Movie Reviews - 2018 postsTuesday July 03, 2018
Movie Review: A Quiet Place (2018)
I’m glad the kid bought it in the first 10 minutes—he was a pain and a liability. Also, though most of us go in knowing the plot (armor-plated, insect-y aliens hunt us by sound), we still need to see it in action.
It's Day 89, we’re told, by which time towns are ghost towns, newspapers have stopped printing (IT’S SOUND reads the headline of one of the last local papers printed), and the Abbott family, led by Evelyn and Lee (Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, who also wrote and directed), take the clan into town to pick up supplies and get son Marcus (Noah Jupe) his meds. They’re all barefoot, silent, signing. The eldest, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), is deaf, so maybe they had a headstart on learning that. But the youngest, Cade (Beau Abbott), even after 89 days, still doesn’t get the danger. He’s bored, wants a toy rocket on a top shelf, and, reaching for it, knocks it off. Only a shoestring catch by Regan saves the day.
Dad then tries to counsel Cade—again—while taking the batteries out of the toy. (Odd, right? Is this the one “Batteries not included” toy in the world?) But Regan takes pity, hand the boy the rocket, and then the boy—because he’s so dumb—grabs the batteries, too. On the silent walk home, single file on a path of sand to muffle footsteps, the toy suddenly lights up and makes the usual toy noises, and the boy goes vroom vroom with it. Mom stifles a horrified scream, Dad races back to try to save the brat, but ... Clickety clickety ... chomp! Bye, kid.
Do they eat us, by the way? I was never sure. Is that how they nourish themselves? Later we see a raccoon getting squashed, which makes me wonder how many animals are left. No animals that roar or trumpet or bark. Maybe a few deer; they’re quiet. Maybe some kitty cats. Same. Jellybean would’ve lasted until she began meowing for dinner.
Then it’s a year later. Dad has his workshop set up in a soundproofed basement with a whiteboard on which he’s written the pertinent questions of the day:
- How many?
- Attack in Packs?
On the other side, he’s written what we know: They’re blind and they attack sound. But the best bit is written at an angle, with the final word in all caps and circled in red pen: What is the WEAKNESS?
Ah yes, the weakness. Because there has to be one. We can blame H.G. Wells for that assumption. Ever since “The War of the Worlds,” there’s got to be something that messes with attacking aliens. In the 1898 novel, it was pathogens; in the 1953 film, bacteria in the air. Perhaps no alien weakness was dumber than the one in “Signs”: water. It was like acid to them. Meaning they tried to take over a planet whose surface was 71 percent acid and whose inhabitants were 60 to 80 percent acid. One wonders how they were smart enough to make spaceships in the first place.
Are the Abbotts smart? They’ve survived this long, and have quiet meals of fish and vegetables, and play board games at night; and Dad is trying to find a Cochlear implant to help Regan hear again. But there’s also this:
Mom is pregnant.
Think about that for two seconds. In a world in which dropping a book may mean death, they’ve decided to bring into the world a creature whose main function, besides eating and shitting, is crying. Bawling. How long would this thing be a liability? Two years? Five? What’s the likelihood they would survive all of its crying jags and temper tantrums? Zero? Bupkis? Less than nothing? I just saw a movie where someone was hesitant about bringing a child into a world such as ours. And Mr. and Mrs. Abbott don’t even have a conversation about it?
And that’s assuming you get past the pregnancy (in which mom is in a weakened, vulnerable state) and the birth (which tends to get noisy). Me, I couldn’t get past this plot point. I kept wondering when the other shoe would drop. With a thud.
It does a few weeks later. Dad takes a reluctant Marcus out to teach him how to catch fish—and to show him that louder noises, such as a roaring river, can mask their normal conversation and keep them safe—and Mom does the laundry. She’s less than three weeks from the due date but she’s doing laundry. OK. Of course, she snags the laundry bag on a nail on the basement wood steps, exposing it. The camera holds on it: “This ain’t gonna be good.
