Sep 091901
 

This site reviews the best in genre film (where genre is taken very broadly). Reviews are grouped into lists so you can compare films with similar subjects.

Foster on Film has three parts:

  • The Important Films: Here I will look at the films that changed the art form and our society. I have selected my favorite genres and picked the films that are required viewing to understand those genres.
  • The Great Films: My look at the masterpieces of cinema. Here you’ll find lists of the top films by the greatest directors and actors. This is also the home of my Foscar project, where I attempt to fix the Oscar’s Best Picture awards.
  • Film Review Lists: Reviews of films grouped by genre and sub-genre; a guide to anyone who gets into one of the “what are the 10 best X films” discussions. These are reviews, not critiques, so aimed more toward “is it good?” than “why is it good?”
  • Rankings/Lists: A collection of all my other lists of the best films.
May 122024
 
three reels

During WWII, Skikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a cowardly, failed-kamikaze pilot, freezes in fear when given a chance to kill Godzilla, a monster that then kills most of the mechanics on Odo island. Returning to Tokyo, Skikishima meets a young woman, Noriko (Minami Hamabe), with a baby, and to support them, gets a dangerous job clearing mines in the ocean. This job leads him to once again face Godzilla, who has grown to supersize due to atomic radiation.

Godzilla Minus One is easily the second most skillfully made Godzilla film, after the first, and in terms of special effects and the look of the monster, it is easily the best. Did it deserve the Oscar for Best Visual Effects? No, not even close, but if I change the wording to Best Achievement in Visual Effects, then yes, because what they did on their budget is mind-boggling. It had 1/10th the budget and 1/10th the effects artists and somehow they did it. Amazing.

The film as a whole, however, is less amazing. It’s fine, but over-hyped. The problem is simple: it’s a very serious film filled with silly things. A dinosaur running around Pacific islands in the 1940s is goofy. But when they did it before, in 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, it wasn’t a problem because that was a goofy film. It wanted to be dumb fun. Godzilla Minus One does not. Skikishima coincidentally running directly into Noriko in the middle of a city is fine in a sitcom. Not in a drama screaming to be taken seriously. A pilot with no combat experience being an expert with an experimental aircraft he’s never even sat in before is the stuff of a comedy. And demanding that the only person to repair the plane is a mechanic who’s never seen it is… OK, that’s just stupid for any kind of film. Then there is the whole matter of lassoing Godzilla with slow-moving destroyers; fine for an animated kids show, but ridiculous in anything this po-faced.

Skikishima character is another problem, but of the same kind. He’s overdone. Yes, he’s a coward. I get it. Really. The acting is too broad and the script is too in your face for this level of solemnity. A bit of subtlety would have done wonders. Starting the film with his return to Tokyo, thus letting us imagine his behavior on Odo island would have been a better way to write it, and would have saved us from a scene where he tells Noriko what we’ve already seen. That would have been the way to go with such an earnest story. But this is also a giant monster pic, so they quite sensibly wanted to get some giant monster action in early. Great. Then maybe make your film a bit more fun and less grave.

Am I being a bit severe on a film that is passably good? Perhaps, but I’ve seen far too many people proclaiming this a masterpiece and it isn’t. It doesn’t help that, much more than previous reboots, it’s a remake of 1954’s Gojira, and it lags far behind that actual masterpiece in every way except FX.

At least its themes, while not being good, are better than the right-wing populism of Shin Godzilla.

The question is why watch this film, and I can’t think of a reason. Yes, it is much better made than a majority of Godzilla films, but those are fun and this isn’t. And it’s too stupid to be the prestige pic it seems to want to be. I suppose it is less embarrassing in some ways, so for someone still traumatized by being bullied in grammar school for liking Godzilla movies, this might act as a balm.

I’ll give it 3 Reels for the general quality of the filmmaking, but if you want an intense, meaningful Godzilla film, watch the original, and if you want something fun, try 1964’s Godzilla vs Mothra.

May 012024
  May 1, 2024

Genesis started with 4 artsy, well-heeled students (I’ll ignore drummers for now), all of whom thought of themselves as writers, not performers. I don’t think that’s the best way to label them. Tony Banks was The Writer, but I’d call Peter Gabriel The Artist (with a capital “A”) and Anthony Phillips The (Musical) Talent. And Mike Rutherford was there too.

After their attempt at pop failed, they picked up on the trend for more complex rock with shades of classical and folk that was sweeping over England and they got it right in one, becoming a foundational band of progressive rock. Problematically, they then lost The Talent, but lucked out in replacing him with an even great Talent, Steve Hackett. They’d also gone through multiple drummers, and now stabilized on a skilled one with Phil Collins, who brought with him a touch of jazz. He could also sing, doing a reasonable impersonation of Gabriel… Gee, I wonder if that will be important later.

This five-piece version of the band was nearing on perfect: Art, Talent, Writing, and Skill all at their peak. Plus Rutherford. And they created some of the greatest rock albums of all time.

Of course it couldn’t last. It never does. Friction between members, particularly Banks and Rutherford being dicks to Gabriel and Gabriel going all in on being THE Artist, caused Gabriel to go solo. The loss of The Artist hurt, but his spirit was still there, and they all envisioned themselves to be artists. They had The Writer, who could still pen smart, complicated works for The Talent and the skilled drummer. Oh, and Rutherford was there too. After numerous auditions, Collins reluctantly took over as front-man (his idea had been to become a purely instrumental band), and he wasn’t bad.

But after two albums, friction hit again, this time with Banks and Rutherford being dicks to Hackett while Hackett just wanted to do something. It’s weird to think that Collins was the one that got along with everyone.

