They Shall Not Grow Old

A hundred years from now, people will not have to guess what we were like, or how we lived or what thoughts we might have. Our technology and culture is resulting in the most documented, photographed/filmed generation in human history. For good or ill, our lives will be available in a format that ten decades from now will be understood and easily accessible. Go backwards a hundred years and the exact opposite is true. We have grainy pictures, incomplete sound and you have to go to an historical archive to even see that world, at least until now. Peter Jackson, of “Lord of the Rings” fame, has scoured through the 100 hours of film footage that the Imperial War Museum has, and put it together to make a fascinating look at the experience of soldiers on the Western Front of “The Great War”.

His collaborators have meticulously re-timed the footage to create a smooth flow of film that was usually hand-cranked at different speeds. Computers have been employed to correct lighting, remove scratches and debris and generally make an experience feel as if it was recorded with contemporary technology. Voice actors from appropriate parts of the British Isles give voice to words silently spoken in the film clips from the war, by using lip reading technology and extensive notes of official publications. Sound effects are recreated using traditional Foley techniques and authentic equipment from the era. It is as if a film crew from 2018 was able to step back into 1918 and get a brief glimpse into the world of those serving in the trenches.

That world is both inspiring and horrifying. The actual voices of WW I vets, from oral history recordings done when they were in their seventies, are played over scenes and create a narrative that is pretty basic but just right for the footage we are seeing. Boys who were 15 and 16, lied about their ages to volunteer. Everyone was enthusiastic in supporting the war effort of their nation. During the film, they are not shy about describing some terrible conditions and nightmare inducing experiences. All war is hell, but this particular version of hell involved circumstances that were brutal. The insects, the vermin and the stench practically crawls off the screen to make us all glad that we did not have to do this ourselves. It also should make us stand in awe of the men who did.

Jackson has not attempted to cover all the fronts in the war. So navel conflict, the air war, the home front and the role of women, doctors, and politicians is excluded. This is about the front line. The men who slept in trenches , while standing up or crawling into a mudhole between duty assignments are the focus of this documentary. The story is told somewhat chronologically, staring with recruitment and training efforts and ending with unemployment at the wars conclusion. This was a Fathom Event, so it was a one day set of screenings. If you find this wonderful piece of history somewhere, be sure to watch, it will devastate you and inspire you simultaneously.

My Family Contribution to the Great War
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Glass

I’m afraid I feel compelled to start my comments here with a bad joke. My opinion on this film is not as clear as a pane of…oh, you know.  There was a lot that I liked about the concept, set up and visualizations here, but there are plot holes, trails not followed and an ending that is frustratingly opaque. “Glass” should be better than it is, but in many ways I don’t think it can. M. Night Shyamalan has created a set up for his super hero epic, but stops short of committing to the characters he created to continue his mythologizing of comic books. I suspect a lot of people will be pissed off at this.

I was a fan of “Unbreakable” when it arrived 19 years ago. The notion that a sequel might be coming was appealing but not essential to me. I pretty much got the point of that story and it felt complete. After pitting out with some films that are reviled by film fans, Shyamalan seemed to redeem himself with an effective thriller with “Split” two years ago. In a surprise, as the film was wrapping, it is revealed that this story was taking place in the same world as “Unbreakable” and it set up this sequel with just a little bit of effort. The problem he now faced is making that set up pay off.

To begin with, the return of Bruce Willis in a film by Shyamalan is promising. A couple of hours before going to see this, I watched the “Death Wish” remake from last year. Willis seemed to be sleepwalking through that part, but here he feels more invested and his grizzled beard and careworn face match the super hero character in the shadows that he is representing.  The opening section of this film re-establishes his David Dunn as “The Overseer” a mysterious vigilante who punishes lawbreakers and tries to protect those in jeopardy. David works in conjunction with his son, who has become the guy in the headset to his father’s avenger. I think a stand alone story of David’s life as this character would have worked pretty well a decade ago. It would also give us a chance to see how important the discovery of a real superhero would be to a community. Alas, we only get the most effective scenes in this movie, the stalking of the neighborhood in search of “the Horde”, and the rescue of four potential victims of “the Beast”. Having the grown actor who played David’s son Joe in “Unbreakable” return to be his partner works well and gives a sense of continuity to a story with a nineteen year gap.

