They'll Love Me When I'm Dead


2018 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The true story of the last film from Orson Welles. At least that's what it says on the poster up there.

You can tell this was directed by Morgan Neville, the same guy who did the Mister Rogers documentary from earlier this year. He's got a style.

I don't have much to say about this. Really, I just have three things to say.

1) I think we might get more posthumous Orson Welles movies. He has a chance to be the Tupac of film directors.

2) Orson Welles never sneezes. Somehow, I knew that had to be true even before I heard anybody mention Orson Welles and sneezing.

3) The story about how Welles became angry while staying at Bogdanovich's place whenever there were no Fudgsicles might be the best thing I've heard all year.

This is required viewing after you've seen The Other Side of the Wind.

Midnight Run


1988 action movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A bounty hunter is given the easy task (a "midnight run") of taking an accountant across the country, but it doesn't go as planned.

Robert De Niro operates on easy cool as this swaggering, streetwise weisenheimer. He's fun to watch, even when the movie tries to give him all this emotional depth that there might not be that much room for. Charles Grodin is a perfect foil as this timid but sneaky guy. You can never trust what's going on with that character, and you're never sure if you like him or not. The pair have great buddy rapport.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment of this kind of stopped there. The action was a little generic, and the score made me realize how much I hate saxophones and electric guitars from the 1980's. This was not one of Danny Elfman's finest moments.

Skyscraper


2018 movie with The Rock

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A one-legged guy has to save his family from a towering inferno.

I missed seeing this in the theater and felt like making it up to The Rock with a little Movies-a-Go-Go action. So here are my thoughts as I watched this movie that reminded me of a whole bunch of other movies while simultaneously making me wonder what I was doing with my life.

Just had a conversation with my son about The Rock after I told him what I was watching. He said, “Oh, so you’re excited? You like The Rock.” And I do, but I’m not sure if I like any of his movies that aren’t Fast and the Furious movies. He’s just never quite as ridiculous as I want him to be. Hopefully, this Die Hard rip-off will give me some ridiculous Rock action!

The Rock nearly died in the first 5 minutes of the movie, and all I can think about is how fast the elevators would have to be with the titular building.

This giant skyscraper has as many balls as Hitler. Rim shot!

We're five minutes into a Movies-a-Go-Go, and I've already mentioned Hitler. What is wrong with me?

“You OK?”
“Yeah, just some leg stuff.”
Leg stuff?

Without that leg, The Rock’s still got about twice as much leg as I’ve got.

It didn’t take me very long to use the word “titular” in this write-up, did it?

Was that butt slap improvised? I’m going to assume it was because it somehow makes the world seem like a better place.

Daddy’s got to go to work, kids. (This is a reference to the greatest scene in the history of cinema in case you don’t know.)

I just met The Rock’s friend here and spent about 2 minutes in a futuristic elevator with him, but I’m assuming he’s going to be working with the bad guys. He's sketchy.

Navel surgeon? She only operates on belly buttons? I didn’t know that was a thing. [Note: I'm aware that none of this makes sense to anybody who isn't watching the movie with me. I apologize if you've gotten this far.]

Oh, no. That weird-looking dude (kind of looks like John F. from They Might Be Giants) is obviously the bad guy. There are all kinds of skyscraper moles in this thing.

What is going on with these high-tech mirrors in the building's ball? This guy wanted to have the highest-elevated funhouse in the world?

This is totally going to end like Enter the Dragon or The Lady of Shanghai, isn’t it? A final battle in a funhouse?

He hasn’t touched a gun in ten years? So he hasn’t put suntan lotion on his biceps?

This character development on the boat is excruciating. Let’s see some punching and/or explosions!

If I had a nickel for every time I ate a weird candy and missed pandas because I was throwing up, I wouldn't have nearly enough to buy a bitchin' souvenir panda hat like The Rock's son is sporting.

I hope this panda hat survives the movie.

The Rock’s daughter is apparently a feminist.

Ben is doing too much talking here. It's like he thinks he's a Batman villain.

The Rock’s having a difficult time in a fight with this Ben fellow...this doesn’t bode well.

Ripping off The Rock’s leg is pretty low. At least it wasn't his good leg, I guess.

“Light a man’s house on fire, and you find out what he truly loves.” You can tell the burly villain guy’s been planning that one a long time.

I hope the pandas are going to be ok. I guess that's just as important as the panda hat being ok.

I just saw an Asian Allen Ginsberg fleeing the building.

I’m either confused about what’s going on or I’ve lost interest in what’s going on. It’s hard to tell with a movie like this.

Who do you think would win in a fight? The Rock’s severed leg or a normal human being?

I need to turn this up. I think The Rock just told his wife to meet him in a Cinnabon.

The weird-looking guy is as clueless as me, so I was wrong about him being a bad guy.

I wonder if there are other movies where The Rock has responded with “Whoa whoa whoa whoa!” after guns have been pointed at him. It’s happened twice in this one already.

I suppose if anybody ever pulls a gun on me, I'll just raise up my giant biceps and start saying, "Whoa whoa whoa whoa!" and see how it goes.

This mean lady doesn’t like when people talk about how smart they are, I guess.

The Rock’s climbing a big crane, and it seems like they might be ripping off King Kong now. This movie doesn’t have a lot of original ideas.

I can’t even do monkey bars when they’re 7 feet off the ground. I can’t imagine being this high up and depending on the strength of my fingers.

What did the building’s owner just hold up that the bad guy wants? It appeared to be an odd-shaped dildo, but I doubt that's right.

With the weight of a second leg, he probably wouldn’t have made that jump.

Note: I'm not sure how much difference there is in weight between a normal human leg and a fake leg. I imagine it would have to be about the same, right?

I might have been more excited during that big jump-from-the-crane sequence if I hadn’t already seen it in the preview.

Fire can only make a park in a skyscraper more fun, right? Lighten up, children!

Ok, so I was right about that weird-looking guy after all. He is bad news.

“If you can’t fix it with duct tape, then you aren’t using enough duct tape.” Tim Allen wrote this screenplay?

I could have watched The Rock pull shards of glass out of himself in front of that pretty backdrop for a little longer.

“Are you okay?” Umm...look around, Rock. Everything’s on fire! 

I guess there was no time for a “How the hell did you get here?”

If this little girl was really The Rock’s daughter, she would have headbutted these guys, taken their guns, and thrown them into the inferno below. The fact that she’s running around screaming “Daddy!” makes this pretty unbelievable.

I had to pause here because the generic action had become a little too intense. I'm getting some tea.

This is no time for TV, The Rock!

More duct tape?

“This is stupid.” Aww, come on, buddy. It’s not that bad!

Ok, after that whole sequence where he was trying to get a door open, I have to agree with him. This is stupid.

“Got any duct tape?” This really has been a movie more about duct tape than a skyscraper.

And here’s that funhouse sequence that we all knew was coming.

If the line “My ball’s on fire!” isn’t in here somewhere, I’m going to be really disappointed.

Uh oh. This is setting things up for a cat fight!

A cat fight with biting! That was pretty hot.

Ummmm…I can understand how a bunch of mirrors can trick you into thinking somebody is not where you think they are. But can they trick you into thinking you’re hearing a sound from somewhere else?

If anybody actually read this before seeing the movie, would any of this even be considered spoiler material? I mean, anybody who has seen a movie is likely going to be able to figure out where everything ends up in this one, right?

A sprinkler system? I was kind of hoping the fire would be put out with those pandas.

I’m starting to wonder if this building’s even got pandas! Give me a CGI panda or two, Skyscraper!

Speaking of pandas, what do you think happened to the son’s ugly panda hat? It seemed like the sort of thing that could be fireproof.

Yeah, laugh it up, lady. You have no idea if your husband and daughter are even alive.

I’m really hoping they put the building back together using nothing more than duct tape.

That's it. I really lost steam with this one. 

The Other Side of the Wind


2018-ish posthumous movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A director shows off his latest movie at his birthday party as he tries to get financing to finish it.

It's 2018, and I'm getting ready to write about a new Orson Welles movie that was released on Netflix. Let that sink in.

In this, Welles asks what all cinephiles have been thinking for years: "Is the camera merely a phallus?" His answer is probably that it isn't, the question more a non sequitur than anything that's actually worth probing. I didn't have a firm grasp on what Welles was trying to do here. Is it autobiographical, an honest look at a himself as an artist and a human being? Is it a parody, some curmudgeonly shade throwing at avant-garde film-making from the 60's and 70's? Is it experimental comedy, a comical nightmare, existential slapstick?

The documentary also released on Netflix helps out somewhat although thankfully allows a lot of the mystery to remain mysterious. But I'll write about that separately.

