Movie Talk

The Founder

I hate biopics. I watch them and I'm always disappointed. "The Founder" is no different. It's not a very good movie, but it's a fantastic story. I was inspired to reevaluate the way I approach my career and to keep in mind that the single most important characteristic, perhaps the only important characteristic, of successful people is persistence. Also, don't be a schmuck. Ray Kroc was an asshole, but he was shrewd as hell and he was no fucking schmuck. He dreamed big and never ever stopped. His actions that lead to a corporation today worth over 30 billion dollars apply to virtually every undertaking. Singular focus. Competitive spirit. Persistence. Ambition. Discipline.

This really isn't a very good movie. I just drove through some of the same highway locations they feature in the film and they look better on my 2 year old Boost Mobile camera than they do on screen. How difficult is it photograph nature with a real camera? The casting is uninspired, the directing is poor. I felt nothing for any of the characters. Zero. But the story is really inspiring. The best line is, "If one of my competitors was drowning I'd put a hose in his mouth and turn on the water. Can you say the same?"  Ray Kroc was all Michael Corleone in a world full of Fredos.

As an aside I bought some McDonalds french fries two days ago because I needed internet access "late" at night in a town of 600 people. It was the only option. They made me sick as hell. Disgusting product. Take the message about ambition and persistence. Don't eat the food.

My top 16 +2 movies of 2016

I saw a lot less movies last year than the year before because MoviePass rewarded me for using their service as it was intended (see one movie every day) by cancelling my plan (full disclosure, they offered me 6 (SIX) movies a month for the same price). Fuck. That. What follows is a brief reflection on the films that captured my attention the most. It should in no way be viewed as a Best of 2016. I didn't see enough movies to make that list. 

1. Rogue One - A Star Wars Story
Rarely does a blockbuster represent disparate ethnic groups, feature a female lead, address the current political climate, appeal to a generous cross section of ages, and hit all of the emotional highs and lows we expect from giant movies without compromising plot or characters. Rogue One doesn't talk down to the viewer. It tells a stand alone tale that fits perfectly into the Star Wars oeuvre while providing quality story telling for anybody (lost on an island for 30 years) not familiar with the Skywalkers. It is a war film, more so than any other movie in the catalogue. It's devastating and hopeful at the same time. For my money this is as good as blockbusters get, which is why I put it at number one. This isn't a film by an auteur; it took a village. This kind of consumable movie making isn't supposed to be spectacular. Yet, Rogue One is. If you haven't seen it I encourage you to right away.

2. Arrival
This is a movie about aliens that really isn't about aliens. It's the kind of film that can shift your paradigm if you let it. What if we're all one? What if there isn't a separation between individuals at all and everyone and everything is interconnected? Perhaps we are stardust, ephemeral. The movie presents a kind of Quantum Mechanics for lay people (I think). I wish everyone in America had seen it 6 weeks before the election. I left the theater feeling like a different person because it shook me up like an hallucinogen. It's a profound film worth surrendering to. Also Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner have never been better. 

3. Hidden Figures
I was blown away by this film. It recounts part of the history of Project Mercury, the undertaking that put John Glenn into orbit around the Earth, by telling the stories of three woman who worked for NASA during that time. It's topical and didactic in the way it addresses racism, sexism, income inequality, and privilege but not in a condescending or sentimental manner. Although it uses the lives of real people to unravel the plot it never becomes a straight up biopic, which I find almost always distasteful. The film was in production before anyone could anticipate a Trump presidency but it hits particularly hard considering all that's happened in the last couple months. I was taken with Janelle Monae who I'm going to go ahead and call the most beautiful human being alive. I know I haven't seen every single living person's face, but I've seen enough to know that other people don't look anywhere near that beautiful. Hidden Figures is still in theaters as of this writing. Run don't walk.

4. Sing Street
Never fucking give up. Never ever ever. Never. That's what Sing Street said to me. I loved it so much. Also who doesn't like things set in the 80s and full of music? Your heart has to be really fucking hard. Hard like concrete or just plain dead. Jesus, why is your heart so hard? Sing Street is on Netflix now and you should watch it next.

