Saturday, September 23, 2017

Columbus (2017)

I loved this dreamy movie filmed on location in Columbus, Indiana, for its gorgeous photography and magnificent modernist locations. This darling of Sundance is about a high school graduate, with no plans to leave her beloved hometown and its architecture, who meets an Asian visitor and shows him around.

Every synopsis I've read starts with Jin, played by John Cho (after I profiled him in Star Trek Into Darkness he was in its sequel and Grandma), who has to leave his job in Korea when his father becomes ill in Columbus. But it's really Casey's (Haley Lu Richardson played the best friend in The Edge of Seventeen) story, with her devotion to her city and her mother (Michelle Forbes was terrific in Kalifornia (1993), Swimming with Sharks (1994), 31 episodes of Homicide, a lot more TV, and a few more movies). Supporting players include Parker Posey (last blogged for CafĂ© Society) and Rory Culkin (Macauley's youngest brother, now 28, covered in Lymelife).

First time director/writer Kogonada (it's a pseudonym) has already begun racking up awards and wins for this movie. Before this he edited video essays about movie directors (especially Japanese ones) and artfully edited this movie as well. Many scenes have no cuts at all. Like Cho, he was born in Korea but raised in America, and is now living in Knoxville TN, down I-65 from Columbus.

Cinematographer Elisha Christian clearly captures the director's vision--they are enamored of passageways and often return to the same ones at different times during the movie.

The soundtrack by Hammock (Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson of Nashville) is terrific but not available to stream. You can hear other works by the duo on youtube.

Mike Pence was born and raised in Columbus, Indiana. Don't hold that against this movie.

I know Jack would have loved this had he been available to join me Thursday. Rotten Tomatoes' critics and audiences sure do, averaging 97 and 85% respectively. I followed its official Facebook page and learned that it's now (October 4, 2017) available for pre-order on iTunes. If you read this later, there will be other options. Do see this!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Viceroy's House (2017)

Jack and I really liked this story of the end of the British Empire in India, in 1947, with a love story subplot and lots of politics. Hugh Bonneville (last blogged for The Monuments Men) is stately Lord "Dickie" Mountbatten, tasked with making a peaceful exit, and Gillian Anderson (best known as Agent Scully in 217 episodes of The X-Files, she was most recently in these pages for How to Lose Friends & Alienate People and the Oscar-nominated short Room on the Broom) is his liberal, kind wife and partner Edwina. The love story is between the radiant Huma Qureshi (new to me) and Manish Dayal (after The Hundred-Foot Journey he was in eight episodes of Halt and Catch Fire) as Aalia and Jeet. Om Puri, who was also last blogged for The Hundred-Foot Journey, plays Aalia's father.

There's a huge cast, so I'll mention only veteran British actors Michael Gambon (most recently in Quartet) as General Ismay and Simon Callow (A Room with a View (1985), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Shakespeare in Love (1998), among many credits) as Cyril Radcliffe.

Director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha (last blogged for the same jobs on Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging) gives tribute at the end to her grandmother who was part of that history. Co-writer Paul Mayeda Berges also co-wrote Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and co-writer Moira Buffini is new to me. Between them they keep the pace moving.

Cinematographer Ben Smithard (most recently in these pages for shooting The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) brings us gorgeous pictures, all shot on location in India.

Another connection with The Hundred-Foot Journey is composer A.R. Rahman, whose lilting tunes can be streamed on youtube by starting with this link and progressing by number.

Critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes aren't as warm as we are, averaging 71 and 66%, respectively. We recommend seeing this on a big screen.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Patti Cake$ (2017)

Jack and I enjoyed this story of a white, plus-size, female rapper hoping for fame and fortune to escape her hard New Jersey life. Danielle Macdonald (new to me but not to the business) is terrific as Patricia AKA Killa P. From Australia, she had to learn a Jersey accent and to rap but we never guessed from seeing her on screen. Comedian/cabaret singer Bridget Everett (five episodes of Inside Amy Schumer, Trainwreck) is also wonderful as P's mean mom Barb. There's a mention in the movie of Precious, as a taunt about P's weight, but it made me think of the similar casting, with comedienne Mo'Nique as an even meaner mom. Everett uses her singing skills in this movie to great effect. You can hear her chops in this clip from Jimmy Fallon's show (first an interview, then at 4:32 a preview from this movie, then at 6:00 she belts out Piece of My Heart to a standing ovation--I literally got chills listening).

