Tag Archives: Writer

Wiener-Dog

Seriously, WTF? I watched this entire film in the hope that it would eventually come together as something…anything. I was to be disappointed and annoyed.

Director/writer Todd Solondz had no sense of when to stop a joke (and I use that term loosely) nor much humanity. Because he is also the writer/director of the brilliant Welcome to the Dollhouse and equally brilliant, but horrific, Happiness, perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised with the darkness of it all. But in this case, I have no idea what he was hoping to get across, whereas his earlier work was challenging (to say the least), but ultimately with substance.

I think the intent was dark humor with the dog as the forced thread for the vignettes. However, the first half of the film is about the same dog going from owner to owner (a lot like a cruel A Dog’s Purpose). Then we get an amusing and jarring “intermission” followed by stand-alone tales that have similar dogs in them, but with almost no purpose. It is even somewhat weirdly self-referential regarding film. Add to this the flat delivery of the dialogue, clearly consistent and a choice, and I’m left bereft of a clue. Perhaps it was intended as a post-modernist take on Brecht? Still, it just didn’t work.

Honestly, this is a waste of your time and of any film or hard disc it was filmed to. I honestly don’t forgive Solondz for wasting my time on this one.

Wiener-Dog

Girlboss

Silly, crude, empowering, oddly romantic, and not a little embarrassing, this is a fun series. And, yes, here we go again with Brit Robertson (A Dog’s Purpose). Seriously unintentional… just a matter of timing.

With this series, Robertson hard turns from young, sure teen to the kind of trainwreck most suitors can’t resist and yet should probably run away from. She cuts loose as the driven, and not a little scary, Sophia, who is trying to figure out her life while simultaneously blowing it up (including dating a drummer).

Her anchors, Jonathan James Simmons (The To Do List) and relative new-comer Ellie Reed, provide both encouragement and guidance, though not always the right kind. But all work well together and balance nicely. And, as her father, Dean Norris (Men, Women, Children) adds a solid sense of familial love and strife.  To add to the fun, there area host of recurring guest appearances by folks such as Melanie Lynskey (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Jim Rash, Louise Fletcher and the infamous and fabulous RuPaul.

The show is full of humor and reality… and quite a bit of reality stretching, but that is admitted to right up front. Created and written by Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect 2), she brings the same kind of humor and heightened reality she loves playing in. The series is a fun distraction, with some reasonable life lessons, and a moment to mark for Robertson, as she has definitely left her child-actor years behind her.

Girlboss

Miss Sloane

This is a story that you are hoping has been heightened for drama, but you secretly fear has been watered down to be credible. Basically, it is a behind-the-scenes fiction of the influence and methods of lobbyists on the laws of the land. As if you didn’t have enough to feel frustrated by and fear in DC, this will give you more of both.

Jessica Chastain (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) championed this film to release and you can see why she wanted the role. Her character is strong, driven, and massively flawed. Unfortunately, she isn’t very sympathetic, even though her cause is just and her lack of self-delusion is fairly small. Basically, you can respect and admire her efforts, but you can’t help but revile the person (or blame her) for her actions and self-same efforts despite any results she may attain.

The rest of the cast breaks down into three groups. Mark Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Jupiter Ascending), in larger roles that work with Chastain’s character directly. Both deliver interesting performances. Mark Strong, in particular, shows a different side of himself from what we’ve seen in the past.

Opposing Chastain’s Sloane are a collection of solid actors, if not solid performances, who were probably picking splinters from their teeth at the end of the tale. Michael Stuhlbarg (Arrival), Sam Waterston (Grace and Frankie), and John Lithgow (The Accountant) were all just a little too arch and a little too angry. These are all men capable of subtlety, but only Lithgow even came close to trying for a lighter touch.

In the last group are some smaller, but noticeable roles played by Allison Pill (Hail, Caesar!), Douglas Smith (Terminator: Genisys), and Jake Lacy (Obvious Child). Pill and Lacy each have a couple very nice moments story-wise, while Smith just has great presence on screen, despite having very little to do.

