Friday, June 26, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Quarry

The Quarry
directed by Scott Teems
This movie teams up two very good character actors who have occasionally ventured into leading man territory. Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham have often worked together, most notably in Boardwalk Empire. 

They are two actors who I am always interested in watching because they bring depth and realism to their characters. 

No matter how over the top or strange the character may be written, these guys find a way to ground their depiction and make you feel that you know their character, even if on balance the person is despicable. Each man shines in this movie. However the film is slow moving. It's as if the writer/director decided to just throw these actors in the Texas setting and told them "Do something!"

The results were mixed. I thought a while about this review because I initially thought I might be judging a slow neo-noir thriller by action film standards. And upon further reflection I decided that no I wasn't. 

Even by the standards of thrillers aimed at adults with attention spans longer than thirty seconds The Quarry meanders and wanders. One might argue that the seeming pointlessness of many occurrences is actually the movie's entire point and that yours truly was just too dumb to see it. Perhaps. Perhaps not. 

Lives can be changed by just one random decision. I have a relative who delights in pointing out what he considers to be Christian hypocrisy. He thinks that Christians should always turn the other cheek no matter what, have no business accumulating wealth of any kind, and should never resist those who would do them evil. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Hunt

The Hunt
directed by Craig Zobel
This is another film that (a) had a female lead and (b) had its debut delayed and possibly ruined by the emergence of the coronovirus pandemic and (c) was seized upon by some conservatives, especially the dummy-in-chief, who thought it unfairly demonized them.

This last point is almost too stupid to comment upon but it's worth mentioning that this movie is in part a satire of fraught relationships between conservatives and liberals. The Hunt doesn't actually endorse kidnapping your political enemies and hunting them for fun anymore than the Godfather movies suggest to people that they should build a multi-generational international criminal empire. Given some recent real life incidents one might even argue that this satire doesn't go far enough.

If you have to explain satire, you've likely already lost half the audience. Much as Blazing Saddles used jokes about racism, anti-semitism, and stereotypes in general to suggest that those things were, you know, actually harmful to human beings, The Hunt uses political and regional stereotypes to suggest that sometimes conservatives and liberals share negative traits. This could be read as a both sides cop out. One film writer said as much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen
directed by Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie is a predictable writer and director, particularly when he's examining the milieu in which he made his name, the British underworld. Depending on how much you enjoy this style you might consider this film a welcome return to form. 

Or you might decide that fast paced tough guy (tough gal) banter, sudden ultraviolence, music video style quick cuts, British slang, double crosses hidden inside triple crosses, and racial/ethnic/sexual slurs played for jokes is overdone and last year's (last decade's) news. I generally enjoyed this movie but I have a tolerance for some of these otherwise problematic things in movies if I don't think they're coming from a place of contempt or hatred. 

Presumably Ritchie and/or the other writers would say they're making fun of everyone. I'm not so sure about that, watching it a second time. Still, this is light entertainment, not anything award winning or something that is supposed to make anyone think too much. 

Michael "Mickey" Pierson (Matthew McConaughey) is an American former Rhodes Scholar, who upon arriving in Merry Olde England, soon discovered that he could make more money and meet a higher class of people by selling marijuana than by hitting the books. Fast forward about twenty five years and the middle aged but still trim Mickey has become a multimillionaire marijuana producer and distributor. He has avoided heroin and cocaine because of their associations with violence and because he thinks those drugs are too addictive. Mickey is a nice guy. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Movie Reviews: Becky

directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
In the mid seventies this would have been the sort of movie that might have had Jodie Foster as its star. This is not a film for children to watch. And that includes its titular child lead actress. 

The short description of this film might be Home Alone meets Saw. In other words, if you are at all sensitive to depictions of violence, this is not, repeat NOT the film for you. Got it???

Even if you are inured to gruesome violence, this film goes over the top showing the violence suffered, but mostly committed by its teen anti-heroine. I'm not joking. This film is not comedic except in the most over the top way that might occasionally be experienced by the most jaded horror/thriller viewers. The only deference to viewer sensibilities is that we are spared sexual assault, which given the circumstances of this film, could have been expected.

