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Movie Breakdown: Tomb Raider (Noah)

March 15, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Aside from the fact Alicia Vikander is in this, I can’t see any reason whatsoever this video game couldn’t stay just that.

Post-Screening Ramble:

In some board meeting somewhere, Roar Uthaug and his crew for Tomb Raider answered the question, “So how much is Tomb Raider like Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade?” with “It’s like that movie, but with a woman.” Tomb Raider, starring Alicia Vikander in a role I hope we all soon forget, is built upon the scavenged bones of the action-packed Spielberg film. Instead of Harrison Ford getting his face smashed against a wall, it is instead Ms. Vikander who’s subjected to the rougher side of nature – and power-hungry looters – before plunging into a cavern decked out with pointy traps. Vikander plays the titular Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, a hipster hiding from her inheritance – and the reality of her father’s death – by bike messaging around the city for loose change. A Japanese puzzle leads her to the true occupation of her explorer father which leads her to a tiny island off the coast of Japan and Walter Goggins’ sneering Vogel. From there, arrows are shot, traps are sprung, a slightly redundant though not uninteresting storyline is squandered. There’s a moment in the film, when Vikander’s grimaces of pain have turned into grimaces of “I’ve accepted who I am” where Uthaug and his screenwriters (Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Giddons) seem to realize they can ease the vehicle into Indiana Jones mode and it’ll coast just fine. Any attempt at interesting, non-regurgitated action dialogue pap falls to the side and the rest of the film just sort of spills out in front of the viewer. It becomes, entirely, The Last Crusade but without the ingenuity, the reasoning or the cleverness. Here, Lara Croft deals with traps because, well, traps are supposed to be in dungeons. Her solutions to evading these traps – if she must solve anything at all – aren’t based on anything we’ve learned up to this point, instead dialogue is yelled until it shakes loose some meaning. I kid you not, a trap in this film is disarmed by Lara Croft piecing together what amounts to an ancient Light Bright, though Light Bright’s provided me with more entertainment than anything in the final 40 minutes of Tomb Raider. It’s a bit disappointing because Vikander brings all of her acting chops and dedication to what amounts to two hours of running, jumping and not dying. She isn’t bad per say, she just isn’t given much to do. For those hoping that a film directed by a decently regarded Norwegian action director and a few talented actors would pull Tomb Raider out of the moat of shitty video-game-to-movie adaptations, you’ll have to keep hoping.

One Last Thought:

I literally thought Walter Goggins’ could do no wrong, but his Vogel is as bland a villain as any I’ve seen on screen. And it isn’t just the writing, Goggins doesn’t do anything with the character. He just spouts slightly villainous lines and tries to look mean. I’m hoping it’s a rare bump in an other wise stellar career.

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Movie Breakdown: Submission (Noah)

March 9, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

A Stanley Tucci flick about a professor who sleeps with a student. Scandal arises. I’m yawning already.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I can’t really say why Submission was made. It offers nothing new, no standout performances, not even a convincing amount of lascivious dialogue or visuals to spice things up. It is, quite frankly, a film that has been done, better, before. Stanley Tucci plays a slightly failed novelist who burned fast but bright and is now a creative writing teacher at a small school in Vermont. He’s spinning his wheels, but happily, with a wife (Kyra Sedgwick) who he seemingly loves and a daughter (Colby Minfie) he no longer talk to. Angela Argo (Addison Timlin) is a talented (maybe?) student of his whose work captivates him to the point of an aborted sexual tryst. Things do not go well. That’s pretty much the story and pretty much the film. Tucci does good, warm work as Ted Swenson, but he isn’t given much to do but seem sort of uncomfortably aroused and then even more uncomfortably accused. Argo gets worse treatment, as her character bounces from damaged to manipulative to blankly sensual with little to no explanation. And that’s really all there is to say about the film. It starts, proceeds and ends exactly as one would think with nary a bump of spontaneous narrative development to shake the pot. Submission isn’t bad per say, it’s just entirely boring.

One Last Thought:

I never want to see Stanley Tucci make out with a student ever again.