What this film really needed was Aaron Sorkin to write the script. Not that Perera’s script isn’t quite solid and fast and in the style of Sorkin, but Sorkin it ain’t. To be fair, however, as Perera’s first script, it is impressive. Director John Madden (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) kept up the pace and intensity nicely for the 2+ hours and stuck to the bare realities of the story, rarely going for manipulation. However, Madden takes some of the blame for any over-acting that existed as well. Keeping it all a bit more restrained would have heightened the disturbing nature of the movie. Instead, he hoped to provide a sense of relief and joy as Chastain battles the “monsters” even though she, herself, isn’t much better as an individual; she simply chose the more palatable cause.

If you are up for some political intrigue and the continued dashing of what hopes you may have that we live in a functional society, this is a good movie for you. It will also work if you like complex suspense films that are more cerebral than flashy, as the story and the machinations are wonderfully complex. However, if you’re looking for some escapism, you should run the other way. This isn’t going to get your mind off anything.

Miss Sloane

Sense8 (series 2)

The first series of Sense8 was a mind-blowing experience. Its scope and inventiveness blazed new ground for the small screen. It challenged its viewers on many levels and managed to set up a world and set of conflicts that had you begging for more. Even if it wasn’t new material for readers of folks like Theodore Sturgeon, it was the best depiction of those ideas I’d ever seen in visual media.

Then came the holiday special, which was an important story bridge, but which also indicated a potential shift in quality. So it was with no little trepidation that I dove into the long awaited second series.

One of the first things that is immediately obvious is that one of the rich aspects of the show, the 8 languages, has been shifted to all English. It is a subtle change at first, but as the show goes on it definitely feels diminished and less credible. One of the fascinating and wonderful aspects to Sense8 was the multi-cultural breadth of the characters. It is part of its core message that people of all countries and creeds can work closely together, can love one another. Now, not only does it all sound the same, but some of the actors are struggling with the language, and subtleties, such as using English as a way to make others feel dumb or less, have been lost.

The scale of the show has also been pulled back. In some ways this was anticipated. Sense8 is not one of Netflix’s most successful shows in terms of sheer force. It will work for them for years, I’ve no doubt, but budgets aren’t typically planned on that hope. So I can forgive this, especially if it means we get more. However, there was at least one great addition to the cast (which I can’t discuss without blowing surprises), but I will say that Doctor Who fans will be pleased.

While Straczynski (Babylon 5), and Lana and Lilly Wachowski (Jupiter Ascending) are all still very involved, I was sad to see Tom Tykwer (Drei/3)disappear from the creative staff. There was a magic with all of them that seems just a little less without him there. And the rules of this world are somewhat fungible at this time… this could be because our main characters really are still learning about what they are or it could be that the writers are not staying consistent. Time will tell on that, but it does need to clarify how Sensoriums can reach out to one another and when/how someone can take over someone else.

OK, all of that said, this is still a fascinating and brave show. It is doing things and dealing with themes that no one else really is, and certainly not in this way. The end of this series, of course, sets up the next and it has definitely raised the stakes again.  So, yes, I am anticipating the the next series already. I hope it gets renewed and I hope it comes with a bit more of the original series feeling back into it.

[Updated 1 June, 2017: And this is why fans have such trouble committing to great shows: Sense8 is officially cancelled]

Sense8

Samurai Jack (series 5)

After a 13 year hiatus, there was definite trepidation around how this magnificent series would revive; the dead so often don’t return with their souls intact. I needn’t have worried. Despite the gap in time (appropriate in some ways) and the move to computer graphics, Samurai lost little, if any, of its original sense and sensibility. Its minimal graphics were very much in its favor, and the return of Genndy Tartakovsky to oversee and run the result kept it on track. Even the loss of Mako as the voice of the great evil Aku didn’t slow it down.

In some ways, this is the best of the series. Before it was very episodic without much of a trajectory other than the increasingly scaling fights with Aku. The universe always expanded with new characters and ongoing interactions, but seasons never felt like they had a shape. This final series has a very definite shape and a eye to its ultimate ending.

