Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Day with Film (Wednesday, 11/30/16)

Wednesday, 11/30/16

Dear Diary,

So late last night, I started watching THE NEW WORLD since I ran short of time over the Thanksgiving holiday. I picked up the Blu-ray disc from the Criterion Collection during one of their 50% off flash sales earlier this year. The package apparently contains three different versions of the film: the 3-hour Extended cut, the 2-hour Theatrical cut, and Terence Malick's 2.5-hour First cut. I chose the Extended cut to watch this time.

The last time I saw this film was in 2006 in the theater, and being the young, naive moviegoer that I was at the time, I hated it. It was my introduction to Malick, and I didn't understand his deliberate, poetic visual and narrative style. So I popped the disc in sometime after midnight last night and made it through the first hour or so before falling asleep. It wasn't for lack of trying to stay awake, however. I finished the film earlier today, and it's times like this that I'm so grateful to have received a formal education in the study of cinema. Suddenly THE NEW WORLD, a film I once despised, became one of the more enriching cinematic experiences of my life. Chivo's naturally-lit cinematography sucked me in. The production design from Jack Fisk, musical score from the late James Horner, and lead acting performances all kept me there.

Rediscovering Malick's oeuvre over the past year (and going forward) with fresh eyes has been an absolute joy. I first saw DAYS OF HEAVEN via Criterion this year, and it's now one of my all-time favorite films and likely the most visually resplendent I've ever seen. Watching any film from Criterion is like watching it all over again for the first time. They do such an impeccable job, from the box art to the supplemental material. I cannot recommend their products highly enough.

This morning I saw that Netflix instituted a function where you can download certain titles for offline viewing. That's pretty cool. I could've used that last week when we drove 10 hours to North Carolina for Thanksgiving. Aside from long road trips or plane rides, I'm not sure when I would use Netflix offline personally.

Also today I searched online for jobs with the Cincinnati, Louisville and Kentucky state film commissions. I couldn't seem to find anything on their webpages. I've reached out to Cincinnati a few times before, and I emailed the Kentucky state commission. Fingers crossed!

Tonight I'm watching this past Sunday's episode of THE WALKING DEAD and most likely the extended edition of GHOSTBUSTERS (2016). Will report on that tomorrow.

- BC

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Day with Film (Tuesday, 11/29/2016)

I decided today to start a daily diary with my interactions with film. I'm not sure exactly what it will be aside from a little insight into how my warped mind works when it comes to movies on a daily basis. I don't have time to cover stories like these all the time on my podcast, so I thought I'd just write everything down. I hope you'll stick with me and continue to listen to The Reel Movies Podcast and continue to read this blog. So here goes:

Tuesday, 11/29/16

Dear Diary,

Today is Tuesday, which means it's another week with more new releases on home video. I've been doing well recently with saving some money. Christmas gifts for the family are all pretty much set; now I'm saving for my best friend's bachelor party next year. Overall I've been trying to reduce the number of Blu-rays I buy, particularly at release day prices. I have a collecting problem that I'm slowly getting under control. I didn't go nuts with Barnes & Noble's 50% off Criterion November sale like I usually do, and I also didn't buy any movies on Black Friday this year, which is extremely uncharacteristic of me.

No, I had to wait until literally the day after all the damn sales ended so that I could get DON'T BREATHE and PETE'S DRAGON - two of my favorite films of 2016. FML!

I'm ecstatic to have them in my collection, but the whole time I was in Target today, I was thinking "These are probably going to be on Netflix or Hulu or Crackle someday, and if they aren't these Blu-rays will come down in price another day. You don't need them today." Then my inner Kermit the Frog took over.

"Disney Blu-rays very rarely, if ever, go on sale after release day. You might as well jump on it now. And you loved DON'T BREATHE! To sweeten the deal, both movies have a director's commentary! You can't beat that!" 

I hate you, Kermit.

I loved both of these films when I saw them in theaters this year. I reviewed both on the blog a couple of months ago. They're for completely different audiences, but I'd recommend them to anyone in those target audiences. I'm excited to check out the bonus features on each disc. 

Mark these famous last words - PETE'S DRAGON and DON'T BREATHE will be the last two Blu-rays to go on my shelf between now and Christmas Day. 

