Saturday, June 10, 2017

Thoughts on The Mummy


For those of you that (for some bizarre reason) don't care for Tom Cruise, you might enjoy The Mummy because Tom Cruise is thrown around and knocked around quite a bit.

This film is a big budget version of Evil Dead 2 in a few ways. It is very funny (the fights with the mummies, the way Cruise gets his feet caught in them as he kicks them) and very over the top. Cruise does his Bruce Campbell impression for the mayhem scenes, and it works quite well.

The most over the top aspect though might be Dr. Jekyll who runs Prodigium, a corporation designed to combat monsters. The doctor has a wide eyed insanity even as he keeps his dark side (Mr Hyde) at bay; it is like Nick Fury is being played by the Hulk, and that could prove to be exciting moving forward.



The Mummy starts off as a film version of Uncharted, and this does not work. Cruise can play a selfish jerk (Magnolia, Rain Man) but he is off here as a thief of artifacts. He is much better as a noble man, that he becomes as the film progresses. There are few actors who could have sold that scene where he tells Jenny (his paramour) that he only helped her escape first from a crashing plane because he thought there was another parachute. The audience knows this is not true.

The actress who plays the Mummy is beautiful; there is a logic that moves the film forward, yet one cannot help but wonder if Ahmanet were just a bit nicer in seducing Cruise, maybe the film would have gone very differently. She is uncompromising though and does not let the guy run the show like Wonder Woman did (Chris Pine was the charismatic male savior in that, imo) plus love the way she paints her nails, wish my fiancee would do that. One problem I had with WW, worth mention, the film is so conventional, there is no chance for weirdness, ala Suicide Squad. This is not the problem with The Mummy.

There is an Evil Dead 2 and even Return of the Living Dead feel with The Mummy. But the film reminds me most of Bathory. The great horror-comedy, drama, crazy project that includes a blood bathing countess, roller skating monks and all manner of crazy. This is a film that every should enjoy on some level. It is broad (which bodes well overseas) and exceptionally entertaining.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

I Saw American Graffiti Last Night

Last night, I saw a screening of American Graffiti at the Fox Theater in downtown Tucson. I had not seen the film in at least four years. I used to see it annually  at the State Theater in Modesto, CA. The film takes place in Modesto, CA 1962. The film came out in 1973 and every year Modesto has a Graffiti celebration with classic cars, cruising down the main streets and a showing of the film. It is great fun hearing locations and streets I have been around all my life mentioned in a famous film: G Street, McHenry, Turlock High School, Ceres Drive In, Modesto Junior College and Mel’s Diner (now a Velvet Creamery I think). Lucas is very famous in Modesto. Years ago, Modesto the beginning of McHenry Ave was renamed George Lucas Plaza. A bet of backstory on Lucas:

In 1962, George Lucas crashed his Fiat in Modesto. This car made him reevaluate his life in Modesto and eventually go to USC film school. “Where were you in ’62” was the slogan for the film. 1962 was obviously a very important year for Lucas but for the country at large it was the year before Kennedy was killed (Curt, played by Richard Dreyfuss, has a life goal of shaking Kennedy’s hand) and many teens were still basically innocent (One could watch Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply to get an idea of how innocent many young folks were around that period). Steve, played by Ron Howard,  as he is leaving for college in the morning, tells his girlfriend Laurie, played by Cindy Williams that he wants an open relationship so he can see fast college girls; she reminds him how timid he is  (he was afraid to kiss her the first time). Racer Milner, played by Paul Le Mat, gets a pre-teen he was saddled with, Carol, played by Mackenzie Phillips!, to go home by making a pass at her and scaring her. Carol talks tough for a while though. She reminds me of Lucy from Peanuts. She does everything short of calling a Milner a blockhead. Charlie Brown's quest for the redheaded girl sort of mirrors Curt's quest to find a blonde in a T Bird that he thought mouthed "I love you."Peanuts may be a minor influence. Rock in Roll (pre-surf music) is a major one.
The film is wall to wall songs being played on the radio. Sometimes in a way that seems to be direct sound, meaning when a character is inside the car, the music can be heard very well and when being at a distance from the car, the music is a bit hard to hear (usually, since filmmakers, buy songs to put in films, they are heard in all their glory but here songs trail off as people walk away from cars). Terry, the nerd character played by Charles Martin Smith, only notices the car he had parked is missing when he can no longer hear the radio. Sound is also used in a way that reflects character emotion

