The Bandit (August 7th, 2016)
Director: Jesse Moss
Starring: Hal Needham, Burt Reynolds, David Needham, and Mike Henry
Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds have one of the most special friendships in all of cinema history. That’s the basic foundation of this documentary. The focus is essentially about the making of the legendary Smokey and The Bandit, but it wraps around that movie with the friendship that formed between Burt and Hal. Burt was an immensely talented, charismatic and undervalued actor with a hidden talent/love for stunt work and Hal was a groundbreaking stuntman/coordinator with a desire to direct. They were very close in personality and disposition, so their friendship wasn’t too out of left field. But just the depth and strength of that friendship was something special, especially in a field built on the lies of two faces. The fact that Burt took such a big career risk on the gamble of Hal’s crazy trucker movie just based solely on friendship is something to behold. Getting to see the life of Hal and what a special man he was. Such a talented, smart man that didn’t think too highly of himself. A confident southern man with all such talent. If there’s anything to come out of this movie, aside from some fun anecdotes about the making of Smokey and from Burts life, is that Hal was one of a kind in the cinema history. A real man in a field of boys, he was a pioneer and a man who wouldn’t bend to normative thinking. I came out of here with a new hero to look up, a man that I’m sad I didn’t appreciate while he was alive. A man who led a life so rich and full, making history and changing the industry. It’s nice to know that he had such a rich and fulfilling friendship with someone, especially with a man as loyal and principled as Burt. For those who love cinema and/or Burt Reynolds’ work, this movie works wonders. Give it a go when you can.
The In Laws (August 7th, 2016)
Director: Arthur Hiller
Starring: Alan Arkin and Peter Falk
Sometimes you just gotta enjoy a good fish out of water story. I came to this movie with the remake in my head. I was around 13 when that movie came out, so I remember liking it at the time. But it’s been probably 13 years since I saw it, so it’s really only vague recollections. The basic gist of the story though I got, which is what we get here. Just not as action movie heavy as the remake got. Although there was a good amount of the running time where I was questioning if it would have the same outcome as the remake, or if the remake went and did something a little different. I wasn’t too sure if Falk was gonna end up being a CIA operative or if he was just a motormouthed con man. Being a 70s picture, either was a viable option. But this movie didn’t give the remake some retroactive credit. This one ended up the way I thought it would. Falk is a CIA operative on a deep, deep cover mission and Arkin gets wrapped up in it. This one has to do with some crazy South American dictator trying to mass produce enough counterfeit money to throw the worlds economy into complete disarray. For the vast run time of the movie, I really didn’t think there was much here to really chew on, a surprise being that I watched it on Criterion Blu Ray. Sure, there’s some stuff in there about that “New fangled therapy thing”. But overall, it’s just a good time with some funny dudes. Until the end though, when there was some slyly pointed stuff about the CIA’s tendency to meddle in the businesses of South American regimes. Although here it is given a pro CIA bent, since the Dictator is actually trying to hurt the world and not just his little piss stained section of it. Also that the CIA isn’t trying to install their own puppet leader in the reins, just trying to do some good, is also very much not the reality of the CIA. But as a lighthearted romp where Alan Arkin can survive even 5 minutes in a CIA deep ops mission or a dictator is legitimately in the possession of the mental capacity of a 5 year old, we can let some of the dark underbelly of American foreign policy go. What surprised me the most about this movie though was the kinda crazy stunts that the movie had, much more wild than a comedy of it’s ilk at the time should have. Especially in light of watching The Bandit, this was just a great showcase for the crazy stuntmen of the time. It really gives the movie a nice uniqueness among comedies to make it stand out among the pack. You got two good leads in Arkin and Falk, with Arkin doing his Arkin thing and Falk being a great choice at making us really question where this guy lands. Cause you could totally believe him as a con man or as a schlub of a CIA op (the most realistic portrayal of the CIA in the movie). So by the end of the movie, when he’s kinda both, you get it. And you also believe the friendship that blooms between Arkin and Falk, with the proto buddy movie narrative bringing them closer together though hard times. The movie delivered some solid laughs (Serpentine) and some solid action beats. I’d definitely recommend this movie to others looking for a fun movie that can be enjoyed as this one of a kind movie.
