rzajac

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A Ghost Story (2017)

At last! A ghost story that makes you believe in ghosts. I'm not going to pretend to have a clear idea of what the flick's about. But there are certain base level impressions which, on their own, suffice to motivate me to come here to rate and pronounce on the flick's value.

At its simplest level, it's a flick that attempts to take you into "ghost time".

And that's really all you might need to know as you begin to watch the film.

What it might mean beyond that I'll leave to you and my future self (as I ponder--and I *will* continue to ponder "A Ghost Story"!).

Enemy (2013)

Didn't want to like it, but... Ultimately, it worked for me.

Now, I know that sounds like "damning with faint praise." But I loved it because it was artfully made and dances on the event horizon of "takeaway opacity", that you are severely challenged to understand its ultimate meaning. I love that. I love that it was willing to do that, to exert itself to create a presentation to convey that puzzle.

Of course, I have ideas of what it's about, but the whole thing rests comfortably on my back burner... where it rightfully belongs.

If that bothers you--sounds like it's not yr cup o' tea--then pass it up. But I aver it truly was a masterful exercise in an odd sort of storytelling.

It worked for me.

The Square (2017)

Giving it a '10' because I fancy myself a frou-frou elitist type Loved it. Literally on the edge of my seat at times.

It's a challenging flick, yet at the same time inviting. And that's the way it should be. A good flick challenges, and if it siphons you in to process and try to understand that challenge, huzzah!

The challenge being, of course, that under its base scenario of the high-flying modern art word is something almost crushingly quotidian; a man who's like most men: He's not the sharpest (moral) tool in the shed.

In fact, he's so hapless that he's a hapless performance artist himself. And that's where the sparks fly in this flick, IMHO. Like "The Square", he's non-stop commentary on contemporary reality.

Happy! (2017)

It Works! An amazing show: It's preposterous enough to transcend its gross expressionistic excesses.

And, really, that's pretty much all that needs to be said. This is the grail of narrative products: Create a great myth, and damn the torpedoes.

That said, a few nods to detail are in order. It's violent, violent, violent! The writing is smart and clever. The character work is an over-the-top labor of love. Yes: It's a detective/thriller set at Christmastime with a reprobate with a heart-o'-gold, a la Shane Black.

Enjoy!

Chronicle (2012)

Gotta say: In the end, really just a SFX snack. I was looking forward to being able to say that this flick blew my mind.

And then I sort of ponder whether the quotidian nature of the characters and story were supposed to be the things that did the trick, and I'm just too dim to catch that.

Being careful not to spoil, I can mention something revealed in the first 10 minutes: It winds up being a sort of non-parable parable about kids getting super telekinetic powers.

I have to say that I expected many layers in this story, and what bit of layering may have been present really gets eclipsed by the flick being (as I say in my heading line) a kind of SFX snack plus largely unfiltered teen angst. If you can imagine the outcome from a storyline so hedged in, you probably have a good idea what to expect from this movie.

So I can't heartily recommend it. I know there's a subculture that fawns on CGI-dense movies... but I don't run with that sort... don't really know their expectations... so I'm not sure if I can recommend the flick to them.

If you expect narrative richess from a flick, skip it. If you expect colorful character from a flick, then maybe. If you get a rush from particularly well-executed CGI, then... I dunno what to tell you.

The Salvation (2014)

Art Film quality "wild west" portrait of evil The best first thing you can say about this flick is that it's good old, down-home, operatic storytelling and character development.

After that, it's icing on the cake. The production values are fantastic, and the direction and acting is spot-on.

If you find western revenge dramas to be your thing, definitely check this one out.

The Cell (2000)

Art Direction: 1001%!!! Mythos: Rube-Goldbergian.... What can I say? You kind of expect the premise of a story to be reasonably tidy. If I set forth to state the premise of The Cell, it'd take about 3 minutes to do so, which is 2.5 minutes too long. The mythos is bizarrely reticulated, both quantitatively AND qualitatively, as in; some of the elements of the belabored premise individually strain credulity past the breaking point.

