Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - 2018 Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our ever-growing group by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

NO! IT'S TOO EARLY!! I STILL HAVEN'T SEEN EVERYTHING FROM 2018 YET!!!

...he screamed unto the heavens, cursing release schedules and day jobs and Moviepass and NYC transit and and and....

AND THEN! He had a revelation. "Why don't I do the WORST films of 2018 instead of the best? At this point, I know what I'm gonna hate of what I haven't seen, and if any of them are worse than my current bottom three, well... they are SO not worth my time!"

And so it was, he chose three films from 2018 that you should absolutely NOT see. Under any circumstances. Speaking from personal experience.

Beautiful Boy (Felix van Groeningen) Oh lord. Look, I like Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell as much as the next gay guy, but... neither of them are very good in this. Chalamet comes close, but he's not helped at all by the script, which is cliché after cliché that does a great disservice to not just one book, but two (this is supposed to be an adaptation of both father David and son Nic's memoirs about Nic's addiction). I'm sure they thought they were doing something interesting with the structure of the film, and they're not exactly WRONG - mirroring the cyclic nature of addiction in the plot structure is certainly a valid approach - but it's so poorly done that it makes for a wildly unsatisfying movie on the face of things. And that's before we get to the terribly sloppy editing and utterly god-awful music cues (seriously the worst in any film I've seen in a LOOOOOOONG time). In any other year, this would very likely be the absolute worst, and certainly the most disappointing, film of the year.

Fifty Shades Freed (James Foley) SIGH. The absolute worst thing this franchise did was put the second and third movies in the hands of male writers and directors. To the extent that the first film was any good, it was because it had a point of view that unquestionably came from the female voices at the helm. Since then, poor Dakota Johnson has been working overtime to put these blander than bland sequels over, playing opposite a romantic lead who CLEARLY doesn't want to be there, reading lines that have to be contorted to all hell to sound like anything human beings would actually say. This third one isn't even particularly sexy, WHICH IS THIS FRANCHISE'S ENTIRE REASON FOR BEING. Of course, a lot of the blame can be laid at the feet of the source material, in which literally nothing happens except people getting pissy about something they have no business getting pissy about, until the climax where suddenly everyone remembered that these things are actually supposed to have something called a plot, involving characters who, ya know, DO THINGS OF CONSEQUENCE. Anyway, this is deadly dull, and not even Dakota Johnson, brilliant as she has always been in these godforsaken films, can save it. In any other year, this would very like be the absolute nadir of film.

BUT NOT THIS YEAR.

Because this year, we had...

Life Itself (Dan Fogelman) I... I don't even know what to say. I mean... what on Earth CAN one say about something so fundamentally flawed and misguided that in ANY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCE, if it had EVEN ONE REDEEMING VALUE, it would likely go all the way past "abysmally awful" to become strangely admirable somehow. But, reader, I can honestly say: IT DOES NOT. For more of my unedited thoughts, check out my live-tweet (yes, I was high, and no, it did not help), but suffice it to say, it is PAINFULLY clear that everyone involved in making this thought that it was all clever and deep and meaningful and probably spiritual, but it is LOUSY with crazy structural ideas that not only don't work, but very specifically don't work IN A MOVIE THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE HEARTWARMING. I mean... at least, I'm PRETTY sure that's supposed to be the feeling we're left with at the end, when the movie pins its entire reason for existence and its entire emotional weight on someone we first meet in the film's closing minutes. But instead, the entire thing ends up being a complete WTF moment writ large, a faux-humanistic wannabe-meaningful story that only ends up being a massive joke played on its unsuspecting audience. Or, in short, the opening unreliable narrator gambit so completely loses the audience's trust that it would take a miracle to get it back, and this movie is wholly incapable (not to mention undeserving) of a miracle.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - The Cold

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!

Yes, I know I'm a little late on this, but it's been a BUSY start to the year, and this is my first post here in 2019! And appropriately so, since it's freezing outside in NYC today, and this week's theme for Thursday Movie Picks is The Cold. So let's see... what movies did the walk to work this morning remind me of?

Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017) The body of an eighteen year-old girl is found dead on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, miles from any building. FBI special agent Jane Banner is sent to investigate, and she works with expert tracker Cory Lambert, who knows the Native American community, to investigate. The gorgeous cinematography adds to the feeling of chill that permeates this well-wrought mystery and masterful thriller.