What is clear from a first watch of The Other Side of the Wind is that Welles still had a lot of juice left in his bulbous tank. This is freeform faux-documentary making, spliced and diced and glued together in a giant slop that might be frustrating to people looking for a narrative or even a character study but will be rewarding for those able to allow themselves to be absorbed into its rhythms. A choppy and fragmented mosaic, this just begs to be watched multiple times to see if there are pieces that are supposed to be connected. It leaves questions, ones that I'm sure Welles wouldn't even be able to answer. But even if you don't understand why there are little people or why the mannequins are being shot up (is that a spoiler?) or what it means when the lights go out, there's a jazzy buoyancy to this whole thing that keeps this thrilling even when it starts to feel a little redundant.

I'm not sure if Welles is using different cameras because he was forced to as he filmed this thing over several years or if it was all part of the plan, but it gave the birthday party scenes a unique look. The real visual splendor is in the film-within-the-film which was titled The Other Side of the Wind. I was blown away by some of the images in that, and that's not just because Oja Kodar was naked almost the entire time. Welles may have been poking fun at European filmmakers with the film-within-a-film, but he really showed off a great eye for pretentious and likely meaningless imagery.

The scene that really blew me--and apparently a lot of other people--completely away is a sex scene in the film-within-a-film. Rhythmic sounds of railroad tones, windshield wipers, chimes, passing cars, and jewelry blend with all these fantastic colors and lovely fake-movie rain to make you believe you're seeing things you're supposed to be hearing and hearing things you're supposed to be seeing. It's one of the most gorgeous things I've seen in a movie in a long, long time.

I could talk about the performances (John Huston is especially good, bringing this gravitas to a Hemingway-esque figure), but they don't matter as much as the editing. The documentary has Welles talking about divine accidents and how he wanted to approach this film as a director "fishing" for those accidents. I can't imagine what work went into this (I believe by Bogdanovich) to piece loads of footage into something semi-coherent, but this works. Huston gets progressively drunker, the friction between characters gets more frictiony, and the nightmare deepens as this birthday party continues. By the end, we wrap back around to meet the beginning again, a snake eating its own ass, and we're left to try to put all the pieces together.

This thing's got layers, man. It's a movie about making movies, of course, and that leads to enough meta shenanigans for most people. It's hard to not think it's at least partly autobiographical, but there's another layer where Welles knows that people know it's autobiographical and is likely playing around with people, messing with the mystique, goofing with the gossip. Whatever screenplay Welles stumbled into the production with was ever-evolving, shaped by changes in Welles' actual relationships during the period of time during which this was filmed. There are suggested betrayals, fractured mentorships, incomprehensible midgetry, unspoken jealousies, laughable pretenses, and derided romances. It morphs into a story about a director trying to finance his independent productions because Welles had trouble financing his productions and then had trouble financing this production which is likely what he knew would happen all the time.

This makes me want to revisit F for Fake. And that makes me want to start wearing a cape.

I was so pleased to see Angelo Rossitto. He has a little cowboy friend, too.

Anyway, I wasn't planning on writing very much. This is more for Josh so that he has a place to put his thoughts.

Mid90s


2018 movie about skateboarding

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Not much of one actually. A troubled kid meets some older skateboarding kids and almost kills himself a few times.

I'm going to have a problem if Lucas Hedges is going to be in every other movie. He's in this, and he was in two movies that were previewed before this movie. I just checked, and these are his only 2018 movies, so I guess I can cool down a little.

I didn't think I was liking this nearly-plotless first feature from Jonah Hill. It's less a story than a series of vignettes, but the parts add up to a whole that creates some likable characters and even more likable relationships. I ended up liking the characters, both the parts of them that were lovable and their flaws. There are some tense moments, some funny moments, and some moments that manage to be funny and tense at the same time, and by the end, you appreciate the series of vignettes for how well they create these characters and this particular time in these characters' lives.

Sunny Suljic is actually in just as many 2018 films as Hedges. He's good here, especially since of how much he's asked to do here. The wrong kid here, and this might have been Jonah Hill's final movie. The quartet of skateboarding pals are all newcomers, having only five movies counting Mid90s on their combined filmographies, but there's something very natural and likable about them. They've got the skateboarding chops, likely why they were hired, but they also show off a great rapport. It felt like Hill had forced them to hang out a whole bunch and become actual friends for several months before shooting anything. They're refreshing performances.

Hill shows promise as both a writer and director, and it's especially impressive how he doesn't fall into any melodramatic traps. There were moments when he could have leaned on tragedy, and while that might have been easier, he was more drawn to the effects of friendship.

Filled with old-school hip-hop and 90's-era alternative (Hello, Morrissey!) and some dope skateboarding sequences, this will hit the sweet spots of a certain chunk of the population. I might be in that chunk even though I could never even stand on a skateboard.

Horse movies and skateboard movies abound this year. Of those, this would make a nice companion to the documentary Minding the Gap.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?


2018 movie based on a true story

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A once-successful-but-now-struggling author finds a new career in writing fraudulent letters from famous people.

It's quite possible that this is my favorite Melissa McCarthy movie, but I'm not really in any shape to put a lot of thought into that. McCarthy's good here as this miserable human being wallowing in her own filth. Lee Israel's got the right mix of misanthropy and bite to make her appealing to a misanthropic biter like me. Israel, I imagine, wouldn't be likable to most people, but McCarthy does enough to let the humanity bleed through. There's pathos in this often-funny story of fraudulent epistles, best scene in quiet scenes with a possible friend or a cat or a filthy apartment.

Richard E. Grant is really great as Israel's gay friend, and he gets one scene to try to win himself a best supporting actor award.

If you've got a typewriter fetish, this might be the movie for you. I could have used a few more typewriting scenes actually. The cat is also a great animal actor. This movie might have some narrative redundancy and suffer from some of the issues that your typical biopic might, but it's a film that is very easy to watch.

Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things about Me?


1971 dark comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: It's a day in the life of Georgie Soloway, a rich and successful songwriter who is not successful in love. 

You know what I needed in this movie? I needed a scene that explains how Georgie Soloway got his surname like in that Han Solo movie. Of course, it might be an explanation that's as boring as it being the last name of his father. Soloway. That's as obvious a name as I would have given a character in some of the crap I wrote in high school.

I was distracted during the early parts of this movie while trying to think of movie titles that were longer. I know Borat has a longer subtitle that nobody would ever bother saying, and that Ray Dennis Steckler Incredibly Strange Creatures movie has a really long title. And then there's Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. That has to be the longest title for a movie I've personally seen. 

I've got nothing better to do with my life and decided to research it. Typing that out has made me almost unbearably sad, by the way. Turns out that the de Sade movie has the second longest title. Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Hellbound, Flesh-Eating Subhumanoid Zombified Living Dead, Part 2: In Shocking 2-D is the movie with the longest title. This movie gets bonus points for both having a long title and ending in a question mark though.

For a song about a musician, you might expect some music. There is a bit, but it's not Dustin Hoffman who gets most of the big moments. He dicks around at a guitar and a piano in brief scenes and mumbles his way through some rudimentary songs, and there's a really great moment on a plane where he and Barbara Harris sing a "Ricky Ticky Song." Children's poet and raunchy songwriter Shel Silverstein wrote that and a few of the other songs in that movie, and it was a lot of fun seeing him perform one of those songs. Man, that guy had a lot of energy, just the type of performer who seemed like he could chew your head off at any moment. There's also a steel drum infused "Jump Now" song in a dream sequence that was a real knock-out. And Soloway's psychologist, played by a daffy Jack Warden, gets a surprising musical number.

That shocking psychologist musical number is just one of many playful moments in this. The movie opens with a suicide, a long fall from a penthouse where Hoffman, aided by some truly magical early 70's special effects, dances through the air and the opening credits. The irreverence sets you up for a frolicsome but also sneakily dense and nearly profound look at lost time, self-sabotage, and ennui. The story takes place in a single day of Soloway's insomniac life, but it blends into flashbacks and dream sequences effortlessly. It constantly surprises, even for people who have seen similarly playful movies in the last 50 years.

There are times when things get a little too silly--hello, Santa!--but this has a lot of great moments. Dom DeLuise plays an accountant in one nice scene where his character has to be a friend to Soloway. There are a couple tender moments between Hoffman's character and his father played by David Burns who died the year this movie was released. And Barbara Harris is just fantastic in every scene she's in, especially an audition scene. The way Hoffman studies her in those scenes is very likely acting, since that's what Dustin Hoffman does, but there's part of me that wonders if he was just as blown away as I was watching her.

