Bryan Barber’s Idlewild is a tour de force of style, of song and dance, of energetic cinematic pizazz, and a loving ode to the big Hollywood musical that happens to be spliced with the gangster film, all shot in a modern, MTV-inspired aesthetic that I think is wildly unique and more than eye-popping on an aesthetic level. Charles William Breen‘s extravagantly detailed and lush production design should have received an Oscar nomination – it’s really crimes against cinema that this didn’t happen. Every set, every scene, all sense of art direction is so in tune with all the elements that this really becomes a true feast for the senses. From top to bottom, Idlewild is insanely underrated, as it never had a wide enough release nor was it treated with any sort of respect from a pedigree standpoint. Marketed simply as “the Outkast movie,” Idlewild is so much more than that — it’s a crazy explosion of so many elements and genres and styles that I’m not really surprised that it flew under the radar. It’s sort of like The Cotton Club on acid, spiced up with sexy and sultry song and dance numbers, with a solid gangster-movie plot that sets into motion all the dramatic conflict that a narrative would need. Barber threw everything in his back pocket into this film — it’s stuffed (some might say overstuffed but not me!) with visual information that stretches the mise-en-scene to new heights and the film seems absolutely drunk with the many possibilities that the cinematic art form can provide.
Swept under the rug with a half-hearted, late summer theatrical release by Universal Pictures, the film hasn’t even been graced with a spiffed up transfer on the Blu-ray format, which is tantamount to a slap in the face to the extremely gifted cinematographer Pascal Rabaud, who shot the ever-living-hell out of each and every frame of this dazzling motion picture. I had the chance to see this one in the theater, and I can definitely say that it was an overwhelming experience to behold on the big screen. The absolutely ridiculous cast includes Ving Rhames, Terrence Howard, the show-stoppingly gorgeous Paula Patton, Cicely Tyson, Macy Gray, Faizon Love, Ben Vereen, Patti LaBelle, Bruce Bruce, Malinda Williams, and Jackie Long. John Debney’s eclectic and always present musical score envelopes the entire picture with a jazzy sense of spirit, and because the film is so thick with period flavor and distinct visual atmosphere, you really get the sense of being fully transported to the world that all of these fabulous people put on display. I knew this movie was for me when the song notes started dancing off the music-book pages for the piano players, and when the rooster emblem on the flask started to dance and crow. At times, the film feels like it belongs in the same company as Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge or The Great Gatsby — this was maximalist filmmaking delivered at a furious pace with a ton of heart and soul underneath the supreme sense of high style. Idlewild is like no other musical that you’ve seen and it’s so deserving of rediscovery that it almost feels comical.
It’s truly a shame that not enough parents with young children took a chance this weekend on Shaun the Sheep Movie. This film is a 100 Star Masterpiece, written with zero spoken dialogue, containing some of the best visual storytelling in ages, made in the grand tradition of FUN, filled with heart, humor, sophistication, and an endless sense of CUTE. I knew I was a goner when I first saw the madcap trailer (the film is way less rambunctious than advertised) and this constantly delightful movie never let me down. And it doesn’t matter how many times I watch a “making-of” when it comes to a Claymation film, I just don’t “get it” in terms of how these films are made. The painstaking process of arranging and re-arranging the characters and backgrounds and props seems, to my eye, to be a herculean effort, and I don’t understand how they make water look the way it does within the context of this unique universe. There is a boundless sense of energy and wit in every single frame of this film, while the strong internal message of valuing your friends and family is never lost during the big action sequences and frequent bits of absurd antics. And did I mention that this film is funny? It’s both laugh out loud and LQTM, with not one but two instances of snapper-fart humor, burp jokes that actually make sense within the context of the narrative, and an unending supply