Friday, December 21, 2018

More Streaming Nonsense

Here's the rest of the reviews. Enjoy.

Beautiful Bones: Sakurako's Investigation (Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru) is streaming on Hulu and Crunchyroll. It's a good example of adapting a Sherlock Holmesian situation (the genius investigator, the regular-guy sidekick) to a new format (anime). As ridiculous as the main heroine is you never feel like she's just being awful or weird for no reason - her interiority is expressed not through the usual flashbacks (well, a few of those), but also because of what she says. Our hero is just barely more than your ordinary high school anime milksop, enough to make him worth watching.

This series also has one of my favorite things, the supporting-cast episode, halfway through (Asahi Bridge Irregulars). It may be my favorite of the series. It's very anime so if you're not into that, don't watch it, but if you're okay with anime "stuff" it's a quite solid one-season program. For Holmesians like myself, it's 4 stars. If you're not a fanatic, maybe only 3.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Netflix Streaming.

It seemed a lot crasser than the first, and little enough was done with the theme of people pretending to be cooler than they were. The main bad guy needed to not be as cool as he thought he was for this to really land. It didn't. Still, the action sequences were great, the development on Nebula and Gamora was good and EVERYTHING about the Soveriegn as villains was delightful. You suck, Zylak. Two stars.

Wonder Woman -

When it went overboard it did so in search of the themes it was relentlessly hammering on. I'm willing to forgive a superhero film a lot if it actually tries to be as iconic as the character's it's recreating. Quite delightful. Four stars.

The House On Pine Street - Amazon Prime

Once again we see how a relatively low budget can be used to great effect in this world of digital filmmaking, in a way that seems like it should be being done 50 times a year, but isn't.

A pregnant woman and her husband move back to the small town where she grew up after some trouble in the big city. The house may be haunted. Or maybe there are other fears at work. It's a simple story with no real twists and steadily advancing concepts and connections. The cast is small, the set is simple, and the script is good. It's the kind of thing a big studio simply would never make these days, but which is very worth watching, especially for the horror fan. The acting's especially on point for the woman's mother - oh man my wife can tell stories about her relationship with her mom and I definitely could see that on the screen here.

Four stars.

Riverdale -

Season One now streaming on Netflix. RIverdale is the best thing for the "CW aesthetic". Actually I think a lot of romance properties could be fruitfully adapted to that network's house style, a lot more so than superhero properties, which tend to have extremely shallow relationship material to begin with. Veronica Lodge, played by Camilla Mendes in the same way that Scottie Pippen "played basketball" moves to town in the midst of the disappearance/presumed murder of Jason Blossom. Archie is a lovable lug and Jughead is played by Cole Sprouse in a turn that shows me he is no simple Disney star. He and his dad are electric and heavy in every scene together. This is the kind of evening soap opera that used to exist before "high concept" shows ate up the airwaves. In fact, there's no simpler concept than Archie Comics' Riverdale, which is why it has survived so long over the years in such recognizable forms, whereas Captain America got turned into a Nazi and they reset Batman like nine times by now. Hashtag justice for Ethel. Four stars.

Shelley - Netflix.

A pregnancy/psychological horror flick of the type that would have been groundbreaking at one point. That point was before 1956's The Bad Seed. If you're into stagey, observational horror films like me, don't miss it. Otherwise, don't bother. Two stars.

We Are Still Here - Netflix.

The gear-shifting in this haunted house story is so crazed that it goes from a very carefully laid out setup to a gore-splattered nightmare of an ending in about eight seconds flat. Made me laugh in delight and catharsis. The actors and direction make this film land where it could have fallen on its face. Loved it. Four stars.

Handsome - Netflix original.

I can hardly be objective about this one. Maybe you won't like it. However, it is exactly my type of film, like, exactly in the center of the bullseye. I am ready for a Detective Burt Jerpis spinoff. "That's why you're the boss." Five stars FOR ME. Maybe three objectively.

Evolution - Netflix.

French observational/body horror. This one will stay with you, and the ending is breathtaking. Once you start to realize what's missing in the situation everything begins to take on a sinister bent, especially since the children in the film don't (necessarily) know to see what we see as strange. Five stars.

When They Cry - Hulu. (also Higurashi no Naku Koro ni).

