A Man’s Gotta Do etc.: 12 STRONG

I didn’t know they still made movies like this anymore. (I almost expected the ghost of John Wayne to pop up with a steely grin of approval.)

This time it is Thor leading the charge (actually, star Chris Hemsworth is Australian) and the battleground is Afghanistan.

Sure, I know it’s a true story but its depiction is a tad too “rah rah- a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” for me.

“Hi. My name’s Chris Hemsworth. But most people just call me Thor. (Hey, that rhymes with war. and speaking of war ……”

And in true pre-#Me Too fashion, the little women in this movie wait for their man to come home with the actresses portraying them getting scant screen time to make room for the guys’ heroic deeds.

Which is probably just as well.

The true stories of what happened to some of the women who joined  the U.S. military may not be as entertaining but it is factual – there is plenty of source material in the documentary The Invisible War – although they were obviously deemed unfilmable by the hawks of Hollywood.

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What The Other Half Watches

I have been a witness to how the other half (or the silent majority) watches while visiting my sister and her husband recently. There are reams of copy issued when a film is first released in theatres (or on streaming services) and I seem to read most of it. I have never done any deep thinking on the subject but I guess that is how I choose what I want to watch. So, for example, after reading about Black Panther, I decided that was a film I had to see (even though I am not a huge fan of MARVEL superhero movies.) On the other hand, I had no burning desire to view Manchester by the Sea, despite all the Oscars and positive press. (For one thing, I am sad enough as it is. And I make it a point not to see any films featuring Casey Affleck).

My sister and brother in law, by contrast, select their movies (mostly on Netflix) by reading the movie synopsis and, if its a movie that sounds interesting, they will check the language and violence warnings (they are both rather conservative in their taste). Gasp! It seems that all they ask of a movie is that it helps to pass the time before falling asleep(If I am being objective, so do I. Although I usually manage to stay awake until the end of the feature.)

When I am visiting them I often see movies that I wouldn’t see normally or at all. Sometimes this yields the occasional surprise, like the little-seen Prodigy (although obviously shot on the cheap, the film is an impressive calling card for the writing/directing team of Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal and features an assured performance by amazing young Savannah Liles. If there is any justice in the world, you should be hearing more – much more – about all three.)

More likely,though, it is a dud like Downsizing or what my brother-in-law refers to derisively as a “two-star movie” (ironic, since he selects enough of them.

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Savannah Liles – Don’t Touch Those Freckles1

I’d like to write more but I am going to watch Annihilation on Netflix (I read something about the film a few months ago (Gina Rodriguez of Jane the Virgin TV fame in a sci-film film? Alex Garland, writer and director of Ex Machina, behind the camera? This, I gotta see.)

 

 

I Got It at the Library: NOSTALGIA

Screenwriter Alex Ross Perry may have noticed some friends packing up stuff for their late parents. Perhaps  he was faced with the onerous task himself. He may have thought, Now there’s a good subject for a film.

Trouble was, nobody wanted to see it.

At least that’s what I gathered from the box office and reviews (Critics gave Nostalgia a rating of 35% on the Rotten Tomatoes.com website and the audience “reviewers” weren’t too enthused either. Ouch!) Okay, it does drag a little.

A pensioner in his 80s (Bruce Dern),  surrounded by objects collected over the years tells an insurance agent (John Ortiz) he doesn’t care about any of it. This leads to another story about a widow (the great Ellen Burstyn) devastated by the loss of her house. She says to the agent, What is the first thing you grab when your house is burning. In her case the only thing she managed to save was a treasured possession that belonged to her late husband

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The sometimes uncomfortable but essential “NOSTALGIA”

Perhaps the most sobering part of the film features Jon Hamm and the great Catherine Keener as a brother and sister duo who return to the house they grew up in to clean up after their parents who have moved to Florida. Catherine’s daughter (Annaliese Basso), your typical millennial i.e. early 20s, cannot relate since she never spent any time in the house and, furthermore, has no use for her grandfather’s vinyl albums. (“Whatever I want, I can download.”)

Basically, the theme of the film is the sentimental attachments we form to objects collected over a lifetime and what to do with them at a critical juncture. (For millennials, the film makes the point that everything of value is on phones and/or on laptops and if those objects are destroyed, there are no keepsakes to remember them by.)

