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My Intro For BEING THERE At The NC Museum Of Art


Last night, I introduced one of my all-time favorite films at the N.C. Museum of Art. Since some friends and family were unable to attend, I decided to post my opening remarks here.


Now, it’s a clichéd thing to do at a screening of an older movie but – who here has never seen BEING THERE?

That many? Okay, hold on while I cross out the spoilers.

Okay, there used to be a saying – I don’t hear it much these days – that the book is always better than the movie. Now, I think we can all agree that it isn’t always true.

For example, Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER, by, is a pulpy airport novel with very little of the gravitas that Francis Ford Coppola and the amazing ensemble brought to the material and made an immortal classic out of it.

There are many movies that are better than the books, but to my mind Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s 1970 novel BEING THERE makes for one of the best cases. Not that the book is bad, no it’s a fine, witty, well written narrative that shares much of its dialogue with the movie; it’s just that the lead character is so much of a blank slate that he’s difficult to visualize.

But in the hands of Peter Sellers, the character whose name is Chance became fully formed and thoroughly nuanced, despite that the guy is certainly a blank slate whose life is entirely informed by what he has seen on television.

Now, basically the film is a about a simple minded, illiterate gardener whose talk about planting and the seasons is mistaken by many Washington insiders for political wisdom about shifts in the economy. Without any effort of his own, and aided by others’ perceptions of his persona, Chance the gardener unwittingly becomes Chauncey Gardiner.

Sellers had wanted to play Chance since reading Kosinski’s novel in the early ‘70s – it was his dream role. It took him seven years, in which time he made three Pink Panther movies and a bunch of hit or miss comedies, before he could get the film greenlit.

What helped is that the great hippy filmmaker Hal Ashby when approached to direct the project said ‘Sure, I’m interested, but only with Peter Sellers.’ You see, the book’s author, Kosinski, wanted Ryan O’Neal to play Chance. That is a version I just can’t imagine.

Now Ashby was just perfect for BEING THERE. He was coming off a run of some of the best movies of the ‘70s. HAROLD AND MAUDE, THE LAST DETAIL, SHAMPOO, BOUND FOR GLORY, COMING HOME. If you haven’t seen these – get on it.

So Ashby and Sellers, along with a great supporting cast including Shirley Maclaine, Richard A. Dysart, Jack Warden, and most importantly former ‘30s matinee idol Melvyn Douglas, who won the Best Supporting actor Oscar here for his role as Ben Rand, the dying rich billionaire whose world Chance gets wrapped up in.

Now Melvyn Douglas’ character owns a lavish, ginormous mansion that we all know is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. The Biltmore could be considered a star of the movie itself as its exteriors and interiors dominate much of the movie.

But, it should be stressed that in BEING THERE, the Biltmore was the Rand Mansion and its location was in the outskirts of Washington DC. Movie magic!

Before BEING THERE, the Biltmore had only been in one film, a Grace Kelly film called THE SWAN which was made in 1956, so it wasn’t well known to most of the movie going public. But since BEING THERE, the house or the grounds (or both) have been in a bunch of movies including THE PRIVATE EYES, FOREST GUMP, RICHIE RICH, HANNIBAL, and LAST OF THE MOHICANS.

In a TV interview to promote BEING THERE, Gene Shallit asked Sellers to explain what BEING THERE is about. He said,“It’s Jerzy Kosinki’s comment on power and corruption, and the triumph of the innocent man, as Jesus Christ said, you know, the triumph of the simple man over power, over wealth, over corruption and it’s probably a comment on that because you can’t get a person more simple that Chance.”

Sellers’ masterful performance as Chance, which he said to Shalit was vaguely based on Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy for you kids) sadly didn’t win him a Best Actor Academy Award, which was something he really wanted. Damn you Dustin Hoffman!

Sorry, I like Dustin Hoffman. It’s just he has had decades since then to win Oscars! This was Seller’s last chance.

Now as for BEING THERE having more relevance now than in 1979, it’s tempting to see it as a cautionary tale about imbeciles rising into scary positions of power. Comparisons to BEING THERE started during the George W. Bush era, but op eds about how prescient the movie seem to appear daily.

Maybe Daily Show correspondent Lewis Black summed it up best when he said of the current political climate: It’s like BEING THERE, if the guy was an asshole!

Lastly, there is one controversial element of the movie I need to tell you about. The original theatrical version of this movie, which is what we’re showing, has some bloopers – you know, outtakes of actors flubbing their lines – during the end credits.

There is another version of the movie that we were hoping to get, that has the credits play with only TV fuzz behind them. This version happened because Sellers hated the bloopers – he even thought they ruined his Oscar chances. Again, damn you Dustin Hoffman!

Now these clips are funny on their own but after the beautiful final shot– they have been criticized as breaking the flow of the film. We debated whether or not to cut off the projector, but we’re gonna let them roll as they are a part of the original motion picture. You can leave and not see them – it’s up to you.

So here’s Hal Ashby’s best film, and Peter Sellers’ best too, BEING THERE.


Thanks to Laura Boyes, Jackson Cooper, and everyone at the N.C. Museum of Art for making this event happen.


More later…

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE Is Crazy Cluttered Cool

Currently the #1 movie at the box office:

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

(Dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman, 2018) 
I keep thinking is called INTO THE SPIDEY-VERSE because when I was a kid, my introduction to the character was on the The Electric Company, a kids show on PBS. The program featured the first live-action version of Spider-Man appearing in skits called “Spidey Super Stories.” This happened in the mid ‘70s, so yeah, I’m old.

But I’m not too old to appreciate Sony’s first feature-length animated Spider-Man movie as it’s a zippy, kinetic, and even psychedelic ride with a likable lead in the form of Shameik Moore voicing Miles Morales. Actually, maybe we should consider Morales to be the co lead, as, you know, this a Spider-Man film.

It starts off with our web-slinging hero being voiced by Chris Pine, who says through voice-over narration “let’s go over this one more time…” and we yet again get Spider-Man’s back story. In a BATMAN LEGO MOVIE way, we see that the canon of references are from all of the previous Spider-Man movies, and even include that embarrassing emo dance from SPIDER-MAN 3.

But Pine’s incarnation of the character doesn’t last long as he is killed during a fight with the Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone), and Kingpin (Leiv Schreiber). That’s right, killed. His death is witnessed my Miles, who had just been bit by a genetically modified spider so he’s got Spidey-sense too. So while the world mourns the fallen hero, Miles costumes up, and he goes through the comical motions of trying to climb walls, shoot webs, and swing through the city just like we seen time and time again.

(Spoiler!) Turns out that Spider-Man died in Miles’ dimension but is alive in another as a washed out, cynical, divorced (from Mary Jane voiced by Zoë Kravitz), schlub voiced by Jake Johnson. I know he’s always been a wise-cracking character, but Johnson’s take on Spider-Man gone to seed seems more like Deadpool than Peter Parker.

So the plot has to do with this super collider thing that can open portals to other universes that Kingpin wants to use to get his wife and kid back from some alternate world causing a giant black hole under New York.

Coming to help Miles out from the multi-verse is an array of different Spider-people: Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a Japanese-American schoolgirl rendered in anime; Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a hilarious hard-nosed black-and-white detective who looks like something out of the Watchmen; Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), who is actually from Miles’ universe, and, most amusing, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), aka Peter Porker, who seems to have come from the Warner Bros. cartoon dimension.

As for the non Spider-people, there are well chosen appearances by Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Kathryn Hahn Luna Lauren Velez, Lily Tomlin, and maybe one of the best cameos in the whole Marvel movie franchise by Stan Lee.

