Ahhh…shit…(SPOILER ALERT!) I gave away a major spoiler of Star Trek Into Darkness in the title of the post! Though, honestly, people, is it any surprise that Khan makes an appearance in part two of Abrams’ reboot series? Following the trend of comic book films, it seems as if Abrams’ Treks will only be as good as their villains…which means this sequel is a slight notch above its overrated predecessor but is still a mish-mash rehash with nary an original idea to be found and completely void of the political allegory and societal mirror-holding that made the original series so…original. I was a bit more invested in and entertained by this rehash as if you are going to rehash plots and villains, you might as well rehash the best. I mean I can’t even remember the villain in the first film.
Though the DUN DUN DUN previews made it clear things were going to get more serious this time around, the film is inexplicably sub-titled Into Darkness…as there’s nary a moment of literal or thematic darkness to be found in the shiny happy continuation of Abrams’ shiny happy series. Okay, okay, they do speak the words war and genocide, and alotta people die James Cameron-style when the ships get all blown up and stuff. But you gotta hand it to a guy who just doesn’t give a damn. If J.J. wants to do an opening nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark in a sci-fi film, well, by golly, he’s gonna jam that in there! And if he wants to have his set designers craft an entire starship to be made of interior reflective surfaces so that his signature lens flares can go whole hog and burn your retinas…then damn it, Jim, he’s gonna do it! And if he wants to stretch out certain emo-scenes Felicity style to the point of banality…then frick, he don’t need Keri Russell present to do that. You see, J.J. is like that smart dorky crafty kid who grew up to be geek chic. He’s completely hung up on the nostalgia Hollywood peddles, which has made him a golden boy in a town that loves to recycle all that is golden. This means that many will find what he does pretty cool, but if you want anything deeper than re-imagined childhood reveries, then you better look elsewhere.
And although all the lens flares and explosions render certain action scenes incomprehensible, there are still some wondrous set pieces and stupendous special effects to be found here. Continue reading →
Well, after every hot streak, there’s a cold spell when it comes to movie viewing. After the cinematic nirvana that was the fearsome foursome of To the Wonder, The Place Beyond the Pines, 42 and Mud…I got lost in the boredom of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Iron Man 3 and Wuthering Heights.
A mirror with no depth.
For a film that is purportedly about SO MUCH, Mira Nair’s mostly inept The Reluctant Fundamentalist fails to shed any depth of light on current geopolitics, the American Dream, East vs. West or terrorism in our post 9-11 world. There are the seeds of a good film here, but nothing is fleshed out sufficiently. There’s some good acting (Kiefer Sutherland is especially effective as a Bain Capital-style Wall Street exec) and some god-awful acting (Kate Hudson delivers possibly her worst performance, all quirky mannerisms and crocodile tears) – but it all amounts to a big shrug of the shoulders and sleepy eyes. Nair’s career has been in a downward spiral since Monsoon Wedding – her films now shed of all her signature cross-cultural color, class clashing and heart. It’s shocking to watch this film and think that this was made by the same director of Salaam Bombay.
It’s nice to see RDJ talk shit to a kid in IRON MAN 3.
Meanwhile, to call Iron Man 3 boring is a bit unfair. I was entertained for most of its runtime as this was probably (and thankfully) the funniest film of the series with some really great dialogue for Robert Downey Jr (and one particularly mean-spirited jab at a kid that had the audience howling) and (SPOILER ALERT!) a hilarious performance from Ben Kingsley. The acting here was all around swell, especially Guy Pearce who has become really good at playing dastardly fellows in his middle-age.
Mud, despite its name, is anything but muddy. It’s a finely tuned man’s-man tearjerker about boys coming-of-age, fathers realizing what’s important, the women they love and the trouble we’re all capable of making for ourselves and others. Writer director Jeff Nichols (who previously haunted us with another fine piece of blistering Americana in Take Shelter) crafts the film like an adaptation of a long-lost great American novel, framing it with a strong plot and filling it to the brim with fulfilling character arcs, character foils, and visual motifs of migrating birds, slippery snakes, open windows and the great wide flowing waters of the Mississippi.
