Author Archives: Jackrabbit Slim

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

Oscar 2017: Best Actor

Standard

Taking a look at the movie calendar for the rest of the year, the Best Actor Oscar race looks unusually skimpy. Sure, there’s Tom Hanks in a Steven Spielberg movie, but other than that the biggest stars didn’t make movies this year of had flops. This has set up what is perhaps the easiest forecast of the upcoming Oscar campaign.

Because there’s only one obvious nominee, I’m going take some very wild-ass guesses. In alphabetical order:

Chadwick Boseman, Marshall. Boseman, who has specialized in playing the great black men of the century (Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and now Thurgood Marshall) stars in a legal drama when the hallowed Supreme Court justice was a lawyer. Interestingly, it is not based on Devil in a Lemon Grove, a popular book about Marshall defending black boys for murder in Florida. This all depends on the impact of the film. If it doesn’t open with a splash, Boseman will be forgotten, no matter how good he is.

Daniel Day-Lewis, The Phantom Thread. No one knows much about this movie, but we do know that Day-Lewis and director P.T. Anderson teamed for one of Day-Lewis’s three Oscar wins (There Will Be Blood). Day-Lewis’s announcement that this is his last film may help him get a nod, but he’s said that before.

Domnhall Gleeson, Goodbye, Christopher Robin. Another actor playing a real person (author A. A. Milne), which the Academy loves. Gleeson, the son of Brendan Gleeson, has been in many good movies over the last few years, and again, it all depends on how the film is received. Looks like a weepie.

Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman. What’s that, another real person? Yes, Jackman plays P.T. Barnum in a musical. Couple with Jackman’s gritty finale as Logan earlier in the year, he really displays his range. He got a nod for Les Miserables, and if this film is a hit I think he’s a safe bet.

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour. It seems folly to announce a winner in October, but Oldman may have this sewn up now, playing Winston Churchill (yet another real person) in tons of makeup. Oldman was only been nominated once before, but has the kind of respect (imagine a man playing Sid Vicious and Churchill). The film has been by critics and Oldman has been anointed.

Other possibilities: Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger; Michael Fassbender; The Snowman; Tom Hanks; The Post; Bryan Cranston; Last Flag Flying; Sam Elliott; The Hero.

Advertisements

Random Thread for October, 2017

Standard

As you all know, I live in Las Vegas. I was awakened by a text from my sister at about 3 in the morning (she lives in New Jersey) asking if I was okay. I was wondering why the concern when she told me about the shooting. I went back to sleep but got more texts, so when I woke up at 6 for work I put one of those damn “I’m okay” things on Facebook.

I hardly ever go to the Strip and certainly not for a country music festival, but I’m only about ten miles from where it happened. No one is safe, as long as these kinds of weapons are legal. And no “good guy with a gun” could have taken out a target on the 32nd floor from the ground. What I fear is happening is that we are becoming numb to these attacks. In 1966, Charles Whitman, the sniper at the University of Texas tower, killed 17. It was world-wide news. Today it’s small potatoes, because he was using single-action rifles, and his shooting spree lasted over 90 minutes. You can kill 17 in less than 17 seconds now.

The American fetish with guns is so strange and so deadly. We’ve got to get over it. If you’re keeping guns because you’re afraid of the government, well, you and your AR15 would be vaporized by an Apache helicopter. Guns in the home are statistically more likely to be used on family members than against intruders. “Responsible gun owners” are constantly being shot by their toddlers. It’s enough.

Opening in Las Vegas, September 29, 2017

Standard

Battle of the Sexes (73) is reviewed by our own Marco below. I saw it, too, and it’s a good movie but not a great one.

American Made (65) looks like it might be fun, but seems like a rental. When Cruise plays characters like this, a pilot turned smuggler, he’s at his best. Doug Liman directs.

In another of a series of unnecessary remakes, Flatliners (30) will make no one forget the original, which was a decent sci-fi effort. I’m waiting for Ellen Page to fulfill the promise of Juno, and so far it hasn’t happened. She’s been mostly making indie films, which is noble, and I suppose she did this film to subsidize them.

