RIORI Redux: Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” Revisited

 



The Players…

Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Ron Perlman and Charlie Day with Burn Gorman, Max Martini and Rob Kazinsky.


The Story…

Earth’s under attack! It’s an alien invasion! Scramble the jets!

Wait. Don’t look to the skies. These fiends are rising from the depths!

A dimensional rift has opened up from beneath the Pacific Ocean, and huge, horrible monsters are emerging and laying waste to our cities! Humanity is under attack! We’re all doomed!

Or are we?

It’s time to call in the elite battalion of battling robots to thrash these beasts hell-bent on destroying the planet.

We must summon the Jaeger Corps!

(I love anime.)


The Rant…

When I started these posts this summer past (What would one call these posts anyway? It’s not traditional Facebook fodder, and it’s not really a weblog either. Weblogs usually require an outside provider. Facebook was available. Guess we’ll call this thing of mine a Faceblog. How’s that? No? Tough.), it was kinda at the behest of a former co-worker (Jordan. You know who you are). We got to talking one slow evening about movies that were more or less “misunderstood.” Did lousy at the box office. Bad rep. Plagued by rumor. Stuff like that. That was the criteria under which The Standard was established. Now, another unmentioned point of order following a pattern for The Standard: The movie must’ve been made in the 21st Century. 2000 to present (I know the new millennium didn’t start until 2001. Just humor me).

Why this period in time? Because moviegoers have been fleeced something fierce since the turn of the century I feel. We’ve been snowed under with remakes, reboots and repeats for well over a decade now. Ticket prices have gone up, quality and imagination has gone down. Hollywood has resigned itself to a single tenet in recent years: the audience is stupid. They’ll watch anything with pretty faces and a surfeit of sh*t that goes boom. Now I like shiny just as much as the next crow, but at the same time I like a little plot depth, some character development, and a lack of pandering. When was the last time you went to see/rent/stream an alleged summer blockbuster only later to feel you wanted your two hours back? I reckon it’s happened a few times. At any rate, I had a crapload of opinions about movies rattling around my brainpan for years. Looks like Facebook became my bullsh*t pulpit. Besides, Twitter couldn’t support rants like these under sheer volume’s sake.

That being said, onto this week’s review…

Hoo boy. Here’s the magna mater of films to which I decided to do these Facebook posts. Back to where The Standard was born. Big budget film that tanked (or at least had a disappointing return) at the box office? Check. An alleged blockbuster plagued with both the rumor mill churning and a sad reality of poor writing, lousy acting or misguided direction? Check. A lotta splash and dash and not much else, appealing to the most vacant of movie goers? And check. What’s worse? A very talented director at the helm who’s reputation for handling fantasy films has been impeccable.

Until now. Right?

Drop that sandwich…

Fantasy has foremost been del Toro’s stock in trade for years (Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies). What could be more fantastical than giant Godzilla-like monsters versus building-sized, psychic-powered gargantuan robots? Sounds unique enough to me. Not really if you’re an otaku, but still.

Pacific Rim appears to be an attempt at live-action anime. A very good attempt, mind you. Giant robots doing battle with pseudo-Lovecraftian behemoths? Gotta love that. Such ideas are overt Asian tropes nodding to the anime structure. That being said, admit it: a Jaeger clubbing a Kaiju with a derelict ship is mighty badass.

This film is 90% visual candy. The plot is razor thin, and almost an afterthought paralleled against all the wanton mechanized mayhem. The dialogue is often trite, and I truly dislike excessive exposition in a movie. It’s a movie; it’s all about show, don’t tell. The acting is wooden. There is no chemistry between any of the leads and all roles are interchangeable. Except for Charlie Day. His Dr. Newton “Newt” Geiszler (yet another improbable name) is naturally the comic relief, as well as the bridge for pushing the plot forward, such as it is. Is he funny? Kinda. Not Charlie Murphy funny; he seems to be really reaching here. But at least his performance is memorable, if only in an irritating way. Unlike the rest of the cast.

Barring the craptastic acting, Rim is oddly engrossing. Del Toro still has the eye for fantastic flair. This has to be the first true big budget he’s had access to, and he wasted precious little of his resources. The action scenes are indeed impressive, and the anime parallel runs deep. Also, the detail involved in rendering each Jaeger and Kaiju alive is nothing short of mesmerizing.

However there is this very slight feeling of weakness throughout the film, and I don’t mean in any technical way. It’s like Del Toro had a flash new toy to play with—sans the instructions—and is just barging his way through to get to the action scenes (granted there are a lot, but still). On the flipside, there is an odd subtlety to this film. Can’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s why it failed as a true blockbuster. The film simultaneously beats you over the head with crashing action and then has its quiet moments of reflection. Up and down, up and down. It’s like playing with the volume on a stereo. The inconsistency is hard to take, as well as other factors, too. Did Rim have too long a running time for the audience? Have we grown numb to CGI-infused spectacles like this? Was Charlie Day too annoying?

I don’t know. But I did enjoy the film.

Sure, it might sound like I’m complaining. I’m not really. All the inconsistency in the movie lends a peculiar charm. Rim still has that Del Toro quirkiness, which pervades his every film. And sure, Pacific Rim is a comic book movie in need of a comic book, what with its slapdash, corny premise. But it’s also a summer blockbuster with a small seam of intelligence running through it, also like most of Del Toro’s movies. I wonder why the movie failed to catch on with the popcorn-choked rabble. This film made two-plus hours stream by quite quickly; time I didn’t necessarily want back. And unlike the recent A Scanner Darkly viewing, this was a visually impressive movie that was definitely not boring.

Poorly acted? Sure. In search of a solid plot? Yeah. Questionable writing? Uh-huh. Dull?

Decidedly not.


Rant Redux (2019)…

This was a perfect trifecta of sources crashing into confluence that had happened here before. The curiosity viewing this tidbit is a lame excuse to watch a well received movie under false pretenses. It was also recommended for a haircut a curious friends. It was also demeaning scrutiny based on box office returns against critical…well, criticism. Yeah, Rim was not a mediocre movie. But was it? Depends on who you ask. Come, take my hand.

The biggest stink I heard about Rim was that it didn’t feel like a Del Toro film. Too commercial, not enough weird. This is true, but his original Hellboy flick was both commercial and weird. So much so that my then girlfriend (who was never into movies like this) was horrified by the scene I conveniently missed when I when to drain my lizard of too much Cherry Coke. Dammit, Janet. Truth be told, she went along with as a curious onlooker as to what was this new thing called a comic book movie allegedly inspired by source material which her uber-dork b/f had way too many of. She said she liked the overall weirdness of the movie, but didn’t really “get it.” Cool with me. You either go along with Del Toro’s kind of weird or not, but it’s still nice to look at.

But here’s the weirdest thing about Rim, considering most folks “got” Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape Of Water: seemingly most of America missed the satire/tribute going on in what I found a pretty straightforward S/F movie. Hence that disconnect lent to some lousy test audience scores. Don’t ask me how I know this. It doesn’t really matter on social media. What mattered overall was the box office takeaway, and it was good. Most of the critics praised Rim, which was good. The Court of Public Opinion? Let’s just ask you about Scorsese’s comments about the MCU and let the trashing commence. Like when I had to break up and toss out a pair of dweebs from my comic shop over a fight. The fight was over who was stronger: Thor or Superman? Tho’ their arguments were valid, they stunk of Cheetos and Axe saturated dirty clothes and I showed them the door (read: cut off their pull lists). Such bickering was the vox populi of Rim fans and anti-fans.

Me being on the fringe after a botched first viewing, I chose to remain an otaku.

The friend that recommended Rim as fodder agreed wholly with me as this film was an attempt at live action anime. I think we are correct still. For the uninformed, an otaku is an anime fan, extending from the Japanese pejorative “home body.” Picture a basement apartment in a family home littered with Takis, spent cans of Red Bull, an abandoned rig once meant for LAN parties before they became outdated/uncool and a now very sweaty Xbox One sits as lord of all it surveys, covered in Shrinky Dinks and shreds of cheap paper once attached to the stapled spine of Pulp comics, an offshoot of Animerica but with tits. The whole room awash in Axe and the part-time gig at Panera that sometimes waits for no one. Esp the opposite sex.

Bitter? Me? Naw. I have a nice kid and a kind g/f. But you better get the idea of what audience I was up against. And I like Axe. Yuck foo.

So that was akin to the folks who did not “get” Rim. It was as if I were invading some sort of secret society, like the Freemasons or Oprah’s Book Club. So let’s talk frankly about the otaku thing, beyond the limits of cultural cross-pollination even If that was Del Toro’s muse (and most likely was). Rim is a deliberate blend of kaiju movies (think Godzilla) and classic anime robot-team OVAs (original video animations), like the many, many Gundam series. If you were Gen X and raced home to watch the highly edited, quite mangled Voltron series every afternoon, that was OVA. I was a Star Blazers fan myself, and still am. Fast forward to this film: as a tribute “gipsy” is still misspelled. Go ask Del Toro if you don’t “get” that.

