Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Fool's Views (1/1 – 1/15)

"Doggone it, it's spelled Klaatu Barada NIKTO, those idiots!"

Howdy, folks!

Yep, it’s that time of the year again, where the prestige pics hold sway over our collective cinematic attentions (otherwise known as AC Catches Up With Everyone Else’s “Best of 2019” Lists), so I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Civilian end of the cinematic pool. That said, I’m pleased that I was also able to find time to participate in the newly resurrected KRYPTIC ARMY hosted by the one and only Kitley’s Krypt.

What’s the Kryptic Army? So glad you asked!

From 2010 to 2014, Our Fearless Leader issued a monthly set of commands: Watch two horror movies (that you’ve never seen before) that conform to a given set of parameters and report back your findings. Along the way, we covered such themes as stars (Peter Cushing, Paul Naschy), directors (Lucio Fulci, H.G. Lewis), topics (Holiday Horror, Apocalyptic Horror), or titles (“Black,” “Night,” etc.) Over those six years, I think I only failed to complete one of those 60 missions, and that was because I picked two movies that did not feature the required “Snowy Backdrop.” (I mean, who would have guessed that neither Cadaver Christmas nor Track of the Moon Beast would feature nary a flake, considering their plot descriptions involved a Yeti and Christmas????) Anyway, thrilled that Jon has called back in the troops – hope you join us because WE WANT YOU.

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



Body Parts (1991) d. Red, Eric (USA) (2nd viewing)


Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971) d. Hancock, John D. (USA) (9th viewing)



Death Ship (1980) d. Rakoff, Alvin (Canada/UK) (1st viewing)


Zone Troopers (1985) d. Bilson, Danny (USA) (1st viewing)



A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) d. Heller, Marielle (USA) (1st viewing)

Like many people, I assumed this was a straight-ahead biopic of the beloved children’s television host (completely unnecessary, considering last year’s excellent doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor) and was surprised to learn that Mr. Rogers is a supporting character (despite being played by top-billed poster guy Tom Hanks) in his own movie! Instead, the focus is on Esquire writer Tom Junod (curiously dubbed “Lloyd Vogel” in the film and expertly played by Matthew Rhys) who is assigned a puff piece on “heroes” while dealing with his own family demons in the form of absent father (Chris Cooper). It’s a charming little feel-good story in the best possible way, with not much in the way of lasting impact.

Bombshell (2019) d. Roach, Jay (USA) (1st viewing)

The Fox News sexual harassment scandal of 2016 is given the Hollywood treatment, with gorgeous Hollywood actresses (Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robie) playing their gorgeous real-life counterparts (Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and “Kayla,” a construct of network employees) while John Lithgow is unrecognizable beneath two tons of latex as Lizard Supreme Roger Ailes. Effectively told with an estimable amount of suspense, our three leads convey steely professionalism as well as the righteous fury and pain living just beneath the surface.

Ford v Ferrari (2019) d. Mangold, James (USA) (1st viewing)

Having no idea about the real-life LeMans racing event, I was immediately taken in by this retelling of race car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) being recruited by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to build a vehicle that can compete with Ferrari’s domination. With his expert driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) figuring out the intricacies by trial and error, there is an inherent ticking clock and drama, goosed by the presence of Josh Lucas as an exec intent on getting Miles booted off the team because he doesn’t fit “the Ford image.” Now, do we really need another story about another bunch of white guys working to satisfy another rich white guy’s fragile ego? Probably not. But there’s no denying that it’s an extremely watchable and exciting piece of cinema from the director of Cop Land and Logan.

Harriet (2019) d. Lemmons, Kasi (USA) (1st viewing)

A well-polished and long-overdue feature about Harriet Tubman, the most famous “engineer” on the Underground Railroad, with a terrific lead performance by Cynthia Erivo and strong supporting turns from Leslie Odom, Jr., Joe Alywn, Clark Peters, and Janelle Monae. Here’s hoping that with this and Dolemite Is My Name, we continue to see high profile studio flicks that explore diversity and Historical Figures of Color (HFOC), but I’d also like to see them reach beyond established biopic templates.

