Some September Movies…

Amazon Prime Video
Bandits (2001) (Cate Blanchett and Bruce Willis star in this underrated heist flick.)
Chinatown (1974)
Ghostbusters (1984) Also, Ghostbusters II.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Sony Crackle
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1997)

Neflix
The Breakfast Club (1985)

Source: TV Guide

Thoroubreds
American Animals
Tully
Director’s Cut
Please Stand By
First Man
White Boy Rick

Red Sparrow

~ Gloomy landscape shots!
~ Joe Thiseman level leg-breaking shot!
~ Brutal beating of two people who are banging in a schvitz!
~ See Jennifer Lawrence offer her goodies to a dude! Also boobies!
~ Bloody torture scene! Creative use of skin grafting scraper thingie.
~ Lots of gratuitious banging and rape! Also murders!
~ Is that the dude from The Simpsons? No, it’s Jeremy Irons. ::sadtrombone::
~ See Mary Louise-Parker get hit by a bus!
~ Russia is gloomy!

Jenny’s Wedding

So I want to write about a movie called Jenny’s Wedding.

I put it on the other night because Katherine Heigl liking girls. Bonus: Alexis Biedel liking girls. Also, Grace Gummer as an annoying little sister! What could be horrible about that?

It turns out this thing has a 14 percent on Rotten Tomatoes! And it deserves every point! It is a horrible, horrible film! Yay!

So, here’s the plot: Jenny (Heigl) lives with Kitty (Biedel), and they aren’t just roommates! And everybody knows! Except her parents, her brother, and her annoying little sister (Gummer)!

What’s wrong with this movie? Let’s see.

Heigl and Biedel have the chemistry of a tumor! I don’t believe for a minute they’ve ever touched ass! I only believe Jenny likes girls when she says “I like girls.” I don’t believe she likes girls when she’s in the room with the girl she likes. Biedel doesn’t help as her best-formed character was Rory Gilmore, and you know how robust of a performance that was!

Heigl first came to most folks’ awareness as the affable but flawed Isobel Stevens in the famous Grey’s Anatomy, a gig she walked away from after five years. She may have been right to ghost that job in that what more can a character do after stealing a heart for a patient she’s in love with then building a clinic named for him with his dough? However, she was utterly wrong for leaving that job in that she’s had a really awful run ever since. I mean, I didn’t mind her run as Stephanie Plum, but I think that’s just me and her mother. Everyone else really hated it.

The sheer wasted talent in Jenny’s Wedding, though. Gummer is show-biz royalty, the daughter of friggin’ Meryl Streep, and she has really great hair. Tom Wilkinson is a huge British actor, plucked here to play the butt-hurt, stubborn old man father. Linda Emond, whose off-Broadway CV is as long as your left leg, sort of flails around in this as Jenny’s mom, who finally comes around with an oddly-played freak-out thanks to her nosey idiot neighbors. This is the sort of movie experience that makes you think, how in the world did these people agree to do this?

The best thing about this film is how it mangles montages. There are at least two montages, and they are boring. Montages cannot be boring. They are meant to swiftly move the story along. The montages in Jenny’s Wedding do not achieve this. They seem to be randomly patched together shots of our characters accompanied by horrible music.

The second montage includes footage of the annoying younger sister watering grass, an action that, through the logic of this film, presents her with an epiphanic breakthrough. I am not making this up. This character in this film is literally inspired to action by watching grass grow.

Now. Spoiler alert: Everyone comes around, even Dear Old Dad (who is, get this, a fireman), who refuses through most of the movie to be involved, suits up and shows up at the last minute to walk his little girl down the nave (it’s not an “aisle,” people; the “aisles” are on either side). So suddenly we are having a happy wedding and the congo line forms, and the camera pans far back, and the whole crowd parts to allow the newlyweds to dance, and I imagine that Biedel just felt as awkward as a left-handed bowler. End scene.

This is a bad movie. It’s so bad it’s fun to watch just so you can tell people how bad it is.

But it’s better than Birdman.

Dunkirk

After we walked out of the theater having watched Christopher Nolan’s new masterpiece Dunkirk, my DOD said, I know this wasn’t really your cup of meat*, but did you like it?

I gushed. I adored this movie. What a great movie. Look at how he told the story. Yeah, he said. The acting wasn’t so much the force of the movie. It was the direction. And the story.

And the soundtrack, I added.

