Thursday, September 14, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Financial World


Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can participate too - just pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them!

Drive by, quick-and-dirty style this week.

Something tells me the financial sector would approve.

Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) Don't let the magical nanny and Dick Van Dyke's broader than broad cockney accent fool you. This movie is really about one banker's slow realization that there are more important things than money and business. Watch it again and tell me I'm wrong.

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000) One of the decade's defining movies, so of course it's a psychological thriller about the '80s starring Christian Bale and directed by a woman who puts most men to shame for how far she's willing to go and for sheer filmmaking prowess.

The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015) Zippy, quippy, star-studded jaunt through the 2008 financial meltdown that is probably more fun than it has any right to be. But afterwards, I remember the flashy sequences for their flashiness more than the information they were actually trying to impart.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: High School

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 telling us about them!

I'm off to my annual retreat in the woods this evening, so here's a quick run-down of three of my favorite high school TV shows. If you've ever thought "jeez, all high school shows seem the same!" well, then, you're kinda right. These shows couldn't be more different, but you just might see a formula somewhere...


Sabrina The Teenage Witch (1996-2003) What if you woke up on your sixteenth birthday to learn that you were the descendant of a long line of (good) witches, and that you were a witch yourself? This is what happens to Sabrina Spellman (the great Melissa Joan Hart), and as if high school weren't hard enough, now she has to learn lessons from her aunts Hilda and Zelda, as well as their familiar, Salem (a witch cursed into the body of a talking black cat for trying to take over the world). Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick are sitcom perfection as the doting, adoring aunts, Nick Bakay makes Salem a maniacal delight, and Hart proves that her performance on Clarissa Explains It All wasn't a fluke, making Sabrina one of the most relatable teenage characters ever, despite her highly unrelatable situation. Due to Hart's popularity and the fun, satisfying quality of the show's humor and heart, it was the top-rated show of ABC's "TGIF" lineup for all of its four years on the network. After that it moved to The WB, also the home of...

Popular (1999-2001) What if you woke up one morning to find out that your mom/dad met and fell in love with the dad/mom of someone in a clique on the opposite side of the social spectrum from you? That's what happens to Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb) and Sam McPherson (Carly Pope), and as if weren't hard enough being a teenager, now each of they have to become sisters in a high school created by Ryan Murphy. Yes, this is the Crown Prince of Television's first series, and the template of all Ryan Murphy shows begins here: Great pilot, diverse casting, living on the cutting edge of social issues like obesity and homosexuality, a dash of surrealism... and the unfortunate tendency to go off the rails after a solid set-up. While Bibb and Pope hold the show together admirably as the leads, it's the supporting characters who really stand out, in this case the villainous Nicole Julian (the delicious Tammy Lynn Michaels) and her second-in-command, Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman), one of the most original, flat-out hilarious TV characters ever created. To even describe what happens in one episode of Popular would be nearly impossible, given how many ingredients Murphy and co-creator Gina Matthews throw into it, but it's always entertaining, and very unique.

Veronica Mars (2004-2007) What if your popular best friend was violently murdered and your father, the town Sherriff, was crucified for going after one of the town's favorite sons, causing you to lose your social standing and your perfect boyfriend? Such is the tale of Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), junior detective for hire. And as if it weren't hard enough being a teenager, she has to balance school with work (her Dad's PI office), side jobs from her classmates, and solving her best friend's murder. Wise beyond her years, the once-popular Veronica is now a calloused, cynical version of her former self, struggling mightily to keep herself and her dad (the great Enrico Colantoni) afloat in a city that would rather they both just die. Bell gives one of the best performances of a teenager on TV, delivering creator Rob Marshall's quips with a keen ear for hard-boiled private dick dialogue but never ever losing Veronica's heart, and the relationship between her and Colantoni is one of the most sharply-drawn father-daughter relationships I've had the pleasure to witness. All that, and the mysteries - both episodic and season-long - are involving and just twisty enough to keep you guessing until the last moment. It's one of my all-time favorite TV programs, and now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch it all the way through again, for the third time.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - The Stage

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us, leave your field to flower - just pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them!

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts
  -William Shakespeare, As You Like It, II.vii

It's true, and in my time I have played many parts. Ever since I was an infant, I loved putting on a show for people. I would climb up on top of chairs or stools and perform, even before I could speak intelligibly, if my mother is to be believed. I didn't REALLY get into theater until middle school, right around the time I first saw Singin' in the Rain and told my Mom that I wanted to be Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, prompting her to sign me up for tap dancing lessons. Suddenly, I was a triple threat - good singer, good dancer, good actor - and got cast in shows I auditioned for outside of school plays. My love affair with the stage continues to this day, even though my last stage performance (playing Professor Bhaer in the musical version of Little Women, and making my mother cry) was in February of 2014. Living in NYC means an abundance of professional theater but a scarcity of truly amateur opportunities - everyone's trying to make it here - so I haven't tried. But once you're bitten by the bug, the itch to perform on stage in front of an audience never really goes away, and I'll be back performing soon. Just you wait.