 
Steve and Laurie are at her final school dance. They are fighting about him leaving for college. She was prom queen so they are asked to do a spotlight dance. The band plays Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; the music is loud in the big auditorium (“I AM WITHOUT…WITHOUT MY LOVE”). Once Steve and Laurie dance for a bit and along reminiscing, the music gets quite, more intimate, the first hint that he will not go and they will end up together. As one can see from the lyrics I qouted, the songs themselves also reflect what characters are going through. When Curt accidentally sits on a Pharoah’s (a gang of local toughs) car “Aint that a shame” plays when Curt, from the backseat of a car, sees a girl in a T Bird  mouth the words “I love you” to him, “Why do fools fall in love” plays.
Speaking on the T Bird, Lucas loves machines. In Star Wars it is space ships in Graffiti is is cars. Graffiti is chock full of pretty shots of old cars. When Terry is given use of Steve’s car while he is  to be away, he states “I will protect this car til death do us part.” Death looms over Milner because of his racing ways but what can he do, he has the fastest car around. He has to race.Cars are a fetish in this film. When Debbie, a Connie Stevens lookalike played by Candy Clark, is spotted by Terry, who is driving Steve’s car, she only gets in because of the tuck and roll upolstery, she wants to touch it. Later when they make out in the back seat, she moans, “I just love tuck and roll upolstery.” When Terry is without his car, he cannot even get food at Mel’s Diner. All this being said about cars, unlike Star Wars, the heart of the film is its characters.
John Milner has the fastest car in town. He is being sought out by another driver, who thinks he is faster, throghout the film. A gas station attendant tells Milner, “You have been number one as long as I remember.”But Milner is very aware that you cannot be number one forever. He takes Carol to a junkyard where a lot of old smashed up cars are. “I’ve been lucky enough to stay out of the graveyard.” he tells her. At the end of the film, he faces the other driver. He wins when the driver runs off the road but it is not a victory he wants. “He had me!! You saw it,” he protests. He knows if he continues to race, he will die (this is a truly tragic character) and a title card at the end of the film tells us he died in 1964, killed by a drunk driver. Lucas has said that Milner represents the part of him that loved cars and wanted to stay in town hot rodding, since that part of Lucas died, I guess Milner had to.
Terry represents Lucas before he had a car when he saw himself as something of an awkward geek, the guy most likely to get pantsed by someone. The geek, as I alluded to earlier, gets the girl in this film. Debbie is my favorite character (and not because I met Candy Clark during Graffiti week ten years ago) she is a bleach blonde willing girl, not really a bimbo. She just wants to have a good time.“I bet you are smart enough to get us some brew,” she tells Terry at one point, leading to the films best comic moment as Terry gets beer during a store robbery. Debbie drinks with him; they miss around, and she stays with him as he loses the car and gets sick from drink, even asking for another date tomorrow night. 
Curt has a 2,000 dollar scholarship to go to USC, his character, Lucas says, represents the Lucas that left Modesto. Curt, for most of the movie, is looking for a reason to stay in Modesto, reluctant to leave friends behind. He listens, as does every main character, to the Wolfman Jack rock and roll show. Looking for advice and trying to shout out to the girl with the white corvette, he eventually seeks an audience with the Wolfman. Wolfman Jack is still played on 97.5 in Modesto. Kind of creepy to hear the old shows because Wolfman has been dead for almost 20 years. The Wolfman of the film is a myth (Star Wars was not the first time Lucas dealt with myth.). One character claims he is black and broadcasts from a plane. Another claims that he broadcasts from Mexico (that was true at the time BTW). In this film, he broadcasts in a remote part of Modesto. Curt locates him, finds out he is a not so young chubby guy (shades of the wizard in OZ). Wolfman does offer advance about going out and living though and shouts out to the girl in the corvette. She is another character stepped in myth. Is she married like some people claim or a prostitute like others claim? Curt will likely never find out. She will remain a wonderful romantic notion like the girl in the white dress from Citizen Kane.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Last Word (2017)




