Profile cover photo
Profile photo
Jerzon M. Vargas
69 followers -
'You can't make chicken salad out of chicken s***.'
'You can't make chicken salad out of chicken s***.'

69 followers
About
Posts

Post has attachment
3D RARITIES (2015, Approx. 120 min.) at New York City's Film Forum for the first time. Also available on Blu-ray 3D.

Despite owning a 3D capable TV at home and "3D Rarities" being commercially available, it's always nice to attend a 3D screening of vintage material that rarely gets projected theatrically. Robert Furmanek, founder of the 3-D Archive, was at hand to introduce a collection of 3D programs (mostly one-reelers) that date as far back as the early 1920's. There is little rhyme or reason to this collection other than the material was shot in 3D, and most of it dates back to the first commercial heyday of the format in the early 1950's. By far the worst segment in this collection is "Stardust in Your Eyes," a B&W stand-up routine by alleged comedian Slick Slavin in which he impersonates celebrities from the era. It feels like Jay Leno's father crossed with a low-rent Rick Little impersonator, and it being shown in 3D makes it feel like an even bigger waste of celluloid. My personal highlight is "New Dimensions," a Chrysler promotional reel short (in color!) created for the 1940 World's Fair. Seeing the car assembling itself using stop-motion effects is impressive enough on its own, but combined with 3D makes a world of difference. A "Boo Moon" Casper short from 1955 created with stereoscopic animation would be more impressive if the unfunny story wasn't such blatant theft of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." Everything else is either passable (a Pennsylvania Railroad promotional film, theatrical trailers for the likes of "The Maze" and "Sadie Thompson," etc.) or a waste, particularly the many B&W 1922 shots of Washington D.C. and NYC in which the 3D effect is minimal. Glad I saw "3D Rarities" because of its novelty value and occasionally excellent shorts, but mostly I'm happy I spent $15 to see it once instead of $30+ to own it and never see it again. And sorry to Peter for the picture below. :-P
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
James Wan's AQUAMAN 3D (2018, 143 min.) on IMAX 3D for the first time.

Another year, another reactive/course-correcting DC Extended Universe superhero movie that feels like it's playing catch-up with Disney's more successful, better-planned Marvel Cinematic Universe heavy hitters. At least Zack Snyder is now relegated to a token executive producer role, and mainstream-friendly filmmaker James Wan (the "Insidious" and "Conjuring" series, "Fast 7") directs "Aquaman" with an eye toward what's entertaining and/or looks cool. Continuity with "Justice League" and the DCEU is out the window, which might explain why all the other DC superheroes' are absent when the threat to wipe out humanity rises to levels that'd seem too overwhelming for Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) to overcome without their help. A prologue set in 1985 (which would make Aquaman 33 years in present day, even though Momoa is pushing 40) introduces us to the unlikely romance between undersea Atlantis Kingdom Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman, the latest Hollywood star to get the "de-aging" effect treatment) and human lighthouse keeper Thomas (Temuera Morrison). The love child of two completely different worlds, Arthur Curry grows up knowing he's the rightful heir to the throne of Atlantis. It's a responsibility he's being trained to in secret by Atlantean royal counselor Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe), who hides from young Arthur what really happened to Queen Atlanna after she was forced to return to Atlantis when Arthur was a baby. But Curry is content being Aquaman and saving the world from hi-tech pirates like David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his father Jesse (Michael Beach), who try to steal a Russian submarine. It's all fun, giggles and downed beer pints with Arthur's father (who is still hoping Atlanna will honor her promise to return) until Aquaman's half-brother and Atlantis ruler Orm Marius (Patrick Wilson, looking like the blue-eyed blonde Aquaman from comics and the 70's Filmation cartoon) makes a move to start a humanity-wiping conflict with people that have polluted the seas for decades. It's up to Arthur Curry with the assistance of Princess Mera (Amber Heard), daughter of Orm-supporting King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), to claim his royal heritage and stop the sea dwelling kingdoms from binding together and destroying all above-ground dwellers.

