Old

Approximate Taco Bell Drive-Thru Line, 9:58 p.m., July 22, 2021

If you’ve seen the previews to the new M. Night Shyamalan feature, Old, then you pretty much know how the movie is going to unfold. There are some metaphors about the existential dread of aging, not particularly good ones, and some not terribly well fleshed-out antagonists. The beach is lovely, though. And although you know how it unfolds, what actually happens will perhaps surprise you.

The ending wraps things up in a jiff!

This is not must see material, but if you must see a movie, you might consider this one. The summer release schedule has seemingly hit the point of tedious high-budget action films, and spooky would-be horror films. That would perhaps explain a rather full theater on opening night, but my guess is that the legs of this release are not long.

Heading over in the pre-10 p.m. hour, I did note that the Taco Bell sign was not illuminated. Yet, cars at the drive thru snaked well out of the parking lot and into the street. The tension between ridiculously low-priced fast food and the capacity to staff a restaurant that offers ridiculously low-priced fast food remains strong in the Fox Valley.

Cruella

Did you hear L&D are back?!?

Well, you might be the first to hear, because the Marcus Theater employees didn’t recognize us, and they didn’t hold the movie for us, either. Our preferred theater generally runs 20 minutes worth of preliminaries, so the movie starts roughly 21 minutes after the posted time as L&D are settling in; but in this post-Covid world, evidently, they sometimes cut the trailers short for the late movies so the staff can get out a few minutes early. So we missed the previews and whatever would-be hilarity Greg Marcus is bringing these days, and also missed the opening opening of the movie.

That said, we probably missed a lot of other stuff, too. This movie is sensory overload, for sure, in a good way. Early in the movie they were doing this blur tactic on moving camera shots that I couldn’t quite get accustomed to. By mid-movie I was thinking we were sitting too close to the screen because it was hard to keep track of everything going on. There was explosive color, lots of colors, lots of colors moving across the screen in every direction, more pixels than your brain could ever hope to handle.

And a lot of black and white, too, of course. The most colorful black and white you are ever likely to see.

Although it’s a lot of work watching this, the audio helps a lot. The selections set or match the mood of the scenes pretty well, and when old vinyl doesn’t suffice, it does a nice job of making its own. My conjecture is that the music complements the visuals, allowing your brain to make sense of all that’s up on screen. I did turn on the soundtrack afterwards, as L told you I would, but I think that unlike Rushmore or Pulp Fiction or Baby Driver, this one doesn’t seem to keep my interest without the film rolling. Possibly because unlike those other movies, this is more of a (really) fun-to-watch-at-the-theater movie for me, and not a serious candidate for my attention going forward. Who knows?

Certainly I didn’t know much about this moving going in,* just that it’s Disney and it’s the backstory for Cruella, sure. Even so, it is clear that the primary challenge for the writers is that Emma Stone is so awesome that you just have to love her, and she’s sure easy to love as Estella, but they can’t quite figure out how to turn her into pure evil. Or, more likely, they just can’t bring themselves to do it. I don’t know the actual 101 Dalmatians story, but I am guessing the original Cruella isn’t a sympathetic, misunderstood genius; in this origin story, Cruella is the heroine, that much is for sure.

At any rate, Disney movies don’t get too much better than this. The soundtrack keeps things moving along. The set pieces are generally fun, sort of like if Wes Andersen had a $100 zillion dollar budget and ordered up costumes and materials for three or four movies, and then Disney kicked him out and put in its own people. That’s not quite accurate, but certainly a starting point for discussion. The supporting actors were very good, dogs watching footy made me lol, the heist scenes were generally solid (if a bit overdone), the plot was mostly non-obvious, good fun all around. And after 60 hours of productions featuring lions mauling and being mauled, superheroes killing and being killed, Jedis behaving badly, and full-scale intergalactic warfare, Disney finally got around to showing blood in one of its films.

And what a great punchline that was!

So, see Cruella, you will like it. And, if not, at least you will like the soundtrack.

Also, watch this space for potential curling and National Rugby League updates. L&D is back in business.

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*Taco Bell appeared to be closed on the way by, so the usually reliable TBI was not available. On the way back it still appeared to be closed, though there was a pretty good queue at the drive thru window. It’s a great big world.

Minari

Minari is being touted as the next great Korean film, a story of a Korean family coming to America in Reagan-era Arkansas. There are big things and small things going on here, and it’s the small things that make this add up to a far greater movie than the basic storyline would suggest.

So here we go — what are you expecting from a movie about Korean immigrants in rural Arkansas? Go through your mental checklist and consider what you think will be in here. Whether you want to do this or not, you will consult this checklist with the introduction of each new character, each new setting, each new plot development. As Chekov says, if there is a gun on the mantle in the opening scene, that gun needs to go off by the end of the story. Watching this movie is like walking into a armory.

For the American in me, I see a movie about existential uncertainty, a meditation on the various roles that family, friends, and society play in insulating us from life’s inevitable agonies and traumas (as well as the emergent excesses of American agribusiness). It takes a little bit of work, but what does the father, Jacob, see here? What is he doing in rural Arkansas? What are all these other Korean immigrants doing? What exactly does America promise these folks? Does it deliver?

