Richard Jewell

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I was mesmerized by the performances and by this standard alone I recommend Richard Jewell.  It’s satisfying to see a film that can rely and succeed almost entirely on the great work of its actors. Richard Jewell boasts some of the best actors in the world including Cathy Bates and Sam Rockwell, laying their talents and hearts on the line for us. 

I didn’t know the story of Richard Jewell or any of the details in the 1996 Summer Olympic bombing in Atlanta, so that was intriguing in and of itself. Furthermore the film is pertinent in terms of the FBIs’ abuse of power. When a secret court system like one we have here in the U.S., called FISA, calls you out in the press, like it did to the FBI this week, you know you have some issues. But hasn’t the FBI always had issues? How about the executive branch and Congress? Another great story from this week that got very little attention was how since at least 2003 the government has lied about how the war in Vietnam, I mean Afghanistan has been going. The film does not let the press off the hook either. Though the director of this film famously married and then divorced a reporter so who knows, maybe he has a personal axe to grind? One of the main takeaways from Richard Jewell is how little things have changed in U.S. society in the past 23 years. This is the system we live in and this is our human nature, so only the players change as the situations must by and large remain relatively the same. It’s nevertheless a cautionary tale worth heeding. 

 

 

LnD Playing Catch Up

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Life has gotten in the way of writing for LnD but as a way to play catch up here are a few reactions to films we’ve recently watched. 

If you loved Zombieland, which I thought was a great movie, then you really have no reason to miss Zombieland: Double Tap. It’s a fun movie whose stars get to let their hair down from their more demanding roles and just pull the trigger (twice). If zombie killing really isn’t your cup of tea, then no amount of humor is going to help this medicine go down. Zombieland: Double Tap, essentially being a continuation of the original, made me think about original films we have seen this year. If you are looking for a fantastic performance based on a true story, look no further than The Mustang. Executive Produced by Robert Redford this film chronicles the real life prison rehab program that trains inmates on how to break wild mustangs. The horses are then, during one yearly auction, sold to police departments around the country.  It was a powerful film with a stand out performance by Matthias Schoenaerts. 

We saw several house location (if that is not already a genre it is now) based dramas involving the wealthy. One was the forgettable Ready or Not with a clunky plot that took its two dimensional characters nowhere but to absurdity.  And the other was Knives Out with a refreshing storyline and amazing performances by Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. If you are into whodunits, do yourself a favor and check out this movie.

The other standout in this invented genre is Parasite. This movie essentially blew my mind and will easily land in my top 5 films of the year. The fact that it only screened here in Appleton, WI at 4:pm for a day is just a shame. We were lucky that D is all over scheduling like a claw in a sprocket (obscure film projector terminology) and caught it. My own film Anger (shameless plug) played at the Weyauwega International Film Fest and was followed by Parasite — but those were the only screenings of this gem in this area.  If it comes down to a fight for screen space around here then I say Frozen II be damned. I’m not actually going to write about Parasite because I would hate to give anything away plot-wise. It is a home based story as I mentioned, and we noted how infrastructure is ingeniously used as metaphor in the film. I’m guessing that like Moonlight, after it wins the Academy Award the multiplex bean counters (biting the hand that feeds me) will decide it’s time to bring it back to Appleton. Parasite is a fascinating work and an instant cinema classic. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Ferrari vs Ford, or is it Ford vs Ferrari? The Cinematogtaphy in this racing film was astonishing and I was riveted by the fantastic performances of Matt Damon — who is at his best here — and Christan Bale. The cars are shiny and fast but what makes this film memorable is that it is really about the great bond of two friends hell-bent on making history and pushing the envelope of the human experience. 

Terminator: Dark Fate was entertaining. I think it got a bad rap and was underestimated for not being historically correct in terms of previous films in this series. But at some point in a series with time travel you get into a Back to the Future scenario and if you can’t suspend disbelief then you will never enjoy the film. It is a movie after all and not a documentary on artificial intelligence and the time/space continuum.  If you want an entertaining movie with lots of action and strong female leads who know how to kick- ass, this film will not let you down. 

I happened to catch The Laundromat on Netflix. I watched it without knowing what it was about and I think you should watch it that way too. There are great performances here by Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman and it’s certainly worth checking out if you are looking for some great acting and a thought provoking story. 

We are all caught up now. Our best films of the year list is coming right up.

