Tuesday, June 30, 2020

RIP Carl Reiner

I remember December 2001 quite vividly. Back then, you could sell a movie on great actors instead of nostalgia and brands. Funny enough, the movie that comes to mind when remembering that month and year was actually a remake. "Ocean's Eleven" from 2001 was at the top of my must-see list. It looked like a fun caper. With George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Scott Caan; I was already on board. I went the first weekend it opened. My expectations were met with flying colors, but the actor that stood out most to me wasn't any of the actors I listed above. Even though, I did enjoy each and every one of them during the movie. No, the actor who really made an impression on me was Carl Reiner. This is really going to show how much of a Millennial I am, but this was my first encounter with Reiner.

Carl Reiner's early work included such television shows as "Caesar's Hour," "Your Show of Shows" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show." He appeared in many movies, such as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World."

He also directed movies such as "Where's Poppa," "The Jerk" "Oh, God!" and "All of Me." He has a famous son named Rob Reiner, who has been an accomplished director for decades.

Carl Reiner was a comedic legend, may he rest in peace, and my greatest condolences to his family.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Michael Keaton Returns As Batman

There's no denying the fact that Michael Keaton is the World Heavyweight Champion of actors who have played Batman. Still to this day, Keaton is the most beloved man to take up the cape and cowl. Something that I feel I can't argue against. So of course, in this time of nostalgia and branding, Michael Keaton will be returning as Batman.

He will play the character again in the upcoming "Flash" movie, which will see Ezra Miller return as the title character and which will be set in the DC Extended Universe, sharing continuity with the films with Gal Gadot and Henry Cavill. They will be exploring the Flashpoint storyline, which involved the flash running so fast that he changed something in his past, which only had repercussions for not just his reality, but for multiple realities across the multiverse. If you don't follow the Arrowverse shows on The CW, DC comics has a knack for telling stories in which our favorite heroes mess with the multiverse. The multiverse being a concept where there are multiple earths across millions of realities. Which is why Michael Keaton's Batman can participate in the story.

While Michael Keaton returning as Batman represents something big in nostalgic popular culture, it throws up some red flags for me. The single biggest problem with DC movies thus far is how quickly they feel the need to jump the gun with their cinematic characters and stories. No other studio in the business seems to be reacting to other studios' success on the level DC and Warner Bros. does. DC comics is full of great characters, no doubt. But Warner Bros. seems determined to drop the ball each and every time out. Just look at the history of the studio with the characters for proof. There's a reason why Marvel got to where they are today, they took their time. I can tell it drives comic book fans mad having to sit through origin story after origin story on the big screen. The thing those fans have to remember is Hollywood is trying to make movies that appeal to both the comic fans and the general public. Because Marvel didn't make movies for a niche audience, because they showed the world how the characters are different and how they are alike, people have fallen in love with the Marvel world and their brand.

DC is always ready to just shoot from the hip with their concepts, and they just kinda pretend you know everything you need to know going in, which is why audiences and critics have been mostly left cold. The Flashpoint story is certainly cool, but I would much prefer Ezra Miller getting a solo Flash movie, away from the greater DC universe and the multiverse, in order to really get to know him as a character. Plus, it would be nice where we get a Flash-centric movie that doesn't feature characters already sucking all the air out of the room. Miller's Flash has cameo ed in "Batman vs. Superman," was apart of "Justice League" and will now get a solo movie that isn't totally his. Your mileage may vary, and that's okay, it just seems very problematic for my tastes.

The CW shows work better with their crossovers simply because we've spent so much time with the characters and we've taken the time with the development. If you want to get an audience involved with your character, you need to take that time. You need to make that development. You need your whole audience to care. If you do those things, the money and longevity in the franchise will be able to last in a meaningful way.

