Haiku and Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

Doc Strange, the love child
between M.C. Escher and
a kaleidoscope.

The last time I told anyone to go see a movie in 3D for its visuals was Avatar, and that was seven years ago.  Doctor Strange is another such film — the special effects are quite bedeviling and should be seen on the big screen.  Props must be given to Inception; that fight scene in the spinning corridor no doubt spawned a great deal of the action that we see here, not to mention the rest of the dreamy machinations led by Leo and company.

It’s a prototypical superhero movie, meaning there’s a reluctant hero, some funny lines, and a Big Boss level.  In a way, it’s as familiar as any bildungsroman, and at this point I’m so tired of it that if any film of this genre deviates even a little — like Deadpool — I’m almost grateful to the point of tears.  Benedict Cumberbatch turns his arrogance volume down to about 4 here, and it’s the right level for this damaged character.

Tilda Swinton is of course lovely and amazing as always, but I must say, as a person of Asian descent, it feels like if there was one big-budget superhero movie that could’ve starred many more Asians, it was this one.  I’ve read about the Tibet/China issue that most likely resulted in changing the teacher character from Himalayan to Celtic, so it was a business decision, but it also feels like a lost opportunity.  I’m glad Benedict Wong got in there — he was the best thing in Marco Polo (in a series that was, well, terrible), and he lends his considerable gifts of austerity and gravitas to the film.

Haiku and Review: Anomalisa, The Big Short, 45 Years, Carol

The Golden Globes are tonight, and to celebrate, here are four more haiku and reviews.

MV5BMTkyMzI2MzQ1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg0MzQxNzE@._V1._SX96_SY140_Anomalisa

Strange, funny, and sad
Through puppets, many Noonans
It’s a Kaufman film.

The dream sequence is the highlight of this one.  Synecdoche, New York, was better.

MV5BMjM2MTQ2MzcxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzE4NTUyNzE@._V1._SX90_SY140_The Big Short

A curious film
that tries hard to make sense of
the nonsensical.

Can’t really say I enjoyed this one.  Bale does what Hugh Laurie did for years on House; Carell is his usual schlub, except angrier.

MV5BMTgxMTQ4NzMyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODA0MTgyNzE@._V1._SX95_SY140_45 Years

a frozen body
kept alive through memory
a rebound marriage

This movie is a gem.  The scene in the attic and the final scene are unforgettable.

MV5BMTcxNTkxMzA5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTI0ODMzNzE@._V1._SX94_SY140_Carol

Therese and Carol
Loving through glances, windows
Heatrbreaks and triumphs.

Best film of the year.  Brooklyn is a close second, but this one has the benefit of two extraordinary performances.  The final scene here is one of the most moving I’ve ever experienced in cinema.

What a fine year in movies.  My favorite 4:

Carol
Brooklyn
Creed
Mad Max: Fury Road

Many others I enjoyed:

I’ll See You in My Dreams
45 Years
Spotlight
No Escape
Youth
Inside Out
Clouds of Sils Maria
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Love and Mercy
Far from the Maddening Crowd
Spy
Fast and Furious 7
Cinderella
Ex Machina

Haiku and Review: Inside Out, Inherent Vice, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

MV5BOTgxMDQwMDk0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU5OTg2NDE@._V1._SX94_SY140_Inside Out

The life of Riley
by way of Joy and Sadness.
It’s all in her head.

Without question one of the best Pixar movies, if not the best one.  The one emotion that I think we could’ve done without is Disgust, but really, that’s the tiniest of complaints.  It’s visually arresting, the story moves, and it’s one of these rare movies that may actually help people, too.  Only three animated movies have been nominated for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3) but none have won.  Who knows what Oscar bait will come out in November and December, but at the very least, Inside Out deserves to be nominated.

MV5BMjI2ODQ2NzUwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU3NTE4MjE@._V1._SX94_SY140_Inherent Vice

Looks good, sounds right — but
how little we care about
anything, really.

Comparisons to The Big Lebowski are obvious (and The Dude is the far superior movie in all the major ways — humor, plot, acting).  After watching the film, I wondered why it didn’t jibe.  It felt like the movie thought it was funnier than it actually was (which was very little).  The only thing of note is the actress Katherine Waterston, who seemed like she was channeling circa 1995 Laura Linney.  Her facial expressions, her movement — she reminded me so much of a young Linney.

