Archive for November, 2019

Film Log #2 – 11.2019

Thursday, November 28th, 2019

Robert Altman (1925-2006) directed over 30 full length films and more than fifty television programs. Having only seen a handful of his pictures, I recently decided I was way past due to watch one of his most acclaimed films- Nashville (1975).

The film walks the audience through five days in an inherently American city that is gearing up for a political rally for a third-party candidate that seems to have been created in direct response to all the ways that many Americans felt (perhaps still feel) our political system was falling terribly short.
There is no on-screen action or discussion about Nixon, but the production was created and shot immediately following his resignation. I mention Nixon not because this is a particularly political film and though most of the characters are musicians, the film also isn’t specifically about country western music- hell, the film isn’t even about its namesake of Nashville- this film is an effort to illustrate what the country’s collective conscious felt like at a very particular time.
The narrative is gently pushed along by country music and political distrust and a collective sense of failure does meander in and out of the film, but the film isn’t about these particular topics. Every generation deals with benchmarks that shape the collective attitude and this film’s aim was to serve as a mirror so that we could take a good, long look at one another.

Though I wasn’t alive in 1975, the film feels like a tremendous success. It’s easy to imagine these characters maneuvering through their lives just as depicted in the film as well as many Americans carrying on and sharing the same attitudes that permeate throughout the film.

The few Altman films I had seen prior all provided a clue as to what Nashville had in store, but none more than Short Cuts (1993). In SC, Altman weaves about a dozen Raymond Carver short stories together using an extraordinary cast and setting them all in LA. SC definitely primed me for being guided through an extensive character landscape and jumping from one intimate conversation to another; each revealing something true about people. In a very positive way, Nashville brought Short Cuts to recall and I can’t wait to visit it again.

Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies offered that:
“In Nashville and his back-to-back triumphs The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993), he [Robert Altman] pointed the way for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999). The buried message may be that life doesn’t proceed in a linear fashion to the neat ending of a story. It’s messy and we bump up against others, and we’re all in this together. That’s the message I get at the end of Nashville, and it has never failed to move me.”
Too many times we are forced to watch films with tidy conclusions where the story is wrapped up and packaged in such a way that makes me believe the narrative has to be hollow or overly simplistic in order to end so neatly. If it could reasonably be concluded in such a way that makes the audience say, “what a great story – let’s eat dinner” or it provides an obvious cliff-hangar that pre-milks you for a second (or third or fourth or fifth or sixth) installment of what you have just seen.
I prefer films that leave you with a head full of ideas and leave you wanting whiskey, conversation, and rumination about what you have just seen. Nashville certainly delivers in this regard.

I would definitely recommend.
I will definitely revisit this film in the next couple of years.

I’ve been trying to work through Robert Mitchum’s filmography and I came across the above film poster online and decided that was all I needed to give it a go.
Knowing that, I wasn’t knocked off my seat like I was hoping I’d be. Even though it was fun spending time with Mitchum on screen, I wasn’t prepared for this to be a departure from his signature style of a hyper-perceptive, quick-witted and often tender tough guy (and sometimes ruthless bad guy) who was nine times out of ten, two steps ahead of his opposition.

In The Friends of Eddie Coyle however, Mitchum plays a down-on-his-luck criminal/truck driver who can’t seem to catch a break and is waffling about whether or not he should trade information to authorities to keep his away from a jail cell.
That’s all well and good, I had simply never seen him portray a sad sack of a man. Of course he did an outstanding job, but the film still fell short for me.

One of the many reasons the film fell short was because it simply moved towards the same conclusion you’d expect it to and it took its sweet time doing it. Regardless of pace, I was only intrigued with how Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) was going to play his predicament and whether or not he’d be successful. The film does include some robberies, but as far as robbery scenes go, they’re not in the Pantheon of Top Robbery Scenes (the masks the robbers wear are a cool visual though).

Anyhow, I’m glad I got this Mitchum film under my belt, but I wouldn’t recommend it to you unless you’re also looking to scratch Mitchum pictures off your list.
I most likely won’t see it again.

Robert Redford is a treasure who always plays a measured man that seems to always know what’s at stake. The only difference in The Old Man & The Gun is that this will most likely be the absolute last time we’ll ever be able to see Redford throw his charisma around on the big screen.
I watched The Irishman last night (will write about it later), but similar thoughts circled through my head while watching both The Old Man & The Gun and The Irishman – these are good films and I’m having a good time watching these titans ride into the sunset, but to use a sports metaphor, this feels an awful lot like watching Michael Jordan on the Wizards, or Hakeem on the Raptors, or Willie Mays on the Mets, or insert whatever analogy of a way past their prime athlete performing in their final season.

