Apparently this had its first screening this weekend and Charlize Theron wowed the critics, vaulting into the Best Actress race beside Renee Zellweger. Interestingly, they’re marketing it as a kind of comedy- maybe the humor comes from the fact that these women who all want to work on Fox News so they can spout racism freely find themselves attacked and harassed by the racist misogynist who founded the network in part so he (and all the men who work there) can have his own personal trough of victims who all look exactly like he wants them to. So gross. And just like I thought, the movie basically ignores the evil of the network itself in order to portray these women as heroes for taking him down. That’s going to be an unsurpassable problem for me anyway, even if it does end up being good.
Oy. Like I said, I love the original Lady and the Tramp so much, but this? I do not like talking dogs with CG mouths and faces. I don’t understand why they can’t use real, trained animals all the way through. You can totally do that, you’ve done it before. Homeward Bound anyone? It’s a lot more impressive to watch real dogs do some acting, which they totally can and have in movie history. Why do we need this moving mouths shit?
Yikes. So, this looks bad. But if I didn’t think that already I’d have to assume it based on the fact that it’s scheduled to come out on January 17th, after having been pushed back from April and then May. Nothing comes out in the dumping ground of January unless the studio knows it’s awful. So Universal must have seen something significant here.
Robert Forster passed away yesterday at the age of 78 from brain cancer. A longtime American actor since the 1960’s, he began his film career with a supporting role in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) before starring in the classic faux documentary Medium Cool (1969). He then acted in various supporting roles in Hollywood movies in the 70’s and starred in occasional B-movies like Alligator (1980) and The Delta Force (1986). He had a something of a career comeback when Quentin Tarantino cast him as Max Cherry in Jackie Brown (1997), for which he was nominated the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and he went on to appear in Me, Myself and Irene (2000), Mulholland Drive (2001), The Descendants (2011) and Olympus Has Fallen (2013), among others. He also guest starred on television over the years, with notable roles on Heroes, Twin Peaks: The Return, and Breaking Bad, the latter for which he reprised his role in El Camino, his final project, which premiered just yesterday on Netflix.
Trailer for Jackie Brown:
So, this plot reminds me of 1999’s The Mummy, but dumber. Like, a lot dumber. For a (slight) change of pace from their endless remakes, Disney relies on The Rock’s star power and goes back to the Pirates of the Caribbean well for another movie based on one of their theme park rides. I have a feeling he’s no Jack Sparrow though.
Kind of hard to believe, considering Pixar used to make mostly original films, but this is their first non-sequel since Coco. And it looks…really weird. Honestly, I guess it could all come together better than one trailer can suggest, but the concept itself is definitely odd. Dragons in a modern day setting is kind of Zootopia-esque I guess, but a journey to bring back the rest of their dad’s body with magic spells? Huh. I assume it’s going to be about family bonding, but I’m getting a Brave vibe, calling to mind the weird, unsuccessful, mom-as-a-bear plot.
Rumors has been swirling for weeks, but it was finally confirmed a few days ago by director Sam Mendes himself that his new war film 1917 is indeed one long tracking shot (with the usual illusory tricks in there, ala Birdman, of course). I think this looks pretty good though, and there aren’t nearly as many movies about WWI as WWII. Looking forward to it.
I don’t know anything about the story of the man accused of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, but I do know that it’s been a while since Clint Eastwood made a good movie. Still, at least this one looks a little more interesting than his other recent fare. It’s coming out December 13th.
Okay, so this is quite obviously the Margot Robbie show, which makes me wonder why they didn’t just title this the Harley Quinn movie. I mean, it has nothing to do with Birds of Prey, they just threw some people in there to be her back-up characters. Maybe the studio was unsure about letting her have a solo movie, since Suicide Squad (which was awful, but did make money), was a big ensemble cast? I don’t know. Either way, this looks stupid and I’m not interested. And by the way, not only was SS bad, but she was really bad in it, so if you ask me, no, her Harley Quinn cannot carry her own movie.
This October we have some very good movies to check out, and a couple to avoid, but it’s a mostly great selection. Enjoy!
THE FAREWELL * * * 1/2 (Dir. Lulu Wang)
Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is an autobiographical account of a time in her own life, where she experienced the tragedy of her grandmother’s Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis and pronouncement of just 3 months left to live, and further had to experience the uncertainty of going along with her Chinese family’s custom of not telling “Nai Nai” the truth, but pretending everything was fine. Awkwafina stars as Billi, the stand-in character for Wang and the thirtysomething American-raised daughter of Chinese immigrants. Brought to the U.S. as a child, she is close to her grandmother but has not been back to China much, and now in the wake of Nai-Nai’s diagnosis, must return for a family reunion so that everyone can say goodbye, but that Nai-Nai thinks is for the wedding of her grandson and his Japanese girlfriend, who’ve only been dating three months. The setup makes for a naturalist comedy-drama, as Billie struggles with her emotions and the reality of this very specific cultural difference, which can seem either cruel or potentially kind, depending on perspective. The little details of this family in its customs and behaviors are so authentic that it speaks to universal themes, and any family will recognize something of themselves in this clan, even if it’s not your own. As a comedian, Awkwafina has the timing for humorous moments but does well in a mostly serious role, while Zhao Shuzhen shines as Nai Nai herself, a brightly shining light of optimism and grace- you wonder if she actually does know what her family is doing for her, as she has done it herself and believes in the tradition to spare the terminally ill relative the pain (and burden) of knowing they will die. The Farewell is a lovely tribute to family, however you come together.
