Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review - Atomic Blonde

Lorraine Broughton is in pain. A man she was close with was killed, so that explains the inner pain, but we don't know how she got all those cuts and bruises. We'll find out soon enough, though, that she got them in quite fantastic fashion.

So begins Atomic Blonde, the most ass-kinkingest movie of the year. Charlize Theron stars as the top secret agent in MI6, a modern feminist James Bond with a killer bod and a particular set of skills. After a colleague (and probable lover, the film never makes it clear and is better for it) is shot while retrieving a MacGuffin in Berlin, Lorraine was shipped in to find the MacGuffin and bring it back home, or else the enemy Russians would know the identity of every British and American agent. But Berlin during the time of the Wall is a dangerous place, and Lorraine runs into trouble before she even gets to meet her contact, Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy). And that's just the beginning.

Hold onto your butts. This is gonna be one helluva bumpy ride.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - The Chosen One

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

Today is the hottest day of the summer so far in NYC, and I've been working like a dog all week (but I have tomorrow off to have a long weekend! YAY!), and The Chosen One is just about the oldest trope in all fantasy/sci-fi, so I'm just gonna do this Quick And Dirty Style. Hold onto your butts!

The Matrix (Wachowskis, 1999) In which the world you know is all a lie, you are forced to choose the red pill or the blue pill, and Keanu Reeves says what we were all thinking the first time we saw "bullet time": WOAH.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Jon Turteltaub, 2010) In which Disney actually manages to make an entertaining full-length movie out of a short from Fantasia, a physics nerd becomes a hero, and Jon Turteltaub (of all people) proves himself to be the Nicolas Cage Whisperer.

Moana (Ron Clements & John Musker, 2016) In which empathy is treated as the most heroic quality, The Rock attempts to sing, and Auli'i Cravalho becomes a star.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Amusement Parks

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're open 52 weeks a year, so join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Well, this is what happens when I don't plan ahead.

You see, last week's theme was Summer Vacation, and I picked a lovely little movie called The Way Way Back, which involves a boy and his mother going on vacation to the mom's new boyfriend's beach house, and the boy finding a job and family of misfits at the local water park.

And then I see that this week's theme is Amusement Parks.

Clearly, I should have thought about this a bit more.

Anyway, now I have to stretch the definition of Amusement Parks a bit in order to get three, but I don't think there will be too many complaints...

Westworld (Michael Crichton, 1973) Long before the TV series took over pop culture, novelist Michael Crichton directed his original screenplay about a "resort" with three different theme parks: Medieval World, Roman World, and the titular Westworld, all populated by androids programmed to act according to their historical period and role. For $1,000 per day, guests can participate in an adventure with the android population of any of the three worlds... and anything goes. ANYTHING. But then, the androids start breaking down and doing things like killing guests, and the staff can't figure out what's going on. And soon enough, Yul Brynner's gunslinger starts hunting one of the Westworld guests, with only murder on his mind. It's pretty thrilling stuff, even though the '70s vision of 1983 will make you laugh.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Jack Clayton, 1983) From that brief period of time where Disney made it their mission to make movies that scared the pants off young children, and actually did it pretty effectively, comes this adaptation of Ray Bradbury's fantasy novel (which itself was originally a screenplay intended for Gene Kelly to direct). A carnival (an amusement park of sorts) comes to the small town of Green Town, IL, and two young boys realize that the proprietor, one Mr. Dark (the fantastically menacing Jonathan Pryce), may have something, er, darker, than amusement on his mind. Considering the film's troubled backstory, it's amazing it holds together as well as it does, but then again, with Pryce's perfect performance at the center, how could it not?

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) It's the oldest story in the world: Man finds ancient mosquito trapped in amber, man harvests DNA from said mosquito to genetically engineer dinosaurs, man creates amusement park for dinosaurs to roam free while paying patrons gawk at them from afar, dinosaurs end up breaking free and terrorizing the area during the soft opening. Spielberg's film is terrifically entertaining, even though on the surface it seems like a surefire flop - after all, what early-mid '90s action film would cast Laura Dern, Sam Niell, and Jeff Goldblum and then have them talk about things like evolution and chaos theory? But, then again, DINOSAURS.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Summer Vacation

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us on our adventures through the world of cinema - all you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them!

Happy Summer, everyone!

I don't know about where you are, but here in NYC, Mother Nature has definitely made it clear that we are in Summer - it's been hot and sticky and altogether uncomfortable most days recently. Remind me again why so many people LOVE Summer?

Oh right. Summer means Summer Vacation. Even for those of us who are no longer in school and don't have kids in school (or work in a school ourselves), vacation really is synonymous with the Summer season. Me, I stopped taking a vacation in Summer as soon as I graduated from college - partly because I couldn't really afford it and partly to avoid all the crowds (seriously, wait until a couple of weeks into September and it's SO much nicer). Thankfully, this week we're just picking movies with a Summer Vacation theme, not actually fighting the hordes of people also on their vacation. Staycation, anyone? These will keep you very good company.

Dirty Dancing (Emile Ardolino, 1987) It is the summer of 1963, and Baby (real name: Florence - you decide which is worse) cannot wait to get out of this luxurious Catskills resort her parents have brought her and her sister to, and instead be at Mount Holyoke College so she can prepare to join the Peace Corps. But all that changes when she gets snuck into one of the staff parties and meets Johnny Castle, the resort's dance instructor and resident hot piece. Many dance lessons (and "dance lessons") later, Baby becomes pretty good at it, but forces conspire against our age-inappropriate lovers - until the climactic moment, which is by now so ingrained in the cultural consciousness that you probably know it even if you haven't seen the movie. As for the movie itself? It's perfectly charming, and totally predictable... and it WORKS, thanks in no small part to the undeniable chemistry between Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze as the leads. It  may be cheese, but sometimes that's exactly what you need.

The Way Way Back (Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, 2013) 14 year-old Duncan is terminally shy, and not at all interested in spending a summer with his mom and her new boyfriend at his beach house. But one day, he ends up at the Water Wizz water park and meets the owner Owen, who sees a kid in desperate need of a confidence boost. So he hires him to do odd jobs around the park (and I do mean "odd"), where the staff love him like the kid brother some of them may never have had. And, slowly but surely, Duncan matures and gains confidence in himself. Another charmer, this one has a terrific supporting cast (Sam Rockwell is great as Owen, Toni Collette is still the best movie mom even if she deserves MUCH better parts, and Allison Janney steals the show as always as the drunk next door) that elevates the movie from cute nostalgia exercise to a funny, moving portrait of adolescence.

Les vacances de M. Hulot (Jacques Tati, 1953) I save the best for last, because this is just the best. Jacques Tati is the master of the sight gag, and all of his films are chock full of them. But this is his sweetest, a love letter to the seaside summer vacationers that flocked to the southern coast of France - and those who waited on them hand and foot. It's sometimes very subtle comedy, but always worthy of a chuckle, and more often worthy of guffaws. It is one of my first All-Time Favorites, and it still fills me with the same warm feeling every time I watch it.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - TV Edition: Medical Dramas

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 (which the last week of every month is TV shows) and writing a bit about them!

I'm really tired this week, so without further ado, here are my picks for Medical Drama TV Shows

Grey's Anatomy (2005-Present) While it's no longer making headlines the way it did in its first few seasons, the show that made Shonda Rhimes is indeed still on the air, and far better than a show in its thirteenth season should be. The story follows one Meredith Grey, daughter of a legendary surgeon, through her internship, surgical residency, and doctor-hood at the INCREDIBLY UNFORTUNATE Seattle Grace Hospital. I would say it's about Meredith and her group of fellow interns that we meet in the pilot episode, except that.... well, there are only two of them left now, and it was pretty much always Meredith's story, from the very first. Grey's has become highly influential for its patented indie music cues and over-the-top devastating emotional moments, so much so that sometimes the show can feel like a parody of itself if you just catch an episode in reruns. But watch it from the beginning and you'll be surprised at how quickly you get sucked in, because it's SUPER entertaining with a wide variety of characters performed by actors perfectly in sync with them... and each other. And then, watch through tears and splayed fingers as you reach the climaxes of episodes like "Into You Like a Train" and "Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response/Losing My Religion" (the second season finale). It's a soap opera through and through, but (mostly) a damn good one.

A Gifted Man (2011) Patrick Wilson plays a handsome, wealthy, cocky doctor with a handsome, expensive private practice in NYC. One day he randomly runs into his ex-wife, now working at a free clinic in the Bronx, and they share a wonderful evening together. Only when he goes to call her the next day, he finds out that she died two weeks prior. She is now appearing to him as a ghost - or a hallucination - and trying to get him to become a better person by giving of himself to the less fortunate. Filled to the brim with top-notch talent (Jennifer Ehle plays the dead wife, Margo Martindale the put-upon secretary, and ER vet Eriq LaSalle the medical partner; Oscar winner Jonathan Demme directed the pilot), A Gifted Man never quite rose above its premise and only lasted one season. But Wilson made the character's journey interesting to watch, and even though the plots at the free clinic were obviously manipulative, they worked more often than not.

The Knick (2014-2015) Ever wonder what hospitals were like before modern surgical techniques were invented? Turns out, it's probably not so far from what you might think, but also completely different. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen, The Knick isn't quite like anything you've seen before, as we follow star surgeon Dr. Thackeray and the denizens of New York's Knickerbocker Hospital in the early 20th century. The attention to period detail is astounding, but it's Cliff Martinez's brilliant, anachronistic, completely electronic score that's the real stand-out.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - The Woods

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!

