Trailer – Top Gun: Maverick


Maverick is back in the skies in Top Gun: Maverick. In the newly released trailer, it looks like Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is still flying after all these years, which explains why he isn’t an Admiral by now. He still has that old motorcycle, though it looks like he rides a newer one and we’re seeing F-18 Hornets in combat, which should be cool. Tomcats are also still in flight, bless the angels.

Not much is known about Top Gun: Maverick save that Christopher McQuarrie (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Mission Impossible: Fallout) has the writing duties here along with a few others. The directing duties are tied to Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy). Kosinski and Cruise also worked together on Oblivion.

Top Gun: Maverick also stars Academy Award Winner Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris and Val Kilmer.

The movie will be released in theatres next Summer.

Enjoy.

Film Review: The Snowman (dir by Tomas Alfredson)


So, I finally watched the 2018 thriller, The Snowman, and my main reaction to the film is that it featured a lot of snow.

That’s understandable, of course.  The film takes place in Norway and it’s called The Snowman so, naturally, I wasn’t expecting a lot of sunshine.  Still, after a while, the constant shots of the snow-covered landscape start to feel like almost some sort of an inside joke.  It’s almost as if the film is daring you to try to find one blade of grass in Norway.  Of course, the snow is important because the film’s about a serial killer who builds snowmen at the sites of his crimes.  They’re usually pretty big snowmen as well.  It’s hard not to be a little impressed by the fact that he could apparently make such impressive snowmen without anyone noticing.

Along with the snow, the other thing that I noticed about this movie is that apparently no one knows how to flip a light switch in Norway.  This is one of those films where every scene seems to take place in a dark room.  I found myself worrying about everyone’s eyesight and I was surprised the everyone in the film wasn’t wearing glasses.  I can only imagine how much strain that puts on the eyes when you’re constantly trying to read and look for clues in the dark.

Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a Norwegian police inspector who may be troubled but still gets results!  He’s upset because his ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has a new boyfriend (Jonas Karlsson).  He’s also upset because his son (Michael Yates) doesn’t know that Harry is actually his father.  Or, at least, I think that Harry’s upset.  It’s hard to tell because Fassbender gives a performance that’s almost as cold as the snow covering the Norwegian ground.  Of course, he’s always watchable because he’s Fassbender.  But, overall, he doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in either the role or the film.

Harry and his new partner (Rebecca Ferguson) are investigating a missing person’s case, which quickly turns into a multiple murder mystery.  It turns out that the crimes are linked to a bunch of old murders, all of which were investigated by a detective named Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer).  Gert was troubled but he still got results!  Or, at least, Harry thinks that he may have gotten results.  Nine years ago, Rafto died under mysterious circumstances…

Now, I have to admit that when, 30 minutes into the film, the words “9 years earlier” flashed on the screen, I groaned a bit.  I mean, it seemed to me that the movie was already slow enough without tossing in a bunch of flashbacks.  However, I quickly came to look forward to those brief flashbacks, mostly because they featured Val Kilmer in total IDGAF mode.  Kilmer stumbles through the flashbacks, complete with messy hair and a look of genuine snarky bemusement on his face.  Kilmer gives such a weird and self-amused performance that his brief scenes are the highlight of the film.

Before it was released, The Snowman was hyped as a potential Oscar contender.  After the movie came out and got roasted by the critics, director Tomas Alfredson replied that the studio forced him to rush through the production and that 10 to 15% of the script went unfilmed.  Considering Alfredson’s superior work on Let The Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The film’s disjointed style would certainly seem to back up Alfredson’s claim that there was originally meant to be more to the film than actually ended up on the screen.

The Snowman is one of those films that doesn’t seem to be sure what it wants to be.  At times, it aspires to David Lynch-style surrealism while, at other times, it seems to be borrowing from the morally ambiguous crime films of Taylor Sheridan.  Ultimately, it’s a confused film that doesn’t seem to have much reason for existing.  At the same time, I’ve also been told that the Jo Nesbø novel upon which the movie is based is excellent.  The same author also wrote the novel that served as the basis for 2011’s Headhunters, which was pretty damn good.  So, read the book and ignore the film.

New Orleans Film Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (dir by Werner Herzog)


“Do you think fish dream?”

— Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Happy Mardi Gras!

Since today is not only Fat Tuesday but also rapidly coming to a close, I think it’s time for me to share one final New Orleans film review.  Admittedly, though this film takes place and was filmed in New Orleans, it doesn’t feature any Mardi Gras scenes.  However, it does feature a lead performance that is perhaps as bizarre as anything that you’re likely to see in the French Quarter tonight.  Of course, I’m talking about Werner Herzog’s 2009 film, Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans.