Make no mistake about it, "Aquaman" is a huge mess. There are three story threads running into each other that could be great movies on their own, but are constantly butting heads and (almost) canceling each other out. It's bloated running time is packed with too much action, too many characters and too much plot to let anyone stand out. The alleged romantic chemistry between Jason Momoa and Amber Heard is chillier than "Titanic's" iceberg, which is a problem when the two spend about a third of "Aquaman's" running time alone. Besides infrequent token attempts to represent relationships between grown-up fathers and sons, most of the cast is wasted playing spectacularly shallow, one-dimensional roles. Shoot, Temuera Morrison has a scene that is meant to be heartbreaking that actually made me laugh-out loud at how badly he delivered his lines. Despite Aquaman being responsible for David Kane's father's death giving the lead character one of his few moments of actual character growth, the origin of Black Manta is handled so poorly that their epic battle on a tourist island in Sicily (a highlight in an action-packed film) feels like it has a reject "Power Rangers" henchman as the baddie. Unlike overblown origin stories like "Green Lantern," where the $200+ million budget doesn't appear on-screen (the opposite of "Aquaman"), this trainwreck happens to be ridiculously entertaining. Since it's drawing from the same limited pool of superhero narratives that seem to appear on every Hollywood superhero movie, you can't get through ten minutes of "Aquaman" without feeling like you're seeing scenes/plot threads lifted wholesale from better movies. The brotherly battle for the throne in "Black Panther"? Atlantis looking like leftover CG textures from the live-action "Ghost in the Shell" movie? The arena fight in "Thor: Ragnarok" (which was itself lifted from "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clone" and "Gladiator")? Matriarch missing from decades in a netherworld like Michelle Pfeiffer's character in "Ant-Man and the Wasp"? Self-doubt by the hero making him refuse the call to arms (as if the lead character being named "Arthur" wasn't already laying thick the Joseph Conrad tropes)? Check times five, plus lots more.

And of course being a big-budget release means "Aquaman" has to try to top the army-vs-army battles from the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" trilogies with a super-sized battle of its own... except with seahorses and sharks equipped with riding gear for the underwater sea tribes soldiers to command, "Bonanza"-style. It should all come across as ridiculous and excessive (particularly the overreliance on GG effects and green screen work), and the fact it isn't is one of the movie's strongest assets. If it wasn't James Wan directing this crazy origin story with great cinematic techniques (scene transitions smoothly integrate flashbacks to keep visual consistency, and Wan's penchant for letting his action shots last longer starts strong and gets better as the movie progresses) and Jason Momoa playing the titular superhero with deadpan comedic timing, "Aquaman" would be unbearable. But who doesn't enjoy seeing Dolph Lundgren (who is actually decent) doing here what Sylvester Stallone pulled off in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"? Or a predictable narrative packing no surprises that still manages to be as entertaining as it's loud and brash lead? Recommended, particularly on an IMAX 3D screen that can match in its size the scope of the over-the-top spectacle projected on it.
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
Maurice Pialat's VAN GOGH (1991, 158 min.) at New York City's Quad Cinema for the first time.

In 1966 Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky directed an epic 3 1/2 hour historical drama about world-renowned painter Andrei Rublev without ever showing the titular character putting brush to canvas. It was a successful attempt to depict a time and place (15th century Russia) that put audiences in the state of mind of an artist living and struggling in a society that would heavily influence Rublev's religious iconography. Twenty-five years later, French filmmaker Maurice Pialat ("We Won't Grow Old Together," "À Nos Amours") used similar-but-not-identical cinematic techniques to depict the final 67 days in the life of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (an excellent Jacques Dutronc) before his self-inflicted death in 1890 while staying at the small French town of Auvers-sur-Oise. Despite both biopics sharing lengthy running times that de-emphasize their painters' body of work (although we do see Vincent painting occasionally), "Van Gogh" differs from "Andrei Rublev" in that Pialat embraces intimacy over Tarkovsky's penchant for grand spectacle. The focus in "Van Gogh" is squarely on the mundane details of everyday life instead of relying on dramatic set-pieces recreating the painter's well-documented financial struggles and mental illness. The trips to and from the town's train station are given as much attention as Vincent's painting the portrait of his physician and patron, Doctor Gachet (Gérard Séty), whose 13-year-old daughter Marguerite (Alexandra London) catches the roving eye of the prostitute-friendly artist. Yes, the good doctor eventually explodes in a fit of rage when Marguerite returns with Vincent from an unscheduled trip to Paris where the young woman chased after the painter for an evening of passionate love making (off-camera) at a whorehouse where everyone knows van Gogh. But the blowout can't diminish the admiration and genuine concern that the doctor (a widow whose taste in expensive art compensates for his dead wife's dislike of Gachet's own paintings) and everyone surrounding Vincent feel for him, even when the painter goes out of his way to push them away with his increasingly erratic behavior.

