Meek’s Cutoff

It’s great when you find a movie by a budding director because you know they haven’t sold out yet. Meek’s Cutoff is one of those movies, directed by Kelly Reichardt. This movie is close to a western but it lacks the John Wayne hero and Tombstone “shoot em up.” Because it is missing the conventions of a mainstream western, it’s tempting to write it off. On the other hand, when you look deeply into the simplicity of it, Meek’s Cutoff has a lot to say about being human. Because of that, I judge it on how well it reflects humanity in its characters and in the story. On that level, it fares well.

Michelle Williams is Emily. We see her in the first half of the movie taking orders from the men and in the latter half, all but taking control of the wagon train. Her transformation, or revelation, is important. It shows the importance of women on the trail and in mankind. Unfortunately women in 1845 were relegated to servitude and rarely took command of any larger decision-making. Who knows if they would have gone off course if Emily had the reins. Bruce Greenwood is Stephen Meek. He talks up a storm but can’t seem to deliver. The movie’s title tells us that he has some ownership of the direction they choose. For that alone he is an important character. He is ethnocentic, chauvanistic, and driven by greed. He feels like God is on his side and vice versa. It’s because of him that the Indian is tortured along the trail. If not for Emily, the Indian would have died early on in the film. I think we can all imagine the equivalent of Meek in our modern life.

Since I was an English major, I am trained to see symbols in everything. Having said that, I believe there are many symbolic elements in this film. One very strong one being the bird in the cage they are carrying with them on their journey. The bird represents the human being, wanting to escape the trappings of a cage. The keepers of the cage feed the bird and never allow it to escape. It is in essence free in its confinement. Religion is part of that confinement as is the prejudice against other races and by men against women. I hated the ending at first but later I played it back to examine it with a more open mind. I now like the way it leaves things open for the viewer. What would you do? Follow the Indian and accept the fate he has for you or go down your own path as an ignorant and starving person held by convention? Because this film portrays humanity accurately in a rural, quasi-western setting, I give it 5/5 stars.

Monkey Kingdom

Every time one of these Disney Nature films comes out, my wife and I are Johnny on the spot to take our family. The last 2 we saw at the world famous El Capitan theater in Hollywood. This one we saw in the theater here. It was amazing as expected. It presented the idea of a natural order, potentially upset by the underdog. I will give you no spoils as to the outcome. I felt this movie broke away from the convention Disney has used in the past and brought us some inspiration practically applied. It’s fitting that Disney, the champion of Princes and Princesses in the movies, challenges that concept. Our family liked that most about the film.

For a nature film, this movie is perfect in every way. Every family with young children will love it. The incredible architecture of the fallen monument they make their home is spectacular. It’s a perfect way to tell a story. I would imagine the recipe for making these things is sort of like: 1) Put cameras everywhere and shoot 2) look for what can be made into a story and 3) Make it into a story. Obviously the monkeys are not actors. Cheap labor right? Wait until the union hears about it. The monkey union? At any rate, there is love, struggle, heartbreak, and all the emotions of families trying to make it. Though the monkey’s nature is a different house than ours, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the connections to being a human in our society. This one’s a winner. I give it 5/5.

Larry Crowne

Though the critics are slamming this movie, it’s not all bad. It will sell on VOD and show up on Netflix soon I am sure. It won no awards with me. If you plan to see it, I should warn you that Larry Crowne is no top shelf Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts film. Neither it is worthy of co-writer Nia Vardalos, for that matter. It is corny writing akin to an after school special only its audience is unclear. It could be middle aged or 20-somethings, I am not quite sure. It is lost on me. In truth, I do not care about the intended audience. I do wonder however who will get this film.

IMDB synopsis: “After losing his job, a middle-aged man reinvents himself by going back to college.”

Commmunity college is misrepresented along with human patterns of relationships. This film isn’t horrible though. It’s a vanilla way to bide your time in between meals. It will not teach you anything profound however about real tragedies like downsizing or foreclosure. It’s a happy message … phrases like “Grin and bear it” and “Just smile” come to mind. As long as you expect that crap, you may enjoy this little fling at junior college. (That makes it sound like more fun than it is)

All Good Things

This film is long and tiresome but it has some interesting aspects. It is based on a true story. The main character was tried and convicted for murder as well as the improper disposal of a body.

