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The Northman

24 Apr

‘The Northman’: Viking precursor to Hamlet barely hesitates to hack away at his problems

By Tom Meek Friday, April 22, 2022

It’s hard to believe Robert Eggers’ $90 million Viking saga is just two films out from his rousing debut “The Witch,” which he made for a humble $4 million back in 2015. That moody, Colonial-era chiller went on to amass more than $25 million worldwide, reinvigorating the folk horror genre and pronouncing Eggers as the talent of tomorrow. Tomorrow is today as “The Northman” thunders into theaters, an ambitious, big-scale take on the A.D. 895 tale of Amleth, a classic (or the classic?) revenge drama that would later become the roots for the Shakespearean tragedy “Hamlet.”

From the opening shots of an Icelandic volcano belching rivulets of lava and the churning north sea (the North Atlantic, as we now call it), Eggers casts a foreboding scape that brims with brutal beauty and primal allure. We often get Viking warriors crouched on all fours, grunting and howling as they channel their inner wolf during pre-battle rites conducted within the ring of a bonfire; no words, English or language of yore, fall from their lips.

In chaptered segments, we begin with King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) returning from a conquest to his people, his wife Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) and his young son, Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak). Hawke slips surprisingly well into the gruff, growly role, but Aurvandil’s not with us long; his brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang, “The Square”) ambushes him and looks to kill the prince as well, but as lore and legend have it, Amleth is something of an Aquaman and can swim far and wide. In the next chapter we catch up with Amleth, now mature and ripped and played by Alexander Skarsgård (who played opposite Kidman as her husband in the series “Big Little Lies”) embarking upon a war party raid that is one long, gorgeously shot carnival of carnage. It’s not until the last drop of blood soaks into the mud (the film has that “Gladiator” sword-and-sandal texture to it, but mud-and-blood is a more apt tag) that you fully realize that Amleth is out for one thing: to even the score with Fjölnir. To do so, he poses as a slave working Fjölnir’s fields. You’d imagine with such strong genetic ties, his uncle might recognize his now burly and physically capable nephew, but he does not, and neither does his mother, who has taken up with Fjölnir and borne him a son.

Much of the copious and well-staged violence unleashed onscreen is the manifestation of the molten rage that roils inside Amleth, who proves an efficient and unrestrained killing machine. Skarsgård carries the part strikingly, but it’s Kidman who shines in a multifaceted role in which everything is not as it appears. Eggers regular Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch”) throws in as Olga, a slave alongside Amleth who becomes his lover and co-conspirator, as does fellow Eggers ally Willem Dafoe (who co-starred with Robert Pattinson in “The Lighthouse”) as Aurvandil’s fool. Icelander Björk, in her first feature performance since “Dancer in the Dark” in 2000, takes up the part of the oracle who torments Amleth.

Those who might be concerned that such a budget and scope might change or addle the filmmaker’s work can relax. “The Northman” feels strangely akin to Eggers’ earlier efforts; at the core, they’re all period pieces set in harsh, unforgiving surroundings haunted by the spirits of past inhabitants. Where those big dollars go are the sets, the stockaded villages, Viking ships and earth-roofed fiefdoms nestled into the rolling hills of Iceland. Eggers carries forward his animal obsession too. It was a menacing goat in “The Witch” and a baneful seagull in “The Lighthouse”; here we get a murder of crows that have Amleth’s back, not to mention his ability to commune with a friendly fox on his covert night stalks or Fjölnir’s pet bull mastiff. Not all of “The Northman” works – some of it’s muddled visually and linguistically, and at turns it gets a bit too feral for its own good – but the immersion and mood makes for a mesmerizing and haunting odyssey, much in the same way Terrence Malick’s dreamy “The New World” (2005) took us to back to our early colonial origins.

Father Stu

14 Apr

‘Father Stu’: The Passion of the Wahlberg

By Tom Meek Tuesday, April 12, 2022

If you’re going to go into “Father Stu” believing it a didactic, preachy film from a movie star who’s embraced his faith – or not go into it, for the same reason – take a deep breath. It’s a portrait of a man, his struggles and evolution toward faith and a deeply personal film, but it does not outwardly preach the virtues of Christianity nor does it seek to convert. In context it’s akin to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), clearly a faith-based passion project that’s compelling and visceral for those who believe and a fine film for others who believe otherwise. Mark Wahlberg, the movie star we’re talking about here, plays the titular Stu and gives one of the best performances of his career. Gibson is in tow as his wayward father; his Gibson’s significant other, Rosalind Ross, was recruited by Wahlberg to write and direct.

