Michael Mann still owns pacing–he always will. But director Paul Thomas Anderson owns something else. What is it? I have not found the word yet. But when I do, it will describe the way Phantom Thread is not about dresses. It will also convey the way this motion picture about some dressmaker makes me want to wake up early every morning. Oh, and this word will describe how without Mr. Anderson spending any precious time on patronizing summaries, technical explanations, or unambiguous declarations, I felt like I learned something–something that I might have otherwise missed. I wonder, what will you learn?
These two movies had piqued my interest when I first heard of them, but the mainstream critical reception was off-putting enough that I hadn’t take the time to view them. Finally I had a minute. The critics are wrong.
If you liked Miami Vice and Zero Dark Thirty, then Sicario is for you. My only real problem with Sicario is that it would be ruined if the cartel horrors it depicts were not based in the historical record, but I am too afraid to confirm that they are to do any fact checking. Depressing stuff.
If you have read Moby Dick, then The Heart of the Sea is for you. This one’s reception is especially baffling. Critics can’t say anything good about it, but as far as ocean voyage movies go it is much better than Master and Commander, which wasn’t bad. I loved Moby Dick and so I can’t say how much of that influences my enjoyment of The Heart of the Sea. What I can say is that if you know that Moby Dick is not about a whale, then you’ll like this movie. Conversely, if you are asking yourself, “Moby Dick isn’t about whale?” right now, skip the movie.
I feel equal parts bad and excited for the Justice League movie scheduled for release in 2017. I feel bad because with two Avengers films, three Expendables, and seven Fast and Furious’ the hero-team formula is growing wearisome. I feel excited because by 2017 the filmmakers might be even more motivated to actually make a good team action movie.
My beef with these three film series is that they no longer flow. The respective films aren’t films. They’re like seven or eight, twelve minute scenes glued together and then labeled “movie.” Each character gets a cameo, they have one on screen moment fighting back to back and then the credits roll.
My excitement for the future of team movies–and Justice League in particular–comes from the success of the movie Legends of the Fall. Remember that one? I can still hear my brother’s excited hope-whisper during the final scene. I see no difference between that team-of-heroes movie and these recent ones. There’s Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel, and the dad, Susannah, and One Stab round out the good guys. That’s six essentially main character’s in my book. Obviously Brad Pitt was “the rock they broke themselves against”, but that’s exactly my point. In the three series I’ve mentioned, it was exciting to see the first of each of these movies the because they were new. But on the whole, teams aren’t what movies or, as I’ll argue in a minute, any art is even about.
Avengers One worked decently because it was essentially Ironman on steroids. Number two was not about Ironman. That’s why it isn’t as good. (Not to mention that the “age” of Ultron was hardly long enough to be a “week” let alone an “age” which means that the team behind the movie didn’t even know what their movie was about–fail.) Expendables One was about Stallone. Two and three were not as focused–therefore not as good–as they tried to spread the wealth. And then with the Furious movies, Vin Diesel is cool as shyat, but honestly the Rock can’t stop cookin’ when he’s in a movie. It’s either main good guy or main bad guy for that Übermensch.
This brings us to all art. I like to think about all art the same way. Take Beethoven’s ninth. Everyone knows the simple motif that doesn’t appear until the fourth movement. It is eight notes. The symphony is over an hour long, but boils down to only eight notes. I’d call that motif the “main character”. All the other music makes it seem like there’s a team thing, but there isn’t.
Another example would be Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. For all of the many scenes, the main character is the “divine spark” taking place between God and Adam. (No, it is not an accident that these two masterpieces have the moment of creation at their core.)
Which leads to the only thing there is left to say on the subject. In the forthcoming Justice League movie, there must be a main character. And the main character must be Batman.
I wanted to be really edgy with this review of Keaton’s Best Picture-winning Birdman and use “circle-jerk” in the opening sentence. Then something told me that I might not be the first wannabe movie critic to use this adolescently pejorative gimmick to describe this film. Googling “birdman circle-jerk”, I confirmed my suspicions. Oh well. As another similarly themed saying goes, if you wait, you masturbate.