MV5BMTQ1NDI2MzU2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTExNTU5NDE@._V1._SX90_SY140_Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

She climbs in beauty
up a bruiser, then turns, falls —
a takedown done right.

I don’t think this was as good as the last one, Ghost Protocol, which had more cool gizmos and a higher hit rate for humor (mostly because Jeremy Renner brought the laughs in GP while here, he’s stuck in a suit in DC for too many stretches).  But wow, what a performance by Rebecca Ferguson.  Give her hair an old-fashioned wave, light her softly, and take some B&W shots, and she’d be a modern-day Lauren Bacall (somebody else agrees, too!).  And a big hand to her stunt double, Lucy Cork, who made all those fights look so good.  Ferguson’s character was actually more action-oriented than Cruise’s character.  How cool is that?

I Saw Cinderella…and I Loved It.

cinderella

 

Courage and kindness
brings a girl in a blue gown
to eternal bliss.

On our drive over to the cinema yesterday afternoon, my wife and I tried to recall which movie we last saw on the big screen.  We did catch the Oscar Shorts with friends a few months back, but for regular movies, the film that came to mind was Gravity.  Which was two years ago!  We actually saw at least two movies that year, as we also caught The Great Gatsby, in 3D no less.

So the movies that get us out of the house are spectacles, and boy, did we ever choose the right one yesterday.  We saw Cinderella, and I have to tell you, I saw many little girls with their popcorns and sodas around me, but I guarantee that not one of them loved this movie as much as I did.  I laughed, I cried (really), and I was just stunned by the beauty of it all.  I figure plenty of CGI was utilized to make the backgrounds more than they actually are, but I didn’t care a whit.  To me, this is what CGI is supposed to be used for, not for having giant robots duke it out as if the fate of the planet depended on them (it doesn’t).

This is one of these movies that could’ve gone wrong in so many ways, but by some miracle none did.  Mostly I attribute this to Ken Branagh, whom I’ve always admired since seeing Dead Again.  His Hamlet was a sumptuous affair, so I knew he had the aesthetic chops — and after making Thor, I guess I should’ve realized Branagh can do anything.

Some very light spoilers below, so if you want a virgin experience, stop reading and go to the movies on this very fine Sunday.

The first twenty minutes or so of the movie is the weakest, but something clicks around the half-hour mark.  It might be because this is about when Cate Blanchett enters the narrative.  She is, as always, wonderful, and this part of the stepmother requires for her to be in every kind of mode — evil, fragile, hilarious, oftentimes within the same scene.  Initially I wasn’t sold on Lily James as Cinderella, but as the movie progressed, she won me over.  Of course I knew she would imbue innocence and goodness, but it’s her lack of perfection that really got me.  Let me explain: in the ballroom dancing scene, there’s a slight sense of the amateur in her movements, and that in itself lends a sense of vulnerability.

This movie is a total throwback in every sense of the word, and it’s the reason why it’s so good.  Look at the way Branagh uses closeups the few moments the two leads touch (the prince’s hand on her back during the dance, the glass slipper coming off on the swing).  The central theme of courage and kindness might rub some critics the wrong way, but if you let the movie take you, man, will it ever take you.

Haiku and Review: The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura, and Make Way for Tomorrow

Recently I had the idea to catch up with some old movies, so I looked up the AFI 100 list to see which films I haven’t seen.  Turns out there are plenty, so I picked one out, and it led to another, and then another, and I have a feeling I’ll be seeing more old movies in the future.  I feel foolish for once thinking that I wouldn’t relate to films made before 1950 (All About Eve and Sunset Blvd. seemed like a decent starting point).  How wrong I was!

bestyears

Three World War 2 vets
return home and try to find
family and love.

It’s almost three hours long and I wish I were ten times longer.  It’s not a complicated story, about three different generations of men who return from WWII.  One has emotional scars, what we’d now diagnose as PSTD; another has physical scars, the loss of both hands; and the last struggles to readjust to his family and his job.  When I first saw Harold Russell, who plays the man with hooks for hands, I marveled at his skills with his hooks (lighting a cigarette, opening doors, etc.), thinking he must’ve put a lot of hours to master them for his acting gig.  In reality, he did lose his hands in the war and he wasn’t even a professional actor!  Here’s a bit of trivia that might come in handy one day: Russell is the only actor to have won two Oscars for the same role.  When the awards were given that year, the Academy wanted to honor him and the vets, so they created a special award for him, thinking he had no chance of winning Best Supporting.  He won them both.