From my position, Del Toro “got it.” A lot of critics and audiences alike did not as many as the other halves did. See, a director walks a tightrope of spun glass drawing inspiration from a kind of cult pop culture. Again back to that otaku label; in the USA, it’s a compliment, an identity, a member of a club. Such clubs are along the lines of Trekkies, comic book heads, fantasy footballers and NAMBLA. All have arcane rules and regs and are snooty towards curious outsiders rather than extend the hand of welcome. These special handshakes might be tempting for Hollywood to dip into a well, and when they do there’s more times than not a backlash. The hardcore fanboys almost always cry foul when their pet fetish is translated to celluloid. You didn’t “get it!” Well, you assailed Fandango, so there.

(I’d be remiss to not mention the exception to the rule is the MCU, but that took almost a decade to establish and no self-dishonoring fan would ever grace the vestibule of a comic shop. Icky and Scarlet Johannson is hot.)

That being said, as an otaku I “got” Rim immediately, and like my friend who recommended it was live-action anime. It was almost cartoony in its delivery, a lot of techno-babble supposed to be taken as legit science, overwrought family issues plaguing/driving out heroes, hungry kaiju and our heroine with the blue tip highlights. It’s all there, naked as a babe. I’m guessing the detractors were looking more substance, but that was foolish. Like glam rock, the style in Rim was the substance. Go with it, like my ex her placing a toe down the pit of darkness that Hellboy crawled out of. It’s mecha battling kaiju, that was it and that was all and that was fun.

Get it?


More Stray Observations…

I didn’t think I’d have to do this, but upon watching Rim a second time I noted a few other noteworthy blips that tripped up my radar. Felt they were worth jotting down:

  • Gipsy dragging the ship is a very classy homage to the ronin dragging his blade towards a worthless duel (EG: this will be no honorable fight; too simple, too easy and the enemy is not worth bloodying my blade. Now slash).
  • “Numbers do not lie. Politics, poetry, promises, these are lies. Numbers are the closest we get to the handwriting of god.” That is a damn good line, prob the best in the movie.
  • Is the character of Newt a nod to the otaku? I’d like to think so.
  • “Where is my goddam shoe?” Kinda says it all. No it doesn’t.

The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: rent it. Ignore the detractors. Haters wanna hate. Go with it. “Get it.” Mono no aware. IE: Japanese: moment of transience. Appreciate what’s good because it won’t last. Get it now?


Next Installment…

We go swim with the Lady In The Water again before she got all chased by those stupid, cloned dinosaurs. Everybody into the pool!


 

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RIORI Redux: Joseph Kosinki’s “Oblivion” Revisited


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The Players…

Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough, with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo and Zoe Bell.


The Story…

Earth. It used to be a nice place to live. Commander Jack Harper thinks so, especially now he’s stuck planetside salvaging scrapped tech and maintaining the automated defensive drones. An alien invasion took it’s toll on Earth, so everybody save Jack and his partner jumped ship and sailed off to Titan to begin new lives. Well, Jack’s stuck with his old one, indefinitely. Then one day a crippled starship enters his territory. Its sole occupant, a mysterious woman, leads Harper to discover some unknown, shocking truths about humankind’s legacy beyond broken cities and mechanized battlebots.


The Rant…

Have you noticed lately that Tom Cruise’s roles lean towards the action hero type? The guy’s fifty-one. Can we say “mid-life crisis?” From the Mission: Impossible franchise to Jack Reacher to Oblivion, it may be now safe to say that his Top Gun days are well over. Best be sure to tell Tom this factoid. It’s time to retire into Forrest Gump territory. And that role gave Tom Hanks street cred. Ironic huh? Like the star of the Fast & Furious franchise going up in an auto-shaped ball of flame?

What, too soon?

And isn’t Morgan Freeman in every movie nowadays? I mean, other than schilling for Visa, hosting Through The Wormhole on the Science Channel, and (as an aside) portraying his best role, Easy Reader from The Electric Company, (that dates me) the guy’s been f*cking everywhere. Maine prisons. Rubbing elbows with rogue spies. Trundling bitchy Miss Daisy down to the Piggly Wiggly. Surviving cancer with Jack Nicholson. Off to Vegas with other geriatrics. Now he’s on post-apocalyptic Earth. Guy gets around faster than a rabbit with herpes.

(PS: I wrote the above before even watching the movie. I’m assuming my pontificating holds up some…)

…I was wrong. Anywho…

Oblivion is an odd duck of a comic-book movie adaptation. What makes it odd is that, first of all, it was based on a comic. I didn’t know that. Did you? Really? Huh. Goes to show what I know. Secondly, I haven’t seen so much philosophizing about identity within a sci-fi film since the original Star Wars trilogy. I don’t say this as derisive, though it may come across that way.

The plot Oblivion is a thin one, but it tries to come across as much thicker than it is. The movie’s motif borrows from countless sci-fi psychodramas, from Blade Runner to Solaris to…to the Solaris remake with George Clooney. Oblivion has less to do with creating new worlds and more about proclaiming identity. It’s character drama. The concept of who you are in a given time under certain circumstances. Are you really sure of who you are and what those circumstances are? Are you lost? Is it the déjà vu all over again scenario? I don’t know, and film did not provide any easy answers.

What it did provide was a visually clean farscape. Not ostentatious, with a lot of smart CGI. You know how most of today’s sci-fi films want to bludgeon you over the head with digitally rendered whatsits and foreign locales off-world with nary a modicum of subtlety? Right, Oblivion doesn’t do that. Instead it offers up a very real, one could say prescient view of a ravaged planet Earth. Did I mention the cinematography (including the CGI enhancement) is breathtaking. I won’t lie to you. Most of Oblivion is pretty damn beautiful.

There was a bit more original drama than I had expected for a lifted plot. Actually, this movie is more a melodrama wrapped up in the guise of a sci-fi flick. There’s a good amount of play and tension against the characters, not unlike a relatively well-wrtten soap opera arc. And like your daytime dramas, there is plenty of intrigue and weird plot loops tossed about. It’s tricky to give a clear explanation about what Oblivion is really about because, 1) it’s near impossible without dumping spoilers all over you, and; 2) it’s not exactly clear what Oblivion is trying to say. Don’t get me wrong. The film is interesting. It’s also obtuse as hell, and can make for a confusing viewing experience. But it’s sci-fi, only when it’s not, and when it’s not…um, it’s something else. Stop yelling at me.

This was a confusing review to write, and it shows. Mostly because I didn’t know where to stand on this film. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It was rather confusing as if the film couldn’t make up its mind. It sure as sh*t met The Standard considering its lousy turnout at the box office. Is that a reflection on this movie? Kinda. I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that Oblivion was pretty.


Rant Redux (2019)

I’ve been noticing lately that in addition to commenting, editing, twisting and rationalizing the reasons why my earliest installments need some tweaking, I’ve found myself inadvertently correcting other stuff. Like the list of the players for the particular hack job I’m trying to suture. After the story, who is telling it is the most vital part of the movie, kinda like a Greek chorus; the cast and the director serve that need, following by the scenarist (however the poor drudge who wrote the damned script seldom gets any recognition save the dog and pony show every February). All together form the foundation for a movie, and the rest (eg: costuming, soundtrack, CGI effects, riders, etc) are in essence eyewash.

Why am I telling you this? For the first part, me noticing errors and fixing them are the meat of why I’ve been revising these sandwiches. If the cast and creative crew are indeed the vital signs of a winning or faltering movie I gotta give credit where credit is due (despite the cracks about Cruise’s midlife crisis cum action hero, he did a good job here, as well as most of his John McClane-esque roles). That and it’s the easy part of doing this crap.

The second part is that I am truly, truly sorry for this installment—even more regretful hoodwink that was Silver Linings PlaybookOblivion‘s rambled and rambled and was held aloft by some pretty righteous bullsh*t. Truth be finally told, I was way too messed up to even pay attention to the second and third acts, and here’s why:

My then wife for months was suffering from an incessant cough. She smoked quite a bit so that was no surprise. I smoked, too. But it was this angry, raspy cough that sounded like she was going to puke up her lungs. She wisely saw a doctor and had some tests done. Weeks later when she delivered my the preliminary results it was on my night off (late at night) when she dropped the science on me.

COPD was the verdict. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Your lungs betray you and gradually refuse to do their job. You suffocate on the carbon dioxide you have difficulty expelling. The disease invites an unholy host of terrible maladies, and in the endgame COPD is what kills you. From my understanding and her explanation she was living on borrowed time.

My first reaction was angst. I pressed her for info getting increasingly agitated with every vague detail, drinking all the while, meantime Oblivion (oddly accurate) was rolling on the BD player. I was bawling, screaming “It’s not fair” and fuming with rage and alcohol. I was so torqued I snatched a hatchet from the tool shed and contemplated trashing my own car. I didn’t though, through my whiskey-addled haze I thought of my insurance premiums and it would be expensive to cover my own vandalism. It’s weird what sticks in your conscience when yer pished.