5. Don't Think Twice
I love improv. LOVE it. I've never taken an improv class but half the people I know have and a bunch of them are actively involved in the NYC improv scene. This movie is about more than improv, comedy, and writing though. It's about New York City and life in New York City. It's about trying and failing and trying some more. But mostly it's about living in New York. If you hate comedy and smart writing and The City then by all means stay away. I saw this in Dayton, OH and left the theater feeling so far from home it took my breath away. "What's it like living in New York City?" Watch Don't Think Twice.

6. The Lobster
In a dystopian future single people are sent to a hotel to live for 45 days. If they don't find a mate in that amount of time they are turned into the animal of their choice. It gets weirder from there. The Lobster is romantic, nuanced, subtle, hilarious, dark (as fuck), and sumptuous. It's the most interesting film of 2016 by leaps and bounds. It is not for everyone. It makes no attempt to play to the mainstream or be easily consumable. It's a quiet masterpiece and I can't recommend it enough.

7. Midnight Special
This is one of those movies that I think giving any details about might compromise the beautiful story that reveals itself slowly. I think that's why it wasn't popular. You can't market it well without major spoilers. You don't wanna know what it's about, trust me. It's way more fun to let it unfold. All I can say is it stars Michael Shannon, Joel Egerton, Kirstin Dunst, and Adam Driver and they are all as good or better than anything else they've done. It has broad appeal. It feels like it could have been made in the 80s. Enjoy this gem.

8. Nocturnal Animals
This extraordinary movie had me riveted from the first frame of a naked, carefree, shameless, obese woman slowly dancing, to the very last shot. It's a neo noir masterpiece set in west Texas about a writer and his ex wife. The plot jumps back and forth between "real life" and the story in his novel, revealing nuances about the characters each step of the way. Tom Ford eloquently demonstrates how a motion picture can incorporate different styles of story telling into one piece without making the film feel feel fragmented, alienating, or inconsistent. The makers of La La Land should take note. Amy Adams does it again in a big way and Jake Gyllenhaal is in top form as well. I love it when actors inhabit the characters to serve the story and bring more than just their name and famous faces. These two do it in spades.

9. La La Land
This is a movie I would expect to be a minor indie hit despite it's huge star power. I'm surprised that audiences seem to be embracing it so warmly. I loved it but I had huge reservations at the same time. It is absolutely not a musical. It's a dark, romantic drama with a touch of musical, magical realism added. I love the musical numbers but I can not for the life of me figure out why they are included. The majority of the story is a straight drama. I would love it if there was more music and the story was driven by the songs, but it isn't. The songs appear out of nowhere and it makes the movie feel inconsistent. It opens with a lavish song and dance number that is as good as anything I can think of done on film. It made me think of Bye Bye Birdie and West Side Story that I watched over and over as a kid. But then the music fades into the background. There is gorgeous number between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone where they both tap dance and sing that I could watch all afternoon. Full disclosure, when this tour is over and that clip is on youtube I'll probably do exactly that. Don't try to find me on Mondays in April. The emotions, ideas, and conflicts in La La Land resonate. The film cuts to the quick of what it's like trying follow one's ambitions and love somebody at the same time. I just wish they figured out what kind of film they wanted to make, because this goes in too many goddamn directions to be considered great. It's worth seeing. But it's compromised.

10. Everybody Wants Some!!
This year was full of films that referenced the 80s in tone but Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some is actually set in the 80s. It's spectacular. It's to the 80s what Dazed and Confused was to the 70s. It captures the irresponsibility of youth and the attitude and feel of being alive as a teenager in the Reagan decade. It's more time capsule than nostalgia and it gets the details correct. One of the things I love about Linklater is he cares fuck all about plot and focuses on characters, much like the best filmmakers of the French New Wave. This film has a lot of characters and it's major failing is that you can't invest in all of them. When there isn't an enormous plot to fall back on some audience members check out. Fair enough. It's worth watching this movie for the soundtrack alone. There are so many incredible songs and it's fun to see how they drive the scenes. I think this movie would have made more sense as a musical than goddamn La La Land (which I really did like, but it frustrated me). I'm disappointed it got so little attention or fanfare considering Linklater's last film, "Boyhood" was one of the best movies made in my lifetime. 

