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Review Catch-Up: The Old Man and The Gun

Written and directed by David Lowery, “The Old Man and The Gun” is a charming story about a gentleman bank robber, and a fitting tale for the (supposed) last starring role of one of Hollywood’s most prolific leading men, Robert Redford. His last leading character is a gentle nod to a bygone era of Hollywood and one whose antics are slyly showcased as a metaphor for Redford’s career as a whole. He portrays Forrest Tucker, a serial bank robber (and masterful prison escape artist) who never seems drawn to violence or malcontent, he simply and purely loves what he does, and he keeps getting away with it. Redford must feel some brotherly connection to a man that loves a good challenge, maybe someone that isn’t always successful, but when he is, his presentation and delivery is so pitch perfect that everyone forgets any missteps and becomes infatuated with his rapscallion ways.

This feel good crime caper may not be the most engaging or explosive film based on “mostly true events” involving armed robberies- but it certainly delivers, and that’s based almost entirely on Redford’s legendary charisma. Beyond Redford though, the rest of the cast solidifies the film and assist in adhering to the carefree and calm attitude towards crime, and its repercussions. Rounding out the “Over-The-Hill Gang” are Danny Glover as Teddy and Tom Waits as Waller. They may not have a lot of screen time devoted to their characters, but they get a couple scenes earlier in the film, including one that got a good chuckle out of me when Waller describes his former home life growing up, and how it led to him hating Christmas. Casey Affleck, working again with Lowery after “A Ghost Story”, plays the muted and grizzled cop John Hunt, who determinedly follows Tucker’s trail. Hunt’s peers and those in the media seem to only be bemused by the “Over-The-Hill-Gang”, as Hunt pointedly remarks to those recalling Tucker’s gentlemanly antics, “Nothing’s funnier than armed robbery, right?”

Though I’d be remiss not to include Sissy Spacek as Jewel. Spacek herself is another ace actor from cinema’s silver age, and her scenes with Robert Redford imbue Jewel with heart and tenderness that only she could bring to the character. Which is needed given that she falls for a charming old bank robber all the while knowing of his dastardly dapper indulgences. Jewel’s a simple woman that owns a picturesque ranch with a few horses, one of whom Tucker finally decides to ride (it was on his bucket list) after a thrilling car chase evading dozens of cop cars.

This is a small charming film that embodies that nostalgic American notion of the gentleman bandit, a man that is to be respected and feared equally. The film’s warm pastel hues and hypnotic, suave, and melancholy soundtrack accompanying it, pair to make a grand farewell for Redford, and it’s one that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Final Score: 5 banks in one day

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Review Catch-Up: Hail, Caesar!

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, “Hail, Caesar!” is a love letter to postwar Hollywood in the early 1950’s when big budget epics, westerns, and musicals ruled the cinematic land. Josh Brolin leads this stunning cast of Coen Bros frequent collaborators and newcomers alike as Eddie Mannix, the head of “Physical Production” of Capitol Pictures. As the fixer of the studio’s many issues Mannix corrals wayward stars, abates the rumor mill of gossip columnists, and generally solves any and all problems that occur- sometimes with charm, other times with a bit of muscle when need be. Between all of this, Mannix is caught between an offer for the easy life at Lockheed Martin and whether or not he should stay and wrangle the many personalities and problems of Capitol Pictures.

The main driving force of the film is the abduction of infamous actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) from the set of “Hail, Caesar!” a religious epic in the vein of “The Ten Commandments” or “Ben-Hur”. Once informed of the actor’s disappearance Mannix goes on the hunt for the lost star, but gets bogged down in internal studio affairs. Once contacted by the kidnappers, self-titled The Future, Mannix collects ransom money from the petty cash allotted by the studio and follows their orders until he can find the solution. Meanwhile other directors and crews must handle the consequences of Mannix’s decisions, like taking cowboy western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) and putting him into the high-society drama “Merrily we dance” directed by Laurence Lorenz (Ralph Fiennes). What follows is easily the funniest scene of the film and a direct criticism of studios making huge moves like replacing stars just for favors to keep from worse studio secrets spilling out into the public. Hobie Doyle may be a world renowned movie star in westerns where he doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue, but Laurence Lorenz is a stand in for the extremely precise thespian director that desires very specific line delivery. Pairing these two together, with Doyle’s thick southern accent and Lorenz soft speaking mannerisms that quickly boil over into confused agitation- was a genius comedic choice in my opinion.

In the midst of both the ‘Red Scare’ and the beginnings of the Cold War the real Hollywood of the early 1950’s was transitioning to meet the needs of this new era of paranoia and television. The Coen Brothers satirize this period with precise detail and pitch perfect comedic timing. The large studios still very much worked on the star system of the past and watching Capitol Pictures in the film work to garner attention by investing in as many westerns, musicals of synchronized swimming, and epics of religious nature is equally funny and fascinating. With the abundance of well known stars cast in the film, from Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum to Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton (playing twin gossip columnists!) the film has a lot going for it simply on performances alone. The recreation of the early 1950’s pastel color palettes and huge set-pieces within the massive expanse of “studio city” is commendable in its own right as well! Roger Deakins again showcases his masterful use of lighting and camera movement as the frequent Coen cinematographer, and it’s easy to see why they collaborate as often as they have. The pairing between the three as writers, directors, and cinematographer is a cinematic dream team!