The true-life, Job-like journey of Stu begins with a brief preamble of growing up in a dysfunctional household in small-town Montana. We catch up with Stu as a young man in the midst of a semi-successful boxing career, with a montage of a ripped Wahlberg squaring off against various opponents. After one hotly contested bout, he gets news from a physician that he’s one or two headshots away from the grave. Reluctantly, Stu hangs up the gloves and, for his next act and without much of a second thought, scoots off to Hollywood to become an actor. You have to admire Stu’s blind optimism (or is it naiveté?) as he works a meat counter in a supermarket (à la Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”) trolling the clientele to ask if they’re in the biz. One day he waits on a young woman named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) and boom, as fast as that move west it’s love at first sight. But Carmen’s Catholic, and there’s no nookie until the knot is tied. Still smitten, Stu converts but experiences a horrendous (wince-worthy) motorcycle accident that leaves him near dead and seeing visions in his semiconscious state. It’s not fully on screen, but during his recovery Stu sees the light and decides to join the priesthood (so much for Carmen), where he’s reluctantly received as a coarse, undeserving outsider. Adding to the uphill battle is the matter of reconnecting with his alcoholic father (Gibson), who’s working a construction gig in L.A. Then comes the onset of a rare, debilitating disease (think ALS).

The film as directed by Ross (it’s her debut) has a gritty internal warmth, though not all the plot points seem to flow together organically – namely any logically felt reasons for Stu’s impulsive transitions other than tragic hardship. Wahlberg, who’s made many a slack film (“Infinite” and “Mile 22,” to name two recent duds) also has turned in some strong work when working with quality filmmakers (“I Heart Huckabees,” “The Departed” and “Boogie Nights”). Here he’s all in, pulling a De Niro by going from ripped pugilist to adding 30 pounds to transform himself for that latter-day ailing Stu. He brings his cocky street persona to the part in meted doses that add value when Stu, from the pulpit, channels that feral something else from his previous life; while different, it resonates with parishioners and grabs the attentions of his theological higher-ups. There are also some emotional, challenging scenes of personal defeat, tragedy and trials of faith that Wahlberg pulls off with aplomb. It helps that the cast around him is strong, which goes not only for Gibson but for the indelible Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “Animal Kingdom”) as his caring mother and Malcolm McDowell as Stu’s compassionate, overseeing monseigneur. “Father Stu” may be about faith, but you don’t need to be of faith to appreciate the trials and tragedies endured by a man who has persevered against all odds. Bradley Jackson

The Lost City

28 Mar

Romancing the same

By Tom Meek

Swashbuckling rom-coms tend to work (“Romancing the Stone”) or not so much (“Jungle Cruise”) based on the chemistry between the leads, the cheekiness of the supporting cast and some deft plot twists. “The Lost City” has plenty of the above, even if it runs out before the end. The set-up has reclusive romance novelist Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) – don’t call her Danielle Steel – tired of churning out product and even more so of doing publicity tours with hunky cover model Dash (Channing Tatum, whom you can call Fabio; he’s riffed as such, replete with flowing blonde locks). The rub with the latest book comes when Loretta, bored with the process and grieving the death of her husband, gets kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire with the benevolent-sounding name Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe, excellent in the mercurial fop role) to decode ancient hieroglyphics so he can obtain the unobtainable: an ancient crown of jewels in the buried enclave of the film’s title.

The whole shebang’s pretty much a McGuffin so Tatum and Bullock can engage in a rom-com romp on a tropical island. There’s leech removal from personal parts and a sequined unitard that just won’t die. What’s a real blast is Brad Pitt in a cameo as a zen extraction expert (allegedly the idea came on the set of Pitt’s “Bullet Train” – coming this year – in which Bullock had a cameo, and this was the payback) and Patty Harrison as Loretta’s boozy social media publicist, not to mention Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the stressed-out, brash-talking tour manager and Oscar Nuñez as the the quirky cargo plane pilot who often interprets words a bit too literally.

