Bad Boys for Life
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On the final Thursday of my local cinema's run, a theater of thoroughly zonked movie goers, laughed sang and screamed at the screen -- and each other -- in the experience that is CATS. It felt like we blasted into the future and were already enjoying CATS cult-like status as an astounding confused chaotic spastic dark frightening sexual manic mess, that after it's dismal release and the catastrophic downfall of director and producers alike, had somehow successfully resurfaced to popular culture, no longer as a cat but a PHOENIX! What was meant to be for the masses (the most seen musical in history and a marketing spend of over 120M dollars) is nothing other than an exotic bedlam of moving limbs, an orgiastic panoply of cat-like shapes and sizes, where meaning... has no meaning? It is that strange and nebulous, indeed. The film started, it happened and happened and happened, and then it was done. No true beginning or end, and with perhaps a total of two minutes of dialogue, it was a whirring random jarring maddening trippy journey. It's worth adding: when Sir Ian McKellan goes full cat, the audience got quiet and leaned in -- if only for a moment. And then, during the final song, Dame Judi Dench too got the audience to hush, listen and watch. Indeed, McKellan and Dench are featured in some of the only shots whose duration is over two seconds. In the eddy from the brow beating white water of rapid movement and unceasing edits, we could watch a performer and at least understand what the hell she was saying and doing. To be honest, I'm not sure CATS is even appropriate for children, but by golly, get a group of friends together, and go. CATS will surprise you.
WIth the Kubrickian operatic score and constantly shifting camera, Uncut Gems cinematically brings to life Sandler's agitated addicted mind and the sizzling acerbic streets of NY, perfuse with anxiety, adrenaline and aggression.
Sandler is charming and brings just enough likability to the giddy roller coaster to keep us wanting more. The panacea for the nearly vertigo inducing film comes just before the 3rd act. We learn more about Sandler's family and the man that's after him and while it's an unorthodox gamble for the Safdie's to slow the ship (which we know will come crashing down) it adds a certain emotional weight that is paid off in the final scene. Their last film, Good Times, formally amused and provoked, but the story and structure couldn't stand toe to toe with it's formal presentation, the end result feeling hollow. With Uncut Gems, the Safdie's leveled up.
With the outstanding and ever present score and soundscape, the experience of the film felt like something other. With IMAX and 4D adventure films all the rage, here we have a film that harnesses the basic elements of filmmaking with such dynamism and power, we come face to face with cinema, and perhaps a reconciliation with our need for more, more, more. No surprise Scorcese is an EP on this one. Shot on 35mm film, by Darius Khondji, it's a beautiful swirling affair with grit and hot blood moving through it. Also, kudos to Francine Maisler and Jennifer Venditti for finding all the indelible faces for the bit roles that litter the landscape.
Uncut Gems is an accomplishment, a fervant film whose fricative plosive energy announces the Safdie's arrival as outstanding American filmmakers.
It's an entertaining ride, chock full of gags and moment to moment stimulus in what one could call a Superbad with female leads. Wilde has two strong performers to carry the load and from the onset with their freewheeling dancing we know we'll get more than just witty banter. It's a sugar pie of a film that makes for easy eating if you were born in the U.S. from 1980 onwards. Formally, it's a simple adventure film, with each adventure (gone wrong) building on the last. But the humdrum is palpitated with wild moments, departures into alternative visual mediums and surrealism, as well as splashes of ridiculousness. Jamie Gross, who's edited many a funny thing, is due an enormous credit in making this pupu platter a cohesive whole. And credit is due, Booksmart offers more than just bathroom humor. With conversations about sexuality and masturbation, that in the 90s were reserved for risky fair like Clark/ Korine's Kids, we get a slice of teenage sexuality that feels rather true. The film also brings to life the many factions of High School civilization in a way I haven't seen done so effectively since 2004's, The Girl Next Door (which happens to include a scene with Olivia Wilde playing a high schooler!) In Booksmart, we get a film teeming with energy where teenage angst and hormones get the limelight, and we can all look forward to what Wilde decides to shed light on next.
