Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ten Statements About....CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

"Hello.  I am your designated scenery chewer for this
"Ghosts are real.  This much I know."

1) Mia Wasikowska’s Edith does not work as a heroine.  She is set up as a self-reliant, progressive and clever woman only to--almost literally at the flip of a switch--become a weak-kneed softie for the duration of the film.  We’re supposed to think it’s because of her feelings for Tom Hiddleston’s Thomas...except that she is resistant to him with no hint of her weakness for a stretch of the first act.

2) ...of course, it might be because Wasikowska and Hiddleston have no chemistry whatsoever, which especially makes Thomas’ story arc nonsensical.  We don’t believe in his change of heart because we have no faith in his feelings for Edith.

3) This film is way too long, and is rife with scenes that could be cut, especially in the first act.  I suspect the story would flow much better if it lost fifteen minutes to a half hour.
"I know we have no chemistry, but the script demands it, so..."

4) Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that the ghosts that are supposed to be a major crux of the film...don’t do anything essential to the plot.  They’re incidental to the point where you could cut them out whole and, with very slight re-jiggering, still have a movie.  This might have worked better, given that the ghosts’ presence in the film makes Edith come off as rather dim.

5) In a film where so many of the principles underplay their roles. you gotta give Jessica Chastain credit for so vigorously biting into the scenery.  She’s wound so tightly that your eyes are drawn to her even when she’s in the background.

6) I’m with Ian Loring and Mark Foster on this--Guillermo del Toro has it in for faces.  Even butterfly faces get mangled in this movie.
Mia doesn't want to look at the reviews inside that bucket...

7) Seeing and enjoying Burn Gorman in a small but pivotal role makes me come to the conclusion that it was the writing on Torchwood that made me hate his character and not him. Or that del Toro knows how to use him.

8) Given that del Toro’s script he collaborated on with Matthew Robbins was trying to re-create a 19th century Gothic, I wonder if they should have dispensed with any supernatual aspect whatsoever and focused on the madness and machinations that the film wants to revel in.

9) What was the point of the scene where Charlie Hunnam’s doctor shares his passion of spirit photography with Edith?  It never comes into play again.  But then, for a character who shows up in the third act simply so Edith has someone to walk into the snowstorm with, it’s not surprising he has little in the way of characterization.

10) Even though I didn’t care for the ghosts’ presence in the film, I do appreciate the look of them, especially the way you can see flashes of the ghost’s human forms when light hits them.

Overall...a vast disappointment from del Toro which suffers from a lack of chemistry between its two leads and a script that doesn’t know what it wants to accomplish.

This time I went to the UA Midway, the first time I had been there for close to two decades.  It’s the last theater standing in the main shopping district of Forest Hills, which once played host to five in walking distance of each other.  The staff was uncommonly friendly, but the projectionist screwed up the tracking for the dreaded Firstlook.  When this was brought to the staff’s attention, we were informed that the picture will stabilize at the time the feature started.  Horror films dominated the trailers with the exception of The Night Before, which focused on one character barfing in a church.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ten Statements About....SSSSSSS (1973)

"I'm your boyfriend now, Christine...."
“You are a real and a bona fide genius. First one I ever met."
“It's rare to be appreciated for one's failures."

1) What makes this film effective for much of its running time is the understated performance by Strother Martin.  We know this man is a mad scientist from frame one, and yet he’s so mild and laid back that you almost forget how sinister his intentions are....

2) least until that third act (get used to this phrase).  Once we hit that last twenty minutes or so, the actors start behaving irrationally.  It’s almost as if the script is hurrying the actions along because they know their time is up.

3) Wow...Reb Brown was broad even in his youth.  At least he dies without screaming his character’s name.

4) The use of real reptiles throughout the film does give the movie a creepy feel.  Although the creepiest thing in the movie aren’t the snakes but the mongoose Strother keeps around for....whatever.
This is a snake drinking booze.  Your arguments are
no longer valid.

5) Not surprisingly, there is a romance between Dirk Benedict’s David and Heather Menzies’ Christine that doesn’t work.  There’s no organicness their coupling, and seems to be there because, well, the script requires the two to make like a couple.

6) Bernard Kowalski does something very effective when Benedict starts changing.  Instead of solely shooting the actor from behind (although there is some of that), Kowalski does show him from a slight distance so that we know something’ about him.   This creates a sense of unease that culminates in a great shock cut.

7) I don’t think the film needed the deaths-by-snake in the late second and third acts.  They contribute to the disintegration of Martin’s performance, and seems to be there solely to give the viewer some violence to keep them engaged.

"You haven't thought of a coherent ending? Nooooooooo!"
8) There are some really disquieting make-up effects in this film, beginning with the ‘shedding’ and carrying through to the appearance of the monstrous characters least until the third act, where we learn what Strother Martin’s real intentions are.  And speaking of that third act...

