KPK on the Cinema: (January 2017)

Cinema

*

> WELCOME to a fresh new year of cinematic ruminations. This year, I am functioning well-behind the curve, always playing catch-up, so my column is late again. But here it is at last, and it is pretty good this time. With one exception, I really enjoyed watching every film I saw this first month of the New Trumpian Era. Can’t say CLIENT 9 was exactly entertaining”… (A reminder: all films are rated on a 5 star basis, and cannot be rated 5 stars until after it becomes a “classic”, meaning that at east a decade has gone by.)

> This month I review the following 13 films:

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS  (2016) ****

THE JUNGLE BOOK  (2016) ***+

HEART OF A DOG  (2015) ****+

HIGH-RISE  (2016) ***+

PASSENGERS  (2017) ***

MEDIUM COOL  (1964) *****

TOPKAPI  (1964) ***

I SAW THE LIGHT  (2015) ***+

KEANU  (2016) ***

CONCUSSION  (2015) ****

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK  (2016) ****+

CLIENT 9  (2010) ***

A WAR  (2015) ****

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS  (2016) ****

This is Laika Entertainment’s fifth animated feature, and so far, they are batting 1000. This tiny independent unit cut their teeth as the production company behind the stunning CORPSE BRIDE in 2005, and followed this with CORALINE, PARANORMAN and THE BOXTROLLS- laying one hell of a track record. Ten years in the making, KUBO is another triumph for the unit. Unflinchingly tough for a “kids film”, poor Kubo faces hardships and terrors that test his mettle and provide plenty for adults to enjoy. It’s a story of magic and familial love and revenge and triumph against impossible odds, told in bold, beautiful strokes of color and action. I’ll bet this one is even better the second time. If anything, I may have under-rated it. Will it take home the Oscar? I think that honor will go to ZOOTOPIA, but I would not be the least disappointed if this compelling vision upsets to competition.

THE JUNGLE BOOK  (2016) ***+

Since everything old will one day be new again, and it’s a lot easier to revisit a proven formula than to invent something from whole cloth, Disney is busily cannibalizing its own cannon- taking animated films and redoing them as live action flicks. This year we will get the live action BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. (A similar LION KING is in production.) While not a fan of such creative short cuts, if the results are as good as they are here, it’s hard to quibble with the concept. In fact, in some ways this JUNGLE BOOK is better than the original. Remember that old Walt died in the middle of production on the 1967 cartoon. Knowing this, you can feel it throughout the film. The original is half brilliant, half auto-pilot. Studio morale was below sea level, but they had to finish what they started, with Walt’s sharp eye at the helm or without. In the remake, talented action director Jon Favreau wisely insisted on going back to Rudyard Kipling’s source material to reimagine a JUNGLE BOOK for the 2000’s. This telling of Mowgli the wolf-child’s coming of age is much tougher than anything Disney would have sanctioned. Favreau doesn’t shy away from the reality that throughout the film, a child’s life is endangered. I was somewhat surprised that to the extent one could call the original film a “musical”, (it only had three songs), that label could also apply to the remake. And two of the three tunes are dynamite. Here, we are treated to Bill Murray’s “The Bare Necessities” and Christopher Walken’s “I Wanna Be Like You”, and while neither is a singer per se, both deliver sparkling performances. (The third film is Scarlet Johansson’s “Trust in Me”, and while lesser in every way than the other two songs, casting her as the deadly boa constrictor Kaa was inspired indeed. She hits just the right balance of seduction and menace.) Rounding out the cast are Ben Kingsly as the regal panther Bagheera, Idris Elba as the deadly man-eating tiger Shere Kahn, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha the wolf, and the late Gary Shandling as Ikki the porcupine, and they all feel perfectly cast, although Walken’s King Louie often does not sound as if it could be emanating from this big brute. The production values are uniformly stunning- the locations rich, lush and beautifully imagined. ‘Imagined’ because there were no location shoots on this film! The amazingly dense junglescapes are entirely C.G.I. It’s a digital wonder! At the end we see the credit: “Filmed in downtown Los Angeles” as a way to remind us what a major technical accomplishment it is. And it is. Successful enough that Favreau is busily at work on pre-production for THE JUNGLE BOOK 2.

