Monday, August 7, 2017

The Real McCoy

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Always enjoyed this caper movie from ’93.  Maybe the best thing is the strong female lead in Karen McCoy (Kim Basinger (Batman)) who’s fresh out of prison on parole for robbing banks.  This super rich prick Jack Schmidt (Terence Stamp (Bliss)) (you know the type who has pet tigers, that sorta thing) fucked her over by tipping off the cops.  It’s not totally clear but I think she wasn’t gonna cut him in on the deal and he got pissed.  But hang on ‘cause it gets worse.  Immediately after McCoy gets paroled Schmidt blackmails her into taking another bank job by kidnapping her son.  Man, what a fucking scumbag.

Now even though McCoy is in a sticky situation she doesn’t take shit from anybody.  Like when Schmidt sends one of his henchmen to lean on Karen to accept the heist offer she knees him in the nuts not once, not twice but three goddamn times!  She also throws his gun away and calls him an asshole.  In another scene she ends up punching her ex-husband right in the kisser knocking him on his ass.  Shit, this lady is not to be messed with.

All the men in this film hit on McCoy too adding such a creepy layer.  And I do mean all the men, even some random dude on a train.  They grossly compliment her by saying how she kept her figure while on the inside.  The love interest, J.T. (Val Kilmer (Heat)), is the only guy who doesn’t come off like such a piece of shit.  But of course he can’t resist hitting on her too.

Image result for the real mccoy 1993The picture not only deals with a woman trying to deflect constant advances from unsavory men but they show how hard it is to get back on your feet after a stretch in prison too.  No one wants to hire McCoy because she’s a felon and the instinct is she can’t be trusted.  In fact the only way she gets a job is by lying on her application.  But then of course she gets caught and loses it.

McCoy can’t win wherever she goes, whoever she turns to.  She just wants to be with her little boy and that’s taken from her as well.  Her ex won’t let her see him and the lawyer’s cold advice is to give up and start another family.  Then the little guy gets kidnapped and held hostage.  So when McCoy’s forced back into bank robbing it truly becomes her only option.  The filmmakers do a good job making you feel really bad for her so you’re with her all the way.

The heist itself is fun and the stakes are there due to proper build up of McCoy and her situation.  They go in at night so no one has to get hurt and it takes them hours and hours to crack the vault.  And the bit about purposely tripping the alarm over and over so the police don’t even care anymore is clever.

Image result for the real mccoy 1993And I know this has been percolating in your mind since the first paragraph, yes, someone does get mauled by a fucking tiger in this piece.

Russell Mulcahy directs and he’s done some cool work that’s had varying degrees of success.  Highlander and The Shadow are probably his most well known pictures.  He also did a lot of music videos before that.  But then there’s 1991’s Ricochet, a weird action thriller which instead of doing a straight review of I decided to make a laundry list of strange shit that’s in there.  I cautiously recommend it.  Mulcahy seemed promising but after The Shadow did only ok he went more into TV.

The Real McCoy does something special though.  Female leads in heist movies are virtually nonexistent so to actually get one and for her to be so badass is fucking fantastic.  She makes her own way in the world.  I guess you could say she’s the genuine article.  (Go ahead and boo, no regrets)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Song to Song

Summer Catch-Up
(Newer movies that I’m just getting to now)

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Twerking in a Malick movie? It's a whole new world
Another year another Terrence Malick picture.  Oddly though they aren’t blending together in my mind.  Somehow I can remember the basic deals with all of them.  But this latest one is more distorted and really hard to love.

Song to Song deals with three main players.  Michael Fassbender (Blood Creek) is a slimy asshole music producer, Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys) is an up and coming musician and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is a woman who’s very into sex/part time musician.  Ok here’s the best I can tell what happened.  Michael and Rooney were fucking but not bf gf, Rooney then shacks up with Ryan but the three of them are good friends and like going places together, Michael then marries Natalie Portman (Goya’s Ghosts) even though she always looks uncomfortable to be around him, Ryan cheats on Rooney with LLykke Li (music shit), Rooney and Ryan break up, Rooney dates Berenice Marlohe (Skyfall), Ryan dates Cate Blanchett (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Natalie Portman dies (I think), Rooney and Ryan eventually get back together.  Phew.