It’s worse. First her water breaks, then she steps on the nail. She refrains from screaming but drops a picture frame, and it crashes and attracts You Know What. So she’s bleeding from her foot while going through the pain of childbirth and an alien is stalking her. She manages to turn on the red warning lights and crawl upstairs into the bathtub, but she’s only saved by two things:
- Dad sends Marcus to light the fireworks display to distract the aliens just as Mom screams her one childbirth scream
- Mom has the quickest delivery in human history
Afterwards, everything begins to fall apart, and not just because they suddenly have a crying, eating, shitting thing in their midst. No, everything just goes wrong. A pipe bursts, the basement is flooded, and the kids fall into a corn silo. The noise they make surviving alerts an alien who attacks. But—ah ha!—Regan’s new cochlear implant emits a high-frequency noise which is painful and disorienting to them (what is their WEAKNESS), and it flees. As more aliens approach, Dad, for some reason, decides now is the time to panic: “Run to the truck!” he says. But isn’t the point to not make noise—particularly when they’re around? Don’t move. Certainly don’t run. And certainly don’t run toward a creaking, metal truck. But by this point, the Abbotts have gotten sloppy. Or the plot has.
There are a few subplots, too, that didn’t do much for me. Regan still blames herself for the death of Cade. She thinks Dad blames her, too—that he doesn’t love her. But he does. Which he shows—and signs—before sacrificing himself to save her.
It’s Regan, in the end, who figures out the alien’s weakness: the high-frequency noise, which disorients them and exposes their flesh. And it’s Mom who blasts the alien with a shotgun. Then, via Dad’s camera monitors, they see more aliens approaching. They look at each other, nod, and Mom locks and loads.
That’s a great ending.
It’s a good movie, too: clever premise, suspenseful throughout. I could just never get past the idiocy of the pregnancy.
Movie Review: Susu (2018)
The trailer looked good anyway. Maybe that person should’ve edited the film.
It certainly needs editing. Good god. The main problems with “Susu” are editing and pacing. Also the British woman in the wheelchair is obviously a dude in a wig, so that 11th-hour reveal isn’t much of one.
At some point, too, during their things-that-go-bump-in-the-night weekend at a spooky British manor, our protagonists, Qi’an and Aimo (Wu Zitong and Lin Zhu), two Chinese girls living in London, should’ve clung closer to one another; but of course they picked this moment to raise the unsaid things between them. All that baggage. Like how Aimo had less love from her family and fewer career options than Qi’an. Oddly, neither brings up the fact that previously they’d murdered a dude. For some reason, that stays buried. We get that during another 11th-hour reveal.
Yep. That's one long 11th hour.
Qi’an is a Chinese student living and working in London when she gets an offer to translate some texts at a British manor in the countryside. Her roommate, Aimo, supercute, and so big-eyed she could be an anime or Rankin-Bass character (I flashed on Jessica Claus a few times), invites herself along.
The first person they meet? The wheelchair-bound Shirley (Steve Edwin), who has issues beyond being a dude in a wig. Like how does she get around that stair-heavy manor in a wheelchair? No explanation. And what’s up with the gecko? She feeds it, it bites her, she serves it with the evening meal. Everyone’s reaction to that is a kind of muffled embarrassment rather than, you know, “OK, thanks for the gig, I’m outta here.”
The text that needs translating is old footage of Peking Opera star Susu, who lived in the manor decades earlier before taking her own life. We see the suicide in flashback: combing her hair in the vanity mirror, applying lipstick, stringing old filmstrips amid the chandalier and then hanging herself withthe filmstrips. A bit too on-the-nose with the filmstrip, no? One wonders how many directors have thought similarly.
