Sunday, June 13, 2021

SHAZAM! (2019) Directed by David F. Sandberg


 I know it seemed impossible but this a very good DC superhero movie. Wonder Woman was great but faltered towards the end by going for spectacle over what could have been a perfect introduction to that character. SHAZAM! though lighter and filled with clichés of its own manages to own those clichés and give us something entertaining with good performances pulled out of what could have been bland characters. I do have questions as to what age this film is aimed at... it's funny and seems like an ideal children's film but the violence and killing in it, though not bloody is too intense for kids. I mean, a guy shows his brother out the windows of a high rise while a demon bites the head off someone else... not family friendly exactly.  So let's say teenagers were demographic. 

It's a rare comic book film where the characters motivations, including the villains, are so clear. It knows not to pull at the heartstrings too hard and brings the source material into today's world and what I would have to describe as a side-car film in the DC hero universe. It's too light and fun to fit into the other films and knows to not take itself so seriously, which is why it works. The plot points seemed earned, even the battle at the end is tapped down to a certain extent and comes from the events in the story and doesn't feel like a marketing excuse for a 100 million CGI battle. The movie gets into the action right away and doesn't waste time with a prolonged prologue. There is an end credits scene, of course, but for once I feel like... Yeah, I might go see that next one

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Midnight Sky (2020) Directed by George Clooney


Maybe it's just the result of the pandemic the world has been living through and how it has effected me, but I found this to be a little gem of a film. I like the slow pace some critics held against it and some of the plot elements are tropes but I thought they were well integrated and well done. 

After what appears to be nuclear Holocaust that is hinted started from a mistake, one man (Clooney) who is dying of an unnamed illness decided to be left behind at an Arctic station while everyone else is evacuated, knowing he will die there alone. While there he discovers he is not alone and a little girl had hidden herself away and he must deal with her. There seems to be literally no one on earth who can come and get her and her fate is as sealed as his in the long run. At the same time, a ship is returning back to earth from a  habitable moon the Clooney's character discovered as almost a second chance for earth. They do not know what happened but as they get closer to home with no contact, they are faced with a mystery of what could be going on. they get in touch with Clooney and he tells them to turn back and has calculated a route for them to take so they can start again on the moon. 

Since this is new and I really don't won't give away some of the plot turns, I won't say more. It's true at least of two of them are a little to coincidental for me but it still works. It's not hard sci-fi but it has the look and feel. It benefits greatly by not trying to explain too much. The holocaust, his sickness and the tech that takes them to another planet are all taken as fact without having needless exposition. I will say setting it in 2049 is a bad move, too soon and usually a bad idea to "date" a sci-fi film. Nice performances, nice effects and only what I would describe as a "soft" feel to the whole thing. A welcome change from movies that feel they need to overstimulate the viewer from start to finish giving no time to breathe. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada


500 years after all the dragons have been turned to stone by the evil Drunns who were in in turn banished by the a crystal welded bu the last of the dragons, humanity has turned against themselves and separated into tribes. One of the leaders wants to unite all 5 tribes but he is betrayed and the Drunns come back when the crystal is shattered and dived amounts the rides. The Drunns over the following years turn most of the population into stone but the daughter of the would be unifying leader goes on a quest to find the last dragon, bring the crystal pieces together and save their world. 

While not a life changing event, this is a pretty fun, beautifully animated and hits many of the right notes. there are cute animal sidekicks and other typical Disney tropes but if you are looking for something light you can do a lot worse than seeing this. The voice of the dragon was the only thing that didn't work for me and the modern day references and speaking styles were sort of out of place but there was some nice action that kept me from leaving the story being told. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941) directed by Dave Fleisher

 


Fleisher Studios was Walt Disney's biggest competition at the start of the early cartoon era. In the end, the two became friends but they were fierce rivals for years. In may ways, the Fleishers out Disney'd Disney with animation and new techniques. The had parallax shots and filmed cels over 3D models to get depth into the cartoons. They invented Popeye and Betty Boop and were in many ways a more adult focused company. 

While many people remember Gulliver's' Travels as their full length feature animation, they did do another... Mr. Bug Goes to Town. Animation-wise its a tour deforce of smoothly moving characters and wonderful background pantings. It's close to 2 hours long... and eternity for even live action films of the time. 

The story is of a grasshopper returning to his little home (bug) town which has been under siege by the humans who walk through it destroying everything and setting things on fire with their cigarettes and cigars. There is a complicated plot involving the grasshopper's girl friend being pursued by the local rich bug who lives on higher and more secure ground. In the end, none of them is safe as the lot they are on is about to be used for a skyscraper. The grasshopper eventually leads the town, after lots of pitfalls and misunderstandings, to a new garden on the top floor of the building where they can be in harmony with the human couple who live there. 