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Movie Breakdown: A Wrinkle In Time (Noah)

March 9, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

There was one trailer for this film, the first, that captured my imagination. Crazy visuals, a stunning angular musical choice and Ava Duvernay’s remarkable use of color and style made the film seem like it could capture, for a modern audience, the strange spiritual world of the original book. Nothing else has lived up to that, but I’m still hoping there might be something magical here.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I will say this: I’ve walked out of one movie in my life (Rob Reiner’s North) and it isn’t a practice I appreciate or believe in. But as it turns out, A Wrinkle In Time was my second movie. And I’d like you to know that before reading this review – I only made it 40 interminable minutes into Ava Duvernay’s enormously expensive misstep before grabbing my friend and heading for the door. If this bothers you, I get it, it bothers me too and you can walk away without reading a single other word only knowing that this reviewer found so little to grab on to this film it pushed them right out the door. Go, have your own opinion. For those who can stomach a review from an incomplete viewing, please let me explain why. From the first tightly cropped frames of Duvernay’s adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, something seems off. The dialogue is borderline pap – Chris Pine’s gooey soliloquy to his daughter, Storm Reid – and the cinematography (one of the strongest bits of the director’s amazing Selma) is claustrophobic, overly color-corrected and warm to the point of disbelief. The film only goes downhill from here. Meg (Storm Reid) is in middle school, her father (Chris Pine), a theoretical scientist, has been missing for four years and she’s turned from a promising stand-out to an unpleasant troublemaker. Her adopted brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) is a bubbling, fist-shaking seven year old standing up to defend her at every point. Then, 20-foot Oprah and gee-shucks-aren’t-I-the-new-weird-god-creature Reese Witherspoon show up to whisk the siblings, and moon-eyed sycophant Calvin (Levi Miller), into a world of magic and mystery in search of Meg’s dad. There wasn’t a moment of footage that I saw that felt believable. The other-dimensional stuff is so brightly colored and forcefully computerized that there’s nothing genuine about what you’re watching. This movie wants to be sentimentally real, but every thing about it feels fake. Mindy Kaling has one of the worst roles of anyone’s career – a quote (and platitude) spewing witch lady who turns even the the scenes that edge towards bearable into cringe-worthy crud. I left as a make-up sporting Zach¬†Galifianakis taught balance to the collected group of obnoxious wizard people and doe-eyed children. I couldn’t handle the lack of craftsmanship, the overbearing sentimentalism, nor a single line from any of the actors. I’ve read a few reviews since then, some positive, some espousing on the “solid sincerity” of the film, but nothing will change my mind: A Wrinkle In Time is, sadly, an unmitigated disaster.

One Last Thought:

Before the screening Ava Duvernay came on screen to properly prepare the audience for what they were about to view. It was a long, well-articulated plea that audience members tap into their inner child to best embody what her intentions were. After fleeing at the midway point, the lengthy explanation played like an apology, or a director who knew she’d done poorly trying to give some reason why her film might work.

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Movie Breakdown: The Party (Noah)

March 1, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I know nothing about Sally Potter or this movie, but it’s packed with talented members of the Commonwealth, so I’m thinking it’s probably at least watchable.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Party is a film seemingly pulled from the late ’90s/early ’00s. The sort of film that’s unbearably artsy – black and white, single location, stark lighting – and focused on horrible people being nothing more than horrible. The type of film that features Timothy Spall drunkenly confined to a single chair for the entirety of its running time as actors too good for this material, banter on and on and on about love, relationships, philosophy and the state of the British healthcare system. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Janet, a woman who’s finally secured her dream of becoming the Minister of Health for England. To celebrate she’s brought over the closest friends of her and her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), to drink too much and eat. But eating never occurs, almost from the moment her awful, upper-crust intelligentsia friends start arriving, secrets are revealed, the meaning of life is debated, and a gun is waved around. There’s something insufferably self-aware about director Sally Potter’s closed door “mystery,” a streak of babbling, at times incoherent, pseudo-academic pontificating that leads the characters in circles, around each other, around the secrets that tear them apart, and around anything resembling a decent movie. It is – as it features Thomas, Spall, Cillian Murphy, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Bruno Ganz and Cherry Jones – well acted, but the superficial arguments of a bunch of one-percenters grows old almost as soon as it begins, and the viewer is forced to clench their fists, grit their teeth and soldier their way through a surprisingly grueling 70 minutes. Worse yet, Potter seems to be trying to say something – about Britain, about old friendships, about what becomes important as our lives draw to their end – but it’s so buried beneath the bitching and moaning of a bunch of rich white people, it’s near impossible to decipher.