Anyway, we get the usual (if poorly paced) creepy. Strange men keep appearing in windows. The film is often washed out in that ’70s made-for-TV way. Everyone comments on how much Qi’an, who can’t get rid of a neckache, looks like Susu. Is there some metaphysical connection between them? Something supernatural and spooky? Nah. It’s not a ghost story. It’s a people-are-weird story. Shirley, yes, is really a dude, the old husband of Susu. And while he’s got issues—not the cross-dressing; everything else—he’s not the one who keeps murdering women. That’s his son, Benjamin (Frederick Szkoda), who, as a curly headed tot, witnessed Susu’s suicide, and now shows up at odd times, tall and silent and vaguely menacing. To our two leads that means one thing: Which one of us gets him?
A talkative Scottish girl also shows up for a bit, but then she discovers something in Susu’s closet that horrifies her. She takes a photo of it and tries to escape. She nearly does, but at the last minute... You know. Bonk bonk on the head. Qi‘an actually does what no one ever does in a horror movie: She make it out. We see her with her bag at the train station. But then she tries calling Aimo, can’t reach her, so she not only returns to the house (without calling the cops), she accepts Shirley’s invite to go back inside. Of course, there, she’s drugged with tea. By Shirley. For Benjamin? Who knows? Shortly thereafter, Shirley commits suicide, and we learn what hangs in the closet: a dozen or more heads of hair, scalps I guess, of women Benjamin’s killed.
Why? It all goes back to Susu. As that curly headed tot, he liked to watch her comb her hair. He wanted to touch it. But she wouldn’t let him. So when she fell to the ground after trying to kill herself, and croaked out a call for help, he, Damian-like, finished her off. He angrily pulled the filmstrip taut around her neck. Now he could touch it. Now he could touch it all he wanted. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaaa.
At this point, after Benjamin's comeuppance, you want the movie to end. But it keeps going. Right into the midnight hour.
A year later, we’re told, Qi’an, who survived, is working in a London jewelry store, when, in her apartment, that other 11th hour reveal, the lecherous Londoner Qi’an and Aimo killed, makes a comeback. The heart pills they took from him show up on her dining table. How? She turns, is shocked by a large man there, the screen goes black. Is it the lecher? Is it someone who saw what she did? Who knows? “Written and directed by Sun Yixi.”
There are elements of “Susu” that might've worked. You could do a lot on, for example, the western male fetish for Chinese girls. But this is a student’s effort.
Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Based on the trailer, I assumed we were going to get the story of how an optimistic hot-rodder (“I’ve got a really good feeling about this”) becomes the cynical anti-hero we all loved in “Star Wars” (I’ve got a bad feeling about this”).
Instead, we get the story of how an orphan from the tough streets of Corellia...
- escapes from his home planet even as his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, the Mother of Dragons), is captured
- winds up with a rag-tag team of bandits, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who keeps betraying him; and,
- is reunited with Qi’ra, who, it’s implied, has been enslaved and fucked over in ways we don’t want to imagine, and who also winds up betraying him
And yet for all that, our hero, Han (Alden Ehrenreich), never loses his general optimism and ebullience. The guy who said “I ain’t in this for your revolution, Princess, and I ain’t in it for you. ... I’m in it for the money”? That guy? We don’t begin to see him here.
Should’ve known. My imagined path implies bad shit happening that we feel. And not feeling, just getting into and out of near-death scrapes, is the whole point of the “Star Wars” saga.
Plus, taking us up to the fateful meeting in the Mos Eisley cantina implies a kind of closure, which means closing off potential revenue streams. And keeping potential revenue streams open and flowing is the whole other point of the “Star Wars” saga.
Ehrenreich was better than I anticipated but I was still bored. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a series of perilous entries and last-second extractions from:
- The military
- The botched train robbery deal
- The debt to gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, overacting)
- The battle with Dryden Vos. Or Tobias Beckett. Or maybe even Qi’ra
Yes, “Star Wars” was also a series of difficult entries and last-second extractions, but it felt different. Maybe because I was 14 when I saw it? Maybe because what was new in ’77 feels done-to-death now? Maybe because the original characters felt fun and engaging and these feel ... not?