Angel Has Fallen

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L&D might be in the market to transcribe our conversations, as it seems that we can’t keep up with our reviews.  We took in Angel Has Fallen on opening night approximately a month ago, and we are just getting around to it now.  The verdict is that it wasn’t half bad.  It stars Gerard Butler as a Secret Service agent, Morgan Freeman as the President who loves him, and Nick Nolte as the guy who pees in the hot tub.  Where the story is headed is not terribly mysterious, and it’s tough not to pat yourself on the back throughout for being able to see six steps ahead, who the traitors are, who is going to get killed, and who is going to be still standing when the considerable amount of dust settles.  But mystery is not really the point of Gerard Butler productions now, is it?

Indeed, this is the second time we’ve seen a Butler production in the past year from what appears to be the same production companies and crew.  I would pretty much throw this one in the same bin as Hunter Killer in terms of its male-centered sensibilities, high production values, solid acting, and overall adrenaline rushiness.  Although the movie isn’t terribly original — Butler’s character is sort of a mashup of Jack Ryan and Richard Kimble — it still allows Butler to show more range than with the more robotic caricature of a hardened submarine commander from the previous film.  This is possibly because this is the third in the Angel trilogy (who knew?!?) and this is just where the character has evolved.  Who knows?  I guess my only real observation is that given how it played out, when the antagonist says “Lions” in his dying breath, Butler should not have been so taciturn.  I think “**** ***, *******” would have been more appropriate.

Overall, L&D didn’t need to see (or even know about) the first two to enjoy the third one.  There are probably four or five thrilling scenes in the movie, including some innovative work with drone strikes.  Once DC is rebuilt, perhaps they’ll get around to making a fourth, but for now this one can provide you with way more than your fair share of explosive action if explosive action is your thing.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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In Where’d You Go, Bernadette a complex character, her motivations, fears and aspirations are all revealed in a powerful and funny story that takes us to the end of the Earth. Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is a MacArthur Fellowship winner, a genius in her own time. But she has an especially hard time with human interaction, even using a virtual personal assistant in lieu of an actual therapist. There were many times during this film where I laughed out loud, which possibly was made easier by the fact that we were the only people in the theater. However, some of the best films we have watched were in sparse to empty theaters, like Death of Stalin and Free Solo. 

I didn’t realize this movie was made by Richard Linklater but since Slacker, his films have impressed me. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he doesn’t hit you over the head with the minutia of everything from pop culture to haute couture that he knows. He just carries you along for the ride, you get the references — which D always did — or you don’t.  At the same time, you wonder how in this day and age when there is a clamor and need for more women directors, a strong female driven drama like this is still green-lighted for a guy. Do you think that if a woman had directed this film that the opening and closing moments would be the voice over of a child? It takes the punch and power away from the protagonist. And I would say the use of that voice over is my strongest critique of this film. In spite of that, I did thoroughly enjoy the movie. I’d love to see Cate Blanchett nominated for an Academy Award for this performance. She is truly a genius, playing a genius here. And for the cafe scene alone, I would give Laurence Fishburne a best supporting actor Oscar nomination.  He gives us some of the best lines ever and certainly in this movie, “People like you must create.” He says to Bernadette, “If you don’t create, you will become a menace to society.”

There is also a great Rashomon Effect in the film as we the audience are able to jump back and forth from various points of view, like Bernadette’s husband Elgie, played strongly by Billy Cruddup and her neighbor Audrey played by Kristen Wiig, who shows off her dramatic range. 

All in all, even though the film grinds through a predictable and not that enthralling third act, it’s still mostly entertaining and interesting. I would recommend it to anyone looking for great performances, an intelligent screenplay and some fine Antarctic cinematography to boot. 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

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Is she in there?

L&D had tickets in hand for the new foul-mouthed boys movie that premiered Thursday, but took a detour for an exclusive viewing of the new Richard Linklater project, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  The fact that we were the only ones in the theater perhaps does not bode well for the film’s legs.  And this may well turn out to be the lowest-rated film of Linklater’s career, which has included Dazed and Confused, Slacker, the various Before offerings, and the much ballyhooed Boyhood.  That sort of poisons the well for the review now, doesn’t it?

But bad by Linklater standards is still pretty good for most of what passes through the theaters, and L&D liked a lot of things here.  The movie is adapted from Maria Semple’s smash literary hit of the same name (which I bought for my wife in no small part due to its spectacular — and now oft imitated — cover design) and there are a number of glimpses of why this might be a fascinating read. Whatever was going on in the novel clearly presented some challenges for Linklater, who opts to provide a considerable amount of backstory via the now familiar “character watching YouTube videos” technique.

