The Difference Between Movies and Film . Are …

Movies (such as the ones Steven Seagal makes) are strictly for entertainment. Films (such as the ones that Martin Scorsese and certain overseas directors make) aim a little higher.

In other words: Movies go better with popcorn. With films you don’t need it.

(Strictly a personal opinion. And no, I’m not an arthouse snob. I watch and often enjoy both kinds.)


“Song to Song” Hits a Sour Note (My Apologies for the Lame Headline)

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I would guess I didn’t get as much out of writer/director Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life  as  some folks. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough. (“This film’s rewards are many, for those with the patience to simply let it float.” Moira McDonald “Seattle Times”) Or maybe I was unwilling to simply let it float. Whatever (a suitably opaque response to what – for me – was an opaque film.) 

I mean, I became engaged with some of Mr. Malick’s films – Badlands and The Thin Red Line, for example – but recent efforts like To the Wonder and Knight of Cups have seemed a tad … wispy … to my singularly practiced eye.

Now comes Song to Song. The film was shot at Austin’s “South  by Southwest” and, I must confess, was curious to see what Mr. Malick would do with the famed festival as his backdrop. 

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My guess would be that Mr. Malick is attempting to find a new visual language with which to tell stories on film.  Call me old school but I prefer films or movies (there is a difference, in my mind) with crunchy dialogue and a plot and/or characters with whom I can become involved in my imagination. The A-list cast seems to understand what the famed filmmaker is trying to accomplish but, for my money, they seem to be lost in the ether. Only the great Patti Smith (in what amounts to a cameo) rings true.

Someone named J.R. Jones, writing in something called “The Chicago Reader” says it best for me, anyway, when he writes that the film “looks like a photo essay out of Architectural Digest … with its gorgeous, murmuring stars as if they were statuary.”)

I guess I wasn’t patient enough.

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Rix Flix 3 – Free Fire

Free Fire may have been a modest box office hit if the movie had been released shortly after Reservoir Dogs or  Pulp Fiction. (For awhile there, the cinematic landscape was littered with Tarentino wannabes.) As it is,  UK writer/director Ben Wheatley has shown none of the distinctive style that has led to some critics film labeling him as an up and coming British auteur. One trailer for the film highlighted the name of executive producer Martin Scorsese without even mentioning Mr. Wheatley’s name. This latest entry should do little to gain Ben Wheatley more mainstream recognition on the North American continent. 

Free Fire

But perhaps he doesn’t need it. He has managed to attract names such as Martin Scorsese (arguably America’s greatest living filmmaker) and a cast that includes Brie Larson, South African actor Sharlto Copley (District Nine), Cillian Murphy (TV’s Peaky Blinders, among many others), Sam Riley  (Control) and Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name).

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Writer/director Ben Wheatley Ready for his close-up?

Cynics have suggested that the only reason this movie received North American theatrical distribution at all is the presence of Ms. Larson in the cast, who rocketed from relative indie-film obscurity (despite a fine performance in Short Term 12 to full-fledged Hollywood stardom following her role in Room complete with All The Right Magazine Covers and leading roles in Hollywood-style blockbusters.)

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Oscar-winning actress BRIE LARSON in “Free Fire”

However, if you can stand potentially claustrophobic shoot-em-ups (most of the action is confined to a seedy Boston warehouse) and a bloody exercise in genre film-making you could do worse on a rainy evening.


TV or Not to TV2: La Mante

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It was the steely smile of Carole Bouquet that first caught my attention in this French-made thriller and having made it through the first episode (on Netflix) I committed to watching the entire series. Mme. Bouquet plays the mother of all serial killers and when it appears as if a copycat is recreating her crimes she offers to help the police catch the killer – on one condition. She wants her estranged son, now a cop (and expertly played by Fred Testot) to help her with the case.

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Carole Bouquet in “La Mante” (with Pascal Demondon – right- and Fred Testot – left – in the background.)

I had previously seen Mme. Bouquet as a Bond girl in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only and Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure  Object of Desire. From Bond to Bunuel! What a range! In fact, it is Mme. Bouquet’s enigmatic reading of her character that held my interest through a teleplay that relies a tad too much on coincidence for its twists and turns.

The series has been labelled “transphobic” by several commenters on the Netflix site. Having no previous personal experience with members of the trans community and unaware of whether they have the same PC police in France as they have in North America I cannot speak to this. I gotta say, however, that I never believed the young French actress playing a transsexual.)  

With Netflix picking up some well-produced international TV series it is only a matter of time before one of these performers achieves international fame in an American film or TV series. That didn’t work out so well for French superstars like Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu or Anne Parillaud (the original Femme Nikita) but it might work out for Manon Azem (one of the eye-catching stars of La Mante). She’s my pick to click, anyway. 