The most interesting new character to me is Rio Durant (voice: Jon Favreau), a bemused multi-limbed alien and member of Beckett’s crew, but he dies early. I also liked L3-37 (voice: Phoebe Waller-Bridge of “Fleabag”), a tall, gangly, and vaguely suffragist droid, who foments a revolution on Kessel. She buys it, too. Beckett? Always fun to see Woody. Gone. Han shoots first.
Some of the reveals aren’t that revealing. Early on, Han is thrown into a pit with a “monster.” Chewie, right? Right. Too much is avoided—namely everything Qi’ra went through. Not to mention the insane coincidence of simply running into her at Dryden Vos’ place. You ever run into a friend in the same city? You do a double-take, right? How about running into a friend on the other side of the world? That happened to me once: I saw a Minnesota friend in a nightclub in Taipei in 1987. Now imagine that but with the galaxy. That should’ve been the double-take of all double-takes. Not to mention it was the love of his life to whom he was doing everything to return. But in the movie, it barely registers. There's no human moment. It’s sort of like, “Oh, that problem’s solved, and now we’re onto the next thing.“ Whoosh. The roller coaster keeps rolling.
Maybe the worst reveal involves Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman), the leader of the fierce Cloud Riders, who kill Rio Durant and Beckett’s love, Val (Thandie Newton, wasted), while attempting to steal the coaxium that Beckett’s crew stole from the train. Guess what? She’s a freckle-faced girl. It’s a bit “Full Metal Jacket,” isn’t it? Also they’re not pirates; they’re the beginning of the rebellion. And Han is all in. He’ll do anything to help. Rio who? Val who? Already forgotten. Already swept under. I”m not in it for the money; I'm in it for your revolution, Princess.
We get greatest hits. There’s Chewbacca grumbling over hologram chess. There’s Beckett wearing that odd helmet with the built-in reverse handlebars that Lando wore in “Return of the Jedi.” There’s young Lando (Donald Glover) cheating at cards. We get to go on the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. And is that ... Darth Maul? It is. Apparently they’re delivering nostalgia for fans of the prequels, too.
The one thing that goes unmentioned is the very thing that binds this universe together. There’s no Force here. Both ways.
Goodbye gray skies, hello blue
I keep coming back to the nostalgia. That seems key to the whole thing.
“Star Wars” was borne out of George Lucas’ nostalgia for the Saturday matinee movie serials of his youth, and we’re now nostalgic for the feeling we had when we first entered his universe. We want that feeling back again. The movie tries to help. Too much.
“Solo” had a rough birth. Its original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were apparently overwhelmed by the project, and were replaced by the old pro, Ron Howard, who has his own connection to both Lucas and nostalgic enterprises. When “Star Wars” was released in May 1977, he was the star of the No. 1 TV show in America, “Happy Days,” which was nostalgic for a “simpler time” before the turbulence of the 1960s. And while “Happy Days” was based on a 1972 episode of “Love American Style,” it probably only got greenlit because of the success of Lucas’ previous film, “American Graffiti,” which starred Howard. Also in a key bit role as a hot-rodder? Harrison Ford, Han Solo himself. That’s where he was born.
Have we just gotten tired of it? Them pressing our nostalgia buttons? All of those perilous entries and last-second extractions? Because “Solo” didn’t do well with the critics or at the box office. If you adjust for inflation, every major “Star Wars” release grossed between $476 million and $1.3 billion, domestic, but this one is just struggling over the $200 million mark. Every major “Star Wars” was the No. 1 movie of its year—save “Clones,” which finished third—but I doubt this one makes the top 10. It’s already No. 5 with an anvil.
What happened? I'm sure Disney/Lucas execs are trying to figure that out. Here's a clue. In the documentary “The Making of American Graffiti,” George Lucas talks about the difficult of getting “Graffiti” made. It was just too different. No exec could see what it was. But audiences could. Here’s Lucas:
I think one of the reasons it was as successful as it was is because it was different from the standard fare of the time. ... “Star Wars” suffered from the same fate. People don’t realize with these movies that have become very successful ... it’s because they’re fresh and different and experimental that people like to watch them.