Tatum and Bullock have solid chemistry, but the film runs out of pomp and verve as plot ends need to be tied up and things become a bit too predictable. Don’t get me wrong, the film has plenty of “didn’t see that coming” moments – it’s just they’re front loaded. No matter. “The Lost City” will serve as a nice studio-produced calling card for the brotherly directing team of Adam and Aaron Nee, who until now have mostly toiled together acting, writing and directing indie fare such as “Band of Robbers” (2015) and “The Last Romantic” (2006). Next up for the Nees is more action and adventure with the big-screen take on He-Man, “Masters of the Universe.” Pro tip for “Lost City”: Be sure to sit through the credits.

X

18 Mar

The golden age of porn meets up, violently, with the original era of the slasher flick

By Tom Meek Thursday, March 17, 2022

Filmmaker Ti West (“The Innkeepers”), part of a mumblecore/mumblegore pack with Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”) and Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”), goes solo with this homage to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” – the 1974 original, not the slack update available now on Netflix. The setup in “X,” which takes place in the 1970s and is shot in grainy era style by West and longtime cinematog collaborator Elliot Rockett, is simple: A bunch of young adult filmmakers see the lucrative advent of the home video market on the horizon and rent a ramshackle lodge on a farm to make their own porn opus, “The Farmer’s Daughters.” The cheeky film-within-a-film pays its own homage, this time to flicks featuring Marilyn Chambers and her golden-age-of-porn contemporaries. Of course the old couple they rent the space from aren’t in on the whats and whys, and like “Deep Water,” that Adrian Lyne project appearing on Hulu this week, sex without full consensual buy-in by all parties has deadly ramifications.

In sync with “Fresh,” another recent Hulu release, “X” is something of a cinematic double clutch, two movies fused into one. In “Fresh” we go from rom-com to horror flick halfway in, which is where the credits roll. Here we amble along with the raucous lo-fi porno filmmaking fun until Pearl (the name of the actress under the mound of latex shall remain unnamed), the elderly woman who owns the property, catches a glimmer of an athletic sex scene from outside a window. Despite the preacher perpetually barking about morality on her TV up in the main house, the peep does not educe anger but instead incites lust. It’s also here that Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), the girlfriend of the film’s camera operator (Owen Campbell) who fills in on sound boom duty,  decides she too wants to get in front of the camera for a rigorous romp with the film’s lead (Kid Cudi, “The Harder They Fall”), much to the chagrin of her beau. “It’s just business,” quips the film’s producer, Wayne (Martin Henderson, a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey in form, inflection and demeanor), something he knows something about – his girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth, “High Life” and “Suspiria”) is one of the two daughters (Brittany Snow, sassy and excellent, is the other) who hook up with a strapping passerby (Cudi). Before any division can work its way through the crew, one of them goes missing. There’s some devious, decaying funk down in the basement of the main house and the seniors, well into their age-spotted 80s (it’s 1979, and he served in World War I), aren’t quite as feeble as their creaky, hobbled lopes initially indicate; and you know that big gator down in the pond is going to have something to say at some point.

The concept of creepy elders orchestrating dirty deeds is nothing new – just see M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” (2015). It’s an effective genre changeup, but it’s still genre and the part of the film where the pitch and degree of awe start to ebb. After first blood is spilled you know it’s a domino chain to the bloody end, and there’s little Q as to who the sole survivor will be. West, clearly enraptured by his characters and the setting, filmed a prequel about Pearl simultaneously and seeds the workings for a sequel as well. The real wonderment of the film, beyond the stellar performances, lie in the framing and editing. Also, interestingly enough, the small town in Texas isn’t even in the Americas, it was shot in New Zealand.

Deep Water

18 Mar

‘Deep Water’: The erotic thriller is back, and the bodies are piling up

By Tom Meek Thursday, March 17, 2022

Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since director Adrian Lyne, the hand behind such provocative, erotic thrillers as “Fatal Attraction” (1987), “9½ Weeks” (1986) and “Indecent Proposal” (1993), has helmed a film. Since that last film, “Unfaithful,” much has happened, namely the #MeToo movement, that might make one wonder if an Adrian Lyne film could be made in this day and age. The answer with “Deep Water” is a clear “yes,” but just how big a “yes” will be measured by viewership and public reaction.

