Saturday, November 10, 2018

Overlord

Spoiler-free!

Overlord is a Nazi/zombie action horror flick that was originally meant to be a part of the Cloverfield Universe, but is now simply a stand-alone original scifi film. I wonder if it had been a Cloverfield would people judge it any differently (read: more harshly), but mostly I'm just glad that it's out there for our viewing pleasure.

If you saw the trailer nothing will take you by surprise, but if you saw the trailer and still want to see this, that won't matter one bit.

In my understanding the Cloverfield Universe was merely a way to brand stand-alone films to appeal to the franchise crowd anyway. But that backfired a bit with Paradox, and franchises aren't as hip as they used to be anyway. The only thing I regret is that this movie couldn't have been titled "Cloverlord." But I digress and there's bloodshed and gore to get to. It's WWII, and the night before D-Day, an American troop parachutes into France to blow up a Nazi radio tower at a church. Under said church there's a secret facility where some Nazi "doctor" is doing "experiments." (Every time, those freakin' Nazis...) To say chaos ensures would be a bit of an understatement.

Cool thing about this movie: it's a bigger release than I was expecting, getting lots of attention for looking like it gave a large budget to its violence, and perhaps also for having J.J. Abrams' name attached as a producer, but it has the cast of an indie film. Seriously, there's not one a-list, or even b-list actor, and the only one whose name I knew was Iain De Caestecker, because I watch Agents of SHIELD. I recognized Wyatt Russell from Black Mirror, and John Magaro from Amazon's Jack Ryan, but couldn't manage to place them until I looked them up. That's unusual for a movie to not try and land at least one person with drawing star-power. But Overlord doesn't need it.

It's got other weirder, grosser things to think about.

Our hero is Boyce, Jovan Adepo, a Private who's been tossed into the middle of the war and is just trying to stay afloat. A classic everyman type lead. He's a good guy, the kind you want to see make it out okay. Rounding out the troop is Jacob Anderson and Dominic Applewhite, and there's a local French girl who helps them out in their mission (Mathilde Ollivier) and a villain's villain to wreak havoc and make menace (Pilou Asbæk). They all have personalities to give then instant definition, and wind up with more development than I expected them to get in the end. But not much more -- this is a zombie thriller after all and you can't slow down a train like that -- just enough to give a little meat and keep us invested.

The real meat of the matter is the action; the scenes or horror and of crazed science fiction. On that score it delivers all that is promised. It's relentless, almost to the point of being too much so, as it attempts a jump scare one or two times but totally lacks the patience required to build the suspense required for the moment. It's too excited to wait. But no matter, as its main talent lies in what I suppose is scenes of body horror. Suffice to say, it gets super weird, super gross, and pretty darn cool at the same time, and it had my widened eyes glued to the screen. Particularly in one extended scene of, shall we say, metamorphosis.

I can only imagine that this was fun to do.

The effects looked excellent, and there was only one shot that looked bad enough to take me out of the movie for a quick second. And the situations the characters get themselves into allow for memorable events easily. I mean, Nazis and zombies -- you'd think the scenarios would write themselves, but they clearly put some effort into getting the story out of the eternal cycle of clichés and it tries its hand effectively at a few different things. It keeps itself concise and focused inside the narrative, and explores the darker, odder corners of bombastic Nazi-punk horror.

No, it's not profound or particularly meaningful -- though it does pause for a small tug on the heartstrings once or twice -- it's there to blow out your eardrums and make as big a mess as possible within its confines, and that it does. It's not even scary. It just channels every effort in to being freaky weird and relentlessly entertaining. I suppose it may be possible to get that as well as they have it and still broaden attention into realms of character and theme, but I can't blame them for playing it a little safe on that score. It certainly makes up for it in blood and explosions, and feels far from boredom if not from safety.

Horizons could've been expanded, but at the risk of making a mess. And not in a good way.

There's no new ground broken here, and the only bold experimenting is done by those crazy Nazis, so it's not going to make tremendous waves or anything, but that hardly matters as it accomplishes what it set out to do. It's a crazed, bloody, and bloody fun time, taking advantage of its setting, utilizing the potential of the villains it has ready on hand, and putting a neat twist on the creation of the undead. If that sounds like your cup of tea-- or perhaps I should say: If that sounds like your type of bone-crunching bloodbath -- then Overlord is unlikely to leave you unsplattered.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - November

In October I got to the theater to see Venom (review), which I didn't care for but have no enmity towards either, and Bad Times at the El Royale (review), which rocketed up to be my #3 movie of the year!

