2015 log (7)

(1 Jul) Beverly Hills Cop (1984, Martin Brest) 65
[ When I stumbled upon this on Netflix, I immediately decided to watch it. Oh, I’ve seen it before of course, but like, at least 20 years ago… And unlike other classic 80s movies, including my personal favorite Eddie Murphy comedy, “Coming to America”, I haven’t seen it over and over. “Beverly Hills Cop” was the single biggest hit at the North American box-office in 1984, beating such other pop culture staples as “The Karate Kid”, “Gremlins”, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Ghostbusters” (quite a year, eh?). Why was it such a phenomenon? The easy answer is: Eddie Murphy at his peak, doing his thing. His laugh alone goes a long way towards making this a fun watch. The upbeat pop soundtrack probably didn’t hurt either: Glenn Frey’s The Heat Is On, the Pointer Sisters’ Neutron Dance, Patti LaBelle’s Stir It Up, Harold Faltermeyer’s awesome Axel F theme… Plus, this Simpson/Bruckheimer production has a big chase scene at the beginning and a big shoot-out outside a mansion at the end, which is always fun. I don’t think this is a truly great film or anything, but it’s certainly enjoyable enough. ]

(2 Jul) Magic Mike XXL (2015, Gregory Jacobs) 74
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(4 Jul) Dope (2015, Rick Famuyiwa) 90
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(4 Jul) Cobra (1986, George P. Cosmatos) 85
[ Funny, I just watched “Beverly Hills Cop” a few days ago and now, “Cobra” is playing on TV. If you don’t see the link, it’s because Sylvester Stallone was originally attached to star in “Beverly Hills Cop”, but he ended up rewriting it into a non-comedic script, which the producers rejected. But Stallone took his screenplay and went out and made “Cobra”. Directed by George P. Cosmatos, who had just helmed “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (though Stallone allegedly ghost-directed both movies), this is pure 80s Action, while also being kinda like a fucked-up exploitation flick, starting with the enigmatic opening images of men banging axes together. Then we get to the classic scene in which a madman shoots up a supermarket, before facing off against the instantly iconic Marion “Cobra” Cobretti (Stallone), with his mirrored sunglasses, the unlit match in his mouth, the black leather gloves, the stylish gun with a cobra on the handle, the vintage car… Cobra makes Dirty Harry look like a hippie, with his violent methods and his tendency to play by his own rules… Then again, when you’re up against a cult of serial killers, this may be unavoidable. There are stretches that feel like this is a horror movie, such as when the model played by Brigitte Nielsen is attacked in a parking garage, then again at the hospital. At the same time, there are things like a montage to cheesy 80s pop songs, blatant product placement (Coors, Pepsi AND Coca-Cola, etc.), an over the top car chase/shoot-out, a gratuitous making out scene between Stallone and Nielsen… And it’s set during Christmastime! Sharply shot and cut, “Cobra” climaxes with a spectacular shoot-out with a near-“Commando” body count, followed by a brutal fight in what Ebert called a “Steam and Flame Factory”. This is truly an 80s Action masterpiece. ]

(5 Jul) Despicable Me (2010, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud) 33
[ With YA franchises, animated films are my biggest blind spot when it comes to contemporary Hollywood mega blockbusters. Save for Pixar and a few others, I’m just not particularly inclined to go out of my way to see them. Still, with all the hype surrounding the upcoming “Minions” and with the original film starring them being on Netflix, I decided to give it a try. I can’t say I was impressed. Sure, it’s bright and colorful, it’s got a good voice cast (Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, even Julie Andrews) and original songs by Pharrell Williams… But I just didn’t care at all for Gru’s supervillain plans, for the three orphan girls he adopts or even for the Minions. Aren’t they just a knockoff of the “Toy Story” aliens? ]

(7 Jul) Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott) 64
[ For some reason, I thought this would be a mostly “realistic” astronaut film à la “Gravity”, so the opening scene of a humanoid alien drinking something that destroys/transforms him took me aback. Then we see that it’s set in the late 21st century and we discover a totally futuristic spaceship, where Michael Fassbdender’s android character wanders while the rest of the crew is in stasis. At that point, I remembered that this is sort of an “Alien” prequel, starring such badass actors as Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba… But at first anyway, it’s less a thriller than a heady blend of science-fiction and creation myths. It’s all quite intriguing, in addition to be well designed, directed, shot and cut… But after a while, it seems maybe a bit too slow and uneventful… Then about halfway through, there’s a bit of horror that works, then there’s a really intense body-horror setpiece (the MedPod), followed by an effective enough action scene… All of a sudden, I started to wonder why I remembered this movie being badly received. It’s not amazing or anything, but it’s pretty cool, no? I’m even okay with the resolution, however nihilistic and frustrating. ]

(8 Jul) Men, Women & Children (2014, Jason Reitman) 60
[ I just looked up Jason Reitman’s filmography and it turns out that I liked his first four features (“Thank You for Smoking”, “Juno”, “Up in the Air”, “Young Adult”), yet… I don’t know, I still don’t get a strong auteur vibe out of him… When I think of those four films, I mostly think of the two Diablo Cody screenplays and of each picture’s lead actor or actress… Though of course, Reitman directed them into giving those performances, so there’s that. But as far as style and whatnot, I’m still not sure I have a great handle on him. But now in this here “Men, Women & Children”, he definitely does something interesting visually, integrating into shots the online porn, Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr pages, video games, text messages, etc. that the characters spend most of their time looking at. His screenplay, an adaptation of the Chad Kultgen novel, is rather heavy-handed about the way the Internet is supposedly ruining society, notably laying the themes thickly via a voice-over narration by Emma Thompson. But on a moment to moment basis, it’s involving enough, thanks to the aforementioned way the visuals incorporate the computer/cellphone stuff as well as to the ensemble cast, which includes men and women played by Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, J. K. Simmons, Dean Norris, Rosemarie DeWitt, Dennis Haysbert and Shane Lynch as well as “children” (teenagers, actually) played by Olivia Crocicchia, Ansel Elgort, Elena Kampouris, Kaitlyn Dever and Travis Tope. Again, the writing may be too on the nose and alarmist, plus there are some melodramatic twists I didn’t buy and which kinda make it hard to recommend the film. But there are many solid performances here and damn it, it’s pretty well directed. Jason Reitman, huh. ]

(9 Jul) Ant-Man (2015, Peyton Reed) [ review ] 91

(9 Jul) The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015, Jon Schnepp)
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(10 Jul) Black Rain (1989, Ridley Scott) 44
[ An 80s action movie directed by Ridley Scott, shot by Jan de Bont and scored by Hans Zimmer? Michael Douglas as an asshole cop who goes up against the yakuza? Sounds awesome! Alas, it’s actually not very good or action-packed. There are some motorcycle stunts, stabbings and shoot-outs, Douglas’ cool and I love Zimmer’s score… But too much time is devoted to the generic, boring plot. And what’s with all the scenes in Japanese with no subtitles? ]

(11 Jul) Harold and Maude (1971, Hal Ashby) 66
[ Harold (Bud Cort), I didn’t get. Rich kid who has nothing better to do than to be an emo weirdo bastard, doing fake suicide attempts, crashing funerals and whatnot. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is pretty fun though, a lively, rambunctious almost 80-year-old woman who steals cars and drives like a mad woman. Their friendship/romance is kind of interesting… More because of her than him, naturally. As for the overall film, it’s well directed and, notably, it features one of the best soundtracks of all time, with a succession of classic Cat Stevens songs. Those alone make it a must-see. ]

(12 Jul) Gone with the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming) [ review ] 95

(14 Jul) Avengers Grimm (2015, Jeremy M. Inman) 34
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(15 Jul)   Man of Steel  (2013, Zack Snyder) [ review ] 70

(17 Jul) Trainwreck (2015, Judd Apatow) 62
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(18 Jul) Ludo (2015, Nikon & Q) ???
[ A hallucinatory, experimental gore fest in which four horny, drunken young Indians play the most fucked up board game ever. “Jumanji” this isn’t. ]

(19 Jul) Wet Hot American Summer (2001, David Wain) 64
[ It starts like sort of a twist on “Dazed and Confused”, except that instead of taking place on the last day of high school in 1976, it takes place on the last day of summer camp in 1981… But then, it turns out to be increasingly full of absurd humor and random goofiness. It’s all a bit hit and miss, but there’s quite a bit of really funny stuff and the cast is truly awesome, including the likes of Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler, some of them pre-fame. ]

(23 Jul) Turbo Kid (2015, François Simard, Anouk Whissel & Yoann-Karl Whissel) 92
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(27 Jul) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015, Christopher McQuarrie) [ review ] 83

