Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fool's Views (1/1 – 1/15)

Hello, friends! Hope everyone’s 2018 is going swimmingly thus far.

The Doc’s office has been open for business and thriving amidst all manner of moving images, even extending to a few visits to the multiplex for awards season, which covered the majority of the Views during the first half of January. (Yes, we actually saw enough movies to justify two entries for the month, as the Almighty always intended.)

So, grab your plate and head to the buffet line where you can choose from fare ranging from Lovecraft adaptations and Blumhouse prequels, Kurosawa flicks that didn’t find their way into the player last year, and a bevy of “prestige” films trading time with classic B-movie action fare. Something for everyone, which is just how we like it.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) d. Flanagan, Mike (USA) (1st viewing)

Having been a vocal fan of Flanagan’s early work (Absentia, Oculus), I was slightly dismayed to find him taking on what seemed like a job-for-hire gig with Blumhouse, cranking out a prequel to the ho-hum 2014 effort based on everyone’s favorite trivet-sliding pastime (which, full disclosure, I have not seen). I mean, I get the appeal of shoring up relationships with the new millennium’s biggest producer of genre outings, but let’s hope this is a “one for them, one for you deals.”

The not-bad end-product is set in the 1960s (complete with excellent production design) and follows fake psychic Elizabeth Reaser raising two daughters on her own, the youngest of which brings home the titular board game which allows them to make contact with a malevolent spirit from the other side. Slow camera creeps and loud (if effective) jump scares ensue. Ultimately, this is standard mainstream occult fare that should please Conjuring and Insidious franchise fans – aiming squarely for the comfort food button – without breaking any new ground (although there is one genuinely creepy third-act moment involving the little girl, her sister’s new boyfriend, and a certain hole in the basement wall).

The Resurrected (1991) d. O'Bannon, Dan (USA) (2nd viewing)


The Shape of Water (2017) d. del Toro, Guillermo (USA) (1st and 2nd viewings)


Suspiria (1977) d. Argento, Dario (Italy) (5th viewing)

Having seen the uncut Italian print at Cinepocalypse last November, I wasn’t expecting to revisit the Italian mind-bending classic so soon. But when my buddy Tim revealed that he had picked up Synapse’s highly celebrated 4K restoration on Blu-ray (“the steelbook edition, thank you very much”) and invited me over to feast my eyes and ears in all its home-theater-surround-sound glory, there was little choice in the matter. I won’t lie: pretty sure I saw details I’d never seen before, and Goblin’s pounding esoteric score has never sounded better. Well worth the upgrade.


Enter the Ninja (1981) d. Golan, Meneham (USA) (1st viewing)

For a movie that almost singlehandedly brought the word “ninja” into the public consciousness, there are surprisingly few of the nimble little masked bastards on screen. Couple this with the fact that star Franco Nero is clearly no martial artist himself, mostly doling out judo chops and face punches (with his enormously mustachioed stunt double earning a paycheck in the long shots), which makes it doubly bizarre that this should be the granddaddy of an entire subgenre of cheapjack action flicks. Despite these quibbles, it’s great fun watching Nero, Susan George, Christopher “no relation” George, and the man who would assume the ninja mantle for the remainder of the franchise’s run, Sho Kosugi, chew the scenery and break various balsa-wood sets to splinters.

The Founder (2016) d. Hancock, John Lee (USA) (1st viewing)

As if there weren’t already enough reasons to hate McDonald’s, here comes the based-on-true-events telling of traveling salesman Ray Kroc, who recognized the McDonald brothers’ business model of “fast food” as the game-changer it was and proceeded to straight-up steal it out from under them, building a “too big to be beaten” empire in the process. Michael Keaton is frustratingly terrific as the amoral S.O.B., with great support from Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, Patrick Wilson, and John Carroll Lynch.

The Lobster (2015) d. Lanthimos, Yorgos (Greece/Ireland) (1st viewing)

Colin Farrell stars alongside Rachel Weisz in this curious and quirky yarn about a futuristic society where the uncoupled are assigned to a countryside retreat to attempt to find a suitable mate within an allotted period of time. If a successful partnership is not achieved, the unlucky-in-love individual is transformed into an animal of his/her choosing. There are a multitude of rigid guidelines under which all of this courtship must occur, with daily “hunts” that play out like massive paintball tournaments armed with tranquilizer guns. Impressive in both imaginative and emotional scope, and while its bizarre and sometimes cruel commentary may not jive with everyone’s tastes, fans of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) will likely find a new weirdee voice to embrace.