Whenever I mention this movie to anyone, it only takes a few minutes before they get around to saying, “What was the deal with the iguanas?”  Everyone remembers the two iguanas who would randomly show up throughout the movie.  At one point, they were sitting in a coffee table while Lt. Terrence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) and Sgt. Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) were watching a house across the street.  When McDonagh demanded to know why the iguanas were on his coffee table, Pruit replied, “There ain’t no iguanas.”  McDonagh looked down at them and grinned.  This was followed by several hand-held close-ups of the iguanas, looking around inquisitively while McDonagh kept giving them the side eye.

The iguanas show up a second time, after McDonagh has tricked one gangster into killing another gangster.  “Shoot him again,” McDonagh demands, “his soul’s still dancing!”  Herzog pans over to show us that, indeed, the man’s soul is still dancing next to his corpse.  After the soul gets shot down, an iguana wanders across the floor.

What do the iguanas represent?  Some people think that they actually are meant to be hallucinations.  As the result of a back injury that he received saving a prisoner during Hurricane Katrina, McDonagh has permanent back problems and this has led to him getting hooked on drugs.  The perpetually high McDonagh sees and does a lot of bizarre things over the course of this movie.  Perhaps the iguanas are just a part of his addiction.

Myself, I think the iguanas represent the fact that, no matter what McDonagh and anyone else in New Orleans does over the course of the film, the randomness of nature is going win out in the end.  After all, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans opens with Katrina, which is perhaps the ultimate example of how helpless modern society is in the face of nature’s whims.  The film takes places in neighborhoods that have yet to recover from the flooding.  Every corner of the film is full of physical, emotional, and mental debris.  McDonagh pops pills and snorts cocaine in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control but ultimately, the iguanas are going to show up regardless of how much control he thinks he has.  Just as how Klaus Kinski, at the end of Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, couldn’t keep the monkeys off of his raft, Terrence McDonagh can’t keep the iguanas off of his coffee table.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans apparently started life as a reboot of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant.  The script (which was credited to William M. Finkelstein) is full of moments that mirror scenes from Ferrara’s film.  Once again, the protagonist is a corrupt police lieutenant who spends almost the entire film fucked up on drugs and whose only friend is a prostitute.  Again, there’s a disturbing scene in which the lieutenant harasses a young woman in a parking lot.  Again, the lieutenant has gambling debts and again, the lieutenant has to solve a horrifying crime.

While promoting his film, Herzog always said that 1) he had never seen Bad Lieutenant and 2) he didn’t even know who Abel Ferrara was.  Judging from the way Herzog directs the film, which is the complete opposite of the approach that Ferrara took to similar material, I’m inclined to believe Herzog.  Whereas Ferrara’s film was a grim and humorless plunge into the depths of Hell, Herzog takes an almost satirical approach to the story.  The running joke throughout Herzog’s film is that the bad lieutenant gets results precisely because he is so thoroughly messed up and incompetent.  The final part of Herzog’s film features so many sudden twists and turns that it’s hard not to conclude that Herzog is poking fun at how American crime films always have to wrap everything up within the final fifteen minutes, regardless of how messy or convoluted their plots may be.  Whereas Ferrara’s film featured Harvey Keitel naked and bellowing in soul-searing pain, Herzog gives us Nicolas Cage grinning, laughing, and apparently having a ball.

This has got to be one of Nicolas Cage’s wildest performances.  He yells.  He bulges his eyes.  He grins maniacally at the strangest moments.  He interrogates a suspect while taking hits off a joint.  Because his character has a bad back, Cage moves stiffly, carrying himself almost as if he were a living Golem.  McDonagh may have his demons but, at the same time, he also seems to be having a blast every time we see him.  Wisely, Herzog also allows the character some quieter moments.  When the lieutenant talks about how he used to imagine there was pirate treasure buried in his back yard or when he and an ex-con sit in front of a gigantic fish tank, Cage gets a chance to show that there actually is something going on underneath all of McDonagh’s bluster.  This not only one of Cage’s most over the top performances but also one of his best.

Herzog not only gets the best out of Cage but also the best out of New Orleans.  He may not make New Orleans look beautiful but he still captures the atmosphere that has made New Orleans one of the most legendary cities in the world.  Cage, Herzog, and New Orleans make for a great combination.

