Thursday, July 4, 2019

Papa Mike's Video #20: Dalton Trumbo's JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN


Without getting too much in depth, this is a very good and occasionally moving - and for the time probably as good and moving as imaginable - adaptation of a masterwork of first person surreal-satirical narration and about what communication really means. The black and white scenes with our beleaguered but positive hero Joe are the sections where it feels the most compelling and where Trumbo finds a balance with his literary technique and visual style... 

Though I can't help but wonder if it would have gone beyond into another impressionistic or consciousness-expanding scope if Bunuel had it (I also wonder if Lynch saw this - how Joe trashes and moves in stunning black and white makes me think of the baby from Eraserhead - and I bet he would have nailed it too). The color scenes have their moments and Robards is solid (and Sutherland is... Not quite as weird as he was in Little Murders the same year, actually), but some of the acting and even Writing is stiff. 

I read the book a few years back and I wonder if Id have responded more seeing it closer to when I finished it. Johnny Got His Gun is captivating, sometimes deeply felt, and never boring, but something is missing here to make it a full story of the human spitit. Come to think of it, it is ultimately about the failure of it. 

(Oh, and the Metallica music video for "One" is the greatest thing this could have happened to the film.  It's iconic now.)

"S.O.S. Help Me."

Friday, December 21, 2018

Papa Mike's Video #19: 'I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING' (1945)

If this were any more Scottish, either The Proclaimers would be on the soundtrack or Francis Begbie would be the antagonist. 

I Know Where I'm Going! (cant forget the exclamation point) is kind of an adventure story, but it's one that only involves movement from one place to another and bouts of action and suspense in bursts - in this case where Wendy Hiller is going from her one spot in merry ol' England by trains and other means to get to a small seaside village so she can sail to another isle (Kiloran), and then, as the main beat of action in the second half, where she risks it and goes by tiny motor boat with two other men in the midst of a "gale" (one, Roger Livesly, warned her as much as possible not to) - while the adventure part really is, to get corny for a moment, about something else. 

See, the film opens with narration telling us about how Joan Webster starts as a baby, then on through the ages of 5, 12 and 18 into knowing what she wants (early on it's silk stockings, uh, naturally I guess) and how she will get it some day or another. And so with the man that she meets and is betrothed to (via whatever the 1940s British way was of Internet Dating), she knows she wants that too. But the adventure here is that she has to put herself into a situation of the unknown, and in this scenario it's the seaside town and it's citizens, who are friendly but have an edge to them that Joan can't seem to connect with... But then there's that Torquil MacNeil, who has some lineage going back aways, was a naval officer and is now back from the war, and may be ready to settle down. And now his life story intersects, however unlikely, with her decent but stubborn self.

This has the makings for some tricky stuff to pull off for Powell and Pressburger; how to make it more than what one might expect from romantic comedy (though for them comedy is a much more dry and subtle term, based on quirks of characters and, early on on the train as she sleeps and has a wild dream of her fantasy life come to pass, through visual flamboyance), where, yes, the stuck up city woman is wooed by the down to earth rural chap? The solution is realism, and they take the location so seriously that it becomes itself another character, and the people who populate much of the cast (particularly like those at the big party in the middle interlude) were locals who didn't have to fake authenticity, they simply were those people of the Scottish Hebrides who dance to bagpipe music and sometimes sing a tune or too, maybe a sad one but also happy ones, and so there's an underlying anthropology to this that grounds the more conventional (or potentially conventional) story beats.

It is a big help as well Hiller and Livesly are wonderful on screen together, and though it isn't necessarily apparent what will happen for them over the course of the film there's a spark that one senses right away. They each have their own arcs to go through - his has an element of the Scottish heritage he has to reckon with, down to a scene late in the film where he is in one of the old castles and hears a voice with an old tale about the MacNeils and so on - and they have real conflicts they need to work out. Im not sure if one or two scenes fully work with the supporting cast, like the older man who loves to hunt and expounds LOUDLY about his hawk, or the woman who gets angry at Joan (maybe its the writing more than the actress in that one scene), but those are minor points to gripe about. What works here is the core of this man and woman, they're decent people with rich interior lives, and the actors convey that.