These are three of my favorite movies about life on the stage (minus Shakespeare in Love, which I've picked for these things WAY too many times, and Birdman, which I expect will be picked a lot today).

 
To Be Or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942/Alan Johnson, 1983) Pick your flavor, the elegant Lubitsch touch or the Brooks-ian Borscht Belt. To my mind, they're both great. The story in both versions is the same: A husband and wife team are stars of the Warsaw theater scene of 1939 (Jack Benny/Mel Brooks and Carole Lombard/Anne Bancroft). Every night while the husband is performing Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be..." speech, a young Lieutenant pilot (Robert Stack/Tim Matheson) leaves the audience... to go backstage to romance the wife! She keeps seeing him because she likes the attention, but has no intention of actually leaving her husband. Eventually, the Nazis invade and our intrepid young Lieutenant becomes aware of a spy in the ranks. Mistaken identities, cross purposes, and lots and LOTS of hilarious scenes ensue as the theater troupe works together to fight the Nazis in whatever way they can. The plot is WAY too complicated to attempt to explain here, but in both versions it provides for ample comedy of all kinds, and tremendous performances from the stars. Since each version is essentially the same story tailored to the talents of its stars, they're just different enough to be good in their own way. I honestly can't choose which one I prefer. All I can say is they're both hilarious and worth a watch, especially in the current moment.

The Last Metro (Francois Truffaut, 1980) During the Nazi occupation of Paris, a Gentile actress (Catherine Deneuve) struggles to keep her Jewish husband (Heinz Bennent) hidden in the theater's basement, while both acting and directing (for him) a new play. Gerard Depardieu plays the leading actor in the play, who is also a member of the resistance. The title refers to the last train of the evening, which all Parisians had to catch because of a Nazi curfew. Like many of Truffaut's films, there's a lot here that's a bit dull, but the moments when it comes alive are truly thrilling, and the combined star power of French Cinema Gods Deneuve and Depardieu is just amazing to watch. As with all of Truffaut's best films, this feels personal, and it was: Both his father and uncle were members of the French resistance, and were once caught passing messages (a scene he recreated in this film - one of its best sequences).

Being Julia (Istvan Szabo, 2004) Julia Lambert is the greatest stage actress of her day. But being a woman of a certain age, she is starting to be pushed out for younger, prettier actresses. An affair with a  young American reinvigorates her lust for life, but when she realizes he is using her to advance his career and social standing AND ALSO sleeping with a rival ingenue, Julia begins to plot her revenge. Annette Bening is delicious as Julia, tearing into the juicy part with the energy of a hungry lioness, and she receives great support from Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon, Juliet Stevenson, and especially Lucy Punch as her rival. I could watch the scene where Julia hijacks the play to get revenge on Avice on a loop forever and be perfectly satisfied.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2017


Yes, it is time once again for Dell on Movies and KG's Movie Rants's Annual Against the Crowd Blogathon! And I have to say, while I adore this blogathon, it gets harder and harder to do every year, because I generally don't see movies that get bad reviews - life is too short and funds are too scarce to waste on bad movies, y'all.

BUT! I persevere. I do it for you, dear reader. And, I mean, I also do it for me, because I like writing these, but...

This seems to have gotten away from me. ANYWAY. To the business at hand!

In case you somehow don't know what this blogathon is, go here, or read on. The basic idea is to rip apart a movie that "everyone" loves (75% or better on Rotten Tomatoes), and defend a movie that "everyone" hates (35% or worse on Rotten Tomatoes). So here I go, ready to tear to shreds...

TREY EDWARD SHULTS'S IT COMES AT NIGHT


For what it's worth, I didn't hate this completely. For the first three-quarters, it's a masterpiece of escalating tension. We watch a family of three in a post-apocalyptic world euthanize the grandfather of the family unit (surmising that he has succumbed to whatever disease infected most of the world), go about their daily lives trying to just make it to the next day alive, and then deal with a younger man foraging for food and shelter for his wife and young son. They decide to grant this new family shelter, and for a while they get along just fine. But then, the movie so epically shits the bed that I ended up wondering what the whole point was, other than "People Are Awful". It moves from a tension-filled dark fable to an exercise in miserablism in the stroke of a single plot point, and even reading interviews where Shults said he came up with the story after the death of a close family member didn't do anything to make me see the movie in a different light. Why choose to tell THIS story in this way? It doesn't make sense. And neither do the great reviews.

