Showing posts with label Movie Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Movie Reviews. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

First Look at Poor Things

As you've probably gathered from the trailer, this year's "Poor Things" is a reimagining of Frankenstein, with Emma Stone playing the role of the reanimated corpse.  In this version, her body is that of a young pregnant woman who took her own life, reanimated by a scientist who replaces her brain with that of her unborn child.

You'll hear a lot about how the film handles social roles, particularly sexual roles, and the frank way the creature discovers the world through her attempts to understand sexuality.  You'll also hear a lot about the arresting visual style of the film.

Most of my thoughts watching the film were about comparing how Boris Karloff handled this character in the 30s vs how Emma Stone handled it today.  

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Ritual Killer Review

Last night my friend Tom messaged me that Morgan Freeman was giving a lecture at Millsaps in a movie.  “The Ritual Killer,” now streaming on Hulu, was shot in Jackson during the time when I was still really sick, so I guess I missed a lot of information about it.  The film was shot in Italy, Jackson, Clinton, and the Pearl River Reservoir.  It’s a psychological thriller with Cole Hauser from Yellowstone playing a Clinton, Mississippi Homicide Detective (the Clinton Police Force may not have homicide detectives.  It’s only about 20 guys.)  Morgan Freeman plays a professor of African History at a small college in Clinton.  There actually is a small college in Clinton, but they shot the film in Jackson at Millsaps instead.

The Ritual Killing referenced here is African shamanistic medicine, which in some instances, requires human body parts for the more powerful rituals.  There was a rash of these sorts of killings in Africa a few years ago.   In the film, a powerful businessman hires an African shaman to come to Clinton, Mississippi, where he lives, and conduct these rituals to make him more powerful, rituals that require the sacrifice of two children and a teenager, which is where the homicide detective comes in.

Morgan Freeman plays an anthropology professor.  The first scene with him has him lecturing in the Heritage Lecture Hall in the Ford Academic Complex.  With all its geometric shapes and brick patterns, the building photographs really well.  One of the students in his class is Claire Azordegan, who was in the Spring Show last year.  She doesn’t have any speaking lines, but she does a good job of looking like she’s studying really hard.  I expected to recognize other players in the production, but most were out-of-towners.  Bill Luckett as the crime scene scientist, did make me smile.  Bill died two years ago, and we still haven’t anyone like him yet.  Covid and other issues delayed the release of the film.  

The writing credits for this film look like a house party.  IMDB lists seven different writers.  None of the writers are from here, which is why, most of the time, it feels like they just threw a dart at the map and chose to set the film in Clinton.  Although they did a fair amount of research into African Culture, they did zero research into Southern Culture.  This film could just have easily been set in Chicago or Fresno, or any city.

To write a film about voodoo killings and not even have some of it set in New Orleans is a huge missed opportunity.  There are a few exterior shots toward the end that were apparently shot in Baton Rouge (there are no riverside warehouses on the Pearl River.)  A film about African culture set in Mississippi is such an obvious opportunity to discuss the exchange between African and European cultures that makes up the state culture of Mississippi, but one the screenwriters completely ignore.  There’s absolutely no story-driven reason to set the film in Mississippi.  It’s just a place.

That being said, they photographed Jackson and Millsaps beautifully.  There are a few exterior establishing shots actually done in Clinton, but nearly the entire film is shot in Jackson, including a police chase through the Lamar Life Building and a couple of really good scenes shot in Hal and Mals.  I feel like the Mississippi Film Office just gave them a list of filming locations, and the director said, “Sure.”  It works too.  The film feels very much like it’s set in Middle America, which I suppose was the objective, but they left an awful lot on the table.

Most of the scenes shot in Italy could have been shot anywhere too.  The writers don’t seem to have any sense of place at all.  It’s like they wanted an excuse to spend two months filming in Rome, so they wrote it into the movie.  I know a guy who actually did that.  The movie is 20 Million Miles to Earth.  Check it out sometime.  Shooting it in Rome gave Ray Harryhausen a pretty great honeymoon.

Morgan Freeman’s role is very similar to the character he played in Se7en and Kiss the Girls.  I”m sure Cole Hauser can be a fine actor, but in scenes with Morgan Freeman, you can tell he’s scared to death and comes off as really wooden and not committed to the scene at all.

As a psychological thriller, I’m pretty pleased with the film.  It has a nice, even tension to it, and you end up feeling pretty strongly about the leads finding a resolution to the action.  It’s kind of like dinner at a Chinese restaurant, though; you’re hungry an hour later.  If you’re from Jackson or at all involved with Millsaps, it’s worth watching just so you can pick out locations you know.  

With New Orleans so nearby, nobody has ever done a movie about Voodoo in Mississippi before.  We have it, though.  There was a time when one of our store managers fired an unreliable delivery guy, and there were chicken bones left in the doorway to the building for a month.  

Nearly everybody has Hulu these days.  It’s worth a night at home watching movies.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Oppenheimer and McCarthy

I enjoyed Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" very much.  Announcing the film caused a general stir among the movie-going public. This was a subject they were very hungry for.  I think, in some sense, what people wanted from the film, and the film they actually got might be two different things, and this disconnect between expectations might diminish the film's longevity.

Much like what you see in the film, people's main concern before Hiroshima was that, once the bomb became hypothetically possible, it was imperative that the Americans develop it first.  Whatever implications there might be in creating such a device, the only one that mattered was that we do it first.  Keeping in mind that the German team had the universally recognized world's greatest physicist, Werner Heisenberg, leading their team, the concern that the Americans might be second or third to develop such a weapon had serious implications for the history of the world.

After Little Boy was detonated some 600 meters above Hiroshima, and Fat Man, hours later, above Nagasaki, the world's opinion, including our own, about the nature and implication of atomic weapons changed.  If you look at the cinema after the war, doubts about the bomb were making clear inroads into our subconscious.  In the United States, movies started featuring ants made gigantic after exposure to the bomb began eating farmers.  The bomb reanimated monsters of the past.  In Japan, the Bikini bomb revived and mutated a dinosaur, covering it in burned and scarred flesh like the survivors of Hiroshima, and began burning and destroying what parts of Tokyo survived the war.

Audiences expected Nolan's film to address these issues.  We've been discussing them since the war.  Even in the eighties, Sting wrote a song about how to protect his little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy.  The film we got included a lot of that, but it included a lot more of how Lewis Strauss used the panic caused by J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy to try and ruin Oppenheimer's life.

While that's an interesting story, I don't think most people even knew it ever happened, and if they did, they were still much more interested in the bomb itself than attempts to discredit Oppenheimer afterward, although I think it's important that we discuss the fact that the move to discredit and ruin Oppenheimer had more to do with things that ultimately didn't really matter, especially compared to what Oppenheimer actually did.

There are lots of movies about McCarthy and Hoover.  I think it's important to tell that story.  I think it's more important to tell the story of telling everything involved in unlocking some of the secrets of the universe.  I'm not really that interested in some parts of the story that Noland chose to tell.  I've been aware for some time that Oppenheimer had a reputation as a womanizer.  Florence Pugh's presence in the film was interesting, but you never really got to know much about her; other than that, she was pretty unstable psychologically.  I've been in love with psychologically unstable women.  There's always a reason for it, but in this film, we don't see it, and ultimately Tatlock's life, suffering, and death don't make much difference in the final impact of Oppenheimer's life.

In some ways, I still prefer Roland JoffĂ©'s 1989 film Fat Man and Little Boy.  It doesn't have the visual style of Noland's Oppenheimer, but it deals a lot more with the science behind the project and a lot more discussion of the moral implications.  Roger Ebert hated it, and Rotton Tomatoes gives it a pretty lackluster score, but I still think there's something to the film.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Troop Zero

 Mckenna Grace is one of the most popular actors under twenty working today.  She has produced at least one major role per year since she was eleven, with Ghostbusters and Young Sheldon being the most famous so far.  Hopefully, she’ll escape the dreaded child star syndrome because I really do enjoy her work.  She plays nerds, particularly science nerds.  While typecasting is never good for an actor, the type of roles she plays can mean a lot to awkward kids dealing with some of the same issues.