11. Deadpool
R rated, dark, hilarious superhero movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin. What else do you need to know? You like superheroes? You like violent, dirty humor? You like romance? Boom. I know zero about comic books but I love most of the Marvel films. This is my favorite one because they made it for fucking adults. I understand that kids want to see superhero movies too; I spent more hours as a child watching Superman 1 and 2 than you can probably imagine. But there's something rich and deeply satisfying when a movie's lead character is a man in a tights that is allowed to say "fuck."

12. The Witch
2016 started out really slow for movies. The first thing I saw that grabbed my attention was this unique horror film that memorized me with its style and tone. The story is the stuff of folk tales. Puritan family living alone in New England in the 18th century banished for some sort of denominational heresy loses child while farming. Weird shit ensues. The execution is perfect. It's creepy, scary, and beautiful to look at. They shot the goddamn thing only with natural light and candles. Uncompromising in tone this is a movie that elevates the genre. I love it so much.

13. The Lady In the Van
First of all Maggie Smith is a gift. I think pretty much everybody knows her to see her but she isn't a household name like Meryl Streep. She should be. A. Gift. This movie is rewarding on every level. It's beautiful to look at, the script is magnificent, and the performances beyond Maggie Smiths's are awesome. A tiny British movie about a homeless woman could be a trifle very easily but this is not. It made me feel things without being overtly emotionally manipulative. British filmmakers are often better at that than Americans. I left the theater overwhelmed and uplifted. See it. Love it. Watch everything Maggie Smith has ever done. She was in Clash Of The Titans. Clash Of The Titans! 

14. 10 Cloverfield Lane
I know some people have a problem with this movie because of the last act. I don't want to give away anything so I'll just say I'm not one of those people. But I think the film is incredible even if you discount the last third. John Goodman is in top form here (is there anyone that doesn't consider this guy an actor's actor?). John Gallagher Jr. turns in a performance I didn't expect, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead kicks ass in the first noteworthy film of her career outside of the Diehard 4 Director's cut. The movie unwinds slowly, like a bottle of wine you have to let breathe. It's claustrophobic and suspenseful in all the right ways. By the time it gets to the third act, which you probably know is coming, it doesn't matter if you buy into it or not. So much awesome shit happens to get to that point. It's basically a chamber film with three actors in a room and goddamn can these three bring it. Also it's Dan Trachtenberg's first feature as a director. That guy is going places.

15. Eddie The Eagle
I don't usually go in for feel good, sentimental claptrap and that's what I thought this movie was gonna be. When I called my mom and recommend it she was like, "Who is this?" But you really must see it. This year there were a lot of movies about following your dream and not giving up in the face adversity. I don't think that's a message that gets old as long as it's executed well. If it's hollow like one of those posters on the wall at the myriad temp agencies I used to visit when I still thought office work was the means to an end to my freedom then, gross. But this gets much deeper. SIDEBAR - many people are miserable doing what they hate in an effort to try to acquire wealth to either 1. Fit in with others 2. Do what they think is expected of them or 3. stock pile enough cash to eventually do what they want someday in life. The problem with that kind of thinking is life is finite and "eventually" often turns into "never."  Do what you want right fucking now because as Garth Brooks totally misunderstood tomorrow literally NEVER fucking comes. This is in essence what I took away from Eddie The Eagle. Christopher Walken has a cameo. It's cool.

16. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
I just rewatched this over Christmas and it completely held up to a second viewing. I don't think the public thought Tina Fey could handle a major dramatic role and this film failed to find an audience. Ironic because there are so many people who like to shout about women not being funny (which is bullshit) yet here she suffered for being serious. It's almost like society is replete with institutional sexism and gender bias. Huh. She's spectacular. I would argue that Fey has never been better in anything. This movie manages to be antiwar and pro military/soldier, without getting bogged down in politics. It has a point of view to be sure but it's target audience is pretty broad. Unfortunately I think I'm the only person who saw it. You know when someone says a movie has heart and you throw up in your mouth a little? Well this movie has heart and it's a good thing. Heart without sacrificing intellect. It doesn't feel manipulative. I think that's a hallmark of the best movies. They have to move you and bring you around to whatever ideas or feelings they're selling but if you feel like you're being sold, BZZZZZ. Thank you for playing. Get the fuck out. WTF never feels like it's doing anything but telling a very compelling story.

17. Money Monster
The trailer for this film made it look so stupid that I almost passed. But it was directed by Jodie Foster so I rolled the dice. Glad I did. Clooney and Roberts are two of those people that have been in a ton of terrible movies but you always kind of love them because they're George Clooney and Julia Roberts. This time they are on the money. I wonder why income inequality surfaced as such a big theme in films in 2016? Money Monster wears it's politics on its sleeve, which I hope causes folks who disagree with its conclusions to relax and enjoy the story. We need more smart, entertaining, overtly political films coming out of Hollywood. I think we have different standards for indie films and studio pictures and we don't expect big budget moves to "say" too much. Fuck that. I realize this budget was low for Hollywood standards but 27 million is hardly indie. Filmmakers didn't hold George Bush's feet to the fire and they sure as fuck didn't hold Obama's to the fire either. Hopefully we'll start to see more Hollywood films in the Trump era (gag) that speak truth to power. 

18. Dirty Grandpa
Now for something completely different. This is a raunchy, prolonged dick joke that would have been completely dismissed if not for the brilliant cast. It's actually a pretty fantastic comedy. I've seen it three times. The premise is simple. Robert Deniro's character has been married for like 50 years, his wife dies, and all he wants to do is "fuck a college girl." So he cons his nephew to drive him from Georgia to Boca Raton in an effort to do just that. It goes deeper eventually but that's the essential premise. It's bawdy and ridiculous but a lot of fun. This is not the Robert Deniro cashing in with the Focker movies. This is a guy consciously making bold choices late in his career to do something different and fun not caring how his decision is perceived. He already did Raging Bull. What are you gonna say. Deniro sucks? Shake it off. There are a bunch of jokes at the expense of Florida. I saw it in Georgia first, the theater roared. Then I saw it in Florida where the laughing was significantly restrained. Anyone who says this film is garbage probably hasn't seen it.

That's my 16+2 for 2016. There were a lot of other movies I loved. Just to name a few, Hail, Caesar!, The Family Fang, The Edge of Seventeen, Captain America Civil War, Suicide Squad, and X-Men Apocalypse. Never stop watching movies!

American Honey

American Honey is a bullshit movie, that is awful to look at, ridiculously long, and barely a story. It's edited well; that's the nicest thing I can say. The picture is crisp but the colors have that green glow of early DV. I assume critics are embracing it because they've forgotten what a great movie looks like. There are dozens of coming of age stories about misspent youth: Breathless, Jules and Jim, Midnight Cowboy, American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, The Breakfast Club, Heathers, St. Elmo's Fire, School Daze, Dazed and Confused, Clueless, Heavenly Creatures, Y tu Mama Tambien, Napoleon Fucking Dynamite...and those are just off the top of my head. All of those films and the myriad others we could list if we brainstormed have merit, some of them are extraordinary. 

American Honey feels improvised. It meanders. It isn't plot driven but it doesn't have any characters that are interesting or complicated enough to drive the 3 fucking hours of adolescent depravity. These kids are all criminals. They use fraud to con stupid (really fucking stupid) people out of pennies for magazine subscriptions then commit petty larceny when they get into their homes. The premise that a rag tag group of teenagers wreaking of booze and pot and looking like hoodlums (which they are) knocks on people's doors or approaches people in parking lots and sells them magazine subscriptions is RIDICULOUS. Maybe 20 years ago, but not today. Who the fuck is going to open their door to a man with a giant mullet braid wearing thrift store castoffs? Not many folks. 