My new co-workers are one of the least movie-watching crowds I’ve ever labored alongside. There are moments, you can imagine, when this circumstance causes me to question my love of movies. I’ll ask myself, “Have I been wasting my time?” and “Is there more to life?” However, as time goes on, the moments shorten and the doubts disappear.
After watching Birdman, though, ironically my questioning clamored to deafening levels.
Forget that a movie about a movie star won best picture. The only question that ran through my head for the duration was whether or not an expertly made film depicting the ups and downs experienced by the people behind the stage and screen has any inherent metaphorical value for me. Put another way, “Are celebrity’s problems really the same as my problems, only amplified by fame and fortune?” Or yet another, “Does every human being live on a ledge from which they jump, sometimes falling, sometimes flying?” To all these questions I answer, “No.” I say, just like with the quickly-fading-from-view 50 Shades phenomenon, the difficulty with this movie is remembering that I don’t have to let these people frame the discussion. Despite every effort on all our parts to turn celebrities into gods, they are not gods. But remembering this is admittedly challenging because they are rich. And that means they must know something I don’t, right?
Prelude to this review’s conclusion: Today I can’t recall what BDSM stands for. And while right now I feel like I may be able to identify with the major motif of Birdman, even admiring all of its on-point updates to the reigning annal of contemporary social history Forrest Gump, I know that tomorrow I will look forward to the new Mad Max.
Conclusion: As always Hollywood, less talk, more work.
“What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?”
“No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”
Seemingly new, fresh, sleek, palatable, and a ton of fun, The Matrix might be the second most pivotal movie in my movie-watching career. (Easy, TC, I said second most.) Two and Three aren’t bad either if you can get over yourself. It’s difficult to comprehend that the same two minds that created that trilogy unleashed Jupiter Ascending on us.
So groundbreaking were those three films that it’s troublesome to attempt to recall what popular opinion held regarding Keanu Reeves before Neo. He was laughable in an unforgettable kind of way in Bill and Ted’s. Eighteen movies later takes us to The Devil’s Advocate, (his last role before Neo) which is very watchable. I guess where I’m going is I heard once that Forrest Gump was cast as the lead astronaut in Apollo 13 precisely because the team behind that film knew that they needed an actor whom, once stranded in space, moviegoers would unanimously desire to bring back to Earth.
My question to the Wachowskis is, “What the heck?” Channing Tatum? Is there any moviegoer who wants to credit a victory on any level, much less the cosmic level, to Magic Mike?
I matter. Think of me. I, just for myself, purchased at least eight theater tickets for the Matrix films. I owned the VHS of the first one and then still went ahead and later bought the collector’s edition DVDs of the entire trilogy in the neat holographic packaging. I have also raved about V for Vendetta countless times. Are you telling me that you think I ever want to see Channing Tatum in a movie? Let some lesser filmmakers get him to blossom. You two are too good to be guessing.
Lastly, I feel like I was lied to. And that makes me sad. We all know that movie trailers are supposed to entice us to see a movie by telling us a compelling story that isn’t what the actual movie is really about. But nowhere, NOWHERE, in the trailers did your team indicate that Mila Kunis’ character was an immigrant housemaid before she got caught up in the whole “your majesty” bit. What are we doing here? Teaching impoverished little girls that aren’t in the theater with me to never stop dreaming? The reason I feel lied to is that you spent all that effort on the film and yet left the one reason no adult man would pay to see the movie out of the preview. Tisk Tisk.
Neo, awesome. Trinity, even awesomer. V and Evie, amazing. Jupiter? Trust is broken. But don’t worry. I’m easy. You can make it up to me next time. Just please, make it up to me.
He is the absolute best filmmaker ever. Hands down.
My favorite film of all time is Last of the Mohicans. It is probably no coincidence that this is also the first film of his I ever saw, and it might be the first rated R film I ever watched. I know for sure that at the time I didn’t even know his name or, for that matter, that movies were made by different people. While most people I run into shy away from ever choosing their favorite, my training prevents me from fearing and so after much deliberation, to repeat, I proudly pick Last of the Mohicans.
