Saturday, February 29, 2020

Clueless: A Review

CLUELESS

For a brief time in the 1990's, the "in thing" was adapting literary classics and updating them to the present-day. While some have been forgotten (case in point, the 1998 version of Great Expectations), a few have managed to stand out and still stand the test of time. Among the fortunate few is Clueless, the delightful updating to Jane Austen's Emma for Generation X. With a wry style and excellent performances by a future who's who of actors, Clueless is a sweet, delightful romp.

Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) has little on her mind but shopping, fashion and driving with varying degrees of success. Despite her apparently airhead manner, Cher does have a good heart: she is protective of her father Mel (Dan Hedaya) and is loyal to her friends, especially her BFF Dionne (Stacey Dash).

Distressed at her poor grades, Cher decides to get her persnickety debate teacher Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and her activist teacher Miss Geist (Twink Caplan) together to make them more placid. Her scheme works, and she finds herself enthused with her version of altruism, much to the amusement of her ex-stepbrother, socially conscious Josh (Paul Rudd).

After her wild success in playing Cupid, Cher decides new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) needs a makeover and a better boyfriend prospect than skater Travis Birkenstock (Breckin Meyer). She picks cool kid Elton (Jeremy Sisto), but things go awry when Elton mistakes Cher's matchmaking for interest in him. More romantic confusion comes when Cher decides to try and land returning student Christian (Justin Walker), unaware Christian's gay.

While enduring her frenemy Amber (Elisa Donovan) and watching with a mixture of amusement and puzzlement the on-off relationship of Dionne and Murray (Donald Faison), Cher comes to shocking conclusions about her feelings for Josh. Happily, everyone from Dionne and Murray to Tai and a now-sober Travis find what Cher and Josh find in each other: true love.

Image result for cluelessClueless may appear to be mocking teens, but writer/director Amy Heckerling shows them in a remarkably positive light, especially Cher. At heart, Cher is a good person: protective over and obedient to her father, never mean-spirited or deliberately cruel and always willing to help, even if at times her help is more harmful than good. The closest Cher ever gets to being unkind is when she casually dismisses Travis away from Tai. Even that, though, was motivated more out of concern for Tai than for any genuine animosity towards Travis, and to her credit she did see that Travis, once he joined a "club with 12 Steps", was a better fit for Tai than either Elton or Josh.

I think one of the reasons Gen X (and now their children) has embraced Clueless is because there is someone whom everyone can identify with or at least recognize. None of the characters are ever overtly mean: even Elton is more dim than cruel. The Clueless kids by and large are endearing, pleasant and surprisingly stable, albeit spacey and unaware of things outside their own world.

As a side note, a line Travis utters proved prescient. He tells Mr. Hall that he shouldn't be too hard on his Mom's taste in music because what the Rolling Stones are to him, Nine Inch Nails would be to his kids. That's surprisingly insightful from a stoned-out skateboarder.

Clueless is also hilariously funny, full of witty lines and situations. There's Cher's views on Dionne's fashion sense ("Shopping with Dr. Seuss?"). There's Travis' speech on being "awarded" the most tardies, and Cher's sometimes oddball debates such as calling to allow the "Hait-tians" to come to the United States. From "What-EVER!" and "As IF!" to perhaps the ultimate put-down, "You're a virgin who can't drive", Clueless is sharp and funny.

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The film is also exceptionally well-acted. Silverstone, then primarily known for her Aerosmith video appearances, is simply delightful as Cher. While I am not big on voiceover, Silverstone did a simply perfect performance as our lead, capturing that mixture of vapid but kindhearted girl. She makes Cher so likable and shows that she is nowhere near dumb. Instead, Cher is more naive and innocent, a pleasant girl who is materialistic but who also has some common sense and is always motivated by a desire to do good. We see that when she spearheads a disaster relief drive for nearby Pismo Beach. Rather than reject Travis' offer of a bong or criticize him for bringing such a curious donation, she accepts it (albeit a bit puzzled by it) and suggests taking it to kitchenware.

Rudd is also excellent as Josh, the older, wiser young man who is at times bemused at times confused by his former stepsister. The yin to Cher's yang, Rudd expresses that socially aware manner without making Josh an insufferable scold. He brings a nice softness to his joshing of Cher (no pun intended).

Dash and the late Murphy make Dionne and Tai equally amusing. While not on screen often, Donovan leaves an impression as Amber, about the only one who recognizes Cher's debate idiocies while being somewhat idiotic herself.

The men are not behind either: Walker's too cool for school manner, Faison's exaggerated posing, Meyer's sweet but whacked-out stoner. The adults too excel: Hedaya plays slightly against type as Mel. He still barks out orders and insults, but he is also loving and protective of both Cher and Josh. Shawn is hilarious when doing nothing at all, his stunned reactions at his students' antics speaking for themselves.

Clueless holds up surprisingly well. You can see where it is dated, such as in the prevalence of flip phones or a cameo by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in a party scene. However, Clueless is fun and funny, something that never gets old.With excellent performances, a witty and smart script, excellent directing, and some nice but subtle touches (such as hearing the opening to the song Gigi when Josh sees Cher at one point), Clueless is anything but.     

DECISION: A-

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Emma (1996): A Review


EMMA (1996)

Has it been so long since the world was not only enchanted by Gwyneth Paltrow but that we believed she could be British? Shakespeare in Love, Sliding Doors and Emma all made us believe our winsome American was an ever-so-veddy-proper posh upper-crust Brit, her generation's Audrey Hepburn. Emma, the adaptation of Jane Austen's comedy of manners, is charming enough if a bit slight.

Emma Woodhouse (Paltrow) is fully convinced she is a matchmaker par excellence, regardless of whether those in her circle want her help or who they are actually in love with. After successfully matching her governess Miss Taylor (Greta Schacci) with widower Mr. Weston (James Cosmo), she sets her eyes on the plain Miss Harriet Smith (Toni Collette). She will engineer a romance between Miss Smith and the local vicar, Mr. Elton (Alan Cumming) despite Harriet being clearly in love with farmer Mr. Martin (Edward Woodall), but soon the various romantic entanglements start getting out of Emma's control.

All this goes on to the amusement of her brother-in-law Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam), who marvels at Emma's mixture of naivete and arrogance. More romantic entanglements come when the dashing Mr. Churchill (Ewan McGregor) comes by, along with seductive Miss Fairfax (Polly Walker), all of whom may have designs on others. Complicating things are both the new Mrs. Elton (Juliet Stephenson) and the feelings of both Emma and Mr. Knightley. Eventually however, all's well that ends well in this hodgepodge of romance.

Image result for emma 1996It wasn't until the end that Emma kind of won me over. Up to when Mr. Knightley and Miss Woodhouse realized what they knew to be true I was not particularly impressed with the proceedings. There was a stuffiness to the film, not quite Masterpiece Theater but still with the feeling that it was being "acted" versus "being". It wasn't so much stuffy as slightly unrealistic, at least for a bit.