9) What. The. Hell. was that ending all about?  No, really, the last ten minutes makes so little sense it almost serves to tear down the hour and a half that came before it.  And you’re telling me that Christine could recognize what Dick has become instantly?

10) Why do they make such a big deal about this rare Amazonian snake--Christine mentions it a couple of time, goes to the shipping station and waits for its arrival--when there’s no pay off to this aspect?

Overall... until the third act just wrecks everything, this is a very low-key, creepy at times, little mad scientist throwback.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ten Statements About....TREMORS (1989)

"I smell BACON!"
1) This film knows one of the great secrets of making an effective creature feature--Keep It Simple.  The script sets up the situation, doesn’t dwell on such unnecessary things as back stories and rationales for its creature and just goes.   And knowing the momentum and tension has to keep ratcheting up makes it easier for us to get caught up.

2) There’s a great chemistry between Kevin Bacon’s Val and Fred Ward’s Earl, and that helps to give the film a gravitas and forward movement it might not otherwise have.  Nowhere does these two give us much in the way of their history, but we still know what we need to know about these two from their banter and rapport that we can identify with.

3) I find it highly amusing that this film uses bad reception as a rationale for not getting help long before such an explanation was needed due to cell phones.

Just another NRA Saturday Night....
4) Another benefit from the film’s plot being so simple is that it allows us time for character moments with everyone in the cast so that no one, not even Michael Gross’ and Reba McIntire’s survivalist couple comes off as a cardboard cliche.

5) It’s a breath of fresh air that Finn Carter’s resident scientist doesn’t have knowledge of all sciences.  She does give us insight into the creatures’ nature, but only the insight specific to her specialized knowledge.  And speaking of that scientist....

6) I thoroughly don’t buy the romance between Carter and Bacon.  The script gives us absolutely no hint of an attraction at any time, and just drops the coming together as a coda of the story.  It also doesn’t help that Bacon has more chemistry with Ward than he does with Carter....

7) I will always applaud a film that has faith in practical effects.  In this case, said practical effects gives the monsters a weight and sense of life that I can’t see them having with CGI.

8) I’m pleased that the final resolution of the monster problem is one that the residents of Perfection could come up with by themselves.  There’s no macguffin, no scientific hocus pocus, just a bunch of
people with a knowledge of their land and a couple of homemade explosives.

9) Being just a shade over ninety minutes helps this film immeasurably.  It’s just long enough for the script to give us some dimension to its characters and give us a couple of creepy portents before the monsters come and it becomes a bit of a thrill ride.  Once we get the creepy crawlies (literally!), it’s hyperfocused on the plot at hand.
"I've heard of blockages before, but..."

10) I don’t know if the film’s country western soundtrack works.  Sure, the dissonance between old timey cowboy songs with being swallowed by a monster works in one scene, but the other songs seem obtrusive, especially the closing credit ditty, which seems there solely to let Reba sing something. effective, entertaining creature feature that does what it says on the tin, buoyed further by some good chemistry by its leads and an excellent, well-designed and grimy monster.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ten Statements About....THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Sometimes these fights for top billing can get hairy...
1) I’m ready to call it; Guy Ritchie should only do period pieces from now on.  Just as with the Sherlock Holmes films, Ritchie is able to catch the feel visually and aurally of the 60‘s in this movie.  Such things as  the frequent use of split screen only emphasizes this.

2) I like the use of a variant of the trick Ritchie used in the Holmes film, this time rewinding time to show us information we didn’t originally have.

3) Of course, the most 60‘s thing about this movie is Alicia Vikander’s Gaby.  Given her modest figure and impeccable poise, she’s able to rock those Mod fashions something fierce.  Hell, she even makes those overlarge sunglasses work for her.  Granted, I would have preferred they named her April Dancer, but that might have tipped the movie’s hand as to what her role was in the
"Why yes, I know how to rock these Carnaby Street fashion..."

4) This is another film that suffers from a lackluster set of villains.  Neither Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria or her husband make much of an impression, and their motivation could use some work.  Even their main henchman is ruined by the way he blabs it up so readily when the tables are turned on him.

5) I wonder if we really needed an origin story for the two leads.  One being a thief and the other having anger issues doesn’t really contribute anything to what is, at its core, a very simple high concept.  We don’t need that level of depth in this context.

6) Boy, Henry Cavill is...earnest in his portrayal of Napoleon Solo.  It’s the kind of performance where I don’t know if he’s being serious or taking the piss out of the spy genre.  Considering that Armie Hammer plays his role straight, it sets up a weird vibe between them.
"No, really...we ARE so villains!"

7) While I think Ritchie’s urge to do a chase scene on three different planes of location was intriguing, I don’t think it quite works.  The fact is, even with the shots showing where the planes were in relation to each other, I found it quite hard to follow.