HEART OF A DOG  (2015) ****+

The critics stumbled over their thesauruses (thesauri?) singing the praises of this impressionistic love letter performance genius Laurie Anderson composed to her rat terrier Lollabelle after the animal’s death. The fact that her partner’s nearly concurrent demise is never mentioned, makes this homage to canine love and loss seem more metaphor than testimonial. (It’s not really about the dog… is it?) The hoity-toity artschool critics were right about this one. HEART OF A DOG is a dreamy wonder. It’s an experimental film really, in a way that is often visually reminiscent of Canada’s crazy visionary Guy Maddin. Think of it as a media-college blending home movies and reenactments in a thick, gauzy, soft-focus rumination that unfolds deliberately- almost in slow motion, as a languorous tone poem awash in a clouded, murky dreamlike succession of ethereal animals and ghosts. This great artist merges memory and observation with her spell-casting storyteller’s voice- weaving quotations and observations, stories and texts, with unanswerable questions about death and dying, posed from a Buddhist perspective. It’s a moody, atmospheric affair, awash in trancelike music and sound, words and silence- where all is revealed even as all is obscured. Wow. What a heady concoction! The fascinating soundtrack of the film has been released in its entirety- lifted straight off the film as-is, and I would imagine it works as beautifully as the film. If you look closely enough, you can see her dear departed partner Lou Reed playing a doctor in a segment about harrowing repressed childhood memories. Finally, as a coda at the very end, this great artist acknowledges the elephant in the room with her touching declaration: “Dedicated to the magnificent spirit of my husband Lou Reed”. No, it really wasn’t about a dog at all…

HIGH-RISE  (2016) ***+

Holy crap, what a total weirdo of a movie this was! Can’t say I was entirely surprised, considering Ben Wheton was the fractured genius behind it. Ever since the fabulously ‘other’ A FIELD IN ENGLAND, (Wheton’s previous, almost experimental oddity), I’ve been a big fan of the man. This one is a heavy-handed social parable about a successful surgeon seeking solace in his place in a new hi-concept high-rise apartment complex that functions as a society unto itself. The wealthier the resident, the higher the floor they reside on, becoming further and further removed from the lives of the poor, the wealthier they become. Unscrupulous visionary Mr. Royal, (a smugly entitled Jeremy Irons), is the brilliant/crazy architect of the scheme, dwelling in imperious penthouse luxury on the topmost floor. Stir in an intense Luke Evans, a sultry Sienna Miller and a quirky Elizabeth Moss. Bring to a slow boil. Let it fester. Slowly, Mr. Royal’s perfect, engineered order begins to break down, from the bottom up. As sewage runs in the halls of the lower floors, people at the top complain of minor inconveniences. It’s a strange, impressionist film that titillates a bit more than it satisfies, is choppy and somewhat non-linear, but there is always something outrageous around the corner, as society degenerates into one bacchanal party of booze for breakfast and sex in the hallways and excess of every imaginable form, from the sensual to the violent. The fine Tom Hiddleson at the center of it all plays a self-absorbed hedonist that never really garners much sympathy. He seems an amoral opportunist, as everybody on the upper floors appears to be. It’s a cold movie- not much human warmth here, and sometimes a bit incoherent and disjointed- intentional, I believe, to keep us off balance and place us in the middle of the drama. Often fascinating, sometimes trying, the whole thing seems to meander a little until you feel like you are one of the inhabitants of the high-rise, trapped on your floor as everything around you goes to hell in a handbasket. Mr. Wheaton’s dystopian take on society is very bleak indeed! Sure hope this vision of the future is not prescient, but the trends are there…

PASSENGERS  (2017) ***

Cool premise on this one. Something I’ve never seen. What if you were on the spaceship equivalent of a luxury liner with 5000 other passengers and crew, in a medically-induced hibernation on a 120 year journey to an extra-terrestrial colony to make a new life, when something goes amiss and you wake up 90 years early, and completely alone? That would kinda suck, huh? Well this is exactly what happens to technical laborer Chris Pine, who finds himself, to his horror and mortification, unable to do a single thing to alter his fate. With no one for company on the vast ship except a cheerful android barkeep, (a preternaturally jovial Michael Sheen), desperation begins to set in, and over time, a strange fascination with one of the dozing passengers. Our lonely hero knows it’s wrong, he’s tortured by the thought of actually doing it, but how can he resist waking this Sleeping Beauty 89 years early to keep him from living out a hellishly lonely life? This moral conundrum proves to be the most interesting part of the film, even though we never have any doubt of the outcome. I mean, the dozing honey is Jennifer Lawrence, for crying out loud! How could a lonely guy resist? Good thing he doesn’t. But she’s being deceived. She is under the impression that her pod also malfunctioned. She has no idea her life was virtually stolen from her when she inevitably begins to fall for the only possible mate she could ever have. Together they have romance, then dramas, then endure one existential crisis after another as the ship begins to malfunction all around them. Some very cool stuff when artificial gravity begins to fail while Jennifer is swimming, and the pool water begins to rise with her in a giant suffocating ball she can’t seem to swim out of. (Perhaps because there is no ‘up’ in zero-G? It’s a physics thing.) Despite some cool effects and really good fireworks generated by and between the two appealing stars, it all sounds somewhat cooler than it was, perhaps because there were so many plot holes big enough to pilot a luxury spaceship through, and one pivotal scene was 100% predictable. I remember thinking: “Oh, this will happen, but then that will happen, so she’ll have to do that”… which is exactly the way it transpired. A disappointment. I prefer to be surprised. PASSENGERS is entertaining and somewhat original, but it’s still formula filmmaking in the end, making it considerably less that it could have been.

