Saturday, August 19, 2017

Death Wish (1974)

Before the low rent Cannon Group turned Death Wish into what I can only assume is a series of exploitive, increasing bad franchise movies for Charles Bronson, the original Death Wish was a somewhat exploitive Charles Bronson vehicle that had a little something to say. Born of the "Mad as Hell" urban frustration of the 1970's, Death Wish is also resonate with Trump era rage, and in fact a remake with Bruce Willis is due out later this year. Bronson is Manhattan architect Paul Kersey, whose wife is killed, and grown daughter severely traumatized after a home invasion attack by three hoodlum's, one of whom is a young Jeff Goldblum.

Subsequent to the immediate aftermath of the attack being dealt with, Kersey's bosses send him on assignment to work on a housing development in Arizona, hopping a change of pace will do him good. Inspired by a wild west show, the words of a cowboy zen developer played by Stuart Margolin, and a new found knack with a handgun, when Paul returns to the city he becomes a vigilante, taking out muggers on the streets of New York. Kersey's anonymous deeds inspire fellow New Yorkers to stand up for themselves, decreases street crime, and leaves the D.A. and Police Commissioner in an awkward position, needing to stop Kersey, yet also grateful to him. Vincent Gardenia is the police inspector originally assigned to unmask the vigilante, a task later amended to get him to quietly stand down.

Bronson's transformation from low key liberal to night time avenger is intriguing, you get why he is doing what he is doing, you root for him, but once you remove yourself from the film you see his actions are more then a little problematic, though at the same time not entirely unwarranted. This movie is about venting, the acting out of rage, but is also nuanced enough to be thought provoking. Certainly better then I'd expected it to be. ***

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Thunderball (1965)

Now that I've seen the fourth James Bond film I understand why Robert Wagner is wearing an eye patch in Austin Powers. In this movie Bond actually blackmails a woman into having sex with him, and she likes it, pretty gross. The undersea fight goes on too long. ***

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Director Cameron Crowe's stealth science fiction film. I anticipated that it would provoke a strong reaction from me, most likely negative, but possibly positive. Instead I found it kind of uneven, or middling. I used to think that I hated Cameron Crowe, but I've reassessed. I think that if Cameron Crowe and I had gone to high school together we'd have run in completely different social circles and been close to indifferent to each other. Then at some point I'd have found out he liked Billy Wilder movies and been like, 'well he's okay then', but we'd still never interact. ***

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Batman & Robin (1997)

As bad as they say. This is a movie whose reputation is earned, and one that prompted a public apology from its director twenty years later. It is one of the most arrogantly lazy movies I have ever seen, and a fine example of the worst excesses of late 1990's big tent filmmaking (another good example of this is the 1998 Godzilla with Matthew Broderick). Nobody gives a good performance in this thing, though Michael Gough probably comes the closest he is hamstrung by the material. Alicia Silverstone is shockingly bad, Arnold Schwarzenegger's performance consists entirely of clich├ęs, and Uma Thurman can't decide if she's channeling Mae West or Bette Davis. I have too much respect for Georgia Clooney to say much, but I offer that there is a reason why Chris O'Donnell is doing procedural TV and not making movies. Shameful. *

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

War for the Planet of Apes, the third film in the 2010's Planet of the Apes reboot franchise, brings to a close (mild spoiler) what could be referred to as The Caesar Trilogy. This movie contains some cleaver re-appropriation of iconography from the original 1968 Planet of the Apes movie, but not that image your probably thinking of. It's a satisfying movie that, again mild spoiler, gives an explanation for why humans lose the ability to speak, something the original franchise never properly explained. Beyond these musings I have little else to add because while War for the Planet of the Apes is a rather good movie, most of what it has to say is 'on the page' so to speak and requires little unpacking. If you liked the other two films in the series I recommend that you see this one, I'd say its the best of the lot. Oh and Woody Harrelson's in this. ***1/2

Tetro (2009)

In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1946 fantasy romance film A Matter of Life and Death (released in the United States as Stairway to Heaven) the sequences in Heaven are done in black and white, while the sequences set on Earth are presented in vibrant Technicolor, a deliberate inversion of how one might expect a bichromial film to render those two realms. In Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro the present is shown in black and white, while flash backs and fantasy sequences appear in color that looks like its from a 1940's film stock. This is one of two major tributes or homages in this movie to the work of the writing and directing team known collectively as The Archers. The other tribute is showing around a full minute clip from "the doll sequence" in P & P's 1951 film The Tales of Hoffman, and then later recreating that scene with contemporary actors.

The influence of mid century British art film combines with that of later motion pictures, largely indie, that used black and white film for artistic, and sometimes budgetary reasons, while the plot of Tetro barrows heavily from the dysfunctional family and angst of expectations motifs associated with the works of Tennessee Williams. Tetro (Vincent Gallo) the films title character is the son of a famed American orchestra conductor who flees to Argentina to escape from the oppressive presence of his imposing and difficult father. After years living mostly below the radar, shacked up with a lovely doctor (Maribel Verdu) and doing lighting work for a local theater troop, Tetro is visited by his much younger half brother Bennie (Coppola find Alden Ehrenreich in his film debut), who takes advantage of work being done on the cruse ship on which he is a waiter to see the sibling he idolized as a young child. Tetro isn't super happy to see him, and it turns out both brothers have a lot to work through vis-a-vis each other and their father.

There are a lot of really beautiful novelistic elements to this film, which is also rather routinely a work of character study as high opera. The film went in a number of directions I was not expecting but they mostly work. One of the most fascinating things about this film is comparing it to earlier works by its famous director, and how different it is from them, while at the same time still very much at peace in his criterion. Tetro would certainly seem dull going to many, and unexpectedly has a fair amount of nudity in it, something which historically Coppola hadn't gone that much in for. Still if you tend to enjoy filmmaking that is a little textually dense, you could be impressed, I was. ****

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ex Machina (2015)

Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan) plays Caleb Smith, both an every man and a tech genius, who is not so randomly selected at random as the winner of a weeks vacation with his world famous celebra-boss Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) at his isolated estate in what looks like maybe Canada or Alaska. It's not really a traditional vacation of course, Nathan has selected Caleb to test if the state of the art, top secret android he built passes the Turing test, a theoretical behavior standard meant to determine if propertied artificial intelligence is really genuinely capable of thought and consciousness, or is just imitating those quality's. Nathan's android is named Ava (Alicia Vikander with CGI trimmings), she's lovely and charming, but what is really going behind her human like face and in inside her cybernetic brain.

The story is really fairly conventional for sci-fi, we've seen it before in everything from The Bicentennial Man to West World, but its expertly and quite moodily handled here. I feel like I should have seem more of what was coming before I did, I too was distracted by the lovely magicians assistant, to borrow a metaphor from the film, and so interested in what was happing on screen that I never got around to projecting it forward to its likely ending. Special notice must go to Oscar Isaac's performance as Bateman, he is one of those phenomenal genius, business guru types, who is so well respected, rich, and all around successful that he has come to relate to lesser intellects with a detachment that echoes that of the artificial intellects he seeks to create. ***1/2