The art style and voice acting in this anime is, intentionally, so annoyingly over-cute and over-childish as to be almost unbearable. What will keep you watching is that this is a weird combo serial killer/Groundhog day/demon possession story that plays out in numerous different ways from numerous different viewpoints and at literally any second one of the ultra-cute kids could murder someone with a knife or a baseball bat. I feel a little like this is the high-school-anime-fan equivalent of David Lynch watching a lot of Father Knows Best and Ozzie & Harriet when he was a kid and then putting a checkerboard floor on a kitchen in one of his films. I don't even know if I would recommend it except that I watched it all the way through, so it must have SOME power. Three stars I guess?

The Verdict

Paul Newman and Sidney Lumet elevate a script that's honestly only a modest courtroom thriller into something existential. In addition, I feel this movie exudes a type of masculinity not often seen in films. When it peeks through the surface of the alcoholism and cynicism, it's very powerful. Four stars.


A low-budget horror/slasher film that shows that technology can be an aid to B-filmmakers instead of a crutch. A bunch of people are stuck in a ghost town and they're all getting murdered one by one Movies like this give me hope for the B movie in the 21st century. Suffers from Horror Movie Ending Syndrome where instead of just delivering what was promised we need to have some big reveal. Bleah. Three stars.

Mulholland Drive

I am not going to describe this to you. It is as pure a cinematic experience as you will ever have. It is one of the greatest films ever made. If you try to describe it to others you will find that you are falling short. That's because it's not a radio play where your voice can get it across. That's because it's not an essay where I can communicate it to you with words. It's a film, its filmic language is so flawlessly executed that you will find yourself responding and reacting without knowing why. Five stars.

It Follows - Netflix Streaming

Everyone got done talking about this one a while ago but it just hit Netflix streaming. It is everything you want it to be and more. Quiet, calm, creepy, observational, heartfelt, understandable, incredibly precise and constructed. (It is also not a period piece and shit that is exactly in the middle of the frame is not something you "may notice". C'mon.) An instant horror classic, one of the best of the genre, in my view. Five stars.

The Wailing - Netflix Streaming

This is the second Korean horror movie I've seen starring a kinda shlubby average joe trying to save his precocious daughter, the first being the unbelievably solid The Host from ten years previously. Maybe that's just my own ignorance of the genre in Korea or maybe it's just what America has decided to import but it seems a bit of a too-close parallel. It also doesn't quite land in The Wailing because here our hero just seems completely at sea - in The Host our hero was always trying something even though constantly failing. Also, the supporting cast seemed more intertwined in The Host. Here there are too many to really carry the emotional weight of our hero's hapless journey to total damnation.

I think there's a certain subtlety to the ending of the film that isn't really earned. But I think it is very much on point, especially for the world today. We often don't have to see the devil to believe in the devil or more metaphorically, we will swiftly assume evil and malice in the world. But we must see God to believe in God - we have to see extremely solid and direct proof of good intent and virtue before we will dare believe in it. A spiritual path (more than one spiritual path is depicted in the film; they're all taken seriously) asks us to live the other way around, to believe in God when God doesn't show herself and dismiss the devil unless he really, really, really works his ass off. Maybe, after all, it's just some tainted mushrooms.

Three stars. If you're not a horror fan, it's missable.

Captain America: Civil War - Netflix streaming

It's increasingly clear to me that the Avengers team films are the weakest of the bunch, and it's a shame that this one had to be one given that the first two Captain America movies were more about him directly. Honestly there is never a spot in the film where we get to fully see Cap's perspective in multiple situations (compare to the first movie where everything is about internal character made external and the second movie is about individual resistance to systemic corruption at every turn). The hints of his perspective are given, and the bad guy is well turned, but it never materializes as a movie theme because we have to service so many other characters.

(Zemo's plan makes no logical sense but it makes thematic sense given Cap's perspectives in the film, just as Red Skull doesn't need to blow up America to be a good bad guy in the first Captain America movie, all he needs to do is manifest internal Nazi horror outwards.)

There is so rarely a scene where the dialogue sounds like the dialogue that people might say (compare to the first two Captain America movies where even under heightened circumstances the dialogue is directed thematically.) And there is no reason for various persons to make the turns that they do other than that it is time for them to make them. Finally, only the first and last fight scenes are good - the biggest and longest fight scene is so boring and terrible it almost seems like a joke when they start it by saying the location's been evacuated. Hey, way to not put anyone's beliefs really to the test, movie. I'm going to check out for the next twenty minutes because you just said this fight has no thematic weight.

