Plot: A schizophrenic woman, who has recently left the institution, moves in with her best friend, an up-and-coming female impersonator.
This grew on me slowly. Initially, I was attracted to the performance of Hollis McLaren. It wasn't exactly subtle, and I'm not sure it was entirely realistic either, but she has this magnetic quality. Craig Russell, as female-impersonating Robin, took a little longer to grow on me, but I ended up really liking him, too. As he emerges as a cross-dressing force to be reckoned with, the performance gets showier and showier. Those bits were fine, but what I really loved about these characters was their friendship and the natural way that the movie developed that.
2019 black action comedy
Plot: A snowplow driver tries to figure out who is behind the death of his son, and things get violent.
There are multiple scenes where Liam Neeson's character, while on a quest to figure out what happened to his son, repeats the stupid name of some dude in this drug-dealing organization with this kind of irritated stupor.
Guy Who Thinks He's Going to Be Killed by Liam Neeson: His name's Limbo.
Other Guy about to Be Killed by Liam Neeson: You're looking for Santa.
Not knowing that this was actually a darkly comedic and unpredictably absurdist take on these Neeson 'Taken' movies, I thinking early that this probably should have been a comedy instead of being aware that it was actually a comedy. The stuffy literary allusions early convinced me that this was taking itself too seriously. It starts with an Oscar Wilde quote about people causing happiness either by their presence or their absence, and within ten minutes or so, Robert Frost, Lord of the Flies, and Psalms manage to work their way into the screenplay.
Soon, it becomes clear that this isn't just a movie with comedic touches. No, this is a movie that contains actual gags. Along with just enough style, some nice snowy landscape shots, and a cute George Fenton score, the humor keeps this entertaining and just different enough to remain interesting. That aforementioned unpredictability certainly helps as there are lots of moments when you have no idea this is going or why it got to where it's at.
Lots of fatherhood stuff in this, by the way. There's something deeper there, but I don't want to get into it right now.
Plot: A new director, who himself suffers from high anxiety, arrives at a mental institution where strange goings-on appear to be taking place.
The ratio of amusing moments to moments that just fall completely flat isn't good at all, and there's nothing close to hysterically funny in this comedy. At least there's nothing horribly dated in this with the exception of an early gay joke. The Hitchcock parodies are mostly on-the-nose. There are few verbal allusions, a Psycho shower scene that children probably could have put together, a too-obvious Vertigo climax that you know is coming once you see the first shot of the institution, and a Birds parody that almost works. I think the best gag might be a a plot complication that results from a phone call from a Mr. McGuffin.
The players are better than the material, especially Cloris Leachman as a malevolent nurse who makes fruit cup threats. Mel Brooks starred in this, and it might have been better with Gene Wilder even though Brooks' musical number is cute enough.
1977 Sinbad adventure tale
Plot: Sinbad wants to marry Jane Seymour, but he isn't able to do it until he breaks the witch's spell that turned her brother into a baboon. He ventures to an island to look for an old man who can help out.
We'll count this as a Peter Mayhew tribute since this was technically his first film. Star Wars came out before this third Harryhausen Sinbad movie, but Mayhew filmed his scenes as a stand-in for the Minoton a couple years prior. In case you don't know what the hell a Minoton is, it's a bronze minotaur. He doesn't do much even though he's in almost the entire movie. He rows a boat ad nauseam and provides a weapon for another character.
With this final chapter in the Sinbad movies, you come for the Ray Harryhausen effects and stay for. . .well, the Ray Harryhausen effects. The stop-motion creatures he brings to life in this one are a trio of alien-eyed demon guys who can't stop cackling, a mostly-agitated baboon that plays chess while scratching his butt, the Minoton and a guy who the Minoton impales, a giant bee, a gigantic deadly walrus, a horny troglodyte, and the saber-toothed tiger which I imagine is why the movie's title as a reference to a tiger eye. The horny troglodyte is upper-echelon Harryhausen, the kind of animated puppet that just feels alive and part of everything that is going on. This was Harryhausen's penultimate movie, and even though the movie itself isn't all that good, the stop-motion effects are among his best.
The "horny" description for the troglodyte has two meanings, by the way. He literally has a single horn, but his first appearance in the movie comes after he's very obviously watched Jane Seymour and Taryn Power skinny dipping. You don't even have to watch that closely to see brief buttocks flashes during that skinny dip, and I was surprised but not entirely disappointed in the amount of skin shown during a G-rated film. There's probably a little too much blood for a G-rated movie, too. And belly dancing.
The inciting incident of our story actually only happens because Sinbad is horny. This really is a movie about how far a man will go in order to have sex with Jane Seymour.
The acting in this pretty terrible from top to bottom. Patrick Wayne plays the titular sailor, and he does it with almost a complete lack of charisma. They must have hired him because of his sailing abilities. He's so bad in his initial scenes that I thought he was dubbed, and when he finally gets to display some action-hero sword play, his movements are slow and clumsy. He can't get that right either. I guess that troglodyte wasn't originally going to be animated, and then Harryhausen didn't like the look of the guy in make-up playing him and stop-animated one instead. He should have animated Sinbad, too. Jane Seymour is really overdoing things, but she's fetching and has a cute bellybutton.
The worst performer is probably Patrick Troughton, one of the doctors on Doctor Who. I haven't seen any of his episodes, and I'm sure he's a charming incarnation of that beloved character, but in this movie, he seems confused. It probably doesn't help that his character, proclaimed as some sort of mystic sage, is a bit of a dumbass.
This is poorly edited with all these reaction shots that are completely unnecessary, and the story kind of stumbles throughout and isn't paced all that well. But the effects are top notch and a lot of fun. Harryhausen completists definitely won't be disappointed.
1977 action movie
Plot: A Vietnam veteran seeks revenge after some people steal his silver dollar collection.
This is the kind of movie Donald Trump must have watched that brought him to the conclusion that we need a wall between the United States and Mexico. Trump would not have liked these characters, however, because he only likes heroes who aren't captured by the enemy. This will remind him a little too much of John McCain.
Rosco P. Coltrane makes an appearance as a villainous Texan, William Devane reminds us that he was one cool customer, and Tommy Lee Jones gets to be a badass. The latter is chilling in his limited screen time, managing to create this really complex character. When he answers another character's question with a calm "We're going to kill a bunch of people," it gave me chills! So did his smile. That smile, the violent climax showing that the rest of the movie really was a lengthy calm before a storm, and the shot of Devane sharpening a hook are all things I'm likely to remember about this movie.
This is one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite movies, not surprising since it really doesn't treat female characters very well. Although I'm sure he would reject that hypothesis.
This was tough to find. It doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere, and I couldn't get a copy that worked from my library. It's definitely worth finding, especially if you're into Vietnamsploitation, a genre that I might have just made up.
2017 Korean action movie
Plot: A female assassin kills a bunch of fellas.
After reading that the John Wick creators paid homage to this South Korean action flick with the third installment's sword-fight-on-motorcycles, I had to check this out. And that scene really is almost a carbon copy of the sword-fight-on-motorcycles in this movie. Just replace Kim Ok-bin with Keanu Reeves, and you've got the same scene.
That scene, like all the other action sequences in The Villainess, have an originality that makes this worth watching if you can handle all the blood and chaos and improbabilities. These characters' blood spurts more than in the Wick movies, and there are several instances when you wonder why somebody just doesn't shoot a certain character. However, as displays of action mayhem, this is right up there with anything. It all opens with a 7+ minute sequence that is mostly first-person where the titular character kills at a Weng Weng rate. If you've seen that Hardcore Henry movie, this opening sequence, as well as a few other action scenes that shift from first-person to third-person with ingenious camera dexterity, will remind you a lot of that. And it will make you wonder if you're watching somebody play a video game, the kind of thing that would easily turn off some viewers. Like a lot of the action sequences, including a very lengthy climactic one that involves public transportation, it has the appearance of something filmed in a single extended take, but I'm fairly sure it's all trickery.
The story is a little hard to follow, bouncing around out of sequence and never clearing mysteries up in a way that made it easy on the viewer. I liked the character fine even though she rarely seemed in control of what was going on, surprising once you see her in action in the first seven minutes. Eventually, the story weaves in a pair of love stories with all the assassin stuff and gives the movie a bit of heart.