So here we are, an American public that has watched the dapper Robert Redford rob banks and romance women for over 59 years and what do we think about TOM&tG? Other than the fact that Tom Waits is in it (that was a welcome surprise) and that it showcases elderly folks living life in a non-elderly manner, I didn’t come away from the film believing it was a signature moment for any of the people involved. Casey Affleck was fine, Danny Glover was Danny Glover, I always like seeing Sissy Spacek, and I just about beamed anytime Tom Waits was doing his Tom Waits stuff on screen, but this film basically felt like a quality way to pass the time and not a momentous occasion or high-praised cinematic achievement.

I would recommend if you love any of the cast members.
I probably won’t see it again.

Contemporary westerns are few and far between. That’s too bad. Westerns provide the setting of men and women living by a personal code (and not by any governmental law), of having participated in a tragic war and wanting to run West as a way of escaping from the complications that remained in the war-torn eastern part of the country, or simply desiring land and true freedom even if it meant they’d have to stake it and defend it, and on and on.
These timeless ideals are beyond generational (or should be) and I welcome authors and filmmakers to continue growing this genre. With this entire globe having been meticulously mapped and adventure seeming expensive or unattainable, I certainly do enjoy watching two brothers setting out on horseback on an adventure that, if they are successful, will pay handsomely.

The Sisters Brothers is expertly cast. They’re all more sensitive than your stereotypical westerns of decades past, but that’s the point. Joaquin Phoenix is temperamental, John C. Reilly is capable and paternal, and Jake Gyllenhaal showcases a very real connection and brotherhood with the man the principle conflict is centered around.

The cast naturally waltzed through the story and the finished product provides just enough intrigue and more than enough enjoyment.

I definitely recommend this film.
I will probably circle back to it in a few years.

I was hoping for something cerebral and expansive like Interstellar or something along those lines and what we got in return was… something wonky as all hell. There were carnivorous baboons, space pirates that patrol the moon’s surface, and other head scratching moments.
My favorite part was when Pitt was embarking on a long quest through space and for about ten minutes of screen time, his character asks himself self-reflexive questions that people should ask themselves every so often:
Am I happy with where I am and how I got here?
What were the mistakes I made and have I grown from them?
Have I been terribly selfish?
Other than this particular scene, I could pass on the entire film.

I do not recommend this film.
I won’t be revisiting it.

I revisited GoodFellas simply to gear up for The Irishman. If you haven’t seen it, do the damn thing already. This is a film worthy of being regarded as a cultural landmark.
If you care about cinema, culture, music, etc- sit back and enjoy walking through the Copacabana and taking a trip through the cultural history of the mob.

Last time I posted, I raved about Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2002) and Birth was his follow up to that. Birth was a hard turn from his first film. Where SB was hyper-stylized and centered around the decision to participate or not participate in an inventive heist, this film is a dark and brooding drama that attempts to put you inside a family dealing with a random child claiming to be the reincarnation of the family’s deceased husband.
Fairly wild.

Even though Nicole Kidman gives an excellent performance and Lauren Bacall (LAUREN BACALL!) provides a perfect supporting role, the film doesn’t hook me like I believe it’s supposed to. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the intended audience because I certainly couldn’t become invested in the central conflict, but I will say that the execution on the part of the actors and director was very good.

To reiterate, this was the best Kidman performance I’ve ever seen, it just happened to be in a film where I couldn’t really become gripped with the dilemma.

Recommendation? I wouldn’t tell anyone to stay away nor would I highly recommend it.
I probably won’t see it again.

Film Log – 11.2019

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick-hit rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

As an undergrad, I loved the Directors Label series. This series was released when I was a 20-year-old who had the highest regard for hyper stylized art. It was from this series that I was first introduced to Jonathan Glazer. His music videos were engaging and they, at minimum, did the music they were accompanying justice. In many cases, his visual product proved to be the stronger and more expertly executed half of the project.

Anyhow, I somehow stupidly lost track of Mr. Glazer and have only now decided to watch his filmography. It won’t take long, he’s only made three full-length features, Sexy Beast being the first and followed by Birth (2004) and Under the Skin (2013).

SB was outstanding. Glazer’s direction sets the tone with an opening that could double as a music video for the excellent song “Peaches” by The Stranglers. The lead is terrifically played by Ray Winstone; an actor I only recognized off hand from his portrayal of Mr. French in The Departed but has a long performance history. Winstone’s performance as Gal, however impressive it was, was certainly surpassed by Ben Kingsley. This isn’t just because Kingsley plays an intense maniac who sucks all of the air out of every scene, but I was reminded of the many quotes from respected theater professionals claiming that Morgan Freeman was the most terrifying performer they’d ever seen on stage.

