Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Current Cinema 17.10

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

In choosing to title itself after the main character, Dan Gilroy's lacerating study of an eroding man awash in a concrete jungle of legal jargon and human indifference, "Roman J. Israel, Esq." holds true to this singular vision by never straying too far from Denzel Washington's increasingly distracted view of himself. Highly reminiscent of wiry 70's films like John G. Avildsen's "Save the Tiger" or Robert Mulligan's "The Nickel Ride", Gilroy's intelligent script places a decent man at a moral crossroads and then slowly tightens the atmosphere around him. Diversions are explored- especially in the role and performance of activist lawyer Carmen Ejogo who forms a tentative relationship with Roman- but the film stays locked on the increasingly bad decisions made by Roman after his basic support system fails him. I've heard some call this a slow-burn fizzler, but for my money, this is exactly the type of perceptive, oft-forgotten film that doesn't quite get made anymore.




Lady Bird

I think the moment Greta Gerwig's lovingly detailed and emotionally attuned coming-of-age masterpiece "Lady Bird" completely wrecked me is the moment Saoirse Ronan finds a handful of crumpled papers in her luggage... placed their surprisingly by her father (Tracy Letts) to let her know the complicated and unsung emotions her mother (Laurie Metcalf) was never able to convey. The same type of thing happened to me once..... a letter of compassion, remorse and half-spoken truths written by my parents at a crucial age in my life. I imagine people will find other select moments within Gerwig's film that relate to their own confused, tumultuous experiences in life which is exactly why "Lady Bird" feels more like a communal memoir than a single film. There's so much tiny beauty and personal affectations riddled throughout "Lady Bird" that it becomes a monumental ode to a certain time in life where everything feels exaggerated and explosive. And its performances are so perfectly realized and its mood so assured that it speaks volumes about actress turned director Gerwig and her natural ability to coax something at once personal and universal. I could gush about this film for days.



Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

While Martin McDonagh's latest film keeps in step with his black-hearted, vicious characterizations, it also manages to pierce through with some insanely honest moments as it careens through an angry tale of inherent racism, police brutality, and the sneering reverberations of violence.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Current Cinema 17.9

Wonderstruck



The absolutely stunning recreation of New York City circa 1927 and 1977 alone would be enough to praise Todd Haynes' magical ode to childhood. But his latest film goes even deeper than that, opening a playful pandora's box of cosmic attachment between a young girl (Millicent Simmonds) and young boy (Oakes Fegely) both exploring the same dusty corners of the city (and its museums) fifty years apart. How they're connected (one story told in silent black and white and the other funky fluorescent) slowly weaves into focus with forceful magic realism, culminating in a finale that's both cathartic and tonally perfect with Brian Selznick's original source material. At its core, "Wonderstruck" is a kid's movie, but Haynes makes it feel vital and nostalgic at the same time, fit for both the ten year old and eighty year old. After all, its a film that says the past is on constant repeat like a record player skipping over and over. It's bold, moving and well, wonderful.


The Killing of a Sacred Deer

For the first half of Greek provocateur Yorgis Lanthimos' "The Killing of a Sacred Deer", he ably casts an air of stilted, mannered weirdness that has one teetering on the edge of the disbelief. As the second half of the film's machinations come into focus, all of that tenseness slips away and it becomes another ugly, dark hearted entry in his universe of spiteful characters and emotional sacrifice. I just don't seem to be on this guy's wavelength.


The Florida Project

I'm not sure why, but I didn't equate the "project" in this title to mean a literal low-rent housing unit until about halfway through this film. Director Sean Baker is slowly becoming the the poet/puveyor of the disenfranchised and forgotten. While this film doesn't quite energize like "Starlet" or "Tangerine", it hits at something deeply rotten at the core of America in the trio of young Brooklyn Prince (the naive), trashy single mother Bria Vinaite (the lost) and hotel manager Willem DaFoe (the just getting by decent heart). None of these characters really expand into something greater than their characters, but the film's meandering authenticity and tiny moments of shattering heartbreak are more than enough to make amends.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Midnight Madness 2017, Part 3

The Old Dark House (1932)


Perhaps the inspiration for Tobe Hooper's extremely dysfunctional family in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", James Whale's 1932 classic is much more an uneasy chamber horror than an outright horror film. When a group of travelers become stranded at an old mansion, they must deal with ominous shadows, weird behavior, and a possibly deranged man locked up in the attic. It's all deliriously framed and performed, teetering on the edge of new found talkie staginess and a genuine penchant for unease. I'm just disappointed it took me this long to finally see it.


The Devil's Candy (2017)


Sean Byrnes' "The Devil's Candy" is so repetitive and exploitative, it becomes a complete bore. The scariest thing about it? Another slovenly, crazy dough-eyed performance by Pruitt Taylor Vince as a possessive child killer being haunted by the demons in his head. Yea, it's that boring.


