How’s your summer at the movies going? Yeah, I’m finding it harder and harder to escape for a couple of hours, too. I don’t mean finding the time to watch something. I’m talking about the capacity to disappear into a movie at all. I’m having that problem with books, too, but this isn’t Captain Canada’s Book Rodeo, so we won’t worry about that.
Albums are still getting me out of spiritual/emotional jams though, in case you’re curious.
I know I’ve mined this territory in the column before. This is not even close to the first time I have ever asked the lot of you if I’m the only one who is going through a disconnect of some kind with the movies I’m watching, particularly the new ones. We’re not gonna get into that. If anything, I’m just trying to explain why my head is all over the place. Concentration is proving to be more difficult than ever before. That might be why I’m having a harder time being completely taken into the heart of whatever movie I might be watching. I don’t think current events are helping either.
When the world is literally collapsing all around you, or at least when it seems like that, it’s hard to fucking care about Apocalypse. Or whatever the case may be.
My mind is wandering around all of these things. I’m trying to watch movies, but I’m hopelessly distracted by everything else. If you’re going through the same thing, the only cure I can think of is to hit up a cult movie night in your local area. You can always make your own film festival, but I think there is something to be said for finding a screening of A Clockwork Orange, Escape from New York, or whatever you might have in the area. If you can find an actual goddamned drive-in, that would be even better.
And if you don’t have anything to choose from, then I refer you back to the alternative of just making up your own film festival/cult movie night. The point is that you experience a movie you define as great, and you do it in the company of people who know exactly what the hell is going on in that weird little head of yours. It works wonders. It leaves the tedious summer movie hype freezing to death at your front door. It creates new memories and associations with that film.
It makes you forget that Jared Leto is a fucking asshole. One who has managed to not only disrespect the memory of Heath Ledger, by playing up (as a fucking marketing ploy) on the dark urban legends that surround the role of Joker, but who has also managed to take a 30 Overrated Seconds to Mars dump on method acting, too. I’m still looking forward to Suicide Squad. There’s still a moderate chance that I’ll dig Leto’s performance. I just also hope that out of nowhere, right in the middle of one of his decadently pretentious, dull interviews, Jack Nicholson shows up, pistol whips him in his diseased golf pencil of a penis, and just leaves. Not a word. Not even the acknowledgment of that soulless piglet Matt Lauer, or whoever’s talking to Jared. Jared. Jack. Pistol whip. Gone.
That would make for the greatest summer at the movies of my life, but I’m probably being too romantic for my own good.
My point: Yes, a cult movie festival can even distract you from thoughts like those.
What would you put on the programming block of your own cult movie film festival?
The Nice Guys (2016): A-
The Nice Guys isn’t the most original show in town. So what? In terms of summer 2016 movies, it has an excellent shot at being one of the best films of the season. I’m even willing to put Shane Diesel’s (Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and Iron Man 3) intensely enjoyable 70s crime drama throwback on the list of the best movies of 2016. Sure, it’s a little early, but this is the kind of intensely addictive, straightforward action film a lot of us have been waiting for. That is, if you sometimes feel a little burnt out on the superhero genre, which seems to be the only reliable game in town for those who crave blistering fight sequences, sharp visuals, and some sort of sense of humor.
With a cast that includes shockingly flawless chemistry between Russell Crowe (who may want to consider moving into comedy full-time) and Ryan Gosling, superheroes are not the only action movie kid on the block. The Nice Guys is a clear product of many influences, particularly cop thrillers and similar movies from the last glimmer of the drive-in’s glory days. The plot shifts into the proper gear from the start, with Gosling’s haunted private detective trying to make an honest-enough living, while simultaneously raising his teenage daughter (the absolutely indispensable Angourie Rice). He takes a job that eventually connects him to Crowe’s enforcer character. The job eventually reaches into the porn industry, the auto industry, and even the government. On paper, everything sounds a little too silly. Yet everything goes down to perfection in The Nice Guys. This is one of the best buddy cop variations (neither of them are actually cops, but the formula is certainly similar) to come out in recent memory. It offers sincerity, wild humor, and brilliantly-executed action sequences. Everything works, but the banter between Gosling and Crowe is unquestionably the movie’s greatest pleasure. It is the most significant example of The Nice Guys brazenly promising to be escapist entertainment that simultaneously refuses to treat you like an idiot.
It simply assumes you want to be entertained. You will be.
Blood Orange (2016): D+
As Iggy Pop makes his final goodbyes in music and elsewhere, his performance in Blood Orange is perhaps the most intense element to his farewell. Pop seems like a guy who at least deserves to be taken at his word. As he plays an aging rock star named Bill, living out the last splash of his life in the desert with a young wife Isabelle (Kacey Clarke), it seems as though a good deal of Pop’s performance is directed towards departing remarks. At the same time, Pop’s performance as Bill, particularly when a former lover from Isabelle’s complicated past (Ben Lamb) shows up, is very keenly focused on contributing something to the movie itself. It’s a strange balancing act, watching Iggy try to combine art with his life in a way that expresses both things simultaneously. For the most part, he succeeds. Even when he doesn’t, his journey and performance prove to be a lot more interesting than the movie itself.