MEDIUM COOL  (1964) *****

A reference to Marshal McLuhen’s famous quote that TV is a “hot” medium, revered documentarian Haskel Wexler made this medium-hot hybrid film about the evolving role of the media in the dying throes of the sixties. It really encapsulates the zeitgeist of this turbulent time, when the fiction of the story about a cameraman coming to grips with the fact that the news organization he works for has been secretly sharing all his footage with the cops and the F.B.I. gives way to a document of unfolding history, when the film crew wanders into the melee outside the democratic nation convention in Chicago. This is heavy, heady stuff, crammed with ideas and revealing discussions about the state of life in America. It’s social critique disguised as drama, and has a great deal to say about race relations and the cultural divide beginning to open up between the generations at the time. The movie comes off as a social document- part scripted, part cinema vérité. It hints at the digital age to come and brings up thorny ethical questions that were certainly fresh and even outrageous in their time. One question it asks that is perhaps even more relevant today: “Is it ethical to simply record events and effectively refuse to help, by remaining passive when we see violence or human injury that our intervention might mitigate?” Is it the moral choice to be the passive observer when action might relieve human suffering? In showing us the way mass media was beginning to infiltrate every part of our modern lives, MEDIUM COOL cautions us about the possibility of our own information being used against us by an out-of-touch government that resembles Orwell’s Big Brother more with each passing day. Some very good, naturalistic acting here, if a bit wooden and over-earnest. Robert Forster in the lead is very good. Keep an eye out for Peter Boyle playing the manager of a gun shop. By the end, when Wexler literally throws his actors into the center of Mayor Daley’s violent melee, it comes like a bucket of icewater over the head. These aren’t actors recreating historical events- this is history unveiling itself before the camera’s eye. It’s mayhem that seems as if it could erupt into something truly ugly at any moment, so it feels like a dangerous thing to have exposed his cast and crew to. But documenting his times is what Wexler did- and did so well. I saw this film first in film school, circa 1978. I watched from the projection booth as I showed it to my fellow wannabe filmmakers, but did not yet have the perspective to realize what it was that I was watching. Glad I came back to it, now that I am mature enough for a real education. No, it’s not slick- doesn’t seem entirely “professional” at times- but it’s a great example of how cinema can be something more than itself- more than just images and a soundtrack. Like all media, film has the power to shape and define our lives, and that remains food for thought almost 50 years later!

TOPKAPI  (1964) ***

Obsessed Italian sexpot Melina Mercouri and scheming master criminal Maximilian Schell plan a complicated jewel heist from Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. They set Peter Ustinov up as the fall-guy but things go awry when the Turkish authorities coerce him to spy on them. Of course it’s never really a question of whether anything will go wrong, it’s only a matter of how wrong and when. It all adds up to dated fun that pleasantly diverts. I like this genre- where you find yourself rooting for the clever thieves despite their inherent badness. Light fun.

I SAW THE LIGHT  (2015) ***+

Tom Hiddleston again, at the center of another good film giving another very good performance… He sure does a lot of this lately. Here, he takes on Hank Williams, and he is successful even when the film is not. The reason this film is good at all, rests with Tom and his leading lady Elizabeth Olson, playing the iconic country crooner’s first wife. Despite beautiful and detailed window dressing, the solid presence of Ms. Olson, and several earnest, generally swinging musical performances from Mr. Hiddleson, the concoction never gels. You never really get a feel of why this guy was so iconic in the first place. The script never seems to settle on a focal plane. Biographies are a tricky thing to pull off. This was not one of the better ones. On that front: middling at best.

