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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Night on Earth

Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

“Like Popeye says, ‘I yam what I yam,’ right?”

 

On May 1, 1991, Fine Line Features released Jim Jarmusch’s NIGHT ON EARTH on a mere 40 screens. By comparison, LEAVING NORMAL was released to 362 screens on the same day, and nobody ever heard of that one. But this was a well marketed limited release – I knew NIGHT ON EARTH existed, and in fact went to see it on one of those 40 screens, specifically the one that was upstairs at Seattle’s Harvard Exit Theatre (1968-2015).

This is Jarmusch’s fifth film. It’s possible I’d seen STRANGER THAN PARADISE and DOWN BY LAW already, but I suspect I rented them after seeing this. (I know I’d never heard of PERMANENT VACATION and saw MYSTERY TRAIN later.) So I may not have realized that by his standards it was kind of commercial: in Winona Ryder (who had BEETLEJUICE, HEATHERS and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS under her belt and was about to do BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) he had his biggest movie star to date, and despite its simplicity it sure seems to have a bigger budget than his previous films, since it’s filmed on location in four different countries. (read the rest of this shit…)

Benny’s Video

Thursday, February 24th, 2022

BENNY’S VIDEO (1992) is a disturbing psychological drama about a teenager whose fascination with violent videos blooms into actual sadistic violence. And you know how it always seems like parents have no idea what their little brats are up to? Well, when this kid’s parents find out about it they don’t have what most would consider a healthy or ethical response. The movie is very dry and unnerving, well made, and easy to read as a judgmental statement by someone who’s completely full of hot air – all trademarks of writer/director Michael Haneke’s early work. I don’t mean to diminish his filmography as a whole, which mostly does not deal with this theme of violent media’s connection to real violence. But this is his sophomore film, coming three years after his acclaimed debut THE SEVENTH CONTINENT and five years before the similarly themed FUNNY GAMES.

It opens with real video footage of a pig being killed with a bolt gun. After it dies, the video rewinds and replays in slow motion. As with FUNNY GAMES, I got the feeling Haneke was saying, “Isn’t it disgusting that you sick fucks watch this shit that I put into a film and advertised and encouraged you to watch?” But in the case of FUNNY GAMES, I gotta concede that I would indeed watch violent movies like that on my own accord. I would not have purposely sat down to watch a video of a pig dying. So you definitely don’t have the high ground on this one, professor. (read the rest of this shit…)

For Love of the Game

Monday, January 24th, 2022

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I said to you that day in the condo.”


Okay, we have now come to the one “Wait— what?” of the Raimi filmography. His MUSIC OF THE HEART. We saw him completely switch up his style for his last movie, A SIMPLE PLAN, and it was obviously very different and more “normal” than anything he’d done previously. But it wasn’t totally out of the blue for him to make the leap from horror to dark suspense thriller. It had some overlap with the crime films by his friends the Coen Brothers, and it had a great role for Bridget Fonda, who had previously done a cameo in ARMY OF DARKNESS.

But for the love of God, where did FOR LOVE OF THE GAME come from? The answer he always gives is about the only answer possible: he likes baseball, he liked the script, he wanted to try something different. I knew that was what it was but I always figured it would be worth watching some day. “Some day” came 22 years after it was released (now), and I’m actually surprised that the only Raimi I noticed in it at all was Ted Raimi in a cameo as the doorman at a party. I figured there would at least be some cool shots of baseballs flying. The premise is that maybe-about-to-retire Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner, SIZZLE BEACH, U.S.A.) reflects on his failed relationship while trying to pitch a perfect game. You’d think there would be some attempt to experiment with different ways to show a pitch on film, as THE QUICK AND THE DEAD did with gun duels. But it’s not that kind of party. (read the rest of this shit…)

Being the Ricardos

Wednesday, January 5th, 2022

BEING THE RICARDOS is a straight-to-Amazon movie, the latest from playwright turned TV show creator turned screenwriter turned director Aaron Sorkin. It tells the story of one week in the lives of ‘50s sitcom icons Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, when a radio show had reported on Ball registering to vote as a communist in 1936, and they went ahead preparing an episode of I Love Lucy thinking their careers might be over.

