Movie Review: Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020)


Title: Bill and Ted Face the Music
Release Date: August 28, 2020
Director: Dean Parisot
Production Company: Orion Pictures | Endeavor Content | Hammerstone Studios
Summary/Review:

The long delayed sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) finds our heroes Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) having failed to write the song that will unite the world, despite exploring increasingly esoteric musical styles.  The strain begins to affect their marriages with Princess Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Princess Joanna (Jayma Mays).  Then Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of their late mentor Rufus, arrives from the future to tell them that their failure to write the song is causing time and space to collapse.

The Bill & Ted films were about goofy teenagers who talked like surfer dudes, so the challenge here is how to make these characters work as middle-aged men.  Winter and Reeves adroitly bring plenty of charm and believability to their roles as man-children.  It also helps that their main plot is to travel to the future and visit older and increasingly antagonistic versions of themselves as they attempt to “steal” the song from themselves.  But youth is served well by Bill and Ted’s daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving, the niece of Reeves’ Matrix antagonist Hugo Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) who travel back in time to put together a band for their dads consisting of Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ling Lun, Grom (a prehistoric drummer), and the real life Kid Cudi.

This movie is far better than it has any right to be, channeling the quirky charm and imagination of its forebears into an updated setting.  It has its flaws.  Schaal, a great comic performer, is underused and the Dennis joke is one-note and annoying.  But overall it’s a great finale to the series.  And while a fourth Bill & Ted movie would be unwise, I’m totally on board for a Billie & Thea spinoff movie.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Blindspotting (2018)


Title: Blindspotting
Release Date: July 20, 2018
Director: Carlos López Estrada
Production Company: Summit Entertainment | Codeblack Films | Snoot Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Real life lifelong friends Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame) and Rafael Casal wrote and star in this film about gentrification and police violence in Oakland.  Diggs plays Collin Hoskins on the last three days of probation after being convicted for assault . Casal plays his volatile friend Miles Turner who does things like purchase a gun illegally, smokes weed, and picks fist fights that seem destined to get Collin to violate the terms of his probation.  Collin and Miles work together at a moving company and spend much of their social time together as well with Mile’s wife Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their adorable child Sean.

The movie starts off as a goofy comedy as Collin tries to avoid getting ensnared by Miles’ clueless misbehavior and they both make fun of the white hipsters taking over Oakland.  Things begin to shift to a more serious drama after Collin witnesses a cop murder a Black man by shooting him in the back.   This is one of those movies where the sequence of events happening close together with a lot of coincidences is extremely unlikely.  But you have to set aside plot machinations to focus on the acting performances and the underlying social message of the film. Particularly well done is that while Collin and Miles have had similar life experiences, nevertheless, the experience for Collin as a Black man is different from what Miles has as a white man, something the latter has to learn.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Zookeeper (2011)



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Z

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

On the final day of April, I’m playing a reverse April Fools prank on you.  After of watching a month of movies considered among the “best films of all time,” I’m finishing with one that is decidedly not. This is partially because movies with Z titles are hard to come by, and partly for reasons outlined below, but mostly because it’s fun to take a break from “Classic Film” from time to time.

TitleZookeeper
Release Date: July 8, 2011
Director: Frank Coraci
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Broken Road Productions | Hey Eddie | Happy Madison Productions
Summary/Review:

I’ve been curious about this movie for some time because it was filmed at Franklin Park Zoo in Boston which is walking distance from my house.  I used to go the zoo more frequently when my kids were little and I remember when the center of the zoo was taken over by a massive film set.  I wondered why if they were going to film on a massive set, why didn’t they do it in a studio instead. Having watched the film, very little of the real Franklin Park Zoo is seen in this movie so I wonder this even more now. And all the animals are CGI so it’s not like they needed to be in proximity to real animals.

What I didn’t realize is that they needed proximity to Boston. I’d just assumed that the movie would be about a generic zoo, but in the film it is very much the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.  In fact, they digitally altered the Boston skyline in some shots to make it appear like the zoo is much closer to downtown.  The protagonist lives in a three decker, there’s a bicycling scene on Boston Common and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and the denouement of the movie occurs on the Zakim Bridge.  So “yay Boston!,” I guess.

