Thursday, February 13, 2020

THE PHOTOGRAPH: An Ambling Yet Very Charming Rom-Dram

Opening tonight at a multiplex near us all:

THE PHOTOGRAPH (Dir. Stella Meghie, 2020)

A high quotient of charm and a low percentage of cheese make this a fairly solid romantic drama. Lakeith Stanfield (GET OUT, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, KNIVES OUT) stars as Micheal Block, a journalist who falls in love with Issa Rae (LITTLE, THE HATE U GIVE) as Mae Morton, a photographer he meets while working on a story about her mother (Chanté Adams).

The narrative bounces both and forth time from present day New York to mid ‘80s New Orleans, in which we see the blooming romance between Adams’ Christine and Isaac (played by Rob Morton in the flashbacks; I’lan Noel in modern times).

Meghie, whose fourth feature this is, has lovingly constructed a film that feels like an adaptation of an involving novel. It ambles from scene to scene at times, but it’s got an easy-going sensibility largely due to these well acted characters being extremely appealing, and worth caring about. 

There are also amusing bits provided by comedian Lil Ray Howery (also a GET OUT veteran), as Michael’s best friend, and Mae’s friend, Rachel (Jasmine Cephas) Jones, hooking up with Michael’s coworker Andy, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

THE PHOTOGRAPH, which is titled after a picture of Mae’s mother that Isaac took back in the day, is an intriguing diversion even if its ending can be seen coming up the Mississippi River Delta.

More later...

DOWNHILL: Not As Profoundly Cringe-worthy As The Original

Opening this evening at a multiplex near us all:

DOWNHILL (Dirs. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, 2020) 

Although the end credits state that it’s “inspired by” the 2014 Swedish dark comedy FORCE MAJEURE, this new Will Ferrell/Julia Louis-Dreyfus vehicle still largely feels like a remake.

The dominant premise is the same: a family on holiday in the French Alps gets shaken up when an avalanche arrives during their lunch at a mountainside restaurant. The avalanche was controlled, and there was no danger, but the wall of snow smoke it created was scary enough to make Ferrell’s husband/father figure character Pete run frantically from the table, leaving his family behind.

This causes an awkward, chilly rift between Pete and Louis-Dreyfus’ Billie, as she can’t seem to get past her spouse’s cowardly behavior. It all comes out when the couple has drinks with one of Pete’s co-workers, Zach (Zach Woods), and his flaky hashtag-loving girlfriend Rosie (Zoë Chao). Billie describes the scene to their young friend’s astonishment and even gets their kids (Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford) to confirm her story when Pete disagrees with her take on the events.

Co-directors and screenwriting partners Faxon and Rash (THE DESCENDANTS, THE WAY WAY BACK), have faithfully recreated many moments from Ruben Östlund’s original, including entire scenes, but made some detours around the material with such tangents as Billie making out with her ski instructor (Giulio Berruti), and Pete making their kids uncomfortable with his aggressive actions on the slopes.

It’s probably accurate to consider DOWNHILL (not a very strong title) an indirect remake of FORCE MAJEURE. Even its ending, while considerably different, still reworks elements from its vastly superior source material. I was disappointed that Faxon and Rash felt that they had to have Louis-Dreyfus make a speech to sum everything up.

It’s often the case that American remakes feel the need to spell everything out instead of showing, and not telling. The characters’ expressions and actions, and the power of the chosen imagery can do so much more than some resolving address at the end.

FORCE MAJEURE, which was often devastating in its take down of delusional masculinity, is certainly the sharper and darker of the two films, but DOWNHILL has its merits in Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus’s performances. Both former Saturday Night Live veterans (from different eras) put in an invested and, at times, an excruciatingly convincing portrayal of a couple in crisis - I’ve felt the same cringes being around couples who are clashing in real life that I felt watching this.

There’s also worth in the film’s cinematography by Danny Cohen (LES MISÉRABLES, ROOM, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS) - possibly the one element that’s equal to the 2014 version in which Fredrik Wenzel did the Director of Photography honors.

DOWNHILL skates over the surface that FORCE MAJEURE cracked and took an icy deep dive into. It’s the Americanized family-friendly version of the acclaimed International hit that won many awards and should definitely be credited as more than just the inspiration here.

My advice is to seek out the original, and then decide whether you want to go DOWNHILL from there.

More later...

Monday, February 10, 2020

Oscars 2020: My Best Score Since 2015

I went back and forth as to whether to pick 1917 or PARASITE for Best Picture and Sam Mendes or Bong Joon Ho for Best Director, and I chose wrong, maybe even cynically as I didn't think that the same voting body that went with GREEN BOOK (does anybody every remember that movie now?) over ROMA last year would make the bold edgy choice this time around.