So then what? Grief, fear, crying jag, booze. The wife had went to bed, understandable scared of the diagnosis (and me too, I guess). I was left alone stalking the living room, Oblivion still on pause. Grabbing at a stone, I crashed back down deciding to “watch” the movie. The remaining notes on my pad were blind chicken scratch. Not that I cared. I just needed something that felt normal then and there.

Write drunk, edit sober. Doesn’t really work for movie reviews, since you must have your faculties about you. Big shocker but I only recalled bits and pieces of the end of the movie and the early rant shows that? Did it sound like a lot of BS to you? Bingo! You’ve just won a prize: my bittersweet honesty. You’re welcome and sorry again.

On the brighter side, later on my wife’s diagnosis was reduced to severe asthma, a precursor to COPD but was treated and cleared up after a year or so.

Don’t smoke, kids. And don’t drink and pass judgement on mediocre movies that don’t make much sense. Even when sober.

*ahem*

So after wiping a fresh bar towel across my blurred memory of Oblivion I took to task to giving it a second chance. The movie’s title did it justice to my mental state back then. It’s amazing what one can take away from a Tom Cruise movie with the suspension of disbelief and not under the influence of whiskey. Beer maybe, but not whiskey. What? You think I’m nuts? This was a Tom Cruise movie! You need to numb yourself for most of his filmography. You can’t handle the truth.

You know the expression about a thing being “greater than the sum of its parts?” An example of this is Star Wars: A New Hope. If you take it apart and scrutinize the film (as millions of mouth-breathers do every hour), the thing is riddled with flaws, inconsistencies and a lot of flubs (not to mention the last scene lifted from the ultimate Nazi agitprop film Triumph Of The Will. Dubious at best, nerf herders). But despite those flaws—or perhaps even because of them—A New Hope is a lot of fun. It’s not a great movie, stuck with all the claptrap of comic book sci-fi trappings; a popcorn movie to be sure, but I like popcorn, especially on a lazy Saturday afternoon with no hangover to nurse. The movie has a homespun charm than can’t be denied, and that scrappiness elevates, if not buoys the entire franchise (even most Rebels can forgive the questionable prequels for stretching the plots and defying internal logic…no they didn’t). It’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Oblivion is the direct opposite. It’s entertaining, but only based so on the cool parts the movie culls from. Imagine all the noteworthy S/F films in Hollywood canon, if not doctrine from the past 50 years. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet Of The Apes, Silent Running, The Matrix, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial and, yes the Star Wars saga. Oblivion treats films of that ilk like the salad bar at Old Country Buffet. Picks at what looks good despite what might be best for you. But it’s from the salad bar! Yep, and Oblivion is cottage cheese drenched in French dressing. It may not suit all tastes, but it comforting for many. Then again so is hanging out with John Barleycorn.

Post-apocalypse survival. AI run amok. Nuclear holocaust. Alien invaders. Screwed up history. Mind warps. All present in Oblivion. I once (read: infinitely) applied the saw attached to the blues to describe how a niche film genre works. Say it with me now and you’ll get a cookie: it’s not the notes, but how they are played. John Lee Hooker made millions by this precept. And why not? It works, both in music and cinema. It works…but it can get tiresome. You can only listen to “Boogie Chillin'” so many times trying to eradicate that memory trapped in the murky mire that was The Blues Brothers (don’t forget the Cheez-Wiz, boy).

Oblivion borrows a little from all the above films and tropes and essentially does the “greater than…” idiom in reverse. It felt like director Kosinki (probably bummed his Tron reboot didn’t fly) went through a sci-fi flea market and picked out all the goodies he knew would work in his next effort. Ir did, just not in the way he might have hoped. We understand the three-act structure of plays and films, and there are sub-acts—scenes—that add light and shade to the plot as it moves merrily down the lane. Scenes should never be abrupt, or at least without exposition; they are not chapters. After Kosinksi cobbled together his movie from multiple dips at the golden sci-fi movie spring you can practically see the stitching as the movie moves from chapter to chapter, not scene to scene. At least I was correct in my original opinion: no segue so no sense. Jarring. Abrupt. And yet so familiar…with good reason.

Hey folks, you’ve seen Oblivion already, even if you haven’t. If you’ve seen 2001, you’ve seen Oblivion. I’ve you’ve seen The Matrix, you’ve seen Oblivion. Hell, if you’ve seen The Day After, Galaxy Express 999 or the freakin’ Manchurian Candidate (either one) you’ve seen Oblivion. You’ve just watched a sorta incoherent s/f rip-off from the best cliches of that genre for the past half century. And Kosinski did so with such verve. Naked and shameless. I have to respect that much. I’m not sure if Kosinki can play blues guitar, but I’m pretty sure he’s an Elmore James fan.

The story may be stale, but the movie was a treat for the eyes. Can’t be ignored. The ruined Earth of Oblivion looks like how our planet should after climate change, nuclear war and our natural satellite reduced to powder. The visual of Cruise on patrol walking over a sand dune covering half of the Empire State Building’s observation deck is telling. Startling. The buildings once straddling the Venetian canals are now the cliffs serving as waterfalls into endless basins. Yankee Stadium is a crater akin to the Moon’s Copernicus. Kosinksi succeeded in turning Mother Earth into an alien planet. I couldn’t deny that one bit.

And you know what else? This may be a jump, but Cruise’s Harper pining for an Earth he never knew, perfect in his mind, and suffusing his mountain retreat with some very old skool tech…It suits the mood, without a whit of irony. Especially balanced against the ominous 21st Century tech Harper is ostensibly planet side to service. We have two choices here: Harper relaxing to a hi-fi that was made before even was born grooving to “Midnight Rider” (why not?), or chasing down or being chased by sentient, well-armed drones that resemble albino TIE fighters with HAL 9000’s unblinking red eye. Which toothpaste would you choose? Interesting as this dichotomy was, it still reflects the salad bar thinking. Sure, cool dynamic, but that and a lot of other things in the movie might seem awesome ultimately boils down the the audience being unfamiliar with another movie.

In the endgame, I’m not a snob. With a clear eye I was entertained by Oblivion. But that was it. Any epic message to bestow on my brow was not there. It’s all a rip-ff, sure, but it was a decent, pretty rip-off. An okay time-waster even you see the ending miles ahead of time.

And if you didn’t see anything coming, you are either, a) drunk as a skunk playing funk aboard a junk, or; b) Oblivion is your first foray in s/f movies.

I recommend the drunk part first. And lock up that woodshed.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. Entertaining but only filler. ‘Ware any s/f movie implying epic proportions only to land in a crock of French dressing.


Next Installment…

We return with another wobbly, half-baked subterfuge in your humble blogger twisting the Standard to their own evil ends using the first Pacific Rim movie as bait.

Mwa ha ha.


 

RIORI Redux: Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” Revisited


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The Players…

Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochrane.


The Story…

Fred Arctor is an undercover cop—a narc—in a world where almost everyone is addicted to Substance D, a drug that produces split personalities in its users. “Fred” sets up an elaborate sting to nab a notorious drug runner named “Bob.” But when almost everyone is a D addict, and its makes you schizo, then how can one tell who’s really who? Especially when it comes to your personal identity, or whoever you are that day.


The Rant (2013)

Phillip Kindred Dick: What is reality? The universal muse of the late sci-fi writer. Most if not all of his work wrangled with this question. As far as I know, three of his works have been translated to film. There was this little known work called Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Later on the book was adapted for the screen, entitled Blade Runner. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The film was a real sleeper that eventually knocked the socks off of a generation of movie-goers that were too young to see said film in an actual theater. This seminal feature was a key example of Dick’s muse in action.

Later there was this Spielbergien effort called Minority Report that refused to generate the Hollywood dollars requiring it to be big hit, despite having Tom Cruise attached to it. It was another take on how Dick’s philosophy regarded human’s responses to seeing their potential future. Even though the film handily addressed the whole yin-yang of stimulus/response, it was awash in a sci-fi, crime caper guise that was too loud to let Dick’s voice be properly heard. It was still pretty good though, regardless.

Now we have this film, A Scanner Darkly.

Richard Linklater: What the hell is happening…ah, who cares? Indie darling of the mundane. All of his work has dealt with, or rather shrugged off this question. First there was Slacker, which garnered some attention, as well as a few honors. The follow-up Dazed and Confused, criminally ignored at the box office upon release, eventually repealing any critical scorn a full twenty years later to earn the Criterion Collection special treatment with double disc set with all the bells and whistles. It sold well.

