The Beguiled

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This intense Civil War remake is all about smoke and mirrors. Veils and fog. I thought we were friends. There is a single telling shot of a spider web. And oh what a tangled web we weave. Nicole Kidman as an understated Norma Desmond. Her talent is shocking every time you see her act. And Sofia Coppola, who won Best Director at Cannes for this effort, lives up to the moniker “The Velvet Hammer.”  There is syrup to the photography. At times a heavy, choking vignette suffocates the frame and threatens to swallow the images. But they seem so sweet, what harm could these images possibly do? And with that I’ll leave you to submit to this most intricate and emotionally sophisticated film.

Baby Driver

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If movies with a lot of action and violence are not your thing, steer clear of Baby Driver. If on the other hand you enjoy great car chase scenes and don’t mind some gore, you will groove on this fast paced, musical joy ride. If LALA Land had an edgy side, it would be Baby Driver. Not that anyone breaks out into full on numbers but you feel like it could happen at any moment.  Unlike the recent flop Collide which combined stunt driving with star power, Baby Driver has enough unique elements, characters and situations going for it that it doesn’t feel like another rehash or frankenmovie. It has the action of Hardcore Henry and the romance of Badlands.  The story gives its A list actors room to strut their stuff and flex their performance range. As for the lead, Ansel Elgort, it’s refreshing to see someone not as well known as say Ryan Gosling do his thing. Speaking of which, this is the film that I wish Drive had been.

Baby Driver did not fail to inspire. However, as D noted when we left the screening, the epilogue seemed rushed and crushed. Personally, I didn’t mind the parachute touch down after so many hard emotional hits in the film. Even though Baby Driver recalls a lot of other favorites like Shooter or The Fugitive, it does have its unique musical side and that is appropriate since Paul Simon sings the title song. It was after all Paul Simon who mentioned to Annie in Annie Hall, “You are very musical.” If you can catch Baby Driver it in the theater, you should. The stunts are big but the soundtrack rivals them and you won’t have the same experience listening to these jams unless you have surround sound set up in your home. Baby Driver does not have the advantage of story depth like Pulp Fiction.  But to its credit, it does pull off the trick of taking elements that we have seen many times before and creates something different and entertaining with them. It is a heist film that has a big heart and proudly plays to its own beat.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie certainly lives up to its name as both being a movie and being rather epic.  The movie is an extraordinarily true-to-the-books adaptation of the popular Dav Pilkey series, meaning that it is just a little bit funnier and a little bit more insightful than what you are expecting.

For those of you who haven’t raised any boys in the past 10 years, the movie, like the books, follows the trajectories of fourth-grader pals, George and Harold, perennial goofabouts and also author and illustrator of the Captain Underpants comic series.  The grade-school setting is boilerplate, replete with droning teachers (e.g., Ms. Ribble, never gets old), know-it-all classmates, tattle tales, interminable assemblies, and, of course, office visits to the boys’ principal rival, the inept and borderline evil Principal Krupp. Spoiler alert (not really), Principal Krupp ultimately takes on the alter ego of the good Captain Underpants himself in real life, as the kids would say, taking on threats ranging from vengeful Turbo Toilets to adversaries that include Bionic Booger Boy and the evil Professor P.P. Poopypants (connoisseurs will note that the movie deviates from the series here, with the expanded name of Professor Pippy Pee-Pee Diarrheastein Poopypants Esquire).

If all of this sounds sophomoric to you, then you get the point exactly. This movie is made for people who can’t withhold a smirk when talking about planet Uranus, which includes boys from the ages of 4 to about, well, you get the idea.

As for the movie itself, I have seen it twice and laughed through it both times.  The coloring is really well done and the animation is pretty fluid.  There are also elements from the books and otherwise that mix things up, such as a Flip-O-Rama sequence and a hilarious sock puppet interlude that has the vibe of a diorama come to life (I still don’t understand the point of the sock puppets, and am guessing there isn’t one other than it was visually hilarious).  The story is not terribly sophisticated and kids will generally relate both to the settings and to the humor.   Fortunately, it is not terribly preachy, either, which is probably annoying for the kids and is definitely annoying to me.   So, what it really kind of amounts to is about 90 minutes of fart jokes and ridiculousness.

And what’s wrong with that?