The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997) It's Thanksgiving weekend in 1973, and the Connecticut suburb of New Canaan is full of depression and sexual frustration. But an ice storm is coming, and the cracks in everyone's perfect veneers are going to crack and expose what's underneath. The Ice Storm is a difficult film to watch, but it's very well-shot and well-performed. The cast is just incredible: Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Allison Janney, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, and Elijah Wood are all great.

Cool Runnings (Jon Turtletaub, 1993) "MAN, I'm not smokin', I'm BREATHIN'!" My sister and I quote this movie, about the first-ever Jamaican Olympic bobsled team, to each other ALL the time. For my money, it's one of the most enjoyable, rewatchable films of the '90s. Yes, it's a bit standard, but it works within cliché and formula very well.

...and since I'm playing catch-up, last week I would have visited Brooklyn (my favorite film of 2016) and bought The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (the greatest movie musical ever made) after Flying Down to Rio (can't resist me some Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers).

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: Comedies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join the fun by picking three movies (or, once a month, TV shows) that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

I think we could all use a few good laughs after the dumpster fire that was 2018. So here are a few good comedies for you all to catch up on over the winter break:

Mom (2013-present) Single mom Christy is a recovering alcoholic whose mother, also a recovering alcoholic, moves in to help her take care of her two children. Yes, it's a comedy, and a pretty great one with geniuses Anna Faris and Allison Janney making gourmet meals out of very basic ingredients. The first season takes a while to find its footing, but once it does, this is a wonderful, heartfelt sitcom about the never-ending process of starting over.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015-Present) Abducted in middle school by a wannabe cult leader and held with three other women in an underground bunker, Kimmy Schmidt has finally been rescued, and decides to make a life for herself in New York City! She manages to find a room for rent with legend-in-his-own-mind Titus Andromedon and together, they go after their dreams: her to be an independent career woman (starting off as a nanny to the ultra-wealthy Jacqueline Voorhees, and him to be a singing star! The premise is certainly dark, but Kimmy's joie de vivre is still that of her fifteen year-old self, and shows no signs of abating. This wild and wacky show is so dense with jokes that it's sometimes difficult to keep up, but the performances of Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess (the show's breakout STAR), Jane Krakowski, and Carol Kane keep everything grounded in reality even when it gets a little out of hand.

The Good Place (2016-Present) Eleanor Schellstrop has died, and has ended up in "the good place." The only problem is, it becomes immediately clear that there was some kind of mix-up, and she has taken the place of an Eleanor Schellstrop that was a MUCH better person than she was. Afraid that she will get found out and sent to "the bad place," she gets her soul mate - a professor of moral philosophy named Chidi Anagonye - to teach her how to be a good person. The Good Place is consistently hilarious and surprising, and has some of the most inspired storytelling of any show currently on TV. It's a must-watch.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - 2019 Films To Look Forward To

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them.

Well, frankly, I'm glad I got to this late today, because two trailers dropped that got me HYPE AF for their movies. Walk with me...

Men In Black: International - Chris Hemsworth is a comic genius. Tessa Thompson is only getting better and better. AND BONUS EMMA THOMPSON. And honestly, this trailer is the best use of Fergie's "London Bridge" probably ever.

Greta - This could be complete trash, or it could be actually good (the fact that it's directed by Neil Jordan doesn't prove anything), but either way, this looks like exactly my brand of batshit insane.

Isn't It Romantic - Look, Rebel Wilson (and/or her team) definitely stepped in it by saying she was the first plus-size female to headline a major studio romantic comedy, BUT she's always funny, and the premise for this is rife with potential for lots of laughs. Plus, that supporting cast is pretty golden. I'm always here for satire, and the romantic comedy could use a good skewering. PLUS, I mean, I'm pretty sure we would all do EXACTLY THAT to Liam Hemsworth if given the chance.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - It's A Party!

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our little blogging party by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

"I don't believe in the Republican party or the Democratic party, I just believe in parties!" - Samantha Jones

I couldn't agree more, Samantha. So let's run down this week's party-hopping picks!

Can't Hardly Wait (Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, 1998) It's the last day of high school, and you know what that means: IT'S PARTY TIME!! This quintessential teen comedy is basically made up of spare parts from every high school movie party ever, but the cast is incredibly appealing, and the movie's low-key vibe is endearing. It has nothing on its mind other than what your average suburban high schooler has on their mind on the last day of high school, and that's exactly as it should be.

Van Wilder (Walt Becker, 2002) Van Wilder is a seventh-year senior at Coolidge College, enjoying the perks of being young and looking like Ryan Reynolds. He has no ambition to graduate, but when his father cuts him off, he has to raise the money to pay for his tuition, which he does the only way he knows how: Throwing lots of parties. This movie is irredeemably stupid (Tara Reid plays a journalist), but Reynolds has charisma to burn and a sort of bad-boy charm that goes a long way towards making this enjoyable even though it's most decidedly not a good movie in any way, shape, or form.