Malick tries mixing it up a little this time but the results aren’t great.  He introduces more story than he has since The New World (The Tree of Life had more ideas (space porn, dinosaurs, afterlife?) but not necessarily more story).  I think Rooney is supposed to be a sex addict but she has trouble finding pleasure in it lately.  Ryan and Michael are friends but they have a falling out when Michael copyrights Ryan’s songs in his own name.  Michael and Natalie’s relationship never seems right because Michael is a controlling cheating dick.  When Rooney and Ryan split up they both then date someone totally different.  Rooney dates a woman and Ryan dates an older woman (11 years older) who his mother doesn’t approve of.  It’s kinda too much story.

Image result for song to song rooney maraAny one of the above plotlines would’ve been enough for a movie by itself.  The problem is Malick introduces something else he hasn’t done in a while, scenes with actual dialogue.  Well maybe scenes should be in quotations because his crazy editing style has finally become a liability.  If you’re going to attempt “scenes” with dialogue and this much story and chop the whole thing up like a madman then it’s gonna be even harder than usual to follow what the fuck is going on.  You’ll get part of a “scene”, maybe the beginning, middle or end, and then we’re suddenly off to look at other shit or jump to someone else’s storyline.  The pacing becomes awkward and I felt like more stuff was getting by me than normal because all I have to go on are these snippets.

So the actors are going to say more than they have in the previous bunch of Malick films because we have the aforementioned dialogue but we also still have his customary soft spoken voice overs.  And what makes this particularly difficult is everyone had to make up their own lines on the spot (apparently like Knight of Cups there was no script) so almost all delivery comes off unnatural as hell.  Gosling especially feels out of place.  He’s a funny guy in his movies that says cheeky cutesy shit.  Malick doesn’t do that.  He definitely does playful but playful actions, not words.  Everything Gosling says sounds like it’s from another film.

All of the characters are one dimensional too due to there being not enough time to devote to each of them.  Things are hinted at but nothing really develops.  Supposedly the original cut was eight goddamn hours long which I suppose would’ve told us more about these people but who knows?  And boy I wouldn’t wanna be the one to conduct that experiment.

Image result for song to song rooney maraThe celebrity cameos were distracting as well.  All of these love stories are trying to be woven together and then bam it’s The Red Hot Chili Peppers or Patti Smith or Iggy Pop.  Not that I was so into this one to begin with but that didn’t help get me involved.  Val Kilmer was cool to see for a minute though.  He plays a performer that’s supposed to be about stage gimmicks like cutting an amp in half with a chainsaw ‘n shit.  I think that was my favorite part of the picture.

Of course cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Birdcage, Birdman) makes this look gorgeous as per usual.  He and Malick always knew how to beautifully capture natural landscapes but with Knight of Cups and now this one they’ve mastered how to make even mundane urban environments look like the prettiest shit you’ve ever seen.

Alright one more thing.  The editing is off.  Yes it’s frantic like normal but the selection is odd at times.  Typically quick random shots are inserted in these movies but in the past they appeared to make some sort of sense in the overall scheme of things.  Here the chosen random shots are sometimes just too damn random.  It’s like the editing is on autopilot and the computer is choosing from whatever’s available with no rhyme or reason.

Image result for song to song michael fassbenderI know you’re thinking “what did you expect from that weirdo recluse director?”  Well I guess you got me there.  Malick’s style is starting to wear out its welcome a bit.  I can appreciate on one hand that he attempted to take a very tiny baby step towards making what we would all consider a conventional narrative film, but at the same time that baby step is not a good mixture of elements that really works.  The stilted unscripted dialogue, the flat characters, the overabundance of storylines, the over editing even by Malick standards and etc, it doesn’t come together.