I say all of that to introduce the fact that any movie buffs can imagine my shock when upon completing Heat in college I discovered that in that crime tale–the first time Pacino and De Niro gloriously face-off on film–again, it was Mann at the helm.
My memory is a bit fuzzy at this point, but I think my next it’s-a-small-world-after-all shock was discovering that he created one of my mom’s favorite early-80’s television shows–meaning I’m pretty sure she watched it while I was in the womb–Miami Vice. It shouldn’t take much convincing then that when I heard he was making a stand alone film of Vice, I lost my breath. (“Do you dance?” “I dance.”)
After heading to the local video rental store to get caught up with Thief, Manhunter, and The Insider, Ali marked the first time I saw one of his films in the theater. And you can bet I was first in line for when he teamed up with my raision d’etre, TC, in Collateral.
Naturally, my younger brother is also a big fan. Not as big, but big. So to cap off his bachelor party ski extravaganza he and I went to see Mann’s latest release Blackhat. It has been a long time since I left the theater believing that someone knows how to tell a story to adults. I had hoped Interstellar would end the streak of disappointment, but I have to agree with the masses that while very, very good, it was also a little silly. Not Blackhat.
What makes Mann stand head and shoulders above the competition? Pacing. His pacing. No one else comes close.
Now, we’re all adults here, right? You know how there is a standard line during sex where when in passion’s throes one partner sensually requests that the other develop the bliss a little more competently? When, in a voice that quiets to little more than air rushing by your ear, you hear the plea, “Don’t rush”? Well Mann’s grasp prevents his lover from ever contemplating such a petition. Unlike most other film makers, he is in complete control. There is no doubt that every particularity of every moment is exactly as he wants it. There is no “film by committee” with him. It’s his way or the highway. And Blackhat reminded me of this once again.
Need one more example of how I know he’s the best filmmaker? I know because the previews for his movies are horrible. They are horrible because he doesn’t make previews. He makes movies. He makes motion pictures. He makes art. Could a single measure of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony do that song justice? Or one star in Van Gogh’s Starry Night? No, the answer is no.
In a word, compared to Michael Mann, all other filmmakers are simply salesmen.
1. Rocky Balboa (Rocky 6)
2. Rambo (Rambo 4)
3. The Expendables
4. The Expendables 2
5. The Expendables 3 (This time he’s pulled together Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. And those are in addition to Arnold, Statham, Li, and Ivan Drago. Oh, and Kelsey Grammar, too.)
For any of you who haven’t seen “The Expendables” movies, you’re missing out. Missing out like I thought I was missing out in the late 80s and 90s. I hated that I couldn’t go see rated R movies. It seemed like every good movie was rated R and starred Stallone or Schwarzenegger. When I finally checked those movies out, man was I disappointed. Then Sly shocks the world with “Rocky Balboa” and “Rambo”, only to top them a few years later with “The Expendables”. The movies are over the top in every way imaginable. It’s a formula that can’t lose. Lose the ego, bring the heart, and have a little fun while you’re at it.
Tom–don’t worry. You’re still tops in my book. The easiest way to ensure you never lose the spot is follow Stallone’s lead and give us what we want. You know what I’m talking about TC. That’s right. It’s time for the sequel. (Cue the Anthem.)
The previews looked like someone had re-tooled Hopkins and Baldwin’s 1997 thiller The Edge. Two elderly-ish men trying to survive, and possibly kill each other in the woods. But what we have here is something new. It is at once a simple action flick–kinda B-movie action at that–and a portrayal of one of the most challenging commandments Jesus of Nazareth issued.
The film begins with scenes of the not-so-familiar Bosnian war. We are shown images of genocide which would be striking if they weren’t nauseatingly familiar. Like Shutter Island before it, we are then shown that even the good guys sometimes commit atrocities. While in Bosnia we think we see Travolta killed. Moments later we are introduced to DeNiro’s character and discover he has taken to hunting in the woods…with a camera instead of a gun. Nothing surprising here.