Despite getting a little tedious in the middle (the slow pace and deliberate absence of music don't help) I was fascinated by "Van Gogh's" methodical exploration of a troubled artists' final days without anyone on-screen aware that they were spending their last few days with the prodigious 37-year old icon. It could have all been dour and depressing, but well-timed moments of fun (Dr. Gachet performing for Theo and his wife when they come to visit, singing/dancing at the Paris whorehouse, etc.) balance out the laconic and mostly drama-free reenactment of van Gogh's final days. It helps viewers to get immersed into this particular time/place that Pialat's cinematographers (Gilles Henry, Jacques Loiseleux and Emmanuel Machuel) frame and shoot the picture as if each image was a still portrait, but not in a polished-to-near-perfection one (like Stanley Kubrick's work for "Barry Lyndon"). Only a few complaints about headaches and a couple of nasty shouting matches with brother Theo (Bernard Le Coq) betray the inner demons torturing Vincent. Despite his fondness for friendly prostitute friend Cathy (Elsa Zylberstein), van Gogh isn't shy about going back and forth between her and Marguerite on a whim (to both dames' resigned shrugs). As a viewer I actually got chills when Vincent is shown for a brief moment shaving with a blade because I thought he was about to do you-know-what to his ear. By denying audiences what they've come to expect from a van Gogh biopic, though, Maurice Pialat explores the juxtaposition of an eventual icon going about his uneventful life surrounded by admirers, friends, lovers and relatives that put up with his antics because of their appreciation for the artistic gifts Vincent has.

"Van Gogh's" final scene, when a new young painter in town asks Marguerite in awe if she knew van Gogh when he was alive (she was Vincent's muse and object of his true affections, at least as depicted on this film) as a proud smile flashes across the young woman's face, is the perfect low-key dramatic high on which to cut to black. Highly recommended, because a great cinematic portrait of a complicated artist assembled from the little-known moments before/after the ones we're all aware of can be as rewarding as the actual highlights of someone's life.
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
Rob Marshall's MARY POPPINS RETURNS (2018, 130 min.) in theaters for the first time.

Taking place 20 years after the events from the first movie and featuring many returning characters (most played by new faces with a few cameos by original cast members), contemporary viewers who already sampled Disney's 2018 family features ("Christopher Robin," last month's "Nutcracker and the Four Realms") will experience déjà vu at the persistent recycling of the premise from 1991's "Hook." Little Michael and Jane Banks are now grown-up father (Ben Whishaw) and activist aunt (Emily Mortimer), respectively, of three little kids, with Ellen (Julie Walters) as their loyal but overwhelmed older servant. Michael's a widow, and in the year since his wife's passing the Great Depression and his artistic inclinations (aka his wife was in charge of the family finances) allow greedy Fidelity Fiduciary Bank to try to repossess the Banks' house. Michael is in dire straits, yet he and his sister have forgotten and/or repressed their childhood memories of a certain nanny that dropped from the sky. A nanny that just happens to float down from the sky when youngest son Georgie (Joel Dawson) flies the kite that his father threw out, which flies on its own and finds the remaining Banks kids (Nathanael Saleh's oldest son John and Pixie Davies' middle daughter Annabel). Unflappable and looking as primp and young as she did 20 years prior, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) remains cool and collected in her use of unorthodox magic to entertain and teach the Banks' kids valuable life lessons. Meanwhile the clock is ticking on William "Weatherall" Wilkins (Colin Firth, relishing the chance to play a mustache twirler) ignoring and/or sabotaging Michael's attempts to keep the house he and Jane grew up in. Jack ("Hamilton's" Lin-Manuel Miranda), a former apprentice of "Mary Poppins" lamplighter Bert, is around to serve as greek choir and leader of the small army of lamplighters whenever Mary Poppins and/or the Banks need assistance navigating through the bustling London streets, alleyways and even the sewers.

The original "Mary Poppins" was one of the first Disney movies I remember disliking as a child because of all the darn singing and dancing segments getting in the way of a story I wanted to get into and enjoy on its own. The music portion left such a bad taste in my mouth I haven't rewatched "Mary Poppins" in decades, and have no desire to do so now that a direct sequel to the 54-year-old original is in theaters. It's a testament to the Disney machine working at its usual high standards that "Mary Poppins Returns'" production values, energy of the well-cast lead performers and clever directorial choices by director Rob Marshall and choreographer/2nd unit director/co-writer John DeLuca ("Chicago," "Into the Woods") managed to entertain a luddite like me. Despite nailing the ending with a moving facial expression that expresses sadness through the same stoic expression she has throughout the movie, I can't help but feel that Emily Blunt is a cipher in a story that often features Mary Poppins on the periphery of the main narrative. Things happen around MP, but rarely does the titular character actively participate in the rather-depressing attempts by the grown-up Banks kids to save their house from a greedy financier (a plot that was already old hat when Disney used it in 1974's "Herbie Rides Again"). Blunt is strongest when Poppins entertains the kids while taking a magical bath in an underwater world ("Can You Imagine That?"), performing the killer "A Cover is Not the Book" musical routine while inside Royal Doulton Music Hall on the kids' busted china bowl (a 2D animation tour-de-force that feels plucked straight out of "101 Dalmatians" or "The Aristocats") and uses her flying umbrella to turn Big Ben around. While some modern touches creep into musical numbers (stunt bike riders among the lamplighters), it's nice that Rob Marshall shoots Mary Poppins' flying scenes using camera angles and shadows that wouldn't feel out of place in a shot-in-the-60's sequel. The credits, fonts and musical score (by Marc Shaiman) are also closely patterned after the original. There is some CG overkill (the balloon flight finale goes a little crazy), but most often than not there is more artistic intent on display (the "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" musical number feels like an homage to 1951's "An American in Paris") to counterbalance the overwhelming saccharine tone the movie is going for. Naturally a Broadway veteran like Lin-Manuel Miranda gets to shine bright in the many musical numbers, giving a stagey but entertaining (star making?) performance that is a nice counterbalance to Emily Blunt's stiff-upper lip, seen-it-all portrayal of MP.