Film Review: Song to Song (dir by Terrence Malick)


You’re watching a movie called Song to Song.  It’s about beautiful people in a beautiful city.

In this case, the city is Austin, Texas.  The people are all involved in the Austin music scene and they’re played by actors like Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, and Cate Blanchett.  A good deal of Song to Song was filmed at the Austin City Limits festival and several real-life musicians appear as themselves, though only Patti Smith is on screen long enough to make much of an impression.  To be honest, both the music and Austin are almost incidental to the film.  Though the movie was sold as an Austin film and it premiered at SXSW, it could have just as easily taken place in Ft. Worth.

The film is made up of short, deliberately obscure shots.  The camera never stops moving, floating over images of sunsets, sunrises, and oddly empty streets.  Because the film was shot with a wide-angle lens, you’re never not aware of the expanse around the characters.  At times, all of those beautiful film stars run the risk of become specks on the landscape, as if the film itself is taunting the characters for thinking that they are more important than nature.

Who are the characters?  It’s not always easy to say.  There are plenty of voice overs but it’s rare that anyone directly states what they’re thinking or who they are.  When the characters speak to each other, they mumble.  The dialogue is a mix of the banal and the portentous, a sure sign of a film that was largely shot without a script.  Eventually, you turn on the captioning so that you can at least understand what everyone’s muttering.

Michael Fassbender plays Cook.  Cook appears to be a music producer but he could just as easily be a businessman who enjoys hanging out with and manipulating aspiring stars.  People seem to know him but nobody seems to be particularly impressed by him.  Cook spends a lot of time standing in front of a pool.  Is it his pool?  Is it his house? It’s hard to say.  Cook is obsessed with control or maybe he isn’t.  Halfway through the film, Fassbender appears to turn into his character from Shame.

Ryan Gosling is BV.  BV appears to be a lyricist, though it’s never made clear what type of songs that he writes.  At one point, you think someone said that he had written a country song but you may have misheard.  BV appears to have an estranged relationship with his dying father.  BV may be a romantic or he may not.  He seems to fall in love easily but he spends just as much time staring at the sky soulfully and suggesting that he has a hard time with commitment.  BV appears to be Cook’s best friend but sometimes, he isn’t.  There’s a random scene where BV accuses Cook of cheating him.  It’s never brought up again.

Rooney Mara is Faye.  Faye contributes most of the voice overs and yet, oddly, you’re never sure who exactly she is.  She appears to be BV’s girlfriend and sometimes, she appears to be Cook’s girlfriend.  Sometimes, she’s in love and then, just as abruptly, she’s not.  She may be a singer or she may be a songwriter.  At one point, she appears to be interviewing Patty Smith so maybe she’s a music journalist.  The film is centered around her but it never makes clear who she is.

Natalie Portman is Rhonda.  Rhonda was a teacher but now she’s a waitress.  She might be religious or she might not.  She might be married to Cook or she might not.  Her mother (Holly Hunter) might be dying or she might not.

And there are other beautful people as well.  Cate Blanchett plays a character named Amanda.  Amanda has a relationship with one of the characters and then vanishes after four scenes.  There’s an intriguing sadness to Blanchett’s performance.  Since the first cut of Song to Song was 8 hours long, you can assume her backstory was left on the cutting room floor.  (And yet strangely, it works that we never know much about who Amanda is.)  Lykke Li shows up, presumably playing herself but maybe not.  Berenice Marlohe and Val Kilmer also have small roles, wandering in and out of the character’s lives.

There’s a lot of wandering in this movie.  The characters wander through their life, stopping only to kiss each other, caress each other, and occasionally stare soulfully into the distance.  The camera seems to wander from scene to scene, stopping to occasionally focus on random details.  Even the film’s timeline seems to wander, as you find yourself looking at Rooney Mara’s forever changing hair and using it as a roadmap in your attempt to understand the film’s story.

“I went through a period when I thought sex had to be violent,” Rooney Mara’s voice over breathlessly explains, “We thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.”

As you watch Song to Song, you find yourself both intrigued and annoyed.  This is a Terrence Malick film, after all.  You love movies so, of course, you love Malick.  Even if his recent films have been flawed and self-indulgent, he is a true original.  You want to support him because he’s an artist but, as you watch Song to Song, the emphasis really does seem to be on self-indulgence.  The images are beautiful but the characters are so empty and the voice overs are so incredibly pretentious.  Should you be mad or should you be thankful that, in this time of cinematic blandness, there’s a director still willing to follow his own vision?

At times, Song to Song is brilliant.  There are images in Song to Song that are as beautiful as any that Malick has ever captured.  Sometimes, both the images and the characters are almost too beautiful.  The music business is tough and dirty but all of the images in Song to Song are clean and vibrant.

At times, Song to Song is incredibly annoying.  It’s hard not to suspect that the film would have worked better if Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara had switched roles.  Mara can be an outstanding actress with the right director (just check out her performance in Carol) but, in Song to Song, her natural blandness makes it difficult to take her seriously as whoever she’s supposed to be.  Portman has much less screen time and yet creates an unforgettable character.  Mara is in 75% of the film and yet never seems like an active participant.

At times, the film is annoyingly brilliant.  Malick’s self-indulgence can drive you mad while still leaving you impressed by his commitment to his vision.

And then, other times, the film is brilliantly annoying.  Many directors have mixed overly pretty images with pretentious voice overs but few do so with the panache of Terrence Malick.

Even fans of Terrence Malick, of which I certainly am one, will probably find Song to Song to be his weakest film.  Even compared to films like To The Wonder and Knight of Cups, Song to Song is a slow movie and there are moments that come dangerously close to self-parody.  Unlike Tree of Life, where everything eventually came together in enigmatic poignance, Song to Song often feels like less than the sum of its parts.  And yet, I can’t totally dismiss anything made by Terrence Malick.  Song to Song may be empty but it’s oh so pretty.

 

A Movie A Day #19: Kill Me Again (1989, directed by John Dahl)


killmeagainFay Forrest (Joanne Whalley) and her boyfriend, Vince Miller (Michael Madsen), make their living stealing from the mob.  After their latest job results in the death of a made man, Fay decides that she needs to escape from the abusive Vince.  She runs away to Las Vegas, where she looks up a small-time, financially strapped P.I., Jack Andrews (Val Kilmer).  She hires Jack to help her fake her death, offering to pay him $5,000 upfront and $5,000 after she’s dead.  Jack is reluctant to get involved but he also has a loan shark threatening to break every bone in his body.  Jack helps Fay fake her death but then Fay leaves town without paying him the second $5,000.  Even worse, both Vince and the mob quickly figure out that Fay is not actually dead and join Jack in trying to track her down.

Predictable but entertaining, Kill Me Again is an early example of the type of modern neo-noir that would become extremely popular in the 1990s.  In his directorial debut, John Dahl shows some hints of the style that he later brought to films like Red Rock West and The Last Seduction.  Val Kilmer was miscast and a few years too young for his role but Joanne Whalley (or Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as she was known when Kill Me Again was filmed) fully inhabitanted the stock role of the sultry femme fatale who can never quite be trusted.  Michael Madsen goes all out as Vince, giving an early version of his performance in Reservoir Dogs.

 

The Things You Find On Netflix: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau


lostsoul

I have never actually seen the 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau but I certainly have read a lot about it.

It’s one of those films that seems to get mentioned whenever film critics start talking about the worst films of all time and, as a result, the story of the film’s production has become legendary.  The film’s shoot was difficult, for reasons of both nature and human nature.  The film was shot in the inhospitable Australian rain forest and shooting was briefly shut down due to a sudden hurricane.   Richard Stanley, the original director, was unceremoniously fired by New Line Cinema and apparently proceeded to go native in the Australian wilderness, smoking a huge amount of weed while the studio executives feared that he would return and burn down the set.  Veteran director John Frankenheimer was brought in to finish the film and clashed immediately with the film’s notoriously eccentric and difficult stars, Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando.

And I have to admit that, every time I read about The Island of Dr. Moreau, there’s a part of me that wants to track down and watch this film and see how bad it could possibly be.  But, every time I find myself too tempted, I think about a shirtless Val Kilmer lounging around in a kilt and I quickly change my mind.

Val

Bleh!

Fortunately, if I want to get a feel for the insanity behind the film’s production, I no longer have to actually watch The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Instead, I can just get on Netflix and watch an entertaining documentary called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Lost Soul could have just as easily been called Everybody Hates Val Kilmer.  Val himself declined to be interviewed for the documentary and I have to say that I think that was a huge mistake on his part because literally everyone who did agree to be interviewed appears to absolutely despise Val Kilmer.  It’s not so much that everyone tells a story about Val’s bad behavior as much as the fact that, decades later, everyone still seems to be so traumatized by the experience of having been  anywhere near him.  (German actor Marco Hofschnieder especially seems to take a lot of delight in doing a devastating yet hilarious imitation of Val Kilmer smoking a cigarette and complaining about every line of dialogue, regardless of whether it was his dialogue or not.)

The documentary also includes plenty of crazy Marlon Brando stories but there’s a noticeable difference between the Brando stories and the Kilmer stories.  Brando is portrayed as being an almost tragic figure, a great actor who hated his talent and, as a result, went out of his way to give performances that mocked the very idea of even trying to be good.  As annoyed as everyone seems to have gotten with Brando, there’s still an undercurrent of affection to the Brando stories.  That’s something that is definitely lacking from the Kilmer stories.

(According to the documentary, Brando was not a Val Kilmer fan.  When Kilmer asked Brando if he had visited the Australian reef, Brando replied, “I own a reef,” and reportedly didn’t speak to Kilmer for the rest of the shoot.)

As interesting as the stories about Brando and Kilmer may be, the heart of the film rests with Richard Stanley, the promising young South African director whose brief “mainstream” film career was pretty much derailed by the drama surrounding The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Interviewed at his home in France and captivating the audience with both his intense stare and his mordant sense of humor, Richard Stanley describes both his vision for The Island of Dr. Moreau and the pain of having that vision snatched away from him.  Not only does he confirm that, as has long been rumored, he did sneak back onto the set as an extra but he also explains that the production’s problems were largely due to a mishap involving a warlock named Skip.

Lost Soul makes for an interesting cautionary tale about what happens when an artist has to deal with the establishment.  Watch it with Jodorowsky’s Dune and have yourself a double feature of “what could have been” cinema.

Film Review: Palo Alto (dir by Gia Coppola)


Palo Alto came out in May of last year and it never quite got as much attention as it deserved.  A lot of that is because the film is based on a collection of short stories by James Franco and a lot of critics apparently decided ahead of time that Palo Alto was some sort of vanity project.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  Palo Alto is actually one of the better films of 2014, a minor masterpiece of ennui that also serves as a promising directorial debut for Gia Coppola.  (Of course, Gia’s aunt Sofia made her directorial debut with an ennui-centric literary adaptation of her own, The Virgin Suicides.)

Palo Alto follows several teenagers over the course of one school year.  (It’s no coincidence that, at one point, Fast Times At Ridgemont High shows up on a TV screen.)  The film itself is deceptively plotless, with its occasionally drifting narrative mirroring the lives of protagonists who literally have no direction.  April (Emma Roberts), who is too intelligent to really fit in with either her shallow friends or her flakey family, plays soccer and has a crush on both Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and her coach, Mr. B (James Franco, playing an unapologetically sleazy character).  Teddy is a talented artist who, after a drunk driving accident, finds himself on probation and sentenced to do community service.  Making it difficult for Teddy to stay out of trouble is his best friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), who hides his sociopathic nature behind a constant stream of jokes.  And then there’s Emily (Zoe Levin), who hides her insecurities behind a wall of blow jobs and demeaning sexual encounters.

As for the adults of Palo Alto, they’re for the most part a collection of grim but ineffective authority figures and parents who don’t want to grow up.  Mr. B hides his predatory nature behind a kind smile and a paternal nature.  April’s stepfather (Val Kilmer) is permanently stoned.  Teddy’s mother is unconcerned with her son’s drinking.  Meanwhile, Fred’s father (Chris Messina) offers weed to and hits on his son’s friends.

And it may all sound a bit familiar.  Every year, it seems like there is a countless number of indie films about directionless teenagers and irresponsible parents.  But Palo Alto is distinguished by Gia Coppola’s confident and frequently surreal direction.  Coppola has a good eye for detail and, as a result of the gorgeous cinematography of Autumn Durald, the film is always interesting to watch regardless of how familiar the story may seem.  The entire cast does a good job as well, with Emma Roberts and Nat Wolff as clear stand-outs.

And, I have to admit, that on a personal level, there was a lot of Palo Alto to which I related.  Whether it was the awkward conversations between April and Teddy or the sad look on Emily’s face as she stared at her reflection, there were so many small moments that just felt true.  As I watched Palo Alto, it was impossible for me not to think about my own time in high school.  I knew quite a few Teddys.  I even knew a few Freds.  And sometimes, I was April and then other times, I could have been any of the other characters who wander throughout Palo Alto.

Don’t listen to the haters.  Palo Alto is more than worth your time.