And also, if you call your film It Comes At Night, maybe, I don't know... SOMETHING SHOULD FUCKING COME AT FUCKING NIGHT.

But anyway, if that offended you, prepare yourself, because I'm about to defend...

MORTEN TYLDUM'S PASSENGERS


For what it's worth, I don't think this is some unheralded masterpiece of cinema or anything. I just think it got a lot more flack than it deserved. A lot of people took issue with the fact that movie centers around Chris Pratt's decision to wake up Jennifer Lawrence against her will (because he somehow falls in love with her just by looking at her and reading about her), and then lies to her about it for a long while. But the thing is, he doesn't make that decision lightly, and the movie gives great weight to his decision - and never lets him off the hook for it, either.

Once you're able to put that aside (and I really don't think it takes very much to do so), Passengers is a slick slice of classic Hollywood sci-fi escapism. It's beautiful to look at and listen to, and requires almost no work from your brain. It may not be a GREAT movie, or even a really good one. But it's pretty far from what I would call terrible. The expensive-looking production design and visual effects and combined charisma of Lawrence and Pratt elevate it from merely passable to good. I enjoyed it a whole lot more than I ever thought I was going to based on the reviews, from critics and movie fans alike.

And there you have it! I'm not swimming too hard against the crowd here (I rate both of them 2.5-3 stars out of five), but what can I say? Recently, I've pretty much been with the consensus. These were the two most notable exceptions I could think of.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Rescue

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

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're off on a mission to rescue these three movies from obscurity! Or maybe not, since most of them have a pretty decent following, but I couldn't resist that opening.


The Rescuers (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1977) Not exactly a high point in Disney animation, but one of my favorites all the same, because of fond childhood memories and a sterling voice cast including Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart as a pair of intrepid mice on a mission to rescue a young girl from the clutches of Geraldine Page's Madame Medusa, who needs the young girl to retrieve the Devil's Eye, the world's largest diamond. It's standard, silly Disney stuff, but the voice performances really do make it.

The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) A soldier is sent back in time to save the mother of the man leading him in the resistance against machines, after an invincible cyborg assassin was sent back in time to kill her. I know it sounds ridiculous, but in the hands of action wizard James Cameron and stars Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, and of course Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's a breathless rollercoaster ride of a movie, as relentless as its title character.

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012) The true story of a CIA rescue mission to save six Americans caught in the middle of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. How'd they do it? By saying they were filming a sci-fi film and disguising the escapees as the crew. A fine winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Affleck's film is entertaining throughout, but the best part is the escape from the country - even though I knew the ending to the story (because, you know, history), I was on the edge of my seat (which was in the front row of a sold out theater, which I never do because I HATE IT, but it was worth it to see this opening night) the whole time. Truly suspenseful, thrilling stuff, anchored by such a terrific cast of character actors that it doesn't much matter that Affleck is a bit of a dud in the central role of the agent leading the rescue mission.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Summer Blockbusters

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

Let's face it: Summer blockbusters are now just mostly recycled crap, franchise films that are at best enjoyable but almost never exciting. In the 1990s, though, they were something else entirely - visual effects-driven dramas with surprising casts that were more often than not completely original stories. There was no need to create a "cinematic universe" or set up a potential sequel, because the movie itself was enough, and next year audiences would move on to the next thing.

To my mind, these three movies are the Holy Trinity of Summer Blockbusterse: well-made, entertaining films that actually engage you in their fantastical situations with grounded characters.

Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996) You simply could not escape this movie when it came out on July 4, 1996 - or for that entire year, really. This is the movie that blew up the white House, killed an alien horde with a computer virus, and made Will Smith the King of Summer Movies. the special effects are fantastic, but the thing most people remember this movie for (other than Will Smith, that is) is President Bill Pullman's climactic speech to the troops. Has there been a summer blockbuster recently where the writing has been this memorable?

Twister (Jan de Bont, 1996) Released a mere month and a half before ID4, Twister isn't as fondly remembered today, but if you ask me it's the better movie. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton are ideal leads as a pair of exes and rival storm chasers, and the title storms are still awe-inspiring, as they should be. Again, this is a popcorn movie where SCIENCE is placed on a pedestal. But it still has enough of a sense of humor to send a few cows flying towards the screen.

Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1998) Easily the worst of these three, Armageddon is still a great time, mostly because of the absolutely absurd premise, wherein Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck lead a team of oil drillers into space to break up a massive asteroid hurtling towards Earth. It's ridiculous, but it has its moments. No one who's seen it has been able to look at animal crackers the same way since, I guarantee that. Also includes Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing", one of the greatest movie songs ever.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Crime Family

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Come join our lovely little TMP family by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling everyone a bit about them!

So, I know there's one crime family that rules them all, but.... I haven't seen those movies. I KNOW I KNOW BAD DANIEL! But, I mean... there ARE other cinematic crime families, right?

...right?

Let's find out!

Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010) J's mother just died from a drug overdose. So he calls the only family he has left, his aunt Janine. In staying with her and her brood of boys, he comes to learn there was a reason for his mother's estrangement from them: They're criminals, and Janine is the Don. Jacki Weaver got a WELL-deserved Oscar nomination for her sublimely pitched performance, but the entire cast (which includes Sullivan Stapleton, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, and Guy Pearce) is fantastic. Director Michôd takes the tension up past the breaking point nearly the whole way through, making for one intense, thrilling movie. Recently adapted into a TV show with Ellen Barkin as Janine.

Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007) Anna, a British-Russian nurse delivers a baby from a 14 year-old girl who then dies, leaving behind only a diary written in Russian. Through translating the diary, Anna comes to learn that the young woman was part of a sex-trafficking ring organized by a Russian mafia family. Unfortunately for her, said Russian mafia family knows that she knows, and is now threatening her life in the form of Nikolai (smokin' hot and Oscar-nominated Viggo Mortensen), the family's "cleaner" and pseudo-babysitter for the don's unstable son. Cronenberg takes to the mafia genre shockingly well, orchestrating some terrifically tense stand-offs between characters and winding a slightly sprawling story tight around his finger.

Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) Based on the real-life story of Henry Hill, Martin Scorsese's magnum opus tracks Hill's life from his youth under the wing of local mafia don Paulie Cicero to his cocaine-fueled descent to the witness protection program three decades later. There's not a single false note in the whole thing, not one bad beat or wonky line reading. Every single scene sings. It's a classic - and one of my All-Time Favorites - for good reason.

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.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Double Features

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!

Last summer, Film Forum in NYC ran a series called "Return of the Double Feature!" (exclamation point included, as in Moulin Rouge!) that I had a LOT of fun attending. What was great was that it wasn't always immediately clear why two movies were paired together until you really thought about it, or even until you sat down and watched them. It made me think about programming a series like that and how much fun it would be.

Well thankfully, our lovely wandering host has given us that opportunity this week, as the theme for Thursday Movie Picks is DOUBLE FEATURES!

Naturally, I came up with far more ideas than I have time to write up, but here are three of my favorites.

GHOSTLY CHILDREN DOUBLE FEATURE!
The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)/The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001) Creepy old English manor houses haunted by ghostly children.... except the children aren't the ghosts! The Others is as close to a spiritual sequel to The Innocents as we're ever likely to get. Both films have a chilly formalism that doesn't make them any less scary or give them any less emotional impact, and their twists and turns will keep you guessing about what's REALLY going on all the way through in the best possible way. Plus, each possesses one of the greatest performances from a great actress: Deborah Kerr is utter perfection in The Innocents, while The Others gives Nicole Kidman a role that encapsulates all the best things about her screen persona. Both are perfection.

SEXUAL MORES DOUBLE FEATURE!
Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)/Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johonson, 2015) Basically, watch Bunuel's semi-surrealist masterpiece of sexual desire, and then watch Taylor-Johnson's slightly-better-than-expected erotic romance/coming-of-age drama and marvel at how far we haven't come in depicting sex on screen. In the former, Catherine Deneuve's frigid, bored housewife becomes a prostitute in a high-class brothel during her days, acting out her "depraved" sexual fantasies while leading a supposedly perfect life with her doctor husband. In the latter, Dakota Johnson's mousy college student becomes entranced by the local handsome billionaire, only to be repulsed by/attracted to his kinky sexual proclivities. Both depict women taking ownership of their bodies and sexual desires in ways women are rarely allowed to do in film, but for all the hype, Fifty Shades is barely more explicit and FAR less provocative than a film released fifty years ago with a major star.

TEENAGE 80S BANDS DOUBLE FEATURE!
We Are The Best (Lukas Moodyson, 2014)/Sing Street (John Carney, 2016) Two of the most adorable movies you will ever see, these films really get what it feels like to be a teenager and needing to express yourself in ways that no one else understands - and how music can unlock something special inside of you. Even if it's terrible music. Wonderful performances from debuting leads, great songs, and fantastic costumes/makeup fill both of these films, which couldn't be more different, but are also wonderfully similar. They will both leave you walking on clouds of joy by the end.