However, as the film went on I did find it an enjoyable, light confection, a harmless romp through the merry world of Regency romances.

Paltrow is not as big a draw in film as she was in the early 1990's, at least apart from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Emma, she gives a good though not great performance with an acceptable British accent. More than that, Paltrow is appropriately fluttery while still being a surprisingly unpleasant character. Emma is convinced she know better about love than lovers themselves, so I give her credit for not making me hate her. She is not exactly endearing in her manipulative nature, but more, and I hate saying it, clueless. Again it's to her credit that she does not come across as a monster.

Northam was at the time the "dish du jour", and he acquits himself well as the man to match wits with our bumbling Cupid. He brings a slyness and even shyness to Mr. Knightley as he slowly realizes that whatever his protests to her machinations she really is someone worthy of love. Collette was delightful as the sweet but dim Harriet, appealing and charming while not being a ravishing beauty. Schacci is surprisingly elegant as Mrs. Weston despite being essentially a servant who married up.

Image result for emma 1996Oddly, the men apart from Northam seemed to suffer more. McGregor as Emma's temporary partner in crime seemed a bit too bemused with himself, almost as if he knew he shouldn't take thing seriously. The real odd bunch is Cumming, who seems wildly miscast as the lovestruck Mr. Elton. He doesn't convince me he'd be besotted with anyone.

The film does have merits in its costumes and Rachel Portman's score, both nominated for Academy Awards with Portman's chamber music-like score winning (making her the first woman to win for Original Score). It also has demerits in its editing, which was surprisingly clumsy and choppy when trying to cut two lines of dialogue together for a punchline.

On the whole, Emma is slight but pleasant, a nice little diversion for a Sunday afternoon.

DECISION: B-

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Gemini Man: A Review

GEMINI MAN

Once, Will Smith was one of the most beloved and bankable stars, one who could open a film no matter how awful it was (Wild Wild West being a prime example). A bad series of feature films (Seven Pounds, After Earth, Collateral Beauty) has weakened Smith's drawing power. With Gemini Man, someone figured why not get two Will Smiths for the price of one. The premise is a really good one, but the execution of it is so dull that it becomes too tedious to try finishing.

Master hitman Henry Brogman (Smith) has decided to finally retire after a lifetime of kills leave him alone, unloved and generally haunted. However, as it so happens a nefarious and shadowy group wants to retire Brogman permanently. Henry's instincts, however, are too well-tuned to not notice, so roping in the somewhat unwilling Agent Danielle "Danny" Zakarewski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and with some help from his friend Baron (Benedict Wong), Henry begins to hunt the hunters.

The big hunters are Clay Verris (Clive Owen) and Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond). The former wants to fully unleash "Gemini" but the latter is more reluctant until her hand is forced by Henry himself. An international chase through Budapest and Georgia commences, with the shocking discovery that "Gemini" refers to Junior, Henry's clone. More confrontations until the villains are taken down and new lives can start for others.

Image result for gemini manGemini Man is a terrible film because it wants us to care about people and things we don't know, haven't met and have no real view on. It is like watching the second season of a show without seeing the first and expect us to be able to follow what's going on. The film obviously wants us to think of "Janet Lassiter" and "Clay Verris" as these major antagonists but it is all so silly. We get the most cursory mention of their secret organization but why care about either? We don't see them as major antagonists for a variety of reasons.

One of them is that frankly the cast as a whole looks and acts almost dazed, probably stunned to find themselves in this production. Ang Lee, like fellow director Robert Zemekis, is too enamored of the technology that allows for Will Smith to fight a younger version of himself to care about anything else. He certainly didn't care about the actual acting in Gemini Man given how rote the line readings were from just about everyone.

The one possible exception is Owen, though it isn't a complement. Judging from his performance, Clive Owen figured Gemini Man was about his character and played it as such. Smith and Smith 2.0 look almost bored, Emond looks more confused and Winstead looks almost miserable. Wong is about the only person who looks slightly good and probably because he knew his "comic sidekick" character had something about his stock character he could play with. Even he however at times looked like he wanted to escape and run off to the newest Doctor Strange film.

In terms of acting no one shows a hint of emotion to where you wish anyone would overact and go over-the-top just to do something.

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Over and over the film asks us to care about people and things we know nothing about, and more bizarrely slips into pseudo-artistic farce. Early in the film, we see a "friend" of Henry's and said friend's mistress bumped off (because we knew they would be), and as her body floats ever-so-artistically in the water, we somehow transition to Henry's dream or memory of when he almost drowned. We're told he has a fear of water, but when he does come close to actually drowning in one "climatic" fight, he doesn't seem the worse for wear.

Despite the film's credits I think more than three people had a hand in the script, making things if not more muddled at least more dull. To be fair, the CGI that allows for a younger Smith to interact with his older self is not altogether horrible, but too often the CGI is horrible where you know it's fake, making the stakes feel lower than they already are.

At one point, Junior tells Verris (whom he believes is his adoptive father) that he feels a bit "wiggy", and I swear all I could think about was Will Smith "getting wiggy with it". Yes, I know it's "getting jiggy with it", but here you have to get your laughs where you find them. Gemini Man has an interesting premise with promise, but I'd say it was close to impossible to stay awake through such a dull slog of a film.

Gemini Man, if reworked slightly, would make for a great spoof of sci-fi action films. The only other laugh I had when I wasn't slipping into a coma while watching was when Verris describes the first botched assassination attempt. "It's like watching the Hindenburg crash into the Titanic," he growls.

Seems as apt a summary of Gemini Man as I can find.

DECISION: F


Monday, February 24, 2020

Pain and Glory: A Review



PAIN AND GLORY (DOLOR Y GLORIA)

Past and present, fact and fiction blend, weave and shift in Pain and Glory, the newest film from Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. This tale of the artist in winter does a fine job of showing how real-life can be inspiration to create a well-crafted film.

Famed Spanish director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is in poor health physically and spiritually. He especially is not eager to revisit Sabor (Flavor), an early celebrated film that is going through a second round of acclaim. That acclaim means having to re-encounter his frenemy, leading actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). Despite their antagonism, Alberto knows a good thing when he sees it, particularly Salvador's writing that he pushes Sal to craft as a monologue for him. Eventually doing so, the one-man Addiction gets the attention of Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who is also tied to Salvador's life.

In and out of thought and some heroin, Salvador floats back to his early life with his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz), who makes the best life she can after her husband brings them to live in a literal cave. As a child, Salvador teaches a young construction worker with a talent for drawing, Eduardo (Cesar Vicente) how to read, write and do math. Salvador also discovers film, music and perhaps his own erotic dreams. As an adult, he finds that what causes him difficulty swallowing can be cured through minor surgery, and at last, this filmmaker can return to both the past and future with a film based on his life.

Image result for pain and gloryI have never been big on Pedro Almodóvar, though to be fair the only Almodóvar film I have seen is Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, and frankly it horrified me (or at least my memories of it). Here though, this is a softer Almodóvar, one who looks back not in anger or regret but with some wistfulness. Drawing from his own life to be almost a biopic, Pain and Glory brings to mind 8 & 1/2, not perhaps in terms of brilliance but in terms of a filmmaker bringing his own life and art to create.