Now, any sane group who found themselves losing their Talent—who was also the guitarist—would find another talented guitarist. But they didn’t. Instead, Rutherford, a mid-tier bassist, took on the role of guitarist, following a master, while still playing bass. To say he wasn’t up to the task is being polite. And Banks now had to write to the level of talent left in the group. At least Collins was a good drummer, except he didn’t drum when he sang, and he was starting to get interested in drum machines because, sure, why not strip away one area where the band could still excel. They managed two albums before the loss of talent and the possibility of big money with simple pop tunes pulled them to the dark side.

So, time to rank the albums of Genesis. It’s not too tricky. After a bump, Genesis’s output can be divided into 4 eras: Classic/Prog, Transition 1, Transition 2, and Pop. And each era is less than the one that came before. So, starting with #15

 

#15 Calling All Stations  

Ug. This is a terrible album, dull, lifeless, and dim. I can’t find anyone who thinks this was a good idea. Collins had finally quit due to a combination of his successful solo career and fading health, and Banks and Rutherford wanted some of that sweet, sweet Genesis money. But, being dicks, they wouldn’t let their stage musicians, who’d been playing with them for years, in as official members. But they knew they needed a singer. Ray Wilson’s voice doesn’t fit what they are doing (David Longdon, later of Big Big Train, auditioned and would have been a much better fit), but he isn’t the problem. It’s the songs. The hooks are missing for pop music, and the complexity is missing for anything more. And while Genesis lyrics have been weak since the ’70s, these are atrocious. There’s nothing good here
Least Bad: The Dividing Line
Worst: Congo, Shipwrecked, Not About Us

 

#14 We Can’t Dance  

With the ’90s, Genesis tried to once again do something of value. They didn’t try very hard, but there are more long tracks, and a few with what counts as complexity for late Genesis. But the band can’t do it. Driving the Last Spike and Fading Lights are attempts at the epics they’d managed 15 years earlier, but the skill is lacking. If you can’t do it, it’s probably better not to try. And there’s still the lame ’80s-ish ballads and synth disasters. The longer runtime just gave them more chances to fail.
Least Bad: Jesus He Knows Me
Worst: I Can’t Dance, Never A Time, Tell Me Why, Hold On My Heart, Since I Lost You

 

#13 Invisible Touch  

’80s Genesis has a very ’80s sound, and that’s not a good thing. With The Artist and Talent of the group long gone by ’86, the remainders are smartly not even trying to do anything worthwhile. This is lowest common denominator pop, and it hardly works as that. And let’s not dwell on the lyrics. Domino had potential to be something more, but those ’80s synths and drum machines kill it.
Least Bad: Invisible Touch, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
Worst: In Too Deep, Anything She Does

 

#12 From Genesis to Revolation  

The first album, written when the members were still teenagers and planning on being writers of pop tunes. Their producer was even keener on pop, wanting them to sound like The Beach Boys. Once you get past the intrusive strings (if you can; I can’t), you end up with an OK psychedelic pop album. There’s potential, although it isn’t clear potential for what. In the Beginning and The Serpent remind me of The Animals, in a good way. In The Wilderness has a few suggestions of what was to come. But nothing is memorable.
Best: In the Beginning, The Serpent, The Conqueror
Worst: Fireside Song, In Hiding, Window

 

#11 ABACAB  

With ABACAB, Genesis tossed off the last pretense that they were a great band and embraced mediocrity and money. Gotta love the laziness of the title track, where they didn’t even bother finding lyrics, but just sing the structure of the song, but not even the final structure. Well, as pure pop, it could be worse; it would be worse. I am thrown that they cut the best song from this recording session, Paperlate. If for some reason you want 80’s cheese, this isn’t a bad place to go for it.
Best: Keep It Dark, Man On The Corner
Worst: Who Dunnit?, Like it Or Not, Another Record

 

#10 Genesis  

Why do bands self-title albums in the middle of their career? Oh well. This is the height of pop-Genesis, mainly because they stray a bit. It’s all pretty simple, with repetitive drum machine bangs, lackluster keyboards, and barely-there guitars. But it has its moments, and those moments are almost entirely in the two Home By the Seas. The album also never sinks to the lows of other pop-era Genesis, so it wins on both ends.
Best: Home By the Sea/Second Home By the Sea
Worst: Illegal Alien, Just a Job To Do

 

#9 Duke  

The last album (chronologically) I call good, and the end of their second transitional period. The old Genesis was being buried, but there was still some life left. I always found Duke to have a touch of jazz, which gives it character. I’d have been OK with the new band staying like this. The loss of Hackett is felt strongly, but Collins does a particularly nice job on the drums and Banks still has a few tunes in him.
The Best: Behind the Lines, Duke’s Travels/End
The Worst: Alone Tonight, Please Don’t Ask

 

#8 And Then There Were Three  

The first record of the second transitional era, The Talent had left, leaving a huge hole. The trio was having a hard time figuring out what it was now. There’s lots of prog here, though not much I’d call art rock. It’s so much simpler than what came before, but still complex for a rock album. It’s hard to say what this album is, except that it holds together surprisingly well. They found their answer in the final song: Follow You Follow Me is terrible prog rock, but it’s great pop.
The Best Burning Rope, Follow You Follow Me
The Worst: Say It’s Alright Joe

 

#7 The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway  

This is where I’ll get in trouble with most old-school Genesis fans. When I got into Genesis in the later ’70s, it was a biblical truth that this was the pinnacle of the band, but it’s never clicked for me. Oh, there’s greatness here, but there’s also problems, and it’s easy to see the band splitting apart in the music. I love Gabriel, but this was too much Gabriel for a band. He got lost in the story (that he insisted only he could write) and it isn’t much of a story. The rest of the band was pissed, and it feels like it. There isn’t enough interesting music or compelling melodies for a double album, but Gabriel had more lyrics he wanted shoved in somewhere. Yes, this is a good album, but not the Holy Grail it was made out to be, and it rarely tops rankings any more.
The Best: Most of the 1st disk
The Worst: Most of the 2nd disk