The script is sharp and smart, and I'd like to see this again sometime to put some pieces of it together more. Hoffman's in, as I recall, every single scene in this movie, and he's really good as this Dylanesque figure. So much of what he does just seems like he's doing his Dustin Hoffman thing, but he's so gifted at finding all this space with his characters that other actors might not find, all these little gestures and expressions.

As expected, this movie ends in a completely unexpected way. 

Let's Scare Jessica to Death


1971 psychological horror

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Jessica, fresh from a mental institution, moves to a big house on an island with her husband and a friend with cool sideburns. A female drifter is already living there, however. Jessica either loses her mind or there are vampires.

With a dumb title, a shockingly silly poster, and the tagline "Something is after Jessica. Something very cold, very wet. . .and very dead," there's all sorts of misleading going on with this one. It's a slow-burn psychological thriller, and if scares are your thing, this might let you down. If a super-creepy vibe is what you're after, this will hit the spot.

This is really a more nuanced mentally-ill character study than it is a horror movie although there are some nearly-horrifying moments. I don't want to say much about any of those specific moments for two reasons. First, watching this one without spoilers is likely a more enjoyable experience. And second, I'm really feeling pretty lazy and don't want to write more than I have to.

Jessica is played by Zohra Lampert, and she's really good with this wild-eyed fragility.

A creepy location, creepy extras, these creepy disembodied voices, and a creepy score by somebody named Orville Stoeber contribute to make up for this terrible title. This was directed by John D. Hancock. I don't know him, but I want to see the his first movie, the short film that preceded this, just because it's called "Sticky My Fingers. . .Fleet My Feet." I like film titles with ellipses.

Oh, my God! Hancock directed Prancer!

Minnie and Moskowitz



1971 romance

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A parking garage worker and a lady who work in a museum hit it off. Sort of.

The titular couple aren't exactly made for each other, but who is? I mean, as long as they both enjoy hot dogs, things should all work out.

Minnie was looking for a Bogart, but Seymour Moskowitz's mustache is irresistible.

This reminded me of a noisier Aki Kaurismaki movie, and there are a few tender moments that I really connected with.

The Last Picture Show


1971 coming-of-age drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Teens in a tiny, tired Texas town pass time.

Perhaps I was too young at 20-something to appreciate this when I saw it mumble-mumble years ago. Not enough life had passed since I was young and aimless to when I was slightly older and aimless.

It opens with a tumbleweed, an apparently non-functioning stoplight, dilapidated buildings that can only belong in a world of black and white, and this thick wind that is somehow visible, and these characters are lucky if they're inhabiting a ghost town and probably a little less lucky if they're in some sort of dusty purgatory. Old people are feisty about their high school football, teenagers are perpetually horny and not interested at all in the poetry of John Keats, and we're back to a time when America was great and gym teachers could call their students pissants, accuse them of running like a goddamned goose, or give words of wisdom like, "If you all didn't jack off so much, you'd be in shape." A truck struggles to life, and Hank Williams haunts the air with his voice.

The adults are clinging to memories; the kids are creating memories that they will be the only things they can cling to in thirty years. The adults pine for lost times and loves; the kids are reaching for a something they don't even understand because they don't seem to have any role models who have shown it to them. Just watch that nearly heartbreaking silver dollar story of Ben Johnson's Sam the Lion, that zoom in and then out as he shares it. It's almost a warning to the kid, isn't it? Like, you'd better watch it or all you're going to have when you're my age are a handful of grubby stories.

Most of this movie is made up of snippets of memories. A collective urging Billy Boy on as he prematurely ejaculates over portly Jimmie Sue, a bra hung on a rearview mirror, two dogs going at it outside the window of your classroom while your teacher prattles on about Keats or whatever the hell he's talking about, another dog chasing down your car, a hand against a garter belt and ensuing blue balls, diving board stripping, greasy burgers, a nap in a sombrero, your shadows on a white coffin. Snippets of moments.

Man, Jeff Bridges really hasn't changed all that much. He almost grumbled in his youth, didn't he? A young Randy Quaid is also in this. His "I did it last Easter" in reference to that aforementioned diving board is positively nightmare enducing. And look at Cybill Shephard, speaking of diving boards! The way she is lit in this movie makes her look almost otherworldly, and it's obvious this purgatory isn't holding her.

This is gritty in a glitzy Hollywood way, and it manages to be entirely realistic melodrama with the exception of a moment when a kid doesn't want to sleep with a virginal Cybill Shephard.

Anyway, I'm older than I was when I first saw this. And I'm older than I was when I first started writing this. And my window of opportunity for showing off my goods on a diving board is likely closed. 

Carnal Knowledge


1971 sex drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A pair of friends fail to grow as sexual beings.

Whenever Jack Nicholson had to be naked in this movie--and there are frequent chances for his character to shower for whatever reason--he told the crew, "Here comes Big Steve!"

Neither of these characters wind up developing enough to make a marriage work, but this movie is a perfect marriage of great writing and great acting. The dialogue is so clever here, and it's clever in a way where the characters aren't even aware how clever it is. In fact, most of the time, these characters aren't even in on the joke as there are great moments of dramatic irony.

Every actor in this gets a chance to shine, even Carol Kane who doesn't get a single line. Nicholson's at his most ornery and fiery, playing this chauvinist who is probably easier to despise than feel sorry for. This character fits him so well that you might think he's playing some version of himself. He gets to scream the word "cunt" and talk about "tits" a lot, but there are so many layers with this character who on the surface is nothing but surface that it makes his journey, or really a lack of journey, such a rewarding experience.

Big goofy Art Garfunkel is great at pretending his character has dimensions, but it's all a deception. You think you've seen everything you need to see with Garfunkel, and then all of a sudden, the dude's got a mustache and you're blown away. A mustachioed Garfunkel becomes your solitary ice-skating beauty twirling on the ice. He's so sneakily unlikable, both a foil for Nicholson's character and a despicable male at the same time. And just watch him down that drink.

Candice Bergen is an approachable beauty. She's involved in a lovely opening shot, an extended shot where she emerges from the darkness and apparently a Volkswagon and then becomes the victim of Garfunkel's awkwardness. Her best moment is this perfect look she gives nobody in particular when Garfunkel stupidly asks, "What do I do with my other hand?" She's great at playing this character who is between rock-hard Nicholson and Garfunkel and a hard place, and I kind of like how she just disappears from the movie, a character who knows this really isn't her story.

Ann-Magret has the most arousing tan lines I've seen in a while. Her character is a wounded and beautiful animal, and you have to appreciate her as an actress here because she's able to keep up with whatever Nicholson is doing. She and Jack get a sex scene, and it's something else, not because of what you see (which is nothing) but because of their sounds as the camera tracks through the apartment on a hunt for the couple. Post-coital, Nicholson showers, and Ann-Magret shows off her tan lines, and it's like a randy Edward Hopper painting.

I don't know if Mike Nichols is thought of as a visual filmmaker, but this is shot really well. A lot of the time, the characters are half-submerged in these shadows, and there are times, like in that opening extended shot, where the camera moves exquisitely. I also loved this transition with a white screen and then that shot of the ice skater. So perfect, like a dream these two characters can't shake themselves awake from no matter how destructive it is.

This isn't the happiest of movies, but there's definitely some comedic moments. They come as naturally as the performances. You have to love Nicholson's narrated "ball busters" slide show, and his Porky impression that ends it.

Which song is used more in films, by the way--"Beyond the Sea" or "Moonlight Serenade"? You'd know the latter if you heard it.

Great tagline for this one: The United States Supreme Court Has Ruled That "Carnal Knowledge" Is Not Obscene. See It Now! All the best movies from 1971 are nearly obscene, it seems.

First Man


2018 moon movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Neil Armstrong goes to the moon.

Flag lovers get more than a few money shots as the patriotism is surprisingly laid on pretty thickly here. I say surprisingly because there was the hubbub way before the film's release that had the MAGA crowd upset because there wasn't a shot of that flag on the moon, I'm guessing because they wanted to use it as masturbation fodder. America-loving tweeters were ready to burn their copies of La La Land because they'd heard the flag was replaced with all this hippie globalist garbage about an international effort to explore beyond Earth's atmosphere. Indeed, the influence of Armstrong's soundless tap dance on moon dust (because this is a Damien Chazelle movie) is shown in a montage of international broadcasts and interview snippets with people in various places around the world. As a proud libtard, I thought that was a nice touch, and I also liked more brief pandering to the hippie audience with a portrayal of Gil Scott-Heron performing "Whitey on the Moon" and some shots of protesters that might tick off patriots as much as watching the national anthem before an NFL game. Now that I think about it, maybe there is enough here to piss off Americans who really love America. I mean, we didn't actually see a flag planted, did we?

