I've been catching up on new releases that last couple nights, after going on an extended 80s binge for the last few weeks. First up was FREAKY. I had been interested to see this, but felt the rental price tag was a bit steep for what I thought it was an wanted to wait for Redbox. I think that was the right call. Not a bad movie by any stretch, Vince Vaughn turns in what was one of the funnier performances of the year, and the story is tightly structured. But in the end, it all felt very middle of the road. Nothing terrible creative or subversive about the horror, and nothing too daring or memorable about the comedy. Next was THE KID DETECTIVE. What a fresh of breath air. A wonderfully competent and original vision from a first-time director. Comedy that plays perfectly, coupled with an engaging story and a terrific lead performance from Adam Brody. Is that enough adjectives? Anyway, I loved it. And finally JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH, the newest straight to HBO Max from WB. I'm not going to say anything that Rob didn't say in his review, so just read that. It's beautiful, haunting and infuriating. Daniel Kaluuya is his usual great. It astounds me how much range that man can show, without his accent never slipping. As someone who occasionally puts on a fake British or Australian accent in public, I can attest that it is both physically difficult and mentally draining. Bravo Daniel.
Based on Adam's recent recommendation I watched Highlander III. It was pretty sloppily put together and campy, but I enjoyed it enough. I will say there is a four minute sequence that is a training montage followed by a love scene that is pure cinema... Worth the price of admission.
First "Highlander" is bombastic as hell and a bloody action rock opera. "Highlander II" is a loud and incomprehensible mess. Third "Highlander" is... gulp... a movie! Lesson learned from the trilogy? Get rid of Sean Connery ASAP. :-D
Happy Valentine's Day everybody! :-)I was in the mood for middle-aged Ben Affleck flicks (don't judge me!), so I did a double-feature of ARGO (2012) and THE ACCOUNTANT (2016), both on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. I'd forgotten how funny and borderline-Hollywood-satire the first act of "Argo" is, the rare instance of a Best Picture movie that has a sense of humor about itself. Of course the life-and-death stakes of the American fugitive hostages escaping Iran in plain sight take over the last two acts, and Affleck the director (along with some judicious editing, good-for-'12 CG background effects and production design recreating 1980's Iran) creates good tension from material that any news junkie can smell it's juiced for dramatic effect. Killer supporting cast (Goodman, Chandler, Garber, Cranston, etc.) make government types likable, and quickly make you forget that "Argo" opens with a riot taking over the U.S. Iranian embassy that looks an awful lot like you-know-what. :'(I wish it was "The Accountant" and not "John Wick" that was about to release it's fifth chapter. More than Affleck's performance as a "Dexter"-type creation of his strict father's upbringing (a mask-less, Daredevil-type do-gooder masquerading as an idiot savant accountant), it's the world that "The Accountant" creates that I wish could be revisited in subsequent chapters. J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson have a backstory-filling moment that feels like its own separate movie that's just as engrossing as Christian Wolff's story. And though limited in screen time, Jon Bernthal crushes his role as Brax. Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow get top-billing for characters that aren't relatively important to the main plot, but they don't hurt it either. Whether as a proper movie sequel or a TV series, I'd love for more "Accountant" in my life as long as Wolff's cellphone companion also returns. ;-)Also rewatched (but completely forgotten about) Clive Barker's NIGHT BREED: DIRECTOR'S CUT (1990/2014, Amazon Prime) as a Facebook social media watch with fellow Jury Room 4.0 members. This has got to be the most badly-edited, incomprehensible and tonally-incoherent director's cut of a movie I've ever seen. You don't need to tell me "Night Breed" was a production nightmare, it's visible from shot-to-shot, scene-to-scene, performance-to-performance, etc. Even Danny Elfman's Danny Elfman-esque score grates more than usual. Only David Cronenberg's performance (a mix of Eric Roberts' looks and Peter Coyote's acting mannerisms) stands out, even though a proper explanation of why Decker wants to hunt and kill those living in Midian would have helped. A huge dip from Barker's "Hellraiser," but a low bar for the man to clear five years later with "Lord of Illusion."Also rewatched Bill Lustig's MANIAC (1980, 4K UHD BD) with the 1994 and 2010 commentary tracks. Lots of the same stories, anecdotes and behind-the-scenes secrets repeated in both tracks. It was nice to hear Lustig share my belief "Maniac" could be trimmed further and make a few draggy scenes flow better. Great little exploitation flick with a leading man performance by Joe Spinell for the ages, one that Jay Chattaway's gentle music score transforms into an unexpected tragic figure.
Luck was on my side this week when a snowstorm gave me a day off on the day Turner Classic Movies was featuring the films of Robert Ryan, one of my favorite actors from the 1940s and 1950s. All of my watches stayed in that particular time period this week. THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH (1947, dir. Jean Renoir) – Despite some major flaws, this is a very entertaining and engaging film, better than it should be. The emotional performances and Renoir’s striking visuals overcome an underwritten and lackluster script. Robert Ryan is a Coast Guard serviceman suffering from PTSD who meets a blind painter and his seductive wife. Their tortured relationship drives the story more than anything else does. The wife and the serviceman soon start an affair, which leads to some surprising revelations about everyone. CROSSFIRE (1947, dir. Edward Dmytryk) – I had high hopes for this one. It features two of my favorite actors (Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan) from the period and was made by one the most famous film noir directors. Some how the film just does not come together adequately. A meandering, convoluted plot about an anti-Semitic murder does not do it any favors. Where the film excels is the characters, mostly World War II Army veterans confronting a post-war life. There is a strong sense of malaise and confusion with most of them. Gloria Graham gives the standout performance as a cynical dance hall girl. THE BADLANDERS (1958) – A combination of a western and heist film that benefits greatly from quick pacing and an accomplished cast. The location shooting also adds some character to the story, which is about ex-cons trying to get revenge on a corrupt Arizona town. Alan Ladd and Ernest Borgnine make the lead characters fun to watch. The conclusion is not as solid as what comes before it, but The Badlanders does entertain.PARTY GIRL (1958, dir. Nicholas Ray) – A good example of a mediocre material being turned into a watchable film through its execution. Nick Ray had the knack for doing that. The film is colorful and the actors commit to their roles regardless of how ludicrous they are. The main plot concerns the relationship between a mob lawyer and a showgirl in 1930s Chicago. Robert Taylor’s lawyer role is played with the utmost seriousness and with surprising nuance. Cyd Charisse, the showgirl, gets a chance to show off her dancing talents in a couple of musical numbers that feel like they ought to be in a different film. I found Lee J. Cobb’s hammy performance as the boss gangster strangely funny yet still threatening.
Thank God for that snow storm... wink, wink. 😘😁
I watched ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI about 4x this week. Loved it. Regina King knows how to make and cast a movie. I have crushes on all the actors now (including that guy singing as Jackie Wilson - damn). And it was very moving. I don't know the stage version - don't know if Sam Cooke singing A Change is Gonna Come (which was released after his death) was in the play. Beautiful part.