Sunday, June 5, 2016

The First Monday in May

Anna Wintour is a notable figure in the media- not just for her role as the Editor in Chief of Vogue Magazine (USA), but as the "Devil" best known for wearing Prada.
Wintour's icy persona - poker faced and dressed in Chanel sunglasses- doesn't seem to be one she is outwardly concerned with. She often sides on the side of the runways of NY Fashion Week and others, adorned in designer goods and without expression but eager to consume whatever stylings will strut in front of her.
Anna's other notable contribution - the Metropolitan Museum of Art NY's annual Gala (Met Gala)- raises money for the museum through the one-night-only event where celebrities mingle with designers that they represent, all for a good cause. The event has a theme that touches back to the history of fashion - be it a particular movement or point in history- and this documentary covers the time pre-event for planning for the "China: Through the Looking Glass" theme for 2015.
As far as fashion documentaries are concerned, they often find a way to balance interviews with footage - talking style, talking fit, celebrities, etc. though what separates "First Monday" from other pictures is the great care and balance it strikes between behind the scenes planning and interviews of the museum curators that focus on the event. It never feels that the story is too concerned with lauding any one individual with kudos, rather, the film conveys the very basics of organization and event planning. Why China, why certain gowns for the museum and why you can't sit certain people at this table over that. Thankfully excluded are celebrity interviews - instead we only get the feedback from the likes of Wong Kar Wai (anointed advisor), Wintour, and Gala exhibition coordinator Andrew Bolton, who often share items of influence and concern in frank ways that help us understand their perspectives. The film makes a pointed effort to convey why stereotypical Chinese influences were excluded - and why the museum exhibit itself has a lot to live up to, due to the past popularity of museum shows such as Alexander McQueen's posthumous Savage Beauty display. For a documentary about a subject so public, it thankfully has a few surprises up its sleeve and makes the Gala itself out to be more than just one night of fundraising.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Nice Guys

Shane Black's latest The Nice Guys is a cinematic balancing act. Action and Comedy. Gosling and Crowe. Two different worlds and views collide and the picture reacts to their impact in zany, sometimes violent ways. Ryan Gosling plays the bumbling single dad private eye, whose old-soul 13 year old daughter rolls her eyes repeatedly at his attempts to be a successful detective- but can only really get work by helping old ladies. Russell Crowe plays the straight-laced lone wolf who has no problem smacking someone in the face with the hardest object he can find. He has no interest in anything other than providing for himself and getting down to business without conversation.

After a run-in of misunderstandings, these two "guys" get together to try and solve a mystery surrounding a porno picture. While not necessarily a serious film, The Nice Guys has its fun moments but also dealings in consequences. There are some people up to no good, a young woman on the brink of danger - and these "guys" will stop at nothing to solve why exactly their trail has them bumping into dead bodies and concerns for the environment. It has a graceful throwback style, shades of Coffy and The Long Goodbye, but never directly hints at the 70s pictures of decades past. Shane Black's script does a careful dance in establishing the personalities of these private dicks, both confident and riotous, as they drive around searching for cause and clues. At times the picture is like a more well-organized take on the story established in the recent adaptation for Inherent Vice - Pynchon's story was adapter by Paul Thomas Anderson and had a more abstract attempt at its own brand of action/comedy, fully under the influence. The Nice Guys somewhat plays as the sober companion picture, though acknowledges the generational differences between the current picture landscape and the boozy, unfiltered, sexual, unhinged landscape of 70s LA. It may not be the most original picture in the action/comedy genre, but The Nice Guys has a strong chemistry between its leads and a familiar crime story style - and it left me, as a viewer, wanting more from these characters even when their conflict wasn't too deep and tied up nicely. I'm generally against continuing stories that have an end, but for these characters and their universe, I wouldn't mind a sequel, for once. Blame it on the solid filmmaking and acting. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

After numerous cinematic encounters and appearances, (Disney’s) Marvel’s Avengers have officially gone to war. Civil war, that is. Frankly I don’t think they needed to fight, nor destroy an entire airport and all kinds of concrete… but without this excuse for divisive conflict we would not have had 2 hrs and 26 min of these superheroes and heroic individuals squabbling over who is wrong or right in their attempts to save the world. It all comes down to the title character, Captain America, in his quest to get back his best buddy “Bucky” Barnes on his side. But it appears that his friend has been brainwashed by leftover Hydra baddies and while under their control, he may have committed a terrorist attack. This comes soon after the Secretary of State and other US Government officials ask the Avengers crew to stop being reckless in their quest to combat their enemies, due to numerous civilian casualties and them basically making America look like a bunch of murderous dicks to the rest of the world.