But.... what a visual marvel! En route to driving home the over-wrought concept I daresay you will get your money's worth just in terms of the strenuously-yet-delicately wrought dream sequences.

I should add a touch of the snob, here. Bunuel taught me that dreams in movies should dance on the fault line between the inscrutable and being amenable to pithy interpretation. Are these dream sequences so amenable? Yes and no.

If it weren't for the extreme nature of the mythic aspect--that is, if they'd been able to drape the amazing visuals over a neater, more streamlined premise--It would've rated at least one more star for sure.

So I guess that sums it up. If amazing art direction to flesh out an over-wrought premise is OK with you, the flick is definitely worth watching.

The Doctor and the Devils (1985)

Hate to say it for something as (very) well-intentioned as this production I came across a slim volume at a cut-rate book sale in university back in 1973; it was Dylan Thomas's made-for-TV screenplay for "The Doctor and the Devils".

It was a great read. I was impressed by how Thomas cleverly broke the action into small mini-scenes; you could call it short-attention-span theater, but I've gotta admit reading it was cinematographic: I felt like I was watching TV.

So here's a Mel Brooks production, roughly based off the Thomas script.

In truth, the story's changed quite a bit, but the spirit is the same. There's a tone to the movie which I think the director took from the script, which is simultaneously sage and florid... if you can imagine such a thing!

So... if I have a misgiving about the movie, it's that the tone worked in the book, but somehow seems cheap and hammy in the movie.

That's my sole complaint. Too bad that complaint colors my experience of the movie from start to finish!

But... what's to recommend? The actors took direction VERY well. I was amazed at Twiggy: She is a true dramatic force in this flick, and (come to think of it) she somewhat tempers the tone issue I mention above. Hmm.

In general, the production values are fine.

I suppose if you want to take in the story, this flick will do. It delivers the tendentious payload--the dance of dawning scientific achievement, shabby preening moralism, and honest moral issues--quite nicely.

I wish I could give this at least a 9. But it doesn't feel right. It's that "tone thing", y'know?

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Well-nigh Perfect L.A. Confidential is straight-up storytelling, well done.

It's hard to know where to step in to comment on the flick; there are so many possible ports of entry. Perhaps the best place to start has to do with its vast portrait of corrupt officialdom. So, if you're the kind of person who gets drawn in to crime stories with broad swathes of moral grey, hesitate not: Watch it now.

The flick is rewarding simply from its richness. It has so many layers and treatments and telling scenes and exchanges. So if I start expounding on a symbol or metaphor, it's a fart in a flaw.

But I want to try, anyway.

Here's a little something that I can recommend by way of a recurring symbol that might help anchor you as you start taking in the firehose of imagery:

The flick really centers around Ed Exley's character, played by Pierce. He's the guy who's dancing on the fault line between two aspects of law enforcement practicum; a stoic, fact-basis and a romantic, belief-basis. And the writing fixes on a very clever image that you can see as a key to this dance: Exley's eyeglasses. They dance on and off his face, and you can dependably see this as a symbol of his understanding of law enforcement practice; which starts out vacillating, but eventually settles on a clear vision of true law enforcement in a decent republic. This vision ascends, takes hold, and ushers him into the vortex of the film's crisis confrontation.

This is the heart of a story in which the images informing your understanding of that heart is as deep as it is broad. That's how great this flick is.

Check it out.

Miss Sloane (2016)

Artistic Issues Workable script, fully capable acting, good sets/costuming... but it looks like either 1) ham-handed direction, or 2) the director's interest in nuance tuned to the wordiness of the script getting derailed by the producers pulling rank.

Could have been worse, but this is something towards which I feel especially sensitive.