In late December, I published my 100 Favorite Films of the 2010's and one thing I talked about in that piece is how disappointed I was overall that the 2010's will mostly be defined as the decade of the fan. We got a decade full of nostalgia brought to life, but when you think about it, how many of those movies were really worthwhile? I don't mean to sound like a snob, because there were certainly some big franchise fair that made my top 100, but it was mostly smaller, character-driven original films. During this COVID quarantine, I've been pretty immersed in old Hollywood, before movies based on random pop culture really became a thing. A time when great actors sold a story, not "GUESS WHICH FRANCHISE/CHARACTER/WHATEVER WE ARE ADAPTING" and there was something wonderful about those movies on their own. I'd love to get back to a time where we told great stories, not just copied the past. Not just went after easy money by turning something random into a franchise. But as Hollywood reboots "Twister" for no reason, as Universal tries to fit their old Monsters into modern movies and as WB makes a sequel to "Space Jam" featuring seemingly every pop culture character they have rights to, it doesn't seem like that non-stop franchise mindset is going away any time soon.

Hollywood seems to think right now that if they adapt the right things, if they tap into the right nostalgia, or if they bring back the right passed treasures that people will automatically love it. Maybe they are right. I do see many people flipping for these movies, and it does seem that just merely seeing their favorite character come to life is enough to call a movie a timeless classic. Not for me. I need character and theme above all else. I need to character about the story being told. You maybe wired differently and that's perfectly fine. I just can't be won over simply because an actor I love is playing a character he hasn't played since the 90's.

I don't mind Batman showing up in a "Flash" movie, just as long as the movie is still about The Flash.

Monday, June 22, 2020

RIP Joel Schumacher

RIP Joel Schumacher

When we look over the filmography set by Joel Schumacher, he doesn't have the career that say somebody like Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg has. The thing is, now that Joel Schumacher has passed, I don't want his legacy to simply be "the guy who put the nipples on the batsuit." There were so many more movies to his name than anything Batman related in the mid to late 90's. I hope we take the time celebrate his entire career, because Joel was never a guy who simply did the same thing over and over again. 

Joel was the guy who made "The Lost Boys," an 80's horror movie that is a particular favorite of mine. There was the 80's teen comedy "St. Elmo's Fire." He made the 2004 rendition of "Phantom of the Opera," and that is definitely the musical, through and through. He also made the intense courtroom drama "A Time To Kill," which although uneven is certainly worth a look. None of the four of those movies have much in common with each other. So many filmmakers deal with the same themes and the same styles. You honestly can't say that of Schumacher.

One thing that has shocked me upon this research is that I had no idea he was a costume designer for Woody Allen's "Sleeper."

"Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin" may not be very liked by all. I personally don't think the Adam West anesthetic worked with the Burton atmosphere. I do think "Batman Forever" is more silly fun, whereas "Batman & Robin" is just plain silly. Jim Carrey was a great Adam West era-style Riddler, it just didn't belong in the world already established by Burton. Seeing Tommy Lee Jones as a goofball Two-Face is something you have to see at least once.

At some point, you probably ran into a Schumacher movie or two. No matter if you liked them or not, you have to admit, they were wild rides. That's what Schumacher did best, made some rides. I hope you enjoyed the ride while it lasted.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Coolest Pop Culture Dads

As a Father's Day gift to myself, I am watching "Daddy Longlegs." It was the first feature film by Benny and Josh Safdie, the impeccable team behind "Good Time" and "Uncut Gems." Like many filmmakers, they full indie on their first full-length feature, so there aren't any big names in this, but that certainly doesn't rob the film of its power. In typical Safdie fashion though, this isn't some cute and cuddly tale. This is a movie that is by far about the worst father in history, and leave it to this brotherly duo to lift all the entertainment possible from that idea.

I had a good Father's Day myself. I got to see my Dad, I got to see my father-in-law and I got to spend the day playing with my own kiddo. I am about to be a father of two any day now. I happy to feel alot less nervous that the first time around, simply because I have an idea of what to expect. Even though I know deep down that each child is different, so I can't expect the exact same thing as last time. There's just something more thrilling and lot less anxiety-driven this second time around. All that's left is the waiting game.

To celebrate Father's Day today, here's a look at some of the coolest Dad's in all of popular culture. I got to celebrate my real Dad's today, and now it seems like a good plan to celebrate all the great Movie and TV Dad's out there as well.

Enjoy and Happy Father's Day to all.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

RIP Ian Holm

RIP Ian Holm
The hour has gone dark and Bilbo is finally in the Grey Havens forever.

Ian Holm is being remembered mostly as the star of "Lord of the Rings," and for good reason. I can tell you from my own experience, "Lord of the Rings" was a massive achievement. I still remember when those movies hit big in the early 2000's. I was in junior high, and since each movie in the trilogy came out in the middle of my 6th, 7th and 8th grade years, that trilogy pretty much defined my junior high years. This trilogy is always going to be part of my life. All of those actors made a huge impression on me, especially Ian Holm with his wonderful work as Bilbo.

That wasn't close to my first encounter with the great Ian Holm. In 1997, I went with my brother and father to see "The Fifth Element." Ian Holm's work as Father Vito was magnificent. 

Ian Holm has also been amazing in films such as "Alien" "Time Bandits" and "Big Night." 

Thanks for everything, Ian.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Review: "The Night Clerk" is uneven neo-Hitchcock

The Night Clerk Review
I was definitely swept into "The Night Clerk" initially. Simply because it reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock.

Tye Sheridan plays Bart Bromley. Bart works as a clerk at a hotel. He seems kinda off at first, but we are not entirely sure what it is. We can't really put our finger on it. He has set up bugs in one of the rooms in the hotel and spends lots of time watching people. Imitating people. Looking at how they speak and how they move and how they think. It's a little creepy at first. But as the movie wears on, we learn that Bart suffers from Asperger Syndrome, and he has purposely put cameras in the room in order to practice coming off normal and not socially awkward. He doesn't share with anyone where he has hidden cameras, nor is he very open about his condition.

One night, he gets to go home early from work. So he is watching footage from cameras in his home. Everything comes to a near-crashing halt when Bart views a murder occur in the room where he keeps the cameras. He immediately flees to the room in order to get the bugs out of the room. A co-worker catches him in the room, Bart doesn't do such a good job explaining himself and he soon becomes suspect one for the case. The hotel company eventually moves Bart to a different location. While working at the new location, he meets Andrea Rivera (Ana de Armas) and the quickly hit it off. During her time at the hotel, they create a bond and Bart actually opens up to her about his syndrome.

There is a man Andrea is seeing at the hotel this week. Apparently this man is married. Not to Andrea though. She is his secret lover and it is beginning to tear her apart. It doesn't help that Bart seems to like Andrea. But the secret Bart learns of the man Andrea is seeing changes everything forever.

It's a pretty tight thriller, with some big unevenness throughout the film. A bunch of information is dumped on the audience throughout the movie and there is no effort to make anything we learn compelling. The climax occurs simply because Bart finally decides to make a decision that hinges on the entire storyline. "The Night Clerk" could have easily been a short film, if the movie itself decided to finally get on with it. Still, even at feature length, the movie just kind of stops and that's the end. No real closure beyond that. We are not even sure if the killer gets caught or not.

I've never really known what to think of Tye Sheridan. He was a good kid actor growing up, but didn't get much off of him during his run as Cyclops in the X-Men movies nor in "Ready Player One." I have to say here though that he portrays Asperger incredibly well here, very vivid rendition of the condition that felt authentic. Ana de Armas has a striking rapport with Sheridan's Bart. She's kinda like the typical femme fatale we see in these kinds of movies, but with a genuine heart. It's uncanny work, and she does the most with the material. Armas is going on to big things, in case you were unsure. The film also features great supporting work by legends such as Helen Hunt and John Leguizamo.

Whether "The Night Clerk" works for you depends solely on you. Not sure how middle-of-the-road people are on this one. The performances are there, but the story is a mystery that never really feels urgent.


Monday, June 15, 2020

The Two Best Movies of 2020 so far: "Da 5 Bloods" & "The King of Staten Island"

We are almost halfway through the year, and I have finally discovered my top two of the year so far. I can't believe I found them in the course of roughly three days. This usually doesn't happen and even as the world is falling apart, it still seems there are stories being told that fill me with hope.

My favorite two movies of 2020 so far are "Da 5 Bloods" and "The King of Staten Island." It's not even close. Maybe it would have been close if COVID-19 didn't happen, and we would be getting even more movies right now and we wouldn't have to be jumping through hoops to see new movies. BUT that's the hand we've been dealt this year. For right now, "Da 5 Bloods" and "The King of Staten Island" are the two best movies of the year so far. Ironically, they are two movies that would fit nicely as a double feature.

"Da 5 Bloods" and "The King of Staten Island" are both about men affected by their pasts in a big way. In "Da 5 Bloods," a group of soldiers who served in Vietnam together hid some found treasure during their tour in the war. They go back many years later to retrieve the treasure they hid, and the memories of their time there begins to bleed out. In "The King of Staten Island," we meet a free loading loser who is going nowhere in life because he's crippled by the memory of losing his father, who died doing his job as a firefighter. They are both movies that remind us how we truly are the lump-sum of our experience and how life bounces off of us really shapes us into the people we become.

"Da 5 Bloods" couldn't have come at a better time, with all the social upheaval going on in our country right now (justifiably so). That's Spike Lee for you, he thinks long and hard about the African American experience in this country. But just because he shines light on some hard truths doesn't mean he isn't a patriot. He's been fighting for social changes in this country longer than we probably know. He's an artist that firmly believes that art can change the world, and that's one of the many reasons I keep going back to movies. That finally we'll all see enough movies or the right movies and we'll finally figure out who we are supposed to be in this world. The opening of "Da 5 Bloods" begins with news footage of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. repeatedly denounced our involvement in the Vietnam War, and shed history on how African Americans constantly defended the freedoms this country guarantees but barely saw any of those actually freedoms coming home.

"Da 5 Bloods" has an incredible cast; including Delroy Lindo as Paul. Delroy Lindo gives the performance of his career, playing a man so tainted by the history of blacks in America, that it turned him into a Trump supporter. Don't get it wrong, Lee is no fan of Trump, but the movie deals with how so much anger can blind us from our well-being at times. It also co-stars Clark Peters as Otis, Norm Lewis as Eddie and Isaiah Whitlock Jr. as Melvin. These were the men who hid Vietnamese treasure along with their commanding officer Storming Norm, given life by the great Chadwick Boseman. They thought, since MLK was assassinated during their tenure, they go off-mission, take some treasure, and do something worthwhile with the money. Something that will help the country better. The work done by Peters, Lewis, Whitlock and Boseman is all incredible, but this really is Delroy Lindo's show, and you might be hearing his name award season time.

Another name I won't be surprised to hear around award time? Pete Davidson. A part of me can't believe I just typed that. I haven't always thought much of Davidson and never found him overly-funny, but he comes alive in a way here that I've barely seen before. Not bad for being the type of character he's comfortable playing. Davidson plays Scott, a slacker who can't keep to his dream. He's 24-years-old and he still lives with his Mom (Marisa Tomei), which looks worse now that his kid sister (Maude Apatow) is headed to college. He's got this idea of having a tattoo parlor and restaurant hybrid, but has made no moves whatsoever to get there. He spends most of his time getting high and doing stupid shit, like practicing tattoos on ten-year-olds.

This leads his mother to meet Ray, also a firefighter played by Bill Burr. Ray and Scott's Mom begin to date, and Ray slowly makes his way into Scott's life. Scott hates the idea of his mom dating someone who had the same occupation as their deceased father. But eventually, his guard goes down and he actually comes to respect Ray. I don't want this movie to sound like some kind of Hallmark movie. It's not. It doesn't have the cheerful cliche Hollywood ending, but its also not an unhappy ending either. It's just an ending made by a realist.

Judd Apatow made this, and it may remind you of "Funny People" in a lot of ways. But I have to say that "Funny People" was a good idea buried in a boring movie. There's plenty of humor in "The King of Staten Island," but it's mostly a drama about how hard it is to shed the trauma of our lives. It's got much better pacing compared to "Funny People" as "The King of Staten Island" is nearly two hours and twenty minutes long, never once feeling that long in any way. There are plenty of great small roles sprinkled throughout the movie. I think Scott's girlfriend Kelsey, played by Bel Powley, is probably my favorite. That one person who sees the best in you despite being an absolute trainwreck are rare in this world, and Powley brings that to life with aplomb.

As films slowly begin to churn out and as the theaters slowly begin to open again, know that both of these movies are worth a look. They compliment the times of our country right now and they both also work as pieces of entertainment, marrying humor and heartbreak in equal measure in the best possible ways. Two movies so great never come out so close together, a minor miracle as the world continues to turn upside down in this year we call 2020.