Couple that with how expressive and moving the shots are here, with black and white at times given a documentary look but then another deeper, more mysterious look to it. I wouldn't call the lighting noir, but there are times when the characters are framed and lit to look like they're something out of a dream, and that is something special too. Even on a "minor" work, supposedly one P&P made when they couldn't get color stock in the end times of the war, they could create an affecting piece of work that is meant to spark the spirit as much as the heartstrings (and that whirlpool sequence has some 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mammoth Month of Moviepass #7: 48 HOURS

Mammoth Month of Moviepass #7

This was one of those tines where the same things that make the movie dated in its attitudes towards race and sex are... Actually what I like about it, in some part. Walter Hill doesn't put on any kind of act as a tough-guy filmmaker, he just is, it's what Id imagine his personality is. 

But notice the give and take between Nolte and Murphy; these guys are constantly shit-talking one another as defense mechanisms to, you know, actually connect with one another (which they do after duking it out with their fists among other exchanges). I think Hill just skirts the line- it's about an asshole cop and this piece of work smartass convict, but the movie isnt an asshole, if that makes sense. It also kicks a lot of ass as an action movie, and James Horner's score adds a lot.

Even if Eddie Murphy had never been in a single skit on SNL, he would become a star just from the cowboy bar alone.

PS: this was also one of those times where the rough nature of a film print didnt take away but made a moviegoing experience a unique sort of delight; the print (the only one apparently available, anywhere) was beaten up and wad from like a Mexicsn grindhouse circa early/mid 80s... But you know what? Because it's Hill and it's this stew of tough guy, street level action and comedy and suspense, it worked.

Abel Ferrara's THE ADDICTION (1995)

(In case you may be wondering what happened to the Mammoth Month of Moviepass series posts... Well, you just have to figure that shit out on your own, okay. Maybe there's more posts I backlogged to come)

"The question is: what can save us from spreading the blight in ever widening circles?"

(Before I start a review proper, I should note there's at least one point here where Lili Taylor manages to time travel so she can cosplay in 1995 as Tommy Wiseau (black hair and black glasses and all)).

This is one of the unsung great vampire films and among Ferrara's best, and this is almost despite what is at times a pretentious script. But on the other hand, the setting is obsentibly college classes where intellect is first things first. Ferrara's direction is what makes this stand out, and not just black and white cinematography (which does rock quite amazingly). It's what we first see here and what he periodically returns to throughout: atrocity.

We open on images of the Vietnam war, all of those bodies that were laid to total waste. Taylor is the only one really shaken by it in the class, and a brief conversation about the responsibility of this is the only thing that precedes the first attack (one of a couple of key scenes for the amazing Annabella Sciorra). What is true evil and how evil is just what it is and can't be stopped is inherent to what the film is going on about. At the same time, I dont think that Ferrara means to show addicts *as* evil... At least I would hope not

No, the addiction at heart is how it transforms people completely inside out, and the uncontrollable nature of it - the Cypress Hill melody of "I want to get hiiiigh" comes up repeatedly" - makes people do things they otherwise wouldn't do; even down to Taylor's look in black and black glasses makes her turned into some punk crossbreed of Lou Reed and Patti Smith. But at the same time theres so much complexity to how the movie is constructed and the ideas baked into it: vampirism is questioned itself in ways I haven't seen outside of Romero's Martin.

When Christopher Walken's downtown NUC loft dwelling vampire brings in Taylor midway through to try to get some sense into her, he bites and drinks her blood anyway. That was something different... Though then again, Walken may be just so apart from everyone else in the WORLD he can do that, but I digress.

I think a question to think about watching this is: does an addiction bring out the evil that was in someone all along - the whole "tell me to go" as a come on while that predator really won't go, a Nazi tactic coincidentally to all the holocaust images Taylor looks at as she ponders in narration the nature of good and evil (and the lack of the former) - or is the addiction a way that evil can be... Justified? So many millions of people have been slaughtered throughout the world, and there had to be an addictive element to it, the whole "following orders" whether its nazis or regular garden variety soldiers. But there's more thematically to the meat here.

Or, to put it another way, after a while when something is repeated one doesn't see the acts as evil. Evil, after all, requires some moral equivalency, for someone to see that something is *wrong*. What if its not seen as wrong? If one is on the prowl to bite some f***ers necks, wheres "evil" is just seen as having a fun time? Cinematically, this all culminates for Ferrara with a post-graduation party for Taylor's character where she and the others she and Sciorra have bitten invite a lot of others and chaos ensues (featuring Edie Falco no less).

But it's a sinister kind of chaos, how it"s shot and edited into this carefully controlled frenzy. On a physical level, what makes this movie so astonishing is how the ideas, which are heady and full of existential questions (Sartre and Beckett are name checked, and almost as a kind of joke Walken mentions those books have the lessons for vampires to take in, like they were written for people who would live forever, lol) is that the filmmaking brings out those ideas into raw force.