As with all of his projects (a slim eight, believe it or not) Lyne garners an A-list cast with Ben Affleck as Vic Van Allen, a well-to-do entrepreneur semi-retired in his gray-tinted 40s, and Ana de Armas as his vivacious younger wife, Melinda. They live in low-key manse in the bucolic South, where Vic passes much of his time cruising around town on his mountain bike while a well-paid sitter watches their precocious daughter (Grace Jenkins) and Melinda, ever on the go, collects young men. She’s unapologetic about it, with a free-spirited “do as I want” manifesto that we learn about early on when she invites a young Brad Pitt knockoff (Brendon Miller) to the boozy, invite-only birthday bash of a prominent local. From behind a window sash Vic catches a glimmer of Melinda necking with her invitee poolside. His reactions are passively indifferent; others too seem unperturbed – it’s just Melinda being Melinda, or so that’s the vibe. We get to witness her in full force during a wobbly piano-top toast and a rousing rendition of Paolo Conte’s “It’s Wonderful.”

Later at the bar, Vic winds up shoulder to shoulder with the hunk, who thanks him for “letting him spend time with his wife.” What’s going on, you might ask? Do Vic and Melanie have an open marriage? When Vic chases baby Brad, Melinda flies into a rage and demands that Vic invite her paramour in training over for dinner. Cruel games seem to be a thing; there is an apparent uneasy understanding between the two. Even so, there’s a rage in Vic’s eyes that seems to roil under his externally impassive complicity – or perhaps it’s some form of twisted turn-on? Hard to tell by Affleck’s prosaic performance. “If you weren’t married to me, you’d be bored,” Melanie tells Vic in one angry exchange, and you can’t fault her on her logic: Vic looks bored, in need of a kick in the pants, though his odd obsession with snails is almost more curious and profound than the couple’s toxic inner workings. Armas (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Knives Out”) owns the film; her spoiled brat is a hot mess you despise but, at a cocktail party leading a raucous singalong or offering you a glass of bubbly, could easily win you over. Other buff lads who come hither are played by “Euphoria” pretty boy Jacob Elordi and Finn Wittrock. Playwright Tracy Letts patrols the perimeter as a cynical writer new to town who casts a scrutinizing eye on Vic and Melanie. 

Given that the film’s based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (also made into the 1981 film “Eaux Profondes” starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert), bodies pop up. The first is one of Melanie’s other “friends,” a guy named Malcolm McRae; his name is bantered about early and often, yet we never meet in the flesh – or in the dead, for that matter. To say more about how things go would be to ruin the mystery, but as adapted by Sam Levinson, whose career signature is the erotically raunchy high school drama “Euphoria,” and with Lyne at the helm, it’s really all about the eros. 

It’s steamy to be sure, and Armas carries it off with brazen bravado, but the film works only in wisps. I mean, Vic’s got enough green to buy a lux mountain biking chalet in the hills, and I’d imagine he’d likely do well on dating apps, so why deal with Melanie’s in-your-face sexual shenanigans? That question’s never answered, and because it isn’t the whole exercise feels like a slimy snail trail to nowhere. That “yes” is likely more likely a “yeah, right.”

The Batman

4 Mar

‘The Batman’: The Dark Knight gets darker

By Tom Meek Wednesday, March 2, 2022

“The Batman” is a dark, deeply emotional affair that’s got a lot going for it and a lot going on – perhaps too much. (It’s almost three hours long.) We could also call it version 3.5 of the cinematic dark knight, with the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films in the 1990s and Christopher Nolan trilogy being 1.0 and 2.0 and Ben Affleck’s donning of the cowl in the “Justice League” films the 0.5 splitter. It may be 4.5 if we take into account the spoofy, goofy BAM! POW! fun of the Adam West television series.

What drives this reboot is a succession of grim murders of municipal higher-ups, beginning with the mayor and working its way over to the heads of the police and district attorney’s offices. Personally, if I was orchestrating such sinister deeds I would have saved the top cat (the mayor) for last – it just feels more operatic. The thing that links the macabre deaths are the signatures left at each crime scene: a riddle punctuated with a giant question mark, an encrypted cipher, a card addressed to “The Batman” and some spray painted (or blood painted) messaging about a web of lies or some such thing.

