Friday, June 14, 2019

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

                              pre·ten·tious
                                                                   /prəˈten(t)SHəs/
                                                                          adjective
  1. attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.
    "a pretentious literary device"
    synonyms:
    affected, ostentatious, chi-chi, showy, flashy, tinselly, conspicuous, flaunty, tasteless, kitschy; More

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Dark Phoenix

My summary of the entire 114 minutes of Dark Phoenix. 







Saturday, June 08, 2019

Rocketman

OK, let's first get the obvious comparison out of the way: Rocketman is a far better movie than Bohemian Rhapsody, and Taron Egerton a better Elton John than Rami Malek was a Freddie Mercury. 

There, I said it, and it's true. Deal with it. 

Rocketman tells John's story through music and metaphor. And if, like me, you've been a decades-long fan of Sir Elton Hercules John, then take note: you'll still learn something new about him after watching this biopic. 

Egerton is a force in this flick. The total package. He sings beautifully, and connects with the audience in a deeply personal way. Viewers can clearly tell that sweet, shy Reg is morphing into obnoxious, dickhead Elton, but we never look away or lose faith. That's due primarily to Egerton's ability to portray John as deeply flawed and fragile, yet lovable. 

We know he's an ass, but we also know why. And we understand. 

Jamie Bell almost steals the show as Bernie Taupin. Rocketman is as much the story of Taupin's deep brotherly love for Elton as it is about Elton's struggle to understand and accept himself. Watching their platonic relationship grow is wonderful. One scene in particular, where we witness the genius involved in writing "Your Song," may be my favorite movie scene from the last several years. 

The scene is that damn good. 

Rocketman, like the music of Elton John, won't be everyone's cup of tea. But I suspect the bandwagon will be really crowded come Academy Award time. 



Monday, May 27, 2019

Gloria Bell

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

I've grown tired of superhero movies. Of heavily used special effects, even the really great ones like in Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame.

I've secretly coveted a stripped down, character-driven movie that relies heavily on acting chops and which moves me emotionally. For some months now I've viewed the film industry with contempt as they've pumped out movie after movie designed to earn billions of dollars instead of producing personal works of art. I've participated in that machinery, even though I knew it was rotting my soul.

Forgive me, Father. I awaited premiers of blockbuster movies with lust and envy and pride. And I was wrong to become so consumed by the process.

Watching Gloria Bell reminded me of the substantial power that great acting in small movies can have on me. Watching Julianne Moore find herself-- to grow emotionally on screen--  as she interacts with co-star John Turturro was an inspiration.

It's a powerhouse performance, Father. The sort of performance that wins Oscars, even without seamless special effects and big box office receipts.

Forgive me Father, for I've sinned. But I've seen the light, I promise.

(At least until the July release of Spider-Man: Far From Home)


Brightburn

With apologies:

Faster than a movie that has a substantive plot. More powerful a sleep aid than Melatonin. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound yet poor character development prevents that from happening.

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a sociopath!

Yes, it's Brandon Breyer, strange visitor from another planet, who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Brandon, who can fly at nearly invisible super-spend so as to avoid expensive special effect costs, bend steel in his bare hands when he's angry at lawn care machines, and who, with no forethought to disguise, draws attention to himself as a socially awkward pre-teen in middle school, fights a never-ending battle for no real reason other than he just really wants what he wants.


Saturday, May 18, 2019

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Director Chad Stahelski channel Sergio Leone in his John Wick series, and this third installment is no different. Chapter 3: Parabellum has a larger budget and more supporting actor star power than the two previous installments, but the flick is classic A Fistful of Dollars.

A modern Spaghetti Western.

Chapter 3: Parabellum digs deeper into, and adds to, the franchise mythology. And, perhaps, that's the biggest weakness of the film. The beauty of John Wick, the original, was that it had a simple plot based on a simple premise:  Bad guy falls in love, is changed forever for the better, loses girl, struggles to stay true to her memory, then kills several dozen people as he works through that conflict.

Well, maybe it wasn't that simple. It wasn't, however, just a fucking puppy.

Chapter 3: Parabellum has a larger budget and lots of big-name supporting actors. But it's the action that brings people to the show. By now everyone in the audience knows Wick's moves. . . he never backs up, instead always moving forward into the fight. He's gonna arm drag one guy onto the ground, then hold him tightly with his legs while he shoots another guy who is running toward him. He'll then re-load the gun and shoot the first guy he's been holding down all this time. He'll shoot a bunch of guys close-up in the face while working through a crowded venue. And then later he'll have at least two knife fights that make the best martial arts films look weak.

But we don't care that all his moves are the same. That's just who John Wick is. He's a man of focus. A man of sheer will. I once saw him kill three men in a bar using nothing but a pencil. Who does that?

John Wick.

While I prefer the first film to either of the sequels, I enjoy watching the character evolve and the mythology being built. We learn a little more about the personal life of Wick in Parabellum, and that insight helps us appreciate the guy even more.

Can't wait to watch Chapter 4.




Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Capernaum

Capernaum . . .

The movie about growing up in the slums of Beirut haunts me, days after I watched it.

More specifically, the work of child actor Zain Al Rafeea haunts me. His ability to connect the audience to his despair -- and to the incredible resilience he shows in the depths of that despair -- is the stuff of which legendary careers are made.

And this was Al Rafeea's first and only acting role.

For me to even attempt commentary on Capernaum feels hollow and incomplete. The inevitable description of the movie as being about "the struggle to survive while living in the extreme poverty of a desperate city" just seems trite. It just doesn't do Al Rafeea's powerhouse of a performance justice.

Director Nadine Labaki's fictional account feels like a real-life documentary. It's raw. It's spellbinding. It's moving. It's haunting.

Most of all it's a movie everyone in the USA should see.




Sunday, May 12, 2019

Bad Times At The El Royale

I gotta admit, I had reservations about clicking "rent this movie," with my remote control.

I paused, considered it, then thought about it some more. Placed my thumb on the "enter" button then pulled it off more than once. I bit my lip and made that duck-lips thing I do when I'm perplexed.

I weighed the pros and cons:

Pro:
1. The movie stars Jeff Bridges, an actor who never disappoints me;
2. Jon Hamm has as supporting role, and Hamm seems drawn to solid roles in solid movies;
3. Drew Goddard wrote and directed the film noir thriller. (That mighta shoulda been listed as #1.)

Con:
1. I don't particularly like flicks described as film noir;
2. Dakota Johnson has a major role;
3. I read Chris Hemsworth speaks with an American English accent;
4. A photo of a near shirtless Chris Hemsworth dons the movie poster (and I'm immediately insecure);
5. There's no sign or mention of Mjolnir;
6. Cailee Spaeny and Lewis Pullman who?;
7. Nick Offerman is listed in the credits without Megan Mullally;
8. The flick lost money during its theater run.

So clearly, the rental was dicey at best. But, I took the chance. I popped the corn, poured the cold Diet Coke, turned down the lights and pressed "enter."

Unlike most bets I make in my life, this one paid off. Bad Times At The El Royale is a terrific film, noir or not.

Goddard tells a complicated, interesting story in a way that allows the audience to follow easily and to connect with each character. Jeff Bridges is (as usual) remarkable, while Jon Hamm and Chris Hemsworth bring memorable performances. Dakota Johnson and Lewis Pullman impress in supporting roles integral to the film.

But Cynthia Erivo is the heart of this movie! And she delivers for the audience every second she's on the screen.

In an age of ultra-cool and realistic special effects, Bad Times At The El Royale thrills the way a movie is supposed to thrill -- with a great plot, terrific performances, unexpected twists and turns, and characters with which the audience can feel connected. Add to that some really quirky aspects (the hotel is built on the geographic divide between Nevada and California, a plot device used well several times in the movie) and dense, well written dialogue and you have a really satisfying flick.

