Short Takes: December, 2018

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Good news, everyone!

Body, Cody, and Kim all watch far too many movies and TV shows, read too many books, meddle with the time-space continuum just too many times to be safe any longer, and conduct just one too many mad science experiments just for funzies.

Welcome to Short Takes! Allowing us to post shorter reviews to media we consume without having to make a video or write a lengthy take. As short and sweet as “No.” to whatever we feel like putting down. New or old, good or bad, this is the space to jot down on anything we watch.

This should be updated just about daily, possibly multiple times a day, so keep it bookmarked and see what we’re up to.

December 9th

Never Goin’ Back, 2018; written and directed by Augustine Frizzell

I’m sure you have those friends. The ones who are smart, funny, clever, and have some sort of potential. But they keep making boneheaded decisions. “I need to do this… but hrm, party? yeah I’ll party.”  You shake you head as they get out of out issue, and immedialy get involved ins omething else. Those friends are Jessie and Angela, the two leads from indie-powerhouse-distributor A24.  The pair, played with such natural ease you’d think the camera is just following their lives by Camila Morrone and Maia Mitchell respectively, are 16 year old high-school drop out diner waitresses in a white-trash Texas town. They’ve just spent their rent money for a vacation to Galveston, and are set to work five doubles to make it up. Too bad for them, Jessie’s brother is a wanna be drug dealer and his mistakes get the girls thrown in jail for two days when he police come their house (all shared, with another roommate Brandon).  From there they must make their way back to work to hold on to their jobs, and find a way to have the rent as well since the brother’s stupid plans have lost him his part too.

Morrone and Mitchell share the strong chemistry of two life-long best friends (they also make out while high, but that seems to be more of a fun thing for them to do rather than a sexual relationship). They have a wonderful sense of humor, play off each other and other characters with ease. They are witty and sharp, with wonderfully filthy mouths and a crude nature. (The obscenity laced tirades are legend) Too bad for them, they also will drop plans to get drunk and/or high.  They are the type of friends that are a little too similar, too co-dependent, without someone else to say “okay, let’s think about this.” Of course, this makes good fun and great times. And trouble. But they’re 16. They’ll bounce back. But one can’t help but see without that clear head, they’ll live this life until they’re burnt out husks at 40. Perhaps I’m being too negative. The 16 year old versions of them are hilarious and fun to watch, especially as they keep digging their own holes to get out of.

And it is hilarious. Never Goin’ Back is a comedy through and through, even with the underlying tragic nature of the world. Essentially, it’s a “one wild night” type movie, albeit most of it takes place during the day. Absurdity, situations, reoccurring characters, hyjinx insure. I’ll give it this – I’m not a fan of poop-humor normally. But Never Goin’ Back has one that works, and works well. No worries, you don’t see any fecal matter, although other bodily liquids are present in the film.

In a few ways, I’m reminded of A24’s Oscar-snubbed best movie of last year, The Florida Project. Not that they share much in relation to plot, but in feel. Both feel like a camera is dropped into the lives of these characters. Both feel incredibly natural. Perhaps both deal with cycles of poverty, low-level crime, and the viewer wants everyone to break free. But it’s a hard world to break free from without the push from another. Never Goin’ Back does follow more of a standard narrative – particularly in having a perhaps just too cinema climax but I hold to this connection.

Never Goin’ Back is wildly irrelevant, hilarious, with two incredible young leads with amazing chemistry.

I give it an: A-

December 5th and 6th. I had some issues with WordPress yesterday so a day was missed!

Zapped!, 1982; written by Bruce Rubin & Robert J. Rosenthal; directed by Robert J. Rosenthal

zappedUgh. Ugh. Ugh. This Scott Baio and Willy Aames starring lewd comedy was trash. From reviews from 1982 still around, it was not well regard then. It’s an unfunny sex-comedy version of William Castle’s Zotz!  We all know looking back at the 80s with modern sensibilities will see huge cracks in favorites (lookin’ at you Revenge of the Nerds). One can can let it go to a degree, knowing different times, but I cant’ see this whole as being entertaining back then either. The basics is Baio accidentally brews up a psychokinesis serum. He uses it get what he wants and help his friends. This usually means sexual highjinx including just too many times of ripping off a woman’s clothes. The main issue is the gag gets stale quick. It doesn’t really get Baio in trouble so no issues to fix. Just think and item moves. Repeat. There’s apparently a sequel… and Baio and Aames teamed up again for Charles in Charge a few years later. I remember watching it when it was on. Whether it’s good or not… I dunno.