James McAvoy repeats his impressive trick of channeling multiple personalities through the one body that we know exists. There is a little bit more of a carnival trick to the performance in this film with the rapidity with which he must change characters. It’s almost like a voice over actor, doing all of the characters they voice, in a conversation. It is amazing, but it does feel a bit like a trained seal act. One of the drawbacks of the script is that we never really get to understand this character because it changes so often, Just as we start to get a sense of motivation, the personality switches and it becomes cloudy as to why things are happening. “the Beast” becomes a coherent character at one point, rather than just the monster that all the others were in fear of. If this is the dominant personality and it took complete control, maybe our interest level would be a bit higher.

This is a very talky picture. While in the first section of the movie, there are a couple of action scenes, the second act is all slow burn set up with Samuel Jackson’s Mr. Glass playing a somnambulist villain, lying in wait to spring his plan. Shyamalan is honest enough to leave a trail of bread crumbs so that the twists of the escape and subsequent confrontation are justified, but there in lies the problem.  Having been so meticulous with laying that groundwork, he turns right around and violates that trust with another pivotal character. The fourth lead in this story turns out to be a critical element of the climax of the film, but that is not set up at all. What appears on the surface to be a passive agenda of discovery turns out to be the main plot of the film and it just doesn’t work well.

As I dance around spoilers and sharing reveals, it is a little difficult to ignore some plot holes that might foreshadow the twist. The psychiatric institution that the characters all occupy, is the least populated facility you can imagine. The security for supposedly dangerous individuals is nearly non-existent. Maybe that will all be explained away by the films’s advocates as a deliberate act in the twist, but it just looks like it is slapdash storytelling to me. For a guy who has spent 19 years in prison heavily sedated, Mr. Glass has programming skills that are just a little too neat. Finally, be careful here, this may be TMI: the idea that an on-line video will spark a shift in paradigms, rather than ten thousand deconstructions is simply not realistic.

Unlike in his previous work, where the twist endings have been earned [whether you liked them or not], the ending here feels like a cheat. It also includes a downer moment that will deflate fans of super hero movies and stories. I can’t say that the idea that the three films in this series are all an origin story doesn’t make sense. From a comic book perspective it probably does. I just doubt that there will be any subsequent use of that idea, because the audience is not likely to make an investment in something that is shoveled on them in the last ten minutes of a six plus hour journey they have taken. I suppose though that this is where the ultimate controversy will rest. My enthusiasm however  is mostly exhausted.

“It’s Strictly Personal”: A Book Review

I started my movie version of the blog in 2010. I was interested in films from my years growing up as a teenager during the 1970s.  The project was originally intended to run the length of that summer and then I would be done with it, but movies have a way of steering your life in directions that you can’t always anticipate. I was over fifty years old when I started working on the project, and I was not particularly adept at using the social media that was available. As I became more familiar with what I was doing, I discovered of course that I was not the only person who had opinions about movies, and that included films from my preferred time line. I started searching for other bloggers who, like me, were not only interested in reviewing a movie but also cared about the context of the times and the personal history that they had with the movies they loved. I had searched a few movie blogs for sites similar to mine, but I struggled to locate the right mixture. Everybody had opinions about movies, and many had opinions about old movies, but where were the ones who wanted to share more than just their opinions but a little something about themselves?

Two sites came to my attention in 2011. One was recommended to me by a blogger who for a time posted on a daily basis and seemed to have a very committed community following him. He sent me to “It Rains…You Get Wet”  written by a guy here in Southern California who was once a theater projectionist. We have connected many times since then in the real rather than the virtual world, and he has become a friend that I look forward to meeting at screenings here in the Southland on a regular basis.