As for the actual story, Kevin James plays Griffin Keyes, the titular zookeeper (I know nothing about James but reading Letterboxd reviews he seems to be a hated figure).  He suffers continued heartbreak when his girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) rejects his marriage proposal and breaks up with him because she thinks being a zookeeper is a job for losers (which really doesn’t make any sense).  Within in the first ten minutes of the movie it becomes abundantly clear that this is one of those movies where the protagonist will pursue someone who is clearly awful, when his perfect match, zoo veterinarian Kate (Rosario Dawson), is right there. Because Griffin is so hapless, the zoo animals break their code of not talking to humans and offer him advice for wooing Stephanie. Hijinks ensue.

The movie has a subplot where Griffin bonds with a depressed gorilla Bernie (Nick Nolte) and they go out partying at TGI Fridays.  Honestly that part could’ve been spun out into an entire movie and it would’ve been much better than what we got. When he’s not doing pratfalls or acting like an alpha male, James actually has some charms, and Dawson who is usually in much better movies brings some “much better movie” magic to her scenes.  Among the celebrities voicing animals are Sylvester Stallone and Cher as lions and Adam Sandler as a crude capuchin monkey. But overall for a comedy the jokes are just not, you know, funny.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: Trouble in Paradise (1932) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter U

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

I couldn’t find a “U” movie to watch from these lists, so I’m going to just review another “T” movie and “U” will have to live with that.

Title: Trouble in Paradise
Release Date: October 21, 1932
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

The film begins with a romantic dinner in Venice between Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins). They gradually learn that they are both posing as aristocracy: he’s a master thief and she’s a pickpocket and a con artist.  They decide to team up and find their next mark in Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), a recent widow who owns a famous perfume company.  Gaston is able to get himself hired as Mariette’s secretary (and get a position for Lily as well) and work his way into her confidence to set up robbing her safe.  There’s one problem though – Gaston and Mariette fall in love.

Thus you have the perfect escapist fare for The Great Depression – the meaningless problems of the rich, a love triangle, and nonstop droll humor.  The three leads are terrific and have a great supporting cast.  I wouldn’t say this movie is laugh out loud funny, but these characters are so smart and effortless in their banter, I can’t help but enjoy it.  I’d never heard of Kay Francis before, but I learned she was the top-paid Hollywood actress of the early 1930s, and I can see why.  You can also tell this is a pre-Code film because they’re never explicitly sexual, they don’t hide its sexiness either.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: The Philadelphia Story(1940) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Q

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

There is not a single movie I want to watch that starts with the letter “Q” so I’m just doing another “P” movie.  Of course, Philadelphia is “the Quaker City,” so there is your Q content if you need it.

Title: The Philadelphia Story
Release Date: December 26, 1940
Director: George Cukor
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

Cary Grant + Katharine Hepburn + James Stewart + lots of alcohol + witty repartee seems a perfect recipe for comedy gold.  The story is that mainline Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Hepburn) has divorced C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) and now plans to marry the new money George Kittredge (John Howard).  On the eve of the wedding Dexter returns with a reporter, Mike Connor (James Stewart) and a photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) who – somewhat reluctantly – are there to cover the high society wedding.

All of this is mainly an excuse to get some of the best actors of all-time together for the aforementioned drinking and repartee.  But the plot doesn’t quite go where you think it might go either.  Well, the ending is totally predictable, but the winding path it takes to get their is not.  As an added bonus there are many scenes stolen by Virginia Weidler as Tracy’s little sister Dinah.

This is another movie that was a favorite of mine in my younger years that I failed to revisit for the past couple of decades.  I’m going to say that it’s a little bit less good than I remember.  There are a few too many domestic abuse jokes for my taste.  And there are some dead spots, especially early on in the film.  But put that aside, because even if this film was perfect in memory it is still an all-time classic in its less-than-perfect state.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter L

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Release Date:
10 June 1943
Director:
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Production Company:
The Archers
Summary/Review:

This is a movie I’d never even heard of before I started working on lists of classic movies.  The title amuses me, partly because “blimp” is an inherently funny word, but also because in America the word refers to an airship, although I don’t that word is in use in Great Britain.  From some lazy internet research, I’ve learned that “Colonel Blimp” was a British comic strip satirizing the military elite.  There is actually no character in this movie named Blimp, although the main character, Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesy), matches the image of the rotund, walrus-moustached comic strip caricature.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp joins in the trend of Allied Powers in World War II producing epic historical dramas at the same time their countries are being bombed and/or invaded by Nazi Germany (France’s Children of Paradise and Russia’s Ivan the Terrible are previously reviewed films of this genre). This film alone actually deals with the present-day issues of World War II, beginning with a prologue about British soldiers beginning a mock war as part of training exercises.  Despite being informed that “War starts at midnight!,” the leader of the troop decides that the Nazis would never follow the rules of a start time, and decides to “invade” London and captures Major-General Candy in a Turkish bath.

