Sunday, September 8, 2019

Movie Roundup 9/8/19

Here are the movies I’ve watched since the last time I posted about film, in reverse order:

Fast Five (2011) Directed by Justin Lin) - This was the first Fast and Furious movie I saw. I was flummoxed by the fact that I enjoyed it, because I’d avoided them. From a distance, they seemed full of bullshit machismo and goofy sentimentality. Those things are both true after seeing them up close. But somehow Fast Five really works. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the first two films and Fast Four, or indeed even seen them, if I hadn’t stumbled across this on cable one night in grad school while doing homework. Now having seen three of the previous four films, the bullshit machismo is more obvious as I got more of the references to the past films. The dialog is pretty bad. That didn’t ruin the experience of the film for me, though. It’s still a strong action movie. The scene of them dragging a bank vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro is compelling. Recommended.

It: Chapter Two (2019) Directed by Andrés Muschietti - This was pretty good. I liked that they left that scene (if you’ve read the book, you know what I mean) out of the screenplay. The ending, though, did lack much of the sadness of the book. The film doesn’t convey the way IT (the creature/clown) plays into societal hatreds as well as the book. It tries, and I appreciate the effort, but it’s a little clumsily handled. That being said, it has some really great moments. I probably liked it a little more than the first chapter, but I’ve been spoiled by the recent spate of great horror movies (The Witch, Annihilation, Hereditary, Ready or Not, Us, Get Out, etc.) that this is still second tier. Recommended

Alice Fraser: The Resistance (2018?) - This is a great standup special/one woman show. It’s part two of her Trilogy (the first and third entries are Savage and Empire). The Resistance is available on Amazon Prime and also part of the Trilogy podcast. I can’t recommend these enough. I’ve come to really appreciate Fraser as the best of the very good rotation of co-hosts for The Bugle Podcast. She’s the only one (possibly excepting Nish Kumar)  who is as funny as and whose dynamic with Andy Zaltzman is as good as the original co-host, John Oliver. Watching this, and listening to the other two parts of the Trilogy, this weekend was my first exposure to her standup. These are stories about her family and how to react ethically to specific situations, and there is a progression between her reactions to the key scenes in each special. She delves into some very dark material, and often will undercut that tension with a funny song. The songs are good, but I was occasionally distracted by them. I think, though, that they work for her purpose. What I love the most about them is that, unlike so many commentators, she allows morality to be a complex thing. She draws a distinction (largely absent in most discourse that I see) between being actually good, and being good on social media. I love these so much that I’m tempted to make them canon having only seen them once. I’m going to stick to the rules, though, and say Canon Worthy.

Life of Crime (2014) directed by Daniel Schechter- Probably my favorite movie of 2014. It’s a really good Elmore Leonard adaptation that suffers from a generic title. The novel it’s based on is called The Switch, but because this features Jennifer Aniston (in my favorite performance I’ve seen by her) and she had just starred in a raunchy comedy called The Switch, they couldn'tuse that name. It’s a shame, because the bland title may have held this back from wider awareness. Two bumbling criminals kidnap a rich businessman’s wife, only to find that he’s trying to divorce her and is out of the country with his mistress. Everything unfolds Leonard Style, with good dialog (“You’re a hunk, but you’re a piss poor extortionist, if you don’t mind my saying.”), believable motivations, great performances and a masterful final shot. Canon Worthy.

Fast and Furious (2009) directed by Justin Lin - my screening of this film was interrupted by a hurricane evacuation. I got to the climactic chase scene and had to drive overnight to avoid hurricane Dorian. I found the first couple acts pretty dull in comparison to the the first two, and especially Fast Five. When I finished it the next day, though, the final act, when they’re being chased back into the States from Mexico was very good. Recommended, but only as background for future films. On its own it’s a definite Pass.

Den of Thieves (2018) directed by Christian Gudegast- Speaking of movies that have a lot of bullshit machismo, but are nonetheless really good. This first hit my radar when I saw, in an online movie group, a European director (whose name escapes me), quoted as calling it one of the best films of the decade. I’m a huge crime movie fan (Miller’s Crossing, The Third Man, LA Confidential and Out of Sight are all on my all time top ten list), so that made me pay attention. I finally got around to it last week, and while I’m not ready to praise it as highly as that director did, it is really great. A gang of bank robbers and a gang of nearly-rogue cops clash around a really well executed heist. It’s grim and has a low opinion of people. The key line is when one of the cops says to one of the heist crew, “You’re not the bad guys, we are.” Really they’re all bad guys. It’s very good, and I suspect I’ll only like it more with rewatches. Highly Recommended.

Norm Macdonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip and Trickery - Norm is a great comedian, and this is a great special! Highly Recommended.

Stop Making Sense (1984) directed by Jonathan Demme- I’ve loved this Talking Heads concert film since I first saw it. I caught it on the big screen as part of a double feature with True Stories. They played Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club videos, interviews with Demme and Byrne and a performance by Byrne in between. This is often called the greatest concert film of all time. I haven’t seen enough of them to weigh in on that question, but it’s certainly the best I’ve seen. The big screen is the best way to see it, if the opportunity presents itself. It was a long screening by the time you consider the first film and all the other stuff, and I was a little bleary eyed at the end, but it was totally worth it. A great film, and a great moviegoing experience. Canon.

True Stories (1986) directed by David Byrne- This was great, and I’m glad I saw it on the big screen first. A surreal look at the changing landscape of Texas. It’s a meditation on change and how capitalism swallows culture. It’s a musical of sorts. David Byrne and John Goodman are great as the main characters. As is the woman who constantly inflates her accomplishments (so funny!). This is the kind of film that will grow on me, and I’ll understand more on subsequent viewings, but on first viewing was a really good first half of probably my best theater-going experience this year.

Little Shop of Horrors (1960) directed by Roger Corman- I love the 80’s musical version of this, and I’ve always meant to catch this original. It’s weird, but good. The characters never act like people, they’re all tics and malapropisms, But the malapropisms are really fun. Good, though I’m more likely to revisit the remake. Recommended.

Mikey and Nicky (1976) directed by Elaine May -  I followed along with the Filmspotting Elaine May marathon a few years ago (except I still need to see Ishtar). This was my favorite of the three I watched at the time. I still liked it a lot, but it's a tough movie. The way the two leads treat the women, particularly Nicky's "girlfriend" is tough. The way the sexual assault scene was staged, though, make it clear it was intentional and commenting on the two leads. The movie doesn't let them off as mere lovable rapscallions. They are truly awful in the way they treat each other, and even more so in their complete disregard for everyone else, particularly women. It's a tough sit, but a great movie. Canon Worthy.

The Bank Job (2008) directed by Roger Donaldson- Probably my favorite Jason Statham vehicle. It’s a great heist movie in the vein of Sexy Beast or Le Cercle Rouge. It’s not as slick as the Ocean’s movies; there’s a griminess to it that is accentuated by the fact it’s loosely based on real events. Canon-Worthy.

The Transporter (2002) directed by Louis Leterrier and Corey Yuen- This is a fun martial arts/car chase thriller. A very good B-movie and among Statham’s better efforts. Recommended.

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