The Great Escape

I’ve lamented the end of summer movie graveyard before. Releases are slow and weekends are long. Thankfully, I live in a town that’s rich with Hollywood culture, and there are lots of little independent theaters and venues that will show classic films. Just as I was thinking that I might have a sadly movie free weekend, I get an email from one such theater. This cute little independent in Santa Monica that I’d been meaning to visit would be showing The Great Escape. This is one of those “movies I should know”. I’d tried watching it once some time back (I think it was when I was making another round thru House and I wanted to familiarize myself with the Steve McQueen that House named his mouse after), but some movies just don’t work at home. I wasn’t focused and couldn’t get into it. As Friday night began approaching, I was worried about the nearly 3 hour run time combined with that previous experience. I was not gonna fall asleep. So I chugged a cold brew on my way out the door. I had the worst headache all thru the movie (this is why I avoid caffeine) but it was absolutely worth it. This ended up being one of the best movie watching experiences I’ve ever had, solely because of the movie itself.

We went straight into the movie, no trailers (although luckily on my way in I noticed their Mad Max poster and will be back there next week for their Max Max triple feature). As each famous name rolled across the screen, the audience erupted in applause. I dug it. An audience who respects the greats (that sure as hell would never happen back home). Other key moments were met with similar adulation as was the ending and end credits. Srsly excited for next week.

Anyways for those of you whose knowlege of film history is unfortunately lacking (hey, that was me a couple days ago), The Great Escape stars Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, James Garner, Charles Bronson among others as Allied prisoners in a German camp during WWII. Each of them has a history of escaping their captivity, so they’re rounded up in a new facility with even more security. Of course they’re all instantly plotting an elaborate plan to escape. Even if they’re not successful, they can at least hope to occupy a large part of the enemy troops who would then be forced to round them up or fortify the camp rather than continue to fight in battle. Win win.

I don’t know what was wrong with my when I’d previously tried to watch this because I was instantly hooked from the first few minutes. This movie is timeless and holds up like it was made yesterday. There’s a great humor throughout the whole thing that’s delicately balanced with the darker events.

But mostly, I loved the characters. They were truly geniuses, showing some incredible ingenuity in their respective responsibilities in the plan. Plus their loyalty to each other and their cause was beautiful. I would love to have spent even more time with them than the short three hours we had together.

And I totally get the Steve McQueen thing. I was cheering for him throughout the whole movie, and immediately when I got home I played my McQueen DVD 4pack back in my watch queue.

Usually when I think about the best movie watching experiences I’ve ever had, it has to do with special circumstances around the film or the screening. This one I would consider among the best simply because the movie was that good, and it was shown in an environment where it was truly respected and appreciated. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly find me chasing down more screenings like this one

Ready or Not

If you’ve learned anything about my tastes, there’s a few things you prolly know. I love a good genre mash up, and I have a very high tolerance for twisted movies. I love gore and dark comedy, and if they’re together, so much the better. I’m always searching for movies that push the limits on both fronts, but it’s tough to get something that truly crosses that line for me. Ready or Not comes pretty dang close.

Grace (an incredible Samara Weaving) is marrying the man of her dreams and inheriting the crazy family that goes with it, the family that has built a gaming dominion that has made them crazy rich (emphasis on crazy). The wedding ceremony isn’t complete until the family gathers at midnight to play a game. Most of the time, it’s harmless, but once in a while, the “bad card” gets chosen. What’s the bad card? Hide and Seek. Bad enough on the surface, but even worse when it’s meant to leave Grace dead by dawn.

The chase is something that is as devilishly fun as it is deadly. The humor is black as night and there is plenty of blood to go around. It’s prolly more than most people can handle. Except, I’m not most people. My limits are pretty high, so for me, it was just kinda teasing that edge without really crossing the line. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of it, but I really hoped that it would take things just a hair further (or more than a hair, but that little bit of extra would have gone a long way).

This post feels rather short, but the film really is that simple and to the point. It’s a dastardly good time that is not for the faint of heart

Ready or Not – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Lemme preface this whole thing by saying that I recognize I am not the target audience for this film. The target audience is one of two people: adults who grew up with these books, for whom this was their gateway horror stories or t(w)eens who have yet to experience a horror movie and form whom this will be their gateway horror story. I am neither. I am very experienced in horror and want my films to be as gory and scary and terrifying as possible. What I was really in it for were the creatures. With Guillermo del Toro producing, I knew they’d have tremendous love and care behind them, and I stumbled on a video on Twitter (I think that one’s it) showing their creation and I was excited to see them in action. Except it turns out, they don’t get that much action.

Some kids investigate a creepy old house that’s haunted by a ghost who’s known to tell you stories–the last stories you’ll ever hear. Because kids in horror movies are stupid, one of them steals the ghost’s book of stories. Now new stories are appearing and these kids are disappearing. Spooky, scary?