I hate this movie. I hope the hard drives housing all of the "prints" get destroyed in a fire. 

Sausage Party

I'm getting to this movie late. Don't hate me. But FUCK. Do you like drugs? Take those drugs. ALL of them. Then go to "Sausage Party." Try to time it so you're peaking 75 minutes into the film. It will blow your fucking mind. I went completely sober and it STILL blew my fucking mind. SPOILER ALERT  There is a dirty, cartoon, food orgy that is so well done that it's H to the O to the T. I'm not kidding. This movie finds a way to be deeply socially conscious (people have the power! or in this case perishable food items), fearlessly political, hilarious, beautiful to look at, a possible film franchise, low brow and high brow in the same frame, a dumb drug comedy for smart people, a scathing critique of religion, erotic verging on pornography, a feel good romp, and deeply offensive to disparate groups of people including Christians, Jews, Europeans, Americans, Native Americans, minimum wage workers, women, Mexicans, and Woody Allen. It's incredible. Don't take your kids.

Suicide Squad

I always preface writing about these kinds of films by saying I know absolutely nothing about comic books. I go to comic book stores to find cool horror movie t-shirts and to buy buttons. I'm constantly on the prowl for anything wearable featuring "A Nightmare on Elm Street" that doesn't look like it was sewn together by a lonely fanboy in his mother's basement. So far I've come up empty.

Anyway, I liked "Suicide Squad." It's flawed though, oh man is it flawed. Primarily the ridiculous music that holds together like 10 scenes. Films have scores for a reason. If you're gonna use all real songs instead of a score you're gonna have to be Tarantino good or you're gonna have to do what they did with "Footloose" using pop songs that are mostly unique to the movie.  It's hard to separate the context of when "Without Me" by Eminem was burning down the charts in 2002 with it's presence in "Suicide Squad." Tarantino knows how to take a popular song and make it his own in a scene. David Ayer, not so much. His soundtrack is clumsy and distracting. He lets songs stand in for emotions he should be evoking with images. It's really fucking annoying.

The movie starts out strong, for like 20 minutes. Then it goes south about the time the first big song hits. The storytelling isn't very good, which sucks because the actors are so committed and go for it. The story is nothing special and there are too many characters to do any single one justice. But I think the same thing about all of the Avengers movies. I actually liked these characters more than a lot of the ones in those films. I wish they were given a better story and more to do. 

But look, Margot Robbie plays Harley Quinn and she's A MAZ ING. I don't think this woman can do anything wrong. I hope to christ I never meet her because I'm certain it will destroy my "woman who sleeps beside a unicorn on a rainbow made of joy" visualization. I thought to myself about halfway through the movie, "Wow if Margot Robbie wasn't in this there wouldn't really be much of a movie. Damn, those shorts." But she IS in it and she DOES wear those shorts and she KICKS A TON OF ASS the whole way through. It's like reading a John Grisham novel that happens to have pictures in it of a blond goddess tearing dudes apart. If you like John Grisham novels that analogy won't make any sense; risk taken.

Will Smith is fantastic in this too, but he's kind of fantastic in everything. He was great in "Independence Day" and that was some shitty filmmaking. Like scrub my brain with a wire brush bad. So he doesn't make Suicide Squad great on his own, although his performance rules. Everyone is awesome. There was all the talk about Jordan Catalano being terrible as the Joker but I liked him.

If you haven't seen "Suicide Squad" yet you probably don't give a fuck so you know, whatever. It's way better than that piece of garbage "Batman vs. Superman" from earlier this year. Light years better. 

OH OH OH! There was a "Wonder Woman" trailer! AHHHH! 

