• Where's My Roy Cohn?
    by Matt Zoller Seitz on 九月 20, 2019 at 3:40 下午

    "Homosexuals have AIDS. I have liver cancer." That corrosive line from Tony Kushner's acclaimed play "Angels in America" is delivered by the character of Roy Cohn, a real person who was, in fact, gay, never had any kind of cancer, and would later die from AIDS-related causes. It sums up the life and personality of the real Cohn, one of the most notorious legal and political figures of the 20th century, and—according to many who knew him—a person who was in denial about a great many things, including his own capacity for delusion and the harm that he caused to friends, business partners, and the political institutions of the United States. Among his proteges is Donald Trump, a real estate heir and local celebrity in the 1970s and '80s who would go on to become president, in large part by using the gutter tactics, including scapegoating and media manipulation, that he learned at Cohn's knee. Cohn is the subject of "Where's My Roy Cohn?", a documentary by Matt Tyrnauer ("Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood"). Artfully rearranging familiar details, and augmenting them with handsome graphics and well-chosen photos, newsreel footage, video, and newspaper clippings, the movie won't deliver any bombshell revelations to viewers who already know the outline of Cohn's life from written biographies and TV documentaries and newsmagazines, and talk shows (some of which, including a Tom Snyder appearance and a Morley Safer profile, are quoted here). But it's still worth seeing for the incisive witnesses the filmmaker has gathered to recount Cohn's life and speculate on what made him tick.  Some knew him well, including feminist author Katie Roiphe and Pulitzer prizewinning education writer David L. Marcus, both Cohn's cousins; attorney John A. Vassalo, who worked with him; and another famous Cohn protege, Republican political operative Roger Stone, who for some reason does his interviews while wearing a weird grey toupee that suggests a rugby helmet made of thin fleece. Other witnesses, including media reporter Ken Auletta and gossip columnist Liz Smith (who died in 2017, not long after sitting for her interview) dealt with Cohn as members of the press. None have flattering thing to say about Cohn—not even Stone, who mainly seems awed of his mentor's shamelessness.  A prodigy who graduated Columbia law school at 20, a year before he was eligible to pass the bar exam, Cohn quickly became a counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy's postwar anti-communist initiatives were questionable persecutions on their face and often lacked evidence anyway, yet they had their intended effect of consolidating McCarthy's power in Cold War America and striking fear into the hearts of his enemies. His various investigations ruined reputations and drove his targets to unemployment, exile, and suicide. Cohn relished being one of their key architects. The Army-McCarthy hearings, spearheaded mainly at Cohn's behest, were the senator's undoing, and they came about primarily because Cohn was in love with another of McCarthy's counsels, G. David Schine. Schine was the heir to a New York hotel chain and chief consultant to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations; when he entered the U.S. Army, Cohn tried to get preferential treatment for him, and tried to bring the Army itself in for a televised anticommunist fishing expedition as retribution for not doing what he wanted.  Much is made of how Cohn's obsession with Schine was part of his lifelong attraction to buff, square-jawed, Aryan-looking men who stayed young even as Cohn aged. His taste in partners, say witnesses, belied his publicly straight face (nobody could be out during that period of US history anyway) and confirmed his cultural self-loathing (more than one witness describes Cohn as a man who hated his Jewishness and wished to escape it). Stone would later insist to The New Yorker, "Roy was not gay. He just liked having sex with men." It's in discussions of Cohn's refusal to identify as a gay man that the film manifests something like empathy, pointing out the unrelenting homophobia that kept men of Cohn's generation in the closet. (At the Army-McCarthy hearings, politicians who resented McCarthy and Cohn struck back by directing homophobic remarks at Cohn on camera.)  But this impulse to humanize Cohn only goes so far, because Cohn wasn't merely hard to like; he seemed to relish being publicly hated, and treated the loathing of others as emotional fuel. After Cohn's hubris inadvertently helped neutralize McCarthy and drove Cohn from Washington, he returned to New York and embraced his heel status, celebrating himself as a ruthless individual who seemed proud of his reputation for manipulation and viciousness. The litany of outrages packed into this movie's brief running time would seem unbelievable if they weren't true: they included running the Lionel Train company into the ground, possibly killing a young man in a yacht fire that was meant to collect insurance money, and getting disbarred for lying on a bar application, stealing clients' funds, and pressuring a client to change a will. Even Cohn's own demonstrable suffering in the closet doesn't mitigate such behavior: as McCarthy's right hand, he was responsible for the persecution and firing of other gay men whose sexual orientation was weaponized against them, to tar them as security risks. But in his mind, Cohn was still the hero of his own story. And we get the impression from this film that, right up to the bitter, agonized end, he was engaged in an internal battle to justify himself to himself, and to the world. Kushner's play explained Cohn's brand of self-loathing better than Cohn ever managed to. "Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men," the character of Cohn insists to his doctor, Henry. "Homosexuals are men who, in 15 years of trying, can't get a pissant anti-discrimination bill through City Council. They are men who know nobody, and who nobody knows. Now, Henry, does that sound like me?" […]