There are two highlights in this movie: the scene between Frederic March and Myrna Loy, who play the parents to Theresa Wright.  In their bedroom, the three of them have a conversation about love that just may knock your socks off.  My socks are still knocked out cold.  The other highlight is purely visual, of Dana Andrews walking along the decommissioned airplanes.  I suppose nowadays they’d just CGI it, but here, it’s real, and that makes it even more powerful.

laura

Laura (1944)
Who killed Laura Hunt?
Her fiancé? Her dandy?
Ask her, detective.

I wanted to see more of Dana Andrews, so Laura was the next film.  Two years older than The Best Years of Our Lives, it is known as one of the best noirs of its time, and the film lives up to that expectation and then some.  Though Andrews plays the hard-boiled detective, the reason to see this movie is for Clifton Webb, who plays a writer and a…I’m having a hard time coming up with an apt description for his relationship with Laura, because it’s just sort of weird.  He’s definitely in love with her, but it never feels like a straight-up man-loves-woman kind of thing.  Not exactly mentor and mentee, either.  You should just see the movie to find out for yourself.

Vincent Price plays Laura’s fiancé, and I never knew what a handsome, strapping lad he was in his youth.  Before Laura, the only Price I knew was the laugher in Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the inventor in Edward Scissorhands.

makeway
Ma and Pa Cooper
must live without the other.
This heartbreak is pure.

This film is almost eighty years old, and yet it is startling how much it applies to our current times.  The story, again, is deceptively simple.  Aged parents lose their house to the bank, but none of the five children want to take them both on, so Pa goes with one daughter while Ma goes with one son.  The actors are naturalistic in their performance with very little melodrama, which is amazing since this is 1937!  In a way, the last twenty-five minutes of this movie reminded me of Richard Linklater’s Sunrise series — two people walking and talking about their lives and viewpoints.  Even though the film is sad and grim, there are plenty of laughs, once again reinforcing my steadfast belief that humor is a vital ingredient of every movie in every genre.  The ending — oh, the ending.  The director, Leo McCarey, lost his job because he wouldn’t change it.  He took one for the team, and we are now forever blessed by his stubbornness.

Haiku and Review: Nothing Lasts Forever, a.k.a., Die Hard

nothing lasts foreverJoe, alone, against
terrorists on Christmas Day.
Pages of darkness.

Like a lot of people, Die Hard is one of my favorite action films.  Each entry in the franchise has gotten worse, but nothing can take away from the brilliance of the original.  It’s been a while since I saw it, but I was curious to watch it again because I just finished the novel from which it is based.

I can’t recall how I was led to the novel, but I was intrigued when folks who have read it said it was both the same and different, in all the right ways.  It’s a slim book, bare over 200 pages, easily readable in a single sitting.  It took me about six sittings, but that’s because I’m just a slow reader.

If you are a fan of the movie, you will like a lot of what’s in this book (originally titled Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorpe — what a cool name!).  So much of what John McClane goes through (Joe Leland in the novel, and he’s much older here, I believe in his late fifties) — barefoot on the broken glass, C4 down the elevator shaft, pistol sneakily strapped to his back — are in the novel.  And yet at the same time, so much of it is not there, and I don’t just mean plot mechanics or dropped scenes.   The book is way darker, and because it is told in a limited third person from Joe’s point of view, we are left with a work that spends much of its time inside his head.  So as action filled as this novel is, it’s also intensely introspective.  There’s also a greater sense of moral ambiguity, as the purpose behind the skyscraper takeover is as black and white as it is in the movie.

Seeing Die Hard again after all these years (I can’t remember seeing the film in its entirety in at least ten years) was a study in nostalgia.  Smoking inside the airport!  Car phones!  Cocaine!  One aspect I noticed this time was the omnipresent soundtrack — it’s a bit too pervasive and felt dated.  Was Alan Rickman supposed to be German or English?  His accent was kind of all over the place.  But these are niggling complaints.  The movie holds up in every way — well, maybe except for the ending (do I need to do a spoiler alert here?), when Karl returns from the seeming dead with guns blazing.  The novel handles this in a much more logical manner.

