Sunday, July 28, 2019

"Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood"


Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood has everything a movie could possibly need – a magnificent cast, exquisite design, expert craftsmanship – except a compelling screenplay.

It's a beautiful but empty-headed piece of nostalgia, a splendidly gorgeous piece of nothing.  Watching it is like biting into an extravagantly hand-crafted eclair only to discover the baker forgot the filling.

It's the movie Quentin Tarantino probably needed to make, an ode to the movies he grew up watching and to the time in which they were made. For almost three hours, he lavishes over meticulous recreations of 1969 Hollywood; it's cinema as immersive experience.

Leonardo DiCaprio is Rick Dalton, a has-been movie star hurtling toward obscurity. His stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), is his co-dependent sidekick. Rick lives on Cielo Drive, just beneath the house Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate are renting in the winter and spring of 1969.

But the movie is only kinda-sorta about the Manson murders. Played by Margot Robbie, Tate is merely a distraction; her biggest scene simultaneously pities and mocks her desire for celebrity, and is indicative of how tonally off the movie is. It all winds as circuitously as a road in the hills to the night of the murders. Its final 30 minutes are as sadistically violent as they are unexpectedly wrong-headed.

Tarantino has made, it turns out, the cinematic equivalent of a red Trump hat: It's so damned sure that things were better back then that it never stops to ponder its garrulous insistence.

Viewed July 28, 2019 -- AMC Burbank 16


Saturday, July 27, 2019


Crawl is a movie about alligators that attack a Florida home during a Category 5 hurricane.

That is what it is about.

If you think that movie sounds good, Crawl will not disappoint you.

It is reasonably well-made, sometimes laughably stupid, and frequently very effective.

If you thought Jaws would have been good if they had cut out all the stuff about the adventure and the boat and the three guys chasing a shark and had just focused on the shark eating people, Crawl is a movie you'll like.  There are a lot of gruesome and gory scenes of people being eaten by alligators.  Those are the scenes people want to see in a movie about alligators attacking a Florida home during a Category 5 hurricane.  Those are the scenes Crawl gives people.

By far the most disturbing thing I saw in Crawl was the number of people who took their children to see it.

Don't take your children to see it.

And if you come out of Crawl saying, "Boy, that was a dumb movie," can I please refer you to the opening sentence of this review/

That is what it is about.

You get what you pay for.  How many movies can you say that about?

Viewed July 27, 2019 -- AMC Universal Cinema


Friday, July 19, 2019

"The Lion King"


Does every generation get the movies it deserves? If so, what, I shudder, does The Lion King say about today's audiences? That they lack imagination? That they'll take anything they're given, as long as it's sold to them with a massive marketing campaign? Or is it that they seek the comfortable, want no challenges?

It is not easy to find a note of happiness in anything director Jon Favreau's relentlessly, almost impossibly exacting replica of the original 1994 film might be saying. It is purely an exercise in creatively bankrupt marketing prowess. It is a soulless effort to showcase technological superiority. It is an important piece of "creative content" that will be shortly used to market Disney's streaming service.

It is not lacking in entertainment value, any more than a full-size, high-resolution photo replica of the Mona Lisa is lacking in beauty. There is still grace in the opening "Circle of Life" theme, still humor in Pumbaa and Timon (despite some grating and stereotypical gay lisping of Billy Eichner as the latter), still emotion in Rafiki's revelation to Simba about the lion's destiny.

And yet, to what end?  It is often visually stunning, more often visually weird -- rendered realistically, it is non-sensical to hear animals sing and talk. Its story takes place across one of the strangest African geographies (sand dunes give way to jungles within moments). And on the whole it's entirely adequate. No more, no less. Undemanding audiences will adore it and will ignore the more insidious message lurking within its computer-generated wonders:

By taking a classic of hand-drawn animation and turning it into a mega-budgeted CGI extravaganza, Disney is saying that its own past -- our own past -- isn't good enough. That its movies are as disposable as sneakers or Mickey Mouse ears from Disneyland. No, not even that good, because Disney doesn't even want its own movies to be souvenirs anymore. In this new Disney world, movies are ... old sneakers. That's distressing.

Viewed July 19, 2019 -- AMC Burbank 16


Monday, July 15, 2019

"Toy Story 4"


The toys in Toy Story 4 are close to outliving their usefulness. They're already hand-me-downs, and after several years of playing with them their current owner, Bonnie (to whom Andy gave them when he went off to college), is moving on from them, too.

Even though they are as bright, happy, fun and cuddly as ever, they seem to lack for things to do, a problem that afflicts the bright, happy, fun and cuddly movie in which they star, Toy Story 4, which also frequently lacks for things to do.

The idea this time around that the toys are just one level above trash, which is quite literally what makes up their newest cast member, Forky (voice of Tony Hale). That idea wears itself out after a while, though fun to watch Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) as they inevitably head down a path that leads away from the playroom.  Toy Story 4 looks spectacular, too; without doubt, this is the most eye-popping of all Toy Story movies.

But what's the point? Toy Story 4 struggles to find its purpose, meandering through a collection of vignettes, some of which are better than others. Despite its visual and musical (thanks to Randy Newman) excellence, Toy Story 4 feels more like an afterthought than a full-blown movie, a film that needed to be made to please the accountants instead of the storytellers. It'll be right at home on Disney's streaming service. That can't be a coincidence. Can it?

Viewed July 14, 2019 -- AMC Century City


Saturday, July 6, 2019


This is not a movie I would want to experience again, but Midsommar is also one I will not forget easily, and will think about for some time, replaying not just its horrors but its careful exploration of themes like grief, friendship, community, commitment and tradition.

This second film by Ari Aster, who directed the distressingly overrated Hereditary last year, again goes for an arthouse-horror vibe, with methodical camera work, deliberate pacing and a cool dispassion.

In part, the movie's off-putting numbness mirrors the mind of its main character, Dani (a brilliantly committed Florence Pugh), whose life is unraveling in ways both catastrophic and mundane. Her boyfriend Christian (Jack Raynor) wants to break up with her, egged on by his friends, including Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a Swede who has invited Christian and his pals to the remote commune where he grew up for a days-long festivity celebrating mid-summer. Dani invites herself along.

When they get there, things are both bucolic and disturbing: The sun never sets, and the locals seem a little too eager to share their psychedelic drugs. As the group learns more about the commune, things turn terrifying (and stomach-churningly violent) with alarming speed.

Filled almost to distraction with legend and folklore, Midsommar is part fairy tale, part horror movie, and part anthropological survey. It's also deeply, deeply unsettling. Beautifully crafted and tremendously acted, it's a movie that can neither be ignored nor, perhaps, even enjoyed -- but it is never less than something remarkable to behold.

Viewed July 6, 2019 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks