Film Brief: Elle

I though Elle was going to be about a woman who was sexually assaulted, and then took that experience and instead of feeling victimized by it, turned it around, flipped the script and used it to her empowerment.

Instead, we get a muddled take on Basic Instinct-cum-pseudo Hitchcock psychological crime drama.  Operative word is muddled.  The movie held me well enough through the first half or so, but lost its way later on.  A disappointed, marginal no.  5/10

Film Brief: Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-text-blockHidden Figures is quite formulaic, but nonetheless entertaining, and, as it depicts real lives and history, somewhat edifying.  My own experience causes me to question the accuracy of events within the NASA centers.  The math and operations often seemed more Hollywood than scientific.  A scant few viewers will notice this glitch.

To put it another way, the Rotten Tomatoes (yes, still useful) summary:

In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked — and crucial — contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.

The timing on this movie is good too, given the politics of the clown administration.  7/10

Sitcoms of the Here and Now!

I don’t post much on television shows, and even less on comedies, but I wanted to bring attention to a couple sitcoms.  I usually give new sitcoms a couple minutes of a chance — that’s all I need to decide if they’re for me, and almost always they’re not.  So I was surprised to find myself thoroughly in love with The Mick, a new Fox series airing regularly on Tuesday nights, and irregularly whenever Fox feels like it.  It stars Kaitlin Olson from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, another sitcom that didn’t gel for me.  But I like the dynamic and out-there comic sensibility of The Mick.  Olson plays Mickey, a rough-and-ready aunt to three spoiled and disrespectful rich kids.

Comedy, as I’ve noted before, is tough.  It’s also subjective, I guess.  So check it out for yourself; I recommend starting with the first episode, but it’s not critical.  You may be able to watch it free on-demand via your cable/satellite service; it’s also available on the Fox Now app, though you can’t fast-forward through the commercials.

With a show like this, who knows how long it will last… or how long it will remain funny.

From The Mick, Ep. 1

The Mick, Ep. 1

* * *

Also from Fox, Baskets season 2 began last Thursday 1/19 on FX.

Ever since I saw Due Date (no, not The Hangover), which as a side note was the first movie I saw in San Luis Obispo, I’ve been a fan of Zach Galifianakis.  If for some reason you’re not aware of his brand of humor, watch a few of his “Between Two Ferns” segments on YouTube.

Baskets started off awkwardly, both in the comedic, intentional sense best exemplified by The Office, but also in the clumsy, this-is-not-funny way.  My initial reaction was nearly to discontinue viewing — as you can gather, I have a short fuse when it comes to sitcoms, even those starring Zach Galifianakis.  But the show was nonetheless intriguing, if not hilarious.  It grew on me, and then made a swing upward with Ep. 4, “Easter in Bakersfield,” and then Ep. 5, “Uncle Dad” pushed me into dedicated fan territory.

True the comedy is stilted, but that’s the point.  It’s a balance of humor and the melancholy, and can be quite touching at times — as evidenced so well in the first episode of Season 2.

Besides streaming options, FX airs last week’s episode of its shows, Baskets included, on the night of the new episode — so DVR both on Thursday if you missed the first one.

Film Brief: Jackie

jackie-poster

I am hardly a Jackie Kennedy scholar, but there seemed something a bit odd in Natalie Portman’s performance, something where I wasn’t sure if it was dead-on or off in a bizarre direction — one of my initial thoughts was, of all people, Marilyn Monroe.  And there was a certain detachment.  However, a brief look at Mrs. Kennedy’s White House tour (highlighted in the film) makes me think Natalie Portman might well have nailed it.

Jackie raises the obvious comparison to Sofia Coppola’s much superior Marie Antoinette.  Tragedy, we know, is in the offing.  I was severely disappointed by Jackie, but I admit the film held me, and that goes a long way.  I kept waiting for the film to reveal itself, to show me a door I had not previously known.  By the end of the film, that door was yet to be found.  6/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Frost/Nixon

Lion Does Not Roar

My opinion of Lion is colored by the 60 Minutes report on the story.  The CBS treatment was much tighter, obviously — filling in a 14-minute segment length.  The overly drawn-out film suffers in comparison to the concise and dynamic presentation by CBS.