I never got around to First Man, so that's my top priority now, and hopefully I'll have time to catch up before November's interesting movies get here. There aren't any absolute must-sees for me this month, but I wouldn't be surprised if I wound up seeing one or two.

What looks good to you? Happy November!


Bohemian Rhapsody
Nov 2nd; PG-13
Full disclosure, I'm not much a Queen fan particularly, but I am a fan of 70's/80's rock. I'm also a fan of Rami Malek (ever since Larry Crown) and word is that he's great in this. Word is also that the movie around him isn't so great, but I get a sneaky suspicion that expectations of this being an Oscar contender may have heightened the disappointment. Just the PG-13 rating is a good indicator that it wasn't exactly vying for a best pic nom. The trailer is very groovy and if the film is like that, I expect I'll get a kick out of it someday. I'd be there for the music mostly anyway.




Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Nov 2nd; PG
Twelve-year-old me would've been all over this. Now, if I ever sat down to watch it, it would be in the hope that it's so stupid and horrendously bad that I could just laugh at it for 2 hours. I actually want to see Keira Knightly embarrass herself with that pink hair and those eyebrows and that voice. Does that make me a bad person? I realize it's a movie for kids, but actually good kid movies are good adult movies too, and really, if they were serious about doing an updated twist on The Nutcracker, this is the absolute LAST way I'd want it done.




Prospect
Nov 2nd(limited); R
Coooool. Small budget scifi that still looks good; doesn't try to push the limit of what they can cohesively accomplish, but sticks to what makes all stories compelling: the human element. Character. That's what trailer makes it out to be, anyway, and I'd love to give it a watch. Scifi always seems to be best used as a catalyst for drama and conflict instead of being the main focus itself.




Overlord
Nov 9th; R
Now this is interesting. This is the J.J. Abrams-produced WWII zombie film that was originally meant to be a part of the Cloverfield Universe. (So they say.) But the Cloverfield part has been ditched. I suspected that choice was made after The Cloverfield Paradox got such a terrible reaction. Like they didn't have confidence in this movie's quality and didn't want to keep making bad Cloverfield movies. BUT, this movie's getting great reviews so far. I wanted to see it even before I saw the trailer, but after the trailer I didn't expect this good a reaction. I guess zombies and Nazis are a pretty fun combo!




The Girl in the Spider's Web
Nov 9th; R
I've never seen a Girl with a Dragon Tattoo film before, but this is the closest I've come to wanting to see one. If they keep on making these movie (I dunno how much source material there is) they won't have to bother with trying to make James Bond a girl. I guess these movies are much more mature and thriller-y than Bond, but this trailer definitely has that kind of appeal. Also I bet Claire Foy is awesome in it. AND I caught a glimpse of the young German actress who plays the deaf girl in Dark, and it's so cool seeing actors from Dark outside of that show, even if it small roles.




Outlaw King
Nov 9th; R
I watched the trailer and was still confused about who exactly the outlaw king is. Robert the Bruce? Either I'm bad at history or he was kinda obscure. But okay, I can dig it. Medieval, Scotland, war, kings, knights. Not huge on Chris Pine, but there's plenty of other people there too. And it's Netflix, so lazy afternoon watch it is!




Time Freak
Nov 9th; PG-13
Look y'all, Asa Butterfield and Sophie Turner are doing an About Time movie, but for kids! So, extra focus on the time-travel gimmick, more traditional and cliched romance, and cheaper comedy efforts. For some reason, I still wouldn't mind watching it.




Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Nov 16th; PG-13
Haha, can you imagine if they called this "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald"??? They should have. Just commit to it, ya know? Anyway, I watched the first one and enjoyed it so I guess I'm in for this too. I'm not super excited about it in any particular way, but I've never been a big Harry Potter person to begin with. I liked era setting, and the character of Newt, and Jude Law as Dumbledore should be neat. I never thought I'd say this but I think I'm going to miss Colin Farrell as the bad guy though.




Widows
Nov 16th; R
This one's got a cast on it! Wowee. But I don't understand what the plot is? Some ladies' criminal husbands are killed so they decide to pull of their next planned heist? Why? Did the bad guy guy murder them because they robbed him, so they decide that's the best way to get revenge, or...? If the impression I'm getting here is right I'm not sure I'd be able to pull for our (anti?)heroines, but I guess I'll keep an eye out. What a cast.




