Floridian Inferno

Zola is a conundrum of sorts. In parts Midsommar and in others Spring Breakers, it’s an uncomfortable experience. The characters are two dimensional at best and even simple cut outs like a “fan” at a COVID era MLB game. It’s not totally surprising that the original screenplay inspiration was a tweetstorm. 

What I found refreshing and interesting about Zola was that the representations were flipped. If you’re sick and tired of the male gaze in film, welcome to the female gaze. There is more full-frontal dudity in this film than I can remember at the cinema…including one montage that featured an eye-brow raising well placed on-screen heart emoji graphic. The other element that Zola has going for it is suspense. Which way will this Floridian Dante’s Inferno break? Is it a social satire, a comedy, a horror nightmare, exploitation — somehow all and none of these at the same time?

I particularly enjoyed the brief POV driving musical interludes. Those segues kept establishing that music can set the emotional tone of a film, every time. One danger though in telling Zola’s story in such a minimalistic way is that the story of Derrek, played brilliantly by Nicholas Braun, who also shined in the powerful HBO series Succession, at times took over. Derrek was the one character played with real emotion. He was the fuck up, the hero, the only person who was in the story for something other than a good time and/or making a buck. And that’s odd for a film that is supposed to be telling the story of a strong female protagonist, which there was and which it does. But I’m left to wonder, did it inadvertently tell the story of Derrek even better? Like Dante in Inferno, Zola is an observer, traveling through these circles of misery, though it seems like a missed opportunity to find out more about her. She asks Derrek pointedly during one dramatic scene, “What do you see when you see me?” As an audience, we can only answer that in a superficial way. 

I do want to give a shout out to my old friend, Mike L. Germaine, who I worked on a few films with in the Bahamas back in the day. He’s a fantastic Key Grip and did a solid job here as usual, helping the cinematographer, Ari Wegner pull off strong visuals. And I’d be remiss not to note a stand out acting performance by Jason Mitchell, who also shined in Netfilx’s Mudbound

Ultimately, Zola ended for me just as the story seemed to be taking off or at least morphing into something else. There’s no neat ending here so the experience leaves you more with the impression that this was a filmic sketch based off an epic tweetstorm. You’ll have to manufacture your own ending but maybe that’s okay too. Ultimately, I did enjoy a movie with a different perspective than your typical megaplex offering.  

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

What makes a terrible movie terrible? Gratuitous violence? Maybe. One dimensional characters? Yes. Absurd situations like…the escape boat at the end of a dock? Again? …And again? Umm humm. Bulgaria? Check. Knockoff 007 storyline? Certainly doesn’t help. A Director who doesn’t know the actor can’t pronounce Fugazi? Likely. Great actors cashing checks for skating by?

The saddest part, feeding the movie making machine when it would be more interesting to just hear what those same great actors would have to say if you were having dinner with them at a restaurant? The truth from D. …I think perhaps it’s the sum of these with apologies to Bulgaria. I’m sure it’s a lovely place. Oh and I laughed a lot but maybe it was a laugh to keep from crying type of laugh. Or maybe the movies, like most of us at this moment, are just rusty in so many ways?

In any case, I’m looking forward to a real movie by Reynolds, Hayek, Jackson &/or Banderas in the near future. This one will be utterly forgotten. However, there were a couple of references to Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s “minor masterpiece,” Overboard (1987), which I’d like to check out.  Even a terrible movie, like a broken clock, is right twice a day. 

Operatic Pulp

I don’t doubt that Jason Statham can dramatically act but it’s unlikely we will ever find out. He can however do action and in Wrath of Man he does it well. There are several things I like about this picture starting with the language. It’s a sort of flowery almost screwball comedy prose. A cross between Shakespearean iambic pentameter and a dirty limerick you’ve heard a thousand times. Similarly, we have all seen this movie plot many times before. I know D however missed the usual Ritchie humor. Though maybe Guy Ritchie felt like there was nothing to laugh about when he directed this film, based on another film, Le Convoyeur (2004). Yes, Wrath of Man is a remake.

Once again, the action is done well. There are enough characters and drama to keep you going. And even though there are various plot flaws, inconsistencies and minor characters that are crowbarred into the narrative, I still commend Director Guy Ritchie for at least trying to prop up action with some character development and dimension. It’s easy enough to suspend disbelief when you need to.

Unlike in a movie like Drive, which promises action but just lays the beauty shots on you. Wrath does deliver the action — and with some feeling. Downtown LA plays a major role in the film. Of course it’s darker than a Raymond Chandler fever dream but, again, without the relief of Chandleresque zingers. Can a place running amok in YSL knockoff handbags really be that bad?

The white text on a black screen chapter titles may be the most intriguing part of the movie. Along with a score that includes Wagner and Johnny Cash. 

Ultimately if you’d like to watch a good heist or action film on the big screen, this one will work for you. On the other hand, this film will be streaming for a reasonable price, if not become a free offering on Amazon Prime, soon enough. 

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.

The Climb

The Climb » : mon ami, ma chance, mon boulet

The Climb is a fantastic movie. It has the trappings of a buddy movie, but it also seems to be something of an anti-buddy movie. Right from the get go there is tension and conflict and violence, and that continues for the duration through a series of emotional set pieces.

The main characters are Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (Kyle Marvin), and that they both take their own first names as characters probably says a lot. Mike is extremely convincing in his role and is cast pretty much perfectly. The script is constantly telling us things about Kyle that we can’t quite see otherwise, which is really my only real complaint with the film.

The film does cover a lot of ground, mostly with a single scene or series of scenes within a short time period where the action and dialogue fill in what has happened in the interim. Indeed, there are a lot of elements that just go unexplained and it’s just as well (what were they doing in France?!?). The film offers a lot to think about, particularly about friends and family and relationships and loyalty and obligations and, ultimately, the capacity for forgiveness. It’s really great.

I was struck by the many recurring symmetric plot elements and settings sprinkled throughout the film. The characters get to engage with similar circumstances on multiple occasions, and the movie challenges the viewers to think about action and motive and why people do things for their friends and family, or do things that hurt their friends and family. The film has a surprising amount of physicality, often violent, occasionally touching and intimate (though not that hip thing intimate), not quite predictable.

(There is also a considerable amount of heavy drinking (Jägermeister shots, of all things. Smooth), so if that’s a trigger for you, perhaps you should avoid this one.)

Along with that, we are treated to several set-piece interludes, including an African-American cemetery crew, a Ukrainian three piece featuring some wicked accordion, and some middle-aged synchronized skiing! Perhaps visceral is a better word than physical.

Once again Dr. B was riding shotgun on this one, and once again we had the theater to ourselves, so far over the $5 I can’t even tell you. If you are immune to Covid, you should definitely make The Climb.