Because this is Sorkin, and a movie, it’s about how a beloved American icon could’ve been taken down by the red scare, but it’s also about the nature of comedy genius, the struggle for artistic freedom, workplace dynamics, and marital strife. Sorkin piles on the separate events of Lucy telling the network she’s pregnant and of discovering Desi’s infidelity, leading to the end of their glorified-on-television marriage. I spent the whole movie thinking “These couldn’t possibly have happened in the same week, could they?” and of course no, they did not. (He also changed which episode was being filmed.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Make It Happen

Tuesday, December 21st, 2021

As you know, I sometimes enjoy the dance movies. So when I was preparing my review for KATE a while back and realized there was one starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, I knew I had to see it.

It’s called MAKE IT HAPPEN and it’s about a young lady who tries to make it happen. It came out in 2008, when Winstead had just done DEATH PROOF and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD and was about to do SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. She plays Lauryn Kirk, a small town Indiana dancer who dreams of going to a prestigious dance school in Chicago. It’s the standard “Ever since Mom and Dad died…” situation: her and her older brother Joel (John Reardon, WHITE CHICKS, FALLEN, later “Young Kevin Flynn / Clu [body double]” in TRON LEGACY) only had each other and are very close and he’s overly protective of her. They run their dad’s garage, with her working as bookkeeper, but she’s going to Chicago to audition for the school, and he’s in denial that she might really be leaving.

Of course, the auditions are hard, and she fails to impress the openly snobbish admissions guy (Gordon Tanner, HOME ALONE: THE HOLIDAY HEIST). To be fair, her standard hip hop moves don’t seem impressive, but he really should be more friendly when giving her the terrible advice to be “softer, more sensual and feminine.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Flashdance

Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

If all you care about is plot, FLASHDANCE isn’t very good. There’s not much to it, just two central threads, both lightly sketched. First is the story of a talented young dancer who wants to apply to a ballet academy, but believes that her modern style will be rejected by snobby gatekeepers. We’ve seen so many more detailed variations on that theme in BREAKIN’, STEP UP, CENTER STAGE, STREET DANCE, etc. that this doesn’t seem like much.

The second thread is a romance between her and her boss, who’s twice her age, is completely transparent that he’s interested in her because he saw her do a sexy dance, is not particularly hot himself, keeps hitting on her after she says no, pisses her off by secretly using his connections to get her an audition she wanted to earn, and is forgiven without ever doing anything to make amends. At best, you understand her having a fling she’ll regret later, and hope she broke it off within the week. It’s hardly a romance for the ages.

And yet I kinda loved FLASHDANCE, because it feels like every other thing besides the plot goes above and beyond. In the case of the cinematography it goes above and beyond and loops back under and then goes above again. It’s Donald Peterman, who had shot WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and a couple others. He later became Ron Howard’s guy (SPLASH, COCOON, GUNG HO, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS) and Barry Sonnenfeld’s guy (ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES, GET SHORTY, MEN IN BLACK) and he did STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME. Okay, I’m not sure what to make any of that, but he also did POINT BREAK, and that’s an impressive credit. (read the rest of this shit…)

Titane

Friday, October 8th, 2021

TITANE is the ferociously unbridled, Palme d’Or winning second film from RAW director Julia Decournau. It’s bizarre and it’s intense and if you’ve heard anything about it you probly heard about an outlandish thing involving a motor vehicle that happens early in the movie. But regardless, if it’s something you’re expecting to see I recommend not reading anything about it, including this review, until afterwards.