One Last Thought:

I never knew Timothy Spall was a skinny human. But he is, almost gaunt if I’m being honest.

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Movie Breakdown: Annihilation (Noah)

February 22, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I absolutely adore Alex Garland in general. Ex Machina is one of the great sci-fi flicks of the last twenty years and everything he’s added his writerly touch to has been immensely watchable. Hell, his book The Tesseract is fantastic as well. Couple Garland with science-fiction stalwart Jeff Vandermeer’s ultra strange Annihilation novel and I can only imagine this is going to be one for the ages.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I, quite honestly, have no idea what to say about Alex Garland’s science-fiction opus Annihilation. I’m a huge fan of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (on which Garland’s film is loosely based) and I wondered when they announced a film how anyone would bring the book’s abstract prose and strange narrative arc to the screen. Garland, an abstract creator himself, is a perfect choice for the film, as he tweaks and flattens the book into less a direct adaptation and more a complimentary line running parallel to the original content. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a professor in cellular biology who embarks on the most recent of exploratory missions into The Shimmer – a strange landscape slowly taking over the southern coast – to try and discover what happened to her husband. The majority of the film happens inside of this area – and Garland’s take on the vibrant, mysterious, overgrown setting is eerily beautiful – as Lena and a small team of women (Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny) slowly unfold the strange happenings at the center of the region. This is a film about what we are at our very core – emotionally, cellularly – and how we are affected and changed by our surroundings and our companions. And though it lives in a distinctly sci-fi world, Garland doesn’t hesitate from exploring the more horrific aspects of The Shimmer. The weight of their exploration pushes down on each member of the expedition in various ways and all of them slowly unravel, their surroundings literally changing their mind and bodily make-up. There’s a scene with what I can only describe as a skull-bear that will never leave me – the terrifying creature howling in the voice of a dying woman, browned teeth gnashing in the darkness. Annihilation isn’t going to be for everyone. Garland isn’t trying to make an easy film here and as the members of the expedition venture further and further into The Shimmer, the film gets weirder and weirder, every odd aspect brought to beautiful fruition by cinematographer Rob Hardy, and the character’s connection to reality gets looser and looser. There’s a panicked, disorientation to the film that Garland nails, every step forward a step further away from what we can easily understand. It is, as Garland’s second film, an enormous move forward in terms of concept and challenge, a big, bleak, bizarre effort that never tries to coddle the audience. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who it is, it’s going to blow their minds.

One Last Thought:

The other scene that is now burned into my brain is the tentacle intestine scene. You’ll know it when you see it.

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Movie Breakdown: Black Panther (Noah)

