pub, attacked by a werewolf, and so it goes from there. There’s a little romance, a lot of gags that come at you sideways, and more gore than you probably remember. Case in point, the earliest dream sequences which find our hero severing a deer’s head and proceeding to eat it, or the Nazi werewolves barging in and slaughtering everyone. They hit both your funny bone for their sheer absurdity and commitment towards their Looney Tunes level of violence, and their brio of off-kilter shock value.

 

Truly though, An American Werewolf in London lives or dies on its ability to both shock, scare, and enrapture us. It manages all three. Sure, some of the effects are dated (the masks on the Nazi werewolves look alternately hard or rubbery), but the transformation sequence is still the Holy Grail of werewolf centric films. It isn’t just Rick Baker’s effects in this scene, which are still powerful and disturbing, but the combination of David Naughton’s anguished screams and paralyzed face and a sound effects team that amplifies the body horror through the sounds of breaking bones and other-worldly howls.

 

But it isn’t just this bravura set-piece that lasts in the imagination, but Griffin Dunne’s poor unfortunate sidekick. He gets killed early on, then reemerges as a member of the walking dead stuck in limbo until the werewolf is killed. The friction between his chipper vocal deliveries and penchant for wisecracking and his continual rotting make for one hell of a piece of black humor. Dunne easily steals the movie away from Naughton, and finds the right mixture of amiable buddy and avenging spirit in these scenes. This comes to a head when Dunne brings out a series of bloody and ravaged victims to confront Naughton and demand he kill himself so they can rest in the afterlife.

 

But then An American Werewolf in London makes its only true mistake – the ending is a muddled, rushed thing that deflates when it should hammer. The orgy of car crashes, collateral damage, explosions, and bullets is too common and not smart enough for everything that preceded it. It’s not enough to harm my enjoyment or my rating of the film, but it does standout in how it feels mundane in comparison to the more loosely tangential sequences of mordant humor or blood-spattered disturbed imagery.    



0 comments, Reply to this entry

Maleficent

Posted : 3 months ago on 13 September 2017 04:40 (A review of Maleficent)

If you have ever wondered what a Disney rape-revenge movie would look like, then Maleficent is the movie for you! There’s a fascinating, very adult movie lurking somewhere underneath the Uncanny Valley hellscape of Maleficent’s shiny surfaces, but it’s continually compromised by having to try to fit safely into a family entertainment molding. The entire thing is more fascinating as hybrid failure than it is as an entire work.

 

The major problems of the movie start early and reoccur often. Janet McTeer’s narration is ham-fisted and unnecessary. The Moors, the mythological forest where Maleficent lives and much of the action takes place, lacks grit, texture, or any tether to a physical world as it’s an oppressive CGI monstrosity populated by cutesy critters and a few impressively designed creatures. A simplistic worldview of “men are bad, women are good; friendship is good, sex is bad.” While the forest and its denizens are clearly striving for Hayao Miyazaki-like wonder and awe, but clearly doesn’t understand or capture the more complicated worldview that his film possess.

 

Still, there’s a few bright spots buried within. The most obvious one is Angelina Jolie’s performance where she’s clearly having a ball getting to play as big and broad as she wants. She’s most unnerving and engrossing in the role in her stillest moments where her preternatural regality and inhumane otherness give her Maleficent an animalistic edge. Sure, watching her bellow and rage is pleasing, but she’s downright scary in scenes where she speaks slowly and her movements are limited towards a tilt of the head or a subtle movement in her facial muscles.

 

While the CGI is omnipresent and rubbery, there’s still a rich sense of color that is so blinding and vibrant that it threatens to bleed out of the frame at any moment. There’s also a certain beauty and haunting grace to the living tree creatures, especially a gigantic serpent-like beast that glides through the earth with the fluidity of a dolphin in the sea. And Maleficent’s servant, Diaval, a crow she changes into a human (Sam Riley), a wolf-like beast, a feathered horse, and a dragon. While the dragon’s effects pale in comparison to Drogon on Game of Thrones, its feathered design and slithering movements are quite engaging in the moment.

 

Yet for these measly positives, the film is largely a muddled and confused misfire wrapped up in a cellophane case to try and keep it all sealed up. The “brand deposit” description thrown around by Disney’s own movers and shakers perfectly encapsulate what is wrong with these live-action retreads. They turn the company into a dog eating its own vomit by leashing the creative teams and only giving them so free a reign to explore. Maleficent has some darker impulses, but they’re routinely defanged and declawed by the Mouse House’s demands.