Writer/director Toby Tobias does write some compelling dialog, particularly between Bill and Isabelle. Yet those moments are largely suffocated by a shitty, vapid soap opera that wants you to believe so very, very much that it is actually high art. Or whatever it thinks high art consists of. Blood Orange isn’t as silly as something like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but it gets awfully close to that mark sometimes.
Still, Blood Orange isn’t that amateurish. Director of Photography Mark Patten makes brilliant use of the beautiful, supremely isolated locations used in Ibiza, Spain. Blood Orange redeems itself largely through the best performance of Pop’s suitably strange, varied acting career. Everyone else is pretty fucking horrible, with the exception of Clarke in pretty much any moment that doesn’t include Ben Lamb. They are average-to-below actors, and they can’t do much with this hilariously pretentious script.
All The Way (2016): A-
Although Tom Wilkinson recently played former President Lyndon B. Johnson in Selma, Johnson remains a largely neglected figure in film. When compared with Nixon or JFK, the list of actors who have played LBJ seems much smaller. This fact is certainly a benefit to Bryan Cranston, who is enjoying a pitch-perfect run as a leading actor in his post-Breaking Bad years. The interesting thing is that although the success of Breaking Bad has clearly influenced the trajectory of Cranston’s career, he has not been compelled to play Walter White over and over again. His characters have some shared traits, particularly the fact that many of them seem to be guided by an arguably unhealthy devotion to their principles, but we have yet to watch Cranston phone it in as Walter White Part 2.
In particular, Cranston’s working relationship with Jay Roach seems to be paying off. Trumbo scored Cranston his first (deserved) Oscar nomination for playing Dalton Trumbo. All The Way is the latest collaboration between the two. It’s their best one so far.
Keeping in mind that this HBO film works from a stage play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, which took a few liberties with the facts, All The Way nonetheless gives us a profound, unshakable connection to history. Even if you understand that the movie is intensely stylized in every possible way, you will still feel as though the movie has successfully brought us to the hellish, madhouse moments that followed the death of John F. Kennedy. A lot of that comes from the actors themselves, particularly Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr. (although Mackie is somewhat underutilized here), Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, and Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover. Most of all, the film pulling us miles deep into its story of LBJ assuming the Presidency after Kennedy’s assassination is achieved through Cranston’s performance. Inhabiting real-life figures for non-parody roles is an enormous challenge for actors. They have to sell performances to the audiences that are intensely evocative of the people they are playing, but they have to do this without making it seem like a deliberate, obvious performance. It is an act of constant, chaotic nuance that many actors simply cannot handle. From his frighteningly accurate physical approach to playing Johnson, to every other imaginable touch that offered people an impression of the former President’s true character, Cranston inhabits. His performance is one of the best examples of how to play a historical character in recent memory. Considering the crowded arena of biopics, this is saying something.
The movie as a whole is one of the best Roach has ever directed. All The Way’s most riveting moments belong to Cranston, wheeling and dealing against the opposing hordes of political interests. In a weird way, All The Way almost feels like a political variation of Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars. Watching the protagonists from both of those films play the sides against each other for a perceived greater good amounts to two cases of cinematic poetry. All The Way and Bryan Cranston amounts to a third case.
Coup de Torchon (1981): B-
With Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon, the thing to keep in mind is this: If you aren’t amused by the film’s bleak, almost sleazy sense of humor within the first fifteen minutes, you may want to walk away. Even so, you may find it difficult. There is something hot, crowded, and rundown about the very DNA of this film. Those words certainly hold true for the backdrop. They can even be found in the shambling, grinning idiot personality of Philippe Noiret’s Lucien Cordier. We watch Cordier ramble through a job he absolutely despises. He isn’t very good at it either. Meanwhile, his life is the slowest-motion car crash you could ever imagine. No one respects him. His wife cheats on him. These are the elements of his unhappy life, and it’s hard to feel sorry for him.
Yet when he strikes back at the people and circumstances of his skull-fucked life, you are almost certainly going to be glued to the rest of the story. There is something about the hatefulness of Coup de Torchon that is almost passive-aggressive. If there is a larger social or political point to Coup de Torchon, I’m too dumb to notice it. All I came away from here is a gritty, slightly off-kilter story of wish fulfillment taken to extreme measures. If that is indeed all this movie has to offer, I’m fine with that. It’s not a hysterical comedy. It’s something low, and very sad. It is oddly unforgettable, and funnier than it might look at first glance.
Money Monster (2016): C-
Not quite as good as the sum of its parts, Money Monster nonetheless engages more often than not. Part of that is because the movie is extremely economical with its time. Foster has proven she can direct compelling drama. I have to imagine that self-confidence played at least some role in Money Monster’s running time. At less than 100 minutes, the movie doesn’t waste a lot of time. We have a cable TV financial advisor (George Clooney), his producer (Julia Roberts), a shady billionaire (Dominic West), and a victim of the billionaire’s casual, horrifying greed (Jack O’Connell). We also meet Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe), who has close ties to the CEO who makes 800-million dollars disappear.
Everyone essentially plays the parts you would expect them to play. Everyone plays their characters well. It’s just that Money Monster is ultimately and pretty completely devoid of surprise. Honestly, when everything nonetheless runs well and moves quickly, the lack of surprises isn’t really that big of a deal. Money Monster avoids bloat and pretension. It tells a fairly simple story with a fairly straightforward political perspective. If that’s all you need, then Money Monster will work out well enough.