Mark Pellington (I Melt With You, Pearl Jam Jeremy) directs The Last Word. The only connection I see to this film and the rest of his filmography is a devotion to music and its transformative power. This is an actorly film. It was produced by Ms. MacLaine and her co-star Amanda Seyfried, both of whom own this film.
Harriet (MacLaine) is a cantankerous, strong-willed octogenarian, the kind of woman who realizes she needs help around the house but won't let that help do anything because they can't do it exactly as well as she can.

Though the film begins with stills of a young MacLaine, who usually played waifs, the character here is of the variety, MacLaine has been playing since middle age, starting with Terms of Endearment. 


She is  a reliable actress. There is no new shade to her here, but she does what she does very well. This is a successful star vehicle. The plot: Harriet, advertising genius, executive, mother, one time wife, is coming to the realization that not many people like here, and if she were to die tomorrow, her obituary might lack the omph that her actual life had. She enlists the help of Anne (the local obit writer played by Seyfried) to help her fashion a rest of life plan that will add a punch to her obituary.

It is worth noting that if an actor has a starring role in a film and is over 65, they very well could die in the film. I am not suggesting that Harriet will or won't die but the want to see older characters die on screen is totally lost on me. I would rather they all live unless they die for heroics or to serve the story meaningfully (think Connery in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Eastwood in Gran Torino). Warren Beatty, Sly Stallone and Woody Allen have so far (more or less) avoided this fate on screen but most have not.

Anne and Harriet figure that there are basic tenets to a life that make a good obit and set about making sure those bases are covered. The most amusing one involves helping a stranger. She chooses, quite deliberately  Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) a foul mouthed independent little black girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Speaking of foul mouthed, the profanity in this film is surprising. It is consistent and seems to go against the usual wishes of an older audience. One joke about the term fuck bomb completely falls flat. Anyway, Harriet gives Brenda and Anne lots of good advice and some bad advice. She finds a worthwhile part-time job, reconnects with her ex and her daughter and makes piece with her successes and failure. 

Some of this stuff is profound. Her response to her daughter is priceless. Her conversation with her ex (played by Philip Baker Hall) is one for the Oscar reel and her speech to an after school program is instructive. There are too many subplots. I did not care about Anne's other ambitions. I did not care about Harriet's work life, though Joel Murray is wonderful as always. MacLaine has a half dozen films in development. This won't be her swan song, but if it were, it's true, mostly unsentimental & worth watching

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Problems I Had With Split (Spoilers)

M. Night Shyamalan's new film seems to be a hit, and I am a fan so I am happy for him.
I do not, however, think the movie is any good. Sure, it is well directed. The acting is fine, although I found McAvoy surprisingly one note; Betty Buckley is fantastic though, every bit comparable to Donald Pleasance's Dr. Loomis. There are great shots, like when the doctor comes to, but there are questions, the biggest one being, Why didn't the doctor invoke Kevin's name before letting the beast kill her?



There is also a glaring moral issue. Three teen girls are kidnapped by Kevin. One is a troubled girl looking for a ride home. The other two are seemingly spoiled girls yet they are crafty. The two girls are sexualized. They are kept in bar and in panties because they don't wear layers  I guess. The troubled girl wears layers. The clothes hide the fact that she is a cutter. In flashbacks, we learn that as a small child she had a very progressive supportive father who taught her how to hunt. Her uncle though molests her.