If you like Samurai Jack, you have to see the end of the saga. If you somehow missed it before, discover it now and not have to wait over a decade to have your hunger sated for an ending. Samurai remains as good as ever and as beautiful and as poetic as it began.

Samurai Jack

La La Land (redux)

I was worried this movie wouldn’t hold up to a second watch. It is, after all, a fluff movie with some sharp edges. I needn’t have worried. It still delighted and tugged at emotions and dreams in all the right ways.

It is also one of the most beautifully composed films I’ve seen. The framing, edits, and production design are just, simply, delightful. The camera floats along with the action. The colors are striking, and the intra-scene edits are almost non-existent (and when they are, they are seamless).

It is still flawed, as a story. Uneven and, shall we say, light on characters, not to mention just a tad long for its purpose. The lightness is was what it was meant to be, so I don’t judge it for that so much as still get frustrated when other films of the year (like Arrival) were pushed aside. But I ranted on that enough already. I will say that I still marvel at the choice and delivery of the final moments. It was brave and a much better resolution than the obvious.

La La will remain in my circle of rewatch for many years, I’m sure. Just as An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, neither of which are perfect movies either.  And I will certainly be watching whatever Chezelle comes out with next.

Ikiru (To Live)

What is a life worth living? What is a life well-lived?  Akira Kurosawa tackles these questions through the life of a mid-level bureaucrat in 1950s Japan with his trademark patience and dark humor. From the start, Kuraosawa makes sure that while the subject may be deep, you aren’t taking it too seriously. His intent is to nudge rather than hit you upside the head.

Takashi Shimura drives this film in the main role. It is one of the most unpresupposing performances I’ve seen. We watch him literally open up and flower as the film goes on. There are few “big” moments, but several small, intense events that awaken in Shimura’s character a need to live. But is isn’t just the character journey that has impact. The overall structure of the narrative is just as intriguing as the story itself, unfolding in unexpected but necessary ways. If it weren’t for Kurosawa’s inventiveness, the 2.5 hours would have suffocated under its own weight. Instead, he manages to keep us intrigued through fearless storytelling, probably informed a little by his previous foray into narrative structure in Rashomon just two years previous.

Ikiru also marked Kurosawa’s moment before Seven Samurai and some of his most lasting cinema. Kurosawa, as a writer and director, has created and influenced some of the top films and directors of all time (including Star Wars via The Hidden Fortress). There is a beauty to his stories and craft, but never a moment when he insults his audience. His films are about his characters and their troubles and challenges… they just happen to also provide inspiration and commiseration for the viewer. Ikiru is a beautifully funny and heart-warming part of that opus that can still inspire 65 years after its release.

Ikiru

Arrival (redux x2)

I haven’t written up a rewatch in a long time. In part because there just hasn’t been a reason. However, last night I rewatched Arrival for the 3rd time, and I’m still finding little moments and lines in it that I missed. The script and direction continue to impress me, as does Amy Adams’s performance.

I’ve debated vociferously with folks since last year about the quality of this film. The more I watch it, the more I stand behind my feeling that it was ripped off at the Oscars. It is one of the tightest, most intelligent scripts I’ve seen in a very long time. It certainly was better than anything else up for the awards. The more often I see it the more I am seeing in it from a craft point of view. And, more importantly, it never seems to get boring. The pacing and the emotional run remain compelling on every watch. Joe Walker’s editing drives a  pace and energy that cannot be ignored.

Denis Villenuve may have created his masterpiece with this film, though I am hopeful it is just the beginning of his efforts that were already impressive. Similarly, I’m hoping the script by Eric Heisserer is a beginning rather than a peak (especially if you look at what he did before). 

If you haven’t seen this flick yet, for whatever reason, get it in your queue. Forget the genre, that isn’t the focus. I’ve watched it with folks who normally walk out of the room the second they see a spaceship or have a whiff of science fiction; even they were impressed with the movie. If you have read the original story and weren’t overly taken with it, ignore that and see how this adaptation takes that tale to a whole new level (a rarity in film, to be sure).

