Rapid Response: The Passenger

Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider go existential in this introspective 1975 drama from Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni.

The Passenger PosterOn paper, “The Passenger” sounds like a thriller. But it’s an introspective examination of the self, an existential road trip movie with a spy element and a hint of danger. This is the way Michelangelo Antonioni does cloak and dagger espionage.

Jack Nicholson stars in the film and gives a stirring performance released the same year as his first Oscar-winning work as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Nicholson plays David Locke, a journalist in Africa so fed up with his assignment that he throws up his hands and declares he doesn’t care anymore. His car gets stuck in the sand, he’s literally spinning his wheels, and as he agonizes in defeat, Antonioni’s camera pans to reveal the enormity of the desert.

Back in his hotel, he finds his one English speaking companion, David Robertson, dead in his room. Jack reacts to it with the same irritated scowl as not having soap for the shower. Locke convinces the hotel clerks that he’s the one who’s dead, while he assumes the identity of Robertson, leaving his wife and his job behind. The only challenge is that Robertson is an illegal arms dealer in Africa. Continue reading “Rapid Response: The Passenger”

Harold Lloyd’s ‘Speedy’ and ‘The Freshman’

Two of the silent comedian Harold Lloyd’s most famous films demonstrate his everyman charm that allowed him to stand out from Chaplin and Keaton.

The Freshman Poster Harold LloydCharlie Chaplin would’ve never cared about the score of the Yankees game. Buster Keaton would’ve never tried for the college football team. It seems absurd that a movie star could actually distinguish themselves by being ordinary, but that’s exactly what Harold Lloyd did. He donned a pair of glasses and transformed himself into an everyman, carving out a niche between Chaplin’s precocious Tramp and Keaton’s stoic clown.

It feels appropriate then that with “The Freshman” this “regular fellow” inadvertently invented the sports movie and the college movie. Lloyd plays an eager young freshman who decides to imitate a recent movie in an attempt to become the most popular guy in school. Along the way he endures some playful hazing, a cartoonishly stuffy Dean, and public humiliation and abuse at parties and at football practice. It’s “Animal House” Class of 1925.

That Dean is a good example of a gag and a character so corny it could only work in a silent film. He has a monocle and a top hat and is astonished that any lowly freshman would even dare speak to him. His character is a cliche and an overused trope, in which the student gets the better of the bitter Dean or faces his wrath. But “The Freshman” and Lloyd in particular are so high spirited and endearingly charming. When he unknowingly pats the Dean on the back, Lloyd looks like a bashful puppy dog. How can you not laugh, and more importantly, relate?  Continue reading “Harold Lloyd’s ‘Speedy’ and ‘The Freshman’”

Beauty and the Beast

Bill Condon’s live action remake of Disney’s animated classic is recreated with true loving care

BeautyandtheBeastPosterBravo Disney! Take a bow. If you’re going to make a shameless, expensive remake of one of your all time classic animated films, do it as well as this new “Beauty and the Beast.” Make it as explosively colorful, graceful and charming as Bill Condon’s film.

The new “Beauty and the Beast” lovingly and painstakingly recreates the original as though it were a shot for shot fan video. That may sound like a step down from the animated film’s originality, but Condon devotes such loving care that it’s not hard to get caught up in the magic. Continue reading “Beauty and the Beast”

13th

Ava DuVernay’s “13th” plays like a filmed think piece about racial injustice we’ve heard far too many times.

13th PosterI only barely watched Ava DuVernay’s film “13th,” just shy of 15 minutes to be exact, because it’s only barely a documentary. It’s more like a filmed think piece stretched to feature length. That’s not to say I don’t agree with DuVernay’s facts or assertions. I also agree there’s an urgent need to address the criminal justice flaws and the systemic racism that African Americans are faced with every day. It’s just, thanks but no thanks; I’ve already read this piece.

DuVernay doesn’t open “13th” with a personal anecdote but a fact recited by Barack Obama. “Think about that,” he says. Just imagine the staggering nature of this statistic on its face without much context. He’s explained that 25 percent of the world’s prison population is in America. Then some talking heads start unpacking that statement and rapidly spin it into a revisionist history of everything you thought you knew about America. They then explain the 13th Amendment contains a semantic loophole that effectively makes slavery legal, and in no time flat, they arrive at the conclusion that “The Birth of a Nation” single handedly shaped Americans’ perception of black people as criminals for generations to come. All in under 15 minutes! Continue reading “13th”

The Straw That Should’ve Broke the Camel’s Back: Trump and Healthcare

The failure to repeal and replace Obamacare should’ve been Donald Trump’s lowest moment. How did we get back to normal?

On Friday March 24, 2017, nothing happened. This is both absolutely false and the literal truth.

On that Friday, President Donald Trump had pressured the U.S. Congress to vote on a healthcare bill that would repeal Obamacare and replace it with a bill that anyone with eyes would know was inferior. Even conservative senators and news pundits started calling it Obamacare Lite. The Republicans didn’t have the votes, but Trump threatened that if Congress did not repeal Obamacare now, he would not only “come after you” and threaten that they would lose their seats in 2018, but he would make everyone keep Obamacare, as if he was holding the country hostage. “Oh no, please don’t make us keep Obamacare,” said the 20 million people currently enrolled in it.

In what was a sensational headline, multiple media outlets reported that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had “rushed” to the White House to inform Trump that in their last ditch effort hours before the vote, they did not have enough support.