(28 Jul) Winter Sleep (2014, Nuri Bilge Ceylan) 90
[ The Palme d’Or, man. Looking at the last 40 years, I see some true masterpieces: “Taxi Driver”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Pulp Fiction”… Some pretty undeniable winners: “Rosetta”, “Entre les murs”, “La vie d’Adèle”… Some good-but-not-their-best from acclaimed auteurs: “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”, “Wild at Heart”, “Barton Fink”, “Dancer in the Dark”, “Fahrenheit 9/11”, “The Tree of Life”… Some movies I’m just not a fan of: “The Pianist”, “Elephant”, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”, “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”… So overall, a mixed bag, but I’m still generally interested to see the latest Palme d’Or, though I sometimes wait a while to do so, like with last year’s, which I just now caught up to on Netflix. First thing that catches the eye is the absolutely amazing location, an Anatolian village where many of the houses are built into rocky hills and mountains. On top of that, the cinematography is simply stunning, so every shot is fascinating to watch. Then there’s the great cast, led by Haluk Bilginer, with all these men and women with faces full of character… And thankfully, there’s a slow-burn intensity to the storytelling, making the 196-minute running time fly by painlessly. “Winter Sleep” is basically a series of conversations, but there’s underlying tension in many of them and occasionally, there are these bursts of violence, verbal or otherwise. But even when things remain quiet, it’s always interesting, all this talk about philosophy and whatnot… So yeah, a more than deserving Palme d’Or. Not necessarily a masterpiece, but clearly one of the best films of 2014. ]

(30 Jul) Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971, Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi) ???
[ Also known as “Farewell Uncle Tom”, this controversial film by the Mondo creators is a faux documentary about slavery, presented as if the filmmakers had traveled back in time to shoot it in the antebellum South. This is easily one of the most disgusting movies ever made, because even though it supposedly depicts the humiliating horrors of slavery to condemn them, Jacopetti and Prosperi pretty much had to make the poor Haitian extras go through barely simulated reenactments of said humiliating horrors… In a way, you could say the same of “12 Years a Slave” or “Django Unchained”, but those films made some of the slaves into relatively complex characters, whereas here, they’re pretty much all anonymous figures being abused… Kind of like the concentration camps prisoners in “Schindler’s List”, then? I don’t know… It’s the eternal question of the representation of horrors… Is there a way to show exploitation without being exploitative? In any case, “Goodbye/Farewell Uncle Tom” is undeniably riveting and fascinating, it’s almost as epic as “Gone with the Wind” and, in a way, it’s a historical document. What’s with the upbeat/romantic Riz Ortolani score, though? And there are things like the POV sex scene with a 13 year old and the endless, often gratuitous nudity that are just wrong, man. Ultimately, maybe this shouldn’t exist… but it does… and I’m glad I saw it. ]

(30 Jul) Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015, Anthony C. Ferrante) 35
[ Here we go again… Another intentionally ridiculous B-movie starring has-beens (Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Mark McGrath, David Hasselhoff, Bo Derek, Frankie Muniz), with plenty of bloody CGI sharks. It starts out promisingly with the total destruction of Washington, D.C. by a sharknado (what else?), but then, it gets bogged down by boring exposition and blatant product placement, including a long Universal Orlando infomercial. There are still a bunch of sharks dropping from the sky, eating people and getting blown up, shot or chainsawed, but three movies in, it has lost a lot of its impact. Then again, the “Sharks… in… space” climax is pretty insane! ]

(31 Jul) High and Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa) 93
[ All the other Kurosawa films I had seen previously involved samurai, so the fact that this one is contemporary already sets it apart. Then, it kicks off with a long discussion by men about shoes! Yet it’s still gripping, thanks to the always intense Toshiro Mifune and to the way it depicts the cutthroat business world. And then, about 15 minutes in, there’s a kidnapping that instantly makes things all the more tense, followed quickly by an unexpected twist, which brings up some wrenching moral queries. This is basically a huis clos for the first hour, but it doesn’t feel like a stage play because of the masterful mise en scène and the striking anamorphic widescreen B&W cinematography, which make for a series of brilliantly composed shots that cleverly position the characters so that, at key moments, we see the chauffeur for instance, who has an emotional investment in the whole situation. And then we go out of the shoe factory executive’s mansion for a particularly suspenseful sequence on a train, which could have been a great climax, but here, it’s still early in the story, which somewhat surprisingly turns into a police procedural. There’s an extended scene where numerous cops discuss the progress of the investigation, which could mean a lot of dry exposition, but Kurosawa keeps cutting away to show glimpses of what each cop is talking about, so it remains dynamic. And after that, there’s a gripping scene where two cops look for the kidnappers’ hideout and… Well, you’ll see! Also riveting is the shadowing sequence… And that Dope Alley climax? That’s some dark and distrubing shit for 1963, and even for 2015! But “High and Low” isn’t just a great thriller. It’s also a thought-provoking depiction of class struggle that wears its title well. ]

June / August