February 15, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I mean how can anyone who likes anything not be excited about the fact that the man who directed Creed is lording over the debut film of a big time African-American superhero? And that every tiny bit of material that we’ve seen is both inspired, beautiful and potentially amazing? Yeah, I’d say my stance is bring it the fuck on.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is, strangely, not a great superhero movie. The standalone film about the new Wakandan king, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, impressive as always) trying to keep the tradition of his homeland while fighting off outside forces feels clunky in the more outlandish aspects. Coogler, like so many skilled directors before him, isn’t made for big budget super heroics and the action and plotting that drives the narrative never feels comfortable. The action in general is pretty weak for one of these big Marvel hoo-has, as if Coogler couldn’t get the gritty fist-fighting of Creed to sync up with the spinning cameras and exploding nano-tech of this much more fantastical world. But, come on, this is Black Panther – the first Marvel film directed and written by an African American, the first Marvel film to feature an almost entirely black cast – the superhero stuff was never going to be the point. Coogler’s too smart of a director for it to be so. And the rest of the film, the thick chunks of character interaction and development and the subtext that bubbles just below the surface – that’s amazing. As a film, a real film outside of the spinning tops of Marvel Studios, it’s a slam dunk. This is a film about African tradition and what it means to go against those traditions. It’s a film about growing up without a father. It’s a film about family and community and how important those are. It’s a film about what being black – African, African-American, whatever – in the world is like. It is a film rooted in the culture of Africa and Coogler doesn’t go a damn second without throwing some beautiful spin on African textiles or style or design on to the screen. It’s bright and colorful and somber and dark at times. The bass-heavy thumps of Kendrick Lamar bounce in the background and it just drives the film forward. There isn’t a weak character in the film – outside of say Martin Freeman’s token white guy Everett K. Ross – and Coogler makes sure that no one is bereft of a character defining moment (Daniel Kaluuya’s war rhino scene is one for the books). It’s when the film is forced, by the strictures of Marvel Studios to be a film in that universe (because, duh, it is) that it softens, loses some of the edge Coogler brings to every second it isn’t discussing vibranium asteroids and power suits. Coogler has made a fantastic movie, it’s just been glued to one that doesn’t work as well.

One Last Thought:

If I had a stab at this film, I’d cut every swelling violin shoved into the big moments and replace them with anything Kendrick Lamar did for the soundtrack. The composed score is treacly and maudlin and takes away from the film’s greater identity.

One More Last Thought:

This is a huge tentpole, big-budget, money-raking film and for the first twenty minutes there isn’t a white face to be seen. It’s amazing.

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Movie Breakdown: The Commuter (Noah)

January 11, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s my first film of the year and though I know it’s another over-plotted, run-of-the-mill action flick by Jaume Collet-Serra and his elderly star, Liam Neeson, my optimism is high.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Jaume Collet-Serra has somehow carved a niche into the world of action-filmmaking based solely on the strange formula of his pictures. The Commuter does not alter this trend. Liam Neeson, who has now become an actor who should be credited “As Himself,” stars as a former-cop turned insurance agent who – after getting canned from his job – is offered $100,000 to find and kill someone on his daily commuter train. It’s basically Speed meets Under Siege 2 meets Unstoppable. And though this “dream” combo does sound entertaining in the dumbest of ways, Collet-Serra doesn’t add anything new. Instead we watch an old Liam Neeson (he talks about being 60 somewhere between five to ten times in the picture) sweatily running around on a train getting increasingly sinister phone calls from Vera Famiglia while interacting with a bunch of generally lacking side characters as he tries to find a person named “Prin.” And just when you think you’ve seen enough of Neeson rolling around under trains, barking commands at people and somehow (at his self-professed advanced aged) fighting off knife-wielding opponents, the film takes a sharp turn and becomes an exposition heavy, police negotiation flick. It fits into the madcap, off-kilter world of Collet-Serra’s oeuvre – action and sweaty Liam first, sensible plot last – but is it good? No.

One Last Thought:

I’ve never seen a movie with great actors squandered so mercilessly. Patrick Wilson is a blip in this film, same with Vera Famiglia, and worst of all Sam Neill, after his absolutely brilliant performance in Hunt for The Wilderpeople is relegated to the timeless sideline of “gruff older cop.” Phew, this turd of a flick must’ve cost more then a few shiny doubloons.

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Movie Breakdown: Justice League (Noah)