Siddharth Dhananjay, a rapper/singer in his own right making his movie debut, plays P's best friend and bandmate Jheri. Here's some back story on the actor and a video of him. Cathy Moriarty (nominated for Best Supporting Actress in her first ever gig Raging Bull (1980), then I liked  Soapdish (1991), Forget Paris (1995), Gloria (1999), But I'm a Cheerleader (1999), and Analyze That (2002), to name a few) brings life to P's Nana and Mamoudou Athie (new to me despite two series and more) is good as the mysterious Basterd. Anthony Ramos (from the original cast of Hamilton and soon to star in the Netflix series based on Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It (1986)) plays a recording engineer in a cameo. I have submitted two corrections to imdb: as of today Athie's character is unnamed and Ramos isn't mentioned.

This is the feature debut of director/writer Geremy Jasper, and he and his movie were nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Golden Camera at Cannes, among other wins and and nominations. A New Jersey native, he wrote all the rap lyrics.

For us sensitive people, this movie will cause Motion-Picture-Motion Sickness or MPMS. It's going on my running list. I advise medication, watching from the last row, looking away from the screen occasionally, waiting for its digital release (estimated November 2017), or all of the above.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics and audiences like this one, too, averaging 83 and 80%. If you don't hate rap you'll like this movie.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Jack and I liked a lot this story of an Instagram-obsessed stalker who, surprise, moves west to insinuate herself into a social media star's life. Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen are brilliant as Ingrid and her glossy prey Taylor and were last blogged for The Little Hours and I Saw the Light, respectively. O'Shea Jackson Jr. (made his film debut playing his father Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton) is also great as Ingrid's neighbor Dan. Pom Klementieff (in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 she played Mantis with antennae on her forehead) makes a cameo as actress Harley Chung towards the end.

Director/co-writer Matt Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance despite its being the first feature for both men. They were inspired by the movies Single White Female (1992) (it's mentioned in the script) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) in which deranged people change themselves to be like their idols. For an independent movie, this has high production values.

The composers are Jonathan Sadoff (new to these pages but scored Seeking a Friend for the End of the WorldThe Meddler, and ten episodes of Impastor) and Nick Thorburn (new to me). Trivia: the character Ingrid's last name is Thorburn. I don't remember the score--this is the last of four movies we saw in four days Labor Day weekend while I was coming down with a cold--but I found this list of songs with play buttons.

Critics on Rotten Tomatoes are averaging 85% and its audiences 79. There are only a few screenings left in these parts but its digital release is estimated for November 2017. You should see it one way or another.

Okja (2017)

This terrific tale of a Korean girl protecting her hippo-size pet pig from the corporation that bred it was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes and went straight to Netflix, its producer. An Seo Hyun (also known as Seo-Hyn Ahn and Seo-hyeon Ahn) is 13 and wonderful as Mija (not her first gig but new to me). Among the large cast we have Tilda Swinton (last blogged for Doctor Strange), Paul Dano (most recently in Youth), Jake Gyllenhaal (last blogged for White House Down, though it was three years before Nocturnal Animals) in a comic/manic role, and Giancarlo Esposito (has been working on screens since age 8 and some of my favorites of his work are Do the Right Thing (1989), Mo' Better Blues (1990), Night on Earth (1991), 22 episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street (1998-99), Ali (2001) as Cassius Clay Sr., Sherrybaby (2006), 26 episodes of Breaking Bad (2009-11), Rabbit Hole, the voice of Akela in The Jungle BookMoney Monster, nine episodes of Better Call Saul (2017), and narrator in ten of Dear White People, a Netflix series streaming now) the low-key opposite.

Director/co-writer Bong Joon-Ho (has returned to the traditional Korean practice of placing his surname first for this project, unlike in his last one Snowpiercer) and co-writer Jon Ronson (wrote the "inspiration" novel for The Men Who Stare at Goats and makes his feature screenwriting debut here) bring us an indictment of corporate greed and narcissism wrapped in this often funny story that's rated TV-MA (13+) for violence against animals, one riot, and language.

The beautiful photography, especially in the Korean mountains, is thanks to cinematographer Darius Khondji (last shot Irrational Man), masterfully combined with computer graphics of the huge animal who has many dog-like characteristics.

Music credits go to Jaeil Jung and Jemma Burns, both in their feature debuts as composers, though Burns has had dozens of music supervisor jobs. This video, in two parts, shows Jung performing over 20 minutes of the Okja soundtrack.