It’s a youthful picture though.  Youthful in that Malick went for younger lovers, somewhat more progressive themes, more modern music, hell there’s even shots of folks moshing.  I mean there still isn’t very much modern technology in sight like cell phones, computers, etc but I can’t blame the guy for wanting to explore a newer world.  And I certainly can’t blame him for making whatever the fuck movie he wants in whatever the fuck style he wants.  On that level he’s still very inspiring.  This time unfortunately it didn’t work out.  It’s possibly his worst one but hey, I’m still sticking with the guy.  Let’s see where he goes from here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Arrival

Summer Catch-Up
(Newer movies that I’m just getting to now)

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I’m beginning to get a little down on Denis Villeneuve because Enemy was odd without much of a payoff and Sicario was very good in spots but overall just ok.  Prisoners remains a true masterpiece which is why I continue to check out his work.  But man, Arrival is another disappointing entry.

It’s a combination of things that sorta get to me.  It’s not only on the slow side but also depressing as hell.  The entire world doesn’t want to work with each other to figure out what these freaky aliens in their admittedly neatly designed spaceships want.  Instead it’s unsurprising dicks China that seem eager to go to war with the visitors and it’s a few US insurgent assholes that try to ruin shit for all of humanity.  I’m not saying this isn’t a realistic and effective approach to the material, but when the whole world turns on itself and everything’s going to shit because some people can’t keep cool heads it’s too damn sad and frustrating.  Welcome to Earth, I guess.

There are other issues though like the film being too dimly lit (did anyone else have trouble making some shit out?), the uninteresting alien design, the extremely plain title and the very bland lead characters.  The introduction of Jeremy Renner (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) is especially bad where he picks a fight with Amy Adams (The Fighter) for no reason other than to have some brief manufactured tension.

Spoilers

Image result for arrival 2016The biggest aspect that has me scratching my head though is the reveal at the end.  You see throughout the movie Amy Adams has these flashbacks to her daughter who ended up dying at a very young age of a rare disease.  Well it turns out these aren’t flashbacks at all but visions of the future.  Adams’ encounter with the aliens and her ability to learn their language enables her to possess this clairvoyant power.  However it’s a little weird that she seems to have these powers before she meets the aliens.  Whatever the filmmakers got me, I fell right into their trap.  But is it clever or stupid?  I honestly don’t know.

There’s also the part where Adams saves the world by getting the Chinese head honcho on the phone and reciting his wife’s dying words to him.  The implication is this guy understands there’s something way more to these aliens and their visit so he decides to get off the warpath.  Adams has a vision of the Chinese leader expressing his gratitude for calling him on his private number and telling him his wife’s deathbed words.  So that’s sorta how Adams knew what to do and say.  But how did she know these things unless she had already done them once before, which she had not?  There’s a similar problem in The Terminator with Kyle Reese being John Connor’s father.  How could John send Reese back in time if Reese needs to go back in time to father John to begin with?  The actions Adams takes in the present are based on her vision of the future.  But that vision is dependent upon the action she takes at that moment in the present, which involves knowledge she didn’t know ever.  Ok I know I probably lost you but trust me, it’s fucked.

No More Spoilers

Image result for arrival 2016The coolest thing in the picture is the crazy looking written language the aliens have which supposedly is a real somewhat functioning language that was created for the movie.  It’s in a unique form where sentences are written in ink blot circles.  You could say they look like coffee cup ring stains but I’ll totally give the filmmakers credit for opening my mind to something like that.  Apparently it’s not only possible but it really exists.  Neato.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

Summer Catch-Up
(Newer movies that I’m just getting to now)

Image result for john wick chapter 2 commonAwwwww shit.  Now this is what I’m talkin’ about fellas.  In this installment Wick (Keanu Reeves (The Neon Demon)) is called back into action because of a sacred promise he made to an Italian mobster (Riccardo Scamarcio (Go Go Tales)).  Either John takes the job or violates the oath which means this asshole can kill him with no consequences.  Decisions, decisions.  Anyway, after his house gets blown up John figures he ought to accept the task and goes off to do what he does best (kill folks, that is).  But Wick gets double crossed and suddenly every hit man in America is out for him.  Wow, all this from one carjacking and puppy murder.