Hustlers (2019) d. Scafaria, Lorene (USA) (1st viewing)

Sooooooo, it’s about a bunch of strippers who decide that stripping is too hard and wouldn’t it just be easier to drug male customers and steal their credit card information since they’ll probably be too embarrassed to report the crime. I mean, yes, no arguing that men are pigs and strip clubs inherently objectify/sexualize women and Wall Street types are especially gross, but I’m not quite sure I can make the leap to empathizing and ROOTING FOR people who are basically assaulting other people, even if they do look good in various states of undress whilst swinging around a pole. Jennifer Lopez is terrific and might indeed have deserved a slot amidst this year’s so-so field, but only because it’s a so-so field – I would not inherently call the turn itself “Oscar worthy.”

The Irishman (2019) d. Scorsese, Martin (USA) (1st viewing)

Yes, the 3.5 hour running time is equal parts indulgent and intimidating, but I can’t say that I was ever bored. I can say, however, that it smacks of being a predestined Important Film by the very nature of its pedigree (Scorsese and Robert De Niro together again! On a mob movie! With Joe Pesci! Remember how they all worked together on Goodfellas and Casino? Those were good, right? And look, there’s Al Pacino working with the famous director for the first time… playing Jimmy Hoffa, no less! And we’re using cutting edge digital technology to de-age the actors! Just like the Marvel movies! You like those, right? And did we mention that it’s 3.5 hours long?) without necessarily deserving to be considered An Important Film. That said, it tells a real-life story I haven’t heard before (even though it’s a lot like other stories I’ve heard before) and the performances are uniformly strong across the board, with Pacino hoo-haaing in a different vein, and De Niro and Pesci restrained without losing an ounce of intensity and presence.

JoJo Rabbit (2019) d. Waititi, Taika (New Zealand/USA) (1st viewing)

Making a comedy set in wartime Germany about an overzealous Hitler youth seems like an impossible task, but somehow writer/director Waititi makes it seem effortless. First-timer Roman Griffin Davis carries the film like an old pro, with the fantastic adult ensemble (Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, and Waititi as My Friend Adolf) lending marvelous support, although I can’t really get behind Scarlett Johansson’s Oscar nod – she’s great as the film’s emotional compass, but I’m not seeing where the challenge exists in her role.

Joker (2019) d. Phillips, Todd (USA) (1st viewing)

I think at this point we can all agree that Joaquin Phoenix is acting the paint off the walls, and it’s an intriguing spin on the superhero myth, creating an onscreen world that seems completely recognizable while equally heightened and bizarre. Does it offer an unflattering and unfair view of mental illness? Mayyyyyybe. Did we really need to use convicted sexual assaulter Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part 2” on the soundtrack? Probably not. Is it any more violent than any other movie out there? Hardly. Does it deserve its Best Picture and Best Director nods? Mmmmmmmm not so sure about that.

Judy (2019) d. Goold, Rupert (UK) (1st viewing)

Renee Zellwegger is fantastic, playing out the final train wreck months of the Hollywood starlet’s life. That said, SHE’S A FRIGGING TRAIN WRECK THE ENTIRE MOVIE, to the point that you just want to shake her and or walk away, which makes for a tough sit.

Just Mercy (2019) d. Cretton, Destin Daniel (USA) (1st viewing)

Infuriating “based on real events” docudrama about a man (Jamie Foxx) wrongfully accused of rape and murder and condemned to death row and the young lawyer (Michael B. Jordan) dedicated to re-opening the case against violent opposition from the racist small-town community and its even more racist law enforcement officers. Foxx was nominated for a SAG Award; equally deserving but overlooked were Jordan’s stellar central turn, controlled and complex without histrionics, and Tim Blake Nelson’s grotesque convict who may possess vital information to the case.

Marriage Story (2019) d. Baumbach, Noah (USA) (1st viewing)

Because who doesn’t want to see a loving couple disintegrate into a pair of screaming monsters, puppeted by their go-for-the-throat lawyers. The performances are all fantastic, but I’m not sure I understand the love for this one, especially since so many of the scenes play like fantasy versions of behavior instead of real life Life. I mean, we’re not learning much that we didn’t already get from watching Kramer vs. Kramer 30 years ago (except now characters have smart phones and car seats are required).

