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.

Opening in Las Vegas, March 23, 2018


The likely box-office champ, and the first to knock Black Panther off the top spot after six weeks, is Pacific Rim: Uprising (44). I saw the first one and thought it was meh, so I have no interest in this one. I suppose it will find its niche.

Of more interest to me is Unsane (63), the second feature (plus one TV movie) that Stephen Soderberg has put out since his “retirement.” It is the second, after Side Effects, that deals with someone being involuntary committed to a mental hospital. Perhaps this is Soderbergh’s greatest fear, like Poe was afraid of being buried alive. Anyhoo, this was shot on an iPhone. I might see this if I get bored.

Another faith-based film, Paul, Apostle of Christ (48) opens this week. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, plays Luke. How many  Biblical characters will he end up playing? Not for me.

For the kiddies is Sherlock Gnomes (40), and while this looks torturous for adults, I’m on board with anything that might get kids interested in reading Sherlock Holmes. Fun fact: I’ve read all of Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, but I am missing one of his novels: The Valley of Fear. Seems like I could take care of the easily, doesn’t it? As I have no children, I will never see this.

Finally is Midnight Sun (36), a disease of the week movie (girl can’t go in the sun) which only interests me because it stars Bella Thorne, who is very easy on the eyes. I may see this someday when I want to see every movie she’s ever made (I have even seen the Netflix film You Get Me, but not The Babysitter (not yet).



Review: A Fantastic Woman


Winner of the 2018 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, A Fantastic Woman is pretty fantastic, but is also on the cutting edge of changes in society, as it is about a transgender woman, starring a transgender woman.

From Chile, it concerns Marina (Daniela Vega) a waitress and singer, who has moved in with an older man (Francisco Reyes). He is fully aware of her past, but they have a sweet relationship. He takes her out for her birthday, they tie one on, and go home to bed.

But he awakes in the middle of the night feeling strange, and will die of a brain aneurysm. Vega is not technically family, so is pushed aside by his ex-wife and son, who state in no uncertain terms that she is not to attend the memorial or funeral, and to leave them alone.

This echoes a problem that longtime partners had in the U.S. before recent court decisions–someone who had been with someone for fifty years or more couldn’t make health decisions, requiring a family member who may have been estranged for years. As far as we have come in recent years, there is still a long way to go, as evidenced by bathroom laws in North Carolina and this film, which shows a shocking level of ignorance about transgender people (she is assaulted by her lover’s son’s friends, calling her a “faggot.”)

More than that, A Fantastic Woman is about identity, and how much we invest in sexual parts to define who someone is. Vega is often seen looking into reflective surfaces, and in one striking moment is naked in bed, a mirror between her legs. In another clever scene, she must masquerade as a man to get into Reyes’ gym so she can open his locker. She was born a man, but her awkwardness pretending to be one is palpable.

A Fantastic Woman was directed by Sebastian Lelio with some restraint. Vega, a nonprofessional actor, brings the qualities that sometimes only amateurs can bring, as at no point do we see overacting–we just see truth. This is a very fine film. I haven’t seen all five nominees yet but I’m fine with this one winning.

Opening in Las Vegas, March 16, 2018


The big new opening this week is a reboot of Tomb Raider (46), with Alicia Vikander taking up the role previously played by Angelina Jolie. I believe I saw both of Jolie’s Tomb Raider films, but I remember almost nothing about them. It seems that may be a problem with the new one, too, but Vikander is an appealing performer. I’m just not sure she’s an action star. I’ll see this on home video.

Love, Simon (73) is a mainstream teen comedy about a gay kid, something of a historical occasion. Will straight teens go see it? Estimates show it getting 12 million for the weekend, so it seems the answer is sort of. I’ll probably wait for home video.

A suprise hit may be I Can Only Imagine (27), a faith-based film about a Christian musician. It remains to be seen when one of these Christian-themeed films will actually be any good. Not for me, I’m afraid.

When I first saw the trailer for 7 Days in Entebbe (49), I thought, “Hasn’t his film already been made?” Indeed, including TV movies, this is the fourth cinematic look at the Israeli raid on Entebbe, Uganda. I don’t know what gave anyone the idea we needed another one. I doubt I’ll ever see this.