The busy blend of all these different animation styles –shots can flicker from shiny, exquisitely rendered imagery to old school, hand-drawn, comic book flatness in flash after flash – wore me out in the second half. There are so many characters and plot points to keep up with, and the pacing of the action sequences came close to breaking my brain. It’s like they were trying cram every single idea that every digital artist for Sony Pictures Imageworks had into every frame.

Buthere’s a lot of energy and wit in Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman’s screenplay for SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, and the whole snazzy look of it is really cool despite being so damn cluttered at times. You’ll definitely get plenty of bang for your buck here.


More later…

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE Is Crazy Cluttered Cool

Currently the #1 movie at the box office:

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

(Dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman, 2018) 
I keep thinking is called INTO THE SPIDEY-VERSE because when I was a kid, my introduction to the character was on the The Electric Company, a kids show on PBS. The program featured the first live-action version of Spider-Man appearing in skits called “Spidey Super Stories.” This happened in the mid ‘70s, so yeah, I’m old.

But I’m not too old to appreciate Sony’s first feature-length animated Spider-Man movie as it’s a zippy, kinetic, and even psychedelic ride with a likable lead in the form of Shameik Moore voicing Miles Morales. Actually, maybe we should consider Morales to be the co lead, as, you know, this a Spider-Man film.

It starts off with our web-slinging hero being voiced by Chris Pine, who says through voice-over narration “let’s go over this one more time…” and we yet again get Spider-Man’s back story. In a BATMAN LEGO MOVIE way, we see that the canon of references are from all of the previous Spider-Man movies, and even include that embarrassing emo dance from SPIDER-MAN 3.

But Pine’s incarnation of the character doesn’t last long as he is killed during a fight with the Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone), and Kingpin (Leiv Schreiber). That’s right, killed. His death is witnessed my Miles, who had just been bit by a genetically modified spider so he’s got Spidey-sense too. So while the world mourns the fallen hero, Miles costumes up, and he goes through the comical motions of trying to climb walls, shoot webs, and swing through the city just like we seen time and time again.

(Spoiler!) Turns out that Spider-Man died in Miles’ dimension but is alive in another as a washed out, cynical, divorced (from Mary Jane voiced by Zoë Kravitz), schlub voiced by Jake Johnson. I know he’s always been a wise-cracking character, but Johnson’s take on Spider-Man gone to seed seems more like Deadpool than Peter Parker.

So the plot has to do with this super collider thing that can open portals to other universes that Kingpin wants to use to get his wife and kid back from some alternate world causing a giant black hole under New York.

Coming to help Miles out from the multi-verse is an array of different Spider-people: Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a Japanese-American schoolgirl rendered in anime; Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a hilarious hard-nosed black-and-white detective who looks like something out of the Watchmen; Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), who is actually from Miles’ universe, and, most amusing, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), aka Peter Porker, who seems to have come from the Warner Bros. cartoon dimension.

As for the non Spider-people, there are well chosen appearances by Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Kathryn Hahn Luna Lauren Velez, Lily Tomlin, and maybe one of the best cameos in the whole Marvel movie franchise by Stan Lee.

The busy blend of all these different animation styles –shots can flicker from shiny, exquisitely rendered imagery to old school, hand-drawn, comic book flatness in flash after flash – wore me out in the second half. There are so many characters and plot points to keep up with, and the pacing of the action sequences came close to breaking my brain. It’s like they were trying cram every single idea that every digital artist for Sony Pictures Imageworks had into every frame.

Buthere’s a lot of energy and wit in Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman’s screenplay for SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, and the whole snazzy look of it is really cool despite being so damn cluttered at times. You’ll definitely get plenty of bang for your buck here.


More later…

Neither CREED II Nor RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET Suffer From Sequelitis

The top two box office champs currently playing everywhere:


CREED II (Dir. Steven Caple Jr., 2018)


T
his, obviously, is the follow-up to 2015’s CREED, the seventh film in the long-running ROCKY franchise, which makes this ROCKY VIII. But it’s also a direct sequel to ROCKY IV, as it features the son of that film’s villain, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), challenging Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) for the title of heavy weight champion of the world. Donnie’s father, Apollo Creed, was killed in the ring by Drago, and his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu) is one scary, big ass dude with a permanent scowl so Donnie’s trainer, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, of course) fears the worst and opts out.


Anyone who’s ever seen a ROCKY movie knows the formula of how in their first fight the antagonist will triumph (Viktor doesn’t win because of an illegal head shot, but his unstoppable round of punches to Donnie’s face and ribs hospitalizes him), then the film builds to a climatic rematch with a montage or two along the way. Well despite the over familiarity, the formula still works.

Jordan, who earlier this year stole BLACK PANTHER, puts in a just as confidently powerful performance as in the previous film, and shares some touching moments with the also returning Tessa Thompson as his singer girlfriend. As for the rest of the cast, Phylicia Rashad also reprises her role as Donnie’s stepmother, there’s a surprise cameo by another ROCKY IV face, and the dad from This is Us, Milo Ventimiglia, shows up as Rocky’s son (I forgot he played the part in ROCKY BALBOA).

Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay with Juel Taylor, will doubtfully get an Oscar nomination like he did for the first CREED, but he’s played Rocky so often that it’s beyond second nature for him. His reliably sturdy turn makes Rocky’s relationship with Donnie very moving, and enhances the excitement of the fight scenes in the ring, which were beautifully shot by cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau.

CREED II may not reach the heights of its Ryan Coogler*-directed predecessor, which I had called “one hell of a legacyquel,” but it still stands with the best of the series. Just don’t ask me to rank them as I’m so not into that


* Coogler Executive Produced on this round.


RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET
(Dirs. Phil Johnston & Rich Moore, 2018) 

While Wreck-it Ralph’s first adventure was what I called a “worthwhile retro romp,” his second go round takes him out of the world of ‘80s video games and sends him and his BFF Vanellope into cyberspace. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are back as Ralph and Vanellope, who live behind the walls of Litwak’s Family Fun Center and hang out in various games’ landscapes when the arcade is closed.

When Vanellope complains about being bored with her game, Sugar Rush, Ralph decides to surprise her by making a new track. Things go awry when a girl unable to control the game’s vehicle breaks the wheel off of the console, and the game has to be shut down because a replacement part would be too expensive.

Learning that one is available on Ebay (or Eboy as Ralph calls it), Ralph and Vanellope speed through optical cables into the internet which is depicted as a ginormous shiny city that looks like a mixture of Wakanda and Tomorrowland. This where users in the real world are represented by avatars, and companies like Amazon, Pinterest, and Google (Ralph: “I guess we know where to go if we ever need a pair of goggles”) appear as logo-bearing skyscrapers.

Our lovable duo (seriously Reilly and Silverman are again extremely adorable) encounter such new characters as Alan Tudyk as the quick-to-guess search engine KnowsMore, Taraji P. Henson as Yesss, the algorithm for the fictional site BuzzzTube, Bill Hader as a pop-up ad named J.P. Spamley and most strikingly, Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman!) as Shank, the protagonist for of an online street racing game called Slaughter Race that Vanellope so wants to be a part of. Brief returning turns by Jack McBrayer as Fix-it Felix Jr., Jane Lynch as his wife, Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, and Ed O’Neil as the arcade owner, Mr. Litwak round out the cast.

Jokes come fast and mostly land about viral videos, internet auctions, and in a central sequence, Disney princesses via cameos by Cinderella (Jennifer Hale), Aurora (Kate Higgins), Ariel (Jodi Benson), Belle (Paige O’Hara), Jasmine (Linda Larkin), Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), and Merida (Kelly Macdonald).

With its infectious spirit, imagery that pops, big goofy nature, and zippy stylish energy, RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET is a lot of fun that has enough invention to keep it from suffering from severe sequelitis. It also has a last third that dares to go a bit dark, but pulls it off grandly. Sure, it’s a Disney family film, but folks of all ages should appreciate that it’s ultimately not just kids stuff.


