Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde (2017) movie poster

director David Leitch
viewed: 04/11/2018

Atomic Blonde fetishizes neon more successfully than it fetishizes the Eighties. Though the soundtrack is heavily retro, the aesthetic is much more a 21st century one.

Charlize Theron kicks a lot of ass and looks great doing it, which is really what this movie is about more than anything.

The end of the Cold War Berlin setting is an interesting choice for a throwback spy flick. But the story doesn’t have much intrigue. I mean, how could the turncoat be anyone other than James McAvoy? He’s not just the only other actor of note but the only character given any development. It’s also kind of funny how Theron towers over him in bare feet or heels.

The highlight is the drawn out stairwell fight scene.

I dug the music and all but by the only tracks truly from the period setting of 1989 were Public Enemy and Ministry. Is that just me being nitpicky?

The Book of Henry (2017)

The Book of Henry (2017) movie poster

director Colin Trevorrow
viewed: 04/07/2018

How did anybody think this was a good idea for a movie?

The Book of Henry features an 11 year old boy (Jaeden Lieberher) who has more intellect, acuity and emotional intelligence than anyone else in the movie.

He knows more than his mom (Naomi Watts), a nice but shallow single mom waitress who crushes on video games and wine. Henry does all the family paperwork and trades on the stock market having built a serious next egg…but she still works in a diner because…?

He also knows that his cute neighbor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), is getting molested by her step-dad (Dean Norris), and while his calls to child protective services aren’t going anywhere, he’s devised up a plan that can be executed from beyond the grave, to set things right.

Henry is the envy of his younger brother, who has none of Henry’s mad skills at making Rube Goldberg-style contraptions.

Henry spends the whole movie boysplaining to everyone.

The Book of Henry is a deeply, profoundly bad movie. Not any fly by night bad movie no flash in the pan this is a bad movie for the ages. I’m not calling Colin Trevorrow a great director but he’s not the problem . It’s funny that they thought anyone could direct this crap. It’s the script, stupid.

But of course it’s also unintentionally hilarious. The absurdity levels on this movie are impressive, as Henry (from beyond the grave) directs his mother to murder. Boysplaining it FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!

Because on top of all this maudlin and soppy familial love and goodness, Henry gets brain cancer and dies. And what does he say, “I should have thought of that.” The one thing he didn’t foresee.

I may have to add this to the Wikipedia page of “films considered the worst” because, I think it belongs there.

The Fly II (1989)

The Fly II (1989) movie poster

director Chris Walas
viewed: 04/07/2018

“I’m a human fly
and I don’t know why”
– Interior/Rorschach

Graduating from special effects and creature design to director, Chris Walas birthed The Fly II three years after David Cronenberg’s well-noted re-make. And yeah, it’s no Cronenberg. And Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga are no Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. But it’s still a pretty entertaining sequel.

Martin Brundle (Stoltz) is already part fly (on his father’s side), so he grows up super fast and super smart and when he hits sexual maturity, he starts metastasizing into human fly.

Of course, where the film excels is in the gruesome effects.  There is a reason that Google tries to complete your web search “fly 2 dog”. I’m sure Martin wasn’t the only one scarred by that. I actually found it kind of funny.

But there is a lot more: a head squish for the ages, an acid bath full head and torso melt (also for the ages), and then the surprising happy ending, in which the villain gets Cronenberged and left as a thing like a mutant zoo creature.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 01/20/2018

I think you either like Wes Anderson movies or you don’t. No judgment either way. I fall into the former boat, and interestingly The Royal Tenenbaums was one of the first movies I logged on my movie site in 2002, when I started tracking all the movies I watch.

Thousands of movies later, I come back to it, to watch it with my teenage children, the first who was born the year it came out, the second who was yet to be a sparkle in her father’s eye, so to speak.

For all that, I think I feel much the same as I did sixteen years ago when I first saw this. I’ve come to have seen all of Anderson’s movies since and have much more of a spectrum upon which to measure it.

That said: Gene Hackman. All day. Every day. Especially in scenes with Pagoda
(Kumar Pallana, RIP). Other Anderson alums like Angelica Huston and Bill Murray, always appreciated as well.

The kids both liked it.

Stir of Echoes (1999)

Stir of Echoes (1999) movie poster

director  David Koepp
viewed: 01/14/2018

I didn’t have the fondest recall of 1999’s Stir of Echoes, but having just read the book, I thought it might be worth a re-visit.

Richard Matheson might not have been a great novelist, but he was certainly one of the cool horror-sci-fi idea men of his generation  and lots of great stuff emanated from his work. I became keened in on him through TV’s The Twilight Zone, and I still hold him in esteem.

Unsurprisingly, the book is better than the film. Not that the film is bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. The book develops the main character as having developed all kinds of psychic ability as a result of hypnotism, but writer-director David Koepp, probably to try to hone in, focuses the story on the ghost that starts haunting him. That, and adding the psychic powers of his kid, winds up giving Stir of Echoes a poor man’s The Sixth Sense, though that also came out the same year.

Koepp employs some visual effects that I liked: the Hitchcockian flares of red when Kevin Bacon senses something amiss with the babysitter. But the film suffers a bit from some computer-developed effects, like the ghost movement, an effect that hasn’t aged well.

The Beguiled (1971)

The Beguiled (1971) movie poster

director Don Siegel
viewed: 12/30/2017

There’s a reason you don’t let the fox into the henhouse. In Don Siegel’s The Beguiled, Clint Eastwood is the foxy fox in the henhouse is the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. These ladies, old and young aren’t worried about getting eaten alive, but rather to fear and desire the Mr. Eastwood.

Eastwood at the time was probably at the top of his acting career, but he was already forty years old.  Still, he’s the exact kind of lure that has all of the ladies aflush and aquiver. Heck, he’s even got the literal hens laying eggs again.

