Revenge (March 7th, 2016)
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Kevin Costner, Madeline Stowe, Anthony Quinn, and Miguel Ferrer
I like seeing a movie that makes you rethink a previously held belief about a directors work. Whenever I think of Tony Scott, I think of well made B movies with a healthy dose of enjoyable schlock to them. But there’s movies in that filmography of his that buck that trend and delivers a hard hitting movie with genuine emotion, movies that don’t stand up on action scenes to keep it watchable. Man on Fire is the best example of that, where this is another great example of that. This is a hard hitting, mean movie that takes it’s sweet ass time getting to the plot of the movie. The titular act is set into motion until deep into the run time. The first half of this movie really is a low key, human movie about a retired Air Force Pilot (Costner) going down to Mexico to visit an old friend (Quinn) for a vacation. But upon meeting his wife (Stowe), tensions arise as the two fall in love. Tensions not only because she’s married to his friend, but because the friend is a crime boss. So obviously this blows up in their faces in a big way and the consequences are bleak as fuck. It’s a very hard tonal shift that should seem way out of place from the movie preceding it. Before it feels like a love story, albeit a serious one with a bit of a tense edge to it. And the love is a realistic one, as it isn’t necessarily one that feels like it’s meant to be true love. It’s very much passion and lust that drives this relationship, as they don’t spend enough time together to really be in love. But that doesn’t matter, as it works and the heat they have is great. They use Costners midwestern charm to good effect, having him devolve into a rage without becoming a new person. His revenge seeking is meant to be pointless and too little too late. The movie hits a certain point and becomes dripping with nihilism. I mean, the ending is one of the most nihilistic endings I’ve seen from a movie like this. And even when things shift, it doesn’t become an action movie. There’s some violence and it hits hard, but it never becomes commercial. For a movie that looks like a Tony Scott movie, it is shockingly so different in many ways. I really liked this movie and wish it was a little longer to give everything more of a well roundedness to it. But as is, this is fantastic and adds another movie to the not as large as I’d like list of Costner movies I like.
F.I.S.T. (March 7th, 2016)
Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, David Huffman, Melinda Dillon, and Kevin Conway
You gotta love it when Stallone tries. Even if the movie isn’t as masterful as Rocky or Creed, it really feels like a revelation. Each time out, it feels new. And this movie is in that short window before he became an 80s action cliche, where he wanted to act and not be a showboat. This is an old school kinda movie, a political potboiler essentially about the truckers union and the rise/fall of Stallone’s character. Starting in 1937 and ending in 1957, we follow Stallone as a lowly factory worker with a penchant for riling up workers for better working conditions to the head of the truckers union. And in between we see the idealistic way he tries to make change but then how he has to sell his soul to get things done and how that ends up biting him in the ass. It’s a well made, well intentioned movie about karma. It’s an epic in a sense, sprawling a big time frame and showing off an old time sensibility. There’s some silliness coming out of the movie thanks to its old school earnestness. Like the time jump adds some not too great makeup effects and wigs to make the people older. But honestly, it adds to the charms. I like this movie alot. Maybe it’s because I’m a pro union guy who knows how the unions have been corrupted and ruined thanks to shit like this, it hit my buttons really hard. And this has the distinction of being the only(?) movie where Stallone is killed in the end. There’s a tragedy to the story that doesn’t let it get swamped in misery. If you can get a hold of it and are interested in Stallone’s career, give it a shot.
The Peanuts Movie (March 8th, 2016)
Director: Steve Martino
Didn’t really have high hopes for this one. Peanuts has had a bit of a rocky life in the last few decades, ever since those classics in the 60s. And the face that it was gonna be a CGI movie made by the company that did the Ice Age and Rio movies. Didn’t seem like a good fit of material with creatives. But somehow, they crafted a fantastic movie that feels intensely like Peanuts. It gets the characters down pat, like visiting old friends. It is a very low key, charming movie that has humor in the characters and the situations and not pop culture references. The visuals are absolutely stunning. It’s this amazing mix of CGI 3D models that mimic the look of the 2D drawings. It’s unreal. The only weird thing about it is getting used to new voices for the characters I grew up with, but you can move through it pretty quickly. The voices fit well. And the story is nice and charming, giving some good lessons for the kids that it is aimed for. This was an immensely charming and winning movie that will kill it with the children and should almost definitively work with the adults that remember the characters from when they were kids.