More later…

Neither CREED II Nor RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET Suffer From Sequelitis

The top two box office champs currently playing everywhere:


CREED II (Dir. Steven Caple Jr., 2018)


T
his, obviously, is the follow-up to 2015’s CREED, the seventh film in the long-running ROCKY franchise, which makes this ROCKY VIII. But it’s also a direct sequel to ROCKY IV, as it features the son of that film’s villain, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), challenging Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) for the title of heavy weight champion of the world. Donnie’s father, Apollo Creed, was killed in the ring by Drago, and his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu) is one scary, big ass dude with a permanent scowl so Donnie’s trainer, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, of course) fears the worst and opts out.


Anyone who’s ever seen a ROCKY movie knows the formula of how in their first fight the antagonist will triumph (Viktor doesn’t win because of an illegal head shot, but his unstoppable round of punches to Donnie’s face and ribs hospitalizes him), then the film builds to a climatic rematch with a montage or two along the way. Well despite the over familiarity, the formula still works.

Jordan, who earlier this year stole BLACK PANTHER, puts in a just as confidently powerful performance as in the previous film, and shares some touching moments with the also returning Tessa Thompson as his singer girlfriend. As for the rest of the cast, Phylicia Rashad also reprises her role as Donnie’s stepmother, there’s a surprise cameo by another ROCKY IV face, and the dad from This is Us, Milo Ventimiglia, shows up as Rocky’s son (I forgot he played the part in ROCKY BALBOA).

Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay with Juel Taylor, will doubtfully get an Oscar nomination like he did for the first CREED, but he’s played Rocky so often that it’s beyond second nature for him. His reliably sturdy turn makes Rocky’s relationship with Donnie very moving, and enhances the excitement of the fight scenes in the ring, which were beautifully shot by cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau.

CREED II may not reach the heights of its Ryan Coogler*-directed predecessor, which I had called “one hell of a legacyquel,” but it still stands with the best of the series. Just don’t ask me to rank them as I’m so not into that


* Coogler Executive Produced on this round.


RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET
(Dirs. Phil Johnston & Rich Moore, 2018) 

While Wreck-it Ralph’s first adventure was what I called a “worthwhile retro romp,” his second go round takes him out of the world of ‘80s video games and sends him and his BFF Vanellope into cyberspace. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are back as Ralph and Vanellope, who live behind the walls of Litwak’s Family Fun Center and hang out in various games’ landscapes when the arcade is closed.

When Vanellope complains about being bored with her game, Sugar Rush, Ralph decides to surprise her by making a new track. Things go awry when a girl unable to control the game’s vehicle breaks the wheel off of the console, and the game has to be shut down because a replacement part would be too expensive.

Learning that one is available on Ebay (or Eboy as Ralph calls it), Ralph and Vanellope speed through optical cables into the internet which is depicted as a ginormous shiny city that looks like a mixture of Wakanda and Tomorrowland. This where users in the real world are represented by avatars, and companies like Amazon, Pinterest, and Google (Ralph: “I guess we know where to go if we ever need a pair of goggles”) appear as logo-bearing skyscrapers.

Our lovable duo (seriously Reilly and Silverman are again extremely adorable) encounter such new characters as Alan Tudyk as the quick-to-guess search engine KnowsMore, Taraji P. Henson as Yesss, the algorithm for the fictional site BuzzzTube, Bill Hader as a pop-up ad named J.P. Spamley and most strikingly, Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman!) as Shank, the protagonist for of an online street racing game called Slaughter Race that Vanellope so wants to be a part of. Brief returning turns by Jack McBrayer as Fix-it Felix Jr., Jane Lynch as his wife, Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, and Ed O’Neil as the arcade owner, Mr. Litwak round out the cast.

Jokes come fast and mostly land about viral videos, internet auctions, and in a central sequence, Disney princesses via cameos by Cinderella (Jennifer Hale), Aurora (Kate Higgins), Ariel (Jodi Benson), Belle (Paige O’Hara), Jasmine (Linda Larkin), Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), and Merida (Kelly Macdonald).

With its infectious spirit, imagery that pops, big goofy nature, and zippy stylish energy, RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET is a lot of fun that has enough invention to keep it from suffering from severe sequelitis. It also has a last third that dares to go a bit dark, but pulls it off grandly. Sure, it’s a Disney family film, but folks of all ages should appreciate that it’s ultimately not just kids stuff.


More later…

Harping On The New HALLOWEEN

Now playing everywhere:

HALLOWEEN (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2018)

If you follow film, you most likely know that the #1 movie at the box office is David Gordon Green’s new take on HALLOWEEN. Despite that it’s the 11th entry in the franchise, we’re supposed to forget all but the 1978 original and consider this to be its direct sequel. Driving home that point is that it’s mentioned early on that villain Michael Myers – you know, the homicidal maniac in the bleached Captain Kirk mask – only murdered five people in his one killing spree way back when.

Taking place 40 years later with Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her iconic role as Laurie Strode, we return to the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois where Myers, played by Nick Castle, is scheduled to be transferred to a maximum security prison on, wouldn’t you know it, Halloween day.

The day before Myers’ transfer, he is visited by a pair of investigative journalists (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) working on a true crime podcast. Hall, best known as Hugh of the Vale in Game of Thrones, takes out Myers’ mask to try to trigger a reaction (of course we never see Myers’ face – Hall is talking to his back), but all it does is make the other crazies in the yard have fits. It’s an effective opening, but it’s pretty silly if you think about it, so let’s not.

Let’s get to Curtis’ return as Laurie, who now has long scraggly mostly grey hair and calls herself a “basket case,” who the podcasters visit next. Laurie lives in a fenced in compound where she has a basement bunker filled with guns (canned goods and other necessities too), and she spends a lot of time performing target practice on various dummies scattered around her property.

We meet Laurie’s daughter, Karen, played by the always reliable Judy Greer, and her husband Ray (Toby Huss), and their daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who are all worried about grandma Laurie.

Unsurprisingly, the bus taking Myers to the new facility crashes which we don’t see – I can’t remember what the cause of the crash was, but I guess it doesn’t matter – and Myers escapes.

In one effective yet extremely implausible scene, the investigative podcasters played by Hall and Rees stop at a gas station that happens to be where Myers has just murdered the attendants and the mechanic and is still on the premises. It pays off in a riveting moment involving the screaming Rees crawling under the stalls in the restroom in a futile attempt to get away from Myers, but the whole sequence appears to exist mainly for the killer to retrieve his mask from the trunk of their car.

Myers kills more folks amid oblivious trick or treaters before making it to Laurie’s compound for the film’s climax, while Will Patton as Deputy Hawkins scrambles to catch him. For some reason it’s mentioned that Patton’s Hawkins was there the night of Myers’ original Halloween killing spree but I’m not sure why as it’s not like the actor was there or the character mattered much.

While not in the same class as the ’78 original, HALLOWEEN 2018 is a silly yet solid horror thriller, well scripted by director David Gordon Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride). Of course, Curtis owns the show but a shout-out should be given to Greer, who isn’t a household name but should be as she’s a terrific actress who’s been in tons of things including major franchises as JURASSIC WORLD, ANT-MAN, and PLANET OF THE APES. Greer’s Karen goes from being embarrassed by her mother to standing by her in the satisfyingly fiery finale and it’s a convincing turn.

After the first one and its 1981 sequel, I haven’t seen the rest of the nearly dozen movies that make up the HALLOWEEN franchise – I intentionally avoided the Rob Zombie remakes – so I think I was in a good place to enjoy this follow-up. Hardcore fans may have issues with it that I haven’t thought of, but it feels like a worthy addition to me.