 

It’s clear that Mickey and company were chasing the Lord of the Rings dollars, but never bothered to study just what made that trilogy so effective. It wasn’t the massive hordes of CG bodies clashing over and over and over again, but the real time we spent with the characters and caring about their world, their actions, and their stakes. Maleficent is happy to give us a complicated anti-heroine, but Stefan is not even a one-note villain. Maybe a better actor than Sharlto Copley could have brought more ambiguity to the role, but Copley takes any and every excuse to go big. There’s no variation to him as a character or portrayal, just the sight of an actor aggressively humping one-note over and over until his inevitable demise.

 

The best scene is the morning after where Jolie goes from disbelief to distraught victim to avenging primordial fairy. She eventually reclaims her agency, her power, and uses her anger as fuel to establish the Moors as her own kingdom with her reigning supreme. It’s shocking that Disney would ok such a dramatically rich sequence, and one that is so thematically loaded, that it stands out for the more adult film threatening to blow out of the center at any given moment.

 

It never does, though. We’re soon quickly saddled with the trio of fairies that must care for Aurora (predominantly played by an appropriately ethereal Elle Fanning), and they’re largely incidental to the plot. They’re merely a distaff Three Stooges, or a horrendously bad motion-capture job of the three talented ladies trying valiantly to make these parts work. Their disappearance from the narrative is large and noted, especially since their absences take place in scenes where Aurora and Maleficent form a surrogate mother-daughter bond. These three are supposed to be her guardian, and they can’t even complete the one job they were given, nor do they ever seem aware that Aurora is just gone for long stretches of time.

 

Maleficent is at its best when it shines its light upon the implicit symbolism of sexual violence that lurks in nearly all fairy tales, or when it merely shifts its attention to watching Jolie in her regalia that positions her as something both familiar and alien. At least the sisters doing it for themselves rethinking of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale gave something new and unique as a base guide for this movie. It’s sloppy and shackled and not entirely successful as a corrective text, but it tried. You just have to get used to staring at some eerie, ugly CGI and an overpowering mistaken thought that more-is-better.



0 comments, Reply to this entry

IT

Posted : 3 months ago on 12 September 2017 06:49 (A review of IT)

To be incredibly pithy, you can call this Stand By IT or Nightmare on Goonies Street and find yourself in the neighborhood of what this movie is. I do not mean either of those descriptions as negatives, far from it. I thoroughly enjoyed and found its insistence on placing its tonal and emotional emphasis much harder on the ways childhood is made up of scars that last with us into the future and not on the scares was smart.

 

One of the most enjoyable things about this film is how the ensemble of young actors, uniformly strong and tasked with some tricky material to play, makes us believe in their friendship, root and care for them as a both a group and individuals. Any adaptation of IT lives or dies on its ability to make us invest emotional with these kids, and any weak-link would cause the entire thing to topple under its own weight.

 

Granted, there’s a major problem of underserving two of the kids from a narrative standpoint, but don’t fault the actors for that. The part that makes me squeamish about their relative lack of narrative import is the fact that they’re the Jewish and black kids. A large part of me wants to believe this merely a coincidence, but it becomes noticeable the further the film goes on (and it does go on at 2 hours and 15 minutes) that these two are not as developed or important to the narrative/group as the rest. Still, Chosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff are just as strong as the rest of the Losers Club.

 

That leaves us with the rest of the Losers Club to more intimately get to know and spend time with. Chief among them is Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), the older brother of Georgie, Pennywise’s first victim. Lieberher is fantastic as he navigates his character’s profound guilt and uses it as the driving force to investigate what was going on and make it all right. It makes a scene where Pennywise taunts him using Georgie as a marionette that decays and screams “you’ll float too” in a manner that transforms from playful to threatening to a call from the bellows of hell all the more disturbing and heartbreaking.

 

If Bill’s one of the primary forces pushing the group, then Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is the other. While IT doesn’t go into depth about her shame over being poor, it is indirectly hinted at, it does go deep into the abuse inflicted upon her and the ugly rumors that surround her. Lillis may be the best of the group, possibly even toppling Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise, and I hope this launches her into a very long career. Her major scare scene involving a bathroom sink vomiting up blood ends with her delivering a frantic, teary-eyed panic attack that lingers with you for its desperation.

 

The other three kids act as a chorus of wisecracking jokes (Finn Wolfhard’s Richie) or much-needed voices of caution (Jack Grazer’s Eddie) or expositional dumps (Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben). Primarily knowing Wolfhard as the “Bill” of Stranger Things, it’s a nice change of pace to see him dropping a mountain of f-bombs and dick jokes at a rapid clip. While Taylor’s Ben offers the movie a wounded soul that refuses to wilt in the faces of adversity or loneliness, and Grazer’s Eddie is a shrieking neurotic that gets a lot of laughs out of his miniature Woody Allen shtick.

 

I’ve described a lot of humor and heart in the movie, and it’s true, IT possess a lot of scenes where we watch these kids try to navigate growing up and the battle scars that we get while doing it. They are inevitably alone in this process, and it doesn’t help matters that they’re being stalked by a killer demonic shape-shifter. The removal of the adulthood sections doesn’t bother me as we must see where these battle scars come from before we reflect upon them. When the inevitable IT: Chapter Two is released, I hope that watching the films back-to-back will be in conversation with each other.

 

Of course we have to talk about the clown. Pennywise is an otherworldly entity that is a predator that gets tremendous joy from his cruelty and the hunt. In a scene with Eddie he taunts him, ramping up his fear and anxiety, and mentions that he loves doing this because the fear sweetens the meat. Bill Skarsgård is unrecognizable under layers of makeup, but he invests little choices into his character that only underscore just how strange and foreign this creature is. While Tim Curry’s Pennywise is justifiably well-liked and remembered from that godawful miniseries, he played his version with a touch of humanity that Skarsgård forsakes. They’re both valid readings on the character, but something about Skarsgård’s primordial hunter creeped me out that much more.

 

For all of its strengths, of which there are many, eventually the length and a sense of artificiality about the special-effects work begin to wear and tear. The length is punishing and IT cannot sustain its sense of dread, suspense, or terror for all of that time. The reoccurring scares begin to feel repetitive and routine. We know that Pennywise will divide-and-conquer the Losers, make them face their worst fears, or generally pop out of nowhere to scare the hell out of us/them. There are still plenty of disturbing sequences that work incredibly well, but certain ones deflate when they should pop. Although a scene of Jacobs’ Mike getting bullied only to catch a glimpse of Pennywise chewing on a child’s arm and wave maniacally with it is a small touch that stands out for its normalcy and lack of attention drawn to the moment. IT needed a few more moments like this.

 

IT ends with the blood pact of the Losers and an obvious open door for the sequel. I look forward to it. While this version of IT is not a perfect film, it is still a great one that I enjoyed immensely. I put the miniseries to shame, and it feels like Stephen King at his best. I’m not about to proclaim it as standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the original Carrie or The Shining, but goddamn is it close. Maybe when we get the second half and we can view both films as one united work my opinion may change. Hell, another viewing of just this film may only strengthen my appreciation for this film as it stands. IT is just so damn good.



0 comments, Reply to this entry

A Single Man

Posted : 3 months ago on 12 September 2017 03:41 (A review of A Single Man)

Christopher Isherwood’s slim novel is an emotionally engaging, powerful, and heartbreaking examination of a man consumed by grief and loss trying desperately to find a tether to the rest of the world. Tom Ford’s directorial debut follows it, at times to the letter and at others with necessary embellishments, and visualizes it in a way that is vibrant and engrossing in its excesses. A Single Man is a knockout by any measure.

 

Much like the novel, we are placed firmly within George’s perspective, a gay English expatriate professor at a local college who is contemplating suicide after the death of his lover of sixteen years. He has no family to speak of, was blocked from attending his lover’s funeral, and his lone friend is fellow Brit Charley, who drinks too much, smokes just as much, and harbors deep resentment and sexual desire towards him. George is adrift and trying to find a connection, and he eventually finds it in the form of Kenny, a seductive twink that clearly has a thing for daddy types.

 

We follow George through a single day from the time he wakes up through the night he spends with Kenny. Throughout, he encounters many people and we glimpse fleeting moments of connection and engagement with life and the living. Will this be enough to prevent him from going through with his plan? This is a broken man looking for any reason to stay, and you root for him to find it, to heal from his tragedy. You understand where, why, and how he’s come to this low point in his life.

 

It isn’t just the script, which is as strong as the novel, that hammers this point home, but the acting from the quartet of leading performers. Colin Firth’s frequently naked performance, and not just in the sense of his surprisingly toned body, is a marvel of miniscule acting producing wonders. He must move through life with a carefully constructed exterior in order to keep speculation away from his homosexuality, but Firth reveals the screaming terror and panic going on beneath the surface in the ways he struggles to swallow or nervously smiles. The scene where he learns of his lover’s death on the phone is a moment of sustained acting for the camera that should be studied. He keeps his voice at an even clip, but there’s real pain and slow dawning realizations in his eyes and facial tics. If Jeff Bridges wasn’t “due” an Oscar for his role in Crazy Heart, it wouldn’t be hard to see Firth having walked away with this one.

 

His three main supporting players are Matthew Goode, Julianne Moore, and Nicholas Hoult. Moore has a limited amount of screen time, basically appearing briefly in two phone conversations and one extended scene late in the film, and she must co-create an entire relationship with Firth that has decades of history attached to it. They manage it, and their booze-fueled emotional lacerations come with an emotional shorthand that only longtime friends can have. Moore can sometimes go too broad, but she finds a nice balance here with her nervous, manic movements and emotional desperation that can swiftly turn into neediness or affected boredom. Goode is every bit as effective, and with comparably less time. He’s warm and open, playful and encouraging of George. It’s easy to believe that they would connect with each other in a profound way given how they contrast and balance each other out. And Nicholas Hoult exists as a dreamy confection of lithe sexual desire. He’s aggressive and seductive towards George, baring more than a bit of personality resemblances of Goode’s character, manifesting as a rebellious, often naked lust object. He’s good but the part doesn’t ask much of him beyond being the recipient of a gay male gaze.

 

Swirling around them is Ford’s visual embellishments and heavily stylized direction. Some have complained that it threatens to overpower the film, and I disagree vehemently. Film is inherently a visual medium, and we’re complaining about a film’s powerful and seductive visual ornateness? Strange complaint that. I find that the use of desaturated colors only to vibrantly, violently turn them back up underscores moments where George is reengaging with the world, where he feels a connection in some way to those around him. It’s not coincidental that all of the flashbacks between Firth and Goode are warmly lit and colorful, or that Kenny’s blue eyes are blinding in their scenes together. These flourishes act as underscores for the thematic material at play here.

 

A Single Man left me excited for where Tom Ford’s directing career would continue. It’s a gorgeously rendered and emotional hefty film about loss, grief, and struggling to find your emotional foothold again. I find the entire thing to be exquisite and gripping. There’s hope to be found in the darkness here, even if the ending leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth.  



0 comments, Reply to this entry

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Posted : 3 months ago on 10 September 2017 07:48 (A review of Star Wars: The Clone Wars)

At its worst moments, Star Wars: The Clone Wars was a series that provided mere fan-service action sequences in stories that didn’t enrich or develop the world or mythology of the mega-franchise in any meaningful way. At its best, it explored the concepts and ideas merely hinted at in the films and filled in the gaps with imagination and a daring to go in wild directions revealing just how elastic a Star Wars story could be. The film that launched the series is very much a case of the former with none of the latter.

 

It’s better than 2/3 of the prequel trilogy in that it manages to actually tell a coherent story with a clear emotional trajectory and goals in mind, with present villains and the tenants of story beats accounted for. This is admittedly not a huge compliment, but it’s not the worst thing with the words Star Wars slapped onto it. That honor is still held by Attack of the Clones.

 

Much like the show, there’s anywhere from two to three different stories going on at any given time that eventually tie together into one central plot. Some of it is more fascinating than the rest of it, and some of it is just downright embarrassing. Chiefly, Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s effeminate uncle that lisps and sasses like Truman Capote for no discernible reason. He’s not a very interesting antagonist, and more interesting characters like Asajj Ventress is shackled by being tied to Count Dooku as his apprentice. She’d go on to be a completely thrilling and engaging anti-heroine in the show, but that isn’t present at all here.

 

Reading up on the production of this thing, it’s no shock to learn that George Lucas decided that the animation on the series was good, and it would be cool to launch it with a film. It was an afterthought from the beginning, and this sense of inconsequentiality permeates throughout. Actually, the film feels like it’s been marinating in it, and the resulting 90-some minutes is more a shrugged out entry in the ever-expanding space opera. There are numerous four or five episode arcs in the series that put this film to shame.

 

The central relationship between Anakin and his apprentice, Ahsoka, is as grating here as it was in the earliest seasons of the show. Ahsoka would eventually become a more intriguing character when she dropped the know-it-all smugness and became an apostate of the Jedi order, but she’s squarely in whiny brat territory here. I said in my review of the show that you had to power through the first season to get to the really juicy stuff, well that carries over into the film that launched it all. All of the problems of the first season or so are writ large here, and then bolded and underlined. They hadn’t quite figured out what they wanted to do or use the template to tell about the wider mythology just yet.

 

There’s some great stuff attached to The Clone Wars, just not this particular story.



0 comments, Reply to this entry



Insert image

drop image here
(or click)
or enter URL:
 link image?  square?

Insert video

Format block