Cinecast Episode 449 – Gravitational Slipstream w/Ryan McNeil

With Kurt still on a four week vacation, we call in our designated hitter, Ryan McNeil of The Matinee podcast to talk all about the latest in the Star Trek franchise from Justin Lin and co. Andrew turns the tables a bit on Ryan with a second round of his patented “Know Your Enemy” questions and we dive into quite a bit of television watching in The Watch List, which includes a lot of love for Netflix Studios’ “Stranger Things.” We also reminisce on Cameron Crowe, Miles Davis and even with the DePalma retrospective on hold, we dive into some of his early filmography as well, with Blow Out. Thanks so much to Ryan McNeil for riding shotgun this week and we’ll be back next week with Bourn, a Fantasia Film Festival recap and the continuing adventures of Brian DePalma directing Casualties of War.

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As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Trailer: Wonder Woman

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About 3/4 of the way through Batman v Superman (which was not very good by the way), Bruce Wayne finds an old photo of Wonder Woman hanging out with some soldiers that looked to be from World War I. I noted to my wife that one of those guys sure does look a lot like Captain Kirk. Well, this explains that then doesn’t it.

 

Review: Star Trek Beyond

stbeyond-posterDirector: Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow, Annapolis, Fast & Furious 3-6)
Writers: Doug Jones, Simon Pegg
Producers: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 120 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the rebooted version of the long-running series spearheaded by mastermind and all-around geek legend J.J. Abrams, is distinguishable from its predecessors for two important reasons. First, it’s been released in 2016, which marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise, five decades since it all began with Gene Roddenberry’s original television series starring William Shatner and the late Leonard Nimoy (who receives a touching tribute in the film’s closing credits, as does the recently departed Anton Yelchin, who reprises his role in the film as crew member Pavel Chekov). Second, it isn’t directed by J.J. Abrams. Although the leader of this new incarnation of these iconic characters does remain on board as producer, he quickly departed the director’s seat in favor of that other epic space saga (the one he not so secretly always favored), and was replaced by Justin Lin, who is most known for directing four of the Fast & Furious films. Both of these things have a heavy influence on Star Trek Beyond, and both tie in to the way that the film takes a more grounded, less spectacle-driven approach that feels different from what Abrams had done with the series, while still very much within the same spirit.

Any time you get three films into a series, you should have a pretty good idea as to what works and what doesn’t. Whether it’s from critical or fan response, or just seeing the final product yourself, you can see the places where you want to try and keep things the same, and where you should maybe think about changing it up a bit. It’s no secret that the first two films in this new trilogy, particularly the second, received some heavy backlash from the hardcore fanbase over what they felt was a betrayal of the spirit that Roddenberry had originally envisioned this franchise as being. It’s not surprising, really, as Abrams has always favored big spectacle and cinematic wonder over anything else, so the larger social and political themes were somewhat abandoned in his explosive popcorn blockbusters. Those worked for some people, myself included, but they weren’t necessarily what Star Trek was all about. With Abrams gone, and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof replaced by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg (another geek legend and self-confessed Trekker, as well as actor in the series) on script duties, Star Trek Beyond makes a noticeable effort to return things to where the series started, stripping down the bombast in favor of a more analog, character-driven take.

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Fantasia 2016 Review: I, Olga Hepnarová

At one point over the course of this haunting and difficult film, the lead character is reading the Graham Greene novel, The Quiet American. She highlights a passage from the novel that is the lynchpin to understanding the unanswerable questions left after the experience of watching the film. “Time has its revenges, but revenge seems so often sour. Wouldn’t we all do better not trying to understand, accepting the fact that no human being will ever understand another, not a wife with a husband, nor a parent a child?”

One of the primary function of movies is to act as an empathy machine, a vehicle to allow us to understand and live in the skin of someone who we are not, or a situation so far from our own to help us broaden our understanding about the human condition. Thus, it is interesting when filmmakers challenge and constrain themselves by bucking against the natural tendency of the medium to make a film that takes empathy off the table.