  • Always in Season
    by Odie Henderson on 九月 20, 2019 at 2:57 下午

    “Lynching was a message crime,” says Sherrilyn Ifill during her first appearance in “Always in Season,” Jacqueline Olive’s harrowing documentary about the investigation of a teenager’s death. In 2014, 17-year old Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set in the rural town of Bladenboro, North Carolina. The Bladenboro police quickly ruled his death a suicide, seemingly after doing very little investigation into the matter. Lacy’s mother, Claudia, sought a further inquest into the matter, leading to a federal investigation. Neither she nor Lennon’s friends thought he was distraught enough to take his own life. They each assumed it was a homicide made to look like a suicide—in other words, a lynching. Olive crosscuts the Lacy investigation with two incontrovertible instances of victims being lynched, one from 1934 and the other from 1946. She delves into these horrific crimes, the latter of which is re-enacted every year by people in Monroe, Georgia, and she spares no details. No justice was ever served for the five victims of the other two stories Olive documents, and it’s no spoiler to state that the Lacy family feels no justice was served in their case either. While “Always in Season” doesn’t definitely conclude that Lennon Lacy was a victim of foul play, it thoroughly investigates the historical reasons why one would think he might have been. In the 1934 instance, Claude Neal was accused of raping a White woman at her farm. A mob decided to take justice into their own hands, offering the father of the victim a pre-lynching violent act of revenge. This wasn’t done under cover of darkness; echoing Ifill’s description, the perpetrators take out ads in the local newspaper and put up flyers for this upcoming murder. They describe the event as a “hanging bee” and cordially invite their White brethren to attend. Many show up, because lynchings were also seen as photo opportunities and social gatherings. The Florida NAACP wired the governor asking him to intervene on Neal’s behalf, but to no avail. The ghastly, inhumane details of what befell Neal’s body before he was strung up in a public area are read by Danny Glover, whose narration is sparsely but effectively used throughout the film. It is too graphic for me to describe here, and Olive’s use of farm-based visuals makes it even more disturbing. Neal’s battered body, which we see, became a postcard that was sold for 50 cents. The 1946 quadruple lynching at Moore’s Ford Bridge in Monroe, Georgia takes up a good portion of “Always in Season.” Its yearly re-enactment by residents allows Olive to get current opinions on this sordid chapter in American history as well as speak with relatives of the people murdered. Interviewing both Black and White denizens about the re-enactment, she gets some unexpected responses. A Black resident says “leave the past in the past and let these people rest.” A White resident asks “what does this [restaging] tell Black people?” Cassandra Green, the current director of the Moore’s Ford Bridge re-enactment, has answers to both questions: This is American history, not just Black history, and it shouldn’t be forgotten. Especially since the crime has never been solved. In talking with the people involved in portraying roles in the yearly replay, Olive gets a good cross-section of comments and first-person narratives regarding experiences with racism and how it affects everyone. Some of the participants had relatives who were murdered and others had relatives who did the murdering. One re-enactor describes seeing her first lynching at three years old as her father and his Klansman friends brought her to their crime. “A lot of wives didn’t know how to deal with their husbands,” she says, explaining why her mother went along with this idea. Green highlights the viciousness of the crime and how, again echoing Ifill’s words, that the brutality sent a message to “uppity” folks who needed reminders of their place. Olive gives us several views of the re-enactment, and even though it is fake, it is excruciating to watch. There is fake blood and multiple gunshots. One of the victims is pregnant and suffers the worst fate imaginable. I consider myself a hardened, even cynical viewer of staged violence and yet I was shaken. Olive cuts to the pained reactions of audience members of all races, among them little Black children. I was initially shocked that someone would bring their kids to something this violent, then I realized that this was a juxtaposition of actual lynching pictures where KKK members brought their kids along for reasons that ran counter to why people brought their kids to the staged event. “Always in Season” slowly and meticulously ties these events to its current story of the Lacy family’s quest for answers and why they don’t believe Lennon Lacy killed himself. The primary reasons for lynching, according to Ifill and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stephenson, is a belief there had been some romantic or sexual intention or interaction between the victim and a White woman. We later meet Michelle Brimhall, Lennon’s White 32-year old ex-girlfriend, whose relationship with the deceased was looked down upon by the parents of one of his friends. We are told by Lennon’s older brother that the police held Lennon’s body for three days without offering any answers to the family. “The police department was closed,” he says incredulously. And we learn that forensics evidence may not have been collected. By all accounts, Lennon was distraught over his breakup and the death of his beloved uncle, but he was also excited to play in the big game scheduled for the day after his death. Lennon was part of an interracial trio of inseparable friends, and even they seem to suspect something’s amiss. By virtue of its subject, “Always in Season” is going to be a very hard sit for many, but this film should be seen. It is an unflinching look at how the racial sins of the past flow through the arteries of the present day. Since the Lacy investigation started, there have been 20 Black men who were found hanged in a public place. These were all quickly deemed suicides without much investigation, if any. So, suspicion is easily understandable and not without precedent. Some of the people involved in the Monroe crime may still be alive, but nobody’s talking. If Lennon Lacy’s death is indeed homicide, the killers still walk amongst his relatives—and nobody’s talking. When asked by Olive why people in Monroe needed to see that yearly replay, an actress says “because it’s history.” It shouldn’t be buried. As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.&rdquo […]