 

#6 A Trick of the Tail  

So Gabriel had left, apparently to the relief of both the remaining members and Gabriel. The loss of The Artist hurt, but The Writer had ideas and had The Talent and a skilled drummer to pull them off. And Rutherford was there too. Collins took over singing, and while he wasn’t the best singer around, neither was Gabriel, and there was enough similarity that the band didn’t have to adjust too much. They set out to prove the band could still work without Gabriel, and they pretty much did. The album lacks the absolute classic songs of earlier albums, but it has no significant weaknesses. This is a reasonable entrance album into Genesis for non-prog folks.
Best: Dance on A Volcano, Los Endos
Least Best: Entangled, Robbery Assault And Battery

 

#5 Wind & Wuthering  

I’ve always found it odd that the 4-man band improved on their second time out. This is a great album, keeping the overall solid level of A Trick of the Tail, but adding in a few top notch songs. It’s generally described as “autumnal.”
Best: Eleventh Earl of Mar, Unquiet Slumbers For the Sleepers/In that Quiet Earth/Afterglow
Least Best: Your Own Special Way

 

#4 Trespass  

Their second album, this is when Genesis became Genesis. There’s multiple epics with a good deal of theatrics. It has a slightly darker tone than other Genesis albums. Trespass gets far less attention than it deserves—I suspect because it predates Collins and Hackett, so it doesn’t technically have the “Classic Lineup,” though I group it in the Classic Era. It’s a fantastic album, nearly equal to the next two on this list.
The Best: The Knife, Stagnation
Least Best: Dusk

 

#3 Nursery Cryme  

Oddly, a lot of critics claim there was a fundamental change between Trespass and Nursery Cryme, but I disagree. What changed was the personnel. This is Trespass, with a better guitarist and a better drummer. Considering the crap Collins would do later, it’s sometimes easy to gloss over that he was a damn fine drummer. The melodies are a touch stronger and the whole thing is a slight bit crazier.
Best: The Musical Box, The Fountain of Salmacis
Least Best: Seven Stones, Harlequin

 

#2 Selling England By the Pound  

I guess I’m not going out on a limb with my final rankings as this more often than not ends up in one of the top two slots of any Genesis ranking. And for good reason. It very much fits with Trespass and Nursery Cryme, but now not only better, but perfected.
Best: Dancing With the Moonlight Knight, Firth of Fifth, The Cinema Show
Least Best: More Fool Me

 

#1 Foxtrot  

The record company owner heard this and said, “this is the one that makes their career.” Who knew execs had taste? Everything was working for the band. Hell, they even were getting along. It’s the best Genesis album with the best Genesis song. Supper’s Ready is the best thing Genesis ever did, and very few bands have done anything near this level. So with it taking up half the album, Foxtrot is going to be on top. It helps that the other side is good too, on par with the previous (and next) albums, but it’s Supper’s Ready that grabs the ring.
Best: Supper’s Ready, Can-Utility and the Coastliners
Lest Best: none

Mar 072024
 

[This is not my picks for the best of the year—I’ll do the FOSCARs later—but just how I’d vote based on the options presented. And I will be skipping the animated shorts as I have not seen enough of them]

 

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

CILLIAN MURPHY (Oppenheimer)

[I’d have given it to Barry Keoghan (Saltburn) for a performance that excels. For the nominees, this is a year of competence, instead of greatness. Each actor did his job, but nothing was really special. JEFFREY WRIGHT (American Fiction) would be my 2nd choice as he’s particularly believable. BRADLEY COOPER (Maestro) is in overly broad bio-pic Oscar-bait mode, COLMAN DOMINGO (Rustin) is fine, and PAUL GIAMATTI (The Holdovers) is just being Paul Giamatti.]

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

MARK RUFFAL (Poor Things)

[This is the best category for the year. RYAN GOSLING (Barbie) and ROBERT DOWNEY JR (Oppenheimer) are also deserving winners. Even my lesser ranked nominees, STERLING K. BROWN (American Fiction) and ROBERT DE NIRO (Killers of the Flower Moon), are better than the top Lead Actors.]

 

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

EMMA STONE (Poor Things)

[Stone puts in the single best performance of the year and one of the best of the century. LILY GLADSTONE (Killers of the Flower Moon) and SANDRA HÜLLER (Anatomy of a Fall) are adequate. CAREY MULLIGAN (Maestro) overdoes it, unsurprisingly for that film, and ANNETTE BENING (Nyad) is the worst of the group, acting hard, but not well.]

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

DANIELLE BROOKS (The Color Purple)

[Without my top choices, JULIANNE MOORE (May December) and ROSAMUND PIKE (Saltburn), BROOKS and DA’VINE JOY RANDOLPH (The Holdovers) are the best of a lackluster bunch. EMILY BLUNT (Oppenheimer) and AMERICA FERRERA (Barbie) are OK, while JODIE FOSTER (Nyad) shouldn’t be a nominee.]

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

THE BOY AND THE HERON

[This one was easy. ELEMENTAL & NIMONA are cute enough kid’s films, but nothing more. ROBOT DREAMS would have been a good short film. And SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE is poorly paced, questionably focused, and is only half a movie.]

 

COSTUME DESIGN

BARBIE

[A difficult choice between BARBIE and POOR THINGS. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON and NAPOLEON are uninspired choices, and OPPENHEIMER being a nom is just odd.]

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

POOR THINGS

[Barbie should have been nominated if hairstyling mattered. None of the other choices — GOLDA, MAESTRO, OPPENHEIMER, and SOCIETY OF THE SNOW – are in competition.]