Chapter 2 is superior to the first in almost every way.  The action is staged better, shot better, the ideas are better, the dialogue is better, the stunts are crazier, the dry humor is funnier, the cinematography is more focused, Reeves’ movements are even more fluid and precise, and you get the point. 

The only thing is the story isn’t as strong.  Yes, both involve pretty thin fuckin’ plots but the impact of witnessing a man’s dog being killed (which was a posthumous gift from his dead wife no less) is incredibly moving.  Wick’s vengeance is fully justified, I suppose.  With Chapter 2 it’s about survival which is good too but we’re not tied to Wick as powerfully on an emotional level like we all were the first time around.  But if every other aspect is a step up then I gotta go with 2.

Director Chad Stahelski (stunts: Escape from L.A., Live Free or Die Hard, The Matrix and a million others) made a great debut with Wick 1 and shows very nice improvement with the sequel.  The movie feels more confident and seems to hang back a drop to allow the action scenes to breathe a little more.  His weird touches are so much fun too like the 50’s/60’s looking telephone operators with lots of tattoos that put out the bulletins for hit jobs, or that one mute henchwoman that appears to sign in not regular sign language but some other form with random hand gestures, or that there are hitmen at literally every turn made up of all shapes, sizes and genders.  Not to mention the finale is an Enter the Dragon rip off but like times a hundred with what must’ve been the most confusing mirror set every conceived.  First of all, how the hell did they shoot that shit?  But second, how the hell did they shoot and edit that shit and keep it actually comprehensible?!  It’s unbelievably impressive.

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Image result for john wick chapter 2 common

Image result for john wick chapter 2

Image result for john wick chapter 2But the biggest thing I love about the sequel is there’s way more hand to hand combat.  Both pictures showcase a ton of cool gunplay (including a scene in 2 where Wick and Common (Terminator Salvation) are shooting at each other at close range from either side of some parked cars that’s reminiscent of John Woo) but the first one relied on it a bit too much for my taste.  Chapter 2 lets John boy take down more bad guys with only his bare fucking hands and man are these fights put together well.  There’s a better balance of action here with a nuts car chase/battle, long shootouts, martial art/knife scuffles and even one encounter where John kills two assassins with a goddamn pencil (and it’s just as horrific as it sounds).

I thought Wick 1 was real good but not great.  Wick 2 is great.  The opening scene alone is better than anything in the first one in my opinion.  Holy shit I’m stunned at how much of a good time I had watching this.  I’m ready for more.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Logan

Summer Catch-Up
(Newer movies that I’m just getting to now)

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The big deal surrounding this one, at least pre-release, was that we were finally gonna get a rated R Wolverine picture.  The character lends itself to that type of edgier material and appeared to be somewhat confined over the years in the PG-13 realm.  The Wolverine was busting at the seams and wanted to be R badly but director James Mangold (Walk the Line) and co couldn’t convince the Hollywood suits.  So now that this cream dream has come true, how is it?

Goddammit, I hate to be an asshole naysayer but this wasn’t nearly as good as everyone had been telling me.  Since this was such a long time coming and the filmmakers at last had their R rating locked in it feels like they overcompensated by making the film stupidly gratuitous.  There’s an unending barrage of very nasty shit like Logan stabbing countless bad guys in the head and face, him unnaturally cramming the word “fuck” into almost every sentence, a little eleven year old girl killing a whole lot of people with no problem, she also stabs a million dudes in the face and neck, mutant children being abused and murdered, child suicide, boobies for boobies sake, an innocent family gets caught in the crossfire and is completely slaughtered, several head shots, Logan and children severing limbs, etc.  This movie’s brutal in not a very fun way.  The old classic line from Jurassic Park is apt here: “…[they] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Image result for loganOn the positive side of things Hugh Jackman (Swordfish) is fucking awesome and by far the best part of the film.  Older Wolverine dealing with his diminishing healing powers and the beautiful respectful relationship he and Chuck Xavier (Patrick Stewart (Gnomeo & Juliet)) have are all handled well.  And sure, I can even appreciate the bizarre child murderer angle (albeit in self-defense) because it took some balls to go in that direction.