Opening in Las Vegas, September 22, 2017

Standard

A quiet week, with nothing to leave the house for.

If I did go to a film this week, it would probably be Brad’s Status (72), with Ben Stiller and directed by Mike White. But I’m sure this will be available on home video in about a month, and it seems like Stiller has played this kind of role–a middle-aged man who wonders what happened to his life–many times.

The likely box-office winner, if it can pass It, is Kingsman: The Golden Circle (45). Didn’t see the first one, won’t see this one. Just seems like an Avengers/James Bond rip-off. Anyone here see the first one?

The one Oscar-bait film his week is Stronger (76), with Jake Gyllenhaal as a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing and his rehab. I’m sure this is a very inspiring story, but I’m a cold cynical bastard when it comes to inspiring stories.

I’ve liked the Lego movies I’ve seen so far, but I have no idea what a Lego Ninjago Movie (55) is. I guess the Lego fans do, so they can see it for me.

Finally, there’s the lousy cheap horror film of the week. This time it taps into social media, and is called Friend Request (33). It should do decent business on Friday and Saturday night and then be consigned to oblivion.

Review: mother!

Standard

The biggest news coming from the opening weekend of mother! was that it received an F rating from Cinemascore, which is apparently hard to do. I saw the film yesterday, and it certainly doesn’t rate an F (I’d give it a B), so what happened? One, it wasn’t marketed properly–when people hate a movie, it’s often because they didn’t get the movie they thought they were going to get. mother! was marketed as a run-of-the-mill horror film, and it is not. Two, there’s an old saying in theater that satire is what closes on a Saturday night. I’d say Biblical allegories would be included in that category. The truth probably is that most people didn’t get it.

I’m not sitting here saying I’m superior, because I didn’t get it, either. I could write about what I thought was going on, but I had no firm theory. It reminded me of other works, such as Edward Albee’s play A Delicate Balance, where guests come to stay and don’t leave, or Rosemary’s Baby, but I read an interview in Vanity Fair with director Darren Aronofsky, who explains what it is. I’m reluctant to spoil anyone’s encounter with it, lets just say that a sound understanding of Genesis is involved.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star as a couple living in a big, beautiful house that she is renovating (She says she wants to make it a paradise–Garden of Eden?) He’s a poet, so we know immediately this isn’t reality because I don’t think anyone makes a living solely writing poems, especially with a house that big. He’s got writer’s block, though. One day a stranger, a doctor played by Ed Harris, shows up. Barden invites him to stay the night, and Lawrence is incredulous. She’s even more so when Harris’ wife, Michelle Pfeiffer shows up. They are followed by their two sons, arguing about the will. One kills the other (this is the only Biblical reference I picked up on–Cain and Abel) and Lawrence is stunned that a funeral gathering is taking place in her house.

She becomes pregnant, and time passes. Bardem writes a poem that becomes so admired that people flock to the house to congratulate him. Thus proceeds the conclusion, that involves Lawrence giving birth and, well, let me leave it that. I will only say that it is gruesome, and there are a few things that just don’t play in Peoria.

Even though I didn’t understand it, I didn’t have the visceral dislike that apparently most of America had. At least it was interesting, if obscure. The camera moves disorientingly, following Lawrence as she goes everywhere. The house is dark. The basement has what appears to be a magic tunnel. When Lawrence touches the walls, she senses some sort of presence. But it’s not ghosts, it’s something much more fundamental. Another clue is that she is always barefoot. The first and last lines of the film are “Baby?”

The performances are also strange. Lawrence, due to the nature of the role, has to be passive and reactive, while Bardem is purposely mysterious (there’s a constant, “Why are you doing this?” and “I can’t put them out” vibe between them). I wonder if Harris and Pfeiffer even knew what they were playing. Once you understand who Pfeiffer is supposed to be, it’s sort of funny that she plays it bitchy.

I have to give Paramount Pictures the guts to spend 30 million dollars on this. I don’t think they’ll make it back, but I think it will find a home on VOD. If anything, it’s a great conversation piece.

