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.

Lion

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For anyone who has done any significant exploration into their genealogy, Lion is going to be a powerful experience. I watched the third act with a lump in my throat.

This film, whose simple story could easily be described in a line or two, to the point that you might consider not watching it, was actually layered and complex. The film is carried by a brilliant young actor Sunny Pawar (I haven’t seen such great acting by a child, in fact all the kids in Lion, since Beasts of No Nation in 2015) and also Dev Patel who is deservedly up for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Lion has enormous heart. In this past year of weekly movie viewing, I have come to realize that it’s one of the single most important elements in a film. In current movies, technical capabilities are limitless and have generally been conquered via VFX and/or tons of cash. So for me, production value, though key, will not save a movie if the story is about let’s say two self-absorbed kids seeking fame at the cost of their own love. But in Lion, the story is one that, like Moonlight, centers around self-discovery. And this journey is absolutely necessary for the continued survival of the protagonist. The stakes couldn’t possibly be higher.

Lion made it right under the wire into my top 10 list for 2016 and I highly recommend it.

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.

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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!

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

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This Werner Herzog doc from 1997 was screened as part 3 of 4 in the series I am putting on at The 602 Club in Appleton, Wisconsin. I chose the film because I watched it in the theater, the Roxie in SF to be precise, when it first came out. One of the descriptions that remained with me for decades was the young Dieter Dengler, in his home town in the Black Forest of Germany, being bombed by American fighter planes. From his window, he and his brother could see clearly the face of the pilot in the aircraft. It was at this moment, that he knew he wanted to fly.

One of the cool things about screening a film with a wide range of people there is the discussion you can have afterward. In fact, people requested a Q and A because “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” is a heavy film, it is Herzog after all, and folks wanted to decompress —to use an aviation term. Our discussion revolved around psychology: Stockholm Syndrome (i.e. sympathizing with your enemy), PTSD (symptoms like hoarding for fear of starvation) and also truth in documentary. According to Herzog, some stories in Little Dieter are fabricated, like the scene in which Dieter talks about constantly opening and closing doors due to his time as POW. Does this change the certain facts of the story? That he was shot down during the Vietnam War over Laos and then reappeared on the other side of the country, his body ravaged and miraculously spotted by a reconnaissance pilot? No. Dieter’s account of the POW camp, his exact details and reconstruction seem unassailable. But in his own words, he was hallucinating. Ultimately, the point may not be that this or that event exactly occurred. Which is implied in the weight of the word “Documentary”. But that from the many accounts of those who survived to live to tell POW stories and stories from Europe in WWII for that matter, Dieter’s story is utterly believable if not 100 percent accurate. This pairing or Herzog and Dieter, who passed away in 2001 with full military honors and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, an epilogue to the film tells us, seems complimentary. They are both artists of the poetic and epic story and storytelling. Their point is to illustrate human struggle, suffering, striving, compassion and even humor in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

In the end, I was happy I chose “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” as it sparked a personal and thought provoking group discussion. And I think that’s some of the best inspiration that Cinema can offer us.

Moonlight

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—SPOILERS —Moonlight is a highly stylized indie film that has reached great acclaim and is nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Writer/Director Barry Jenkins. It depicts the life of a person who knows he is gay and must contend with his own personal identity crisis under intense societal and family pressure. The film is told in three acts. It is as much the story of the main protagonist, Chiron, as his friend Kevin, the one person who seems to be in Chiron’s corner. Operative words, seems to be.

As I overheard someone say when we left the theater, it is a character driven story, not a plot driven story. Some people characterize films as either, or.  Though I think it’s an easy argument to make, it’s also an oversimplification. Within the three act structure and the passage of time chronologically, Moonlight certainly does have a plot and is driven by a traditional beginning, middle and end. However, the drama within the structure may surprise people. Even though there are drugs and violence spinning and threatening at all times at the periphery, the story is not so much about that but how all of that is interfering with Chiron’s growth and attempt to simply be himself. Chiron’s transformation in Act III is a powerful revelation and the denouement of the film is an intense, honest and moving portrayal of love and friendship. The film did remind me of a short Italian film I saw many moons ago but that stayed with me. That film portrays a child who is constantly bullied. He eats a lot of protein, works out, gets strong. In an alley, the bully is confronted by this seemingly new threat. But once the bully figures out that it’s the same kid he regularly beat up, he proceeds to do it again. Moonlight shares this intrigue on human psychology. What you see on the outside can mislead you about what a person is really like.