Recommended for you Wick fans looking for something to satisfying your craving for that sort of thing while you wait for Chapter 4 of that franchise.
2019 monster sequel
Plot: Godzilla and a bunch of other monsters.
Me: When I say "God," you say "Zilla"--God!
Bradley Whitford: Zilla!
Bradley Whitford: Zilla!
When I saw that in the trailer, I should have known this would be bad news, but I thought the monster fracases would make up for it. Sadly, I was wrong. This is a movie that somehow manages to not be the least bit fun even though it's got Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, some tall woolly mammoth guy I don't believe I've seen in any of the old-school Godzilla movies, and a few others. There are some large-scale fight sequences but unfortunately no dance numbers. The fighting is loud--indeed, the sound design might be the best thing about the movie--and the bad kind of flashy. When the shots didn't have the monsters submerged in this blueish haze, which was often, it seemed there was almost a strobe effect, and there were two times I had to squint because it was just a little too much for my old, tired eyes. It was often very difficult to figure out what was going on in most of the fight sequences, and I just didn't think they were much fun at all. It really made me miss seeing a couple guys stomping around models of Tokyo while wearing rubber suits.
Each of the monsters gets its own chance to pose for an iconic shot--Ghidorah perched on a hill with a cross in the foreground, a radiated Godzilla looking especially peeved, Mothra poised in the sky with spread wings, Rodan after busting out of a volcano. Director Michael Dougerty knows how to create a classic shot, but I feel like I could have wasted less time and not been as annoyed if was just given some postcards to look at or something.
Because the problem is that it isn't just the monsters and the cacophonous and dizzying fight sequences. No, there are a bunch of humans engaging in vaguely human endeavors in this thing, too. The aforementioned Whitford is there to crack wise, the sort of thing he's good at as an actor. But like all of the other characters, he's given the stupidest things to say. Vera Farmiga has some sort of fancy Speak and Spell to enable her to irritate the monsters with impressions of them. Her finest moment is when she gives this presentation to over-explain why she did something that she did to the other characters. It's meant to help the audience along, I suppose, but I was left with more questions afterward. Like--how did she throw together a fancy presentation like that with all those visual elements so quickly? Kyle Chandler plays a tough guy in ways that are simultaneously boring and generic. Anybody might look bland when they share screen time with Godzilla and that assortment of monsters, but I'm convinced anybody's going to seem less bland when they're in the same room as Kyle Chandler. The usually-reliable Ken Watanabe can't overcome this script either, and Sally Hawkins, who doesn't even get it on with any of these monsters, should have just focused on Paddington 3. Millie Bobby Brown, the actress who plays the magic girl in Stranger Things (I know--probably not magic. I'm not up on my Stranger Things), isn't terrible in this. Charles Dance, as the main villain who isn't humongous, probably isn't either, but the script isn't doing any of these actors any favors.
That includes Ziyi Zhang who IMDb tells me played twins, something that I didn't even realize while watching the movie. I didn't even know this movie had twins, probably because they don't sing a cute little song like in the old-school Godzilla movie.
The characters make questionable decisions, take up far too much screen time, jet around the globe at preposterous speeds, and somehow manage to escape certain death far too many times. If they weren't around to inject some logic and science into the storytelling, I don't think I'd mind too much. But the logic they're injecting is illogical and the science, unscientific. That kind of thing is easy to forgive in something fun, but this movie is taking itself so seriously and kind of demands that the audience does as well.
After the Skull Island movie, I looked forward to this one. And I would look forward to seeing Kong battle Godzilla in next year's movie, but with this bloated and joyless entry in the Godzilla franchise, it's a little hard to be excited.
1963 crime movie
Plot: A wealthy shoe executive has a tough decision to make after somebody attempting to kidnap his son accidentally kidnaps his chauffeur's son instead. Then, the police try to solve the crime.
Kurosawa's detective fiction has a little to say about class and, I believe, the role of women in Japanese society. The latter might be more accidental. For the majority of the movie, there is only a single female character, and she's cast to the side. At one point, Mifune's character even says something about how she "wouldn't understand" something, essentially telling her to back off and know her place. I can't recall any other female characters of any significance until the action moves to a location called Dope Alley, a greasy black and ghostly white locale filled with dope fiends and whores, a setting that very well could have been the inspiration for the Village of the Crazies in Gymkata. There, the women are there to be pawns, and one is seen writhing and scratching at the walls as if she's trying to break her way into the story in a more significant way.