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Manon Azem in “La Mante”








Rix Flix 2: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

It’s tempting to speculate writer/director Noah Baumbach  orchestrated a sly send-up of some of his cast’s real-life personalities with their unwitting participation in his latest film, The Meyerowitz Stories- New and Selected (now streaming on Netflix.) I mean, as the ex-husband of veteran performer Jennifer Jason Leigh and the current main squeeze of indie goddess Greta Gerwig, he has probably heard most of the rumors and may even have been in a position to confirm some of them. Whatever. The roles he has created for his prestigious cast certainly play to their strengths.

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Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman (and,yes) Adam Sandler in “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Dustin Hoffman is superb as Harold Meyerowitz, the patriarch of this highly dysfunctional (doncha luv buzzwords like that) family, a vain, self-absorbed artist whose later works do not live up to his early promise. However, he is still (cliche alert!)”a legend in his own mind” although he probably prefers the label “undiscovered genius.”

His son, Danny (Adam Sandler), a failed songwriter with a precocious teen-age daughter, Eliza (Grace van Patten), likes the tag “undiscovered genius” too, although his brother, Matthew (Ben Stiller in a convincingly cranky turn), a financial adviser and the only successful member of the family (he always feels he has to apologize for having money), wonders aloud whether there might be a good reason why his father is still “undiscovered.” ( Mr. Sandler can be quite convincing as an adult when not playing his usual man-child character .)

Elizabeth Marvel, drab, dorky and soft-spoken as daughter Jean, is almost unrecognizable from the self-confident, authoritative types I am accustomed to seeing her portray.. However, the aptly-named Ms. Marvel has her moment when Jean reveals a traumatic event in her past to her unsuspecting brothers.

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Elizabeth Marvel and, yes, Adam Sandler

Judging from the names in the supporting cast (many of them in small roles) Mr. Baumbach either has  a lot of friends in the entertainment  community or his name on a film project commands a lot of respect. Or both. The guest list includes  notables like Emma Thompson, Candice Bergen, Sigourney Weaver, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver and Rebecca Miller who, come to study on it, wrote and directed Maggie’s Plan which featured Greta Gerwig.

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Filmmaker Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (who is not in “The Meyerowitz Stories” Presumably she was writing and directing “Lady Bird“)

I had forgotten what a witty and wise filmmaker Noah Baumbach can be with the right material.  In fact, for me, this is his best effort since 2005’s The Squid and the Whale (his second film).

A welcome return to form from Noah Baumbach and, yes, even a credible performance by Adam Sandler. Who knew?

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Rix Flix: “Kill the Messenger”

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He fought the law – and the law won. That’s basically the film in a nutshell. According to director Michael Cuesta (TV’s Homeland), Gary Webb, a real-life reporter for  San Jose Mercury News was the first journalist to see the link between a US backed war being waged in Nicaragua and the flood of cocaine inundating the poorer sections of Los Angeles.

Not surprisingly, the film depicts Mr. Webb as a crusading reporter stymied at every turn by the CIA . (Peter Landesman’s screenplay is based on Mr. Webb’s “Dark Alliance” and a book  by Nick Schou). 

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Not everyone is impressed. In an article headlined “Gary Webb was no journalistic hero – despite what Kill the Messenger says” Washington Post’s Jeff Leen writes “Webb’s story made the extraordinary claim that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in America. What he lacked was the extraordinary proof ….  at first, the claim was enough ….Then it all began to come apart. The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times … wrote major pieces knocking the story down for its overblown claims and undernourished reporting.”  (In the film the major papers are depicted as jealous. In one scene, an editor berates his staff for getting scooped by a much smaller paper.)

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Michael Kenneth Williams as drug dealer Ricky Ross in “Kill the Messenger” (Yes, he played Omar in “The Wire”

Judging from the casting, the producers may have been hoping for another All the President’s Men. No one in current Hollywood is better at coiled intensity than Jeremy Renner who plays Gary Webb in this film. 

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Jeremy Renner as Gary Webb in “Kill the Messenger”

On the other hand, Robert Patrick, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Sheen  and Ray Liotta (to name a few) are wasted in small parts and even the blink-and-you’ll-miss them cameos are filled with familiar faces. I saw the film on Netflix so I don’t know how much of the footage ended up on the cutting room floor. But surely estimable character actors like, for example, Richard Schiff (TV’s West Wing) and Gil Bellows (you’ll recognize him when you see him) deserve more screen time. About the only performer who left an impression was the chameleonic Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mr. Webb’s long-suffering editor and friend.

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead as San Jose Mercury News editor Anne Simons in “Kill the Messenger”

Since the film sank at the box office, the subject of the film has sank with it. It’s  entertaining enough, boosted by Mr. Renner’s galvanizing performance. Just don’t get swept away. As Kris Kristofferson once said (in a somewhat different context) “He’s a walking contradiction … partly truth and partly fiction.”