Liquid Sky

A friend recently sent a letter via snail mail to ask my opinion of a NYC 80s cult classic titled, Liquid Sky

I couldn’t find Liquid Sky in the fantastic collection at my local library (APL I’m lookin’ at you!) and was feeling stumped. So I asked another friend who happened to have been a NYC filmmaker for quite a few years and might have some insight for me. She tracked it down on the Dark Web, a place called…YouTube. 

Liquid Sky refers to heroin and this opiate takes center stage in the drama. Apparently, the unseen aliens who zap anyone reaching orgasmic ecstasy within range of the saucer they have landed on the protagonists’ downtown penthouse are into any type of endorphin rush. 

The odd part of this at times difficult film (you have to pay attention to keep up with the patchwork plot) is that it’s not a celebration of Bacchanalia or the hedonism of late 70s & early 80s NYC New Wave/No Wave culture. I’m not sure if the death by sex theme here, a mainstay of any slasher movie you’ve ever seen, is not simply a moralistic take by the producer/director and writers. (This 1982 film is pre-HIV/AIDS hysteria as revealed by one character who references that she might get syphilis —as a worse case scenario). Is it merely a critique of American society by the Russian filmmakers, using as a cultural trojan horse the ultrahip stylings of New Wave fashion and music and the general vibe of 80s underground New York City (of which I’m a sucker for). Certainly, it’s an intelligent film, under the far-fetched script and cheeseball special effects. And the bad guys (and a girl!) get what’s coming to them—or more accurately stated, what they are coming to.

I watched a film made this year called Execution, directed by Stavit Allweis, that was even more raw and had arguably even cheesier graphics. Basically it takes place in one room. The guys are rolled in one by one. Their heinous crimes against women are announced and they are killed before us in one way or another by a group of women. Not exactly a parable, as in Liquid Sky, but more honest in many ways. That is, if the point of Liquid Sky is revenge. I’m not exactly sure about the point. The more questions I seem to answer for myself, the more pop up. I know that the film is a kind of ethical minefield, with complicated and unsympathetic characters. I think Liquid Sky would certainly appeal to any nihilistic readers (or readers with nihilistic tendencies) of the L&D Report.

Another feature in Liquid Sky is the language. It’s got more blue streaks than a Midwest hair salon. The amount of F-bombs that get dropped would would make Tony Montana look up from a pile of blow. But it never seems inauthentic. It just seems New York. 

Anne Carlisle creates a stand out performance of both characters, Margaret and Jimmy. This rivaled, if not surpassed, Cate Blanchett’s double turn as Cate and grungy cousin Shelly in Coffee and Cigarettes.  

I certainly would drop Liquid Sky solidly in the NYC indie film, New Wave genre canon, along with Smithereens and Downtown 81. There’s hints of Scorsese’s After Hours and Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation. There’s an air of Daryl Hannah’s Pris in Blade Runner. There’s the flair of David Bowie and there is a charge that’s reminiscent of Prince’s First Avenue in Purple Rain. Not even the film’s own disparaging take on the scene can erase or beam up the intrigue and excitement of that particular NYC zeitgeist. 

The Iron Lady & The Two Popes Walk Into a Bar: Thoughts on the Biopic

LnD not so recently experimented with the Netflix Party Chrome screen sharing extension. This really didn’t go anywhere as there was no one there in person to poke D awake, like there is in real life.

Since then I’ve learned that Netflix Party Chrome extension is most popular as a hack that kids use to thwart parental controls — cool! 

Once we got past the need to use an emphasis in the word biopic (/ˈbīōˌpik/) I was off to the races on my review. These two films include some high powered talent but only one hit the mark for me.

In The Two Popes, Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergoglio the future Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict leave you with the feeling that they were both born to play these roles. 

But this is not your Dad’s Pope movie. And it’s not a simple good Pope vs. bad Pope story. The one major standout element of this film, besides the uncanny acting, is the scope and originality of the cinematography. 

If you’re settling in for a film where two dudes sit on a bench and have a theological conversation for two hours you are going to be sadly disappointed. Two Popes moves, even wide angle shots track, overhead shots go right through helicopter rotors and the torture scene will stand your hair up at attention. It’s not a movie about romanticizing the past but examining the current situation through it. 

On the other hand, The Iron Lady is a film where you never get away from the fact that this is Meryl Streep playing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The camera lingers on her. You start to wonder, who was the Director? Was Streep the Director? (No. No she wasn’t. (Phyllida Lloyd.) This isn’t some vanity piece. And Streep who no doubt uses an Oscar statuette as a toothbrush holder has got more chops than Chopin at an Austin BBQ. In fact, she slays in another Netflix film with Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman, directed by Soderbergh, The Laundromat. But here, she never gets lost in the character and so we can never transcend her being her fabulous self. We can never really understand the complexities of the times and the struggles she may have had with her choices. (Yes, Streep won her, yawn, third Academy Award for this role).