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

POOR THINGS

[The snub for ASTEROID CITY is ridiculous, but I’d have ranked it 3rd. Second goes to the incredible work on BARBIE, but nothing beats the imagination shown in POOR THINGS, an all-time great. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, NAPOLEON, and OPPENHEIMER are nowhere near it.]

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

POOR THINGS

[I’m choosing Ludwig Göransson’s score because it is the most effective IN the movie. I don’t know that I would sit around listening to it, but it is perfect for what it is supposed to do. If I was going for great music that’s worth just listening to, I’d Choose INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, but I’m ignoring it for the same reason all the Oscar voters will – we’ve been there. AMERICAN FICTION is good if I want some pleasant light jazz. It didn’t do much for me while watching the film, but it’s nice. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON’s score does set the mood, though it isn’t special. The score for OPPENHEIMER was one of my problems with the film. It’s way too in your face. It should have either been more subtle, or it needed to be better melodically, i.e., do what Williams or Korngold have done.]

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

I’M JUST KEN (Barbie)

[The only good thing I can say about the bland IT NEVER WENT AWAY (American Symphony) is that it isn’t the absolute crap of THE FIRE INSIDE (Flamin’ Hot). And I’m surprised how little there is to WAHZHAZHE – A SONG FOR MY PEOPLE (Killers of the Flower Moon). As for the most likely winner, WHAT WAS I MADE FOR? (Barbie), it just annoys me. I don’t want to hear another mumble-cry-talked song. I’M JUST KEN may not be a classic, but it’s a lot of fun.]

 

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

THE WONDERFUL STORY OF HENRY SUGAR

[A charming, and very Wes Anderson short. Two of the remaining noms deal with grief; KNIGHT OF FORTUNE does it wonderfully—sensitively but with some humor in the darkness—while THE AFTER does it cheaply, over the top; while the first is nearly tied with HENRY SUGAR, I loathed the second and I’d be happy to hear all copies had been mysteriously destroyed. INVINCIBLE is an Oscar-bait drama. RED, WHITE AND BLUE is in the right place politically, but that’s not enough.]

 

DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM

ISLAND IN BETWEEN

[I can’t say any of these deserve to win. My choice has an interesting subject (a Taiwanese island close to mainland China) but doesn’t have anything to say about it. It wins because the others are weaker. Oscar docs tend to be overly-direct message pictures filled with face-to-the-camera statements, and we’ve got 3 of those: THE LAST REPAIR SHOP is Oscar-bait sob stories. THE ABCS OF BOOK BANNING has children saying “banning is bad,” and THE BARBER OF LITTLE ROCK is an unfocused race film that doesn’t rise to the level of a 60 mins segment. NǍI NAI & WÀI PÓ at least is different from those. It’s an “old people are adorable” film; YMMV on how condescending you find it.]

 

SOUND

THE ZONE OF INTEREST

[I hate voting on sound without knowing the theater is set perfectly, but sound really was important in THE ZONE OF INTEREST. THE CREATOR, MAESTRO, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING and OPPENHEIMER are fine.]

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3

[If what you could do on a budget was a factor, then GODZILLA MINUS ONE would be the easy winner, but the Oscars have never been about budgets or restraint. THE CREATOR also looks great. While I do understand all the VFX involved in both MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING and NAPOLEON, I think there were plenty of better choices.]

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

POOR THINGS

[This is another easy one, at least from the nominees; POOR THINGS is absolutely beautiful. None of these are bad. MAESTRO is inconsistent. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON and OPPENHEIMER do their job. EL CONDE is the 2nd most interesting.]

 

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

POOR THINGS

[BARBIE comes in 2nd. AMERICAN FICTION has major structural problems, and OPPENHEIMER’s screenplay is… predictable. And the script is NOT what makes THE ZONE OF INTEREST interesting.]

 

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

MAY DECEMBER

[THE HOLDOVER is a distant 2nd. ANATOMY OF A FALL, MAESTRO, and PAST LIVES aren’t worthy]

 

FILM EDITING

POOR THINGS

[ANATOMY OF A FALL and THE HOLDOVERS are fine, but nothing more. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON has poor editing, and OPPENHEIMER is sometimes good, sometimes bad. None of them are in POOR THING’s league]

 

DIRECTING

YORGOS LANTHIMOS (Poor Things)

[Lanthimos is the best of the year, but the Academy didn’t nominate my 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choices. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN (Oppenheimer) comes in second of the nominees, purely on craft. His artistry is unimpressive, but it is a meticulously made film. JUSTINE TRIET (Anatomy Of A Fall), MARTIN SCORSESE (Killers Of The Flower Moon), and JONATHAN GLAZER (The Zone Of Interest) were not in contention for me.]

 

BEST PICTURE

POOR THING

[Easily the best film of the year—genius work and art at the highest level. Can’t say enough about it. And as this is ranked choice, the rest in descending order are: BARBIE, OPPENHEIMER, THE HOLDOVERS, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, AMERICAN FICTION, THE ZONE OF INTEREST, ANATOMY OF A FALL, MAESTRO, PAST LIVES. Of note, I’d only have nominated my top 2.]

Nov 152023
  November 15, 2023

As I am now being inundated by awards speculation, I find it time to say something about one of the biggest films of the year. Oppenheimer is a good film. It’s a very good film. The acting is excellent across the board. I could go on praising it, and I would, except it has been greatly over-praised by too many, and there is non-stop talk of it taking Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards, which it does not deserve.

It’s good.

It’s not great, and it is nowhere near a masterpiece. I am bothered by these claims of masterpiece. It is competent filmmaking and excels in some areas. John Grisham is a good writer, but he isn’t Shakespeare. The Pelican Brief isn’t Macbeth. I think most reasonably literate people would agree. So I find it depressing that people reasonably literate in film can’t tell the difference between this and greatness.

