Sunday, November 05, 2017

Seen in… October 

The Night of the Living Dead image via The Movie DB

This is a kind of corny but loveable sci-fi comedy that doesn’t ask much of you. It stars David Duchovny and Orlando Jones as a pair of small town college professors who happen to be in the right place at the right time when a meteorite carrying a fast evolving alien life form lands in the nearby desert. Everyone from the FBI to the state governor wants credit for the discovery but the conflicts lead to confusion which leads inevitably to a pterodactyl type thing flying through a mall. I’m sure Duchovny took this role in a light comedy to offset or play against his overly serious role as Fox Mulder on the much-loved X-Files but sometimes, because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

Scene (cell?) from Loving Vincent image via The Movie DB

Loving Vincent
Someone actually thought it was a great idea to film actors portraying the last years of Vincent Van Gogh’s life then paint over every frame in the style of the Dutch painter and animate it painstakingly. Sort of crazy. Crazy beautiful. Unfortunately the premise which endeavors to bring to life not only Van Gogh’s story but the stories of the people and places he painted goes a little bit Agatha Christie and winds up with a spurious murder theory. The film is strikingly beautiful and creates wonderful vignettes that shines a light on the lives of the small town where Van Gogh painted but the conspiratorial tone intended to create tension is a more fraught than taut. Despite those flaws, this film is worth seeing for its technical and aesthetic merits alone and the filmmakers allow you to bath in all its golden barley glory and swirling indigo night skies. Certainly a big screen experience.

Gosling looking comfortable in his artificial skin image via The Movie DB

Blade Runner 2049
Set 30 years after the original (though filmed 35 years after the original) this highly anticipated continuation of the story of a cop whose job is to hunt and “retire” rogue androids (“replicants” if you please) satisfies stylistically if not entirely. Denis Villeneuve is a very thoughtful and patient director who is willing to let a story take its time to unfold and reveal itself which certainly suits the atmosphere of this future dystopian vision of L.A. that Ridley Scott created in 1982. The visual references and style of this film are without question on point and live up to the hype. I guess my only quibble is the story is too complete, too structured in that it is a more conventional plot driven reckoning of all the openings the original let us fall into. The original Blade Runner was far more open ended giving us a classic sci-fi story that left more questions than answers. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love the original and the director’s cut of the original, there were moments I didn’t like or aspects that made no sense (Deckard’s “unicorn vision”? Was it a dream? A piece of a different movie that fell into the projection reel? It felt really out of place and at the time I couldn’t even tell if it was a dream, a memory or just a random music video that Deckard was watching.) Yet this version almost feels too “standard”, too rote. There is even a scene that could potentially set up another film, a scene that suggests a connection to Prometheus and the Alien films and a very coherent ending. It seems strange to say a film was too well written to be satisfying but I think a few loose strands to pick at would have been better. After all, it was the unanswerable loose threads that made us revisit Blade Runner again and again and made it one of the most enduring sci-fi films of all time.

T2 Trainspotting
21 years after the original this film lets us see what became of our protagonist Renton who made off with the cash from a heist in the first Trainspotting. We also get reacquainted with Begbie, Spud and Sick Boy (now preferring to go by Simon) and they really are kind of where we would expect. The sociopath Begbie is in prison, Spud is, despite his best efforts, still struggling with addiction and Simon is still a small time dealer and conman but aspiring brothel owner. The reason for this story at all is, I suppose middle-age. Renton’s life in Amsterdam has come undone, Simon’s blackmailing has reached its zenith and Begbie, well Begbie only wants his pound of flesh no matter how many pounds he has to take to get it. In this way, seeing a bunch of going-nowhere youths having actually gotten nowhere is both sad and introspective. How many of us can say we’ve lived our lives as we had hoped or even gone beyond our potential. In the end maybe there is no escaping our destinies but what’s more important is how we handle ourselves on the journey that matters to ourselves and our loved ones.

A White House meeting that would have seemed kind of weird until very recently. Image via Vox

Elvis & Nixon
Have you ever seen that photo of Elvis meeting Nixon in the Oval Office? Apparently, Elvis Presley showed up at the White House to pitch the president that he, the world’s most famous musician, be made an “agent at large”, be given a badge and an assignment to work undercover to bust international drug rings that were ruining America which at the time was reaching a boiling point over anti-establishment protests, worsening crime and drug use and in the not too distant future, the Watergate scandal. All of this is speculation of course and I’m guessing that’s what made this seem like a fun idea. In some sense, the film should have been either more modest and simpler or more absurd and over the top to have either the disquieting weirdness or absurd humour it sought. Unfortunately by being neither it failed at either, if that makes sense. Was it trying to be a Coen Bros. type eccentric comedy or realistic take on the goings on in a Whitehouse on the verge of collapse? The film wasn’t really helped by casting Michael Shannon as Elvis, who, while an excellent actor, did not aim for an impersonation of Elvis and as he bears no resemblance to the singer, also seemed a disingenuous celebrity. Likewise for Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon who, while not doing a pantomime was actually much more believable as the paranoid president. Yet, the actors never really seemed on the same page with each other and the story creaked along with little or no lubricant. I guess anything without friction hardly requires lubricant and so a story with very little at stake fights to hold our interest. I’d like to see Richard III as played by a conniving Richard Nixon - now that would be funny and creepy.

Rick & Morty S01-03
What if Dr. Who knew it was a TV show and was a little more "sex, drugs and rock and roll" and was animated but was highly inappropriate for children? Then it would be Rick & Morty, the story of an alcoholic sociopathic genius, Rick, who, with the aid of his numerous inventions such as a portal-gun or space ship, takes his grandson, Morty, on many interstellar and inter-dimensional adventures to parallel universes and far away worlds pretty much for the sake of it. The satire and pop references are thick and are delivered fast and furiously by the duo who are on occasion joined by Rick’s daughter, grand-daughter and son-in-law.

Big Mouth S01
Do you remember puberty? No? Let this crass self-aware animated show about kids going through changes remind you. It’s as if we followed the Peanuts Gang just a little longer until they became monstrous hormone driven teens. Nick Kroll and John Mulaney voice to the two primary friends who are harassed and sometimes abetted by a hilarious and disgusting goat-legged Hormone Monster who is definitely not the Puberty Fairy.

The Cabin in the Woods
Take every cliche and format from every horror film and cram them into a weird story and you might think the audience would quickly bore of it but you’d be wrong. It is the very fact that we watch the clichés unfold and that we see the puppet masters orchestrate (a cliché within a cliché) the gory action that makes you hang in there hoping to find out what is actually happening. This is some straight up dope meta-filmmaking that still leaves you rooting for our protagonists even when you know they are heroes in someone else’s narrative.

Night of the Living Dead
The one that started it all. Every shlock zombie film ever made to contemporary versions such as 28 Days, Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead, Fear of the Walking Dead to I, Zombie and The San Clarita Diet all owe their mythology to this film. Ironically, the original script was lifted from a book about vampires called I Am Legend which was later made into three film adaptations including Omega Man and I Am Legend which, being more of a remake of other films re-imagined the story not with vampires but with zombies. Circle complete.

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