More later…

Harping On The New HALLOWEEN

Now playing everywhere:

HALLOWEEN (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2018)

If you follow film, you most likely know that the #1 movie at the box office is David Gordon Green’s new take on HALLOWEEN. Despite that it’s the 11th entry in the franchise, we’re supposed to forget all but the 1978 original and consider this to be its direct sequel. Driving home that point is that it’s mentioned early on that villain Michael Myers – you know, the homicidal maniac in the bleached Captain Kirk mask – only murdered five people in his one killing spree way back when.

Taking place 40 years later with Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her iconic role as Laurie Strode, we return to the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois where Myers, played by Nick Castle, is scheduled to be transferred to a maximum security prison on, wouldn’t you know it, Halloween day.

The day before Myers’ transfer, he is visited by a pair of investigative journalists (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) working on a true crime podcast. Hall, best known as Hugh of the Vale in Game of Thrones, takes out Myers’ mask to try to trigger a reaction (of course we never see Myers’ face – Hall is talking to his back), but all it does is make the other crazies in the yard have fits. It’s an effective opening, but it’s pretty silly if you think about it, so let’s not.

Let’s get to Curtis’ return as Laurie, who now has long scraggly mostly grey hair and calls herself a “basket case,” who the podcasters visit next. Laurie lives in a fenced in compound where she has a basement bunker filled with guns (canned goods and other necessities too), and she spends a lot of time performing target practice on various dummies scattered around her property.

We meet Laurie’s daughter, Karen, played by the always reliable Judy Greer, and her husband Ray (Toby Huss), and their daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who are all worried about grandma Laurie.

Unsurprisingly, the bus taking Myers to the new facility crashes which we don’t see – I can’t remember what the cause of the crash was, but I guess it doesn’t matter – and Myers escapes.

In one effective yet extremely implausible scene, the investigative podcasters played by Hall and Rees stop at a gas station that happens to be where Myers has just murdered the attendants and the mechanic and is still on the premises. It pays off in a riveting moment involving the screaming Rees crawling under the stalls in the restroom in a futile attempt to get away from Myers, but the whole sequence appears to exist mainly for the killer to retrieve his mask from the trunk of their car.

Myers kills more folks amid oblivious trick or treaters before making it to Laurie’s compound for the film’s climax, while Will Patton as Deputy Hawkins scrambles to catch him. For some reason it’s mentioned that Patton’s Hawkins was there the night of Myers’ original Halloween killing spree but I’m not sure why as it’s not like the actor was there or the character mattered much.

While not in the same class as the ’78 original, HALLOWEEN 2018 is a silly yet solid horror thriller, well scripted by director David Gordon Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride). Of course, Curtis owns the show but a shout-out should be given to Greer, who isn’t a household name but should be as she’s a terrific actress who’s been in tons of things including major franchises as JURASSIC WORLD, ANT-MAN, and PLANET OF THE APES. Greer’s Karen goes from being embarrassed by her mother to standing by her in the satisfyingly fiery finale and it’s a convincing turn.

After the first one and its 1981 sequel, I haven’t seen the rest of the nearly dozen movies that make up the HALLOWEEN franchise – I intentionally avoided the Rob Zombie remakes – so I think I was in a good place to enjoy this follow-up. Hardcore fans may have issues with it that I haven’t thought of, but it feels like a worthy addition to me.

More later…

FIRST MAN: The Film Babble Blog Review

Opening tonight at multiplexes from here to the stars:

FIRST MAN (Dir. Damien Chazelle, 2018) 









Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning smash LA LA LAND, is a quietly profound adaptation of James R. Hansen’s 2005 biography of Neil Armstrong. Chazelle re-unites with his LA LA LAND lead Ryan Gosling, who brings his patently stoic presence to the part of Armstrong as we follow him on his epic journey from edgy test flights to the historic Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969.

Even though one knows exactly how this film will end, Josh Singer’s (SPOTLIGHT, THE POST) screenplay provides a strong sense of danger as the road to space is littered with casualties including Ed White (Jason Clarke), who was the first American to walk in space; Elliot See (Patrick Fugit), and Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham).

This is never off the mind of Armstrong’s spouse, Janet Shearon, played by The Queen’s Claire Foy, who makes the most of the standard worried wife back at home role. Foy, utilizing a convincing American accent, appears to have trouble emotionally connecting with her husband, who Gosling coldly plays except for in the scenes set in space. The point apparently being that Armstrong’s real love was the stars. This is probably why they got divorced years later (not covered in the film, of course).

Aided by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who shot LA LA LAND, Chazelle paints an impressionistic picture of the space race era in which they show more than they tell what went down. This adds to the film’s dream-like feel at times, especially in dealing with haunting flashbacks to before Armstrong’s 2-year old daughter died, something that reminded me of the abstract approach of Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL.

Since I’ve grown up on the stories of the moon mission, and seen countless re-tellings of how the men and women of NASA struggled to reach the final frontier (in other words, there’s no way this wouldn’t have some of the stuff that’s in THE RIGHT STUFF), many of the aesthetics here are very familiar – having 2001-ish style strings during one sequence for instance – but the lucidity of how authentic everything comes across from the period stylings to how dead on the imagery of the moon looks made for an immersive experience all around.

Cazelle wisely decides to stick with what the astronauts – Gosling’s Armstrong, and Corey Stoll’s Buzz Aldrin – saw through cramped capsule windows, or their lunar helmets, and the effect makes you feel like you’re getting what the incredible experience really looked like.

For much of FIRST MAN, the only thing that broke up the visually poetic spell for me was Gosling’s dead eyed performance. But when his eyes light up at the view of the heavens that very few humans have seen (also when giving a speech about said experience), one can get what the film has to say about the character, the real man, and his fantastic adventure that is faithfully and beautifully recreated.


More later…

FIRST MAN: The Film Babble Blog Review

Opening tonight at multiplexes from here to the stars:

FIRST MAN (Dir. Damien Chazelle, 2018) 









Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning smash LA LA LAND, is a quietly profound adaptation of James R. Hansen’s 2005 biography of Neil Armstrong. Chazelle re-unites with his LA LA LAND lead Ryan Gosling, who brings his patently stoic presence to the part of Armstrong as we follow him on his epic journey from edgy test flights to the historic Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969.

Even though one knows exactly how this film will end, Josh Singer’s (SPOTLIGHT, THE POST) screenplay provides a strong sense of danger as the road to space is littered with casualties including Ed White (Jason Clarke), who was the first American to walk in space; Elliot See (Patrick Fugit), and Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham).

This is never off the mind of Armstrong’s spouse, Janet Shearon, played by The Queen’s Claire Foy, who makes the most of the standard worried wife back at home role. Foy, utilizing a convincing American accent, appears to have trouble emotionally connecting with her husband, who Gosling coldly plays except for in the scenes set in space. The point apparently being that Armstrong’s real love was the stars. This is probably why they got divorced years later (not covered in the film, of course).

Aided by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who shot LA LA LAND, Chazelle paints an impressionistic picture of the space race era in which they show more than they tell what went down. This adds to the film’s dream-like feel at times, especially in dealing with haunting flashbacks to before Armstrong’s 2-year old daughter died, something that reminded me of the abstract approach of Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL.

Since I’ve grown up on the stories of the moon mission, and seen countless re-tellings of how the men and women of NASA struggled to reach the final frontier (in other words, there’s no way this wouldn’t have some of the stuff that’s in THE RIGHT STUFF), many of the aesthetics here are very familiar – having 2001-ish style strings during one sequence for instance – but the lucidity of how authentic everything comes across from the period stylings to how dead on the imagery of the moon looks made for an immersive experience all around.

