The Nice Guys

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The tag line really shouldn’t surprise you. I certainly wasn’t surprised by the fact that the same director (Shane Black) did Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I wasn’t surprised because The Nice Guys is a fundamentally similar movie: grim and irreverent, full of dark humor, with heroes who just aren’t that heroic. The intrigue our protagonists investigate is convoluted and seedy, they wind up in trouble way above their pay grade, and nobody comes up smelling like roses. Like I said, they’re very similar movies. Whatever its faults may have been, I liked Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I can say the same thing about The Nice Guys.

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Kinky Boots

Goodness that movie was fun. If you haven’t already seen it, I’d heartily recommend it. There’s a lot to like.

I’m not even sure where to start. How about “heartwarming British comedy about saving a shoe factory by producing boots for drag queens”? I think that hits all the requisite notes without divulging any relevant details. There’s a good deal of gendered pressure and expectations in here that rings especially true of the 2000’s to me… which is funny because I know that it’s still around and still real. I guess it seems like there’s more awareness of other options these days than it felt like there was at that time? Or maybe I’m more aware of other options now than I was then. I don’t feel like I’m being especially clear with my words, and I’m just going to move on.

One of the things that I think I liked most about the movie is that, while the movie tries to be about Charlie Price, straight white guy, it really feels easy to me to read it as being about Chiwetel Ejiofor’s drag queen Lola — a focus that I think is made especially clear with the dance sequence on the boardwalk during the opening credits. I quite like Ejiofor in general, and I’m very happy with him in this movie.

After spending so much time last semester reading Truby’s book on the anatomy of stories (and specifically movies) I had fun looking at the film for the elements of structure he describes. It was a pleasant change from his obsession with Sunset Boulevard, which I’m now both curious about and very reluctant to watch.

Finally, yes, I’m still semi-feverish: I veer into fever at the drop of a hat, even if I don’t spend all of my time there now. And the random onset of fatigue is exciting and annoying. Nothing quite like knowing that you could hit a wall at any given moment to make you reluctant to go anywhere. I’ll do my best to keep up with posts, but I expect that my schedule will continue to be slippery while I’m sorting out my mono symptoms.

A Fever Sampler

Still feverish, though not as bad.

But while I’ve had this fever (and haven’t been writing my regular posts) I’ve watched and read several things that you might like to hear about.

First, Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is incredible. It’s coarse and dirty and poignant and magical and HOT DAMN. It tells the story of a group of caravan guards, and of those amongst them who are both human and more than human. Nate, I think you are basically required to read this. For the rest of you, to paraphrase Gabriel Squalia, “Hi, I’m Henry White and you should read Kai Ashante Wilson.”

I think I need to read that book again to figure out who the narrator really is. And figure out how Wilson works so well with disparate timeline inclusions.

Second, I saw Red Tails because I really wanted to see WWII planes, and because the story of the Tuskegee airmen seems like such a rich vein. While I certainly got to see WWII planes, Red Tails was about as disappointing as the many reviews had said it would be. It’s not that they were working with a lack of talent, because that cast was about as awesome as you could ask for. But somehow a story that could have been incredible came off feeling trite. You could see most of the character and plot beats coming from a distance, and they rarely felt very exciting. So I had fun watching planes zoom around in the sky, and wondered how it was that they had turned one of the most impressive feats of military aviation history AND of resistance to institutional racism into “just another feel-good war movie.” Oh well.

I Guess “Jacopo’s Ridiculous Liege” Didn’t Have The Same Ring To It?

This brief post is all about showing a little appreciation for The Count of Monte Cristo, both the story written by Alexandre Dumas (which I must admit I’ve only ever read in abridged form) and the 2002 movie-version of the same tale.

I watched it again recently. I was forcibly reminded of how well Dumas wrote melodramatic excitement, and impressed by the way he wove it into the very fabric of his stories. As an overweening revenge fantasy filled with now clichéd twists, there’s still something classically appealing about the whole thing.