Opening in Las Vegas, September 15, 2017

Standard

Now that the summer is over it’s time for Oscar bait.

First up, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (75) (the lowercase m is the film’s choice), a horror film of sorts with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Rex Reed has called it the “worst movie of the century,” so it’s bound to be good.

Not having any Oscar chances, except maybe in the sound awards, is American Assassin (46), with Dylan O’Brien as a guy out for revenge being trained in black ops by Michael Keaton. I’m kind of intrigued by the use of “American” in titles. It’s very popular in books as well as films. There must be some market research that suggests that using that appellation increases sales. Maybe Americans are so narcissistic that they can’t help reading or watching things about themselves.

Review: It

Standard

I read Stephen King’s It about thirty years ago, and I forgot a lot of it (I read the summary on Wikipedia and was aghast at how much was gone from my brain). I don’t even remember if I saw the mini-series from 1990, although Tim Curry’s Pennywise the Clown is now a ubiquitous example of coulrophobia. Therefore, I’m not sure if I realized just what It is until I saw the new film, directed by Andy Muschietti. It is a metaphor for puberty.

The decision to break this into two films, the first featuring only the children (the book divides into alternating viewpoints of the kids and their adult selves) streamlines things and makes the metaphor pop more. The children, all at about that age, deal with an evil entity that more often than not takes the form of a devilish clown. This clown feeds on the fear of children (much like Freddy Krueger) and what do children fear? Turning into adults.

The book was more detailed about the children’s fears–it included mummies and werewolves, and there are none here, but I’m particularly struck about how the film treats the one girl, Beverly Marsh, played excellently by Sophia Lillis. In one scene she is in a drugstore, buying Tampax, so nervously it seems like the first time (she also swipes a pack of cigarettes). Her father, who is clearly molesting her, discovers her feminine hygiene product and asks her if she is still his little girl. Later, It will manifest itself as blood spewing out of her bathroom sink.

Becoming an adult also means turning on one’s parents, and here three kids do so (we don’t meet all the parents), two of them killing their own fathers, which seems very Joseph Campbell. The other, the hypochondriac Eddie, finds out his drugs are placebos and rebels against his Munchhausen Syndrome mother.

That being said, It is only an okay movie. There’s a lot to chew on, psychologically speaking, but the direction is simple and repetitive. We get a scene, then a scare, a scene and a scare, a scene and a scare. Believe it or not, there is a limit to how many times a clown popping out of nowhere can scare you. But some scenes are absolutely top-notch, including the first one, when Georgie’s boat goes down the sewer and we first meet Pennywise, as played by Bill Skarsgaard. He is terrifying, with his malevolent giggles, and the only problem I had was even a kid as young as Georgie would run like fucking mad, boat or no boat.

It is in the tradition of kids’ adventures movies that are constructed like World War II platoons–the stutterer (and leader), the funny kid, the hypochondriac, the fat kid, the black kid, the Jewish kid, and the girl, who is falsely rumored to be a slut. There is comfort in this, as it reminds us of better outings, such as Stranger Things (the excellently named Finn Wolfhard is in both casts). To me it hearkens back to teen lit like the Hardy Boys or The Three Investigators, where kids are smarter than adults and solve the problem with teamwork.

The children are all very good, particularly Lillis, who looks so much like Amy Adams that they will have to get Adams to play Beverly in the next film (Lillis has already played a young Adams in an HBO series). I also liked Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben, the chubby kid, who writes a romantic poem to Beverly, is precocious enough to have researched and figured out that It comes out of hiding every 27 years, but is also enough of a kid to haplessly try to take his project home from school on his bike. The kid actors here convince you they’re are kids, not miniature adults.

The art direction on the house where It is hiding is also well done. It seems in every neighborhood there is that abandoned house that every kid is fascinated by. This one looks like every house I ever had a nightmare about. Skarsgaard’s make-up is great, and the special effects are great but don’t over do it.

