Thursday, July 27, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves 2017)

Chimp thrills

(Warning! Narrative twists and overall plot discussed in detail.)

First the good stuff: Andy Serkis' Caesar (last seen gazing thoughtfully at his kneeling followers in the previous Ape installment) returns as the franchise's digitally enhanced protagonist, all ferocious scowl and simian gait and flaring nostrils. All the apes look great, from the moonfaced Maurice (Karin Konoval playing a Bornean orangutan) to the intimidating yet ultimately gentle Luca (Michael Adamthwaite playing a lowland gorilla) to the hilariously craven Bad Ape (Steve Zahn as a common chimpanzee); they look different they act different, the human performers perfectly choreographed and translated into simian through motion capture. Gets to the point that you forget they are apes, and follow their story as naturally and effortlessly as if you'd been following a band of humans on a desperate mission.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts 2017)

Peter's day out

After Zack Snyder's ideas for an angsty Man of Steel and dreary dark Knight one might understand the need of audiences for a change of pace: the lighter (if suicidally wrongheaded) Suicide Squad; the funnier (if dramatically weightless) Deadpool; and James Gunn's pair of (mostly amusing somewhat touching) Guardians come to mind.

Now we have the latest Marvel Studios effort (in collaboration with Columbia, with special permission and distribution by Sony) complete with Tom Holland as squeaky-voiced Peter Parker and Marisa Tomei as uncomfortably hot Aunt May. No solemn "With great power comes great responsibility;" no Uncle Ben (or a remarkably believable Cliff Robertson to play him); and (far as I can see) no discernible personality distinct from what the corporate powers-that-be decree fit for this strictly-for-teens variation on the classic comic-book hero.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)

As the web still turns

Sam Raimi's latest comic book movie is as the title suggests more of the same only better--more digital effects more web-slinging more angst.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002)

As the web turns 

Sam Raimi's latest superhero production is possibly the perfection of a genre comic-book writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko first developed when he created The Fantastic Four in 1961: the superhero soap. With this title the idea was refined--the hero hadn’t been extraordinary since birth ;wasn’t highly trained or educated (unlike Reed or Bruce Banner); wasn’t even a member of a team or group. Simply a geek bitten by an irradiated spider plain Peter Parker--a science whiz true but still too dumb to keep his hand out of the display case (okay the spider escaped from his cage but the point still stands).

That was Parker's unique appeal--that he could be anyone that he was anyone only with serious pest-control issues. And part of the genius of the concept is that super-powers don't make Peter's life any easier; if anything they make his life more complicated in some ways worse.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Twin Peaks Season 3, Episode 8: "Got a light?"


(WARNING story discussed in close detail--though how comprehensible the details may be is a matter of debate, with both discussion and debate an exercise in futility)

The episode's putative title--"Got a light?" sounds odd on first reading (online you see it under the episode's thumbnail pic) gains significance later on. 

Starts off plottily enough: Evil Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) and somewhat less evil Ray (George Griffith) have blackmailed their way out of prison, shaken away any electronic tracers*, turned off into a small side road (how can Lynch fill interminable shots of cars nosing down dirt roads with such dread?). They confront each other, demanding money demanding information, with C pointing the 'friend' he pulled from the glove compartment (a special request hidden there by the prison warden) at Ray.

Only C's gun somehow fails to fire. Only Ray in a clever twist produces his own gun shooting C twice in the gut. Only when C drops the lights start flickering and shadowy figures emerge from the woods, dancing around C's body, pulling apart his belly, smearing his own gore on his face, squeezing out an egg sac larva with the spirit of BOB visibly floating inside (Ray: "I saw something in Cooper. It might be the key to what this is all about.").

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958)

Small town on big screen

(Warning--plot twists and narrative discussed in detail)

Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running (adapted from the James Jones novel) is often called an expose of the hypocrisies of small-town life and certainly there's plenty on display: Dave Hirsh (Frank Sinatra) finds himself on a bus to his hometown where he's met by estranged brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy). Frank--a savvy businessman who runs his wife's jewelry store and a savings & loan--recognizes the problem and opportunity Dave represents: a minor celebrity who's written two interesting if commercially unsuccessful books (Frank's friends the French insist on meeting him), but also a wild card (first night in town Dave is arrested for drunken brawling). Frank's solution? Why modulate (visit Dave's hotel room for a talk resembling both an interrogation and a counseling session) domesticate (invite him into the Hirsh home) assimilate (pair him off with the French's daughter Gwen (Martha Hyer)).
I see more, though. Minnelli's film belongs in the same genre as Federico Fellini's I Vitteloni or Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show or Lino Brocka's Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang: portrait of a small town (the fictional Parkman, Indiana) from its highest-ranked denizens (Frank and wife Agnes (Leora Dana)) to its humblest vagrant (new arrival and sometime prostitute Ginny (Shirley MacLaine)). All seen through the eyes of either an outsider or the town's more alienated folk--in the case of Dave, both (he's a returning serviceman who years before had been put in a 'home for boys' by his brother).