Working again with longtime collaborators Banderas and Cruz, Almodóvar draws great performances from them. Banderas was rightfully nominated for Best Actor as the older Almodóvar stand-in Salvador. He is not the glamorous, dashing figure but instead a weak, almost bumbling one, a man filled with some regret and fear but able to see his faults. Banderas looks haggard, shuffling along but that is absolutely perfect here. As the older Salvador, Banderas' weathered features and soft voice capture his doubts, regrets, and pains, though not without giving us at times Salvador as genuinely "Mallo" (perhaps a pun on "Malo" for "bad"), as when he via telephone humiliates Alberto.

Still, Banderas and Almodóvar give us a very tender portrait of the artist. Of particular note is when he speaks both to and about his mother, the sadness and overwhelming sense of failure overwhelming him.

Cruz too is excellent as the younger Jacinta, making the final twist at the end more revealing and surprising. She seems the epitome of a good mother, flawed but good.

Image result for pain and gloryAlmodóvar also transitions between the past and present rather well, even when we have monologues or almost humorous takes on modern medicine, filmed beautifully. There isn't a bad performance in Pain and Glory, and it's a credit to Almodóvar as a director that both the transitions blend so well into each other and his cast is without fail all excellent.

What is well-done in Pain and Glory is that a lot of things can be open to interpretation, that things are not spelled out for you. Did young Salvador really faint because of heatstroke, or was our young child overwhelmed by seeing Eduardo in the nude, the first stirrings of what would culminate with future lost-love Federico? Was it a mixture? When we go back to this memory, we see it coming from the on-screen title El Primer Deseo (The First Desire), but nothing is certain in the film.

Again, despite not knowing much if anything about Almodóvar's life story it is nearly impossible to not think it is about him. Salvador's mother reproaches him near the end for his "autofiction" by including her and her neighbors as characters in his films; part of me wondered if Almodóvar metaphorically speaks for her about disliking others to know Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother). In a way, Mrs. Almodóvar can be said that she has Volver (Return). Granted, that is a wild stretch but a sliver of me could not help think this.

Pain and Glory is a film that blends fantasy and reality from its beginning to its end, a film where the art of cinema simultaneously reveals and hides Todo Sobre Mi Director.

DECISION: B+

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Motherless Brooklyn: A Review

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

It's a curious thing that for all the criticism that The Irishman got over its length (criticism that has some merit), Motherless Brooklyn feels longer despite it being shorter than Scorsese's epic. Motherless Brooklyn does have a great visual style that evokes a film noir manner, but it is a bit self-indulgent and seems more interested in being a Robert Moses biopic than a taut mystery.

Lionel Essrog (writer/director Edward Norton) works with his friend and mentor Frank Minna (Bruce Willis essentially in a cameo). Lionel suffers from Tourette Syndrome, but his exceptional recall makes him invaluable. Also, Minna is fond of Lionel.

Minna is killed for knowing too much, and despite Lionel and fellow gumshoe Gilbert Coney's (Ethan Supree) best efforts can't save Minna. His final words to Lionel, "Formosa", lead Lionel into a murky web of deception and crime. It involves powerful New York Parks Commissioner Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), who wants to tear down more "slums" to build his beloved highways. His latest plans are opposed by urban renewal activist Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones), aided by Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a "colored" woman.

Also fighting against Randolph, albeit more discreetly, is Paul (Willem Dafoe), who is Moses' brother. Under the guise of being a reporter Lionel keeps digging, finding a cauldron of murder and corruption that goes into even those closest to him, putting Laura's life in danger and tying her and the Randolphs in surprising ways.

Image result for motherless brooklyn (2019)It seems rather curious that Motherless Brooklyn felt more like a limited series than a feature-length film. In fact, I think it would have worked better if Norton had opted to make it so, for you could stop at any point in the film and pick up where you left off surprisingly easy.

What I found in Motherless Brooklyn is a film that is big on style but small on substance. As director Norton made some good choices, such as transferring the setting from the 1990's to 1950's. The film captures that sense of time which makes for interesting viewing. You have a feel for the era, which is a good thing.

Norton also did well in having Daniel Pemberton craft a strong jazz score to accompany the visuals, though at times Norton also displayed an unfortunate self-indulgence by having an excessively long sequence set at a jazz club where we almost expect Miles Davis to pop out. The surprisingly romantic music playing when Lionel has to tell Laura about her father's death is, however, curious.

The self-indulgence continues in the sometimes too-artsy visuals, such as a brief dream sequence where Lionel seems to drown. That frankly would have viewers eyes rolling at the excessive look. One directing element that puzzled me was Norton's fondness of shooting things from a point-of-view where a character, usually if not always Lionel, is looking up at his attackers. This was done at least twice and it was for my tastes too "artistic" a choice.

In terms of performances it looks like Norton essentially let the actors figure it out for themselves. Baldwin in particular was surprisingly bad; judging by the film, he was directed to be perpetually angry and almost hysterically over-the-top as he could be. Same with Dafoe.

I'd say that Motherless Brooklyn's cast was more playing types than playing people. Trying to be actor, director and writer may have been one too many jobs for Norton, though to be fair I think he could master all three. Some did better than others: Mbatha-Raw came out of this the best, but some, like Leslie Mann as the Widow Minna or Bobby Cannavale as one of Minna's fellow gumshoes seemed to by reaching for parody and sadly achieving it.

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As a side note, it's curious that out of the whole cast that includes Norton, Baldwin, Jones, Cannavale, Willis, Dafoe and Mbatha-Raw, the only actual Oscar-winner among them as of this writing is Fisher Stevens as a low-level hood.

As for Norton himself, despite being 50 he still maintains a youthful look and manner to him that makes Lionel come across as almost an innocent in this nefarious world. The Tourette's element doesn't come across as gimmicky, though curiously the voiceovers he does do.

It looks like Norton would have preferred to have adapted Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, than the novel Motherless Brooklyn. At the very least, he seemed to willingly incorporate the battle between "Moses Randolph" and "Gabby Horowitz" (the Jane Jacobs substitute). The film should get points knocked down for "Moses Randolph".

The odd thing is that those who do know of Robert Moses may not be able to see Motherless Brooklyn as anything other than a de facto Moses biopic. Those who don't know won't find the machinations of "Moses Randolph" all that interesting, let alone the heart of this noir-like exploration of the seamy side of The Big Apple.

Motherless Brooklyn has great elements, but the whole really is less than the sum of its parts, or perhaps I should say "wholly Moses".

DECISION: D+

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Rhythm Section: A Review

THE RHYTHM SECTION

The Rhythm Section is not just 2020's first certifiable bomb. It's probably one of the decade's biggest bombs, a film that flopped so hard and so fast that it essentially was pulled from theaters a week after it premiered and pulled a week after hitting second-run theaters. The Rhythm Section is almost indescribably bad, a bungled fiasco that if not for it being deadly dull would make for stunned viewing.