In most ways the film is delightful... despite the racism that is sort of inevitable in a film, particularly animated ones, of this period. It's not close to worst ever seen, but it till does make one's teeth grind when you see it. Visually beautiful with endearing characters, I would say it's a bit too long and complicated, The Fleishers were ahead of Disney in many ways but story was a weak point and while never dull, it could move along a lot faster. 

(Also called Hoppity goes to Town)

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Visible: Out on Television (2020) directed by Ryan White


 On Apple TV +

Spread over 5 episodes, this documentary details the presence and presentation of LBGT+ people from the beginning of TV to present. It is filled with interviews not just of actors, writers and producers but has some interesting political figure thrown in as well. The result is entertaining and informative and if you know someone who doesn't understand why representation in media is important for minority groups, particularly maligned groups, this might actually bring them around. 

The stories are deeply personal and the series skips over superficial career details and heads right for the meat of the theme of each episode bringing to light the story of LGBT+ people as they were seen in peoples living rooms across the decades, ties them to other groups and doesn't sugar coat the steps backwards it takes before you can go forward again in media representation. It ties political and news of the day with how gay people were forcing themselves in front of cameras to save their own lives at times.

There is some overlap between the segments but it doesn't get repetitive so that even someone like me, who lived through 90% of the time covered, can learn or be reminded of things forgotten in the still uphill battle for sexual minorities to be seen as real people. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Soul (2020) directed by Peter Docter


Pixar is in top form with this film. Yes the animation is fantastic as it is with all Pixar films but I honestly barely noticed it as the story and characters rightfully took all my attention from start to finish. 

A musician (Joe) dies unexpectedly by falling into a manhole on the day of his big break to join a legendary jazz artist in her band and dies. That is the start of the story. On his way to the great beyond, he refuses to go there and leaps into space only to find himself in a place where souls are before they are born. He is mistaken for someone else and is charged with helping a reticent (to say the least) pre-born to find its purpose so it can go to earth. Joe uses them to sneak back to earth but he ends up n a cat while the other (22) ends up in his body. The film then turns to them trying to get Joe to his gig on time and back to his his own body. 

One thing I loved about this film was the design of the characters. There is often a tendency to try for "realism" in modern animations and this goes the opposite direction and avoid all the uncanny valley pitfalls and distraction "realism" can burden an animated film with.  Some compare this to another Pixar film "Inside Out" but it's truly it's own thing and a very mature project with problems dealt with a way anyone can understand. 

I don't think it's my favourite movie even in Pixar's history but I really appreciated the risks it took by making something so thought provoking and adult in nature. I really does not seem to be aimed at kids at all, in very good way. The end is open to interpretation, we are not sure what direction Joe is heading and that makes the film point... it's not what he ends up doing, it's how he ends up doing it and why. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Poster Project: The Man Who Fell to Earth

 

 I went through the film frame by frame to find interesting images to work from. I wanted this to be clean and simple and not give anything of the movie away. The image I picked took a lot of retouching to look ½ decent between the grain of the film and the fact it was a screen grab but it works,  I think. I often wonder if there is a remake in the works for this based closer to the book but I think it would be a long hard climb to get over Bowie's interpretation which makes this film. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Man from Earth: Holocene (2017) directed by Richard Schenkman

 


This is the never asked for sequel to the 2007 film I reviewed a few years ago. Written by Emerson Bixby the son of the man who wrote the first film and who worked tirelessly to get that film produced when his father died. The film also had actors from Star Trek, (notably Michael Dorn who is really good, I wish he was in more things) and includes Vanessa Williams as the main character's new love interest. 

SPOILERS

The story is more complicated than the first film and it suffers from that in some ways. The immortal college professor is in another job and a group of his students put a series of dubious facts together and discover his secret, tell a character from the 1st film (William Katt) who wrote a book about that experience and lost his career as  result. John, the immortal who is also beginning to age and heal slower,  is about to leave and move on again when the students come to his house to delay him so the discredited professor can identify him with certainly. So they knock him out and tie him up, leaving him with the born again Christian of the group who decided he is not Jesus but the anti-christ, stabs him and then...  it sort of becomes a narrative mess. The other students arrive with his old friend and find blood everywhere and the student and John gone. They somehow get away with not calling the police. I guess the kid's mom never wondered where her son went or filed a missing persons claim The same goes for John's now ex girlfriend who lived there with him. She came home, finds blood and a chair covered in duct tape in the basement and never freaked out and called for an investigation? The worst part is the after titles sequence... back at the discredited professor's house the "FBI" comes in the form of one man who we never see and causes John of being an immortal serial killer... What? Is it Christian boy or the "other" immortal John mentioned forth first film or... ?

