Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Seen in… August 

"Life is a cabaret, old chum" is a sort of 1930s way of saying "All the world's a stage…" image from The Movie DB.

I always think of August as the dog days of summer when you've had it up to here with the sweltering heat and humidity but are also afraid summer is passing you by. That is a little what this collection of movies reflects. A couple of these movies were merely escapes to a nearby air conditioned theatre while others were seen entirely on a laptop in the coolness of my basement. They are also pretty much hit and miss and a bit of a ragtag collection of what was on offer. Make of it what you will.

I'm not really sure how many agents IMF employ because these are the only ones you ever see. Image from The Movie DB.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout
This series of impossibly punctuated film titles continues. Ethan Hunt, played by the ageless Tom Cruise, and the rest of the gang are back fighting an international terrorist, an angry Scot who was a former IMF agent. You know, if you read about about Tom Cruise or you’re reminded of something cheesy he did you might write him off as more celebrity, less actor, but give credit where credit is due. No one inhabits these insanely entertaining action packed roles like Cruise does. The incredulity of the stunts and convoluted plot machinations only add to the fun. Oddly, I think this film's plot where the team of super-spies have to retrieve some stolen plutonium intended for use in a sophisticated nuclear device but are thwarted by enemies within their own government is more credible than most action films, but having Ethan Hunt et al survive a motorcycle crash, several car crashes, a sky diving mishap and a helicopter crash (has anyone ever survived a helicopter crash?) goes above and beyond imagination. I suppose a movie where the hero begins the film in a fender bender, then spends the next 90 minutes in a neck brace complaining of back pain, nerve pain, vertigo, nausea, blurry vision, mood swings and migraines wouldn’t be much of an action film would it?

Glow Season 2
The Glamorous Ladies of Wrestling keep on keeping on. There was one icky moment but I guess that’s the point. Many ladies have had to endure many awkward advances and “icky” moments to just keep doing the thing they love. The sisterhood of the flying glittery leotards of these female wrestling performers feels real and the personal scenes where these women learn more about themselves and each other is pretty good drama and comedy. The series also does not shy away from the fact that while men's wrestling was seen as family fun fit for Saturday morning TV, female wrestling was largely sexualized and fetishized by creepily devout male fans pushing the airtime to late night. It’s also a hoot re-living the 80s through the screen which does feel like more calculated Netflix marketing than necessary. You can almost hear the marketing team yell, “Make it more 80s!!” But for once in my life, I’m in a targeted demographic so screw it. You can almost smell the hair spray.

If only the movie were as cool as this shot from New York City's cleanest subway car. Image from The Movie DB.

Ocean’s Eight
Another one of those movies where they take the plot of an all male cast and remake it with an all female cast. I was looking forward to the glamour and fun of a squad of lady thieves working their magic at a gala event but in the end the whole did not equal the sum of its parts. Unlike Ghostbusters (famously switched to an all female cast because ladies are funny too) which was a dud due to the writing, directing and editing, this film only feels calculated and formulaic because it is. We’ve seen the con within a con before (at one point Blanchett's character warns Sandra Bullock's against running a 'con within a con') and while it is fun to watch all the moving parts, something was a bit off. The cast is undeniably stellar and Rihanna is no surprise as a too cool hacker and Awkwafina was a nice discovery. I had never heard of her before and she did well as the street-wise pickpocket stereotype without being a stereotype. And Cate Blanchett was great as only Cate Blanchett can be. There was the bit of Deus ex Macchina when an Asian acrobat does something that only a professional acrobat could do. Otherwise much of the film and cast delivered as expected - except for, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Anne Hathaway who just did not convey any kind of nuance to her portrayal of a notable actress who somehow allows herself to be the pawn in the middle of this chess match? I know there are plenty of Anne Hathaway haters out there but I’m not one of them. Of course, she’s talented and beautiful but man, it’s more like she showed up, learned the lines and took a stab at comedy that she could not deliver and no one said, “OK, um, I like the eye roll but let’s try another take”. There were some other “meh” performances but all in all, this concept was just a little late to a party that had, as the kids say, already “turnt”.

Adam Driver and John David Washington reflect on being a card carrying member of the Klan - complete with actual card. Image from The Movie DB.

I’m not sure how Spike Lee went through a period of being less noticed (I haven’t seen Chi-Raq but I am keen to) but this film is definitely on form, on point and confident. This is the story of a Colorado Springs rookie detective who, as the force’s first black officer, infiltrates the local Klan essentially by sounding like a white racist on the phone. I guess if anyone knows all the weird racist bile a racist would say, it would be someone who had been on the receiving end of said vitriol. That kernel of the story is true and based on a book by Ron Stallworth but for the sake of storytelling I’m sure much was created. For a film, this has a bit of everything… comedy, action, drama and of course a telling social message. America didn’t become racist, it just always was and instead of going away, it festered until it was big enough to withstand the light of day. The film has some chilling moments, like when a racist couple cuddle and whisper their murderous plot as if talking about a picnic on the beach. Or when an undercover Jewish cop has to deny his Jewishness but heaping praise on the Nazis while simultaneously snubbing out a Klansman’s Holocaust denial. Throughout the film, current coded and trigger phrases are peppered into dialogue (Make America Great etc) that leads to the epilogue which uses news footage from the Charlottesville incident to sickeningly remind us of how little we’ve done to combat hate and divisiveness we see today.

