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.
***GREAT FILM ALERT – FOR PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT CINEMA – GREAT FILM ALERT***
I had not heard of the 2009 film Captain Abu Raed until my intrepid FB movie buddy Ryan Marshall made me aware of its existence. The less you know about this powerful, slow-burn drama from writer/director Amin Matalqa the better. This was the first Jordanian film in 50 years and the first that the country ever submitted for Oscar consideration, which is as hard to believe as it sounds. American productions have been using Jordan as a Middle East backdrop for years, but apparently, the countries own film economy was slow to start, and since the production of Captain Abu Raed, at least 10 other films have been completed. This is a poignant, touching, and finally devastating portrait of people randomly thrown into each other’s orbit, and it’s yet another film that goes to some extreme places to make a statement about the overall human condition. I loved this film. The lead performance from long time character actor Nadim Sawalha was nothing short of brilliant, the performances from the various child actors resonated with truth and believability, and I commend Matalqa for not bowing out in the final act, taking his narrative to its sad, inexorable conclusion. Sawalha plays Abu Raed, an airport janitor who spins stories to the local youth about how he’s really a pilot. He’s a man holding intense personal secrets, and his life takes a potentially tragic turn when he intervenes on a situation with an abusive neighbor. Add in a sweet and unlikely friendship with the severely pretty Jordanian TV personality Rana Sultan, playing a pilot who crosses paths with Abu Raed. There isn’t a wasted scene in the entire film, and it’s deceptively simple opening 40 minutes quickly gives way to a potent last half that challenges your expectations. This film likely makes my top 20 for had it been released this year. Seek it out.
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.
The Rookie is one of my favorite male-weepie sports films. Sensitively directed by John Lee Hancock and passionately written by Mike Rich, the film stars Dennis Quaid as real life baseball legend Jim Morris, who had a brief but phenomenally glorious career as a MLB pitcher. His claim to fame: Entering the sport at the tender age of 35, a time in life when most players are having early thoughts of retirement. I adore this film – it just flat-out works on every conceivable level. The performances are note perfect, the writing is top-notch, the baseball footage is some of the absolute best ever captured for a Hollywood production, and when that moment of supreme personal triumph arrives as Quaid trots out from the bullpen when he makes his debut – I dare you not to cry. Captured in a long tracking shot by the incredible cinematographer John Schwartzman, making excellent use of LENS FLARE POWER, the camera glides out to the pitcher’s mound, and then goes into full-on swirling mode as it begins to settle in on Quaid just exactly what he’s accomplished. I’d honestly have to check to see if you have a beating heart if this moment doesn’t make an impact on you as a viewer. A superb supporting cast including Rachel Griffiths as Quaid’s supportive wife, Angus T. Jones as their son, and master scene stealer Brian Cox as Quaid’s father all deliver finely etched performances which strengthen the overall narrative, giving it weight and honest family dimension that feels real and true. Schwartzman’s warm and beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen cinematography captures all of the action, on and off the field, with subtle style and loving affection for the rural landscapes and working class environs that the story trades off of, while also splendidly capturing a timeless sense of baseball love. And in tandem with Eric Beason’s fluid and steady editing and Carter Burwell’s sweeping yet net overbearing score, the film hits repeated grace notes without ever losing its full head of steam, all the way up until the potent finale, which hits both small and large notes of emotional satisfaction. Honestly, Quaid has rarely been better than he was here, in a role tailor made to his inherent charm and likability – he should have gotten an Oscar nomination.
Innerspace is a film I watched repeatedly as a kid, and there’s just so much gee-whiz charm about this film that I can’t stop grinning while watching it to this day. Joe Dante has always been a favorite filmmaker of mine, someone with that Spielberg touch for tone and spirit, as so many of his efforts have left me enchanted that I’ll never forget the importance he’s had on my cinematic upbringing. Explorers, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, Small Soldiers, The Howling, The ‘Burbs, and Matinee (damn I love Matinee!) – it’s just an insane list of genre-defying entertainment, with Innerspace ranking near the very top of his output. Starring Dennis Quaid with that mile-wide smile and Meg Ryan in the prime of her filmic cuteness, this sci-fi-romance-comedy centers on Quaid’s Marine who is miniaturized in a government experiment and is then accidentally injected into Martin Short, playing a massive hypochondriac who feels that he’s become possessed. Short is an utter pisser in this film, and the way he bounced off of Quaid was absolutely perfect, offering up any number of hilarious moments of character interplay. Ryan is Quaid’s love interest, and the chemistry they shared together is bonkers to witness. This film is one laugh after another, one scene of inventive plotting after another, with some truly wonderful (and practical) special effects that never feel dated in a now modern context. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is sprightly and catchy, and one must never underestimate the talents of cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, who also shot First Blood, Streets of Fire, The Warriors, and Southern Comfort. The freshly released Blu-ray has a commentary track with Dante and key craft contributors – can’t wait to give that a listen! Also, it goes without saying, MASSIVE Robert Picardo POWER.