Monday, May 23, 2016

Podcast: Is 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring' Better Than 'Jurassic Park'?

Neeeeeeeeeew episode of the our podcast Is It Better Than Jurassic Park? Olivia Z. returns as guest to tell us all about one of her favorite movies, the first of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. We talk about Elijah Wood's O-face, Viggo Mortenson's fuck-me-eyes, and just how much Gandalf looks like Olivia's dad. But is it better than Jurassic Park? We'll see!

The Nice Guys (***)

Directed by Shane Black


There are few screenwriter success stories that are passed around more than the tale of Shane Black. The man who wrote Lethal Weapon and gained himself a reputation as one of the most dependable scribes of the 90's, his specialty being the tight action film strapped with a heightened humor - all his films had that Shane Black feeling. Things evolved in the 2000's when he started directing his own material, and 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was not only one of the most hilariously biting noirs in years, but it was also the original stepping stone that led to the rebirth and deification of Robert Downey Jr. soon after, when he strapped on the Iron Man suit three years later. Downey Jr. repaid Black by getting him the director's chair for Iron Man 3, a film that decided to get deconstructive and sabotage a decade's worth of franchise building. I, for one, enjoyed what Black was doing with Iron Man, but it left a lot of comic book fans very grumpy, and in the world where 12 Avengers films are a foregone conclusion, Iron Man 3 has been politely exorcised from the canon. His latest film is The Nice Guys, a buddy detective comedy that is a spiritual sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Both films involve an odd couple (with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang it was Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, now it's Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling), and both films involve a warm embrace between the nuts and bolts of film noir and the broad strokes of action comedy. This is the place where Shane Black resides, a corner that is sparsely populated: the comic-noir. Not only is nobody as good at it as him, nobody else is even trying. His films can be complicated with dense characters, but still manage to be light entertainment; containing loads of violence, you never seem compelled to avert your eyes. Black is a unique Hollywood mainstay, and The Nice Guys is a terrific addition to his resume.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Love & Friendship (***1/2)

Written and Directed by Whit Stillman


"Facts are such horrid things!" cries Lady Susan, the main focus of Whit Stillman's latest film, Love & Friendship, and it's a statement that captures so truly the obtuse, ridiculous nature of this woman. The film is based on a Jane Austen novella which wasn't published until decades after her death. Gone is the striking nobility of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice; the prudent judgment of Sense and Sensibility's Elinor is nowhere to be seen. In Lady Susan, we're privy to disdain, egotism, diabolical calculation; nothing like the usual heroines of Austen's literary works. Stillman was obviously charmed by the naughtier aspects that Lady Susan provides, so much so that he took Austen's work and expanded upon it for the film's screenplay (Stillman even collaborated with Little, Brown to write a novelization of his expansion, which was released earlier in the month, running concurrently with the release of the film). I guess now is as good a time as any to admit that I've never seen any of Stillman's previous films, but regardless, Love & Friendship is a wonderfully affected period piece, a film both cheerily aware of its silliness while still having the patience to do justice to its densely-packed narrative. Like all great Austen works, the story is a sarcastic cultural commentary, denigrating the foundations of a society that values women for little more than what they can provide for men. But Love & Friendship is a rarity, a film that showcases the exploits of a woman who seems to encourage the very society that Austen enjoyed so much to tear down. Not that Lady Susan is built up as the story's hero. Quite the contrary, as the film proceeds, the list of enemies that Lady Susan accrues grows and grows, but it's a testament to Stillman and his main star, Kate Beckinsale, that Lady Susan is a fascinating woman to behold, one of the most unique Austen creations I've ever seen.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Lobster (****)