Again, I was in it for the creatures, but most of them get fairly minimal screen time, which was a bummer. It was especially a bummer because the rest of the film was kinda boring. It’s kinda understandable how cliche and predicable this film was (again, it gets a bit of a pass as a “gateway horror drug”) but I just could not care any less about these kids. There was nothing particularly interesting about them, and nothing particularly unique about how they were handling their situation.

I shoulda stayed home and just finished my Salute Your Shorts binge

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – \m/ \m/

Good Boys

If Seth Rogen’s name is on a comedy, I am so there. With Evan Goldberg? Shut up and take my money. I realized after that they were only on as producers (not writers/directors) but their fingerprints were still all over this movie. Every generation has their naughty high school comedy classic. This time that generation is not been old enough to see it.

A trio of tween besties get up to some boys will be boys shennanigans. That’s basically all you need to know. But these are kids of the new millennium. They know things they’re not supposed to, and they’re more woke than anyone else we’ve seen in the genre. Anyways, there’s a plot but I argue that it’s not that important. What is important is these dudes hanging out and the hilarious and dirty words that come out of their mouth.

Your first thought is that the humor is prolly all based in little kids saying big people things. That’s part of it for sure. But there’s also a part where they don’t actually know what they’re saying, so it comes out wrong to a hilarious degree. I really appreciated that bit of humor going the extra mile. And as I said earlier, these kids are woke (or at least trying to be). They talk about honesty and consent and other important ideas that this genre has typically thrown out the window, making it one of the few that truly deserves to endure as a representation of its generation.

These boys are incredible. You may recognize Jacob Trembley. He was the little kid in Room who really shoulda gotten an Oscar nod, but did we wanna give one to a 6 year old (um, yes!). He’s shown up in a few movies here and there since, but none of them have been like this. And he owned it. I knew that kid was gonna have a very bright future, and this proves he’s on the right track (plus it’s a smart career movie to vary up the resume). Our other boys, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon, kept up (maybe even walked off with bits of the movie).

I will say my bar for this was super high, so I’m not sure that we quite hit it, but I still found it absolutely hilarious (esp once we got past the jokes that were in the trailers). My post might not make it sound the most exciting, but it’s tough to write a G rated write up about a very R rated movie. And I’m not even gonna come close to being half as clever

Good Boys – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Kitchen

When I was planning out this particular week, there were three movies opening I was interested in. I’d only be able to see one that weekend, one would wait til Tuesday, and the third til the following weekend. On paper, The Kitchen should have been the priority: three badass ladies I love running the mob in Hell’s Kitchen. But the other thing on paper was that this film starring A-list high caliber actresses was being released in August. That did not bode well. I gave it the second slot.

Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Moss, and Tiffany Haddish are married to the mob in 1970’s NYC. Their husbands are sent to jail for a few years, leaving the women to fend for themselves and their families. When their husbands’ associates aren’t stepping up to provide for them, they realize that the boys aren’t even running things right. The ladies take it upon themselves to take over and own the neighborhood.

This sounds like it should be pretty good, yeah? Who doesn’t wanna see McCarthy, Moss, and Haddish run the world? So why the dump in the dog days of summer? The writing. Ugh, it was terrible. Specifically the storytelling, not necessarily the dialog. The whole thing was really lazy and cliche with the occasional “shocking twist” that was neither shocking nor twisty nor followed up on properly. The story could have been something powerful (maybe even awards worthy with that cast) and it didn’t even try.

However, our leading ladies were doing more than trying. They were acting as hard as they could and made the most with what they were given. Melissa commanded that screen, and it made me long for the movie that this could have been. Elizabeth was relegated to an accent that hypnotized me. Tiffany was dragged down by the script. Still, I enjoyed watching them. A lesser cast would have made this film unwatchable, but they made it worth my time (with a subscription ticket, not worth paying admission for).

Oh I guess the other thing that made it worth it was Domhnall Gleeson was really hot.

The Kitchen – \m/ \m/ \m/

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

A trailer for Dora played before The Lion King. My BFFF turns to me. “That looked surprisingly good. I might actually wanna see it” to which I replied “I’m probably going because I really like the adults in the cast (Michael Pena, Eva Longoria, Eugenio Derbez)” “That’s how you know you’ve grown up. When you go to a kids’ movie for the parents” But really tho, it actually looked good. My weekend looked like it could only fit in one movie, and that’s what I chose.

I think we’ve all got a passing familiarity with Dora the Explorer. I’m just a tad too old to have been raised on her, but I def know who she is and some of the basics about her. Now she’s all growed up and exploring her next jungle: high school. That is, until her parents go missing in the South American jungle and things happen that put her on their trail with some new potential friends.