December 4th: THREE Today!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, 2012; A novel by Maria Semple. 330 pages.

bernadetteYes, I read that book your mom loved. Everyone’s mom did. Seriously, two years ago both my step-mother and mother-in-law raved about it in the same Christmas period. Ok, I lied. I didn’t read it, I heard it via audiobook but close enough right (and some purists get their angry e-mails ready; be still people I read countless paper books too). I’m going to straight out say: I LOVED THIS BOOK. Loved so much it may be in my top books lists if I ever wrote one.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is tough book to write about as I don’t want to give a way a thing. I came into it knowing only it relates to the disappearance of the titular character. So just the title, yeah. I’ll shine a little light on more; Semple’s novel is about Bernadette’s 15-year old daughter Bee piecing together the details and events leading up to and the results of her mom’s mysterious vanishing. Despite the dark sounding set-up, the novel is hysterically funny. For much of the time setting up the big event, the book is sharply staricalal; a cynical look at the out-of-touch high-strung rich. Berndadette hates the world surrounding her due her daughter’s enrollment at a “excellent” private school; needy, “I need to see the manager”, “not my special child!” mothers, mentally-absent fathers, and just about everything else Seattle’s elite is known for.  There are points I had to turn off my radio as I was laughing so hard. There is such a glee-ful fuck you to so many things it’s a joy to have it ripped into.

As cynical as this is, this isn’t just a tirade on Semple’s part. There is a dense sadness under the hilarious surface. The novel is one populated with people who are broken in all their own ways. Bernadette is self-destructive and agoraphobic to the degree her daily life is run by an Indian service. The biggest gnat, Audrey is a gigantic nuisance but masks her own doubts with being as loud and annoying as she can. I was surprised when many of the more noted of these characters (“gnats” per Bernadette) are given full characters and arcs. You may even feel bad for laughing at them earlier. It would have been easy to just be one-note annoyances there for us to make fun of. But each is a full character, filled with their personal needs and flaws. Each is so well written, as I listened to the audiobook in my car, I could tell who was telling this portion within a few seconds of listening.

Semple’s decision to use an epistolary method of storytelling is an engaging and wonderful choice.  Bee has gathered emails, letters, voicemails, court and medical documents in order to give the full story. This lets us identify with Bee as the main character and keep it personal, but allow the lives of the others without forced exposition. There’s more to tell of how she has those documents; but that and other revelations are unfolded so naturally, you don’t realize you don’t have missing information until it’s given to you. That’s impressive.

It may sound ungainly with all the perspectives and stories bandying about, but Semple’s book is lean and tight. Every portion matters. I thank Semple for not belaboring points and characters, as the story moves through, as a character is completed in the narrative, they are left behind no matter how important and omnipresent they were earlier. Too many other authors would continue to revisit them for whatever reason. I wonder how that will translate for the film coming next year from Richard Linkletter? Will it sit with audiences to lose people they grew to love, or at least put up with? Either way, Cate Blanchette is to play Bernedette and she is perfect casting.

The Children’s Act; 2018; written by Ian McEwan from his novel; directed by Richard Eyre

One of three McEwan adaptations this year (see below for my thoughts about one of the others, On Chesil Beach), The Children’s Act doesn’t really make an impression.  (Can’t believe it’s been ten years since Atonement blew everyone away). Emma Thompson stars as a UK judge who rules on tough cases based around children’s rights – particularly ones with the parents and the law disagreeing. The focus decision and the fall-out from it in the film is based around whether Jevohah’s Witness parents can refuse their 17 year old’s life-saving transfusion. It’s odd in this decision is made pretty quickly into the film, leaving Thompson to puddle along afterwards. There isn’t much drama to drive the film. Thompsons’ judge is a bit weary and over worked, and there are marriage tensions between Thompson and Stanley Tucci, but there is little spark between them to make us care. The 17 year old tries to be a part of her life, his eyes opened to secular things after the transfusion (um.. spoilers?) but not enough time is given to him to truly care.