Given that Paul Dano plays The Riddler, you can probably guess who’s behind the acts that play out in sadistic fashion like a sin-atoned-for in David Fincher’s “Se7en” (1995) or a Jigsaw trap from one of the “Saw” films. The Riddler here just may be darker and more demonic than the spins on Joker performed by Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix: One clue leads to a thumb drive with a severed thumb attached to it, so those recovering it can unlock it via thumbprint, and it clearly takes a lot of work to be that twisted. But wait, this film’s about the bat, right? Well yes, and you get plenty of Robert Pattinson in the beefy Kevlar suit, which turns out to be a bit of a double-edged sword. We get to embed with him more, but the tease of enigma that has been the traditional draw dissipates. Director-writer Matt Reeves (“Let Me In,” “Cloverfield”), co-writer Peter Craig and Pattinson paint their Batman/Bruce Wayne as a deeply tortured soul, a monomaniacal tool of vengeance with no trace of mirth or joy and no bifurcation of personalities; what we drink in is all dour, sullen anger, underscored by the incarnation’s theme song, Nirvana’s broodingly depressive “Something in the Way.”

What carries the film are the sly intricacies of The Riddler’s misdeeds, the mysterious intent behind them and the stunning set designs that range from the crowded, rain-slicked streets of Gotham to the gaping Batcave and an Edward Hopper-styled diner lit in green neon. The cumulative effect is a strange, wonderful fusion of Walter Hill’s “Streets of Fire” (1984) and Ridley Scott’s future noir, “Blade Runner” (1982). The other aspect of “The Batman” that largely works is that our bat here is something of a master sleuth, a tech-age Sherlock Holmes, if you will. It’s a little off-putting to see him sniffing around a live crime scene CSI style, but part of the joy comes in looking beyond the obvious, going one level deeper and admiring the acumen of our hero. Caught up in the mix too is the updated version of Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), though she simply goes by her birth name of Selina and works in a nightclub owned by Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, played beguilingly by Colin Farrell under gobs of makeup. He’s something of a brotherly incarnation of Robert De Niro’s portly Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” (1980).

The rest of the impressive supporting cast includes a perfectly coiffed Andy Serkis as a dutiful Alfred who’s killer at decoding ciphers, John Turturro as the local crime boss all trails seem to lead to, Peter Sarsgaard as the sleazy DA and Jeffrey Wright, channeling his cagey investigative reporter from “The French Dispatch” (2021) as Lt. Gordon, the guy who fires up the bat signal and may be the only clean cop on the force. The new take on the Batmobile is something of a throwback to the muscle cars of the 1970s; it’s like someone bat-tatted a classic Dodge Charger and strapped on a jet engine turbo boost like one of those nitro-infused junkers in “The Road Warrior” (1981).

Pattinson and Kravitz look fetching together, and given their raw charisma you’d think the two would click together like Legos (there is that “Lego Batman Movie”), but the romantic undercurrent between them feels postured and unearned. Then again, this is a brooding, relentless lad who takes his mission as a higher cause – “I am vengeance” gets tossed around a lot. Batman’s most genuine connections are those with Gordon, who for reasons not on screen trusts him emphatically, and his lifelong loyal butler and caregiver Alfred, though that ultimately gets challenged as “the veil is pulled back and the lie’s exposed.” I grew up near Connecticut cities where corruption scandals were an annual “wait for it” event that didn’t disappoint, and of course we had infamous mayor Buddy Cianci just down the way in Providence. Gotham’s not much different: dirty cops with drug money washing political hands. What it does have is that dashing millionaire orphan who likes to dress up, break out the bat toys and take out the trash.

The Worst Person in the World

11 Feb

Is it so terrible to decide what you want and act on it? (It can be.)

Norwegian director Joachim Trier rounds out his Oslo Trilogy with this engrossing tale about a young woman struggling to define herself in the world. Like the other two entries in the series, “Reprise” (2006) and “Oslo, August 31st” (2011), “The Worst Person in the World” unfolds in the same urbanscape and is an inward-focused, emotional journey. Trier’s bookend is meted into 12 neat chapters with titles such as “Cheating,” “Bobcat Wrecks Xmas” and “Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo.” We settle in with Julie (Renate Reinsve, who pretty much is everything to the film’s success) as a med school student who switches to psychology, then decides she wants to be a photographer. She ends up working in a bookstore and, because of her passion for art and photography, meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, who starred in the other trilogy chapters), a renowned graphic novelist (think “Fritz the Cat”) with a cult following. He’s a decade or so her senior, but they become lovers and move in together. It’s a cozy, coddled existence initially, but living in Aksel’s shadow tugs on Julie’s sense of self. When she meets a young barista named Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who’s also in a relationship, there’s an undeniable, immediate spark between the two.