The story is basically centered upon the protagonist who marries the Kirsten Dunst figure. His family is a group of real estate tycoons and unfortunately for her, a very “The Firm with Tom Cruise” sort of group. After she finds out she will probably never be able to pursue a career being married into it, she has an abortion and tries to divorce the protagonist. Shortly after that, she goes missing. She has not been discovered since.

While I disliked this film, it is possible you may like it. I found handfuls of reviewer who said the acting was worth the ticket so don’t take my word for it. The reason I did like some of it was because it was indeed a true story.

I suppose toward the end it held my interest but I have to say there is a reason Netflix has it at 2/5 stars. As for my rating? I give it:

[xrr rating=1.5/5]

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Great time travel/romantic flick.

Somewhere in Time“A Chicago playwright uses self-hypnosis to travel back in time and meet the actress whose vintage portrait hangs in a grand hotel.” -IMDB

Cast

Christopher Reeve Richard Collier
Jane Seymour Elise McKenna
Christopher Plummer William Fawcett Robinson
Teresa Wright Laura Roberts

Directed by

Jeannot Szwarc

Written by

Richard Matheson, Richard Matheson

Other Info

Drama, Fantasy, Romance
PG
Fri 03 Oct 1980 UTC
103min
IMDB Rating: 7.3

Director Jeannot Szwarc is known for Jaws 2 (1978) and Santa Claus: The Movie. These two samples show his work has a variety to it. Both also reflect the sing-song incredibly fun style of the late 70’s and early 80’s. With this film, he dips into both colors and paints a lovely portrait that still stands up today.

Christopher Reeve plays the lead role of Richard Collier. His stoic charm is unique and his acting skills truly make this character come alive, especially in the latter scenes. I’ve seen this film 2 or 3 times and I can’t imagine any other actor playing this role.

Jane Seymour is Elise McKenna, the arcane, beautiful, mysterious woman of the past. She plays well with Reeve and the other Christopher (Plummer) who takes the role of the nemesis William Fawcett Robinson. These three famous actors alone are reasons to love this film. They work together well and it is an excellent, heart-rending script.

There’s something different about this old woman. Collier senses he’s met her before. The butler at the hotel senses he’s met Collier before as well. There’s a whole lotta sensin’ going on! We have a time travel component here. How appropriate for a film made in 1980. Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married, would soon follow. Will he discover who she really is? Time will tell. Therein lies the romance and this film is highly romantic. The ending can be debated but I contend it is one of the most romantic endings since Romeo and Juliet. One last mention: the piano driven soundtrack is heavenly.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Reeve and Seymour are in love and they shine like a cotillion. They aren’t like the cotillion you feel sick at due to formality though, this is the place where legends and dreams of true romance play out. I love this film, it’s another one like the Big Blue that puts me in a trance I don’t want to get out of.

10/10

Swiss Army Man

The debut feature film from “Daniels,” aka directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, has a lot of people talking: mostly good, a tiny percentage bad, all expressive because this is an atypical movie that emanates expression. These guys are known for their quirky short films that reveal a human side struggling in a dark society. Swiss Army Man falls right into that category only in a feature length.

swissarmyman-poster

Swiss Army Man
Cast

Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Directed by

Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Duo Credited as “Daniels”)

Written by

Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Other Info

Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Rated R
1hr 37min

Swiss Army Man is a story about Hank who is stranded on a desert island. He is trying to hang himself when he sees a man wash up on show, Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). He rushes over to him to find him dead but the dead man keeps farting. He discovers it isn’t a loss that the man is dead, he has farting powers that make him function like a jet ski for Hank. Hank is able to use the dead man to get to the other side of the island. As Hank continues his quest to “get back” to civilization, he discovers Manny has all sorts of special functions that help him survive. This is where the title comes from: “Swiss Army Man.”

I want to address the film’s use of farting, since it has become a point of criticism online and it print. Apparently, a small percentage people walked out of the theater at Sundance during one of the farting scenes. I find that laughable that critics would walk out on any movie, much less one screening at film festival. The Daniels addressed this as an exxageration. They say of the 1500 people in the theater, maybe 12 walked out which was 1% of the occupancy. I had a completey different reaction to the fart scenes. I saw them as representative of life. Fart sin this film are the things that bind Hank (Paul Dano) and Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) together. This film doesn’t concern itself with the cool things that usually make up a popular movie. Instead, it points out that things like farts separate us from dead bodies. If a dead man can fart that much, it’s like he is alive. The use of farting to make a point is minimal in my opinion and shouldn’t be criticized.