The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Nov 16th; R
The Coen Brothers have made a Netflix film. That's it, y'all. There's no going back now. Netflix allows for different types of movies, though, you know? This isn't the sort of flick people would be rushing to the theater to see, but because of Netflix it still got to be made -- without altering to be more appealing to the theater crowd -- and I'd be surprised right out of my boots if it isn't a good, fun, western time. An anthology film apparently, of several short films, all set in the wild west. I'm all the way on board!




The Clovehitch Killer
Nov 16th; NR
Charlie Plummer is doing a "My Neighbor is a Serial Killer" movie -- but even more dramatic, because it's not his neighbor he suspects, it's his father. This trope gets done quite a lot, but rarely as well and as real-life as it looks here, and after Lean on Pete I'll watch anything that kid tries his hand at, so I'm 1000% there for this movie. Seriously, the trailer looks great. Moody and intense... human drama over excessive thrills... coming of age elements... Plummer is probably great in it too, but what else is new?




Jonathan
Nov 16th; NR
Okay, so Ansel Elgort has dissociative personalities, one good one bad. The bad one's dating a girl, but then she breaks up with him to date the good one. Hahaha, well, I guess it's not a weird as cheating on one of the personalities. Wow I can't even keep a straight face typing this I bet the movie is golden I need to see this. Reviews so far skew positive though... so maybe it's genuinely decent, who knows. The trailer's definitely taking itself seriously. I'm not sure if I can.




Ralph Breaks the Internet
Nov 21st; PG
Oh hey. This actually looks good. For some reason I was expecting immediately obvious tragedy and downgrading but now I'm on the hook until the truth is revealed. It very well could still be tragedy. But they have a solid premise going that demands world expansion, and they're playing Rick Astley so they have to be a certain level of in the know concerning the pop culture they're going to be dealing with... idk... it might be good. If I ever feel like it's not, I probably will stay away though, because I kinda loved the first one.




Green Book
Nov 21st; PG-13
I tire easily of movies that purposefully take on the subject of racism, simply because they tend to serve to divide more than unite -- but judging from the trailer, this movie does the opposite of that, showcasing a positive side of things that can come through the negative, by focusing on the friendship between the two characters. This looks like a really good drama, with good performances and sleek, rich look. And they'll be piano music too I expect, so that'll be nice.




Robin Hood
Nov 21st; PG-13
You know that guy on YouTube who does trick and fast archery? Practical application and close-quarter stuff? This is a take on Robin Hood inspired by him I bet. I would be fairly surprised if it turned out to be critically praised or regarded flick, but that doesn't mean I'm not interesting in watching it. Quite the opposite. Robin Hood adaptations don't need to be exceptional pieces of film. It's action/adventure entertainment, and the sooner filmmakers understand this the sooner we can have an exceptionally fun Robin Hood movie. This may not be it -- but it could be. Taron Egerton and his fun screen presence will likely at least make it not a waste of time. And then there's Ben Mendelsohn and Jamie Foxx to consider.




Anna and the Apocalypse
Nov 30th(limited); R
IT'S A CHRISTMAS. ZOMBIE. MUSICAL!!! Oh my goodness. It's probably not going to be as good as I want it to be, but okay but that's only because my imagination is running wild right now, and there's no way it's not a little bit crazy fun. No way. With that combination, it'd be impossible to be outright bad. The trailer makes it look brilliant and like a blast. Actually even if it's bad it'd still be brilliant because its a brilliant idea. Wow, I'm totally hyped for the holiday season now.




Sunday, October 14, 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale

Spoiler-free!

Drew Goddard is the man behind The Martian's screenplay and the director and co-writer of The Cabin in the Woods. He's also series creator of Netflix's best MCU show, Daredevil. All things I adore. And now, Bad Times at the El Royale. It's all his, and the things about those former movies that I suspected came from his mind has confirmation. I will officially watch anything that Goddard puts his pen on, because I love the way this guy writes.

We're on the same wavelength or something. ... I wish. 

This movie is the sort of movie that shouldn't be explained. It's also the sort of movie where if you watch the trailer and think you'll like it... well, I honestly would be shocked if you didn't. And while the style and tone are great indicators of what the viewing experience will be like, you'll walk away loving the undisclosed details if you walk away loving anything at all.

