Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (December 28th, 2015)
Director: Werner Herzog
Starring: Nic Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, and Xzibit
Nic Cage is a fantastic actor who is immensely capable of giving performances that are so bad they could make Johnny Depp blush. Thanks to his ridiculous spending methods in real life and his post Oscar winning career of making movies for money, he will take anything offered to him that will pay him a pretty penny. But every now and then, he can get a real movie made with a real performance. Usually by connecting with a talented filmmaker, like Ridley Scott (Matchstick Men) or David Gordon Green (Joe). And in this movies case, he’s hooked up with Werner Herzog to make a really bonkers movie. But one that is purposefully bonkers, unlike the really shit movies like Ghost Rider 2 or Bangkok Dangerous. It’s kind of a remake of the Harvey Keitel movie Bad Lieutenant, but it may not be. The titling might just be a case of the producers trying to boost sales a bit with a known name. But watching it, it pretty much is a remake. But one that is simultaneously more human and more cynical than the original. That’s what you get when you swap Abel Ferrara with Werner Herzog. The original was a cheap, overly in your face movie that shoves it’s extremity in your face. It feels a little too put upon, trying way too hard. It reaches for grand themes, making a very catholic movie with an overly symbolic case for the cop to deal with. And the ending is only bleak because our man gets killed. Here, it’s not going for big symbolism. The darkness isn’t forced or a mannered extreme. No, Herzog just allows Cage to show us the dark heart of a man who is falling down a whole after he tries to do good. We see from the beginning there’s something dark in him, but he does make a move to do the right thing and it hurts him bad. So he gets addicted to drugs and we see his descent into a drug fueled Odyssey down the New Orleans underworld. It swaps out symbolism for trippy imagery, showing us Cages fractured mind with shit that isn’t actually there. And the ending is a lot more bleak than the “original”, if only because it shows that the bad guy wins. He may have had a journey and “cleaned up”. But we see him at the end doing some of the things we’ve seen him doing before in his drug mania. So did he really learn anything? Is he destined to make the same mistakes, and will he get out of the mess again? It’s much more bleak without trying to be gritty, and it’s a lot more interesting in that regard. Cage gives a phenomenal performance, allowing him to do the things he does best. The really good, quiet character work to the big and broad nonsense he can throw out when he just wants to have fun. The supporting cast is all good too, rounding out the edges of this nasty little corner of the world. And it’s always nice to see Val Kilmer doing real work. This is a good movie, damn near a great movie, and one that should be seen even without the desire to see Nic Cage do go work. It stands on its own, as a weird little character movie.
Shrek The Third (December 29th, 2015)
Director: Chris Miller
Starring: Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Antonio Banderas
I like the first two Shrek movies alot. They came at a good time for me, when I was young enough to enjoy them for what they were. And they aren’t the kinds of movies you see when you’re a kid that don’t look good when you grow up. But I missed 3 and 4, as I had gotten into more late teens for them. So the opportunity arose to watch 3, and I took it. I’ll say I’m not upset I watched it. But it’s nothing I’m probably gonna watch again, the way I’ll watch the first two. It’s just fine. Doesn’t have the spark the first two had, that originality of the subverted fairy tale stuff. It’s a little more straight forward and it doesn’t do much with it’s story of King Arthur. And the stuff about the villains rising up is kinda over and done with little fan fare. The cool thing is that it turns Shrek into the damsel in the distress this time out, forcing Fiona and all the other royal ladies to save the day. And it tries to make an arc for Shrek of his continued growth into someone who can be a part of society, someone who can grow away from their hermit life. Doing that by making him a daddy is good. Some good stuff there. The cast is still good and game. Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas are just fantastic and their jobs, with Banderas needing to do more voice acting work. It just doesn’t really hit anything out of the park and is just a little stroll down a lane with friends we know.
