Pick of the Litter – October 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Joker

(Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Marc Maron, Zazie Beetz. Before he became the arch-nemesis of the Batman, Joker was Arthur Fleck, a man overlooked by society who followed a path to villainy and madness. The movie is the first “standalone” DC film, not a part of their Extended Universe. October 4

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Lucy in the Sky

(Fox Searchlight) Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens. An astronaut returns home after a transcendent experience during a mission in space only to find that the world is no long enough for her. October 4

Pain and Glory

(Sony Classics) Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Asier Exteandia, Julieta Serrano. A world-renowned film director reflects on his life and the choices he’s made as both his past and present are crashing down around him. This newest film by Spanish legend Pedro Almodovar was a sensation at the most recent Cannes Film Festival and has been lauded as his best work in years. October 4

Fantastic Fungi

(Self-Released) Brie Larson (narrator), Paul Stamets, Tony D. Head, Michael Pollan. Beneath our feet is the magnificent mushroom and other fungi. These organisms can feed us, expand our consciousness and have surprising medicinal value. As the film explores the enthusiasm of mycologists – scientists who study fungi – it turns out that the lowly fungus may be the key to saving the planet. October 11

Parasite

(NEON) Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jyong Jo, Woo-sik Choi. A poor Korean family latches on to a wealthy one, providing “luxury services” for them and in return receiving financial survival. When a parasitic interloper threatens the poor family’s standing, they go to war to keep their cash cow alive. This is the latest from acclaimed Korean director Joon-ho Bong. October 11

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

(Saban) Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck. The legendary stoners return after an absence of I-can’t-remember-how-many years when they hear the despicable movie made based on their comic book characters is about to be rebooted. Characters from throughout the View Askew Universe guest star. October 15

Cyrano, My Love

(Roadside Attractions) Thomas Solivėres, Olivier Gourmet, Mathilde Seigner, Tom Leeb. This French comedy follows Edmond Rostand as he struggles to write a play that will eventually become symbolic of France itself.. October 18

Jojo Rabbit

(Fox Searchlight) Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson. A young boy, a soldier in the army of Nazi Germany, discovers that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in her attic Did I mention that his imaginary friend is Adolph Hitler? October 18

The Laundromat

(Netflix) Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Sharon Stone. A recent widow, investigating insurance fraud, discovers that the money trail leads back to a pair of Panama City, Florida law partners who have been exploiting the financial system to keep their uber-wealthy clients rich while screwing the middle and lower classes. This new Steven Soderbergh film is based on true events. October 18

The Lighthouse

(A24) Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeria Karaman. Two lighthouse keepers on a remote island off the coast of New England in the 1890s make a startling discovery which leads to horrifying consequences. October 18

My Name is Dolemite

(Netflix) Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Snoop Dogg, Keegan-Michael Key. The story of Rudy Ray Moore, a legendary black comic and original rapper whose Kung Fu pimp Dolemite became a Blaxploitation film cult favorite. The movie will undergo a brief theatrical run at the beginning of the month before moving over to Netflix. October 25

Kill Team

(A24) Nat Wolff, Alexander Skarsgǻrd, Rob Morrow, Adam Long. A soldier under the command of a sadistic squad leader witnesses the murder of civilians but as his team learns that someone has informed military authorities, he becomes increasingly concerned that his own squad might just kill him. Based on the incredible true story portrayed in a documentary of the same name that played the Florida Film Festival back in 2013. October 25

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Infini


Not the peep show Daniel MacPherson was looking for.

Not the peep show Daniel MacPherson was looking for.

(2015) Science Fiction (Vertical) Daniel MacPherson, Grace Huang, Luke Hemsworth, Bren Foster, Luke Ford, Dwaine Stevenson, Louisa Mignone, Tess Haubrich, Harry Pavildis, Kevin Copeland, Andy Rodoreda, Paul Winchester, Brendan Clearkin, Matt Minto, Belinda Gosbee, Goran D. Kleut, Aileen Beale, Laura Beverley, Louise Dodge. Directed by Shane Abbess

In space, no-one can hear you scream. On a mining station in deep space, everybody can hear you scream. Sometimes, the vacuum of space is preferable to the atmosphere of a mining installation.