But I admit, the standard storyline gets a little same-old, same-old. There’s only so far my appreciation for Dumas’ excellent treatment of the form will take me before I start rebelling. No matter how much the movie may claim that Edmond Dantes is the main character, the one most deserving of our attention, I can’t help but feel that he (and his frenemy Fernand Mondego) are whiny and/or stupid assholes.

No, Jacopo is the one I like best.

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That’s right, that guy right there. Jacopo, as played by Luis Guzmán. He’s smart (if not a genius), he’s loyal, and he has his head set firmly on his shoulders. When Dantes first lays out his plans for revenge, Jacopo responds: Why not just kill them? I’ll do it! I’ll run up to Paris – bam, bam, bam, bam. I’m back before week’s end. We spend the treasure. How is this a bad plan?

This line is almost delivered as comedy, maybe at Jacopo’s expense for being so simpleminded. But the truth is, Jacopo more or less has the right of it. And that continues to be the case throughout the entire story. He goes along with Dantes because he swore that he would be his man after Dantes spared his life, but that doesn’t stop Jacopo from pointing out Dantes’ insanities and obsessions. I’m rarely happier watching this movie than when Luis Guzmán is on screen.

It’s a good thing I like watching him so much, because I think I’ll need to revisit this film again soon for some appropriate inspiration to my various swashbuckling-esque stories. It’s good stuff.

Attack the Block: Would (Will) Watch Again

I watched this movie for the first time on Wednesday.  It was glorious.  I knew immediately upon watching it that I would have to mention it here.  I’d strongly recommend it to anyone who is capable of dealing with a little bit of gore.  It’s smart, it’s painful, it’s funny, it’s good.  And it’s exceedingly well made.

This movie manages to introduce a group of twelve or so characters, with eight or ten of them introduced in the first ten minutes of the film.  Though you’d be hard pressed to learn most of their names until you’re most of the way through the movie, you quickly know who they are and what they’re like.  They feel like individuals, real (sometimes entertainingly caricatured) people.  And the movie doesn’t punch down.

Look.  I don’t want to spoil anything for you.  I’m not going to break this down into some deeper analysis right now.  I just want you to know that you should give this movie a chance.  Unless you’re looking for something dumb and toothless, in which case you’re looking in the wrong place.

Sleep Dep and Movies

Hi folks!  I’ve been traveling, and if you’re familiar with my usual pattern then you know what that means.  Or you read the title of this post.

I’m now working on hour 27, with a red-eye flight as my excuse, and I have seen several more movies to talk with you about.  I don’t think I’ll be able to offer any stellar critique, but a simple yes no maybe why seems within my grasp at this point.

This time I watched ChefEntourage, and RED 2.  I had a good time watching all of them, but had niggling feelings of doubt throughout most of them.  Chef might have had the fewest of those?  I’m not sure.

Entourage was funny, and felt like a group of totally ridiculous characters living up their ridiculousness in a larger than life fashion.  Now that I’ve looked it up and discovered that it came from a TV show of the same name which I never watched, I’m considerably less surprised.  It was a good stupid movie, and it might have been better than that but I have no idea because I was very tired at the time that I watched it.  On the plus side, it has Constance Zimmer (in a minor role, but Agents of Shield has taught me that Constance Zimmer is great).

RED 2 was basically what I’d expected, if not quite as good as I’d hoped; it’s a slightly different (and maybe not-quite-as-good) version of the original.  It’s funny that I should downplay it, as I quite enjoyed it, but even though I like its developments I’m not sure it measures up to the zest and pep of the first.  It felt like some of the original’s style was missing, though I liked Mary-Louise Parker’s character’s obsession with getting deeper into the world of spies and murder.  That felt fitting, and made a lot of excellent things possible.

And Chef… was way more of a feel-good movie than I’d expected.  I rather liked it.  It was very much a “man and his son” narrative, but it was a charming one.  Plus, I like food.