Doctor Zhivago (December 30th, 2015)
Director: David Lean
Starring: Omar Shariff, Julie Christie, Rod Steiger, and Alec Guiness
There aren’t many directors like David Lean around anymore. Hell, you could argue there’s only one, and that’s Ridley Scott. The ability to make a big, massive movie with hundreds of moving parts going on at once to tell an intimate story isn’t a quality seen alot. Ridley Scott successfully did it twice (Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), feeling very much like modern day David Lean epics. And he’s really the only one who’s done it in a post Lean world, and even then he’s failed when he tried to make a 3rd (Exodus). Arguably our best living director, Spielberg, hasn’t done anything on that epic scale. Nolan tried to do so with The Dark Knight Rises but was not totally successful. This little preamble is to say that there is a balance that is very hard to achieve when doing something on the massive scale that Lean tended to operate in. There’s a reason studios don’t make these movies anymore (excluding a Scott or Nolan movie), and it’s because the success rate is just not high enough to gamble on it. So going back to see the man himself knock one out of the park is a nice little lesson. Now, the first thing that needs to be said is that this is no Lawrence of Arabia. That flick was a giant war movie, massive on ever level. But it focuses on one man in this big story. That juxtaposition of a very narrow focus in the middle of a broad story is one thing that leaks over into Doctor Zhivago. He ups the ante a bit in this one, focusing on two people instead of the one. Telling an epic love story needs the focus on two people if you want it to work. But this one doesn’t split time for the most part between the two of Uri Zhivago (Shariff) and Lara (Christie). The beginning of the movie does this, showing them in their youth, with Uri as a med student and Lara as a 17 year old girl having an affair with an older, connected man in Victor (Steiger). We see them before they even meet each other, just to get to know them. Character building and such. You get the time to do that when your movie is 3 plus hours. They intersect in this time period, but only briefly. 4 years later, they meet up again during WWI. They spend a good time together and fall in love. But Yuri is loyal to his wife, and nothing comes of this. They disappear from each others lives yet again, not seeing each other for another few years. Then they finally consummate their love for a good while until life gets in the way and they spend the rest of their days away from each other, with Yuri never meeting the daughter they had together. For me, I liked this movie a whole damn lot because it isn’t a movie that breaks from reality to have these people spend their days together in happiness. This is a movie that shows their relationship during the backdrop of the Soviet uprising in the 1900s in Russia. Their world falls apart around them and everything gets much harder, so to give them a happy ending wouldn’t fit right. This needed to be a tragic story and it is. And the massive length of the movie helps that tragedy land, because we really get to know them. Once they depart from their places when they were youths and didn’t know each other, we firmly focus on Uri for the movie, so we never see her without him. And we see that these are good people that are constantly being fucked by circumstance, by an uprising they had no real interest in. And they even have Alec Guinness as a Soviet who believes in the cause but doesn’t necessarily believe in the execution of it, mainly by seeing how it’s putting out people like his half brother Uri. The humanity shines through and the movie works. We know Lean is gonna nail the technical aspects, having seen Lawrence of Arabia. It’s big and beautiful and cinematic. So it’s good to see that he connects to the material and brought it to life. The acting was superb, bringing Shariff in to play the idealistic Doctor and Christie to play the hard worn Lara. Guinness shows up and does what he does, playing the stoic solider with grace but with heart and he somehow gives the movie it’s emotional end point. It’s a big, beautiful and wild little movie that works on your emotions quite well. If you got the considerable amount of time free needed to watch it, I’d suggest it. If you haven’t seen Lawrence of Arabia that is. If you have, like I have, then this is a hell of a movie to dive into.