I loved both PARASITE and 1917, but Bong is well more deserving of the big award than Mendes as his film is a brilliant blast of a black comic thriller and it's really satisfying to see it get such high acclaim. I wish I had gone with my gut.

Otherwise, I did pretty good with my predictions scoring 19 out of 24. The last several years I felt like I was slipping as my scores got worse and worse. Last year I got 13 right and that was my all-time low. But I'm back - with only these being the ones I missed:

BEST PICTURE: My prediction: 1917 / What won: PARASITE

BEST DIRECTOR: My prediction: 
Sam Mendes /Who won: Bong Joon Ho

ORIGINAL SCORE: My prediction: 
Thomas Newman (1917) / Who won: Hildur Guðnadóttir (JOKER)

SOUND EDITING: My prediction: 1917 / What won: FORD V. FERRARI

Alright! That's another Oscars done with. Now I need to watch a stupid movie with no stakes to get this prestige shiznit out of my system. Doubt that'll be too difficult to find.

More later...

Friday, February 07, 2020

Hey Kids! Funtime 2020 Oscar® Predictions!

Here we go again - and much earlier this time as the 92nd Academy Awards is taking place the earliest in the year that the ceremony has ever been held. On February 9, a show with no hosts will give out gold statues to mostly white folks, and celebrate 2019s most profitable, I mean memorable cinematic works. 

So below are my predictions. I went back and forth as to whether PARASITE or 1917 would win the big awards (Best Picture, Best Director), but I went with 1917 as it seems it's right in the Academy voters wheelhouse - according to past years. Now take these guesses with a grain of salt as last year I had my worst score ever (13 out of 24), but I have some good years too (my best was 21 out of 24).

Anyway, here they are:


Sam Mendes

3. BEST ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix (JOKER)

Renée Zelleweger (JUDY)


Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh (ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD)

8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins (1917)





Thomas Newman (1917)

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (ROCKETMAN) 




20. SOUND MIXING: 1917





As I always say, tune in Monday to see how many I got wrong.

More later...

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

For Raleigh Film Fans, These Are Some Of The Saddest Sights In Town

Citing plumbing issues, Mission Valley Cinema closed last summer after more than 45 years in operation. I’ve seen many many movies there since the ‘80s (I’m pretty sure the first movie I ever saw there was the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte action comedy 48 HRS in 1982) so I hate seeing the empty marquee whenever I go that shopping center.

There has been talk about the possibility of new owners, so there is some flicker of hope that the five screen venue might re-open someday, but until then that image above will remain a very depressing sight indeed.

Here’s a picture of Mission Valley in happier times - the opening of RETURN OF THE JEDI on May 25, 1983: 

I wasn’t there as I was living in Chapel Hill at the time and saw the movie at the Carolina Theatre on Franklin Street there - sadly that’s another venue that’s no longer with us as it closed in 2005.

I never worked at Mission Valley, but I worked for the same company – Ambassador Entertainment - at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh from 2009 to when it closed in 2015. 

The two screen indie theater originally opened in 1969, and like MVC, I had attended films there since the ‘80s (I’m pretty sure the first film I ever saw there was the Billy Crystal/Danny Devito comedy THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN).

I still work for Ambassador Entertainment at the Rialto Theatre (opened in 1942), and often moviegoers will ask about whether the Colony will re-open. These hopes were fueled by the Raleigh News & Observer in 2017 when they reported that a permit had been issued for renovations. But that was three years ago, and nothing has happened.

Since I live fairly close to the Colony (or the Colony’s old location I should say), I see that sad blank marquee often (the empty poster cases are pretty dismal looking too). Within the last week I stopped by to look through the windows, and it was obvious that no work had been done since the seats were ripped out of the floor five years ago.

On more of an up note, here’s the Colony in happier times with one of my favorite marquees.

Man, I miss those yearly showings of THE BIG LEBOWSKI. The N.C. Museum of Art does a good job with their LEBOWSKI events, but it’s just not the same as the Colony’s.

If these venues don’t re-open in some fashion, I wish they’d take down those marquees so film fans don’t have to see their blank faces for years and years. But maybe it’d be worse if they took them away. At least they are reminders of what was, and serve as some kind of marker. Maybe that’s why I made this post with pictures of them.

Since Ive mentioned three theaters that have closed in this post, I guess the bottom line is: support indie theaters!

More Later...

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Film Babble Blog's Top 10 Movies of 2019

Usually I post these picks before the Oscar nominations are announced - which happened earlier this week – but things have been nuts lately. 2019 hasn’t been the greatest year for film, but any year that boasts two stellar Martin Scorsese movies shouldn’t be dismissed. So here’s my top 10 films with what I think are some of their crucial lines.