The Fury (August 8th, 2016)
Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Kirk Douglas, John Cassavettes, Carrie Snoodgrass, and Charles Durning
Have you wondered what a much better version of Scanners would look like? Well, all you have to do is look a few years before that movie and see that Brian De Palma essentially made that movie, only without all the flaws that the Cronenberg movie is riddled with. Cause right off the bat, this doesn’t have the biggest issue of Scanners. The main characters of this are not as mind numbingly bad as the lead in Scanners. When you have Kirk Douglas and John Cassavettes helping to lead a narrative along, you already got a much better cast. And none of the supporters or the female lead (Snoodgrass) are bad at all. They help to elevate the material into something relatable and human, despite all the sci fi tomfoolery and the government conspiracy stuff. This isn’t a first draft of an X Men movie like Scanners is. Kirk Douglas trying his best to get his son back is so much more relatable than whatever self serious silliness that was going on in Scanners. And the ultimate fate of this storyline is so much more humane. John Cassavettes brings a lot of self righteous menace to the role of an amoral government agent, essentially this universe’s Amanda Waller (Suicide Squad is still in theaters, don’t see it). Snoodgrass is playing a less closed off Carrie White, a young girl with bourgeoning powers in over her head. But this situation is so much more intense than Carrie’s situation. It’s interesting that De Palma made the leap back to something to close to Carrie, playing almost like a movie set in the same world where the Carrie incident shook governments to seek out people of equal or greater power. So it doesn’t necessarily play like a riff on Carrie, but more like an evolution of what he was doing there. De Palma is not one to be called a humane or emotional director, but this movie actually works on a human level. The plot is pretty much straight forward spy stuff, only with mind powers. No getting lost in convolution. It’s a much better made movie than I would have expected, a 1978 genre pic getting such A list treatment. De Palma has always gotten the best of his budgets, but this feels like he was given the keys to the castle. No where is that more prominent (outside of Douglas and Cassavettes showing up) than having John Williams do the score. He’d already blown up already, with Jaws and Star Wars having shook the heavens already. So it’s a better made, better acted, and just all around more interesting story. And almost as a preemptive fuck you, De Palma does his Fangoria gore money shot better than Scanners. Not to besmirch Scanners’ iconic head exploding GIF, but the movie shot it’s load real early there. Here, De Palma slowly builds up the immense power these telekinetics have. So by the end of the movie, we have an idea what they could do and we end with the ultimate example of how destructive they can be. I don’t mean to shit on Scanners or Cronenberg. I like Scanners enough, and think Cronenberg was damn near untouchable for like 20 years. But this is very similar to that movie in some very specific ways, so I have no other way to think about it but in comparison to each other. I came into this movie looking to see how different it could really be to Scanners, kind of in preparation for my coming soon viewing of The Mind’s Eye, and came away quite impressed. This isn’t like top tier De Palma for me, that league with Scarface/Blow Out/The Untouchables/Carlito’s Way. But it’s damn close to it than all of his other stuff I’ve seen in recent years post Carlito’s Way. Give it a shot and enjoy some amazing genre work.
