Steve McQueen does not think his audience is stupid. 

In fact, the dude gives his audience great credit. He does not invest much in exposition. He trusts that you will do some of the lifting in his attempt to deliver a story, and he does this like few directors can. 

For instance: There is a scene in McQueen’s heist caper movie Widows that is so smart and so laden with story detail and, simultaneously, social commentary that it has more potency per tablespoon than cinnamon. And it just involves this car driving while two people sit inside the car and argue. 

When the scene begins, it’s weird because the camera is kept outside of the car the whole time, mainly shooting the landscape of some city blocks over the driver’s part of the windshield. The shot lasts long enough that you become conscious of it and begin to wonder why the director is doing it. 

And then you realize why, and it is an astonishing realization. Because it tells you everything you need to know about the politician inside the car, of his likely expected entitlement, of his legacy, of the distance he can set between him and his constituency and still expect to be elected. That scene delivers the essence of Jack Mulligan’s character, and in fact explains the larger political context generally, and it does not draw a diagram for you to get there. 

And while a heist film like Ocean’s Eight earlier this year was marketed as “hey this is like the Ocean’s movies, but with broads, isn’t that great and progressive and shit?” all that movie did was make a heist movie that was about the heist and replaced the dudes with women. Widows is not about the heist. It’s about the characters, specifically, Veronica, Linda, Alice, and, later, Belle. Their motivations are more urgent than those of Deb Ocean’s petty little revenge quest:  As widows of thieves, they are being pinched by some bad hambres for the money. And these characters, and these actors who play them, they rise to that challenge. 

McQueen’s pacing is dangerous, but effective, as it was in 12 Years a Slave. His story (or perhaps the story of Jayhawk and co-writer here Gillian Flynn) forges the most unlikely of alliances or, perhaps, friendships. And this heist film is not about the heist–in fact, were it not for a few twists at the end there, the heist itself would seem anticlimactic. This is, in my opinion, a feature, not a bug, in the movie Widows

So this ain’t your normal heist flick. What it is, kids, is what an artist does. Happy little clouds. All struck up on the canvas that moves. What a perfect movie. 

In Other News

  • Aaron found the “drop cap” button.

Bohemian Masterpiece

If you like joy, you should go see the film Bohemian Rhapsody in the movie theater. Likewise, if you like masterful acting. Or music. Or Queen. Or if you remember what you were doing when you witnessed Live Aid. Or, if you’d just like to see a really great movie.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the film, will satisfy all of these checkboxes, and more. It is, certainly, the best film I have seen this year and the best I expect to see. It is my favorite cinema experience since the brilliant Dunkirk.

I ain’t the only one. While the thing currently has a score of 64 on Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 94 audience score there. Critics are enjoying dissecting this movie, but audiences are simply * enjoying * this movie.

Yeah, but they got stuff wrong, critics are saying. Freddie didn’t have the studly mustache look until 198x, they says. They didn’t have to coax Geldhoff into them doing Live Aid, he had to coax them, and it wasn’t because of that, it was because of this, they says. And how about that stuff where Princess Leia floats through space like Mary Poppins, they says.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Rami Malek is reason enough to see this thing. It’s like he invites Freddy Mercury to live in him for a while. If he isn’t holding at least one tall bald trophy sometime next year for this, I’ll be more surprised than I was on Nov. 8, 2016.

The best of this movie is its ending, which is essentially a strut-by-strut re-enactment of the band’s Live Aid performance. This is some of the best faux rock performance footage since Purple Rain. Val Kilmer was a good Jim Morrison, but this kid from Mr. Robot is a great Freddy Mercury, accurate down to the hair on his forearms.

Holy crap I may just have to start watching Mr. Robot.

Among pop-music-group-bipopics, this is the best I have ever seen. Does it contain ever dull pop-music-group-biopic trope? Oh, yes. But it does ever single one better than any other. I say they might as well stop making pop-music-group-biopics now. (Sorry, Michael Hutchence.)