8) There are a couple of interesting sequences which use two focuses, both for comic effect.  And both seem to benefit from Cavill’s comic timing.

9) Even though an argument could be made that he’s underplaying it, it does seem that Hugh Grant is having fun playing Waverly...and I like how the movie foreshadows his appearance a couple of times before he makes his full debut.

10) While it was nice to see the distinctive UNCLE guns in one sequence, it would have been nice to get a clear shot of them (no pun intended).

Overall...Yes, it’s flawed, but it’s also great eye candy and further proof that Guy Ritchie knows his period pieces.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ten Statements About....THEY LIVE (1988)

"We wear our sunglasses at night..."
“Brother, life’s a bitch...and it’s back in heat."

1) For a first time actor, Rod Piper does pretty well.  His John Nada manages to be fairly low-key and almost melancholy at times throughout the first act...until he puts on those sunglasses, at which point he keeps switching from Nada to Rowdy Roddy Piper, and those moments tend to detract from the main story.

2) Man, does this film move slowly.  There are long stretches where pretty much nothing happens, especially at the beginning and end of the film.  There’s none of that increasing speed of storytelling we see in some of Carpenter’s other films like Escape From New York  or Big Trouble In Little China.  As such, the story crawls, making it seem longer than its ninety-five minutes run time.

3) One of the many slow moments Carpenter could have cut to liven the pace?  That third act ‘tour’ of the alien’s facility.  All we really need to know about the aliens is that they are the  ultimate capitalist exploiters--they see humanity as chattel and are altering the planet to suit their industrial needs.  We don’t need to see every. single. thing. about how things work with them.
So a skinless man walks into a bar....

4) Even though her role is so wispy it could fly away with a good strong breath, Meg Foster does nothing to give any life to Holly.  She’s just not a good actress, delivering every line in a soporific monotone that, if anything, serves to reveal a major portion of her character arc way too early.

5) This films relies so much on coincidence in moving its plot that it’s ridiculous.  Even though Nada is surprisingly proactive for a Carpenter hero, he would be just sitting with his thumb up his butt if he didn’t happen to meet the right people who happen to be wandering by at the right time.

6) Hello, primitive CGI flying thingie.  If only you hadn’t flown apart so awkwardly when shot....
I've heard of simplifying articles, but this....

7) Okay, that fight scene--I really don’t think it works as a parody of wrestling (as my buddy Derrick Ferguson claims; I’ve always thought it was Carpenter’s tribute to the legendary Rod Taylor fight scene in Darker Than Amber) even if Piper does break out a couple of wrestling moves.  It doesn’t work because it stops and starts.  The killer isn’t the fight itself but the constant pausing we get throughout it.  Those pauses disrupt the flow and make us impatient to get the scene over with.  That being said....

8) It’s really refreshing to see a lead who obviously isn’t being doubled for his stunt work and fights.  This is where Piper’s experience as a wrestler works for him rather than against him.
Something for the ladies....

9) If you ask me who this film’s MVP is, it’s Keith David.  David is given a character whose arc literally changes in mid-stream, is made to work opposite an actor he really has no chemistry with, and goes out like a punk...and yet he makes this character work.  It’s a testament to his skill that Frank has any dimension at all.

10) One of the things that bugs me the most about this film is how it doesn’t so much end as stop.  Maybe Carpenter thought a sex gag (which makes no sense given how the aliens claim humans are repulsive to them, but that could just be me reading too much into a throwaway line) was a fitting capper to this story....but it, well, isn’t.

Overall...a messy, sloppy film that probably has its reputation due to a handful of--well, okay, a single--memorable line.  Its slowness and tendency to work in fits and starts blunt what could have been an effective little satirical thriller.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ten Statements About....ANT-MAN (2015)

Ant-Man gives this shower curtain thumbs up....
“The world sure seems different from down here, doesn't it, Scott?"

1) It’s refreshing for once to have a Marvel movie where the stakes are not on a city-destroying level.  Because this is a more personal story, there’s not any of the ‘collateral damage fatigue’ that some of these later entries have suffered from.  And it makes us easier to accept the explodey parts in Act Three.  Although...

2) ...I wonder if the fact that this is many ways a kinda, sorta remake of Iron Man struck anyone at any period of time.  There are moments in the film--especially in the third act, it comes down to our hero and a bald guy in a more aggressive version of his suit throwing down in a major metropolitan area--where the connections are inescapable.

3) There is a moment where a character asks ‘when did this happen?’, and I had to agree.  That development comes way out of nowhere given how the relationship between the two characters being referenced had been prickly-to-friendly up until that point.

4) It’s surprising how the film still has Edgar Wright’s fingerprints are on it, even after that acrimonious split.  There are moments (especially whenever Michael Pena goes into flashback mode) that are pure Wright, giving this film a different sheen than other Marvel films.
That's right...Mole Man is already taken!