Mud sure is a tale, but it’s also a man – a man called Mud, played with crafted precision by good ol’boy Matthew McConaughey, who in the past few years with roles in films like Bernie, Killer Joe and now Mud, has eradicated the stank left on him from years of bad rom-coms and “sexiest man alive” shenanigans to emerge as a truly great (dare I say method) actor. Here he’s a man in hiding on an island out in the middle of the Mississippi River running through Arkansas. He’s discovered by a pair of young teenage boys: good-hearted, sensitive and eager-to-throw-a-punch Ellis (Tye Sheridan, who previously only got to cry and play in The Tree of Life, but here emerges as an appealing young actor worth watching for in the future) and shit-talkin’ smart-as-a-whip Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who ventured out to the island on the promise of finding a cool-ass boat lodged in a treetop (“A helluva thing,” says Mud). Turns out Mud’s been living in that helluva thing, and boy, does he have some stories for them boys. Continue reading →
While the midget (later learned to be Mike’s arm) prattled on about polymer oral treats, twas the girl who looked almost exactly like Laura Palmer who told Agent Cooper in the Red Room who killed Laura Palmer…but as all Twin Peakers know…that was 25 years later. After the series finale, were we to believe Agent Cooper (and/or his doppelgänger?) would be trapped in the Black Lodge all that time until the gum he liked was going to come back in style?
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it would be the cat’s pajamas if David Lynch and Mark Frost would indeed take us back to Twin Peaks 25 years later to see how Coop and Annie and all our friends were doing. Well…it’s been 23 years since we first visited Twin Peaks, which means they have 2 years to get their act together – and naturally rumors abound with Lynch allegedly thinking about returning to TV (hell, isn’t playing Gus the bartender on The Cleveland Show enough for him?) and Frost reminding people how he and David always imagined Twin Peaks as a continuing story. Meanwhile copy-cat shows continue with The Killing still killing on AMC, Bates Motel scaring up viewers on A&E and Netflix attempting to get people hooked on Hemlock Grove.
Thankfully, a new viral campaign to Bring Twin Peaks Back to TV has started over there on the Facebook and apart from the standard fan art, nostalgia, pining and petition signing, they’ve come up with a mondo clever Agent Cooper MISSING Poster Campaign where fans all over the world have been plastering posters every place they can and posting the photographs online.
The true significance of the number 42 has nothing to do with The Shining or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, right?
Well, maybe not. And maybe as a long-time baseball fan (not just of the game, but of the history and of its impact on American society) I took that for granted. As the first African-American to play in the major leagues, Jackie Robinson put a dent in segregation in 1947 (and wore the number 42) long before Jim Crow laws were dismantled and the Civil Rights movement caught on years later. Thanks to Brian Helgeland’s handsomely mounted and wholesome-as-Ma’s-meatloaf biopic, 42, younger generations will now have an entertaining and educational film to watch in history classes for decades to come.
Robinson is played with heart and panache by newcomer Chadwick Boseman while Nicole Beharie makes a nice splash as his devoted and strong-willed wife, Rachel. Their love story forms the backstop of the story while Harrison Ford relishes in a playful scenery chewing turn as the moral trailblazing GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. Continue reading →
If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.
Those words are spoken by auto body shop owner and bank robber Robin (the superlative Ben Mendelsohn). He’s the colorful character who gets all the best lines and spouts all the wisdom in Derek Cianfrance’s epic generational Upstate New York melodrama that spans fifteen years and is told in three parts. He says these words to small-time hood, motorcycle carnival trickster, blue-eyed and tattooed baby boy Luke (Ryan Gosling – aka The Gos, in his wheelhouse) who Robin has recently taken under his wing for a couple of bank jobs.
And no words spoken were ever truer. Luke has just found out that a former fling named Romina (a smoldering Eva Mendes who first appears on-screen in a t-shirt with no bra underneath like KAPOOYA!) had his baby – but she’s trying to move on, do right, and has shacked-up with a real man. Robin convinces Luke that his particular skill set (riding fast) would be best suited for crime and that is the best way to win back his woman and provide for his family. But even Robin knows there’s such a thing as riding too fast. Continue reading →
I could’ve done without the “the” in Terrence Malick’s latest cinematic symphony To the Wonder.
