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...

Did you see it? Any thoughts? Send the Wages of Cinema an email to, or visit the Facebook or Twitter pages.  

Friday, May 4, 2018

Mammoth Month of Moviepass #3: THE BLUES BROTHERS

"Shit. They still owe you money, fool."

Here's something to notice when watching The Blues Brothers for the, I dunno, tenth, fifteenth time: this has the structure of a heist movie, but instead of a heist it's a musical performance... And then a car chase... And instead of a steal it's all to keep the church open and for the orphans to be a-ok..

The opening of the movie even has one of those old heist movie tropes (or newer, e.g. Ocean's Eleven and noe Ocean's I), then the criminals get their plot in order (to get the Penguin and Curtis to not be put out on the street/missions, their *MISSION FROM GOD* will keep them on good footing).  So, like in any good heist movie worth its salt, they have to assemble the crew (musicians), and then try to plot how to so what they gotta do (as sometimes happens in heist flicks, something goes wrong and it gets the spidey-senses tingling, and here it's going to Bob's Country Bunker).

What all of this is I'm trying to say is that The Blues Brothers has this structure so that it doesnt have to be exactly *about* that.  Saving the orphanage? Thats the plot of the Three Stooges *video game* for Nintendo!

No. The reason to keep coming back to this movie - which I was extremely fortunate to not only see on 35mm at the Drafthiuse but on a print that hadn't aged a day - is because of three reasons:  Belushi and Aykroyd are loaded with attitude and could ve like weird superheroes from some forgotten underground comic book, just perfect off each other and their personalities are defined just enough that the actors sink their teeth in (but in their way, sometimes, subtly); the musical scenes - and make no mistake, this IS a full-bodied, unadulterated classic musical first, comedy, action, crime thriller all absolutely spectacular; and the car chases are only one-upped by the insane finale with the cops and army and nearly everyone (all missing are the ninjas).

Landis, working with Aykroyd from their script, has such a propulsive narrative but everything works because of the joy anf exuberance in his direction.  This should be too nutty to work: James Brown is the Reverend who leads his choir and church (including, wait, a young Chaka Khan?!) and gets Joliet Jake to see the light; to avoid capture, the brothers on their first absconding from the cops go through a mall...

All of it, and we are still on their side despite being total criminals here; the Illinois Nazis coming into the mix which, what else can you say except Henry Gibson; Carrie Fisher taking the ex girlfriend route to Wile E Coyote lengths (though of course since it's Fisher we arent laughing at her expense for a single second).  All of this is successgul because Landis has a great grasp of making this world off kilter and kind if deranged.

Would ALL of these cops be after these two guys over some, you know, random mall car hijinks?  Why carp?  Landis has the best attitude for this, which is to push everything so far that the joke really becomes about how far the excess is going.  In that sense Landis is channeling the same anarchic comic action spirit as another Belushi/Aykroyd film (among the smaller reasons Belushis death was so sad was denying the world this pairing over the decades) - Spielberg's 1941. 

Only here I think that Landis got to have his cake and eat it; Spielberg lamented that he should have or could have made 1941 as a musical and it would have been better off.  Though the songs only sometimes have to do with the plot, everything in the story gets so heightened that people cant help but sing.  Seeing it again I can say that Aretha Franklin's "Think" will always stand the test of time, and while I'll always lovd Cab Valloways "Minnie the Moocher," his pertormance in the theatrical cut is a little too brief (a longer directors cut, which is mostly how I've seen the film, includes more of that among other good lines cut and whole scene excised).

This is mayhem and chaos, but the kind that is anchored by the (good) self consciously styled leads and the multitudes of set pieces and memorable lines.  There are just too many great musical legends but balanced by character actors like Gibson and Charles Napier and of course John Candy in one of his first roles. 