November 15, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s hard for me to think anything but horribly negative thoughts about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as it is absolutely one of the biggest failures of a film, big-budget of otherwise, that I’ve ever seen. Zack Snyder and DC Comics could barely handle Superman and Batman on the big screen together, so I’m setting my expectations terribly, terribly low and hoping that I won’t lose any friendships over this one.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It’s an amazing sight to see a film company course-correct in real time. To use a gazillion dollar film as a public response to the allegations of “grim-dark” tone and bad characterization is a fascinating thing. And there is no doubt that Justice League, with it’s hand-off between Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon and it’s extensive re-shoots, is just this. DC knew it messed up, knew that its last few films leaned too heavily on early-80s darkness and tinkered with a film that would’ve followed suit to make it a beacon of the shining light of not-dark they’re hoping to be. To do so, Snyder/Whedon bring Batman (old and broken Ben Affleck) together with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot showing she’s the real deal again) to bring together a league of fresh-faced superheroes to do battle with a horned guy who wants to blow up the world for his mommy. It is, frankly, a rehash of every superhero movie up to this point and if you’re looking for narrative originality, you should steer your ship in a different direction. This isn’t a movie that purports to be anything but a classic get-the-team-together-to-fight-a-big-bad-guy, and that isn’t an entirely poor decision as Whedon uses the simplistic narrative box to build up the characters that will inhabit the DC Universe going forward. And hey, it works. The team of heroes that Batman and Wonder Woman bring together are energetic and interesting, funny and bad-ass, each gifted an original voice and the character actions to go along with them. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen (i.e. Flash) is the stand-out, a nervous, awkward kid gifted with the ability to run super super fast, but lacking in the confidence to do so. Jason Momoa is a pleasant surprise, his late-film confession to the rest of his super-pals a strong moment of emotion in a film geared towards comedic levity. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) suffers from the enormous amount of CGI needed to bring the character to life, but Fisher manages to instill the living video game with some amount of emotional resonance. The CGI in the film is a problem. Scenes of Wonder Woman’s homeland look pulled from a 90s Myst knock-off and it isn’t a singular offense. It’s surprising, shocking even, that a movie that cost this much in an era dominated by computer graphics could look this bad. In the end though, for someone who whinged and whinged and whinged about how bad this film was going to be, it’s okay. It doesn’t do anything new, but it takes the DC Comic palate – dark and somber – and injects life into it in a way that refreshes the whole line, a way that strips away the darkness in a believable sense and sets the table for a new wave of films more in line with Wonder Woman than anything else.

One Last Thought:

DC and Marvel need to figure out their bad guys. This is the nth film from DC that features a bad guy who’s trying to blow up the entire world and goddammit, I’m sick of it. DC is full of great villains – Lex and Joker and Reverse Flash and a whole hell of a lot more street level baddies – and they don’t have to be seeking to blow up the Earth all the time. Just put some people in Gotham who are looking to kill Batman, or kill Flash or kill Wonder Woman and have them square off in an interesting way. Stop it with the gods looking to destroy everything, it’s boring and the entire movie watching world is getting exhausted by it.

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Movie Breakdown: Lady Bird (Noah)

November 10, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical film. Greta Gerwig also co-wrote and starred in Frances Ha. This seems to be a winning combination.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Lady Bird could be Frances Ha: The Prequel, and I mean that in the best way. The film centers on the self-named Lady Bird (played by Saoirse Ronan in a role that could, maybe should, net her a gold statute in February), a high school senior figuring her life out under the iron-fisted rule of her big-hearted but mean mother. This is a charming film. A film about discovering the joys of adulthood, of leaving home, of pushing back on everything we’ve come from. Gerwig writes Lady Bird as the sort of blissfully ignorant, wildly willful personality laid claim to by high school seniors, a harsh yet lovable ball of emotional turpitude that ping pongs from friend group to friend group, hormonally pushed argument to hormonally pushed argument. The relationship at the center of the film – between Lady Bird and her mom is a beautifully realistic one. Laurie Metcalf’s Marion echoes Lady Bird’s conflicted interiors – a woman who loves her child so much but is so scared of losing her that she can’t show it – and when the two are on screen together, their acid-tongued interactions make up the best scenes in a film full of amazing scenes. Gerwig manages to take us through all of Lady Bird’s senior year of high school without the film ever dragging. We watch Lady Bird grow and change and screw up and change some more in a series of almost vignette like scenes (think Frances Ha’s sprawling timeline). There’s a confidence behind the direction, a sense of choreography and musical accompaniment, that allows the viewer to sit back, to immerse themselves in the warm, mellow flow of the film, to join Lady Bird on the bumpy road to adulthood, knowing that Gerwig is slowly taking us somewhere special.

One Last Thought:

Best use of Dave Matthew’s Band in a movie, ever.

