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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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Movie Breakdown: The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Noah)

August 17, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I have been oddly amused by the trailers for The Hitman’s Bodyguard. It may be the cast – Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman in Old European Villain Mode – or it may be that the trailer paints it as a sprightly, action-comedy. Or, it may be that my standards for film viewing have finally crumbled under the weight of modern Hollywood and that anything that isn’t VeggieTales seems pretty fucking great.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Hitman’s Bodyguard can only be described as sub-par. It’s a loosely jumbled together, action-comedy that squanders some serious star power in favor of dick jokes and badly cut action sequences. The story is basically The Hangover but with assassins. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is an elite security person who, after the brutal murder of his client, has fallen on hard times. When his ex-girlfriend (twist!) hires him to move a key witness, super assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), things go wrong and the two old enemies have to try to find their way to Amsterdam, dodging (and killing) baddies all the way. It isn’t really a movie, but a structure that allows for the illusion of suspense and some riffing moments between the two leads. And you’d think that Reynolds and Jackson could drum up some chemistry, but they (like every other actor in the film) feel like they were paid to pretend to be an actor portraying an assassin. Even Gary Oldman (old reliable himself) isn’t given enough to justify his presence. He spends the majority of the film in a hotel room or a generic court until he doesn’t. That’s pretty much the condensed version of his storyline. Selma Hayek might fare the worst though. There’s a glimpse, early on in the film of tangible romance between her and her incarcerated assassin husband, but it’s quickly swept under the carpet in favor of loud screeching and unexplained meanness. Beyond that everything feels meta, and all of it feels fake and entirely unbelievable. Sure, Hughes stuffs as many action scenes in beautiful European locales as possible, but those don’t add anything. Hughes camera lingers too close, his cuts too quick, and what comes out are messy, sloppy bits of film. Sadly, even with Reynolds and Jackson trying EXTREMELY hard, there’s not much to laugh at here. Hughes has made an almost toneless film, mean spirited and crass but still reaching for some sort of emotional pay off, leaving his actors on the side of the road with their thumbs out.

One Last Thought:

Mediocrity can fucking stuff it. Give me great movies or movies that reach so high they just can’t touch the prize. This middling, action-comedy crap – that I’m fine without.

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Movie Breakdown: Wind River (Noah)

August 10, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Taylor Sheridan – writer/director of Wind River – has been having a pretty good last few cinematic years. He wrote Sicario, one of 2015′s best movies. He wrote Hell or High Water, the best movie of 2016. And now for his directorial debut he’s tackling a murder mystery on an Indian Reservation with Jeremy Renner as an apex-predator hunter who has to find out what happened to a dead girl. To say I am excited is, well, an understatement of mammoth proportions.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Taylor Sheridan has pulled off quite the magic trick with Wind River. The film on the surface has all the juicy details of a strong murder/thriller/crime procedural. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a hunter for the Fish & Game Department in a desolate, weather-beaten small town. On the hunt for a family of mountain lions, he stumbles across the dead body of a girl, miles away from anything. Joined by reluctant FBI agent Jane Banner and an Indian Affairs officer named Ben (Graham Greene), the three must dig deep into the sad state of affairs that are the Native American reservations. As a murder mystery, the film works in spades. Sheridan drags the clues out slowly, pulling his characters deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of politics on the rez, always circling their prey. There are moments in the film – it is violent without apology, and all the better for it – that demand cheering and clapping, as if the audience is seated at a typical action flick and the baddies have just been kicked off a mountain by Sylvester Stallone. At the film’s heart though, is abject sadness. Sheridan does not shy away from the trauma wrought to Native American’s by the institution of reservations. This is a dirty, broken land with a strong people still, somewhat, trying to find purchase. Trying to find meaning, to rise above what’s been taken from them. Every step Lambert and Banner take finds them on another broken edge of the tribal life. Drugs, oil, families pulled apart simply by the destitution forced upon them – it’s not an easy film to watch. Jeremy Renner is a strange actor, one who doesn’t always fit his role particularly well, but here as Lambert, stony-eyed but brimming with emotion, he’s near perfect. A modern day cowboy barely conversational but clearly dangerous and clearly imbued with his own beliefs on right or wrong. Elizabeth Olsen continues her streak of excellence, her Banner an uninitiated newbie, learning as she stumbles along. Graham Greene’s portrayal of Ben is also great, a man without the resources to deal with the shitshow he’s been given. It deserves to be said again: Wind River is not an easy movie. As it shouldn’t be. Sheridan is facing down some of America’s big bad issues, and he doesn’t flinch, dragging the audience down into the grimmest parts of the great country of ours.

One Last Thought:

When does another Taylor Sheridan movie come out?

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Movie Breakdown: Spider-Man: Homecoming (Noah)

July 6, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Spider-Man has been wallowing in the halls of Sony for years now. It isn’t that there hasn’t been good Spider-Man films (Sam Raimi’s are still classic, if not dated, flicks) but Andrew Garfield’s emo spin on the character did nothing for just about anyone. So, Marvel, comic book movie maestros that they are, picking up the reigns to one of their absolutely classic characters, is just about the most exciting thing I’ve heard in years.