This is a dirty Manhattan/New York City movie (right before it wasn't so dirty anymore) and both Ferrara as director and Taylor as an actor commit so wholly to it. She as Kathleen throws her whole BODY in such a way that I can only compare to Possession with Adjani. She is at times literally throwing herself this way and that, in her apartment and on the streets, and in a way she makes this to be like this fascinating unofficial double feature with Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, becoming so debased in a film... It should be hard to watch, but there's humanity here besides the "cool" horror black and white, and the grimy realism of the streets.

I should end this ramble by saying simply that this is a unique, genre subverting (yet embracing) trip that asks the audience to question evil and existence and humanity - or even who is sitting next to them in a theater (Walken brings this up on the newly restored Arrow blu ray and it makes sense), but they dont sacrifice all of that without giving people looking for a chilling vampire story true

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mammoth Month of Moviepass #6: BAD SAMARITAN

I didn't intent to follow one BIG white male performance with another, but such is the way of things when trying to use Moviepass every day of the week.  In this case, Dean Devlin breaks away from his usual ... I won't say 'shtick' exactly, but his metier of giant, dumb blockbusters for a slick, occasionally tense and still kind of dumb thriller with two performances that carry it aloft.  And while like yesterday's movie one can be carried along by the presence of an actor (here it's David Tenant, who I don't think could give a bad performance if he tried) who fills the frame and even in an unaccented American accent grabs your attention with the skills of his trade, his character and how Devlin portrays him goes the opposite way from You Were Never Really Here.  That movie showed too little of what formed the protagonist in his past, while this shows and explains too much.

But he isn't quite the protagonist here, is he, this "Cale Ehrenreich' or whatever that name that clearly isn't his is?  Robert Sheehan is the one we're following as the Hitchcockian 'everyman', who is struggling as a photographer (despite options to go professional, but hey who wants "boring") and so he goes into a life of "petty" crime - using his job as a valet as a way to rob the houses of those he's meant to park.  It's an ideal and nifty concept for a story in that it could really go anywhere; where Devlin, working off another writer's script, goes to is that at a house young Sean Falco goes to at night includes a room where a woman is tied up to a chair, bound and gagged in leather straps.  While he tries to go back and save her, Cale catches on, and because Cale has all the time and money in the world (stupid trust fund kids) to kidnap and kill and go around and change names and so on anyway, he makes Sean's life a living hell.

Devlin has a decent cat and mouse thriller that he shoots with some competence, but it also looks somewhat cheap.  I was almost surprised to see something of this quality on a screen at a Cineplex; though not without some merit due to Sheehan (who I hadn't seen as a lead before but now I'm a fan, the guy has some good chops and has an empathetic face and character about him) and Tenant (I'm glad Jessica Jones got him to some prominence in the US where Doctor Who didn't quite do it past cult status), I could picture something like this going direct to Redbox, or if there was a "guy" version of Lifetime, if that makes sense.  Cale acts as one of these expert stalkers that operates best in the movies - I should think certain leads or clues would come up in the real world if he was such a thing - but I think the script also lets down the actors too; there are too many times the dialog feels too pat or how characters explain things is too on the nose.

I'm not saying I was expecting Hitchcock exactly either, this is a B movie and it knows it, but I can still be critical even when it's a film I know is only trying for so much.  That may be the core problem, is that it has such a terrific premise and only does alright by it.  That may also be conversely the best one could hope for with Devlin, who (in)famously helped steer the character Godzilla into a massive pile of shit, and who's first feature, Geostorm, played just long enough before it was laughed off the screens and into How Did This Get Made?  At the same time I can see the gears spinning in the basic plot and the final act, when some major characters come together and duke it out and there are more things that are inexplicable (one thing involving a hole in the ground literally full of dead bodies), I enjoyed seeing Tenant digging his teeth into such a lovably despicable yuppie and how some very real mistakes Sheehan's Sean makes early on come back around on him later in the story.

Again, it's nothing great, but it's also not half-bad either.  When it does come around to Rebox, check it out!

Mammoth Month of Moviepass #5: YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

My apologies to take this long (five days) to get to a female director.