Cazelle wisely decides to stick with what the astronauts – Gosling’s Armstrong, and Corey Stoll’s Buzz Aldrin – saw through cramped capsule windows, or their lunar helmets, and the effect makes you feel like you’re getting what the incredible experience really looked like.

For much of FIRST MAN, the only thing that broke up the visually poetic spell for me was Gosling’s dead eyed performance. But when his eyes light up at the view of the heavens that very few humans have seen (also when giving a speech about said experience), one can get what the film has to say about the character, the real man, and his fantastic adventure that is faithfully and beautifully recreated.


More later…

VENOM: A Complete Tonal Misfire With No Sense Of Fun

Opening tonight at a multiplex near everyone:

VENOM (Dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2018)



T
o get this straight, this isn’t a Marvel movie – it’s an “In Association With Marvel” movie. That means that it’s not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it’s the beginning of Sony’s Marvel Universe because Sony owns Spider-man, and Venom started out as a character in the Spidey-verse.

Or something like that. Anyway, I only knew Venom from SPIDER-MAN 3, in which he was played by Topher Grace, as I’m pretty comics illiterate, so I had no real expectations for this origin story. I was just hoping for a fun sci-fi action picture, but what I got was this terrible, tortured slog – an ugly, sticky, tangled mess, much like its title character.

Tom Hardy, with a strained American accent, plays Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist with a TV show (think Anderson Cooper as played by Jeremy Renner), who loses his job after going after evil genius billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). This also ends Eddie’s engagement to his love, Anne (Michelle Williams with long straight blonde hair that doesn’t move), who immediately leaves him.

Meanwhile, there’s been these alien symbiote things that have been taking over people’s bodies wrecking havoc and Ahmed’s Drake is trying to control them in his Life Foundation lab which is built into a mountain side across the bay from San Francisco as we see in countless establishing exterior shots. Jenny Slate (SNL, OBVIOUS CHILD) plays one of Drake’s scientist assistants who decides to be a whistle blower and expose her boss’s deadly experiments with the help of Eddie, who she brings to the lab.

You know what happens then – Brock gets this thing “up his ass” (his words), and becomes embedded with powers which makes him a sweaty, always hungry, spastic, obnoxiously over-the-top jerk, who take out leagues of attackers with black, shiny shard like arms thrusting from his body. It’s not pretty.

Eddie also hears the symbiote, who hates being called a “parasite,” talk through him in a garbled, jarring voice (Hardy’s voice modified) that goads him on, puts him down (calls him “pussy” when he takes an elevator instead of jumping out a window of a high rise), and throws out one-liners, many of which fall flat.

The rest of the narrative is un-engaging, and poorly paced as it goes through the motions of a motorcycle chase through the streets, battles with a bunch of standard issue black-clad thugs, a count-down to a launch that must be thwarted, and tons of empty spectacle made up of unimpressive CGI.

VENOM is a complete tonal misfire which can be largely blamed on its dreadful, witless screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel which even tries to make “Have a nice life” be a burn more than once. Even at its most watchable, the whole movie just feels off. Hardy does his damnest, but just doesn’t gel with the character – either character of Eddie or Venom, and at times his hyper acting made me cringe with embarrassment for him. However, I blame the material because I’ve seen him do way better before.

Despite it being a dud, fanboys will just have to see it because you know completism, and there’s, of course, a few stingers – a mid-credits scene that has an intriguing cameo, and an extended post credits teaser for the animated SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE movie coming out this December.

Those tagged on bits are actually fun, but that so calls attention to how all the VENOM nonsense that preceded them so wasn’t.


More later…

VENOM: A Complete Tonal Misfire With No Sense Of Fun

Opening tonight at a multiplex near everyone:

VENOM (Dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2018)



T
o get this straight, this isn’t a Marvel movie – it’s an “In Association With Marvel” movie. That means that it’s not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it’s the beginning of Sony’s Marvel Universe because Sony owns Spider-man, and Venom started out as a character in the Spidey-verse.

Or something like that. Anyway, I only knew Venom from SPIDER-MAN 3, in which he was played by Topher Grace, as I’m pretty comics illiterate, so I had no real expectations for this origin story. I was just hoping for a fun sci-fi action picture, but what I got was this terrible, tortured slog – an ugly, sticky, tangled mess, much like its title character.

Tom Hardy, with a strained American accent, plays Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist with a TV show (think Anderson Cooper as played by Jeremy Renner), who loses his job after going after evil genius billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). This also ends Eddie’s engagement to his love, Anne (Michelle Williams with long straight blonde hair that doesn’t move), who immediately leaves him.

Meanwhile, there’s been these alien symbiote things that have been taking over people’s bodies wrecking havoc and Ahmed’s Drake is trying to control them in his Life Foundation lab which is built into a mountain side across the bay from San Francisco as we see in countless establishing exterior shots. Jenny Slate (SNL, OBVIOUS CHILD) plays one of Drake’s scientist assistants who decides to be a whistle blower and expose her boss’s deadly experiments with the help of Eddie, who she brings to the lab.

You know what happens then – Brock gets this thing “up his ass” (his words), and becomes embedded with powers which makes him a sweaty, always hungry, spastic, obnoxiously over-the-top jerk, who take out leagues of attackers with black, shiny shard like arms thrusting from his body. It’s not pretty.

Eddie also hears the symbiote, who hates being called a “parasite,” talk through him in a garbled, jarring voice (Hardy’s voice modified) that goads him on, puts him down (calls him “pussy” when he takes an elevator instead of jumping out a window of a high rise), and throws out one-liners, many of which fall flat.

The rest of the narrative is un-engaging, and poorly paced as it goes through the motions of a motorcycle chase through the streets, battles with a bunch of standard issue black-clad thugs, a count-down to a launch that must be thwarted, and tons of empty spectacle made up of unimpressive CGI.

VENOM is a complete tonal misfire which can be largely blamed on its dreadful, witless screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel which even tries to make “Have a nice life” be a burn more than once. Even at its most watchable, the whole movie just feels off. Hardy does his damnest, but just doesn’t gel with the character – either character of Eddie or Venom, and at times his hyper acting made me cringe with embarrassment for him. However, I blame the material because I’ve seen him do way better before.

Despite it being a dud, fanboys will just have to see it because you know completism, and there’s, of course, a few stingers – a mid-credits scene that has an intriguing cameo, and an extended post credits teaser for the animated SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE movie coming out this December.

Those tagged on bits are actually fun, but that so calls attention to how all the VENOM nonsense that preceded them so wasn’t.


More later…

A STAR IS BORN: Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga Soar In Stellar Remake

Opening tonight everywhere:

A STAR IS BORN
(Dir. Bradley Cooper, 2018)



I
had a feeling going in, from the high amount of positive buzz, that this film was going to be good, but I really didn’t expect it to be the emotionally powerful experience that it is.

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is the third remake of the 1937 classic, A STAR IS BORN, but you don’t have to have seen that, or the 1954 or 1976 versions to recognize the premise: a tragic romance in which one star rises while the other one fades.

Cooper, who also co-produced, co-wrote the screenplay, and co-wrote some of the songs, plays Jackson Maine, a country rock star who we first meet shredding his guitar in front of thousands of cheering fans. Well, actually the first shot is of him taking pills and downing some liquor backstage before that moment, but I digress.

We follow the drunk Jackson after the show as he gets his driver (Greg Grunberg) to take him somewhere, anywhere that serves alcohol only to find himself at a drag bar being serenaded by Lady Gaga as Ally, the one woman they let perform at the place because, well, she’s Lady Gaga.

Jackson is immediately smitten with Ally, and so is Cooper’s cinematographer, Matthew Libatique (PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, BLACK SWAN) who gives Gaga gorgeous close-ups throughout the film. Jackson and Ally hit it off and have a wonderfully rambling evening together in which she punches a fan for being pushy, and they end up in a grocery store parking lot with her hand wrapped up in a frozen pea bag with tape – Jackson’s concoction, of course.