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I went into the movie cold, knowing virtually nothing about the plot or characters, and really enjoyed how it initially unfolded. The main tension in the movie is between plot, which has its moments, and character development, which has Cate Blanchett.  My guess is that how you feel about Blanchett in the title role is pretty much how you will feel about the project more generally; some critics say she was brilliant and others say she was anything but. But this is our review and we agreed that she carried the movie and she makes it worth seeing.

Aside from Bernadette, there are four or five other candidates for main characters, including her techie husband (Billy Crudup), her daughter (Emma Nelson), two mothers from her daughter’s school (Kristen Wiig and Zoe Chao), and a friend from college (Laurence Fishburne). Of these, I don’t think any developed sufficiently to turn this into a great movie.  I had high hopes for the daughter and she emerges as the most developed of the main characters, but we never quite get there.  There were also three potential villains and I thought these story lines were poorly handled — trotted out as important, but then dealt with in a perfunctory manner.  Wiig showed a lot of promise as the busybody neighbor, but the script didn’t allow this to rise above caricature.

So that leaves us with the story, which was interesting and thought provoking, but much less of a page turner as the movie hit the hour mark.  It was pretty clear that the movie was headed south (literally, to Antarctica) and I found the back end of the story a little more neatly packaged than it might have been.  That said, the last half hour of the film and the credits are just beautiful to watch.

A secondary tension in this movie is whether it is a comedy or not.  There are more than a few laugh-out-loud moments and any number of fun moments, particularly with Laurence Fishburne in the role of the long-lost friend. But the movie almost too-quickly pivots to high drama and at one point I turned to L and said, “This isn’t funny at all.”  If the movie had been more convincing, I would probably led with the mental illness angle, but it is is not and so I did not, and I will just leave it at that.

Of the many questions you are likely to be asking on your way out, “where’d she go” is probably pretty low on the list.  But it is a movie that engages the viewer on many fronts and I thought it was interesting enough to clear the $6.30 bar. L was much more positive, so a fair verdict, I think, is that we are bullish on Blanchett even if we might be a little bearish on Bernadette.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (D)

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Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is not quite the Tarantino movie I was expecting, possibly because I didn’t know what to expect.  I will start by saying that I was relieved to see L posted his review because, frankly, I wasn’t quite sure where to start with this one.  It’s not that the movie doesn’t give you a lot to think about, it does, it’s just that there are so many things going on and so many things that don’t quite fit together that I found it difficult to conceptualize a coherent review. In that spirit, I will just add some additional thoughts to what L has put out there already.

First off, I liked the movie a lot more than he did, though I admit that I shared his doubts that there was an end it sight.  There are indeed a lot of close ups of people’s legs as they walk from here to there (and from there back to here again).  I really liked the portrayal of late-60s Hollywood and the surrounding environs, and am somewhat surprised that L wasn’t more sympathetic to just taking it all in.   Maybe because we didn’t get out of the theater until almost 2 a.m.?

Continue reading “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (D)”

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (L)

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I could really get into it and write a review for next two hours and forty five minutes but I have already scarificed enough of my time for this movie. If I did the review in the style of this movie, it would go something like this: ……………………………………….I got up early ……………………………………….I decided to get a muffin and a chai latte ……………………………………….I was early so I had to sit at the coffee drive thru, waiting for them to open ……………………………………….I sat with the car on and a cool song blasting ……………………………………….The coffee guy shows up. I turn off my car. The song cuts out abruptly. I say, “I got up early.”  Coffee guy says, “I did too.” 

And that’s basically it. D nailed it on the drive afterwards, where at lot of our shared post-movie analysis takes place. And this is how he described it, “self-indulgent”. Now, yes, I could spend the rest of my life trying to perfect directing a scene where someone with a flamethrower gruesomely chars another person to death in a swimming pool, but luckily I have been spared that fate. 

At one point I was thinking to myself. “This movie will never end.” And then it ended about two minutes later. 

Another D note, it’s really two films in one. Neither is really compelling and nothing interesting to speak of happens unless you think a shirtless Brad Pitt on a rooftop is interesting. Which, I’m sure that will be true for a lot of people but it’s not a circus side show, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s 9th feature or at least that’s what the poster claims. 

I tried having low expectations, I really did. But I just couldn’t and now the disappointment has arrived.  Al Pacino is in this film. He is totally wasted. There is a part of the story where the DiCaprio character, a fading 50s star now doing bit parts in 60s episodic TV, goes to Rome to star in Spaghetti Westerns. But you never see any of that. Another missed opportunity. There is plenty of meandering, driving on empty freeways and smoking by holding the pack up to your mouth and plucking a cig out. Plenty of that.  DiCaprio cries a lot. So what, I was crying too, on the inside. 