Any negatives that can be summoned against "Mary Poppins Returns" can be summarized in that nothing here breaks new creative, visual, musical or storytelling grounds. It's a sequel that rests entirely on the laurels of the '64 Disney feature and nostalgia for P. L. Travers' book series, with minimal attempts to update the formula beyond having a more racially integrated London. As Disney proved with its fictitious-to-a-fault biopic "Saving Mr. Banks," the spirit of the source material is secondary to presenting a polished-to-a-fault movie product designed to appeal to all audiences. I prefer a swing-and-a-miss ambitious failure like "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" or even a milk-toast sequel like "Christopher Robin" than a musical sequel that is filled with nothing but callbacks and reprisses of similar scenes in its predecessor. At least Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke get a chance to strut their (CG-enhanced) performances to amuse old timers, and Meryl Streep's little scene as Mary's cousin ("Turning Turtle") is a small gem that feels like both homage and its own thing. Worth a trip to the theater for the killer sound and visually appealing look (my Dolby Cinema screening looked/sounded terrific), "Mary Poppins Returns" is a Disney blockbuster-in-the-making that could have taken more chances... but it didn't have to. So why should you?
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
Kiyohiko Ushihara's GHOST CAT AND THE MYSTERIOUS SHAMISEN (1938, 71 min.) in 35mm at New York City's Metrograph for the first time.

Caught a rare 35mm screening of an even rarer pre-World War II Japanese "ghost cat" horror movie from the censorship-targeted "bakeneko/kaibyo" period (one of the few surviving ones from that era after most were destroyed during Allied bombing raids), with the director's granddaughter (Chie Ushihara Berkley) in attendance for an informative introduction. So rare is "Ghost Car and the Mysterious Shamisen" that its English subtitles were projected via laptop, and IMDB has little information on it. I was prepared to cut it a lot of slack due to its rarity, but this 80-year old horror flick works like gangbusters on its own terms. Its use of Val Lewton-inspired implied frights achieves scarier results than most contemporary horror movies today (see review for "The Possession of Hannah Grace" below), with the sold out crowd in attendance loving every minute of it. Sumiko Suzuki steals every scene she's in playing Mitsue, a diva actress in Edo period Japan (my educated guess, since the time and setting of the narrative aren't properly explained) that fancies the attraction of musician Seijiki (or Seijiro depending on which translation you find). Unfortunately for Mitsue's failed romantic insinuations, Seijiki becomes emotionally attached to pretty-but-emotionally-fragile Okiyo after a chance encounter when the musician finds and returns Okiyo's missing cat Kuro. The daughter of a samurai, Okiyo receives Seiijiki's shamisen instrument (named Hatsune) as proof of his devotion. Mitsue is not pleased, and with the assistance of a henchman she stabs Kuro to death and forces Okiyo to drown in the river to avoid Mitsue's sharp hairpin. The shamisen that Okiyo was carrying when she drowned is fished off the water, and as it passes through various hands on its way to winding up with Okiyo's sister (who gets a visit from her sister's ghost to expose who murdered her) everyone experiences supernatural appearances by the restless spirit of Kuro's mangled cat remains.