Three years after a plane crash killed her parents and siblings, the trauma has turned Stephanie (Blake Lively) into a heroin-addicted hooker.

I guess psychological therapy wasn't available, but there it is.

After learning from reporter Keith Proctor (Raza Jeffrey) that the crash was really a terrorist attack, Stephanie, our drug-addicted hooker, is going to take down the terrorists masterminds who killed her family.

OK then...

After Proctor's murder, she uses the only clue she has from him and finds Ian Boyd, known as B (Jude Law), an-ex MI6 agent who reluctantly trains her to be an assassin. Travelling to exotic locales from Madrid to Tangiers to New York, Stephanie (under the pseudonym Petra) hunts down those involved with varying degrees of success. With information trader Mark Serra (Sterling K. Brown) feeding her tidbits on the cell, Stephanie/Petra gets her vengeance. However, as Boyd now finds himself in MI6's good graces, he warns her that "Petra" has to disappear, but will she?


Image result for the rhythm sectionWhile I have yet to see it, I theorized that one reason Doctor Sleep bombed was because the title was so opaque that audiences could make no sense of it. Moreover, "Doctor Sleep" sounded boring. Likewise, The Rhythm Section sounds odd to perplexing, having little to do with the actual tale of revenge. For clarification, "the rhythm section" has nothing to do with music, but with the heart rate of our generally inept assassin.

I think The Rhythm Section will be studied by future film students in the course "Don't Let This Happen To You". It isn't that Mark Burnell's adaptation of his novel does not have possibilities, however oddball or irrational they may be. It's that every time the film comes close to being interesting, a poor decision be it in editing, score, cinematography or directing undercuts it.

For example, when meeting with the parents of another victim to finance her vengeance, the camera not only loved spinning around but the scene was so overwhelmed with light it all but washes everyone out. The Rhythm Section is filled with such visually and script-wise incomprehensible moments. What is meant as a climatic chase ends up looking like a bad amusement park ride, one of those where the projection screen shows the roller coaster while your seat moves.

Director Reed Morano for reasons known only to her opted to try and make The Rhythm Section more erratically stylized than coherent, making a story already somewhat dumb more loopy. At said climatic chase we see shots of Stephanie ineptly driving, then the camera turns to see what she sees through the car windshield, then turns back to Stephanie, and repeat. For what was meant to be "exciting", it looks almost comical.

At least twice Joan Sobel's editing made things if not confusing at least idiotically jumbled. Morano and Sobel opted to cut sequences in such a way as to make the viewer unsure if things were actually happening or were more Stephanie's imagination.

When attempting to kill Giler (Max Casella), the financier of the terrorist cell, we jump from her "call girl" near-assassination to her preparing herself in the bathroom and back to her and Giler then returning to her preparing herself and back and forth to where one gets whiplash. The almost lush visuals drowning in dark red which makes things almost hard to see adds to the general confusion.
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Even worse, The Rhythm Section has a sequence where Stephanie and Mark apparently become lovers, but as filmed with their voiceovers it looks like a fantasy sequence. The viewer is left almost perpetually puzzled as to whether events are real or not, and after the film, I figure Serra is the mastermind U-17, though exactly how anyone reached that conclusion is also a muddled mystery.

Granted, perhaps that was explained, but The Rhythm Section is hopelessly sleep-inducing, probably in large part to those fantasy-like sequences where it would have been better if we found out the whole thing was Stephanie's imagination in an asylum or a Dallas-like "it was all a dream". It would have made more sense that way at least. 

The film, in those moments where we can stay awake, also wants us to believe simply laugh-out-loud hilarious moments. We already have this wild notion that this skinny, heroin-smoking whore is somehow an elite assassin. However, Stephanie is amazingly inept at every hit-job she tasks herself at. One scene has her nearly killed by a guy in a wheelchair, and the only reason he dies is because he didn't get to his oxygen tank in time. She also couldn't kill Giler, and the only reason he dies is because Boyd put a bomb in his car.

That bomb, we're told, killed his two children too, but as acted by Lively and Law there isn't any hint of genuine emotion.

The performances are all so dead, as if they were told to speak whatever lines they were given but expressly told not to show emotion. Lively, to her credit, really did try and managed a respectable British accent, but there was nothing she could do. Law looked bored, as if keeping one eye for the check to clear. Casella was unrecognizable, but that's not a compliment, and my guess is that Brown
was just happy to get a trip to Madrid out of it.

It's absolutely astonishing that experienced producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, the step-siblings behind the James Bond franchise, could have sat through The Rhythm Section and thought it was anywhere near releasable. More astonishing is the suggestion, ever so vague, that this could possibly be a franchise.

A film that is simultaneously sleep-inducing and hilariously bad, The Rhythm Section is an embarrassment to everyone involved. It's such an embarrassment that I genuinely feel almost sorry for them.

DECISION: F

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Night Clerk (2020): A Review


THE NIGHT CLERK (2020)

Asperger's and murder mix in The Night Clerk, a good but not great crime drama that is elevated by some strong acting.

Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan) is our title character, a nice enough young man if not for his pronounced Asperger's and his penchant for watching hotel patrons in their rooms via hidden cameras. His viewings is not necessarily prurient so much as they are anthropological, using the hotel guests as models of behavior with others.

One of those guests is Karen Paretti (Jacque Grey), whom he observes has a secret guest. Surprised early by his desk clerk relief, it isn't until he's in his basement bedroom that he sees Karen is in danger. When he gets there, he finds that in his words, she might be dead.

Now he finds himself as the prime suspect in Karen's murder, with Detective Espada (John Leguizamo) believing Bart is hiding something. As the investigation goes on, Bart is transferred to another hotel, where a new guest comes. She's  Andrea Rivera (Ana de Armas), an alluring woman whom Bart is attracted to, enough to try and behave more like a non-Asperger's person.

She takes to his kindness and he offers to "be your lifeguard", but there are wicked games being played, with Bart potentially being the patsy to nefarious acts. Even with his mother Karen (Helen Hunt) attempting to protect him, Bart finds himself in great danger from all sides. Will he be seduced? Will Detective Espada find that Bart had a hand in Karen's killing?

To be honest, the mystery within The Night Clerk is not that big of a mystery given we have a very small cast. It would have almost been a bigger twist if Bart had committed the murder, and part of me came close to thinking he was the killer. I'm not sure though that writer/director Michael Cristofer was seeking a complex murder mystery as he was exploring such a scenario with our main character. What would someone with limited social skills, one who struggled with basic interactions and expressing things like sexual desires behave when confronted with wickedness?

The Night Clerk may not be a big mystery (if you can't figure who is involved in the murder you aren't paying attention) but it has as a major plus a strong group of actors. Tye Sheridan is one of our best young actors, someone who can elevate just about everything he is in just by his presence (Dark Phoenix being beyond even his considerable skills). In The Night Clerk, he gets to push himself as an actor with his Bart, simultaneously ill at ease and aware that he is ill at ease. Sheridan's voice and tightly-wound facial and body movements are strong enough to convey Bart's Asperger's without becoming cartoonish or laughable.

