film

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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film

Review: Isle of Dogs

Written and directed by Wes Anderson, “Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion animated film set in Megasaki City, a fictional Japanese city in the not so distant future, where a virus known as ‘Dog Flu‘ has devastated the pet populace and threatens to transfer to humans soon. In the face of this threat Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) declares an emergency order, exile all dogs to trash island. He begins with the public exile of his young nephew Atari’s (Koyu Rankin) dog/bodyguard Spots (Liev Schreiber). Six months later the decrepit isle is populated by every dog from Megasaki City and we focus on five particular pooches looking for food amongst the scraps, Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and King (Bob Balaban). After a quick scrap over the available morsels with another gang of roving dogs they spot an incoming small plane that’s about to crash land. After they drag Atari from the wreckage and dub him, the little pilot, they figure out that he’s looking for his lost dog, Spots.

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This little film was a joy to watch. I already have a proclivity towards stop-motion animation, so the film had already piqued my interest- but I really did enjoy the story of “Isle of Dogs” as well. At the heart of the film the story is about friendship and doing the right thing, but there were darker shades of conspiracy and a more realized threat for all of the four-legged companions than I was expecting. I won’t get into spoiler territory, but the film was more clever than I had expected and that was a nice surprise. The stellar voice cast cannot be ignored either as each dog had a major name behind their voice and their stylized performances, written for each celebrity, fit their larger than life personas which only added depth to their characterization. There’s also the visual treat of the film as a whole, the blocking and movement was tight and tactile while maintaining Anderson’s well worn Symmetry (with a capital S!) in all frames. This film might fall more on the niche side of his works than say “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but it won me over and I’ll definitely be adding it to my collection once the physical copy is released.

 

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Now, to discuss the elephant in the room; the fact that Wes Anderson made a creative choice to have all human characters speak in their native tongues and deciding against subtitles. There are also translations through interpreters at events or machines that perform the same function. The untranslated Japanese speakers didn’t bother me in this film’s context, it felt more like a quirky choice that was an example of the difficulties with translation as a whole as used in the dogs versus humans, but yes this was clearly made for an English speaking audience. Personally, I’m of the mind that ‘cultural appropriation’ and those who like to throw the term about wildly, aren’t nearly as bad or mean-spirited as people might immediately assume. Obviously context matters here, ‘blackface‘ for example was not okay and we all understand that. However, today’s outrage culture seems poised to sniff out any little tidbit of possible offense and use it to lambaste those who might simply be fascinated by other cultures and their traditions. Just so long as the Japanese voice actors’ speech wasn’t derogatory or insensitive to the culture, which after doing some mild research- it seems to be a fairly innocent tactic, the filmmaker seemed invested in playing with a motif of Japanese culture while also attempting to do so respectfully.

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I just don’t understand the effort that goes into being that upset consistently. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds about this here as this is just a review for “Isle of Dogs”, but its relevant to the film. Injustice is important to seek and stamp out in society if possible, but if you’re so narrowly focused that you’re actively protesting a Wes Anderson film- well, there are more productive ways you could be helping society as it relates to injustice. As an example, I don’t get that incensed when I see a white person wearing dreads, however, I am upset by government agencies destroying the environment and further ruining the last patches of land and water left to our Native American peoples. Anyway, that’s the end of my miniature lecture.

Final Score: 5 guide dogs and 1 determined boy

*Below are two articles that further discuss the translations, and lack thereof in “Isle of Dogs”, and I encourage you to give them a read if you’re invested in the topic.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/what-isle-of-dogs-gets-right-about-japan

https://slate.com/culture/2018/04/what-its-like-to-watchisle-of-dogsas-a-japanese-speaker.html

film

Movie Pitch: DOOM (REBOOT)

Way back in 2005 there was an adaption of the infamous video game property DOOM starring Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban. That film ended up being a commercial and critical failure earning only a paltry 56 million (worldwide total) on a 60 million budget. The major problem with the film, in my opinion, was that it diverted from the simplistic and satisfying nature that made the games so fun. Instead the story placed the focus on a search and rescue mission wherein a squad of space marines are sent to Mars and discover that the monsters of the film are actually scientific aberrations created by infecting the humans of the Martian site with a Martian chromosome synthesized from the bones of a long forgotten genetically advanced race. What? Where are the demons from Hell? The film gave more questions in the end than answers, and it wasn’t paying homage to the true spirit of the games at all. Now, if I were given the opportunity to draft a reboot of the property I’d follow the basic blueprints from the recent video game update in 2016.

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The basic plot of the story is that in the future we humans became entrenched in an energy crisis, so, the solution that we came up with was to build a technical facility on Mars that houses a portal to Hell where we siphon the dark energy from the demon realm to charge our i-phones. Eventually acolytes or otherwise corrupted individuals,  such as Olivia Pierce, make a pact with the demon realm for power and unleash the demons onto the Mars facility halting the energy production for Earth. The DOOMSLAYER, or main character, is reawakened by Dr. Samuel Hayden (the facility director on Mars that now inhabits an android after his human brain was lost to a deadly cancer) as a last ditch effort to stave off the demonic invasion.

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After being awoken, the DOOMSLAYER (the caps make it more fun!) goes on a violent journey serving up bone crunching and head splitting action until he travels to Hell and severs the connection between worlds. It’s a fast paced and gory affair with heavy metal accompanying the glorious melding of science fiction and fantasy in this revamping of the video game property and I think this new iteration could be translated into a supremely entertaining action/sci-fi/fantasy film. The three main points of focus here should be similar to the game in it’s momentum, horrifying character designs for the demons, and the absolutely gruesome displays of violence. This would definitely be a hard-R rating, but with movies like “Logan” and “Deadpool” out there earning accolades and cases of cold hard cash,  this proves that there’s an appetite for over-the-top violence when done right.

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As far as casting is concerned, I have four characters that I believe the story hinges on, and four actors that seem particularly appropriate for the requirements of such an adaption. Firstly I’d pursue Tom Hardy for our hero in the DOOMSLAYER (still fun, every time). He’s proven in recent performances like “Mad Max: Fury Road”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, and “Dunkirk” that he can act particularly well with a lack of dialogue, but he’s also especially great at conveying personality and attitude through actions like in “Fury Road”, and the DOOMSLAYER requires a certain amount of attitude through characterization.

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As for Dr. Samuel Hayden I would cast James Spader in the motion capture and voice over role as the mechanical genius overseeing the facility long after his body had rotted away. Up until the writing of this article I had assumed that it actually was James Spader doing the voice over in the video game reboot, he sounds exactly like Spader’s rendition of Marvel Comic-book villain Ultron. That role was actually from Darin De Paul, but I say bring on Spader, the android doctor had a dry sarcasm embedded in his performance that would be perfect for the character actor to play off of without entirely riffing his Ultron performance, they are definitely two different characters with different motivations and intentions.

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As for the ultimate villain of the story, Olivia Pierce, I would cast either Tilda Swinton (who would be fascinating in this role-though I doubt she would take it on), or Elizabeth Debicki. Both actresses have the look of the villain down, plus I feel they could both give some extra characterization to a villain that does have motivations behind her actions, but they are slightly cardboard-thin in the game. We can give slight altercations to improve such things through the acting, but still I believe both women would pull excellent performances out of an over-the-top adaption such as this.

 

This last role isn’t one that was in the game or the earlier film adaption, but instead of doling out weapons upgrades to the DOOMSLAYER through another A.I. type character like the recent video game reboot did-I would create a sort of comic relief character that would function as this role. I would cast Charlie Day in this role. As a facility worker that hid from the demonic invasion, you could have Day play the role of the scared but capable engineer that has secret knowledge of the weapons division. He could pop in and out of the story communicating to the DOOMSLAYER and providing support by pointing out where things like the chainsaw, rocket launcher, or say the B.F.G. are hidden. He could also support in the closing of the portal to hell at the end of the film, severing the connection between the realms. The DOOMSLAYER could choose to stay in hell? Or we could have Dr. Hayden take matters into his own robot hands by transporting the crucible (magical blade used to kill Olivia Pierce in the game) back to Mars to research for energy creating purposes, but not the DOOMSLAYER. There’s a lot we could do with the ending, but nonetheless, I think having a comedic relief character portrayed by Charlie Day could be a benefit to the film’s entertainment value.

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The last major choice I would pursue with this adaption would be to secure the writer-director team behind the “John Wick” movies, Chad Stahelski, David Leitch and Derek Kolstad. I believe the style and fast paced nature of what they’ve accomplished with “John Wick” and its sequel proves that they know how to direct action-not just well, but creatively. They’ve shown that they know how to build mythology effectively, and provide flare and personality through the action on the screen. If they can transfer their slick gunplay action to the realm of the DOOMSLAYER, they’d benefit greatly from this material.

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Combine all of these elements and I believe we’d have a hit on our hands. The market and box office numbers in the last few years have proven that the fantastical and the hyper violent can be a boon both creatively and financially. With committed talent and a stripped down bare bones idea of DOOM in place, I’m pretty sure we’d have an entertaining and profitable movie to put in theaters. I know I’d want to watch this!