Does it ever!

What a great experience. It is both completely unpredictable throughout, but not all that surprising once it ends. Clear your schedule and dedicate some time to watching this one carefully.

Thanks to Dr. and Mrs. B for their generosity in providing food and libations and, of course, the stream!

The Investigation

The Investigation is a six-part, roughly four hour, Danish drama that has aired on HBO over the past few weeks. The subject matter, of course, is the investigation into a grisly death of a female journalist and the attempts to piece together her macabre demise. The result is a meditation on the fallibility of prioritization, the limits of human knowledge, the vastness of oceans, and the wonderment of dogs.

It is visually breathtaking in spots, and it is visually suffocating in others. It is hard to believe the capabilities of human ingenuity and modern technology, and yet there are still limits on what is knowable. What is certainly remarkable is where The Investigation runs up against this boundary.

And, finally, I do wish that these extraordinary productions didn’t focus so disproportionately on the ghastly murders of young women.

With that proviso, still recommended.

Fatale

Fatale *½ Early on in Fatale, just for a brief moment, the movie showed a flash of promise, potential greatness.

Well, maybe not greatness, but enough to sit up in your seat and say, hey now, that was something. Hillary Swank is a great actress and so there is always hope.

But it was not to be. The plot unraveled and began an extended free fall that didn’t end until the credits rolled.

I am guessing that the things I was intrigued by were probably revealed in the trailers, so if I had seen the trailers, this one would have been even worse. On the other hand, if I had seen the trailers, maybe I would have stayed out in the lobby and watched basketball instead.

Perhaps L will give us an essay on the trailer menace one of these days. Until then, avoid this one. And avoid it after, as well.

The Marksman

The Marksman *½ This is an uninteresting movie wherein America’s lugubrious and potentially unhinged uncle (Liam Neeson) plays a retired USMC soldier in Trump-era Texas. Jim Hanson now (mostly) pays the bills herding undernourished cattle while assorted would-be immigrants make their way across his land and on into the States. The opening of the film shows Hanson in all his beleagueredness, a master class in American dismay cliché, when he happens upon a tense border-crossing. The conflict involves two immigrant innocents and the ruthless Cartel thugs that want them butchered, with a non-English speaking boy insinuating his way into Hanson’s consciousness. Trump-era Texas isn’t the friendliest place for an only child on the run from The Cartel, so Hansen takes it upon himself to take him to the next of kin.

The metaphors (and the parallels between this movie and News of the World) are thick in this one.

Early in the movie there are many interesting shots of the landscape, where you can see almost as far across Texas as you can see into the plot of this one.

Well, I know it’s hard to make a film, so let’s accentuate some positives. I did sort of enjoy Neeson in the anti-Taken role as the bumbling idiot of a savior. And I did smile at the film’s nod to the 80s classic, Witness, though I have to wonder where that farmer went. The bit about Chicago hot dogs not having any ketchup was right on target. And an extra half star for the dog.

So that’s a wrap. Time to get on a bus and take a nap.

News of the World

News of the World *** This is a potentially interesting movie wherein America’s dad (Tom Hanks) plays a retired Confederate officer in postbellum Texas. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd now pays the bills reading the news aloud on the Texas circuit amidst the Yankee troops and assorted miscreants (including L&D fave, Michael Angelo Covino). The opening of the film shows that Captain Kidd picked up some scars in the conflict, but those scars run much, much deeper, of course. In his travels, he happens upon a butchered family with an adolescent, non-English speaking girl as the sole survivor. Postbellum Texas isn’t the friendliest place for a child separated from her parents, so Kidd takes it upon himself to take her to the next of kin.

The metaphors are thick in this one.

Overall, worth a look. I really liked some of the visuals, particularly the shots coming into town. Hanks is super, of course, as is Helena Zengel as the child. Lots of nice inside-outside comparisons with light and mood (testy crowds seem to be everywhere).

Everything about the movie is completely believable except for the hour in the middle. If it’s Trump-era metaphors you are looking for, this one’s a winner.

Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman is an interesting and frustrating movie. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that one of the principal plot elements is that Cassie (Carey Mulligan) spends her free time pretending to be outrageously drunk and allows men to take her home. What happens after that doesn’t appear in the trailers, so I’ll leave it out, but the root cause is due to a horrible incident that happened to her best friend some years ago.

The movie is much better than the trailer promised, a bit predictable in spots (plenty of foreshadowing), but not really for the long game. My frustration is that Cassie’s approach to the problem doesn’t seem particularly healthy, the people who have “moved on” seem a bit too dismissive of the underlying problem, and Cassie’s response to those people is rather glib, often snarky, and ultimately unsatisfying. We’re all in a box, nobody gets absolved. In this context, the resolution of the film seems logical enough, but hardly a satisfying outcome.

In the minus column, we hit a stretch just past midway in the movie around the Dean and her daughter that I could have done without. I am not sure if the script was poor of if the plot-line was unwriteable from the outset. Possibly both.

