I love a good movie villain. Almost everyone does. He or she can help make a film.
Whiplash has one, played near-psychotically by J.K. Simmons. It’s a fine performance, nasty and sadistic, a portrayal of a vicious jazz instructor at a prestigious music conservatory. And Simmons is quite chilling in the role.
But it’s not multidimensional, in my opinion; instead, it’s relatively one-note. That’s part of the reason why I don’t consider Whiplash a masterpiece.
Yes, it’s compelling in places, but this tale of a student drummer who aspires to greatness lacks credibility in many places … including in the scenes at the school itself, where Simmons’ character abuses and manipulates his charges horribly without anyone confronting him or complaining for a long time. There’s also the aftermath of a car wreck that doesn’t seem believable, along with a host of other situations that stretch the imagination.
The picture does have dash and style, and it tells a strong story. The holes, however, are sizable and prevent me from lauding it too much. Director Damien Chazelle moves the action along, yet it still feels padded, with multiple places where it could have ended.
I’m not interested in seeing this movie again; it was very unpleasant to watch, and I can’t say I enjoyed it. It does have lots to offer, however … just not enough to make it great.
There are few films in that class, I know. And many have more than just a strong villain.
Whenever I see a good movie, I become happy. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. My mood changes … for the better.
I experienced that transformation last night after watching director John Michael McDonagh’s powerful, upsetting film Calvary, which concerns the self-reflection of a priest in Ireland who has been told during confession that he will be killed. There’s a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock mystery in this story, but much more Ingmar Bergman-esque philosophical rumination, and that suited me just fine. I like a picture that can think on Big Ideas without becoming pretentious. Calvary accomplished that. It pondered questions surrounding faith, good deeds and revenge. And it didn’t pull any punches. All while maintaining a good pace and strong dialogue.
Then there were the performances. Led by Brendan Gleeson as the priest, the cast was quite good, presenting a host of unpleasant characters with problems of their own. I think there were some credibility issues that were a bit difficult to believe (that Gleeson’s Father James wouldn’t immediately reveal his situation to the authorities didn’t make a lot of sense to me), but on the whole, Calvary presented an unusual situation realistically … and sympathetically. Perhaps it’s not a movie that I’d want to see again; parts were difficult to watch, and it wasn’t what I’d call cheerful. Still, it had a lot to offer, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it.
After all, it made me happy last night. And that’s not easy from a cinematic perspective.
David Cronenberg’s movies will rub you one way or another, there’s no doubt about that. I think his latest opus, Maps to the Stars, will be in that category, too.
The question is, will it be as strong as his previous efforts, from Scanners to Eastern Promises? I’m not so sure. In general, this director has been one of the strongest (and in my opinion, one of the most underrated) in the industry, with a talent for generating oodles of interesting plots amid creatively yucky violence, biological horror and strong performances. It’s hard to say whether he has been a favorite of mine, but his body of work is unique, and his talent is always apparent. Plus, he’s quite consistent, even when working with subpar material; you can generally find some kind of inspiration there, no matter what.
So why am I so skeptical about Maps to the Stars?
I guess the main reason is because it has one of my least-favorite actors in it: John Cusack. That, to me, is not a lure; I generally don’t care for Cusack’s performances and find most of the vehicles I’ve seen him in to be maudlin. Though his presence in the movie isn’t a deal-breaker, it doesn’t bode well for the picture. It’s not the type of casting that’ll make me want to see it.
Still, Cronenberg’s direction brings with it the possibility of surmounting any obstacles, and it’s possible that Maps to the Stars could offer quite a bit. If it’s anything like the filmmaker’s vintage movies, that would be a triumph.
Hopefully, that’ll be the case.
Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time to feel what it was like to experience the original Star Wars firsthand.
We can, however, watch the trailer to the forthcoming Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and after doing so, I have to say that I’m not impressed.
I wasn’t too happy with director J.J. Abrams’ work on Star Trek Into Darkness, which I felt was a lot of posturing. Tedious, sloppy filmmaking, in my opinion. Now’s he’s getting his hands on the Star Wars franchise, and I’m cautiously pessimistic. The trailer to the 2015-destined new installment suggests it’s very special-effects-heavy – nothing new for this series. But I have a bigger problem. Why add more to a story that’s already ended … and in a satisfying way, to boot?
You won’t get a more iconic villain in this franchise than Darth Vader, and I don’t know if Abrams will try for that. Part of the reason the original worked, however, was due to the strength of the mythology behind Vader and his minions. They were bad. They were evil. And they had James Earl Jones’ voice leading them.
You’re not going to get the same effect in the latest sequel, and I’m worried it’ll fail because of that.
The Star Wars fan base is sizable. I’m sure this will make a lot of money. And putting out a teaser trailer now for a film that’s slated for a late-next-year debut is a good marketing strategy.
I just hope it’s not all for naught. Given the many problems with the prequels, this isn’t a new hope.
Would you believe I’d never seen the Steven Spielberg movie Duel until last night?
A real shame, huh? Especially considering the fact that I’ve seen a host of other films helmed by the master director.
Duel, the story of an average businessman’s encounter with a homicidal, unseen truck driver on the lonely roads of California, was very tense and suspenseful. Great editing and cinematography, making the most of a tight script that was only hindered by a few bursts of internal monologues here and there … which it didn’t need.
I liked this movie a lot, and it was interesting to see such a strong picture so early in Spielberg’s career (the movie debuted in 1971). I’m not sure I’d want to watch it again; it’s not clear how the suspense and thrills will hold up. But it remains a well-crafted movie.
What film will come next for me? Only the screen has the answer.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a good director. Thomas Pynchon is a good writer. But will the film based on his novel Inherent Vice be any good?
That’s what I’m wondering some days after seeing the trailer to the picture, which made the flick look like a bit of a mess. Possibly an amusing mess, but a mess all the same.
I’m not totally happy with those prospects.
I like my movies tight, not sprawling. Frankly, I’m a bit worried that “sprawling” will be a euphemistic description of this film. Other movies in this director’s canon, including Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, were sprawling in an interesting way, meandering with purpose, getting audiences to wonder what would happen next. What I’m concerned about with Inherent Vice is that it will be directionless, muddled – that we’ll be sick of predicting where it’s going by the time we get halfway through it. And that could be a cinematic problem.
Sure, it might be on a par with Anderson’s other projects, in which case I’ll be more than pleased. But I’m cautiously pessimistic here. Not sure that’ll be the case.
If I had a dime for every movie that finishes up with some sort of awful song at the end, I’d be rich.
When did this trend in cinema start? It seems like every picture nowadays has some kind of rock tune playing over the final credits – and usually, they’re not that memorable. Once in a while, you get something along the lines of George Harrison’s “Dream Away,” which concluded Time Bandits. But it’s usually a noisy, guitar-heavy sound blast with screaming vocals. Not my cup of tea.
I like when filmmakers take the time to end their movies in interesting ways. A song can be appropriate, such as Simon & Garfunkel singing the “The Sound of Silence” in the remaining images of The Graduate. That ditty provided insight into the ways the main characters were feeling: lost and hopeful at the same time. I don’t see that kind of commentary, however, in most of the melodies ending films. And that should change. Directors can easily find songs that are germane. They don’t have to be just filler.
I don’t like watching filler onscreen. The credits can be just as much a part of a film as the dialogue; they can add something integral. Why can’t an ending song do the same?
Mundane melodies be damned. Let’s have topical tunes close more pictures … and more attention paid to these cinematic parts. A good, relevant ditty can keep fannies in the seats throughout the end of a movie. It would keep me in my place, for sure.
And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Or scream at, for that matter.
How much longer do you think we’ll wait for Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote to come to fruition?
This project has been in the works for a long, long time, and there’s scarce information available on progress, though IMDB shows that John Hurt has been cast as Quixote. That’s interesting news; Hurt is a terrific actor who’d be great in this role. I’ve been disappointed with Gilliam’s recent directorial efforts, but this project – should it ever get off the ground – could be an intriguing one.
Or it could be The Brothers Grimm. Yecch.
Gilliam’s a great talent, though his directing career has been mixed, to say the least. Still, he has a distinct look and style, which worked wonderfully in flicks such as Time Bandits. Hopefully, if his new Quixote movie ever comes to fruition, it will resemble his older work more than his later efforts.
I must have faith.
Movies that start promisingly yet end up mundane are a pet peeve of mine.
Super, director James Gunn’s pre-Guardians of the Galaxy flick about an ordinary man who dons a homemade superhero outfit in a quest to win back his wife from drug dealers, falls into this category. Featuring a host of satiric elements (including some pointed attacks on organized religion), the film collapses into dull, hyperviolent shoot-’em-up mode toward the end, which negates its previous appeal. The enthusiastic presence of Ellen Page as a sidekick wannabe gives the picture a boost, but even she can’t save it.
That’s too bad. Gunn has a distinct style and carefree sensibility that can be infectious, as proven by the success of GotG. Super, however, ultimately offers little to differentiate it from the average bloody man-with-a-mission actioner. This is strange considering the peculiarity of its protagonist, a withdrawn fellow (played by Rainn Wilson) who has religious visions and may be mistaking them for his heroic calling. The movie should be more interesting or at least comic, right? – especially since the only skill this character seems to have is the ability to cook eggs well. Perhaps something along the lines of The Greatest American Hero, no?
No. I expect better things to come from Gunn and have high hopes. Super was a misfire, but every director has those. I’m assuming Gunn has learned from his mistakes, as all heroes do.
Hello, folks! Just want to let you know that my latest interview for CURNBLOG has hit the blogosphere, and it’s with director Keith Gordon. In it, he talks about the business of film, how much improvisation he encourages among actors and his father’s teachings. The interview may be found here: