Friday, August 6, 2021

Val Kilmer bears his soul in the unforgettable "Val"

                                         

It may seem like a sleazy vanity project when an actor decides to make a documentary about their own lives. Or, when handled right, it can be the summation of a person's soul. Thankfully, we get the latter with "Val."

Even if you are apart of the Generation Z crowd, if you become a big enough cinephile, you will come across Val Kilmer eventually. He was a big name throughout the 80's and 90's, who eventually struggled to find work when it was deemed he was too hard to work with. He disappeared from the limelight by the mid-2000's, sometimes coming out of the wood work to star in a indie drama or two. The ruggedly handsome man ballooned to obesity. Then sadly, eventually developed throat cancer. Thankfully, Val Kilmer has survived his cancer, and he's still trucking along. Still attached to make an appearance in that "Top Gun" sequel that is still apparently coming some time soon.

Val Kilmer grew up in the heart of Hollywoodland, and he and his brothers were always making films of their own. Kilmer was one of the first stars who had a video camera when they were made, and he created seemingly endless home movies, and testimonials from all of the films he worked on. All of this footage used to tell the story of a man who loved movies and acting. This is the story of Val Kilmer. Whether you like him or not, whether you thought he was jerk or not. The truth is, you got the story that the media furnished for you. We sometimes forget that every story has two sides. 

From what I gathered from this documentary. Val Kilmer was a man who was ridiculously in love with the world of film. So much so that he is relentless on himself and he was relentless on those around him and sometimes that can cause some tension, to say the least. I don't believe he did the things he did because he is a malicious person he just a very intense artist. I am not saying I excuse his bad behavior, he feels remorse for his own behavior. Understanding where it all comes from is the first step we make to bettering ourselves as people. Val Kilmer digs deep in these recorded memories, and rehashing the things he's done and what has come of all of it.

Val has mad respect for all the people he's worked with (except maybe John Frankenheimer, that's up for debate!) It's definitely inspiring to see a man who has been living his dream, seemingly from out of the womb. Also, living his dream for others in his family (His younger brother accidently drowned at age 15, he enjoyed making home movies with Val). No matter how big we get as stars or how big our heads get from working in the industry for so long, Val Kilmer proves that we never too big for self-reflection and watching a man throw it all out of there, to get his story out there is an overwhelmingly inspiring experience.

"Val" is not the movie I thought I needed this year, but something I am so glad I got this year. With all the down time COVID brought this passed year, it was a year full of my own self-reflection. It's always good to look yourself in a mirror and take inventory on what you've become and it can help you enormously. "Val" isn't just a beautiful summation of a man's career, its not just the x-ray of a man's life, it is lovely self-portrait of the rollercoaster of good and bad on the ride called life. 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Yep, that's "The Suicide Squad" alright.

                                         

One of the biggest letdowns of the 2010's for me was "Suicide Squad." After many superhero movies that had hit the big screen up, I was ready for a movie about supervillains being forced to work for the government for shortened prison sentences. I was hoping for a different kind of comic book movie, because that's what you do with that kind of premise...something different. I wouldn't have minded a gritty movie. If anybody could have made this work, it was David Ayer. So what did Warner Brothers do? They panicked, stripped Ayer's vision for spare parts and just gave us another, carbon-copy "superhero" movie...except this time it starred supervillains. Hard pass.

I hope Warner Brothers is starting to see that if they give their artists the opportunity to fly, they make great comic book movies. Just like what James Gunn just did with "The Suicide Squad." James Gunn's film is basically the comic book version of "The Dirty Dozen," which is exactly what I want from a Suicide Squad movie. The worst of the worst supervillains are forced to work for the government. That pesky Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) always knowing how to manipulate the baddies with ease. All of this within the James Gunn anesthetic. Count me in.