High and Low (1963) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (2nd viewing)

Loosely based on Ed McBain’s novel King’s Ransom, this electrifying crime thriller features Toshiro Mifune as a wealthy businessman who finds himself morally conflicted when kidnappers abduct his chauffeur’s son mistaking the child for Mifune’s, but demand the same ransom regardless. At once a terrific, meticulous detective story, examination of how social perception can be manipulated, and study of one man’s financial implosion resulting in his emotional salvation, this is a must-see.

Dreams (1990) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan/USA) (2nd viewing)

Following the critical and box office success of Ran, another five years passed before we saw another release from "The Emperor"; what finally emerged was this strange and quirky anthology comprised of eight short stories derived from the director’s nighttime slumbers. (As such, this represents Kurosawa’s sole screenwriting credit since Those Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail in 1945.) As to be expected, there are a multitude of striking visuals (the peach orchard pageant, a squadron of revived soldiers, the world laid waste by poisonous radioactive gas, Martin Scorsese as Vincent Van Gogh), and even if the brevity of the segments keeps Dreams from packing the same emotional punch as many of his best features, it’s definitely worth your time. Longtime friend and “Father of Godzilla” Ishiro Honda served as assistant director and reportedly worked closely with Kurosawa throughout filming.


Battle of the Sexes (2017) d. Dayton, Jonathan / Faris, Valerie (USA) (1st viewing)

Efficient if surface flick about the classic 1973 exhibition match between tennis superstars Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), as well as King’s self-realization as a lesbian and the pressures to keep such taboo leanings under wraps. The biggest revelation is probably how much Riggs’ chauvinistic antics were designed purely to generate publicity, and Carell does a fine job balancing the aging athlete’s desperation to remain relevant with the vibrant clowning of his public persona.

The Big Sick (2017) d. Showalter, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

Cute autobiographical comedy/drama about an aspiring stand-up comedian (Kumail Nanjiani) and his romancing of a pale Chicago lass (Zoe Kazan) while juggling the arranged dates his Pakistani mother keeps arranging. Of course, then his lady love falls ill and he’s left spending time in waiting rooms with her parents (Ray Romano, Holly Hunter). Yes, it feels like we’ve seen this movie before, and I would have enjoyed it more if the many stand-up routines we witness had been, I don’t know, funny, but the cultural twist gives it a little extra gas. Co-written by Nanjiani and his real-life bride Emily V. Watson.

Call Me By Your Name (2017) d. Guadagnino, Luca Italy/France (1st viewing)

Another film that distinguishes itself primarily due to being a retelling of a story we’ve frequently seen told before, in this case a gay coming-of-age romance not seen through "heteronorm" eyes. Based on André Acima’s 2007 novel, this is a gorgeously produced piece superbly acted by a fine ensemble of players, and if it all feels like a bit of a romantic fantasy (especially in the case of Michael Stuhlbarg’s oh-so-very-understanding father’s final monologue)... well, so be it.

Coco (2017) d. Molina, Adrian / Unkrich, Lee (USA) (1st viewing)

The Pixar folks have done it again, with a wonderful musical tale of youth and ambition and ghosts and familia that celebrates Latina culture surrounding Dia de Los Muertos without appropriating or whitewashing. (Aladdin, anyone?)

Darkest Hour (2017) d. Wright, Joe UK (1st viewing)

It may feel a bit like an extended episode of Downton Abbey to some, but for those unfamiliar with Winston Churchill’s uphill battle to build public morale and rally military forces in the face of Hitler’s steamrolling of Western Europe, it’s a fairly thrilling ride. Of course, it’s Gary Oldman’s show, and the biggest praise I can give is that I kept forgetting it was him under the (fantastic) makeup appliances – his investment is complete and the transformation is remarkable. Makes for a terrific companion piece with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

The Disaster Artist (2017) d. Franco, James (USA) (1st viewing)

Franco’s turn as Tommy Wiseau, writer/director/star of midnight movie sensation The Room, is entertaining, but never quite captures the innate sense of danger and madness one feels in the presence of the infamous auteur. He’s like the kinder, gentler, cuddlier version, which makes for a more approachable screen version, but leaves the movie a little toothless. Unfortunately, a few days later the allegations broke about Franco’s sexual harassment of his acting students, and this will probably be the last of his films I’ll be seeing for a while until things are cleared up. Because, well, #ibelievethem.