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos


Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most unique storytellers in cinema. His films are tense, funny alternative realities, with sarcastic views of human torment. His 2009 film Dogtooth is one of the most upsetting films that I've ever seen, and it's a testament to Lanthimos and the cast of that film that it still manages to be a brilliant dissection of unnatural human behavior. His latest movie, The Lobster, is his first English-language film, and it stars an international cast of Hollywood actors. Compared to Dogtooth, it has the levity of a Gary Marshall film, but for the many who may be introduced to Lanthimos with The Lobster, they'll get a strikingly funny film, with a number of disturbing moments. It's a marvelous film about the tyranny of love over the human race, the entrapment of society's disdain for lonely people, and the power of passion to overcome daunting odds. The film premiered a year ago at the Cannes Film Festival, and spent 2015 screening internationally at several festivals stacking rave receptions across the globe. Why A24 chose late Spring to unleash this audacious film is unknown. Not that time of year matters, The Lobster is a ingenious movie no matter what the season is. It takes place in a dystopian reality, where only couples are allowed to live in The City, while single people are sent to live in The Hotel. At The Hotel, if these single people are unable to find a mate in forty-five days, they are then transformed into an animal. People have been whittled down into muted, lustless beings who struggle through monotone conversations and live in a constant tension of inferiority. It's not just a stigma to be single, it's a crime.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Bigger Splash (**1/2)

Directed by Luca Guadagnino


Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino doesn't mind embracing stereotypes of Italian sensuality, embracing themes of sex and passion with a no-holds-barred approach, and casting actors who are sure to be up to the task of stripping down and making that same embrace. His latest film, A Bigger Splash, has such a splendid sense of mischief, a nose for scoping out sex in the innermost center of its characters. At one moment, a character played by Dakota Johnson decries that she is cursed to "fall in love with every beautiful thing", while a character played by Matthias Schoenaerts responds to her that the affliction must be paralyzing. Here are two young beautiful actors in Johnson and Schoenaerts, and Guadagnino shows no apparent shame in filling his frames only with performers who can fill the quota of beauty. This isn't to say that love does not exist in the Italian filmmaker's universes; it does, but it is always undone by illicit longing. His 2009 film, I Am Love, was a masterful portrayal of a woman (played by Tilda Swinton) undone by a lustful act with a younger man. Human beings are always having sex with people they shouldn't, and Guadagnino is fascinated by this phenomenon. A Bigger Splash takes a magnifying glass to the kind of pain and distrust that is born out of the sexual composure of those without barriers. The characters are filled with demons that they refuse to face, instead pooling their emotions in physical embrace, in nudity, in the seductive landscapes of Southern Italy. They walk through vistas with sun-kissed skin, and Guadagnino's camera focuses so completely not only on their beauty but their unadulterated, pulsating inner turmoil. Films about sex are not usually this bare. A Bigger Splash is not shy or modest. It accepts drugs and rock n' roll and that other pesky thing that always completes the trilogy.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Meddler (***1/2)

Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria


What a wonderful film The Meddler is. A bittersweet comedy about love, grief and the type of agonizing familial relationships that fill you with guilt and dread. Susan Sarandon stars as Marnie, a Brooklynite widow living in Los Angeles to be close to her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). A year after her husband, and Lori's father, has passed, Marnie still struggles to fill the hours of the day. Despite her aimless activity, Marnie is filled with a generous - at times overbearing - spirit, and pools all her attention on Lori, who's going through her own form of grief, trying to recover from a devastating break-up with Jacob (Jason Ritter), a rising actor who left her for a younger woman. Marnie is persistent in her need to help her troubled, unmarried daughter. Lori works as a screenwriter, and her current job on a television pilot adds another layer of stress that isn't helped by Marnie's constant presence. Even when Marnie isn't around she calls incessantly, leaving long, babbling voicemails with detailed tales of her day. Lori cannot handle it, the lack of boundaries forcing her to be stern, even hurtful to her well-meaning mother. For Marnie, all of life seems fine to those around her. She gets along with everyone, including a Apple Store Genius Bar employee named Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), and one of Lori's close friends Jillian (Cecily Strong). She doesn't find it strange to offer to give rides to Freddy so he can get to night school after work. What does she have to do that she can't help the young man out? She doesn't think twice about offering to pay for Jillian's proper wedding. Her late husband has left her with so much money, why not use it to help others who could use it? As Lori distances herself more and more from her grieving mother, Marnie finds startling ways to fill the void of the family that she's lost.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Podcast: Is 'Last Action Hero' Better Than 'Jurassic Park'?

We got a NEW episode of Is It Better Than Jurassic Park?! Gary Burns returns to chat with Scott and I to discuss another one of his childhood favorites, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero. This is definitely one of the most underrated Schwarzenegger films, but is it better than Jurassic Park? Listen and find out!