See it Again – Message From the King

Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 4.24.48 PM

Message From the King is a strange film for me to include in the “See it Again” category. For one thing it came out very recently. For another, since it was released on Netflix I do not have a sense of how it was received either by critics or normal folk like you and I. As much as I dislike Rotten Tomatoes and similar sites, trying to write about why you should give a film another chance feels a bit strange when you have no idea how people feel about it in the first place.

That being said I liked this film but I did not love it. Again, a weird way to go, I know. Usually strong feelings dictate which films I write about and while I certainly like this film, aside from the look and the acting, I do not feel strongly about it.

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 6.31.53 PM

So with all of those reasons not to write out of the way, let me say some kind words about it.

First, this is beautiful looking film. According to an interview I found online With a bit of this appears to be shot on film. The grain is visible in many scenes, and perhaps because of my age, I find it terribly pleasing. The way the faces are lit is just wonderful. Sometimes they are hauntingly beautiful other times haunting. Often there is a gritty, grimy quality to the images that is perfectly suited for the story being told.

Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 4.07.11 PM

If you enjoy this kind of film, a noir-ish revenge drama with mystery and violence, Message From the King will deliver what you are looking for. Chadwick Boseman gives an excellent performance. There is something quite powerful (and meaningful) in his silences and the pacing of the editing effectively builds tension and suspense.

Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 4.06.24 PM

The supporting cast is quite good as well, there are some big names in Message From the King yet everyone plays their supporting roles as they should be. It is clear whose movie this is and as the viewer we are always with the protagonist and his story.

Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 4.25.48 PM

Opposed to several other films I have watched recently about the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles the grit and texture of Message From the King feels integral the story rather than an attempt to be the story. This is a lithe film that moves from scene to scene without getting bogged down in trying to say more than it needs to.

Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 4.07.39 PM

If you have Message From the King in your queue or have been debating whether or not you should check out the film with that guy from Black Panther I suggest you do. It’s not high art and it won’t leave you feeling profoundly changed but it is beautiful and unexpected.

Advertisements

(Don’t) See it Again?

arrival

Typically I try and only share films I like and try and convince others to like them, too. So what gives?

I’ve read a number of articles about Arrival and they all say something similar — this is a great movie. Most people who praise the film are saying things along the lines of “This is smart science fiction for people who are tired of explosions.” I am assuming this is targeted at the recent release of the Independence Day sequel (among other films).

One review in particular focused on the fact that this story is about a woman who uses her brain to save the world. What is not to like about this premise? A woman uses her brain (and no weapons) to save the world from an alien invasion! I wanted to love this move and sing its praises. Upon watching the film I had the depressing thought, “Did I just watch what everyone else did?”

I feel there are two major failings of Arrival.

Reason Number One: The premise of the film is excellent: aliens arrive, we make contact and realize we have to figure out how to communicate with them. Call in a linguist (with a scientist in tow) to figure out how to communicate before trying to ask the important questions. It’s a wonderful approach and makes sense and I’ve never seen it done in a film about aliens before.

Where the film falls apart, and the opening makes this clear, is that this movie is not about the interaction with the aliens. It is not about this process of learning to communicate, it’s not about the aliens at all, really. This is a movie about time travel.

When things go wrong and the world is on the brink of war/destruction/something bad our heroine is given the entire language of the aliens to decipher. In doing so she learns that understanding their language changes how a person perceives time. She no longer perceives time as linear but is able to move in and out of moments of her life. Effectively her consciousness is now able to travel through time.

So, and this is such incredibly lazy storytelling that I am amazed at the praise for this film, in order to save the day our heroine’s consciousness travels forward in time to ask General Shang what she did in the past to convince him from starting WWIII (I don’t mean to be flippant with that term, the stakes are global so I feel the term is not far off the mark). General Shang then tells her (in the future) what she did in the past to convince him to cease and desist so that her past self can then do this very thing. That the climax of this film boils down to “I just have to remember what I did in the future and do it now” should have had reviewers sharpening their knives.

Time travel doesn’t have to be overly complicated and burdened with quantum theory and paradoxes — because this is a movie. That being said when time travel is treated only as a means to move the plot forward it often feels unnecessary and unrewarding. The way it is used in Arrival is one step removed from employing the trope of “and then she woke up”.

Reason Number Two: The story being told is of how our main character, due to this change in her perception of time, is able to experience her future. What troubles me is that she makes an emotionally and morally complex decision about having a child with the knowledge of everything that will follow. What she does not do is inform her soon to be (husband?) romantic partner of this choice and that it will entail watching their only child die from an untreatable disease, until after they have had the child.

