Kong

Kong: Skull Island.  The scenery is pretty spectacular. The monkey isn’t bad. There are many moments of surprise, intrigue, shock and awe (as well as “aw, that’s gross”).  But the storytelling is poor and that sinks the project.

The movie is set in the final days of the Vietnam War and with its constant allusions to Apocalypse Now forces us to ask where the line is between “homage” and “painfully derivative and stupid.”  From the choice and use of music to the helicopter sequences to the journeys up and down various bodies of water to the napalm detonations to the singularly obsessed military officer, there are many points of comparison (though never even remotely favorably).

Of course, it is difficult to compete with the classics and, in fairness, there are a few bright spots.   Samuel L. Jackson has some good lines in a pretty cool trip through the clouds.  There are some good action sequences, particularly with the big guy tossing stuff around with the accuracy of Greg Maddux and his UFC-style grappling with various slimy creatures.  I also really liked the island itself, particularly the glow of the nighttime lights.

Unfortunately, the list of things to object to runs so much longer that I’m not even sure it’s worth dredging them up.   John Goodman is completely wasted.   John C. Reilly is worse than wasted, as his lines and his story trajectory are painful. The Brie Larson “anti-war” photographer angle is even less developed than her would-be romance with the  pro-war mercenary Tom Hiddleston character (If Kong had accidentally squished the Larson character in his clenched fist, that would have really made up for a lot of the movie’s other shortcomings).  John Ortiz, who I loved in Drop, has no discernible role. Indeed, there must be four or five story arcs falling into the categories of undeveloped, underdeveloped, stupid, insulting to the intelligence, and poorly thought out (most falling into several of these categories) passing time until we get to the climactic sequence.

So the verdict here is to keep the $5 in your pocket.  How this isn’t completely panned on Metacritic is definitely a mystery.  I would have walked out, but when I looked over my colleague was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake him up.

The horror, indeed.

John Wick, Chapter 2

We ventured out to see *John Wick, Chapter 2* this past Thursday, a testosterone-fueled affair where all but two of the principals are males.  The first is the target of a hit, and she demonstrates her defiance by stripping naked for the protagonist and jumping in a tub.  The second is a mute who is pretty masculine in her own right, with cropped hair and a conventional men’s suit.  She’s also tatted up.   What is going on with her is not exactly clear. The love interest is actually just a picture of his former love interest (who must have died in the previous movie?) and probably doesn’t count as a character, unless you need at least three females in the film to get it green-lighted in Hollywood these days.

Not that I was expecting it, but not a real feminine touch here.

The real love interest, it turns out, is John Wick’s dog, who behaves a lot like a woman typically behaves in these affairs — follows the hero around and focuses its attention solely on the hero (in this case literally sitting at attention until it is told it can do otherwise). The dog doesn’t have a name, either, which is both mildly comedic and instructive.

What the movie lacks in women, it makes up for in action, and in spots the action is brilliant.  The initial chase scene contains several moments where L&D (and our special guest, A) jumped out of our seats or covered our faces or shouted “OH!” and generally reacted in ways men react when they see another man take a direct and unexpected shot to the nutuals.  This is John Wick at its best.  The film also featured dozens of shots where the victim’s brain and skull spatter out the back of the head.  For example, Mr. Wick might angle the gun below a victim and the bullet would come out the back of the victim’s head, along with residual brain and skull, sort of like seeing the silhouette of water out of a fountain.

In fairness, most of the victims had it coming.

Speaking of fountains, I also liked the scene where hero and one of the villains were shooting at each other blindly through the fountain.   Why they were being so coy in the station a minute earlier and then start blindly shooting at each other out in the open is an unanswerable question, and if you see the film, you will not be able to answer it, either.

This is pure, live-action comic book.   Which, I gather, is pure live-action first-person gaming these days.  If you like watching people play first-person shooter video games, this is the movie for you.

But for the rest of us, even low expectations going in wasn’t enough to save it.  This movie has no heart.  The story isn’t interesting.  The characters aren’t interesting.  The great Ian McShane gets to play a priggish bore, like Teddy Bass running his own retirement community or a modern-day Al Swearengen who doesn’t allow swearing within his club. The only grasp at sex appeal in the entire affair is immediately supplanted with noirish bloodletting.

And even the villain isn’t that villainous,  at least not in a way that inspires true audience animus or awe. Aren’t great action movies as much about the villain as the hero?  Darth Vader, the Joker, Hans Gruber, Sam Gerard.  That’s probably as much of a deal breaker as anything.

Heart and a good Villain.  We will return to these themes in future posts, I’m certain.

As for the verdict:   For me, the movie was saved by low expectations and I got my $5 worth.

It passes the time.

It shocks.

It awes.

And then, like it never happened, I go home and forget all about it.