It doesn’t hurt that the source material is Freddy Mercury, one of the most powerful presences ever in rock-n-roll, and Queen generally, one of the most bodacious bands in rock-n-roll. I remember the first time I heard “We Will Rock You.”

Do you?

If you do, it was probably one of those moments, like the first time a girl blows in your ear, or your first gyro, but like, louder and with harmony. I mean, all it is is a powerful stomping percussion with a choir and a fantastic guitar solo. This was a less-is-more first I think that was later extrapolated buy guys like Prince (see “Kiss”).

For me, Queen was one of those musical revelations that kneaded my brain at a formative age. One of the first. One of many to follow.

And many reviews have somehow taken exception with how the film handles Freddy’s (homo)sexuality. How would they like the movie to portray this? Freddy was out and FABULOUS? He wasn’t. He couldn’t be. He lived under the same oppressive nonsense that made millions of others just as isolated as he was, an isolation that ended up drowning him to death via AIDS, a public health epidemic treated by our powers that be at the time as a modern-day leprosy rather than as a health crisis that required recognition and action.

Or did you forget all that?

Anyways. Of all things, this film is a fine, suitable tribute to one of the most powerful performers in rock. It is a joy, a sustainable, uncontainable joy.

Do you like joy?

A Star Is Boring

A relative unknown female vocalist whose physical image is not exactly “typical” but whose sheer talent has lately garnered her more attention. She then appears on NBC’s Saturday Night Live and boosts her profile considerably. Soon, she earns several Grammy nominations. She takes home “Best New Artist.”

If you have recently seen Bradley Cooper’s reboot of the cinema classic A Star Is Born, you probably think I have just summarized the film, leaving some bits out, of course.

Also, I have just summarized Adele’s actual career.

I think that’s one place where this film struck me as feeling awkward. Adele’s actual story would have been more interesting. Because “Ally” in Star sadly shorts her own talent and chooses a song for her SNL debut that marvels at how a person’s jeans make they ass look. As I recall, and, I’m sorry, the comparison for me anyway is inevitable, Adele’s performances of “Chasing Pavements” and “Cold Shoulder” were a revelation in their very quality. Real music on SNL for a change. That was interesting, and I felt that seeing Ally fight for her artistic relevance would have been interesting, too. Not this one. This one’s only objection to selling out was that she didn’t want to dye her hair blonde.

(SPOILER: She settles on light auburn.)

[WEIRD: Was this choice a hat-tip to Adele?]

I think though the trouble I had with this film is the same problem I have with Gaga. I like her. I’m probably a bit in love with her, because, who isn’t? And I’ve seen and heard performances by her that have blown me away, such as, for example, when she went toe to toe with James Hetfield at the 59th Grammys, and again, for example, in her first performance in Star, which sadly indicates they should have been remaking Cabaret instead. Seriously, I’d go see this film again just to watch her do that one more time, then I’d leave. It’s that astonishing a performance.

That’s how good she can be. But the essential problem is that I like her as a performer and as a personality generally.

I just really hate her music.

That’s a problem in a musical.

I have trouble believing the same artist(s) who performed “Shallow” later debuts on national television with “Why Did You Do That?” (Lyrics: “Why do you look so good in those jeans? | Why’d you come around me with an ass like that? | You’re making all my thoughts obscene | This is not, not like me) Call me naive, but I cannot reconcile those two artists nor those performances, nor those with the typical Gaga piano-belters later in the film, generally performances I find so self-absorbed they have certainly been composed of half water and half paper towel.

(That’s a Dennis Miller joke.)

[I recognize that that the callipygian tribute was probably a “statement” of some kind regarding the current state of the music “industry.” I just don’t agree that it worked.]

I have never seen previous iterations of this for-some-reason Hollywood perennial, so I cannot compare it to them. I can compare it to one of the best movie musicals I have ever seen: Once. The film itself is worth seeing, but its greatest strength as a musical is that the music never fails.

I didn’t think the music in Star A) was good or B) made sense.

I am probably a rare one, though, because the theater was packed, and the young lady sitting next to me was bawling her eyes out.

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)

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Source: TV Guide

American Animals
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.


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.