"The Suicide Squad" is so amazing, you're going to be begging for a James Gunn DC Universe. I want that. Come on DC, make James Gunn the Kevin Feige of DC. You know you'd see your profits soar if you decided to do that. Make him the main producer of a DC film universe. Imagining where Gunn not only allowed each DC superhero to really shine, but also the bottom-of-the-barrel characters to shine as well!? Oh man, I long for something like that.

The film begins with Johnny Cash's "Folsom City Blues" playing as Savant (Michael Rooker) gets recruited into the Suicide Squad. The movie doesn't waste time introducing new characters. You get to know some as the film progresses, but don't expect a 30 minute Wikipedia information dump like the first film did. Some characters you'll only learn their names, you'll get to see them in action and then poof. They're gone. This is a movie that definitely makes the team live up to its name. Not everybody makes it out of this one, in fact, most of the team is dead by the end of the film. I loved the unpredictable nature of this film. There are character deaths that take place that I am absolutely shocked happened. I knew there were going to be deaths, but not THOSE deaths. I thought to myself, "wow, they really let James Gunn go there." But we are all richer for it. An unpredictable movie like this is exactly what we needed.

Joel Kinnamen, Margot Robbie, and Jai Courtney return as Rick Flag, Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang from the first film. The movie plays coy about this really being a sequel, even if some of the players from the first film appear again. They are joined by Bloodsport (Idris Elba); an assassin you put Superman in the hospital with a kryptonite bullet, Peacemaker (John Cena) very much an anti-Captain America, Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchoir); who can control rats, King Shark (Slyvester Stallone); who is a giant walking talking shark, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) who kills people...with dots, TDK (Nathan Fillion) who can detach his arms, Weasel (Sean Gunn) a giant weasel, Blackguard (Peter Davidson); a gunman, Javelin (Flula Borg); who can kill with a javelin, and Mongal (Mayling Ng) an alien. All have to go to the island nation of Corto Maltese to destroy a base working on a secret threat to world peace known as Project Starfish.

The mayhem and anarchy start right away, and Gunn barely slows down the carnage. His style of humor shines through and through here. Everybody does really well here. It will be hard for you to really pick a favorite of the bunch. Idris Elba is a straight up badass here. John Cena is surprisingly amazing here, I never knew there would ever be a day I'd love John Cena, but here we are. Polka Dot Man is a bottom-of-the-barrel Batman villain nobody remembers, so of course Gunn takes him and makes him the heart of the film. Along with Ratcatcher and Dastmalchian does some of his finest work here as Polka Dot Man. Daniela Melchoir is a real discovery here. Viola Davis plays Waller with much more malice here than before, very much the anti-Nick Fury.

The film is packed with cameos, both from the DC Universe and Gunn's previous films. (Look for Pom Klementieff moment, who played Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). As trailers have shown, Starro shows up and its an amazing scene with him in it. The only character complaint I have is the lack of personality with King Shark. Sly does a good job, but giving King Shark a dumb personality just seems very safe. Especially with all the personality he has in the Harley Quinn cartoon on HBOMax.

Where the film really works though is that this is a movie about supervillains, through and through. Even when the team gets heroic, those heroics are only a means to an end. The 2016 film had the supervillains turn into superheroes rather quickly. Their loyalty is to each other, a group of misfits who become a family because they don't have anything else. They aren't working for the world's sake, even when it seems like they are. While, Gunn does lace his film with humor, it's never overpowering. This is a story that merely takes place in a world with superpowered people and aliens and weird monsters and things of that nature. It treats those things as real, and sometimes the humor comes from taking something fanatical and making it mundane. The film is very clever and it puts character first in a spectacular way.

If you felt jaded by the 2016 film. James Gunn just made it up to us in a big way. This is the "Suicide Squad" movie we deserved in the first place, and people are going to love this one. As much as I'd miss Gunn's influence at Marvel, please allow him to make more DC stuff, he gets it. We need it.