The Voyager Space Craft, launched in 1977, did something no other mission in any of the terrestrial space programs did before.  It openly made an effort, no matter how futile, to communicate with intelligent life outside of Earth.  This was the very first time any governmental program admitted to the possibility that we are not alone.

The purpose of Voyager 1 and 2 was to conduct near fly-bys of our gas giant neighbors, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, and send back photographic and radiometric data.  Since the devices would continue to function as they left the solar system, physicist Carl Sagan suggested affixing a message to the spaceships in case some distant intelligent life encounter them.

A committee led by Sagan developed the idea that they could make disks to affix to the spacecraft, made of solid gold so it never corroded, with mathematical principles and a map to our solar system on one side and the other side a phonograph, with messages from earth.  One of these messages being a recording of a child (Carl Sagan’s Son) saying, “Hello from the Children Of Earth.”

Playwright Lucy Alibar, most famous for “Beasts of The Southern Wild” and “Where the Crawdad Sings,” wrote a play in 2010 called “ Christmas and Jubilee Behold The Meteor Shower.” which became the basis for the film Troop Zero, which she adapted for the screen.  

In it, Christmas Flint, thirteen years old, spends most of 1976 missing her recently passed mother while living with her earnest but unsuccessful father in a trailer park in Wiggley, Georgia.  Christmas is played by Mckenna Grace.  Christmas spends every night staring at the stars in the Milky Way, hoping for some sign of alien life, believing that her mother is with them, out in space.

A man from NASA comes to her school to announce that a recording to go on the Voyager record will be recorded using the voices of whoever wins the Birdy Scout (Girl Scout) Jamboree in the Spring.  The actual recording was made by Sagan’s young son, a year younger than me, but that’s not important to the movie.   

Obsessed with space and science and the idea of communicating with aliens, Christmas is determined to win the Jamboree and have her voice be the one going out into the universe to welcome the aliens and (she believes) her mother’s spirit.  

Being a socially awkward misfit and living in the trailers, the Birdy Scout troop laughs at Christmas when she says she wants to join.  Undaunted, Christmas gets a copy of the Birdy Scout handbook from the library (her favorite place) and learns that if she can get four more girls to join and an adult sponsor, she can make her own troop to compete in the Birdy Scout Jamboree.

Christmas gathers together other misfit girls living in the trailers and asks her father’s seldom-paid secretary Rayleen (played by Viola Davis), to be the troop's den mother sponsor.   When she approaches the school principal who sponsors the main Birdy Scout Troop that rejected Christmas, she’s resistant to the idea but can’t find anything in the rule book to prevent Christmas from having her own troop.  As rude as the girls in the main Birdy Troop, Miss Massy assigns the new troop the number zero and admits them into Birdy Scouts.  If the members of Troop Zero can earn one merit badge each, then they qualify to enter the Jamboree, where Christmas hopes to win a spot on the Voyager record.

The next two acts of the film follow the misfit members of Troop Zero as they each find the thing that makes them special and uses that to earn their merit badge, despite the efforts of the other girls to prevent it, including constantly calling Christmas a “bed wetter” which she denies, even though she has been having problems with incontinence when she gets nervous since her mother died.

Coming of Age stories are usually a version of Campbell’s monomyth where the hero finds their special ability through a series of mentors, tests, and challenges.  Alibar follows that pattern here pretty closely, with the Viola Davis providing the meeting with the mentor in the narrative.  The scene in the belly of the whale takes place when Christmas is determined to win her wilderness survival badge.

I was attracted to watch this film because the trailer had a shot of the Voyager record, which I recognized.  The fate of the Voyager spacecraft is the subject of a fair amount of science fiction stories, including the first Star Trek film.   

This essentially is a story about misfits finding their place, not a story about science, but there’s enough science in it to keep me interested.  The end of the story has Christmas looking out into space during the Perseid Meteor Shower of 1976, which was exceptionally vivid, with between six and twelve meteors crossing the night sky per hour.  I know this because I was thirteen years old in 1976, sitting in the backyard of my mother’s house, watching the meteors and wondering about aliens.   

Official Ted Lasso