By the turn of the 23rd century, Earth’s resources are pretty much gone. Unemployment is rampant and most of the jobs available are service jobs that pay very little. What does pay are the highly dangerous off-planet jobs. Fortunately, a technology has been developed called the Slipstream in which human beings are essentially digitized and sent instantaneously through space to locations all over the galaxy (the science here is a little bit wonky as even if the digital stream traveled at the speed of light, it would still take years and even centuries for the data to arrive). Unfortunately, the fatality rate by using this method of travel is high as the data stream can easily be corrupted.

Whit Carmichael (MacPherson) wants very much to support his wife Lisa (Haubrich) and the child that she is pregnant with. His first day on the job though goes horribly wrong; an infected subject comes through the Slipstream in the West Coast Command Center. In order to escape, Whit is forced to go to Infini, the location of an abandoned mining company which remains the worst deep space disaster in history where over 1,600 miners died while mining a volatile substance.

An elite rescue team is sent to retrieve him (there’s another subplot here but it’s baffling and not really germane and doesn’t get explored much so I’ll abstain from describing it). What they find on Infini is terrible, much worse than they could have ever expected. It appears that the miners all went berserk and killed each other off, brutally and sadistically. Worse yet, there may be an alien presence involved.

This is Aussie director Abbess’ second feature film. He’s been on Hollywood’s radar for seven years and has been attached to some fairly high profile projects in one form or another, few of which actually came to pass (and none with Abbess on board). He proves adept at doing a lot with a little, creating an industrial-looking aesthetic that reminds strongly of the Nostromo from Alien – lots of ducts, pipes and vents. Like that ill-fated vessel, this future looks lived-in.

Although the plot sounds like a standard “bug hunt” sci-fi action feature, there is a little bit more thought put behind it, musing about the human survival instinct and what elements of human behavior would make an impression on alien beings. Whit Carmichael is also not the action hero you might expect; he chooses flight over fight and while discretion is generally the better part of valor, Whit spends a lot of this movie hiding from everyone else.

There is a flood of testosterone coloring this movie; most of the dialogue is shouted or yelled, and often it is some cast member yelling “WHITTTTT!!!!” into the empty hallways of the mining facility. This is a noisy, often abrasive film. Abbess also uses quick cuts to distraction; we are constantly jumping around in point of view. This is the kind of camera move that is best used sparingly and it gets mighty annoying after awhile.

More importantly, Abbess is all over the place with his story. Much of what happens early in the movie (which starts out as a flash forward and then without any sort of explanation the movie shifts to a flash back) is without explanation of any sort until later on in the film and quite frankly you’re often left scratching your head as a viewer and wondering what the heck is going on. You don’t always get answers on that score, either.

Despite all that, the movie has some strong points. It is a good-looking movie and well-lit; often movies of this sort go the underlit route in order to increase the suspense of things jumping out of shadows. Most of the time, we see whatever is attacking coming. That’s actually kind of refreshing.

So what we have here is a movie that has good intentions but not quite the execution. It starts out as thoughtful science fiction but eventually degenerates into horror action sci-fi that blends Aliens with The Thing – not too shabby to be compared to those movies I grant you, but it fails to live up to either of them…or its own promise.

REASONS TO GO: Thoughtful premise. Nice cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Often confusing and incomprehensible story. Way too much shouting and testosterone.
FAMILY VALUES: Extreme, bloody violence and plenty of rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: MacPherson is the host of Australia’s version of Dancing With the Stars.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pandorum
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Lambert and Stamp

Godzilla (2014)


Oh no, there goes San Francisco, go go Godzilla!

Oh no, there goes San Francisco, go go Godzilla!

(2014) Action (Warner Brothers) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Carson Bolde, Richard T. Jones, Victor Rasuk, CJ Adams, Patrick Sabongui, Jared Keeso, Luc Roderique, Eric Keenleyside, Garry Chalk, Ken Yamamura, Hiro Kanagawa, Jill Teed. Directed by Gareth Edwards

Sixty years ago, Toho Studios in Japan debuted a monster movie unlike any other. As the only country ever to have a nuclear bomb used in war against them, Japan had a unique relationship to the Atomic age. That movie, Gojira which was retitled Godzilla, King of the Monsters with some scenes featuring Raymond Burr added in to appeal to American audiences, was not just a monster movie but also a parable about the nuclear age. The wild popularity of the film would spawn 27 sequels (in which Godzilla became a protector of children and a symbol for Japanese cultural weirdness), a godawful American remake and now this.

Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and his assistant Vivienne Graham (Hawkins) enter a cavern accidentally entered into by a mining company in the Philippines back in the 90s. They discover a gigantic skeleton with two parasitical cocoons inside. One of the parasites has evidently hatched.

Meanwhile in Japan, American nuclear scientist Joe Brody (Cranston) is concerned about some unusual seismic readings. He sends his wife Sandra (Binoche) to check on the structure to make sure that the reactor they are both working at is intact. Then, all hell breaks loose and a portion of the suburbs of Tokyo are leveled and irradiated.

Cut to present day. Joe and Sandra’s son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) has just returned from Afghanistan/Iraq to his nurse wife Elle (Olsen) and son Sam (Bolde) to their San Francisco home and he looks to get past his bomb disposal career and back into mainstream civilian life when he gets news that will take him back to Japan where he and his father will discover that what happened that fateful day was not what the world has been told…that something has emerged from the bowels of time and threatens all of humanity. Something that is headed for the United States…and there’s more than one…

Since the trailer debuted online, fandom has been foaming at the mouth for this to come out and for the most part, the movie doesn’t disappoint. I doubt you’ll see a more high-energy spectacle all summer long than this. Monsters rampage, buildings fall, people scream and get trampled and crushed by falling masonry. Edwards was going for a certain degree of realism, at least as realistic as you can get when dealing with 350 foot tall reptiles and their insectoid foes.

For the most part that realism is achieved. We get the sense of what it would be like to be in a situation where gigantic creatures were wreaking havoc in an urban environment. The digital wizards at WETA come through again, creating a new vision of Godzilla that is far more terrifying than the stunt man in the rubber suit stomping on a model of Tokyo. This Godzilla moves majestically, even gracefully but with terrifying resolve. His foes are Giger-esque nightmares that will resonate with those who had Starship Troopers-inspired freak-outs in their youth.

What Godzilla lacks is a human touch. Taylor-Johnson, who has done high-profile roles in Kick-Ass and to better effect in Nowhere Boy plays Ford the military man with all the warmth and personality of a wood chipper. His action hero persona is generic, indistinguishable from other performances in similar roles but unlike classic action heroes, there’s no hint of humor or anything human. It’s as if neither the actor nor the director wanted to upstage the imaginary beast.

Other than Cranston, whose obsessive scientist is played with clenched teeth and wild eyes, few of the main characters seem to modulate much beyond infernal calm. Watanabe comes off as a cut-rate Mr. Miyagi, dispensing nuggets of Zen-like wisdom while contributing precious little to the film. I also have to say that Dr. Serizawa’s assertions that Godzilla exists “to restore the balance of nature” is a bit ludicrous at best and makes for awkward movie moments.

Still, this is directed magnificently. Godzilla doesn’t make an appearance until nearly halfway through the film and even then he is scarcely glimpsed until the final third of the movie. Once things get going however, the action is relentless and on an epic scale. It’s hard to use the word “breathtaking” in an era in which visual effects seem to re-set the bar with every blockbuster but it sure comes to mind here. Edwards, who has since been given one of the upcoming standalone Star Wars films to direct (as well as the inevitable Godzilla sequels) is undoubtedly going to be one of the big names in Hollywood for years to come.

So while this isn’t the perfect summer movie, it scores in all the right places to make this the movie to beat this summer. Da Queen, who is not a big monster movie fan in general, loved this movie and if that’s any sort of measuring stick, you will too.

REASONS TO GO: Excellent creature and action effects. Has everything you’d want in a summer action film.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks any notable characters other than the monsters. “Balance of nature” subplot goes off the rails a little bit.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of destruction and mayhem, creature violence and some scary sequences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dr. Serizawa was named after one of the lead characters in the original Godzilla in 1954.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/24/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cloverfield

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Double