The second site I discovered on my own, simply by scrolling through movie sites listed on the Blogger Platform. Unlike my colleague from So.Cal. , this guy was ten years younger than me, and he lived on the other side of the country. He was reviewing films in his own library, going through them alphabetically. That seemed like a fun approach so I started reading some of his reviews and lo and behold, they were not simply reviews but often microcosms of his life and movie going experiences. This was very close to what I did originally and still attempt to do from time to time. I have been a loyal reader of “My Movies, My Words” since early 2011. The author of this site is Eric Friedman, and he has taken his concept one step further and produced a book, based on the same principle but organized with a very specific theme in mind. My copy arrived two days ago, even though I ordered it the minute it was available last week. I feel a little proprietary toward the book, having interacted with Eric for so many years and sharing stories about movies we loved and experience we had in common.  I was a little jealous of others who were able to read it before me, but now that I have caught up with them, I can safely say that I have joined the club of satisfied customers.

Eric is usually my favorite read each week when he posts another one of his reviews. He is opinionated, intelligent and passionate about what he likes in a film. I have not always agreed with him on his perspectives on some movies, but he always makes a reasonable argument for what he believes. He also shares some information about his history with a film, and that is what his new book, “It’s Strictly Personal” does in depth. It is an autobiography of a man you have not met and almost certainly never heard of before, but it is a story that all film fanatics share. Starting as an eight year old and moving up to the point at which he turns 16, Eric tells the story of how movies reflect his life history. This is something that all of us movie bloggers could do if we took the time to work it out. We all have that first film going experience in our memories. We can recall the scenes that frightened us as children or made us laugh out loud. My guess is most of you can remember a movie that you did not understand as a child, which later became a beloved touchstone of your life. That is the story Eric is telling here.

The book is written as if we are having a long conversation with an old friend, and he is filling us in on his life and the movies we share in common. He is honest in his description of a somewhat dysfunctional family life growing up, but he is not maudlin about how things turn out, they simply reflect the personal history that recalls as the movies play out like the soundtrack to his life.  He is well spoken of many of the critical elements of film making, but like me, and I suspect most of you, he is a well informed hobbyist rather than a scholar. The other thing he is, is a good writer. He has a direct way of expressing his views but he also includes the details that make each story interesting. Although he has done some historical research to make sure his dates are accurate, he relies on his vivid memories to tell these stories.

A a Generation X kid, his encounters with films often include the frustrating but essential background of having to see a film for the first time on television. His parents were not like the permissive generation that would allow a child of eight to see “Jaws” [that of course would be a fault my generation would be guilty of. mea culpa] It’s fun to live through his frustration of wanting to be part of the cultural zeitgeist when your parents don’t approve of horror movies and you lived through the age of “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”.

Also, Eric having grown up in the NYC area, we get a bit of history concerning movie theaters of the suburbs and those in the city itself. HBO is an heroic figure in Eric’s life and the stories related to sleepovers with a friend and watching in a more permissive household, will certainly seem familiar to others of that generation. Reading about how a kid changes from a naive child to a more engaged adolescent may seem like a strange journey to you, until you realize we have all made the same journey. The delight of this book is that the author has put words to paper so we can take that journey together again. You may not have the same inventory of films in your memory bank that Eric shares, but those of us who do love movies, have similar stories that his experiences will help us to evoke.

Social Media may sometimes be a pox on the world. Twitter is filled with trolls who want to shame, virtue signal or generally act like the smart ass kid in the back row. Blogs allow the most wretched of people and ideas to be available to anyone unfortunate enough to trip over them. Despite those drawbacks, social media also allows us to connect with others who we would never have met otherwise. I have several virtual friends that I know because of our shared love of movies. I am happy to say that Eric Friedman is one of them. After having read his book, I feel like we are closer friends than I am with some of my childhood buddies, simply because we speak the same language, …AND THERE WERE MOVIES!