That’s the thing about Dunkirk. Nolan goes out of the way specifically to not tell you this story in the typical way. There is no clear protagonist, no clear story arc. There is only one trumpeted moment of Hollywood victory. Every other moment of the film drops you into wartime and doesn’t pull you out until the credits roll.

Nolan has chosen to show everything and to tell nothing. Exposition in Dunkirk is held to a luddite minimum. And in most films, this would be where enjoyment breaks. In Dunkirk, it is a brilliant raconteur. It is a virtual reality machine. You viscerally experience the confusion and terror of war. By way of comparison, Saving Private Ryan toyed with this VR experience but spent most of itself creating the typical story arc. Dunkirk doesn’t do this.

Dunkirk is fully committed to showing and not telling. So if you have a friend or S/O who is the sort who asks questions during movies?

Go solo.

But go. This is a cinema experience you don’t want to miss. This is a gritty, horrible story beautifully shown.

*This is a phrase my Dad finds quite clever and I do not entirely disagree with him

Hippy New Year

So last night I spent most of my dreaming writing a treatment for Star Wars VIII. Then I dreamt I accidentally drove my car into an ocean. So it was kind of a mixed bag. The treatment is pretty good, though, I think.

    But first:
  • Happy New Year, which is always an odd greeting as you are wishing a person future happiness. I ran over to the Farm after the workday and we ate steak and I was in bed by 10. Very exciting.
  • I heard the word “festooned” used twice on NPR this morning. Methinks Steve Inskeep got a thesaurus for Christmas.


So, now I’m going to write about my treatment for Star Wars VIII. It should go without saying that there be spoilers ahead. K?

My story is essentially about the attempted redemption of Ben Solo.

Dig it: Kylo Ren is a villain motivated strongly by his intense faith in the Dark Side of The Force and what that power can accomplish. He dedicates his life to this. He serves masters for it. He sacrifices family for it, committing the ultimate Oedipal act, mainly to convince himself and others of his conviction.

Then, he meets Rey in battle. And this has to inform him greatly about what she is. Has to tell him that this person is the most pure person ever to have been in The Force, that she is yet untrained and yet mightily powerful, and that she has found more power in the un-Dark Side than he could ever imagine having in his widdle finger. This is a unique experience for Ben Solo to this point; none of his minions have experienced Rey’s place in The Force.

I imagine that, for him, this encounter with Rey might be nothing short of revelation.

Ren has after all labored under the Dark Side’s influence for a many years, having been seduced to it as a youngster. He must think of the Light Side as a weakling stance, and then this person humiliates him in the field, and she’s not even trained, and she’s not even been Force Aware for like five minutes. However, she demonstrates that she is powerful strong in the Light Side.

So, in my story, this encounter drastically changes Ben Solo. It drives him to want to defect.

And this is something we’ve never seen in the Star Wars universe. Vader was redeemed, of course, but only briefly before he stopped refusing to die. You’ve not seen a character yet who gets indoctrinated to the Dark Side and then comes back. This is significant because so far, we’ve been led to assume that the dominant side to The Force is the Dark Side, that those who go there stay there and never return. An attempt at redemption for Ben Solo would be something we’ve not seen before.

It would also present the character with a significant challenge. He is, after all, pretty much neck-deep in with the First Order. Action based on his new thinking would be bound to get him killed or jailed. Which is where I think we take up Ben Solo’s story in VIII. Ben Solo has attempted to help the resistance and has been jailed and is being question by Captain Phasma. We can wonder about his motivation until he inevitably escapes and is driven to find Rey. Perhaps he’ll beg to once again become Luke’s Padawan, a difficult sell considering.

This also begins to resolve some problems with the Kylo Ren character. Ren does not resonate as powerfully as his inspiration, so much that the Emo Kylo Ren Twitter feed just had to be created. I mean, it could nearly be argued that Adam Driver’s character in HBO’s Girls is more awe-inspiring than is Kylo Ren. So why not turn this mensch to the other side?

I like it, considering that the most embiggened criticism of the movie is that it’s heavily derivative. My theory on that is that what’s in theaters right now is just the setup, necessary as a palate cleanser for the horrible no-good awful Lucas prequels and re-masters. Now that we’ve been reminded of the old story and its majesty, they can now tell us a new story.

I like mine. Though I’m sure Rian Johnson will do an adequate job.