The outrage of Candy’s embarrassment leads to a series of flashbacks that detail his history and ideology in the British military.  The first is set in 1902 when Candy has just returned from the Boer War and rashly travels to Berlin to counter anti-British propaganda by the Germans.  The next segment is set in the final days of The Great War and its aftermath.  The final flashback is set during the early days of World War II, where Candy is retired from the regular army based on his outdated views, but then appointed to lead the Home Guard.  Which leads back to the “present day” scenes of the prologue.

The movie has several plotlines tying everything together.  One is Candy’s long-time friendship with the German officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook), whom he initially meets in a duel.  Another plot deals with Candy’s relationship with three women, all played by Deborah Kerr (later to appear in An Affair to Remember): Edith Hunter, who Candy realizes he loves after she marries Theo; Barbara Wynne, a WWI nurse that Candy marries; and Johnny Cannon, Candy’s driver when he’s leading the Home Guard.  The movie also deals with the erosion of the ideas of honor and rules among the European military elite, and idea also explored in The Bridge on River Kwai’s Colonel Nicholson. There’s propaganda in this movie too, as characters flat out lie and say the British did not commit atrocities in the Boer War or World War I.

The movie starts out very strange as a series of really awkward attempts at satirical madcap comedy.  But it’s worth sticking it out as the movie deliberately uncovers the human Candy underneath the “Colonel Blimp” caricature.  The movie never loses its sense of humor, but definitely becomes less silly over time.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter E

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Les Enfants du Paradis
Release Date: March 9, 1945
Director: Marcel Carné
Production Company: Société Nouvelle Pathé Cinéma
Summary/Review:

If you’re country is occupied by a draconian regime and in the midst of some of the most destructive battles in human history,  making an epic costume drama film would probably not be a high priority. Director Marcel Carné, screenwriter Jacques Prévert, and the cast and crew of Les Enfants du Paradis (a.k.a. Children of Paradise – “merci” to the French language for letting me get an “E” post out of this) did not see German occupation or the Allied invasion of France as deterrents to making this movie. And I must impress that this isn’t a guerrilla production with a couple of cameras and a small cast.  No, this is full-on spectacle with a blocks-long city street set with 1000s of extras in costume!

The film itself is set in Paris in 1830s, focusing on the theater world and characters based on historical figures.  The “paradis” in the title refers to the highest balcony where the cheapest seats are and where the most enthusiastic and demanding audience members sat.  The central character is Garlance (Arletty), a bewitching woman who becomes the object of affection of four different men: Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) – a skilled mime, Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur) – an ambitious dramatic actor, Pierre-François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) – a “gentleman” criminal, and Comte Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou) – a calculating aristocrat.

The first part of the film is a comedy of manners with each of the men meeting and becoming entranced by Garlance, while she shows favor to none of them.  The second part of the film is several years later when Baptiste and Lemaître are now established stars of the stage and Garlance has reluctantly become Montray’s mistress.  The movie is very melodramatic, deliberately so as the film seeks to replicate the style of 19th century theatre while undermining in it in scenes that actually depict stage performances.  A good example of this is when Lemaître humiliates a group of stuffy playwrights by improvising dialogue during the premiere.

Even if you don’t consider the circumstances under which this film as made, its technical brilliance cannot be denied.  Shots like the finale where a crowd of carnival celebrants dance in the street are awe-inspiring.  But apart from the wonder of the film itself and its remarkable background story, I didn’t feel very moved or engaged by the plot.  This movie is not going to make my personal list of best films of all time.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: My Night at Maud’s (1969)


Title: My Night at Maud’s
Release Date: May 15, 1969
Director: Éric Rohmer
Production Company: Compagnie Française de Distribution Cinématographique (CFDC)
Summary/Review:

For years I’ve known of My Night at Maud’s as one of the all-time great films primarily based on its prominent display in the foreign movie section of the video store I frequented in the 1990s, but I’d never watched it before. I’d imagined it was a comedic romp (and perhaps a bit raunchy) based on the title and poster. It is nothing of the sort and is in fact a movie where people have in-depth philosophical conversations about morality and religion. That’s fine by me, and like there to be more movies like this, but as Roger Ebert points out, you want to prepare yourself for it.