Like, if putting Spider-Man in the midst of harm's way had actually caused Stark to come around on the key points of theme ("I've gone too far, what have I done, this is my fault, this guy would be trashing muggers in Queens right now if I hadn't decided I knew better, this is just what Steve warned me about") that would make his involvement have some thematic weight. But it doesn't; the main casualty is a friendly fire incident. Again, way to not give the conflict any real impact.

It could have been 40 minutes shorter and 40 times better. Also there are no significant roles for women in this one (compare to Carter in Cap 1 and Natasha in Cap 2) and that really starts to pall. (I thought the Vision/Scarlet Witch stuff was fine but completely out of place; she's checked out of the theme of the film and into another one, and so is he. Why not make this its own movie and really develop the relationship before having them turn on each other?)

The best Marvel movies take risks - Cap 2 is better than Cap 1 because it dares to tell us that the quasi-good-guys of the last several movies are actually the worst imaginable badguys. Guardians of the Galaxy asks you to care about a green wrestler, a raccoon with a gun and a tree that can only say three words. Doctor Strange says "let's really turn all that Kirby and Ditko stuff up to a hundred thousand percent, visually". It doesn't always make a great movie but at least it brings something to the table. Given that comic books belong entirely to their current creative team, and what Captain America is today he might not be tomorrow, giving a film over to the vision of a director, producer, actor and crew rather than trying to just make it "fit into a universe" makes more sense artistically and even financially.

Marvel (and Marvel fans, from looking at the endless stream of shit thinkpieces about these movies) have completely missed what made these films good by looking for what made them the same, and the seams really seriously show in the most homogenous products, like Civil War. Two stars.

You can do better; find yourself a copy of the Civil War stuff for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and put together some good thematic laser beaming, or write a really good fanfic where all your favorites work in a coffee shop and end up making out.

The Long Goodbye - TubiTV

Altman (along with John Williams who did the music, including two overlapping versions of the same title song) understood that the source material was Raymond Chandler's Tristram Shandy of hard-boiled detective novels, a sprawling, strange shaggy-dog story that combines a grand, slow lassitude with offscreen moments of crazed rage and murderous fury. So it was perfect for Altman, and perfect for Elliot Gould. Altman's version is just the tiniest bit more ordinary, but not so much that you'd notice if you weren't a fanatic like me.

Philip Marlowe wakes up at the start of the movie - apparently he has been asleep since 1947. He lights a cigarette with a wooden match that he scrapes along the wall - as he clearly has been doing for years, by the look of the wall. He does this everywhere he goes. His cat wants some food. He is out of food, so he improvises with some cottage cheese and an egg. The cat doesn't want that, and knocks it onto the floor. Without cleaning it up or getting angry, he heads out to go to the store to buy cat food. It's 3 AM and his hippie lady neighbors are having a topless party next door, but Marlowe is putting on his jacket and tie to go to the store to buy cat food. "Will you buy me some brownie mix, Mr. Marlowe?" "Sure" he says. "One regular and one fudge." "One regular and one fudge." "You're the nicest neighbor we've ever had." "Of course I'm the nicest neighbor. I'm a private eye." The elevator down to the street doesn't work the first time he presses the button.

The song on the car radio is the title song. It's also on Terry Lennox's radio, a guy who is going into or leaving a gated community with a security guard. Lennox has scratches on his face...perhaps fingernail scratches from a woman. The version on his radio is not the same as the version on Marlowe's radio. But it's the same song.

Marlowe gets to the store and goes in to get the cat food and brownie mix. He leaves his car lights on. He can't find the cat food he wants. "Buy this one," suggests a grocery clerk. "All this shit is the same anyway." "I'm guessing you don't have a cat." Marlowe replies. "I don't need a cat, I got a girl." replies the clerk. Marlowe returns to his apartment, delivers the brownie mix to the topless women and the cat food to the cat. The cat doesn't want this food either. It leaves.

We're now 11 minutes into this tough private eye movie and I promise, I promise, I absolutely promise you will love every langorous, impenetrable, ordinary, extraordinary second of it from start to finish. Five stars.

Neon Demon - Amazon Original

It's a slow experience, extremely deliberate. Similarly to the last horror movie I posted the ending holds up much better than most. I think horror movies tend to end better when they don't try to keep escalating into total apocalypse or hammering twist after twist into place - I think they do best when they deliver exactly what they promise. However, for all the portentous, wonderful filmic work (this is the first movie I've ever seen to explicitly differentiate the male heterosexual gaze and the lesbian gaze), it doesn't quite hold together. The revelations feel "right" but they don't feel earned. Especially since our experience is through a central character explicitly presented as an ingenue, who takes very little action in the film. Three stars.

