Logan’s Run, Run, Run

Pursuit – run-in, pursuit – run-in, pursuit – really big run-in, end of movie.  This basic, worn out, unengaging and paper-thin plot structure is the bane of many superhero and “action” films, and to some degree explains the disparity between the Tomatometer and my score on a movie like Logan.  Almost makes you wonder if all these other critics are so dim as to not recognize the formula, or somehow think it novel.

I liked the feisty girl, and the performances in general were OK.  I’m a bit of Hugh Jackman fan — from Les Miz at least.  Add in a little fun to get yield 4/10.

Comparison Notes: the much better Mad Max film from a couple years back

Alt Art of The Neon Demon [u]

Some movies inspire numerous alternate posters and art, often unofficial or fan art.  Donnie Darko is the prime example of this phenomenon.  Donnie Darko is also a truly magnificent film, in a class by itself — something The Neon Demon could only dream of.  But credit must be given to the cool visuals within The Neon Demon, and the imaginations ignited by it.  As with Donnie Darko, I think my favorite poster is the original (above), but I love to see what people have created; a mere sampling:

Get the F– Out!

Get Out is thoroughly entertaining and just plain good — a nice surprise.  I think it likely to hold up in the Top 10, even with the assumption that this year will fare much better than last.  Is it on the level of another ‘get out’ story, Ex Machina from a couple years ago?  Not quite.  But it’s a fun, frightening feature for folks (quintuple-‘F’!!).

Now compare to that last effort by M. Night Shyamalan.  No comparison, and M. Night’s been doing this for decades.  It makes it all the more remarkable what Jordan Peele (yes, of Key & Peele) has accomplished.  Let’s see, he wrote and starred in Keanu.  The cat movie.  Well-regarded, but a silly cat movie.  Very next movie, Get Out.  Whoa, what a turn.  Much respect.  Quite the way to break out of slapstick.

There are a few silly moments in Get Out, which serve nicely as comic relief.  You might call them ‘audience pleasers.’  They weren’t bad at all, but hardly integrated into the larger story as deftly as the Coens or Vince Gilligan would pull off.  So a little incongruity there.  But no matter: I urge you to Get Out and see this movie.  8/10

Comparison Notes (all highly recommended): Being John Malkovich, Invasion films, Sound of My Voice, Martha Marcy May Marlene

From Iran: The Salesman

If you cross House of Sand and Fog with Prisoners and watching paint dry in Tehran, you might end up with something like The Salesman.  This movie won the best foreign film Oscar, which completes the Academy’s trifecta of totally blowing it for the 2016 season.

Critics adored this film and the director’s last U.S. release, About Elly.  The Salesman was marginally more interesting than About Elly, but both offer more proof of critical praise based on political correctness.  And movies from Iran, I suppose, are still such a novelty that anything must be good in the critics’ eyes.

If one took this exact same movie, set in Chicago or Tallahassee and in English, critics would be screaming about how bad it is.  An oddity I noticed on this one: careless errors in the subtitling.  Amazon Studios really phoned it in on that.

The Tomatometer is so wide of the mark on foreign films generally, and especially thosethe-salesman-text-block of this director, that I’m done with these type of recommendations, at least until such time that a trailer really grabs the hell out of me.  I found The Salesman to be gutless and uninspired.  Beyond that, obvious implausibilities weigh on the story.  A bit of effective drama toward the end raises it to 4/10.

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M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the film scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense; his results since then have been, to put it nicely, mixed.  I did like last year’s The Visit, a campy minor romp.  But it’s clear he’s no creative genius, no Quentin Tarantino or P.T. Anderson — nor anything close.  As evidence we have Split, a movie more ambitious than Shyamalan’s ken.  A lot of elements he grasps at sour into hackneyed nonsense.