swissarmy-2Though we’re not sure if Manny ever really comes back to life, though I’d assume he doesn’t, Hank has lots of conversations with him. It brought to mind the way we objectify friendshsips. We assign meaning to our friends and imagine them as they play out our fantasies. Hank teaches Manny all about life as he knows it, and that is pretty grim. He has no courage to approach a girl who he knows has a husband and who he has seen on the bus and taken a photo of on his phone’s wallpaper. This is disturbingly odd when her identity is brought out. if he has a stranger’s photo on his wallpaper, can he even have any relationships on his own? We are given a lot of information but left to interpret it for ourselves. One interpretation might be that Hank is clinically depressed and a sociopath, unable to have relationships with others. As a result, he has taken to the woods with a dead body to serve as his companion. While that may sound extreme, he could be a murderer and a stalker living in the woods as well. There are many shades you can see Hank as.

One hugely effective aspect of this film is the music. It is performed by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell from the indie rock band Manchester Orchestra. There is even some singing, though not a lot. Music is used artfully and weaves throughout this film making it half orchestral and half rock sound.

There is so much life in Hank and yet he is cloistered away from others, except Manny of course. As Hank “teaches” Manny about love and girls, he makes dozens of props to replay his day on the bus and many other times he can in contact with love. There are some heavy statements made about religion and sex. It gives us a chance to look at these things, even look at our own lives in a safe environment with no one there except a dead guy.

There is a lot of unraveling that goes on at the end. It happens so fast, it’s hard to formulate exact answers to some questions. Was the island real? Where were Manny and Hank REALLY? How long was Hank out there? I certainly have my suspicions about what the answers could be but this film is put together loosely so it many me impossible to prove one conclusion over another. For what it’s worth, here’s my spoilers of the plot and ending:

swissarmymanI think the beach was a figment of Hank’s mind. I think he was not lost but “camped out” in the wooded area right outside Sarah’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) house like a stalker. Sarah was the girl on the bus that he took a picture of for his wallpaper . I think Hank was already psychotic but he was still a warm, compassionate person while in the woods. Again, the Daniels’ recurrent theme of the oddball, the outcast being as normal as anyone but unable to break through society’s walls. I haven’t figured out where the dead guy Manny came from but with him there, Hank was able to examine his life for the first time in a long time, maybe ever. In the end, my guess is Hank was shot by a policeman and then he dreamed the final scene as he died.

I say this knowing full well there are other rational and valid ways to inerpret the film. Please share your thoughts in the comments. This film was awesome and I am so glad I drove 60 miles to an independent theater to see it. It lost nothing with me. I’ll be watching for more spectacular, cerebral stuff from the Daniels. This is one of those movies I call perfect.

10/10

Super 8

Since I was age 10 when this movie takes place (1979) I was really excited to see the custard colored refrigerators and old school gas stations as well as other stuff from that year. I remember it as a humanistic and inspiring time. Some images of 1979 really made me nostalgic in the first hour. After that however, the movie began to sputter like a 70’s moped in need of a fill up. The homes, schools, and connectedness of the kids all was like 1979. Unfortunately, the story couldn’t continue in that era and turned to your typical violent alien film of the 90’s or 2000’s like Independence Day.

Spoiler ahead (sort of). One difference from other alien movies is that there is just one alien. It is quite ugly but not much different from most in movies extant. The alien is not as scary as the gratuitous shocks the director gives the audience. I counted 6 but there are surely more. Be warned, especially if you are annoyed by these things. There is only one thing that can save a movie with these, in my opinion. That thing is a great ending. Unfortunately, you won’t find that here either. Young kids aged 15 and below will like this movie. A couple times it looks like Transformers. Most above that age will look at their iphone to see the time as it plays out.

[xrr rating=2/5]

Logan (2017)

Logan“In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.” -IMDB

Cast

Hugh Jackman Logan
Patrick Stewart Charles
Dafne Keen Laura
Boyd Holbrook Pierce

Directed by
Written by

James Mangold, Scott Frank

Other Info

Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
R
Fri 03 Mar 2017 UTC
137min
IMDB Rating: 8.6

Director James Mangold was at the helm of movies such as Girl, Interrupted (1999), Walk the Line (2005), which he also co-wrote, the 2007 remake 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and The Wolverine (2013). The range of films show he can do just about anything. Perhaps the slow drama aspects of the first hour were meant to be deep and soulful like other work he has done. Unfortunately, it felt out-of-place for me.