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse

I had originally dismissed this as a piece of television animation that was getting a theatrical release to boost interest in DVD sales and streaming. Well that turned out to be wrong. After hearing a number of my colleagues on “The Lamb” rave about it, and seeing a half dozen really positive reviews (which I scanned rather than reading), I became a lot more motivated. I can now see why there is a lot of enthusiasm, and while I am not inclined to say it was the best film of the year as some of the hyperbole had it, I can say it was excellent.

The story does take a while to set up and you have to be patient with it. Not only do most of us know the origin story, but when the various dimensions start crossing paths, we get it partially recapped, although with slight variations each time. The main focus in this telling is on Miles Morales, a kid from Brooklyn who is starting at a charter school where he stays in a dorm during the school week. This story is immediately different because Miles has a loving Mother and Father present in his life. He is not alienated from them but he does have some of the usual adolescent angst that comes from trying to be your own person but also needing your family. Miles is gifted but more in the arts than the sciences, and his radiated spider bite is not a result of his involvement with a science project but rather, a graffiti experience he undertakes with his uncle in the subways of N.Y..

The look of the film is interesting because it contains a variety of painting styles, animation techniques and comic book themes. There are multiple panels being used at once and the progression thru the story is sometimes abbreviated by that style. This really is a hip hop version of a Spider-man story, complete with street art and music to lead us through our hero’s tale. The backgrounds are textured with the kind of pixelation that you would see in an old school comic book or maybe video game. In the traditional Spider-man films, whether from Sony or from Marvel/Disney, the character does look like a cartoon in a real world setting at times. This movie makes all the world look like a drawing so you stop noticing how different the animation is in the action scenes. I had a slight problem because the image sometimes looked blurry to me, as if it was created for 3-D and I was not wearing my special glasses. I assume this was an intentional choice rather than an exhibitor error. It was the main fault I had with the way the movie looked.

The story is self aware, making slight insider references to the other films in the Spider-man universe. There is also a version of the character that looks like a Warner Brothers cartoon, and a Porky Pig reference is made. Multiple villain appear and they seem to be altered to some degree by the intersection of the dimensions as well. Dr. Octopus for instance will probably surprise you a bit. The Kingpin is the main antagonist and we are given just enough information to understand his motivations for the actions he takes and his desire for what he sees as revenge. Some new villains (or at least I assume they are new, I’m not a reader of the comics) also appear in the story, and there is a twist that comes but it is signposted well before it arrives so it is easier to swallow.

We end up with six different versions of Spider-man, aiding one another in trying to stop the scheme while also dealing with the possibility that they will glitch our of existence.  My favorite was Noir Spider-man, who looks like Darkman but even better, is voiced by Nicholas Cage. The mash up of styles for the different heroes is not as jarring as you might expect and in the end it all works pretty well. Some storlines could be a bit more complete but as a comic book film, “Into the Spider-verse” achieves its purpose. I was entertained and enjoyed expolring different variations on the same theme. Plus there is a really fun shot taken at Sam Rami’s “Spider-man 3”. That should give the comic book geeks something to look forward to as well. If you stick to the end of the credits, you will also get a nice nostalgia moment for old timers like me.

2018 Film Year in the Rear View Mirror

55 New Films this year, here is a video inventory for you.

20 Posts Covering Older Films, Special Events and Assorted others.

5 Movies I Want Everyone to See

I have been restoring posts that were originally published on Fogs Movie Reviews back in 2013. Fogs closed his site so the material I wrote has to be re-listed. I’ve been doing it piecemeal, so here are the links for the five entries I updated this year.

Podcasting

I was a very active member of the LAMB community this last year. [Large Association of Movie Blogs for you neophytes], and I started off the last year with the Movie Of The Month Podcast I championed, Ishtar. You can listen here:

After being on at least seven other of the LAMBCast episodes, Jay, the Shepard of the LAMB, decided that he might as well just automatically fill a weekly spot and give himself the chance to take an occasional episode off, by naming me as Official Co-Host of the LAMBCast. Since assuming my position in June, I have co-hosted 20 episodes with Jay, and flown solo on another half dozen.