Finally, the movie I plan on seeing this weekend is A Fantastic Woman (87), the Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language film. It centers around a transgender woman, which means it is pushing the zeitgeist, but hopefully it also a good film. I’ll let you all know.

Godard: The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola


alphavilleContinuing my look at the films of Jean-Luc Godard (from the 1960s, at least), I turn to four films from 1964 to 1966 his eighth through 11th features. They  mostly dealt with his themes prostitution and consumerism, and how they were the same thing.

A Married Woman, from 1964, is Jean-Luc Godard’s eighth feature. It begins with two sets of hands playing against a white background. The female pair belongs to Charlotte, Macha Méril, and the male to her lover, Bernard Noël. She is, as the title suggests, married to someone else, and asks him if he will marry her if she gets a divorce. The film ends with those hands disappearing off the screen.

The scene is something like that of the opening of Contempt, as we see her a series of parts–no shots of her as a whole. Hands, feet, eyes, belly button (this when talking about if she will bear him a child). It’s very sexy, but also suggests that she is not a complete person without a man.

Charlotte is married to Pierre (Phillipe Leroy) and has a step-son. She is concerned that he has hired private detectives to spy on her (she was caught once, and he thinks the affair is over). As she goes about her day, she and we are inundated with images from fashion magazines. Godard would go on to use this theme throughout the ’60s–he seemed to be obsessed with ads for bras. Indeed, one funny scene has Charlotte using an article to figure out if she has perfectly shaped breasts. It seems that perfection is an equilateral triangle from the base of the neck to each nipple.

Later she will find out she is pregnant but is not sure which man is the father. Needless to say this was pretty scandalous for 1964, even in France. The censorship board banned it, as they said it suggested all married woman were adulterous.

Also per usual for Godard, there are many references that can be explored. The lover is an actor who is performing in Racine’s Berenice, and the two meet at a movie theater playing Night and Fog, the holocaust film. This is not the only time that subject pops up, as Pierre and a friend are watching the Auschwitz trials. Linking an affair by a bourgeois woman and the holocaust left me scratching my head.

A Married Woman is provocative while at the same time seeming light, an interesting balancing act. It was followed by the outlier of the bunch, Alphaville. As usual with Godard, the concept is more interesting than the execution. He mashes two genres: film noir and science fiction. Eddie Constantine, an actor who was a star in Europe playing a secret agent called Lemmy Caution, plays that role here, trapped in the manner of American noir heroes: hard-boiled, a cigarette frequently dangling from his lip, wearing a fedora and trench coat. It’s as if a director had used Humphrey Bogart to play Philip Marlowe in a sci-fi film.

But the sci-fi angle is oblique. Alphaville is a city run by a computer, who speaks in a croaking voice that sounds as if it’s on a respirator (I wonder if George Lucas remembered this when he created Darth Vader?). Emotions and original thought have been eliminated, along with poetry and art. Citizens are not to ask “why?” but only say “because.” Those who express emotions, such as weeping for a dead wife, are considered illogical and executed (shot standing on a diving board, their bodies retrieved by synchronized swimmers).

Constantine comes from the “outer countries,” where love and conscience are still allowed. Though there is no love in Alphaville, there is sex. When he checks into his hotel, he is escorted by a “Level 3 Seductress,” who offers to share a bath with him. I’ll admit that feature would get me to a hotel chain.

The plot is a little fuzzy–Godard was never much interested in plot–but it appears Constantine was looking for a scientist (Akim Tamiroff, looking very out of shape) and then to dispose of the creator of the computer, Professor Von Braun (a nod to rocket science Werner Von Braun). The latter’s picture is on the walls everywhere, like a Big Brother (there are several connections with 1984) and his daughter, Anna Karina, both assists and bedevils Constantine. He, of course, falls in love with her, even though she does not know what the word “love” means.

Though science fiction, the film is set in the present (1965 is when the film was released), as Constantine refers to himself as a veteran of Guadalcanal. There are no futuristic sets–it was all shot in Paris, though some of the buildings were modern architecture, full of cube shapes and glass. The photography is the chiaroscuro of noir–we even get the old swinging, naked light bulb effect.

Alphaville can be enjoyed in a meta way, seeing where Godard got his ideas (there are references to Borges and Celine, and other writers), plus the amusing use of cliches from private eye films. Constantine has a showdown with the computer, in a precursor to HAL 9000–Constantine trips it up with a poetic riddle.

Even though this film is weird (there are frequent jump cuts, and insertion of random images, along with scientific formul’s such as E=MC2) Alphaville is the most accessible Godard film I’ve seen. If you’ve never seen a Godard, this might be a good place to start.

I think my favorite among all Godard films is 1965’s Pierrot le Fou, because it is laugh-out-loud funny. It is certainly not a traditional film, but it makes a certain sense, and has a ridiculously absurd ending. It also shows off the beauty of Anna Karina.

Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a recently laid off television executive, who is bored with his life. He goes to a party with his wife, and the babysitter is a woman (Karina) whom he had been in affair with some years earlier. The party scene is hilarious. Shot with color filters, the characters speak in ad copy, whether about shampoo or cars. Some of the women are topless.

Belmondo decides to take up with Karina, who is apparently being chased by spies. Her apartment is stockpiled with guns, and there is a corpse on the bed. The two take off, pursued by the law, and find a temporary idyll on the French Riviera, but Karina becomes bored and there is a suitcase full of money involved.

Pierrot le Fou (Karina calls Belmondo Pierrot, who was a sad clown, and every time she does he corrects her–“My name is Ferdinand”) sort of reminds one of Monty Python, with over the top images and a breaking off the fourth wall (it only happens once, when Karina asks who Belmondo is talking to–“the audience,” he says, and Karina looks at the camera, as if just noticing she’s in a movie). The title literally means “Pierrot the Madman,” and the film’s anarchic style is very winning.

Godard does have some serious things to say, but in a comic manner. The two fugitives meet some American sailors and decide to put on a play for them, which they call the “Vietnam War.” The American sailors hoot like demented sadists (this would begin Godard’s disdain for America, which would surface in the late ’60s). He did still admire American filmmakers, though, giving Samuel Fuller a cameo.

The ending has Belmondo, after Karina steals all his money and runs off with another man, wrapping dynamite around his head and lighting it. He changes his mind, but too late! Boom!

Finally is 1966’s Masculin Feminin. I saw this film back in college and remember it being bubbly and pleasant, two words you don’t often associate with Godard. It stars Jean-Pierre Leaud as Paul, a 21-year-old who is both political and horny. He is in love with a singer (Chantal Goya), who is kind of vacuous, but because he, like everyone else around him, is inundated with commercialism (much of it American) he can’t help himself. In a title card near the end of the film, Godard states that the movie could have been called “The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola.”

Masculin Feminin (while of course that translates as “Masculine Feminine,” I prefer to think of it as “Boys and Girls,” which is nearer the mark) is made up of fifteen scenes. Paul talks with a friend at a cafe, he rides the subway (and sees racism in action), he watches Goya cutting a record, and in perhaps the most telling scene he interviews a young model who has been named “Miss 19.” He asks her questions like “Does socialism have a future?” while she smiles vacantly.

The film was banned in France for those under 18, which Godard claimed was who the movie was for. I think it may be the best film about the ’60s counterculture ever made, and doesn’t have one set of beads or a fringed vest. It name drops some of the icons of that decade, such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan, and even has a cameo by Brigitte Bardot, but instead of exploring what those those people mean, they are just symbols. What seems true to life is that a young man is concerned about the war in Yemen but also about getting laid.

It has some typical Godard touches, such as the title cards, which contain phrases that sound profound: “The mole has no consciousness, but it burrows through the earth in a specific direction.”

Review: Thoroughbreds


I don’t know if I’ll see a more unsettling film this year than Thoroughbreds. A lot of people are comparing it to Heathers, but they’re off the mark in that Heathers was intentionally funny. Thoroughbreds is as about as serious as an autopsy, which one character will require.

I was amazed I was watching it in a multiplex, as it is certainly not a crowd pleaser. It doesn’t seem to have a CinemaScore grade, but it did manage to make over a million dollars last weekend. I have a feeling it will drop precipitously, and that’s not because the film doesn’t have merit.