The fact is nothing too surprising happens for the next hour or so of the film. There is a game of cat and mouse that seems to drag on and on with no point. But then something magical happens–the point appears.
Movies which improve with their run-time are few and far between. I grew up on the idea that most movies can be recognized for what they are in the first minute. This one is a rare exception to that rule.
Now Ma–before you think that you’re ready for this film, allow me to offer a word of caution. There are two surprisingly gruesome scenes that even caught me off-guard. So, just ask me about the movie next time you call and I’ll tell you what is so neat about it.
The rest of you, proceed at your own risk. It’s no Saw, but it still isn’t for the faint of heart. Too bad really, because it’s message is so full of heart.
He was Top Cadet, Top Friend, Top Suburban Son, Top Forrest Boy, Top Gun, Top Bartender, Top Brother, Top Veteran, Top Car, Top Immigrant, Top Lawyer, Top Informant, Top Vampire, Top Spy, Top Spy 2, Top Spy 3, Top Spy 4, Top Spy with a Sense of Humor, Top Sports Agent, Top Freak, Top Motivational Speaker, Top Crazy Man, Top Future Cop, Top Samurai, Top Hit Man, Top Normal Guy, Top Politician, Top Director, Top Nazi Traitor, Top Rock Star, Top Ex-Cop, and most recently Top Astronaut. I can be talking about none other than the Top Actor of the World, Tom – T.C. to me – Cruise!
Just the facts: I saw Top Gun when I was 8 and went on to become a military pilot. My first anniversary out of the military occurred last year, and I figured it would be a good time to watch the movie again. It had been about 7 years since I last saw it. So much had happened in my time in the military that I was curious what I would think as I watched it again. You know what? As the movie ended, I felt like I was 8 again. I thought to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to grow-up so I can be a military pilot.” Then I realized, “Wait a minute, I’ve already done that!”
The moment that followed was singular. I realized that I don’t think I ever actually wanted to be a military pilot. I realized that all these years I actually wanted to be Tom Cruise. Or at least like him, Top Actor.
This thought terrified me. You see, recently I joined a Toastmasters public speaking club. Toastmasters is an organization that pushes people to follow their dreams. The club I am a part of is no different. Besides being overly encouraging, they are time keepers. If you tell them your goal, they will help keep you accountable. I knew that if I told any of them that I wanted to be Top Actor, they would literally start encouraging me to follow my dream to Hollywood.
Thus, I was faced with a dilemma. I joined Toastmasters to challenge myself. This was the perfect topic for a speech. However, there was no way I could share this dream of mine with this particular group of people.
Then it hit me! What if I just told them the truth?
Of all the people who make excuses for not following their dreams, I think I have the best excuse ever. I thought that maybe I could convince them that some people just shouldn’t follow their dreams. And I was one of those people.
Think about it. As a pilot, I spent 8 years perfecting my radio-call voice. You know what I’m talking about. The very monotone, betraying no emotion, professional way of speaking. Besides being monotone, a radio-call is also a strictly formatted four-part way of communicating. There is not much room for deviation from the monotone four-part format.
My thesis: I argue that even Tom Cruise himself couldn’t become Top Actor if, like me, he had to overcome 8 years of speaking in a radio-call voice and format.
And I can prove it. In order to do so, I need to take you through a few examples of how his movies would’ve sounded if he made them in a monotone, four-part radio call format.
To begin, allow me to take you back to the living room at the end of Top Sports Agent. In the movie he says, “…We live in a cynical world. A cynical world. And we work in a business of tough competitors. I love you. You… complete me.” To which Dorothy interrupts, “Shut up. (Sniff) Just shut up. You had me at hello.” Pretty powerful stuff, no? Well, let’s see what that would look like if a T.C. would’ve had my restrictions. Here goes.