The father is not in any of the scenes from the future where the teenage daughter is dying in the hospital, or any scenes for that matter, so in a way he is spared this. I assumed that he was not in any of the future scenes because they are shown at the beginning of the film and therefore would give away the story — since everything hangs on the viewer thinking that her daughter dying happened before the events of the movie unfold. Perhaps this is not the case. Perhaps the character is incapable of living through what he knows is coming. Neither scenario seems tolerable.

Perhaps if you aren’t a parent this withholding of information is a minor issue. But imagine for a moment that you are in the shoes of Jeremy Renner’s character and try to imagine your significant other telling you that the child you had together is going to die of a terrible disease and that they knew this before you conceived the child. And now, when the child is seven or so, they have decided to tell you all of this. Perhaps I am overly sensitive but for me this turns Amy Adam’s character from a hero to something of a villian. This is an unforgivably selfish act, especially since this film is not concerned with rules pertaining to time travel (whether or not things can be changed — so that there is no debate as to whether her knowledge actually changes anything).

The voiceover in the beginning that only makes sense at the end of the film, that the aliens coming wasn’t an ending but a beginning…it all sounds really great and clever until you look at how she handles this information.

For me these were two major sticking points that took an interesting concept and turned it into an unpleasant and unrewarding experience. Forest Whitaker is criminally underused in the film. I was thrilled to see his name on the poster and upon seeing the film understood why he was in so little of the trailer. Jeremy Renner is in substantially more of the film but I’m not sure many have noticed as he is stuck firmly in second position.

Arrival has a great atmosphere and a unique premise. Ultimately using a storytelling device to cheat the audience of a proper resolution and handling the morally complex idea of having a child with someone and not telling them of the (known) horrors to come, makes this an unrewarding film.

See it Again – Jupiter Ascending

4lisxbzzduri0c1id1zljo6z3gu

What You Should Know

This film fits into many categories but “Space Opera” seems to work the best. How do we define “Space Opera”? Wikipedia gives us:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, as well as chivalric romance, and often risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms “soap opera” and “horse opera“, the latter of which was coined during the heyday of silent movies to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and they continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, and video games.

This definition, as most definitions of genres, is fairly judgmental. Which is not to say it is incorrect. Jupiter Ascending features everything listed above. Does this have to be a negative? Jupiter Ascending is a – repeat after me – enjoyable film to watch. Feels weird doesn’t it? Especially in this age of superhero films that are often not enjoyable to watch.

The Wachowski’s once again made a science fiction film that delivers in terms of story and special effects. One of the things they do so well is to make special effect heavy movies that don’t call attention to the special effects (Not every time, I am aware!).

Case in point, Channing Tatum’s character wears special boots that effectively allow him to speed skate on air. This may not sound interesting or good to you, but it’s fun and if your inner child doesn’t stir while watching him glide on the air then your inner child is either stunted or boring.

Why You Should Reconsider

This film, much like Cloud Atlas suffered from negative press. I cannot point to a specific example where it was obvious but I believe this was, in part,  because of the directors personal lives’. People were very quick to judge Jupiter Ascending based on the character’s names, the basic concept, a complicated (or convoluted) plot – without seeing the film. All of which could be leveled at “The Matrix” and yet upon watching the films you see that they are incorrect.

This film is enjoyable, it is interesting and it has a heart. Notable criticisms from the online group Screen Junkies with their “Honest Trailer” focused on how the story ends. I won’t spoil the ending but to dislike and take issue with the ending is to not understand the story and what it was trying to achieve.

The acting in the film is good, it is what it should be. Characters that are supposed to be somewhat larger than life are and the everyday “normal” people are just that. Mila Kunis’s extended family feels real, which given the material is very impressive.

Which brings us to two aspects of the film I do not normally discuss, costumes and special effects. “Jupiter Ascending” is lavish, it’s lush. They created worlds and cultures and races. The things that people praised Neil Blomkamp for regarding Elysium seemed to fly over everyone’s head regarding this film. The film has moments of gritty reality and overdone pomp and they all work. They are appropriate and do not pull the viewer out of the story. The effects sequences are as seamless and perfectly integrated as those in the first Matrix. In short (if Cloud Atlas hadn’t come first) this is a return to form for the directors.