Assassins (August 9th, 2016)
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, and Julianne Moore
It’s no secret that I’m very in the big for Stallone action flicks. As a fan of action movies, you pretty much have to love the guy. This isn’t like Seagal or Van Damme, where there is a big degree of niche to their entertainment. Stallone is mass market product, with a good deal of good to great in the mix. Sure, he has some bad. The man has a ridiculous roller coaster of a career track, self immolating after every massive success. So getting a two pack on blu ray of Stallone movies, I was curious where they would land. The Specialist was a fine little movie, not really elevating itself above it’s modest goals. Aside from a great James Woods sleazebag performance, it was whatever. So I was even more curious where Assassins would land. It’s from Richard Donner, featuring young upstarts in Banderas and Moore. But it isn’t held up as some hidden gem in either Stallone or Donners career. And while I won’t say this is some classic movie, I was enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. It has Donner’s sharp direction, not dipping into bland workmanlike territory that The Specialist fell into. But it is not as unique or auteuristic a movie like Rocky or First Blood. His eye is still good for comps and action scenes, which there are some pretty good ones contained within. He pretty much gets out of the way of the cast and let them show off what they got. It works for Banderas and Moore, not as much for Stallone. Stallone is in his middling period sleepy phase, watchable enough but not really differentiating from other roles of the time. Banderas is the MVP here, playing the role of the insanely reckless assassin to perfection. It’s no surprise to see him pop up in The Expendables 3, as he and Stallone work well together and have a good pairing in the past to work on. Moore is always good, making the computer hacker she’s playing have a little more depth than a lesser actor would give. And while I thought that the pairing of these two movies as a bundle was just tied to the Stallone thing, but in actuality they share some narrative similarities. In both, Stallone is the principled hitman who is set up to fall by an old ally, teaming up with a female to get the best of the villains. And this narrative is the much more interesting version of that, as it isn’t too cliched. For there is no Banderas role, the wild card hitman that is trying to prove his place in hitman history by taking out the number 1. The old ally bit is a bit of a twist (one I’m not too keen on), but takes up so little place that you’re mainly more interested in the dynamic between the hitmen. And there is no love interest. Stallone doesn’t fall for Moore, going to these lengths out of love. It’s mainly one done out of a lack of options and a respect between the two gradually grows. And by the end, there’s a good mix of planning that goes beyond simple run and gun. Like I said before, the action we get is really well done. It’s an entertaining little jaunt into the hitman genre, done with enough spark and energy to make this a more enjoyable than most B movie from the severely lacking in action 90s.
Sing Street (August 9th, 2016)
Director: John Carney
Starring: Ferdia Walsh Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Mark McKenna, and Jack Reynor
I did not come to this movie as a fan of Carney’s other movies. Not that I didn’t like them, just that I haven’t seen them. Coming into this movie was mainly an act of kindness on my part, since my girlfriend is a musical person and this seemed right up her alley. I wanted to see it too, so after a few days of action centric movies, I needed to detox a bit and wanted to not be a selfish prick in choices. And it was a great choice to do so, because this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2016. This movie helps to solidify the overarching theme of 2016, in that most blockbusters suck and smaller fare works a lot better. What it does isn’t really too unique a story, as it’s a coming of age story where a young boy falls for a girl and tries to impress her and they both learn some lessons throughout. What sets it apart is the little things, the tiny elements that give this thing a life of its own. The world we are dropped into feels so real and lived in, not a phony movie land where everything is roses. Watching this, I got a real strong sense of Saturday Night Fever running through this movie. It never gets as horrifically dark as that movie gets, as this isn’t the 70s anymore and even the best indie today can rarely reach the dank levels of humanity 70s flicks could. There’s hints throughout of the dark realities of life, but never really delving into them too deeply. It makes it more palatable, hiding the sorrow into the peppy tune it seems to be. Very much like the brief era where the band in the movie tries to be The Cure. Happy-sad as they call it. The cast of characters are great and given some real depth and humanity, overcoming any of the base caricatures they could have become in a lesser creative hand. Cause this really could have been some trad indie Sundance pap in the vein of Dope or Me and Earl and The Dying Girl. There’s no easy answers in here, with life never handing them out. You just gotta look at the fantasy sequence wherein Peelo dreams he’s performing at a cliched prom, where everything is great. Smash cut to reality and the sadness that everyone in this movie is living with. It’s this that really ties it to Saturday Night Fever. Everyone has dreams here, but they are all realized. When Reynor tells Peelo about how he