The Meg, Review By Case Wright


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Yes, I know The Meg came out a while ago, but I just got it on Netflix and had a pretty good date night watching it; so, you’re going to learn about too.  The press was not kind to this film.  They used words like dumbed down, boring, and bland.  I wouldn’t put The Meg in any of those categories.  This was a high budget SyFy movie like Sharknado, but less self-aware.  As for the film, there were some legit scare moments.  My general beef is that it acted as a Chinese propaganda film.  Jason…Buddy…you don’t have to pander like that.  You’ve got abs and monster shark eating people.  Really.  Even if you want to pander, showing the Chinese flag waving gloriously not once, but twice was just over the top ass-kissing.  Just stop.

The Meg, directed by Jon Turtletaub (Jericho, Rush Hour) and written by Joe Hoeber (Battleship), is a straightforward monster movie.  A Jerk Billionaire (Rainn Wilson) funds and exploration of a deepsea cave.  The dive team investigates and voila there be dino-sharks swimmin in thar and they get trapped in the land of the lost in the briny deep. *Pirate Voice*  Hmmm, maybe this entire article should be read in a pirate voice.  Think of it as your innarrrrrrrrr monologue.  A couple of megalodons get out and only Jason Statham and his abs can stop them.  Side Note on abs: I’ve lost 65Lbs and nearly have Statham Abs.  This doesn’t really add to the review, but come on abs really didn’t add anything to stopping the megalodon, but if Statham hadn’t shown his abs you’re telling me no one would’ve been disappointed?! Really?!  REALLY?! You’re sticking with that?! Fine!

Jason (Just calling him Jason, again, come on…is anyone remembering the character’s name?!!!  You went to see it because Jason was in it…..ughhhh… Fine) ….

Jonas (Jason Statham) is down and out because he had a run in with a Kaiju earlier in his career and now he drinks beer all the time that give him abs….THAT is the only part of the movie I don’t buy and irritated me.  He should’ve been doing crossfit! I’m sorry if you have even one lousy Heineken, you are not going to look like this:

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IT’S NOT POSSIBLE! I bust my hump 6-7 days a week in the gym to get the above results and boozing is not possible if you want Statham abs!  He should be doing burpees and drinking green juice!

Anywho, Jonas decides to rescue the yellow submarine and then kill the not one, but two Megs.  There a quite a few Jaws-like death scenes.  There is even a beach scene where The Meg chows down on Chinese beach goers AND when The Meg comes in for seconds, you can see wee swimsuits in his jaws (nice touch Turtletaub, nice touch). Jonas has to pursue the Meg into the beach and kill it.  This is not a spoiler! What else would he do?!  Jonas uses some weird looking submarine and kills it with some sort of submarine knife; I honestly couldn’t tell.  It was kind of a darkly lit scene.

Addendum: There is also a minor subplot with Jonas and Suyin, but it’s too dull to discuss.  I would’ve edited her and her overly cute kid out the movie entirely.

Is The Meg worth Netflixing? Yes! It’s a monster movie. The mainstream press is just too snobby to enjoy a Sharknado or unironically watch a Lifetime MOW.  But not me! I can enjoy a creature feature!

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IO, Review By Case Wright


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New beginnings and adventure versus intimacy and connection is the theme of Netflix’s latest straight to stream scifi think piece- IO.  It makes sense that human connection is the main theme because this movie was written by a team.  Rule of thumb: if you see Writer 1 and Writer 2 that was rewritten because writer 1 kinda sucked, BUT, if you see Writer 1 & Writer 2, this was written as a creative team.  In this case, there were three writers working together: Clay Jeter, Charles Spano, & Will Basanta.  I can’t imagine how challenging that would be for a film script mostly because I’m very solitary as a writer.  I’m an extrovert in every other way, but my ideal writing space is a well-lit isolation cave.  What is impressive to me  is that Netflix took a chance on these writers because it was their first real feature.  Normally, I would make a parenthesis next to the writers’ names, but here they haven’t really done anything prior.    The director, Jonathan Helpert, has done short films, never a feature. Despite this being everyone’s first feature, they executed well and attracted some real talent to their piece: Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Winter Soldier).