*Pshh* Ahh Dorothy…This is Jerry…I’m standing in your living room and ahhh…We live in a cynical world. BREAK *Pshh* … *Pshh* …A cynical world. And we work in a business of tough competitors. BREAK *Pshh* … *Pshh* …Ahhh…I love you. You complete me. *Pshh*
*Pshh* Ahh Jerry…Dorothy here…Standing in the same room…Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at hello. *Pshh*
I mean come on! There is NO WAY anyone would have identified with those characters or that sentiment.
I can hear some of you already. You’re saying, “Hey, wait a minute. You picked an easy one, a chick flick. I bet some of his other movies would have sounded alright.” Okay, I’ll take that bet. And I’ll raise you. Let’s jump right to a military movie. Top Lawyer. You remember it. Lt. Caffy thundering away while leading Colonel Nathan R. Jessup expertly toward admitting he ordered the CODE RED. Let’s pick it up with Colonel Jessup. He asks, “You want answers?” Lt. Caffy replies, “I think I’m entitled them.” “Yawan’answers!” “I want the TRUTH!” “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!..” And then the great speech about walls begins. Now, here’s how the scene would have played out if T.C. was a pilot.
*Pshh* Ahh Lt. Caffy…Colonel Jessup here…sitting in the witness stand…Do you want answers? *Pshh*
*Pshh* Ahh Colonel Jessup…Lt. Caffy speaking…I’m at your 11…I think I’m entitled them. *Pshh*
*Pshh* Ahh Lt. Caffy…Colonel Jessup again…still in the witness stand…Do you want answers? *Pshh*
*Pshh* Ahh Colonel Jessup…Lt. Caffy here…I’ve haven’t moved…I want the truth. *Pshh*
*Pshh* Ahh Lt. Caffy…Colonel Jessup here…once again from the witness stand…You can’t handle the truth. *Pshh*
See? No drama. It would have been annoying. No one would have told their friends to go see Top Lawyer.
At this point, I think I’ve done enough to prove I’m right; and I should not follow my dreams. In all fairness, though, we need to come full-circle. Some of you are thinking, “Well, he seems to have a good point. Maybe he couldn’t become Top Actor. …Except that Top Gun is the movie that really put T.C. on the map, and in it he made radio-calls. So, no, I won’t let him off the hook, his theory is destroyed by Top Gun.” I respond, “Is it?” Do you really believe that the radio calls are what made that movie? We all know what made that movie and transformed Tom Cruise from Top Forrest Boy into Top Actor. The bar scene. “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your li-i-ips.” Goose takes over, “There’s no tenderness like before in your feeengerrti-i-ips.” Back to TC, “You’re trying hard not to show it…” Entire bar. (It’s appropriate to join in wherever you are right now, too.) “BAYYY-BEE!” “But baby! Believe me, I knoooow i-it…” And on and on. A scene like that spawns a career. Here’s how it would look radio-call style.
*Pshh* Ahh Pretty blonde woman…Maverick here…at your six…you never close your eyes anymore… BREAK *Pshh* … *Pshh* …when I kiss your lips. *Pshh*
*Pshh* Ahh Blondie…Goose speaking…at your eleven…There’s no tenderness like before…BREAK *Pshh* … *Pshh* …In your fingertips. *Pshh*
*Pshh* Ahh Blonde woman… Maverick again…I’m the one at your 12 o’clock…You’re trying hard not to show it…BREAK *Pshh* … *Pshh* …baby. BREAK *Pshh* … *Pshh* …But baby, believe me I know it. *Pshh*
Whew! Need I say more? Need-I-Say-More? Terrible. I’m bored writing this. “Tom who?” That’s what you would say to me if he had made his movies the way I have had to speak for the last 8 years.
There you have it, proof positive that some people shouldn’t follow their dreams. I am one of those people. Are you? Are you you holding on to any dreams that need to be given up? I find my answers in the movies. Maybe you will to. It’s like in the movie Lion King when Rafiki tells adult Simba that to discover his destiny he needs to, “Look hahhhder.”