A long time ago. In a galaxy far, far away.
Movie Review: The Guilty (2018)
In “The Guilty,” a woman is kidnapped by her ex, alerts the police by pretending to call her daughter, and the cops spend the rest of the movie frantically searching for her before it’s too late.
And it all takes place in an emergency police dispatch room.
Most of the movie is 112 operator Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren in a standout performance) working the phones, doing what he can, and often more, to bring her back safely. We see him, but only hear the other end of the line. We have to imagine that part. It’s almost like radio.
And it’s riveting.
The evening for Asger begins in almost comic fashion as he receives 112 (i.e., 911) calls that really aren’t. A man is mugged ... by the hooker he was soliciting. There’s a fight at a bar ... and the drunk caller expects Asger to know where it is and curses him when he doesn’t. A woman phones from a car ... and talks nonsense and calls him “Sweetie.” Asger is about to hang up on her, too, when something she says triggers the cop in him and he realizes she’s being kidnapped. By the time they’re disconnected, he knows she’s in a white van heading north from Copenhagen. He relays this info forward. Normally that would be the end of it for him. Others are now on the case.
Asger, though, stays involved. He’s a cop, doing dispach work temporarily, and his computer lets him know the name and number of who called—Iben (voice of Jessica Dinage)—so he phones Iben’s home phone. Her daughter Mathilde ( Katinka Evers-Jahnsen), 6 years old, answers. She’s alone but for her brother, Oliver, who’s just a baby. After she gives Asger the information he needs—her father is named Michael (Johan Olsen), this is his phone number, he was mad, he had a knife—he can’t get her off the phone. She’s scared and alone and he makes promises he knows he shouldn’t make: mostly that her mother will be alright.
Asger, we soon realize, has issues of his own. He’s a foot patrolman who’s being disciplined and has a hearing the next day. Later we find out he shot and killed a man in self-defense. Except after he convinces his partner, Rashid (Omar Shargawi), to break into Michael’s home for clues, we infer from their conversation that it wasn’t in self-defense. One wonders: Is his desperate attempt to save Iben a way to assuage his guilt? Or is it more of what got him into trouble in the first place? Or both?
The horror intensifies when two patrolman are sent to Iben’s house and find Mathilde with blood on her. Not her blood. Oliver’s. He’s dead in his crib. Cut to pieces.
First-time director Gustav Möller, whose work here won him best director at the Seattle International Film Festival, makes it all come to life within that small, confined space. But here’s the best part: the movie we think we’re watching isn’t the movie we’re watching.
M. Night, eat your heart out
We think we’re watching a movie about a cop who maybe redeems himself by maybe saving a woman from her crazy, murderous ex-husband. Indeed, when Iben calls again, he tells her to put on her seatbelt and then pull up the emergency brake. She does. The phone goes dead. Is she dead? No. When she calls back, she’s been bundled into the back of the van and is hysterical. He calms her down. He gets her to talk about things she likes. She says she takes her kids to The Blue Planet, an aquarium in Copenhagen. Mathilde goes for the turtles. Iben says she likes it all. She likes the calm and the quiet of life underwater. And it’s working. She’s calming down. They’re bonding. Now he’s telling her to find a weapon to use against Michael when he opens the van doors. And just before he does, she mentions the snakes. “Snakes?” Asger says. Yes, she says. The snakes in Oliver’s belly. She got them out for him.
It was her. She killed her son. Her ex isn’t kidnapping her, he’s taking her back to a psychiatric facility in Elsinore—home of Hamlet—so she won’t do more harm. But because of Asger’s dogged determination to help, she’s able to escape—for a time. It’s one of the greater plot twists I’ve seen in recent movies. M. Night Shyamalan, eat your heart out. And please don’t try to remake it.
That said, does it hold up when you examine it from all sides? Why, for example, wouldn’t Michael simply have called the cops when he came across the crime scene? Why take his ex to Elsinore himself? And leave his 6-year-old alone with a baby corpse?