Our Brand Is Crisis

You always have a friend or two who believe that reality tv is real. I have them. Maybe it's weird to me because I know so many people in New York who work on reality tv shows or because I worked on a bunch of commercials and saw how much bullshit goes into selling jenky products. Part of me thinks it's intuitive and that people should know better because more than being lied to they are permitting themselves to be deceived. That shit aint real folks. 

Politics traffics at the same bullshit bazaar as reality tv and commercials. It's nonsense. A guy like Bernie comes along and all of a sudden I'm a true believer for 5 minutes. I look in the mirror and wonder if I'm just like my friends who think the people on Catfish, The Bachelorette, or Storage Wars are anything other than Actors Light (like Diet Coke in Mexico). I like politics though. Maybe it's more a flavor and texture thing. Like Twinkies. Taste good, no nutritional value, possibly shouldn't be considered food. Let's call it something you can put in your mouth and digest that won't immediately kill you.

It's an election year so I've been watching lots of political things. I watched all 5 seasons of Veep. You should too. It's amazing. But it's singing a familiar song. Or at least one that should be familiar. Politicians lie, they are unscrupulous and hungry for power, the world is fucked. Our Brand Is Crisis is more of the same except that it's set in Bolivia. It's refreshing seeing a movie about how politics is dirty and corrupt all over the world, in a nihilistic sort of way.

Sandra Bullock made the picture worth it. I never enjoyed her performances very much before but she was great in this. SPOILER ALERT It gets a little messagy and too hopeful in the last act but that's a small complaint. It won't blow your mind but it's worth your 110 minutes. Veep is a lot better but it's 25 hours. 

The Luzhin Defence

Have you ever wondered what a director contributes to a film? The Luzhin Defence is the quintessential example of a director behaving very badly and unintentionally illustrating how essential it is that the role be filled by someone of sound artistic mind. 

Marleen Gorris also directed Antonia's Line, which won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The Academy Awards are a shit, political affair that occasionally award excellence in cinema by accident while stroking the balls of the various corporations and special interests who have a financial interest in dumbing down movies and silencing creative voices. I haven't seen Marleen Gorris's magnum opus but I betcha I know about it.

A director is responsible most of all for the performance of the actors. It's a movie for Christ sake. It's not happening live. There are myriad takes of each line from every conceivable angle. If the actor is well known and proven but they stink like a putrid corpse in a particular film you can bet the director was getting railed by a PA in a grip truck seconds before shouting "Action." Or maybe she's just terrible. I don't know. John Turturros and Emily Watson deliver the worst performance of either of their careers. Coincidence?

The movie is about a chess champion. I love chess movies. They had me before I hit play, then they immediately lost me. Watch Pawn Sacrifice from last year instead. It's riveting. This is bad. It's based on a Nabokov book and really shouldn't be this poorly executed.

Lucy

Luc Besson made Lucy in 2014. I didn't start really paying attention to contemporary movies again until May of 2015 when I got MoviePass, because movies are so fucking expensive in New York City. So I missed it. I should have known better than to wait this long though because Luc Besson made The Professional and The Fifth Element, which are both masterpieces that make my heart stop.

Scarlett Jo (nickname a celeb and feel like a winner) gives the best performance I've seen her turn out. SPOILER ALERT. She unwittingly unlocks the full potential of her brain after being kidnapped and conscripted as a drug mule. The movie plays with the "humans only use 10% of their brains myth." SJ becomes an intellectual, matter melting, time jumping, quantum physics living super hero, albeit one who doesn't give a fuck if bodies pile up. We're all one and death isn't real. So the movie posits.

I like watching a French director present car crashes and action movie violence to propel a very character driven story that still relies on plot. Most French films that I love have more of an implied plot. I can imagine the pitch for this was something like "I want to make a sci-fi action movie that incorporates elements of Run Lola Run, The Bourne Identity, Inception, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, is delivered with gravitas, and functions as a giant fuck you to Michael Bay." 

It made like $430 million dollars. Fire up the HBOgo kids.