All Linklater’s films tackle the human condition, usually in the form of ongoing dialogue reflecting his characters personalities despite them all being two-dimensional. His actors are generally reactive, only displaying any unique personality traits when in context with of other characters reactions. No one really initiates anything in his movies, only responds. His Waking Life is a ideal example of his oeuvre, where the “protagonist” spends the movie simply just listening to others speak about academic as well as pop philosophy. Linklater’s films seldom have a plot; they’re only interconnecting vignettes spliced with My Dinner With Andre-like commentary. Most are pretty good though, BTW.

And now this film, A Scanner Darkly.

Me: I streamed this? A humble yet snarky blogger of film criticism using free social media like a cheap, lazy podium upon which to spout prophetic about this culty film here and the failed blockbuster that. All of my work a big, smelly fart.

And yet this film, A Scanner Darkly.

The first thing that grabs you about this movie is that, “Hey! It’s animated! Woo-hoo! Bring on the dancing squirrels!”

Stop. Put down the pipe. There’s a bit more going on here. You may have to, regrettably, sober up. The thing is called rotoscoping.” an animation technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, for use in live-action and animated films, like this one. In other words, turning live-action into cartoons. Linklater conducted a brilliant job here. After the first half hour, if yer not rockin the ganja, the background blends into the foreground into an oily montage of shadows and strangely patterned textures (especially with the actors’ faces). It can get a little unsettling at times also, not mention just plain trippy. And honestly, I’m not so sure that the “scramble suit” or hallucinogenic sequences would’ve worked as well outside animation. In simpler terms, Scanner’s not a cartoon, but a graphic novel coming into life.

You regularly abstemious (look it up) users out there might have taken note of the phrase “the background blends into the foreground.” How rotoscoping works, at least by my by eye, is that you tend to look out for the still shots in the frame that unconsciously grounds you to the forescape of the moving characters. In simpler terms, Keanu seems more like Keanu when he’s got a background behind him, be it in the scramble suit or curling his arm around Donna/Audrey/Hank? That’s how I saw it. Then again, I had no access to Substance-D.

Dick was never appreciated in his lifetime. He was more or less a cult writer. So much so that he had the dignity to die before Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? translated to the silver screen as Blade Runner. It became a beloved film decades after he got some common sense and kicked off. Him dying did great by his rep. Only Frank Herbert did somewhat better.

Ahem.

About the goddam movie. Visually, well, that’s the only trump its got going for it. There’s a very cool premise locked up in visual haberdashery (again, look it the hell up). Keanu is as wooden as ever. The only roles he seems to get stuck with is Neo, a Ted Logan clone, or a Neo clone. Or a Neo clone. He might be able to stretch (might be able to) if he’s taken out of the fantasy/sci-fi genre. He did pretty good in the goofy rom-com Something’s Gotta Give, hitting on Diane Keaton. But here he’s still stiff, struggling. So is Winona Ryder as Bob’s sorta girlfriend, who later turns out to be…ah, you’ll see it. Only the secondary characters of Downey, Harrelson and Cochrane do anything to spice up this film based almost solely on visuals.

I could go on, but this film committed the ultimate sin in my movie-watching mind: it bored me. Despite all the cool visuals, it was boring. It was like a stupid Michael Bay movie sans the big budget: lots of things to look at, and not much else. Listen Linklater, Waking Life was a bold, intriguing experiment, albeit not very cohesive. That was the point. I got that. This time out, continuity, acting and plot should’ve been the point. You culled from a very smart author whose works already translated to film quite handily. You already got your rewards, now try not to beat us over the head with the trophy.

Seven years from now…


Rant Redux (2019)…

This installment was more-or-less in the same vein as my What Just Happened? screed. I was pissed, I was drunk and despite the blurry vision (mentally as well as physically) I feel ripped off.

I had seen quite a few Linklater films before Scanner. I liked his friendly, offbeat, subversive style, populated by interesting characters. Not likable, mind you. I’ve already gone on record that the old saw about writing is one has to make their characters likable. Utter fallacy. Case in point in the pantheon of movie baddies: Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, Pinhead and Freddy Kruger did precious little noble things in their cinematic universe, yet they are iconic and revered by many a film buff. Why? Lord Vader was Shakespearean. Lecter was a meditation on sanity and its role in society. Pinhead was all about sexual freedom. And Freddy was the best Jungian metaphor to bullying this side of any YA novel. Very interesting.

Which is odd since a director like Linklater decided to do a soft S/F film based on one of the more outwardly weird names in the genre’s pantheon. I guess now he was looking for another challenge. I hope.

It’s curious I say that now because the old rant still rings true. My opinion of the film has not changed. I wouldn’t watch it again, and felt like Linklater was using the carrot and the stick. Might’ve been his point, but I don’t know. We are dealing with Dick adaptation here; he liked to keep you guessing and second guessing. That was his muse.

Which now with some distance that might’ve been Linklater’s also. It was a pretty accurate meditation on “what is reality,” Dick foremost message to spread. But in reflection I don’t think Linklater was the guy to try this. There wasn’t much soul here, and despite the rotoscoping twist he applied in Waking Life, where that was daring and enhanced the vignette’s subject matter, Scanner‘s application felt like a gimmick. A very clever gimmick, but one all the same and it didn’t do much to progress the plot. Disappointing.

Go watch Waking Life instead for a better, cleaner, animated, Dickless take on how reality works. And I will not apologize for that pun.

That’s the best pun you’ve never heard.


The Revision…

Rent It or relent it?: Sustained: Relent it. Lots of potential and lots of wandering. Viewing of this movie requires patience, a high pain threshold and ample Starbucks Doubleshot at your elbow. Again, too bad.


Next Installment…

Drum roll…

The ultimate apology/revision RIORI will ever give as we enter—re-enter—Oblivion.


 

RIORI Redux: Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” Revisited


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The Players…

Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton, with Jeffery Wright, Julie Delpy, Chloe Sevigny and Christopher McDonald.


The Story…

After being dumped by yet another girlfriend, serial bachelor Don figures simply he’ll be alone forever. It’s probably easier this way. But when an anonymous letter arrives one day and tells him he has a 19-year-old son out there, Don sets out on a cross-country journey to confront his past—and a few old flames in the process. Mom’s out there, too, you know.


The Rant (2013)

First off, I want to apologize for the last installment. It was hastily written under the influence of alcohol and hubris. Mostly alcohol. Also having one of your most fave rock n’ roll icons die of cancer would sour anyone’s day. If I were a professional, I would say that the last installment was very unprofessional. But I’m not, so I’ll simply say sorry for being a dickhead. Okay? Good.

Anyway, on with the show.

Relationships are hard. Believe me, I know. I’m in one. Sometimes I can recommend it. Other times, meh. But here’s a relationship that hopefully none of you will ever have. One with yourself. It’s ugly, and gets stale really fast. That being said, this movie did not clean up at the box office. Blame the director.

Jim Jarmusch has been long derided or complemented (depending on who you ask) as an indie darling. The long tracking shots. The signature fade out. The quirkiness. Jarmusch has never made any big coin from his films. His reputation almost precludes this. And I’m a fan of his work. Flowers is a pseudo art house film, not meant for all audiences despite how charming and unintentionally funny Murray is.

Not to mention that I’m a fan of Bill Murray, especially his “late period” stuff, when he hung up screwball for leading man as average Joe. If Murray here were anymore disconnected, his head would fall off. He is as wry as ever, lugging around that look on his face that screams befuddlement and self-absorption. Carrying that ridiculous bouquet of pink flowers (get it?) as his calling card, going door-to-door to all his exes, each one getting worse and worse than previous? It all but practically shouts “kick me.” And Bill is a delightful stooge with a bullseye taped to his ass. It’s really all an exercise in vanity as well as hopelessness. You never get a feeling of rooting for Don, and you don’t have to. He’s not likeable in any immediate way, but as I said before, it’s Murray, and he’s always charming.

Rounding out the cast is a flighty Sharon Stone, a vacant Frances Conroy, an aloof Jessica Lange and an outright hostile Tilda Swinton (whom I couldn’t even recognize at first glance). It’s as if each woman represents a chapter in Don’s life of bad breakups and past mistakes. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. No hidden subtext there. As a tonic, Jeffery Wright is hilarious as Don’s “life coach” and guide on his journey of self-discovery and madness. I don’t know what accent that is he’s using, but it’s oddly appropriate.

This whole movie has a surrealist Wes Anderson kinda feeling, maybe because of Murray. Little touches here and there painting different flavors of bizarre domesticity play out like a reel of Don’s history of crawling up his own ass. Maybe this film is about self-discovery. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale. Maybe it’s the oddest road trip movie ever filmed. I don’t know. What I’ve learned after watching Flowers is this: don’t chase down your past. What you may find is nothing more than yourself. That can be ugly.