She seems like a strong girl, the kind that would not be afraid to tell her dad when something is wrong. Hell, she threatens to kill her uncle. But then her dad dies, and she is left in her uncle's care. The flashbacks lead us nowhere. I thought since Kevin will become a beast the hunting metaphor was supposed to mean something. Since we don't know if she tells the lady cop anything or we don't see her overcome anything to escape, she is given no catharsis or reason for the abuse subplot. She is left alive presumably because Kevin sees a fellow misfit in her, a cutter, someone not normal, a victim, which is actually quite far from the superman he is trying to become. The movie is sensitive to keep that character's clothes on but terrible in the way abuse is a go-nowhere plot point and the sexualizing of the other two when in reality he should respect the ingenuity of the other two as even if they are without obvious problems, they likely have strong inner-lives.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2017: A Year of Going Out to the Movies

I think movies are still the most enlightening form of cheap entertainment.
Since I live by a few revival houses these days, I don't always go to see new
titles. But I do go once a week.  I am keeping track of the movies I see in a theater
as the theater is the optimal way to see a picture; it forces concentration and presents
the best sound and image experience. Sometimes the communal nature of the thing is
damn good too. I will keep track of all the titles I see on a Letterbox list instead of blog, but I am using my blog to keep track of this. 



The Hunger (1983) from Tony Scott (Seen at the Loft on 1/7/17  10PM)

Incarnate (2016) from Peyton Reed (Seen at the Gateway 12 on 1/9/17  735pm)

Bye Bye Man (2017) from Stacey Title (Seen at the Park Place 20 on 1/13/17  1125AM)


Split (2017) from M Night Shyamalan (Seen at the Park Place 20 on 1/22/17 1015AM)

Haxan (1922) from Benjamin Christensen (Seen at Loft Cinema on 1/22/17  730PM)

The Shining (1980) from Stanley Kubrick (Seen at Loft Cinema on 1/28/17  7PM)


Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) from Tobe Hopper (Seen at Loft Cinema on 1/28/17  940PM)

Fright Night (1985) from Tom Holland (Seen at Loft Cinema on 1/28/17  1110PM)

Green Room (2016) from Jeremy Saulnier (Seen at Loft Cinema on 1/29/17  1AM)

Trick 'r Treat (2007) from Michael Dougherty (Seen at Loft Cinema on 1/29/17  240AM)

Return of the Living Dead (1985) from Dan O Bannon (Seen at the Loft Cinema on 1/29  410AM)


Cat in the Brain (1990) from Lucio Fulci (Seen at the Loft Cinema on 1/29 540AM)

Sabrina (1954) from Billy Wilder (Seen at the Cinema El Con on 2/5 2 PM)
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Toni Erdmann (2016) from Maren Ade (Seen at the Loft Cinema on 2/11 7PM)



Allegiance A Fathom Event (2017)  (Seen at Park Place on 2/19 1255PM)

The Red Turtle (2016)  from Michael Dudok de Wit (Seen at Loft Cinema on 2/25 515PM)

Logan (2017) from James Mangold (Seen at Park Place on 3/5 815PM)


Kedi (2016) from Cedya Torun (Seen at the Loft on 3/17 1215PM)

Beauty and the Beast (2017) from Bill Condon (Seen at the Roadhouse on 3/20 1145AM)

The Last Word (2017) from Mark Pellington (Seen at Park Place 20 on 3/25 410PM)

Song to Song (2017) from Terrence Malick (Seen at the Loft on 4/8 2:30PM)

Your Name (2017) from Makoto Shinkai (Seen at Park Place Mall on 4/15 10:10AM)

Phoenix Forgotten (2017) from Justin Barber (Seen at El Con Cinema on 4/23 3:10PM)

Miami Connection (1987) from YK Kim (Seen at the Loft on 4/23 7:30PM)


American Graffiti (1973) from George Lucas (Seen at Fox Theater on 5/13 730PM)

Summer Wars (2009) from Mamrou Hosoda (Seen at the Loft on 5/20 10PM)

Boxing Helena (1993) from Jenifer Lynch (Seen at the Loft on 5/29 at 8PM)

Captain Underpants (2017) from David Soren (Seen at the Park Place on 6/2 at 1155AM)

Wonder Woman (2017) from Patty Jenkins (Seen at the El Con on 6/3 at 3:55PM)

The Mummy (2017) from Alex Kurtzman (Seen at Park Place on 6/9 at 9:10AM)

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017) from James Gunn (Seen at Roadhouse Cinema on 613 at 11AM)

Paris Can Wait (2017) from Eleanor Coppola (Seen at El Con on 6/16 at 1120 AM)