Since before River Tam and proceeding thru Arya Stark there has been a strain of occasionally tongue in cheek but often serious filmic or novelistic depictions of young, small, teen or preteen girls who are often able to outwit or outfight one or more fully grown male adversaries, or at least hold them at bay until the cavalry arrives, so to speak. 

Becky takes that trope, turns it up to 11 and stomps on the distortion pedal. But it also very broadly hints that the ability to commit violence is not something to be admired or sought after. This little girl has some problems. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Defund the Police! Good Slogan or Horrible Mistake?

You may have heard of the slogan "Defund the police!" bubbling up from many of the people who are protesting the scourge of police brutality and misconduct.

Some people whose opinions I respect said that this was a horrible slogan to use because it would be immediately seized upon by conservative troglodytes and used to discredit any attempt at reigning in police departments. Some said anyone using this slogan was stupid.

The people in my circle who dislike the slogan are broadly on the left. None of them voted for Trump in the past or will do so in the future. And they, and I, are all old enough to remember where a strong left stance on a particular issue was misrepresented by people on the right to the detriment of those on the left. So I think they are honestly worried about the same thing happening again.

I still wonder if the post-Reagan defensive crouch that many on my side of the political spectrum have been in may have blinded us to how politics and movements actually work. 

The Right doesn't actually run on a slogan of "We're going to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, repeal or ignore any laws or regulations protecting the environment and humans from dangerous pollution, waste or chemicals, destroy unions so that the reserve pool of underpaid and unemployed workers remains high,  shift public funds to private and religious schools, eviscerate legal protections against racial discrimination, eliminate free speech protections for critics of the Israeli West Bank occupation, hunt certain animals to extinction, eliminate worker safety protections, and drive down American wages via relentless outsourcing and automation so that corporate profits remain high!".

Book Reviews: 'Vaders

by R. Patrick Gates
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic I was in the mood for reading some disaster stories. I decided to read this older book that for some reason I had never gotten around to perusing. Well. That was a big mistake. There are some long books where you can't wait to figure out what happens next. 

And when you finish you are impressed with the storytelling skill or the author's technical skills or how deep the characterization was or how well the author knew his or her subject matter. You want to read the next book by the author.

This wasn't that kind of book. Reading this 500 page book didn't evince any emotions in me other than increasing regret at wasting my time reading this tripe and a final snort of contempt when the author abruptly ended his story. 

He didn't even end it on a cliffhanger. It was as if he had reached the word count required by his editor or publisher and stopped writing right there. It's frustrating because I've read better work by this author.

Although obviously many sci-fi/horror movies require some suspension of disbelief, this story stretched my tolerance for that to its breaking point.

In many alien invasion/end of world apocalypse stories I prefer I see how multiple people across the world, or at least across the US face the horror. Some of them do better than others. Often, they all end up having a small piece of the solution, even if they don't know it. Maybe there's a scientist who has an idea but she can't find a functioning laboratory. 

Maybe that old doddering fellow in the corner just happens to be the deadliest gunman in the world. Maybe the racist will have to ask for help from one of THEM. Maybe the team badly needs a driver and the kid in the Tupac shirt can drive anything anywhere.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
This film took a random case of mistaken identity and effectively demonstrated how it can snowball into something with major consequences. 

It's a film noir that lacks violence or even an identifiable bad guy. 

The viewer might think the polcie are the bad guys but they are just doing their jobs. Some are a bit more committed to their jobs than others. The real "bad guy" is an indifferent and uncaring universe. This movie was based on a true life story. 

This film demonstrates why going down to the police station to help cops "clear some things up" is almost never a good idea. This movie was set in a time when police were not limited by such things as Miranda warnings. As we've seen in numerous recent real life incidents police will break rules when they feel they can get away with it, but it's still important for a suspect, especially if he or she is innocent, not to make things easy for the police.