I'll tell you what annoyed me, however. I couldn't care less about the planting of that flag. I'm more troubled that Chazelle didn't show Buzz Aldrin--arguably a more interesting character than Neil Armstrong, by the way, although Second Man probably won't be made any time soon--pooping on the moon. That was what got me into that theater seat. Armstrong might have been the first man to step onto the surface of the moon, but Aldrin, as you might not know but should, was the first man to defecate on the moon. But no, this movie is more concerned showing Armstrong next to a crater with this sentimental gesture to jerk a few tears from the audience than showing what Buzz Aldrin was probably doing at the same time--taking the first lunar dump.

Maybe it'll be a deleted scene on the dvd release? Buzz Aldrin fans can only hope.

Chazelle bounces back and forth between two distinct storylines with the same protagonist. There's the trials and tribulations of Armstrong and his astronaut buddies and their efforts to finally beat the Russians at something. And there's the domestic troubles in the Armstrong household as Neil makes a half-assed attempt to balance work and being a husband and father. I do like that this includes the struggles of being an astronaut's wife as much as the struggles of being an astronaut, but I didn't love how the scenes were filmed. With the space and rocket stuff, you've got a lot of claustrophobic moments and perspective shots where you are forced to look at nothing at all or can't even be sure what you're looking at, and along with a lot of shaky cinematography, you're really placed in Armstrong's astronaut boots. Chazelle shoots the domestic scenes similarly. A lot of the scenes in Armstrong's home look like home video footage shot by somebody who really needed a tripod. I'm sure this was the filmmaker's attempt to match the turbulence of space travel with the turbulence of Armstrong's domestic life, both which whichever-Ryan-this-is stoically works his way through. I just thought it was a little too much and didn't care for the style.

I thought this Ryan (Gosling, I think) and Claire Foy as his wife were both really good in those scenes though. Foy does a lot with her giant eyes to express things that we don't need the character to even say. Gosling gets to cry a couple of times and be stoic most of the time, just like how America likes its astronautic heroes. The other astronaut actors, including Jason Clarke because he has to be in every movie, are fine at acting like tough astronauts, like frightened astronauts, and like astronauts on fire.

Of course, most people watching this movie, unless they're just there to see a flag being planted on the moon, are interested in that space and rocket stuff. It's all pretty great, mostly in how it creates that claustrophobic chaos of space travel. I knew how every single one of these scenes with Armstrong and others in rockets ended, but the cinematography and editing of these sequences managed to have me on the edge of my seat anyway. For the sheer awe-inducing beauty of space travel, I'd still turn to For All Mankind and its real footage, but there were a lot of shots in this that looked like they came straight from that documentary.

It's probably in the quieter moments when this really works. There's music in this movie, but most of the time, I kind of wish the action unfolded sans any score at all. And that's even with the cool use of the theremin. I did really enjoy a musical moment during the trio's trip to the moon after Armstrong passes Aldrin a cassette. But those quiet moments--a first shot of the moon's surface when the Eagle's door is open after it (spoiler alert) lands, a bird flying past the window of a rocket pre-launch, a shot of an astronaut obviously contemplative even though you can't see his face, those footprints, the final shot of the Armstrong couple--are probably more memorable than the more bombastic highlights of Armstrong's trek.

Poor Michael Collins, by the way. The dude's barely mentioned by name in this movie.

Idaho Transfer


1973 science fiction movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Kids are whisked 56 years into the future in an attempt to save humanity from being wiped out by some unnamed catastrophic event.

The second Fonda-directed movie I've seen in the past week, Idaho Transfer is an odd little sci-fi movie. I hesitate to call it a gem because its limitations really get in the way. Fonda doesn't seem all that interested in telling a story that makes much sense, and for the second movie in a row, I had to seek some help afterward in order to even find out what happened. The actors and actresses are mostly non-professionals, and it shows. The movie does have a Carradine in it though. The acting is not good, lines seemingly read with these stilted deliveries, but in a way, it adds to the weird vibe of the whole thing. But I'll tell you what--listening to the two sisters having conversations about all this time-travel stuff and scientific mumbo-jumbo nearly caused me to bail, especially when there were voiceovers over scenes of their driving.

The complete lack of budget was not one of the major problems. Fonda seems to be working with a budget of about 150 dollars, but that also adds to that aforementioned weird vibe. And I actually liked the lone special effect used in this movie--a kind of shaky slow fade used during the "transferring." The setting is mostly this post-apocalyptic desert strewn with lava rocks, and where this really succeeds as a science fiction movie is in Fonda taking advantage of the otherworldly beauty of Craters of the Moon National Park. A large percentage of the movie is shots of characters maneuvering through this landscape, making it like a cross between Gerry and Primer. There are a few gorgeous shots, including one that includes this inexplicable rainbow.