But all of the shitty looking CGI blood splatters, the middle of the road directing and visual style, the undefined villain role that gets split between three people for some reason, the not terribly interesting story, the really boring stretch leading up to the finale (which kind of abruptly starts up from nothing and suddenly has to kick into high gear) and etc is too much to overlook.

I mean I enjoyed Logan enough but not any more than most of the other Marvel movies.  I doubt I’ll revisit this guy in the future.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The River Wild

Image result for the river wildHere’s the setup: Gail “White Water” Hartman (Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia!)) is a former river rafting guide who takes her son, Roarke (Joseph Mazzello (Jurassic Park)), on a trip down her old river stomping grounds as a birthday present.  Her husband, Tom (David Strathairn (The Bourne Legacy)), cancels at first but then eventually comes along to try to salvage their strained marriage.  He hopes to reconnect with Roarke as well who hates his guts for working all the time.  Along the way they meet up with Wade (Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man)) and Terry (John C. Reilly (Gangs of New York)) who seem a bit creepy.  Maybe it’s because they just did a robbery and are on their escape route.  That could have something to do with it.  Anyway, they kidnap Gail and her family and force them to traverse the treacherous waters so they can make their getaway.

This film reminds me of two things.  First is that it’s Hitchcock-like in not only the brilliantly simple and tight story idea but also the excellent and precise building of tension.  You just know so much shit is gonna go down and that suspense is killer.  Second is this is a little like Deliverance.  Ok, it doesn’t get viciously violating like that or make you question what the hell is real anymore by the end but it’s you know, a fun trip down a river that goes horribly wrong.  And they both involve run-ins with a pair of awful fucking people who put the protagonists in a dire situation.  By the way if you haven’t checked out Deliverance yet you really should.

Now Streep is renowned for her acting ability and I’ve seen her pull off some damn good performances (Kramer vs. Kramer, Death Becomes Her) but for whatever reason she kinda looks like she’s not so into it here.  Nor sure what it is but the good news is she has enough natural charm to carry her through anyway.  Although when Gail turns into her alter ego, White Water, Streep turns it on more ‘cause she gets to kick ass on the rapids and talk tough to the villains.  Gail gets scared but White Water’s fearless.

Image result for the river wild davidI like that David Strathairn was cast as the unavailable father who when backed into a corner turns into a Pitbull that does whatever the fuck he needs to do to save his family.  He’s such an average guy in every way, looks, physique, personality, which makes this casting decision and performance all the more enjoyable.  I mean Tom has to wrestle and punch the bad guys a few times throughout and Strathairn totally pulls it off.  I guess it helps a lot that neither Bacon nor Reilly are huge muscular guys.  They’re not in any better shape than Strathairn so it feels like the playing field is even, well if we’re talking no gun and only mano a mano that is.

So Tom turns into a cool character despite being kind of annoying for the first third.  You learn he can’t keep promises or set aside some family time because he’s so absorbed by his job.  He doesn’t fly out with everyone to the northwest for the rafting trip so you think he’s blown it once again.  But then he shows up at the last minute right before they cast off to show he cares.  The only issue is he also brings along his briefcase and does do some work while on the river.  It seems weird to me that this guy clearly recognizes he needs to cool it with his job and join his family on this trip to save his marriage, but then he continues to work and alienate people anyway.  Either he gets it or he doesn’t.  This in between thing is bullshit.