It's a wondering epic, delving into the lives of Los Angeles industry folk -- informative and inventive in its treatment of iconic stories and stars -- it's a love letter to what was and what could have been. Each frame stamped with audio and visual markers of the time, the face of 1960s Los Angeles could very well be listed at top of show. We amble around the city's diverse landscapes, move seamlessly from scenes revealing who and what made our our characters who they are, to presentational docu-style VO and montage, to B&W clips from "TV shows" and back and forth and back again. As the city and its inhabitants flit and flaunt, each sign and symbol plays a role, as we slowly progress with a Bresson-like cool elegance. While Once Upon A Time creeps and lulls, time seems to slow, and the anxiety of the approach fills the void. At some point extreme violence will be unleashed, but it's a careful cat and mouse on the biggest and most dynamic of stages -- something only someone like Tarantino, professionally and personally, could create. The story, largely centered on the fall of Dicaprio's stumbling and fumbling aging star, weighs proportionately with the up-swing of Sharon Tate and her buoyant untouchables, while Pitt's cool and ageless form drives steady on like Los Angeles itself.
It's a finely composed masterful piece: specific, unique, intentional. Tarantino, like Bresson, made films his own way: "his interior view of cinema had no application if modified," and for that we can be grateful.
While the puzzle pieces build to tell Otis' story, Honey Boy effortlessly sweeps through you bringing you eye to eye with a father and son, and maybe even an invitation to turn an eye on yourself. Truly specific art contends to be universal, something from which many people can take. Perhaps, Honey Boy is such an offering. The film rests upon two person scenes, and while a few moments became slightly overloaded (due to scene length or shot duration) with some agile cross cutting and lively performances from Hedges and Shia, and touching nuance from Jupe and Bowers (and a mysterious but life affirming turn from Twigs) this collection of sparks burns bright. The film acts as an accumulation of moments, and in the end while I was left wanting more from the Hedges section and something deeper from Jupe, I too was satiated. It is an accomplishment and an approach to feature films that strikes a unique chord in today's rather mundane mainstream marketplace. I'd love to see more films like Honey Boy.
A well honed and admirable capturing of a marriage between two artists navigating the tumults of the personal and professional in the 21st century. Crisply written, with an emotionally bristling performance from Driver, the film delivers us inside their relationship in Baumbach-ian form. Scenes shine where actors are given the time and language to build and gather momentum -- Driver and Scarjo; Dern and Liotta. While the middle clunks along with back and forths to and from NY-LA and Driver's incessant search for a lawyer, the authentic performances and attention to detail carry the film. While the writer/director lived his research, the personal doesn't get in the way of cinematic storytelling, instead, fuels it. Much of the magic here comes through nuance -- a juxtaposition of frames, a silent act of generosity, even a look. With dashes of much needed comedy, Marriage Story avoids the trappings of melodrama and sentimentality and is the kind of small intimate story we rarely get these days -- too often passed over by producers and audiences alike. Without a "happy ending" or a winning party, much less a clear battle between good and evil, instead, Marriage Story is a cross section of 2 lives, and a worthy contribution to the cinematic relationship canon.
Carried by an all star cast at their best, Scorcese's epic delivers with elegance on a complex and troubling story, offering a holistic look at the life and times of our very own American gangsters.
The script: smart and complete. From, Steven Zaillian, who gave us the inside scoop on baseball in Moneyball, comes the insider's scoop on Hoffa, the mob and the common men that made it all possible. There is a true human quality to the lanscape furnished by Zaillian's words, and with the lived in performances from the cast, and the special zing of Schoonmaker's edit, there's a real pulse to the piece.
The acting: everyone shines. Deniro is at his most specific in decades; Pacino brings gusto and a surprising amount of humor; Pesci is charming and moves with the ease of a true Don; and the supporting cast with their fitting faces and voices, or those more notable names who took the chance to play a character role with aplomb, seamlessly deliver.
The editing: the film takes its time until the midpoint or so and then the adrenaline ride surges and soars to the finish. Scorcese films are master classes in editing, and here the unique contribution is the reliance on dialogue and scene work. As a sort of meditation on aging and death, it seems fitting he gives his ensemble of older men the chance to carry the film with their performances. There is of course the occasional montage, the big oners and rhythmically cut set pieces, but the the film derives its strength from the internal power of its prime movers, the lead actors.
The film: is beautiful, simple, dynamic, dark. A great and grounded piece of cinema.