ALADDIN * * (Dir. Guy Ritchie)
The live-action Disney remakes are simple cash grabs by a greedy, soulless studio that just wants to churn out a frame by frame redo of the original, which makes for some very bizarre experiences watching them, especially if the goal is to veer as close to the cartoon as possible by recreating scenes and musical numbers verbatim, but this time not animated. It feels strange, like watching a bad cover band in cosplay trying to imitate something that you’ve already seen a million times. This is it, kinda, but it’s wrong somehow. Aladdin is in the same boat as 2017’s Beauty and the Beast for the most part (although that one is even more horrifyingly insane), but I suppose it’s more tolerable because Will Smith’s entrance as the Genie brings a bit of his old-school Hitch schtick into it- the scenes where Genie is trying to coach Aladdin into wooing Jasmine feel like it could have been part of its own separate movie, which is the only part of the film that feels like it’s trying to copy something not related to Aladdin. But mostly there’s just no reason for this to exist. What anyone would like about it are the songs, scenes and story of the 1992 animated classic, part of the beloved Disney renaissance era with Robin Williams’ iconic turn as the big blue genie, and guess what? Good news! You can watch that movie right now, any time you want, because it’s available on blu-ray/dvd anywhere you want to check it out. The acting is pretty bad in this movie, aside from Smith (Mena Massoud is an unconvincing line reader as Aladdin, but he doesn’t compare to the cardboard cutout cast as Jafar- oof. I never rated Jafar that highly on the Disney villain scale before, but this movie made me think I severely under appreciated how good he was). The real question with all of these films is, why would you watch a pale imitation when you can just see the real thing? I suppose I do it to try to steer you away from it.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT * * * (Dir. Gurinder Chadha)
When you’ve got the rights to Bruce Springsteen’s entire back catalogue, you might be tempted to let that pretty much do the work for you, right? Luckily, this semi-musical from Gurinder Chadha isn’t just a Boss show- it’s actually a buoyant, sincere, and joyous coming-of-age story about a young Pakistani-Briton, another from the director of the now modern classic Bend it Like Beckham. This time it’s set in the late 80’s, that time of economic upheaval wrought on working class and minority communities thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s reign of terror, and 16-year-old Javed (Viveik Kalra) is aching to leave his dead end town of Luton and escape the oppressive nature of his immigrant father (Kulvinder Ghir). He pours his creative spirit into his writing- poems, essays and journal entries until one day he’s introduced to the great Bruce, courtesy of his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), a fellow Springsteen devotee. Instantly his world is opened up and inspiration floods from him even further, much to the chagrin of his father, who’s laid off and unemployed, wanting his son to get a job to help support the family and not waste his time studying to go to college and become a writer. Admittedly, this is not a new story, but as with all coming of age flicks, it’s all in the telling of it. And the telling is earnest, cheerfully optimistic and embraces the genuine emotions of its characters wholeheartedly. The fullness of the Springsteen score helps, but this is also a movie about the nature of fandom, and how it can sometimes cause great devotion, passion and inspiration in people, especially that of the musical sort- an art which can bury itself deep in your bones and shape who you become. We want Javed to follow his dreams because he’s so religiously devoted to them, and the movie is so committed to the kind of passion that inspires that it lends itself perfectly to the jump up and cheer nature of the best movie musicals.
PAIN AND GLORY * * * 1/2 (Dir. Pedro Almodovar)
Despite a vivid color palette and occasional skirmishes with melodrama, Pain and Glory is a departure for Pedro Almodovar- a quieter, thoughtful and more introspective work that plays like an autobiographical glimpse into the psyche of its director- Almodovar’s 8 1/2, if you will. But it’s not nearly so outlandish, as like I said, this is a quiet film, but a lovely, impactful one that lingers long after the credits are over. Antonio Banderas gives one of the best performances of his career as Salvador Mallo, a director in career decline who feels uninspired to create and is considering retirement (not an option for true artists). As he’s approached to introduce a retrospective of one of his old films, it leads him to reunite with the star of the movie after a feud three decades earlier, which then leads to various other reconciliations with his past, his physical ailments and his mental anxieties. Woven throughout the film are flashbacks to his impoverished childhood in a rural village in Spain, where certain key events directed the path his life would take, aided by his mother (Penelope Cruz), who wants her son to have an education, if she can give him little else. This film is obviously deeply personal- you feel as if you’re reading entries from a diary or a memoir in the specificity of each time and place, and one wonders just how autobiographical the story really is. In typical Almodovar fashion however, it’s never less than engaging, romantic and nostalgic, touching on Pedro’s love of movies as a whole, his life’s passions that led to his life’s work. It may not have the wild melodramatic flourishes or mysterious plotting of his best known films, but the compassionate reflection is a worthy celebration of a world class filmmaker who doesn’t lack the courage to look inward, and then to make something of it.
