The Player (July 17th, 2016)
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Peter Gallagher, and Vincent D’Onofrio
Don’t let it be said that Altman was one to give Hollywood a pass. Adapting the novel of the same name, he makes a satire of the Hollywood industry that takes the form of a noir but with some subversion going on. It has a breezy tone that hides a very dark and cynical look at the industry and how execs could legitimately get away with murder. Tim Robbins is our focal point, a sleazy Hollywood exec being harassed by an anonymous screenwriter he left hanging in the past. This stalker is getting more and more foreboding and maybe a little dangerous, getting deeper and deeper into Robbins’ head. This causes Robbins to accidentally kill a screenwriter he mistakenly thinks is his harasser. What follows is Robbins’ slow descent into a sort of guilt fueled madness, waiting for the shoe to drop but trying to act like it isn’t going to. And all the while we see the empty and vacuous nature of Hollywood, where execs only care about focus groups and bottom lines. Where writers can be as idealistic as they want until the checks comes in. Where the studios will protect their own. It’s a nasty little movie that never seems rotten on the core, but leaves a really sour taste in your mouth. Which is quite deliberate, as we see this from Robbins’ POV. How it’s a bit of a horror show, but that he has to play the game. And then by the end, he wins. He essentially fails upward and gets the kind of ending that would be perfect for a focus group in bumfuck, California. The cast is all great, as are the cameos to flesh out the world of this Hollywood. The movie is slyly funny and tense in equal measure, smart as a whip within the noir structure. Altman plays a little more traditional than he usual does, but gives it enough quirk to feel like him and to be smarter than it would seem. One of the best Hollywood satires to come out of the game, it feels real and lived in and more than mildly irritated at the industry. Fantastic movie.
Lost In America (July 19th, 2016)
Director: Albert Brooks
Starring: Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty
When Albert Brooks’ movies hit Netflix a few weeks back, it was good news for cinephiles. It was also good news for people like me, since I haven’t seen any of his directorial movies and a good deal of them are very well received. So with no real rhyme or reason behind it, I started this one and it was a solid pick. Oddly enough I watched it earlier in the day that Gary Marshall died, who has a great scene in this. What makes this a good movie in my esteem is that it doesn’t play the laughs big. It’s going for something a little more human and low key, while still very much being a comedy. There’s no confusion that this is an 80s riff on Easy Rider, since they say so in the movie. And it’s not like they make fun of the movie, but the kind of people that misunderstand the movie and the ending of it. So while this doesn’t end in the same bloodshed that Easy Rider does, it does make the same kind of message. The times have changed and it’s an age where outsiders are no longer allowed. Here it goes in the direction of yuppies trying to escape their yuppie lives, but coming to realize they are nothing but yuppies and they can’t be anything else. And it’s pretty short too without ever feeling slight, getting to the point quite quickly. Which is great, because it just goes to show how lacking they are in convictions and how quick they are to revert to their miserable lives. Albert Brooks does good work as an actor here, convincingly marking the journey from company man to rebel back to company man with his tail between his legs. Hagerty is great as his put upon wife who wants to make a go of the change, but manages to sink the entire endeavor when a hidden deviancy in her arises. It’s light and fun but it has a real humanity to it, with some darkness creeping in but never becoming serious. It’s a well written look at these kinds of people without ever being too cynical. It’s a fun movie and a good show for Brooks. Gonna be interesting to get into his other movies.
Valhalla Rising (July 21st, 2016)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Gordon Brown, and Andrew Flanagan
I must say, I vastly prefer this Man With No Name movie from Refn than I do his more well known Drive. I think the two reasons I feel so is that this one isn’t an empty wannabe of a Michael Mann or Walter Hill movie, and it mixes it’s horrific violence with a sense of spirituality in it. It’s a very hallucinatory movie, definitely within his wheel house of non traditional narratives. The more one dives into his filmography, the more Drive feels like such an aberration. That doesn’t give all his movies a pass. Only God Forgives is very much in line with something like this, but is also a vastly more empty and stupid movie than this. Here, he’s actually reaching for something in his own way. If he reaches it is entirely up to you, but I think he does. Tackling ideas of faith in such a nightmarish world and destiny. Making a movie that does not even try to be based in reality, with visions of the future and telepathy and other otherworldly things popping up. Mads is perfect in the role, managing to convey so much with just a look or a slight facial expression. He makes the man such a demonic presence but also gives him enough humanity to make you like him. He’s not pure evil, but a man who is more than capable of doing bad thing to survive. The visuals are stunning, none of that wannabe Mann stuff. He shoots the Norse landscapes and America in such a haunting fashion, making every second feel like a waking nightmare that you totally get into the headspace of these guys we follow. The violence is definitely the pornographically shot violence that Refn loves, right in your face and nasty. The story is short and sweet and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Any longer in such a relentlessly bleak movie and one would need to cry for days. I wanna say that I wish that Refn would go back to making movies like this, but he is and is IMO failing at it. He’s completely lost anything of substance to say and is now going with just surface level elements. So in many ways, Drive is a clear demarcation line for him. The moment he went a little commercial that sucked whatever good he had left in him out of his work. I do hope he can recover, because I’ll always appreciate such expertly crafted B movies with more the mind that simple empty violence. Even if they aren’t good cough Only God Forgives cough.
Star Trek Beyond (July 22nd, 2016)
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella, and Idris Elba
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