Saturday, July 24, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Florida Project

The Florida Project
directed by Sean Baker
This is a bittersweet 2017 slice of life drama which oddly enough I just watched. Well. If you haven't seen it you should see it. 
It's probably the best film I've seen this year. 
Impressively many of the film's cast were inexperienced or first time actors. The Florida Project walks the same side of the street as Sunlight Jr. in that the director wants to teach us about poverty, homelessness, and some other critical related issues but this isn't a heavy handed didactic film. 
I think that people opposed to what I presume are the director's political leanings can watch this film and reach totally different conclusions. Baker doesn't beat anyone over the head with a point of view. You can watch this film and leave with all of your previous political or economic ideas intact or even strengthened by the events in this film. Or you can just enjoy it as an entertaining snapshot of how some people live. That's up to you.
Watching this movie I recalled that in her poem Nikki-Rosa, the poet Nikki Giovanni wrote that 
"if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have your mother
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in "

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Movie Reviews: Hard Eight

Hard Eight
directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
This 1996 neo-noir film was Anderson's debut. Anderson later went on to direct such films as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood among others. 
Hard Eight also has a good cast of actors that viewers will recognize from their ubiquitous character work. 
The movie also includes other actors who weren't quite megastars at the time but would certainly soon be recognized as such. The viewer can make up his or her own mind as to whether there is a message to this film or not. Hard Eight put me in mind initially of some of the classic films noir of the forties and fifties. 
There are secrets being held by many of the characters in this film. Few of the people depicted are what could be considered morally good but the film doesn't judge. Many of them are in desperate straits. In life, all of us can fall short of perfection. 
Some people try to be good, others don't care and a few of us take steps to move to the opposite side. This movie does perhaps have some things to say about obligations, debt, family, redemption, and forgiveness--or at least I thought so.

Movie Reviews: The Bay

The Bay
directed by Barry Levinson
This older film is an found footage eco-horror movie that is similar to the Nick Cutter book The Troop, reviewed here. I think the The Troop is a better book than The Bay is a film. 
But The Bay is not a bad film. 
Because the conceit is that The Bay depicts real events that were all captured on film by less than state of art lighting and cameras, the movie does deliberately look less than high quality most of the time. But this is really smart for the film's premise, which is that multiple video and audio sources have been retrieved and are being leaked to the public as a somber warning. 
Events that may or may not be caused by climate change have been in the news lately-fires and water shortages out west, warming seas, lampreys and mussels in the Great Lakes, flooding in Germany, maybe even the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Once a system is broken or changed is that it can be difficult or even impossible to change it back. Humans can lack the knowledge to restore a delicate balance that Nature found for a given environment. 
Humans or animals eat foods that were not designed for them. Humans overuse antibiotics or pesticides and end up with lowered or no resistance to some very nasty critters and parasites.  Predators or pests are introduced into environments where they have no natural limit. Problems arise. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Movie Reviews: Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within
directed by Josh Ruben
This film is a horror-comedy-whodunnit-murder mystery. It also has a few sly commentaries on male: female relations, feminism, and confidence. I would describe it as Agatha Christie meets Hot Fuzz
There is some mayhem but generally speaking there is not THAT much onscreen bloody imagery. 
Although the two leads always sparkle when they are onscreen, like many such whodunnits, this film shines because of an ensemble cast and good writing. Werewolves Within is loosely based on a video game, but it certainly didn't feel or look like it. Special effects are few and far between and with one or two jarring exceptions, don't ever take the viewer out of the realm of suspended disbelief. 
I wish there were more movies like this. 
This was a low budget movie that didn't look low budget. Werewolves Within did not use that many jump cuts and other cheap horror movie tricks. There were plenty of zoom shots and visual gags though. The film quickly sets up the premise and lets the fun begin. 
The story is set in the small hamlet of Beaverfield, Vermont but it really could take place anywhere that is small, rural, and out of the way. Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) is a somewhat portly and far too nice forest ranger who has just been assigned to Beaverfield. Finn has also just been dumped by his girlfriend, a fact that he's having trouble processing.

Trees and Climate Change in Des Moines

Many of us have a preferred way of dealing with climate change. 
Some think the entire world population needs to shrink, or at least the population of THOSE people over there. 
Some people think that we must obtain all of our energy from renewable resources. Other people think that it's too late for anything other than moving back to a pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyle right now! 
Some folks swear by veganism. Some people want to eliminate the internal combustion engine. Other people think that private homes are wasteful and we must all live in energy efficient apartment buildings. 
Some are fiercely hostile to private travel. They think that public transportation should not only be subsidized, but mandated. Some folks would ban air travel and outlaw vacations. 
Other people deny the existence of climate change. They also argue that if climate change exists it's (a) not our fault and/or (b) nothing we can do about at this late point anyway. 
People's ideal solutions (or lack thereof) tend to line up with their preferred social values, political ideologies, and economic interests.