In the mixed column, the pop culture references were quite thick herein. I was aware that I was being bombarded with allusions to things, but I am too old and too square to know what they are. I am certainly not the target audience and I’m not sure quite how the target audience would respond to this. But the first 40 minutes it’s pretty thick. I did like a lot of the sets, including a living room scene where I was the only one in the theater laughing out loud at the décor, suggesting that maybe perhaps there was something for everyone.

In the plus column, Clancy Brown did a nice job as Cassie’s dad and L&D favorite Bo Burnum is outstanding and often hilarious as the tall doctor guy. Almost hilarious enough to recommend this movie straight up. And Mulligan is mostly very good in a rather challenging role.

This was by far the most crowded we’ve seen the theaters, possibly because they quit showing the late films on Tuesday. But, weirdly, it seemed like a lonely crowd. I am looking forward to the end of the pandemic and the reunion of L&D for movie nights.

Vanguard

VANGUARD - Chinese teaser #4 (2020) Jackie Chan Action Movie - YouTube

What can you reasonably expect going into a Jackie Chan vanity project with a Metacritic rating in the 30s? A big bucket of popcorn, a few laughs, a lot of stuff blowing up, and some hand-to-hand fisticuffs?

I guess we got that, but, boy was this one tough to sit through. The story was stupefying. The CGI was objectionable. The car chases were worse. The movie kept trotting out a series of unconvincing villains. The jingoism was omnipresent. And the action wasn’t really that good.

There were some high points. There was one guy who made a funny face when he got knocked out and zapped with a cattle prod (we thought it would be a running gag, but it wasn’t). The man pictured above had a really hilariously large gun. There was a not bad kitchen scene where the good guy kept besting the bad guys with various dimensions of culinary splendor. And the end credits were actually quite a bit more entertaining than the rest of the movie.

I would say the best part of the movie is thinking about where you draw the line on stupidity. The entire project is so bafflingly stupid that any specific complaints probably reveal something about the element of the complainer. My companion, Dr. B., was particularly annoyed at the young woman who cuddled lions in the wild like kitty cats, and at the guy who was dead for 10 minutes (spoiler alert) and then was miraculously revived. I thought a car falling 100 feet and landing intact was a bit of stretch and two cars was a bit stretchier. But, in fairness, they were Volvos!

So if you want a chance to enjoy a movie in the comfort of your own theater (who in their right mind would go see this?) this is the movie for you. But let’s just say that 35 Metacritic rating is at least 10 points too high.

The Last Vermeer

The major questions of The Last Vermeer are (1) Why isn’t there more Guy Pearce? (2) Why isn’t there more Vicky Krieps? (3) Who cares about the Claes Bang character? And, (4) who wrote this, anyway?

I had only a vague idea of the movie’s subject matter as I walked in, so it took a while to figure out what the big reveal is. But after reading a few reviews, perhaps the big reveal is known to most going in? If that’s the case, this is a big, big strike against the movie.

Leading with the positives: Pearce, especially early in the film, has a very intriguing, relaxed manner about him in the role of Han van Meegeren, the sketchy Dutch artist wheeler dealer. He sports some spectacular eyebrows and an impeccable wardrobe to go along with his splendid household and liquor collection. Yet, his character never gets fully fleshed out, so it’s never clear exactly what to make of him. Or perhaps it is? Good, but underutilized.

We are also treated to August Diehl and his quasi-comedic portrayal of a Dutch law enforcement bureaucrat, clad in what appears to be the bad-guy costume from Raiders of the Lost Ark. His hat with the flat brim is spectacular. I’m not sure what to make of this, but I laughed and you will too. Winner.

On a less positive note, Vicky Krieps is pretty much wasted. She plays an assistant to Captain Joe Pillar in his investigation of some untoward art dealings, but we don’t get very much of her on screen, and we don’t learn too much about her. Her character development and acting was so splendid in The Phantom Thread that I was waiting for a wooden shoe to drop in this one, but it never did. Her character isn’t important to the story in any way that I can remember, and that’s a problem.

I guess the bigger problem is that the story revolves around the Captain in the first place. Big mistake.

And so that’s it. The more I think about this movie, the less I like it. Technically it was fine to good — someone spent some money here. There were a few striking images of post-war Dutch cities, but far behind, say, Jojo Rabbit. There is also a bit of an art history lesson making its way through despite the awkward script. I enjoyed watching Guy Pearce mix the paints and discuss the art world, though the characterizations of the Big Art establishment play out as caricatures.

Mostly, though, it’s hard to get around the odd focus on the forgettable main character and the obviously contrived courtroom “drama” that unfolds. Remember the Brady Bunch episode where Mike Brady drops the briefcase behind the whiplash claimant? That strikes me as more plausible than what transpires here.

This seems destined for your Netflix queue purgatory, something that you imagine you would like to see, but you never get around to actually seeing. Then one day it’s gone and you aren’t that sorry you missed it. I did enjoy seeing the big art on the big screen, so if you are hitting the theaters regularly, this isn’t a terrible option. But that says more about what’s available in theaters these days than what this movie has to offer.