DARK PHOENIX * 1/2 (Dir. Simon Kinberg)
When a movie starts to recede like vapor from your mind less than five minutes after it’s over, you start to ask the reason for its existence. You will struggle to find the answer for Dark Phoenix, a film so utterly dull, flat and unmemorable that the highest compliment I can pay it is that it wasn’t as much of a chore to sit through as X-Men: Apocalypse. Then again, it also wasn’t as notable, not even in appallingly bad ways. I struggle to remember the plot even now, but I think it starred Sophie Turner as Jean Grey (a very bad idea), who is possessed by some sort of alien entity after a space rescue mission gone awry, and now she’s got evil powers surging through her that she can’t control, while being chased by the aliens who gave her the power in the first place. No explanation is ever given for who these people are and why they want Jean (Jessica Chastain has a truly thankless role as the head of the evil aliens), and Charles Xavier’s old gang tries to track her down first, along with Magneto and his people (reprising their roles are James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who are once again wasted and given no real screen time together, which was the only reason for the success of their pairing in the first place. And by the way, three decades have passed since First Class, so these guys are supposed to be 60 years old at this point, but go ahead and conveniently ignore that little reality- the movie sure does). As for what else happens in this film, again, I struggle to remember, but for all the money spent on the production budget, the movie looks exceedingly cheap and wastes little of it on mind numbing special effects battles. This would normally be a good thing, but writer-director Simon Kinberg’s direction is so flat and uninspired that what he puts in place of action are boring and lifeless dialogue scenes that offer no interesting interactions between characters. Why tell this story again at all? The Dark Phoenix saga has yet to be attempted successfully and who thought Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey was capable of carrying an entire movie on her shoulders? There is one bafflingly standout character in this- a nameless mutant sidekick of Magneto’s who literally uses his dreadlocks as whips. You’d think this exceedingly silly visual gag had to have its origin in the comics, but apparently this dude was an original creation. Really? You’re desperate to put your original X-Man character in a movie and his power is using his hair as a whipping tool? And his name’s not even Dreadlox? Yeah, pretty sure that was rejected for a reason. Much like this movie was by the general public.
PARASITE * * * * (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)
You know you’re in for a wild ride when you sit down for a Bong Joon-ho film. Director of The Host, Mother, Snowpiercer and Okja, there are things to like in all of his films, unexpected surprises that pop out from the corners of the script. Even if something seems familiar, there’s a play on it that turns the plot on its head and shocks the audience into delightfully uneasy hilarity or suspense or discomfort, often all at once. Having said all that, his latest film Parasite, feels somewhat more grounded and has more in common with his first film Memories of Murder, in terms of taking place in a recognizable reality, one grappling with the problems of the real world, albeit in a very Bong Joon-ho esque manner, as eventually, you know things are going to get nuts. On the surface, this film has some themes in common with last year’s Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters, as it’s about a family of con artists living on the bottom of the social strata, who desperately want to work their way into a life of luxury and comfort, and they go about it by conning their way into service positions with a wealthy family. The head of this family is an unemployed driver played by South Korean superstar Song King-ho (who also starred in Bong’s previous films Memories of Murder, The Host and Snowpiercer), and at first you’re unsure of the way these grifters go about their long con in weaseling their way into an unassuming and seemingly harmless (if gullible) family’s good graces. But after a series of unexpected revelations, the perspective of the film starts to shift and you see things and characters in an entirely new light, even though nothing’s changed from the setup to the climax in terms of everyone we’ve met. Nothing but our view of them, and that shift in perception makes all the difference for what amounts to a critique of capitalism itself in the harshest, most unforgiving and frankly convincing of terms. There are thrills and and surprises that would be a sin to spoil, for this film is consistently entertaining and wildly enjoyable in its mismatch of comedy, heist, caper and thriller elements, wholly accessible and fun while refusing to pull its punches on the message or its characters. In a way, this is a fitting companion piece to another South Korean film about elitism and class warfare, last year’s enigmatic Burning. Parasite is not so mysterious, and rather unsubtle in its message, but the impact is a gut punch of truth and cynicism, while purely satisfying as a moviegoing experience that entertains while making you think. And think you will, for days. Bong Joon-ho’s highest cinematic achievement.
Yeah, this looks pretty good to me! The de-aging thing is weird at first glance, but I think it’s probably something you can get used to. But the movie looks great. Count me in.
I’m not a huge Adam Sandler fan, although I can admit that he has occasionally shown flashes of being a good actor in the past (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish). This time he’s making a play for Oscar, apparently, or at least according to the people who saw Uncut Gems at Telluride. It’s supposed to be pretty damn good, with a 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating (and even more significantly, an 88 on Metacritic). It comes out December 13th.