It highlights a really important fact about big budget production: Too often producers think they have the ingredients for something produce-able and distribute-able, but don't realize the demands that certain kinds of narrative place on the product. In fact, it looks like they don't even realize that the script, itself, should carry weight in that process. They defer to the knowledge they feel they have about the movie-going public; that too many of them are like babies with disposable income, who don't understand English but are innately attuned to facial expression and body language: And films are busy-box light shows of emoting.

As a result, the film all-too-often squawks and gesticulates. The producers refused to let the script breathe.

Too bad!

Add to this that the script, itself, seems a little strained and the flick doesn't have much of a chance to work on its proper merits; a timely subject matter (guns), coupled with a well-intentioned "insider" look at political gamesmanship.

I'm suddenly reminded of a time long ago, in university, during Watergate, when I went to meet with a student club to practice for an upcoming performance. Oddly, someone found us a practice space in a building that had adjacent conference rooms, and one of these rooms was hosting a convocation of monied suits considering bankrolling a rock band. I was invited in to listen to the tune and drop my own two-bits on the marketability of the song "product". The weird thing was that the band used a two-bit cassette recorder, and the tape was so bizarrely saturated that I couldn't even make out the melody... let alone the accompaniment! And certainly not the words. But think about the mindset of these dozen-or-so business dudes listening to this thing, driven to consider putting money behind it because... it was about Watergate.

Well, art *matters*. Miss Sloane may be about guns--and very passionate it is about that. But it misses (a bit) as an artistic product.

Miller's Crossing (1990)

Yes: One for the Ages Beautiful, stupendous movie.

Warning: It seems that most folks find it obtuse, such that it needs a number of viewings to digest. If you find it so, relax: You're in good company.

Here's my take on MC: The Coens are nice Jewish boys, who went to Hebrew school and probably have fair knowledge of the Torah. To me, this explains much of their work. It doesn't always make perfect sense, but the point is to immerse you in a dense story. In time you come to feel about MC the same thing you feel about the Pentateuch/Histories/etc.: It's the idea that story expresses the Mind of G*d.

And, if G*d is Love, then will this story tell you something about love?

I daresay it will; and a heck of lot of other things, as well... including, of course, crime, the criminal mind, and in-group cohesion finding expression in armed conflict as part of the divine will.

If you haven't yet seen it, hie thee down to view it, forthwith.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Your cup o' tea? Carpenter really does cut an interesting figure wrt to the tone he explores in his work. I've enjoyed some of his work, like "The Thing" and "They Live". They're cozy blends of high-concept, decent writing, clever pacing, and fine production.

"Mouth" is another thing. To my tastes, it sorta regresses to what I guess they call "gothic horror"; general creepiness, incessantly stinging, monsters, slime... just the interminable presentation of the vile and impending-ly violent.

Well... that's not my cup of tea. I never found that kind of stuff compelling. Carpenter obviously exerts himself mightily to make it so--and that's impressive. So I don't fault the flick by as many stars as I might have.

If you go for this stuff, it may be a cut above the usual "horror" fare out there.

Whatever the case may be, I hope the foregoing clues you in on the kind of flick "Mouth" is.

Young Sheldon (2017)

Innaresting tone mgmt It's an odd sort of thing: There's a mix of comic expressionism and actually pretty straight-up dramatic acting. The interest is how the direction parcels these things out from person to person and scene to scene.

It's occasionally really smart and sometimes even trenchant. The rest of the time it's a lively little comedy snack. Which is cool with me. I'll probably continue to watch it.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

Stunning. Complete. ))<>(( ! Me and You and Everyone We Know "functions" in a jillion ways: It's good narrative, visually exciting, bristles with powerful symbols, and invites you to explore the n-squared+ connections between those symbols.

I recently mentioned to a ESL student the brilliant wordplay in "Through the Looking-Glass", where (if memory serves) the Duchess "treats" Alice to a tidy little aphorism, "Take care of the Sense, and the Sounds will take care of Themselves." This is a stupendously ingenious mutation of "Take care of the Pence, and the Pounds will take care of Themselves".

