Lady Macbeth Doth Protest Too Little

Lady Macbeth started and ran strongly for about the first two-thirds, before running into territory that was a bit mishandled, and less than optimal even if handled perfectly.  Still though, very good and fully engrossing — and the biggest reason is the film’s star.  Adam Graham, The Detroit News:

With quiet menace, [Florence] Pugh chews through director William Oldroyd’s handsomely composed period thriller like a rat gnawing through a wall.  She’s a force to be reckoned with, and her nightmare stare lingers longer than any poor sap who dares to get in her way.

Cath Clarke, Time Out London:

This brilliantly feminist British indie film plunges a cold, sharp knife into the back of bonnet dramas.

Indeed.  A lot of (evil) fun to be had here.  Maybe think of as a companion piece to The Little Hours, which is sticking with me enough that I’m considering bumping it up a notch.  Every time I think of it I smile inside.  As for Lady Macbeth: 8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Les Amants Criminels, Lars von Trier films, especially Breaking the Waves; Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), The Last Seduction, The Housemaid, Marie Antoinette.

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

The Nice Guys Finish First

Scott Tobias, NPR, mostly gets it:

With The Nice Guys, his wildly entertaining new detective comedy, Black visits the smog-choked, libertine Los Angeles of the mid- to late 1970s, a few years and a few miles removed from private eyes like Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye or Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice. Only, The Nice Guys doesn’t linger in the haze. It has the byzantine plot of an LA noir, but races through it with the breathless energy of Black’s other work. From a simple missing-person case, the film opens up a full-to-bursting array of running jokes, ornate action set pieces, municipal schemes, and twists large and small. The only trouble is keeping up with it.

A few critics speak to a confusing or multi-layered plot, but I’m not sure what they’re talking about.  I found the story quite straightforward, even simple —  if not especially robust.  But the film does move along well, with lots of fun scenes The Nice Guys - text blockmoving quickly from one to the next.  “Wildly entertaining” is overselling it a bit, however.  Toward the end, The Nice Guys devolves into a sort of fermented corn-and-cheese mixture: the “ornate action set piece” finale I found trite, an obvious take-off on the much better opening sequence of the second Indiana Jones picture.

With its several significant flaws, The Nice Guys nonetheless has more in its favor than against it.  It’s mostly a lot of fun.  The squandered opportunities which yielded American Hustle and Inherent Vice were making me think that no-one could produce a decent ’70s-set movie in this vein, but The Nice Guys comes out on top of this heap.  On the low end of 7/10.

Comparison Notes (all recommended, and more accurately “wildly entertaining”): Chinatown, Catch Me If You Can, Trainspotting, Hail, Caesar!

Breaking Bad Debrief

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NOTE: Don’t let the post title scare you off.  There will be NO SPOILERS in this post.

In the second season of Breaking Bad, a pair of junkies who can barely put one foot in front of another supposedly are able to pull off the heist of an ATM from a convenience store and ferry the cash-laden machine back to their den.  This is the most extreme example of a loss of logic that occasionally drags on the series.  Those moments — often necessary to continue the story — usually occur amidst high-tension drama and are therefore fairly easily overlooked.  And these lapses are the only negative I can mention about Breaking Bad.

Wikipedia:

Breaking Bad is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time… [and] entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time.

I certainly don’t put Breaking Bad at the top of all television series ever — the aforementioned momentary lapses of reason are enough to knock it a peg below, say, Mad Men.  But it’s way up there, certainly in the top ten.  The series Breaking Bad - Sleepingstarts off a little roughly, but coincidentally once Saul Goodman enters as a recurring character half-way through Season 2, the show falls into a highly entertaining groove and never leaves it.  It is almost always riveting, edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

In other words, I highly recommend Breaking Bad.  Unlike Mad Men, make sure to watch starting with Season 1 Episode 1.  The entire series is available on Netflix (Yay!).

VOD Log: Blue Caprice

A note on the BLOG.  I have not lost interest in the blog, but I’ve slowed down a lot in the first couple months of 2016 because there has been absolutely nothing in the theaters that interests me.  You’d think the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, which was well received by critics, would be hot on my list to go see.  It just isn’t.  I have no interest in it at all.  I’m not a big George Clooney fan (though I have nothing against him), and it seems like Clooney + Coen brothers = ‘bad movie.’