5) Maybe it’s me, but Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym comes off as a dick, even after he gets a moment where he explains his angst by borrowing some of comic book era Captain America’s.  It’s not so much a character arc as a character line.

6) Similarly--and this may be because I’m comparing him to Obediah Stane--I find Cory Stoll’s Darren Cross sort of one-dimensional and broad.  At no point do we doubt that he’s Pure-D-Evil, here only to hiss and make us appreciate how honorable Scott and his crew are.

7) Okay, those television spots spoiled the big surprise, but I did enjoy the throwdown between Scott and The Falcon.  It’s a very Marvel moment, having two heroes fight over a misunderstanding.

8) As someone who hates CGI, I have to admit that the use of it here gives the action scene a sense of three-dimensionality I enjoyed.  The way the camera swoops and slides as Scott and Cross are battling both in miniature and enlarged (am I the only one who thinks the Yellowjacket outfit looked silly in its enlarged state?), changing perspective a number of times in novel ways while never losing sight of what’s going on
"Follow me, because I'm like...evil and stuff."

9) Even though the light hearted nature of this film required a comedic actor like Paul Rudd at its center, I appreciate how he keeps things more or less low key.  There’s no mugging, no out-of-place quipping, no winking at the camera.  In fact, Rudd manages to keep Scott seeming very ‘regular joe’ while still giving us a hint of charisma.  It’s a rather commendable performance.

10) So you set your film in one of the most photogenic cities in the country....and yet you manage to make it so generic that you don’t even notice the setting until it’s mentioned in the third act?

Overall...while it has its flaws, this is a non-offensive time waster with some nice moments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ten Statements About....FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981)

"Did I tell you about the time I was a rich man, James?"
"The Chinese have a saying.  When preparing for revenge, first dig two graves."

1) Oh, Lord...the sequences that bookend this film are brutal to watch.  They’re so bad, so broadly performed, and so transparent in their purpose (particularly the big ‘Fuck You’ Broccoli throws to Kevin McClory in the pre-credit sequence) that they actively work against the mood this film is trying so hard to maintain...

2) is, for that matter, the disco-fied score by Bill Conti.  It’s woefully out of place in a Bond film, and actually actively reduces the tension in what are some effective action sequences.  Imagining how the centerpiece ski chase would feel with a John Barry score only emphasizes how unsuitable these synth-heavy, rhythm propelled pieces are.

3) Even though there are still moments where the John Glen we know and loathe shine though (particularly the gratuitous slapstick and animal noises), his direction is uncommonly focused here.  The choices he makes are more subtle and nuanced than the ones he makes in other films, and he shows a restraint that fits this film’s more grounded and, for lack of a better word, realistic orientation.  It adds to the refreshing feel of the production as a whole.

4) Even though we are at a point where Roger Moore looks noticeably--some would say alarmingly--older than his leading ladies, the relationship that develops between him and Carole Bouquet’s Melina makes sense for a number of reasons.  The script makes certain that Melina has plenty of screen time with Bond (more than a lot of other Bond Girls before and since) and  gives her roles in both the plot and the theme that are integral.  On top of that, Bouquet and Moore do have something of a chemistry that makes their relationship seem organic.
There's no jokes about birds in this moment, no sir....

5) This is one of the performances of Moore’s that gets me angry, as it gives us a hint of the Bond that could have been.  Moore plays it more or less straight here, and it gives Bond a little bit of a harder edge.  It’s the darkest Bond’s been since Moore threatened to break Maud Adams’ arm in The Man With The Golden Gun, and seeing this more serious interpretation welcome.

6) I like Topol’s Columbo quite a lot.  In many ways he reminds me of Kerim-Bey in his lustiness and good humor.  More importantly, he’s the most effective ally character we’ve had in a long time.

7) Go away, Lynne Holly Johnson.  Just...go away.
"Go away, little girl...."

8) I know they’re not going to kill Bond, but the climactic set piece is extremely tense, most likely because of the lack of scoring.  Because the music is at a minimum, we focus on Bond and his enemy and hear the creaking of the pitons and cord as Bond dangles miles in the air.  It’s a show of restraint in an era that didn’t know what restraint means.

9)  You know, when you’ve got Charles Dance’s Locke, who is an effective killer and, more importantly, somewhat anonymous-looking...why do you farm out your murders to a crazy-eyed, balding Cuban who might as well have ‘mad dog killer’ stamped across his forehead.

10) Considering how much I derided Thunderball  for being scuba-tastic, I find the underwater sequences here rather engaging.  Granted, part of that might be because they don’t take up all of the third act, and part of it might be because the script uses a lot of cutting edge (at the time) tech that gives them a particular flavor.

Overall...a pulling back from the excess of Roger Moore’s era, this film is actually pretty dark and engaging.