It's a difficult thing for an actor to play someone with a development disorder without looking like a bad Rain Man impersonation. Fortunately, Sheridan is skilled enough an actor to make Bart almost sympathetic. I say "almost" because regardless of his motives, placing hidden cameras in hotel rooms where he is able to essentially spy on people is at the very least creepy, and frankly that in itself is criminal. It's to the film's credit that this variation on Rear Window doesn't come across as thoroughly seedy.

De Armas too stretches, especially given that she played the innocent and wholesome murder suspect in Knives Out. Here, she is something of a femme fatale, though The Night Clerk does seem to waver if it wants to make her a willing or unwilling accomplice in the hijinks. Though not a major part of the film, it is always a welcome sight to see Helen Hunt in film. Only Leguizamo seemed to a bit off here, as if he was not quite convinced his detective was intelligent. Espada sees Andrea leave Bart's basement home but does not appear to wonder why his Number One suspect had a lady caller.

The Night Clerk also had one odd moment in a montage where Bart cleans himself up in a vague hope to woo his damsel in distress. This montage, complete with the music and editing, made the film almost play like a romantic comedy.

Minus that and that the mystery is not much of a mystery, The Night Clerk has enough atmosphere and strong acting performances to be of interest. Tye Sheridan continues to impress and build himself up a resume of strong performances that show him to be one of our finest young actors, one who makes almost anything he is if not great at least watchable.

Except for Dark Phoenix, but that's not his fault.

DECISION: B-

Saturday, February 15, 2020

2019: Some Odds and Bitter Ends

As we close out 2019, I take this brief moment to look at four categories that fall outside the Best & Worst of the Year. I hope you find them of some interest.


BIGGEST SURPRISE: Overcomer

It's another year where a Christian film surprises me by being good. I've had many but many issues with the cinematic output of the Kendrick Brothers both in terms of film and theological outreach. They also have a very poor record on actually tackling social issues through Christianity, and their record on race leaves much to be desired. By no means should anyone think that I think or believe Alex and/or Stephen Kendrick are racists. They are just dumb and clumsy, living within their very hermetically-sealed bubble of a WASP worldview.

Having said that, Overcomer, for them, is another step forward both storywise and in the actual art of the motion picture. I've heard a good case about how Overcomer falls into a 'white savior' narrative, and I can see how someone could reach that conclusion. However, the film also has positive African-American portrayals and centers around a black family. Moreover, Overcomer, if ever so gently, shows a more complex view of marital struggles. It may not be perfect, but I give credit for making strides in a positive direction. I no longer cringe when I see a Kendrick Brothers Production.



BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Tolkien

I would have thought the biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of one of the greatest fantasy sagas in literature, would be more interested in the man himself than in endless shout-outs to his epic The Lord of the Rings. Sadly, Tolkien squandered a great opportunity to explore the man by drowning him in a film where we kept getting winks about his books but almost nothing about the man behind the hobbits. Despite the best efforts of Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins as Tolkien and Edith, the love of his life, Tolkien was a dead affair, slugging and respectable in a very dull manner.

Worse, Tolkien had almost no interest in touching or even giving cursory recognition to Tolkien's fervent and devout Catholic faith. His religious outlook shaped everything about the man both professionally and privately, but Tolkien seemed to want to run away from it or at best pretend it was a trifle versus a central part of Tolkien. We didn't need sermons in an Overcomer-like manner, but it would have helped the viewer get a better, stronger sense of Tolkien the man, which a biopic should at least try to do.


MOST OVERRATED: Blinded By the Light

There are quite a few films that would qualify for "Most Overrated": The Peanut Butter Falcon, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Hustlers. Especially Far From Home, but it's almost a given most Marvel Cinematic Universe films get praise that would make one think each one were a turning point in cinematic history. However, I don't think there was a bigger disconnect between what I heard about a film and what I actually saw in the film than Blinded by the Light.

It's not as if I didn't get what they were aiming for: an "inspirational" story of a young son of Pakistani immigrants who finds inspiration and liberation in the music of Bruce Springsteen. I know many fellow reviewers adored Blinded By the Light (the phrase "feel-good" almost being invented for it) and are puzzled as to why it essentially bombed. My answer is quite simple: it's not very good. I found the main character essentially a jerk: dismissive of anyone's views other than his own, arrogant, a bit smug, almost unbearable. It's a credit to actor Viviek Kalra that I found Javed remotely tolerable. More than once I wanted to smack Javed upside the head! As much as Blinded By the Light wanted me to think well of Javed, I kept siding with everyone else. That Javed is based on a real person only alarms me more.


MOST UNDERRATED: Ma

As with most if not all of my Most Underrated selections, I make no case for the artistic or cinematic brilliance of Ma. It's a bit tawdry in its tale of revenge delayed, but even its detractors thought Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer elevated the material. She embraced its looniness and went all-in on the cray-cray. Moreover, I suppose it's a positive step to have an African-American woman in the lead role of a bonkers horror thriller like Ma.

Sure, the premise was insane. Sure, the younger cast gave almost universally bad performances, cast more for their perfect bodies than ability to create characters. However, Ma never cheated its audience that this was anything other than a somewhat trashy good time, and I can't fault a film for being true to itself. I unapologetically enjoyed Ma to where I wouldn't mind a sequel (she escapes the raging inferno!).  Truth be told, I thought Ma was a better "feel-good film" than the overtly cutesy Blinded By the Light.

I hope that this year of 2020, we have good films and that the bad ones die a quick and merciful death.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Worst of 2019 So Far

Having already covered my Ten Best of 2019 (sorry, Jacob Airey, but despite it being a turning point in cinematic history Avengers: Endgame somehow missed the cut), it is time to look at what I think are the worst films of this past year. Curiously, 2019 had three films that I so thoroughly detested I gave an F- to.

With that, let us begin.



NUMBER 10: Isn't It Romantic

Rebel Wilson makes her first appearance on our dishonorable list with this faux-female empowerment film that allegedly is a spoof of romantic comedy tropes. Isn't It Romantic is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. It mistakes stupidity for wit, is poorly acted and gives us a horrid lead character that it insist we love. One can make a satire of rom-coms but Isn't It Romantic has such a nasty streak and endless leaps of logic that you want her to fail.


NUMBER 09: Serenity

Anne Hathaway makes her first appearance on our dishonorable list with this nonsensical pseudo-noir. Serenity is poorly acted, as if the cast had some kind of secret bet as to who could embarrass him/herself more. After achieving something of a cinematic redemption, Matthew McConaughey decided to revert to form and emphasize his physical beauty over his acting skills. Hathaway decided to do a parody of a femme fatale, and I think I'm being generous. Serenity is already terrible due to its thoroughly illogical plot, but by opting to use serious issues to mask its stupidity it makes an already terrible film even worse.