They might seem quaint by modern horror standards, but the double-exposure lens, slow-motion scenes and kaleidoscope-like visual tricks (some as basic as a light flickering on and off) employed by director Kiyohiko Ushihara create an atmosphere of dread that makes its melodramatic relationship tale feel like there are life-and-death stakes for everyone involved. Sumiko Suzuki's performance feels like an amoral film noir dame crossed with a proto scream queen, especially when Mitsue's thirst for men and social status convince her to forget about Seijiki (who falls apart after Okiyo's death) and set her sights on the corrupt governor. Other than the convenient impossible coincidences of the Hatsune shamisen passing through hands that conveniently clue Okiyo's sister and Seijiki of Mitsue's crime, "Ghost Car and the Mysterious Shamisen" builds a head of steam leading up to its entertaining "pièce de résistance" finale. Like "The Godfather Part III," a very theatrical performance is the centerpiece of a complicated revenge puzzle that yields a satisfactory revenge-from-beyond-the-grave, "Outer Limits"-esque nasty little tale. Highly recommended, a never-even-knew-existed foreign genre classic that will hopefully find an audience when/if a home video release (cough... Criterion... cough!) ever materializes.
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE (2018, 86 min.) in theaters for the first time.

Notable for being the first feature shot entirely with a mirrorless digital camera (the full frame Sony α7S II), "The Possession of Hannah Grace" is a disposable horror flick populated by equally-disposable characters that does away with the usual Hollywood clichés about demonic possession during its "Exorcist"-inspired prologue. A possessed young woman (Kirby Johnson's titular character) resists the exorcism rituals from two Catholic priests with supernatural strength, killing one priest and almost doing away with the other before Hannah's grief-stricken father (Louis Herthum) kills her. Three months pass, and police officer-turned-graveyard-shift-worker Megan Reed ("Pretty Little Liars'" Shay Mitchell) starts her first day of work at Boston Metro's creepy underground morgue that has an upside cross as an overhead light fixture (subtle!). Megan is a drug addict recuperating from the trauma of losing her partner to a shooter that she froze on, an ex-boyfriend cop (Grey Damon's Andrew Kurtz) that won't leave her alone, and AA nurse friend Lisa Roberts (Stana Katic, TV's "Castle") that was instrumental in getting Megan her new job. A couple of days with the cadavers and fresh new bodies she needs to catalogue for the daytime shift, and Megan's nerves are constantly on edge. Then goofy EMT Randy (Nick Thune) brings over the cadaver of Hannah Grace a few minutes after a disgruntled homeless man tries to break into the morgue through the desolate underground parking area. Because, you know, a big hospital in a populated city like Boston is usually deserted during overnight hours... NOT! During an eventful and long night Megan becomes convinced that the corpse of Hannah Grace is not really dead, something her co-workers and ex-boyfriend have a tough time believing. Mayhem, jump-scares galore and boredom ensues.

Since the filmmakers aren't shy to tip their hand every chance they get that there are demonic shenanigans at play, "The Possession of Hannah Grace" starts losing steam as it becomes clear early on that the titular character plays second fiddle to the generic backstories of Megan, Lisa and everyone else that comes into contact with the zombie-like cadaver. We learn nothing about Hannah Grace's civilian life before her demonic possession besides the color of her eyes, which becomes the laughable starting point of Megan's suspicions. Even comic relief security guard Dave (Max McNamara), one of the few sources of genuine amusement in the otherwise dreadful narrative, ends up wasted in an uneventful jump scare of Stana Katic's nurse in a dark staircase. Everything about the production, from the self-shutting flickering lights and the imposing crypt-like morgue set to the positioning/movement of Hannah's body always hiding her female naughty bits, feels engineered to keep production costs as low as possible. Brian Sieve's screenplay and Dutch director Diederik Van Rooijen (2013's "Daylight") conveniently reveal Hannah's corpse's powers when the story needs them to appear in order to keep the hide-and-seek game with Megan going. Even at 86 fright-free minutes "The Possession of Hannah Grace" (which comes across as the low-budget flick Sony shot on leftover "Proud Mary" sets) feels too long and padded, though the racism of needlessly killing black characters manages to come through loud and clear. Avoid, there are better no-budget demonic possession flicks worth seeing than this inexpensive Sony demo feature of how mirrorless cameras work great in low-light environments.
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
Ken Russell's TOMMY (1975, 111 min.) in 35mm at Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema for the first time.