Someone who is innocent, who has never had any trouble with the police before and regards them either as heroic or as necessary evil will not have the required paranoia or fear regarding dealings with police and the law enforcement system. The person may honestly believe that the police only bother guilty people. So that person may think that once he tells the police what really happened, he'll be quickly let go with an apology.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Wretched

The Wretched
directed by Brett Pierce and Drew Pierce

This is a new horror movie that simultaneously hearkens back to some favorite low budget cheesy 80s films but at the same time is inventive enough to give me hope that horror movies can simultaneously be fun, scary and intelligent. 

It's also quite obviously set in my home state of Michigan though I can't remember if the story made that explicit. It was shot in Michigan.

It might as well have made its location explicit as there is plenty of expository dialogue about people maintaining vacation homes and farms in the north of the state. That's what lots of Michiganders, including some of my family and friends, do. Boating is also a big part of the story.

After some spoilerish events which I won't mention open the film we see that the film's default hero, troubled teen Ben (John-Paul Howard), has moved in with his father Liam (Jamison Jones). Liam is a usually genial man who is going through a divorce with Ben's mother. Ben was implicated in some minor criminality which is why his mother has temporarily sent him up north to live and work with his Daddy. 

Well Liam is less interested in playing strict paterfamilias than in trying to convince Ben to accept that Liam has swiftly moved on to a new significant other, Sara (Azie Tesfai), who works with Liam at the marina which he owns/runs. 

Movie Reviews: Marked Woman

Marked Woman
directed by Lloyd Bacon
It is always somewhat startling and sobering to realize that people you always remember as aged and decrepit were young and vibrant once. Time waits for no one. We will all eventually meet our maker. 

Still it is jarring to see Bette Davis, who I remember as a bug eyed chain smoking elderly woman, take the lead in this film. Although I don't think anyone could ever describe Davis as beautiful, she was striking playing a role that was not subtle in its sexuality. 

I didn't know it before watching the film but this movie is based on the downfall of Mafia Boss and vice lord Lucky Luciano, who had just received a thirty to fifty year sentence for extortion and prostitution about a year before this film was released. 

Much as mob film or television auteurs such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola or David Chase would do fifty years later, Bacon hired some real life mob hoodlums to give the film some verisimilitude. Another fun fact about this film is that one of the supporting actresses, Lola Lane, was the inspiration for the comic book character, Lois Lane. As you might expect the fast paced version of the Mid-Atlantic Accent is widely used in this film, primarily by Bette Davis but also by a few other actors and actresses.

Although some people see this as a film noir because of the presence of Bette Davis and of course Humphrey Bogart, I don't. It's just a Warner Bros. crime drama, a good one perhaps but there is no moral ambiguity. There are no conflicted heroes or femme fatales. This film is a morality play. Either because of enforced censorship or studio squeamishness about making heroines out of prostitutes, the film alters the stated occupation of the heroine and her friends from their real life inspirations.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Invisible Man (2020)

The Invisible Man
directed by Leigh Whannell
This movie is a retelling/reboot of the original old Hollywood movie based on the H.G. Wells sci-fi story of the same name. It takes place in modern times. 

The biggest difference is that whereas the original movie and story were both parables about an arrogant male scientist fooling around with subjects better left to God and causing suffering to himself and others as a result, this story incarnation makes it clear that the arrogant scientist in question was already a bad man who enjoyed dominating people, especially women.

Invisibility didn't drive him insane or make him worse. It just gave him additional tools to use. This film is primarily an extended lecture on why and how domestic abuse, particularly gaslighting, is a bad thing.

I think that everyone should already know this. I don't mind message films but felt that this one, despite being entertaining, was a little heavy-handed and literal in its approach. The horror is not the invisibility but the fact that the man is controlling, bullying, condescending, dismissive, contemptuous and capable of violence when challenged. 

I'm no physicist but if someone or something is invisible then that would seem to indicate to me that the spectrum of light which is visible to humans is either passing through the object completely or being bent around it. So to me that would mean that the person would be blind. Dunno. I will need to look more into it.

The movie opens with a mousy woman, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escaping the home of her rich genius optics engineer boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). I say escape because Adrian is apparently not the sort of man who will take kindly to a Dear John email or meekly accept a "We need to talk" short unpleasant one way discussion.