One might point the the films of Michael Haneke as the most obvious case in point, as his films are stark, often oblique exercises in detached intellectual or historical (or both) circumstance culminating in brief, sharp moments of violence. Scholar Elsie Walker has a wonderful video essay that underscores Haneke’s approach, particularly in films like Funny Games or Cache, are actually, ultimately, exercises in empathy, not lack thereof. Perhaps The White Ribbon, with its chilling portrait on the root psychology of 20th century madness. Perhaps. There is certainly a shared look, the crisp, precise black and white cinematography, that brings us to Petr Kazda and Tomás Weinreb’s I, Olga Hepnarová.

A cinematic re-creation of a famous female killer in the Czechoslovakia who ran down 20 plus innocent bystanders in her truck just to declare that the world was not fair to those who are different. This is truly a task in non-empathy, and, I would argue that is a quite one successful insofar as I do not recall such direct confrontation of certain ideas handled in this forthright a fashion, even in films such as Gus Van Sant’s Elephant or Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique, perhaps the films closest analogues.

I, Olga Hepnarová pushes further in examining its central character the havoc she eventually wreaks. The film forces the viewer to face the fact that society will not, cannot be perfect, and innocent lives will suffer for this. Shaded with the recent, similar, incident in Nice, France, the film is a difficult viewing to say the least, and this is certain the intention.

The real life Olga Hepnarová declared, during her death sentence hearing, in 1973 that she was of sound mind, and that she knew exactly what she was doing. And that she wanted this to be a lesson to treat people nicer, or folks are going to be run over by people like her (“If they kill me, my crime will have greater value.”) The film uses transcripts from her letters and court hearing verbatim. This has the curious effect of explicitly stating a thesis and flat out explaining it to the audience, and violating another sacred rule of cinema, that of ‘show don’t tell.’ I, Olga Hepnarová shows and tells, and the blunt, leave nothing to the imagination telling is part of the confrontation matrix that the filmmakers are clearly striving for.

Opening in a state of funk in her well off existence, Olga is shown to immediate confront her family, and throw disdain on just about everything. Her mother choses to fire back with almost a challenging vitriol, Czech tough love, upon her first suicide attempt.

This is all starkly visualized with static, soundtrack free shots that take place entirely in the frame (think Swedish director Roy Andersson’s precise and boxed in mise en scène stripped of humour and rendered in sharp monochrome). While some camera movement does eventually work its way into the picture, the camera is mainly fixed in the manner that makes us stare, and the passage of time seem slower.

Michalina Olszanska, about a hundred and eighty degrees from her sensual, exuberant and larger-than life turn in The Lure, here is shown as waif-thin, tomboyish and striking with her bobbed pixie cut and subtle body language. She smokes cigarettes throughout the movie as almost a way to have something to do while casting scorn in all directions. It followers her from a privileged home where she attempts to poison herself and gets verbally castigated by her mother instead of a wordless hug. This might be out of tough love, but it feels, to this viewer at least, well enough on the wrong side of good parenting.

Easy judgement and oversimplification (judgement in shorthand) are some of the worst, but nevertheless real faults of the human condition; a small but systemic malfunction that can have serious consequences. The point is not lost that Olga will continue to poison herself, at least figuratively, when she is placed in a mental hospital for girls, before graduating to halfway house and finally working as a truck driver.

Each relationship and human interaction trails off into awkward discomfort (or flat out judgement by both sides). This is not Olga’s fault, nor is it completely the fault of those around her, these situations in life never are, but rather a combination of her psychopathic distance and a subtle sensing of this by would-be lovers (of both genders), coworkers or friends.

Olga is not bullied in what we might think of as the ‘conventional way,’ albeit there is however one scene early on that does speak to shades of Brian De Palma’s Carrie. People, mostly likely those in the audience of the film as well, simply do not know how to interact with her. And, ironically, it is their attempts at kindness, or at least tolerance, that cause the problem; a classic case of failure to communicate.

