Monday, June 25, 2018

levelFilm Review - The King

A 1963 Rolls Royce Phantom serves as a rolling interview space for Eugene Jarceki's The King. The documentary hits all of the main ports of call in Elvis Presley's life from his early days in Tupelo, Mississippi through to his final ones at Graceland.  As the scene shifts to a new chapter the Rolls maneuvers along the local streets with different people jumping in back to give their relocation of the King. During most of the picture director, Jarceki is behind the wheel of the vehicle. As parallel  narratives detail the rise of Presley in lockstep with America's post war boom  followed by his stagnation and decline mirroring that of the country. A third undercurrent is the lead up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election , Donald Trump gaining momentum with Alex Baldwin delivering the most ironic statement from the back of the Rolls that he does not know when the film will air but he can guarantee that Trump will not be president as he take a poll of who is more popular, Trump, Hillary or Bernie Sanders.

The crew rolls into Elvis' hometown looking for his birthplace and the home he grew up in. Elvis parents were poor, his dad went to prison for passing bad check, leading the family to move into free housing for whites in a mainly black area of town. Here Elvis and his childhood friend George Klein would try to get into the black clubs to hear the blues with Elvis attending a black church on Sundays to absorb as much of the sounds as he could. In this settings as others images flash across the screen with the events of the time. FDR and the new deal, poverty, sharecropping, and lynching open in plain view. He was working as an electrician when he wondered into Sun records began to sing real blues songs during a break then label owner Sam Philipps knew he had the right face with the emotional depth  to bring Big Mama Thorton's That's Alright and Hound Dog to a mainstream audience. Which is what occurred in meteoric fashion starting July 20, 1954.

Elvis' rise and the plight of the original authors of the music that launched his success is often revisited in the piece. Presley's army experience is contrasted with that of Muhammad Ali's. Recounters including CNN's Van Jones and an excellent Chuck D wondered what would have been if he walked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and other actors at Civil rights rallies. Instead, Elvis kept his opinion on controversial subjects to himself. Heading instead to Hollywood upon his return from the army to make bad movies for 10 years then to Las Vegas putting his decline into high gear. Instead of the better option going out on tour after the scorching heat caused by his 1968 comeback special.

The King is a historical journey spanning the years of Elvis' life, personal events intermingle with the pulse of the country. Questions are raised as Presley's choices are examined. The constant is the Rolls Royce steering into towns, past significant landmarks and cruising along route 66 marking the King's move out West. Elvis' decline is put in step with similar events in the country seemingly setting the seeds for the rise of Trump that edited into the proceedings not so subtly in the background. Jarceki's film covers a lot of ground offering a different slant especially considering the commitment to a moving soundstage.

*** Out of 4.

The King | Eugene Jarceki | Germany / U.S.A.|  2018 | 117 minutes.

Tags: Tupelo, Elvis Presley, Colonel Tom Parker, Sun Records, RCA, Documentary, Rolls Royce Phantom V, Blues, Rock & Roll, Big Mama Thorton, Tupelo, Memphis, Nashville , Hollywood, Las Vegas.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Film Review - The Incredibles 2

It's been 14 years since The Parrs last suited up to take on bad guys. Writer-director Brad Bird returns bringing to the screen the follow-up. In the original Supers lived in secret leaving Bob (Craig T.  Nelson) working as an Insurance agent in suburbia until he snaps becoming Mr. Incredible again with his wife Helen (Elastigirl) and their two older kids by his side. This time the action starts with a burrowing bank robber Underminer. The team assembles with Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) by their side they avert a crisis but cause significant damage that the powers that be see as the reason why Super's were on shaky ground in the first place.

Enter Winston Deavor (Bob Odernkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener ). Winston is a telecommunications mogul with Evelyn being the creative visionary. Deavor admirers the Supers in the past seeing the way to their return is to show what they do and not just the end results.  The face of this comeback is Elastigirl to her husband's chagrin. She is more tactful reserve as opposed to Mr. Incredibles Brute force jump before looking methodology. As she goes off to her mission. Bob is left at one to take care of the kids and keep a special eye on baby Jack Jack who has developing powers that spring forward on his dad's watch.

Writer-director Brad Bird keeps that early 60's feel in the sequel. The cars are from that era as are the furnishings and the technology. The family dynamic is from and central again. Violet is having boy troubles thanks to her dad while Mom Helen keeps up her protective stance especially for baby Jack Jack. The narrative focuses on the role of supers in society. Are they helpful or distractive reeking havoc that they may sort out but ofter the criminal gets away while the target is ultimately protected through financial or government measures in place.

The key voices Craig T. Nelson Holly Hunter and Samuel L. Jackson return for the sequel. The kids refer to Frozone as Uncle Luscious seeing him as more responsible and a better problem cover that their dad. Holly Hunter's Elastic Girl is right out front The telecommunications siblings put one of their pinhole cameras in her suit to broadcast her every move showing her added value to society.  However, there is a foe lurking breaking into live broadcast shining lights and patterns hypnotizing folks to get them to do their bidding. Keep an eye open for Edna Mode E 9 voiced by director Brad Bird. She is mad that Elastigirl is parading all over the airwaves in a creation that is not one of her own. She bonds with Baby Jack Jack getting the first real handle on his developing powers.

Incredibles 2 is a worthy follow up to the original. It was worth a wait but not sure if that wait had to be 14 years long. The ensemble cast does not set a foot wrong in an enjoyable romp that will appeal to fans of the Parr's of all ages. If there is to be a third chapter her's hoping that Brad Bird can get it to the screen in a shorter period of time.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Incredibles 2 | Brad Bird | U.S.A. | 2018 | 118 Minutes.

Tags: Pixar, Animation, Superhero, Sequel, Monorail, Bank Robbery, Family, Dating, Summit, International Agreement, Memory, Baby Sitting.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Film Review - Ocean's 8

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) opens the same way as her brother Danny (George Clooney) did his first Ocean's film. She's before the parole board, promises to be a good girl if she's released, collects her formal wear then heads to see her number one in this case Lou (Cate Blanchett) instead of Brad Pitt's Rusty. Next, they begin to recruit to pull off the heist she has been planning for the 5 plus years she has been in prison. They need a fashion designer, a fencer, a hacker, a hustler and a gem expert to steal a near priceless diamond neckless off the neck of Ball guest of honor actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) who Debbie and Lou declare that they can't use.  The exclusive Gala's theme this year is European Royalty. The first recruit is the Vivianne Westwoodesque designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) She's positioned to dress Kluger then dispatched to France to borrow the 150 Million dollar Toussaint necklace as the perfect topper to Kluger's look for the evening. Mandy Kalings's Amita knows gems, semi-retired fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson) join's up. Awkwafina hustles as Constance while computers and security are handled by 9 Ball (Rihanna).

Director Gary Ross who also has a co-writing credit with Olivia Milch tip's his cap to the Soderbergh trilogy ay to the long with Mission Impossible series. There are special eyeglasses plus food tampering that sends Daphne Kluger running to the ladies room; the spot for the team make their move. The story runs along almost too smoothly until the first snag appears once the Toussaint is clasped around Daphne's neck. The audience and some of the characters are not aware of the true scope of the plan until the third act reveal keeping in line with past con artist plot .

Sandra Bullock leads the crew as Debbie Ocean. She is the kid sister of Danny having many of his same traits. She's been in a New Jersey women's prison for five years after being double-crossed by her Manhattan artist boyfriend. Bullock and Cate Blanchett's Lou have great chemistry on screen as they banter about past colleagues, why the job needs to be done and how women call pull this off because women are usually ignored.  Helen Bonham Carter is at her hair-brained best as Rose Weil a former 80's icon that owes the IRS a big chunk of cash as her collections continue to fail. Look for James Corbin as the practical Insurance investigator. He's not looking to place blame he just wants the neckless back.

Ocean's 8 is an enjoyable caper flick. It hits all of the formulaic notes in the early going then picks up speed as Daphne is doing her final fitting with the Toussaint before the event. The crew members play multiple roles that are all kept straight under the watchful eye of director Gary Ross. It slots nicely in behind Ocean's 13 with a couple of cameo's from that trilogy plus some celebrity ones from regular Met Gala attendees.

*** Out of 4

Ocean's 8 | Gary Ross | U.S.A. | 2018 | 110 Minutes.

Tags: Heist, The Met, New York, Parolee, Three-card Monte, Vegan Soup, Insurance Investigator, Auction, Food Truck.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Film Review - Hereditary

Ellen the matriarch of the Graham family has passed. Her immediate family feel grief but are not overwrought. Her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) found her mother to be overbearing and correcting. Going as far as to insist on breastfeeding Annie's second child Charlie (Milly Shapiro) who she identified as her favourite. Older son Peter (Alex Wolff) is more stoner then student. Paying little attention in class, crushing on a girl that he does not know how to speak to and resentful towards his mom over an incident from their past. His dad Steve (Gabriel Byrne) tries to play peacemaker in the home. Strange events begin to unfold at the funeral. The service is full of people that Annie does not know. That's followed by a hushed phone call to Steve reporting that Ellen grave has been decimated next the two kids begin to see weird things at school. Charlie has her own personal quirks she draws odd figures, hardly speaks instead periodically tongue clicks a tic that becomes more foreboding as the action progresses.

Ari Aster's debut film has several elements unfolding at once. Annie is a miniature creator whose working on a project that is falling behind schedule due to events at home. The film uses her work as a device to show our heroines building stress level as her client leaves friendly but probing calls looking for an update. It also is a stage to recreate events from the far and near past some, creepy, other disturbing and others downright horrific. The narrative begins to unwind a tale of untraditional beliefs, attempts to reset the natural order with Annie in the centre a seemingly unaware vessel that her every effort to protect her family is having the opposite effect.

Gabriel Byrne has perhaps the most even keel performance of his career as Steve.  He's the bridge between Annie and Peter. The ranking male in a female dominated family walking a half step behind his wife. Milly Shaprio has her breakout performance as Charlie. She is a dictionary-worthy example of a loner. Bearly speaking she, pays no attention to the things that regularly captivate 13-year-old girls plus suffers from a severe nut allergy that keeps her mother constantly on guard. Look for the Handmaid's Tale Ann Dowd as Joan. She appears in the parking lot of a grief support group that Anne first attends after her mother's death. She's a shoulder for Anne to lean on and an audience for her to speak freely because she can't do so at home.

Heredity is a horror film that is psychological and ritual based over physical and brutal. It's a key element of a successful film in this genre when it can deliver the chills in the open spaces of broad daylight. The first section of the film builds the family store by introducing keepsakes and recounting remarks from the past. A low grinding soundtrack beside personality traits of the principals add to the suspense, tension, and dread headed to a final act that puts Linda Blair's head turn from the exorcist as a throwaway scene in an ABC afternoon special. Avoid the chatter and the hype and get out to see this one soon.

*** Out of 4.

Hereditary | Ari Aster | USA | 2018 | 127 Minutes.

Tags: Tree House, Funeral, Grief, Necklace, EpiPen, Support Group, Decapitation, Seance, Incantation, Broken Nose.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Film Review - You Were Never Really Here

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) does wetwork for a New York private investigator. He toils in back alleys at night or in tight narrow corridors of the seediest establishments.  Post titles Joe is cleaning his weapon of choice a hammer in a back alley. He encounters and deals with a combatant on his way into a Cincinnati cab headed to the airport. Our protagonist lands in New York heading arriving back at his Brooklyn home where he lives with his aging mother. Inner demons surface through flashbacks to a violent childhood mixed with present-day micro suicide attempts. His next assignment that spans the rest of the film is to rescue Nina Votto (Ekaterina Samsonov) the kidnapped daughter of a State Senator Alberta Votto (Alex Manette) taken to work underage in a brothel. The security, employees, and patrons are no match for Joe as he plucks Nina from the three-story walk-up bringing her to the agreed meeting location then things get extremely complicated.

Director Lynne Ramsey returns from a 6 year hiatus since 2011's powerful We Need To Talk About Kevin to pilot this film. The material is again both heavy and violent as Ramsey tells the story of a brawny loaner with a special forces background who is a blunt instrument of justice for the vulnerable and marginalized. The lean direct narrative features several scenes sparsely dotted with dialogue allowing the events to speak for themselves.

Joaquin Phoenix is in just about every frame of the film. He is more likely to emit a grunt than an eloquent passage of dialogue. His mind replays traumatic memories from his childhood of an abusive father plus his time  as a U.S. Solider. He's a brute sporting an unkempt beard that is more salt than pepper as he brutally dispenses justice in hand to hand combat with his adversaries. Ekaterina Samsonov is almost cationic as freed captive Nina Votto. She counts constantly in a haunting manner seemingly a defense mechanism that she likely employed when pinned under a patron at the brothel.  Judith Roberts is memorable in a supporting role as Joe's mother. She wants her space and independence as she constantly fights against her failing body and mind.

You Were Never Really Here is the story of one man who's internal battles scream while he outwardly presents as stoic and brooding. The beats, sex trafficking and pedophilia are harsh but still overshadowed by the entrenched system protecting the criminal syndicate. The acting is supubly understated backed by a foreboding Joe Greenwood soundtrack. It's a tough but rewarding watch that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

You Were Never Really Here | Lynne Ramsay | U.K. / France | 2018 | 89 Minutes.

Tags: Government Agent, Ball Peen Hammer, Child Prostitution, State Senator, War Veteran, PTSD, Conspiracy, 50,000.