split-text-blockOn top of that, Split wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it had every right to be.  Given the premise, there were a million more interesting ways it could have gone.  But instead, it went the I-am-out-of-my-depth-with-storywriting way.  There are obvious comparisons to 10 Cloverfield Lane.  We weren’t dealing with multiple personalities there, but the psychosis was much more effective.  Split delivered a little transient entertainment value — James McAvoy turns in a fun game with the lead.  But the effort is squandered by Shyamalan, and I cannot recommend.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Don’t Breathe, Saw, The Human Centipede, The Silence of the Lambs, Dead Calm, Riveting Rentals

The Founder Makes It Big Time

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The Founder is not a movie about hamburgers.  It’s a movie about business, and a good one: solid, compelling, and more than you expect.  One thing we learn: Ray Kroc was a jerk.  And when you think of it, a lot of big companies have been built by jerks.  But what makes this movie good — beyond the journey itself — is that he’s a complicated, interesting character — if ultimately still a jerk.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

How is Michael Keaton’s performance as McDonald’s self-proclaimed founder Ray Kroc? I gotta say, I’m lovin’ it. Keaton is firing on all cylinders in The Founder and he makes this electrifying film something to see.

Like Apple founder Steve Jobs, Kroc – who died in 1984 – had a genius for marketing the talent of others. Is that a lesser gift? Not in these United States. Not then. And not in the age of Trump. Set more than a half century ago, The Founder proves to be a movie for a divisive here and now. Step right up. You might just learn something. God help us.

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Times article on the movie’s production makes an interesting point:

…the film’s portrayal of Kroc comes with a notable irony: Unauthorized by the company, “The Founder” uses McDonald’s zealously guarded iconography to provide a bold visual tour through Kroc’s supposed hijacking of those same, mostly trademarked, images.

The Founder qualified for 2016 awards — I had thought it a Hail, Caesar!-type 2017 release which would not.  As typical, the Academy is blind to the best (Variety discusses this).  I hate to do it, but I must revise my 2016 list: The Founder knocks Sully out of the Top Five.  8/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): Big Eyes comes to mind – a good juxtaposition on the male businessman-jerk theme; Citizen Kane

Seasons of Spring 3 by 3

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“She’s dead.  Wrapped in plastic…wrap.”

Three television series will see a Season 3 premiere this Spring: the Showtime redux of Twin Peaks — god I hope it’s good, Fargo on FX, and Better Call Saul on AMC.  Dates:

Twin Peaks: Sunday, May 21

Fargo: “sometime in mid-April”

Better Call Saul: Monday, April 10

Fargo will feature Ewan McGregor and be the most modern Fargo yet, set in 2010.  I hope it’s good in spite of McGregor’s presence.  Same goes for the Trainspotting sequel set to release next month (egad!).

Season 2 was entertaining, though not up to Season 1 form.  There was so much violence that the National Guard would have been called in by about episode 5, so my incredulity will be alleviated if they dial it back a bit.

If previous patterns hold, AMC will air the first two seasons of Better Call Saul in marathon style leading up to the premiere.  That same pattern dictates availability of Season 2 on Netflix one week prior to the premiere; Season 1 is available now.  Certainly hoping it continues to be (among) the most entertaining shows ever aired.  Gus Fring will be part of the story, and I’d be surprised if we don’t at some point see Walter White, as the inevitable crossover into the Breaking Bad era takes place.

As for Twin Peaks.  Without going into it, let’s just say that Twin Peaks was a revelation when it first aired.  Not only did I think it was an incredibly great, ground-breaking show, but it made a significant cultural impact on my life ever since.  The cast list is 200 miles long, including Kyle MacLachlan and a number of other original cast members, and newcomers Michael Cera, longtime Lynchite Laura Dern, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew Lillard, rock frontmen Trent Reznor and Eddie Vedder, Naomi Watts, and A-Lister Amanda Seyfried.

Such a massive cast is a lot to juggle, so I hope this doesn’t become another Dune.  David Lynch and Mark Frost are producing and writing, as they did originally, and Lynch will be directing.  My concern is that Lynch hasn’t made a film since Inland Empire, and was seemingly retired from dramatic presentation, content to make damn fine coffee and avant-garde music.

Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Fargo have set a new standard in television.  I hope Twin Peaks can live up to that standard while capturing the spirit, and the spirits, of the original series.

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