As Don Logan, Kingsley uses every look, breath, movement, and mind game to maximize his intimidating nature. It’s important to note that he doesn’t implement calculated intimidation tactics, this man is simply intimidation incarnate. He’s a man who will not be said “no” to. The film succeeds in generating a very sincere and captivating fear in a scene featuring five people sitting around a living room and essentially making dinner plans.

Centered around a negotiation between Gal and Don (and the negotiation’s aftermath), the film is exceptional. It’s cool. It’s tense. It’s a cinematic rush. And I’m very much looking forward to catching up on Glazer’s other two films as soon as possible.

I would definitely recommend.
I will definitely revisit this film in the next couple of years.

I usually avoid biopics. They usually rely too much on blowing a single event of the main character’s life out of proportion and usually feel narratively wonky when trying to boil thirty or so years down to ninety minutes. That said, I’m a pretty big fan of both Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle so I had to give this a go.

While watching this film though, my fandom faded ever so slightly as I was happy to be watching the film, but not particularly pulled into the narrative/performances/production/etc. My favorite part was easily the petty rivalry between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I haven’t done research to confirm whether or not there was actually a substantial feud between the two NASA icons, and maybe my immaturity and taste for conflict and competition is showing here, but that’s the kind of film that I imagine would be captivating. Hollywood being Hollywood however would probably turn an eloquent, thoughtful, and dramatic screenplay about true-life discord amongst two titans of American space exploration and turn it into a Will Ferrell buddy comedy.

Anyhow, Chazelle still showcases moments of exceptional direction and Gosling still turns in a great performance (as does the entire cast), but the film simply falls flat for me. One interesting point is that at age 34, Chazelle provides one of the first instances that I can remember a considerably young artist making a reverential film about a landmark moment and pursuit by the Greatest and Silent Generations. I’m curious as to whether or not we’re going to see other films made in the same vein.

It’s a complicated recommendation:
I’m happy I saw it.
I don’t believe I’m going to go out of my way to see it again.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that you should avoid seeing it, but I wouldn’t encourage you to move this film to the top of your list.

Ever since 2011, Matthew McConaughey made the decision to pursue darker and more honest projects that many would believe would be tougher for large audiences to swallow than fluff pieces like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Those decisions have swapped out his stack of PG-13 rom-coms from the aughts and traded them for a collection of gritty, critically acclaimed films (Killer Joe, Mud, True Detective (Season 1), Dallas Buyers Club, Gold). Most of which have been good-to-great-to-exceptional, and that’s why I was excited about White Boy Rick.

I try to go through the thought process of what makes any actor, let alone an A-Lister who can have nearly any project they like, decide to pass or agree to get involved in any given production; especially if it’s a donkey of a film.

This is a donkey. The idea seems pretty good. Take a look at the film’s tagline on the above poster, “In 1980s Detroit, Rick Wershe Jr. was a street hustler, drug kingpin, and FBI informant all before he turned 16.”
That sounds pretty interesting; it also sounds too good to be true.

I’m guessing that McConaughey was lured into the film because of the above idea, but the script simply isn’t any good. It’s a drug film that falls in line with so many drug film tropes and cliches but only with a slightly different perspective. This movie found a way to turn guns, drugs, and 80s hip-hop into a blasé experience.

Though the soundtrack is cool, the on-screen conflict is lacking, and the actors try their best to prop up a non-cohesive screenplay that seems to throw the audience into weird, manufactured heartfelt situations crammed between the inevitable drama that on-screen criminals and cops always find themselves entangled in.

Last important note, Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie are sort of in the film, but could have been replaced by any actors over 70 and it wouldn’t have mattered. Why include them if they’re simply not going to get any screen time? Oh well.

Wish I would’ve passed on it.
I don’t recommend it.
I do not expect to see it again.

This is regarded as one of the first (perhaps the first) important documentaries about insider politics and campaigns. Perhaps I’ve been desensitized to insider politics due to so much media (both fiction and non-fiction) about Washington-types doing everything they can to make sure that their ideas or mouthpiece gathers as many votes as they can encourage Americans to gift them, but I don’t see any particular type of exceptionalism or genius on screen that I was hoping to see.

It is easy to see how this documentary was groundbreaking for its time, but watching it today does nothing for me other than serve as a reminder as to how out of touch political types are.

I certainly watched it in hopes of gaining a perspective on a foundational political documentary as well as simply mixing up my film list, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you had a massive appetite for political documentaries. If that’s the case, check out The Party’s Over if only for Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

There were many reasons I chose to watch this film: I actively root for Jon Hamm to find his way onto the Big Screen and create a role or acting identity outside of Don Draper, it’s supposed to be a stylized/hip/cool Thinking Man’s type of action film (just watch the trailer), and of course, Jeff Bridges.

Though during my first viewing, I felt like I had already seen the film and had already experienced the same exact “okay, here are all the introductions, and then there’s going to be a big showdown and yada, yada, yada” and I had. This movie felt very much like watching 2018’s version of Smoking Aces.

And you know what? That’s fine. There needs to be X amount of dialogue heavy, psuedo-suspenseful “Talk it Up and Shoot’em Up” type of films per year. I guess I was looking (or hoping) for something a little more substantive and not so excessively stylized.

The film showcases the ability to annoy its audience with scenarios such as why an accomplished man in the world of federal law enforcement would all-of-a-sudden behave so incompetently and why a panicky character would spend three-quarters of the film portraying a man who lacks any type of fortitude instantly transform into some kind of Rambo-esque superhero and there’d be no way to forget the over the top odd-ball Charles Manson cult figure played by Chris Hemsworth. I’m not the type to actually roll my eyes, but I’m pretty sure I did a few times.

Here’s my not-so ringing endorsement– as far as “smart-guy action flicks” go, sure, I guess it’s okay – but I’m not gonna see it again.

Yeah, alright, I went and saw the film that everyone had to see.
Depending on your definition of what a “spoiler” is, there might be one below.

Due to the many oft-repeated and much heralded reviews Joaquin Phoenix received for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, I gladly revisited Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master to remind myself what I really, really liked about a strong Phoenix performance. There are certainly great solo performances out there (Nicholson’s many portraits come to mind), but it is truly something different when two formidable masters of craft are both sharing and building something so grand and layered as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix did in The Master.

This particular picture doesn’t resonate at all like that. Todd Phillips’s Joker is getting many comparisons to Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, but this film felt more like Micheal Douglas’s Falling Down to me (that’s not a compliment). A down-on-his-luck (and down-on-his meds) chum who is continually getting kicked and beaten down by The System, or society, or his possible billionaire father, or possibly mentally-ill mother, or his own mind/psychosis can’t seem to catch a break and eventually violently spirals into madness.
I won’t go too deep into DC lore, but one thing I’ll note is how helpless and hapless Arthur Fleck is for 80% of the film. In the last act of the film he somewhat takes control (or in his deranged perspective he believes he’s taking control), but I’ll always know DC’s The Joker as a mastermind who can battle wits with Batman. At no point, would I imagine The Joker to previously be some guy who became The Joker because of a lack of societal compassion and our nation’s backwards health care system.
That’s a weird origin story– if only people were nicer and pharmaceuticals were more readily available, Gotham City wouldn’t have to worry about The Joker?

To continue with the political and societal takeaways, the film paints Bruce Wayne’s father as a Donald Trump-type figure and Fleck loses the only pseudo-supportive person in his life (other than his mother, who happens to experience a very odd conclusion) due to a lack of government funding. These forced scenes and manufactured layers to a hollow onion don’t come across as profound, groundbreaking, or meaningful. Instead of being invested in the evolution of Fleck, I was watching a film without a single endearing, worthwhile character. Save your Age of the Anti-Hero counterpoint because most of the so-called Anti-Heroes are multi-dimensional and generally aren’t unreliable narrators that require a Fight Club-esque flashback.

The film uses two Sinatra tunes to push along the narrative, “That’s Life” and “Send in the Clowns”, which is a bummer for me, because it’s going to be awhile before I hear either of those songs I truly enjoy without recalling the corresponding scenes.
The thought I had going into the film was, “The Hollywood hype machine has made it seem that ever since movie studios have simply become creators of serial comic book blockbusters, that this particular film is what high art and Academy Award films are now destined to become.”
While watching the film, all I could do was pout, beg, and hope that this isn’t where art films (or films worthy of high praise) are headed.
I don’t want to get into “moral responsibility” or any of that, but this film showcased a person unable to connect with society en masse and how he responds to that disconnection is the defining characteristic of the film. I happen to believe that there are a great many people who don’t feel at ease in society and some of our best artists have a way of capturing that feeling of disconnect and turning that feeling into something relatable and worthwhile.

Anyhow, once the movie concluded, I made a beeline straight to the men’s room. Playing softly from the speakers overhead was Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and the music lifted a cumbersome weight off me. For me to experience something from artists that are able to eloquently illustrate their deep frustrations with humanity and the disconnection they have with society en masse without going bonkers was a welcome departure from what I had just spent the previous two hours doing.

You’ve probably already seen it.
I wasn’t a fan.
I don’t believe that I’ll go out of my way to give it another screening.