Another great D note. (This entire review is basically me, transcribing his thoughts)…Tarantino knows how to create tension. And he really does. The scene where Pitt goes to Manson’s cult compound is truly ominous and well done. The scene where Pitt’s character, a stuntman, fights Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee works. The scene where the DiCaprio character is schooled by a child actress is effective. But are these scenes enough to save this Gone with the Wind run time movie? If you saw Us and are looking for an interesting period piece about people who break into homes in order to kill them, don’t watch this movie, just watch Us again. Us is really a brilliant film that has a lot to say. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is a well-crafted whole lot of nothing to see here unless you like watching people look at themselves in the mirror. 

If the young Tarantino found this new Tarantino he would slap him…or shoot him, cut off his finger, stuff a red ball in his mouth…you understand what I mean. 

Stuber

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Is that you, Iko?

Regular L&D readers are probably aware that we do not coordinate who, if anyone, is going to write and post the next review.  Typically, we write about things that we are moved to write about, either because there was something we liked, something that made us think, or something particularly irritating about what we just saw. More often than not, it’s all three. One of us usually feels compelled to write something down, and sometimes we both do.  On the other hand, for a number of movies neither of us has the time or the inclination to get something together, so it just hangs out there without comment.

That preamble perhaps provides a glimpse into the delayed response in producing a review for our next feature, Stuber, which we saw on opening night almost a full week ago. As we headed past the Taco Bell, we were vaguely aware that the reviews were tepid.  But we both think Kamail Nanjiani is pretty funny and we both thought he was pretty much the funniest part of the decidedly disappointing MiB offering, so we held out hope that this wouldn’t be a complete disaster.

And I think our low expectations were rewarded.  Without laboring over the plot details (see above), we laughed out loud a few times and found a lot of things to like — for instance, the tremendous scene involving a rogue propane tank tops my list of comic violence.  So I think the movie sort of worked for me and I think at this point it’s fair to say that Nanjiani can carry his weight in a comedy.  As an action movie or a drama, well, let’s just say it works pretty well as a comedy.

Continue reading “Stuber”

Yesterday

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D was mentioning to me that Yesterday had a Metacritic score of 54. That sounds bad. Is Metacrtic based on a scale of 100? Let me see. … … … Okay Wikipedia says that in Metacritic if you give something an A it equals 100 and a B- is 67. Oh brother, really? The point is that 54 doesn’t come anywhere near this movie. I’m left to ask, what’s wrong with people? What do they expect and what more can they ask for? If you don’t like The Beatles, or think your brain will explode if you have to hear even one more Beatles song or hear even one more person say they are their favorite band, I can understand that. Even though it’s indisputable about The Beatles being the greatest band of all time, you certainly are entitled to poor taste and your overall contrariness — though you should get that checked out. So okay, if that is you then this film isn’t for you. There won’t be nearly enough point blank range brain spatter, sideboob or underbutt to keep you happy. Hey, I don’t understand you but Yesterday is art and the value of art is certainly still in the eye of the beholder.  

Now that that is out of the way, there is another issue I have. If you think the theme of the film is something like, “Imagine a world where The Beatles never existed”, you’d be off. Maybe not way off, but importantly off. The theme is, “What happens when bringing joy to all means devastation to you.” Okay, fine, there is probably a better theme out there but the point is there are many alternate themes. There are a lot of ways you could think about this film and a lot of ways it could affect you. Or maybe you just go for the music and to laugh and have fun? 

But do think about this. What if it was up to you to bring The Beatles to the masses? Could you think of all the lyrics to Eleanor Rigby even if you proclaim The Beatles as the greatest or your favorite band? Try it. I don’t think I can get past the first two lines. How about if it was up to you to bring Van Gogh to the masses? Could you paint The Starry Night? It would be tricky and your friends would wonder why you were up all night these days, looking like a maniac, trying to paint these odd landscapes. And though I have many favorite scenes in this film, I really love the scene where Jack, played effortlessly Himesh Patel, is standing alone in the rain, facing the precipice of the choice before him. He looks at his reflection in a storefront window and asks himself, Can you do this? 

This is a moment we all face all the time. Can we do this? Can we challenge ourselves. Fill the canvas, the page, the 1s and 0s, the sensors, transform the wild flowers. Take a chance. 