Growing up, our house didn't have a backyard. Our backyard was woods. It was really beautiful when it snowed - it looked like a real winter wonderland with all the ice and snow coating the branches of all the trees, and it was fun to go wandering and exploring. But during any other time of the year, it wasn't a place you wanted to go. It wasn't often scary-looking, but sometimes, when it was particularly dark and the cicadas and crickets and whatnot were particularly quiet, it made it tough to take the garbage out to the end of our driveway.

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're going into the woods, and.... well, there's one that immediately springs to mind, and the rest.... I REALLY had to stretch. Let's see how you think I did!

The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) Somehow, my family went to see this on a movie outing. I was 15 and my sister was 13. When we returned home from the theater, it was dark out, and pulling in to the driveway, we realized it was garbage night. It took all four of us to bring out one garbage can, because this movie had instilled such fear about the woods and the dark. I know it is now in vogue to dismiss The Blair Witch Project as solely a marketing gimmick, and/or to blame it for all the terrible found-footage horror films it spawned, but this is the REAL DEAL, dealing in genuine terror - the terror of the unknown, of the darkness, of what is lurking just outside your field of vision. It boils down an entire genre to its most basic elements - three people, investigating a legendary witch, lost in the woods, where there are creepy sounds and strange goings-on - and lets our own psyches fill in the blanks. The final scene of this is still the cruelest, most bone-chilling denouement of any horror movie I've ever seen.

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012) It's nearly impossible to summarize Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's horror spoof without giving away it's big secrets, which are best left to be experienced while watching the movie, but it's another movie that boils down the horror genre to base elements: five horny teens, an old, semi-abandoned cabin in the woods and off the grid, and the dark of night. That it actually manages to be as scary as it is funny is pretty impressive... to anyone who didn't watch Whedon's TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer! The Cabin in the Woods is a total delight from start to finish, deconstructing the horror genre and satirizing it better, in a more serious and more loving way, than the Scary Movie series ever did.

Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009) You know what? I can't really in good conscience recommend this one. But GOD DAMN did it blow me away. The basic story is this: A nameless couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, both fantastic) are struggling after the death of their infant boy (he crawled out an open window while they were having sex in the shower). He is a therapist and she a scholar. After she becomes so grief-stricken she can barely move, he decides to take her to their woodland cabin, Eden, where he starts having terrifying visions and she starts exhibiting increasingly violent sadomasochistic tendencies. It terrible, ROUGH stuff, but cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle has created some of the most beautiful images ever put on a screen for this, and the performances hold absolutely nothing back. It's a hyper-violent, super-pretentious movie, one that is quite possibly not for anyone at all, really. But as an exploration of grief and the masculine/feminine dynamic, it's quite stunning, and totally singular. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Based On A True Story

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

Movies that are based on true events are strange beasts. Sometimes they are well-done and respectful of their subjects, other times they only take the bare outline of the events to make their story, changing the details entirely. Who's to say if those changes actually make the movie better or not, but sometimes it "works", and sometimes it doesn't. I'm not even ALWAYS on the side of making those kinds of changes. I remain, as always, on the side of good movies!

Which these mostly are.

127 Hours (Danny Boyle, 2010) The incredible true story of how one sorta-asshole found himself actually caught between a rock and a hard place, and how he found a sort of redemption. James Franco is flat-out incredible as Aron Ralston, an adventurer who went out one day without telling anyone where he was going, and got his arm caught under a boulder, which he couldn't push off. He spent the title length of time stuck in a random part of the desert with very little water and even less food until he finally had to do the unthinkable. Director Danny Boyle brings this to vibrant, fascinating life, aided by an incredible score and crushing sound design... and of course, Franco's justly lauded performance.

Pain & Gain (Michael Bay, 2013) The incredible true story of three idiot gymrats who extorted an asshole and tricked themselves into believing they were above the law just because the guy was an asshole. And got caught, of course. I'm generally not a fan of Michael Bay's movies, but this is easily the most interesting one he's ever made, and he's helped a lot by the stellar performances of Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The tone of this is so tricky, walking a razor-thin line between pitch-black comedy and all-too-serious thriller, and miraculously mostly succeeding. It's a little too garish for its own good, but it works far better than it has any right to. It's the biggest indictment of rugged masculinity AND The American Dream that I've seen in a long time, from an entirely unexpected source.

The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola, 2013) The incredible true story of idiot teens who somehow managed to steal enough clothes, jewelry, and handbags from stars that the stars noticed. And got caught, of course. Coppola's brilliant, perfectly cast movie is a perfect window into the Millennial mindset, where fame and labels and Facebook/Instagram likes and STUFF are more important than anything else, perhaps even actual money. The whole cast is great, but Emma Watson's spot-on, wickedly funny turn is the film's crown jewel. She's so good here, it makes you wish she would do more "character" roles more often.