It starts out on a great foot and with an explosive bang, showing off visual storytelling, glee-inducing yet simple camerawork and drop-dead gorgeous colors and lighting. The opening scene is very much a miniature reflection of the entire movie. After that, things get going in a cool and leisurely pace with brisk undertones that serves as a reminder of what is promised to come. But the film doesn't get ahead of itself and carefully introduces each character, showing them interact and introducing intrigue in each. That introductory scene, and many after, felt almost theatrical, like an immaculately staged and well-rehearsed play. When it closed I felt the need to give applause.

Like in a play much of the interest comes from watching the actors interact with each other and the sets. There's a palpable energy between them.

It utilized chapters with old-timey title cards to mix up the perspective, one for each of the seven characters, and a fun side effect is that some events are witnessed multiple times, from differing perspectives, each one adding to the information and delving further into the mystery and intrigue. Also it's just plain a heck of a lot of fun for the audience. Every time a new title card is introduced it feels like a turning point, immediately dropping an info bomb about the corresponding character that shakes up the plot in magnificent ways.

All this fits inside a classic three-act structure, and helps with the building of tension and rise and fall of action, which turns out downright masterfully, but honestly what else would you expect from a writer who directs his own work? Goddard though, is perhaps exceptionally good at the job. He could've made this story about anyone with equally fascinating results. The mystery isn't even a mind-bender; it's merely crafted in a way that makes you eager to understand it. A perfect balance of revealing and withholding.

I like a movie with a slow burn. This one has firecrackers at intervals. And a hefty stick of dynamite for the end. 

I won't even bother to describe who the seven are. They are the movie's mystery. The El Royale is located on the California/Nevada state line, and guests must choose which side to stay on. There's a theme of false choices. For the hotel it's clear cut: California or Nevada. But with people it's more complex than that. "Good or bad? Right or wrong?" Well, what if a person's good but pretends to be bad? Or bad and pretends to be good? What if they think they're bad but they're good? Vice versa? Maybe they know if they're good or bad and own it. And maybe they don't know one side from the other or up from down. Is that seven options? Well, you get the idea.

Performance-wise, stand-outs will differ from viewer to viewer, but no one -- and I mean no one -- lacks in their performance at all. They're professionals, all, and each has significant moments to shine. Me, I particularly loved these three: Jeff Bridges, never not a standout, Cynthia Erivo, perfectly balanced with the voice of an angel, and Lewis Pullman, unexpected highlight of the whole film. I kid you not. And I exaggerate not. (Fun tidbit: he's Bill Pullman's son.) Dakota Johnson was way cooler than I thought she'd be, Cailee Spaeny was kind of brilliantly hilarious, Jon Hamm was a fun edgy/charm combo, and Chris Hemsworth was weird and very off-putting. Intentionally, of course.

My cynical side hopes that people who go solely to see him shirtless will be disappointed. My optimistic side hopes they'll instead be hit with the real magic of this movie. 

I figured they'd utilize music, but I had no idea of how far it would be taken, and how ingrained would be. There's almost always something playing, or someone singing, and all in-story. It bleeds into the style. There's a beautifully long and immaculately timed one-shot where a character is singing and another is sleuthing that I never wanted to end. The violence was all well and good -- no secret: the violence was my favorite parts every time -- but the intentional, calm pace in between is what keeps the movie thriving. Whether it lulls you into false comfort, or makes you aware of the impending doom, it's in that patience and restraint where the story is crafted.

Then the violence and the thrills come, and the prepared background makes them pop and startle with what seems like no effort at all. It's all in the prep work. This isn't an action movie, but those spurts of action put most action flicks to shame with how well-done and explosive they are. And this is my kind of film because in between those brief but generous spurts is character attention and exploration that is for me equally as exciting and fights and blood splatter; and it simultaneously works to enhance that action by putting stakes behind it all.

I didn't mention the dark humor. There's dark humor that I loved. Subtle. Unnecessary. And OH-so-fine. 

I'd love to have a deeper grasp on the themes explored here. I can't get into it here since I wanted to avoid spoilers, but the night I saw it I couldn't sleep for thinking about the themes and how they were portrayed. There was some wonderfully clever and impactful symbolism that struck me, and I've been pondering on it all ever since. It'll take a second viewing at least to strengthen and solidify my interpretation, and who knows how many more before all those lines and details even begin to get boring. If there's a threshold, I plan to find it.

Bad Times at the El Royale is a rich and silky-smooth thriller, pensive but not pedantic, intricate but never stale or tedious, sufficiently intense and mature, yet distinctly and determinedly fun -- and absolutely glowing in devious red neon. It may not be everyone's ideal vacation into the silver screen, but for those like me, who enjoy the... shall we say... less touristy locales... that perhaps feature the dangerous mark of a devoted artist... this incident may as well have been hidden away just for you to find.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Venom

Mild spoilers, I guess. TBH there's not much to spoil.

The sooner studios that aren't Marvel realize that when dealing with superhero movies, they're so far behind the game that it would be wiser and more productive to invent an entirely new game, the sooner the superhero genre can get the revitalization it so desperately needs. Sadly, I expect it won't happen until the genre has first died off completely. And Venom is just one more nail in a very, very large coffin.

Look: I gave it the best chance I possibly could. I tried. It didn't. You let me down, EDDIE.

It's not awful. No, okay, it is awful, but not any more so than your average by-the-book Marvel movie. And it does have a few things to it that Disney Marvel won't do -- like semi-horror scenes and tastefully biting people's heads off -- but in the grand scheme of things that amounts just about nil. It makes the movie stand out from the pack as much as Ant-Man and the Wasp stood out from the pack because people shrink in it. In other words, yes, there are some different details in the dressing, but it's all still the same stale formula.

Even worse for Venom than Ant-Man though, because Sony doesn't have Marvel's secret sauce recipe. Instead they copy and fudge their way through, but the template they're trying to recreate is all wrong for the character. Marvel origins are exclusively redemption arcs, but Eddie and Venom are supposed to be an anti-hero. And "he's an anti-hero because he kills people sometimes" doesn't cut it, okay? Eddie ends up a better person than he starts and is in perfect control and harmony with Venom. Even in The-Movie-We-Shall-Not-Mention (Spider-Man 3, shhhh) Venom offered a temptation to Eddie that was appealing -- an addiction. Here, they're just kinda... buddies.

"EDDIE, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

I guess it was meant to be funny, and it almost was, but at the sake of compelling character. They also could've gone the route of: Eddie is a determined good guy; Venom is a determined bad guy; but they're stuck together and have to make it work. They did a little, early on. I guess I'm fixating on the way everything concluded. But come on -- the movie stopped right as it was starting to get interesting, so of course I am! I just wanted the status quo to be balanced. At first Venom is in control, then Eddie is in control but allows Venom privileges. I wanted more like the part where they're arguing about whether they should put their hands up or not -- but without the cheesiness.

I'm sure there's any number of ways the dynamic could've been more compelling. As a start, maybe cast a different actor as Venom's voice. It's hard to banter with yourself, you know? The problem is just that they put in minimum effort all around. Not that they made the wrong choices; that they made no choices. The whole time it felt uncomfortable, like it was being forced into a shape that didn't fit it. They had their risk-less, badly-formed mold, and their unusual, kinda dark, little baby story -- and maybe they were scared to try anything crazy, or maybe they just wanted to appease an audience, but they neglected it, plain and simple.

OR, they could've had Eddie lose Venom for longer, and have him actually try to get him back.

Poor Tom Hardy. I genuinely thought, when the teaser trailer released, that I would enjoy the movie no matter what, just because he was the lead, and there wasn't much CGI in sight. They even said Venom would have only 5 mins of screen time. They were right. I counted. But he was still always present -- reaching out with his CGI arms and saying "EDDIE" over and over, and not allowing a single moment's peace. And then there's three other symbiotes to consider. All in all, the movie is teeming with them. Hardy does his best, but it really makes no difference. He merely seems at odds with the movie's tone and lack of depth to explore.

Everyone else -- Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams, whoever played her doctor boyfriend -- I couldn't care less about, except Jenny Slate. I tried to like Eddie, but Jenny's character was the only one I felt anything for. She had a unique and important position in the story, she had a dilemma, conflict, threat... she should've been the main character, or at least the main supporting character. What a wasted opportunity. I didn't fall for the rumor it was going to be rated R (I did fall for the Spidey cameo one though, and that was a whopping BUST) but man, they should've gone for the R. They had to go out of their way to keep it PG-13.

Every time the camera does a "tasteful turn-away" you can feel the regret.

And the times you could feel the want of violence were the best -- when the tone edged on horror and the dark comedy got actually dark. They could've had something moody and strange -- like The Predator with it's I-do-what-I-want tone that audiences had to decide to take or leave. Or it might've been the blockbuster version of Upgrade, just with big action sequences and franchise-able characters.