The film takes place in just two locations, has two principles, and essentially just a cameo by a third actor.  The special effects were so minimalist that it made Another Earth (Lisa’s Review) look like Star Wars.  90% of the film takes place on a campsite, 5% in an empty neighborhood, and 5% in a museum. This film really ratchets up the intimacy and nothing can make two people closer than not having any other human beings around to distract them.

At first, I thought I was in for some Al Gore environmentalist porn because the film begins with a mass exodus of humanity from earth to an outpost to IO because runaway pollution changed our air to ammonia.  Obviously, there’s not enough fabreeze in the world to get rid of that smell.  Our heroine, Sam (Margaret Qualley) is up on a mountain campsite where the air is still breathable.  She is working alone to further her father’s research to adapt bees and plants to the new atmosphere in order to make the world habitable for humans again.  She makes trips down to the city below to scavenge for parts and to finally get decent tickets to see Hamilton.  This sounds like it would be dull, but it’s totally engaging because Margaret Qualley is such a talent that she plays the claustophic loneliness so you can feel it yourself.

Sam has a REALLY long distance relationship with Elon her engineer boyfriend who is determined to find humanity a new home.  His life is in the unknown and the stars; whereas, Sam’s is one earthbound and lonely.  Her loneliness is ended with the arrival of Micah (Anthony Mackie) a much older man than she, but there are obvious sparks.  They share an interest in the humanities and mourn our lost paradise.  Micah followed Sam’s father’s advice and attempted to stay on earth and survive and adapt, but doing so cost him his wife’s life and anyone else’s who listened to him.  He spent years floating around earth on a hot air balloon, seeing humanity’s fall from above.  When Micah met Sam, their age difference, the poisoned earth, or the uncertain future didn’t matter because they made a connection and developed concern for one another.

A lot has been discussed about the quasi-ambiguous ending because I suppose people are really good at missing the point.  It never was about whether humanity retook the earth or colonized a new home beyond the stars; it was about humans rediscovering their humanity.  In fact, the last lines of the film discussed exploration, coming to where you began, and re-discovering your starting point as if it were new because it is: you have changed, you have grown, the meaning has evolved.  By the end of the film, Sam and Micah had learned that they were still human.  These connections are why we fight a Trojan War to bring our loved ones home because we are connected to them, they matter, and because we are human.  The end was not about whether she survived and lived on earth on not; it was heartbreaking because alive or dead, we knew that the roads Micah and Sam would walk would not be together.

 

Fever Dreams: Fritz Lang’s THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (RKO/International Pictures 1944)


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Back in 2016, I did a post expounding on one of my favorite films noir, 1945’s SCARLET STREET . This dark masterpiece of corruption starred the titanic trio of Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea in a sordid tale directed by German legend Fritz Lang, with moody cinematography courtesy of Milton Krasner. Recently, I viewed a film this team made the year previous, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, with a screenplay by producer Nunnally Johnson. Comparisons were inevitable, but though there are certainly similarities between the two films, this one stands on its own as a powerful entry in the film noir canon. With all that talent, would you expect anything less?

Robinson plays college professor Richard Wanley, an intellectual lecturing on the psychology of homicide to his students. He’s a happily married father of two kids, left alone while the fam visits relatives. Whaley goes to his…

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Diamond Among the Coal: Bela Lugosi in BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT (Monogram 1942)


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I’ve written about Bela Lugosi’s infamous ‘Monogram 9’ before, those ultra-cheap spectacles produced by the equally ultra-cheap Sam Katzman for low-budget Monogram Pictures. These films are all Grade Z schlock, redeemed only by Lugosi’s presence, giving his all no matter how ludicrous the scripts or cardboard the sets. BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT is a cut above; still schlock, but the pulpy premise is different from the rest, and Bela gives what’s probably his best performance out of the whole trashy bunch.

Lugosi plays kindly Karl Wagner, a benevolent soul who runs the Friendly Mission down on the Bowery. But wait – it’s all a front for recruiting down-on-their-luck criminals into Wagner’s gang of thieves. And when he’s done with them, he bumps them off and gives the corpses to ‘Doc’, a dope fiend ex-medico who uses the bodies for his own nefarious purposes!

But wait again! Wagner’s not really Wagner, he’s…

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Film Review: White Boy Rick (dir by Yann Demange)


Last night, as a part of my attempt to get caught up with the films of 2018, I watched White Boy Rick.

As you might guess from the title, this film is about a white boy named Rick.  It’s based on the true story of Richard Wershe, Jr., who grew up on the streets of Detroit.  His father sold guns out of the trunk of his car and, by the time he turned 14, Rick was running with drug dealers and street gangs.  (The fact that he was white while all of his friends were black is what led to him getting his nickname.)  Rick became an informant for the FBI and, according to Wershe, the government helped him build up his reputation by supplying him with the drugs that he would then sell on the streets.  When the FBI eventually decided that Wershe was no longer a useful asset, he was arrested for dealing and sentenced to life in prison.

The story seems like one that has the potential to say a lot that needs to be said about not only the economic realities of life in a dying city but also about the role that race plays in America’s often misdirected “war on drugs.”  Unfortunately, the film falls flat because, with the exception of a few scenes, it never really convinces us that Rick was really worthy of being the subject of a film.  While the film surrounds him with interesting supporting characters, Rick himself remains something of a cipher.  Rick is played by a young actor named Richie Merritt.  Merritt’s has the right look for the character but you never get the feeling that there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Rick comes across as just being a moron who got lucky and then, eventually, not so lucky.

The supporting cast fares a bit better.  For instance, Matthew McConaughey plays Rick’s father with just the right amount of manic energy and Bel Powley has a few harrowing scenes as Rick’s drug addicted sister.  Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie don’t get to do much as Rick’s grandparents but it doesn’t matter because they’re Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie.  (All Bruce Dern has to do to make a character interesting is look at the camera.)  Jennifer Jason Leigh plays one of Rick’s FBI handlers with the perfect hint of subversiveness.  You’re never quite sure whether she’s messing with Rick’s life because she’s incompetent or because she’s enjoying it.  Unfortunately, the supporting characters are often so interesting that Rick often gets overshadowed.  He’s a bystander in his own story, which may have been the film’s point but, from a storytelling point of view, it hardly makes for compelling viewing.

Admittedly, there are a few memorable scenes to be found in White Boy Rick.  At one point, Rick goes to a wedding at the mayor’s mansion and he’s a sight to behold in his blue tuxedo.  In another scene, it’s explained to Rick why, when it comes to being arrested, charged, and incarcerated, the stakes are very different when you’re black than when you’re white.  In scenes like that, you kind of get a hint of White Boy Rick could have been if it had been centered around a more compelling character.

As it is, though, White Boy Rick is well-made but kind of dull.  It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

Wild Wyler West: Gary Cooper is THE WESTERNER (United Artists 1940)


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It’s hard to believe that, except for two films in which he cameoed, I haven’t covered any movies starring my namesake, Gary Cooper . Nor have I written anything about any of major Hollywood director William Wyler’s works. So let’s kill two birds with one stone and take a look at 1940’s THE WESTERNER, one of the best Westerns ever. It’s a highly fictionalized account of the life and times of Judge Roy Bean (1825-1903), played by Walter Brennan in his third and final Oscar-winning role, with Cooper as a drifter at odds with “The Law West of the Pecos”.

That “law” is Bean, who sides with the open range cattlemen against the homesteaders who’ve moved into the area. Into the town of Vinagaroon rides Coop as Cole Harden on his way to California. Unfortunately for Cole, he rides in on a horse stolen from one of Bean’s cronies, and…

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Attaboy, Luther!: Don Knotts in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (Universal 1966)


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When the conversation turns to great screen comedians, Don Knotts doesn’t get a lot of respect among the cognescenti. Talk to his loyal fandom, including celebrities like Jim Carrey and John Waters, and you’ll hear a different tune. They all agree – Knotts was a talented and funny comic actor, the quintessential Everyman buffeted about by the cruelties of fate who eventually triumphs against the odds. Following his Emmy-winning five-year run as Deputy Barney Fife on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW , Knotts signed a movie contract with Universal, and his first feature for the studio was the perfect vehicle for his peculiar talents: a scare comedy titled THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN.

Knotts plays Luther Heggs, a meek typesetter for his local newspaper in the small town of Rachel, Kansas. He’s also somewhat of the town laughing-stock, bullied by the paper’s ace reporter Ollie, his rival for the affections…

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