My second Ken Russell movie after watching "Altered States" a lifetime ago, and the closest the controversial British director ever came to making a mainstream-friendly worldwide hit. An ultra-stylized adaptation of The Who's rock opera album of the same name, "Tommy's" story (more of a loose premise) is surprisingly simple to summarize through its overkill of staged musical set-pieces. A World War II British pilot (Robert Powell's Captain Walker) apparently dies when his plane goes down, leaving his widow Nora (Ann-Margret) to raise their born-on-Victory-Day baby boy Tommy on her own. Years later, after Nora meets and falls in love with Frank (Oliver Reed) while she and Tommy (Barry Winch) vacation at "Bernie's Holiday Camp," the couple's plans for the future are upset when Capt. Walker suddenly returns. A physical altercation between Walker and Frank in front of Tommy leaves the kid's father dead, putting him into a trance-like state in which Tommy ends up "deaf, blind and dumb." Nora and Frank (now married) try to bring the youngster out of his catatonic state ("Tommy, can you hear me?"), an effort that proves unsuccessful well into Tommy's young adulthood. Played by "The Who's" Roger Daltrey, Tommy Walker goes through various psychodelic experiences (an Eric Clapton-led sermon in a Marilyn Monroe-worshipping church, Tina Turner's Acid Queen fitting Tommy into a "syringe sarcophagus," Jack Nicholson's "specialist" offering a diagnosis, etc.) before an encounter with Elton John's tall shoe-wearing Pinball Wizard ends up having a profound effect on the young man. Eventually singing and dancing like a prophet with an enormous flock of followers, Tommy and his parents (who end up opening their small home to their son's army of supporters) become bening cult leaders. More crazy shenanigans happen (two words: Frankenstein cowboy), and then "Tommy" ends the same way it starts: a striking full-screen sunset with a Walker (his father first, then Tommy at the end) framed against the round sun, ala King Hu's "A Touch of Zen." The end.

Despite sampling many of them frequently, I usually don't like movie musicals. "Tommy" is different in that not only is a rock 'n' roll musical, but it features non-stop singing and performance set-pieces without the usual non-singing, non-dancing narrative breaks to link the songs together. Like one memorable scene early on, the filmmakers are literally rolling in crap that they're constantly throwing at the viewers hoping some of it sticks. It's a very hit or miss approach, one that caters more to fans of The Who and rock music than movie watchers (like the handful of patrons at Nitehawk who were literally dancing on their seats with joy). Personally the two actors playing Tommy were the highlight of the movie. Barry Winch managed to break my heart a little when he plays innocent victim to a worldwide armed conflict that takes away his father before "uncle" Frank and mom do it a second time. And even though he starts catatonic and playing dumb at first, Roger Daltrey emerges as an on-screen charismatic performer once grown-up Tommy faces himself in a mirror and comes out of his shell. I hated "Tommy" as a whole (not a fan of The Who), but even I cheered like an idiot when Tommy interrupts a biker gang fight by hang gliding into it and singing/dancing his heart out to his flock of pinball-loving followers. With his then-attractive physique and blond hair, Daltrey lives up to the role of a rock icon personifying a new age prophet. And even though her character's existence and appearance make no sense, Tina Turner stands out from the crowded bandwagon of rock and movie stars (particularly Pete Townshend and the rest of The Who) and make her Acid Queen musical number a showstopper. A time capsule of the decade's musical and cinematic excesses, "Tommy" benefits from talented British filmmakers (ace editor Stuart Baird, cinematographer Dick Bush, etc.) backing a who's who of musicians/performers treating the gonzo material as if it was gospel. Recommended with strong reservations, because me not liking "Tommy" doesn't mean you won't. :-I
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
Peter Farrelly's GREEN BOOK (2018, 130 min.) in theaters for the first time.

Bucking the trend of misery porn characterizing the usual suspects in Hollywood's annual dance of prestige films bunching up at the end of the year, "Green Book" does something radical in presenting its awards bait tale of male bonding and racial understanding in early 1960's America: it doesn't take itself so seriously as to not have fun at the character's (and audience's) expense. I avoid trailers and TV commercials, so I didn't know when I walked into this film that I'd be experiencing one of the funniest comedies I've seen this year. When Peter Farrelly's name appeared as the director of a reverse "Driving Miss Daisy" that made me and the entire audience I watched the film with laugh with delight, the tone of the previous 125 minutes suddenly made sense. Inspired by the true friendship between lower-class Bronx Italian native Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and sophisticated jazz musician "Doc" Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), "Green Book" feels like the old Farrelly Brothers' comedic road adventures ("There's Something About Mary," "Kingpin") all grown-up and with the juvenile antics dialed down... but not entirely removed. Shirley needs a driver/bodyguard to drive him through a tour of Southern locations to perform alongside fellow white musicians (who drive themselves in a separate vehicle). Despite dealing with shady characters in his travels through New York's criminal underworld, Frank is a devoted family man with a reputation as a go-to guy that gets things done. It's hard to believe that someone like Don Shirley would hire Vallelonga (as they're both portrayed in the movie), but it's the one "big buy" audiences have to tolerate to watch these two completely opposite personalities on the road together. There's even a benign ticking clock established in Frank's wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) begging him to return home in time for Christmas, a deadline a few racist Southerners and an untimely snow storm conspire to complicate matters.