Rant Redux (2019)…

Kinda like but not really the glib rant redux for David Fincher’s underrated Zodiac, I don’t have much to revise regarding Flowers. It helped the above draft was short and direct, as well as on point. Upon re-reading it however, another question about casting popped into my head. A seed was planted in my retread of What Just Happened? not that long ago. The question I had is thus: why do big stars choose smaller roles in even smaller films? Like with Happened, De Niro is a legacy actor and pairing him with Levinson (whose star, admittedly has dulled) felt a tad odd, if not angular. Despite the slow pace and overwrought storyline, De Niro was is fine shape and Levinson still had his subtle, nasty edge cutting a satire. Also despite Happened was released to little fanfare and even littler reception it did (to me) open up an inner dialogue. One between my cinematic sensibilities and what feeds that rot. It was more interesting than the movie, I figured.

Why do big stars opt for small roles with small directors? Wait. That’s not quite accurate. Jim Jarmusch is in the upper echelon of “indie” directors. Wes Anderson would not have a career without Jarmusch. Even though Jim is relegated to left of center, he’s known, revered and always engagingly weird. That’s his signature as much as his snowy pompadour. De Niro teaming with Levinson, in the final analysis, isn’t too far a cry. Bill Murray under the gentle, clutching wing of Jarmusch is a bit more than that.

Flowers is a dark rom-com, to be sure, and Jarmusch is not foreign to the bitter humor that drives his muse. He’s kinda like David Lynch with a sense of humor, except said humor stems from Andy Kaufmann’s “the joke’s on you” kinda humor. Whatever funny Jarmusch puts on the screen it can be as amusing as it is cringey. Flowers was no different, and in Murray Jim found his Bartelby, awash in doubt and blissful ignorance. If one considers it, Murray’s Don is an offshoot of his Bob Harris character in Lost In Translation five years earlier. The themes are similar: Bob is estranged from his wife, alone in a foreign land and desperate to reach out to someone. Scarlett Johannson got her breakout role (and only role worth the time of day if you’d ask me. Please, don’t) which was good, and Murray’s desperate Bob earned him an Oscar nod (which he was visibly profane when he didn’t win. Bill, it just doesn’t matter).

Flowers is a spiritual cousin, but unlike Bob, Don is Don. Murray is Murray, lovable hangdog in all its glory. While Coppola did admirable work coaxing conflicted drama from Murray in Lost, Jarmusch just let Murray wander. It worked quite well, perhaps better than in Lost. And I think that’s it, why big stars tackle small projects. De Niro’s dyed-in-wool style is intense, bleak, loudmouthed and darkly funny. Having aforementioned hangdog is well out of his wheelhouse, which is why I think Method actors take smaller roles. It could be to stretch their range, to try something weird that Big Hollywood would deem “unprofitable,” or just to have a little fun and f*ck around some. Getting off the radar allows a lot of stretching out and dusting off shoulders, Kayne-style.

Yeah, so that’s my hypothesis. Big stars opt for “small” roles in “small” films so to flex their thespian muscles as well as decompress. Toss around the medicine ball before bench pressing again. Both Flowers and Happened are good illustrations of that practice, I feel. Makes for better roles afterwards, I hope.

De Niro’s next role after HappenedRighteous Kill. Well…

Murray’s next role after Flowers: Garfield: A Tale Of Two Kitties. Umm…

It’s just a theory, after all.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: rent it. Again, Jarmusch’s films are decidedly not for everyone, especially those who have short attention spans. And Murray not being outwardly funny is also an acquired taste. Still, big names doing little things well stand for a lot these days. Consider the midget mathematician: it’s the little things that count.

I regret nothing much.


Next Installment…

We look through A Scanner Darkly once more and consider what the heck Richard Linklater was getting into.


 

RIORI Redux: Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened?” Revisited


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The Players…

Robert DeNiro, Catherine Keener, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis and John Turturro, with Michael Wincott, Stanley Tucci and Kristen Stewart.


The Story…

Ben’s a harried film producer, and as his latest undertakings instruct, he’s forced to placate a lunatic director, a temperamental actor and an out-of-control production while also courting a studio head and contending with his ex. Both of them. Just a typical week in the life in ol’ Hollywierd.


The Rant (2013)

First off, sorry. I’m in a pissy mood. My back’s f*cked up, my wife’s mad at me for some offhand comment and Lou Reed f*cking died. Does this set the tone for this week’s review? Yep, and too goddam bad. The wife never cared for Lou Reed anyway. But just wait until f*ckin’ Thom Yorke dies. Then maybe I’ll bleed.

Ahem. Hi!

I know next to nothing about how Hollywood runs. From what little I do know is that it runs on money. Big, stupid money. On a budget that compares only with US Air Force cafeteria expenses. Most of the cinematic casual expenditures come out of our collective wallets in the form of tickets, streaming and popcorn. Who really gets paid through all those ducats? Well, actors for one. Overall, they’re the reasons why we go to the flicks. Sometimes we go for the directors, those who spindle the tales that keep us webbed in. The Spielbergs, the Scorseses, the Lucases…those cats. But you know who really keeps us glued?

The producers. The money behind the money. Money behind the likes of poor Ben…

One of my favorite films? Taxi Driver. DeNiro is at his epoch at losing his sh*t in that film. Second is Mean Streets. Third is GoodFellas. Fourth is The Untouchables. Fifth is whatever he’s kicking at that time. Sixth is Taxi Driver.

You get the idea.

What Just Happened? is my umpteenth favorite movie of DeNiro kicking the sh*t out of someone. It’s the first for me rooting for Bob to kick himself in the ass. And boy, does he deserve it.

Never have I seen Bob act quite so callous, disconnected and callow as I did in this hour and 45 minutes. And quite humorously too. ‘Though not quite as humorously as most may gage. Barry Levinson’s work has always been funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but snicker-worthy. To my immediate mind, the only overtly funny movie the man has ever made was Rain Man and that won an Oscar, so he scored big there. I guess. Well What Just Happened is a loss leader. You saw the cast. You read the goofy plot. It was based on an esteemed producer’s autobio.

This flick barely made a million at the box office. With that pedigree? The hell?

They all must have been in on the joke. This film was culled by said book of the same name, a tell-all in a library of tell-alls. And the Rogue’ Gallery was delicious, too (go fig). Keener as the shrewd agent, sharp as ever, took great relish in cutting Ben down to size. Character actor Michael Wincott, always a stitch, somehow transcended Tarantino and Vincent Gallo in only two scenes. Toss the final edit wheel over this way, please. And do modern film producers really use BlackBerries in this day and age? I dunno. I ain’t a producer. What do I know?

This review has been sh*tty, I know. I’m just too tired, drunk and bent up to give a clean polish here. All I can say is this: it’s probably easier working behind the stage in Hollywood than in front to make a worthwhile statement. If this concept appeals to you, then go stream the film.

Lewis Allan Reed: RIP, 1942-2013.


Rant Redux (2019)…

I know, I know. Bitter, bitter, bitter. I wasn’t lying then about the whole being pished/Lou Reed kicking the bucket bit influencing my already myopic worldview made complete by an eye patch over my right. It’s why I call alcohol a “performance enhancing drug.” That goes against its clinical definition, but when people get real drunk booze does amplify your emotions to the nth degree, for good and for ill. Actually more like both. My logic here is akin to the shock and awe surrounding the most winningest olympic athlete Michael Phelps getting busted for smoking a joint. Of my understanding (read the Pineapple Express installment), weed is definitely, defiantly not a performance enhancing drug. Phelps is half-dolphin; read it on Reddit.

Here’s my take on booze meets psyche (and I do have a point. Quit squirming): whatever you’re feeling before you hit the bottle gets multiplied tenfold at the end of the night. You feeling good? Chances are you’ll be the god karaoke later on. You feeling lousy? You’ll be crying in your beer with Merle Haggard on rotation on the TouchTunes come last call. Pugnacious? You and the bouncer will become fast friends. In any case, your emotions and convictions get tossed in a Waring blender.

As do and especially your perceptions. To wit, I watched this film in an already crap state of mind and halfway in the bag and therefore somewhat incapable of seeing Happened for what it was, which was two things: a meditation on the squishy, flexible strategies which big Hollywood deems appropriate for public consumption, and rumination on big names in small films. The first part is the real meat of the story, which swiftly becomes Ben’s white whale: dealing with Willis’ oddball behavior so that the damned film can be finished. Fine. The story is the stuff of many movies: making movies. From Sunset Boulevard to The Player Hollywood is an existential being unto itself. Make movies to make money to make more movies to make more money to make…it is a maw that cannot be fed, ever.

Director Levinson is no stranger to satire. Virtually all his films explore—or at least poke fun at—our culture’s accepted social cowardice. From obvious films like Wag The Dog, Disclosure and Good Morning, Vietnam to more “subtle” swipes with Diner, Toys and What Just Happened? Levinson has always been an imp of the perverse behind the camera. Happened is no different, it just takes its good ol’ time getting to the pie throwing.