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Movie Breakdown: Tragedy Girls (Noah)

October 27, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Horror is having a moment right now. IT and Get Out are two of the bigger movies of the year and every week seems to usher in some new fright flick to the screens. Tragedy Girls looks to play with the genre using the lure of social media and serial killers as its focal point and it feels like this has been done before, but hell, I’m willing to give it a chance.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There’s a weird lack of energy in Tragedy Girls, a sort of laconic “yup, we made a movie” feel that strips it of being as good as it could be. The film centers on Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp), a pair of attention-seeking high school seniors who decide that to get all the likes, they’ll need to start murdering people. Both Hildebrand and Shipp play their parts to the hilt, capturing the sort of sociopathic mindset of social media-obsessed high schoolers. Director Tyler MacIntyre polishes the film into a candy confection with a heart of gore and blood, the deeper issues of friendship and status obsession just beneath the surface never getting lost in the flash. It’s a good movie, no doubt, but the meta aspect of the film – a serial killer movie about two girls trying to get famous by being serial killers – drags it down. MacIntyre is using the concept of serial killing made cool by popular culture to address the popular culture that birthed it. It’s an interesting angle, but it also makes his movie adhere to the plot points of the average serial killer film (if you’re going to, make it resonate as predictable rather than illuminating). The heroes of the story posit themselves as experts on serial killing but the main characters are also teenagers who’ve grown up watching the same movies all of us horror dorks have consumed. It makes sense for the plot, but it dampens the surprise or the mystery of what’s going to happen – we’ve seen this before because these girls have as well. It takes a film that purports itself to be high energy, teenage whiz bam whatever and makes it a sort of slow, awkward reveal. An entertaining one to say the least, but a slightly flat one nonetheless.

One Last Thought:

Craig Robinson as a sex symbol should be a thing. Like all the time.

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Movie Breakdown: 78/52 (Noah)

October 27, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

There’s a wash of these types of films these days – talking head pieces about single moments that have helped to shape or define culture – and though I never tire of endless movie trivia to recite to my friends when intoxicated, I’m most certainly curious as to what makes a film about only the shower scene in Psycho.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There’s a tendency in these sort of micro-breakdowns of films and filmic moments where the director and the assemblage of famous (or not-so famous) talking heads imply that whatever moment we’re looking at helped to redefine, well, everything. It’s a distracting tendency, one that glows with the amber hues of nostalgic remembrance, placing import where in most cases, import never existed. Alexandre O. Phillipe’s documentary 78/52 (the number of set-ups and cuts it took for director Alfred Hitchcock to call the shower scene in Psycho complete) avoids these pitfalls, instead using its “cast” of famous horror directors (Mick Garris, Karyn Kurasama, Eli Roth, etc.) and editors (Walter Murch!) and horror nerds (Bret Easton Ellis, Elijah Wood) to explore the scene, shot by shot by shot, slowly picking apart the genius that Hitchcock was able to layer into a now iconic moment. The film acts as a running commentary, with each participant being placed in front of a screen, interviewed and then shown the scene (maybe the entire film) and Phillipe documents them discussing what each individual moment entails. These are very informed film scholars and directors and dorks parlaying years of experience into a crystalline, near academic dissections of the scene. It could be boring but Phillipe layers in enough movie fun facts with the theoretical explorations of what this film meant, what each shot entailed, and what every tiny flicker of editing added up to, so boredom never becomes an issue. Instead this sumptuously black-and-white documentary highlights a moment that actually opened up the boundaries of film and laid the groundwork for a whole new international genre.

One Last Thought:

The film starts with a sort of seedy recreation of an older woman driving to the Bates Motel and getting in a shower and getting Janet Leighed and it’s not good or explained or ever looked back on. It is not indicative of the rest of the film.