BONUS PICK
Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino, 2007) This pre-packaged double feature from two hotshot directors is quite the tribute to the questionable-quality cheapie B-movies from the 70s, and has all the hallmarks of a late night double feature picture show: explosions, hookers, flat acting, fast cars, and FANTASTIC fake trailers in between the two halves. Rodriguez's zombie flick Planet Terror is more fun, but Tarantino's car chase/serial killer shot Death Proof has one of the greatest car chases ever filmed. All the actors are clearly having a blast, and most of them have never, ever been better.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Tall Buildings

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! Up, up, up to incredible heights! The heights of skyscrapers!

I really have nothing much more to say about tall buildings so.... let's just get right to it.

The Towering Inferno (John Guillermin, 1974) An attempt to recreate the "success" of producer Irwin B. Allen's previous hit The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno pretty much succeeds at that goal, offering more explosions, more stars, and... well... more of pretty much everything. If it's not quite as entertaining as Poseidon, well, that's because it perhaps follows that film's template a bit too closely. But it's still one of the best  - and certainly the starriest - of the '70s big-budget all-star disaster epics.

Sleepless in Seattle (Nora Ephron, 1993) Consider this me cheating a little, because I'm kinda getting two in one, one of which I haven't seen. You see, Meg Ryan's Annie Reed gets the idea to meet a man she has never met, only heard on talk radio, on the top of the Empire State Building, from the classic An Affair to Remember, a film which I am ashamed to say I haven't seen. But this one, I have, and it is such a delight. They just don't make great romantic comedies like this anymore, with enchanting leads (this is the second of three pairings of Hanks and Ryan, and easily their best), genuine conflict, and terrific, relatable supporting characters (Rosie O'Donnell is just the best, isn't she?). God bless Nora Eprhon for this.

Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) In 1974, French acrobat Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. This is the story of how he accomplished this illegal, but magical, act. It's an amazing story, told through interviews, real footage, and recreated footage in a seamless assemblage that director Marsh makes feel like a thriller of sorts. It's exhilarating, funny, and endlessly entertaining - which you can rarely say for a documentary!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - TV EDITION: Time Travel

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through The Shelves. Join us as every week, we pick three titles that fit the week's theme and tell everyone a bit about them!

We are traveling again this week, this time through time, on the small screen. And I'll be honest, there's really only one TV show about time travel that I really care about right now, and it took some time for me to think of two others. But think of them I did, and they had something rather surprising in common...

Life on Mars (2008-2009) Based on the UK series of the same name, this one season wonder starred Jason O'Mara as a present-day cop who gets hit by a car and wakes up in the '70s. He's still himself, and he gets flashes of his life via his TV set somehow, but he's living in the '70s, no doubt about it! Thankfully, he's still working as a cop. But the style of police work is much different from what he's used to, as exemplified by the police chief played by Harvey Keitel - which should be all I have to say about the character for you to get the picture. A bumpy ride, perhaps a bit too concerned with the mystery of the time travel (although the way they wrapped it up was very clever, I thought), but it's a lot of fun once you stop worrying about that.

Terra Nova (2011) The one season wonder starred Jason O'Mara as a cop in the year 2049, who travels back in time with his family to the Cretaceous period, as their world has become near-uninhabitable. But he almost gets detained for trying to smuggle their newborn baby with them, and once he sneaks through, has to convince the leadership on Terra Nova that his skills as a cop are vital. Thankfully, there's a rebel group of settlers working for a corporate interest causing all sorts of havoc, so he's allowed to stay. When it fully embraced the sci-fi elements at its core, Terra Nova was kind of thrilling, but it was too simplistic and nonsensical overall to really hold together - although LORD did Jason O'Mara REALLY try!

Doctor Who (1963-1989, 2005-present) The world's longest-running TV series (I'm PRETTY SURE), by virtue of its lead character: A time-traveling alien from the planet Gallifrey, known only as The Doctor, who can regenerate himself into a different body when he "dies". The original series is fun in a kitschy, almost-campy, Saturday morning show for kids kind of way, but the new series ups the stakes and the visual effects to create something truly thrilling. This is long-form, serial storytelling at its absolute best, with tremendous performances from each of the thirteen men who have stepped into the Doctor's TARDIS (that's "Time And Relative Dimension In Space" to you, and yes it looks like a British police call box, and YES it's bigger on the inside), as well as from most of the pretty young things who play his earthly "companions" in his travels. In any given episode, Doctor Who can go anywhere and be anything, from horror ("Blink") to romance ("The Girl in the Fireplace") to allegory ("Cold War") to slapstick comedy ("The Lodger") and absolutely everything in between. But mostly, it's just a lot of fun, with overarching plots that actually hold together on both the macro and micro levels, and consistently satisfying individual episodes littered with great performances from a veritable who's-who of great British thespians.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Moonlight

Everybody rejoice, Hit Me With Your Best Shot is BACK! And boy, has Nathaniel picked a doozy for the first episode of the season: Our most recent Best Picture Oscar Winner, Barry Jenkins's gorgeous Moonlight. In both image and theme, Moonlight is one of the most beautiful movies I've seen in a long time, so beautiful that I was drawn back to the theater to see it a second time, and purchased the Blu-Ray recently. It is a film I hold very close to my heart, both for the story it tells and for how it tells it.