It did remind me of both those films at times, but in ways that made me sigh and wish I were watching them instead. Venom isn't the worst superhero movie ever, but it is... it's just... it's... not even worth a wrap-up line.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Dogfight

Wow. Okay. Full disclosure: I'm probably going to end up underrating this.

First of all, diving into River Phoenix's filmography is probably the best decision I made this whole year. This movie is so sweet in such a non-sappy, real-world, almost gritty way. I hate to use the word "gritty." It's not really that. Let's just say, if this movie were a metal, it would have a soft bushed finish instead of a reflective, shiny one. In many ways it's more pleasant to touch because it feels real and natural, but still isn't coarse.

Written by a man (Bob Comfort) and directed by a woman (Nancy Savoca) which probably helped in creating the unconventional tonal balance.

Plot: The night before their unit is shipped off to Vietnam in 1963, some Marine buddies host a party called a Dogfight, where they pitch in money, rent a bar, and bring the ugliest date they can find. The ugliest wins the prize. Eddie (River Phoenix) happens upon the daughter of a coffee shop owner, Rose (Lili Taylor). She's certainly not conventionally attractive, so he invites her. But she's also sweet, genuine, and intelligent person, so when she agrees, Eddie quickly begins to regret the whole situation.

It's literally almost nothing but a developing dynamic between two very different but strangely compatible people; the surface attraction that brings them together for the night, their arguments, how they clash and conflict, their discussions, their differing mindsets, and the slow development of genuine affection between them. All shown through situations that expose their character; flaws along with the good stuff.

An engaging character study that doesn't feel like a chore to pay attention to.

River's character was of course very good. At this point I expected nothing less, but he still impresses me. Eddie's sharply defined with a great balance of positive and negative qualities and is engaging yet not too hard to understand. A great team effort of writing and performance. But I was really surprised with Lili Taylor and the character of Rose. I saw the trailer and was immediately like, "Yeah, okay she's definitely not that ugly" and thought I had the movie figured out.

Basically, she just has some unusual facial bone structure, and clearly they were going to try and make her less physically appealing. So, I went in expecting to not buy that someone who looks like River could fall in love with her, all done up that way; and that it would feel like a pity romance. Like, he feels bad for her, so he hangs out with her to make her feel better, and somewhere along there a romance gets shoehorned in.

But it's not like that at all. From the second she turned around, showing her face for the first time, I understood her appeal. She wasn't physically attractive, but she was instantly warm and open, and she drew me in. Then as she and River started to dialogue, honest-to-goodness chemistry existed between them, and she had this quiet but bold confidence to her that challenged his often brazen attitude -- and I quickly realized I needed to settle in for some real and serious romance. From that moment it had me, and didn't let go through the whole run time.

Serious romance. But there was comedy too; light, well-ingrained, and non-distracting. 

And I loved that at the start she seemed like she could take or leave him, while he was showing signs of being genuinely attracted. Especially when he's regretting bringing her to the dogfight and subtly trying to get out of it. He actually had to pursue her to win her over, and that's such a huge difference for the high school romance cliche where the ugly duckling is finally noticed by the handsome guy when she improves her appearance and shows him her winning personality.

Here, Rose does improve her appearance, and she most definitely has a winning personality, but she has an innate and immediate attractive quality too, and that's why it makes sense when Eddie latches on so fast. Also, he may look like River Phoenix sporting a high-and-tight, but he had hard edges and baggage that made him less of the classic romantic catch. Their flaws complemented each other, and they worked well together. They're unusual, but they make sense. And that's the sole reason this movie works.

Otherwise, the production around them doesn't let them down. Released in 1991 but set in the 60's and it feels every inch like the 60's. As far as I can tell anyway. The cinematography is simple, but made of that same bushed metal to match the tone of the movie. It takes place almost exclusively at night, so that helps. The music was the greatest supporting aspect by far though, with a wonderful and soulful era-appropriate soundtrack. Rose dreams of being a musician, so they put effort into picking the songs to back their relationship.

I expected it to crumble once the premise didn't hold it up, but it only got better. This movie is no flake.

There were some funny moments, some heartbreaking moments, and some honest and heartfelt moments. There were also a few things I wrinkled my nose at and could've done without in theory, (the movie earns its R-rating) but it all served to portray the appeal of finding a person to connect with on a personal level, as opposed to riding the surface attractions and momentary pleasures. And with an intent like that, I can't much fault the method of execution.

With all that, I think I've talked myself into giving it four stars, so maybe I'm not underrating it after all. It really is sweet, genuine, and honest; the kind of thing I look for in a romance. It may seem strange that a movie could be equally comfortable in being wide-eyed and open, and cynical and blunt, but that's exactly the dynamic between the two leads, so, strange, but appropriate.

It's called Dogfight so the natural assumption of its content may be misleading, but don't be fooled. There's a heart of pure gold here; not all shiny and alluring perhaps -- but this movie doesn't put much stock in appearances where true value is concerned.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - October

Last month I saw my one must-see-in-the-theater-movie, which was The Predator (review). It let a lot of people down apparently, but not me; it was exactly what I wanted and a ton of fun. And I saw Sierra Burgess is a Loser (review) off Netflix which I didn't know was getting released (oops), and I liked that one a ton more than the general audiences too. Oh Well.

I also played catch-up with The Meg (review), Crazy Rich Asians (review), and Upgrade (review). The latter two impressed my very much. Very, very much. And then I started a River Phoenix bender spurred by Running on Empty (review) a new favorite, and I now I'm stuck in the late 80's and very early 90's and feeling a little lackadaisical about all these new movies -- but there's one, maybe two must-sees for me this month, and several more that I'll be wanting to see eventually too. So it should be a good month!

How was your September? What looks good this month??


A Star is Born
Oct 5th; R
It's kinda funny because I've always liked Lady Gaga's voice but never cared for her music or her outlandish appearance. So seeing her like this is super cool, and I'm very interested to see the movie and how her acting talents are. (Pretty good by the look of it.) And Bradley Cooper is always a plus. I guess this is a remake of a remake of a remake or whatever but I've never seen any version, so I don't know what to expect but it looks like an involving music drama.




Venom
Oct 5th; PG-13
I'm tired of seeing this trailer so that's not a good sign, but I already had tickets to see it Thursday night. I want it to be good. Partially because I just want to enjoy it and I've been looking forward to it for a while -- but also partially because everyone else is so sure it's going to be awful and I want it to rise above that. But it keeps feeling more and more stale and I don't have much hope that it will be any more than anyone expects. Maybe, just maybe, it'll surprise me.




Await Further Instructions
Oct 5th(limited); NR
Intense, intimate, British, scifi horror. If this movie delivers on what the trailer promises, I think I'll enjoy it very much.




First Man
Oct 12th; PG-13
When your first feature movie is a movie as remarkable as Whiplash is, I guess it can be hard to find anywhere to go from there. So Damien Chazelle when to Hollywood, and now he's going to the moon. Honestly, I expect this will be my least favorite of his movies, but that doesn't mean I won't think it's great. My expectations are definitely up there. As it stands, Apollo 13 is my favorite real-life story movie and the only one I can think of that I even love, so if this can even come close that'll be an amazing accomplishment in itself.




Bad Times at the El Royale
Oct 12th; R
Now this is my jam! Drew Goddard has an impeccable record of screenwriting as they note here, and directed The Cabin in the Woods, and I'm feeling some of those vibes in this trailer. It's got a wonderfully large cast including Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, and Chris Hemsworth. I have no idea of the plot or what's happening, but I want to see it happen -- and if it has half the style of this trailer with that awesome music usage, then I'm going to have an absolute blast with it.




After Everything
Oct 12th(limited); NR
Rom-com-dram with Maika Monroe. The trailers has some promising wit and energy, but the guy has cancer, so that makes it tempting so fall into cancer-movie cliches. I don't think I'd enjoy it if it did, but I think I'd be willing to see and find out anyway.




Stella's Last Weekend
Oct 12th(limited); NR
Alex and Nat Wolff star in this as brothers, and it's directed by their mom who plays their mom as well, and if that isn't reason enough to see this then what is? The plot has something to do with the last weekend before they put down their sick and aging dong, and there's a girl there who both the brothers like.




Wildlife
Oct 19th(limited); PG-13
If I ever watch this it'll likely be because it's Paul Dano's first film as a director. It's looks like an excellent beginning for him. But I expect it's more of a kind of thing to admire than to love. Carey Mulligan always gives good performances. Jake Gyllenhaal has his moments. I bet Ed Oxenbould is good too.




Mid90's
Oct 19th(limited); NR
And this is Jonah Hill's directorial debut. I like the aspect ratio choice, it really sells the era of the movie. And I like coming-of-age movies so I expect I'll be watching this at some point. Unless there's more going on than appears it won't be a favorite, but I'd be pretty shocked if it isn't worth a look.




Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Running on Empty

In 1971 Arthur and Annie Pope were just a couple of anti-war radicals among many, but one mistake and seventeen years later they're still on the run from the FBI, uprooting almost every six months as the Feds continually close in. But worse -- now they have children in tow; Harry, who's ten, and Danny who's seventeen, an ace on the piano, and itching to fly the ever-relocating coop to go to school at Juilliard.

Directed by Sidney Lumet. Crank up the Jackson Browne! (They don't actually. Too on the nose? Too similar to Stand By Me? Oh well.)

This is the first movie I've watched just because River Phoenix is in it. I grew up on Indiana Jones of course, and spent plenty of time crushing on young Indy as he fights off bad guys, lions, and snakes on that circus train. And I saw Stand By Me because I expected the movie itself to be great (it is) and got broadsided by that kid's performance. But diving into his less-mainstream filmography, I was expecting movies that have circumstantial importance, that are admirable, well-made, and performed with that Special Something -- but fail to find a personal touch with me specifically. What I ended up with was another favorite coming-of-age movie, and now I wonder how I managed to expect any less.

I was expecting Rebel Without a Cause (not to knock that one of course, I liked it a lot, but you understand) but I was more reminded of this year's Lean on Pete (still my top film of the year) and Billy Elliot. In fact, it seemed very much an all-American version of Billy Elliot, with the background of 70's hippie politics and the auditions and side-focus on music. It could have been sidetracked by the politics, but the family and their relationships were more important. It also wasn't fancy filmmaking, but felt grounded in its time and by the intimate focus on the central family, who are close-knit despite their unusual and often hard situation.

Families that evade the FBI together stay together? They have secret signals and code words and everything!

While Phoenix's Danny is the main protagonist, his parents both have clear cut arcs that feel secondary only by a hair. The scene between Annie and her father is probably the most important of the whole film. It brings the theme together. It becomes an emotional center. And it's a huge turning point of the plot. My favorite scene though, hands down was the birthday dinner. The common chatter, the gift-giving, the dancing and singing to James Taylor's Fire and Rain. Coming-of-agers always have the best dinner scenes, don't they?

And Phoenix does That Thing where the character is always hiding, and it draws you in. Camera placement has a lot to do with it. Long takes are used too, and the camera is most often set unobtrusively behind, to the side, or far away from the actors, allowing the scenes play out like watching real life. In one dinner scene Danny's head is framed directly behind his dad's. But River also hides behind his floppy hair, and wanders around the frame spontaneously. It makes you look for the character, and as I understand it, physically looking for a character helps engage with the emotional journey study too.

He also plays the piano. Like, for real.

He has some explosive moments of emotional acting here too, and I love how fleeting they are. They flash and blind you instead of lingering beyond their welcome. But mostly, he's just achingly melancholy. It's something that only really works in intimate dramas like this, and can't be faked. You have it, or you don't -- and River Phoenix had it like crazy. I also loved Christine Lahti. Effortlessly believable as a mother, and a daughter (you could see her past in her interaction with her dad) and she would worry in such a stable way, and completely brought to life the parental sacrifice part of the story, emphasized so wonderfully by the poetically ironic way it was written.

Judd Hirsch takes third place -- sometimes warm, sometimes closed and distant. He turns on a dime sometimes, but the character gets a lower level of attention to start. What I loved most that involved him was how at the end of the movie, Danny makes the selfless choice to not abandon his family, allowing Arthur to make the selfless choice to let him go. They both get to be the hero and do the admirable thing, instead of Danny rebelling and his father coming around to accepting it. Martha Plimpton is the love interest, and though I was pleased to see and recognize her from The Goonies, I liked her more than I expected to. Her and River's interaction was extra engaging.

Normally it's the height of laziness to play the same song twice in a movie, but the second time Fire and Rain plays, it takes on a different meaning.

When I think about why I like this movie so particularly well, all that comes to mind is scenes, and moments in the scenes. Memorable details, scattered around involving scenes, that are liberally peppered throughout an engaging story, that holds meaningful themes close to its heart; and it all adds up to something simple but very specific, and full of understated beauty. It wasn't made for me, but I found it, and now I get to treasure it all the same.

I have a soft spot for coming-of-age tales in which the drama is about and around family, and I doubt it will wane anytime soon. Running on Empty is yet another in a long line, that breaks your heart just so you can feel it overflowing, and the effect is as warm, as bittersweet, and as potent as ever.