1917 (2019) d. Mendes, Sam (UK) (1st viewing)

Watching this “unbroken shot” epic set against the backdrop of World War 1, I couldn’t help but be wowed over and over again by the astonishing and immersive visuals. For the first time in quite a while, I found myself asking, “How. Did. They. Do. That.” without the immediate answer being, “Well, on a computer, obviously,” because, seriously, those endless shots throughout the trenches? I don’t know how they did that. Question #2: How did George MacKay, who is in more or less every frame of the movie, not get nominated for Best Actor? The entire emotional weight of the movie sits squarely on his shoulders and he never flags in intensity or believability. I think both Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins might need to start clearing their mantels for additional hardware.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) d. Tarantino, Quentin (USA) (2nd viewing)

Things didn’t seem as indulgent the second time around, but honestly, how the hell is Brad Pitt nominated as a supporting role with Leonardo di Caprio as the lead when they have essentially the same amount of screen time? And I’m saddened by the fact that more people saw this than Parasite, because THAT should be our Best Original Screenplay winner (although I still have not seen Knives Out yet, so I'll hush up until then).

Pain and Glory (2019) d. Almodovar, Pedro (Spain) (1st viewing)

Antonio Banderas is gathering accolades aplenty for his restrained, deeply inhabited turn as a film director beset by countless physical ailments and bereft of creative inspiration. In reconnecting with a long-estranged colleague, numerous key players begin to reappear in his life… even some who have already passed away. A sober and mature reflection on adventures and regrets and the relationships that mark us forever… although the director’s characteristic rambunctious fire has been tamped down to mere embers in the name of “mature filmmaking.” In this respect, it’s an Almodovar film unlike any other, but I hope he doesn’t lose sight of the playfulness that made him an international sensation in the first place.

Parasite (2019) d. Ho, Bong Joon (South Korea) (1st viewing)

Okay, so I absolutely enjoyed and appreciated the gorgeous cinematography, the skilled ensemble performances, the clever social commentary, the sly and witty screenplay, the wonderful physical comedy, the constant left-turn reveals, the violent punchlines, the eye-popping art direction, and the fact that Ho is the guy whose international breakout hit was a monster movie (The Host). It’s an undeniably original and quirky and well-polished end result, and I don’t see how anyone could have any problem with all the acclaim and the nominations. My question is this: Why, with the wealth of modern Asian cinema (I’m thinking Chan-wook Park, Shion Sono, Takashi Miike, Ku-dik Kim, Jee-woon Kim, etc.) featuring gorgeous cinematography, skilled ensemble performances, clever social commentary, sly and witty screenplays, wonderful physical comedy, constant left-turn reveals, violent punchlines, and eye-popping art direction out there, is this the film that has captured the critical and popular delight of the masses? I’m not begrudging it anything and Ho is wildly overdue - I’m just not sure I understand what makes this one so much more special than the others. (I doubt that there are that many Snowpiercer fans out there.)

Rocketman (2019) d. Fletcher, Dexter (UK) (1st viewing)

Well, I liked it more than Bohemian Rhapsody, because it’s an actual musical and because Taron Edgerton’s performance as Elton John seemed like an actual, complex human being as opposed to Rami Malek’s bizarre alien leanings while impersonating Freddie Mercury. Yes, it’s still traveling the time-honored biopic playbook (and I wish that it had explored John’s post-’80s career and life, including his friendship with Lady Diana), but even though it’s not utterly mind-blowing in its originality or scope, it does a nice job communicating the artistic process and the temptations that come along with fame and success. Bully to the filmmakers and performers for neither shying away from nor glorifying John’s sexuality and substance abuse.

2020 Totals to Date: 20 films, 17 first time views, 4 horror, 1 cinema



  1. I've never been a big Noah Baumbach fan, but part ways with you on "Marriage Story." It's not perfect, but has some amazing scenes. Have you watched "Kramer" lately? Think you might be surprised how shallow that film is.

    1. I admit, I might have been being a little flippant in comparing KvK to Marriage Story (I hesitated even as I made the comparison but went ahead and made it anyway), but my biggest takeaway from Baumbach was that people are messy and divorce sucks, which I already kind of knew going in. I'm in complete agreement with you as far as there being some great showcase moments for everyone (particularly our two leads and their three onscreen lawyers), but that's exactly what they feel like: showcases.

      I would be interested in going back and revisiting KvK. It was always another one I didn't understand the love for, especially in 1979 when there were so many other amazing films and performances to choose from. Maybe I'm just unimpressed by films about divorce?