Moonlight - if you've been living under a rock for the past year or so - is the story of a young black man named Chiron. It is told in three parts, each named after one of his alter egos. Part one is what everyone calls him as a child, "Little". Part two is his given name, when he's a teenager, and part three is the name he adopts for himself as an adult, "Black". Identity and perception are the twin strands that run through each of Moonlight's three parts, and Chiron's story is mirrored in that of his childhood friend Kevin.

Kevin and Chiron are two halves of the same coin - Chiron is an introvert, Kevin is an extrovert; Chiron is unsure of himself, Kevin is very self-possessed; Kevin is an optimist, Chiron is more of a pessimist. Kevin innately understands how others perceive him and how important that is, Chiron doesn't really, partly because he's so unsure of himself and who he is. Chiron needs Kevin. And Kevin doesn't realize how much he needs Chiron. It's interesting, though embedded in the very nature of the piece, that we are always more sure of who Chiron is than who Kevin is, even though Kevin is ostensibly more sure than Chiron. Is Kevin gay? Bisexual? Or straight-but-open-to-experimentation? It's completely open to interpretation.

Not that any of this necessarily matters when it comes time to picking my best shot. But there's such a surefit of potential best shots in Moonlight that I don't even know where to begin. I mean, right from the beginning, cinematographer James Laxton does an incredible job of putting us right into the mindset of Little Chiron:


As his tormentors rage outside, the camera bobs and weaves around Little in the darkened room of the abandoned crack den in which he's hiding, making the space seem about to cave in on him. Little feels cornered, not just in the moment, but in his life in general. He has no place to run, nowhere to go when everything comes crashing down around him, as he's sure it's going to.

Each of the three sections of Moonlight contains at least one perfect scene. In the first part, that's the "middle of the world" scene, where drug dealer Juan, who's fast becoming Chiron's surrogate father, teaches him how to swim.


It's a perfect image, because of how it reinforces Chiron's independence: Swimming is a solitary act, especially after the person teaching you how to stay afloat lets you go. And in telling Chiron that when he's alone on the water, he's "in the middle of the world", Juan is telling Chiron that Chiron himself is the middle of the world - that he's the only thing that matters. All he needs is himself and the water.

And sure enough, in the second part of the film, when Chiron is feeling particularly down, he heads for the beach. And you can hardly blame him, when his school practically swallows him whole:

Bronze Medal

And of course, it's there, on the beach, that we get another perfect scene, as Kevin and Chiron smoke some weed, kiss, and...


...I trust that's all I have to say, right? That one image pretty much sums it all up, right?

But in all this talk about Chiron, let's not forget that this is just as much a story about his mother, Paula. Paula seems like a decent parent when we first meet her - she's tough, and wary of Juan, but clearly cares for and worries about Chiron. But it's slowly revealed that she's a drug addict, and puts her needs before those of her son, for whom she has some less than motherly feelings. But, despite all of that, she's blood, the one person Chiron can't shut himself out from, the person he will always have to answer for. And we're reminded of that in the most horrifying way:

"I'm your mama, ain't I?" - Silver Medal
A drugged-up, direct address to the camera, the first time a character has looked directly into the camera in the whole movie. But lest you think this shot is all about performance, at the very end of it, Laxton and Jenkins push it into slo-mo, letting her linger a second longer than she should, a ghostly, haunting visage that will follow our hero around until the day he dies.

The third section's perfect scene lasts for most of its entire length: The reunion of Chiron and Kevin after about a decade or so, in a diner where Kevin is working as a cook. He also happens to look like this:


Soooooooo.... yeah, Chiron doesn't really stand a chance, no matter how many defensive walls he's built up over the years.

I really can't say enough about how freaking amazing this scene is. It's a perfect little one-act play unto itself, one in which lingering gazes and interrupted conversations take on the rhythms of a thriller in the most incredible way.