Such pies here include puncturing the false pretense that making movies is akin to curing cancer (but won’t since research is so much more lucrative. Hence a sequel starring AIDS). Making movies isn’t that important, but existential Hollywood would never admit to that, that 5-ton whale in the room mewling and demanding more body lotion and fresh krill. Ben knows he’s in a world of hurt, totally unable to keep work at work etc. The satire here saturates every action, every cliche, every word of Ben’s hellish workaday world and we get ringside seats. Happened plays out as a cringy scales-falling-away day in the life of what every film fan understands, but never ever wants to admit to. We know there’s a lot of chicanery spread about getting a movie made, but to get such a low-key yet graphic diagram thereabouts? Ugh. It hurts. Ben is our knowing, wizened avatar, already well-acquainted with the man behind the curtain. And like Ben, he’s a figment also.

Upon review it’s best to watch Happened as a docudrama, a cautionary tale, a satire. At the end of the day it may not be the best satire on how the sausage is made in Hollywood; there have been far better (eg: Swimming With Sharks, The Player, even Sunset Boulevard, before God). But it is classic, easily digestible satire in the Levinson tradition, even if it’s subject matter is a niche market. The film worked, but creakily and not for everyone.

Maybe even me. I still grind my teeth at the thought of this movie. Was that the point, Barry? Bob?


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Overruled: a mild relent it. Despite all it’s craftsmanship, the film committed a mortal sin: it was boring. Clever? Sure. Amusing? Kind of. Engaging? It wandered.

However, Happened did offer up an opportunity for dialogue about big stars in small films, and how it reflects on their long and varied big release careers, as well as the reliable satirical Levinson edge (if only to on the nose). If you watch the film as if in a film class, it works. But who wants to take notes while watching a movie?

Oh yeah. Right.


Next Installment…

We return to the angular world of Jim Jarmusch, where Bill Murray peddles a bouquet of Broken Flowers to his lost loves that he never loved anyway.


 

RIORI Redux: David O Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” Revisited

 



The Players…

Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker, with Johnny Ortiz, Julia Stiles and Shea Wigham.


The Story…

After a stint in a psychiatric hospital, bipolar Pat has no choice but to move back in with his Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed family. While he tries in vain to reconcile with his estranged wife, Pat meets Tiffany who’s just as unstable as he is. Like attracts like and all that. Tiffany hears Pat’s plight and offers him a deal: she’ll get in touch with his wife of him if he’ll do her a favor. Pat’ll do anything to fix his marriage, but wait…

Swing dancing? Really?


The Rant (2013)

This may be my most personal review to date. Bear with me.

Two things before I get started. The first is practical. For the previous eight installments, I have based these reviews on the principle of “lack of box office mojo either/or of dubious reputation.” From now on, I shall refer to this criterion simply as “The Standard.” It’ll save time, and for those who need an explanation, please read my homepage. Don’t forget to Like it.

The second thing is trying to explain away how an Oscar-winning film like Silver Linings Playbook meets The Standard. I mean, it cleaned up at the box office. It earned several accolades. The star of the freakin’ Hangover films got an Oscar nod, before God. How does this movie meet the criteria?

The subject matter. A lot of folks who saw the film (at least folks I met) claimed that although the movie was good, Cooper’s acting was overreaching. His manic delivery was exactly the stuff of the Method, and I guess current audiences find that old hat. It works, yes, but these days people with a vestigial attention span demand the shiny. It’s still entertaining though, even if wide of the mark. Then again, what do the majority of filmgoers know what it’s like to endure a manic episode? Right.

Mental illness has long been a favorite well for Hollywood to dip from. Whether it’s Ordinary People for survivor’s guilt, The Deer Hunter for PTSD or The Silence Of The Lambs for sociopathy, crazy sells well at the ticket taker. The stuff’s a guilty pleasure for the gentry. It’s like the car wreck on the highway. You just gotta look—be witness to the wreck and ruin—and at the near back of your mind thank your lucky stars that that ain’t you. Being in the presence of an individual suffering from mental illness, be it depression, bipolar disorder, even outright psychosis is akin to the car wreck scenario. Sure, you’ll sneak a peek, but you’ll then recoil and be glad to not get any of it on you. It’s sort of a malign guilty pleasure for most.

Most well-healed folks figure they don’t ever have to worry about the crazy label. Life is normal for them, or for whatever passes for normal. Yet there are thousands of people out there who have to deal with the misfiring spark plugs upstairs every waking moment, yet still have to maintain a life. They don’t necessarily suffer in silence, but feel silenced all the same, especially against all those stares. Unless such sh*t ends up on the cover of People—and Heaven forbid Kim and Kanye’s spawn grow up to suffer from an eating disorder—then it’s in the public interest. Following that lead, how’s that for a dubious reputation?

As I was saying, Playbook made some waves with its depiction of bipolar disorder suffered by the lead Cooper. From personal experience, I say its depiction was straight on. This may get a little too personal, even for a blog, but I don’t really care. Others, I have found, have posted far more intimate and nuttier stuff than I would ever regard as appropriate. You ever truly look deeply at some of these profile and/or cover pictures? I mean, c’mon.

I suffer from bipolar disorder. Don’t laugh; I’m serious. I have a constant, intrusive internal monologue, often puking out into an external one. There’s the racing thoughts. The low-level paranoia. The occasional raging. The often crushing depression. It’s all there everyday for me, America, and for thousands of others, too. Like Pat, only therapy and meds make life work, and only in a wobbly way at that. It’s tough. And surprisingly enough, Cooper earned an Oscar nod for his portrayal. Yeah, best actor and alla dat.

Why should I say surprisingly? C’mon, this guy made a fortune portraying a guy slogged off on roofies and/or booze for three films for f*ck’s sake. What the hell business does he have starring in an Oscar-nominated film?

Because he sold it. Because he earned it. Because he got it right.

Playbook was a smart, humorous and at times intense movie. A hard combo to work with. According to the dailies, it took director Russell 20 rewrites over five years to get the film just right. Good Lord. It worked though.

Playbook is a mass character study, so we’re gonna talk about our cast. A lot. First, Bradley Cooper really surprised me, just as much as most other critics were (who, unlike yours truly, actually get paid to do this sh*t). His depiction of bipolar disorder was spot f*cking on. The raging, the paranoia, the endless hang-ups. The label of being f*cking nuts. All there. As if to accentuate Pat’s struggles, it rather hurt when in the film the local law came to harass and/or bully poor Pat over the head about his restraining order. Sometimes it felt for just him it being out in public was enough for a drubbing. Car wreck culture and all. Ugh. Even if your brain is firing on all cylinders, it’s hard to watch. It’s also a great method employing “show, don’t tell,” and with a character study, you gotta show a lot of face time.

Something else key was apparent that I often bitch about for lack of in these posts: good pacing. Nothing in Playbook felt rushed. The story folded out as easily as a box of Kleenex, minus the lint. Two-plus hours stretched gracefully into a good evening’s entertainment. Face it, when you’re spending your free time on a film heavy on mental illness it better flow smoothly. Hell, that’s all I (or anyone else) should ask for.

In addition to the excellent pacing, of course the acting was great. There were no minor characters in the film. I know that follows the old saw of there being no small parts, but with Playbook each role was crucial in mirroring Pat’s new life post-hospitalization. A lot of films of this nature have roles that drop off the map halfway through the feature. Not here. “Lesser” roles like Ronnie and his patient therapist Dr. Patel offered insight and warmth (not necessarily sympathy) to Pat’s struggles. It’s a contained circle, one you get comfortable with as it creates a real sense of closure as the film winds down.

Other touches work well to reflect Pat’s picking up the pieces. The choice of music for instance (a pet cinematic enhancement of mine) was exceptional. Led Zep makes for the ideal soundtrack for a mental meltdown. And if your heart doesn’t crack a little for the sequence accompanied by Bob Dylan’s and Johnny Cash’s duet of “Girl From the North Country,” you have no soul (it’s from Nashville Skyline by the way. Go buy the damned album).

Considering the rest of the noteworthy cast, Chris Tucker is a stitch, but not in his mouthy Rush Hour style. He’s the lingering vestige of the sh*t Pat had to deal with and suck up to in Baltimore. He keeps popping up in Pat’s life on the outside not as the Magic Negro, but perhaps as a reminder as to what he was trying to leave behind, despite the fact it’s still stuck in his BP rattled head. He also ends up teaching Pat all about groove. This is important. Delightfully so.

DeNiro was also nominated for an Oscar in this one. It’s the first worthwhile role he’s played in along time, and for his limited screen time, Russell brings out the best in him. Although it takes several scenes, it becomes easy to understand why he got the nod. He’s brusque, he’s hammy, he’s f*cking petulant. He may have inadvertently contributed to Pat’s undoing, him being all superstitious and OCD. Always gambling. He took a gamble on Pat and ostensibly lost. Many times. Bob does lot of pure acting with just his scowly yet puppy dog jowls of his. Haven’t seen that since Casino. I could go on, but it would ruin the sub-plot.