Punisher Grandpa, Killer Drive

punisher Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Bad guys, you’ve been warned.
Castle’s life is no picnic.
Don’t mess with this Frank.

Guns, guns, and more guns! Jimmy McNulty sports an even worse accent than his Baltimore one, but it’s all in good, violent fun. His brother “Loony Bins Jim” is just as hilariously bent. The Punisher actor reminds me of a handsomer and younger version of Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey, and the widower is a Kate Beckinsale knockoff. The movie is supposed to take place in NYC, but they do a pretty terrible job of faking it; it was actually shot in Toronto. Recommended.

badgrandpa Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa (2013)

Spike won the Oscar
for the wrong movie. Irving,
you’re better than Her.

Yes, it’s stupid and crass and sophomoric to the nth degree, but I haven’t laughed this hard in years, possibly decades, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The boy who plays the grandson should get a movie of his own — he’s talented way beyond his years. Highly recommended.

killerjoe Killer Joe (2011)

After watching this
I’ll never eat another
K-Fry-C drumstick.

Thank goodness for Thomas Haden Church, who provides the much needed humor to lighten up this super nasty movie. I don’t quite get why this film was so lauded — it’s not really anything special. McConaughey is nutso, but it’s not anything we haven’t seen before (i.e., Gary Oldman in The Professional, Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs, etc.). Not recommended.

mulholland Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Betty or Diane
A sad Hollywood story
Surprise, Lynch makes sense.

I’ve been meaning to see this film for almost a decade, and wow, was it worth the wait. Lo and behold, the movie works completely within the framework of Lynch’s weirdness! The Straight Story is the movie most people mention when they talk about Lynch and accessibility, and it’s true, the title of that movie describes it in more ways than one. But the reason why Mulholland Dr. is such a career triumph is because all of the things that make Lynch’s movies Lynchian — weird-ass angles, the threat of terrifying wackiness at any moment, dwarves and identity-shifting and lounge singers and red lampshades — they’re here, and they actually contribute both thematically and narratively to the movie. Massive kudos to Naomi Watts — no wonder the studios took notice after this.

Still, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that there are still some pretty far out-there scenes here. But also absolutely hilarious ones — the one that involves a large woman and a vacuum cleaner is maybe the funniest thing Lynch has ever done. I do hope he gets back to making feature films. Highly recommended, but with a caveat: I’m continuing to write this mini-review after spending a rather restless night of sleep. Lynch’s movies have a way of burrowing into your brain like nothing else, so do yourself a favor and watch this either on a Friday or a Saturday night, so you’ll have time to recover.

One last thing, and something probably so obvious that it doesn’t need a mention, but…a beautiful woman is so much more interesting to look at on screen than a handsome man, no? Maybe it’s just my hetero-male bias, but I don’t think so. I believe there are many studies that have suggested that women also would rather look at other women than men, and who can blame them? Women can glam up like no man can (minus Jared Leto?), and it’s such a visual advantage. One of the reasons why Mulholland Dr. makes such an impression is because you just can’t take your eyes off either of the leads. So when Lynch juxtaposes their great beauty against his unsettling ugliness, the effect on both sides is that much stronger.

Haikus & Reviews: Blue Jasmine, Enough Said, All Is Lost, Her, Captain Phillips, Wolf of Wall Street, Pitch Black

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The 2014 Golden Globes are about to start.  Many movies were seen in the last few days…

Blue Jasmine

Queen, Elf, Bob Dylan
Here as a Madoffed Blanche, she
shines in delusion.

Cate Blanchett is so good in this movie that she makes everybody else in every movie ever made an amateur. Yeah, I know, it’s a bit much of a compliment, but lord, this is a performance to behold. Blanchett is a magician without any tricks. She actually gets us to root for this sad, bewildered sack of a woman! Sandra Bullock will probably win the Best Actress Oscar, but we all know who did the best work this year.

Enough Said

Three’s-Company-like
plot hinders this fine movie
but Jim saves the day.

Who knew that Gandolifini could play such a soft, warm-hearted character? He’s a revelation, and now he’s gone.

All Is Lost

Man lost on a boat
Silent, stark, meditative
Could have used Wilson…?