You don’t have to agree with someone in order to find them interesting. Often, it’s quite the contrary. But The Iron Lady seems stuck in a debilitated present, that lacks movement, that lacks a living history—and motivation. If a film doesn’t offer the audience transcendence, even on a visceral level, the most basic level that cinema can give, then the audience will also never get perspective on either the historical figure as real person or their own lives in relation to that figure. 

In terms of biopic, it’s really a challenge to make a sweeping historical film meaningful. There are so many possible storytelling detours and dead ends. It’s easier and I’d argue more effective to take a situation, like in the 2018 Ruth Bader Ginsburg film, “On the Basis of Sex” and turn your narrative around that. That film was about the late great Notorious RBG’s first time arguing a case in court as an attorney. And by concentrating on those specific events, the story speaks to universal truths. However, this is not to say a sweeping biopic can’t hit you hard or inspire you, because it’s achieved with aplomb and passion in The Two Popes

The Rhythm Section

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The Rhythm Section really caught my eye with some nice Steadicam moves and jaw dropping landscape shots thanks to the handy cinematography work of Sean Bobbitt. This film has great scope as we travel along Stephanie’s trail of violence throughout the world, including a unique car chase in Tangier. I also enjoyed the shot selection and style of director Reed Morano. And though The Rhythm Section hit many clichés it was still a mostly enjoyable ride due to the serious talent of one Blake Lively. For a genre crime film this is a powerful performance. It starts out intense and it ends that way — and don’t you forget it.

The film has many merits. Jude Law convincingly plays a former British spy forced to turn into trainer of lethal force. Aside Warning — Why is it the training scenes in films are always more compelling then the following events?…Full Metal Jacket, Rocky, etc. — Regardless, the drama is carried deftly by Lively and Morano. This film was extremely human for one with several car bombs. That’s a nod to novelist Mark Burnell, who created a compelling character that has to learn difficult lessons about vengeance. The Rhythm Section doesn’t have the sustained visceral energy of some other kick-ass woman films like Besson’s Anna or Lucy but it still carries you along on other stylistic and emotional levels. It certainly easily passed the Tuesday 5 dollar bar at our local cinema.

1917

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“That was supposed to be a good movie, wasn’t it?” Would be the extent of the review that our friend F. would be willing to give 1917. And sadly I’d have to agree. The film felt like a first person shooter video game gimmick throughout. And Cinematographer (normally) extraordinaire Roger Deakins seemed out of his element in the plan séquence style mastered by Emmanuel Lubezki in Birdman. While watching 1917 I could almost hear the creaking of the technocrane extending in some of the shots. But worse, there was no depth to the protagonist.

The film was without the humanity of Max Ophüls’ camera in Le Plaisir, without the character of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, without the grace of Russian Ark and without the visceral energy of Dunkirk or Saving Private Ryan —or even the raw violence of Hardcore Henry. It was sort of like watching a 360º movie and constantly feeling like the action is happening 180º away from you. And apparently, if I am to take the word of D and F, the Peter Jackson World War I film, They Shall Not Grow Old, inspired the art direction for 1917.

Now, if nothing else, you have a list of films to watch other than this one. 

 

Uncut Gems

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I wish they would have cut it.

It felt twice as long as Gone with the Wind with a tenth of the integrity and interest. I feel somehow personally disappointed by Adam Sandler, not like I know him, but I did have a late night dinner at the Denny’s on Sunset Blvd and he was sitting next to me. He seemed like a great guy. Now this. Who green lights these things for their clients? I just can’t believe Sandler thought this was a good idea.

And Judd Hirsch. Why? If you are interested in climbing a mountain of stereotypes then this film is a great first step in your journey.

Not to mention the fact that there is not so much as even an anti-hero. There is a no hero here. And there is a simple thematic note that is delivered for hours and hours. The film is essentially a cheap card trick, similar to Joker and Midsommar.  Look, says the director, “I can make you feel uncomfortable, on edge and ill for a very long time. Isn’t this a cool trick.?”

No. No it’s not.

In general, the film is uneven. There are scenes with characters that go nowhere, serve no purpose. Simple dead ends. And whichever reviewer said that this was Adam Sandler’s greatest role never saw Punch-Drunk Love plus whatever other character or role he has ever played. And finally, what the hell executive producer Martin Scorsese, I’m still not sure why you stood up for that rat fink Kazan at the Oscars but producing this really isn’t forgivable. Marty, stick to preserving movies from Africa, that’s something you can actually be proud of. This film should be forgotten as soon as possible. —If only I could erase it from my brain. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a fun ride. Like the latest Terminator, the response to this film will fall into two camps. The overly analytical who claim not to be and the rest of us. For the overly analytical there will be major time ellipses, plot flaws and random disparities that they will never get over. For the rest of us there will be some great special effects, action and nostalgia which we will enjoy.