There are some logistical problems, such as if It is so omnipotent (he can make a slide carousel go berserk) than how can he be defeated by physical means (it seems to me that you can’t beat up a demon with a baseball bat). But at least they don’t include all of King’s fooforall about the macroverse and the giant turtle that created the universe. They also, thank god, don’t include the head-scratchingly wrong scene he wrote in which Beverly has sex with all the boys. Instead, this is reduced to a simple Sleeping Beauty-style kiss.

It is a pretty good horror flick, nothing more, but in this day and age when horror movies are as disposable as Kleenex that’s no small feat. I will be very interested to see Chapter Two, and given the box office, there may be more chapters after that.

Hitchcock: Suspicion

Standard

After the success of Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock and Joan Fontaine reteamed in 1941 for Suspicion. It was also the first of four films he made with Cary Grant, and was the highest grossing picture of that year. Fontaine won an Oscar, but just watching it again last night I marveled at the talent of Grant.

Suspicion is a great example of how Hitchcock slowly builds suspense. The movie is about an hour and a half long, and the first hour feels like a comedy. It’s only very late that we, as an audience, feel like Fontaine is in trouble, and that’s when she does, as the film is mostly framed through her eyes.

Fontaine plays a dowdy, bookish woman who seems well on the way to spinster-hood. Grant, a rakish playboy, takes an interest in her, and they fall in love and marry. It’s only later that she finds that Grant is allergic to work, addicted to betting on horses, and has no money. Somehow he gets by on loans from others, and he is so charming and affable that no one ever seems to get mad at him.

He comes up with a scheme to buy and sell property with his school friend, the wonderfully named Beaky Thwaite (Nigel Bruce, perfectly playing a lovable English twit). Fontaine starts to suspect that Grant wants to kill Bruce for his money, and when Bruce dies in Paris she really gets worried. Later she intercepts a letter and finds that Grant tried to borrow against her life insurance, but she would have to be dead for him to do it. Throw that in with Grant’s morbid interest in murder mysteries (he picks the brain of a neighbor, an Agatha Christie-like character) and paranoia swoops around Fontaine.

That the film goes from light-hearted comedy to dark thriller so subtly is Hitchcock’s gift. He gives us clues along the way–early in the film, Grant and Fontaine go for a walk and a wind gust comes up and he grabs her arms. She reacts strongly, and he says, “What, did you think I was going to kill you?” Playing a Scrabble-like game, Fontaine makes the word “murder,” which sends her into a fainting spell. The house where they live have semi-circular windows, which cast shadows that look like spider webs, with Fontaine trapped in them.

The ending is very controversial. Some say Hitchcock hated it, because he was forced to do it. In the book on which the script is based, Grant’s character does kill Fontaine, but she writes a letter to her mother telling her she fears he is going to kill her, and asks him to post it. He does, not realizing he is implicating himself (letters are very important in the film, even Hitchcock’s cameo shows him mailing a letter). But, because the studio did not want to have Cary Grant as a murderer, they changed it so all the fear was simply in Fontaine’s mind, and they live happily ever after. I would have much preferred the other way.

Grant does play the role as if he is a killer, though. He’s an actor who was always able to play light-hearted while seeming to have terrible, dark secrets. There’s a dinner party scene with the mystery writer in which Fontaine watches his face as they talk about perfect murders, and he mentions poison. He seems particularly excited at the prospect of an untraceable one. Later, in perhaps the film’s most famous scene, he brings Fontaine a glass of milk. He enters a darkened room, and carries it up the staircase, the milk illuminated. Hitchcock was able to do that by putting a small light in the glass.

Suspicion is one of the better Hitchcock films, despite the cop-out ending. Fontaine did win the Oscar (she was jobbed out of winning for Rebecca, so perhaps that’s why) but Grant wasn’t even nominated and he should have been (he was only nominated twice in his career and never won until an honorary Oscar). It is essential Hitchcock.

Oscar 2017: Paradigm Shift

Standard
Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”

I think it’s fair to say that at this time last year, no one had Moonlight as the favorite to win Best Picture. The question becomes, did the diversity push in membership change the paradigm of what an “Oscar bait” movie is? One year does not make a trend, but it is a giant leap for a film that cost less than two million dollars to make (the lowest-budgeted Best Picture of all time, adjust for inflation), has no stars, no white actors, and a gay theme to take the top prize. Even more than ever, it’s like the old William Goldman quote about predicting Oscars: “Nobody knows anything.”

But that won’t stop me from trying. Going over the slate of films to be released this fall and winter I don’t see anything that stands out as a favorite for the Oscar. Usually I get about five of these, but I wouldn’t be surprised to do far worse than that this year. Last year I certainly didn’t have Moonlight on my horizon.

In alphabetical order:

Battle of the Sexes (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris) Sep. 22. The film opens at Telluride tomorrow, so this may be out of the running quickly. The story of the tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was a gaudy circus (I’m old enough to have watched it) and these are the directors of Little Miss Sunshine, so they have Oscar pedigree. I’d be interested to see if they touch upon the rumor that Riggs threw the match because of massive debts.

Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan) Jul. 21. Though I was underwhelmed by this war film, it is in the right quadrant–big box office and near universal critical acclaim. After several weeks it is still in the top ten. The Academy has been gun shy about Nolan–he’s never been nominated for Best Director, and only Inception has been nominated for Best Picture. It all depends on how many good films are coming–if they aren’t too many, Dunkirk will be remembered.

The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey) Dec. 26. It’s hard now for films released too late in the year to get nominated, and this musical was postponed an entire year (to avoid conflicting with La La Land). It stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum. The trailer makes it look like he was a lovable character, but remember, he’s the guy who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” If it’s a whitewash of who he was I don’t like its chances.

Goodbye, Christopher Robin (Simon Curtis) Oct. 13. Now here’s a movie that has the old “Oscar bait” all over it. It’s literary–about the creator of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, and his experiences in World War I, and an emotional tale about fathers and sons. The only question that remains is is it any good?

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos) Oct. 27. Two of Lanthimos’ previous two films, Dogtooth and The Lobster, received Oscar nominations. Will this Greek director who has a different perspective than most crack into Oscar respectability? I don’t know anything about the plot of this film. It stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman.

Last Flag Flying (Richard Linklater) Nov. 3. The plot sounds formulaic–three war buddies attend the funeral of one of their sons–but Linklater may make it better than it sounds. Starring (again) Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne, it may tap into the zeitgeist.

Mudbound (Dee Rees) Nov. 17. A film directed by a black woman (the only other film thus directed to be nominated for Best Picture was Selma), it is set in the South post-World War II. It has been seen, at Sundance, and though it didn’t win a prize it was generally well-received.

Phantom Thread  (P.T. Anderson) Dec. 25. Anderson almost always comes up with films that get Oscar nominations, ever since Boogie Nights, but only There Will Be Blood got a nomination for Best Picture. It’s mostly being celebrated as purportedly the last film for Daniel-Day Lewis (though he’s retired before) and set in the London fashion world of the ’50s.

The Post (Steven Spielberg) Dec. 22. Another late release, but it’s hard to bet against the trio of Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks, telling the story of the Pentagon Papers. Hanks plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who has already been played by one Oscar-winner, Jason Robards in All the President’s Men.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) Nov. 10. I was intrigued by the trailer–this may get the usual Coen Brothers slot. McDonagh, a fantastic playwright, has had a checkered career as film director–In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths–but has already won an Oscar for Best Short Film. It stars Frances McDormand as a woman demanding justice for her dead daughter, and seems to be anti-police, which could be another zeitgeist nominee.
Also possible:
Darkest Hour (Joe Wright); Detroit (Katheryn Bigelow); Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears); Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes); Suburbicon (George Clooney); Wonder Wheel (Woody Allen).

Review: Ingrid Goes West

Standard

Black humor is hard, because walking the thin line between funny and mordant is precarious. Some films end up being too silly, and others tilt the way of mawkish. Ingrid Goes West almost falls off on the side of mawkishness, but manages to be a poignant commentary on the role of social media in the lives of the lonely.