In addition, My daughter Amanda, joined the LAMB this year and was a participant on three of those podcasts, including hosting the December MOTM, a Christmas themed show on the film “Meet Me In St. Louis” which she championed to victory. You can listen here:

Three of the shows we did in the last year were Draft Shows, where the participants draft a slate of films in a genre or category and then the community votes for what they think was the best slate. Frankly, having lost on Lambardy a year earlier, I was determined to do as well as I could on these competitions. Thanks to friends, readers and enlightened members of the LAMB community, I went three for three. I won the Spielberg Draft,

The Modern Animation Draft

and the 1960s Draft.

Jay would like to attribute my victories to superior campaigning, and that might be the case, but if you look at the lists, I think you will see that the results are due to superior selections.

I also had a wonderful time talking with Todd, the host of the Forgotten Filmcast, about a Strother Martin film “The Brotherhood of Satan”

Click to find a link to the podcast

2018 Big Screen Re-visits

Between Fathom, The TCM Film Festival and The American Cinematique, here are the films I revisited on the big screen from years past.

Favorite Movie Related Posts

This is post in praise of Physical Media.

This was a special Screening of a film starring a Radio God and Podcaster, Mark Thompson of the Mark and Brian Show.

A Live Musical Performance of Jaws, with the Family

A Pop up Laserdisc Sale, and boy did we make out.

The L.A. Philharmonic does Kubrick

Not So Great

A few films that are guaranteed to be disappointing. Sometimes my review was more positive than my real feelings for the films.

10 Great Moments in 2018 Films

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The Favourite

I am new to the films of director Yorgos Lanthimos, who has been highly praised for a number of his earlier films. I don’t know how representative of his style this movie is, but I can say there are certain things in this movie that seems to be unique to the movie and were clearly director’s choices. Most of those flourishes are at the base of my reservations about the film, so I may be hesitant to sample his other work. Between the praise and Award talk about this movie, and the highly entertaining trailer, I was expecting something a little more light and maybe traditional. There is a core to this story that I think would make a fine film in another director’s hands, but in Lanthimos grip, the movie becomes a bit “arty” and pretentious.

Deserving of high praise, regardless of what I thought of the rest of the movie are the three lead actresses. Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, but especially Olivia Colman, deliver effective performances. Stone manages to run the table from naive, open innocent to secretive and manipulative with just a little bit of alteration in her demeanor. Weisz is coiled danger and iron will from the start of the movie and even as she becomes more sympathetic, her persona does not change. Colman as Queen Anne, gets the widest range of emotions to depict from the screenplay and she manages to make us sympathize with a needy, neurotic and selfish woman who is clearly beset by emotional damage from earlier in her life. At times she is charming but can instantly turn cruel and dogmatic. Her emulation of physical pain but also physical pleasure is marvelous. Even when she is costumed and standing or being wheeled around, most of the acting work is in her facial expressions. That is an incredible accomplishment when you see how the movie is shot from low angles and wide images.

So I mentioned that I have a couple of issues with the director choices. Let me begin with one of the most obvious ones, the fish eye camera work. In many of the scenes set in the Queens bedroom or study, the initial view is a distorted image that inflates the center, reduces the edges and keeps most of the image from being focused. This is an unnecessary choice that draws attention to the film directing rather than the story. It is an indulgence that took me out of the events occurring every time it came up. A second issue with the film and the director is the use of Chapter cards to organize the story into discrete parts. Some of this may be in the script, so Lanthimos may not be entirely responsible, but they basically serve no purpose. If, like in “Pulp Fiction” the chapter stops helped organize the time sequence of the story, or if the captions emphasized a theme for a sequence, then they may have been a use for them. Sadly, this was not the case. Words and sentences from each sequence are randomly chose for the transition slides and they mean NOTHING! They neither highlight or make comment on the events we are seeing, they are simply plugged into a random spot to break up a narrative. Something that is certainly a directors choice is the use of fonts and spacing on those transition slides. Once again, it is a choice that draws attention to the director rather than the scene. Like a cinematic e.e. cummings, Lanthimos screws around with the visual image of the lettering, to make it distinctive, but also harder to read. cummings may have had a reason for his predilection, but I cannot fathom what the director was trying to accomplish here.

