Mr. Robinson, Episodes 1–3 (2015) (st. Craig Robinson) (66mins approx) (viewed 08/03/2015): Nothing quite like next-gig-can’t-come-fast-enough desperation.
Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation (2015) (dir. Christopher McQuarrie) (131mins) (viewed 08/04/2015): The only M:I movie I’ve liked after De Palma. (The Brad Bird installment struck me as bloated bombast. The Woo and Abrams movies are just execrable.) I detected some directorial talent in the opening sniper sequence of Jack Reacher, so it’s nice to see McQuarrie evincing a similar control in the setpieces here. There’s a Rube Goldberg-like precision to the narrative that I appreciate; at heart it’s about getting one guy out of a box and another guy into one. And I really don’t mind that the biggest action scenes are at the beginning and the middle. We get enough of that ginormous-to-ginormousest build in Hollywood movies that I’m happy to have a climax with real people running around darkened back-alleys. McQuarrie also makes the whole team feel of a piece. Tom Cruise star vehicle though this still is (Xenu’s favorite son is referred to as “the living manifestation of destiny”—and there’s got to be a level on which that’s a self-aware joke on an un-self-aware celebrity), it’s also a genuine ensemble movie. I was smitten with Rebecca Ferguson; Charles Nelson Reilly’s description of Scully in X-Files (“brainy beauty…good taste”) comes to mind. MVP is, unsurprisingly, cinematographer Robert Elswit who complements McQuarrie’s verbal dexterity with his visual deftness. I enjoyed just looking at this as much as I did Nightcrawler. Overall feels like the product of many minds working in sync—appropriately, a true team effort.
Time Out of Mind (2014) (dir. Oren Moverman) (120mins) (viewed 08/04/2015): Movies by friends/acquaintances #1. Appreciate how Oren makes this a soundscape movie. Absent a spiritual true north, the homeless protagonist (Richard Gere) is drowning in NYC hustle-and-bustle (truly one of the most indifferent cacophonies). Gere will always be Julian Kay in American Gigolo for me, mainly because of his walk—an inimitable, genderbending shuffle—but I can imagine that person becoming this person if he hadn’t finally come to Lauren Hutton. I appreciate that, with this and Rampart, Oren has gone fully existential and experiential. (The Messenger made overtures in that direction.) What wisp of a plot there is concerns Gere’s strained relationship with his daughter (Jena Malone), and I like how Oren “resolves” it by having the child walk in the shadow of the parent, always at a distance, the bridge never quite mended.
Queen of Earth (2015) (dir. Alex Ross Perry) (90mins) (viewed 08/04/2015): Movies by friends/acquaintances #2. The Elisabeth Moss sections of Listen Up Philip were, for me, the strongest sequences in a very strong film. So having Alex devote a whole film to her feels like a natural next step, and she doesn’t disappoint. Nor does costar Katherine Waterston: There’s a bravura sequence (a single, floating shot of the two leads in the stairway of a vacation house) in which both actresses monologue at length, and the rhythm they cultivate is mesmerizing. It's the harmonic moment in a movie that otherwise thrives on discord. Also dug Patrick Fugit going full alpha-male. I don’t mean it as an insult (to the performer, anyway), when I say his character resembles an engorged testicle come to life. My takeaway is that this is a story about two friends recognizing their mutual parasitism, though there’s plenty of room for interpretation in the tears and maniacal laughter that close things out.
Blunt Talk, Episodes 1-7 (2015) (cr. Jonathan Ames) (180mins approx) (viewed 08/05/2015): This seemed very Seth MacFarlane (executive producer) at first, and so…rancid swill. Essentially: Patrick Stewart doing trans hookers and Richard Lewis-provided blow! Edgy! But creator Jonathan Ames’ oddball voice emerges by episode three, and the ensemble (Stewart, Lewis, Jacki Weaver, Ed Begley Jr., Timm Sharp, et al) really starts to gel, albeit in the shambling, minor-pleasure vein of Ames' HBO series Bored to Death (High Times-meets-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine). Glad I stuck it out, but if this was one of Ames’ old “City Slicker” columns for New York Press, I’d likely have skimmed the opening paragraph and quickly flipped to the film section. Halcyon days, those.
Lincoln (2012) (dir. Steven Spielberg) (150mins) (viewed 08/07/2015): Weird. Because at a text level, this is exemplary. But I’m coming around to the idea that Spielberg isn’t quite suited to it, his usual paternal obsessions and emotional crescendos shoehorned (chillily) into a narrative about compromising your beliefs and/or playing dirty for a perceived greater good. Lincoln’s “Now! Now! Now!” parallels James Baldwin’s declarations in the aftermath of his meeting with Robert Kennedy. Yet the strongest scene to me is the one in which Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) comes off most clueless, casually admitting to a root disconnect with his black servant Elizabeth Keckley (Gloria Reuben)—“I don’t know your people,” as memory serves. Echoed later when the black abolitionists come to Congress and Stephen Spinella says, “Welcome to your house.” Florid bullshit all around, but I think Kushner (fully) and Spielberg (partially, maybe more?) get this. I.E.: Is it a subversive masterstroke having John Williams soar over Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) selling his radical’s soul to ensure the 13th Amendment’s passage? To quote many a Termite Terrace short, “Ehhhhhhhhh…could be.” A contradictory man, Lincoln. And a contradictory movie to match.
Five Deadly Venoms (1978) (dir. Chang Cheh) (97mins) (viewed 08/09/2015): And a lot of deadly talk. Nicely choreographed and filmed action when it comes, though.
Hannibal, “…And the Woman Clothed in Sun” (2015) (dir. Guillermo Navarro) (44mins) (viewed 08/09/2015): The tiger scene is as stirring for me as the version in Mann’s Manhunter. There it’s in service of the film's—to borrow Pat Graham’s phrase—“white noise” haze. Here it’s played for sensuous, steadily surging emotion: Giallo humane. The way Bryan Fuller embraces all creeds and colors makes this kin to Demme’s Silence, though its progressiveness is more innate, less subversive. (Just a mark of two different artists working through their respective experiences in their respective times.) Nice, too, to have queer Chucky creator Don Mancini on the writing staff. Would like to gif Dolarhyde chowing down on the Blake “Red Dragon” watercolor and meme it as “Me eating your tweets.” And Gillian is next level. Each time I see her, I wonder if the monotone she’s speaking in is too affected. Then I’m quickly hypnotized, ultimately hoping that she, too, will lunge shoulder-deep down my gullet and crush my heart.
Always (1989) (dir. Steven Spielberg) (122mins) (viewed 08/09/2015): Saw this back in the day on VHS and dreaded a rewatch, but it played pretty well. I like Spielberg skeptic Dave Kehr’s assertion that the film “deal[s] with manifestly personal, painful emotions and cast[s] them in a form that gives them philosophical perspective and universal affect.” Of course, I’d argue that Spielberg’s been doing that since blind Joan Crawford groped her way through Night Gallery, so Always plays comparatively minor for me to the many that came before. The men are a bit of a problem—Dreyfuss and Brad Johnson two flavors of bland; John Goodman the wisecracker whose most memorable scene is a gag-inducing advertisement for Hostess (the product placement in this film is really deranged, but not to the satirical ends of, say, Minority Report). Holly Hunter, however, is an inspired choice for the heroine because her natural quirks deepen a very sketchy role. (Laura Dern did the same in Jurassic Park.) This is also the only film on which Spielberg worked with cinematographer (and eventual helmer of Peter Labuza favorite Freezer) Mikael Salomon, who does a killer Allen Daviau impression with all the backlighting and ethereal light sources. Best images are from the climax: Hunter, on an implied suicide mission, flying her plane into a hellish inferno, then up toward the stars where she’ll presumably swap upturned thumbs with the captain of the Close Encounters mothership.