Two affluent Connecticut high school age girls (Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke) used to be friends. Taylor-Joy went on to be popular and go to Andover, while Cooke is a sociopath (she admits she has no emotions) has been removed from school while being charged with killing a horse, but if I heard the film right, she performed a mercy killing (which doesn’t make sense if she has no feelings). Cooke’s mom hires Taylor-Joy to tutor her daughter for the SATs, and the girls forge a new friendship based on Taylor-Joy’s hatred of her step-father (a very good Paul Sparks).

What’s unnerving about the film, which was written and directed by Cory Finley, is the vacuum in which the film takes place. We see the girls’ mothers, and Sparks, but that’s about it. Taylor-Joy’s spacious mansion serves as a kind of heated bubble in which no air escapes. There seems to be no outside world. The use of music is just one example of this–there are long stretches of no ambient music, but when the score does kick in, it’s very eerie (it’s by Eric Friedlander).

Also, Cooke’s performance is scary good, so good that I don’t know if I’ll be able to shake it when I see her next (probably in Ready Player One). At one rare instance away from Taylor-Joy’s house, Taylor-Joy visits Cooke’s house. Her new friend is standing in the backyard, staring into space. There’s also a wonderful scene in which Taylor-Joy and Cooke are talking while Cooke plays herself in a game of chess with very large pieces. I’ll admit I found myself paying attention to her moves, which were all correct.

Thoroughbreds does have some humor. Taylor-Joy impulsively loosens the wheel on her step-father’s bike. The film cuts to him in bandages, which is drolly funny until he abusively dresses down his wife for asking about his welfare.

The movie’s ending is not completely satisfactory, as it doesn’t add up, but it will stick with you. Whether you want that or not is another question.

Review: Red Sparrow


Red Sparrow is a hot mess, a lurid adolescent boy’s fantasy, dressed up as a feminist empowerment statement. Manohla Dargis called it “preposterously entertaining,” I just call it preposterous.

Jennifer Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina who, after an injury, is desperate to keep her frail mother in good health. Her uncle, a deputy minister of some sort of secret service, offers her a chance to become a Sparrow, a spy who is trained in the art of seduction and assassination. She accepts, and is assigned to get to know an American CIA agent in Budapest (Joel Edgerton), who is being given information by a Russian mole. Her mission: find out who the mole is.

We haven’t had a good old fashioned cat and mouse spy thriller in a while, and we still don’t have one. I put the fault mostly on the director, Francis Lawrence, who doesn’t seem to have a point of view. If the film had stuck to being completely over the top, it might have been fun, but instead takes itself too seriously and becomes deadly boring at times. He might have followed the lead of his star, who gives a performance of strength and cunning, but I fear Francis Lawrence doesn’t have the chops that Jennifer does.

It’s interesting that the Russians are bad again (we can probably have Trump to thank for that), and I never noticed before how much Matthias Schoenaerts looks like Vladimir Putin. Other Russians are played by distinctly non-Russians such as Ciaran Hinds and Jeremy Irons, and thankfully they don’t sound like Boris Badanov (the use of language in Hollywood films is always oddly done–these characters are presumably speaking in Russian when they speak amongst themselves, but also speak English, but they do in a Russian accent).

Charlotte Rampling plays the “Matron,” who is the head of the Sparrow training, what Jennifer Lawrence calls “whore school.” It is very similar to the school shown in The Handmaid’s Tale, where women are trained to leave all their individuality behind.

Most of the second half of the film is wondering whether Jennifer Lawrence has become a double agent or not. I’ll admit this makes for good suspense, especially in a scene in which Edgerton is being tortured by a guy who likes to peel the skin off of people.

Red Sparrow is ludicrous. For one thing, great ballerinas don’t have the build that Jennifer Lawrence does. And much of the Twitter-verse is complaining about a scene in which she dyes her hair platinum blonde without using gloves and then goes swimming in a chlorinated pool.

The film is also extremely violent. I usually don’t care, but the violence was too much for even me.

I found Red Sparrow to be mostly unpleasant and unfortunate.

Godard: Band of Outsiders


Many years ago I was attempting to chronicle the films of Jean-Luc Godard, and left off after Contempt, because the films just weren’t available. But now, due to Filmstruck (I can’t recommend this streaming service enough for fans of older films) I am able to catch up. Later I will cover some of his films from the mid-’60s.

After the Cinemascope and Technicolor of Contempt, Jean-Luc Godard made the much more gritty and black and white Band of Outsiders in 1964. Like his debut film, Breathless, it’s something of an homage to American B-pictures, with numerous references to pop culture, both high and lowbrow, from T.S. Eliot to Loopy de Loop.Based on an American crime novel, the story, what little of it there is, concerns two criminals, Arthur and Franz (Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey). They are in an English class with Odile (Anna Karina), and she tells them that a man staying in the house with her and her aunt has a large stack of money. The two men get the idea to steal it, but before they do they each try to romance Karina.

Band of Outsiders is considered by many to be Godard’s best film; or at least his most accessible. It’s the only one of his films to be on Time’s list of best 100 films. It has a certain cache among filmmakers–Quentin Tarantino named his production company after the French title, A Band Apart. One can certainly see the influence the film had on subsequent movies like Pulp Fiction.

The first time I saw Band of Outsiders I was charmed, but this second viewing left me a little bored. Maybe it was the cold medication I’m on, but I got frustrated with the way Godard dithered. The plot moves in herks and jerks, filling in the space with little moments that are fine unto themselves but don’t really add up to much. There’s a long scene in which the teacher of the English class reads from Romeo and Juliet, and there’s a funny moment when Franz suggests they have a moment of silence, and the entire soundtrack goes silent for a while.

The two most famous scenes are probably the dance number, pictured above, when the three do an improvisational “Madison,” which certainly influenced Tarantino, and a scene in which the three of them attempt to set the record for running through the Louvre.

When Godard finally gets around to the robbery, it’s comic, as these are two inept bandits. Watching them move around in their fedoras, black stockings over their faces, kind of upends the notion of “cool,” and one suspects that Godard is having himself a laugh at this characters’ expense.

Still, Band of Outsiders is an iconic film, one that has a breezy kind of charm and insouciance.


Opening in Las Vegas, March 9, 2018


The big opening this weekend is A Wrinkle in Time (52), based on the popular children’s novel (I read it some fifty years ago, but can only remember that the dog’s name was Fortinbras).  It is so important, but not well received by critics. Maybe if they it weren’t so important. I’ll probably catch up with this on home video.

The Strangers: Prey at Night (48), is a masked-murderer film set in a trailer park–those can be scary. Will probably do great business and then sink like a stone. I’ll never see it. Stars Christina Hendricks. Question: what Mad Men star will end up being the break out film star (if any). Jon Hamm doesn’t seem interested.

Gringo (44) has a good cast, including David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Thandie Newton, and Paris Jackson, but has the old “regular guy gets caught up in crime caper” plot. Maybe I’ll see this on VOD, but certainly not in a theater.

What a pitch: it’s bank robbery, during a hurricane! (not availabe for screening, but of three reviews on MetaCritic none are above a 50). It’s The Hurricane Heist! One of the reviews says it’s utter excrement from start to finish. Directed by Rob Cohen. Question for those who know: why did Cohen only get to direct the first Fast and Furious film? I’ll never see this.

The best reviewed film this week is Thoroughbreds (76), which a blurb on the poster reads, “Heathers meets American Psycho,” but reading the summary, sounds more like Heavenly Creatures. Stars Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), and Olivia Cooke (Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl). I may see this today.


90th Academy Awards: A Liberal’s Reverie


My friend has run an Oscar pool for almost forty years (I tied for the win last night–maybe we need a tiebreaker) and for most of those years my mother has entered. Not this year. She lives on that planet that FoxNews viewers inhabit, the one where Hillary is a crook and Donald Trump is a great president. When I called her up to get her picks Saturday night she said she was skipping this year. Something about how the movies were no good and how she hated Jimmy Kimmel.

Well, she was right to skip the telecast. I haven’t checked the far-right Twitter-verse today, but I’m sure they are not happy. The show basically was a liberal’s wet dream, preaching inclusion and diversity, a three-and-a-half hour “Kumbaya” sing-a-long. There were shout outs to Mexico, Dreamers, the Parkland students, transgender performers, #MeToo, #TimesUp, and even a Native American actor (Wes Studi) introducing a clip honoring veterans.