So many people love this movie, I imagine I am in the minority in grading it lower. I gave this reveiw a lot of thought so don’t think I just reacted from my easy chair after getting right back from the film.

Hugh Jackman is not much different in this film than in his other Wolverine incarnations. He does take on a pseudo-dad role which is awkward and certainly not worthy of being called a dad role in any way. This is nowhere more evident than in a scene where the “daughter” calls him “daddy.” Patrick Stewart is painful to watch. I know fans of his character Charles Xavier may appreciate what happens in this film but for me, a more passive fan, it was droll and shameful dialog for a master such as he.

There is a mutant little girl. She has large eyes. I can’t tell you more than that, there isn’t much to tell. This little girl is part of a small gang from a Mexican hospital. They were “engineered” for a government purpose. Hmmm. Could this be for a sequel? That’s all the summary need to give really. It’s a bare bones script.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The best thing about this movie for me is that there will be no more Wolverine films. I can’t recommend this film, it isn’t a fraction of what it could have been. Still, staunch fans of the franchise will undoubtedly like it and add their “likes” to a sometimes misleading social media.

Limitless

Limitless is a movie that takes us to a place where there are no limits for a new mind drug. Not only do we see the classic pitfalls and ills of using drugs but we see a strange new side, dare I say a positive side. A new drug that allows one to utilize 80% more of her/his brain is discovered by a burnt out writer who puts it to good use. As he keeps using the drug he realizes that there are drawbacks to that much brain usage. Somehow he learns to use it to his advantage.

The film was directed by Neil Burger who’s other work includes the Illusionist with Edward Norton. Limitless includes quite a few big names but the biggest are Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. The film has amazing visuals reminiscent of Inception. It has a decent script that takes the viewer on a wild ride from beginning to end. While the visuals move fast however, there are some scenes throughout that tend to lag on. It’s as if they wanted to monopolize on special effects at the expense of keeping the story rolling at a palatable pace. This is one of the only drawbacks in the pace of the film. It is worth waiting out though because the ending delivers a smart and noteworthy conclusion.

Limitless is an excellent film that doesn’t have to be in reality so it isn’t. There are metaphors to real drug use. It opens up a lot for discussion and I recommend it.

Paterson (2016)


Paterson

Paterson

“A quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.” -IMDB

Cast

Adam Driver Paterson
Golshifteh Farahani Laura
Nellie Marvin
Rizwan Manji Donny

Directed by

Jim Jarmusch

Written by

Jim Jarmusch

Other Info

Comedy, Drama, Romance
R
Thu 17 Nov 2016 UTC
118min
IMDB Rating: 7.6

When meditating, still life nature scenes and soft spoken recordings are excellent help for me. It was as if this film purposely included such chunks in the film to entrance its viewers. Because I practice meditation and relaxation, I’m attuned to this and I found those places where Paterson read poetry and waterfalls were running in the background to be ethereal, calming.

It reminded me of the music they play when I get my monthly massage. The insertion of calming scenes however couldn’t make up for the lack of believable characterization and the presence of a very dull plot. Still, as a whole, this movie was i its own way enjoyable for me. Paterson is well versed in famous poets but for the most part, he writes like an unschooled diarist and that was hard to sit through.

Jim Jarmusch is the Director. He directed Only Lovers Left Alive. While much more experimental and “otherworldly,” that film has a similar entrancing yet undefined component to it. I’m not yet convinced this director is one I appreciate but I respect he tries doing films that are different.

Adam Driver plays Paterson, the poet by night/Bus driver by day. I had a real hard time swallowing this character. His wife dotes on him, makes special cupcakes for his lunch, and begs him to buy her a guitar. It’s all a disjointed mess if you asked me. City transit bus drivers make just above poverty level wages and yet she treats him as if he is the king with the fat bank account. Sad for her. More importantly though, she has passion while he has none. Well, he is passionate about poetry but not much more.

FINAL THOUGHTS
No one can wow me with William Carlos Williams references. My MA is in literature. I had many classes on modern poets and wrote many papers. Perhaps that’s why this all seemed very contrived to me. I like bringing the great poets back but the way Jarmusch did it here was droll and gauche. This is one where I have to part ways with the big critics who appear to love this film. I give it:

6/10