  • Ad Astra
    by Brian Tallerico on 九月 20, 2019 at 1:19 下午

    There have been numerous sci-fi films about people who had to go to the reaches of space to find truths within themselves but none quite like James Gray’s masterful “Ad Astra.” Thematically dense and visually sumptuous, “Ad Astra” may not work for those seeking an action/adventure thrill ride—it’s more “Solaris” than “Gravity” or “The Martian”—but it works wonders below the surface, serving as an examination of masculinity, a commentary on how we become our fathers, and can even be read as a search for an absent God. This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film. Roy McBride (Pitt) is the coolest man in a spacesuit. In the near future, when space travel is more prevalent, McBride is legendary as someone whose BPM never rises above 80, even when he’s plummeting to Earth as he does in an early scene. The cause for that heavenly dive from a tower that reaches from the ground into space is a power surge that devastates the entire planet, killing thousands of people. The suits in charge of space exploration inform McBride that they have traced the source of the surge back to an anti-matter device stationed near Neptune, which just happens to be the last place anyone heard from a famous mission called The Lima Project. The objective for them was to go to the furthest reach of our solar system and look around at the rest of the universe, trying to find intelligent life. And it just happened to be captained by Roy’s father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). For years, Roy has believed his father was dead, but now he may not only be alive but behind an attack on Earth. He is sent to Mars to attempt to communicate with a father he has thought dead for years, in the hope that a reply will allow them to pinpoint his interstellar location. Earthly disasters possibly caused by a creator who has been absent as the world has lost hope—the religious allegory embedded in “Ad Astra” is crystal clear if you look for it, but never highlighted in a way that takes away from the film's urgency. Science fiction is often about search for meaning, but this one literally tells the story of man’s quest to find He who created him and get some answers, including why He left us behind. McBride’s journey takes him first to the moon, which has been briefly reimagined as a tourist trap, complete with a Subway, and then to Mars, which is the furthest reach that man has colonized. As in Gray’s last film, “The Lost City of Z,” there’s an element of how journey and exploration change a man. The hero with the perfect BPM starts to feel his pulse elevate as he leaves the comforts of his routine and his home, and as the stakes of his adventure rise. And Gray never loses the human intimacy of his story, keeping us tied to McBride’s POV, experiencing only what he does and knowing only what he does. The result is a film that feels both massive and deeply personal with its themes, which is no easy feat. Don’t get me wrong, while this is a deeply philosophical film there are also traditional action elements and what feel like real stakes throughout McBride’s journey. People die. People make mistakes. People are selfish, scared, and greedy. It feels like McBride’s encounters with others along his journey, including characters played by Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga, are designed to illuminate the humanity within him. The perfect man who fell to Earth becomes imperfect as he reaches ever closer to his creator, and as he sees the imperfections of those around him. Through it all, Pitt carries the emotional and physical weight in one of the most subtle and graceful performances of his career. A lot of directors would have been too enraptured with the grandeur of the space around him or the details of the interstellar travel, but Gray allows the camera to linger on Pitt’s face in ways no other director really has before, and it leads to what's arguably Pitt's most complex performance. Pitt avoids showy choices at every turn, but he also doesn’t err in the other direction and make McBride too stoic. It’s a perfectly calibrated performance. With his work here and in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” 2019 is the best year of his career. They’re both instant classic performances, and in such completely different ways, illustrate his underrated range as an actor. Of course, as with all of Gray’s films, the craftsmanship here is top-notch. The delicate use of color in different sections of the film from the black-and-white of the moon to a rusty red of Mars and beyond makes for a mesmerizing visual palette, and the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema sometimes echoes his work on “Interstellar” in how it balances extreme close-ups of masked space travelers with the vastness of space. Also particularly effective is the score by Max Richter, which is somehow both intimately eerie and grandiose at the same time.  We are in an era of what some are calling highbrow sci-fi as films like “Gravity,” “Arrival,” and “Interstellar” make high profits and reap major awards consideration. Neither seems likely for “Ad Astra.” It’s a bit too strange to be a major box office hit, and it’s being released by a studio in flux as it transitions to Disney ownership. Still, time will be kind to Gray’s film. It may take place in the future, but it says something that will always be current about our quest for meaning in a world in which it sometimes feels like that which we used to believe in and rely on no longer comforts us in the same way. "Ad Astra" is deeply moving with lines and ideas in its final scenes that worked on my emotions in ways I wasn’t at all expecting. Be patient with it. Invest in it. The destination is worth the journey. […]