If Fonda and writer Thomas Matthiesen (a guy who has nothing else on his filmography) didn't really succeed in telling a Twilight Zone type of story, you'd want the movie to be strong thematically. It almost gets there, but it's a little thematically muddled unfortunately.

Bruce Langhorn (or Bruce Langehorne as he's credited here) did the score for this one, but there's a lot more synth than in The Hired Hand. It's not bad though.

Hold the Dark


2018 mysterious wolf movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: After wolves allegedly drag off yet another kid somewhere in Alaska, a guy who wrote a book about wolves is summoned to find the animal. Then a bunch of other things happen in sequential order.

Hold the Dark? This movie should have been called Keep the Viewer in the Dark. Wakka wakka!

I don't mind a little or even a lot of mystery in a movie narrative. But Saulnier seems to be working extra hard to really keep me from understanding what was going on here. I really don't think it's laziness on my part this time. I mean, I have trouble understanding some of the Marvel movies, but that's on me because I get bored early and kind of stop paying attention. That didn't happen here. I got bored with this, but I was actively paying attention.

The plot makes very little sense. It's a series of things that happen in sequential order, but looking at anything closely, it's hard to pinpoint exactly why any of it happened. Saulnier, I'm guessing, is being purposely nebulous, probably because it's artsier that way, but it really kept every single character in this thing at a distance. I've got so many questions about why this character did this or why that character went there or what the hell this mask business was all about or where the hell did that come from, but there was very little in this movie that makes me want to put any thought into any of that.

I'm sure there's some connection being made to humanity and the primitive. It's possible that it's all interesting, but when one character tells another that he needs to "let the wolf out a little" or something, I just rolled my eyes. I'm pretty sure these are themes that were already covered in Teen Wolf Too.

Why does everybody whisper in Alaska? Do they not want the dark to be able to hear them? Jennifer Jason Leigh actually would have been perfect in this movie because she's got that whispery acting down. Saulnier must have told his entire cast to pretend they were Jennifer Jason Leigh.

There are some nifty shots of wolves and the Alaskan wilderness. More emphasis on the importance of place might have helped this out a little, but like the plot, that wasn't fully realized. There's shocking bits of violence in this with shocking bits of people being shot off or people being shockingly stabbed a little bit or getting shocking arrows in their shocking bits. Saulnier isn't shy with the bleeding if that's your bag.

Private Life


2018 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A couple in their forties try various ways to get themselves a kid. A step-niece might be the answer!

Here's what is most amazing about this movie--as good as Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are in this, neophyte Kayli Carter in her first movie comes in and more than holds her own. She really gets beneath the skin of her character and really nails both the confusion and excitement of the character in her particular situation. She's playful and she's scared and she's empathetic and she's sad in just the right amounts.

Hahn and Giamatti really are good. The latter even gets a shot at some physical comedy, and he nails it, most obviously in an early scene that involves some pornographic material. Hahn's terrific, doing all sorts of subtle things with her face and body language to define this character. Really, the pair do a great job creating a single character--a married couple who are part of the same team but not really together. I'm not sure how much rehearsal went into working on their body language in the scenes they're in together, but they paint this picture of this couple who probably aren't as hopeful as they want to believe they are and do a terrible job of hiding their frustration.

Oh, and you know who else can really act? Molly Shannon! A spin-off movie where we get to explore that character a little more wouldn't be a terrible idea.

This is one of Netflix's better film offerings. Tamara Jenkins, whose only other two films are Slums of Beverly Hills and The Savages for some reason, wrote and directed this, and like those other two movies, she's created these characters in difficult situations. There's some humor because there has to be. One needs humor in order to wade through the absurdity. There are also all these clever little touches. So many shots look ironically pre- or post-coital.

And that ending! It reminded me of the ending of another 2018 movie, but I wouldn't want to mention which one for fear of spoiling this movie or that one. I like endings that are bound to piss off a large percentage of the viewing population, and this one has the potential to do that.

This reminds me of good Woody Allen, and if that's the sort of drama with light comedic touches that appeals to you or if you like Jenkins other two movies (seriously--only two?), then you should check this out.