Amy and The Force Awakens

DOD and I managed to fit in two movies between last night and today, the first being Amy, the Debbie Downer of a documentary about the recording artist Amy Winehouse, and the much-anticipated return of the Star Wars franchise directed by J.J. Abrams. I can’t help but want to blog about these, starting with the former so I can spare you the spoilers.

My take on Amy Winehouse has always been that, with the Back to Black album, she sort of luckily careened into a creativity singularity. I think she was talented but not that talented, but that for one album, yeah, she was that talented, and so were the producers and session musicians around her, and the style, the instrumentation, the market, the people yearning for something new, the timing, her emotional state at the time…

Sadly, though, I think had Winehouse lived another 20 years, she would not have replicated the feat. Back to Black was a one-time deal.

The film is quite the downer, especially if you’ve ever been as haunted by the Back to Black album as I have. You realize how utterly mismanaged she was after her success, how the relentless paparazzi contributed to her downfall, and how, surprising to me, how much bulimia likely contributed to her untimely death as did her fondness for various substances.

The movie missed a few things. I would have wanted more about the making of Back to Black; I’d want to know more about the technical aspects of making that fine album and more about the personnel. I’d also like more made of her collaborations with various 2-tone bands at the end of her life. It would have been nice had she been able to carry out a 2-tone renaissance and prove me wrong.

Anyway. On your bike. Let’s talk about STAR WARS. Which I can, finally. Cuz I went and seen it.

I have been chanting lately, as I consider this Abrams approach to the Star Wars tale, I’ve been chanting, chanting, chanting…please let him fix it. Please let him fix it. Please let him fix it.

I mean, George Lucas had this beautiful thing, this wonderful creative vision masterfully executed. Then came the prequels. Which were horrible. As documented, say, here, for example (Mr. Plinkett’s Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Review).

So. Did he fix it?

That and beyond, my friends. That, and beyond.

Interesting challenge J.J. Abrams had, the way I figure. Dude had to appeal to two distinct audiences: Old farts like me who saw the first one in the theater when he was 11. And, younger farts who grew up initially exposed to the prequels and thinking that was what Star Wars was.

Hee-hee. Jar-Jar stepped in poo.

True story: I was opposed to seeing Star Wars when it first came out. I was 11. I did not want to see it. Because I was an aspiring peace-nik, even then. And the movie was about wars.

But I ended up going, accompanied by my DOD, and I still recall the experience as a wonderful, visceral thing. It was probably a seminal normative experience. I think it was for many people; I think it’s why people cling to the franchise so tensely.

Star Wars upped the game.

Just by watching this film, you became a better person, a more sophisticated consumer of film. You walked out changed. You would, from that point forward, require more from your cinema. Because while Star Wars gave more, it also demanded more. It made you infer and question and cast curiosity. And just watching it informed you about what works.

Star Wars titilated us. But it also formed and informed our tastes. That, I think, is why it resonates as it does.

J.J. Abrams gets it.

In The Force Awakens, Abrams essentially re-tells the original story. Like, all over again. It’s recast, there are adjustments eked, but all of the essential elements are there. Evil guy in a dark suit and mask with bidding minions the stromtroppers. The unrealized, unrefined protagonist with an unexpected quest presented, who soon discovers abilities previously unknown. The large evil weapon the size of a world and the desperate fight to stop it. The familial complications and their ties to the larger universal forces at work.

I could go on and on with the parallels. But I don’t need to because I’ve told you: It is essentially. The same. Movie.

A genius stroke, because as I’ve indicated, there are two large audiences with whom Abrams has to connect. He has to draw out the inner skinny child inside of us old farts, and, more important, I think, he has to shake from the younger folks the bizarre disillusion that the prequels had anything to do with Star Wars. This movie both excites the fan-boy in me and clues in the youngsters, letting them know that this, kids, is how it’s supposed to be. And he does it well, and it is precious, and

and

See, when I was a kid watching that movie for the first time in the theater, I felt a certain way. I remember it. I gripped the arms of the chairs at times, I grimaced and moved to the side sometimes, I put off the urge to pee because that was not a possibility I could not miss this not one minute

This movie made me feel like that again.

A few specific notes:

~ The only change, the only change I would have made would have been to throw R2 and 3PO out the air lock. Goodness. They were pure fan service, even the um “purpose” they were there for was horribly anti-climactic (DIDN’T SEE THAT COMIN’ FROM FIFTY MILES AWAY) but their existence in the franchise at this stage in the game is puzzling, I mean, just technically.