In a sweet moment, Ally improvises some lines to a new song and before you know it the movie has its big signature anthem “Shallow,” which he gets her to shake off her stage fright and perform with him at his show the next night. It’s a glorious scene that trailers and T.V. spots have been right to milk.

You know how it goes from there – Ally’s star is on the ascent with a new album, image, and tour, while Jackson goes deeper down into the bottle. But as predictable as that sounds, it plays out beautifully here with every scene having thoughtful weight.

The strong supporting cast well play their needed notes too – Andrew Dice Clay proves that his performance in BLUE JASMINE was no fluke with a great turn as Ally’s limo driver/ex-crooner father , the always reliable Sam Elliot gives great gravitas as Jackson’s brother/manager, Dave Chappelle pops up to help Jackson and Ally get married while making some patently laid-back wisecracks, and the lesser known Ravi Gavron puts in a sharp appearance as Ally’s ambitious agent.

Adding greatly to the portrait of this couple’s relationship is how the film values the song-writing connection that Jackson and Ally have together. How they bond over words scribbled on notebook pages that become crowd-pleasing ballads is one of many factors that had me tear up at times.

This helps make the film’s soundtrack – a rich mixture of country and pop songs – a seriously stellar collection. Through the concert scenes, some of which were filmed at Coachella, the song performances really sold me on these characters feeling like real people caught up in the spotlight. In that vein, Gaga owns her first leading role by coming across more like a real person than any time I’ve seen her before. She is bound to get award season action a-plenty for her stunning work here.

Cooper will surely get some attention too for his touching take on the star on the way down. Jackson has a lot of charisma despite his sloppy drunkenness, and mean moments of jealousy towards Ally, and Cooper is equally skilled in bringing out both his charms and flaws.

A STAR IS BORN is one of the best remakes ever, and one of the best films of the year. It’s a joyous, romantic, funny, tragic, uplifting, poignant, heart-string-pulling, beautiful, and, what I said up-front, emotionally powerful piece of pure entertainment.

More later…

A STAR IS BORN: Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga Soar In Stellar Remake

Opening tonight everywhere:

A STAR IS BORN
(Dir. Bradley Cooper, 2018)



I
had a feeling going in, from the high amount of positive buzz, that this film was going to be good, but I really didn’t expect it to be the emotionally powerful experience that it is.

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is the third remake of the 1937 classic, A STAR IS BORN, but you don’t have to have seen that, or the 1954 or 1976 versions to recognize the premise: a tragic romance in which one star rises while the other one fades.

Cooper, who also co-produced, co-wrote the screenplay, and co-wrote some of the songs, plays Jackson Maine, a country rock star who we first meet shredding his guitar in front of thousands of cheering fans. Well, actually the first shot is of him taking pills and downing some liquor backstage before that moment, but I digress.

We follow the drunk Jackson after the show as he gets his driver (Greg Grunberg) to take him somewhere, anywhere that serves alcohol only to find himself at a drag bar being serenaded by Lady Gaga as Ally, the one woman they let perform at the place because, well, she’s Lady Gaga.

Jackson is immediately smitten with Ally, and so is Cooper’s cinematographer, Matthew Libatique (PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, BLACK SWAN) who gives Gaga gorgeous close-ups throughout the film. Jackson and Ally hit it off and have a wonderfully rambling evening together in which she punches a fan for being pushy, and they end up in a grocery store parking lot with her hand wrapped up in a frozen pea bag with tape – Jackson’s concoction, of course.

In a sweet moment, Ally improvises some lines to a new song and before you know it the movie has its big signature anthem “Shallow,” which he gets her to shake off her stage fright and perform with him at his show the next night. It’s a glorious scene that trailers and T.V. spots have been right to milk.

You know how it goes from there – Ally’s star is on the ascent with a new album, image, and tour, while Jackson goes deeper down into the bottle. But as predictable as that sounds, it plays out beautifully here with every scene having thoughtful weight.

The strong supporting cast well play their needed notes too – Andrew Dice Clay proves that his performance in BLUE JASMINE was no fluke with a great turn as Ally’s limo driver/ex-crooner father , the always reliable Sam Elliot gives great gravitas as Jackson’s brother/manager, Dave Chappelle pops up to help Jackson and Ally get married while making some patently laid-back wisecracks, and the lesser known Ravi Gavron puts in a sharp appearance as Ally’s ambitious agent.

Adding greatly to the portrait of this couple’s relationship is how the film values the song-writing connection that Jackson and Ally have together. How they bond over words scribbled on notebook pages that become crowd-pleasing ballads is one of many factors that had me tear up at times.

This helps make the film’s soundtrack – a rich mixture of country and pop songs – a seriously stellar collection. Through the concert scenes, some of which were filmed at Coachella, the song performances really sold me on these characters feeling like real people caught up in the spotlight. In that vein, Gaga owns her first leading role by coming across more like a real person than any time I’ve seen her before. She is bound to get award season action a-plenty for her stunning work here.

Cooper will surely get some attention too for his touching take on the star on the way down. Jackson has a lot of charisma despite his sloppy drunkenness, and mean moments of jealousy towards Ally, and Cooper is equally skilled in bringing out both his charms and flaws.

A STAR IS BORN is one of the best remakes ever, and one of the best films of the year. It’s a joyous, romantic, funny, tragic, uplifting, poignant, heart-string-pulling, beautiful, and, what I said up-front, emotionally powerful piece of pure entertainment.

More later…

LOVE, GILDA Doesn’t Go Deep Enough, But Is Still Adorable

Starts today in the Triangle at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Raleigh:

LOVE GILDA (Dir. Lisa D’Apolito, 2018)


F
ormer actress Lisa D’Apolito’s full length feature debut is a fine primer to the life and career of comedy goddess Gilda Radner (1946-1989), who as we hear the voice of David Letterman say at the outset “was the very first chosen for the cast of Saturday Night Live.” But while it works as an overview for newcomers to Radner, folks who grew up with the woman’s work may find that it glosses over too many details to really be the thorough and essential portrait that she deserves.

Largely narrated by Radner herself via audiotapes she had recorded while writing her 1989 autobiography “It’s Always Something,” and various interviews; LOVE GILDA touchingly also features some of her many modern day disciples such as Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, and Melissa McCarthy reading from her diaries.

As images of Radner and her notebook handwriting animatedly fill the screen, we see her go from being a chubby kid living in Detroit that loved to play act (“I’d be glued to the television, and then I’d go act out things like it in the backyard”) to becoming a stage performer in Toronto getting her first major job in a 1972 production of the religious musical Godspell, the cast of which included Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, and Paul Shaffer.

After stints in the Second City improvisational troupe, and the National Lampoon Radio Hour, Radner’s big break was, of course, joining the line-up of NBC’s Saturday Night Live in 1975. 

Her popular characters such as Weekend Update commentators, the confused, elderly Emily Litella (Radner: “I was the first one to ever say bitch on television, and the censors let me do it because they said it was a nice, sweet old lady saying it”), and the obnoxious, big-haired Roseanne Roseannadanna, along with her Patti Smith-esque punk rocker Candy Slice, and her Barbara Walters parody, Baba Wawa, made her famous and won her an Emmy.

Along the way we see that Gilda dated a lot – she once complained that it was hard to watch GHOSTBUSTERS because she had dated each of its three leads – Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis. She also had an on again/off again relationship with Martin Short in the pre-SNL days (Paul Shaffer: “They were some form of power couple, but it was comedy power”). Her brief first marriage to rock guitarist G.E. Smith goes by in a blur.