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Fantasia 2016 Review: In A Valley Of Violence

In Sergio Leone’s classic The Good The Bad And The Ugly, one of many iconic scenes involves a gunfighter sneaking up to murder Eli Wallach’s Tuco in the bath-tub. The anonymous heavy lost his arm in a shootout with Tuco in the opening scene of the film, and seeking bloody revenge, as is par for the course in so many westerns, he stops first for a smug monologue about how it took months to learn how to shoot with his other hand. As the grimy Italian blonde savours the reversal of fortune (again, a staple of this superb film) with words, Tuco turns the table because he has his pistol in the bath-tub. He blows away the smug, would-be killer through the soap suds. To the corpse, he lectures, “When you have to shoot, SHOOT. Don’t talk.” It would not surprise me in the slightest, if it was this scene alone that inspired Ti West to make In A Valley of Violence, a film that seems a full featured examination of what amounts to a throwaway 2 minutes in a 179 minute film. More recently, HBO’s Deadwood, The Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake, and the recent pair of Quentin Tarantino gunslinger film have set out to prove that excessively loquacious, but nevertheless savoury, dialogue is a wholesome part of the Western that bears at least some consideration.

Ethan Hawke plays civil war deserter Paul, who, after a Shakespearean styled prologue with a drunken Irish priest (Burn Gorman doing what he so wonderfully does) about the nature of where he finds himself, ends up nevertheless caught up in the local toxicity of a friable futureless village-slash-movie-set called Denton. He tries to keep his head down and sip his drink at the bar as the local blowhard and sadistic bully, Gilly (Generation Kill & The Wire‘s oily-but-wide-eyed James Ransome), who also the deputy and son of the town’s sheriff, picks a fight with him for no reason other than that Paul a stranger in a place that, you guessed it, don’t like no strangers.

Pestered to the point of violence, and equally important to the point of speaking (mainly to the audience) he says that he just wants to hang out with his preternaturally cute, Lassie-like, dog and make for Mexico to forget the horrors of the war. Anyone who has ever seen a western, hell anyone who has ever seen some movies, can spot what is coming a mile away. Don’t get me wrong though, the point of the film seems less about realistically defined characters or completely reinventing the wheel (West even shoots on 35mm film, although he favours 1.85:1 over cinemascope to keep things somewhat small) and more about playing with familiar tropes of the western. This auto-critique of the genre, whose often deadpan and straight-up approach to many familiar situations is sure to be abrasive to some.

Paul being forced to deal revenge to many of the denizens of Denton is without question a given in this sort of thing. As Paul reluctantly returns to town with guns a-blazin’, it is more through dialogue than gunfire that the showdown at high noon takes place. If there is a mission statement to In A Valley of Violence it is (as stated above) when to speak and when not to speak.

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After the Hype #149 – Star Trek Battle

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It’s a galactic battle for the ages as we battle it out for the BEST STAR TREK FILM. We’re joined by Paul Nawrocke and Houston Huddleston, who make some interesting defenses for their picks. Set your phasers to stun and boldly go listen to the episode now!

HOUSTON HUDDLESTON | HOLLYWOOD HORROR MUSEUM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

 

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DVD Review: Miles Ahead

milesahead-posterDirector: Don Cheadle
Writers: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle
Producers: Robert Ogden Barnum, Don Cheadle, Pamela Hirsch, Darryl Porter, Daniel Wagner, Vince Wilburn Jr., Lenore Zerman
Starring: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 100 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


A long-brewing passion project for Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead sees the actor making his big screen debut as director and writer, as well as starring as legendary musician Miles Davis (he also produced the film – no word on whether or not he did catering). It’s a noble endeavor that the star clearly put his back into getting made, but there’s also a lot of kinks here that maybe someone with more experience behind the camera could have ironed out. You do have to give Cheadle credit for not simply making another dull greatest hits hagiography, the kind of musician biopic we see all too often. Instead, Miles Ahead uses a framing device that presents its story as if it’s a piece of music that Miles is playing for Rolling Stone reporter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor). In it, Cheadle’s script (co-written by Steven Baigelman) weaves together the tumultuous relationship between Davis and Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) with a completely fictional story about Davis and Brill teaming up to try and recover a session tape that was stolen by Michael Stuhlbarg’s sleazy producer and Keith Stanfield’s aspiring musician.