The Mummy


The ride will be great. Like many times I see the Universal logo spinning into view with the blaring thuds of trumpet sounds, I realize that the chances of this action film being bad are up there. One large piece of…computer generated plastic, wrapped around a hot turd of a story. Sorry but I had to get scatalogical. Frankly, I was disappointed because I was really rooting for Sofia Boutella, who had a fine turn on Star Trek Beyond. But I should know better regarding expectations and movies. Tom Cruise could carry this film. It is Tom Cruise after all. But he doesn’t. D leaned over and said “Wooden” during one of the excruciatingly painful expositional dialogue scenes. And I know he wasn’t referring to the Pyramid of Success. What was even worse were the attempt at shocked or horrified looks from the actors. Honestly, if some demonic mummy comes out of a sarcophagus and starts sucking peoples brains out are you just gonna sit there — or even run? Let’s face it, you are gonna lose bowel control (again with the scatology) and roll up into the most fetal of fetal positions. But let’s say you are not, let’s say you trained on Amazon Warrior Island with Wonder Woman for the past 20 years. Are you really going to get all Kung Fu on a bunch of dead crusaders? Yes, I said crusaders. This film goes everywhere from the Medieval crusades to the Resident Evil video game. It would be forgivable, as the mashup in Wonder Woman is, were it not that the film tries so hard for there to be some type of romantic relationship between Cruise and Jenny, played perfunctorily by Annabelle Wallis. His concern for her defies any possible suspension of disbelief. And how about Russell Crowe as Henry Jekyll? Yes that Jekyll. This addition is straight out of left field story-wise. Though Crowe does give an admirable, impassioned performance as the bipolar madman.

The one thing to recommend here are the special effects. They went to town on that. And also the make-up on the mummy, which I felt was strong. Set design also left nothing to be desired. It is a well crafted film. This film also did register on the D “Jumped In My Seat” Richter scale at least once. And there were moments of high suspense where I couldn’t look because I was too freaked out. I’m sure at the Universal theme park, the ride will be great.

Wonder Woman


I’m just going to come out and say it. Wonder Woman is a good movie. Not a great one. We have seen all of this before. Especially the massive ending with the big explosions etc. etc. Regardless, it is enjoyable as hell and it is a movie to root for with its fantastic lead, Gal Gadot and the kick ass Director, Patty Jenkins.

As a great cultural phenomenon it would be easy to join the “Wonder Woman is great!” bandwagon…but no. It’s just too derivative. Not as much as The Mummy, our next review on the L & D, but derivative nonetheless. I will say that like many people I enjoyed the WWI aspect of the film and who wouldn’t love ACT 1, the fun and games growing up on an island of Amazon warriors. Hello! You had me at Ama.

Now of course, you will have some haters. Like the asses that sued the movie theaters for screening the film as Ladies Night for Ladies Only. But you know, those people would never be able to let their hair down and enjoy a Summer blockbuster like this…because they are old guys with no hair.

So I say, if you want to have some fun, munch your popcorn extra loud and revel in Amazonian Badassery, then get strapped into a magic lasso and check out Wonder Woman.

Alien: Covenant


SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS — Now I know a lot of people are super into the Alien series and I have been on the short end of long chronologies about where this movie places and ranks in this franchise. Fine. The thing is if you have never seen an Alien film in your life you will still get a whole lot out of this one. There is even a Franco sighting! And just for the record I have seen the first one and the fourth i.e. Resurrection. Set design is always a big deal in Alien films and Covenant does not fail here with its eerie planet and dingy sets. If you are that type of person, this film could give you nightmares. It will no doubt give you the creeps. And yet there is a certain aesthetic elegance in all the gore. Enough, I’m sure, to make even H.R. Giger grunt his approval.

The deeper philosophical part of Covenant deals with A.I. As in another movie you may have heard of by Director Ridley Scott, namely Blade Runner, we return to the idea that the robot/replicant/humanoid is just as human if not more so than an actual person. Except of course that it is not. Films have been exploring the robot/human idea since at least Lang’s 1927 German Expressionist masterpiece Metropolis. And even the fairly recent Ex Machina deals with these ideas in a profound and artistically inspired way. Alien: Covenant and Scott decide to take a darker path. In an ending —MORE SPOILERS— reminiscent of this years’ sci-fi thriller Life, Scott comes to a fork in the road and goes down the darkest path possible. It all does kind of leave you shaking your head in dismay. On the other hand, if you are a nihilist, it will warm your cold cold heart and make you hug your ferrets. All in all a powerful, well acted, well crafted entry into the Alien universe.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


I really enjoyed King Arthur: Legend of the Sword — well, at least more than I thought I would. Charlie Hunnam, commands the screen, as he did in The Lost City of Z and Director Guy Ritchie’s frenetic editing, camera angles and EDM Light musical selections kept the fantastical plot moving.

This easily could have devolved into an endless series of video game deaths (John Wick 2, I’m looking at you) but it didn’t. There is a fairly solid script and story that goes along with all the action. Jude Law as the villainous king is played with nary a false note. Even when his actions are outlandish and difficult to reason. He was a splendid bad guy. When he and Hunnam shared the screen, the chemistry was palpable.

Once again we have a film that if nothing else serves as a parable for father and son relations. This is one of the greatest and most long lasting dynamics in storytelling. As in Lost City of Z, protagonists dealing with the actions of their fathers, whether they like it or not, becomes what their lives are about. What if the protagonist didn’t try to avenge or make good in the name of his father?  The films would be much shorter.

The final battle scene was slightly hokey and seemed more so as it dragged on. But all in all, the directorial style, stunts and special effects in this film are strong enough to deflect any slight story or vfx snafus. If you like action and adventure that still reflects a strong commitment to storytelling, I suggest King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Your Name

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As a fan of Miyazaki films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away and the Toho production company, I enjoyed the animation in this film immensely. The film directed by Makoto Shinkai was a mash up of Freaky Friday, Memento and Vertigo and at times didn’t seem to make sense. But I had that expectation going in so it didn’t bother me. The film itself is the fourth highest-grossing of all time in Japan and the highest-grossing anime film worldwide at over 350 million.

Oddly, I felt the overtones of guilt and sadness as if the comet that we know will destroy a small seaside town was a nuclear bomb and the director/producer/writer feels bad they can not take everyone to shelter. The main characters in the film feel that way. Of course, I may be reading too much into it but that was a passing thought. And obviously, the movie did resonate and have a strong emotional impact on many viewers for a reason.

The film was quirky with one character constantly feeling him/her self up to good laughs. And just some non-sequitur situations and shots like why is the boy/girls underwear prominently seen in a bike riding scene? It’s a Japanese thing, you wouldn’t understand.

The film certainly had strong spiritual and humanistic dimensions, including a Cyrano de Bergerac subplot which I found to be refreshing. One of us here at the L & D fell asleep during the screening but since a lot of the action occurs during dreams I think the filmmakers wouldn’t mind too much. If you’re into Japan, anime or any type of animated film I highly recommend this film to you.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2



As you know, the comic book / graphic novel genre is whoosh, right over my head. When I see these films, it’s like some kind of social experiment. Like, how confused can one person be if they walk right into the middle of a Hollywood tentpole franchise? Well Guardians 2, didn’t make me feel like that. Even if it was only days later when I figured out who Gamora is. …The raccoon, named Rocket and voiced by Bradley Cooper, keeps me scratching my head, except to think, the creators are super imaginative and/or must have the ickiest of the stickiest on heavy rotation in the bong.

I enjoyed the film as it did make plenty of homages to the 70s, including star Kurt Russell. Though it did give me a real desire to see Escape from New York again…almost to the point that I wished I was watching Escape from NY instead of Guardians Vol 2.

The film seemed to drag on sadly. And though the special effects of this 200 million dollar VFX masterpiece were inventive and of the highest caliber production value, the story itself seemed to be locked in a repetitious death spiral. The film could easily have been 30 minutes shorter.

Also, there was some serious plot strain / suspension of disbelief needed when it was reveled that Ego, Russell’s character, had killed the main protagonists’ mother. Isn’t it enough that he is an egomaniac hell bent on destroying life on several planets. It was a forced addition to the plot line that seemed over the top even in this universe. (When reviewing this genre I have to say “universe” at least once.)

Overall, I liked this film. It had spectacular camera work and special effects. The acting and voicing were all strong and the only ding I have is that it seemed repetitious story-wise in the final 30 minutes. I think sometimes directors or producers just fall in love with their work and there is no one there to simply say “No” to Stan Lee, when he needs to hear it. And yet, if you are a fan of this genre, I would strongly suspect that you would enjoy Guardians Vol 2.

The Lost City of Z


I had a feeling that LCoZ would be a pretty good movie when I found out it was produced by Plan B. Plan B is Brad Pitt’s production company. Plan B has distinguished itself with academy awards for producing The Departed, 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight among other enlightening and entertaining works. LCoZ falls in that category, a film that on its face could be chalked up as just another adventure yarn instead pulls in the long arm of colonial mentality and history.

The story follows Col. Percy Fawcett, (Charlie Hunnam, who has an indisputable Pitt aura)  on his journeys in the Brazilian Amazon.

One aspect of the film that rings false is the relationship of the Col. Fawcett with his wife. It’s high minded to include a strong female character but in this case, it comes off as forced and doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test (did at least two women talk to each other about something other than a man). Nina Fawcett, played well by Sienna Miller, really doesn’t have that much to do. She is neither a foil, as she acquiesces to Percy and then their sons’ requests to leave nor an active participant in the search for the lost city, as Col Fawcett does not allow her to go. There is a lot of lip service paid to how heroic domestic life is but that just seems to reinforce how great it is to jet out of there and hit the jungle. And hit the jungle they do in this film. There is plenty of high stakes action, tribal and expeditionary drama and just sick scenery and cinematography by the great Darius Khondji, who also shot Seven.

The Lost City of Z is an epic tale that takes you from the bunkers of WWI to the most remote ares of the Amazon. If you are into adventure stories this one will satisfy you and leave you with a thing or two to think about in your own life. One of the lines in the film that really spoke to me, and I paraphrase, was “Keep your goals just out of reach so you will keep striving to achieve them.” I thought that in the end, LCoZ is a film that gives the audience something to think about and that alone deserves to be applauded.