Montages of clips from her SNL appearances, merge with many photos of her from the era set to a bouncy disco beat as this was the glitzy late ‘70s entertainingly enough, but when the film comes to Radner’s one woman Broadway show it doesn’t give enough context. As many SNL folks were involved, the production was seen by many to be a competitive effort towards her fellow cast members Aykroyd and John Belushi’s Blues Brothers project to the point in which Paul Shaffer had to choose sides and lost out being in THE BLUES BROTHERS movie.

But this isn’t discussed in this biodoc, nor is that the resulting record and film, GILDA LIVE, flopped. Except for HANKY PANKY, the comic thriller that she made with later husband Gene Wilder in 1982, her film career isn’t given much space either. But in a 90 minute biodoc that’s understandable as her filmography wasn’t that stellar and ended on a sad note with her second collaboration with Wilder, HAUNTED HONEYMOON being a critically lambasted dud.

The last third of the film, dealing with Radner’s fight with ovarian cancer, is unsuprisingly quite sad. If hearing her on tape begging for her health, and bemoaning the loss of her hair doesn’t get you, the video she had made of one of her chemo sessions in which she is as chipper as she can be surely will. Even in the middle of such severe circumstances, Gilda could still come alive and light up a room on camera.

As it’s filled with so many pretty pictures, loving memories, and funny footage of Radner, there’s a lot to love in LOVE, GILDA even if it doesn’t go as deep as this comedy geek would’ve liked. I don’t know if I was hoping for the intense lengthy examination that Judd Apatow did for Garry Shandling (HBO’S THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING) or what *, but what the woman contributed to pop culture certainly could stand up to that sort of scrutiny.

But the takeaway from this film is that it finds Gilda to be forever adorable, and, despite the tragedy of her death at 42, D’Apolito’s biodoc offers ample evidence that she had a blast making people laugh throughout her all too short life.

*Radner’s last major appearance was actually on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1988.


More later…

LOVE, GILDA Doesn’t Go Deep Enough, But Is Still Adorable

Starts today in the Triangle at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Raleigh:

LOVE GILDA (Dir. Lisa D’Apolito, 2018)


F
ormer actress Lisa D’Apolito’s full length feature debut is a fine primer to the life and career of comedy goddess Gilda Radner (1946-1989), who as we hear the voice of David Letterman say at the outset “was the very first chosen for the cast of Saturday Night Live.” But while it works as an overview for newcomers to Radner, folks who grew up with the woman’s work may find that it glosses over too many details to really be the thorough and essential portrait that she deserves.

Largely narrated by Radner herself via audiotapes she had recorded while writing her 1989 autobiography “It’s Always Something,” and various interviews; LOVE GILDA touchingly also features some of her many modern day disciples such as Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, and Melissa McCarthy reading from her diaries.

As images of Radner and her notebook handwriting animatedly fill the screen, we see her go from being a chubby kid living in Detroit that loved to play act (“I’d be glued to the television, and then I’d go act out things like it in the backyard”) to becoming a stage performer in Toronto getting her first major job in a 1972 production of the religious musical Godspell, the cast of which included Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, and Paul Shaffer.

After stints in the Second City improvisational troupe, and the National Lampoon Radio Hour, Radner’s big break was, of course, joining the line-up of NBC’s Saturday Night Live in 1975. 

Her popular characters such as Weekend Update commentators, the confused, elderly Emily Litella (Radner: “I was the first one to ever say bitch on television, and the censors let me do it because they said it was a nice, sweet old lady saying it”), and the obnoxious, big-haired Roseanne Roseannadanna, along with her Patti Smith-esque punk rocker Candy Slice, and her Barbara Walters parody, Baba Wawa, made her famous and won her an Emmy.

Along the way we see that Gilda dated a lot – she once complained that it was hard to watch GHOSTBUSTERS because she had dated each of its three leads – Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis. She also had an on again/off again relationship with Martin Short in the pre-SNL days (Paul Shaffer: “They were some form of power couple, but it was comedy power”). Her brief first marriage to rock guitarist G.E. Smith goes by in a blur.

Montages of clips from her SNL appearances, merge with many photos of her from the era set to a bouncy disco beat as this was the glitzy late ‘70s entertainingly enough, but when the film comes to Radner’s one woman Broadway show it doesn’t give enough context. As many SNL folks were involved, the production was seen by many to be a competitive effort towards her fellow cast members Aykroyd and John Belushi’s Blues Brothers project to the point in which Paul Shaffer had to choose sides and lost out being in THE BLUES BROTHERS movie.

But this isn’t discussed in this biodoc, nor is that the resulting record and film, GILDA LIVE, flopped. Except for HANKY PANKY, the comic thriller that she made with later husband Gene Wilder in 1982, her film career isn’t given much space either. But in a 90 minute biodoc that’s understandable as her filmography wasn’t that stellar and ended on a sad note with her second collaboration with Wilder, HAUNTED HONEYMOON being a critically lambasted dud.

The last third of the film, dealing with Radner’s fight with ovarian cancer, is unsuprisingly quite sad. If hearing her on tape begging for her health, and bemoaning the loss of her hair doesn’t get you, the video she had made of one of her chemo sessions in which she is as chipper as she can be surely will. Even in the middle of such severe circumstances, Gilda could still come alive and light up a room on camera.

As it’s filled with so many pretty pictures, loving memories, and funny footage of Radner, there’s a lot to love in LOVE, GILDA even if it doesn’t go as deep as this comedy geek would’ve liked. I don’t know if I was hoping for the intense lengthy examination that Judd Apatow did for Garry Shandling (HBO’S THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING) or what *, but what the woman contributed to pop culture certainly could stand up to that sort of scrutiny.

But the takeaway from this film is that it finds Gilda to be forever adorable, and, despite the tragedy of her death at 42, D’Apolito’s biodoc offers ample evidence that she had a blast making people laugh throughout her all too short life.

*Radner’s last major appearance was actually on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1988.


More later…

THE WIFE: The Great Woman Behind The Not So Great Man

Opening today at an art house near me:

THE WIFE (Dir. Björn Runge, 2018) 

Oscar speculation is high for Glenn Close in her role here as the wife of a famous writer who has just won the Noble Prize for Literature. Jonathan Pryce portrays her husband, the pretentious Professor Joe Castleman, who jumps up and down with his spouse, Joan, on their bed when he gets the news via a phone call in the middle of the night.

The couple fly to Stockholm for the awards ceremony, and on the flight are approached by a sly Christian Slater as journalist Nathaniel Bone, who is determined to be Joe’s biographer. Annoyed, Joe shoes him away, and even discourages him from talking to their son, David (Max Irons) as he returns to his seat.

Amid the parties and intense adulation for Joe, one can sense that something is off about their relationship – much in the way of Close’s subtle reactions to the attention her husband is receiving. David, an aspiring writer himself, feels like his work is largely dismissed by his father, and shows his discomfort at tagging along with his parents to this event.

Bit by juicy bit, we learn through flashbacks in which we see the young Joan, played by Annie Starke, as a writing student at Smith College. Her professor Joe (Harry Lloyd) recognizes Joan’s talent, and it’s obvious that she’s the one with the gift as he leaves his marriage for her, and she helps him complete his first novel or basically fixes it as she notes that his characters are wooden and his dialogue unconvincing.

Slater’s Nathaniel suspects this, and over drinks with Joan, tests out his theory. We also learn of Joe’s affairs over their 40-year relationship, and how Joan looked the other way.

Close’s performance is stoic yet layered as Joan maneuvers through her husband’s world of critical praise as the Noble ceremonies go on, and her discomfort is palpable when she listens to Joe’s acceptance speech in which he says “Without this woman, I am nothing” and attempts to paint a picture of her as his most valued muse. This disgusts her and she leaves the building with her bemused husband following, hoping to get her to come back.

It’s a “behind every great man, there’s a woman” scenario, but the man here, portrayed by Pryce in one of his finest roles, is far from great. The premise involving the long suffering lady being the real one responsible with the work that has given her lover great acclaim has been explored before in such films as IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES, BARTON FINK, and, more recently, BIG EYES, but THE WIFE doesn’t tread over the same ground as it has its own elegant, thoughtful, and at times an acidic approach, one that makes for absorbing emotional drama. 

Based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 book of the same name, Jane Anderson’s sharp screenplay tells a tale of resentment lurking under a highly cultivated facade, and Close plays every note with poise, grace, and an inner, yet detectable, sense of what Joan has gone through in her life, and how she finally needs to confront it.

Close definitely deserves the Best Actress Oscar this time; it’s hard to believe she’s been previously nominated six times and has never won (that’s more noms without a win than any other actor). Her performance as Joan Castleman here is so masterful that it’ll be impossible for the Academy to ignore.


More later…

THE WIFE: The Great Woman Behind The Not So Great Man

Opening today at an art house near me:

THE WIFE (Dir. Björn Runge, 2018) 

Oscar speculation is high for Glenn Close in her role here as the wife of a famous writer who has just won the Noble Prize for Literature. Jonathan Pryce portrays her husband, the pretentious Professor Joe Castleman, who jumps up and down with his spouse, Joan, on their bed when he gets the news via a phone call in the middle of the night.

The couple fly to Stockholm for the awards ceremony, and on the flight are approached by a sly Christian Slater as journalist Nathaniel Bone, who is determined to be Joe’s biographer. Annoyed, Joe shoes him away, and even discourages him from talking to their son, David (Max Irons) as he returns to his seat.

Amid the parties and intense adulation for Joe, one can sense that something is off about their relationship – much in the way of Close’s subtle reactions to the attention her husband is receiving. David, an aspiring writer himself, feels like his work is largely dismissed by his father, and shows his discomfort at tagging along with his parents to this event.

Bit by juicy bit, we learn through flashbacks in which we see the young Joan, played by Annie Starke, as a writing student at Smith College. Her professor Joe (Harry Lloyd) recognizes Joan’s talent, and it’s obvious that she’s the one with the gift as he leaves his marriage for her, and she helps him complete his first novel or basically fixes it as she notes that his characters are wooden and his dialogue unconvincing.

Slater’s Nathaniel suspects this, and over drinks with Joan, tests out his theory. We also learn of Joe’s affairs over their 40-year relationship, and how Joan looked the other way.

Close’s performance is stoic yet layered as Joan maneuvers through her husband’s world of critical praise as the Noble ceremonies go on, and her discomfort is palpable when she listens to Joe’s acceptance speech in which he says “Without this woman, I am nothing” and attempts to paint a picture of her as his most valued muse. This disgusts her and she leaves the building with her bemused husband following, hoping to get her to come back.

It’s a “behind every great man, there’s a woman” scenario, but the man here, portrayed by Pryce in one of his finest roles, is far from great. The premise involving the long suffering lady being the real one responsible with the work that has given her lover great acclaim has been explored before in such films as IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES, BARTON FINK, and, more recently, BIG EYES, but THE WIFE doesn’t tread over the same ground as it has its own elegant, thoughtful, and at times an acidic approach, one that makes for absorbing emotional drama. 

Based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 book of the same name, Jane Anderson’s sharp screenplay tells a tale of resentment lurking under a highly cultivated facade, and Close plays every note with poise, grace, and an inner, yet detectable, sense of what Joan has gone through in her life, and how she finally needs to confront it.

Close definitely deserves the Best Actress Oscar this time; it’s hard to believe she’s been previously nominated six times and has never won (that’s more noms without a win than any other actor). Her performance as Joan Castleman here is so masterful that it’ll be impossible for the Academy to ignore.


More later…

Of Puppets And Puzzles

These two vastly different movies open today at multiplexes (and some art houses in PUZZLE’s case) near us all:

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS

(Dir. Brian Henson, 2018) 
This movie, directed by a son of Jim Henson no less, about felt getting filthy, is getting savaged by critics but it’s not really that bad. It’s a premise that’s not exactly new – i.e. underneath the warm and fuzzy front is the sleazy, foul mouthed, and raunchy side of show biz * – but it has its moments largely due to its cast made up of Melissa McCarthy, puppeteer Bill Barretta, Joel McCale, Maya Rudolph, and Elizabeth Banks.

The plot revolves around the serial killings of a ‘80s TV show, The Happytime Gang, which Barretta voicing the burnt out private detective Phil Phillips is partnered with McCarthy as Detective Connie Edwards to investigate.

Now it’s a pretty standard film noir-ish scenario which isn’t very interesting on its own, but it moves along briskly aided by a bunch of crude sight gags and tossed off one-liners. 


There are good some good ideas batted about such as the bigotry that puppets face from humans but it really doesnt do much with that, and I wish the material was more inspired than jokes like the “asshole says ‘what?’” running gag that was old when it was used in WAYNE’S WORLD two decades ago, but for a throwaway comedy in these dog days of summer, I’ve seen a lot worse.

* Some folks are crying that this movie is a rip-off of Peter Jasckson’s MEET THE FEEBLES, which incidentally is on YouTube in its entirety right now. You’re welcome.

And now for something completely different:

PUZZLE (Dir. Marc Turtletaub, 2018) 


Kelly Macdonald (TRAINSPOTTING, GOSFORD PARK, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Boardwalk Empire, among numerous other notable credits) is superb in this story of a lonely woman finding her niche by putting together jigsaw puzzles with an eccentric Indian inventor (Irrfan Khan *).

Macdonald portrays Agnes, an awkward Connecticut housewife, with two college aged sons (Bubba Weiler and Austin Abrams), and a mechanic husband (David Denham, best known as Roy, Pam’s ex-fiancé on The Office US), who is given a 1000-piece puzzle of a world map for her birthday, and finds that she has a skill for putting it together quickly.

Agnes visits a puzzle shop in New York to buy more puzzles and sees a flier that says “Champion desperately seeking puzzle partner.” She takes home the number in one of the film’s most charming moments she texts “Hi. My name is Agnes. I think I might be good at this. Puzzles I mean.” Her nervousness is priceless here as it’s her first text ever as she was just given an iPhone by her son for her birthday.

Agnes soon meets up with Robert (Khan), who lives in a spacious apartment in the city, and they pull their puzzle-making talents together for a shot in a competition. Agnes keeps that she’s going to work on puzzles with Robert secret from her husband, telling him she’s going to help her Aunt who broke her leg a few times a week. As one might guess, a romance develops between Agnes and Robert, whose poetic philosophy regarding puzzles makes Agnes swoon (hey, it won me over too), but it’s handled with such poignant precision that nothing cringe-worthy happens.

PUZZLE is a quiet, lovely film with a gentle, thoughtful screenplay by Oren Moverman (JESUS’ SON, I’M NOT THERE, LOVE AND MERCY). Macdonald, who should really be a household name, puts is a highly affecting performance in service of an ultimately uplifting story in which all the pieces fit together perfectly (the movie is called PUZZLE so, of course, I’m gonna work in a line like that).

So the bottom line on these two new movies is that unless you’re looking for cheap laughs, skip the filthy puppets and seek out PUZZLE. I bet you’ll be glad you did.


* Khan is also an actor who should be a household name – he’s done many films for Bollywood, Britain, and Hollywood including roles in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE DARJEELING LIMITED, LIFE OF PI, and JURASSIC WORLD. A film that I highly recommend of his is THE LUNCHBOX (read my review).


More later…