I love cars in films: whether it's great car chases (Bullit, French Connection, Ronin, Drive); a blockbuster ride (Bourne series, Rush, Days of Thunder); or an insight into the world of racing (Bobby Deerfield, Senna, Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman). And with FvF, you get a little bit of everything. From the first shot you're in the hot seat, with engines rip roaring high and landscapes flying by. And before long we're introduced to the ensemble of characters that will dominate the screen, lacing the lights with emotion whilst at bay from the race track. Often in car films, it feels like a race to the next race, but with strong performances, a sprinkling of laughs, and these well written specific relationships, we're enmeshed in the world and not left wanting the next checkered flag. Bale is fun to watch; Damon is a natural fit; and Jupe, Lucas, Bernthal, Balfe and Letts (who proves a wonderful scene stealer) are the meat and potatoes to this tale of two. For a Hollywood flick, there's a lot to sink your teeth into, and I came out sure as hell wanting to jump into a Shelby and speed off into the sunset.
In describing the mayor they can't trust, J.K. Simmon's police captain retorts: "He eats pizza with a fork and knife!" After working on non-scripted cop shows in NYC for years, I can tell you nobody would say such idiocy. And therein lies the problem -- when you take tropey characters and instead of sparking them with new life and authenticity, simply push deeper into their base tropeyness, you're in some cinematic proverbial sh*t. Even with the deeply talented cast, the film sinks. It does sing in moments of solid action, but the joyful flight is short lived. I'll say this: I hope Stephen James and Boseman team up again -- there was an electric chemistry when they shared the screen. I look forward to that film!
The whodunit is not my cup of tea -- but with Rian Johnson at the helm and this cast in tow, I drove to the cinema... From the opening scene I was delighted. With his keen sense of how to make the moving image cinematic and this tight script infused with humour, I was swept away. Daniel Craig -- apparently taking umbrage with his years of being locked in Bond's 'casual cool' closet -- goes full hilt, bringing his theatrical chops to the forefront, and while he may be acting in his own movie, he does so with such relish, one can't take their eyes away. The film is carefully crafted, impressively so, and despite a slight dragging in the middle third, its neat assembly and creative direction keep us aboard the swiftly moving carriage. Johnson's touch seems to be in the 'delightful twist' -- see Looper, Brick and namely The Brother's Bloom -- taking a genre film and turning things on their head and being cinematically theatrical (yup, I said it) bringing the viewers closer to the film by creating a more visceral viewing experience. And in Knives Out, that's literal, with the near obsession with the close up. What could be more fitting than placing us close to all the culprits in this whodunit, giving us the chance to size these characters up by bringing us eye-to-eye with them, giving us the chance to find out who's lying and who's not. If you're looking for an enjoyable night at the theater, look no further, make the drive and be delighted.
In an interview with the director, the host described the film as "a screwball comedy that turns into a nightmare." The director added, "I hope a delicious nightmare." Through and through, the film delivers: laughs, surprises, scares, or as the director says, "all my films have elements of comedy, anxiety and fear." Everything here seems to work together — the script, the actors, the framing and camera movement — and as the story progresses, what we can foresee remains delightful to consume, and the surprises deliver deeply on the film's themes — inequality and it's effects on the city's inhabitants; the family unit and today's unique generation gap; and the upsides and downsides of ambition. While I haven't thought much about the film since it ended, it hasn't pestered me and forced me to ask difficult questions, which I typically assume a great film will do — when I think about my experience of watching it, the film shines as a radiant moment of what cinema can synthesize into a 2 hour experience. There's an understanding of the human condition and an alchemy of genre and feelings, that is simply worth getting your eyes and ears on.
There are few movies that attempt to be a 2 hour character study. Where the film falls short is when director, Todd Phillips, relies on cinematic devices (editing and soundtrack, namely) to do the heavy lifting that the oh so capable Phoenix could have leveraged with a few more powerfully written scenes. Just as the city of Gotham is split over the city's murders at the hands of Joker, so too does Phillips force a split in the audience as to how we should feel about our protagonist. At one point, the intrusion of an upbeat pop-culture tune in a Tararinoesque attempt, falls short as we feel the director forcing his hand and distancing us from the narrative at a moment in which we should be following joker closer than ever before. Will you be entertained? For the most part, yes. Will you be surprised? A few times. Will you be satisfied? I doubt it. The questions the film pose are few and far between with a lack of substantive context and development to really take a stand. As the film unfolds, it ultimately betrays the depths of character promised by Phoenix's work in the opening 30 minutes. We wonder through plot lines, motivating his "madness" instead of getting to the core of it. I wish it could have been more, but it felt more like a hologram than a memorable film.