How the dynamics play out within and between two couples is nothing too dramatic – certainly nothing worthy of the harsh title. One gets diagnosed with terminal cancer, another becomes an Internet for blogged pontifications about blow jobs and a third, learning that she’s a scant 3 percent indigenous (Sámi) becomes a climate change zealot. Other than that, mostly what fills the screen is the pain of longing and the uncertainty of tomorrow. There is one jarring bit in which Julie consumes hallucinogens as daddy issues manifest themselves in a unique and shocking fashion: a hurled bloody tampon. The best scene, however, and a neat trick by Trier, has Julie jogging through the streets of Oslo en route to meet Eivind, and every person, car and bird is held motionless; cyclists in mid-crank are frozen as she weaves around them, seemingly unaware or uncaring of their paused state, and it’s here that we get to measure the moral fortitude of our heroine; if Julie truly was the “Worst Person in the World,” clearly she would have stopped and pilfered cash from the wallets of some of the more well-off Oslovians.

Trier and his trilogy writing partner, Eskil Vogt, navigate time and emotional transitions seamlessly, and how the film ends is a smart, subtle twist that brings Julie’s odyssey full circle. There’s no grand drama to it, but it does feel hauntingly apt. “The Worst Person in the World” was named this week to the Academy’s list of Best International Film nominees, a loaded lot that packs more punch than the Best Picture slate.

Moonfall

8 Feb

Moonfall’: When you wish upon these stars, they’re B-listers you can rely on for a good ride

By Tom Meek

Friday, February 4, 2022

The title may sound like a Bond flick, but “Moonfall” is the latest disaster pic from Roland Emmerich (“2012,” “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Independence Day”) about, well, the moon crashing into the Earth. True to any disaster film formula, we embed with several diverse parties as the end of days approaches. First up, we have washed-up astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson, “Little Children”) and his former flight mate, Jocinda Fowl (Halle Berry, “Catwoman”), now head of NASA, who have to figure out why the moon is losing its orbit and heading toward Mother Earth. They’re both divorced and with kids, so the survival of humankind is extra imperative. With them as they launch off on an “Armageddon” (1998)/“Don’t Look Up” (2021)-like mission is a nerdy extrovert with IBS (a very Rickey Gervais-esque John Bradley of “Game of Thrones,” bringing the much-needed comic relief). Down on Earth, Harper’s ex-wife (Carolina Bartczak), new hubby (Michael Peña) and the divorced couple’s 18-year-old son, Sonny (Charlie Plummer), catch up with Fowl’s son (Zayn Maloney) and her nanny (Kelly Yu, who attended the Berklee College of Music).

That pretty much sets the table. The whole why the moon is falling is best left unsaid, though it does have something to do with other life forms and past moon missions – there’s a Deep Throat in the mix that conspiracy theorists should have a ball with. The fun (or not so) stuff are the tidal waves that pitch deep inland, and the intermittent disruption in the gravity field bringing chaos-inducing lifts that at least allow trapped parties to leap across a chasm. There are also some poorly behaved rednecks in a pickup truck looking out only for themselves. Much of “Moonfall” is pure cockamamie, but it moves and clicks with reason and purpose, and Wilson and Berry are hard to resist.

The funny thing about “Moonfall” is that it’s pretty much the antithesis to Adam McKay’s smug “Don’t Look Up,” in which the world has been alerted to our imminent demise and no one cares – or cares only for financial or status reasons. In Emmerich’s B-tier tear, there’s just instant mass hysteria and a stampede for the hills. It’s not as smart or daffy, nor does it have the star power of “Don’t Look Up,” yet feels more honest and real despite the steep grade of plausibility. Like Harper and Fowl pulling an old space shuttle from a museum for the mission, Emmerich’s taken what’s old and worn and made it fly again.

Jackass Forever

6 Feb

Jackass Forever’: Still not beyond trying stunts that you should never try at home

By Tom Meek

Thursday, February 3, 2022

It’s been 22 years since “Jackass” stoked the derring-do in nerdy 13-year-olds routinely ignored by the in-crowd, disinterested in sports and studies and gulping down the rebellious irreverence of “Beavis and Butthead.” The arrival of the Spike Jonze-created series about outcasts registering a strange sense of accomplishment in Darwin Award-worthy escapades was liberating to that crowed, but if you break it down, “Jackass” stunts are essentially the teen challenges you hear about on TikTok: ghost-pepper eating, cinnamon snorting, condom asphyxiation and other unwise acts of inanity that get pulled far too late off the social media platform. Led by merry prankster Johnny Knoxville, the Tab Hunter of the crew, “Jackass” goes to great lengths to discourage replication, implying the stars are professionals and reiterating this should not be tried at home. I’m not exactly sure what “professional” means here, but they’re still standing after decades of blowjobs from whale sharks, toilet bowl bombs and being beaten unconscious by a heavyweight contender in a department store. In the latest – and last? – installment, called “Jackass Forever,” you see animal trainers and medical professionals on the edges of the set ready to rush in, and there are one or two stunts that lead to hospital visits.