NUMBER 08: The Hustle

Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway make their second appearance on our dishonorable list, joining forces in an unholy, almost Satanic alliance of inflicting human misery on the unfortunate soul who stumbles onto The Hustle. Another faux-female empowerment film, The Hustle is a gender-swapped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Unfortunately, its emphasis on "girl power" ended up making the females look stupid in the end. It was a competition as to who could be less funny in what I figure was intended to be a comedy, but the clear winner is Hathaway. Her "British" accent was so obviously fake that I'm genuinely amazed that no one involved in the production, not even the catering company, told her to stop even trying. Another film that is neither empowering or funny, The Hustle is proof that misandry is just as awful as misogyny.


NUMBER 07: Honey Boy

This is probably the one where I expect pushback, as many think highly of Honey Boy. My issues with Honey Boy, however, are myriad. First, we all know it is essentially Shia LaBeouf: His True Story, which does not appeal to me. Seeing LaBeouf act out his life to me is not liberating but slightly creepy to egocentric. It doesn't help that I think he was deliberately, overtly "actory" in his performance. Second, even its defenders I think would agree that the "present-day" setting is the weakest part. It does not help that poor Lucas Hedges is again playing "troubled young man". Seriously, somebody should hire Hedges for a romantic comedy or at least some kind of Adam Sandler-like film (not Uncut Gems). The "Hedges as Troubled Young Man" shtick is old. Apart from Noah Jupe, I was thoroughly unimpressed with Shai LaBeouf's exercise in therapy.



NUMBER 06: 21 Bridges

A last-minute entry onto my Ten Worst List, 21 Bridges is simultaneously boring and bloody, a remarkable feat indeed albeit for all the wrong reasons. The film squanders fine actors, particularly Chadwick Boseman, who looked bored throughout. 21 Bridges is dreadfully acted, indulgent in almost graphic violence and idiotically predictable one can be falling asleep while watching various police officers get blown away left right and center.



NUMBER 05: Cats

Rebel Wilson makes her third and final appearance on our dishonorable list in this oddball hairball of a film. Unlike other critics, I think well of Cats the musical, but there is no excuse for Cats the film. Attempting to ram a plot into what is essentially a revue was one of its many, many bad decisions. Casting everyone they did was another. Add to that ghastly CGI work, which to be fair had to be done in a hurry to attempt and try get Cats major award consideration. The performances are almost without exception cringe-inducing, and dear God the Dancing Cockroaches!


NUMBER 04: The Goldfinch

Ah, another film with lofty aspirations. The Goldfinch was set to be this major adaptation of a popular albeit divisive novel, a posh production that would have awards tossed in its direction. Instead, The Goldfinch ended up as one of the biggest bombs of 2019, a slow, dull, pretentious production, loaded by awful performances all around. It shouldn't be a surprise that The Goldfinch's lead, Ansel Elgort, would be terrible (his continued film career being one of the great unsolved mysteries of the age). However, The Goldfinch managed to humiliate good actors like Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman, Luke Wilson and Sarah Paulson. Stilted and lethargic, The Goldfinch made you wish the lead character had been killed in the bombing. It would have spared us twenty hours of absolute misery.


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NUMBER 03: Phil

A film so awful that I think it might not have even gotten a real release, Phil (originally titled The Philosophy of Phil) is a dead thing, a comedy that is not funny and a drama that is not dramatic. Phil, the directorial debut of its star, the likable Greg Kinnear, is painful to sit through. It plays like a failed TV pilot, with its whole plot depending on the abject stupidity of every character. What makes it worse is that it genuinely thinks it's insightful, saying something about living life. Trading in awful Greek stereotypes that even Nia Vardalos would think are over-the-top, I feel almost bad bashing Phil given I doubt anyone even knows it exists. That is as it should be, because Phil is just beyond awful.

That means that it's really sad that I found two films even worse than Phil, one a major release, one a minor one.



Terminator: Dark Fate is the worst of all worlds. It thinks, like Isn't It Romantic and The Hustle, that is is a female-empowerment film by casting two females in leading roles, with the bonus of being more progressive by casting two Hispanics. Whatever the acting abilities of Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis or Gabriel Luna, Terminator: Dark Fate is a horrid, horrid film. It demolishes established Terminator canon to essentially be a remake of both The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Every performance save perhaps Linda Hamilton is as robotic as anything Skynet or Legion or whatever machine is attempting to overthrow humanity now. Terminator: Dark Fate is so wildly, almost hilariously misguided, but nothing justifies this naked cash-grab, let alone suggestions to continue a franchise long dead.


NUMBER 01: The Fanatic

Sadly, for the second year in a row, John Travolta appears on my Number One Worst Film of the Year. Travolta is a genuinely talented actor, so why does he keep agreeing to be in such rubbish as last year's Gotti and now this year's The Fanatic? This is simply the ugliest film I have ever seen, perhaps outdoing Freddy Got Fingered for being pure trash. Allegedly an exploration of toxic fandom, The Fanatic is just painful to watch or even remember. I felt genuine sorrow for Travolta and Devon Sawa in finding themselves under the watchful eye and script of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. Travolta's character of Moose is clearly insane, but Durst opts to make him autistic, vaguely suggesting the two are linked. Sadistic, nonsensical and cruel, not to mention stupid and repulsive, The Fanatic is more than a crime against cinema. It's a crime against humanity.

Next time, my Odds and Bitter Ends.

The Best of 2019 So Far

I have been lax in my Ten Best and Ten Worst of 2019 Lists, probably because I wanted to see more films. I'm sure many will disagree with some of my choices, but again: My List, My Rules.

As of today, I have seen 75 films of 2019, so if a film isn't on this list, I either didn't see it or didn't think it was worthy. With that, let us begin.



NUMBER 10: Judy

I figure Film Twitter will dislike this choice, but I found Judy a well-acted portrait of an artist wavering between triumphant comeback and total self-destruction. Renee Zellweger has been both lauded and trashed for her performance, some saying she "embodied" Judy Garland, others seeing it as a mere impersonation. I fall in the former category, though perhaps Zellweger should have lip-synced to Garland versus doing her own singing. I'm not going to bash a movie for enjoying it, and I enjoyed Judy. I would say Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows is a better exploration of Garland's extraordinary yet tumultuous life, but I thought Judy was good.


NUMBER 09: 1917

I might like 1917 more if so many people didn't keep pushing the idea that it was one of if not THE greatest war film ever made. To be honest, part of me is growing more disenchanted with 1917, and I think part of the reason it lost Best Picture was due to the idea that it had nothing going for it other than the "one-shot" look to it. I too feel the story was not as strong as it could have been and that too many people swooned over it due more to the overall look of it than to the characters. However, 1917 is visually impressive and a fine film on the horrors of "the war to end all wars".



Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is both a tribute and perhaps a fond farewell to a bygone era, one where the world both in cinema and outside it underwent radical changes. This reimagining of the Tate-LoBianca murders also does something I have not seen: show a surprisingly soft side to Quentin Tarantino. With excellent performances from the cast in roles large and small, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably the kindest and most respectful portrait made of Sharon Tate, one of film's most tragic figures.


NUMBER 07: Harriet

I think it would be nearly impossible to cover the breath and scope of Harriet Tubman's life. Harriet feels quite long, but the film is absolutely inspirational and an excellent primer for this genuine American icon and legend. An extraordinary central performance from Cynthia Erivo elevates this biopic, and one marvels at Tubman's inner strength and courage. Harriet Tubman truly is A Woman for All Seasons, and Harriet, while not perfect, is a stirring portrait of one of America's greatest figures.


NUMBER 06: Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari is not really a tale of how one car company fought another for dominance in a car race. It is about friendship, male bonding and the pursuit of excellence. The film has top-notch performances from the whole cast, and even if one does not care about racing itself, you care about these men and yes, one woman, who are determined to be at the top of their field. Ford v Ferrari really to my mind is not about racing but about living the best life one can, valuing such things as hard work, determination, skill and family.


NUMBER 05: Joker

I'm sure Film Twitter won't like me ranking Joker high or placing it anywhere near the Top Ten, but I calls them as I sees them. Joaquin Phoenix' performance as Arthur Fleck, the troubled and abused man who descended into murderous madness, is chilling and frightening. I was astonished, even shocked by the film. Joker is the first film where I left the theater shaking in a mix of horror and fear, deeply troubled by its portrait of a crumbling, cruel and chaotic world. It openly draws from early Martin Scorsese films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, and just like Taxi Driver, I can admire the craftsmanship in Joker while simultaneously having no desire to see it again. Perhaps in the course of time I will revisit Joker, but I doubt it will be anytime soon.



NUMBER 04: Amazing Grace

The only documentary so far to make my Ten Best List, Amazing Grace is a surprisingly simple film: a visual recording of the late Aretha Franklin's performances of the eponymous live gospel album. However, Amazing Grace is more than that. It is a recording of Franklin at her finest, a portrait of the artist as Believer, in full control of Franklin's extraordinary gifts. It is impossible for even atheists not to be moved by Franklin's performance as The Queen of Soul pays homage to The King of Kings.


NUMBER 03: Richard Jewell

A film that should have done better box office-wise, Richard Jewell is more than just a biopic on the Atlanta Olympics security guard first hailed as hero then painted as villain for the Centennial Park bombing. It's also a riveting portrayal of how rumor and prejudice can create chaos and havoc on the innocent, how a hungry press can rampage through powerless individuals. Paul Walker Hauser's performance as Jewell is brilliant, making him simultaneously sympathetic and frustrating in his mixture of naivete and blind loyalty. Perhaps people were put off by the perception that Richard Jewell was a right-wing screed against the press, but I found it more a film about how quickly rumor, innuendo and flat-out falsehoods can come close to destroying people.


 NUMBER 02: Parasite

Parasite has earned a place in history as the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture. It is also a well-crafted film. I figure some of my colleagues are put off by this allegory on capitalism, but I thought Parasite was pretty even-handed on the unofficial war between the rich and the poor. In fact, I found myself sympathizing more with the wealthy Park family than the poor Kim family, though I figure Parasite wanted me to look upon the latter as if not the heroes at least the antiheroes. I think Parasite did not give the viewer an easy answer as to whom to look on as the actual "parasites", leaving it to him/her to decide. At times funny, at times crazy, Parasite is a brilliant film even if it would not be my choice for Best Picture of 2019.


NUMBER 01: The Irishman 

Forgive me, but I'm going to go on a tangent before speaking of The Irishman per se.

Jacob Airey, self-proclaimed "conservative" and "Christian" film reviewer, is a bitter, spiteful, vindictive, hateful man. I say this neither lightly or with any sense of joy. I say this because of Airey's almost pathological hatred for both The Irishman and its director, Martin Scorsese.

Airey listed The Irishman as one of his Ten Worst Films of 2019. He was delighted that The Irishman went 0-10 at the Academy Awards. He's perfectly free to do so. My issue with him, however, is that I think his disdain for The Irishman is built on emotion rather than thought. I am convinced he was going to despise The Irishman no matter what, and that his negative review is built not on the actual film itself, but on how he feels about Scorsese and what he represents to Airey: a dismissing of his own personal fandom.

Ever since Marty said he didn't think comic book films, specifically Airey's beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe, was "cinema", Airey's rage became unabated. Scorsese's views were seen by Airey and his fellow fanboys as a personal attack on them and him personally, and as such, Airey's blind rage at Scorsese's heresy merited punishment. Hence, his negative Irishman review, calling it "self-righteous, overly long, poorly edited, (with) a convoluted plot". YIKES!

In his view, The Irishman is on how "Once again, Scorsese loves to glorify men who steal, intimidate, cheat on their wives, are bad parents, and even commit the most gruesome murders, only to end on a flippant 'crime does not pay' at the climax" (emphasis mine). Though I don't think he mentioned it, I figure the "once again" refers to Goodfellas. In regards to "glorifying" these types of men, as my colleague Jacob Smith at Society Reviews (who like me was blocked by Airey on "the Twitter" for siding with Scorsese) said to me, "Talk about missing the point!"

The Irishman is nowhere near a glorification of awful men, which makes me wonder what film Jacob Airey actually saw or if he predetermined what Scorsese's oeuvre is and decided to prejudge the film regardless of the merits. In reality, The Irishman is a film about regret, a man who metaphorically gained the whole world and lost his soul. Frank Sheeran (the title character) lost his family, he lost his friend, his honor, his self-respect, he ends up alone and unloved, all for what? It's a meditation on loss and the fall of an essentially good man done in by his own actions. The Irishman has just exceptional acting from Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, and despite its three-plus hour running time (about the rare point of criticism), moves remarkably quickly.

However, since its director dared to suggest the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the equivalent of theme park rides, our Defender of True and Pure Cinema had to strike back against this "bitter, jealous, elitist" auteur.

If Airey genuinely believes the MCU is on the same level as the introduction of sound and color to cinema, that is again his right. If he wants to name Avengers: Endgame his Second Best Film of 2019 and rank it among the great turning points in cinematic history, he is free to do so. If he wants to think Endgame should have been nominated for Best Picture, again he is free to do so. I think all that is irrational, bonkers hyperbole, but to each his own.

"(Avengers: Endgame) was a bold movie. After the events of the previous film (Avengers: Infinity War), no one knew where this new entry from Marvel Studios was going. They had so many loose ends to tie and a hard road to pave ahead. Yet, they did it. They pulled off one of the greatest triumphs, not only in for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also for cinematic history. It is stunning, inspiring, amazing, spectacular, and truly great" (emphasis mine).

I suppose when you see the resurrection of a talking tree in such lofty terms and think Endgame is on the same level if not superior to such films as Citizen Kane, Casablanca, 8 & 1/2 or any of the Apu Trilogy, The Irishman would look like junk.