"Green Room" lives or dies by how much you buy and/or enjoy Viggo Mortensen's bordering-on-cartoony portrayal of an Italian-American New Yorker ("Titsburgh"). Like his role in David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises," Viggo disappears and commits so completely into his role any critique of his acting feels like nitpicking. So good is the actor at portraying an unsophisticated brute that it's a surprise when Frank's street smarts give way to racial tolerance and quick thinking that hint at a different person than the one we've seen stage a hotdog eating contest to make a quick buck. Mahershala Ali has the easiest role early on of playing a disapproving straight man to Mortensen's one-man comedy factory. As the 1962 tour through the South takes a physical toll on both men and Dr. Shirley lowers his defenses (something Frank does early on when he's mesmerized after seeing Don playing the piano), the sight of the uptight musician sampling Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time (or showing off his musical skills at a bar for colored folks) generates plenty of laughs and pathos. There are lots of colorful supporting performances (Sebastian Maniscalco, Iqbal Theba, etc.), but "Green Book" (named after the list of establishments in the Southern states that accomodate black patrons) is the Viggo Mortensen/Mahershala Ali show. Their scenes of Shirley coaching Frank how to write romantic letters to wife Dolores (and her reading them, sharing the prose with family/friends, etc.) become the film's delightful running gag, one that pays off at the very end when the filmmakers double down on a predictable and cliché ending rather than the downbeat one we were headed toward. Even the meant-to-be-emotional scenes that fall flat (like a group of black farm workers looking in awe at Frank repairing Don's car and opening the door for him) feel like part of "Green Room's" fabric of contradictions in this particular American decade.

The movie doesn't avoid the sense of threat and danger that a black man being driven through the segregated American South automatically engages in sophisticated movie audiences. It just chooses to balance out the harrowing stuff (drunk Don being harassed by Kentucky hicks at a bar, a sexual encounter at a YMCA shower, testy hosts refusing Dr. Shirley access to their bathrooms, a police stop that forces Don to use his "Get Out of Jail" card, etc.) with more lighthearted moments. The filmmakers walk a careful balance between lighthearted and dramatic without canceling each other out, and mostly come up aces. At the very least "Green Room" has a nice soundtrack of old school pop hits and jazz music, and the first effective use of the made-up "Pavlov's pretend gun" trope I've ever seen in movies. Highly recommended, the rare prestige film that has a sense of humor and doesn't feel the need to overwhelm viewers with misery for misery's sake.
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
Edward Ludwig's SANGAREE 3D (1953, 94 min.) at New York City's Film Forum for the first time. Also available on Blu-ray 3D.

Attended the New York theatrical premiere of the 3D restoration of the mostly forgotten period costume melodrama "Sangaree," with 93-year-old star Arlene Dahl in attendance. Too frail to stand on her feet but of sound mind (her Q&A with film historian Foster Hirsch was pre-taped and shown before the movie), Arlene's recollections of shooting the film with her then-boyfriend Fernando Lamas (both parents of "Renegade" son Lorenzo) were a hoot. The movie itself feels like a watered-down, race-neutral "Gone With the Wind" mini-epic set in post-Revolutionary War Georgia. Suave and sophisticated Doctor Carlos Morales (Lamas) inherits the Sangaree state from Revolutionary War General and mentor Victor Darby (Lester Matthews), with the general's son Roy (Tom Drake) approving of his father's final wish on his deathbed. Roy warns Carlos that, besides the locals resenting his intention to use Sangaree's resources to help the poor and free its slave workforce, he'll also have to contend with Victor's fiery daughter Nancy (Dahl) and her fiance attorney (John Sutton's Harvey Bristol) contesting the will. The river ride to Georgia finds our shirtless protagonist butting heads and locking lips with Nancy's maid, who (to the surprise of no one, then or now) turns out to be Miss Darby getting a head-start in sizing up Dr. Morales' charm. While navigating the aristocracy of elite Georgia society, the down-and-dirty business of implementing health rules that corrupt businessman Bristol (Francis L. Sullivan) refuses to follow and fending off French pirate Felix Pagnol (Charles Korvin) from stealing Sangaree's cargo, Carlos also reconnects with old girlfriend Martha (Patricia Medina). Now married to Roy, Martha still has the hots for the man who is falling in love with her sister-in-law. What's a charming and handsome Hispanic doctor setting shop in rural Georgia in 1777 to do? :-O