The movie is also filled with crass sexual references and visualizations. Certainly the script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara takes the inferences from the notes of the Real Lady Sarah to heart. The story includes completely superfluous moments of Abigail manually satisfying her husband on their wedding night and Lord Harly delivering salty descriptions of women and participating in a homoerotic game of dodge-ball featuring a nude man and fruit. Given the instability of the Queen and the sexual references, I was thinking that this film felt a lot like “The Madness of King George” with porn.

Dramatically, there is a solid story to be told about how favoritism is sought, manipulated and influential in the royal court. It may be that the court had sexual intrigue and back stabbing, but all of that is presented as the surface level of interaction here, rather than a secret and subliminal process. When the words come right out of the Queen’s mouth “I like the way she puts her tongue in me”, you know that this is not a subtle form of palace intrigue. The views of men about women in the time might be backwards and reprehensible, but the film makers reinforce those ideas with the way women are depicted here. Instead of a story about female authority and power in an era dominated by male chauvinism,  “The Favourite” focuses on the very things that men might believe about women, their pettiness and emotional cruelty to one another. Those are the things that seem to be at the base of political instability, at least according to this movie. The Pyrrhic victory of one woman is a lesson in the futility of women being in charge. It is emotionally successful as a epitaph, but it is an impolitic message to convey to a contemporary audience.

 

Bumblebee

I enjoyed the first of the “Transformers” movies, it was loud and full of explosions and destruction, but all that got a little tiresome as the sequels came. Since I was not a child in the 1980s, I barely knew what the Transformers were and probably missed the relationship that younger audiences had with the original cartoons. Still, it is a series based on a toy line, and that seems like the biggest product placement you can have. I assume it has been working, at least up to the last film which was apparently a bust and abysmal.

“Bumblebee” may not draw in the big bucks that the first three films managed, but it will go a long way to restoring some sense of purpose to the concept. This film still has big effects and robots bashing each other, but not nearly as much and the purpose is not to gawk at all the Metropolitan destruction on screen. The battles here are smaller, easier to follow for a number of reasons, and they are mostly connected to the story.

Hailee Steinfeld plays Charlie, an alienated teen (is there any other kind in the movies?), who discovers that the VW Beetle she owns, is not really a Bug, but rather an Apoidea. We see how the robot from another world got here and we know it’s mission, but because of combat, it’s memory has largely been lost and Charlie and Bumblebee have to figure out was is going on as the story unfolds. The thing that this film seems to get right is the relationship that Charlie and Bee develop together. It takes it’s time evolving and there are bumps along the way, but by the end of the film, you can almost believe the tears that will be shed by these characters.

As usual, there is a subplot involving a secret organization of the military, tracking the presence of the robots on Earth. This film is set in 1987, so in essence it is a prequel/reboot of the original films, and thus humans can be deceived by Decepticons, even though we know that is what they call themselves. The smaller scale of the story allows for more coherent visualization of the battles. They are all almost one on one without having to shift angles and focus to close ups every 5 seconds. It made for a more relaxing but still exciting film. Jon Cena has the thankless role of the xenophobic military officer who needs to be enlightened. He is perfectly fine but he does seem like a stand in for Josh Duhamel or Mark Wahlberg.

To say that this is the best “Transformers” movie might be a little bold, but it is clearly more engaging than any of the sequels have been so it has that going for it. The 80s vibe is heavy so all the kids who really did love the cartoons should be happy and there is a good chance that a whole bunch of new wave acts will see a spike in their Spotify numbers in the next month or so. It is entertaining but not essential, go at your own level of desire to see this character, because that’s it’s real selling point.