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?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mammoth Month of Moviepass #1: BLUMHOUSE'S TRUTH OR DARE

I try to contemplate another reality, one where I managed somehow to see not a single shot or single frame of the trailer to the new Blumhouse horror product (I barely credit it as an original movie): would I have been just a shred more surprised, a morsel of any sense of "wow, that was a really intense scene."  And while the trailer, which in this reality I have seen many times (thansk for replaying it to death movie theaters), does give away... Practically all of the movie, including any of its halfway shocking acts of violence and murder, I don't think going in blind would cover up the simple fact that this is a toothless piece of shit.

We always hear that filmmakers don't set out to make a bad movie. I dont think that was even as ambitious a goal for someone like Jeff Wadlow; he has so little imagination that his most basic competence with a camera set up is irrelevant.  He doesn't see the potential in his schlock: this is a weak-tea It Follows, as a bunch of the most telegraphed college-ers (there's even the vulgar nerdy guy, who has the novelty of being a type from the kinds of horror and comedy of the 80s we tend to not put in nostalgia) go to Mexico and meet a Jim Sturges clone who manages to pass on to them his "truth or dare" curse.

 Wherever they go, they have to face Joker-ish faces asking them if they will truth or dare. Naturally rules have to change midway due to Wadlow's and company's idiocy with their own halfassed concept: why not just say 'truth' to everything?  So after a while, once even the dimmer bulbs in the aufience question that (sure, having the truth bit is embarrassing, but not life-threatening), it becomes a "duck duck goose" deal; you cant keep saying truth so dares have to happen to keep the kills and perils of violence up... And it's somehow here that the real troubles begin.

I don't know if I could exactly overlook the wretched dialog (some of it is so laughable that I feel like any good soul who does a parody of this has an easy street to go), or the performances (like all those equally forgettable and simply lame 80s horror, they all just barely fit the types, although in one or two scenes the two main girls, who are both kind of terrible characters, try to emote up to something acceptable).  What sinks this into being total garbage is that it's a PG-13 horror movie in 2018.  This shit just doesn't fly to me anymore.  If I watch something with such a patently ridiculous premise and then even more stultifyingly dumb backstory that gets dumped in the third act, and yet there's a streak that has potential for Final Destinstion style kills (at one point a girl on a roof having to walk drunk as a dare has such potential), there has to be an embrace of the blood and guts.  Just go for it.  Youve come this far, so at least be honest.  Truth or Dare is kidding itself, and it's so very bad because of th at most of all (god, that ending too!)

I know when I was the age that Jason Blum thinks his movie is ripe for easy Friday the 13th (weekend) bucks, this wouldve been weak too. I wanted the risky and profane and super violent.  And if this was horror meant more for younger kids, there's too many elements that arent quite appropriate for them.  Perhaps with a good enough rewrite - and being shortened as a half hour Are You Afraid of the Dark episode - it could have not been necessarily good, but tolerable.  This is intolerable; it isn't fun, it isn't inventive, it isn't giving us characters who are relatable or charismatic, and it doesn't have the courtesy to try something unique while ripping off other concepts.  It's the lowest of the low that Hollywood horror can give us; that Blum decided to put his name on it is like discovering Attack of the Crab Monsters was really titled American International Pictures's Attack of the Crab Monsters.  Why?

What a title to start with... One of the worst movies I've seen all year.

Time for a new crazy movie challenge!

Moviepass recently changed its rules; previously, one could see any movie they want *as many times as one wanted*.  But with a recent change - as recent as last Friday, coinciding with the release of Avengers 15 - they decided that now a Moviepass member (an older one, the new ones can now only see FOUR movies a month) can only see one movie once using the service.  So... This gave me an idea:

Can I still see hypothetically a movie a day for a month using the service?  

A lack of steady employment for the month also helps to make this challenge a possibility... So....

It begins tonight... See you on the other side, Ray.