But in selecting the film's best shot, I had to do the obvious thing that I HATE doing, and choose this, the very last shot, which also happens to be the title shot:


Coming as it does after Chiron and Kevin have gotten back together, after Chiron has made his long-overdue declaration to Kevin, after he has finally admitted out loud, to himself and someone else, who he really is, this flashback to Little Chiron is just LOADED. It's a callback to a story Juan tells about his childhood in Cuba (an old woman said to him, "in moonlight, black boys look blue - you're blue!" to which Chiron asks if Juan's name is blue), and a reminder of who Chiron was when he started on this journey. But it's also a direct address to the audience: This boy could be anyone. You could know this boy. And when he is lost and alone, he could turn to you for guidance. What kind of person are you going to be when he does? Are you going to let him struggle to come to grips with himself all on his own, or are you going to offer him the love and support he needs to accept himself? Will you accept him, or will you turn him away?

This final shot is packed with meaning, offering a beautiful end, but not an easy one. It's perfect.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - The Renaissance

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

This week, ladies and gentlemen, we are going back in time. Back in the centuries to a time of magical scientific discoveries, a time of great wealth and horrible poverty, a time of exploration, war, and enlightenment: The Renaissance. I myself am a big fan of renaissance faires (I even dress up on occasion), but people often seem to widen the historical definition of the period a bit to include their favorite costumes or other "middle ages" ephemera. For the purposes of this week, we're using the historically-defined period of the 14th-17th centuries.

Queen Margot (Patrice Chéreau, 1994) Putting the lie to the idea that period films must be stately, buttoned-up, over-serious slogs of costume pageantry, Queen Margot is deliciously dirty and sexy. Isabelle Adjani plays the title role, a Catholic sister of King Charles who is forced to marry another prominent Catholic in order to consolidate power and suppress the uprising of the Protestant Huguenots. But after the bloody St. Barttholomew's Day Massacre, she falls in love with the Protestant La Môle, which may undo everything the neurotic King and his scheming mother Catherine de Medici (a brilliant Virna Lisi) have done. Queen Margot may be close to three hours long, but it doesn't feel it at all, moving along at an involving pace with brilliant performances and some stunning design and cinematography (which I wrote about here, if you're interested).

Dangerous Beauty (Marshall Herskovitz, 1998) Meet Veronica Franco, a beautiful, smart, young Venetian woman. She has everything one needs to get everything one wants in the world... except she's too low-born to marry the man she loves. So her mother suggests that she go into the "family business" and become a courtesan. Upon learning that doing so would grant her access to libraries and education in addition to all the men she could ever dream of sleeping with, she decides to do it. She eventually becomes the top courtesan in Venice, called upon to use her body as well as her mind to influence foreign heads of state... until the Inquisition tries her for witchcraft. This isn't a truly great film, but it's very interesting, looking at the world's oldest profession in a very different light than most other films. And it's based on a biography of Veronica Franco, so much of it is true!

The New World (Terence Malick, 2005) The familiar story of the fateful settling/exploration voyage to America led by John Smith and John Rolfe, where they meet a native chief's daughter, Pocahontas. But this telling is unlike any other you've seen - as you may have guessed upon seeing Malick's name as the director. And look: This is a long, slow, indulgent movie. I'm not going to deny it. However, it is also an unbelievably gorgeous one, possibly the most beautiful looking (and sounding) movie Malick has ever made, in a career not at all lacking in beautiful movies. Appropriately for a movie titled The New World, at times it really feels like you're seeing our planet for the first time, and good God is it a sight to behold.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Deserts

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

This week, on Thursday Movie Picks, it's hot and dry. Not a drop of water to be found, we are surrounded by the yellow sands of the desert. Feel the sun beating down with oppressive heat, feel the grits of sand that get caught in orifices you didn't even know you had... it's not fun, but thankfully, we only have to watch, not actually experience it ourselves!

Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Marlene Dietrich, in a tuxedo, swanning through a French song with nary a care, kissing a woman full on the lips. Ah, the glorious days pre-Hays Code! Movies have never quite recovered from that, have they? Anyway, Morocco is all about how the heat of the desert can inflame passions to the point of explosion, as Gary Cooper's foreign legionnaire romances Dietrich's lounge singer despite the fact that they both admit that neither one of them is in a good place to be having a romantic relationship. If you've never seen it, it's VERY much worth a watch.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994) From the sublime to the ridiculous...ly FABULOUS! Three Australian drag queens hop on a bus to travel to a gig across the country, upending expectations and bringing fabulosity wherever they go. When they aren't squabbling, that is. Featuring some beautiful scenery, mind-blowing costumes, and three unbelievably against-type performances by Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce. Priscilla looks at how the harshness of the desert landscape can bring out the harshness within us, if you aren't careful.

Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999) Extrapolating Herman Melville's famous novella Billy Budd into an elliptical examination of toxic masculinity and repressed homosexuality, Claire Denis's Beau Travail is completely brilliant, if you have the patience of a saint. Not gonna lie, this is a tough sit, but an utterly beguiling one, as a group of foreign legion soldiers in Djibouti is disrupted by the arrival of a pretty, young, innocent thing by the name of Sentain, who invokes the ire of their leader, Galoup. Passions can run high in the desert, so you need to watch your back.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Clones/Doppelgangers

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

Never fear, I am alive!

I'm just... I've been BUSY the past couple of weeks.

[BEGIN PERSONAL STORY TIME]

You see, three weeks ago, I was offered a new job (YAY! This is a VERY GOOD THING!), and they gave me a start date of May 1. Awesome, right? I get to give two weeks notice and take a week off to relax and start the new job fresh as a daisy, right? WRONG. As it happens, our Annual Benefit at my (then-current, now-former) job was on April 27. And leaving right before the Benefit would just be a massive dick move, which I just couldn't do, even though it meant that my last three weeks there would be hell, because I would be doing extra extra work for the Benefit on top of my normal workload, and on top of that, I would be doing transition/end-of-job work. And then I would go into my new job having only had a weekend to recover. And of course, the Benefit was on a Thursday, so I was crazy busy with a million things and just didn't get the time to participate in this. I would feel worse if I had literally anything to say about cop TV shows.

[END PERSONAL STORY TIME]

But now, I'm back(!) and better than ever(?)!

Only..... are there THAT MANY movies about clones? Hmmmmmmm... let's see how outside the box I can get.....

Possession (Adrzej Zulawski, 1981) I don't even know if I can accurately describe this fever dream of a movie, but I will at least make a valiant attempt: Sam Neill returns home from business (what type of business is never exactly explained, but it's vaguely espionage-adjacent) to find his wife, Isabelle Adjani, distant, cold, and probably cheating on him. They split, but when he finds that she is neglecting their son, he becomes more obsessed with just what, exactly, is happening with her. We're eventually shown what is happening, but even then, and even after watching this COMPLETELY FUCKING INSANE MOVIE twice, I'm not entirely sure what it is. Most of Polish great Zulawski's films start at about a 9 on an intensity scale of 10, and never let up. Possession, made when he was going through a divorce, starts at a 10, and only escalates from there. It is the most intense, visceral break-up movie I've ever seen, completely earning its place in the horror genre even though it's not REALLY horror (don't let the Carlo Rambaldi credit fool you), by dialing perfectly normal situations and conversations to 11 and letting them play out with two terrific actors told to go for broke. Neill has never been better, and Adjani more than earns every award she received (including the César and Cannes Palme for Best Actress) for her breakdown in the subway alone. Utterly hypnotic even when it frustratingly refuses to make any sense, Possession is completely unlike any other movie you will ever see, and more than worth a watch. Oh, and both Adjani and Neill play their characters' doppelgangers in the movie, although I'm not going to spoil how for either of them.

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) Sam Neill double feature, y'all!! Look, technically the dinosaurs are clones. Just sayin'.

OKAY FINE. HERE'S MY REAL SECOND PICK.

City of Lost Children (Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, 1995) Krank was created on a massive oil rig by a mad scientist sort, and is now a mad scientist sort himself. Unfortunately, however, he is unable to dream, which is causing him to age prematurely. So he has invented a machine that extracts dreams from children. In order to get children, he has help from some of the original mad scientist's other creations, including a brain named Irvin and six childish clones. Some movies are style over substance, but in Jeunet's films, the style becomes part of the substance, and the dream-like feel of everything here contributes to the "fractured fairytale/bedtime story" vibe of the whole enterprise, creating a totally original, completely new, entirely self-contained cinematic world that I would gladly visit again more times than I would any of our current "Cinematic Universes".

The Island (Michael Bay, 2005) Look, it's not like there's really such a thing as a "good Michael Bay movie", but goddamn did I enjoy this one. It's the story of two beautiful people who look like Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor who live in a dystopian futuristic society that has a lot of arbitrary rules but one saving grace: Every so often, there is a lottery, and the winner gets to go to "The Island", nature's last remaining paradise. Except, SWITCHEROO, it's NOT a dystopian future, but the real world (more or less), and everyone who lived where they lived are actually clones of "real" people who paid insane amounts of money to have a clone for when they need things like a kidney or a heart or anything like that, and this is what actually determines the lottery. It's patently ridiculous, but also fun, with both McGregor and Johansson turning in deliciously calibrated movie star performances.