By the time the credits roll you nay feel full, too full, but I dont mind that; this is for me what a lot of moviegoers get out of Michael Bay, only done right. It's spectacle, it's rude and clever comedy (not really too crude though; if it weren't for the curse words im sure this would be a family movie classic) and a gigantic vision of a Chicago that opens on the dawn time factories and mills and ends on Belushi belting out "Jailhouse Rock." 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Mammoth Month of Moviepass #2: RAMPAGE

Here's the first thing I should note about the Dwayne Johnson/Giant Gorilla/Giant Wolf/Giant Crocodile Rampage - this is to differentiate it from two previous movies from the past few decades with that title, one by a reputable auteur (William Friedkin's film, 1987) and not so reputable (Uwe Boll's from 2009, also I believe inspired by a *different* video game called Rampage, and... his actually was one of his few movies I don't dislike passionately) - if ten year-old Jack was reviewing this, he'd say it was a pretty good fun time at the movies.

Perhaps I had (no, I definitely had) less discerning tastes, but I can remember watching just barely passable Hollywood action stuff like this through my childhood (Congo and Volcano come to mind as movies I watched more than once and feel some shame about doing today).  They had spectacle and tried just a little to have some heart... I say try, not necessarily the same as succeed.  Rampage is another "okay, that's a thing, move along" action extravaganza that tries to insert a little heart into its narrative that is driven by a director who knows how to get a lot of actors to speak the dialog as written (some of them pretty good, and some perfunctory as fuck, as is the dialog), and has a finale that seems to go on way too long.

What I mean by that last statement is, there aren't quite enough action set pieces to really justify how bloated the finale act is when all of the creatures get to Chicago (summoned by one of those Magic Sensory Beepers that, as explained in the film, were originally designed for bats but the main evil chick, played unfortunately without an evil accent by Malin Akerman, really liked having it around or something), and what seems like the end gets elongated because, well, Dwayne Johnson has gotta do what the Rock does and wield some giant fucking guns at some giant animals (the giant spikes they've grown... that's cool, you do you, alien-mutated super-beasts).

Or... I may have just been numbed by that point, and while 115 minutes doesn't seem long for this kind of movie, it really is; most Godzilla movies back in the day were 90 minutes, at most 100, and were out and goodbye.  But here there's that same level of exposition the characters give to one another as in all of the typical monster movies - Johnson as the Primatologist-cum-ex-Poacher-super-soldier and Naomie Harris (jeez, this is what you do after Moonlight? okie dokie) as the ex-co-worker scientist from the Evil Akerman lab do a lot of it, but there's also military guys and the Jeffrey Dean Morgan character, who seems to be having the time of his life playing this one-note character, and that's fine - and it feels like there's just too much of it.  Meanwhile there's only two other major set pieces before Chicago, one involving a plane (admittedly, a better version of what we got in last year's The Mummy, so fine), and the other an all-too-brief scene introducing the giant wolf and sorta wasting Joe Manganiello (no, really, see him in the Magic Mike movies, the dude knows how to put on a show!) 

What I mean to say is, I'm not sure if the movie fully earns that final Chicago scene; it may have been the four writers (one of which is Carlton Cuse, formerly of Lost) couldn't think of more carnage the creatures could leave in their wake while getting Johnson/Harris to the big final section, but I wish they had.  Maybe it wouldn't have felt like fatigue getting there, but this isn't to say that's the only problem of the movie.  While I enjoyed probably most of all the scenes between George (the Gorilla, probably the best actor in the movie), and Johnson's Davis, they feel front-loaded to the beginning of the movie and then at the end in that giant fight in the city.  There's such a rush to get from one scene and one splash of exposition to the next that one may almost neglect to notice that there's a RAMPAGE ARCADE GAME in the background of Akerman's office (though I certainly didn't miss the rather odd product placement... during the final battle for... Dave & Buster's?)

I can find some decent things to say about this, and it's not unwatchable, but at the same time there's no real passion or anything to engage me with any of the characters; though Davis works as a typical action lead, he only works best with George, and there's only a few of those scenes that stand out (I'm almost surprised too he lets what happen what he does on the plane - did he know then that, spoiler, don't care, that George was indestructible then? shrug).  Brad Peyton can keep a scene not moving, but there's nothing to it that makes it stand out.  When people praise the likes of Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro as being the best makers of these kinds of gigantic popcorn movies, there's a reason for that - or, I should say, when someone makes a remark like "eh, Ready Player One has it's problems, but I'd take an okay Spielberg over a dozen other Hollywood action movies", they're referring to something like Rampage.

So.... yeah, the Uwe Boll Rampage is... *better* than this one?  Whodathunk?