  • Downton Abbey
    by Matt Zoller Seitz on 九月 20, 2019 at 1:19 下午

    The star rating at the top of this review is not for people who don't like "Downton Abbey," have never seen it, or grew tired of watching it long before it finished its six-season run. Those viewers will consider this a two-star or one-star or no star movie. The rating is for die-hards who will comprise the majority of viewers for this big-screen wrap-up of the Julian Fellowes drama about royals and servants in an early-20th century English manor. The rating is also for fans of a certain sub-genre of film and TV: lavishly produced costume dramas about repressed people who might cut loose with a bitchy remark now and again, but only if they're pushed to decorum's edge—or if, like Violet the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), they're too old, tough, and set in their ways to care what anybody else thinks of them.  Finally, the rating is for the kinds of viewers who will, I suspect, turn this movie into an unexpected smash: those who might not feel obligated to leave their homes to watch blockbusters featuring dinosaurs, robots, superheroes, or Jedi knights, but will travel some distance to see a film in which well-dressed, reasonably thoughtful adults do and say grownup things. Said adults inhabit a tale set in something resembling reality, with banquets, dances, familial intrigue, gown fittings, chaste flirtations, declarations of love, and expertly timed reaction shots of characters silently disapproving of other characters. But the movie omits the Method masochism and "eat this bowl of chaff, it's good for you" bombast that has increasingly become synonymous with Hollywood's Oscar bait. In "Downton Abbey" the movie, roughly four dozen major and minor characters, constituting both royals and servants, bustle about the screen for two hours, planning and executing grand schemes and dropping juicy bits of gossip, but mostly taking care of the little details: arranging plates, utensils and stemware; fixing a damaged boiler; completely altering a dress in a few hours. In the the middle of the night, they go out in pouring rain to arrange metal chairs for townspeople who are supposed to gather the following morning to watch the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary, who are scheduled to dine at Downton. This is far from a perfect film—it feels a bit rushed and thin, and a couple of big moments are tossed off. As in the recent "Deadwood" wrap-up feature, there's enough story for another season of the series, most of it articulated in quite brief scenes (some lasting as little as 15 seconds). The approach is reminiscent of a light comedy from old Hollywood. The viewer barely gets to dip a pinky toe into situations that an hour-long drama would soak in. Still, it works. It really works. It's goodhearted and clever, and it knows when to end. What do you need to know beyond that? Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is still worried that Downton can't sustain itself in a more frugal time that frowns on grand displays of wealth. (There's a reference to the General Strike of 1926, but only in terms of the inconvenience and crankiness it caused.) A contrivance forces the former butler Carson (Jim Carter) out of retirement to take charge of the estate ahead of the royal visit. There's a subplot about the tension between imperial England and the Northern Irish, represented by Allen Leach's Tom Branson, the former chauffeur, current estate manager, and staunch Irish socialist; and another focusing on Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), the repressed gay first footman who later became head valet, under-butler, and finally butler (replacing Carson).  There's also an inheritance plotline that's mainly an excuse to pit Maggie Smith against another great English character actress, Imelda Staunton. The latter plays Lady Maud Bagshaw, a baroness whose father was the great uncle of Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville). Maud inherited the "Granby Estate", once belonging to the Crawleys, and is thinking about leaving it to her servant, Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton). Scandalous!  Much has been written about the original TV series—and now its big-screen continuation—asserting that the main appeals are nostalgia for monarchy, rigid class hierarchy, and gross colonial expropriation of resources and wealth. That's correct, insofar as it goes. The Public Broadcasting System made "Downton Abbey" a hit in the United States. That network wouldn't exist without Anglophilia. There is something a tad unsettling (though understandable, in a Freudian way) about the continuing wish to fetishize a onetime mother country that the rebel child rejected 250 years earlier. The entitlement here isn't unexamined, but the storytellers don't exactly turn over rocks to see what bugs might be lurking. Like most stories set among the wealthy in another time, there's a "have it both ways" aspect. The script is thick with criticisms of the rich and the social system that enables them, but if that was what people really wanted to see, they'd be at home watching a film by Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. A movie like this is more about the coaches, the footmen, the waistcoats and bowler hats, and the gleam of silver bells.   But I'd suggest that there's something else besides wealth porn happening whenever an audience embraces this kind of film in 2019, a year defined by "Avengers: Endgame," "Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker," "Toy Story 4," "Joker," "Fast and the Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw," and their ilk. Movies like "Downton Abbey" are a different kind of franchise product. And they deliver another definition of action cinema, one that is increasingly ill-served by theatrical films: the opportunity to watch people who are very good at ordinary, non-lethal tasks do those things with skill and imagination, even when they don't feel like it.  The opening credits sequence of this movie—which was written by Fellowes, and unfussily directed by Michael Engler (an American, dear heaven!)—tells you what sort of experience you're in for. It tracks the delivery of a letter announcing the royal couple's visit. The envelope crosses the countryside by train, then mail truck, then motorcycle, eventually finding its way into the hands of the staffer authorized to open and read it. The messenger’s ringing of the bell results in a familiar closeup of the wall of bells in the kitchen that we saw so many times throughout the show. Every element you expect to see, you see. The movie knows what it is and is on top of its game. Everything is just so.  I'm not persuaded that this kind of film is inherently less populist than any of the others types I've mentioned, or inherently less "authentic" or appealing, or somehow worse for you, or more false in the pleasures it promises and delivers. In fact, I admit that perhaps I'm rating this film a bit too highly because it gave me nostalgic flashbacks to domestic comedy-dramas like "Moonstruck" and "Once Around" and "The Wedding Banquet," which knew how to get laughs from a brief reaction shot of somebody raising an eyebrow or looking confused; and Merchant-Ivory adaptations like "Howards End" and "A Room with a View," which were thoughtfully written, directed, and performed, but weren't striving to reinvent any wheels.  The latter became synonymous with posh piffle, and for a long time it was uncool to admit enjoying them. But what they delivered were stories about plausible human beings whose relationships were often marked by the decision not to say something. This, too, is a valid form of commercial cinema. It might not be the worst thing to remind the entertainment industry that it can be popular, too. […]