I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In the House - Netflix Original

It's good. It's nice to see a ghost story movie that treats ghosts differently than the "they just want to communicate with us!" post-Sixth Sense standard. Good performances; at first they seemed a little silly but they drew me in, painted a character that had those types of anxieties and worries. The last fifteen minutes is not what you think it will be. I actually think it holds up much more than your typical horror movie ending. Four stars.

Erased (animated) - Hulu and Crunchyroll

I don't think I've seen a show of any sort, let alone an anime, with as many really solid, well-delivered "resets". You think the show is one thing, then it is another. And then again; and then again.

One of the characters in the story writes a story called "The Town Where I Alone Am Not There". Of course, we immediately see it has a double meaning. But those are not its only two meanings. Again and again that story returns to different characters in different ways. I don't think I've ever wanted to immediately re-watch an anime before, not for the plot twists (you're going to "guess the killer" really early on), but instead for where each of the characters comes from and goes, where they are present and where they are absent.

It's remarkable. Four stars.

Everly - Netflix

Salma Hayek stars in the Sin City story that Frank Miller only wished he could envision. A lady is in a room. A hundred billion people are coming to that room to murder her. It's funny and ultra-gross and has the Hot Action gunplay JD likes. A Christmas movie to see in a double feature with The Ice Harvest. Four stars.

Puella Madoka Magica - Crunchyroll and Hulu

The next logical step after Sailor Moon, this one-season anime magical girl phenomenon completely altered the landscape. The evil monsters and their horrible pocket dimensions are animated in a unique style that honestly must be experienced to be believed. The movie's up too, though honestly, it more or less just gilds the lily. Four stars.

Three Kings - Netflix and Hulu

This is not a movie about three guys trying to rob Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, no matter what the trailer says. It's David Fincher being very, very real about American culture and values as expressed in human conflict. The leads (Clooney, Wahlberg, Cube, and an absolute revelation in Spike Jonze as Vig) are incredible. Five stars.

Man On Wire - Netflix

The documentary, not the fictionalization. Why would you want to fictionalize something like a man walking between the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope? It really happened. The documentary keeps it real; keeps it going past the "end of the story" that a fictionalization inevitably would give us. Delightful, romantic, sad, triumphant. Five stars.

The Third Man - Netflix
It's an incredible experience. A man comes to Austria after "the war" (in 1949, what else would we talk about?) at the behest of a friend. When he gets there, he discovers his friend is dead. In a traumatized world, this film attempts to make sense of loyalty and greed.

"When he was 14, he taught me the three-card trick. That's growing up fast."
"He never grew up. The world grew up around him, that's all."

This is one of those movies that five stars seems inadequate for. You don't watch it, you become possessed by it, and it will always leave its mark on you.

Pleasantville - Netflix

A somewhat hackneyed premise is elevated by a splash of surrealism and some great performances. An orgasm literally explodes a tree into fire. Four stars.
The Killer - Netflix

If you ever wanted to see someone jump through the air whilst firing two pistols with doves flying, this is it. A deranged look at a whole new world of action movies, for American audiences at least. Totally holds up. Four stars.

Terriers - Netflix

The best thing that was ever on television and you never watched a minute of it, you Philistine. Six thousand stars.

The Finder - Netflix

The Bones spinoff that was better than Bones. We shall never see Michael Clarke Duncan's like again. Four stars.

Life - Netflix

A very strange and remarkable TV show, especially in its first season. A police officer is wrongly accused of murder. When he's cleared, he emerges from prison with a very different attitude. In this show you will love absolutely everything Sarah Shahi does. Became a bit more mainstream in the 2nd season (including gilding the lily by trying to make Shahi, already one of the most beautiful humans on television, more overtly glamorous.) First season: five stars. Second Season: four stars.

Pontypool - Netflix
A zombie movie with a unique vector of infection. Horror movies are best when they take at their core a real life question or issue and blow it up to monstrous size. This does that in a way not often attempted out of Romero's zombie pictures. Four stars.

Honeymoon - Netflix, Amazon

A whirlwind romance leads to a honeymoon out by the lake. But maybe the wind whirled too hard. Again, this takes a real fear (intimacy, can we really trust our life partners), and cranks it to a thousand percent. Five stars.

Starry Eyes - Netflix, Hulu

A young woman will do whatever it takes to get ahead in Hollywood. Or will she? Four stars.