I still highly recommend it. As you watch this movie about a hero cop and a damsel in distress, you wonder who “The Guilty” of the title refers to. It winds up referring to the hero cop and the damsel in distress.
Movie Review: Hal (2018)
What did I know about Hal Ashby before I saw this documentary?
That he was an iconoclastic filmmaker whom actors loved working with, and who made his best movies, including “Harold and Maude,” “The Last Detail,” “Bound for Glory” and “Being There,” in the 1970s. He didn’t do much in the 1980s. He might’ve died early in that decade.
And what did I learn about Hal Ashby from this doc by first-time director Amy Scott?
Oh, right, “Shampoo” and “Coming Home.” Can’t believe I forgot those.
And, wow, I guess he did make movies in the ’80s; they were just stinkers. The way that all of his movies in the ’70s were good, all of his movies in the ’80s were not. It’s like a switch had been thrown. “Slugger’s Wife”? That was his? Never even heard of “Second-Hand Hearts” (with Robert Blake) and “Looking to Get Out” (with Jon Voight). The doc implies that “Eight Million Ways to Die” (with Jeff Bridges) was ruined because the studio took it away from him and edited it poorly, but who knows? He’d already directed three stinkers in a row by then. The highest IMDb rating among his ’80s work is “Eight Million,” which garners a 5.7. That’s the highest. His lowest of the ’70s is “Shampoo,” a 6.3—and that underrates it considerably. It’s much better than that.
What was true for Ashby was also true for the movies themselves. The great directors’ decade of the 1970s was over; the era of the blockbuster had begun. But did any great director fall so precipitously?
On the road to find out
Ashby was born and raised in Utah, wasn’t a Mormon, and his father left the family when he was about 6. He worked his way up in Hollywood—although they don’t tell us when he arrived. Like even a decade. I hate that. Give me some chronology, people. Norman Jewison talks up running into him in an editing room where he was helping edit William Wyler’s movies and grabbing him for himself—but not when this was. 1964? 1957?
Ashby wound up editing some of Jewison’s best: “The Cincinnati Kid,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Then Ashby began to direct his own. He and Jewison remained tight all of their lives.
(Among respected directors, Jewison is the real oddity, isn’t he? He flourished in the late ’60s, stumbled in the director's decade of the ’70s (“Rollerball,” “F.I.S.T.”) when everyone else was prospering artistically, and righted himself in the ’80s (“A Soldier’s Story,” “Moonstruck”) when everyone else was stumbling artistically. That arc seems worthy of a doc of its own.)
“Hal” barely touches on the work Ashby did with Wyler. According to IMDb, he helped edit “Big Country,” “Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” What was that like? Watching the studio system disintegrate? And it doesn’t mention this fact at all: In the midst of that A-level Hollywood work, Ashby was also assistant editor for “Captain Sindbad, a cheapie German film from 1963 that my brother and I saw, dubbed, at the Boulevard Theater in re-release some Saturday matinee in the early 1970s. I mostly remember it because Sindbad (the extra “d” was to avoid copyright infringement) stabs the villain in the chest but the blade comes out clean. The villain has no heart! It’s locked at the top of a tower. Sindbad’s goal thus becomes getting to that tower and throwing the beating heart over the parapet. Which he does.
So how did Ashby wind up working on that? Nothing. Crickets.
Miles from nowhere
What else did I learn? Ashby had a lot of girlfriends/wives and he smoked a lot of dope. The great Cat Stevens’ songs in “Harold and Maude” were demos, but Ashby liked them well enough, or was behind deadline enough, that he stuck them in—much to Stevens’ initial chagrin. He’s cool with it now.
Ashby was also set to be the original director for “Tootsie” but had to step out because his post-production work on “Lookin’ to Get Out” wasn’t fulfilled. Too bad. His ’80s oeuvre would’ve looked a little better with that on it. If it came out well.
That’s about all I learned.
“Hal” is well-named: It's pleasing; I’d recommend it for film fans. It's about Hal, your pal. I wanted more on Ashby.