Oddly, Weaver got an Oscar nomination too, although at first it’s hard to figure why. She doesn’t have many lines, and her screen time seems limited to only when Pat and/or his dad are roiling in their own psychological juices. However, she also seems to be the only one who is pointedly aware and truly sympathetic to what Pat has gone and still is going through. Pat’s her son after all. Understanding is crucial in the healing process, and you need that kind of presence to make the story have a tonic to the continuous conflict. In that light, Weaver is in the Goldilocks zone.

And lastly, Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. Ah, her. She won the Oscar, you know. Her Tiffany is nuts, just stark-raving oozing kooky nuts. But just to watch her…I’ll be crude. No I won’t. You can be crude. But hell, she can act, all fiery without chewing scenery and hold her own as if she wrote the script. She has confidence and a strong presence that permeates every scene she’s in, eclipsing star Cooper at times. Simultaneously, she has a particular vulnerability that, if employed in other films, may come across as mawkish. Here it generates a feeling not exactly of compassion, but one more of relatability despite the extraordinary circumstances handed to her. And she can dance. And run at a good clip, too. And oddly enough, heh-heh, so can Pat, just don’t take her to a diner on a first date. You just gotta see it to get it.

I have next to no carps with this movie. Save a Hollywood ending, Playbook was truly compassionate in its execution and acting. Is it because I’m sympathetic? Well, yeah. But only because here’s a film that depicts a hairy subject 90% correct. The remaining 10% is courtesy of Tinsel Town, cuz sumpin’s gotta sell tickets. The story is the car-wreck scenario, but tempered with just enough sugar with the urine that an audience can feel empathy rather than unease or scorn towards the psychologically challenged. It’s simply a cagey nevertheless excellently staged film

Yeah, excellently staged. Smart dialogue. Solid acting. Hall rented. Orchestra engaged. Now it’s time to see if you can dance.

If only somebody had told Lawrence to mind the step.


Rant Redux (2019)…

Okay, I owe you all an apology—now and future ones also—for trying the pull the wool here over Playbook. I had established The Standard as, well, a standard for all movies skewered here at RIORI as to how and why they got here under my hot little, petulant microscope. To review for the jillionth time, any movie—supposedly “mediocre”—that stumbles onto this blog meets a specific criteria to rush this frat: been made/released between 2000 to now, had disappointing box office returns, received mixed reviews and therefore generated perhaps unwarranted notoriety based on said wobbly criticism, and/or (the biggie); Suffered a general lack of “box office mojo.”

Playbook had none of that. It was well received, a box office success, was nominated for and earned a few awards and in turn had some mojo; Playbook escalated middling character actors Cooper and Lawrence into the upper echelon of Tinsel Town Treatment. Lawrence got her Oscar, and later Cooper got to voice a not-raccoon with a hair trigger and score Lady Gaga. One outta three ain’t bad…I guess (and talk about a bad romance).

*back to the hurling bottles thing*

It was years ago, and I had so many movie opinions I needed to smear, angry-monkey-fecal-like-sling at my adoring non-audience. I feel into a trap that virtually all FaceBook denizens do: regard my opinion as gospel. And by the dictionary, I also felt that my feelings were honrdt and implicitly received as truth.

Yeah. Nope. And as for myopic ego…well, all of you entrenched in social media have one, too. I apologize and I don’t. I apologize for lying and not following my own rules but not since most of us online do just that as gospel. And no, I did not weep at Grumpy Cat’s death. I was too busy being concerned about paying my bills and not regarding non-white people south of Texas as potential ISIS recruits.

*bonk. Kelly Clarkson!*

To conclude, I misused my blog as soapbox to encourage folks to see a film they had already seen, enjoyed and applauded when Lawrence stumbled onto the stage. My bad. It was drunk and I was late. I apologize for the hoodwink, and apologizing as ugly naked as this is in the blogosphere is catch-as-catch-can (BTW; the origin of that term stems from old school wrestling, namely repel your opponents with your hands any way to wear him down. You’re welcome).

Wait. There is one more thing: although the review of this offbeat character study was accurate, one observation was a little off. That whole bit about mental illness being sexy money in Hollywood? True, but like dinner at the local, reliable, cheap-o, red sauce pizza Italian joint it’s all about the presentation, not the dish.

I wasn’t kidding when I explained that I have bipolar disorder, and like other select films that interpret mental illness accurately and in an enlightening way, you gotta go pretty afar from the norm to get my attention about filming stories surrounding such touchy stuff. A lot of on screen mental ills are depicted by ciphers who a destructive to their costars as Snidely Whiplash pestering Penelope Pitstop (how’s that for dating me?); drab tragic figures that are simultaneously fragile and volatile. Or worse, just plain nuts and that’s all. I brought up my condition in the original view because the film got experiencing the disease more or less correct and in a palpable way. Unlike another film frisked here, The Informant!, where our protagonist has bipolar and his unchecked disease leads to irrational behavior and acts that are his undoing. I didn’t care for it much, mostly due to star Matt Damon’s delivery of the character and his issues. I know the flick was supposed to be satirical; I shouldn’t’ve had to watch the thing through the fingers of a terminal facepalm.

I liked the sympathetic eye cast on Pat. Yes, he is ill. Yes, he committed a violent crime. And yes, he’s gonna struggle the rest of his days keeping emotions in check at an arm’s length from his family who doesn’t exactly “get” what Pat’s all about. In other words, he’s not to be pitied, nor never shown that way. He’s just trying to keep his sh*t together. That’s me everyday. Hell, that’s you everyday, trying to keep your cards shuffled and the lumps out of your gravy. That reliability Cooper summoned up made the bipolar less of a plot point and more a of character trait. Not flaw, as most films of this ilk, even good ones (EG: Rain Man, The Best Years Of Our Lives, Good Will Hunting et al) often portray. Pat’s bipolar is now a fact of life due to screwy mixes in his brain cocktail. Yeah, he’s messed up. How he delivers the goods is as if, “Yep. You too?” Of course.

I forced my folks to watch Playbook with me to offer insight into how I feel everyday. They liked it a lot.

They also did not “get it.”

That’s what you get for leading people along, I tell ya.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: rent it. Silver Linings Playbook is a very good movie that had absolutely no business roaming around RIORI’s turf. I apologize again. I have Standards, after all.


Next Installment…

It’s auspicious to ask What Just Happened? revisiting this DeNiro diamond in the rough. Can one go too far off the map into indie territory and still regard a movie as mediocre?


 

RIORI Redux: Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” Revisited


Image


The Players…

Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Max von Sydow, with Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley and Ted Levine.


The Story…

US marshal Teddy Daniels’ latest case takes him to a forgotten corner of New York’s fog-shrounded waterways. His assignment? Investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. But not long after landfall, it appears to Teddy his efforts are going to by compromised by the evasive resident psychiatrist…as well as his disturbing visions.


The Rant (2013)

Ever experience déjà vu? You know, that feeling of uneasy familiarity, like you’ve done this or that once before? Of course you have. You’re having it right now. You’re reading another one of my screeds here at RIORI buttered with my signature ribald, snappy repartee. Welcome back!

Seriously though, before I delve into the déjà vu enigma some more, I think I need to clarify something. These reviews were reserved for films that “had a dubious reputation or lacked box office mojo.” Shutter Island definitely did not suffer from a lack of mojo. When all was said, done and tallied, this little film walked away with over a hefty $128 million at the box office. This little psych-thriller here had a budget of around $80 million. Not bad. Didn’t hurt that it was directed by Scorsese and starred his current protégé DiCaprio.

What did hurt Island in my view is based on this story I heard from a friend of mine. Let’s say she had an interesting experience when seeing this movie in the theatre. Seeing. Not saw. As in “during the movie proper.”

Hm. BTW, we ain’t talking about yelling at the screen as if the actors can hear, or some nabob yakking on his phone. We’re talking about a dissatisfied customer. If any movie, successful or no, could upset a viewer in frustration then the movie gets the autopsy here. That and another buddy of mine insisted I see it and blog about it. You’re welcome, Rios.

So anyway, here’s what she told me:

It was your typical Friday night out at the multiplex. The big deal release at the time was Marty’s Shutter Island, which I heard was Marty’s first psycho-thriller (Cape Fear doesn’t count. That was a remake). The turnout was big—full house. My friend found a seat at the back of the theatre; that what was left that night, the place was so packed. It inadvertently gave her the cat’s bird seat to witness what would transpire later on.

About halfway through the film, a patron, obviously displeased, got up and shouted to no one in particular, “Does anyone f*cking get what is f*cking going on in this film?!” This outburst generated a bigger audience reaction than the action of screen. He threw his popcorn to the floor, spat out a few more profanities and promptly stormed out of the theatre. I think she mentioned something about even Leo losing his motivation. One could make the argument that Scorsese’s latest film succeeded in creating psychological tension, but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. Well, for the sake of this installment it sounded like a dubious enough rep for me.

Sigh. I wish I had gotten as torqued as that angry stranger in the darkness with his strewn popcorn.