Misconceptions

I’ve stopped reading reviews for the most part so all I can glean is that people thought this would be a more straightforward story. That it would be less “Space Opera” and more…space story? I don’t know. Channing Tatum’s character is strange as other other characters in the film but given that the film addresses other life in the universe it makes sense. If we can accept this idea with Star Trek can’t we do so with a film like Jupiter Ascending?

Back when we rented our films from video stores I recall a particular phrase was used often to promote new films. Either on the box or the poster or in the trailer for a film they would say, “If you loved _______, you’ll love ______”. Which if you think about it is a pretty great way to sell a film. If I were going to use that line to promote Jupiter Ascending I would say, “If you loved The Fifth Element, you’ll love Jupiter Ascending.”

See it Again – Inglourious Basterds

mv5bmjizmdi4mtuzov5bml5banbnxkftztcwndy3nja3mg-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_

What You Should Know

If, like me, you have been avoiding this film based on the following criteria:

1) It is a Tarantino film and the posters/things you heard have lead you to believe that this film is nothing more than “Jewish revenge porn” and/or

2) The trailer for the film gave you the sense that the movie largely consists of Brad Pitt and a group of men running around Europe killing Nazis, you need to reconsider.

Why You Should Reconsider

Aside from the last twenty minutes of the film if you were able to come across this movie knowing nothing about it you would never guess the director. The first section of the movie is unlike anything I have every seen from Mr. Tarantino (as an aside I have since seen Django Unchained and I expect The Hateful Eight fit neatly into this category as well). The locale, the pace, the dialog none of it feels like anything I have encountered from this director before.

This is due partly to the look of the film, which is very rich but subdued. The first section could be referred to as being pastoral. It’s partly due to the dialog which is much more “natural” and devoid of pop culture references and (aside from Brad Pitt) guys trying to talk tough. The pace is also quite slow so that even in sequences where there is tension concerning possible death and violence, the usual uncomfortable claustrophobic atmosphere I typically associate with Mr. Tarantino’s films is pleasantly absent.

Which is not to say that people do not die, or that the dialog isn’t snappy. Lots of people die and the dialog is certainly snappy at times. I would be hard pressed to put my finger on what, exactly, is different about this film from Mr. Tarantino’s previous efforts but there most certainly is something. Call it maturity, call it scope but what you get from this film is more rewarding and interesting than what has come before.

Misconceptions

As previously stated the trailer and reviews for this film gave the impression that this was Reservoir Dogs meets World War II. There are some wonderfully rich characters in this film, who I found myself genuinely caring for.

The sections containing Brad Pitt feel to me very much like the Tarantino we all know and love/hate/whatever you feel. Yet Mr. Pitt and his men are in very little of the film. Couple that with a significant portion of the movie not being in English – and that we spend time with some fantastic actors like Christof Waltz, Michael Fassbender and the true star of the film Melanie Laurent.

This would be a great film to show someone who has given up on Mr. Tarantino and I think for someone who has never seen one of his films. It builds on his previous works and adds new components to deliver an interesting, satisfying film. Give it a chance, I think you might like it.

See it Again – Bottle Shock

91suavgc02bl-_sl1500_

In honor of Alan Rickman’s passing I am doing this “extra” See it Again. I have been meaning to write about Bottle Shock for some time and sadly it took his death to properly motivate me.

What You Should Know

This is a small film with an amazing cast telling a (mostly) true story. It is about wine, snobbery and growing up. I think Technically Chris Pine is the lead of the film but watching the film I think you would be hard pressed to agree with that statement. This is an ensemble film with a cast that plays their parts and does not try and outshine one another.

Why You Should Reconsider

My guess is you never heard of the film. Like so many smaller, comedy/somethings these get widely ignored. They don’t win awards or set the box office afire. What they do is provide interesting, satisfying stories with moments of levity.

Alan Rickman is perfection in this film (as always). Cast, I think, as an Englishman living in Paris who operates a wine store/school that is widely ignored. It is perfect casting as you get to experience all of the wonderful shades of Mr. Rickman – contempt, scorn, snobbery, weakness, compassion, loyalty and passion.

His friend, fellow business owner and advisor, played by Dennis Farina is yet another piece of perfect casting and their scenes together are terrific. Evenly matched, perfectly off-balance, like so much of this film, there is a never a sense of watching a formulated story.

I won’t go into detail about the rest of the cast but everyone delivers and they do so in unexpected and interesting ways. The casting is well done, as the familiar faces bring comfort to the viewer but to unfamiliar roles.

Misconceptions

I imagine the idea of a wine comedy does not appeal to many. The film, though portraying a rather snobbish character, is anything but. It is a centered, earthy movie that lacks pretension and strives for naturalism rather than being “artistic”.

