Sunday Matinee: Pulp

Director Mike Hodges and Michael Caine decided to follow up the brilliant Get Carter with another gangster like film, the 1972 movie Pulp.

The difference this time out is instead of a serious and gritty crime drama Pulp is more of a comedy. It has goofy moments and jokes, then some gritty crime. Michael Caine stars as Mickey King, a novelist who writes books like My Gun is Long and The Organ Grinder under pen names Guy Strange, Gary Rough and the amusing S. Ódomi. Caine is hired to ghost write and autobiography of retired actor Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney).
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Sunday Matinee: Shin Godzilla

After stopping the Godzilla franchise in 2004 Toho Studios gave the big guy a break for a few years. They then licensed him out to Legendary Pictures who started a new American Godzilla franchise that started in 2014. When that movie was a success Toho decided to relaunch the series in Japan again. They brought in acclaimed director Hideaki Anno (creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion) to write and co-direct the new movie. In 2016 Shin Godzilla hit screens and presented a very different take on the legendary monster.

The movie draws its inspiration from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The Japanese Coast Guard investigate an abandoned boat only to be attacked by a huge wave and a creature. News reports later show a giant tail swimming closer to shore. The prime minister of Japan assures people that the sea creature can’t come on shore. It has gills and no limbs. Despite this the creature swims into canals and into Japan and eventually makes land where the creature evolves legs and lungs.
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Sunday Matinee: Jabberwocky

Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind aren’t the only movies celebrating their 40th anniversaries this year. Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky is too.

Jabberwocky was Gilliam’s first solo directorial effort away from Monty Python although Michael Palin stars in it and Terry Jones has a cameo. Palin stars as a poor cooper in medieval times. All Palin wants to do is work and marry a large peasant woman who doesn’t really like him. Palin’s father disowns him on his deathbed so Palin goes to town to try and find work.
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REVIEW: Coco Sneaks Up on You

Pixar’s less heralded but most remarkable skill is its ability to introduce ideas and concepts one would be hard-pressed to consider appropriate for a family movie: Mental health comes from managing our emotions, not denying them (Inside Out); the value of criticism lies in the discovery of new talent (Ratatouille); overprotection can stunt a child’s growth (Finding Nemo).

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Coco -it’s visually stunning and undeniably fun- but the message (“families are important and want the best for us”) is pedestrian at best and debatable under certain circumstances. Not that the value of family was ever a novel idea, but the Fast and Furious saga has driven the notion into the ground.

Coco is set during the Day of the Dead in Mexico, the one time of the year those who have passed can come for a visit. At the Rivera household, the fiesta is celebrated without music. A few generations ago, the paterfamilias left his wife and baby daughter to pursued a career in music and never returned. It was decided then the family would make a living making shoes and no tunes will ever be played at home, or surrounding areas. Continue reading “REVIEW: Coco Sneaks Up on You”

Byron Bashforth: From the Prairies to Pixar

Pixar’s Coco.

Okla native Byron Bashforth has been involved in nine Pixar movies and four shorts to date, including the Disney subsidiary’s brand-new feature, Coco. Bashforth is the film’s character shading lead, meaning he is responsible for the team in charge of the look of all the characters in the film. Considering that Coco unfolds in two separate realities and the number of roles is in the dozens, Bashforth has his work cut out for him.

Byron got his Master in Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan and has been involved with Pixar for almost two decades. “I remember watching the trailer for Toy Story and it occurred to me for the first time that you could use computers to do something else than computer science stuff. It opened the possibility of being able to combine my artistic streak and computers as a career.”

The animator has been the character shading lead for the short Lava and the features Monsters University and Ratatouille. I had the chance to catch up with Byron over the phone from California. Continue reading “Byron Bashforth: From the Prairies to Pixar”

Sunday Matinee: The Lady Vanishes

Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) is a British tourist about to head home from the country of Bandrika. A train delay forces everyone who was going to travel to spend a night at the local inn.