Besides being an epic Bechdel Test failure (every conversation and plot development involving the female leads revolve around their attraction for Carlos), "Sangaree" manages to be deathly dull during a large portion of its second and third acts. You know this is a boring movie when a few well-behaved patrons of Film Forum couldn't help but doze off and/or start snoring with the star in attendance. At least the first act and rousing finale (involving 3D friendly gimmicks like fire and arrows) help the story move along, and bookend the production with something else to gawk at besides attractive white people having the hots for one another. Arlene Dahl mentioned in her Q&A that she used her star influence to get boyfriend Fernando Lamas the picture's lead role, which explains why every other male character (particularly Tom Drake's Roy) feels so puny and emasculated when standing next to Dr. Morales. "Sangaree" suffers for being more of a star vehicle for Lamas and Dahl than a coherent film adaptation of Frank G. Slaughter's novel, resulting in clumsy storytelling tricks like characters overhearing the right conversation at the right time for Carlos to save the day. The 3D effects work best when veteran director Edward Ludwig ("Swiss Family Robinson") uses the foreground to add depth to the background, although he's not above shoving stuff in front of the camera to get a rise from the audience. Time has not been kind to "Sangaree" (it feels more like a glorified Harlequin romance novel set in the 18th century South than an historical drama), but the amusing performances and 3D go a long way to make it a curio worth seeing at least once. A strong rental, but only a purchase for diehard 3D fans.
Photo
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE (2018, 93 min.) in theaters for the first time.

It's not everyday that I get to watch a Scotland-made, Christmas-themed teenage musical about a zombie apocalypse in a mainstream American theater. But that's what I experienced at a nearby AMC (thank you, A-List! :-P), and even more surprising is how much I enjoyed "Anna and the Apocalypse" despite the film not living up to its full potential as a mixture of "Shaun of the Dead" hijinks and heartfelt "La La Land" musical performances (mixed with a little too much "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" attitude for my taste). Mostly set in and around a high school in the Scottish small town of Little Haven, the movie doesn't waste time introducing its teenage (Ella Hunt's Anna Shepherd, Malcolm Cumming's John, Sarah Swire's Steph North, etc.) and adult characters (Paul Kaye's Arthur Savage headmaster, Mark Benton playing Anna's concerned janitor father, etc.) whose clashing personalities and conflicts come to the surface after an overnight zombie outbreak separates them into different groups. Anna and her friends get stranded at the bowling alley where she and bestie John (who nurses a crush on Anna he's not prepared to share) work, while her father and the cartoony headmaster of the school they work at (along with a motley crew of parents and students attending a too-racy Christmas recital) barricade inside the school. Viewers only need a rudimentary knowledge of the George A. Romero zombie movie rules (no fast-running undead here) to anticipate where the plot is headed. Authorities aren't prepared for the scope of the outbreak, the survivors fight among themselves about what's the best course to take, and a few likable characters bite the dust while unlikable ones are redeemed and/or manage to survive. Things don't wrap-up with a neat bow (think original "Dawn of the Dead" ending), but that's expected for a gory musical whose best song/performance ("Hollywood Ending," which is so good it gets two reprisses) simultaneously pokes fun and celebrates the artificiality of feel-good endings. Did I mention I bought the movie's soundtrack the day after seeing it? :-)

"Anna and the Apocalypse" might be the most entertaining movie I've seen this year that didn't make me laugh when it ties to be campy fun or cry at its life-or-death dramatic stakes. Its attempts at being humorous ring hollow except for one laugh-out loud gag involving zombie pee (don't ask!), and Paul Kaye tries too hard to play a colorful musical villain for his Arthur Savage headmaster to not grate the longer he hogs the camera. The strong cast of well-chosen young actors playing likable characters goes a long way to sell the audacious premise, which manages to punch well above the production's obvious low-budget limitations. You gotta love a little Scottish flick that stages an indoor mall woods chase scene in a Christmas tree lot (rather than the expensive-to-shoot-outdoors nearby woods) in order to (a) thin out the cast and (b) hand Anna her signature giant candy cane weapon. Ella Hunt is perfect playing Anna as a self-confident young woman who is looking forward to leaving Little Haven after graduating and traveling throughout Australia (to her father's disapproval). An early scene in which Anna is singing her heart out while the world behind her is falling apart (very reminiscent of the opening 10 minutes of the 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" remake) could make the lead of the picture seem foolish, but Hunt's chemistry with Malcolm Cumming is key to establishing the bond between Anna and John. Sarah Swire personifies the lesbian outcast stereotype to a tee while being likable (no easy feat), and the very "Pam and Jim"-like romance between AV geek Chris and sexually-repressed Lisa (Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu, respectively) leads to the movie's most heartbreaking-in-a-good-way pathos moment. Even the a-hole school bully Nick (Ben Wiggins) gets to shine during a musical number that acknowledges and has fun with the notion that bullies are better prepared to take on the undead than our meek heroes. "Anna and the Apocalypse" is not worth seeking in theaters, but will make an enjoyable weekend afternoon rental for genre fans in a few months. Recommended.
Photo
Add a comment...
Wait while more posts are being loaded