Monday, August 2, 2021

"The Green Knight" is an early contender for Best Film of 2021

                                          

"The Green Knight" is easily my favorite film of the year so far. Possibly could end up being best, depending on how the rest of the year goes. It's imaginative, hypnotic, epic, and richly realized all in equal measure. It's an epic fantasy film told through the arthouse lens. It's "Lord of the Rings" or "Game of Thrones" in a box. It's weird, strange and disturbing. It's fanatical and radical and will surely keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Okay, hopefully that's enough adjectives for now. I just need to set the mood for this review. There was a time when fantasy on film was very silly. It depended on weird names, and lots of action and lots of zany silliness to make sure the audience knew they were watching fantasy. Even the best efforts of this genre, like "Lord of the Rings," also suffers from just a hint of silliness. Make all that silliness matter is why "Lord of the Rings" sticks out so well, but it's been a problem with the genre for awhile. If you thought "Game of Thrones" took fantasy serious, just wait until to you see "The Green Knight." This is a movie lathered in Arthurian Legend, with mix of modern epic fantasy with a wee bit of "The Seventh Seal" thrown in for good measure. Not to say that "The Green Knight" is pieces of other movies, Heavens, no. I just want to set the stage for what you are going to see. This will make you think and you will have to interpret the film in your own way. Which sometimes frustrates viewers. It's certainly not a trope that existed in fantasy films before.

Dev Patel plays Gawain, he is the nephew of King Arthur. He's a knight on his way to becoming as respected as his uncle. Except maybe not. He spends Christmas in a brothel, so maybe he isn't the honorable man he's supposed to be. He is enjoying a meal with his uncle, played by Sean Harris, and the other knights of the round table, when their meal is interrupted by a mysterious Green Knight, which looks like a being conjured from someone's nightmare. The Green Knight wants to challenge one of the knights to a "game." If one of the knights can lay a blow on the Green Knight, then he will give away his prized axe. However, next Christmas they must meet The Green Knight for a wound of equal measure. Gawain, who feels inferior and a bit boring compared to the other knights, accepts the challenge. The Green Knight simply puts his weapon down and allows Gawain to behead him. End of the Green Knight already? Except no. The Green Knight simply picks up his head and leaves. Gawain must wallow in the anxiety of getting his head cut off by the Green Knight next year.

As the next Christmas approaches, King Arthur insists to the reluctant Gawain to uphold the oath, even if the Green Knight is just playing a game. Gawain embarks on a quest to face The Green Knight. A journey that leads him to some shady scavengers, a talking fox, a lord whose wife looks exactly like his brothel lover Essel (Alicia Vikander), a ghost, and some giants. The film keeps a consistent mood of feeling kind of realistic, never feeling like our favorite high fantasy movies from the past. Like I said above, this is an arthouse version of an epic fantasy. It's strange but it is epic in equal measure.

How Dev Patel hasn't won an Oscar yet seems odd, but I am sure his career is going to upgrade after his incredible work in this film. Absolutely perfect from beginning to end. Ralph Ineson plays the Green Knight. He's a name you may not recognize at first. He's best known for his work on the British version of "The Office" but has appeared in supporting and background roles in such films as diverse as "Harry Potter," "Kingsman: The Secret Service," "Ready Player One," "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Gunpowder Milkshake." His big starring role came in 2015 in "The Witch." He's poised to be star. He's got a tall, intense presence in films and he's got a rumbling, iconic voice that I can't believe he isn't more famous then he is. It's an incredible performance by Ineson and one in which I hope elevates his career. The film is full of great actors doing great work, including Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris, Erin Kellyman, Joel Edgerton and Barry Keoghan. It's well acted from a powerful ensemble.

Much will be debated about the film's ending and I don't want to indulge in spoilers in this review. If you are interested in a different kind of fantasy film, look no further. "The Green Knight" has left me dying to see it again. A shining star within a rather slow summer. And an early contender for the top of the 2021 releases.