One last point before closing. Should Mr. Airey ever opt to unblock me, he might learn that I named Wonder Woman my Number One Film of 2017, so I'm hardly anti-comic book films.

Next time, My Ten Worst Films of 2019.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Lighthouse: A Review

THE LIGHTHOUSE

Before I watched The Lighthouse, I was informed there would be a lot of farting. I counted only four audible farts, but it does give new meaning to the phrase "arsty-fartsy". The Lighthouse has some positives but on a personal level it simply did not appeal to me.

On an isolated lighthouse come two keepers. The older man, whom we eventually learn is Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is a salty sea-dog complete with vaguely pirate-like accent. The younger man, mostly known as Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) does the grunt work around the island, much to his displeasure. He wants to be in the lighthouse, but Thomas is very jealous of his place.

They are to be there four weeks until their relief comes, but perhaps one or both of them are slowly going bonkers. Ephraim, hiding a secret past, sees strange and ominous things: menacing seagulls, mermaids to whom he masturbates loudly to, and perhaps Thomas in an erotic situation with an octopus-like being within the lighthouse itself. Thomas warns Ephraim not to kill any seagull, since they contain the spirits of dead sailors, but Ephraim does.

It's no surprise that a storm breaks out, perhaps preventing the relief to come (it appears unclear if it was the storm itself or perhaps them oversleeping due to drunkenness where they missed the relief's arrival). The strange and spooky continue to go on, until there's a bloody end for all involved.

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To a point I can if not admire at least respect elements to The Lighthouse. Director and cowriter Robert Eggers, writing with his brother Max, do create that dark, despairing atmosphere in the film visually. Jarin Blaschke's Oscar-nominated cinematography was worthy of recognition, and not just for the black-and-white nature of The Lighthouse. Its overall look captures an old-time feel, as if we were looking in on a long-lost world at the dawn of cinema.

I also found Mark Korven's score appropriately menacing and ominous, punctuated by loud foghorns that blow almost on cue.

It's in other aspects that had me slipping into slumber, however, and even at its relatively short running time I found it a hard film to sit through. I would not be amazed if people didn't burst out into howls of laughter when Thomas and Ephraim slow danced, as if Ephraim yelping at the climax of his auto-erotic exercise wasn't funny enough.

To be fair though, the surprisingly graphic killing of the seagull probably would disturb some viewers, or at least raise eyebrows.

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As this is essentially a two-man show (with Valeria Karaman popping up in brief bits as the alluring mermaid), we have two performances to look at. While I would argue Dafoe played his salty lighthouse keeper well, it does seem closer to parody of that "salty sea-dog", forever snapping at his "wickie". Thomas' irascibility and irrationality seemed to be veering towards farce: he calls out for Neptune's wrath against Ephraim (if that is his real name) because Ephraim drunkenly said he didn't like his cooking.

That seems a bit extreme.

I am constantly pushed to think Robert Pattinson is more than Edward Cullen, and I give him credit for constantly trying new things. However, I simply cannot go along with the notion that others have that he is his generation's Peter O'Toole, some unimpeachable acting giant that towers over a Cary Grant or Claude Rains.

Was it a good performance? It was fine, not exceptional but not horrendous. To my mind, both were ACTING with a Capital A, being so overt in their artistic aspirations as to be almost a spoof. Then again to be fair, you can only do so much when you're asked to keep repeating "What?" to your costar.

The Lighthouse is frankly not a film for me: too self-consciously artistic bordering on pretentious and with a surprisingly unoriginal story (it was obvious that the seagull's death would unleash all hell and that one if not both would grow to total lunacy). I found it torturous but with some good elements that I can appreciate if not actually enjoy.

DECISION: D-

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Best Picture Retrospective: The Complete Rankings 2019 Edition

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THE BEST PICTURE RETROSPECTIVE: THE COMPLETE RANKINGS

We now have 92 Best Picture Academy Award winners. Parasite becomes the first foreign-language film to win film's highest honor.

With that, I now include it among the rankings to see where it will fall from Number 1 to Number 92. Now, again let us remember the three criteria I used for my personal rankings?

Do I think the film is good?
Do I think this film will or has it stood the test of time?
Would I watch it again?

It is hard to say exactly how Parasite will ultimately end up in the annals of film history. Certainly in being the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture it has earned a place in history, but where it will stand in overall film history is still up to debate. I have done the best I could looking on the three criteria I created.

It should be no surprise that this list will be updated every year, but perhaps in a decade I will reevaluate the entire list. With that, enjoy.

  1. Casablanca (1943)
  2. All About Eve (1950)
  3. Schindler's List (1993)
  4. The Godfather Part II (1974)
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  6. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  7. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  8. It Happened One Night (1934)
  9. The Godfather (1972)
  10. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  11. Amadeus (1984)
  12. West Side Story (1961)
  13. Ben-Hur (1959)
  14. Unforgiven (1992)
  15. On the Waterfront (1954)
  16. The Sound of Music (1965)
  17. Hamlet (1948)
  18. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
  19. Rocky (1976)
  20. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  21. Rebecca (1940)
  22. The Last Emperor (1987)
  23. From Here to Eternity (1953)
  24. Wings (1928)
  25. Marty (1955)
  26. All the King's Men (1949)
  27. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  28. Grand Hotel (1932)
  29. The French Connection (1971)
  30. Chariots of Fire (1981)
  31. Parasite (2019)
  32. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  33. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  34. Platoon (1986)
  35. Patton (1970)
  36. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
  37. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  38. The King's Speech (2010)
  39. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
  40. Terms of Endearment (1983)
  41. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
  42. Moonlight (2016)
  43. The Sting (1973)
  44. My Fair Lady (1964)
  45. Spotlight (2015)
  46. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  47. Chicago (2002)
  48. The Apartment (1960)
  49. Gladiator (2000)
  50. You Can't Take it With You (1938)
  51. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  52. Argo (2012)
  53. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
  54. Braveheart (1995)
  55. The Deer Hunter (1978)
  56. The Departed (2006)
  57. The Artist (2011)
  58. The Lost Weekend (1945)
  59. Green Book (2018)
  60. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
  61. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
  62. Going My Way (1944)
  63. Gandhi (1982)
  64. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
  65. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
  66. Dances With Wolves (1990)
  67. The Hurt Locker (2009)
  68. Annie Hall (1977)
  69. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  70. Rain Man (1988)
  71. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  72. Gigi (1958)
  73. An American in Paris (1951)
  74. Tom Jones (1963)
  75. Titanic (1997)
  76. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
  77. Ordinary People (1980)
  78. Forrest Gump (1994)
  79. American Beauty (1999)
  80. Oliver! (1968)
  81. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
  82. The Broadway Melody (1929)
  83. Cimarron (1931)
  84. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
  85. The English Patient (1996)
  86. Birdman (2014)
  87. Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
  88. Crash (2005)
  89. No Country for Old Men (2007)
  90. The Shape of Water (2017)
  91. Out of Africa (1985)
  92. Cavalcade (1933)
I look forward to seeing where next year's winner will find itself.