It's the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, and I'm not sure what the rest of the day in cinema will hold. I just reviewed THE LOVE WITCH, and I laughed to myself that I reviewed a '60s inspired pulp melodrama before DOCTOR STRANGE, MOANA or FANTASTIC BEASTS. All great movies, by the way. I wanted to watch my Criterion disc of Terence Malick's THE NEW WORLD over Thanksgiving because when else would you watch Terence Malick's THE NEW WORLD? I didn't get to do that over the holiday, so I'll try to knock that out tonight. Ah, but I haven't watched this week's episodes of WESTWORLD or THE WALKING DEAD yet. And I still have several discs at home I haven't popped in yet, including Criterion's THE APU TRILOGY which I got for Christmas last year. Not to mention everything in my Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO and Crackle queues. There simply aren't enough hours in the day. I feel slightly overwhelmed by the amount of content I have to get through and eventually revisit, but I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Until tomorrow.


"The Love Witch" Review

Just when you thought the time of year for Midnight Movies was over and Oscar bait was poised to take over the cinemas, writer/director/Jane-of-all-trades Anna Biller delivers what is likely to be the year's last, best late-night gasser. In fact, if it wasn't for the sheer unbridled lunacy of The Greasy Strangler, The Love Witch would be 2016's best case for a future cult classic. I saw the film late on a Monday night and was the only soul in the auditorium. I can only imagine how much fun The Love Witch would be on the big screen with a raucous midnight audience.

The Love Witch is about a gorgeous young woman named Elaine (Samantha Robinson) who practices witchcraft. She uses spells to get men to fall madly - even fatally - in love with her. The film's entire gag is that it's made to look like one of those gaudy Technicolor melodramas and pulp stories from the 1960s. Intricate, handmade sets and costumes, washed-out lighting, and intentionally cheesy acting (in this case) are the tools of Biller's trade. Although the joke wears a bit thin in a few scenes, it's difficult not to find yourself totally captivated by the time the credits roll. I couldn't help but laugh every time the production design around Elaine's character oozed '60s and '70s style only for her friend Trish (Laura Waddell) to make a call from her iPhone and drive around town in her 2015 BMW M3.

Performances from both Robinson and Gian Keys as Detective Griff Meadows in particular sealed the deal for me. Both know precisely what is expected of them and fit the material beautifully. Robinson is as enchanting as any of the screen sirens of the period that the film spoofs. Keys's clean, chiseled "movie-star" look is also reminiscent of the classic B-movie heroes. Biller couldn't have picked a more perfect specimen to fit this role. Keys IS Griff Meadows. He and Robinson are perfect foils in this "Battle of the Sexes" - the seemingly perfect man versus the seemingly perfect woman. Who's will could possibly triumph?

Elaine and Griff don't get together until later in the film, but undoubtedly the story picks up steam when they do. It builds to a surprisingly thought-provoking climax as it pertains to pathological narcissism, personal fantasies, and gender politics (particularly the fragility of manhood).

It seems that this is the first time Biller's work has gotten anything close to mainstream exposure. I had never heard of her prior to this film, but an investigation of her back catalog suggests that The Love Witch isn't her first rodeo with the '60s melodrama thing. Her previous work appears inspired by that of Mario Bava, Ed Wood and William Castle to name a few. It will be fun to watch Biller's career unfold from here as The Love Witch signals the arrival of a confident new voice in genre cinema. The best thing about this movie is that it knows precisely what it is and what it needs to be. As long as you're able to buy into Biller's shtick, The Love Witch comes recommended.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"Moonlight" Review

Moonlight is being heralded as the movie of a generation and one of the finest films of this century. On aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 98% among critics, with an average rating of 8.9 out of 10. For some perspective, the two films widely considered by critics each year to be the very best of the 2000s - Mulholland Drive and The Tree of Life - hold average RT ratings of 7.4 and 8.1 out of 10 respectively. Metacritic is another widely-respected review aggregate website on which Moonlight holds an unheard-of 99/100 rating. The Shawshank RedemptionThe Godfather, Part II and The Empire Strikes Back each hold Metacritic scores of 80/100.

Needless to say that on paper, Moonlight looks like a modern classic. Having bought into the hype and now finally seen the finished product for myself, Moonlight will likely go down as 2016's most overrated film. It isn't an especially bad film by any stretch; in fact it's impeccably acted and beautifully shot. But those pieces alone do not an outstanding picture make. You need an engaging story, and the coming-of-age beats here do very little to stand out from similar films such as Boyhood - another great, if overrated, recent coming-of-age drama. Moonlight simply falls short of being the stirring masterpiece that all the superlatives would have you believe it is.

Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young homosexual man from the inner city of Miami, Florida. Chiron's story is told in three parts, at three different stages in his life under three different names. In middle school, the kids all call him "Little" since he's small and easy to push around. In high school, Chiron uses his given name. As an adult, Chiron fully embraces the nickname "Black," where we find him running a dope ring in Atlanta. We see how, as "Black," Chiron's personality has been influenced by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who, along with his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae), acted as a father figure back when the kids all called him "Little." "Black" pretty much takes over following an off-screen stint in prison. For the audience, we get the sense that Chiron's tried to harden himself considering the stigma of homosexuality in gang / street culture but that this hollow façade hasn't given him any peace. This becomes most evident when "Black" reunites with Kevin (played by three different actors, most powerfully by André Holland), a friend from his high school days.

Moonlight may be one of those movies that grows on you over time. In fact, as I sit here thinking through several of Chiron's defining character moments, I find myself reminiscing on the film in a much more favorable light than I might have last Sunday night immediately after seeing it. That said, the film still has its issues.

First of which, writer/director Barry Jenkins seems content to skip over large character-changing moments in favor of capturing scenes of insignificant intimacy. Granted these are perhaps the moments that make up "real life," similar to what Linklater tried to capture in Boyhood, but here it just feels like we're missing out on something else - a grander scheme, a "bigger picture," a plot. Moonlight just feels like a two-hour string of conversations in which something truly engaging only happens every 20 minutes or so. It feels like there's a lot of stuff that happens between scenes which would've been interesting to explore, such as the influence of Chiron's sexuality during his prison stay. I only found myself fully invested in Chiron's narrative at the film's more blatantly artistic moments - flashes of blue and red lights marking transitions between the three time periods, shots of a shirtless "Little" at the beach under the violet haze of the early evening hours, and the deteriorating relationship with his mother Paula (Naomi Harris) punctuated by slow-motion Mise-en-scène and stirring musical score from Nicholas Britell. The film is full of memorable moments like these; I just wish they came together in a more satisfying narrative. 

I think that the biggest thing Moonlight has going for it - and maybe why critics have taken to it so generously - is that it lends voices to certain characters and people who are severely underrepresented in cinema. I always say that "some representation is better than none at all," but it seems a shame for such rich characters to wind up beholden to a narrative we've seen a thousand times. Chiron's journey is an interesting one at times, but I walked out underwhelmed at the end. Recommended for serious cinephiles only as well as those hoping to see all the year's big awards contenders, which this one certainly will be regardless of this reviewer's opinion.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"Inferno" Review

After a 7-year hiatus, the adventures of author Dan Brown's inquisitive university professor Robert Langdon continue in Inferno. They say "third time's the charm," but let's be honest. Your appreciation of Inferno will depend entirely on your tolerance for The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

This time, Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in an Italian hospital wondering how he got there. With the close aide of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), the professor finds himself unwittingly at the center of a sinister plot to release a worldwide plague orchestrated by charismatic billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster). The virus is expected to halve the world's population. To stop it, Langdon and Dr. Brooks must solve a series of riddles which all bear a striking connection to Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy." Hot on their tails are an assassin (Ana Ularu) with an allegiance to a dubious security organization, Bouchard (Omar Sy), a private security officer with a shady personal agenda, and W.H.O. agent Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a figure from Langdon's past.

The source material surely has its own Indiana Jones B-movie roots, but the screenplay from David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible) does precious little to elevate it beyond dreck. The script has a couple of neat twists, and director Ron Howard commands a game cast. However, even the incomparable Tom Hanks can only do so much with lines such as "It's Dante... yes... YES!" The player who seems to be having the most fun is Irrfan Khan who plays Henry Sims, a fixer with no particular commitment to the good or the bad guys. Khan chews the scenery as well as he can, and his presence alleviates the film's monotony at times. The proceedings are fast-paced but largely dry due to Koepp's risible dialogue. There's also just not much direction here. I've always felt that Howard's identity as a director disappears with these Da Vinci Code movies, and that streak continues. He's better than this. Everyone involved is.

It's rumored that Sony declined to make a film out of Langdon's only other adventure The Lost Symbol due to creative similarities with Disney's National Treasure. I think that's for the best.