  • Rambo: Last Blood
    by Peter Sobczynski on 九月 20, 2019 at 1:19 下午

    In a desperate attempt to jog my memory about anything regarding “Rambo,” the 2008 attempt to revive Sylvester Stallone’s other notable film franchise, I went back to the review I wrote when it came out. In the final paragraph, I wrote, “Maybe if it does well at the box office, it will inspire Stallone to write and direct a proper wrap-up for a character that has served him long and well—one that will allow him to confront the real world instead of the sub-comic book surroundings of this disappointing effort.” Well, eleven years have passed, and Stallone has given John Rambo one more go-around with “Rambo: Last Blood.” The title is perhaps the cleverest thing about it. As the film opens, Rambo is living a tranquil life on his ranch in Arizona, where he now spends his time training horses, doting upon his adopted family, Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her college-age granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), sitting on the porch in his rocking chair, perhaps contemplating how his actions in “Rambo III” might have helped lead to the formation of the Taliban. Okay, maybe it isn’t entirely tranquil—he is taking tons of pills to combat PTSD, he has an elaborate underground tunnel system that he has dug out beneath his house (the perfect location for the occasional Nam flashback) and he confesses to Gabrielle at one point that, in regards to his inner rage, “I’m just trying to keep a lid on it.” Having tracked down her long-lost father to Mexico, Gabrielle wants to go down to see him and understand why he left years earlier. Rambo tries to warn her that it is pretty much the most horrible cesspool on Earth, but you know these spunky college-bound girls with bright futures seemingly ahead of them. Approximately nine minutes after crossing the border, she is kidnapped and drugged by a sex-trafficking ring headed by the fearsome Martinez brothers, Victor (Oscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta). When Rambo gets the news that Gabrielle has gone off to Mexico, he goes off in pursuit, but his first encounter with the Martinez gang ends with him brutally beaten and left for dead in an alley with a brand-new scar carved into his face. He is rescued by Carmen (Paz Vega), an “independent journalist” who is there to tend to his wounds and offer necessary exposition. Upon healing, Rambo returns to the Martinez joint to rescue Gabrielle in what feels like an even more violent homage to the already grisly climax of the slightly better “Taxi Driver.” This, as it turns out, is all prelude to the film’s climax, where hordes of Mexican killers turn up at Rambo’s ranch armed to the teeth and out for blood, only to discover that he has given his tunnels a “Home Alone”-style makeover by rigging it with booby traps. All so that he can go after them with arrows, knives, sawed-off shotguns, spikes, mines and, perhaps most cruel of them all, the sound of The Doors doing “Five to One” over a loudspeaker in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Taken simply on its own merits, “Rambo: Last Blood” is an undeniably awful movie. While the previous installment may have brought to mind many of the cheapo “Rambo” knockoffs produced in the ‘80s by Cannon Films and featuring the likes of Chuck Norris or Michael Dudikoff, this one feels more like a direct-to-video item that inexplicably made it to multiplexes. The screenplay by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick is an unforgivably clunky work in which even the most rudimentary of plot points have been cast aside, the dialogue is embarrassingly heavy-handed (“I want them to know that death is coming”) and the kinetic thrills that made “Rambo: First Blood Part II” watchable have been replaced by over-the-top carnage (made even less effective by the over-reliance on CGI gore). Behind the camera, Adrian Grunberg (who previously did “Get the Gringo,” a south-of-the-border sleazefest that was made with a certain style and wit) is clearly directing this by the numbers, but, based on the overly dark visual style and clumsy staging, he never gets out of the single digits. Yes, some of the insanely gory bits during the final stretch are amusing in a sick way but even those moments are too little and way too late to help matters much. Here is what I cannot figure out about “Rambo: Last Blood.” Stallone is a smart man, a singular screen presence and has shown strong acting chops when given material that allows him to take full advantage of his talents. Perhaps he doesn’t feel quite as close to the character of Rambo as he does Rocky Balboa because Rambo was not a creation of his. Nevertheless, the original “First Blood” (1982) remains an uncommonly strong, smart and thoughtful film and his performance there is still one of his best. The follow-ups may not have come close in quality but they were successful enough to make one think that if this film is truly the final film appearance of John Rambo. Stallone might want to put some effort into sending the character off with some degree of respect, as he did with his greatest creation in Rocky Balboa and the “Creed” films. Does he honestly think this is a fitting conclusion to a role that helped make him one of Hollywood’s biggest stars? For his sake, let us hope not. Pretty much a rip-off through and through (it clocks in at just under 90 minutes, at least 10 of those dedicated to an end credits sequence featuring highlights from all the previous films, including the one that just concluded), “Rambo: Last Blood” is junk from start to finish. Without giving anything away, it should be noted that the ending does not in any way prevent the possibility of another film (“Rambo: Last Blood Part II,” perhaps?) if this one makes a killing at the box office. Well, if that does happen, maybe Stallone will take my advice and give the character a worthy send-off at last. Barring that, maybe he can just scrap the idea and do “Rhinestone II” instead, a notion that strikes me as being far more appealing at this point. […]

  • Corporate Animals
    by Monica Castillo on 九月 20, 2019 at 1:18 下午

    Patrick Brice’s “Corporate Animals” is one of those comedies that never moves beyond its premise. It starts and ends with a company retreat that goes horribly awry. The only difference from the start of the movie to its credits is that this motley crew of misfits learns to stand up to their nightmare boss. So, imagine “Office Space” with forgettable characters and nothing to say about this next bleak phase of the business world.  Their boss, Lucy (Demi Moore), is a deranged Michael Scott-type boss, a cringe-inducing persona who claims remote Native American heritage and shortchanges her employees on everything from crediting them for their ideas to supply rations. It’s her pushy decision to throw her ill-equipped team into a dangerous cave for the sake of team building. Of course, this improvised deviation from their course leads to only more trouble when an earthquake traps them in the cave and kills their guide, Brandon (Ed Helms). The ridiculous situation sets up a number of jokes, but they’re only occasionally funny.  Sam Bain’s thin script aspires to be a satire about tech startup culture and the silly ethos that would inspire a manager to throw their company into a reckless venture — both in the personnel and financial sense — but never goes beyond blaming Lucy for the team’s problems. While frivolous pop culture references abound, the movie never gives any insight into the corporate culture it’s skewering. Lucy’s cruelty sometimes ends up the punchline but it’s not always well handled. For instance, when it’s revealed that Lucy has been sleeping with one of her employees since he was an intern, there are a few Weinstein jokes at her expense and the movie moves on. It’s like a name drop and done, like a half-hearted line from a “Family Guy” episode. The jokes made about the Incredible Edible Cutlery Company, its less successful expansion into education and impending implosion feel similarly shallow. It’s a shame because startup culture can be fertile ground for comedy as we have seen on the show “Silicon Valley” or the scathing workplace movie, “Office Space.” In this case, the sole appeal of “Corporate Animals” comes from its cast. Moore brings a chaotic, irresponsible energy to her team as their selfish leader. Even when things are going well, she’s the most likely culprit to throw a wrench in the group’s plans of escape. The more sane employees of this soon-to-fail company are played by an ensemble cast of comedians that include Jessica Williams, Karan Soni, Nasim Pedrad, Dan Bakkedahl, Martha Kelly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. Calum Worthy and Jennifer Kim. Despite their best efforts, there’s not much life to breathe into this aimless script, but their on-screen camaraderie is often the only thing that help these jokes land.   There have and will be sharp critiques of garbage corporate culture. “Corporate Animals” just isn't among them. It’s a miserable time in poor company, watching pretty funny actors trade pretty unfunny lines about cannibalism and an abusive lady boss. There are some moments of gross body humor, a drug-induced dream sequence and a terribly unamusing conclusion to this whole enterprise. “Corporate Animals” feels just like the team-building exercises it spoofs, something that should have been shorter and far less tedious in practice.&nbs […]

  • Bloodline
    by Brian Tallerico on 九月 20, 2019 at 1:18 下午

    A strong sense of style and a promising premise are undone in a film that never quite figures out how to write itself out of its corner. Heavily inspired by the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay (adapted into the Showtime hit series with Michael C. Hall) and bowing at the altar of Brian De Palma in visual terms, “Bloodline” has a lot to like for about half of its running time, but never quite figures out how to stop the bleeding. A character study descends into a generic crime novel, complete with a final twist that simply isn’t believable. Still, there’s enough cinematic potential on display before that to warrant a look for hardcore genre fans and those who know that Seann William Scott is a better actor than his resume may have you believe. The star of “American Pie” and “Goon” plays Evan, a counselor for at-risk teens who has a habit of enacting his own justice on the parents of the troubled kids with whom he meets. Evan has sessions with abused teenagers, tracks down their abusers, ties them to chairs, interrogates them about their violence, and then slashes their throats. He believes he is doing good in the world and is exorcising some demons created by his own abusive father. Of course, Evan’s behavior doesn’t allow for rehabilitation or forgiveness, and doesn’t seem to ever take into account that a detective might connect the dots if parents with kids at the same school keep going missing. Evan is pushed to the edge by new fatherhood after his wife Lauren (Mariela Garriga) gives birth to a baby boy. The pitch for “Bloodline” could be how the stress of new parenthood impacts the careful routines of a serial killer and that’s a reasonably clever idea for a movie. Serial killers are creatures of habit and ritual, and a new baby throws all of those behaviors off their axis. It doesn’t help that his mother Marie (Dale Dickey) is visiting from out of town, although it’s clear that mom has some secrets of her own from the minute we meet her, too. Late in the film (way too late really), a detective named Overstreet (Kevin Carroll) starts to sniff around the case, and Evan’s carefully-constructed moral code and family unit are threatened. Debut director Henry Jacobson pays homage to his cinematic heroes a few times, most notably in some daring split-screen and diopter shots that would make De Palma smile (although even he might argue the “reflection in a knife” trick is overused here). Seeing a low-budget film with this much visual gusto is refreshing, and I enjoyed the way Jacobson and his team used color and shadows throughout the film. It has a strong visual language that often makes up for its lack of narrative thrust. Until it can’t anymore. The final act of “Bloodline” requires Jacobson and co-writers Avra Fox-Lerner and Will Honley to bring in a new character and do some things with their existing ones that I just didn’t believe. The focus gets diffused as we move from a tight one on Evan’s POV to that of Lauren and Overstreet, and that’s when it really starts to remind one of a compressed season of a show like “Dexter.” In that format, the final scenes of “Bloodline” could have been developed earlier in the season, but they come on suddenly here in a way that’s unbelievable. I think no one ever quite figured out how we’re supposed to feel about Evan. Is he a righteous vigilante or a sociopath? Or maybe both? To Scott’s credit, he teeters right on the edge of both, sometimes sketching Evan as a dedicated family man but allowing a glint of insanity to creep into his eyes. It’s a solid performance. Jacobson would probably be happy to hear that “Bloodline” is the kind of nasty piece of work that I think De Palma himself would like, and not just because it opens with a brutal shower slaying that feels inspired by “Dressed to Kill” (and, by extension, “Psycho,” of course). And De Palma’s films have a habit of not quite coming together as complete packages, especially over the last two decades or so. It’s almost funny to think of the title referring to that lineage more than anything textual in the film -- the cinematic bloodline of a creator down to a filmmaker whom he has so clearly inspired.&nbs […]