Awake - Netflix

A marvelously experimental police show. After a car accident, a detective wakes up each morning in a world where his son survived, or in a world where his wife did. Anchored by top drawer performances from the core cast. Cancelled after one season; more unjust than Firefly's cancellation. Five stars.

Last Shift - Netflix

A solid little B-horror movie that shows you don't need a hundred million dollars to make a taut, scary feature. Simple storytelling about a woman's first night on the police force, combined with good direction (you are fully aware of where everything occurs) makes this a masterclass in low-budget scares. Four stars.

The Midnight Swim - Netflix

Although it was classified as a horror movie, it may be the first example that I know of of a magical realist suspense movie. There's lots of ways for us to see what's going on, but because of the point of view character (it's sort-of-found-footage) there's no way for the other characters to put it all together. It's expertly directed by Sarah Adina Smith and expertly acted by Lindsay Burdge, Aleksa Palladino (who also was great as Angela Darmody in Boardwalk Empire) and Jennifer LaFleur; I absolutely believe on every level these three characters are sisters (and that the incomparable Beth Grant is their mother.)  I am happy it got some good reviews; when it wrapped up in the way I knew it would, I said to myself, nobody in the world except me will like this movie. Four stars.

Synchronicity - Netflix

A feller is on the brink of a major scientific discovery funded by a shady entrepreneur. He meets a mysterious woman (Brianne Davis, the best performance in the film). Neither the discovery nor the woman are what he thinks they will be. Four stars.

Moonrise Kingdom - Netflix

Until this movie I would not say I was a Wes Anderson fan - his tone was too studied to be sincere. Even on a rewatch, I'm still not a fan of his earlier films. Moonrise Kingdom is exceptionally sincere and emotionally real despite its grand artifice, and is best discovered rather than explained. I can't watch it enough. Grand Budapest Hotel was even better, but it isn't on Netflix streaming yet. Five stars.

Metropolis Restored - Netflix

The story of the restoration of the classic 1927 science fiction film is itself an adventure. Suffice to say it holds up and the new score is exceptionally on point. Get your headphones on for this silent film. Five stars.

3 Women - Netflix

The only Robert Altman film presently on Netflix, which is an unutterable injustice. This is not his greatest but it very leisurely draws a noose around its characters in a way you won't quite see until the consequences begin to spool out. Shelly Duvall and Janice Rule are excellent but Sissy Spacek gives the performance of a lifetime. Four stars.

High-Rise - Netflix

As with most things Ballard it's very hard to film. Like good adaptations of things hard to film (Catch-22), it relies on performances and style to get over things that previously would be explained in text. There's a seemingly slow change in style over time from semi-naturalistic to more fable-like and grotesque; however, on a re-watch I'm more confident that the style doesn't actually change, but the referent of the fable is less obvious at the start of the film. This is also an exceptionally English film, and the class message comes from a point of view we're not used to seeing class struggle from in America: the middle class/intelligentsia. Normally our films are about poor people rising up or rich people falling down. In High-Rise the middle is visibly deluded about what's happening; the poor are who it's happening to and the rich are who's doing it. This is really, really good.

Hiddleston is fine in it, and plays to what his character is, but he's actually not the central character of the piece, just our means of seeing most of it. The real stars are Sienna Miller as Charlotte and Luke Evans as Wilder; Evans in particular is absolutely electric every moment he's on screen, and elevates everyone else in every scene. The only major misstep is when it crosses the line briefly to music video instead of filmic montage at the Act 3 break. Other than that it's well worth your time, but don't think of it as just a means of passing the time, just a thing to chill out and watch. This is a film that says something very specific about England in the late 1970s, and as with all extremely specific messages from the Book of Revelations on, it has a universal message as well. Four stars.

Absentia - Amazon Prime

So this may be one of the best horror movies of the last ten years. The total confidence of this movie, especially the performance of Courtney Bell and Katie Parker as sisters (the central relationship of the movie) is riveting.  It's cheap as hell, very restrained and very, very effective.

A woman's husband disappears. Seven years pass. She now is beginning the process of declaring him legally dead. It's hard for her. She begins to be haunted by either hallucinations or a ghost of him, angry at her.  She is wracked by guilt over the process. She is pregnant with another man's child, but hasn't been able to fully commit to that relationship because of her lingering guilt over her husband's disappearance.

Her sister, just out of rehab, moves in to help support her. 

Plot-wise, I would say that this is "if Lovecraft understood a human emotion". Five stars.