of animal related hijinks that would delight just about anyone with a pulse. So why don’t these movies get enough traction in the U.S.? Is it the “British-ness” of them? Are they just too good for people to latch onto? Whatever the reason, I don’t care. I don’t finance movies, I just shoot from the hip and report on how any particular film has made me feel after I’ve viewed it. This is a smashing piece of entertainment, made with sneak glee and just the right amount of smarts to balance out the silliness. This one made me feel like a kid, it reminded me of how blissfully innocent a child can be while watching a film on the big screen (the small amount of children in attendance seemed overjoyed), and it’s further proof that every year, the chance for a massive cinematic surprise is always possible.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is a painful documentary highlighting the challenges that Stanley faced while trying to mount his ambitious – and no doubt avant garde – reimagining of the classic material. Directed with a probing sense of mystery by David Gregory, this is an info-packed hour and 40 minutes filled with first hand tales of Hollywood idiocy, behind the scenes footage to die for, and enough stories about Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer to choke a horse. The notion that Stanley infiltrated the set post-firing while dressed up in creature make-up and costume is an utter pisser to even contemplate let alone realize actually occurred, and the not-so-fond stories of John Frankenheimer were quite interesting to note. Because I am not a filmmaker and clearly wasn’t there during the middle of this fiasco, all I can do is report on what was presented in this documentary – it’s yet another sad, disgusting, totally backwards tale of studio-led buffoonery that ultimately led to the destruction of someone’s vision. This documentary has that “check out this car wreck” quality where you just have to see what’s going to happen next, because it just can’t get any worse for the people involved. The amount of money that was flushed down the toilet while making this film was staggering, and the amount of time spent on the part of the actors and crew just sitting around and waiting to accomplish something – ANYTHING – would be enough to discourage anyone from making another movie again.
The MVP of Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, which was directed by Christopher McQuarrie, is CLEARLY cinematographer Robert Elswit. I can’t get over some of the shots in this latest entry in the franchise. His overwhelming sense of what is photogenic continues to dazzle my eye-balls, and his stunning photography and sharp camera placement in this film is extraordinary to observe and study. The stunts and action sequences pop with authority — the car and motorcycle chase in Casablanca was utterly superb — and it’s clear from watching that Elswit knows no bounds as a cameraman. He’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s regular cinematographer (minus one film) and all throughout his incredible career he’s demonstrated a mastery of the visual language (this is his second go-round on the Mission franchise having last shot the visually exuberant Ghost Protocol). The rest of the film is serviceable and fine — it’s predictable, it’s exposition heavy, Cruise is doing Solid Cruise here, nothing remotely challenging except in the physical sense, and sorry to say it, after Gibney’s incendiary documentary, I’m still seeing Xenu. Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner get some good laughs, and repeatedly, the film’s thunder is stolen by the sexy and confident Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who kicks a TON of ass, takes very few names, and looks extremely hot in evening gown and bathing-suit attire — she’s like a more athletic version of Ruth Wilson. Second Unit director Gregg Smrz and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood more than earned their paychecks. And kudos to the filmmakers for not totally spoiling the absurd opening stunt with Cruise hanging off that cargo plane — I loved how long they held on the master shot of Cruise dangling off the side — they knew what they had in that moment. If CGI was used, it was flawless. If it wasn’t, Cruise is more than certifiable to even think of doing such a thing. For $5.75, you’ll get your bang for your buck. I’m just sort of wondering what ground is truly left to cover in this series of films.