I could start with the real flaws of the film. The music, for instance, is far too noticeable, far too on the nose, far too distracting, to be so uninteresting. You want to draw that much attention, then do what John Williams or Erich Wolfgang Korngold did. If you can’t do that, then be subtle. There’s also the editing – not terrible – but too many shots were held for a moment too long, and too many scenes lasted longer than needed. And of course, there’s the sound mix, but then it is Christopher Nolan, and honestly, for Nolan, the sound mix wasn’t that bad. I’m kinda proud of our boy for realizing this time that people should understand spoken words.

But the issue isn’t what’s wrong, because this isn’t a bad film. It’s a good film. The issue is what isn’t good enough for this to be a masterpiece. To be clear, there is no reason it should be one. Masterpieces are hard to come by. If people would quit drooling all over themselves, I’d be content to call it good and that’s a nice thing for a film to be. But, since that’s not the case, then it is time to bring up the obvious issue: Masterpieces are made by masters. Nolan isn’t one. He’s a skilled professional. He’s meticulous and knows how to make a film. But that’s it. He’s no Hitchcock, no Murnau, no Hawks, no Gance, no Huston, no Powel, no Curtiz, no Lean, no Kubrick, no Wilder, no Coppola, no Scott. Not even a Tarantino.

Going through his works I find Nolan’s shots are consistently fine. They do the job. They do what’s needed for the plot. They do nothing interesting, nothing of great artistic merit or brilliance. They are sufficient.

His mise-en-scène, that is the look of the frame, is competent. If a lab should look well used, then it does. If there should be papers strewn about, then there are. Anything extraordinary? No.

His use of color and lighting? Good enough. He doesn’t tell the story through those, or define characters, the way Powel or Huston or Lean did time after time. Instead, things look more or less natural and everything is visible, which is…fine.

Then he has his Nolan-isms. He still thinks it is clever just to tell a story out of order. And it occasionally is, particularly if you don’t keep doing it. He is well known for his…narrowness of focus… in that his world is nearly devoid of women. And he doesn’t have humans speaking to each other in his films, rather, at each other. Everyone just makes speeches all the time. That’s not necessarily a problem, though after two hours, I do long for something approaching a conversation instead of dueling lectures.

So that’s Nolan, and Oppenheimer is a very Nolan film. In it he does what he always does. I’d say he does it better, but still very Nolan. If anything is unusual, it is how simple and straightforward the story is. No one should be confused by anything here. I prefer a more complex tale, but I do appreciate that he kept relatively close to the facts. Grading on a curve of truthfulness of biopics, this is a real winner. His spoon feeding with the (very) occasional hallucinatory image was treating the audience like juveniles, but he didn’t do it often.

Which means this is one of Nolan’s better films. Perhaps his best, though I’m only saying perhaps. It is a competent piece of filmmaking. A fine work of edutainment. I’d even recommend it to people who aren’t in a hurry. But best film of the year? There is real artistry out there, works of imagination and depth, works that should be acclaimed, works that are masterpieces.

Oppenheimer is good.

Apr 212023
 
2.5 reels

Scott (Paul Rudd), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are pulled into the Quantum Realm so that there will be a movie. Scott and Cassie run into rebels while they try to find a way back to our world, while separately Hank and Hope are led though the realm’s twists and turns by Janet who has many, many secrets which she continues to keep for no good reason. They all meet up eventually to fight Kang The Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) who is also trapped and is one of Janet’s secrets.

This is an MCU movie, so on a scale of movies, it’s pretty good. On a scale of action movies, it’s even better. But on a scale of MCU movies, it’s not so good. It’s less than it should be in almost every way, but its real problem is quite specific.

No, this isn’t an issue of “superhero fatigue.” The problem has nothing to do with superheroes. Nor it is the problem the strange claim that MCU movies are too much alike and just following a template. No, the issue here is the opposite: Quantumania fails to follow the template.

People get confused on what the MCU template is, talking about action beats and mirrored villains. But nope, that’s background. The MCU template is to have charismatic if flawed characters (sometimes very flawed) interact in witty ways while they do stuff. The stuff doesn’t matter, just so long as they are active while they interact. It’s the characters that draw us in, not the action. It’s why Winter Soldier works so well even though the plot makes no sense. The story IS the characters.

So what went wrong here?

To begin, there are five leads. Now usually I’d call that an ensemble, but an ensemble needs to be built and maintained. Joss Whedon and James Gunn are masters of that. Director Peyton Reed is not. He’s OK with sidekicks, but this Ant-Man movie jettisons the sidekicks, leaving us with 5 leads and no way to give each the attention they need. Everyone is underdeveloped and underutilized.

So, is the little we get good?

You’d think it would be easy with Scott since we know him from past films. He’s a funny kind of everyman (who happens to have some remarkable skills). But here, he’s Cassie’s dad. That’s it. That’s all he is. He has no other traits. He isn’t Scott Lang; he’s Cassie’s dad. OK, this is not good, but could work if Cassie was something special. What’s Cassie? She’s Scott’s daughter. That’s it. We’re told she’s smart, though we don’t see that. All we have is Cassie’s dad and Scott’s daughter. They don’t even have a story. They do nothing. Early on there’s a suggestion of conflict with Cassie wanting to help and Scott not wanting to, but that’s dropped, which is just as well as it was a terrible idea. As far as the plot goes, they could have been cut from the film, but that would be OK if they had some kind of arc or we learned more about their characters or they just were really engaging. But they are just Cassie’s dad and Scott’s daughter.

As for the other three, Hope is barely in the movie. Physically she is. We see her standing or sitting or walking, but otherwise, she has zero character. Again, she could have been cut out of the film. I’d have been a bit pissed if I was Evangeline Lilly.

