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Month: September 2019

Heat (1995)

Heat (1995)

  • Score: 4/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yes.
  • Did it move me: Mostly.
  • Rewatch:  Looking forward to it.
  • Art/Pop: Surprisingly arty for a big budget cop flic.
  • Noteworthy/Significant: In retrospect, not much.

I remember the considerable buzz, likely promoted by the filmmakers, when Heat came out, about the first on-screen meeting between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, two of the top actors of their generation. I also remember the counter-buzz when viewers realized they only shared two scenes in a long movie, especially long for its time. This gave the whole film a shroud of being good but okay, perhaps a bit disappointing; as a result, I never made seeing it a priority. What a mistake that was.

There are traditional cop films: cops track down and stop the bad guys. Then there are heist films: charismatic bad guys with spirit plan great thefts and pull them off. In the cop films, you root for the cops, for whom you know it is 95% likely they will get their men (and women), the only mystery being how; in Heist films, you root for the “bad guys (and gals)”, for whom you know it is 95% likely they will pull it off, the only mystery being how. Fairly often in Heist films, they will have the bad guys stealing from other bad guys just to make it that much easier to root for them.

Heat utilizes the gravitas and familiarity of its two leading men to blur these closely-related but distinct sub-genres and create something rare in crime films: uncertainty and unpredictability (see also, 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon, curiously enough starring a much younger Al Pacino). I watched Heat with a friend of mine; about halfway through, she turned to me and said “I really want them to get away with it, is that wrong?”

Blending two incongruous genres is not the only magic trick in director Michael Mann’s bag: Heat builds slowly, laying out a large series of different, seemingly unrelated, plot threads one by one, breathing and taking its time, while continuing to be engaging. I remember thinking about 45 minutes in “How can this be going so slow, yet I am completely engrossed?” The answer, of course, is: really good writing, directing, and acting.

A dark film, much of Heat seems to take place at night, with a noir-ish, almost Blade Runner-esque vision of LA, reinforced by a mostly ambient electronic soundtrack by a series of pioneering electronic artists, including Brain Eno, William Orbit, Steve Roach and Moby. These decisions create a somewhat timeless, otherworldly universe for the story to unfold in, which in itself becomes an interesting juxtaposition to the direct and authentic dialog and characters: there are few characters in the film who are not gray.

The supporting cast also deserves kudos, and is remarkably star-studded: Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Jon Voit, Tom Sizemore, a young Natalie Portman, Mykelti Williamson, Danny Trejo, William Fichtner, and a series of fun-to-spot cameos including Hank Azaria, Henry Rollins, Jeremy Piven, and rapper Tone Loc.  

Toward the end, Heat slides toward convention, an unfortunate, if slight, disappointment that does not undermine its accomplishments.

Review Date: 06/23/2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel (2019)

  • Score: 3/5
  • Genre: 3/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yeah.
  • Did it move me: Ehhh, a little?
  • Rewatch:  Eventually.
  • Art/Pop: It dreamt of art, but it was only a dream.
  • Noteworthy/Significant: See review.

This is the first female-led marvel Superhero film. Have you got that? This is an important film. Really!

Or maybe not. As a white male one-time-in-my-youth comic book nerd, let me state that I have absolutely no issue with Captain Marvel being a woman. I just long for the day when Captain Marvel can unselfconsciously be a woman. Which apparently is not yet today (see paragraph 1, above, and let’s all cross fingers for Scarlett’s first foray, or (ultra cross fingers), Jessica Jones on the big screen). 

This is a fine movie. I enjoyed it. It is just remarkably average for its genre. Our man Sam seems to be having fun pretending he is in his 30s again. Jude Law seems happy to be merely acting. Annette Bening is wondering how she ended up in a Superhero movie, but is a good sport and going along for the ride. 

I think the most interesting thing was the movie’s eventual portrayal of the Skrulls, which is a rather geeky thing to find interesting, and of course Djimon Hounsou is always great.

Not sure what else to say. I mean, it’s fine. Really.

Review Date: 06/22/2019

Tommy (1975)

Tommy (1975)

  • Score: 2/5
  • Genre: 2/5
  • Did I enjoy it: As a critical experience.
  • Did it move me: Far less than I expected or hoped.
  • Rewatch:  If & when NY legalizes marijuana, and I am feeling bored or masochistic.
  • Art/Pop: It really, really wants to be Art, but it’s just druggy.
  • Noteworthy/Significant: Cult classic, or at least it used to be.

Given my love of music and film, how I got to my age with never managing to see classic rock group The Who’s influential (nay, culturally iconic!) “rock opera” Tommy is itself a question of deep sociological significance, like surviving the 70s without hearing the Oscar Meyer Weiner jingle. How unexpected it was to discover that was Kismet, not bad Karma.

Bereft of acid or other mind altering substances, and over 40 years after its release, what is left is 90% songs you have never heard before, half of which sound like 60’s tripe knock offs of Mrs. Brown You Have A Lovely Daughter (don’t ask, the title should be enough), a string of barely connected set pieces forming a loose amateurish narrative, and tons of unintentionally interesting observations and scenes, like Jack Nicholson as a singing professor and 60s icon Ann Margaret rolling around in skimpy cloths in imaginary Heinz Baked Beans. At least I now know why the post WWII set thought she was hot, so I guess I’ve got that going for me.

My other game was seeing how many set scenes were weak knock offs or inspirations from better films, like the wired up pre-awakening Tommy looking like a Rocky Horror Picture Show homage to A Clockwork Orange meets La Jetee, and did I detect an If… reference in Daltry peering down at the kids from rooftops, or was that merely my mind wandering? It’s okay, since he became Jesus Christ Superstar in the end.

I do like that the film uses unique, rather than studio, versions of the songs, sung by the actual actors (or as alternate takes by Daltry), which is a nice touch, and gives us neat stuff like the young Elton John’s Pinball Wizard.  And the actors seem to be trying (the surprise Tina Turner appearance was fun, if overwrought), even Roger Daltry, bless his heart, but what the hell can you do spending an hour sitting on the bar of a sit-hang-glider on a sound stage, looking at your feet and lip-synching? Oh, was that only ten minutes? Oops.

Within seven years we would have both Pink Floyd’s stunning The Wall and The Who’s own vastly superior Quadrophenia.  Films like The Beatle’s A Hard Day’s Night survive the decades as cheesy fun. Tommy is just cheese.

Review Date: 06/22/2019