Spring Breakers (December 31st, 2015)
Director: Harmony Korine
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson, and James Franco
What a boring, self satisfied piece of shit this movie is. It tries very hard to make a grand point about the dissolution of western civilization, but does it in such ham fisted and amateurish ways. It wants to be provocative but doesn’t do anything crazy at all. The only “crazy” things in it is the casting of two Disney girls in it, Hudgens and Selena Gomez. But they aren’t good and only one of them does anything close to resembling bad behavior. Gomez is so barely in this movie I didn’t even put her up in the starring section. She’s supposed to be the moral center of these girls, the one whol realizes how deep they’re going but Gomez is so bland and uninteresting a performer, that you forget she’s in the movie. And she leaves early so she’s pretty worthless. Hudgens isn’t good but at least tries, failing to convey the badness inherent in this character. She and Benson are the actual bad girls, the truly evil sacks of shit in the movie that fully get corrupted by the flash they encounter. But they just don’t register at all. And Rachel Korine is supposed to be the wild party girl who isn’t built for the life of crime, and she is terrible. The only reason she’s here is because she’s married to Harmony, and it is easier to take advantage of her to do the gross nudity than have to try to convince an outsider to do so. James Franco gets all the print about this movie, the “iconic” performance here. But it’s totally phony to me, the put on affectations of a wannabe “artiste” that is just really pedestrian. Such a bland, boring performance. You can’t even watch this on a surface level, cause the crime story is so uninteresting and rote. It’s ugly as shit too, trying to go for some neon nightmare look but just looking like someone pissed on the print of a wannabe Refn movie. Seriously, fuck this movie on all levels. Nothing works.
The Death of Superman Lives (December 31st, 2015)
Director: Jon Schnepp
Starring: Jon Schnepp, Kevin Smith, Tim Burton, and Jon Peters
The Superman movie that never was but has lived in infamy. Tim Burton was gonna make a Superman movie with Nic Cage and it was very close to being made. So close there were teaser posters sent out in the world. But for some reason, it got cancelled and the only thing before this doc we had seen from it was a really bad picture of Nic Cage in a shitty plastic looking Superman suit. Seeing this doc was kinda going through a lot of stuff I’d heard before, at least in the beginning. They got Kevin Smith to do a shortened version of his famous Superman story. It isn’t till we get to the pre production stuff, seeing the production art and the like that the movie comes to life. You’d think having Tim Burton talk about the movie would add to the liveliness, but Burton is such a shit public speaker that he doesn’t add much at all. The biggest reveals in the movie are costume tests with Nic Cage, getting better looks at the suit we had thought we’d had a visual for for a long time. They look better than the picture, but it still is a shitty costume. Really shitty. What I take away from the movie is that there is no way this movie would have been good. Everyone just assumed that Burton would make a good Superman movie, so the whole thing is just an overblown and self indulgent mess that seemingly misses everything about Superman. For as off the mark that his Batman movies were, this just so massively shows how ill fitted Burton is to this world that I can’t thank enough Gods in the known world that this wasn’t made. It may have very well killed the comic book movie in the crib a year after Blade resurrected it. It just goes to show that no matter how obvious a movies success may be, sometimes it’s easier to screw it up. What we can gleam as the reasons for the movies cancellation was that the budget got too high for as weird a movie it was shaping up to be, and a string of massive failures on WB’s part had made them wary of taking such a massive risk. Funnily enough, it would only be a year later that they’d release The Matrix and change cinema. Also make a metric fuck ton of money, but that’s besides the point. Sometimes it is just not the time for a movie to come out. And from what we can see here, we are all lucky for that.
The Specialist (January 1st, 2016)
Director: Luis Llosa
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, and Rod Steiger
There’s really not much to this movie. I just wanted to see a Stallone I hadn’t seen and I got a serviceable but unremarkable 90s action movie. It is nowhere near Judge Dredd on the bad side, but it’s nowhere near Demolition Man on the good side. Just a typical story about a hitman doing a job against his better judgement and getting personally involved when an element from his past comes into play. There’s a lot of explosions. A comical amount of explosions. But that’s what Stallone is a specialist at, really good explosions. Stallone is fine here, but kinda just doing a sleepwalking performance. Not really going for anything. Stone is just Stone, trying to be the femme fatale and only really succeeding at being naked. The only legit good performances are from Woods and Steiger, men seemingly incapable of giving bad or bored performances. Woods is just electric, a sentient ball of antagonistic slime and you really fucking hate him. He’s great. I really would watch him in anything. And Steiger is still doing his method acting thing, playing an aged Spanish crime boss. I mean, there’s nothing to this movie at all. It’s serviceable in that late night TNT viewing kind of way. But otherwise, pretty forgettable. Except for Woods. James Woods is God.