Janet… Well, Janet isn’t a character either, though in a different way. Half the time, she’s an exposition machine. The rest of the time she’s an anti-exposition machine, refusing to tell even the most essential information she knows, instead simply saying how bad things are and leading the others forward. The plot is all about her. She is the only one necessary for the plot and the whole film could easily have been rewritten to be just her and Pym on an adventure. But again, she has no character.

Which leaves Hank Pym, who, like Hope, suffers for the lack of focus on him, but this is the only case where it isn’t a disaster as Pym actually seems like a character. He has a personality. I attribute that to Michael Douglas just having fun. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Other things don’t work as well as they should. Kang is generic and his power levels fluctuate so wildly it is impossible to determine when anything is a threat (the power level issue is a problem for most everyone). Bill Murray’s cameo comes off as Bill Murray, not a character, so breaks any sense of a world. The art design is very pretty, but has no focus; there’s nothing to go “oh wow” about, rather just a lot of attractive colors.

But none of that matters in the end. It’s the characters, and this film doesn’t have them. I don’t want to spend time with Scott and Cassie and Hope and Janet because there’s nothing there to spend time with. I don’t care about what happens to them because there’s nothing to care about.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is better than a random shoot’em up you’ll stream from Netflix, but that was known before the film was made. If you want some action, it’s fine. But I want more from an MCU film, and this one is a disappointment.

Mar 112023
  March 11, 2023

[I’m not covering the shorts or documentaries, and I never do sound as I don’t trust my viewing environments. I’ve seen everything I’m voting on except Avatar: The Way of Water (so I’m going to treat it as Avatar I) and Andrea Riseborough in Leslie, but then that’s been the story of this award season; nobody has]

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

ELVIS (Mandy Walker)

[I wouldn’t have called ELVIS the best of the year (why isn’t Babylon here?), but it is best of the nominees. BARDO: FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS has some wonderful moments, but many others where I’d call the cinematography good, but nothing special. TÁR comes in third, doing all that is needed for the story, but nothing more. I think EMPIRE OF LIGHT is only here to note Roger Deakins’ lifetime work. And ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT was very good, but for what they were doing, it needed to be better still].

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER

[OK, completely unfair, but as the original would win in this category by a mile, I’m confident in giving it to this sequel.]

 

COSTUME DESIGN

BABYLON (Mary Zophres)

[Huh. A category with a whole lot of deserving nominees. That’s weird this year. BABYLON was not a great movie, but it was a beautiful one, and part of that was the never ending string of amazing costumes. Still, this is a close call with BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, and I wouldn’t be upset if that won. Both ELVIS and EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE have costumes that advance the plot, and the plot kinda is the costumes for MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS, though I did find that the weakest nominee.]

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

BABYLON (Florencia Martin; Anthony Carlino)

[Again, BABYLON is a great looking one. ELVIS’s design is good, but BABYLON just tops it.]

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (Camille Friend and Joel Harlow)

[Some good choices here, with both THE WHALE and THE BATMAN as standouts in makeup. And the work in ELVIS and ALL QUIET is good too, but the variety of ingenious work in WAKANDA FOREVER takes the award.]

 

FILM EDITING

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (Paul Rogers)

[This one is easy. Editing this, with worlds changing many times in a scene, must have been insane. The editing in THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, ELVIS, and TÁR varied between fair and poor, leaving only MAVERICK as competition, and while it’s editing is good (anything being good in that film is a rarity), it is a distant second.]

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

BABYLON (Justin Hurwitz)

[This was a lightweight year for scores. BABYLON’s does the most to define the picture. The others, with one exception, were OK, though none had that magic I look for in a great score. The exception is ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, where the score was poorly conceived and is distracting.]

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

NAATU NAATU (from RRR; M.M. Keeravaani/Chandrabose)

[It’s a shame that just the song is nominated. It’s the dance that is overwhelming, but the song is good, and is part of an amazing scene. And all of the other nominees are terrible, songs I never want to hear again.]

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO

[The stop-motion animation here must be rewarded. This is absolute masterwork in animation. Most of the rest is good enough (the songs are a weak spot) not to detract from that animation. THE SEA BEAST is a strong second, with excellent animation, and even better script and voice work. PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH is also worthy, making this one of the better categories. The final two aren’t in the running, TURNING RED is generally poorer and condescending, while MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON is as if the goal was to make the MOST Indie film ever, with every indie film trope turned up to 11.]

 

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

LIVING (Kazuo Ishiguro)

[Not a great category, but LIVING hits the right notes when needed. GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY has a reasonable number of clever lines, so slips into second. For the rest: TOP GUN: MAVERICK’s script is absolute trash and its nomination is absurd; WOMEN TALKING has the screenplay of a stageplay, and not a good one, with far too many repetitions; ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is a particularly poor adaptation of the novel.]

 

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (The Daniels)

[A better category than adapted screenplay. The winner takes it due to wit and twists. Of the rest, TRIANGLE OF SADNESS’s screenplay has some issues, but the others show a skilled hand.]

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

KE HUY QUAN (Everything Everywhere All at Once)

[This is considered a lock, and I agree it should be. BRENDAN GLEESON is good enough in The Banshees of Inisherin while I found BARRY KEOGHAN annoying in the same film. JUDD HIRSCH wouldn’t make my top 2 for supporting actor in The Fabelmans. BRIAN HENRY (Causeway) is my 2nd place choice, but he doesn’t have a chance.]

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

JAMIE LEE CURTIS (Everything Everywhere All at Once)

[A category with no embarrassing choices. None are better than CURTIS, so I’ll let my desire for her to get an Oscar decide it. HONG CHAU (The Whale) would be an equally good choice. KERRY CONDON (The Banshees of Inisherin) gives the best performance of that film, and ANGELA BASSETT (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) is always good and she only lags behind because she seems less her character and more just ANGELA BASSETT. STEPHANIE HSU (Everything Everywhere All at Once) would be my last choice.]