Some of the actors involved come with their own baggage, especially now with people like Mr. Pine. I think this, along with the film Stretch, is a great film to see if you wish to change your perception of him. The characters in this film are not paper-thin, yet this is a comedy, so while there is some misery and drama the touch is light and confident.

I am writing about this today, as I said, because of Mr. Rickman’s passing. There are several films he is well known for and sadly this is not one of them. It is a shame because in this role he is allowed to present several different sides of this character and he does so brilliantly. There is something very human, touching and real in this performance that helps elevate this film without shifting the focus to land squarely on him.

If, like I imagine many people are right now, you find yourself wanting to watch something with Mr. Rickman in order to remember him I would recommend giving Bottle Shock a try. It is a rich, rewarding film filled with unexpected moments and ultimately a warm, full heart.

 

See it Again – Red Belt

 

What  You Should Know

When you watch the trailer or see some of the posters for Redbelt you get the impression that this is an action movie. It is, but not in the same sense that The Transporter is an action movie. The fighting is limited, the pace is somewhat slow and the focus is not on outwitting bad guys and fighting to the death. Redbelt is a film about integrity, opportunity, greed and choices. That the main character is a  Jujitsu instructor means that the conflict, ultimately, centers on fighting. It does not mean that the film moves from action sequence to action sequence.

Why You Should Reconsider

First the lead is Chiwetel Eijofor. The rest of the cast is quite exceptional as well. The film is written and directed by David Mamet, which is either a selling point for you or a reason to run and hide. This is an understated, reality-based film that is character-driven. 

Misconceptions

To be honest I would think most misconceptions concern the depth of the film because everyone is of the opinion that David Mamet is a really big deal. Or that he is subtle and nuanced and oh boy that dialog.  All of that clunky, “no one on the planet really speaks like that” dialog is in this film (spoken by a less well known Jake Johnson no less!). Ricky Jay, again is in this for no apparent reason. So for those that love all the usual Mamet-isms you got ’em. Enjoy! For those that find all of those to be terribly qualities in the film I give you Mr. Chiwetel who is by now a much better known actor.

He does wonders with his dialog and conveying the inner life of his character. His interactions with his wife, Alice Braga, are natural and believable. The plot is….something. I like the film and I think you will, too. Just don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on the story, of they who’s and the whys of it all because that path leads to bad feelings.

Instead focus on your lead actor, his actions and interactions and enjoy the way he navigates his world.

See it Again – Tin Cup

 

What  You Should Know

This is a Kevin Costner sports movie. It is a a rather straight-forward, enjoyable film about golf, taking chances and spending time with your buddies.

Why You Should Reconsider

For some reason, be it The Postman, aspects of his personal life or the way his hair looked on Tuesday, Kevin Costner fell out of fashion. When you transpose your feelings about a film, because of an actor you liked in it, and let it bias other films they appear in, you make a mistake. You may have loved Bull Durham and hated Field of Dreams but none of that is relevant to For Love of the Game. Each film is its own animal, even if your leading man happens to be the same person (and they all deal with baseball).

With that being said Tin Cup is, for me, a film that plays to all of Kevin Costner’s strengths. He is at his best when he plays normal people, not the best or brightest, and when sports are involved. Usually films about golf are concerned with the metaphor of golf being life. A person could find that message within this film (much like you could in any sports film) but what is directly presented to you is not trying to intellectualize that point. This is not a serious film. It is not pretentious. This is a comedy, filled with mostly likable characters and centering on golf.

Where this films differs is that the drive of the main character, his “personal truth” concerning the sport he plays, is not about being the best. This is not a story about being the best or winning the championship so much as it is about realizing what it is you want.

Misconceptions

For the reason I just stated I think many people are confused by Tin Cup. A sports movie that is not centered on winning is weird. Sure, you have the typical trope of “It’s not whether you win or lose,” and that certainly applies here. Where this film will trip up viewers is that our hero already learned that lesson and may or may not remember that he knows it. What I mean to say is so much of the charm of this film is that it does not adhere to any of the strict formulas for sports films.

Kevin Costner is not the cocky golfer who has to lose in order to learn how to win. Or the veteran golfer who is being challenged by the young upstart and searches out a former mentor to reconnect why he plays the sport in the first place. No, he is a golf pro working at a driving range that does very little business. He is happy with this (maybe) but then he meets a woman and something clicks for him. I do not wish to go point by point here but I would like to state this is not paint by numbers sports film.