This is all fine with me, but it certainly reinforces the image of Hollywood as a bunch of left-wingers (except for Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer). I think the apotheosis of this was when Ashley Judd, Salma Hayet, and Annabella Sciorra took the stage to talk about sexual harassment and introduce a clip on diversity in film. The three women have in common being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein–Sciorra claims she was raped, and looked fragile. It was both an amazingly daring move for the usual staid Oscars to make, as well as one that felt uncomfortable.

Moments like this were peppered throughout the show, some working, some not. The big crowd-pleaser was Frances McDormand, who has sort of become Hollywood’s strict mom (I’m glad she actually smiled and laughed this time). She had every female nominee stand, and uttered two words that probably make film executives shudder–“inclusion rider.” That is a rider in a contract that can mandate that participation in a film, both above and behind the camera, be fifty-fifty in terms of gender. If someone as big as Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone insists on one, what are studios going to do? Hire more female cinematographers and directors, for one.

The awards were doled out largely as forecast, with no surprises. The Shape of Water hung on to win Best Picture, but almost every other Best Picture nominee got something–except for Lady Bird, the one film directed by a woman, which was shut out. Roger Deakins finally got an Oscar after fourteen tries, and James Ivory, who directed the great Merchant Ivory films of the ’80s, received his first Oscar at age 89, the oldest winner in any category, ever. He had to wait a long time, but Kobe Bryant, the former basketball star, got one in his first try, for Best Animated Short. This outraged many, because Bryant was accused of rape some years ago (he also has more Oscar wins than Alfred Hitchcock, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, and Marlene Dietrich combined–one).

As for the show itself, I like Jimmy Kimmel and think he should be a permanent host, a la Bob Hope, but the ratings tanked. He had some good jokes (but why was he asking Steven Spielberg for pot?) but we can do without the stunts. Last year it was bringing in a tour bus load of fans, this year they went to the neighboring multiplex with snacks. Kimmel seems to think that we need to know that he hasn’t lost touch with the common man. Well, he may not have, but Hollywood has. There was a nice moment though when Mark Hamill introduced himself to Gal Gadot.

In addition to McDormand’s shout out to women (and Chloe Kim) I liked some smaller moments, such as Guillermo Del Toro stating, “I am immigrant” (four of the last five director awards have gone to Mexicans). But some things backfired. A performance of the song from Marshall, “Stand Up for Something,” included ten activists. But they weren’t identified, just stood stock still has if waiting for Scotty to beam them up (I was looking for Emma Gonzalez from Douglas High School, but alas she was not there).

Coming off looking good were Kumail Nanjiani, both in his presenting duties and an appearance in the diversity clip(future host?), and Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, co-presenters who killed, reassuring viewers that there were many more white people to come, talking about their aching feet,  and complimenting each other about expelling body fluids on film.

As mentioned, he ratings were way down for the show, which may be because there were no blockbusters nominated (if Black Panther manages to wrangle some nominations, an uptick may happen). Maybe they should get Dennis Miller to host, and my mom way watch again.

Review: Annihilation


Annihilation is an okay sci-fi movie; it just happens to remind a viewer of other movies of the genre, mostly the Alien films, but also a touch of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Based on the first book of a trilogy that I haven’t read, I have a feeling that there’s much more to the story than what we see here.

The film focuses on Natalie Portman as ex-Army and a professor of biology. She’s married to Oscar Isaac, who has undergone a secret mission and has been gone for a year. One day he shows up at the house, very well groomed. The reunion quickly goes haywire, though, when he starts spitting up blood.

On the way to the hospital, his ambulance is shanghaied by the military. Portman wakes up in the same facility, and a psychologist, Jennifer Jason Leigh, is free and easy with explaining that there is a large area (I think it’s supposed to be Louisiana) that is been encircled by what they call the “shimmer,” but looks like a huge shower curtain. Many things and people have been sent in, but nothing has come back, until Isaac.

Leigh and three others are mounting another another mission. Because she’s ex-military and a biologist, Portman goes along, although it does seem odd that the others have been training for months and she just tags along. They find that mutations are rampantly growing inside, among other weird things, and it all looks like a refrigerator that hasn’t been cleaned out in a while.