The Neon Maniacs (1986)


And to end October viewing on a high note, we have Joseph Mangine's mid 80's latex horror "Neon Maniacs". Certainly belonging to the class of "so bad its good", the film is a slapdash comedy of errors whose latex covered monsters are the stuff of Garbage Pail Kids legend. Just enjoyable and fun.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Midnight Madness 2017, Part 2

The Devil Rides Out (1968)


As the introduction to this film on TCM explains, part of the reason it may not have been the big hit is because it had the unfortunate timing of being released after Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby". Both films deal with the circumference of fear when a young couple are slowly initiated into a satanic cult, What "The Devil Rides Out" has going for it (besides being a tremendous Hammer production) is its sincere attempt to unnerve AND entertain. Christopher Lee is the rare good guy fighting the powers of black magic and while it does contain some of the inherent kookiness of late 60's Hammer films, it more often than not hits its mark with simple scares and imaginary creatures.


Family Portraits (1993)


Essentially three short films (Cutting Moments, Home and Prologue) compiled into one bleak trilogy, Douglas Buck's ultra low budget efforts aren't "scary" so to speak, but they're disturbing at a basic level. Full of silent, seething rage between its characters and long stares into space, when the violence does occur, it's all the more shocking for how Buck frames and introduces it.... "Cutting Moments" especially. These are the types of stories where acts of violence play out, almost mutely, behind closed doors and when the acts are sprung into the world, the neighbor will say "I never saw it coming. They were such nice people". Buck's career is relatively short, but his work is well worth searching out.


The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)


Antonio Bido's lesser known giallo shoehorns so much plot into its first half, it threatens to implode on itself. Retarded children locked in attics.... a seance.... the ubiquitous black-gloved killer and a painting that may contain the key to the whole thing. It's needlessly convoluted which lessens its impact once the mystery winds to its conclusion. It is a giallo, after all and deserves a Halloween watch.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Midnight Madness 2017, part 1

Wishmaster (1997)


I can't believe I've never seen the "Wishmaster" series. Released in the late 90's- right smack dab in the middle of the years where friends and I would stay up all night, drinking to "Nightmare On Elm Street" and "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man"- this schlock horror series should have been front and center. Alas, I watch it now, sans the swirling appeal of alcohol, and it's pretty bad. The idea of a 'djinn' has always intrigued me, but the transformation of such a nightmarish ideal into a wise-cracking white guy in a business suit (and prison jumpers for the sequel!) is far from the established terrifying history of said creature.


Ouija (2013)


A PG-13 rating and lackluster word of mouth always kept me from indulging in "Ouija". However, the PG-13 rating is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film about a group of dope-headed teens who experiment with said evil contraption in order to find out what happened to their dead friend. Olivia Cook leads in an effective thriller, free of gore and normal-explicit-horror-film-stuff, relying on old fashioned jump scares and some expertly choreographed scenes to ring every amount of tension from its somewhat narrative. Still, this was a pleasant surprise. Now onto Mike Flanagan's part 2 which, with the same style of rating, hopefully entails some of the same pleasures.


Spontaneous Combustion (1990)



Tobe Hooper has his devotees, but his career is quite the schizophrenic one. By the time of "Spontaneous Combustion", I feel like he'd kind of lost his edge. Still entertaining for its woefully hectic performance by Brad Dourif and unique subject matter about nuclear age test-dummie parents giving birth to a man who can shoot fire and destroy others is very Stephen King-esque. There's not much schock here, but lots of schlock.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Current Cinema 17.8

Karl Marx City


Not only does Petra Epperlein's documentary shine a small light onto the cloistered history and political definitions of the East German Secret Police force (STASI) of the 70's and 80's, but it's also a highly personal exploration of her family's own hushed history during the same time. How these two spheres of time and place interact with each other is the central mystery. Intensely moving one second when Epperlein films her own family trying to come to terms with their father's mysterious suicide years ago, and coldly historical the next when interviewing ex STASI agents and how the compartmentalization of state always seemed to overrule their own better human judgement, "Karl Marx City" is the perfect example of utilizing a movable camera to peel back the layers.... no matter how painful they may be.


mother!

Go-for-broke cinema. No matter how one chooses to interpret Darren Aronofsky's parable of a tortured woman (Jennifer Lawrence) slowly going insane in a large old house when creatively-stifled husband (Javier Bardem) continually infringes on their partnership, "mother!" is daring and inciting. I choose to read it as a guttural feminist howl as every tiny recess of Lawrence's mind (including jealousy, paranoia, resentfulness and abandonment) is displayed- literally- onscreen. "mother!" represents a harrowing dissolution of family and self, eventually exploding into a carnal out-of-body trip through the violent dissonance of time where every mother's horror comes to inflict pain. Losing sons during war... losing daughters to carnivorous men.... and especially losing yourself in the midst of it all. One of the year's very best films.


American Assassin

Saw this on the same day as the 1997 horror movie "Wishmaster" and sad to report, that film is MUCH better than "American Assassin". I'm sick of the kick-ass mercenary fighting terrorist genre.


Plus, TONS of new reviews at Dallas Film Now including "Columbus", "Trophy", "Gook", "Rememory", "Gunshy" and more.