Okay, and now I’m going to stagger off and try to keep my eyes open until it’s bedtime.  My upcoming posts may be patchy as the holidays approach, but I may have some fun creative stuff to share at some point in there.

Spectre

I don’t feel just one way about Spectre; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m ambivalent, since I did enjoy it overall, but … well, let me think through this with you.

First, perhaps most superficially, the intro song and credit sequence didn’t do it for me.  It had a hard act to follow given Skyfall’s opening, so I’ll give it that, but it felt pretty meh.

Plot-wise, Spectre builds on all of the little dribs and drabs of plot that were left hanging in the previous three movies (all the Daniel Craig ones: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall).  This meant that I felt a little lost going into it without having seen the others recently, but when I think back on the events of the previous movies I think the requisite hooks were there.

The Daniel Craig Bond films walk a tightrope that previous Bond films haven’t really walked before.  What I mean is, it’s unusual for a Bond movie to consistently build on what’s come before in any way, so this is a bit strange.  Personally, I think they could have done better.  They laid the groundwork for this film to some extent, but it seems like they sacrificed some continuity and clarity for the sake of trying to make more traditionally individualized Bond films along the way.  Of course, if they’d done less of that, then perhaps I’d be upset about how they undid the Bond movie traditions.

So Spectre is a bit of an odd fish.  It has excellent scenes, moments in which the movie offers up the beautiful set pieces that I’ve come to hope for (and even expect) from good Bond films.  But it also feels like it fumbles itself together at times, tries to make itself one whole thing out of a number of disparate scenes that needed just a little more narrative glue to make it all gel.

I have more thoughts to share, but…

There are *SPOILERS* after this mark.

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Sweet Deus, Ex Machina is Good

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This movie has left me feeling conflicted… but not about whether or not I thought it was good.  Ex Machina is excellent.  It is a very good movie, in so many ways.  The people who made this movie knew what they were doing, and they did it very well.  I think I’m going to keep this one on hand as a reference for my own storytelling in the future. Continue reading

Miracle at St. Anna

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They’re looking at the narrative, just offscreen.

When I first saw the title and plot summary for Miracle at St. Anna, I thought that I was going to see a refashioned telling of the battle of Sommocolonia (which I’d just read about shortly before watching the movie).  I was totally wrong.  This movie was never quite what I expected it to be.

Possibly valuable, probably confusing, Miracle at St. Anna is a composite of several different stories, all mashed together in a fascinating but bewildering mix of historical fiction that feels more like very subdued historical magical realism.  The narrative focus wanders back and forth, encompassing so many story lines that it never feels like it zeroes in on any one of them.  Nor does it ever focus enough to mold a sense of coherence out of the disparate pieces.  I like the story at its core, I think, but … I feel lost.  It’s almost too nebulous to really understand, in some ways, and it certainly leaves many questions entirely unanswered.  Or maybe it answers some questions, but in unsatisfying ways?  It’s a bit of a mess.

But why?  It seemed so promising, after all.

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Would Watch Again: Fury Road

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This movie is awesome.  It is awe-inspiring.  It is, very literally, spectacular.

If you like action movies, or you like the post-apocalyptic aesthetic, this movie is for you.  If you normally turn up your nose at action movies because they are laden with troubling bullshit, you can still try this movie.  Not because there aren’t troubling themes dealing with sex slavery and the subjugation of women, but because these things are dealt with well, with considerable respect and aplomb, in a movie that treats its female characters as real and very impressive people even when some of the movie’s characters do not.  Fury Road may or may not be a feminist movie (more on that later) but I think it’s a movie that you can watch without feeling like someone snuck you a shit sandwich.

Plus, it’s a really well made action movie, period.  I saw it on Saturday and would happily see it again RIGHT NOW.  It isn’t the tightly-plotted / intricately arranged tapestry of Die Hard; it’s like a formidable piece of Brutalist architecture.  It dominates the landscape with its physicality, its constant tension, and the relentless pace of its driving (heh) narrative.  For more of my thoughts on the matter, read on.

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