There have been comparisons of this movie to Gravity, which I can sort of see, but the biggest failing of this film is that we don’t know why the Redford character does what he does to save his ship. For example, there’s a sequence when the boat encounters a storm that he fights his way to the top of the boat with something in his hand. Why is he out there, and what is he trying to accomplish? Because we don’t understand, we’re not as emotionally involved as we could be. In Cast Away, Tom Hanks had Wilson the volleyball to talk to, which seemed a bit silly in the beginning, but it strengthened our connection with him because we had better access to his thoughts.

Her

It’s a movie that
shows a lot more than it tells
yet I feel nothing.

I was really looking forward to seeing this, so the depth of my disappointment was pretty severe. It’s a gorgeously shot film, with set design that should pick up some gilded hardware, but I just couldn’t feel what Joaquin Phoenix’s character was feeling at all. And the whole conceit of the movie was lost on me. Why would anyone want an operating system that didn’t want to work? What happens in the end — do the users get a refund? Was any of this stated in the EULA? Perhaps it’s because I’m too much of a techie, but the sci-fi concepts felt so rudimentary that it got in the way. And the silent scenes of Theodore’s memory of his ex-wife and their past became a bit too precious as the film went on.

Captain Phillips

Tom’s Boston accent
Pirate’s American dreams
Dizzy hand-held cam

I like my camera to stay steady, so I’m never a fan of the hand held, but it’s a solid movie. You won’t be disappointed.

Wolf of Wall Street

Greed is very good
for Jordan/Stratton Oakmont
until it isn’t.

Last year, Leo was Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. I didn’t think it would be possible for him to star in a film that was even more gaudy and excessive than that one, but here it is. He’s great in it, of course, and so is Jonah Hill. The movie probably could’ve been an hour shorter, but there are plenty of laughs.

Pitch Black

Extra Cheesy B
with a side of Diesel beef.
In Riddick we trust.

Not Golden Globes related!  This is a film I’ve been meaning to see for years. Yes, the effects are now incredibly cheesy. They were probably sufficiently cheesy even back in 2000. But Vin Diesel is excellent as Riddick, and really, he’s not a bad actor at all. And Rahda Mitchell — I didn’t even know she was in it. This movie is not going to impress you in any way, but it knows what it is and delivers two hours of entertainment.

Haikus and Reviews: Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave

Cinema award season is upon us, which means there are lots of good movies to watch — supposedly. Here are three I recently saw.

banks

Saving Mr. Banks

Colin Farrell is
manic pixie drunkard dad
sleeping with the pears.

Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are both excellent, but that’s par for the course. The film cuts back and forth between the present and P.L. Travers’ childhood, and the transitions are pretty rough in the beginning. They get better as the movie progresses, but the film does not.

ah

American Hustle

epic comb-over
semi-accented cleavage
perm-fisted acting.

Outside of Christian Bale, everyone was overacting in this film. The movie isn’t convoluted, but it feels convoluted. The last fifteen minutes is fun, but it does not excuse what has come before it. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the massive critical love for American Hustle, since it features many fine actors and a director recently feted, but the fact is, it’s just not that good.

12years

12 Years a Slave

This is not a film.
It is a marathon of
darkness and darkness.

I’ve been a fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor since Dirty Pretty Things, and this is a fantastic showcase of his talents. But this is just a grinder of a movie, with one agonizing scene after another. Of course this is the way it should be, since we’re dealing with the very bleak subject of slavery in its most unfiltered form, but if there was any way to inject humor (just a bit here or there), it would’ve gone a long, long way. Be on the lookout for Amish Brad Pitt.

Haiku and Review: Prisoners and Seven Psychopaths

prisoners

Prisoners

Two girls go missing
One dad will stop at nothing
to find a whistle.

I’ve read a couple of reviews for this film, and one thing I find strange is that most critics think that the police officer played by Jake Gyllenhaal is the only one in the precinct with brains. I beg to differ — I think he’s just as incompetent as the rest of the uniforms. He grills Paul Dano’s character for hours on end to no avail, and it takes Hugh Jackman literally 10 seconds to get him to talk? And Jackman also finds the killer before Gyllenhaal does.

And by the way, I feel bad for Dano.  Seems like every movie, he gets the crap beaten out of him (or worse).  It’s like he’s the Jesse Pinkman of the big screen.

sp

Seven Psychopaths

Film about a film
Screenwriting navel-gazing
Also-ran Player.

I had high hopes going into this movie, because I adored In Bruges.  This film had its moments, but it really isn’t very good.  I wished I’d seen The Player again instead.