10. AMAZING GRACE (Dirs. Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack) 

Reverend James Cleveland: “Many of you who never had the opportunity to hear Aretha sing Gospel, you’re in tonight for a great thrill. She can sing anything!”

9. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Dir. Craig Brewer) 

Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy): “Dolemite is my name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is my game!”


(Dir. Edward Norton)

Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton): “Okay, listen. I got something wrong with me. That’s the first thing to know. I twitch and shout a lot. It makes me look like a damn freak show. But inside my head is an even bigger mess. I can’t stop twisting things around, words and sounds especially. I have to keep playing with them until they come out right.”

(Dir. Taika Waititi)

“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

6. US (Dir. Jordan Peele)

Jason Wilson (Evan Alex): Theres a Family in our driveway!

5. MARRIAGE STORY (Dir. Noah Baumbach)

Charlie (Adam Driver): “You were happy, you just decided you weren’t now”

4. UNCUT GEMS (Dirs. Josh and Benny Safdie)

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler): Thats a million-dollar opal youre holding. Straight from the Ethiopian Jewish tribe. I mean this is old-school, Middle-earth shit.

3. PARASITE (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Kang Ho Song (Kim Ki-taek):So, theres no need for a plan. You cant go wrong with no plans. We dont need to make a plan for anything. It doesn't matter what will happen next. Even if the country gets destroyed or sold out, nobody cares. Got it?
2. 1917 (Dir. Sam Mendes)

General Erinmore (Colin Firth):Theyre walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow mornings attack, if you fail, it will be a massacre.

1. THE IRISHMAN (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro): Whenever anybody says theyre a little concerned, theyre very concerned.


THE LIGHTHOUSE (Dir. Robert Eggers)

ROLLING THUNDER REVUE (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

LITTLE WOMEN (Dir. Greta Gerwig)

KNIVES OUT (Dir. Rian Johnson)

THE TWO POPES (Dir. Fernando Meirelles)

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

FORD V FERRARI (Dir. James Mangold)


More later...

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The BAD BOYS Saga Concludes. Or Does It?

(Dir. Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, 2020)

The 17-year long wait is finally over as the third and final chapter in the mighty BAD BOYS saga opens tonight. This entry has all the things you’d expect from a BAD BOYS movie: it’s too long, it has many instances of crappy comedy, it’s decorated with tons of sweeping shots of Miami (mostly in time-lapse), and it contains gunfire and explosions galore.

Now, the BAD BOYS series has always been about dumb fun as it’s delivered glossy LETHAL WEAPON-style buddy cop action hijinks once a decade since 1995, so it’s silly to be too critical of such a wannabe crowd pleaser, especially one released in January, but I’m still gonna give it a go.

This time, our heroes, Miami narcotics cops Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith), realize that it’s time to hang up their badges and guns and take it easy into old age. Well, not really. Only Lawrence’s neurotic character is leaning that way, now that he’s a grandfather, but Smith’s smooth Mike is in denial as jokes about his dying his goatee attest.

Shit gets real when Mike is gunned down by a mysterious motorcyclist, and he’s laid up for months in the hospital with Marcus waiting by his side (and helping to re-dye his goatee). When he comes to, just in time for Marcus’ daughter’s wedding, he is intent on revenge. With the help of AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations), a group of heavily armed, high tech millennial cops (including Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Kate del Castillo, and possible Smith love interest Paola Nuñez), he hunts down the shooter who turns out to be the leader of a Miami drug cartel, Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio), and turns out to be something else, but no Spoilers here.

Lawrence and Smith, both in their 50s, look pretty good in this last outing – well, Lawrence looks a little pudgy, but that’s no real issue here. They still have the argumentative chemistry they had at the beginning of the franchise, though the shtick of them bickering while dodging bullets got way old in the second one back in 2003. Luckily, there are a number of good lines and laughs to help us through the predictable formula.

Directors Adil & Bilall do a good job replicating Michael Bay’s overly slick and jump cut crazy aesthetics, but they don’t bring much of their own style to the production. As big and cinematic as they want to go, these movies are really overblown TV shows, and these Belgian filmmakers are not much more than directors-for-hire here.

I did enjoy seeing returning regular Joe Pantoliano as Captain Conrad Howard have a more significant part than before, and I accepted most of the contrivances with out much eye-rolling, but just about everything else went down exactly the way I thought it would.

Maybe I’m speaking too soon that this is the concluding chapter in the trilogy as there’s a during the end credits scene (see? Even BAD BOYS movies are adapting to Marvel methods) that indicates that the game may not be up. Okay, fine – go ahead and flog this franchise. If there’s as much as a gap between entries as there’s been in the past, our beloved duo will be nearing 70 next time. Maybe Lawrence’s Marcus will finally learn the correct lyrics to Inner Circle’s Cops theme song “Bad Boys” by then.

More later...