I’m saying this with only that bit of Dora knowledge, but I think this was a brilliant way to bring her to the big screen. Her cartoon-y characteristics were addressed (talking to the screen, anthropomorphic objects, her penchant for bursting into song) but all of them were done in a way that was appropriate for the real world. And the way she interacted with the world was appropriate too. Yes she would be getting funny looks, but they don’t bring her down. She’s still positive and upbeat and maintains that spirit that makes Dora Dora.

Isabella Moner captured that spirit beautifully. She was a big part of why I was intrigued to see this because she owned Instant Family and was one of the stronger parts of Sicario 2. She really did feel like a cartoon brought to life. The adults I was looking forward to seeing were fantastic as well (including one voice cameo that I was waiting the whole movie for).

Most of all, this movie was fun. My screening was filled with a lot of little kids clearly up past their bedtime who were laughing hysterically at all of the slapstick kiddie humor. But I was laughing pretty hard too because there was a great balance of meta humor for us big kids. It’s a perfect family movie because while it’s clearly aimed at the little ones, it’s enjoyable for us bigger ones, esp when some of those bigger ones were originally the little ones watching the cartoon.

Can you say “divertido”?

Dora and the Lost City of Gold – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

Where to start with this movie. We’ve been Fast. We’ve been Furious. Now we’re spinning off. We went from a small drama with some street racing to souped up cars taking on skyscrapers and submarines. With Hobbs and Shaw, any last shred of realism is gone. It makes for a fun mindless summer popcorn movie, but I feel like my action itch isn’t properly scratched.

The Rock’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw have been introduced in various F&F films as bad guys (in the antagonistic sense, not motivational) and then got inducted into the “Family”. Except the two of them never made it to being familial with each other. Given the chance, they will gladly beat the warm fuzzies out of the other. Now, because reasons, the two of them are teamed up together to save the world from Idris Elba, auditioning to be the next Terminator.

Like every other movie in franchise, it was a lot of fun. Bigger than the last one, with even less nuance and subtlety. The banter between our leads was ON POINT. That’s what kept me engaged in the film, the verbal sparring that was far better than the physical sparring because let’s be real. I have seen such better action sequences from both of these dudes. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say they were phoning it in, but it certainly lacked some of the oomph I’ve come to expect from them ( I was feeling nostalgic for The Transporter watching this).

That said, there was one person who delivered the type of stunt sequences I was hoping for: Vanessa Kirby. She was really throwing herself into some wonderfully choreographed fights. I kept finding myself wanting to see her throw some more kicks and punches while the boys looked pretty and talked smack in the background.

On the other side, Idris Elba did make a rather formidable baddie, as the reigning Sexiest Man Alive took on a predecessor and a buddy. Except the one thing that bothered me was his technology upgrade. I’ve been able to suspend belief in this series when the laws of physics are suspended. However, the Skynet level tech he was working with was a step too far. Every time he and his cronies used one of their toys it got an eye roll out of me. Not quite the reaction I think they were expecting.

Now besides the big bangs, these films have always been about family, and that was the underlying theme throughout this one as well. The third act in particular illustrated this beautifully. I don’t wanna spoil the setting, but it’s something that’s obviously very meaningful to The Rock and I enjoyed seeing him show that side of himself.

Oh and speaking of the Rock, to close, I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that winks are one of my biggest weaknesses. It’s just a little jolt right to my heart (especially when it’s a wink just for me). The Rock winked at least 4 times. Swoon.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw – \m/ \m/ \m/

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I keep rewriting this first paragraph, but they’re all basically me gushing and screaming over my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino releasing a new movie. As of writing, I’ve seen it twice and have plans to go again in a couple days. The DTLA Alamo Drafthouse finally (FINALLY!) opened, so I thought it was an appropriate venue for my first viewing and an appropriate film for my first trip. Unfortunately, because they were still in preview mode, they lost my order and I was hangry and frustrated and distracted as all hell. So I used A-List to get in another screening hte next day. But the one I’m truly excited for is seeing it at Tarantino’s own New Beverly theater. The earliest I could get tickets for was nearly two weeks after opening. So that’ll be fun, but let’s talk about the movie

Tarantino has described this movie as his Roma, a nostalgic film that captures a snapshot of the time and place he grew up in. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, we meet Leonardo Dicaprio’s Rick Dalton. Rick was once the star of a big tv western, but in recent years he’s been reduced to villainous guest appearances. His stunt man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) has even fewer prospects in his craft, and spends his days as a driver and personal assistant to his ride or die BFFF. To really drive a stake thru the heart of his dreams, Dalton lives next door to up and coming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her big shot director husband Roman Polanski. And we all know how her story turned out, or do we?