After writing this blog for two years now, it’s come clear to me that a great film must: 1. Have a heart. 2. Be thought provoking. — And I don’t mean thought provoking like, “If the concierge at the hotel in John Wick 3 isn’t a fighter how the hell can he survive all those armed storm trooper dudes shooting automatic weapons at him? …Oh because he played a cop in The Wire.” No, not thought provoking like that. Thought provoking like, What is beauty? What is talent? How do you express love? What does a Faustian bargain really mean? If you are not eating all those sandwiches can I have one? This film raises a multitude of questions about the paths we take, about destiny, about art. If Matacritic is still at 54 will it still need me when it’s 64? 

Is Yesterday a perfect film? No, but the day I see a perfect film I will stop watching films because the robots or aliens will have taken over. It is however an utterly human film. We heard a few folks clapping during the credits. I can’t remember the last time I heard that. Also, this movie made me happy about life. Like last years’ amazing doc Free Solo, about Alex Honnold, who climbed El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes, Yesterday gave back. I think of it less like a movie and more like a gift. So my advice is to go and enjoy it unless you are knee-deep in a game of Fortnite, passed out with a needle in your arm or copying and pasting bogus Metacritic reviews. Then, you know, carry on, keep calm and keep a stiff upper lip. 

Shaft

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I think the Taco Bell by the movie theater has finally closed down. Maybe there aren’t enough people to work there anymore? — We are winning, America! — And so it was prophesied that L & D sat in an essentially empty and quite large multiplex theater to see Samuel L. Jackson star in Shaft. The film started off on shaky ground with some intensely stiff acting and dialogue. But luckily for everyone involved it loosened up once Mr. Jackson arrived on scene. 

If you’ve ever watched any Blaxploitation films, say on the Bounce network, (which I get on TV airwaves here in Northeastern Wisconsin — though if that’s not enough for you, Bounce owns Brown Sugar, a 1970’s era Blaxploitation on demand service) there’s one common denominator, namely low production value. Bad, I mean bad! lighting, awkward, I mean distractingly awkward! editing and poor, piss poor! composition people. Is there a reason for this? I’m sure there is. The reason has to do with low budgets. Those days are gone, as the new Shaft has the production value of a James Bond film. The lighting, camera movement, wardrobe, art direction and sound are of the highest caliber. The film has enough confidence in itself to make light of the genre. For example, when Shaft is about to enter a shady nightclub, there is a blatant smoke machine hidden behind a trash can spewing way too much non-motivated smoke. It’s confusing at first until you get the joke. Then, in a most excellent scene, Shaft is in the apartment hallway of his ex-wife. He is at her door, pleading to be let in, when he is interrupted by a neighbor who gives him the stink eye. Suddenly the groovy music winds down like someone pulled the plug on the Rev. Al Green 33 that was spinning on your record player. As soon as the neighbor gets a look at Shaft’s gun, he is terrified and slams his door — the song cranks up to speed again. It’s a great breaking the fourth wall moment. 

I would be remiss in writing about Shaft without mentioning the great African-American writer of hardboiled novels and social narratives, Mr. Chester Himes. If you’ve never heard of Chester Himes, click on that link already. He delighted many readers and inspired many writers and filmmakers with his series of nine Harlem Detective novels. It’s safe to say what Raymond Chandler is to Hollywood, Chester Himes is to Harlem. And with this in mind, I really enjoyed Shaft. I have no idea if I was laughing at the appropriate places but I was definitely laughing. Even D, who was not impressed with the wobbly opening, started laughing. There is just something about Samuel L. Jackson, he really is like a funky Mr. Miyagi. After all, he has already portrayed a Jedi Master. Also, in one scene he reminds us that he is tired of the Laurence Fishburne comparisons! 

At its core, Shaft is a generation-gap-father-son film. It at least acknowledges that times have changed, even if it sticks to stereotypes. However, the stereotypes are with tongue firmly planted in cheek and with the good intention of the audience having a little fun. Of course here, the good guys win through violence, the Dad teaches the kid how to be a proper manly man and the women in the film either step aside, need to be rescued or forgive the unforgivable — or at least the truly shitty. It’s still a Blaxsploitaion genre movie but Shaft does have his heart in the right place even if sometimes his actions and words betray him. His character flaws and redeeming values are identical to Himes’ hardboiled heroes.

Yeah, it’s a family movie if your family eats expletives for breakfast, doesn’t mind people getting shot up with AK-47s and finds glitter all over a bare chest quite amusing. I’m not going to tell you if I found it quite amusing. I’m also not going to tell you where the glitter was on Shaft. In the final analysis, Shaft checked all the kick up your feet and enjoy a summertime movie for 6 bucks boxes but it wasn’t a great movie and certainly something you could enjoy in your La-Z-Boy recliner or loveseat at home. Also, motherfucker. A lot.