Friday, January 17, 2020

Whatcha Gonna Do?: BAD BOYS FOR LIFE

There’s a new Bad Boys in town, a belated sequel to two early baroque Michael Bay efforts that teamed Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as wise-cracking reckless cops barreling down the heat-stroke, bass bumping, waterfront streets of Miami. This one is Bad Boys for Life. Why they didn’t save that title for a fourth entry, I don’t know. The fact that Bay didn’t return to helm the adventure gives it a style that matches its theme: these guys have to settle down. And so the movie — despite blasting its score and blowing up stuff real good — is a calmer, smoother affair. It may not have the wild stylistic flourish of Bad Boys II’s camera flying in circles through a cramped shootout or hurtling down a hillside as Hummers demolish a tinny kingpin village, but Robrecht Heyvaert’s velvety sun-streaked cinematography has plenty of deep colors and low angles. It looks up at the larger-than-life stars even as the characterizations bring them down to earth. And that’s always the appeal of these movies, the fact that these cops’ behaviors are at once over-the-top and cornball, a serious glowering cool slathered over japing insecurities. Here the plot concerns itself with one of the partners (Lawrence) looking to take a retirement and enjoy relaxing for awhile, and the other (Smith) on a mission to hunt down a mysterious gunman who tried to kill him. Guess which storyline lasts? Of course this means car chases, gun fights, and hand-to-hand combat, often culminating in elaborate pyrotechnic displays. It also now includes a team of youthful sidekicks (Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig), complete with drone surveillance and hacking skills in addition to professional-quality stunt driving and marksmanship, who highlight the fact that the young heroes of 1995 and 2003 are now, two decades hence, looking a little past their prime compared to the lean, tech-savy, pretty faces next to them. And yet, with swaggering movie star performances set to megawatt dazzle and scene-stealing charm, they’re not going to cede the spotlight easily. As if taking those cues, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, while dutifully fulfilling the look and style of a 90’s action comedy brought into the present day, stage everything simply and cleanly. It’s at a slightly slower pace than it was before, but rocketing forward with the requisite action at regular intervals. It tries to build a moderately heavier emotional architecture — with sentimental family interest, sad twists, and backstory info dumps — but falls back a few times into its creaky ideas of hand-waved police brutality and casual suspicion of masculine emotion. (The screenplay, massaged through a few drafts by a few hands, including action pro Joe Carnahan, who nearly directed, too.) It’s noisy and silly and thin, and reveals just how much Bay’s frenzied style propped up in the earlier pictures. But the stars shine so bright, the action kabooms so loud, and the tropes wring out enough satisfying conflict and suspense that it’s a fairly enjoyable time at the movies anyway.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Voracious Filmgoer's Top Ten Films of 2019

1. Us
2. Little Women
3. The Farewell
4. The Irishman
5. Once Upon a Hollywood
6. Dark Waters
7. Wild Rose
8. Hustlers
9. Transit
10. A Hidden Life

Film Out of Time Award: Amazing Grace

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically):
Alita: Battle Angel; At the Heart of Gold; Atlantics; A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; Brightburn; By the Grace of God; Climax; Doctor Sleep; Dora and the Lost City of Gold; Frozen II; High Flying Bird; High Life; Homecoming; How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World; I Love You, Now Die; John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch; John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum; Knives Out; The Laundromat; The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part; Long Day's Journey into Night; The Man who Killed Don Quixote; Marriage Story; Pain and Glory; Parasite; The Report; Richard Jewell; Shazam!; Sword of Trust; Uncut Gems; Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Other 2019 Bests 

Other 2019 Bests

Cinematography (Film):
Ad Astra
The Beach Bum
Little Women
Once Upon a Hollywood
Uncut Gems

Cinematography (Digital):
Dark Waters
A Hidden Life
High Flying Bird
Long Day’s Journey into Night

Best Set/Art Direction:
Knives Out
Little Women
Once Upon a Hollywood

Best Hair and Makeup:
Little Women
Once Upon a Hollywood

Best Costumes:
Little Women
The Man who Killed Don Quixote
Once Upon a Hollywood

Best Stunts:
Ford v. Ferrari
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum
6 Underground
Triple Threat

Best Sound:
Alita: Battle Angel
Once Upon a Hollywood
Uncut Gems

“Catchy Song” — The LEGO Movie 2
“The Dead Don’t Die” — The Dead Don’t Die
“Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” — Wild Rose
“Lost in the Woods” — Frozen II
“Show Yourself” — Frozen II

The Farewell
A Hidden Life
Little Women

Ad Astra
Alita: Battle Angel
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
High Life
The Irishman

Screenplay (Adapted):
Dark Waters
The Irishman
Little Women

Screenplay (Original):
The Farewell
Once Upon a Hollywood
Wild Rose

Best Editing:
The Irishman
Little Women
Once Upon a Hollywood
Uncut Gems

Best Animated Film:
Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

Best Documentary:
At the Heart of Gold
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
Knock Down the House
Leaving Neverland

Best Non-English Language Film:
By the Grace of God
Long Day’s Journey into Night

Best Supporting Actress:
Jennifer Lopez — Hustlers
Florence Pugh — Little Women
Margot Robbie — Once Upon a Hollywood
Zhou Shuzhen — The Farewell
Julie Walters — Wild Rose