Despite the negative feedback from various sources, I would recommend the film as required viewing for all boomers of a certain age. (In North America we call it “downsizing”. Europeans are more pragmatic. They refer to the process as “Swedish death cleaning.”)

For those to whom the film applies (I plead guilty) the film’s subject matter can make for  uncomfortable viewing. In fact, I had to watch it in installments because I related so deeply to the film’s subject matter.

I Got it at the Library: “THE COMEDIAN”

Robert de Niro plays a washed-up 1980s sitcom star seeking to reinvent himself as a hip (and very blue) stand-up comic but all the audiences wanna see is the character he played in the long-ago series.

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Robert de Niro in THE COMEDIAN – Also pictured is (top) Leslie Mann (Mrs. Judd Apatow in private life), Danny Devito and Broadway legend Patti LuPone (Middle) and Edie Falco (Bottom).

Kinda reminds me of the plight in which Bojack Horseman finds himself in the animated Netflix hit (back in the Nineties, according to the show’s premise, Bojack starred in a silly, family-friendly TV series called “Horsin’ Around” and the show still follows him around like a bad smell.)

Of course, there is one important difference (outside of the fact that Mr. de Niro is not animated):  Bojack Horseman is actually funny.

I Got It at the Library: High-Rise

Recently I was watching Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel High-Rise.

Adapting Ballard novels for the screen is always a challenging proposition. Even the great David Cronenberg had problems with his notorious 1996 adaptation of the Ballard novel Crash .

Now director Ben Wheatley and his co-conspirator Jump have tried their hand. U.K. film-maker Wheatley does have a gift for highly visual (and often disturbing) imagery but despite that and committed performances by a British A-List cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller, Aussie import Luke Evans and America’s Elizabeth Moss it was hard to tell what was driving the alleged plot.

high-rise poster

I guess one of the things Mr. Wheatley was aiming for was a broad satire on class distinctions (the idle rich live in sumptuous spreads at the top of the building and the struggling lower classes live in the lower part of the building and understandably want to move up) but that whole thing was done better (and more coherently) in South Korean film-maker Joon Ho Bong’s Snowpiercer. 

To paraphrase Will Shakespeare (or whoever wrote Macbeth) “Tis a tale written by an auteur, full of sound and fury, signifying something.”

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WTF?

 

Asian Action Flick: The Original Is Still the Greatest!

I’ve learned two things while watching The Raid 2 (now streaming on Netflix): 1) “Pencak Silat”, a term used to denote a certain type (or types) of Indonesian combat style (or styles) may be the most polite form of martial arts.

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A single combatant (among an army of bad guys) lines up to test the skills of our hero (Iko Uwais), only to be crippled within seconds. Then, another combatant steps to the plate, only to be crippled within seconds. And so on … 2) Once a young director (Welsh-born director and enthusiastic advocate of martial arts Gareth Evans, in this case) has seen his original  become an unlikely commercial and artistic hit (The Raid: Redemption even played at several prestigious film festivals) he uses what is presumably a bigger budget to stage even more fights and, of course, a car chase (no action flick worth its body count is complete without it.) The frightening thing here is that the writer/director has stated in interviews that The Raid 2 is the movie he wanted to make in the first place – except he didn’t have the money.

Raid - poster

So The Raid:Redemption had to be confined to one building. It was that compression of action combined with tight editing, unique setting (Jakarta, Indonesia) and introduction of novel fighting skills that arguably made The Raid:Redemption such a respected box office hit in the first place. To make the same film again, but  even with more fights,  the obligatory car chase and an expanded plot (Our hero now takes on the criminal kingpins of the Jakarta underworld) did not bode well at the box office for the filmmaker … despite the favorable critical and audience rating on rottentomatoes.com.

Maybe I am old school but a bewildering number of fight set pieces stitched together with a semblance of a plot (John Woo’s Manhunt also got a nod of approval on the RT site) does not a great action movie make.

And while I am on the subject. how come the most charismatic action stars these days are all young Asian guys like Donnie Yen, Tony “Ong-Bak” Jaa and the aforementioned Mr. Uwais?

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Iko Uwais In Action

(If you want to include Asian women in this line-up. how about Ziyi Zhang or the great Michelle Yeoh)  Probably cuz they do can execute the most complex,choreographed fight scenes and look cool doing it. (Although the coolest star of them all, for my money will always be Chow Yun-Fat.)

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Writer/director Gareth Evans