wanted better and thought he would get it but is now stuck home, it really hits home. It’s like when Travolta’s brother tells him he never wanted to be a priest and is now listless. So when Peelo and Boynton try to strike out on their own, doing the only thing either is good at, it feels very much like Travolta taking the train to the mythical city of Manhattan to try to finally escape Brooklyn by becoming a dancer. It’s this sense of bittersweet reality that really makes me dig this movie more than other indie coming of age movies. That’s not even getting into the amazing soundtrack of old songs and newly recorded gems that feel very much of a piece with the 80s. A stunning cast filled with young guns and some more seasoned actors throughout just show off a deep bench of talent. Carney shows immense talent in all the different elements he handles with expert craft. It’s a good looking movie that sells 80s Ireland without shoving it down our throats, the writing is superb and deeply human/resonant, the music in all forms is perfection, and his handling of actors is beyond reproach. This movie is just cinematic perfection, a good time with some real stakes and some real craft to it. I’m hesitant to say that it’s popcorn fluff, as it has more on it’s mind and gets such across, but it’s so fucking fun to watch that you can just enjoy the surface level stuff without digging deep. It’s that kind of movie, which is something I love. Playing both sides, the intellectual and the entertaining. See this as soon as you can.
The Mind’s Eye (August 11th, 2016)
Director: Joe Begos
Starring: Graham Skipper, John Speradakos, Lauren Ashley Carter, and Noah Segan
In an age of endless reboots, sequels and curation of IP to turn into mega budgeted blockbusters that turn out decent at best and mind numbing at worst, seeing a micro budget movie work such cinematic wonders like this is a sight to see. This is definitely indebted to movies of the filmmakers youth, but it isn’t a simple pastiche like Super 8, or a well made homage the way Stranger Things is. No, this movie feels like it is apart of a world created by two movies while doing it’s own thing. It never specifically stops to visually reference past moments from these two movies, nor wink at the camera and ask us to praise them for being so meta and clever. The two movies this work is inspired by? The Fury and Scanners. Now, I saw The Fury earlier this week, as a bit of a warmup for this movie. Having seen Scanners, I felt pretty well versed enough to see this movie, as Begos himself said are really the only movies worth a damn in such a small subgenre. What the two movies (and this one) share is the idea that the government is aware of people with telekinetic gifts and are studying them. The power wears down on the user, but gives them immense power. There are people trying to harness it for their own nefarious deeds and the protagonists just want to be left alone. Oh, and a good heaping of hilariously graphic gore. The Fury has it’s money shot at the end, while Scanners’ lives on if only because of the iconic head exploding scene. Now, this movie exists in a world that already knows the powers of these people, both in the movie and in our world. If you’re coming to this movie, you have seen at least one of the inspirations. It’s a super small genre flick released on demand, not some wide release crowd pleaser. You must like this stuff. So it holds back on some of the iconic blasts of blood it’s predecessors have, but not for as long as The Fury and much longer than Scanners. But when it does, a little more than halfway through, it then becomes a wild thrill ride that just goes for fucking broke with the violence. You can tell Begos grew up loving the gore movies and reading Fangoria and the like, taking in the love of the craft and throwing it all out their for this movie. Bodies are just torn apart with such reckless abandon that you gotta love it. The punk rock aesthetic of this separates it from the precise filmmaking of The Fury and the coldness of Scanners. It’s definitely low budget in it’s filmmaking, but that doesn’t stop Begos and company from crafting some truly impressive effects. They put alot of big budget movies to shame. All this due to using his low budget right, never overextending himself. The story is small scale but personal, getting us to care about Skipper and Carter with just enough exposition and backstory to really stand out as people, handled well by the actors. Speradakos joyfully chews up the scenery as the mad scientist of the movie, using these people with power to try to turn himself into the most powerful telekinetic in the world. He’s big and broad and just delightfully hammy. He helps bring the movie into the 80s aesthetic it’s going for. Begos isn’t going for cheap nostalgia, not shooting it in a pseudo Cronenberg/De Palma style with lenses from the time or some shit. Just with carefully executed aesthetic choices highlight that this is an 80s set story. Begos shows some strong work here with a tight budget, giving me hope that an A24 or Blumhouse or the like can give him a bigger budget with the freedom he likes to make something even more impressive. One’s enjoyment of the movie will be entirely dependent on ones ability to overcome scenes of people staring at each other intently, sending out deathwaves from their minds. For those that can’t deal with movies like this, it’ll come off real silly and I say those people can fuck right off. For us genre fans, this is a nice little breathe of fresh air. Not a game changing masterpiece, but a fun time that harkens back to a simpler and more fun time at the movies.