I too, after sitting through this movie, had similar sentiments. And a feeling of déjà vu. I had seen this movie before. Or at least, this kind of movie. And despite the trademark storytelling verve Scorsese imbues into most of his movies, Island was based on very few original plot lines.

But before I get all bitchy, first here’s the good stuff.

I don’t know who the location scout was for the movie, but they did a brilliant job of finding an ideal setting for madness. The whole sanitarium compound has a great, Lovecraftian feel. Craziness dripping from every pore. Even the main characters seem a little…off, as though a reflection of the island’s inhabitants. Slow tracking shots makes whole scenes seem isolated from reality. You really can pilot Teddy about the complex with the sense of solitude. And not the kind you want. Creepy is the watchword.

There’s some brilliant editing, especially the flashback sequences to Teddy’s army days and wife’s tragedy. Things seem to flow pretty well also, albeit a bit quickly. At certain points some scenes seem rushed, especially when Teddy and his sidekick Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, who is a solid presence) are casing the joint. Speaking of acting, Kingsley’s performance is at his most sinister here, vacillating between paranoid and professional. This is a guy who you can’t f*ck around with, because he can see all and know all on the island. Shiver.

Second, the bad stuff. The main offense? This film is unoriginal. I could not shake that feeling of déjà vu watching it. I knew that this kind of story has been told before, and not just in the typical, snobby, “there are only so many plots out there yadda yadda blah.” No. I had seen this movie before, a dozen different ways. The best and immediate example I can recall is with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I could cite quite few more films (without revealing the plots) that have used the exact same formula that Island employs. Angel Heart for one. The Machinist—which I reviewed here before—is another. The whole psychological “lost time” gimmick has been used with varying degrees of success before. But it has been done before. You would think Scorsese would have figured that out by now.

Shutter Island suffers greatly from déjà vu. This all had been done before. And it’s a real shame, because there’s a great deal of capital Q quality in this film. The acting’s good. The casting great. The atmosphere is suitably creepy. But the film lifts dozens of tropes from other films that may have done it better. It doesn’t make sense knowing of Scorsese’s encyclopedic knowledge of film technique that he cut Island the way he did. Maybe he was just f*cking around, nodding and winking to Hitch. I hope so, rather than f*cking around at the audience’s expense, not unlike represented by the anonymous, angry filmgoer’s philosophy. As for me, the only “lost time” I got from this movie was 2 hours and 18 minutes.

So…

Ever experience déjà vu? You know, that feeling of uneasy familiarity, like you’ve done this or that once before…?


Rant Redux (2019)…

This movie was another recommendation by a co-worker who got hip to what I was doing online (no, the legal, orangutan-free stuff) and threw me this curveball: namely a film wrote and directed by an esteemed, successful director starring his latest protege, an esteemed and successful leading-man type guy who was once King of the World. Sounded promising. I like Marty’s films, and Leo has been a sturdy character actor for over a decade even before Island hit theaters. And a noir mystery to boot? What would go wrong?

Quite a bit. But not with the movie; within the blogger’s palsied mind.

You saw how I was playing up the deja vu aspect of both the film and my impression thereof? Kept bitching I’ve seen this before, this type of plot. I was right, but not in a cynical sense. Observe:

You ever see a film you just didn’t “get” upon your first viewing? Yeah, sure, the flick was all right, but you walked away wanting. Something felt amiss, unsatisfying. And some imp of the perverse kept poking your temporal lobes insinuating that you (dum dum dummm) missed something? You dolt, you should’ve never refilled your Cherry Coke at the soda fountain at the beginning of the second act, but that super-fangled thingamadoo has over five jillion soda options where could concoct tonics that have no place in nature you don’t give a sh*t, right. But still, orange-cherry Sprite with almonds!

But I digress. We’ve all seen films like that. They make us feel stupid. Not insulted like whatever sugar-coated bile Michael Bay keeps conning the general public into consuming. No. Movies that make you second guess. On the whole, I kinda like that. It’s usually a good film that makes you question it, rather than question yourself, “Lord, what have I done?!? Will the sun come up tomorrow? Will they cancel breakfast? And who is they anyway? Mommy…” When a good movie makes you feel as if you missing something, you may have well did…for now. Give it a moment, an hour, a week. It’ll come to you.

Me? Got a few examples. Might’ve mentioned the phenom before. Like with The Blair Witch Project. The final scene stumped me, until I was perched on the end of my bed, wondering what the f*ck did I watch last night? That guy REDACTED when the camera crapped out. I sat up. I remembered earlier in the film.  I solved the puzzle without rearranging the stickers. I got it. In the endgame it wasn’t a waste of a ticket and I ain’t that so dumb after all, Jenny.

Perhaps you like the cut of my jib. You get it. Ain’t it fun? Here’s another one: when me and my stepkid watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo for the first time. Vertigo is considered Hitch’s finest achievement, ‘tho it took years for the dilettantes to play catch up. The stepkid was into murder mystery films at the time, so I set up a double feature of Vertigo and Read Window. After watching Vertigo we did a double take at each other. We didn’t get it. It wasn’t bad, but there was something amiss. Oh, well. I plopped Window in the machine shortly after (saw it many times over already. Yes, I set her up) and she really dug it. But Vertigo challenged us, and we didn’t “get it” outright. Oh, fie.

Took me half a damned year to trip the tumblers. At our time of viewing, Vertigo usurped Citizen Kane as the best American movie ever. I was baffled as to why…until I got it. If you are familiar with the demented comedy stylings of the late, great Andy Kaufman, then how Vertigo delivered its package might be analog to the Man On The Moon’s pranksterism; the joke was always on you. Once you figured that bit out, and you weren’t a blockhead, you got the joke. Hitch was f*cking with your sense of reality with Vertigo, and therein lay the mystery to be solved, which was impossible. Did this all happen, or was Jimmy Stewart so delusional that he didn’t know he was delusional? Terry Gilliam’s dystopian time travel movie 12 Monkeys followed the same line. Quite well I may add.

Lastly, and since we’re deconstructing a Scorsese film, his apology Oscar awarding winning The Departed pulled a fast one. In the final scene how did Dignam know to  REDACTED  Sullivan? It might’ve has something to do with all that journaling REDACTED did and ultimatly got mixed in the mail. I caught The Departed in the theatre with a pair of my low-life buddies, us scratching our heads over how Dignam knew? We nodded assent in confusion and headed out to our respective cars to head on out to our choice watering hole to further dismantle the film.

It dawned on me a mile down the road. I caught up with them at the immediate red light. I honked and they rolled down their window, “What?!?”

I rolled down my window, sat on the sill and hollered at them: “It was his REDACTED!”

They screaming in forehead-slapping laughter, and we tore out of there. Good night spent. I needed a new seat belt thereafter. Thank God for duck tape and crossed fingers.

Now. Speaking of both Hitch and Marty, we arrive at Shutter Island. This is what I missed the first time out. I missed this: homage. It took me an eon to realize that Island was designed to be an homage to both film noir and Hitchcock. Which is why, to me, it felt so familiar. So deja-vu. Sorry, Rivers. I was unfair, and needed the edge of my bed for a little.

That being said, here’s what I learned seeing with a well-squeegeed eye: Island is a tribute, an homage, an experiment regarding “The Master Of Suspense.” To say that Scorsese is a film historian as well as acclaimed director is akin to describing oxycontin as “relaxing.” The man’s a cinematic encyclopedia; he’s done his research. Again the reason that Island gave me deja vu upon initial viewing was because, well, this kind of story had been done before (eg: Hitch’s Vertigo, as well as Nolan’s Memento, Welles’ The Third Man and a good chunk of the Jason Bourne movies): displaced hero stuck in their own imagination and everything, everything may or may not be a delusion. On a very basal, relatable tableau there was an ep of Star Trek: TNG (quit groaning) entitled “Frame Of Mind” where Cmdr Riker was trapped in a nightmare of his own making just to anchor himself to reality, which he a bit of trouble crawling out of. Our Teddy Daniels is cut from the same bolt as Riker, Scotty Ferguson, Leonard Shelby, “Harry Lime” and Matt Damon/Jeremy Renner/Joey Sack O’Donuts whatever. It’s a good device, which is why it pops up in so many suspense films. Marty understood this trope, gave it his own spin, smiled and hoped you liked it. Once I crawled out my arse and smelled my poop, I got it.

I guess it goes to say that a smart director knows his way around a tried-and-true suspense device like displaced person-or-persons unknown. And it took a dumb, rube movie critic to catch up.

Gonna smack him upside his melon when I see him next.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Overrulled: Rent it. I again say sorry, Rivers. I got it now. A technical, loving tribute to Hitch well done is always a treat. That doesn’t mean I want my mind f*cked over every time. I’m still recovering from Detective Pikachu.


Next Installment…

We thumb through the Silver Linings Playbook again to find (shocker) the blogger was trying to hoodwink you. What Standard?