Aubrey Plaza stars as someone we don’t know too much about, other than that she is prone to stalking. The film opens with her crashing the wedding of an acquaintance and getting institutionalized. Her mother has recently died, and we get the impression she was her only companion. But then she discovers one of those new breeds of celebrity I have a hard time understanding–the social media celebrity, who gathers followers and then gets paid by companies to praise their brands.

This is Elizabeth Olsen (the second film I’ve seen with her in a week) and she impresses Plaza with her exquisite taste, whether it’s food, clothing, decorating, or books. With the money her mother left her, she decides to move to Venice Beach, California and befriend Olsen.

She starts with the dubious plan of kidnapping her dog and returning it, which works. Plaza and Olsen strike up a friendship (also with Olsen’s husband, a hipster with a man-bun played well by Wyatt Russell), and she also develops an attraction with her neighbor, O’Shea Jackson Jr. What’s interesting about Plaza’s character is that when she feels as if she’s liked and appreciated she behaves perfectly normally. It’s only when her friendship is threatened, as it is by the arrival of Olsen’s loutish brother, than she starts getting crazy.

The film was directed by Matt Spicer and co-written by Spicer and David Branson Smith. I found the script’s insight into social media and our nation’s craze for our phones to be spot-on. “Where’s my phone?” is the first thing that Plaza says upon awakening in a hospital bed. She spends her days and nights going through Instagram, robotically clicking “heart” on all the pictures. She appears to have no inner life, only a need to be attached to those she sees on her phone. She’s like the technologically advanced Eleanor Rigby.

One is left with questions. Was she employed? Was she able to function in society? The script could have rounded her out a tad more. Otherwise, this film is as sharp about social media addiction as The Lost Weekend was about alcoholism. It’s just another way to fill our lonely lives.

Review: Wind River

Standard

Wind River, Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut, is a solid crime drama, not as expansive as the films of his scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water. He doesn’t seem to be aiming as high, and that’s fine. This is the kind of movie that when you’re struggling to agree to something on VOD everyone should be okay with.

The film is set on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, Jeremy Renner, a worker for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (he hunts predators, hint) finds a young woman, dead. She was a friend of his teenage daughter, who died three years earlier. The young woman ran several miles, barefoot, through the snow.

Since an Indian reservation is federal land, the FBI must be brought in. That’s in the person of Elizabeth Olsen, who is not very experienced (she arrives in frigid Wyoming wearing only a windbreaker). She, the tribal police chief (a very good Graham Greene) and Renner investigate (Renner, who is not law enforcement, ends up involved because of his tracking ability).

It really isn’t much of a mystery. The law visits the trailer of three stoners and there’s some violence. Renner, tracking some mountain lions, finds a clue that isn’t even fully explained, and we see what happened to the young woman and her boyfriend before there’s a final gunfight. The film is not really a whodunit, it seems more an excuse to show the way of life of rez Indians (it’s not a pretty sight). At the end of the film, there is a P.S.A. tacked on that seems out of place, as the film didn’t seem like a polemic.

But I can’t be hard on this film. It’s not great, but there’s nothing wrong with it. In addition to Greene, there’s another good performance by Gil Birmingham as the murdered girl’s father.

Sheridan has proved himself as a screenwriter, but I need to see more from him as a director to see if he’s got the right stuff.

Review: A Ghost Story

Standard

David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. The title is literal, but it’s not the kind of ghost story we’re used to, which is also good. Instead of a fright-fest, it’s a meditation on time and grief.

A couple, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, live in a small ranch house. The film has very little dialogue, which is good, because I couldn’t hear what the two were saying anyway. I do know that Mara wanted to leave the house, but Affleck felt an affinity for it.

Early on Affleck is killed in a car accident. Mara identifies him in a hospital, but after a while he rises and starts walking, covered in his sheet like a kid at Halloween. No one sees him. A portal to, I suppose, the great beyond opens up, but he chooses not to enter it, and walks back to his house, where he will stay for a long, long time.

Mara eventually moves out, but Affleck is rooted to the spot. She never sees him, but he can make himself known. When she comes home after a date with another man he makes the lights flicker and knocks books off a shelf. There is a ghost in the house next door (wearing a floral sheet) that he can communicate with silently.

Different people come and go in the house. A single mother and her children are driven out by his antics. Other people move in, and we get the longest bit of dialogue when a man delivers a long monologue about how nothing really matters because we’re all going to get swallowed by the sun. Affleck makes the lights flicker after he’s done.

There’s more that includes time-bending. Time for Affleck as a ghost is different than hours, as years go by like seconds. All the while he tries to chip away at paint to get a note that Mara left in a crack in a door jamb.

A Ghost Story is not scary, but it is spooky. Lowery’s choice to have Affleck covered in a shroud was a good one. It might seem silly on paper, but having people going about their business while a shroud-covered man watches them silently is arresting. He has two black holes in the sheet, but we can’t see his eyes.

The film is very slow moving. For the first fifteen minutes or so I thought it would be torture, because there’s a long scene of Mara eating an entire pie, But it picks up and becomes absorbing.

Kudos also to Daniel Hart, who composed an excellent score.

Review: Detroit

Standard

As someone who grew up in the Detroit Metropolitan area, I’m always interested in films and books set in Detroit. Not that I ever went there, except to go to Tiger games. When I lived there in the ’70s it was a cesspool of human misery, and I believe things have only gotten worse.

The turning point for Detroit’s future was in July, 1967, when a race riot broke out and lasted four days. Forty-three were dead, 7,200 arrested, and 2,000 buildings destroyed (most by fire). The white flight that had already started accelerated, and the city, which was once the fifth-largest by population in the United States, is now the 18th. In 1950, the population was 1.8 million, today it is about 672,000, one third of what it was.

Kathryn Bigelow has made a film, simply called Detroit, that showcases the riot, or more specifically, what is known as the Algiers Motel Incident, in which police killed three young black men. I’ve got to imagine the Detroit Chamber of Commerce is real happy that a movie called Detroit is all about violence and police brutality.

I found the film enthralling, with the heart of the movie the night of the incident, which was the third night of the riot. The film begins oddly, with a cartoon telling us about the Great Migration. Then we see the start of the riot, when a blind pig (an illegal bar) is raided while throwing a party for two returning servicemen back from Vietnam. When everyone is arrested (all black), a crowd gathers and somebody throws a bottle at the police and that sets it off.

This part is rather sketchy, and jumps from “Day 1” to “Day 2” to “Day 3” so quickly I thought it was going awfully fast. But what screenwriter Mark Boal has done is rather clumsily introduced the Algiers Motel section. The motel, a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes, was full of people that night. A singer (a brilliant Algee Smith) and his friend decide to stay there for the night, and take a room in an old house behind the motel called the Annex. There are bunch of young men there–I don’t know why, I guess it was a hangout. Smith meets two white women by the pool (it is unclear if they are prostitutes or just pretending to be). The girls taken them back to the annex.

One of the young men (Jason Mitchell) decides to egg on the police and National Guard by firing a starter’s pistol out the window. Naturally, the police and Guard take this seriously, and pinpoint it to that house. Three cops bust in, kill Mitchell without so much as a “put your hands up” and then line up everyone else against the wall. They are told that they must reveal the name of the shooter and where the gun is or they will all be killed.

This scene lasts about an hour and is dominated by Will Poulter as the chief sadist. Poulter, who looks kind of like Howdy Doody, is only 24, making the contrast severe–how could a young, fresh-faced guy be so sadistic? Also, Poulter had killed a man earlier in the day, shooting him in the back for stealing groceries.

The scene is harrowing, as Poulter and two other cops beat and terrorize everyone, including the two women (it didn’t help that they found two white women with a black man in the same room, even though nothing was going on). Observing is a black security guard (John Boyega).

Three people will end up dead, and the film ends, somewhat anticlimactically, with a trial. I won’t spoil it, but given that today it is almost impossible to convict a policeman for brutality, even when there is video evidence, the verdict is not surprising.