The Children’s Act plods along with little drama or tension. It feels lost. Without Thompson or Tucci this film would barely make a blip in the feature pond.

D+

The following review was originally published at watchplayread.com

On Chesil Beach Directed by Dominic Cooke, written by Ian McEwan from his own novel.

It’s a shame when the third act of a film nearly sinks a film after two solid acts. Sadly, this is the case for the Ian McEwen adaptation of his 2014 novel. Newly married couple Edward (Billy Howe) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) are on their honeymoon when they come across a problem they haven’t had to deal with before in their chaste upper/middle class 1962 England: they aren’t ready for sex. Leading up to the explosion of emotion and turning point of the film at the titular location, we see two narratives: the disastrous attempts at the act, and the courtship of the two charming leads.  As the newlyweds, both Howe and Ronan shine; especially Ronan, now eleven years after breaking out with the last McEwan adaptation ATONEMENT, who can say so much with the slightest look. Their courtship is by most points standard, it’s wonderful to watch them come together and fall in love, and they sell the awkward interactions of two people truly alone for the first time who know what they need and want to do but unsure of how to proceed best. So what’s the issue? The aforementioned issue coming to head, the argument and revelations on Chesil Beach doesn’t fit. At this point, it betrays the characters growths and actions of the preceding acts; coming from nowhere. They feel like totally different characters. While it’s supposed to be, how both react is just eye-rolling absurd. It also functions as the climax of the film, leading to the after-effects third act to feel like a very long coda instead of continuing the story. All the steam is gone; causing a disjointed narrative. This could work very well in a novel format (I’ve not read this so don’t quote me if it does in the actual work), but doesn’t translate to the way stories unfold on screen.

I really wanted to like On Chesil Beach, and for a little over half the run-time, I did. Ronan does make it worth the journey, even if the last portion is weak.

C+

December 3rd

The Shadow, 1994; written by David Koepp from the Walter P. Gibson character; directed by Russell Mulachy <reviewed by Bob>

I’ve said this before (although not on here), and will likely say so again: the early 90s were a weird time for movies.  Many early 90s films were as weird as the 80s but something about production values – was it lighting, film stock, something else? – changed and made everything look so off putting fake it doesn’t mesh. 1994’s The Shadow, based upon the 30s onward radio-play/novel character.   Before revisting the film on the Shout!Factory Collector’s Edition from 2014, I hadn’t seen the movie since watching at the drive-in with my parents and brother upon original release. (the double feature was The Film, which was R so my parents made us try to sleep in the back of station wagon). So just a vague feeling of memory from 24 years ago to go on. Essentially watching it new.

The Shadow desperately wants to be a mixture of Tim Burton’s Batman (at this point, we were between Returns ((my favorite Batman movie)) and Forever) and Sam Raimi’s Darkman. It’s one of those situations where The Shadow predates these in other forms but in coming in film later feels like a rip-off. Hell Bob Kane noted The Shadow was an influence on Batman. Raimi wanted to make The Shadow, but was told no so he made Darkman (also with it’s own Shout!Factory edition) instead.

It’s weird how just a little shift can throw off the feel of a movie. The other referenced movies delve into noir styling, are overly stylized, and obviously feel like sets but they work. The Shadow doesn’t. feels awkward, lacking the drive an energy, and just feels… fake and manufactured; everything feels highly choreographed. Maybe they turned on just one too may lights and the seams showed. I wanted to like the noir/serial styling. It doesn’t help there is a heavily uncomfortable cultural appropriation of a white man being an Asian warlord. The movie lampshades it by having him being a reincarnation of an ancient Asian mystic but that doesn’t fix it (looking at you Ghost in the Shell). Alec Baldwin may be a fine actor, but he doesn’t seem to care to be the titular character. The less about the weird make up they put on him in costume and The Shadow voice the better. So I’ll show you a photo instead.