  • Loro
    by Simon Abrams on 九月 20, 2019 at 1:18 下午

    It’s hard to judge a drama that’s as ambitious and personal as “Loro,” an Italian character study about Silvio Berlusconi, given that it’s missing a little more than an hour of footage. “Loro” was originally a two-part, 3.5-hour drama written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino (“The Young Pope,” “The Great Beauty”), but has been released outside of Italy as one 2.5-hour feature. Complicating matters further: Sorrentino has essentially imagined what Berlusconi was thinking and doing in his private life whenever he wasn’t orchestrating well-documented public actions, as a square-up preface warns viewers: “The characters portrayed in the film and all sequences depicting their private lives remain entirely fictional, and the film is the result of the imagination of its authors.” With that said: the 2.5-hour version of “Loro” (in Italian: “Them”) that IFC Films has released is strong, partly because Sorrentino’s film seems to be one that he’s been building up to for some years now. Depicted with appropriately oily charm by Sorrentino leading man Toni Servillo (“Consequences of Love,” “Il Divo”), the movie version of Berlusconi, a media mogul turned political tyrant, is like a combination of three characters that were recently played by Leonardo DiCaprio: Jay Gatsby, Jordan Belfort, and Howard Hughes. In “Loro,” Servillo’s Berlusconi is a well-established manipulator who mounts a political comeback after being deposed in the 2006 general election. He says that he doesn’t like drugs, but he loves to be close to scantily clad women, many of whom are lured by the promise of “Wolf of Wall Street”-levels of cocaine and sex. Servillo’s character is frequently challenged, but rarely fazed; he may or may not believe what he’s saying, but that never concerns him for long ("The only thing that matters is that you believed me”). He thrives in chilly isolation, but is always peripherally thinking about fairweather accomplices, like billionaire banker Ennio Doris (also Servillo) and decrepit vizier Paolo Spagnolo (Dario Cantarelli). Like Sorrentino’s other lonely monsters, Servillo’s Berlusconi is a contradictory figure: he’s insecure, but imagines that he’s above reproach, and therefore never slows down long enough to let criticism sink in. Still, his actions do frequently betray the split between how he sees himself—a good politician who is betrayed by a hypocritical, timid left-wing opposition—and how he behaves: like a more driven (and therefore dangerous) version of certain world leaders who shall remain nameless. We spend most of “Loro” watching and waiting for secondary characters, like disappointed but savvy wife Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci) and power-hungry would-be ally Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio), to somehow make an impression on Berlusconi, but his grotesque carnival mask of a smile is never far from his lips. He sometimes pauses before inevitably turning a losing situation to his advantage, but nothing really penetrates Berlusconi’s well-fortified psyche. “Loro” is consequently more focused on political scheming and back-biting that occur in Berlusconi’s orbit rather than crimes that he probably committed. There are some references to historical events, like when he promises to give new housing to the residents of L’Aquila after the devastating 2009 earthquake. But (and this is not a spoiler) “Loro” tellingly ends with a scene that serves as a tribute to the firefighters who did the hard work of salvaging L’Aquila: we see and hear them breathing heavily during a well-earned break as the city softly crumbles around them (the movie’s sound design team deserve a raise). This scene is a poetic rebuke to Berlusconi, and a rare moment where the movie’s relentless, perpetually shifting focus and pace aren’t determined by Servillo’s slippery character. Still, “Loro” is often hard to get a firm grip on since Berlusconi’s moods and aims are so hard to read (sort of like Robert Altman’s “Secret Honor,” but not set after its subject’s career). Sorrentino has become an expert at this sort of power trip, but “Loro” feels different than his earlier projects, even if it shares many of the same preoccupations and themes. “Loro” is somewhat less whimsical—and definitely less meandering and provocative—compared to “The Young Pope,” but it’s almost as hide-bound as “Il Divo,” another breakthrough (for Sorrentino’s career) political drama that was also hobbled by his adherence to historical events (“Il Divo” follows parts of the career of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti). There’s seemingly more at stake in both “Il Divo” and “Loro,” and that makes Sorrentino’s style a little less bold and imaginative. However, “Loro” feels like the work of a more mature artist. Sorrentino knows exactly who his Berlusconi is, and, with the help of Servillo—who delivers a characteristically impressive performance—manages to make the former Prime Minister’s total lack of introspection seem ironically revealing. Ecco Silvio: pathetic, alone, indestructible. […]

  • Villains
    by Tomris Laffly on 九月 20, 2019 at 1:18 下午

    There is an inherent level of tonal ambiguity baked into the home invasion thriller-cum-comedy “Villains,” the third feature collaboration of the filmmaking duo Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. Also serving as the co-scribes of a story that tiptoes around notes both absurd and unsettling, Berk and Olsen manage to milk that uncertainty for all it’s worth and deliver an amusing genre romp where the hunter becomes the hunted. With a surprising amount of side laughs and an isolated, elaborately decorated chamber in the woods full of opportunities, “Villains” sets an intriguing stage for a quartet of skilled performers, all clearly enjoying the chance to fly their freak flags to comical effect. We first meet Mickey (Bill Skarsgård, amusingly frantic) and Jules (Maika Monroe, equally frenzied); two young, clumsy Bonnie-and-Clyde-wannabe lovers who “Pumpkin and Honey Bunny” their way from smalltime crime to smalltime crime, hoping to eventually end up somewhere in Florida, where they are convinced a new, worry-free life awaits. Their vision of the orange-hued, warm and beachy Sunshine State—which cinematographer Matt Mitchell represents in dreamy glimpses—looks curiously like a nostalgic and feverish Harmony Korine movie. Perhaps Mickey and Jules just miss their teenage years of being forever spring breakers. Or more likely, they were never before granted a carefree youthfulness, which they just desire to claim retroactively once and for all. Smart, they most certainly are not. But perhaps they still deserve a break in life after all. Berk and Olsen don’t quite go out of their way to suggest a profound back-story for the troubled youngsters—this isn’t necessarily that deep a film, nor does it want to be—but Monroe and Skarsgård invite the audience in with their childish rawness, and buy some unearned good will from the viewers along the way. As gifted actors, they sell the purposely unrefined lines of dialogue exchanged between their respective characters and almost immediately, become a kooky crime pair one simply can’t hate: inept yet charming, ambitious but painfully naïve. Mickey and Jules are so hopeless as runaway felons that after robbing a gas station, they realize, of all things, that their car is out of gas. Luckily enough, Jules notices a lonesome mailbox perched on the side of the road, fronting a handsome house with a car waiting to be stolen and a mysterious basement that houses a little girl (Blake Baumgartner) chained to a poll. What kind of good-hearted yet down-on-their-luck criminals would the dreamy lovers be, if they don’t as much as attempt to help the (what looks to be a) kidnapped child? But their idealistic rescue mission comes to a halt when George (Jeffrey Donovan, the politely creepy MVP) and Gloria (a very “Mommie Dearest” Kyra Sedgwick, like you’ve never seen before), the ostentatiously mannered masters of the house, drop in. A case of married infertility gone psychologically bad, Gloria clasps a fake baby while George conceals his masculine insecurities behind a jovial Southern accent and some perfectly played performative courteousness. As soon as the duo steps into the scene dressed in tucked-in outfits frozen in time (costumer Stacey Berman plays up the couple’s put-together eeriness), their retro home—brought to life by production designer Annie Simeone in meticulous detail—makes all the more sense. George and Gloria seem to live in some corner of the past and don’t quite take kindly to contemporary strangers with a quixotic mission and an ambiguous-at-best moral code. Once all the players find each other trapped in a weird cat-and-mouse game, “Villains” signals a direction akin to “Don’t Breathe,” a far more menacing home-invasion thriller that also turns the tables against the invaders. But it doesn’t quite go there despite its escalating darkness and bummer of an ending that cuts only some of its burdened characters some slack. But between its genuinely entertaining plot turns and a stellar scene where a nosy officer (Danny Johnson) hilariously renews the stilted action, there is a lot of worthy panache to be found in “Villains,” which remains delightfully fresh throughout despite being nothing all that new.&nbs […]