The 3PO unit is, simply put, a horribly unreliable piece of technology. Even in this iteration he shows up damaged. I mean, in 1977, you kind of expect a brass-plated humanoid style robot to be walking around in a a film like this. It was kind of required. Now? It’s like I watch Robocop of 1987 and I’m like WHY IS HE DRIVING A CAR?

No, a humanoid style robot is not useful unless you can build that sucker like Data of Star Trek Enterprise, or like a Cylon from the reimagined BSG. I cannot imagine the maintenance issues involved with a system that complex and yet so vulnerable. And the thing is, the movie audience would dig that.

C’mon. Every person in every audience has more computing power in their pockets than that of those two morons put together. Enough fan service.

And you can say but what about the BB unit? Eh, that little guy kinda makes sense, a Dyson take on a droid in this universe. At least with the sphere he can move faster than my adopted Grampa Harry. Can’t say that for 3PO and the other one, who spend this entire movie um, SITTING IN A ROOM.

R2-D2 and C3PO are obsolete. Sorry.

* And, oh, by the way, they do manufacture beings in the Star Wars universe who are more reliable than the 3P0 units: They’re called “clones.” How about making some clones for the purpose of handling protocol, training them, and then setting them off? Hmmmmm?

~ The ending scene is so brilliant. It is brilliant, and I know this because during it I was internally screaming “END THE MOVIE NOW END THE MOVIE NOW PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE MAKE THIS HOW IT ENDS PLEASE PLEASE NO MORE”

and the credits rolled.

Thing is. She’s handing it to him. But from what you’ve seen of her that isn’t right. And you know darned skippy he’s gonna be handing that thing right back to her next.

Those are my thoughts now. What I know is that I haven’t been this excited about a movie since Django Unchained, or maybe American Hustle. You owe it to yourself to see it, just to be reminded that movies, no, heck with that, to remind you what movies can be, what they should be, that it should be something so good it leaves you in a snotty pile on the floor for an hour after.

May the force be with you.

Spy

Melissa McCarthy’s new vehicle, Spy, is a considerable mess of a film that has trouble grabbing you at first but leaps the ramp in its midst and, gladly, recovers. In the process, though, it fails to clearly tell its story, and that’s a real shame. Because it’s a pretty good story. It’s a shame it got so horribly lost.

The usual spoiler alerts apply. If you read beyond this paragraph, you may find details integral to the plot. I’m not going to offer every detail, just the points that bug me. You have been warned.

Now. Here is the story of Spy, a story the move fails miserably to reveal to its viewers: Susan Cooper (McCarthy) works as a real-time logistics agent for the CIA. This means that her job is to use satellite tools, along with body cams and mics on the agent, to provide instant intelligence for her asset on the ground. It is a job she has been at for a decade.

Cooper feels stuck and dissatisfied with her life. Not to mention, her side of the department is severely underfunded. Despite these obstacles, Cooper is usually able to save the life of field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). He is ambushed and killed in the field, and during this incident they learn that all of their top agents have been compromised. The enemy knows their names.

The agency needs an agent who is not known. Fine’s death and her own ennui drive her to volunteer for the mission. Because of the mission’s urgency (something about an nuclear weapon blah blah blah), Chief Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) opts to put Cooper in the field. And here comes the point of the story where Spy fails.

I mean, it gives you hints. There is one scene where she takes the controls of a private aeroplane and can do so because of some preternatural schematic that drops into her brain, which is shown by a series of embedded graphics, and there is another time when she is eluding capture that we see the same graphics to indicate that she has some sort of instinctual brain compass that allows her to zig when her pursuer has zagged.

As I recall these are the only times the film portrays Susan Cooper’s superpower. And that is the story it fails to tell, what I believe to have been the original pitch of this movie.

Susan Cooper has spent a decade sitting at a user interface, steering skilled espionage workers through often life-and-death obstacles. But she always credits the agent more than herself. Then she goes into the field. And she discovers that all of those years, all of that experience, actually translates into practical skills that are useful in the field. In fact, she discovers a recall of skills and proclivities that she did not know she could access. She has become a sublimely skilled field agent. This realization and its application is the arc of our protagonist’s story. And this movie flubs it.

I mean, to be honest, I’m just speculating about what the writers originally intended. I had to infer the story’s details because it is that under-told in this film. So, I may actually be making this up.

Don’t get me wrong, Spy is worth seeing, if you can make it through the first mucky hour of it. Had it stuck to its story throughout, though, or at least the story I was forced to glean from it, it would have been a more enjoyable time. That and a few nitpicky things as follow:

~ Cooper is partially motivated by a goofy crush on Agent Fine. This is not necessary and I think detracts from Cooper’s character. General ennui and an envy for another field agent, Karen Walker (Morena Baccarin), would be motivation enough for this character. In fact, I’m thinking a friendship between Cooper and Walker might have been more interesting than her friendship with comic relief pal Nancy (Miranda Hart). I dunno.

~ Jason Stratham is wasted here. His Rick Ford is an aggressive blowhard and in truth should have been fired from the Agency long ago because he is not even a good agent. I think Stratham is better as a restrained and often bewildered badass like the one he played in Snatch than he is like this.

~ I am not a prude about language in movies, but really? Really? F F F F F F F F? Really? Too much reliance on the F bomb, folks. Here’s a weird idea. Write some dialogue.

Fortunately, Spy starts weak but finishes strong. McCarthy proves again that she is one of the best physical comics in the biz. But I think that Spy invested too much in trying to utilize that energy rather than focusing on what could have been an interesting story.

Mothers’ Day 2015

motherly_love

The lore is that the band known as The Mothers was christened on Mothers’ Day. I guess. I mean it sounds like the kind of story that could have actually happened or the kind of story that a man keenly interested in writing his own story largely would later tell. I don’t know. Then again, it would certainly match the AAAFNRAA creative model.

So yesh. Mother’s Day, which, with the new job I actually get to do something about since I don’t work Sundays. I mean the greeting cards went out last week of course. Say, have I mentioned to you Aaron’s rule of shopping for greeting cards?

Do not. I repeat. Do not take longer than two minutes to select a greeting card. Ever.

Reason one being of course, that one should not spend one’s precious life moments furrowing one’s brow trying to decide between sending a loved one the puppy or the kitty greeting card. There is, however, a better reason than sheer laziness: It is more effective.

If you don’t see the greeting card you seek in two minutes or less, you have simply not found the right card and you should move on. You approach the greeting card aisle generally aware of the level of sentiment or humor you want to impart and generally what message you wish to communicate. Either the right card will leap at you or you have not found it. Setting a two-minute deadline for yourself prevents the second-guessing, the hemming and hawing, strategies that are guaranteed to help you choose a milquetoast, inappropriate greeting.

Just a little unsolicted advice from me to you. Filed under Hints from Abelard.

So, yes, I woke up this morning and got myself together, then walked to Hart’s to grab a few victuals, including ground beef to later this week make some Sloppy Joe, some burger patties to boot, some Ithaca Farms ogrets, and a few other essentials, including beer. I then returned home and drank one of the beers and called the matriachical figures in my family to wish them good tidings. Then drove out to the farm and ate meat with the family. Stepmom recalled her formative training in muckraking hilarity, remembering when she was young and her Mom would drag her to protest the Tocks Island Dam. Fitting, since Mother’s Day originated not so much as a greeting card pusher’s fantasy but as a tribute to one mother’s peace activism.

Seriously. Go look it up.

Then Dad and I sat down and watched one of the truly great and utterly overlooked movies of 2014: Chris Rock’s Top Five.

I could not help but draw comparisons between Top Five and another of last year’s offerings, Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which was for some reason quite critically acclaimed. The premise is similar, actor who previously found immense success with schlocky roles tries to pack on some credibility. The difference is that Chris Rock’s film is a likeable, accessible, smart, ribald, and funny movie, while the Michael Keaton vehicle was a self-indulgent, horrible piece of poo that I hated so much that I resented it for keeping me in the theater.

I could watch Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson banter for an entire film, which is fortunate because that approaches at least half of it. (Ah, let’s face it, I could watch Rosario Dawson do anything for any length of time. But that’s beside the point.) The banter introduces the movie and drives the story forward throughout, and it is a joy to watch. The writing is excellent and the cameos will keep you standing and pointing.

How that Birdman piece of crap garnered Best Picture and this thing only got a nod from the Critic’s Choice Awards is beyond me.

P.S. My top five: Public Enemy. De La Soul. MC Serch. Sage Francis. And let’s even it out with Mr. Chubb Rock.

I know. Too many white guys. What can I say. My sixth would be the word famous Beastie Boys to completely ruin it. Oh well.