Downsizing (2017) d. Payne, Alexander (USA) (1st viewing)

Not sure why this got all the critics’ knickers in a twist, since I found it a perfectly enjoyable sci-fi/fantasy fable where, for a small (large) fee, individuals can opt to be shrunk down to five inches tall and live in “little” communities at a fraction of the living costs. Of course, even in miniature, prejudices and social disparity exist fully-formed, embodied by political prisoner Hong Chau who ends up living in a slum and cleaning the predominantly rich white people’s houses. Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, and Christoph Waltz are the big names in the cast, but it’s Chau who runs away with the show (and having pulled up several interviews post-viewing and seeing that she is nothing like her character, I'm doubly impressed).

The Florida Project (2017) d. Baker, Sean (USA) (1st viewing)

I hadn't heard anything about this daring flick and might not have ever seen it had Willem Dafoe not been graced with a (well-deserved) SAG Awards nomination for Best Supporting Actor as the beleaguered manager of an Orlando motel in the shadow of Disneyworld. One of the tougher moviegoing experiences I've had in a while, primarily because the characters – especially Bria Vinaite’s astonishing screen debut as a single mom – are not necessarily likeable or even sympathetic much of the time. They are often rude, disrespectful, selfish, obnoxious, and apathetic, which makes it hard to empathize with or root for them. Instead, it's easier to dismiss them and walk the other way or to stand in judgment.

Which is, of course, absolutely Baker’s point. None of these characters WANTED to be where they are, but for one reason or another, here they are, trapped in this no-exit nightmare with the Magic Kingdom on the horizon and hordes of oblivious tourists flowing by. I still can't stop thinking about all of their individual stories and life choices. All of us have a past that has created our here and now and these fellow souls are no different. They deserve our time and our thoughts. This is an important film that might repel at first, but demands engagement, during, and afterwards. The first great movie I've seen in 2018.

Lady Bird (2017) d. Gerwig, Greta (USA) (1st viewing)

I liked it, because what’s there not to like about a coming-of-age tale of a rebellious teenager discovering her sexuality and independence in Sacramento, CA. It’s well performed by another marvelous cast (Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, and fresh faces like Timothee Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Jordan Rodrigues, and Beanie Feldstein) given sharp dialogue by writer/director Greta Gerwig making her solo directorial debut. Not sure I understand all the awards chatter, but I’m not going to argue against it.

Molly’s Game (2017) d. Sorkin, Aaron (USA) (1st viewing)

Emmy-and-Oscar-winning screenwriter Sorkin takes the director’s chair with this zippy yarn following the rise and fall of “poker princess” Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain). There’s definitely an emphasis on language here, and there are times when the players seem a little too in love with the clever coming out of their mouths (looking at you, Idris Elba), but it’s well-balanced with quick-step editing and visuals.

Mudbound (2017) d. Rees, Dee (USA) (1st viewing)

Well-produced feature examining the families of two WWII veterans before and after the conflict, one white and the other black, living in rural Mississippi. I don’t know that we see much we haven’t seen before (deplorable racism, disenchantment following the war, familial disconnect), but the performances are all excellent and, once again, the fact that it’s directed by a female of color is worthy of note and celebration at its recognition by the industry.

The Post (2017) d. Spielberg, Steven (USA) (1st viewing)

Considering it all happened in the days before the 24-hour news cycle, I suppose it’s possible that many younger viewers are unaware of the struggle The Washington Post (and indeed, the free press in toto) faced in bringing the “Pentagon Papers” stories to light and what it could have meant had the Supreme Court upheld the White House’s desire to suppress them. For those who are in the know, we see the back-and-forth between WP editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, playing at gravelly gravitas) and newly appointed publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, a symphony of insecurities and privilege and newly dawning independence and power). It didn’t change my world and it never really approaches the fever-pitch of All the President’s Men. It’s not bad, but considering the talent pool involved, that’s not exactly good either.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) d. Gilroy, Dan (USA) (1st viewing)

Denzel Washington plays a savant-like lawyer who, when his partner falls ill, loses his footing and place in his well-ordered world. We haven’t seen the star play a character like this before, so there’s that, and there are a number of unexpected twists and turns to the storyline, but I doubt this is one that many people will be talking about much beyond awards season.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) d. McDonagh, Martin (USA) (1st viewing)

There’s no denying the volcanic acting power of Frances McDormand as she sinks her fangs into the role of a mother seeking justice for the vicious rape and murder of her teenage daughter. Likewise, writer/director McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) has surrounded her with a fantastic cast (Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry-Jones, Zeljko Ivanek, Peter Dinklage, and John Hawkes) spouting endlessly quotable lines. Yes, there’s an undeniable theatrical artifice to it all, but it’s enthusiastically executed and unflagging in terms of narrative drive.

2017 Totals to date: 23 films, 19 1st time views, 3 horror, 5 cinema


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