Hard to believe, but I think Miranda July has created a swarming hive of chaotic Sounds that result in the Sense taking care of *itself*. If I'm right about that, then it's an Easter miracle, if I'm any judge at all.

And I haven't even mentioned the production values. Suffice that they don't get in the way of the above. The right people exerted themselves to make sure the product gets mainlined right into the ol' vein.

Check it out! ))<>((, y'all!

Passengers (2016)

Operatic Flicks like this are what I call "operatic": It's a simple scenario fleshed out with a thinly reticulated plotline. Though I'm not an opera *fan*, I understand the attraction for some and have gotten varied mileage from the medium. The job of opera is to convince you that the core one-note-johnny plot concept is driven by truly powerful emotional, humanistic forces.

And I feel that _Passengers_ comes pretty close to succeeding. It's got the finery of opera; astounding set, costume, and props work; great pacing via artful storyboarding and editing; fine acting; some truly great scripting. Newman's score is subdued, yet well-integrated with the action.

From time-to-time a ball gets sorta dropped: No spoilers, but some of the depiction of tech work, particularly in the crisis toward the end, seems clumsily done.

And, true to opera, we're left with a closing image that invites us to metabolize that simple plot as one vested with deep humanity and even redemption. Will it work for you? Who's to say?

Loved Sheen's work, here. So nice to see him stretch a bit to play an AI automaton. A delight to watch!

Anyway, with the caveats given above, I think it's safe to recommend the flick.

An interesting side-note: The flick nicely dovetails themes of cosmic ennui, an abiding interest in truth as key to sustainable relationship, redemption, and interpersonal fulfillment. Gotta say: With so many flicks these days dropping hints--seemingly being picked up by many--that the eldritch Significant Other relationship as key to happiness concept is overrated, interesting to see a high-tech future sci-fi flick pushing against that androgynous, sexless tide.

I mean... Is that a *perfect* "date flick*, or WOT?(!)

11:14 (2003)

Epitomizes the Tarantino Doctrine Tarantino put it best: Write a good script, and you can afford to damn the torpedoes. 11:14 does exactly that.

There's too much to say about it. Production is warm, cozy, perfectly fine. All actors took direction very, very well.

But it all rests on the script; a treasure chest of delights, from organization and character, to superbly modulated language register, to a surprising denouement, which (mild spoiler; which you may welcome, as it could aid yr delectation) extremely cleverly sets forth an almost clinically even-steven character mix and then catapults one character into the fore by story's end.

Left all warm and fuzzy when I regard the notable star power that (a la Pulp Fiction) likely forewent their usual rates to help breathe life into such a worthy script.

Definitely check it out. American film needs more like this.

The Brink (2015)

Impression from Pilot (positive) Loved the Pilot! Judging from some critical press indicating that a shaky start gave way to a decent first season run, I'm very hopeful as I commence to binge watch the first (and only, apparently) season.

Beautifully produced. Well-directed, with allowances for Jack Black's vestigial boffo shtick in evidence. Lovely, lovely writing. This is what attracts me, personally: I have to pay attention because losing focus will deprive me of the experience of scripts that range from sharp riposte on up to dramatic interpersonal tension, then further on up to geopolitical mythos.

Like I said, I'm preparing to binge watch and I'm hopeful that subsequent installments fare at least as well in this department as has the Pilot.

Enjoyed a feature of the edit that seem to homage Strangelove: The scenario work covers one verite, realtime event, and a handful of settings with scene changes jockeying adroitly from setting to setting. Appreciated that in Strangelove, happy to see it reprised here.

And, heck, so many nice little touches, e.g., great to see Robbins's expert work again.

Check it out!

Predestination (2014)

Gotta admit: Tore my head apart By now it should be impossible for a time-travel movie NOT to induce a yawn. How many of the damn things are there now?