The story is told in flashback, as Portman is interviewed by a guy wearing a full hazmat suit. He takes precautions, but in Annihilation we have the old movie problem of stupid scientists. One of them, a brilliant physicist (Tessa Thompson), isn’t so brilliant that she does reach a bare hand into water to pick up an object. They scientists have packed up a lot of stuff, but apparently no rubber gloves.

Annihilation raises a lot of questions it doesn’t answer. Portman is shown lecturing about cells, and talks about they divide, which seems below college level, but what do I know. Apparently the Shimmer acts to refract DNA, whatever that means. The scientists are curious about what it all is, but we know it’s alien, because at the beginning of the film it comes out of the sky, whether as a crash landing or an invasion, we’re not sure.

The ending of the film is trippy, recalling the Star Child sequence of 2001, but on a much smaller scale (instead of stars, we’re talking about cells). A shot of Portman’s eyes at the end of the film suggests she’s an unreliable narrator, but I don’t know if we’re getting a sequel. Based on the box office, probably not.

Annihilation does make the audacious step of having all five scientists as woman, but did get slammed for turning Portman’s character from Asian to Caucasian.

I don’t think I’ve ever commented about sound design in a film before, but here goes–Annihilation’s is great. At one point the sound and the score, by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, converge. I just wish I could have figured out what was going on.

The film was directed by Alex Garland, who directed the much better Ex Machina. 

Opening in Las Vegas, March 2, 2018


Red Sparrow (54), starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina turned deadly spy, is getting very mixed reviews. It is supposed to be very violent and apparently JLaw gets naked, which is making the most news. I will likely see this in a theater.

The only other major release this week is a remake of Death Wish (31). Whether now is the time to have a movie about gun violence is questionable, but it should be remembered that the original film was against vigilantism. Director Eli Roth is certainly not subtle, so I doubt this film has anything to say on the subject. The Times calls it an “imbecilic misfire.” I will probably never see this.

Review: Black Panther


It seems that superhero movies are now doing the work of social justice (why not–baseball did it seventy years ago). Last year Wonder Woman struck a note for female empowerment, and now Black Panther has given the sub-Saharan African diaspora a movie that is about them, with people who look like them. There have been plenty of movies made by and starring black casts, but none of them made 200 million dollars in a weekend.

What is common to Wonder Woman and Black Panther is that they are extremely well made and intelligent. It helps to make history with a film when it’s actually good. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler takes a fifty-year-old comic book character and makes him fresh and interesting.

In a short prologue, we learn that the nation of Wakanda has benefited from two things–an meteorite full of vibranium, the world’s hardest metal (that’s what Captain America’s shield is made of) and a flower that, when consumed, gives one the power and speed of a panther. For a thousand years they have remained shut off from the rest of the world, and even have put up a force field that hides their technological advances.

The idea that an African country can be technologically advanced is so audacious considering the world we live in today. A country like this would be called a shithole by Donald Trump (or was it shithouse?) so I can only assume how proud it must be for those of African descent to see a country with brilliant people.

Anyway, the king of Wakanda (one thing I’m wondering about is whether a monarchy is the best form of government) takes on the role of the Black Panther. The previous king died in Captain America: Civil War, so in this film the new king, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is coronated. However, in a long-observed ritual, he has to take on any challenger by fighting in a pool water overlooking a waterfall.

Boseman goes around the world doing superhero things, like rescuing young girls from a group that looks like Boko Harum. There we meet his ex-girlfriend, Lupito Nyong’o, who is a spy for Wakanda. Here’s something else wonderful about Black Panther, it is very forward thinking about gender. Nyong’o and one of a squad of tall, bald women, Danai Gurira, kick butt every bit as much as a man, and Boseman’s sister, Letitia Wright, is some kind of scientific genius. Girls, white or black, can get behind this movie.

Black Panther also has the best villain of the MCU, Killmonger. Played wonderfully by Michael B. Jordan (an early Oscar contender, I hope), he hasn’t been zapped with radiation or fallen into a tank of electric eels. He is a self-made man on a mission. He is Boseman’s cousin, though he grew up in the U.S., and comes back to challenge for the throne. He wants Wakanda to reveal its success to the world, and use to it to take over. Part of his argument actually makes sense, which makes him so complicated.

