Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) movie poster

director Rian Johnson
viewed: 01/07/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

For maybe the first time, I sat in a theater seat when the Star Wars theme cranks up and the scroll starts that I didn’t have the brief flutter in my pulse. This has less to do with Star Wars: The Last Jedi than perhaps just me and where I’ve gotten to in my relationship with the film series. I mean, it had been out for three weeks before I finally saw it. I don’t think you could have explained that to my 10 year old self.

I wonder how anyone has a personal relationship with Star Wars anymore. It’s so globalized and ubiquitous.

I won’t try to add to the myriad litany of discourse here other than to say that, yes, I liked The Last Jedi. I liked the new characters, I liked the development of Luke and Leia and definitely did indeed feel that flutter at seeing Mark Hamill’s (and all of our) goodbye to Carrie Fisher. Kudos to Rian Johnson on taking the series into new spheres. I hope that they continue to do so.

It was most definitely too long of a movie.

Cool World (1992)

Cool World (1992) movie poster

director Ralph Bakshi
viewed: 01/06/2018

Ralph Bakshi’s Id is not PG-13.

In 1992, I, like about everybody else, considered Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World a bit of a disaster. In part from a technical perspective, comparing it with the much better budgeted and realized Who Framed Roger Rabbit from only a couple years prior. But also from the weird tension of a film that was a lot nastier and racier than it was allowed to be.

I’ve been working my way through Bakshi’s oeuvre for the past few years, holding back on this disastrous last feature of his (still rated 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, apparently). So, I put it on for me and my two teenagers.

Oddly, they both liked it. And oddly, so did I.

Though the concept is weak, featuring Brad Pitt as a 1945 ex-GI stuck in the Cool World, policing live action dudes from cartoon (“doodle”) babes with the one law in the land: miscegenation. Holli Wood (Kim Basinger) is the hot-to-trot honey, a modernized Tex Avery dream girl, who’ll do anything to become a “real world girl”. She seduces Gabriel Byrne, a cartoonist who thinks he dreamed up the Cool World, to take her across dimensions.

Bakshi (or whoever directed it) fails to get most any shot where a live action person looks like they are actually seeing the cartoons. Pitt is almost the worst at this and looks a lot of the time like he’s just hoping they don’t make him look like a moron.

The animations, wheeling out of control and nearly non-stop in Cool World is like a crack-fueled reel through 1930’s animation, in particular the Fleischer and Terrytoon studios, where nothing ever stopped moving, but pulsed in a cycle. This would maybe be just cute mice if that were it, but this is a Ralph Bakshi picture, so there is this utter counterculture subversion of all these figures, all chasing one another with knives or guns, twisted prostitutes and pimps, caricatures just barely this side of racial stereotypes, cutting loose with all they’ve got.

It finally all explodes on early 1990’s Las Vegas (now immensely quaint by comparison). The production values will never escape your mind, but if you give into the animation and designs, there is a lot of weird action.

And I don’t know, but I liked it this time through. It’s not that it’s necessarily any better, but I appreciate it more. And like I said, my teens did as well. Weird.

Coco (2017)

Coco (2017) movie poster

director Lee Unkrich
viewed: 12/02/2017 at the Balboa Theater, SF, CA

My kids are both teenagers now, so all Disney or Pixar movies are no longer mandatory screening. I was actually a little surprised when my daughter asked if we could go see Coco.

After the atrocious and annoying Frozen “short”, the double-branded Coco begins. Patting itself on the back for its innovations in CGI and its due diligence to Mexican culture, the film opens up on the story of a long-lost patriarch and the remembrances of the Day of the Dead.

My daughter said her Spanish teacher had encouraged seeing it. And she was pleased by how many words she recognized (though I frankly knew about as much of the  Español myself.

It’s vividly-realized. I mean, this is Pixar, after all. The land of the dead is gorgeously depicted with meticulous details abounding in shot after shot.

Still, I wasn’t enthralled in it. I’m still trying to weigh exactly why this was. My daughter did enjoy it.

And I enjoyed going with her. I don’t know how many more of these we’ve got.

How old were you the last animated film you saw with your parents as a child? What was it?

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) movie poster

director  Taika Waititi
viewed: 11/26/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

I’m with the consensus on this one. My kids are too.

Thor: Ragnarok is fun, funny entertainment. Total props to Taika Waititi for this one.

I’ve always liked Cate Blanchett, but goth Cate Blanchett! What you do to me!

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Bell, Book and Candle (1958) movie poster

director  Richard Quine
viewed: 11/25/2017

A cool, comic analog to Alfred Hitchcock’s VertigoBell, Book and Candle is a another darkened romance starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak from the very same year. It’s also a story of obsession and possession, of love’s darker recesses.

In some ways, the shoe is on the other foot, with Novak the enchantress and Stewart the possessed. In other lights, perhaps it’s just as bleak for Novak, though it ends with a more traditional “happy” ending if you don’t read between the lines.

As a comedy, maybe it’s not quite hilarious, though it’s urbane. And maybe its darker soul keeps it from being quite the lark it aspires to.

The cast is sublime, featuring the adorable Elsa Lancaster, Hermione Gingold, Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs. And Pyewacket the cat, “as himself”, though possibly played by up to 12 different felines. And lets not forget The Zodiac Club, a beatnik-witching haven.