But this one actually took my breath away. It's got it all: Good production, good writing, great acting and direction, and an artistic sensibility that stretches from decent action to compelling parlor drama.

No spoilers, but bear in mind it treads the same basic territory as Gilliam's "Twelve Monkeys"; that time travel is fundamentally indistinguishable from reality severance. If you found that cool in Gilliam, you'll find it at least as cool, and probably more cool, here.

And... It's a truly touching story. You might cry, if your emotional responses can find the berth amid the bizarre wonder at the temerity of the premise as it unfolds and jumps headlong into the impossible possible.

No question. Sci-fi fan?: Check it out.

Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016)

Not at the level I expected I figured this'd be a study of film music with breadth and depth, but it was largely a silly parade of people spouting film music frippery, interwoven with clips and so forth. Subjective takes on the effect this or that bit of film music had on a cavalcade of talking heads is NOT worth sitting through.

Yes, every now and then there's something of objective value, so I give the flick a few stars.

If you have some musical knowledge or are interesting in backstories of film-scorers experiences, look elsewhere.

Se, jie (2007)

I watch this flick about once a year and cry, like clockwork, at the ending I've grown sort of conservative in my old age. I used to be an avant gardist. I rejoiced in chaos and meaninglessness: I believe in narrative, now.

That's why I rate this flick so high. It's a good example of a film that *perfectly* fulfills the purpose of narrative. A story is told, the detail is pitch-perfect, time flows like the "jiang"; the great concourse; and the drama is very direct, pointed right straight at the primal twin issues of love and power, refusing to look away from predictable and unpredictable outcomes.

This is a perfect story. And you get the impression that Lee Ang knew *exactly* how high he had to rise to meet this extraordinary occasion, and he did so rise.

I do want to touch on the key point of the movie--since it seems so many commenters here missed out on that. No spoiler here: In fact, the following may help you if you're about the watch the flick.

Se, Jie has one thing in common with Inglourious Basterds, strange to say. But they do squarely share a theme: Can it really happen?: Could (should?) artists get sick and tired of winning all the moral battles, and decide to reach out and win a *real* battle; a real-world battle for truth and justice?

And... yes: This gets directly tied to the deep, unspeakable tragedy at the end of Se, Jie.

(And, bear in mind, this isn't the *only* theme; Se, Jie has a number of themes, at least as important as this one.)

It's a great movie; one of those that you need to watch *carefully* before you die.

Dollhouse (2009)

It's Whedon having done what he does at least as well as he's ever done it I loved Dollhouse. The key to a thing like this is to recognize what Whedon does: He takes a sci-fi concept that may seem hackneyed, right out of the gate. In this case (no spoiler, here), the concept is one of there being a secret facility where operatives are programmed to do the bidding of hyper-well-heeled clients.

But what he does is nothing short of miraculous: He charges each installment's variation on the concept with fantastic creative thought and incisive script treatment. He artfully strives to make you believe that the premise is immanent, and I find myself enjoyably going along for each and every ride.

The production work is wonderful, by which I mean it really *is* a wonder to behold; for example, the production cleverly imbues the representation of the underground facility with a sense of awesome, vast space; like a kind of secular cathedral. Add to this the fact that each show deploys the operatives in some action-packed (and usually psychically potent) outer-world scenario, and it adds to the impression one gets that production spared no expense to convey rich, ever-morphing dramatic landscapes.

Why the missing star (9 vs. 10)? It's not perfect. Nothing ever is. For example, the side story with the obsessed FBI agent pursuing this "cold" mythic lead sometimes feels a little gimmicky--gotta have "one of those", doncha know?

But. If you've enjoyed Whedon's work in the past and haven't yet checked out Dollhouse... you certainly ought to give it a whorl.

Baby Driver (2017)

Amazing action, starts with promise, loses narrative focus My title sez all. It start out with amazing character/action panache. Sets things up very, very well, then squanders them.