There are only two white characters in the film. One them, Andy Serkis (nice to see him play a human being) is pure evil, and the other, Martin Freeman as a CIA agent, is kind of useless except when he shows off his video game skills. This is a film that dares to presume that a movie can be about black people, and that black people can solve their own problems. There is no white savior.

Black Panther is not perfect. The structure is a bit creaky, as we have to be shown something so we can see the same thing later. Also, a character makes an about-face at the end of the film that is unexplained, and makes for a cliched “here comes the cavalry” moment. Though this is a long film, I would have liked a few seconds for someone to ask, “What changed your mind?”

That’s just quibbling, though, as Black Panther transcends the superhero genre. Believe the hype.

The Tenth Annual Gone Elsewhere Oscar Challenge


Time for this year’s Oscar Challenge. It’s simple–just pick the winner in each of the 24 categories.

I suggest you simply cut and paste the list of categories below in a comment and type your choice of winner next to it. If you change your mind, either edit your comment or post a new one. I will take your last predictions as official.

Best Picture:
Best Director:
Best Actor:
Best Actress:
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
Best Original Screenplay:
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best Animated Film:
Best Cinematography:
Best Editing:
Best Production Design:
Best Costume Design:
Best Song:
Best Musical Score:
Best Documentary Feature:
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Best Makeup and Hairstyles:
Best Animated Short Subject:
Best Live Action Short Subject:
Best Sound Editing:
Best Sound Mixing:
Best Visual Effects:

The nominees can be found all over the web, including here.

Deadline will be anytime before the first award is given. The Oscar show is March 4th.

Review: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool has one major thing going for it: Annette Bening. Not only does she look like Gloria Grahame, the actress whom she is playing, but she has every bit of her down pat. Grahame, who was a star that almost no one but fans of old movies like me remembers, usually played the “bad girl,” (or, as referenced in this film, the “tart”) and won an Oscar for The Bad and the Beautiful (but if you want to check out her best work, I suggest The Big Heat, when she played Lee Marvin’s moll). She was also in It’s a Wonderful Life, as a girl named Violet, who makes men stop and stare at her as she walks down the street.

Based on a book by Peter Turner, who was her lover near the end of her life, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is about faded glamour and the pursuit of youth. Grahame was about sixty when she met Turner (Jamie Bell) and started an affair. He was an aspiring actor in London, while she was doing a play. There was about a thirty-year age difference. This is only mentioned once in the film, when back in California she introduces him to her sister, who brings up the fact that she once married her ex-stepson.

Grahame is suffering from breast cancer when she calls Turner from Manchester. He is back in Liverpool, the two having broken up (the why of this is not revealed until the end, although the savvy moviegoer may guess). She tells him it’s bad indigestion and wants to recover at his house, where his mother (Julie Walters) can take care of him. He doesn’t find out its cancer until after he phones her doctor (in an egregious example of violating patient privacy).

There are two parallel stories here: the relationship and the dying. Bening is about the same age as Grahame was then, so it’s not hard to see how Bell was attracted to her. There haven’t been a lot of films about May-December romances with the woman being older, so this is welcome to show one as being relatively healthy. Walters and her husband, Kenneth Cranham, are extremely non-judgmental. Bell’s brother, Stephen Graham, is only upset because Grahame has upset the order of his mother’s house, but when the chips are down, he’s there for his younger brother.

What does’t work about this film is that it’s structured as a standard disease-of-the-week weepie. I think if I were a screenwriter or a director I would never want to make a movie about someone dying, because it’s been done to death (pun intended). Why are we so fascinated with watching people, usually vital, die? Is it to comfort ourselves that we’re not going through it? Is it simply morbid curiosity? I’ll admit I got a little choked up and the end of this film, but it didn’t hit me on a gut level. Grahame’s life was a history of sad moments, but they deserve a better story than this.

I’ll say again that Bening sure looks like her, which enables director Peter McGuigan to use actual footage of Grahame without it being a shock to the system. The film closes with her winning the Oscar, and her almost dazed walk up to the podium, where she grabs the statuette, says only, “Thanks very much,” and goes off stage, almost in one movement.