Image result for the river wildFor my money though the best one to watch is Bacon.  Man does he thrive in an asshole role and this is no exception (that’s strange because he seems like such a down to earth cool guy in real life).  Wade acts fishy from the start but you can’t put your finger on why exactly and that’s the mark of a great performance.  However the signs get stronger as the film progresses like he shows Roarke his gun in secret and peeps on Gail skinny dipping.  It’s when he finally reveals his true intentions of forcing Gail to run The Gauntlet, an infamously impossible series of rapids that Gail has only run and survived once before, that you truly begin to see the extent of Wade’s craziness.  I mean it’s astounding that up until the very end we’re still discovering how much of a psycho this guy actually is.  He’ll kill anyone with absolutely no qualms and he says sinister shit like “Now I’m gonna try to [shoot] you in the spine right between the shoulder blades, you ready?”  He’s kinda fucking insane and the subtle build up to that realization is handled great.

John C. Reilly meanwhile is mostly relegated to the dumb sidekick role.  But there’s an innocence to Terry which gives him some nice dimension.  He’s not heartless like Wade and it’s unclear if he has or could even muster up the strength to kill someone.  And he does deliver maybe the only funny line in the movie (probably unintentionally though).  You see Gail, Roarke and Tom know sign language because Gail’s father is deaf so they use that skill to their advantage in this shitty situation.  At one point when Gail is signing to Roarke Terry yells out “Wade!  They’re talkin’ or whatever!”

Moving on, I love the way this was shot with tons of gorgeous wide open landscape filling your screen.  Mountains, rivers, rapids, cliffs, simply beautiful.  Cinematographer Robert Elswit (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler, Return of the Living Dead II) did an awesome job surrounding you in the splendor but also isolation of the northwest.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score is fairly generic but pretty dramatically sweeping at the same time.  I guess that’s why he’s done a million fucking film scores over the years (Chinatown, Alien, Gremlins, Basic Instinct, Air Force One).  He rides that big Hollywood film music line like almost no one else.  Apparently he was called in at the last minute to re-do the music because the suits didn’t like what Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ghost) did.  Interestingly you can find Jarre’s original score if you poke around for a sec.  Don’t get what was wrong with it myself.  Goldsmith’s score actually sounds more dated, very early to mid-90’s with those odd air puffed snare hits.

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As for the big white water rafting stunts, yea they’re cool ‘n’ all but I gotta be honest, for someone who hasn’t done any of that shit it’s hard to gauge how impressive that stuff is.  The finale rapids section, The Gauntlet (which is ominously alluded to many times during the film getting you pumped for it), does look fucking crazy though.  And people had to do that shit for real, conquering thirty foot drop-offs, tons of waves and whirlpools, giant rocks that could split your head open in an instant and etc.  They definitely deliver on the river getting pretty goddamn wild.

Director Curtis Hanson had sort of a peculiar career over the years if you look back (he just died in 2016).  He started in low budget horror then did the teensploitation movie Losin’ It starring Tom Cruise, and then suddenly became a respected Hollywood director with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.  But most people will know him for the overrated L.A. Confidential and the Eminem inspired, Eminem starring picture 8 Mile.  He didn’t have a noticeable style but hey, he sure knew how to get some excitement on the screen.  The River Wild has got to be my favorite of his that I’ve seen.  As a quick mention though, Hanson’s homoerotic thriller Bad Influence is substantially weird with Rob Lowe (St. Elmo’s Fire) being the immoral encouragement over James Spader (Crash (1996)).  It shouldn’t’ be missed. (Wow, that’s two recommendations and this thing ain’t over yet)

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Let’s wrap up, this is a damn fine picture with very good pacing.  It’s like you don’t even realize how bad the situation is until it’s too late.  Everything seems to be going fine and then all of a sudden you’re trapped between a river and hard place.  Time is well spent constructing the characters relationships with each other and then testing those relationships under enormous stress.  Throw in some real dangerous river rafting shit and smart choices about what to leave out and only allude to (the actual robbery for example) and you got something.

The River Wild isn’t a masterpiece or anything but I love its spirit and it does the modest high tension, high stakes plot justice.  I really couldn’t ask for more out of this nice little effective concept.  It’s hard to find a good thriller and this is certainly worthy of your time.  I think you’ll like it.

(Check out this badass fucking trailer)