Not much more to say. Fantastic production values. Stunning chase sequences. Generally well acted and (I guess) directed. Was this flick a victim of producers' cold feet?

The Thirteenth Floor (1999)

Tho a tad stagey-crafty and occasionally too clever, got quite under my skin A lot to love about this flick. It's classic hi-concept sci-fi, beautifully produced, mostly amazingly acted (the rest merely good), and ends the way the genre must to keep its cred; like a stunning chess end-game. Happy to see Craig Bierko here and glad to see that he takes direction very, very well. What the flick may occasionally lack in terms of the execution is made up for in spades by a subtly articulated myth. The primary idea is that the AI technology depicted arrives at the discovery that something indistinguishable from sentience "naturally" arises from its techniques. The flick then goes one further and depicts that certain specimens of the generated sentience come to exhibit a moral compass. This is no less than P.K. Dick-ian in scope and ambition. Kudos! Finally, I found myself tearing up at key, tender moments in the storyline. I was shocked! Few movies of any kind do this, and the ability of The Thirteenth Floor to tug at my heartstrings so bittersweetly was a rare treat and a stunning development. The only reason I slight my rating to one star shy of a '10' is that there's still something strangely hollow about the production... and I'm not sure what it is. It may have something to do with my dismay at finding that D'Onofrio occasionally seems a bit weak. I love the guy and always look forward to seeing him flesh out yet-another character... and yet here he seemed to be dropping balls from time to time. If you dig sci-fi and haven't seen TTF yet, hie ye to the aethers and take this one in.

Bad Santa 2 (2016)

Watched this for two reasons Watched this for two reasons, in spite of hearing of the negative reviews: 1) Watched it as a sort of homage to the original, and 2) I'm sort of wary of 2nd hand info, when it can be easily watched.

So, I watched it. The best way to describe it is to remind you of the common preconception of the original "Bad Santa", admittedly gleaned from the previews showing at the time: It was popularly understood to be a "bad boy" yawp, which contrasted wonderfully with the discovery that it worked marvelously as a touching redemption tale. It was a fantastic Christmas movie for the ages, cleverly disguised as a prurient snack toss-off.

Well, "Bad Santa 2" IS *that* movie. It is nothing more than the bad-boy snack boredom killer that "Bad Santa" was supposed to have been.

Even if I discount the original--decide not to judge "BS2" by the standard of "BS"--it *still* simply fails to rise to the level of a film worth watching, if you expect movies to be more than boredom killers. I got one grim chuckle out of the whole thing, and the rest is pretty much just well-produced spectacle. The flick *is* well-produced... but that's it. There's no real mythic payload, except for a tepid and poorly thought out demi-effort to shoehorn a few would-be redemptive moments in, here and there.

It's sad. Is it *really* the case that in all of the Hollywood system, not one decent breakthrough screenplay that would do decent service to the gravitas of the franchise was anywhere to be found? Really?

I give this a few stars merely for the expert production work. Aesthetically, it's a sump.

Go watch the original; specifically, the director's cut. You might cry tears of redemptive joy.

The Orville (2017)

Chiming in, regardless There's something about this sub-sub-genre of serialized TV product which by all rights should preclude certain people from having a vote on the value of new entrants. But I gotta chime in anyways.

What I'm saying is... I'm not a Trekkie. I've not faithfully kept in sync with all the various reboots in the intervening years. What could I have to say?

It's this: I keep wanting to validate the fantasy I have that MacFarlane is a kind of "national treasure". 'Til recently, he'd been a bit touch- and-go... but with "The Orville", he's firmly cemented.

Here he shows an amazing and mature ability... to express a deep homage to a tradition while infusing it with fresh, vital insight and even pathos.

And yes, even that soupcon of prurient impishness.

I'm really, really enjoying this series. Congrats to Seth and his team for producing something that entertains while cajoling the viewers to broaden their own horizons.

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