Archive | March, 2018

Isle of Dogs

30 Mar

 

 

From the wit of Wes Anderson, the man behind “Rushmore” (1998) and “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) comes a stop-motion animation gem that shares as much in common with Anderson’s other such project, “Fabulous Mr. Fox” (2009), as it is a total departure. There’s plenty more canines and perfectly orchestrated animation, and it takes place in a Japan some 20 years in the future and is loaded with small political powder kegs.

Co-written by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura, the action takes place in the aptly if generically named fictional city of Megasaki, where an outbreak of snout fever (dog flu) strikes and the metro’s Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Nomura with abrupt, macho intonations suggestive of indelible Japanese cinematic icon Toshiro Mifune), banishes all dogs to a “trash island” where waste is carted by unmanned trams across the watery expanse and processed through a series of “Wall-E”-esque automation facilities. The result is an ever-rising mass of neatly stacked cubes of rubbish that take on the effect of tiered stadium seating. No humans, unless in hazmat suits, visit. Continue reading

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Ready Player One

30 Mar

‘Ready Player One’: A pop culture pastiche lacking the power-ups it needs to be iconic

 

Geek references and 1980s pop culture abound in “Ready Player One,” an energetic yet hollow outing from the architect of the blockbuster himself, Steven Spielberg. It’s not all for naught, as the adaptation of Ernest Cline’s YA novel set in the dystopian future bears most of the director’s family-friendly fingerprints: a sentimental score (by Alan Silvestri), misunderstood youth, enigmatic happenings and the fantastical infusing the realm of the real – think “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And then promptly forget them.

In the year 2045, gaming has become the opium of the masses. Everyone suits up, dons virtual-reality goggles and enters a place in the cloud known as the Oasis, a platform breathed to life by a master game creator named James Halliday (Academy Award winner Mark Rylance), who’s recently passed but has left an Easter egg (apt that it’s being released on the eve of the Paas egg-dyeing holiday) tucked away somewhere in his worldwide video game. The lucky one who finds it takes over Halliday’s Amazon-like empire. Continue reading

Unsane

23 Mar

 

 

There’s little room for debate that Stephen Soderbergh’s one of the most intriguing directors working (Paul Thomas Anderson and Nicolas Winding Refn are also on that list, to give you a taste). There’s not much the “considering retirement” auteur hasn’t tinkered with: non-professional actors (“Bubble”), a “serious film” staring a porn actress (“The Girlfriend Experience”), a Liberace biopic (“Behind the Candelabra”) and of course more mainstream fare such as “Traffic” that scored him an Oscar. Many of Soderbergh’s films, such as “Magic Mike,” the “Ocean’s” films and “Logan Lucky,” possess a playful wit. He seems to be able to conjure up a hip nod and a wink on a dime and adroitly inject a seam of bleak reality as need be (see “Contagion,” or “Sex, Lies and Videotape”). Here Soderbergh tries something new – not groundbreaking, to be sure, but genre-savvy nonetheless and shot on the down low with iPhones (not new, as Sean Baker did a similar trick for his quirky indie gem “Tangerine”). Despite all those curiosity-piquing tags, the result’s a muddled mix of great performances, edgy atmosphere and infuriating “is this really happening” plot twists.

If you’ve caught any of the trailers for “Unsane,” you might think it’s somewhere between ’80s (well 1979, to be exact) B-roll from “When a Stranger Calls” and M. Knight Shyamalan’s “Split” (2016). It lies somewhat closer to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with elements of the aforementioned flicks sprinkled in, and it’s a tough movie to discuss without spoilers. We meet up with the gloriously named Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy from “The Crown”) a young woman who works a generic job in a generic office with a married male boss whose mawkish demeanor and suggestion for a team trip – just them two – verges on a #MeToo violation. Sawyer, no pushover, seems to know how to control the situation and exits with an awkward, “I should get back to work.” She also seems to know what she wants, hooking up with a guy on Tinder, telling him the night will go his way, but in the morning he has get out and forget they ever met. Back at Sawyer’s pad just before the event goes down, Sawyer has a breakdown. Said dude, wise to the cloud of dysfunction, exits and then, through late-night Google searches for support groups and therapists, we learn that Sawyer has been the victim of a stalker up in our blessed Boston and relocated to a Pennsylvania burb to escape her pursuer’s reaches. Continue reading

Red Sparrow

7 Mar

 

Plots within bloody plots fill this thinking person’s spy thriller that’s two parts “Atomic Blonde” and three-fifths “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Forget all the flap about the dress – Jennifer Lawrence is a big screen star. If there was any question (as after 2016’s sci-fi miscue, “Passengers”), “Red Sparrow” should squelch doubts. We all knew the outspoken actress could bring mettle and grit from the “The Hunger Games” series, but here, in this chilly bit of Cold War espionage rewarmed – and aptly so, given the Mueller probe – she takes it up a notch. Much must be delivered to the screen: ballet dancing, full frontal nudity (close enough) and a Russian accent, and Lawrence does it all convincingly so, at least for the most part. Not that she or the film are going to make off with an Oscar, but they may knock “Black Panther” from its box office roost, though the R rating makes that an extra tough go.

Steamy and ever shifting, “Red Sparrow” takes us back behind the curtain, ostensibly of Putin’s Russia, where the commoners live hand-to-mouth and at the mercy of the state. It’s there that Lawrence’s Dominika lives a cut above as the lead dancer of the elite Bolshoi Ballet, but just as we drink her in, up on the stage beguiling a packed house, a freak accident ends her career and she’s suddenly on the cusp of being evicted from her cozy pad and there’s no money to care for mum (Joely Richardson) who’s suffering some kind of illness. No worries, uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), an intelligence officer, steps in and gives Dominika a “one-off” job that will solve her problems. All she’s got to do is lure an admiring fan and enemy of the state into a sting. The grand hotel where it all goes down, draped in red and gold, is regal and inviting; the mark, not so much. Needless to say, things veer off script, but in the end, Dominika gets it done. From there she’s in too deep – an intelligence liability, so to speak – so it’s either back to school or into the harbor. Continue reading

Death Wish

7 Mar

 

I like Bruce Willis, I do. But, sorry Bruce, you’re no Charles Bronson, not even close, and even more to the point, Eli Roth is no Michael Winner.

Who might Micheal Winner be, you ask. He’s the guy who directed the original “Death Wish” back in the 1970s with Bronson as a New York City architect looking to avenge the death of his wife and rape of his daughter. Winner was also responsible for two of the series’ feeble follow-ups (“Death Wish II” and “Death Wish 3”) and “Won Ton Ton: the Dog who Saved Hollywood” (1976). Weak tea to be sure, but that said, that 1974 collaboration yielded a palpable revenge fantasy chock full of sharp, witty commentary and a Bronson brimming with nonchalant machismo. In the Roth/Willis updating, motive, cathartic process and emotion get tamped down in favor of staging and contrivance.

While much of the narrative bare bones based on Brian Garfield’s novel remains, much has changed as well. The setting has flipped from New York to Chicago, and the avenging Paul Kersey is no longer an architect but a surgeon who’s been witnessing the city’s 20 year high crime rate firsthand via his operating table – the opening scene of a cop rushed into the ER feels a bit heavy-handed and becomes an omen as to how Roth, the gore-meister behind “The Green Inferno” and the “Hostel” films, wants to go. There’s a wealth of technological advancements from the past 40-plus years (PCs, cellphones, social media, GPS and smart cars to name a few) that feed nicely into the plot. Willis’ Kersey too is not an urban dweller, but lives in the affluent ’burbs. The crew that take out his wife and daughter early on are less cruel than the Bronson versions (the incident is on his birthday, but there’s no rape that we see) but the violence that Kersey ultimately dishes out is far more decisive and sadistic. Continue reading

Agnes Varda

7 Mar

A Pioneer Of The French New Wave, Filmmaker Agnès Varda’s Career Spans The Playful And Pointed

Filmmaker Agnès Varda with street artist JR. (Courtesy Cohen Media Group)closemore

Filmmaker Agnès Varda has seen and done much in her life — from witnessing the German invasion of France during World War II, to becoming the female face of the French New Wave, to hanging out with enigmatic Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison and, now, being recognized with a Charles Eliot Norton professorship at Harvard.

Varda, who was born in Brussels and spent most of World War II on a boat off the French port of Sète (where her mother was born), stumbled into film. Bestowed with the birth name of Arlette Varda, she changed it at the age of 18 — something that other famed French filmmakers of the time like Jean-Pierre Melville and Chris Marker did as well. A photographer by trade, Varda returned to Sète to shoot pictures for a friend who was physically unable to make the journey to the Mediterranean fishing port.

That photographic mission inspired Varda to make a cinematic postcard of the area with Philippe Noiret (“Cinema Paradiso”) cast as a man trying to reconcile a rocky marriage. The result was the 1955 film “La Pointe Courte” — the title referring to a small, water surrounded quarter of Sète. Shot using natural locations on an incredibly modest budget — and reluctantly edited by fellow filmmaker Alain Resnais who was working on a similar effort at the time — the film is widely considered the forerunner of the French New Wave. Continue reading