Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Catching Up With Recent Watches

Catching Up With Recent Watches by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Even though Writing 101 warns that we should never open a message with an apology, I apologize on behalf of FilmZ for falling behind on entries to this blog.  Edith Piaf and I have no regrets, though.  First, we write 'em when we're ready, and besides, no one has been beating at our electronic door asking where we've been.  Well, we have seen a few movies over the past few weeks, and thanks to laziness, ennui, or both they never got write-ups.  So, we're going to give each one a thumbnail sketch and a grade.  I'll write them up in the order in which they were seen.

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016, streaming)
If you aren't familiar with the work of New Zealand writer/director/actor Taika Waititi, let me introduce you.  He was one of the creative forces behind Flight of the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows and director of Thor: Ragnarok, arguably the most entertaining Marvel movie to date.  The Hunt for the Wilderpeople brings Waititi's signature humor with heart and a touch of the absurd to the dramatic adventure.
Ricky (Julian Dennison), an angry outcast teen sent to the backwoods to live with foster parents, the gleefully enthusiastic Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband the cranky and barely housebroken Hec (Sam Neill).  After some unfortunate events, Child Services decides Hec is unfit to raise the boy (indeed, Hec was never excited about the prospect, anyway).  Rather than return to an orphanage, Ricky runs away with Hec in reluctant pursuit.  Vile social worker Paula (Rachel House) insinuates that Hec may be abusing Ricky, setting off a nationwide manhunt.  As the chase unfolds, orphan and foster dad run into obstacles, dangers, and an odd assortment of forest residents.  And despite their mutual resistance, they begin to bond as two sides of the same coin.
7.5 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale

Director Carlos Lopez Estrada makes a meteoric impact in his first feature film, but Blindspotting belongs to Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, who wrote, co-produced, and star in this drama set in their hometown of Oakland, CA.  Their drama crackles on-screen, at times wildly hilarious, suddenly terrifying; the dialogue is quick and incisive, veering off into hip-hop riffs and rants (and those of you who know me are aware of my dislike of that genre, so if I like it, that's saying something).  Back on track: this is a movie that moves.
Diggs is Collin, a Black ex-con serving his last three days of parole, a situation jeopardized by his childhood best friend, White wild man Miles (Casal).  The two work for a moving company, where the dispatcher, Val (Janina Gavankar) was once in a relationship with Collin.  Now though, Val keeps Collin at arms length and avoids Miles completely.  Both on and off the job, the men watch their neighborhood become ever more gentrified, and the influx of young, affluent professionals brings an increased police presence to ensure safety and security.  One night as he hustles home to beat curfew, Collin is stuck at a red light when he witnesses an act of violence that tears at him throughout the rest of the story.  Meanwhile, Miles' reckless behavior only makes the situation worse, endangering both his family and Collin.  As events unfold, we learn how Collin became a felon, why Val wants nothing to do with him, and why she detests Miles.  And, in a remarkable climactic moment, one of the most suspenseful since the gas station scene in No Country for Old Men, we see film elevated to art form.
8.5 out of 10 on Entertainment and Artistic Scales

The House with a Clock in its Walls 
Let's make this clear: this is a movie aimed at children.  This is not what one would expect from Director Eli Roth (Cabin FeverHostel) but Eric Kripke adapted John Bellair's 1973 young adult fantasy and keeps under the PG umbrella.  An intriguing cast helps buoy it; any movie that has Cate Blanchett is worth seeing, and Jack Black and Kyle MacLachlan are always good. 
Young orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is still grieving his parents' fatal accident.  He is sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Black), a warlock whose Victorian home has paintings that move and change prophetically, monsters in closets, and a forbidden door. Jonathan introduces Lewis to his kindly neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman (Blanchett), a powerful witch.  Enchanted, Lewis begs them to teach him magic, and he learns that the house contains a secret: a clock hidden in the walls by a now-deceased evil wizard named Izard (MacLachlan).  Between good-natured insults, Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman team to find the clock before it ticks down to a horrific event.  Meanwhile, in hopes of overcoming his outsider status at school, Lewis uses his new skills to impress the cool kid, Tarby (Sunny Suljic), and in the process unwittingly helps the evil wizard toward his goal. 
The movie's 1955 setting provides the canvas for a colorful aesthetic that takes us back to a coolly weird caricature of the Eisenhower era. The special effects, with lightning-bolt spells, menacing pumpkins, and automaton dolls, are fun.  On the down side, the dialogue is clunky, jump-scares substitute for real suspense, and the jokes trend toward the juvenile.  Adults will tolerate the film, but more back story for Mrs. Zimmerman and Jonathan would have given us more connection to the characters and raised the substance a bit.
7.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale

Fahrenheit 11/9
Michael Moore is a muckraker, and what slimier muck to rake than recent events in America?  It may surprise many viewers that Moore lays blame on both parties--albiet Republicans as presented are more proactive, while the Democrats range from neglectful to complicit.  Moore also cites the media, and he even blames himself. 
Of course, he begins with a humorous hook, positing that Trump's election is Gwen Stefani's fault.  When NBC paid her more for The Voice than Trump was offered for The Apprentice, he threatened to make a presidential run.  Using archival footage, he covers the run-up to the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, when Trump's election shocked the world.  Moore then turns serious, asking how this came to be.  He spends surprisingly little time on Russia and barely makes a wave at the four pillars of the Culture War: racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and antiLGBTQ+.   One theme does course through Fahernheit 11/9: the danger of unfettered capitalism.  Most prominent is the example of Rick Snyder, ex-CEO Michigan Governor and cold-blooded perpetrator of the Flint water crisis.  Moore also spends time with the heroic Parkland students as they confront the NRA and its bought-and-paid-for politicians.  He moves on to West Virginia, with its statewide teachers strike over health coverage and the Democratic Party's betrayal of the state's voters.  He also features the influx of progressive working class, minority, and female political candidates who promise to shake up the Establishment. 
Making the point that democracy is an ideal rather than a fait accompli, Moore lauds the our growing grassroots activism.  But he ends the film on a cautionary note, drawing parallels between Nazi Germany and the current Washington power structure.  Most effectively, Moore features 99-year-old Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremburg Trials, who tearfully tells us that the US must be alert to the danger of fascism.  This warning might have seemed sensationalism two years ago, but strikes us as all too possible today.
8.0 out of 10

Operation: Finale Mini-Review

Operation: Finale mini-review by FilmZ

A comment to Holocaust deniers out there: it happened.  Find any legitimate history source, and a late chapter will include Adolph Eichmann.  This fact tasks Operation: Finale with a responsibility: The burden of history is on the filmmakers to earn credibility through accuracy.  Hey, you want to throw in a love subplot, OK, but just a little; and make sure you explain why El Al balked at helping Mossad.  Yet, at the same time, a film has to, as they say, put butts in seats, so the challenge is to make it exciting and fresh, especially a story that has been filmed several times in the past.  O:F succeeds, for the most part.  It is a procedural spy/crime story that starts with a chance meeting that leads to a leak, which sparks a mission that breaks international law, some ill-timed snafus, and ends with an international trial of the century.  Great films will find a way to still bring tension and anticipation to familiar material.  That is the main problem with O:F: while we learn particulars of the mission and are reminded why it is important, we rarely get a sense of tension or urgency.

Ben Kingsley plays a soft-spoken, taciturn Eichmann--as he evidently was, in reality.  Historically correct, but not Hollywood-effect; some might prefer the "Architect of the Final Solution" to be larger than life.  Credit and blame Matthew Orton's script.  His Mossad pursuers are led by Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll), but the focus here is on Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac).  He carries the emotional weight of his beloved sister having been murdered by Nazis, yet he is the one who gets what he wants by connecting on a human level with Eichmann.  Other methods are considered, up to and including murder, but this is also a morality tale, with the balance of empathy and sociopathy struck in the conversations between Malkin and Eichmann.  The team also includes, among others, Dr. Hanna Elian (Melanie Laurent), and ethical anesthetist; Isser Harel (Lior Raz), a government facilitator.

The story gets rolling when Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn) tries to impress young Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), boasting that his father was a big deal during WWII.  This comes on their first date when Klaus takes Sylvia to a Nazi rally in then-Fascist Argentina.  Frightened, the half -Jewish girl runs out and tells her father (Peter Strauss).  Word travels to post-War Germany and on to Israel.  And the game is on: how will Mossad forces spirit Eichmann out of a hostile nation and bring him to justice?  Director Chris Weitz delivers an involving if not compelling story, and, although there are action scenes this is not an action film, even the suspenseful escape at the airport pales in tension to a similar scene in Argo.  Still, an excellent cast delivers an intriguing story depicting an important page in 20th Century history.
7.5 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
7.0 out of 10 on an Artistic Scale
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