 

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

AUSTIN BUTLER (Elvis)

[This is a three-way for me, between BUTLER, BRENDAN FRASER (The Whale), and BILL NIGHY (Living). FRASER is just turned up a notch higher than I’d like, and BUTLER has more to do than NIGHY, but all three are reasonable choices. COLIN FARRELL’s role is a bit too easy, and PAUL MESCAL’s performance seems to be more about the editing. All that said, I hope FRASER wins.]

 

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

MICHELLE YEOH (Everything Everywhere All at Once)

[This is a two way race, YEOH or CATE BLANCHETT (Tár), and both are excellent, but Yeoh does more. ANA DE ARMAS (Blonde) and MICHELLE WILLIAMS (The Fabelmans) are both quite good, but they’re footnotes.]

 

DIRECTING

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

[This is rough, choosing between The Daniels and Steven Spielberg for THE FABELMANS, but when it’s hard to choose, I’ve got to go with the better result. The directing for THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN and TÁR is fine, and that of TRIANGLE OF SADNESS is a little less than fine.]

 

BEST PICTURE

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE

[Nothing else is close. Nothing else would be in my top 10 for the year. THE FABELMANS is the most skillfully made film of the year, so it’s not an embarrassment as a nomination. ELVIS, TÁR, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT,

WOMEN TALKING, and TRIANGLE OF SADNESS are need reedits, and the last two need radical rewrites. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is OK, and TOP GUN: MAVERICK is garbage (and it is a complete embarrassment to our country that this thing is in the same list as ALL QUIET – makes Americans look like war-mongering assholes). And it is just so stupid.]

Overall, not a great year or a great group of nominees, but the right winners could make this a feel good year.

Mar 102023
  March 10, 2023

Why must artists create autobiographies? They put themselves into all their work. Why must they be so literal about it? I knew everything I ever wanted to know about Steven Spielberg from Jurassic Park and Close Encounters and Raiders. I don’t need to see him, or any artist, masturbating. [Note: I’d also appreciate it if novelists would quite writing about novelists and filmmakers would quite making films about filmmaking.]

So, is THE FABELMANS well directed? Yes. Of course it is. I knew that before I watched it. Yes, there are moments of emotional impact. Yes, it looks great. The acting is excellent. The colors are rich and help tell the story, and yes, yes, all of that and more I knew before I watched it. He’s Goddamned Steven Spielberg. And if I was Goddamned Steven Spielberg, I’d really try and make something that wasn’t two and a half hours of yelling “Hey everyone, look at me. ME! ME! ME!” Firstly, because everyone would already be looking at me.

I suppose you don’t get to be this great a filmmaker without being arrogant. (Erase “I suppose” – there’s no supposing here.) That arrogance is on display in his many better films. And that’s OK. It’s more than OK. I just want it turned down enough that a great director can focus on stories that needed to be told, or it would be nice if they were told, or anything other than “Now you will all see where my greatness came from.”

Sigh. Yeah, this thing should not have been made. It is a waste of talent. Yet it is still one of the best nominees this year. As far as applied skill, it might be the best. TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, WOMEN TALKING, TÁR, and particularly TOP GUN: MAVERICK look like they were made by hacks or first year film school students by comparison. TÁR is more interesting, but it doesn’t display the mastery of the art form. But I think being interesting matters, and THE FABELMANS is not interesting.

I just wish I had his talent.

Mar 102023
  March 10, 2023

Or is it? I generally ignore the source material and closeness of adaptation, but in this case it’s hard. I thought the first German adaptation of a German book in a setting of vital importance to Germany would be closer to the novel then a 1930s American version. But this is hardly All Quiet On the Western Front. I’d call it inspired by the novel, but I might as well say inspired by World War I.

The changes start with almost all characterization. In the book, Paul was a person, with plans and desires. Here is a blank slate, an everyman. This film also is missing what I consider to be the two most important sections of the book – the boys’ indoctrination and Paul’s return to his hometown. Those were the heart of the story. Changed too is Paul’s death (OK, all the deaths are changed), now being used to make a statement about the evils yet to come instead of one of the pointlessness of it all. And then there is the addition, a subplot of the signing of the armistice, which feels out of place and harmed the tone and pacing. Well, the director was concerned about looking ahead to a time the book knew nothing about.

Alright, so as an adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front, I didn’t think much of it. How is it as a movie? It’s not bad. It is successful in painting the bleakness of war, and all of the battle scenes are powerful. But without characters, it’s hard to feel anything except depression. And since it’s not saying anything new or unexpected, two and a half hours are unnecessary. Add in the subplot and the music that draws attention to itself, instead of to the story (the nomination for score is ridiculous) and we end up with a film that makes its point, but which I’ll never go back to. And yeah, Paul’s death here isn’t just different, it’s horrible.

No, this one shouldn’t win Best Picture.

Also, why is the default on Netflix the English dub. At least they had the original, but I’d have made that the default and had people switch away from it if they so desired.

Mar 082023
  March 8, 2023

Currently the film with the third best odds to win Best Picture, Tár is an interesting film, constructed to be unsatisfying for everyone. It’s precisely (at times delicately) made, with superb performances, particularly by Blanchett, but I can’t say I enjoyed it and have a hard time figuring why anyone would.

And the one line descriptions, of “justice comes to an abusive lesbian director” are completely off the mark.