Sausage Party (August 12th, 2016)
Directors: Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan
Starring: Seth Rogen, Kristin Wiig, Michael Cera, and Edward Norton
For more, click here.
54 (August 13th, 2016)
Director: Mark Christopher
Starring: Ryan Phillpe, Salma Hayek, Breckin Meyer, and Mike Myers
I was only a kid when this movie came out, but I remember hearing about it. Mainly that it was the movie were Mike Myers decided to be a serious actor. But I also remember that people didn’t think too much of it. As I got older, I came to find out my youthful impression of the movie was true. Mike Myers wanted to be taken seriously but the movie was not particularly well received. As I got older, I realized that the failure of the movie pretty much sent Myers back into the world of comedy full stop with only a brief stint in Inglourious Basterds to get out of that field. Which is a shame, because while this movie isn’t particularly good, he is pretty good in it. As the owner and operator of the titular studio, he really gets across with a sleazy bastard he is. A drugged out freak who has a sexual appetite that could be generously described as “lazily voracious”, you really see how the place would end up going down the tubes. In fact, it’s such a good performance that it kinda puts the rest of the performers at a disadvantage. Because Ryan Phillipe isn’t good, so he’s gonna look like a real goofus next to anyone with a modicum of talent most of the time. Salma Hayek is a decent enough actress, but she needs a director to get the good work out of her, especially in the youthful part of her career. Meyer is just way miscast, trying to play this twink kinda drug dealer tough guy sort of guy. Meyer isn’t the right guy for this and just sort of flounders. For a movie that is supposed to be about this den of decadence and sin, it plays it a little too clean. This needs to be a wild ride into Soddom and Gommorah of 1970s NYC. But you really only get the sort of glimpses of it and never really diving into the reality of how crazy this world was. Watching it, a thought occurred to me. Being released in the same year, this kinda feels like the bootleg version of Boogie Nights. It’s kinda got the same story being told, of a stupid kid with a talent being used by those in the business of sin, creating a makeshift family, and then falling into the abyss before righting the ship before complete annihilation. But this movie doesn’t have even half the filming chops that Boogie Nights has, none of the storytelling grace or the iconic moments that elevated that movie into legendary status. But for me, the biggest difference between the two is that Boogie Nights doesn’t look down upon it’s cast of characters where this movie definitely does. It’s that sense of moral self righteousness that makes this feel like a traditional movie. It feels rote and mechanical, never getting real emotions of the story. You can see them strain to make the big moments hit, but it doesn’t land them. Just the poetry is missing and it coulda been something special. By focusing solely on Phillipe and his bland story of becoming a dick for hire at this studio just feels boring, ignoring the much more interesting story lingering around the edges of the story. Like Myers’ horrible life and illegal activities around the club. There’s also mention of the Mafia lingering around the movie, which is something I really wanna see. As is, we just got another Ken doll going through the descent motions. There’s no Roller Girl, no Jack Horner, nor is there a Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Instead of feeling like a true ensemble, it plays way too narrow. If you’re interested in seeing Mike Myers do a serious role, this isn’t a complete abortion. But otherwise it’s a moderate failure. And the rumblings that the Directors Cut put out on home video was a much better experience is incorrect. I can’t speak for the original cut, but this isn’t a good movie. So, opinions are fun.