The encroaching reality that this bill might be pushed through anyway, in spite of everyone’s best interests as nothing more than a means to get rid of Obamacare, was terrifying. But what alleviated that fear was the thought that Trump would lose. He was overconfident and impatient, and he demanded that this failing pile of garbage (as Trump might put it) go to vote anyway, and he would get savaged. Ooh the sweet justice that would be, to see Trump and Ryan humiliated on the stage they built for themselves, carrying their head in their hands as they explained to everyone why their promise to repeal Obamacare failed.

But none of that happened. Trump and Ryan pulled the bill from a vote at the last minute (which is apparently a thing you can do). Then Donald Trump got on the phone with a reporter at The Washington Post, and he blamed Democrats. Continue reading “The Straw That Should’ve Broke the Camel’s Back: Trump and Healthcare”

John Wick: Chapter 2

Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves are helping to usher in a new era of action movies with the incredible sequel to “John Wick”

john-wick-2-posterJohn Wick has a new dog, and he’s going to murder everyone. What more could you want?

That could honestly be the premise for many action movies, but “John Wick: Chapter 2” sets the pace for a generation of action movies to come. It’s slick, stylized and profound, embracing more thoughtful and polished gun-fu excitement than just raw adrenaline or machismo. Chad Stahelski has doubled down on the sheer surprise and success of the original “John Wick” that seemed to revive Keanu Reeves from the action hero graveyard. Both films will likely live on as action movie classics.

When we last left John Wick (Reeves), he had murdered everyone. Some thugs broke into his home, stole his car and killed his dog. Not smart. The sequel opens with a more conventional Bond movie spree, with Wick tying up the loose ends of the original film. Now he’s back in his home with a new dog, thinking he’s finally retired and out of the game. But news of his return leads an old partner, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) to claim payment on a marker John once gave him. John is to kill Santino’s crime lord sister, and when he does, John seeks to prevent Santino from rising to power. Continue reading “John Wick: Chapter 2”

The Lego Batman Movie

Will Arnett as Lego Batman is as fun as ever, but it’s only fun for about 30 minutes.

Lego Batman Poster“The Lego Batman Movie” went from “Everything is Awesome” to “Aren’t I Awesome?” The idea that “if you can’t be yourself, be Batman” works great in a meme, but it only sustains about 30 minutes of inanity in this film. The movie’s one punch line is, “I’m Batman.” Now watch me try on a mariachi themed bat suit, or admire my Bat Kayak and Shark Repellent.

A premise like that isn’t hard to love. “The Lego Batman” movie has all the irreverent, screwball humor of the original “Lego Movie” and the same remarkable attention to detail. The animation is breathtaking, the pop culture references span generations, and the product placement is charmingly, aggressively in your face.

Director Chris McKay’s film opens with a madcap action sequence in which The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is plotting to destroy Gotham, igniting a bomb that will destroy the table their world is built on and send everything into the unknown below (yes, this film isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall either). But then who arrives on the scene but Batman (Will Arnett)? Yay! He was disguised as the mayor the whole time! He takes care of his abs and always pays his taxes! Watch out for those laser guns (pew pew)! Batman foils Joker’s plan, but he won’t admit that the Joker is his greatest villain, or that he needs him in his life. Aww, poor Joker. Let’s put a smile on that face! Continue reading “The Lego Batman Movie”

The Founder

John Lee Hancock’s story of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc lacks the flavor and commentary of what “The Social Network” was to Facebook.

The Founder PosterI can imagine a sleazy, slick talking huckster pitching the idea for “The Founder” now: Let’s make a movie about a capitalizing asshole who stole an idea from two entrepreneurial brothers, but let’s wrap it in a sunny package and sell it as a story for the whole family! We’ll remind people how hard work and financial loopholes can help you build an empire on the backs of somebody’s namesake, and we’ll call it a crowd-pleaser. Do you want fries with that too?

“The Founder” is to McDonalds what “The Social Network” was to Facebook, except director John Lee Hancock lacks the irony and social commentary that someone like David Fincher could bring to this material. He’s all wrong for it, and “The Founder” needs more spice and flavor if it wants to be anything but bland. Continue reading “The Founder”

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Melanie Lynskey stars in this tongue-in-cheek vigilante movie and Netflix original about taking charge of your life and standing up to jerks.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore Poster“I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” is reading my mind. Not quite a year back my apartment was robbed. Someone walked into my living room while I was asleep one room over and grabbed my phone, wallet and guitar, then walked out. The cops were quick to point out that there was no sign of forced entry, so I must have left my door unlocked that evening. And I also didn’t have renters insurance. Tough luck, be more careful.

Some time later, I even got a notification from Find My iPhone that my phone had been located. It was just a few blocks away! I can see it!

Macon Blair’s film imagines what would happen if, unlike me, you didn’t just pass along the information to the cops and did nothing, but instead took matters into your own hands. It’s a tongue-in-cheek vigilante movie from a guy who played an equally hapless vigilante in Jeremy Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin.” “I Don’t Feel At Home” takes its character through cathartic growth, but it also comments on the frustration people feel when the world seems to be imploding around them. Continue reading “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”

Get Out

Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy hybrid “Get Out” is thrilling entertainment but also a great explainer of racial micro-aggressions.

Get Out PosterThe ending of Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy-hybrid “Get Out” seems almost designed to terrify white people. It looks like something out of a Tarantino movie, not to mention a prejudiced housewife’s worst nightmare. You wonder how they got away with it.

Yet leading up to that ending, everything has been designed to terrify black people. Within this well-crafted, unsettling and disturbingly funny movie, Peele has examined the micro-aggressions of racism and horrors that black people in America experience every day. It’s thrilling entertainment but ironically a great explainer of racial insensitivity. Continue reading “Get Out”