KEANU  (2016) ***

Key & Peele love their precious kitty-cat and they will risk anything to reclaim him from nasty gangsters who have catnapped Keanu and turned him into a gangsta cat, in this silly, clichéd, delightful action-comedy. Anna Ferris and Will Forte are hilarious. Luis Guzmán plays the usual stereotype with his usual glee. It’s stupid, silly, patently offensive… Great fun!

CONCUSSION  (2015) ****

This bio-pic of Nigerian expat Dr. Bennet Oamlu and his battle with the National Football League to elevate science and medicine above business, has a lot going for it. The watchable Will Smith is effortlessly good in the title role, and Nigerian accented English seems to flow off his tongue so naturally, it is easier to see the character behind the highly identifiable star. But it’s David Morse’s soulful continence that haunts this film. Even after his character dies he lurks in the periphery. It is a film alive with ghosts- ghost of the dead NFL players and those who will die from Concussive Brain Injury, or C.B.I. It works on every level. There’s a touching love story, terrible tragedy of personal loss, an evil seemingly invincible villain in the reactionary forces of the NFL, matched by an unlikely hero who strives to elevate the truth against terrible forces aligned to destroy him. And all this capped by fine performances from Alec Baldwin and especially Albert Brooks. Writer-director Peter Landesman really delivers a very solid film, part family drama, part thriller, part medical expose. It manages to be compelling throughout- genuinely heartbreaking and triumphant at the same time.

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK  (2016) ****+

Ron Howard delves into the Beatles archives to produce this nostalgic look back at the Fab Four’s brief touring years, before they gave up trying to be heard above the screams and shrieks of pubescent girls and retreated into the recording studio. Yeah, I had seen some of this stuff before, but it is absolutely amazing the way Howard was able to come up with great new footage and tell a fresh, engaging new story about this highly familiar pop phenom. These guys rocked pretty hard in their youth, and they were so witty! From John’s snarky ejaculations to Paul’s empathic bridge-building to Ringo’s impersonation of Elvis, a clear picture emerges of who these men were as people and who they were as “the Beatles”. It is simply an awesome time capsule of a period of seismic cultural change that will never be forgotten, and I suspect, will always be celebrated.

CLIENT 9  (2010) ***

This one is a quietly salacious look at the detached hubris that brought Anthony Weiner’s promising political career crashing to the ground… the first time. (Before recurring sexting episodes made his name the punchline of countless bawdy jokes.) It’s a tale of blindness and entitlement and the scandalous fall of a once powerful man. The thing is, when it was all over, I kinda wondered: why? Was this worth a whole documentary? It’s not that it was bad, or boring- just kind of cursory, and the irony of the chapters that followed in the wake of this film render this a tale told prematurely.

A WAR (“Krigen”)  (2015) ****

In the heat of war, a commander makes the decision he needs to make to spare the lives of his soldiers. But it’s a choice that comes back to haunt him when he discovers a large number of civilians were killed as a result of his fateful decision, made under extreme duress. Now he is faced with a quandary: as a good, basically moral man, does he tell the truth about what he did and accept responsibility for his own actions, or lie under oath to protect the integrity of his family, who haven’t seen him in many months while he’s been away fighting in Afghanistan, and need him desperately. Does he go to prison for his principles, of sacrifice the wellbeing of his children? When one of them asks him if it’s true he killed children, the soul of the mane is made bare and raw, and he has to consider doing what had been the unthinkable. This very fine Oscar nominated Dutch film comes to us via Tobias Lindholm, the skilled filmmaker who brought us the gripping A HIJACKING in 2012, wrote the first season of Danish TV sensation Borgen and co-authored the stunning moral thriller THE HUNT. Playing the man at the center of this crucible is Pilou Asbæk- a riveting and intense actor to watch at work, fiercely focused in every frame, and impossible to look away from. The tension of the early war scenes is brutal, and when it shifts from a war story to a story about justice and moral choices, the tension never lets up. It’s beautifully shot and expertly edited. So much talent on display here! I gotta check out that first season of Borgen!

> Well, th-th-that’s all folks.  See you anon.  Until then: Vive Cine, fellow movie lovers!

*  *  *

© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Advertisements

About KPKeelan

Fool, Philosopher, Lover & Dreamer, Benign TROUBLEMAKER, King and Jester of KPKworld, an online portal to visual and linguistic mystery, befuddlement and delight.
This entry was posted in KPK on the CINEMA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Love to hear your (constructive) thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s