The class struggles are evident in the possible inspiration for the crime and our protagonist's fears. Mifune's character lives on a literal house on a hill looking down on everybody else, the exact description one of the coppers uses. I'm not exactly sure what Kurosawa wants to say about class if he wants to say anything at all, but it's worth noting that Mifune's character is never at all unlikable. I kind of thought this would be a little more about class and that his character would become a little more difficult to root for after the chauffeur twist came into play.
Structurally, there are three distinct parts to this. The first is stage almost like a play, taking place almost entirely in Mifune's family's house as the off-screen crime occurs and they talk and talk and talk about what to do about the whole thing while waiting for phone calls. It threatened to get a little doll, but the characters were positioned with such purpose in those early scenes, and once the moral dilemma comes in, things get more intriguing.
Next, the film transforms into a police procedural with sweaty cops fanning themselves. My favorite shot shows the police discussing heroin addiction with serious tones while you can almost feel the black and white heat emanating from the screen, and in the background is Mifune's character's son's childish painting of the kidnappers' hiding spot. Later, there's a painting of the kidnapper that made me laugh.
Another bit of levity--a guy imitating trolleys.
Finally, a trap is set and a chase is on after some pink smoke cuts into all that black and white. There's a great scene in a crowded club while the police are waiting for a drug dealer. There's dancing and frivolity and the audience is scanning the faces of every person who enters to club to try to figure out if he or she looks like a drug dealer or not.
Plot: After buying some liquor for some teenagers, a woman invites them to her basement to party and then becomes a little obsessed with them.
This is silly enough to be classified as a suspense-comedy but it never fully commits to that. There's humor, mostly because I think Octavia Spencer is self-aware enough to understand the dark humor in her character, but the makers of this thing seem preoccupied with jump-scaring the audience and having these dumb characters lead us into situations where jump-scares might happen. By the end, it implodes.
Diana Silvers is in two movies that are out right now--this and Booksmart. This movie also reminded me of the existence of Juliette Lewis. I can't remember the last time I saw her in a movie.
1963 character study
Plot: Travelling sisters make a stop at a hotel in a war-torn town and wait around for God to say something (I guess) while the son/nephew chases around a little person and finds interesting spots to urinate.
Clearly, the two sisters are two sides of the same woman--the body and the mind, more than likely--with this kid some sort of intermediary, navigating through the labyrinth corridors and, oh yes, befriending little people and finding interesting spots to urinate. The pair of women are contradictions. There's a sickly bookish translator who doesn't seem to know the language where they happen to be and her lustful sister who seems appalled in a scene where she sees a couple engaging in coitus. It appears as if their train got lost, and now they're in a world with phallic tanks and doors--lots and lots of doors. And the troupe of little people, the kind of act capable of really getting some folks going sexually, and a goofy-grinned hotel porter played wonderfully by Hakam Jahnberg though his teeth do most of the work.
What this has to do with the "silence of God" is beyond me, but it is called The Silence and therefore has to fit in with the other two. There's likely a connection between the films that I'm not smart enough to piece together. Maybe that crippled guy from Winter Light is the key with all his talk about the physical and emotional pains of Christ.
2019 musical biopic
Plot: The life and death and resurrection of Elton John, a guy who can play the piano with his feet.
Although it inspires rolling eyes with the exact kind of biopic cliches that you expect to see going in, this comes closer to succeeding where Bohemian Rhapsody didn't because its musical numbers have a lot more originality. You might question whether the song choices really fit with the specific episodes in Elton John's life they are supposed to go along with, but there's a fervor and showiness with the musical numbers that just seems to fit with this particular singer/songwriter/performer. There are some bits that are downright magical, and I imagine they might be even more magical for somebody who's more of an Elton John fan than I am.
Side note: It's not that I don't like Elton John. The hits are tolerable, and I like a few of his non-hits, too. It's just that I worked in a Toys "R" Us when The Lion King came out and had to hear "Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" four times an hour for a while, enough times that would cause anybody to hate Elton John a little bit.