This Is The End (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, 2013) Imagine you're Jay Baruchel. You're doing okay for yourself as an actor, but you're not super-duper famous or wealthy yet. You're visiting your friend Seth Rogen (who is doing MUCH better for himself than you are), and he invites you to a party at James Franco's. Pretty cool, right? Everyone who's anyone in young Hollywood is there, but it's so crowded and everyone is so much cooler than you that you start to feel uncomfortable, so you go out for cigarettes. And that's when you see these beams of blue light that suck people into the sky. And then a massive earthquake starts and a sinkhole opens up right in the middle of the party. And that's how This Is The End begins. Where it goes from there is not going to be spoiled by me, because honestly the craziness of the screenplay is the best thing about this movie. The humor is hit or miss, but the performances are super committed, even when the script goes to some truly bizarre places.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Non-Linear Timelines

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're looking at movies with non-linear timelines. Time always moves forwards of course, but with film, we have the capability to rewind, fast forward, double back, start over... we can view a series of events in pretty much any way we want. And these movies take advantage of that.

Cloud Atlas (Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer, 2012) This wildly ambitious film, adapted from David Mitchell's Russian nesting doll of a novel, probably never should have been made. The book has such a literary conceit that it's nearly impossible to adapt to cinematic form, but God bless the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer for trying. Whole long sections of this are just thrilling arias of pure cinematic expression, linking stories hundreds of years and thousands of miles apart by the elemental forces of human experiences. The overarching story (such as it is) is about the journey of a soul as it learns over the course of several lifetimes what it means to be good. The ensemble cast is full of some spotty performances (and some even spottier makeup), but Halle Berry, Doona Bae, and a near-unrecognizable Hugh Grant have never been better than they are in sections of this.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) How this didn't win every single goddamn award walking away in 2004, I'll never know. It's a goddamn masterpiece, with career-best work from Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey, Charlie Kaufman, and Michel Gondry. Nothing I could write about it will ever top this that I wrote four years ago, so I won't even try.

The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002) Oh those wild and crazy kids! What ever will they do to fuck themselves up next? This Bret Easton Ellis adaptation throws so much style at the wall to see what sticks, and a surprising amount of it does. Hopping back and forth between different attendees at a fateful college party and what led them to make the decisions they made there, we watch as teen heartthrobs Jessica Biel, James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Kate Bosworth, and Kip Pardue do some VERY bad things, to themselves and to each other! The movie as a whole holds together only barely, but the best scenes (including a homoerotic bedroom dance/pillow fight to George Michael's "Faith", a rapid fast-forward through an entire vacation abroad, and one of the best, most effective suicide scenes ever put on film) really linger.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Girl Week: SUSPIRIA (2018)

Written as part of the annual Girl Week blogathon hosted by Dell on Movies. Head on over to Dell's site and check out the other entries!

The year is 1977. Susie Bannion has run away from her Mennonite home in Ohio to join the Helena Markos Dance Company in West Berlin. Susie has long been obsessed with the dancing of the company, and its lead choreographer, Madame Blanc - she has studied the company's performances on videos from her local library, and even traveled against her parents wishes to New York City to see the company perform live. She was out of place in Ohio, feeling the need to express herself through the act of dance. Thankfully for her there is a spot open in the Markos Company, as one of the dancers, Patricia, vanished under mysterious circumstances (the rumor is that she was working with an activist anarchist group). More and more mysterious things start to happen around Susie, for you see, this dance company is run by a coven of witches.


Yes, in outline form, the plot of Suspiria is the same as the justly famed Dario Argento film of the same name, but this Suspiria, directed by Luca Guadagnino, couldn't be further from that film. Where the original was a Technicolor wondershow, assaulting the audience with the most garish reds and blues you ever did see, the 2018 version has a mostly muted color palette, greyed out in the shades of winter in Berlin. Where the plot of the original sort of tumbles out in the form of a fever dream, the plot here is very linear, and extended to two hours and forty minutes, divided into six acts and an epilogue. And most importantly, whereas the original only cared about the dance academy as a setting, this one puts the dance front and center. And with that, it also throws the politics of the time and place into sharp relief.