For those who have a hard time living in our multicultural and gender equality leaning world, you will not like this Star Wars chapter, as you haven’t liked the last few. The heroine is an independent woman. You might already feel burn out from the “strong woman character” archetype. However, as far as I am concerned, in general there are nowhere near enough strong, independent women characters in films. So I think Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is awesome in these regards. Of course, there is a beating heart inside of Rey (Daisy Ridley). She isn’t one of these cold and aloof Jedi like Luke, for example. But so what if she was, would it make the film any different? It shouldn’t. Towards the end of the film, Rey’s somewhat plodding storyline had a hard time competing with the epic battle that was raging around her. However, all told, for a 2 hour and 21 minute film, the plot held together remarkably well. 

I thought Oscar Isaac was a solid General Poe. If you’d like to see him do some serious acting, check him out as Paul Gauguin opposite Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh in the 2018, already classic, At Eternity’s Gate.

If you keep your expectations reasonable, you will enjoy this final installment. At least what tries to put a bow on this most timeless of sagas.  

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.

Jexi

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Jexi is the slapstick comedy version of Her and if you go into it with low expectations you will be surprisingly pleased. I don’t know what’s crazier, that a smartphone would hijack your life, that Cate (Alexandra Shipp) would be interested in Phil (Adam DeVine) or that they would go mountain biking without wearing helmets. One thing the film has going for it is the backdrop of San Francisco, which plays a central role. One of my favorite scenes was a night time bike ride that goes sideways. I lived in San Francisco for 6 years and rode a bike everyday. It’s fun and it doesn’t hurt if you are a little fearless — at least about bike riding on hills. That scene did a great job capturing the adventure that zooming around The City at night can be. 

In general the film was amicably helmed by John Lucas and Scott Moore. It also had some decent cameos by Wanda Sykes, Kid Cudi and Michael Peña. There are also strong supporting roles by Ron Funches and Charlyne Yi as Phil’s supportive coworkers. Well, supportive until Jexi decides to …

So overall I enjoyed this film. It’s a decent cautionary tale with some blue comedy that I found amusing. It’s not as funny, deep or blue as the sleeper hit Good Boys but it still surprised me with how funny it actually was and certainly passed the six dollar Thursday night movie bar.

Powering off. 

Ad Astra

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L & D were graced with the presence of our friend F. for the highly anticipated screening of Ad Astra. In this film Producer/Actor Brad Pitt plays an astronaut in a not so distant future who is on a once in a lifetime mission to Neptune. 

Some great lines from F. included when he picked up on a direct quote from 2001: A Space Odyssey, who this film owes everything to. His line about there being “too many stars in this movie” — when Donald Sutherland shows up. And also his parting salvo, during the credits, which was, “It took two idiots to write this?” 

The film also reminded me of some other recent filmic space junk, First Man, the biopic on Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Gosling. For a leading man or woman in Hollywood, an astronaut movie is par for the course. If you were an actor and owned a production company like Brad Pitt does, you would certainly put yourself in the drivers seat of a rocket to Neptune. It makes sense. 

In terms of production value, Ad Astra is out of its mind. Technically and aesthetically, it is really a film that the filmmakers can be proud of. And it has a few memorable suspense and action sequences which I won’t spoil for you. Let’s just say there is a shoot out and a strange thing happens with monkeys. And Tommy Lee Jones. Actually, Tommy Lee Jones does laudable acting work here. He is one of those actors I love on the screen but would terrify me in real life. Like if I had to do anything with Tommy Lee Jones. Like if we were related and had Thanksgiving together, I would have to have a Xanax. Not because he is famous but because he is so intense. Can you imagine? Tommy Lee to L at the table: “Pass the candied yams.” I shudder. And forget about being anywhere near him on set. I would definitely not want to sit by him at lunch. But he would probably sit next to me and start asking me personal questions. This has happened to me during film shoots with celebs. Mostly it’s fine but you never know with intense, method actors. One second it’s, “Have you listened to any good music lately?”  The next is, “Get out of my eyeline!!” I mean, rarely does that happen —but I wouldn’t trust him. Maybe he is just that good of an actor and he is actually the nicest guy you ever met. Maybe. So if you love Tommy Lee Jones, even though he, like Sutherland, is in a minor supporting role here, it’s a strong performance.

One thing about this film is that the plot is absolutely absurd. You have to suspend disbelief almost immediately. And the only way to understand this movie is through the cross references of psychology and Greek tragedy. As an Oedipal story. As an allegory. Ultimately, the grinding pace of this film, the self-reflectiveness and indulgence, bury it. I think if the filmmakers had stuck to a more traditional narrative structure, added just a little more humor and quickened the pace of the story, this could have been a much more engaging and thought provoking film. On the other hand, I’m sure Brad Pitt is satisfied and feels like he said what he needed to say about outer space, humanity and Dads. You could watch Ad Astra or perhaps better yet, launch a laser disc and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again.