Bell, Book and Candle is said to have inspired TV’s Bewitched, which makes sense. It is, after all, the story of a lovely young witch who pines for something more than her magical life. The built-in metaphor of the female having to sublimate all of her inherent skills and character, wit, and abilities in order to succeed in human society is both a critique of patriarchy as well as ceding to patriarchy (for the happy ending).

It’s probably not quite as magical a film as it strives to be, but it’s totally enjoyable, charming, and packed with texts and subtexts, as well as cool character. I did find myself thinking that Billy Wilder could have probably elevated this further, but it’s perfectly fun on its own.

My 13 year old daughter was nonplussed, however.

Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird (2017) movie poster

director Greta Gerwig
viewed: 11/12/2017

Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig’s love letter to her hometown of Sacramento, California, quite probably the very first cinematic love letter to the capitol of the Golden State. The film opens with a quote from Joan Didion, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” And that deprecation is part of the tone of the film.

It’s 2002 in Sacramento, very specifically 2002. And though Gerwig says that the film isn’t exactly autobiographical, it’s hard not to think that she found her perfect counterpart in Saoirse Ronan who stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. The whole cast is pretty perfect. Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts are impeccable.

Ronan is lovely and hilarious as the girl from the  (literal) “wrong side of the tracks”. Precocious and out-spoken, she struggles to define and understand her self-image as well as her self. It’s classic coming-of-age stuff. Authenticity and recognition are elements that make a film like this work, and I thought it was interesting that Ronan chose to play Lady Bird with her natural pock-marked cheeks (interestingly enough air-brushed in the movie poster). It adds that je ne sais quoi that I think she intended.

More than anything, it’s a very funny movie, with great character and characters. I took my two teenagers and they both really liked the movie as well.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) movie poster

director Guillermo del Toro
viewed: 11/11/2017

It had been a decade since I saw Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth on its initial release in the theater. Like a lot of people, I’ve considered it his best film, certainly a partner to his 2001 The Devil’s Backbone.

I generally enjoy del Toro’s work, though his more commercial stuff seems thin on substance, if aesthetically pleasing and occasionally pretty fun.  I follow him on social media and even got to go see his collection of stuff at the LACMA Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters.

In 2007, my kids were 6 and 3 so I didn’t take them to see Pan’s Labyrinth at the time. I’ve long thought they might enjoy it, but only just now got around to sharing it with them.

I was surprised that my daughter was sort of nonplussed about it. I’d thought she would dig it more. My son, as is his wont, fell asleep early on but wanted to watch it again.

I think it holds up pretty well. The aesthetics and story are nice, the performers solid. It’s a dark fairy tale about childhood, escapism and fantasy. The CGI doesn’t hold up as well, but it never does if you ask me. Maybe it’s not as deep or rich as it could be, but I’d still call it his most complete film.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) movie poster

director Yorgos Lanthimos
viewed: 11/04/2017 at the Alamo Drafthouse – New Mission, SF, CA

A slow-burn blackly comic, surrealistic thriller. With the heaviest emphasis on “slow-burn”.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s second feature in English, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is on a continuum of his other awkward worlds, ruled by random logic, in which human connection is ultimately impossible.

Like his breakout film Dogtooth (2009), The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the study of a family and its patriarch. Though Colin Farrell’s heart surgeon here isn’t so much controlling the world of his nuclear clan but rather trying to somehow protect it from an ill that he has brought upon it.

The whole thing uncoils very slowly, impregnating the strangeness of the world and the characters with a sense not just of discomfort but of dread. Something is behind Farrell’s unusual relationship with sleepy-eyed teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan). His illegitimate son? His teenage lover?

Of course, it’s not anything remotely so straight-forward. When Farrell’s son and daughter fall ill with paralysis, lack of appetite, and eventually bleeding eyes, it takes the surgeon a long time to figure out that there isn’t anything medical but what? supernatural? uncontrollable?

Lanthimos continues to be one of the most interesting directors to me. Always a lot to ruminate on afterwards.

 

The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables (1987) movie poster

director Brian De Palma
viewed: 11/03/2017

Personally, I think Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime movie The Untouchables holds up pretty well.

There is a lot of cool cinematography and set pieces, the highlights of the film. That opening overhead shot of Robert De Niro getting a shave. The whole sequence of the bar getting blown up. The baseball scene. The interior tracking and everything happening in Sean Connery’s apartment when he gets it.

And the cast is great. Okay, I won’t argue strongly for Kevin Costner. He’s a bland lawman at the head of the thing. But Connery, De Niro, Andy Garcia, and in particular Charles Martin Smith are solid and each gets some choice lines and scenes. Can you imagine it if Mickey Rourke had been Eliot Ness?

Certainly, it’s a man’s man’s man’s world. And it takes some fascism (via David Mamet’s script) to gain control of Al Capone and the mafia.

The one scene that didn’t hold up so well is the balletic slo-mo Odessa Steps homage shootout. I recall thinking it was really cool back in 1987. Now it seems like a lot of build-up to almost comedic action. My son chuckled during it.

Ghost World (2001)

Ghost World (2001) movie poster

director Terry Zwigoff
viewed: 10/20/2017

This viewing of Ghost World was me sharing it with my teenage kids. They both enjoyed it.

“The girl that looks like Scarlett Johansson” is indeed Scarlett Johansson.

This viewing also reminded me how cool the soundtrack was.

I now need to dig up the comic to share with my daughter.

Also, it’s nice how unresolved the film is at the end. Not knowing what one is and ruining all your relationships while you’re figuring it out. That things don’t always work out and resolution is often unachievable.