Yes, I’m badgering you. You know who you are. See this film… see it more than once and you’ll understand my comments even better.

Eyes Wide Shut

Well, if you’re going to go out, you might as well go out with a bang (all innuendo intended). What a shame that it is such a misogynistic, narrow minded, old man’s dream of a bang. Director/writer Stanley Kubrick was never a stranger to controversy… he was an artist and committed to his vision of the films he wanted to make. This final project brought his life’s opus to a baker’s dozen… 13 movies that utterly changed film and garnered a ton of awards nominations and wins.

But awards don’t necessarily indicate quality or levels of enjoyment. Eyes Wide Shut is a challenge to watch. Like many of his films, it takes its time (well over 2.5 hours) to get to what amounts to a one-line joke/comment. I can’t tell if Kubrick really intended it all seriously or as thumbing his nose at the cinema universe.

It begins intensely and believably enough… a marriage challenged by time and the beginnings of middle-age and career frustration. Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and Nicole Kidman (Genius) embody the couple… and do so, weirdly, at the end of their own true-life marriage. The growth of discontent and jealousy leads by degrees to places you would never expect… at least for Cruise. Apparently, Kidman’s discontentment isn’t important enough to be acted on, she can only have dreams influenced by it.

To be a little fair, the entire tale could be considered through the eyes of Tom Cruise’s character, and perhaps untrue. You have to squint very hard to buy that as some of the tale is initially through Nicole Kidman’s eyes, but it may have been the thrust of it all. Sorry, I really can’t help myself, it is all just obvious verbiage.

Plot aside, it is packed with a wonderful stew of actors from Sydney Pollack (Sliding Doors) to Alan Cumming (Strange Magic) to a very young LeeLee Sobieski (My First Mister) and other recognizable faces throughout. Each small role has its moments. Kubrick allowed them to flesh out the characters to something more complex than just a walk-on. Like the rest of the film, they tend to be hyper-sexualized in odd ways.

This film also has one of the simplest and most-haunting scores I’ve experienced, by composer Jocelyn Pook. The single-note refrains get under your skin and evokes mystery, longing, and the unknown all at once. It reminded me of the motifs in Les Revenants.

I’d avoided this film for many years, mostly due to the Cruise/Kidman reflected reality. I’d seen images from it for ages… like many of Kubrick’s films he created iconic and memorable visions that become overused outside of the film itself. I honestly don’t think I could have appreciated aspects of it when I was much younger. This is a film aimed at someone in midlife or later. It requires you to be questioning your life and relationships in order to sympathize with Cruise on any level. Without a little simpatico he is simply being an asshole and Kidman his doormat. Ultimately, it sort of ends up that way anyway, but you need to hope it won’t. Perhaps a better way to view this in the cinematic universe is that this is one of the first big movies mainstreaming sexuality which ultimately gave us 50 Shades and its attendant movies. Wouldn’t that thought make Kubrick spin in his grave?

Eyes Wide Shut

Split

There are two things that you expect from any M. Night Shyamalan (The Visit) film. The first is tight construction that leaves virtually no thread loose by the end of the film. Split certainly delivers on its tight plotting. Shyamalan is also known for his twist endings. And, for a change, this movie doesn’t rely on that. There are gifts and surprises in the film, but no real twist. Instead we get a well executed suspense/thriller that is riffing on some very real movements in the Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) community.

This film also continues Night’s push into small, intense stories with few characters. In this case, it is really driven by three actors. First and foremost is James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein), who does a great job of flipping between identities. Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan) holds her own against him, both directly and in her own scenes, as she attempts to survive while revealing her past to us. Finally, there is the great Betty Buckley who strikes the perfect tone of a caring but driven psychiatrist. The dance of these three characters is tense and, ultimately, explosive.

It is almost impossible to say more without slipping and giving away information, so I’ll wrap here. I had several points spoiled for me by ads and internet babble. Frustrating. Avoid all info if you can before watching it. If you like Shyamalan’s films or just good, tense thrillers, throw it in the hopper or turn on the stream. You won’t be disappointed.

Split