Since there has been at least six or eight Marvel films… Captain America: Civil War is more of the same from the big egos and powerful beings we’ve become accustomed to- Tony Stark wants to be the star of this film but has to concede to Cap’s need to fight for what he believes what the “right thing to do” is. With a few muddled hours and an overlong central conflict where important nobody dies, I fail to come away from this movie, as a viewer, with a reaction other than “ehh.” These are now established, fully fleshed characters- and their motivations this so-called fighting is simplistic and contrived, considering how they never truly raise their voices at one another, nor do they have anything resembling anger in their vocalization against the actions of the government and the (warranted) ask to suppress their powers when dangerous scenarios arise. While I can’t recommend this film to anyone who hasn’t seen a prior Marvel film, the picture does thankfully introduce a few new characters - Spider-Man (reboot) and Black Panther - who are not only extremely interesting (Panther only) but refreshing when compared to the rest of the established cast. Spider-Man may be the most needless presence but newcomer Tom Holland (the second non-American Peter Parker… how?) is surprisingly well-suited for the script and has a lot of fun in his brief debut. Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is a dangerous, engaging character. We don’t know much about his past nor reason to appear beyond a drive for revenge, but the post-credits teaser scene suggests there’s a lot more to come. In conclusion (since I have nothing else good to say), this movie is mostly mediocre and breaks no ground. I found the prior Captain America film to be good - and his initial introduction picture is my favorite of the entire Marvel universe. But adding this new “war” film to the now-Trilogy just feels like a waste. Hurry up and bring on Black Panther and Spider-Man - they’re seemingly the new, unexhausted heroes that film audiences deserve.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Midnight Special

Jeff Nichols’ latest film is a journey into the darkness, with any step into daytime viewed as hope. Like a 70s road picture or horror film about the dread that lurks around the corner, Nichols has a genuine knack for making his viewers potentially clench their armrest just a little bit more as this chase drama advances into the night. Starring Michael Shannon as a father determined to protect his son, we learn this child may have been used as a savior figure for a large Texan sect, who are not named but are known as those who lived “on the ranch.” How this child came into their hands is via adoption - Sam Shepherd is the cult leader who states that Alton was taken from them when questioned by the FBI. We first meet Alton, face innocent and eyes covered by swimming goggles, in the back of his biological fathers vehicle, speeding through the night to try and protect him from the outside world. Along for the ride is a former childhood friend turned State Trooper - Joel Edgerton - who had no knowledge of the escape until Shannon’s desperate father showed up on his doorstep. These two men hit the road out of desperation. They need to shield Alton from the authorities, from the sect, and from a world that will not understand his special nature.

We as an audience eventually learn that Alton has special powers. Never explained, he can make the sky rain with fireballs. Or is it a reluctant force? How Alton can do what he does is not for the better of the universe around him. We come to find out that Alton’s mother (Kirsten Dunst) was also separated from her child and has a broken but amicable relationship with Shannon’s father. As the story progresses, the sci-fi story adds elements of child welfare. These adults do everything and anything to protect Alton. Along the way an NSA agent played by Adam Driver is introduced - he often gives the audience the needed clues and query regarding why Alton is special, in a mild-mannered role as investigator and inquisitor.

At times Nichols’ pursuit picture has shades of Malick’s Badlands. People who are outside the law, saved by nature which does not judge their journey. But unlike that film, the love and hope for Alton is not a happy one. There’s an imminent fear of authority that nearly any parent would experience in their role as the caretaker for their offspring. Midnight Special is equally satisfying and confusing but it allows the viewer to take what they know in the moment of the travel-by-night quest and enjoy the ride along.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

In the moment: People Places Things

04:25pm - Sunday March 20th - films seen so far today: 0

Location: Profile Coffee Bar - Portsmouth NH

(Since I'm currently collecting all my film views on twitter for DLM's 366 film challenge, from time to time I will be writing my film progress/thoughts in this blog).

I won't necessarily be taking a break from films today but I do want to take a break from mainstream films. Last night I ended up selecting People Places Things as my bedtime film to watch, expecting to fall asleep during it and then catching up on the missed run time the following morning. However, this was an easy, enjoyable watch. I didn't know it was a rom com but it ended up being 84 minutes of no-risk material. A film that wasn't challenging and without too much thought provoking content. I did enjoy Jemaine Clement's role as Will, a suddenly single father (in the opening scene) who a year later is still trying to learn to talk to his now-ex as they try to raise their twin five year old cellist daughters.

This is the third movie I've seen in around a month starring Clement - and as a lead actor he has an earnest no-bullshit presence that most actors don't have, not even in their latter years of acting. Somewhat similar to Adam Driver, once Clement enters a scene he becomes what we're drawn to. It could be his unique, unconventional leading man looks, or it could just be his accent- either way I appreciate what he gave to his character Will. So often films paint single dads as tools to justify why relationships don't work/fall apart. But this film respected all parties involved, even the ex wife whose infidelity lead to the scenarios we're experiencing as voyeurs into their broken relationship.
Jessica Williams and Regina Hall, playing student and student's "hot mom" are absolutely organic and awesome as the mother/daughter duo who make Will's life easy and not so easy at times. Their dimensional force against Will's confusion of the opposite sex gave an ease on screen as the focused art student and 45 year old mom who has seen it all and knows what kind of relationship she will not put up with. People Places Things wasn't necessarily groundbreaking in its storytelling and I'm not sure it will be a memorable film for me but it does strongly present itself as a competent indie film that has no forced intentions when dealing with parenthood, romance and drawing its characters as whole.