It’s amazing that this took place fifty years ago and is still extremely relevant. Though the film has its flaws (for one thing, nobody can say for certain what happened, so the script is making guesses and assumptions, which is why the officers involved, though their names were changed, are suing).

So, this will make not only the tourism industry of Detroit (is there one? Other than for sports or to tour Motown’s first building, there’s no reason to go) and policemen all over the country mad. It will also make the viewer mad, that people got away with this then, and are getting away with it now.

Review: Dunkirk

Standard

Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s latest film, is getting rave reviews and is penciled in as the first sure-fire Oscar nominee. Therefore, I ended up puzzled and disappointed. I recommend Dunkirk, but not enthusiastically.

It is of course about the evacuation of British and French troops from a corner of France across the English Channel, after the Germans had beat them back and cornered them. 300,000 men were jammed onto the beach, waiting for the Germans to capture or kill them. It’s a big deal in England, not as much in the U.S. because they weren’t involved (it was 1940). For a certain generation, Dunkirk is a major part of the English consciousness, even though it was a retreat.

Nolan, who loves to go non-linear, divides the story into three parts, basically land, air, and sea. The land, or The Mole (not the burrowing mammal but a pier and jetty thrusting out into the Channel) covers one week ot time, The Sea covers one day, and The Air one hour. This makes for some time-bending that can be very confusing, as we go from daylight to night and then back again.

I’ll start with the best, and that’s The Air, which covers a couple of spitfire pilots who are the only air cover the soldiers have. Although we get a cliche of a gas gauge not working, the storyline here is clear and precise–shoot down German dive bombers. And they do, in some of the most thrilling dogfight footage I’ve seen (the best, I think, is Wings, way back in 1927, because they used actual planes).

Tom Hardy is the ace, but he doesn’t say much (when a German plane goes into the drink, he calmly says, “He’s down for the count”). Mostly we only see his eyes, as he’s wearing an oxygen mask, but Hardy’s eyes do all the talking. The one bit of genuine excitement in the film is when Hardy has to decide, on low fuel, whether to fly back to England or shoot down a bomber headed for a ship laden with men. What do you think he does?

The Sea has Mark Rylance as a proper Englishman, dressed in sweater and tie, taking his boat out to help rescue the soldiers. This is probably the most memorable part of the history, as hundreds of “Little Ships” aided in the cause. He is accompanied by his son and a teenage friend, and they pick up a man sitting atop the wreckage of his ship (Cillian Murphy). He is suffering from what we now call PTSD and when he hears that Rylance is taking the ship towards Dunkirk he is enraged–that’s the last place he wants to go.

The Mole is the section I had the most trouble with. It kicks off with a soldier (Fionn Whitehead) surviving a fusillade of German guns. He and another soldier, whom he meets burying another soldier, try to get aboard a ship going out while holding a stretcher bearing another man. From then on I had to check Wikipedia to see what happened, as the soldiers all look alike and there is absolutely no characterization. They are also largely indecipherable, with thick accents. They go to one ship, then jump off when it’s hit, get on another ship, same thing, then get in an empty fishing boat and get shot at. At this point I had completely lost the thread.

The other part of The Mole is Kenneth Branagh as the naval commander standing at the end of the pier, peering off to see England. His job is mainly to say “Home” in warm tones, while shedding a British tear. Really, what this section needed was title cards that said simply, “Day 1,” “Day 4,” etc., to give the audience some perspective on the time passed. Otherwise it appears that Branagh has been standing at the end of that pier for the whole week.

Visually the film is stunning, shot in blues and grays and olive greens by Hoyte van Hoytema. There are many scenes (too many really) of ships going down, and men trapped underwater. One scene, with an oil slick on fire and men underwater beneath it, is hauntingly filmed, as the men have to make a terrible choice–drown or burn.

The score, by Hans Zimmer, is typical Zimmer–too much by half. He uses a lot of metronomic sounds to ramp up the tension. Sometimes it fits and sometimes it’s overwhelming, as the film is loud enough already.

I was all set to enjoy Dunkirk, but it just didn’t do it for me. It’s just okay.