A question that comes to mind about the evaluation of a film based on a true story that I am more or less familiar with ahead of time is “How can I fairly criticize this movie when the dramatic punch, especially as the film reaches towards its climax, has necessarily been diminished by my knowledge of the events herein?”  All I can answer is that I do my best to wash out preconceived ideas, and go with the flow of the film the best I can.  Knowing the outcome did not diminish my feelings toward the great Bernie (one day I’ll post on that one), Sully, Captain Phillips, The Theory of Everything, or last year’s best movie, The Walk.  You can click on my “true story” tag and look at other examples for yourself.

Back to Lion.  I enjoyed the first part, when our subject Saroo Brierley was a boy lost in India.  But the longer adult stage lost me — it’s the much less interesting part of the story, yet the film spends an inordinate amount of time on it.  Still, the performances and production values were good — I especially enjoyed Rooney Mara and the consummate Nicole Kidman.  So I offer a marginal recommendation, with a more vigorous advocacy instead for the 60 Minutes segment.  Unfortunately, there appears to be a subscription requirement for that.  6/10

10 of the Most Gorgeous Uses of Color in Film

I shared a video a while back about Stanley Kubrick’s use of red.  Commentary regarding color in film which includes movie clips is always a good thing.  I don’t necessarily agree with the opinions in this new tape; indeed that would be impossible since I haven’t seen a number of the movies.  CineFix YouTube post via Sploid/Gizmodo; article lists summary in each category.  See my post on The Fall.

Arrival of Passengers

passengers-img1

CHRIS PRATT WAS PERFECTLY CAST in Guardians of the Galaxy.  Which is why he’s hard to take seriously in Passengers. Jennifer Lawrence, too, I have a hard time taking seriously these days.  Before she was the queen of A-List celebrity, I saw her in Winter’s Bone.  So I know she’s got acting chops.  But all the silly roles in silly blockbusters (stupid Hunger Games) and greatly overrated films like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle have taken their toll, as far as I’m concerned.

passengers-text-blockThose ratings.  Passengers was something of a test of Rotten Tomatoes.  Too often films with a high Tomatometer score, such as the other big Sci-Fi film this year, Arrival, I find phenomenally disappointing.  And too often I disregard films with low scores. And by disregard, I mean miss. Passengers — with a lowly 17% score among “Top Critics” — would have been one of those I missed, but I stuck to my gut instinct and was happily surprised.

Which, just like the non-failure of the AE-35 unit in 2001, just about does it for Rotten Tomatoes.  I’ll still refer to it, but that percent score by itself will neither compel me to, or dissuade me from, watching any given picture.

* * *

Back to Chris Pratt.  His tongue-in-cheek countenance weighs a little on Passengers in the beginning, because after all he is in a quite dire, life-or-death situation.  But the film plays off that lightheartedness, and marries with it.  This is a tack the film takes which weakens it; a heavier tone could have turned this good film into a great one.

In other words, a little hokum runs as an undercurrent through the first half of Passengers, and Pratt fits that stream well.  The bits of corniness may be viewed as pandering to the lowest common denominator of audiences, and as I said a sterner approach would have produced better results.  Luckily though, this occasional dearth of depth is the film’s worst problem, and as such hardly ruins it.  I even liked Jennifer Lawrence.

I was sorely disappointed by Arrival, and the big “sci-fi” film of last year, The Martian.  Both highly regarded by critics, as reflected on the Tomatometer, and both really sucky movies.  The good news?  I reckon it’ll keep me writing these posts.  If I could find a source of criticism that I could rely on to only watch good movies, God knows I’d go with it.  But if it exists, I haven’t found it.

I very much liked Passengers, and it stuck with me through the night.  Overall very entertaining, and never boring.  The little glitches hold it to a solid recommendation at the top side of 7/10.

Comparison Notes: (Recommended): Moon