Shadow1

It looks worse on screen. Ian McKellen is slumming as the scientist uncle of a truly awful Penelope Ann Miller. Speaking of them, there is a weird shot during a scene where she’s in the foreground and he’s in the background but both are in focus. What’s odd is right behind her, and thus next to McKellen  is out of focus but he’s clear as day. Other movies have done this – I noticed it in something I watched yesterday, but it was glaring. Anyway! TIM CURRY is around as (A Scientist) <– five internet dollars if you get that one, and as always is having a blast. in his side-villainy But when isn’t he?  Main villain John Lone also enjoys chewing the scenery. It seems like Curry and Lone knew the type of movie they were in. In the same way Baldwin and Miller didn’t.

There is an inkling of a good movie in The Shadow. If it had come out before Batman or waited a few years or just a slightly different creative team it could have worked. There were massive budget cuts (but still barely made back what it spent) which sunk the ending but that doesn’t forgive some of the other issues. That’s the biggest shame of all, when an okay movie was just a few changes away from sometime far more solid.

I rate The Shadow a “C”

Dec 2

The Last Unicorn, 1982; written by Peter S Beagle from his book; directed by Rankin/Bass.

I, Bob, and my wife watched The Last Unicorn the first time. Wow. What a wonderful pile of weird on top of weird. This is a film and book I’ve heard of for a long long time but it just never made it’s way to a screen I was staring at for a while. After her incredulity at my not stating I’ve not seen it during the recording of our Podcast, Kim shoved it into my hands and stated I must watch that (and ET) as soon as I can. Fixing both of those. (don’t worry, ET will be watched very soon; the Netflix is on the DVD).

So, yeah, The Last Unicorn is as one would expect for 80s children’s fantasy… about three steps off from pure horror due to the sheer amount of WTFness. There’s a talking Pirate Cat and an Alcholic Skeleton, a un-stuck in time Butterfly that speaks in poem. We’ve got an Angela Lansbury witch (not the nice kind like in Bedknobs and Broomsticks) controlling a menagerie of creatures majcked to look like mythical creatures. She also has Brother Theodore as a hunchback to help “Care” for them… and her one real creature… a Harpie with three or four cartoon tits complete with nipple. It’s ready to tear you to shreds, and perhaps it does to some characters. (After the menagerie seqeuence is done, I expected it to return later… it did not.

Did I mention the Boob Tree? Because there is an anthropomorphic tree with giant boobs all ready to fuck the wizard.

Boob tree

Plotwise, it’s about a unicorn – voiced in a dreamy singsong by Mia Farrow – who goes on a quest to find out what happened to the others of her species. She meets and his helped along by hapless almost-magician Schmedrick, voiced by a surprisingly un-gruff Alan Arkin and Molly Grue, a woman who wants to be greater than the servant (and possibly unsavory other jobs) Molly Grue.  They find a Red Bull (gives you wings) drove all the others into the sea (not becoming narwhals though) at the heeding of King Haggard, voiced by –====squueee===– CHRISTOPHER LEE!  His son, Prince Lir – who falls into the hero role- is The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges.

Weird doesn’t automatically make something good, but it sure helps make the movie incredibly memorable. Although the structure is what one would expect, the bit by bit sequences are all wild and immensely entertaining. There is a scattershot nature to the storytelling as when a sequence is done, few of the characters or events matter to the next, only the main characters continue. They are all charming and grow and change throughout the story. There is true heart here. (The scene where Molly meets the unicorn is heartbreaking “Where were you before I was… this!?”)  Animation wise, it’s all over the place in regards to detail and impressive levels. There is a portion of the film in which the unicorn is in a human body and she looks ripped from an anime. It’s odd as the other characters don’t match this.

All in all. we loved The Last Unicorn. I’m sad that I missed it all the way until now but I’m glad to have filled in a bit of the 80s fucked up kids fantasy canon.

 

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