It’s a bold move for Cheadle to make, brazenly fictionalizing part of this telling of the life of a real person in a genre that is often criticized for not telling the whole truth, but ironically it’s the made up stuff that works the best here. Cheadle and McGregor make for a very fun duo, and watching them stumble over themselves as they run around the city on this crime caper is an absolute delight. Unfortunately, that groovy spirit comes to a dead halt whenever events shift back to the rote, underdeveloped depiction of the falling apart of Davis and Taylor’s relationship. Maybe a director with more experience could have fused this into something less chaotic, or then again someone more used to the traditional form of storytelling might have just dulled out the rougher edges that make Cheadle’s debut stand out to at least some degree. Either way, Miles Ahead is a clunky first run for the actor turned director, one which doesn’t exactly show a lot of promise for him if he desires to continue to stretch himself behind the camera.

 
 

Trailer: In a Valley of Violence

valley-violence-posterIt seems Ethan Hawke didn’t want to hang up his spurs and six-shooters quite yet after filming the remake of The Magnificent Seven. He’s ready and willin’ to help the western movie renaissance continue! And when we talk about the wild wild west, as of late film makers have been putting the emphasis on “wild” and “wild”.

Last year started with the more traditional westerns such as Slow West or Salvation or even The Keeping Room. But they’ve also been sprinkling in things such as Sweetwater and Bone Tomahawk. And the truth is, I love it all – though it remains to be seen how well a 2016, John Traviolta as “evil cattle baron” will work out.

Still, it seems I should be a happy camper through the rest of 2016 with both In a Valley of Violence being released, as well as a big studio production of The Magnificent Seven (see previous post).

In a Valley of Violence stars Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone with Karen Gillan and John Travolta. The film is directed by Ti West (Prey, House of the Devil).

Synopsis:
A mysterious drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog Abbie (Jumpy) make their way towards Mexico through the barren desert of the old west. In an attempt to shorten their journey they cut through the center of a large valley – landing themselves in the forgotten town of Denton – a place now dubbed by locals as a “valley of violence.” The once popular mining town is nearly abandoned, and controlled by a brash group of misfits and nitwits – chief among them, the seemingly untouchable, Gilly (James Ransone) who is the troublemaking son of the town’s unforgiving Marshal (John Travolta).

As tensions rise between Paul and Gilly, Denton’s remaining residents bear witness to an inevitable act of violence that starts a disastrous chain reaction, infecting the petty lives of all involved and quickly drags the whole town into the bloody crosshairs of revenge. Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) and Ellen (Karen Gillan), two bickering sisters who run the town’s only hotel, try to find the good in both men, while desperately searching for their own salvation. Only the world-weary Marshal struggles to stop the violent hysteria, but after a gruesome discovery about Paul’s past…there is no stopping the escalation.

Have a looky at the trailer below pardner…

Trailer #2: The Magnificent Seven

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Just call Wednesday the 20th of July as western trailer day at RowThree. But the truth is, I didn’t watch the video posted below. This movie easily already has my money so I want to go in as clean and fresh (mentally) as possible. I gotta say, with films like Tombstone or Desperado or heck, even the final 30 minutes of Open Range amongst my favorite films of all time, it’s no surprise that Antoine Fuqua’s bullet flying fiesta looks like something I’ll happily sit through twice in one afternoon/evening.

We posted the first trailer a month and a half ago and I was sold immediately. I pretty much give up a portion of any paycheck the week a Peter Sarsgaard film opens, so putting him in a western alongside Denzel and Vinnie Jones and Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee and the original Thor is just a straight-up given. I’m up and down with Antoine Fuqua, but the dude is due and I’m excited for this. Yee-haw!