Deadpool, too, has been well received, but I just don’t want to see a lot of up-close crotch shots.  Got my dose of that in the previews.  Beyond those two there’s been little to motivate a trip to the cinema.  But this is the time of year typically Blue Caprice - posterblessed with some good indies, and The Witch [prior post] is at the top of that list.  So I’ve been watching more at home, namely a few movies and more Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul — a summary post will be coming on that subject.  First, to get it out of the way:

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Blue Caprice, on an absolute scale, is not a terrible movie.  But when you depict actual events, especially ones as well publicized as these, you’re held to another standard.  Not a standard that’s any more difficult to meet, mind you, just a standard that states that the actual events must be respected.  And boy is Blue Caprice full of disrespect.  It seems to deliberately ignore the most salient facts of the case.

Wikipedia:

Their crime spree began in February 2002 with murders and robberies in the states of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, which resulted in seven deaths and seven injuries, bringing the ten month shooting spree total to 17 deaths and 10 injuries

You might expect a filmed dramatization of these events to maybe tell that story — but with Blue Caprice, not so much.  From the movie you’d never know they were in any of those places other than Washington state.  A couple of the attacks are arbitrarily shown while most are not, even while other facts are misreported.  If the film had depicted the full rampage of devastation wrought by these two we’d have one helluva movie.

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The Beltway sniper attacks were a crime spree up there with Bonnie & Clyde.  This is not quiet meditation.  There can be quiet, meditative moments, but this is a tale of extreme, grisly, loud violence.  I appreciate that the film was focusing on the ‘father & son’ relationship.  But the explosive, fatal events that happened should not be treated as a mere tangent to your story.

This filmmaker decided to ignore the core story at hand in the name of showing off his artsy-fartsy filmmaking virtuosity.  What a wasted opportunity.  3/10

Holding a Black Mass for Itself

Compared to the enthralling true-life organized crime story it tells, Black Mass is a letdown.  That true crime story is muddled down by filmmakers who are in over their head.  Instead of a magnificent arc, we are given incongruous snapshots.  The performances are good, but that’s a given.  We may think of a mass being held for the vastly under-realized potential.

Black Mass - text blockSo no, Black Mass will not supplant Goodfellas, The Departed, or Mystic River, or even a small and much more powerful violent crime film like The Drop.  Johnny Depp does a good job here, but for an infinitely better Depp mob movie, check out Donnie Brasco.

Despite its deep shortcomings, those snapshots work well enough to let some of this poignant tale through, so a mild thumbs-up.  6/10

Cinematic Greats: Donnie Brasco

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I’m a spoke on a wheel.  And so was he.  And so are you.

What a fantastic movie this is; a blessing.  Just about perfect.

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Prior to The Gift, a trailer was shown for the upcoming Johnny Depp portrayal of Whitey Bulger, Black Mass.  I was instantly reminded of Depp’s other mob film, Donnie Brasco (lest anyone has remembered, let’s all forget about Public Enemies).

Which gets one thinking about the career of Johnny Depp, one of the biggest talents in Hollywood.  He was on the Letterman show talking about his first stint as Captain Jack Sparrow in the mega-blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean series; speaking of the Disney execs:

They didn’t know what I was doing, exactly.  They were concerned that I was, uh, I think in their words ‘ruining the movie.’  Something subtle like that.

A wonderful little interview.  You’ll have to excuse the quality; if you can find better let me know.

Being Johnny Depp, we may take it that he assured the producers to the effect, “I’m Johnny Depp.  I know what I’m doing.”  Boy did he.  From Edward Scissorhands on, there has never been any doubt about Depp’s “out there” roles — he always nails them.  He dons the full costume and makeup better than just about anyone.  He’s great at that, often brilliant.  Though occasionally a movie will fall short, as The Lone Ranger or Sweeney Todd, his performance is not to blame for those failures.  He always adds a quirky element to his portrayals that — as the Pirates anecdote proves — is entirely his invention.

But there’s this whole other side of Johnny Depp that is seen much less frequently — the “serious actor” who plays “straight” roles — roles without the fancy costume, without the panoply.  Donnie Brasco is the best example of this, and makes me wish he would do more “straight” roles.

Donnie Brasco excels because of Depp, and a great true story, and — most of all — because Al Pacino puts in probably the best performance of his career.

A terrific movie, maybe not as “essential” as Goodfellas, but every bit as good.  My highest recommendation.

Availability: iTunes