The musical bits seem lifted right out of a 70's rock opera, filled with bombast and flamboyance. A lot of them are fake extended shots where Elton John and whatever other characters are involved are moving through various settings and time periods. It's flashy and fun and helps the story move along in a breezy way. One number takes Elton John from his mansion to the bottom of a pool to a hospital to outer space to a concert at a stadium.
Of course, the swift storytelling is often a failing of these biopics. Breezy feelings are great during musical numbers, but when this breezes past major episodes in Rocketman's life and career, it kind of has to lean on those cliches.
You know what made me laugh out loud? I'm actually glad that the movie's sound was so loud because I think I might have annoyed people around me. You know how Bohemian Rhapsody pulls Mercury to rock bottom before that climactic Live Aid show? Rocketman does something very similar, but instead of reenacting an important concert event or something of musical history importance, it reenacts the video for "I'm Still Standing." I was embarrassed for everybody involved at that point.
I really thought Taron Egerton did a good job. He looks more like Elton John than anybody would have ever expected, and his singing and playing--likely aided by a little movie magic--are better than adequate. I don't know if he's going to win awards like Rami Malek did for Bohemian Rhapsody, but if he does, it'll seem like a good time for somebody with a funny name to play Donovan or somebody.
Side note: I'm typing this while listening to Tim Heidecker's new album. Tim Heidecker doesn't have a funny name, but he should definitely play the lead in a Harry Nilsson biopic. Hollywood--get on that!
2019 action sequel to a sequel
Plot: John Wick has a bounty of 14 million dollars on his head because of what happened in the last movie, and he has to find a way to escape New York before somebody collects. Then, there are some dogs and Catwoman.
The dreaded colon-plus-a-hyphen-that-should-probably-be-a-dash in the title of this one, and I wish they would have just left it as John Wick: Chapter 3. A "parabellum" sounds like a wild amusement park ride, the kind where you decide to inquire about the safety by asking a carny holding a cigarette between a pair of teeth and getting a shrug and a gravelly-voiced, "Well, you only live once, ya squirt" followed by a horrifying laugh that unleashes improbably terrible breath. This is an amusement park ride of an action flick, so stylish and energetic that you forgive almost every single one of its flaws.
You should know, if you've studied your Latin, that "parabellum" actually means "a whole bunch of mo-fos are going to get shot and stabbed," so it seems that nothing should surprise you about what would happen with John Wick and the mo-fos he stabs or shoots in this movie. As you might remember if you've read my write-ups about the others John Wicks, I was enamored with the artsy-fartsy action sequences in the second installment, so much that it forced me to reevaluate my opinion of the first movie. Heading into this third movie, I feared that it would just be more of the same sort of violent shenanigans with generous helpings of style and 80's neon backdrops to provide necessary flavor, the kind of thing that might feel redundant after 2 1/2 movies and cause this one to break down like that amusement park ride because that two-teethed guy doesn't give a shit and went out for more smokes. He sure as hell didn't go out for deodorant!
There might be a couple fight scenes that go on a little too long in this third installment and start to feel redundant. For the majority of the action sequences, however, there are things that I can't remember seeing before. Not that I'm an aficionado of action cinema exactly, but I've seen my fair share of movies. As with Chapter 2, this starts with a little Buster Keaton action projected on a building, I believe in Times Square. It foreshadows some of the slapsticky ultraviolence ahead for Wick as he tries to get out of New York with his life and possibly a doggy. The nocturnal adventures take him to a public library, inexplicable horse stables, and some sort of weapons museum, and in each of those locations, Wick demonstrates his killing prowess in highly original, stylized, and just fucking cool ways. Books, motorcycles, horses, and knives are used in ways that dropped my jaw and had me wanting to both hoot and holler (generally frowned upon) and even laugh. I can't think of a single fight scene in this that I didn't love watching. And while I doubted anything could top or even match the beauty of the big shoot-'em-up in the museum in the last movie, the climax takes place in a setting that seems to exist only so that John Wick can fight inside it. It's gorgeous, even when it's being smashed apart by bodies hurled through its glass walls.