Iris is disturbed by music playing in the room above her getting the young musician Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave) kicked out of his room. Gilbert retaliates by forcing Iris to let him stay in her room. Meanwhile elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) is listening to a local musician play a tune outside her window. Unbeknownst to Miss Froy, the musician is killed shortly after playing the tune.

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REVIEW: God’s Own Country Is More than that Other Gay Cowboys’ Movie

Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu in God’s Own Country.

One could describe God’s Own Country as a slightly more graphic Brokeback Mountain, but that would be selling it short. The low-budget, emotionally rich drama paints a dire picture of England’s countryside, with farmers dealing poorly with social change (immigration, homosexuality) and economic depression.

God’s Own Country’s main character is strangely unlikeable. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is a young man forced by his father’s disability to manage the family farm. Not one capable to deal with his emotions in healthy fashion, the farmer festers in resentment and only finds solace in alcohol consumption and anonymous sex. Johnny is also a closeted gay man, but the idea of a relationship, as limited as going for a pint with another fella, is laughable for him. Continue reading “REVIEW: God’s Own Country Is More than that Other Gay Cowboys’ Movie”

REVIEW: Novitiate is Full Metal Jacket with Nuns

Margaret Qualley in Novitiate.

Movies about nuns have a curiously high batting average: From The Sound of Music to The Innocents, there is something fascinating about women choosing a life of worship and deprivation.  Novitiate is a fairly realistic depiction of life inside a convent and the result is unbearably dull.

Set during the early 60’s, Novitiate tackles the effects of the Second Vatican Council over a nunnery in Tennessee. The Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) is reluctant to implement the changes (no more Latin, develop a relationship with the community, no more self-laceration as penitence), fearful it may undermine the nuns’ calling.

We witness the nunnery begin to crumble through the eyes of a novice, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley). Born to an agnostic mother and an absentee dad, Cathleen becomes fascinated by the idea of an intimate relationship with God, but her budding sexuality won’t be denied.

Cathleen is the main problem of the film, but is far from the only one. Qualley, so good in The Leftovers and so terrible in Death Note, is underserved by the script and fails to convey her inner struggle in any interesting way. At the opposite end, Melissa Leo chews the scenery uncontested. She is all fire and brimstone and takes it on the sisters.

If faith is underserved (the movie fails to explain why Vatican II is such a problem in any sensible way), sexuality is treated just as perfunctorily. Novitiate hints at the notion that lesbians joined convents as an alternative to be shun by their communities, but doesn’t have the audacity to develop the idea. Writer/director Margaret Betts is a first timer and it shows: The actors run amok, the plot is flimsy and the character development is very limited.

The film’s mediocrity is highlighted by the coda: The audience is summarily informed that Vatican II inspired nuns to abandon their calling in massive numbers. One wishes Novitiate had tackled the matter head on as opposed to through low-impact drama. Two planets (out of five).

Novitiate opens November 18th at the Roxy Theatre.

REVIEW: Justice League’s Trial Run

Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman.

Following a shaky start, the DC Extended Universe has reached a modicum of stability (thanks Wonder Woman!). There are still some kinks to work out, but glaring problems like cohesiveness and that whole “Martha!” business seem to be a thing of the past.

Considering the problematic installments that preceded it, Justice League is fine. The story is constrained and doesn’t take itself all that seriously: The Flash notwithstanding, it’s still grimmer than Thor: Ragnarok laugh-fest, which may not be a bad thing. Continue reading “REVIEW: Justice League’s Trial Run”

Sunday Matinee: Wolf Guy

There is not a lot of absolutely bat shit crazy cinema but during the 1970s exploitation era there was some amazingly unique movies. Today’s Sunday Matinee for example is a 1975 action/horror exploitation flick Wolf Guy based on the Japanese manga of the same name.

Trying to describe this movie takes a bit of work. Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba runs into a yakuza who is fleeing something. The man manages to get out of a crowd and into a back alley where an unseen force tears the man to shreds. Chiba catches up to the man finding him dying and mentioning a woman named Miki and a tiger.
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