Because it’s a Tarantino movie, it no surprise that I absolutely loved it. In spirit, it felt most like Inglorious Basterds, a sprawling ensemble whose storylines converge in some riveting revisionist history. Like Basterds, there is A LOT going on. It is gonna take a few goes to piece it all together (even without the distractions of the first), but already from one soak it all in screening to one see how it fits together screening my love for it has gone up. Basterds actually worked similarly for me. I was underwhelmed on first view (or maybe I was really overwhelmed) but I grew to love it just a little more and just a little more with each viewing. Right now, I’d rank Basterds as my third favorite Tarantino (but the top three have minimal separation…Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill before you ask), and Hollywood is prolly smack in the middle. Still, even the bottom of my Tarantino list (currently Django Unchained) is still a pretty awesome movie.

I will say that this is by far the most self indulgent film my boy has ever made, and that’s saying something. So much of it felt like he was doing things just because he could. For me, there is no self I would rather indulge, but even I found myself wondering if certain bits were necessary. I still loved it, but I get that it could be a turn off for some.

The casting, as always, was perfection. Leo and Brad are an EPIC duo that will go down in Hollywood (and possibly awards) history. I could watch them do their thing (together or apart) all day and if there’s ever a ten hour cut, I will watch every second of it. Margot Robbie is angelic and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. But there’s so many great bit roles as well. A fun game is spotting famous famous in the supporting cast and trying to remember their connection to Tarantino. Hardly a scene goes by without someone memorable. Also fun is spotting all the usual signature flourishes, something he plays up as well in the mid credits

All of this is to say that I am very excited for the next round on Tuesday. And I gotta start thinking of a good drinking game for next year’s Single Awareness Day Blood and Booze

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

The Lion King

“There have been so many times that you drag me to a movie that I would have never seen otherwise, and it’s really good” Quoth the BFFF later that weekend in Jersey, when we were on the subject of The Lion King, which yes I dragged him to (although Long Shot was the specific example he mentioned). While I technically didn’t make him see The Lion King with me, I told him that I had every intention of seeing it that one day that we had to hang in NYC, so he could come with or meet me later. He made the right choice.

Man Disney is really cramming in these live action remakes, huh? Well “live action” in this case. Practically shot for shot in this case. Which meant that I had to brace myself for a certain scene involving a certain daddy lion voiced by a certain actor.

The animation looked beautiful, and the new voice cast was pretty great. But just like all the others of these, a week later I’ve forgotten about it. Any emotional moments I was feeling were mostly echoed off what the animated version makes me feel. I listened to the soundtrack so many times as a kid, that hearing it in this version triggered automatic responses in me.

So if it was all the same stuff, was it even worth it? Absolutely! It was about re-experiencing something I love in a new way. For the most part, what I was really living for were the new ad libs and small variations. The best of those came from Timon and Pumba, voiced to perfection by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. They were what made it all worth it ,and I want a whole movie of just them.

Oh also, stay thru the end credits. There’s a cool Swahili (I think) version of “He Lives in You” from the Broadway show. I’d really hoped they’d have worked that song into the film, but it was a nice bonus at the end.

The lion King – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

The Art of Self Defense

Fight Club has been in my top ten basically since I first saw it (it held #2 for the longest time, but has slipped down a bit). One thing I love about that film is how its meaning has changed for me over time, and that it has different meanings for different people. The theme that people talk about most with the film lately is toxic masculinity, especially since it’s like that thread was sort of hidden in the film. No one brought it up 20 years ago, but now it’s so clear that it’s a big part of the movie. Anyways, if a shiny new movie is being compared to that masterpiece, I’m at attention. After spending the day at The Met while on my NYC vacay, I headed down to the East Village for one of hte few screenings available on The Lion King release night (I prolly shoulda gone further down to Brooklyn to see it at Alamo Drafthouse, but I felt lazy)

Jesse Eisenberg stars as a very Jesse Eisenberg type of character. When he’s mugged after a late night run for dog food, he searches for a way to feel empowered. That search leads him into a dojo with a hyper masculine sensei willing to train him how to fight and be a man.

I loved the first act or so. It had a very subtle humor with incredibly literal dialog (think Yorgos Lanthiimos). I love that tone and it’s not often done. But it eventually lost me. It slowed down during the second act, and then the third act just became a little too much for me.

Now I think the film was meant as a condemnation of toxic masculinity, highlighting how ridiculous some of it really is (Get a German shepherd not a dachshund! Don’t learn French!). However, it got so deep into that and frankly things seemed to be working out well enough for certain characters, that over time I couldn’t tell if it really was condeming and not condoning. I get that it was meant to be satire, but at some point it just wasn’t very funny any more. Honestly, it got very uncomfortable, and I wasn’t enjoying it any more.

The Art of Self Defense – \m/ \m/ \n