…that is what Malick’s life as an artist has been all about. To wonder…what it’s like to kill for the heck of it (Badlands)…to love when life is like a shaft of wheat blowing in the wind (Days of Heaven)….to wonder what it’s like to kill someone and mean it, to live
and love in war (The Thin Red Line)…to wonder what it was like to discover a new land, a new love, a new way of life (The New World)…to wonder about the beginning and end of time and the loss of a loved one (The Tree of Life).
There are two things I watched as a child – that I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to watch as child – a special shout out to my mad cool parents, yo! – that I believe will stick with me forever…and ever…and ever. One is Twin Peaks. The other is The Shining. Oh yeah, and Fright Night. And that episode of Scooby Doo with the pumpkin-headed phantom. But seriously…about The Shining.
Like Twin Peaks it’s been an object of obsession for me. In Room 237, Rodney Ascher’s obsessive new documentary where half a dozen film nuts/Kubrick scholars obsess over every bit of minutiae in The Shining (check out all the stuff in the walk-in cooler at the Overlook…every brand name has a double meaning so sayeth them!), every cross dissolve (Kubrick dissolves scenes like Kapooya!), every continuity error (de-lib-er-ate they say!), there’s not a single theory presented that I haven’t heard before.
The Shining was actually about the Holocaust (the number 42 is quite telling…as is one cross dissolve of people into stacked luggage…and, you know, all that blood in the elevator)…no, wait…make that the American genocide of the Indians (think of the setting, and the set designs, and the back story of the hotel…and, you know, all that blood in the elevator)…no way…it was about how Kubrick faked the Apollo moon landing (duh, Danny’s wearing that Apollo 11 sweater, like, what did you think that meant?)…or…AHA! – it was about all of those things!
Many people have tried…and failed…to recapture that spirit of Laura Palmer. But there will only ever be one Laura Palmer. And one Twin Peaks.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over 23 years now since Twin Peaksgraced the small screen, but even though it aired for only a year and a half, its legacy can still be felt today on television and in film in works like Top of the Lake, Stoker and Bates Motel – though only ones of these, thanks to the amazing lead performance of Vera Farmiga in Bates Motel, hints at anything memorable.
Jane Campion’s TOP OF THE LAKE attempts to be haunting, but comes up all wet.
Currently on the Sundance Channel, the New Zealand set slow-boil mystery, Top of the Lake, borrows liberally from David Lynch’s signature series. Film auteur Jane Campion follows in Lynch’s footsteps by turning to television with this melancholy miniseries chronicling a Sydney detective (Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss, boldly against type) returning to her remote New Zealand home town (an eerie down under mirror of Lynch’s Pacific Northwest with its mountains, lakes and dark woods) to care for her cancer-stricken mother only to get sucked into the local mystery surrounding the disappearance of a pregnant twelve-year old who just so happens to be the illegitimate daughter of the town drug lord.
Director Christian Petzold has Nina Hoss go “into the woods” in BARBARA.
In 1980 in East Germany a Berlin doctor (Nina Hoss in the titular role) is banished to a provincial village in the latest from auteur Christian Petzold, who again uses Hoss as his muse as he did so well in earlier films like Yella and Jerichow. Barabara plays it cold as ice in her new locale, while her West German lover hatches a plan to get her out by way of the sea and Denmark. Meanwhile, she can’t help but get sucked into tragic cases involving local teens while a provincial officer subjects her to humiliating and routine searches of her apartment and body. In a police state, even in a rural paradise, everyone is under suspicion.
In some ways Petzold’s Barbara plays like a pastoral version of The Lives of Others, but it’s more mellow drama than melodrama. Petzold holds back almost everything, his directorial style perhaps meant to mirror the psyche of those who lived under the Iron Curtain in East Germany and had to watch their every move while being monitored by the State. Details of Barbara’s past, as well as the pasts of others are sparse. Petzold mostly shows, rarely tells. Classical music, a famous Rembrandt painting and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are woven effortlessly into the story to add layers and fill in pieces of character development. Most things are to be inferred, and he’s blessed with Hoss’s controlled performance where she reveals little outwardly but speaks volumes with her eyes and restrained body language. Continue reading →