He sits in his closet and has the plastic wrap that goes around clothes around his head and face.  He breathes in and out.  This can't last for too long - surely he's got to lose some breath - but that's the idea.  This guy, Joe, less played and more subsumed by Joaquin Phoenix, is a man completely in a mess of a mental state.  Some of this is residue from a childhood we get just the barest snippets of (maybe, all told across the entire film, amounting to five or six seconds), and then there's some more (natural) trauma from being in combat.  What he saw there that traumatized him is less of a certainty; there may have been some bodies that were discovered in a truck or locked-off place.  But, whatever the case, this is a man so lost in himself that he has to go to violence - though, in his case, the righteous kind, to save the lives of the young, in particular sex trafficked children. 

The comparison that critics will immediately jump to, because they don't know what else to go to, is Taxi Driver, which goes without saying that that was itself paraphrasing The Searchers.  I say the critics kind of derisively (or I should say the one that got quoted in the trailer, "This is THIS GENERATION'S Taxi Driver", as if nothing else can be its own Taxi Driver without being compared to it first), though I may have thought of it for a moment if I hadn't been told to expect it.  What's far different is that this is not the same New York city (Lynn Ramsey takes some time, as Joe drives the streets of Manhattan at night going towards his target, for his POV of the city streets), and it's not the same kind of trauma.  We don't have narration to give us any perspective, so all we have is Phoenix's post-I'm Still Here bearded face and eyes that communicate so much, and these little snippets of a past, which... may be a little too... little?  Few?

I should note that I respect how Ramsey is showing us these details (she wrote the script from Jonathan Ames's book); she respects the audience's intelligence, or at least hopes they can get the gist of how Joe operates in a very underground way as a kind of go-to Avenger, and how he gets his "gigs" (from the Captain from The Wire no less!) and then this lends itself to how the plot unravels - after establishing how proficient, and how suddenly violent, Joe can be in the opening minutes, he gets his assignment to save a state senator's daughter who is kidnapped and being held in a private residence, and once he saves her it turns out things are a lot worse, including the involvement of a higher political figure - so that, you know, you got to follow along with this extreme visual style (editing by Herzog's usual editor, Joe Bini).  But at the same time if there's a flaw to the film, it's that, for me, these flashes to Joe's past are just too fleeting, too obtuse.

It's like, okay, there's been trauma and torture  But what about Joe's mother, who he still lives with and, to the best of his abilities, tries to take care of?  Was she complicit in these traumas that seemed to involve being wrapped in plastic, or did he forgive her in some way?  Once the story really kicks into gear it's clear anyone close to Joe will be in danger, but how Joe resolves this becomes more of a typical movie thing - people coming back at the protagonist for payback, the kick-ass guy with the hammer and/or gun will fight back again - and some of the more deliberate, psychologically strange parts of the first section of the film get a little lost.

This isn't to say You Were Never Really Here is too far gone to be engaged by, on the contrary this is another sign of how immensely and uniquely talented Ramsey is - I don't think I've seen a film like this edited this way before, not even her previous effort We Need to Talk About Kevin went for trying to use cinema as a way of displaying a fractured consciousness and memory - and she has two set pieces that stand out especially (one where she uses video cameras, not necessarily all synced up with the old tinny pop music playing, to show Joe going with his hammer through rooms and hallways; another is him singing softly with a man he Mr. Orange'd in his house).

And with Phoenix there he not merely carries the film, he is its unlikely (anti?)hero and tortured ghost.  He has lines in the film, but this is mostly a physical performance and so much of it relies on his face and eyes conveying everything.  This kind of material can be brutal (maybe Lars von Trier could have been attracted to this as well, that's how dark and desolate it feels), but with a great actor at the center you can get through anything.  He does that here.  On the downside, I'm not sure if those around him impress so much to play off of; Ekaterina Samsonov is the girl he saves and while she doesn't have a lot of scenes, I wasn't sure how she was playing them (or directed to play them).  Is she supposed to also be traumatized (what connects them in their final scene in the diner, I should add), or is she just not doing enough off of Phoenix?  Because Phoenix is already playing low-key and moody, her moodiness doesn't create any contrast, anything but the gloom that pervades this movie.

That's basically how I'd describe this film: it's good, really good, but also fully of a sort of gloom that makes me not want to watch it again, at least not for a very long time.  Sometimes those films are important to see and experience, and I'm glad Ramsey finally got to make a (finished) film again.  I'd even say the very last minute of this tries to go for some fleeting, bittersweet hope after 90 minutes of mental and viscerally-felt terror.  But... enter at your own risk.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Mammoth Month of Moviepass #4: TULLY

Hey, who says I need to type out all of my thoughts for every single one of these?  Maybe I need the vocal version of a Night Nanny to take things over from my usual hard working fingering on the keyboard... wait, that doesn't sound right...

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