Unfortunately, my colleague was expecting more and was sorely, sorely disappointed.   So, plan accordingly.

Collide

There are many, many things colliding in the new Hollywood mashup Collide, coming soon to video near you.

The movie is set in Germany of all places, following the trajectory of Casey Stein, a reasonably good-looking American ex-pat with really big blue eyes (Nicholas Hoult).  Casey is involved in some illicit activities, acting as the pickup boy for the the underworld boss, Gerun (played by Ben Kingsley). At first glance, Kingsley seems  to be reprising his role as the bumptious bald guy from Sexy Beast, only with a different accent and a gaudier wardrobe, something along the lines of “Evil Bono” (ht: L). In this case, however, Kingsley is less worried about recruiting henchmen than he is about getting a fair cut from his boss, the trucking magnate Englishman thugmeister, Anthony Hopkins (played by Anthony Hopkins).  The uneasy tension sets the stage for a mutinous collision, of course.

Meanwhile, Casey has his eye on the good-looking American ex-pat bartender, Juliette (Felicity Jones), who doesn’t approve of his profession.  So, head-over-heels in love, Casey goes straight and starts working as a salt-of-the-earth guy in one of the many jobs available to Americans in European metal scrapyards, while the couple do the efficient German thing and fall in love over the course of a couple minute montage.  But, alas, their booze-fueled affair hits an icy patch, and the couple find themselves in the need of a very quick cash infusion, setting Romeo back to the underworld for that one last big chivalrous score. The cliches come Fast & Furious, and what ensues is the aforementioned gangster-heist-car chase-action hero mashup, with cars traveling at blistering speeds down the autobahn and things crashing and blowing up here and thar, leading to the climatic collision between the principals.  I’m guessing you can guess what happens from here.

One change from this standard formula is that Hopkins’ henchmen all have dark hair and steely blue eyes, sport monochromatic clothing, and excitedly shout things out in German during some heated moments, adding (probably inadvertent) comic effect to the extended manhunt. (It is possible these henchmen are all played by the same actor, with a beard tacked on at times to mix things up; the credits for actors was much shorter than the list of stuntmen).

Some of the sequences are done really well and, coupled with Hopkins in a fabulous light-blue suit and Kingsley parading around in high-end pajamas, hopped up on gop, it makes for a rather enjoyable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, 90 minutes or so.

I can think of worse ways to spend my $5, but I’m not so sure I’d spend too much more than that on this film.

L&D Picks for 2016

Here is our long-awaited (mostly by us) list of the top five movies of 2106, taken from the universe of movies viewed by both L & D in 2016.   The rankings are based on a proprietary L&D weighting formula that you can just bet Netflix would kill for.

And here we go:

6. (tie) The Girl on the Train:  *The Girl on the Train* was reminiscent of the great French New Wave Director Claude Chabrol who concerned himself with the police procedural, bourgeois family life in small towns and murder. It also crossed paths with the neurosis found in many of the female leads of Hitchcock’s films and with the idea of a society turned against the protagonist, also a mainstay of Hitchcockiana. Again, going in with low expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and found the production values, cinematography, set and costume design, makeup, story, editing, acting, sound design and even score (by The Simpsons theme own Danny Elfman) to be above average if not under par. So why does this film not get the hype it deserves? Well dammit it should. Perhaps a better title would have been “Murder on the Hudson”.

6. (tie) The Arrival:  (Marketed outside the US as *The Giant Space Turd Movie*)  *The Arrival* revisits the standard alien romance drama with the strong female lead made famous by Jodie Foster in *Contact*, but without the benefit of Matthew McConaughey’s Matthew McConaugheyness. Only this time, it’s Amy Adams as the lead egghead, and she is pretty terrific. If you like aliens and you like romance, there is probably something for you here.

4.  Rogue One:  The last Star Wars movie was a greatest hits album and so of course people liked it, because, who doesn’t like the hits?  But *Rouge One* was the story I have been waiting for. Not to mention I am a big Diego Luna fan. His company produced a film I worked on in Mexico called Voy a Explotar. I was fortunate enough to meet him on a rooftop in Guanajuato during production. Great guy and actor. One of my favorite films of his is called Rudo y Cursi, a fútbol comedy well worth watching. But hey, you are here to read about *Rouge One*. Yes, I knew the ending but I still enjoyed the ride getting there. And basically I enjoyed everything about it. We watched in 3D and to be honest, I can’t tell the difference. But is it because it’s so good? If it’s working, it’s working in a subtle way and maybe that’s for the best. Except for the credits. Credits in 3D are always amazing. (L)

3.  Snowden:  Oliver Stone hit it out of the park. This film could easily have been a geeky dud, filled with computer screens and talking heads but it was a classic Hollywood film wrapped around a social document told in an arresting, cinematic way. Not to mention fantastic, measured performances including Nicholas Cage. It was impressive. Everyone who watches this film will get something worthwhile out of it.

1.   (tie)  Hell or High Water:  *Hell or High Water* delivers on its promise to be the best modern western since *No Country for Old Men*. Ben Foster deserves leading-man credit for keeping his usual psychotic character under wraps to let the movie happen around him. Jeff Bridges reprises his role of Rooster Coburn as the surly,aging lawman, though he too is a little more reserved in this role. Chris Pine is a better Captain Kirk than sad sack, and is too good looking to be terribly convincing, but he does alright. We haven’t seen this all before, but it seems like we’ve seen most of this before. Nonetheless, there are a few surprises, and the compelling plot and characters, along with some reasonable action sequences and a number of provocative thematic elements, mask some of the weak links of the story line. Of particularly interest is the Evangelical Christian Native American Texas Ranger, who didn’t deal well with Bridges’ many ethnic slurs. This is definitely one of the best couple movies we’ve seen this year.

1.   (tie)  Deadpool   With action sequences targeting 15-year old boys and jokes targeting 40-something men, it’s probably no big surprise that it was a hit with the L&D crowd.  If you like the opening sequence, you’ll probably love the rest.

lnd

Our thank yous to the Marcus Valley Cinema for $5 Tuesday and $5 student Thursday nights, which made this all possible.

See you Tuesday on the barcalounger!

Gold

Gold-Matthew-McConaughey

Gold is the third straight movie we’ve seen that focuses exclusively on a single character obsessed with conquering his world (see also *Live by Night* and *The Founder*). In this case the character is our main man, Matthew McConaughey, as a mineral prospector whose Nevada ‘plays’ have come to an end by the late 1980s, so he sets his sights to his dreams about the vast untapped wealth of rural Indonesia. From that point, the movie splits its time between the lushness of the jungle in one part of the world, to the arid semi-mountainous climes of Nevada in another, to the concrete jungle that is Wall Street that bankrolls the whole affair.

Actually, that is not quite right.  There are two candidates for main character, which the viewer has to sort out on their own.  The first candidate, of course, is McConnaughey as Kenny — a rambling guy with a protruding gut, a spectacularly receding hairline, and a tooth issue that I can’t quite put my finger on, who is often seen sporting tighty whities that are neither tight nor white. There are very few if any scenes where Kenny isn’t the focal point, and he is mostly fun to watch.  Big props to him for looking pretty much like a fat guy on a bender  from wire to wire in this one. The other main character is Edgar Ramirez as the gold whisperer, Michael Acosta, who gets to play the sharp-dressed man here, and is beautiful doing so.  I still can’t decide if he nailed it with his performance or if he kind of sucked. I’m leaning toward nailed it, with the suckiness coming more from some unevenness of the plot and pacing and incidentals.

Continue reading “Gold”

REVIEW: Live By Night

The L&D Report made its first trip of the year Thursday to see Ben Affleck’s new vanity project, *Live By Night*. Affleck plays the Boston Irish war hero cum petty thug cum Prohibition-era gangster hellbent on revenge (but with a heart of gold!). With a run time of just under four and a half hours, this sprawling epic is all over the map more than anything we’ve seen since Ibn Battuta. The plot itself is neither interesting nor surprising (though admittedly I was surprised it didn’t end sooner) and hardly worth recounting.

There were a few aspects where the movie excelled. There were some great long shots of Florida drives, some reasonably cool costumes (that generally made Ben Affleck look super good), and a really extraordinary car chase that had me seriously amped. There were also several supporting actor roles that were well played, including Brendan Gleeson as the police chief dad in mourning, Chris Messina as Affleck’s colorful Florida sidekick, and Titus Welliver as the grape-brained racist killer dude with this lip deformity thing.

Even so, most of the characters were caricatures or worse. The usually reliable Chris Cooper at one point breaks down crying, and it isn’t clear if it’s part of the story line or whether he can’t believe he’s stuck in that role. It doesn’t get any better for Cooper and he ends the movie in a completely debased and degraded state, which is I’m guessing how most audiences will feel walking out of the theater.

Let’s just say that this movie definitely didn’t hit the $5 value bar, and L&D Reporters will not be catching this when it is rerun on TNT, which will probably be coming sooner than you might think.

L&D Report, Genesis

This is the post excerpt.

This is the L&D Report.  We are two guys fulfilling our life-long dreams of having a blog with movie reviews and a few other movie-related topics.  We will also possibly broach the subject of the fast-paced sport of curling, and all that entails.

Here, we will tell it to you straight.  We have not accepted any type of compensation for favorable reviews, though we are not saying that we would reject a reasonable offer.