The movie is in English and Korean with subtitles and closed captions in English are available for all dialogue and do not repeat or block the subtitles. There's one instance of intentional mistranslation, which would be missed by anyone not fluent in both English and Korean, covered in goofs.

Now that Netflix allows members to temporarily download content, I had originally planned to watch this on a cross-country flight, but decided in the first few minutes that I'd want to savor its images and music (I finished the season of House of Cards on the plane instead). So Jack and I enjoyed it in our home theatre last weekend.

It's doing well on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics averaging 85% and audiences at 83. Stick around or fast forward through the credits because there's an entire scene at the end.

Logan Lucky (2017)

Jack and I thoroughly enjoyed this action comedy about West Virginians plotting to rob an actual NASCAR race in Charlotte, North Carolina. Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, and Riley Keough play the Logan siblings in order from least to most wily. Driver was last blogged for Paterson; Tatum was most recently in these pages for my catch-up post on White House Down which was released years before Hail, Caesar!; and Keough, Elvis's granddaughter, makes here an impressive follow-up to American Honey. Daniel Craig (last blogged for Spectre) is terrific as accomplice Joe Bang with a bleach blond flat-top and Appalachian accent--his on-screen credit is prefaced with "and introducing."

Plenty of supporting actors add to the mix, including Katie Holmes (some of my faves are her first movie The Ice Storm (1997), Wonder Boys (2000), Phone Booth (2002), Pieces of April (2003), Batman Begins (2005), Thank You for Smoking (2005), and Woman in Gold) as Tatum's ex-wife; Farrah Mackenzie as their daughter, with big eyes like Holmes's; Hilary Swank (last in The Homesman) as a humorless FBI agent, and a trio of Hollywood royalty: Jack Quaid (son of Dennis & Meg Ryan) and Brian Gleeson (brother of Domnhall and son of Brendan) (both young men are new to me) play Fish and Sam Bang, also accomplices, and Katherine Waterston (she's the daughter of Sam and was most recently in Steve Jobs) plays Sylvia, who has a terrible bowl haircut. I'd like to forget Seth MacFarlane (last blogged for A Million Ways to Die in the West) as an arrogant Englishman in a bad wig.

Director Steven Soderbergh supposedly retired from Hollywood after Side Effects in 2013 (after that he helmed the series The Knick and the TV movie Behind the Candelabra) so this is a comeback of sorts, independently financed (more on that). He often uses pseudonyms when he edits (Mary Ann Bernard) and shoots (Peter Andrews) (the movie was shot during the actual Coca-Cola 600 race) but this time he takes credit for those jobs, according to imdb. However, some people believe that screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (who has no other credits) may be he. Others think it's his wife Jules Asner (ex-daughter-in-law of Ed). No one is quite sure who wrote this movie, though Soderbergh insists that Rebecca Blunt is a real first-time screenwriter. Here's an article that says it's Asner.

David Holmes (scored '71) is credited with the soundtrack but mostly we noticed the wonderful songs, 24 of which are listed here with play buttons. The official soundtrack has 16 tracks. The music is but one similarity to O Brother Where Art Thou (2000).

Rotten Tomatoes' critics are still applauding this with an average of 92%. Their audiences are cooler with 76. We had a great time last weekend and stayed, as usual, until the end of the credits to be rewarded with a small written bonus.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Trip to Spain (2017)

Ann and I loved this third installment of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon road-tripping, comedic riffing, and gourmet eating, following 2014's The Trip to Italy and 2010's The Trip (northern England). All three movies were directed by Michael Winterbottom, all three are adapted or edited from (I'm not quite sure which) six-episode BBC serieses of the same names also directed by Winterbottom, and all three men were last blogged for The Trip to Italy.

Once again a lot of the dialogue in this mock-umentary is improvised, including their impressions of Michael Caine, Mick Jaggar, and various James Bondses. There's some drama, but Ann, who watched the other two movies more recently than I, reminded me that particularly Coogan's version of himself had a fair amount of drama in the previous installments. Some viewers have complained about the ending, but you'll have to let me know that you've seen it before I discuss it with you.

It did seem to both of us (Jack was busy last Sunday) that there was less food this time around. Still, it's going on my list of Random food movies.

Cinematographer James Clarke steps in for his feature debut after one documentary also helmed by Winterbottom and one TV episode, and the photography is still magnificent.

The song list isn't available but I found this spotify playlist from all three movies for your and my entertainment.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics are averaging 83% and its audiences 72. See it on the big screen if you can.