A side note: The first three movies in this series take place during the same week, right? Am I missing where there's a time jump of some kind? John Wick really kills like a thousand people in just a few days, right?
Let's talk about dogs. No, actually, let's not talk about them.
This succeeds most when it is a silent movie. Well, a silent movie with sound effects, all those percussive gun blasts, manly (and womanly) grunts, snarling dogs, knife thunking, fist thwacking, body thudding. When the characters talk, there are less consistent degrees of coolness. Part of me wanted to turn off the part of my brain that focuses on plot and character and just let the rest of me enjoy the ride, and at one point, I did kind of lose track of what John Wick was even doing. This delves into the mythology of this alternate reality where every other person is apparently an assassin, all this "high table" nonsense, and the samurai-esque codes of honor and dishonor. Of course, I shouldn't be expected to understand this movie because I almost always have trouble with the superhero genre and Keanu Reeves' character in this franchise is definitely a superhero.
Man, I sure do love all the attention Buster Keaton has to be getting from his archival cameos in these. Long live, Buster Keaton! And long live, John Wick!
Plot: God's a spider, so they have to whisk the crazy lady off in a helicopter.
With mental breakdowns, writer's block, a play-within-a-movie, spider-God rape attempts, and incest, this is a much tougher nut to crack than its follow-up in the "silence of God" trilogy. The actors are playing characters, but they're not really playing people, more like symbols personified. Harriet Andersson is particularly good as a daughter, wife, and sister, a woman who is crazy like women in movies can be crazy.
Sven Nykvist cinematographied on this one, too, and they really know how to take advantage of this island of Toro where Bergman would go on to film over 100 films.
That last statistic might not be accurate.
Plot: An agnostic priest deals with various members of his small congregation.
What better way to spend a week than watching Bergman's "silence of God" trilogy? I didn't watch them in order, choosing to watch this second, the most straightforward and literal of the three, first. While there's an existential depth to what happens to our priestly protagonist and his handful of parishioners as well as a few parallels to last year's cheery First Reformed, I do believe there's some humor, too, at least enough to fill a communion cup or two. Take the early scenes that show the pastor doing his thing. I feared that the movie would be pretty stuffy, but then there are some cracks in what is essentially a filmed church service, mostly from shots of his spiritless flock. The organist is yawning and checking his watch, a kid is licking the top of a pew, and even Jesus up on that cross with his missing fingers looks like he's ready to hit the tomb so that he can be out of there.
Once individual crises are introduced--belonging to both our main character and members of his congregation--bleak drama settles in. And, at least to me, this is less about the silence of God than it is about the dynamics between these people, their relationships, and what happens when people bring their needs to an individual who has nothing whatsoever to provide them. They're starving humans coming to Reverend Ericsson when he's got half a spoiled fish and a moldy piece of bread to feed them, and the guy is completely out of miracles.
Good cast! Ingrid Thulin, as former-and-possible-future lover Marta with two dots over the a, has a few knock-out moments, including an extended scene featuring the contents of a letter. Gunnar Bjornstrand has a stoic apathy, possibly one mirroring Bergman's idea of God. Max von Sydow is also in this because the guy made a career out of being in great things. I loved that organist (Olof Thunberg), and the most faithful member of the church depicted in this story--this particular church's Quasimodo. Their clashing perspectives on God and spirituality likely match Bergman's at various stages in his life.
Sven Nykvist is likely the most valuable player here as the cinematographer. The way he and Bergman take advantage of the architecture and limited spaces to mirror the relationships with these characters and the use of light is so perfect.
Plot: I don't want to talk about it.
My second Senegalese movie this year and easily the least-entertaining of the two. I'm winding down research for 1977 before compiling a list of favorite films from that year, and Ceddo was on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? list of the 1,000 greatest movies ever made. While it's likely important from a film history perspective, it's not particularly entertaining or even coherent. Likely, I'm missing far too much context about the conflicts between religious sects in Senegal to fully appreciate what's going on in this drama, but it's unlikely it would have made the talky two hours any more enjoyable.
This is not one of the top 1,000 movies ever made. The other movie from Senegal--Who Killed Captain Alex?--might be, however.