10 Cloverfield Lane (March 11th, 2016)
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.
JJ Abrams has just taken the world by storm three months ago when he revived Star Wars to record breaking success. And while he was doing that, he had a movie being produced that would fall into his mystery box marketing style. Much like he did 8 years ago with Cloverfield, a trailer dropped without any fanfare. This time though it was dropped 2 months before release and a tantalizing title that would indicate that it is a sequel of some sort to that original marketing masterstroke. But the movie wasn’t supposed to be a Cloverfield movie. Because in the end, it isn’t. That title has basically become a catchall title for anthological stories to be told in the JJ verse. So this is a movie that is gonna be judged based on its marketing and title, which is a disservice to it. Because what was delivered was a damn entertaining closed room movie that is very tense and engaging.
The story here focuses on Michelle (Winstead). Michelle has run from her life and fiancee for reasons unknown, and is on the way to a new life when she’s run off the road and then wakes up in a locked room. This locked room is apart of a doomsday bunker owned by Howard (Goodman). Howard tells her that the world outside is destroyed and life is gone. Something happened and they have to stay down in the bunker. But is Howard telling the truth? Is something more insidious going on here? That’s the tension running through the movie and it’s an effective little game.
The cast assembled is a small group but a fantastic one. A three character play and the group is great. Winstead is a great anchor, essentially the audience surrogate thrown into this crazy situation and she kills it. It’s a very silent role and she gets across everything with just her physicality. Her eyes show an intelligence, even when she’s afraid, that’s always going. You can believe that she’s as crafty as she is. She helps to elevate the movie above a simple little B movie. As does Goodman, who is fantastic as per usual. He really just nails the ambiguity of the character. Creepy and sad and intimidating and just plain unknowable, Goodman makes the man a complete figure that never makes it easy to know what is gonna happen. Gallagher is fine and likeable, but the role isn’t too in depth or interesting. He’s mainly just a side dish to the meal that is Winstead and Goodman.
Trachtenberg does some great work behind the camera in his first feature. It’s a highly confident, ambitious in it’s small scale movie that would have been easy to screw up. Filming in one locale could be boring and tedious for the visuals, with the story easily being tiresome and overly convenient to keep it going to a feature length. Everything flows and works to the thematics of the movie. Everyone’s flaws are the thing that saves them from the (real?) apocalypse, with Winstead using her second chance to try to move past her go to move of running away. Everything flows, until the third act.
I won’t get too deep into spoilers or anything, but just fair warning if what I say is too close for some of you to spoiler territory. The whole movie is running at a smooth clip and is very small scale and intimate. Yet it becomes a whole new movie in the final reel. Where it was an indie it then becomes a big blockbuster by numbers. It’s weirdly out of place and just screams of late in the process reshoots. It feels like when JJ picked it up for his production company, this was added in to fit under the new title. A title that does take away some of the tension throughout, since it kinda has a connotation to it that the movie doesn’t really warrant. So for all the good publicity the movie got for the Cloverfield connection, it may hurt it to some degree for the name.
I really dug this movie a good deal. There’s a Twilight Zone feel to it that connects to my very much so. The small scale of it, having three people just bounce off each other in one locale can work wonders to me when done right. But the ending really is a come down. It’s so out of place and rushed that it hurts the movie. It manages to end on a relatively decent note that fits in with the thematics at play and Winsteads arc, but the minutes before it really are unsatisfying. I’d say go into it with an open mind and the knowledge that it may not end well and that it isn’t a sequel, you’ll enjoy it.