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Movie Breakdown: Kingsman – The Golden Circle (Noah)

September 21, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I’m still smarting from the distasteful end of the mostly enjoyable original flick. I know, I know, it’s just one line about anal sex, but I’m a sensitive old man.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman – The Golden Circle follows the rules of the sequel just about to a tee. Where in the first Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) learned the ropes of being a well-dressed super spy in the service of Kingsman, in part two he’s robbed of everything he loves and forced to join up with his American counterparts – the Statesman – to solve the mystery of who done the dirty deeds (not a spoiler: it’s psychopathically nostalgic drug runner played by Julianne Moore). This is just the tip of the narrative iceberg though – Colin Firth’s Galahad reappears afflicted with amnesia, Eggsy’s girlfriend (Hanna Alstrom, the Princess of Sweden as seen in the final scene of the last flick) gets into trouble, the President of the United States is up to bad things, there’s stadiums full of cages and a secret plague slowly seeping into the drug users of the world and, I kid you not, more. It’s a stuffed film, bloated even. It feels like the penultimate issue in a crossover between two comics, the one where there’s the X-Men AND The Avengers and the bad guys and every page is a splash page and there’s twenty battles and thirty romantic entanglements and it’s so heavy you can barely stuff it under your bed so your stupid little brother doesn’t get his snotty hands on it. It’s fun – as is any movie where there’s a character named Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) with a laser lasso, and Elton John, I shit you not, jump kicks a guy in the face, but the excessive, well, everything spreads the film extremely thin. Characters from the trailers are turned into extended cameos (Jeff Bridges, I’m talking about you) and whatever subtle point about the American War on drugs that Vaughn was trying to make is muddled and underdeveloped. What really drags the film down though is that Vaughn is trying to make this more than a stylish drawn, beautifully executed super-hero spy flick. He is, because he’s a good director, trying to imbue it with actual characters with actual emotions, but with so much going on, there’s no chance that any of the emotional beats ever really land. The action though, whoa doggie, it’s amazing. There’s a fluid, whip-effect to Vaughn’s action sequences – the camera dances around and through the fights like a participant – and the director uses it to turn every battle (and they are battles) into a breath-taking rush. It’s a fun flick, don’t get me wrong, and in the hands of an artist like Matthew Vaughn, it never gets boring, never loses steam, is never less than exciting. It’s just too much.

One Last Thought:

Matthew Vaughn can’t get through a film without some sort of raunchy over-the-top bit of humor involving a female orifice. So, prepare yourself.

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Movie Breakdown: IT (Noah)

September 7, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I saw IT in 3rd grade a week after an arm break. I dreamt that Pennywise the Clown (the film’s villain) waited at the top of my childhood home’s stairs with an axe. It’s the only dream from my childhood (outside of a recurring one featuring Pinhead and a talking Buddha statue) that I can remember. So, yeah, I’d say I’m excited.

Post-Screening Ramble:

After the abysmal The Dark Tower, we all have to admit to being nervous about IT. Sure, the trailers have been spot-on, the iconic Pennywise (as played by Bill Skarsgard in the film) seems suitably creepy and the early reviews have been strong. But this is Hollywood, the puncturing spear of cinematic dreams. I would like to tell you, IT is a very good, if not almost great film. The story of six kids in Derry, Maine at the tail end of the 1980s, squaring off against a demonic force in clown form is beautifully shot and genuinely scary throughout. Director Andy Muschetti doesn’t pull punches, offing Georgie in gruesome fashion within the first 10 minutes of the film. It’s a good choice as you’re fully aware that Muschetti can, and will, kill off his youthful protagonists, making Pennywise’s deranged threats all the more real. And Pennywise’s threats, in the form of the kid’s greatest fears, are consistently terrifying. Muschetti mixes CG and practical effects to great effect, with all of the various creepy-crawlies – the leper is a particularly chilling baddie – oozing with realism. The kid actors are uniformly good – Finn Wolfhard’s Richie is a mile-a-minute shit talker, and Sophia Lillis embodies Bev as an old soul in a damaged, youthful body – and as the film rushes towards its ending, you worry about their individual fates. And the film does rush. The source material for the film runs nearly 1,000 pages, and even adapting just half of it is a monumental effort. You feel it in the lack of character development in characters like Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, who’s great in his limited role) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs, who could’ve been cut with little notice) as well as a few glossed over plot jumps. All in all though, it’s Bill Skarsgard’s show. His Pennywise epitomizes evil. From the first peek at his jacked up rabbit teeth and glowing yellow eyes, you’re terrified of him, and it only gets worse from there. I couldn’t have asked for more from an adaptation of this work. Muschetti has announced himself as a filmmaker to keep an eye on, and I’m more than excited that he’s been picked to helm both the sequel and the Locke & Key television series coming to Hulu.