It’s amazing how good this movie is, especially considering Siegel and Eastwood’s prior Western Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), which was nothing by comparison. It’s rich material, I suppose, and like others can see why Sofia Coppola took her swing at it (which I have yet to see but have as a high priority now).

The setting is gorgeous, the Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation near Baton-Rouge and the trees all languorous hung heavy with Spanish moss. And the period of the story, the tail end of the American Civil War, the enemy brought literally inside the gates as the wounded soldier is a Yankee, who, according to Doris, want to “rape all the women”.

Everyone is beguiled, including Eastwood himself. He’s got them all from 12 years of age to the fifty-something Miss Martha herself (a terrific Geraldine Page) all so hot and bothered.

Some consider this one of Eastwood’s best performances, but I though Eastwood was stiff as a board. Everyone else is terrific, including Mae Mercer and Pamelyn Ferdin. But very much so Jo Ann Harris. This is, after all, much more about the ladies, who dominate the picture and narrative. The film and story are ripe for interpretation in a number of ways.

High Plains Drifter (1973)

High Plains Drifter (1973) movie poster

director Clint Eastwood
viewed: 12/25/2017

High Plains Drifter has a serious problem with women. This struck me years ago when I first saw it and was less familiar with Clint Eastwood’s oeuvre and the Western in general. Having the “hero” blow into town and rape a woman, apparently for her pleasure, was distasteful to me 20 years ago and has not improved with age. She then becomes the butt of a joke when she tries to shoot him, saying she was probably mad he didn’t “come back for more.”

Seriously, the sexual politics of High Plains Drifter are abject, objectionable, and highly problematic, especially as in other ways is perhaps Eastwood’s best directorial picture.

Shot near Mono Lake, it’s Eastwood’s first Western as director, only his second film as director. And whether he’s paying homages to Sergio Leone or Don Siegel, this semi-supernatural revenge film has a pitch-dark heart and ripe visual poetry.

The more that I’ve considered it, I find the misogyny too much to get over.

I did find it interesting that Ernest Tidyman’s inspiration for the story rose from the Kitty Genovese crime.

Joe Kidd (1972)

Joe Kidd (1972) movie poster

director John Sturges
viewed: 12/20/2017

Joe Kidd opens with a weak pseudo Spaghetti score. The Italian Westerns were having an influence their American counterparts at this point, but to a varying degree.  Joe Kidd is still quite Hollywood with maybe the least bit of Italian seasoning. It’s John Sturges so what do you expect.

More than aesthetics, Revisionist Westerns handled themes sympathetic to classes heretofore portrayed mostly villainous. Here, we have a group of Mexicans protesting the land grab that has robbed them of their ancestral homes in New Mexico. Revisionist, but with John Saxon as the populist Mexican leader.

It’s also a bit interesting where in Western history this takes place. It’s meant to be the early 20th century, by which time law and order had settled the Wild West largely. Though here the landowners are still free to make their own justice, hunting down the Mexican gang (and anyone else) to resolve their disputes.

And the villains feature some pretty good thugs, a little more gangster-like (and citified) than Old West. Robert Duvall is such a bad hombre that Donald Trump might try to deport him (just kidding, he’s white).

Meanwhile, Joe Kidd himself isn’t so well-drawn. He’s a man without a backstory who seems like he should have one.

Driving the train through the saloon, though, that was pretty funny.

The Wind (1928)

The Wind (1928) movie poster

director  Victor Sjöström
viewed: 11/20/2017

The Mojave Desert stands in for the godforsaken dustbowl of Texas in Victor Sjöström’s The Wind. With the help of airplane engines and propellers to whip that dust up.

It’s a gorgeous film, and it’s all Sjöström and star Lillian Gish, the latter of whom selected the source material, writers, actors, and director Sjöström for what would be MGM’s, Sjöström ‘s, and Gish’s final major Silent Film, made at the very end of the Era. Though it was a commercial and critical failure in its day, The Wind is considered one of the finest films of its time.

Gish plays Letty, an East Coast middle class girl, come by train to the windblown outpost where her childhood friend Beverly (Edward Earle) lives with his suspicious wife, Cora (Dorothy Cumming) and their rambunctious children. Cora quickly sours on Letty and forces her out of the house and into marriage with one of three pursuers, none of which Letty cares much for.

The intense wind and the cruel fates nearly drive Letty mad. And it’s impossible to hear about the original bleak ending (considered apocryphal by some, though how the original novel ends), without wishing the film had ended that way.

Sjöström’s mise-en-scène is gloriously bleak, verging on the surreal at times. But Gish herself is the key part of that mise-en-scène.

Truly, a great film.

The Man with Two Brains (1982)

The Man with Two Brains (1982) movie poster

director  Carl Reiner
viewed: 11/10/2017

“Into the mud, scum queen!”

While these days Steve Martin prefers his banjo to comedy, it’s worth recalling that at one point in time (mid-1970’s-early 1980’s), he was one of the funniest people in the world. Some of his best stuff was for TV specials and his own comedy records, but when he first started venturing into movies, he made a series of really interesting features.

Arguably, The Man with Two Brains may be his funniest. It’s co-written by Martin and director Carl Reiner (and George Gipe), and it’s a madcap romp through 1950’s science fiction with a dash of film noir thrown in.

Not only is Martin at the top of his game, the outrageously gorgeous Kathleen Turner is at the peak of hers, with her low sexy voice turned up to 11 and set for comedy.

Frankly, the direction and editing are kind of a hack, but when you’ve got gag after gag flying at you at such incessant speed that you hardly have time for an extra “Hfuhruhurr” much less an “Uumellmahaye”.

It’s not perfect by any means, but it is thoroughly hilarious.