Perhaps all of those things put you off. Perhaps that all makes Guadagnino's Suspiria sound like a chore, a piece of homework, a pretentious piece of claptrap wearing the clothes of horror. Maybe that's all true. But Suspiria got me right in the chest. This is a horror film about a dancer's body so scarily accurate that it feels as though it were made entirely by dancers.

"When you dance the dance of another," Madame Blanc says, "you make yourself in the image of its creator." That's true. Watch any random episode of So You Think You Can Dance and you're likely to see a choreographer imposing their way of moving on a dancer unused to it. With each new piece you are a part of, you have to re-find your center, re-teach your body how to move, re-set your mind to the feeling of the new dance. It's why some dancers stay with certain companies for decades on end - when you find a choreographer whose movement vocabulary is close to your own, you stick with them, and they with you.



But dancing is also backbreaking work. When you're really in the moment, giving yourself over completely to the throes of the music and the choreography, injuries can happen if you're not careful. Anything from minor injuries like blisters, to injuries that will cause a huge set-back like a dislocated shoulder, to major career-ending injuries like a broken tail bone. There is one sequence early on in Suspiria of just such bone-shattering cruelty that I was thrown all the way back in my seat, eyes riveted to the screen, completely unable to look away. This is what it can be like to put your body through torture, day in and day out, to "dance the dance of another." It is one of the most horrifying, difficult scenes I have ever had to watch. And I loved every second of it - the bravura performance and makeup effects, the downright nasty editing, the blood-curdling sound design... it's stunning. And the film is only just getting started.

Suspiria does feel exactly as long as it is - which is to say, very - but I was never once bored or unengaged with what was happening. I was completely involved with the characters and story the entire time. Part of this is due to the actors - Dakota Johnson continues to be a perfect vessel for audiences to project themselves onto, Tilda Swinton nails the mixture of imperiousness and groundedness that marks most great minds of modern dance, and Mia Goth is so easy to latch onto and root for as perhaps the most innocent (and thus, doomed) girl in the company. But equal compliments must be paid to Luca Guadagnino, who keeps thinking of new ways to make uninteresting plot scenes interesting. One noteworthy scene in the middle of the film is a long take of the coven members preparing and sitting down to a pot luck dinner, while a group conversation of theirs takes place on the soundtrack, clearly taking place after the dinner has finished. We never quite see who is speaking, but we don't need to. The soundscape of the film is filled with moments like this, where our ears are filled with diagetic sound that comes from an unseen source, or certain bodily exertions - breaths, laughter, cracking bones - that sound a lot louder than they should. It's some of the most stunning sound work of the year, and Thom Yorke's hushed, droning score complements it perfectly.



David Kajganich's screenplay is something of a marvel, weaving the supernatural elements into a story of different kinds of womanhood and motherhood, of how a ruined society treats women both before and after it falls. A key moment finds Madame Blanc saying that dance can never again be beautiful - a rebuke of the Third Reich's insistence that all art glorify the German nation and its people. And of course, the company's most famous piece is called "Volk," the German word for "people," and it is a violent, aggressive piece of choreography. The dancers pound on the floor and on their bodies, making the piece feel like a primal scream of femininity, perhaps its last.

In the background of everything, the period of Vergangenheitsbewältigung looms large. The process of the German people's reckoning with their culpability in World War II and the Holocaust echoes throughout the film, not only in the company's style of dance, but in the story of Patricia's psychiatrist Dr. Klemperer (played by Tilda Swinton in very convincing old man drag as "Lutz Ebersdorf"), who was separated from his presumed-dead wife during the war. When Patricia comes to him with her tales of a coven of witches at the dance academy, he is dismissive, believing she is talking instead of a rebellious political group who abide by a "constructed mythology." But as he reads her notes, and sees the academy for himself, and eventually becomes confronted with the horror of what happened to the women of his country while he watched and did nothing, he starts to believe that she may have been right.


It's a wholly unexpected thing to include in a remake of one of the most memorably violent films ever made, this melancholy story of national guilt being both weaponized and exorcised by women as best they can, but here we are in 2018, and a lot of these themes are more relevant than ever before. Guadagnino has taken the story of one girl's terror and transformed it into a tale of feminine power rising up from the ashes of a world destroyed by men, both those who abused power and those who watched and did nothing. It is a celebration of what women can achieve when they work together, and a condemnation of those who would seize and abuse power, no matter their gender. Despite its scenes of violence, Suspiria is an empowering film, reminding us of the vital importance of art, and how creation can be an act of rebellion. That a film this violent ends on a note of relative grace is a shocking glimpse of hope, however dimmed, however compromised, but still present. Hope that there is still compassion left, in even the darkest of souls.