Best Supporting Actor:
Winston Duke — Us
Song Kang Ho — Parasite
Shia LaBeouf — Honey Boy
Joe Pesci — The Irishman
Brad Pitt — Once Upon a Hollywood

Best Actor:
Robert DeNiro — The Irishman
Leonardo DiCaprio — Once Upon a Hollywood
Adam Driver — Marriage Story
Mark Ruffalo — Dark Waters
Adam Sandler — Uncut Gems

Best Actress:
Awkwafina — The Farewell
Jessie Buckley — Wild Rose
Scarlett Johansson — Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong’o — Us
Saoirse Ronan — Little Women

Best Director:
Greta Gerwig — Little Women  
Jordan Peele — Us
Martin Scorsese — The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino — Once Upon a Hollywood
Lulu Wang — The Farewell

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Now and Then: LITTLE WOMEN

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women faithfully adapts that novel’s cozy qualities, its warm-hearted temperament, closely observed sentiment, and its easy grip on its audience’s sympathies. The story of the four March daughters and their quiet domestic pleasantries and tragedies, relationships and developments, is put across faithfully with great spirited sisterly energy, as loving and honest as the best, closest sibling friendships. Certainly, Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel of Civil War-era family life has produced plenty faithful adaptations before. Gerwig casts well, keeps a good pace, shepherds expert production design and textured cinematography, dramatizes every memorable scene, and has a keen eye for filmic detail. But what really lifts it off and sets it apart is the structure. She takes the two halves of the book — the early younger days where the young ladies are first flowering into adolescence and figuring out themselves and world; and then as slightly older young women as they mature into the adult lives they’ll live — and places them side by side. There are many other adaptations to reiterate the text in sequential order. Here it’s both familiar and fresh, enlivened by the contrast. Cutting intuitively between these two periods of time, each with their own conflicts and concerns, yet intertwined through the personalities of the women involved, there are echoes and comparisons, connections and collisions. Viewing the events in this way is a freshly productive way of understanding the classic story, of seeing anew how the decisions and personalties of girlhood directly inform and shape the outcomes of womanhood as they grow and change, either fulfilling their early dreams or deciding to go about them in a different way.

There’s great maturity and inquisitiveness here, seeing the grown-up concerns of money and careers and family obligations set against the children’s imagination and fervor and mood. It also serves to stack moments of great emotional peaks on top of each other, weddings atop funerals, recoveries atop deathly sickness, reunions atop separations, loneliness atop togetherness. And yet each scene works splendidly on its own, apart from the brilliant structural conceit, Gerwig imbuing the moments with tender humanity and deep wells of feeling. Saoirse Ronan (Jo), Emma Watson (Meg), Florence Pugh (Amy), and Eliza Scanlen (Beth), deftly balancing between the timelines with depth, energy, and poise, make believable sisters, jostling their differing personalties and divergent paths against each other over a consistent underpinning of love. (The rest of the cast — Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Bob Odenkirk, Louis Garrel — is perfectly assembled out of character actors who bring their decades of good work and reliable screen presences to the overwhelming sense of comfort and compassion, even in hard times, in this telling.) With an enveloping spirit of goodwill, charting the family’s dramas in sweet, sharp episodic detail, Gerwig builds to a climax of such tricky dexterity, an intertwining of plot catharsis with a sweetly considered, effervescently casual metatextuality that pays off with delicate, simple visual flourishes and an overflow of emotion. It sees passionately in Jo a creative spirit, all too aware of the compromises expected of her gender and class, headstrong in pursuit of her ambitions, and heartrendingly perceptive about her strengths and weaknesses, borne aloft in the end by the strength of her own story. What a thrill that Gerwig has not only built a fully satisfying, deeply moving retelling of a classic novel, but also builds into the bones a compelling argument about it.

30 Favorite New-to-Me Movies of 2019


30. Slums of Beverly Hills (1998, Tamra Jenkins)

29. Shiloh (1996, Chip Rosenbloom)

28. Friends with Money (2005, Nicole Holofcener)

27. The Fighting Temptations (2003, Jonathan Lynn)

26. The Wood (1999, Rick Famuyiwa)

25. Sharing the Secret (2000, Katt Shea)

24. All Monsters Attack (1971, Ishiro Honda)

23. Flicka (2006, Michael Mayer)

22. Halfaouine: Boy of the Terraces (1990, Férid Boughedir)

21. Black Legion (1937, Archie Mayo)

20. The Journey of Natty Gann (1985, Jeremy Kagan)

19. Talk Radio (1988, Oliver Stone)

18. The Deserted Station (2002, Alireza Raisian)

17. The Vikings (1958, Richard Fleischer)

16. Broken Arrow (1950, Delmer Daves)

15. Nightfall (1956, Jacques Tourneur)

14. Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979, John Woo)

13. 12 Monkeys (1995, Terry Gilliam)

12. The Nun (1966, Jacques Rivette)

11. Peppermint Soda (1977, Diane Kurys)

10. The Marrying Kind (1952, George Cukor)

9. The Mortal Storm (1940, Frank Borzage)

8. Clean (2004, Olivier Assayas)

7. Casino (1995, Martin Scorsese)

6. Little Women (1994, Gillian Armstrong)

5. Cold Water (1994, Olivier Assayas)

4. No Greater Glory (1934, Frank Borzage)

3. True Stories (1986, David Byrne)

2. The Wind Will Carry Us (1999, Abbas Kiarostami)

1. The Beaches of Agnès (2008, Agnès Varda)