Tom Ford’s beyond striking film debut A Single Man is an overwhelming aesthetic and emotional experience, a piece of filmmaking that really and truly becomes something bordering on a living, breathing painting of life. This is an expressionistic, at times impressionistic piece of work, and it never fails to stir up intense feelings while watching it. This is Colin Firth’s crowning achievement as an actor, and it’s sort of a crime that he didn’t win the top trophy that year at the Oscars; his award for The King’s Speech feels so much like a consolation prize it’s not even funny. Julianne Moore is electric in her glammed-up role, giving nothing short of a tour de force performance. Eduard Grau’s painterly cinematography is astonishing to digest, contemplate, and study, and what’s more, the sense of high-style that Ford set into motion was always in service of a thoroughly engaging narrative, with characters you immediately latch onto. Nicholas Hoult (never better) and Matthew Goode (underrated always) deliver devastating supporting turns, the score from Abel Korzeniowski is hauntingly romantic, and I’ll never not be blown away by Ford’s innate sense of what’s cinematic; this is a film that feels both studied and extremely unique, deeply personal, made without any sense of capitulation or compromise. I’m not familiar with Christopher Isherwood’s source material, but as a film, this is a work that feels so singular and deeply rooted from within itself that I feel like I owe it to myself to check out where the story first began. I’m also a huge fan of stories that take place over the span of a single day, and while A Single Man does contain dreams and flashbacks, this is one of the best all-in-one-24-hour-period films that I can think of. There’s an immediacy to every single scene that jacks up the importance to the events, and the tragic finale stings with heartfelt authenticity and ironic exactitude. Jon Hamm’s voice on the phone POWER and Tom Ford recruiting the Mad Men production design team POWER. This is an exquisite, evocative, and all together unforgettable piece of filmmaking. I am beyond excited to see what Ford has up his sleeve with the upcoming romantic drama Nocturnal Animals.
Cherry 2000 is a fantastic cinematic explosion of ideas, genres, tones, and possibilities. In other words – it’s a Steve De Jarnatt picture, ahead of its time during initial release, and so ready for rediscovery by modern audiences it’s almost a joke. Feeling like an acid-tinged riff on the post-apocalyptic action picture with shades of Mad Max all throughout, I can’t help but feel that this film set the stage for properties like Demolition Man and Tank Girl and possibly even something like The Fifth Element and Ex-Machina! It’s wild, it’s outlandish, it’s audacious, and there’s not much else I can think of that even remotely comes close to the fantasia that this off the wall effort represents. In the future, 2017 to be exact(!), Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) is a recycling plant manager. He goes home every night to his beautiful wife, played by the beyond sexy Pamela Gidley, who just so happens to be a lifelike robot with the titular name of Cherry 2000. She’s ready for her man at any point, always smiling, always there to pleasure and reassure. But when she short-circuits, Sam isn’t interested in downgrading with a newer, less smoking hot robot-wife. After removing her personality disc, he hires a lawless tracker named E. Johnson, played with charm and early hotness by a lithe Melanie Griffith, in an effort to track down a legitimate Cherry 2000 replacement model. This film is both tongue in cheek and totally dead serious, sometimes within the same scene, with a tone that goes back and forth between pointed social commentary and off-the-wall-genre-craziness. The action scenes are robust, the explosions were done for real, and some of the stunts simply defy logic. There’s a TON of RPG-assisted mayhem during the final act that needs to be seen to be believed, and the frequent bouts of hilarity that come at the expense of the far-reaching screenplay by Michael Almereyda (his take on Hamlet back in 2000 is grotesquely underrated) are at times unexpected yet fully earned. Simply put, a film like this would have a hard time getting made — on any level — in today’s movie-making climate, so it’s all the more exciting to see something this willfully bizarre and enjoyable. At times the film feels cut from the same sort of whacked-out cinematic cloth that Terry Gilliam uses to weave his dense and unclassifiable tapestries of genre-blending. Basil Poledouris’ thundering and rousing score sets the stage repeatedly for the action fireworks that continually unfold, especially in the second and third acts, while memorable supporting turns from Laurence Fishburne, Harry Carey Jr., Tim Thomerson, Ben Johnson, and Brion James spice up the narrative. Originally completed in 1985, the film was set to be released in August of 1986 by Orion Pictures, who then delayed it until March of 1987, then September of 1987, before deciding on a straight to VHS release in the fall of 1988. Cherry 2000 was likely too much of a good thing for people to understand it at the time, likely vexing marketing departments and studio heads; those days of pushing creative and unique gems like this one through some sort of studio funded pipeline seem long gone. The newly released Kino Blu-ray is sharp as a tack, with great color saturation and excellent sound quality.