This 1972 musical set at the end of the Weimar Republic and the beginning of the rise of the Nazi party was a fitting accompaniment to Spike Lee’s film about the rise (and disturbing legitimatization) of the Klan in America. In it, a girlie club with highly elaborate musical numbers is home to American singer and actress Sally Bowles played by Liza Minnelli who won an Oscar for the role. Sally is looking for her big break as an actress yet seems to look in all the wrong places - which is also where she finds love in the form of Michael York’s Brit Brian Roberts. For a 1972 movie about Berlin of the late 20s, early 30s, this movie covers a lot of ground… adventurous sexual escapades, homosexuality, abortion, racism, and it’s all set to marvellously weird songs. As far as musicals go, this contains the singing (for the most part) to the stage show which is the backdrop to the primary story. It’s kind of a “lovers in a dangerous time” kind of thing. Interestingly, I’ve always wondered what I would’ve done as a Jew in Berlin at that time. I typically thought, I would’ve simply left and looked abroad to America as many did but now I find myself thinking that hindsight was probably too clear and if you were in the moment I may just have thought, this is absurd, surely the rule of law would protect me. I’ll protest or make a pamphlet and - just a minute someone’s at the door…

Final Space Season 1
This fun Netflix animated sci-fi comedy reminded me a little of a cross between Futurama and Bravest Warriors (from the creators of Adventure Time). It’s funny, quirky and just when you think there’s no way out, there isn’t. It’s a simple story of a guy imprisoned in a space ship serving time after a stunt to impress a girl went horribly wrong. He finds and adopts a super cute green alien and names it Mooncake, only to discover Mooncake is a planet-destroying weapon wanted by some pretty evil-doing dudes. Like I said, it’s funny.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
I watched this computer animated feature (based on the series) on a recommendation and because I thought it would fill in some missing lore of the Star Wars universe. Maybe it did, maybe? Things went bang and there were robots and light sabres (or “laser sword” as Luke says in the Last Jedi) but I’m pretty sure it only muddled my basic understanding of the Star Wars time line.

Disenchantment Season 1
Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons and Futurama has a new Netflix series set in during Medieval times, when dwarves, demons and elves still worked magic throughout the kingdom. The series has Groening’s trademark look and humour but unlike the Simpsons and Futurama tells a season long story rather than unconnected episodes. It’s the story of a maverick Princess who would rather drink and fight than marry some prince she was pawned off to. She is aided in escaping her wedding by a disruption caused by the appearance of the wayward elf, “Elfo” and her own personal demon, Luci. I watched for the trademark humour which has too much wordplay and silliness to capture here. Basically, if you like this kind of fantasy mixed with Futurama style humour, you’ll probably like this too.

The Little Hours
Apparently based on a 12th century text (12th? 13th Maybe, not sure) this is a bawdy tale of three nuns up to no good in their convent. I guess women didn’t generally sign up to be nuns but may have been sent there for various reasons, leaving a group of bored young women with time on their hands. “The Little Hours” refers to the “wee hours” of the late night or early morning when many a mischief may be made. In some ways this movie feels like it’s parodying some sub-genre of 70s Italian erotica set in convents where good girls go bad, but also it also seems to want to remind us that folks like Chaucer made fart jokes too. It has some funny bits but also has an odd pacing that keeps the story, what little there is, from ever building and it spurts and sputters when it should really being making more of the joke. One funny moment, which is more about the performers making something of nothing is during a jailbreak, when someone creates a distraction by simpling placing a candle on a turtle’s back. The two foolhardy guards follow the turtle simply amazed by such a curious thing, “Will you look at that!” Over all though, it underwhelmed. For shame. Methinks there was a bit of “Carry-on Gang” meets Chaucer or Cervantes that could’ve taketh place asunder or ye olde something.

No small parts for Matt Damon and Hong Chau in Downsizing. Image from The Movie DB.

Matt Damon plays Paul, a guy who’s life thus far has been determined by obligations and the dreams of others. We first meet him taking care of his chronically ill mother. Ten years pass and his mother has died, he still lives in the home he grew up in, works in the same job, while his wife dreams of moving to a home they have no hope of affording. We learn Paul dropped out of med school to take care of his mother and the career he fell into was occupational therapy – on the medical path but short of the goal line. Meanwhile, Norwegian scientists have developed a method of shrinking people and other things to about 5 inches tall. Why? To save the Earth of course. After a four year trial, a community of 100 “smalls” created the same amount of non-compostable waste as an average family does in a day. The savings in energy and resource comsumption is incredible. The only catch is the shrinking is irreversible but on the plus size, a modest savings account means you can live like a king in a small community. Yet the process is controversial to some as it has meant a significant drop in consumer spending which is crippling the “big” economies. Later we discover only 3% of the world’s population has undergone the procedure so the idea that a 3% drop in consumer spending would destroy the economy seems more about bias (or just an overlooked plot point?) Paul and his wife Audrey decide to take a tour and get the sales pitch. When they learn that in Leisureland (What? No Smallville or Tiny Town?) they would actually be millionaires it seems their problems are solved and all their dreams will come true. On the day of the procedure, Audrey chickens out, leaving Paul alone in a new city with new challenges. The device of literally shrinking populations is really just the fun sci-fi part meant to tell a story of social inequity. We soon discover that not everyone in Leisureland is a millionaire and the problems of the wider world still exist. If this has taken me a long time to explain, that might be the problem with the film, also its ads and trailers seemed more like a modern day “The Borrowers” than a drama about a man walking from one life decision to the next without passion or even his own conviction. That said, this is like two movies, the first is the set-up and the second is the heart of the story. In truth, you could’ve told a story of isolation and a half-lived life without any of the expensive special effects. I’m guessing that’s why this film had such a lukewarm reception. People were either expecting a wild sci-fi comedy or an Alexander Payne movie and I guess they got neither. I enjoyed it but again, if you’re looking for a comedy set in a weird future or looking for a dramatic comedy of the like that Alexander Payne has built his career on, you will be disappointed.

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