I think the film is different in that it deals with youth, gay issues and African-American issues in a sensitive way. As we noted, our last three films, “Live by Night”, “The Founder” and “Gold” were all about white guy protagonists out to conquer the world. Antithetically to those, Moonlight is a film about an African-American on a journey to discover himself.

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: The Founder

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Possible Spoilers Here – I have been letting this film sink in. And have had more than the typical quick convo with D after the movie. Its been a few days now and I have already recommended it to a few people. This is truly a great movie. Michael Keaton lands every single note in key. The film deals with so many things including psychology, incentive, behavior, marketing, real estate, Realpolitik, history and of course, burgers fries and milkshakes. Full disclosure, I went to Mikey D’s directly before and after I saw this film. I won’t get into deforestation for cattle raising or the Disneyfication of our culture here. Suffice it to say, a McDonald’s opened not so gracefully in the Vatican itself a few weeks ago. Sure the Bishops are denouncing but if you stay up late, who knows, you might see Francis himself sneak in there for some fries at midnight.

The film is about the hubris of a man. And as his empire grows his ethical choices sour. Most relevant, he decides to not be a man of his word following an important deal. He cuts corners on quality. He dumps his wife for no legitimate reason. He enacts revenge when it is not necessary. His business philosophy became, in short, not “Only the Paranoid Survive” but “Only the Ruthless Survive”.  Curiously, the lies he told himself became the reality that he became wealthy enough to own and tell others. His own myth maker. A good storyteller. …And posthumously, known as a great philanthropist due to the work of his third wife.

The spin is on, big time, with Ray Kroc. I actually thought he was the founder of McDonald’s. That’s all I ever knew. I had no idea that the “speedy system” belonged to two brother’s from California. That their original burger stand, called McDonald’s, was what Kroc took and transformed into the international behemoth, the good, bad and ugly thing some of us love to hate and some of us… don’t bother us, we are eating our Big Mac. The bottom line is that Ray Kroc envisioned a need, he knew this country would grow in all directions and he wanted there to be a church, Old Glory flying and a the Golden Arches in every town in America. And that you could get that same burger under the same lighting, for essentially the same price — anywhere. This truly horrifies some people, like the McDonald’s bothers when profit came before quality and exalted others, those travelers on lonely roads in the middle of nowhere or people hoping to get a franchise and make the promised land work for them. It’s an amazing and complex story that is well told here, honestly, with powdered milk and all, for you to chew on.

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.

Strosczek

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Last night was the 2nd installment of the Werner Herzog Film Series at The 602 Club in Appleton. The event was in reasonable doubt earlier in the week as an unscrupulous individual was hanging on to the Appleton Public Library’s copy of Strosczek way past its due date. But luckily for the L and D, the D was able to get a hold of the title at the Lawrence University Library. He even showed up and gave tips on cooking brats as the L was making pork brats and chorizo. Cheese curds were also served. The menu also included chips, dip, New Glarus and Beaujolais.

A slight technical snafu at the start of the film, namely the Director’s commentary would not turn off, was figured out by one of the guests, who suggested hitting the audio button during playback, which worked! Once that bullet was dodged and as the final stragglers scuttled in we were all able to sit back and enjoy Strosczek. It had been decades since I last saw this film and like our offering last month, Burden of Dreams, this film from 1975 has stood the test of time. It tells the tale of Berliners: Bruno, Eva and their eccentric upstairs neighbor, Scheitz. Scheitz has a nephew in Wisconsin who writes to invite his Uncle to move. Trying times at home and looking to get rich quick in the promised land has the trio flying to NYC, buying a station wagon for $450 and moving onward to Wisco. It’s a touching story, at times extremely humorous, at times heartbreaking, at times absurdist but always compelling and beautiful. Definitely worth watching if you are in the market for a solid foreign film, that also takes place in the United States. …Next month we will follow up this narrative with the documentary “Little Deiter Needs to Fly”.  About a boy who grows up in post-war Germany and eventually becomes a pilot for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. He is shot down over Laos and becomes a POW.

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.