Movie Reviews: Truck Turner

Truck Turner
directed by Jonathan Kaplan
If you happen to be in the mood to watch late Stax songwriter/musician/singer/producer/pianist and actor Isaac Hayes flex his muscles and beat up or shoot approximately half of the Los Angeles underworld then this is probably the movie for you. 
The film script was originally written by a Caucasian woman who did not have the Black underworld in mind when she created it. 
When the film company couldn't get the financing it wanted for a white actor in the title role, the film was reimagined as "blaxploitation". Hayes got the nod. By the standards of early seventies drive-in movies, this movie is not actually that bad. It's even humorous in some weird ways. 
Whereas Hayes is playing the expected heroic role of bounty hunter Mack "Truck" Turner who is always armed with a bass voice and a real big gun, the film throws the viewer a curveball by casting actress Nichelle Nichols, then best known as the classy well spoken Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, as a lewd, foul mouthed and very dangerous madam.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Movie Reviews: Thick As Thieves

Thick as Thieves
directed by Scott Sanders
This 1999 movie was directed by the same man who went on to direct Black Dynamite which also featured Michael Jai White.
Although the movie is not based on an Elmore Leonard book or a Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie script it definitely is designed to put one in mind of some of the quirkiness often found in some of those creations. 
If you are familiar with movies like Get Shorty or Pulp Fiction, this movie will feel like a slightly toned down version of those films. 
It's not as violent or as explicit as those movies but Thick as Thieves does feature a number of self-consciously idiosyncratic characters, all of whom have their own interests and cool dialogue. If there's one thing that Thick as Thieves wants you to leave knowing, it's that hoodlums are people just like you or anybody else. They have different ambitions, goals, and desires.
This movie also has a few similarities to Michael Mann's Thief
With a few exceptions, this movie is more interested in looking good and finding the humor in outrageous scenarios than in being gritty or scary. This can make some of the violence, then, more shocking, when it does occur. This film tends more towards drama than action.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Movie Reviews: Nobody

directed by Ilya Naishuller
There is a trope known as "Mugging the Monster" that is popular in various forms of art: visual, written, and musical. 
Usually this involves stupid or dangerous people insulting, messing with or (per trope) literally mugging someone who is far more dangerous, competent, and most importantly, malevolent, than they are. 
The monster proceeds to demonstrate to the unfortunate dummies how critical their mistake was and why they won't live long enough to regret it. The monster may kill, alter, maim or even eat the offenders.
This trope is older than dirt. In Greek mythology the human hunter Actaeon sees the goddess Artemis nude and considers assaulting her. Unworried, Artemis turns Actaeon into a stag who is then attacked and devoured by his own hounds. In the TV series Supernatural a man makes the mistake of bumping into Death. In The Legend of Wooley Swamp the musician Charlie Daniels sings of "white trash" who attacked and killed the old man Lucius Clay only to find revenge outlives death.
In The Terrible Old Man, H.P. Lovecraft wrote about three would be robbers who learn that the titular character can defend himself and isn't human. Has someone ever said or done something unpleasant to you without you making an immediate response. Maybe the person made a nasty joke at your expense. Maybe someone went out of his way to step on your blue suede shoes

Movie Reviews: The Asphalt Jungle

The Asphalt Jungle
directed by John Huston

How many heist movies have you watched where there is a snitch, a doomed love story, people hunted separately by cops or other crooks, a brainy mastermind who misses one tiny critical detail, or a crime caper plagued by greedy backstabbers? 
Chances are that many of those films can be directly or otherwise traced back to The Asphalt Jungle. 
I also enjoyed watching this 1950 film because it featured some leading actors with whom I was only familiar with from much later films as character actors, most notably Sterling Hayden from The Godfather (1972), and James Whitmore from Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Tora Tora Tora (1970) and this Miracle-Gro commercial
The Asphalt Jungle was also notable for being one of Marilyn Monroe's early roles. She really did wiggle when she walked. This is a typical film noir in that the so-called bad guys have all of the positive and negative traits found across humans in every job category. Some are loyal and trustworthy; others can't be trusted any farther than you could throw them. Some cops protect the innocent. 
Other police are more interested in bullying crooks or bringing down men who offend their personal ideas of moral behavior. Still others are totally corrupt and use their status to shake down bad guys.

Movie Reviews: The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting In Connecticut
directed by Peter Cornwell

This is another older film that claims to be based in part on some of the experiences of Ed and Lorraine Warren or stories that they heard. And that is about the only similarity it has to the much better, scarier, and more convincing The Conjuring. Imagine every single horror movie cliche that you've ever seen crammed into one film. Now imagine a plot that makes no sense. And just for good measure throw in a few performances by actors/actresses who seem to believe that they were in a different movie from the rest of the cast. 
Well you probably won't have much left. The problem with haunted house movies is that the plot needs to come up with some reason as to why the people impacted by the presence at a specific location just don't leave. Maybe there are serious financial considerations. 
Maybe the people in charge, usually the parents, don't believe in the supernatural. 
Maybe the people in charge have been infected by the supernatural and aren't willing to leave or let anyone else do so. Maybe someone has cut off contact with the outside world and so no one can leave. Cue evil laughter.
Maybe the presence has bonded with someone in the family and leaving would set it loose upon the rest of the world. Maybe the secret to destroying the entity can only be found in the home. Whatever the case may be the question of why don't the people just leave must be raised and addressed adequately.