Even if it lost money at the box office.







Saturday, May 04, 2019

Avengers: Endgame

Like lots of comic book geeks, when I was 12-ish (during the mid-70s) I spent a lot of time -- and, I mean, a lot of time! -- in my bedroom cutting DC and Marvel heroes out of their books and pasting them onto things. I'd paste them onto anything, really. Paper, notebook covers, my wall, my wooden bedframe, the ceiling. Anything on which I could paste:

The Batman vs. Black Panther;
Superman vs. Hulk;
Green Arrow vs. Hawkeye
Flash vs. Quicksilver.

You get the gist. And in my pre-teen universe, DC heroes always won.

Cutting and pasting characters in heroic poses was the best I could come up with in the 70s. The New Adventures of Batman (what with the yellow chest oval and that loveable goof Bat-Mite) was still a year or two away, and Christopher Reeve's Superman had yet to debut. No cable or Internet meant no access to old serials from the 1940s and 50s.

 Flat, poorly trimmed paper champions were the only way I could make comic book fight scenes come to life.

Comic book-based films were hit and miss for the next few decades. Burton's Batman was well received, but studious actually considered Nicolas Cage for Superman Lives. Roger Corman's Fantastic Four was never released to theaters (although I had a copy), but Affleck's Daredevil and Halle Berry's Catwoman were. And those films were so bad they made me anxious that Batman Begins would be horrible, too.

Thankfully, Christopher Nolan proved me wrong.

With this inconsistent history, I was less than optimistic when Marvel announced Iron Man would be released in 2008. A genius-but-troubled actor starring as a clunky, B-list hero made no sense to me. It would fail, I predicted.

And I made that prediction loud and often.

I was glad to be wrong (again). Iron Man was so well done that it ignited Marvel's multi-billion dollar venture into film and led to the development of several really good hero-focused streaming service-based series. Phases 1-3 of Marvel's movies will be the benchmark to which all future comic book movies are compared. In addition to stories being well scripted and superbly acted, movies in those phases were interconnected along a common plot device. While each can stand on its own as a unique flick, the movies together make up a serial that's moving toward a common conclusion.

But after 10-plus years, the story arc that connected nearly two dozen movies had to be resolved in a way that satisfied the audience.

Avengers: Endgame is ultimately satisfying. Patiently, Endgame reminds us how the movies are interconnected, then wraps up the conclusion with a ribbon that's all at once beautiful, devastating, and gratifying. It's sentimental, funny, full of action, and contains plenty of twists and turns.

It's better than I imagined it could be when I was 12.



Friday, May 03, 2019

The Mustang

There's a story involving a horse that illustrates one of the early insights held by famed psychotherapist Carl Rogers, who developed a person-centered, humanistic approach to helping others. 

[For transparency, it's been several years since I read this story and my re-telling of it may be flawed. You Rogerians will forgive if I get some facts wrong -- the gist will still be accurate.]

Rogers spent his teen years living on a farm several miles outside Chicago, Illinois. One morning he watched several men try to move a horse from the barn. The horse, as horses sometimes do, was having none of it. The men pushed, pulled, yelled, smacked, and pushed some more; still, the horse refused to budge. When the men took a break a young Rogers walked to the horse's side. He spent time caressing the and whispering softly to the horse. Then, he calmly took hold of the bridle and exited the barn together with the horse, walking side by side. 

The equality of the relationship was what helped the horse feel safe. Comfortable enough to do what needed to be done.

The Mustang is themed on the same principle: all animals need to feel trust and safe in order to grow, mature, and prosper. I'm unsure if prisoner Roman Coleman or the Mustang named Marcus is the star of the flick. But I do know they understood each other. And they grew to love and respect each other.

And they became better as a result.