  • Between Two Ferns: The Movie
    by Nick Allen on 九月 20, 2019 at 1:18 下午

    “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” is one of the most amiable comedies of the year, even if it includes a joke where Zach Galifianakis asks a question out loud about Benedict Cumberbatch’s unusual mug—right to the Oscar-nominated actor’s face. A question like that is in such poor taste that it’s ridiculous, and that’s exactly why it's funny. It’s all within the greatness of Galifianakis’ long-running "Funny or Die" web series, which uses a fern-adorned talk show set for an insult comedy trap, with famous guests (past episodes have included Charlize Theron, Bradley Cooper, Tila Tequila, President Barack Obama, et al) who don’t know what they’re in for. It’s antagonistic comedy that’s brilliantly designed so that nobody actually gets hurt.  Director Scott Aukerman (co-creator of the original show) takes what's made the series so extremely funny and lovingly expands it into a feature film, in a way that would make all those ‘90s “Saturday Night Live” movies envious. Aukerman (with co-story credit going to Galifianakis) gives fans what they want, and then wraps it up in a sweet, fleet story, where the awkward comedy becomes accessible, if not bizarrely charming. Its main narrative about a ragtag team on a road trip can’t compete with whenever Galifianakis is sitting between his two ferns, but then again, nothing else from a comedy this year will likely be able to top it, either.  Without going deep into his psychosis, Zach is painted as an underdog, whose obsession with attempting to tear down famous people is what makes him a lovable dummy, instead of plainly toxic. He doesn’t have the same innate need in real-life talk show hosts to uphold celebs, which renders the premise even funnier—Zach dreams of being a “big network TV personality” like Jay Leno, but is stuck doing his show for southeastern North Carolina public access. Will Ferrell (playing himself as a sleazy Funny or Die head honcho) offers to make that a reality, but only if Zach can deliver ten episodes within two weeks. Ferrell knows the appeal of Galifianakis—“People are laughing at him, not with him”—and that it can get him clicks, which Ferrell talks about with the same zeal as cocaine.  After the TV station is destroyed during a freak plumbing accident (which happens not long after Zach asks Keanu Reeves if he knows more than 18 words) Zach ventures across America to bring the interviews to the celebrities, including the likes of Paul Rudd, Tiffany Haddish, and Jon Hamm. Joining Zach and his beloved two ferns are his small TV crew, played by Lauren Lapkus, Jiavani Linayao, and Ryan Gaul—rising funny people in real life. As the plot moves them from city to city, their brief bonding scenes prove funnier than your average improv-driven studio comedy, thanks to the film's unpredictable sense of humor. In one stand out moment, “Between Two Ferns” sneaks in a hilarious throwaway line from Lapkus about Jake Gyllenhaal, and then right after that, Chrissy Teigen makes a mind-blowing reference to Richard Kelly’s “The Box.” "Between Two Ferns" zips from one joke to the next, without ever looking like it's trying too hard.  Aukerman, making his directorial debut, shows his directing chops by harnessing a tricky tone and a quick pace, one of the most impressive things about the whole project. He has an inspired touch with the group comedy—there’s even a funny way it gets through the “the band breaks up” beat that leads into the third act—and the story is genuine with its small emotional stakes. And though Zach's interviews sprint to the line of cruelty, Aukerman’s film is about loyalty to others and one’s self, even if you’re a clueless comedian who loves their ferns more than any fellow human being.  “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” has as many stars as a 1930s MGM revue, and it has the structure of such a musical, too. The interviews don’t develop the plot so much as fulfill their desired spectacle of hilarious awkwardness, and they constantly gave me the kind of big laughs that make one’s day better. Mixed into the story, these scenes are cut even shorter than the approximately five-minute online episodes, but are just as abrasive, making the celebrity appearances potent as they are funny. It all has the same effect as the web series too—you’re eager to rewatch certain moments, if just to see what you might have missed the first time because you were laughing so hard.  But Aukerman’s feature adaptation offers something that brings the joke full circle, and is new to “Between Two Ferns”—outtakes. During the credits, Galifianakis and his guests both break character and laugh about the ridiculously mean thing Galifianakis just tried to say. There’s a special, welcoming sensation in seeing celebrities we love being able to take a joke that cuts deep, and then laugh hard about it. “Between Two Ferns” has mastered such bliss.&nbs […]