“Forever” is billed as a “Dickhouse” production and lives up to the moniker gloriously. The opening scene of urban chaos, a riff on “Reptilicus” or “Godzilla,” is actually a giant green penis crashing through the city; later, old pal Steve-O, full frontal, has a queen bee attached to his scrotum to lure a swarm of drones; then there’s the squished penis pingpong paddle and a “cup” challenge in which a professional boxer and hockey player take aim at the testes – grown men will wince and look away. “Jackass Forever” is not one-note, however; there are also gross-out gags that involve animal semen and a cast member who drops a runny deuce in his costume. Industrial wedgies. One with a treadmill on at full speed. Scorpion botox. And you get some fun facts along the way: Did you know that swine males can produce more than 17 ounces of semen at one time? Knoxville getting shot out of a cannon seems pretty pedestrian by comparison.

Yes, these are all grown men in their 40s and 50s, and good for them; they pick up a paycheck and have a chuckle or two for losing a tooth or breaking a wrist. (The guy who comes close to being mauled by a bear because salmon was strapped to his gonads deserves hazard pay.) It’s all dumb yuks that could go terribly wrong but don’t, at least as presented. The one positive thing “Jackass,” does in a skewed way, is empower: Besides the matinee-handsome Knoxville, most of the crew does not possess physiques that would make the cover of a health mag, but in this world they are all equals – equally as foolish, equally as brave and equally as capable. When all is said and done, as the blood is mopped up and balls gripped in groaning agony amid group guffaws, there’s a genuine air of respect and a comradely bond. I’m not sure I’d ever hold them up as role models, but do they have generational crossover appeal anyway? MTV, where it all began, feels like an eight-track these days. In one online forum a film fan – though I’d call “Jackass” more of an experience than a film – gave 10 stars to “Jackass Forever” and said he wished he was 18 so he could see it. And there you have it: pricks and poop are ageless in their appeal.

Being Peter Bogdanovich

22 Jan

A life in film, worthy of being a film

Last week with the passing of Peter Bogdanovich the movie world lost a filmmaker whose streak of instant classics in the 1970s rivaled that of fellow New Hollywood deities Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and William Friedkin. The lesser known Bogdanovich who claimed to have been obsessed with film from the day he was born would enjoy a meteoritical early career helming three back-to-back critical and commercial hits; “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Paper Moon,” in his early thirties, but despite those cinematic successes, Bogdanovich’s personal life was peppered with tragedy, financial and career implosions, tabloid fodder romances and worse—his life, or parts of it, were not only like a movie, they were in movies.

The son of immigrants, Bogdanovich grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where his father Borislav, a painter, often took him to the matinee where he became intoxicated by Golden Age classics directed by Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Howard Hawks and Orson Welles. In his early twenties he penned detailed monographs of his cinematic idols for the Museum of Modern Art where he also programmed and wrote pieces on film for “Esquire” and “The Saturday Evening Post.” After directing an off-Broadway revival of Clifford Odets’s drama “The Big Knife” at the age 20 (starring a young Carroll O’Connor) he drifted west with his wife Polly Platt to work for the upstart Roger Corman as a second unit director and writer. In 1968 Corman would produce Bogdanovich’s first feature “Targets,” a loose depiction of mass murderer Charles Whitman infamously known as the “Austin Tower Sniper” for killing nine people during a 90 minute shooting spree in 1966. The film, a piquant blend of character profile and Bogdanovich’s love of cinema and screen legends (the final scene takes place at a drive in and features Boris Karloff as an aging horror film actor) was a low budget curio that scored critical acclaim but didn’t garner much attention at the box office. That same year, under the moniker of Derek Thomas, Bogdanovich also made “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women” for Corman, a B-level quickie about scantily clad women in outer space–if that sounds like a vampy spoof on “Barbarella,” know that the Jane Fonda sci-fi, sex-kitten fantasy was made in ’68 as well.

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