One Last Thought:

The fact that this is great makes my whole summer.

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Movie Breakdown: I Do … Until I Don’t (Noah)

August 29, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I almost liked Lake Bell’s directorial debut, In A World … but after a clever enough premise, it sort of fizzled in its want of tying up all the loose ends. Could be Bell has picked up a few things since then.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I Do … Until I Don’t feels like two films hastily stitched together. It isn’t that the film doesn’t have merits (or the two films, if you’re paying attention), it does, it’s just that 15-minutes before it slides to a polished halt, it just decides it is entirely different than what came before. Lake Bell – the writer and director of the film – plays Alice, a one-time artist who left her hopes and dreams on the side of the road to move to Vero Beach and co-manage her husband Noah’s (Ed Helms) family blind shop. It’s been a few years when the film starts and Alice and Noah aren’t exactly engaged in marital bliss. Neither are Alice’s sister, Fanny (Amber Heard) and her trustafarian husband Zander (Wyatt Cenac) or random Vero Beach socialites Cybil (Mary Steenburgen) and Harvey (Paul Reiser). On to the scene comes independent filmmaker Vivian (Dolly Wells), seeking broken relationships to use as fodder for her new avant garde documentary. For the rest of the film Bell focuses on the individual relationships (and their many many problems) as she pushes them closer and closer together. The actors are all seasoned comedians (outside of Amber Heard, who holds her own) and play off each other well, managing to be both indicative of the state of the modern relationship and warmly funny at the same time. Bell weaves in a nicely quirky, slightly mean-spirited atmosphere into the film particularly through Alice, a drifting almost loser, who blames any and all for her own life stagnation. It never pushes any boundaries but for two-thirds, it at least toots along, occasionally awkwardly, as the ending looms. And then the ending arrives and the film turns from low-key relationship comedy to the sort of feel good pap you’d find yourself half-watching at three in the morning on Cinemax. It’s an abrupt shift – music, character choices, even a warmer glow suffuses the surroundings – and it doesn’t work. You watch in cock-eyed confusion as Bell introduces brand new characters, drastically alters the intentions of others, and one by one ties up the loose ends, until all that’s left is a saccharine blob with a pretty little bow.

One Last Thought:

Ms. Bell, you’ve got one more shot.

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Movie Breakdown: Shot Caller (Noah)

August 17, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The only thing I know about this film is that Jaime Lannister is in it. But I like Jaime Lannister, so, hey I guess I’m mildly excited.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Shot Caller, written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh, is the type of film that feels like an epic, but when its final credits roll (with swelling orchestral arrangements exploding behind them) you realize that you haven’t had your ass in a chair for all that long. You realize that the story of man giving up his moral compass to survive in prison hasn’t stretched for the length of an HBO mini-series, but instead it’s less than two hours. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Money, a hedge fund manager turned violent convict who’s been released into the wild and is now navigating a dangerous path of double-crosses and gang-life. The film jumps back and forth in time and both timelines are heavy with plotting, so much so, that the film feels heavy, sodden down with the sheer act of trying to explain itself. The moments in the past – the transformation of the main character into Money – are the stronger points, and Coster-Waldau does an admirable job of sloughing his white collared character for the moral morass of prison gang life, but it’s not enough. Ric Roman Waugh clearly wants to make this every form of crime flick – cop drama, undercover cop drama, prison drama, gang drama, etc. – and the balancing act of doing it all drags the film down. There’s a lean, well-acted story of a man doing what he needs to do to not die in prison somewhere in here, but it’s so painfully bogged down by everything else that’s going on in the film, you’ll never be able to find it.

One Last Thought:

Jon Bernthal’s death in this film is a masterclass in coughing up blood and gibbering nonsense until your character kicks the bucket.

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