Lydia Tár is a prickly character, who might be—probably is—very cruel and manipulative. Or maybe not. Those around her might be victims, or might not be, and certainly are not acting out of the best of motives more often than not. What happens to Tár is partly her fault, but partly isn’t, and nothing that happens to anyone is fair. Plot-wise, enough happens for about 30 minutes. This film is about character in service of theme. It does fine with character (though it intentionally obscures a great deal), but theme is where things get rocky. I felt like I was in the middle of the worst kind of Twitter argument, with people using the film to support diametrically opposed ideas: It’s been called the ultimate anti-woke movie and a powerful #metoo statement and yes, it’s easy to take it to be either, but harder to take it as both. With such lack of clarity, and so little satisfaction, I’d have liked to have spent less than two and a half hours with these people.

I suppose I’ll rank it as one of the better nominees, but also as one of the least enjoyable.

Mar 052023
  March 5, 2023

And today it is another of the Academy Awards Best Picture nominees. 2022 was the year of the “Eat the Rich” combined with “modern culture is empty” satires, and strangely also of surrounding them with water. The other two films that spring immediately to mind are Glass Onion and The Menu. None of them have any concept of subtlety, which isn’t necessarily a problem. Not necessarily… Triangle of Sadness stands out as the one that has no concept of editing.

There’s enough here to make a good movie, but only if you started post-production from scratch. The first hour should be no longer than 20 minutes and the first two sections need a completely different construction. Since I don’t like anyone, and everything being said is not only clear, but hammered over and over, Triangle of Sadness becomes tedious rapidly.

Sure, this is a better film than Maverick, but I got more enjoyment from watching, and making fun of, that silly film.

Mar 042023
  March 4, 2023

Have some Oscar nominations to catch up on, and tonight’s was Elvis, or as it should be titled, “Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis,” as he Baz Luhrmann’s all over it. The thing is, that’s why I like it. The more Luhrmann it is, the better, and it’s very Luhrmann. I couldn’t care less about the real Elvis Presley. He’s not on my list of the top 1000 subjects of bio pics I want to see, should I ever make such a list, which is fine as Luhrmann isn’t all that interested in the real Presley either. And that lack of accuracy (including not focusing on important elements of the man’s life) isn’t a problem since, unlike the lying Bohemian Rhapsody which had little connection to Freddie Mercury but was presented as the truth, Elvis is presented as the ravings and twisted statements of Col Parker, who is clearly an unreliable narrator.

So, we’ve got a skillfully directed (depending on what we count as the job of the director), beautifully filmed, and wonderfully acted picture. Austin Butler deservers his Best Lead Actor nomination just as Mandy Walker’s cinematography nom is reasonable. And I wouldn’t have been upset if Luhrmann got a directing nom (he did not). But it shouldn’t have landed a Best Pictures nomination. OK, in a world where Maverick got one, sure, as it is vastly superior to that, but setting a more reasonable bar, it’s just not great. Good, but not great. Script and editing are the weak spots, and they’re pretty weak. There’s whole sections that should have been rewritten, and hundreds of minor nips and tucks would have helped, along with some major slices, and probably a few additions.

Well, “good” isn’t a bad place for a movie to land.

Apr 242022
 
two reels

In a world of stunted emotions, a strung-out, emo Batman (Robert Pattinson) is called in by Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to help solve the gruesome murder of the mayor by a new costumed vigilantly, The Riddler (Paul Dano). The Riddler is a BDSM gimp merged with an insel, who somehow is very effective at killing people. To solve the crime, Batman—there is no Bruce Wayne, only Batman—with the help of his Butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) must confront the gangsters Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and the Penguin (Colin Farrell), and dig into his own past. He also encounters Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), who he uses for his investigation, but then she sticks around in the movie for no reason and the two kinda-sorta have a romance because the script tells them to (really, there is no other reason).

My god it never ends! Some movies are 3 hours because they have 3 hours of story to tell. And sometimes, rarely because studios know better, a movie is 3 hours because the director is unwilling or incapable of editing his film. This is the second case. Scene after scene is too long; each says all it has to say, and then says it again. And again.

But the length points to a second problem, which is this isn’t a movie; it’s two movies that don’t belong anywhere near each other, squished together. One of those is a gritty, intense, crime movie, where an off-putting private detective works with a hostile police force to find a serial killer in a very corrupt city. This is the good part of The Batman, which would have been much better if it wasn’t a Batman film. There’s no need for Batman to be in this movie. It would be more suited to Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock Holmes, but a new quirky detective would have probably been better. Everything Batman-like doesn’t fit and Pattinson showing up wearing little ears is just silly. Focus on the mystery and make it a hard-R, and we’ve got a good thriller.

Then there’s the second movie; it’s a children’s, action, superhero origin story where an immortal being with variable powers takes mind-bogglingly stupid actions and laughs-off death over and over (oh god the bomb in the face was ridiculous) on his way to learning that vengeance is morally (or strategically) wrong. This movie was always going to be weak, but the real problem is how unnaturally it fits with the crime section. In this section, no one acts in any sensible way, physics doesn’t work, and nothing matters:

  • Machine gun to the chest. No problem.
  • Semitrucks exploding. No big deal.
  • Bomb in the face. Minor inconvenience.

And it all ends in a big explosion-filled climax because that’s what superhero origin movies do.

Even saying all that, there are additional problems with the main character. Our Batman shows little emotion besides moping and rarely speaks in anything outside of a monotone. He also has boots heavy enough for Frankenstein’s Monster to suggest he go buy something lighter (it’s just funny; he can be heard long before he shows up in scenes, clomping along). And he has an unnecessary voice-over that blends in to his stereotypical 1950s teen girl diary. Yes, Batman keeps a diary. It adds nothing and turns the film into a comedy. And like many bad narrations, it vanishes for most of the film, only to return at the end when the filmmakers didn’t trust their images.

What bugs me with The Batman over other failed DC projects is that there’s a really good movie here. Even now if they cut it down to 90 minutes and trashed the action set pieces, you’d have something worth seeing. But director Matt Reeves and company had no concept of restraint or control, producing a mess.

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