The adult actors are well played but the students are cardboard cutouts for the most part and needed more acting guidance to pull off their roles. The film seems more like a TV movie and was maybe a sort of pilot for a proposed series. The standoff between Christian boy and John is interesting in many ways but the result of that scene is just confusion all around. Apparently, John WAS Jesus in some sense who accidentally started a religion after a particularly good talk he had on a mount. He's been hiding ever since. This lacks the mystery and ambiguity that made the first movie work so well. Bixby, the son, does have a good handle on his father's characters but it would be impossible to get  job at any college without proper ID, a work history etc and the police would most likely find John and the missing kid in time. We live in a very different world these days and hiding from it in the present day United States is not really possible. 

There is a love of the subject that carries this film away from being just plain bad, it's not. It still held my attention but didn't affect me as the previous film did. I would have explained less, not more and spent more time on the plot... probably cutting the students out it completely and making more about the personal relationships John has left behind over the last few decades. If does deal with that here and there and those parts are the best parts to me. 

Would I see a third film or a TV show? Maybe. There is something good in here left over from the first film that still could be molded into something more than a made for TV followup. Please cast Michael Dorn for that one and I'm in. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Godzilla VS. Kong (2021) directed by Adam Wingard


I thought the first Legendary Godzilla movie had a ton of flaws like killing the one engaging character 20 minutes in and showing most of the monster fight scenes on TV screens instead of giving us clear shots of the action but it wasn't unwatchable and the effects and cinematography was pretty good. The second gave us even less characters to get involved with but did have a ton of posters, including an awesome King Ghidorah with a fight between him and Godzilla in Boston's (my home town) Fenway Park which was enough to keep my attention for a goofy movie about giant monsters. Godzilla VS Kong continues the trend of making the humans not just uninteresting but somehow makes them so dull you feel like that might be sapping your own personality out you since nature abhors a void. 

To try and find a positive... it's colourful. That's it. The monsters fight for no good reason they story isn't one and every element seems to have been pulled out of hat and just inserted randomly. It manages to make less sense than any of the early Toho monster movies and introduces conspiracy theories like the hollow earth and fluoride in tap water! WTF? The characters are so dumb and unappealing cardboard cutups that there is suspense, not way to care about is going on even if you could decipher a plot line form this mess. You can't even figure which characters are where on the earth. There is no sense of time as they seem to go form the USA the Hong Kong without having to book a flight, pack or get a hotel room in more seconds. There is no sense of scale either. The giant monsters could be any size, they have no real sense of weight or how huge they are. There are not consequences you would care about to anyone or anything in the entire film. It just happens and they mix dull over tropes with confusing and incredibly dumb but not fun elements.  then the put in Mechagodzilla for 10 minutes.

No one wins this battle of the titans. We all lose. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

American Swinger (2008) directed by Jon Har & Matthew Kaufman



 In the 1970s Larry Levenson decided to open a straight sex club in New York at the Continental Baths with had been a gay bathhouse that had hired the likes of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow at one point. Soon the place was called "Plato's Retreat" and it became infamous. 

The film is, rightly, mostly about Levenson and his obsession with being some sort of king of the sexual revolution. Have taking over the gay club he immediately forbid sex amount the male guests (women on women was perfectly fine, of course) as well as alcohol, drugs and prostitution. These restrictions proved hard to enforce and honestly they didn't seem to make make of an effort making the place a haven for drug use and prostitutes. His plan was to open Plato's Retreat all over the United States, which never happened and the original club was eventually plagued by tax fraud and the changing policy landscape which included the rise of AIDS in the 1980s. 

The documentary is well done, I learned a lot about this famous club. It also has a few clips from Levenson and his then wife being interviewed by Phil Donahue which did nothing if not reinforce what a shitty, mean spirited and exploitative show he had. The directors show the many ides of the sexual revolution but despite all the talk of freedom and acceptance of non tradition (heterosexual) lifestyles - I have to say it comes across pretty clearly that the high minded "sexual liberation" was certainly a thing for many of the club goers but there was an overarching feeling that this place was more than a little sleepy and exploitive as well. 

I found it interesting to see how AIDS affected the straight sex scene in the 80s as most times AIDS is mentioned, if not every time it's only about the gay community's experience with it. The people interviewed show how far their heads were in the sand about the danger and how easy it was for straight people to buy into that a disease could only effect gay people and not them. One woman highlights this and states she realized she was only still alive by sheer luck and not all her friends from the time were not so lucky. 


This is an interesting view of the sexual revolution that lets you decide what to think of the players in the Plato's Retreat saga.