“Hail, Caesar!” was a lightweight affair when compared to other offerings from the Coens and everyone involved seems to have had a great deal of fun satirizing their industry’s golden age. As is often true with most Coen bros films, it may not be for everyone, but it is crafted by skilled people who are truly invested in the art form. Joel and Ethan Coen, and Roger Deakins, give a damn about the movies they choose to make, and this riff on the industry’s earlier era is full of winks, nods, and references to that time and the films that came out of the studio-orchestrated chaos. It is a pastiche of the gilded age of cinema crafted with great panache, and I definitely recommend giving it a watch!

Final Score: 10 Communist Writers and 1 Dolph Lundgren (seriously keep an eye out for him, easy to miss!)

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Review Catch-Up: Upgrade

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, “Upgrade” is a revenge-thriller with a futuristic sci-fi setting not unlike that of “Blade Runner”s. My plan was to catch this one when it was in theaters this past summer, it just never materialized, but I am so glad I came back to find it after video release. This pulpy, body-horror, grindhouse, genre flick isn’t what I expected going in, but I immediately fell in love with the concept of the film after the hook.

Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a simple man in a complex world. In a time of fully automated cars and advanced biomedical technologies Grey stands out. He’s a mechanic that works on classic American muscle cars with a deep-seated love for the analog ways of the past. With Laura (Belén Rueda), the love of his life, they lead a productive life together despite the technological gap between them. After putting the finishing touches on one of his sales cars, he brings Laura with him to drop it off to the buyer, a reclusive big-tech genius named Eron (Harrison Gilbertson). While there, Eron shows Grey and Laura his latest project set to revolutionize the world, STEM. A computer chip the size of a beetle, STEM is an A.I. capable of lightning fast processing power and immense data crunching ability. Grey, being the analog purist that he is, isn’t impressed by the reveal while Laura ogles over the new possibilities. On the way home, their automatic car disobeys orders and takes them into dangerous neighborhoods before quickly accelerating into a pole and flipping the car, killing Laura in the process. A gang of people flood the streets and pull Grey from the wreckage and shoot him in the back of the head, paralyzing him from the neck down.

Fast forward to Grey immobilized in a hospital bed when, surprise surprise, Eron waltzes into his room to offer him an.. Upgrade. Again, Grey turns down the offer. Seeing his partner die before his very eyes hasn’t exactly motivated him to want to live, and especially thrive, by technological augmentation. After he hits rock bottom emotionally and psychologically, he reconsiders and accepts Eron’s offer. After the surgery, Eron informs Grey of the need for secrecy surrounding STEM as the experimental tech isn’t exactly legal.

With his mobility regained Grey immediately goes into detective mode to find Laura’s killers. It is here that STEM (Simon Maiden) chooses to introduce itself to Grey by helping him follow the clues. STEM is also handy for a good fight. After verbally giving STEM permission, the A.I. takes control of his body and efficiently, brutally, attacks any opponents. The fight scenes in this movie are a great deal of fun! They, cleverly, have an extra layer of visual comedy in play. When Grey is fighting, his face reveals his horror to the actions of his own body with STEM at the wheel. He smashes plates over assailants heads while his face recoiles from the creative violence at hand. That’s just brilliant. Eventually a local cop, Cortez (Betty Gabriel) starts to sniff out Grey’s suspicious activities. She was fun as a threat for Grey in the film but there wasn’t a lot of characterization with her.

This film was exactly the kind of sci-fi that I enjoy. Thought provoking ideas mixed with paranoia about a changing world, and some extreme B-movie violence thrown in for good measure. It was funny, it was dark, it was just a damn good science-fiction film. I highly recommend it, but especially if you enjoy other modern sci-fi flicks like “Annihilation” or “Ex-Machina”.

Final Score: 2 Muscle Cars and 1 talkative A.I.

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Review Catch-Up: Paterson

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, “Paterson” is a meditation on the struggle, lyricism, and poetry of everyday life. The film focuses on Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who writes poetry in his fleeting free time. He lives with Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), the love of his life and the yang to his ying. While Paterson lives a life of simple routine with flourishes of artistry, Laura chases her dreams of artistic freedom through whichever flight of fancy that catches her imagination. From being the owner/chef of a cupcake bakery one evening to taking Spanish guitar courses online so she can pursue her latest dream of being a country music star.

Paterson (The film) is structured around a week in his life. From overhearing casual conversations on his routes to catching up on the latest developments of the local Romeo and Juliet of the neighborhood bar (William Jackson Harper as Everett and Chasten Harmon as Marie), the film isn’t concerned with anything other than the small, mundane, beat of it’s protagonist. One of the more poignant scenes of the film happens when Paterson is walking home and he decides to accompany a young girl until her mother returns from a nearby apartment. He sees that she has a notebook of writing too, she shares a poem of hers, and in that moment the film captures the beauty of such random acts of serendipity; two strangers sharing an appreciation for their craft.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll love this movie, it is “slow” and “nothing happens”, however if you find yourself needing a break from the noise, confusion, and chaos of your own every day life- then this film may just be what you need. I honestly went into this film not knowing if I would actually enjoy the experience or just be resentful of time spent on this whereas it may have been better spent on other priorities, I’ve seen Jim Jarmusch films films before and haven’t ever been really impressed or absorbed by them. (I’ve seen “Stranger than Paradise” “Dead Man” “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” and “Broken Flowers”) This is the only film of Jarmusch’s that has worked for me this far, though I can at least understand why some people enjoy “Broken Flowers”, but it’s not for me. This a solid Feel Good movie, perfect for a cold and blustery winter night.

Final Score: 7 days in Paterson, New Jersey