If you should be turning back but haven’t yet, here’s the vague version. I’ve seen it called a horror movie, but it fits existing horror templates considerably less than even RAW did. I would describe it as more like a relationship drama in a surreal world, with a lead character who is intensely flawed, strange, and yet human. It has that transgressive non-literal adult situation that the Bible would be against had the technology existed at the time, some horrific violence, and some nightmarish violations of existing biological function. (I think the term “body horror” has become too much of a cliche so I’m trying to come up with new ways to say it when necessary.) But it settles down (sort of) into a story about extremely broken people finding each other and the miracle of unconditional love.

Seriously, just go watch the movie because if you don’t I’m about to ruin it by giving you the plot in the form of a TV Guide listing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Raw

Friday, October 1st, 2021

RAW is a 2016 French-Belgian movie I’ve been planning to see for years. All I knew is that it was something about cannibalism, directed by a woman (Julia Ducournau), supposedly made people faint at film festivals (haven’t we all?), and is beloved by many horror loving friends and critics, especially women. With Ducournau’s new one TITANE looking very promising even before it won the Palme d’Or (the trailer makes it look like Cronenberg meets Tarantino meets THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) I figured I better catch up.

This is a great movie. The directorial confidence is immediately striking, but you have to flow with it a while to realize just how original it is, how much it doesn’t follow any existing template. Ducournau told The Guardian “It’s not even a horror movie, even though I love horror movies.” It’s a coming of age story about a young woman starting college, with very relatable emotions painted in extreme, horrific strokes. It definitely doesn’t follow any traditional genre structure. But Justine’s school troubles include some repulsive body horror, some gore, and yes, some munching on flesh. We’re not talking Leatherface style – more like impulsive biting. Snacking, really. The simplicity of it, and the time it takes leading up to it, investing us in the people who do it, is what makes it harder to take than in so many other movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cry Macho

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

CRY MACHO is the new one starring and directed by Mr. Clint Eastwood. In a way it seems like a movie he would’ve made when he was younger, and in fact he almost did make it in the late ‘80s, but decided to do THE DEAD POOL instead. I think making it now it ended up much gentler than it would’ve back then, for better or worse. Although it has some things in common with THE MULE (goofy old widower driving over the border into Mexico, going to a scary villa of criminals, driving around in a truck, getting chased by gunmen and cops) it’s a simpler story and production. As a result it might have fewer things people can pick out to laugh at, but also less that’s really original or interesting about it.

That’s okay. It’s an actor in his ‘90s directing himself during a pandemic. As far as those go it’s a fuckin masterpiece. I enjoyed it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Riders of Justice

Monday, September 20th, 2021

I think RIDERS OF JUSTICE, a Danish film technically released in November 2020, is my favorite movie I’ve seen this year. It plays off of some genre traditions and themes that interest me, but it feels unlike anything I’ve seen before, and it was exciting to discover that as I watched it. So this is one of the reviews where I have to start by suggesting you take my word for it that it’s a truly special movie, stop reading, go watch it, and then come back. But I know most people won’t do that, so I’ll start by explaining what the movie is and warn you before I get into heavy spoiler stuff to analyze the meaning with those who have seen it.

From the description on the box this sounds like a straight up revenge movie, which you know I would be down for. Markus (a heavily bearded Mads Mikkelsen, VALHALLA RISING) is a soldier pulled off duty in Afghanistan to take care of his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after his wife (Anne Birgitte Lind) dies in a train crash. Then a survivor of the crash tells him it might not have been an accident, so they put together a team of computer experts and try to track down who’s responsible.

That is indeed the basic plot, and Markus does end up using his particular set of skills (mostly shooting) on a whole bunch of people. But I wouldn’t really say that’s what this is about. It’s not even about “Revenge will only make things worse,” even though it does illustrate that and deconstruct some of the relevant tropes pretty thoroughly. But I swear to you it’s something much more thoughtful, complex and soulful than just a revenge or anti-revenge movie, as much as I tend to enjoy those sorts of things. (read the rest of this shit…)