Post-Screening Ramble:

We’ve all been waiting for a great Spider-Man film since Spider-Man 3 had Tobey Maguire dancing off against Topher Grace’s Venom. Sure, we sludged through Marc Webb’s duo of angsty mediocrity (sorry Andrew Garfield, you couldn’t do anything about it), the allure of a teenage superhero with the powers of a spider, and the mouth of a PG-13 stand-up comic slowly fading away. And then came Marvel with their indie film director (Jon Watts) and their British Peter Parker (Tom Holland, now, officially a fucking star) and their casting of Michael Keaton as The Vulture/Adrian Toomes. And, then, back to every kid’s favorite superhero, came a sense of excitement. And, you know, the excitement is entirely warranted. Jon Watts, and the humane machine that is Marvel, have made the first movie that manages to capture not only the mythos of Spider-Man for a modern age, but the spirit of a comic. This starts with the casting of Tom Holland as Peter Parker, an eternally boyish, comic patter spewing nerd-dork, who wants nothing more than to use his superpowers – speed, strength, stickiness – to fight baddies. Holland is perfect as Parker, all unrestrained glee balanced out by the emotional rollercoaster of, well, being a teenager. Watts and Marvel know that Spider-Man can’t be a dour Dark Knight, no no, he’s an eternal optimist, the smiling, one-liner spitting good guy who fights until he can fight no more. And instead of another rehash of the Spider-Man origin story (the whole tale of boy-being-bit-by-radioactive-spider is broken down in a two minute bit of dialogue) Watts turns this into a John Hughes film with web blasters and alien technology turned bad. If my greatest concerns about Marvel movies has always been their inability to craft worthy villains for their enjoyable heroes, it may be time to place them on the shelf. Michael Keaton (riding the wave of the New Era of Keaton) plays Adrian Toomes as a very bad man who does very bad things but for, as the viewer will come to learn, potentially good reasons. He’s the Keaton we love – grim, sardonic, the chisel-faced everyman turned to the wrong side – but Watts and company make damn sure he’s a capable threat. His Vulture – powered by a set of cyberpunk-meets-Top-Gun style wings – is a unrepentant badass, and when paired against the nascent superhero that is Spider-Man, you will worry over our wee little Peter Parker like only a doting Aunt May could. What works best is that Watts and Marvel aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. This is classic Spider-Man, surrounded by a lovable cast (Marisa Tomei is as charming here as she’s been in anything since My Cousin Vinny) – full of non-stop comic observations, and the sort of go-get-him attitude even the most devoted Spidey fans will connect to. This is the Spider-Man we’ve all been waiting for (and the Happy Hogan, and a little bit of Tony Stark, and some loose connections to MCU). Now we just have to wait for the next one.

One Last Thought:

I have comic book movie fatigue. Real bad. It took me a second to shake it off and really enjoy this film, to see past the fact that it’s even if it isn’t an origin story, it’s still a formula, still a good guy versus a bad guy with the lives of his friends and family at stake. But, put the fucking cynicism in the garbage bin, this flick is so enjoyable, so entertaining, being an asshole about it, is a waste of your goddamn time.

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Movie Breakdown: Baby Driver (Noah)

June 27, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Even if The World’s End was (at the time) the Edgar Wright movie that I connected with the very least, he is still one of the great directors working today. And if he wants to make a movie about an iPod listening getaway driver trying to escape the crime game, well, then I’m there in a Santa Suit on opening day.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I think there’s a lot to be said about Edgar Wright’s first movie post his beloved Cornetto Trilogy. Where Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End were strictly British films (in style, content and cast), Baby Driver is Wright’s most American feeling film. There’s a sense of apple pie, American nostalgia that permeates the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort) – a tinnitus-affected music lover with some serious skill behind the wheel – and his want to quit the “crime team” and go live a life with Debora (Lily James), his diner-server lady friend. He’s pursued by baddies – some with hearts of gold, others with hearts of coal – and to save the damsel in distress he’s got to drive some cars and kick some ass. Wright does well to keep the film from feeling stale though, as he’s clearly seen every driving movie ever and with the use of Baby’s tinnitus as a plot device he has some room to zig and zag. But, if traditionalism bums you out, Baby Driver might not be your bag. This is a film about love and about good and evil and the grey murk that lies between (but only briefly before the cheer of this flick blasts that shit out of the water) and it’s about a kid with a hearing problem saving the day. It walks a line between corniness and homage that Wright maintains, but chunks of the film still come off as saccharine. Is it ever unenjoyable or lacking in intelligence or wit? Of course not, but this still feels like a palate cleanser – a quick, fun production that lets Wright play in the meta-action sandbox (though only a little) he loves so much, toy around with some new acting pals and get a movie into the theater. It lacks the emotional heft of Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End and the bizarreness of a Hot Fuzz or Scott Pilgrim. Instead it coasts along flatter, less interesting middle bits that lie between both. I’m hoping it’s the smoothing of the foundational cement so Wright can leap up and out into the weirdness. As of now though, it’s a nice stop-gap.

One Last Thought:

I watched The World’s End right after seeing this and what really stands out is the visual nature of it compared to Baby Driver. This film is sort of bland in terms of cinematography gusto and in the context of Wright’s other movies, well, it’s glaring. This could be because the film takes place in Atlanta, which seems to be a very large, very spread out REI superstore where people also live.

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