The protagonist is Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a man in his 30s who has recently begun to work in the small French city of Clermont. A devout Catholic, he’s developed a crush on a woman he sees at church named Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), but has not had the confidence to approach her. On a chance meeting, Jean-Louis is reacquainted with an old friend, Vidal (Antoine Vitez), who in turn introduces Jean-Louis to his friend with benefits, Maud (Françoise Fabian).

When it starts to snow, Vidal excuses himself but since Jean-Louis lives outside the city, he stays the night at Maud’s. The next day he encounters Françoise and finally introduces himself. That night he gives her a ride home but when his car gets stuck on ice ends up spending another chaste night out at her apartment complex.

All of this plot is merely the structure to hang the deep conversations among the four primary characters, with Maud and Vidal offering atheist perspectives to the religious Jean-Louis and Françoise. Their conversations are both direct and exceptionally corteous and should be an example to us all. A coda to the film reveals a surprise twist so subtle I missed it entirely until I read a summary of the film.

My Night at Maud does not feel like a movie made over 50 years ago and it could be remade today with few changes (not that it should).

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Le Plaisir (1952)


Title: Le Plaisir
Release Date: 14 February 1952
Director: Max Ophüls
Production Company: Compagnie Commerciale Française Cinématographique (CCFC) | Stera Films
Summary/Review:

Having watched a streak of grim and bleak classic films lately, I looked forward to watching a movie with the title of “Pleasure.”  Unfortunately, I just found it boring.  The film adapts three short stories by Guy de Maupassant that depicts the lives of dandies, prostitutes, and artists in late 1800s France.

  • “Le Masque” is the story of an aging man who tries to recapture his youth by going out to dances wearing a mask that makes him look like a younger man.
  • “Le Maison Tellier” is the story of a madam of a brothel in a village who takes her employees on a journey to her niece’s First Communion, where everyone is impressed by the large group of elegant young women as guests.
  • “Le Modèle” is the story of a painter who falls in love with the life model at his studio.  Their relationship is suitably stormy.

None of these stories seemed all too interesting or had much drama to them.  Sorry, Cahiers du Cinéma, I just have to say that some of your French films don’t do anything for me.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Parasite (2019)


Title: Parasite
Release Date: 30 May 2019
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Production Company: Barunson E&A
Summary/Review:

The Kim family are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet while living in a semi-basement apartment in a run-down looking part of a South Korean city. Their fortunes start to look up when the college-aged son Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) gets the opportunity to substitute for his friend as a tutor of the daughter of the prosperous Park family, despite not having qualified for the university himself. Ki-woo notices the anxiety the Park family’s mother (Cho Yeo-jeong) has for her young son and recommends his artistically-talented sister Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam) as an art therapist he’s knows named “Jessica.” Ki-jung is able to get the driver of the Park family father fired, and recommends to Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) her own father Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) as a replacement driver (again in disguise).  Finally, the trio work to get the Park’s long-term housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), and replace her with their mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin).

With all four members of the family gainfully employed by the Parks, they take the opportunity of the Parks leaving for a camping trip to celebrate in the Park’s elegant house, designed by a prominent architect who once lived there. Things look good until Moon-gwang arrives claiming that she left something in the basement. She reveals a shocking secret which unleashes a series of events that lead to a tragic final act.

The movie is a dark satire of socially-stratified society. Despite the fact that the Kims do some morally reprehensible things, you still find yourself rooting for them because people as clearly talented and motivated as them should not be living in poverty (of course, no one should live in poverty). The conflict that arises between the Kims and Moon-gwang is also emblematic of how the poor are forced to fight amongst themselves for the scraps thrown by the wealthy. Without going into spoilers, the grim events of the final act are an indication that actual class war would be devastating for all involved, but that inequality is going to have be addressed by other means.

The movie is very cleverly-written and the acting is all-around terrific.  I really felt like I knew all these characters and they were fully-rounded humans, not just types.  I was also impressed by the direction.  One sequence shows the Kim family running from the Park’s house to their own neighborhood by way of descending a series of staircase.  The social stratification between the families is made literal. There’s also a shot where flood waters rise into the frame and everything above the waterline wipes into the next shot, an effect I’ve never seen before.

Parasite is a clever, funny, thoughtful, and disturbing film.  It’s received a lot of awards and accolades, and I guess I’m adding mine to the pile.

Rating: ****1/2