Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Standards Have Fallen

Gah! We've arrived at peak nowness with Angel Has Fallen, the third film in the 'Has Fallen' franchise starring Gerard Butler (whom I just can't bring myself to give up on) as secret service agent to Morgan Freeman's President ever under siege doing just fine in its theatrical run. I saw the first one and thought it was hilariously bad with a handful of effectively vicious moments tilting it out of the absolute waste of time category (and of course the scene of Melissa Leo 'pray-chanting' the pledge of allegiance before a presumed execution deserves to have a long life in the "high-camp" halls of fame). Two sequels though? The latest directed by... Ric Roman Waugh?

Huh.

 On the latest episode of Do Some Damage podcast I recommend that if you must check out a Ric Roman Waugh movie you go with Shot Caller instead. I talk about movies on the podcast while TV is strictly the purview of Holly West, (who goes into Carnival Row with host Steve Weddle this time) so I really used Angel Has Fallen to connect to Ric to recommend Shot Caller rather than reveal my true motivation for inviting you to check it out - Holt McCallany's fine work on Mindhunter.

I think McCallany is the secret weapon of that show. He's the un-flashy bedrock, sturdy as hell, but flexible enough to launch some of the bigger performances to stratospheric heights. He shows up and does really good work. And he has been for years. Before Mindhunter David Fincher cast him in every(?) movie he made, though in small, background roles. He got a little bit of room to be seen in Michael Mann's Blackhat, but honestly when most of your screen time is with Viola Davis you're not going to be the memorable part.

If you're wondering what else Holt can do, lemme suggest you look at his most(?) showy role - that of The Beast, an incarcerated Aryan gang leader in Shot Caller. His entire wardrobe is a pair of white boxer shorts and some nasty tattoos, but he grew some equally nasty facial hair and shaved his head for maximum menace. Everybody in the movie is pretty nasty (Jon Bernthal is his usual high-bro-intensity and Jeffrey Donovan is pretty great with the little he's given to do), but this time around it's McCallany whose performance is the most eye-catching (gouging?).

If you've seen Roman Waugh's Felon (with Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer) you've already seen him pull out the list of things he knows about prison life (as well as some deliriously pulpy inventions), but Shot Caller's quite a bit better. And it's on Prime now.

Of course McCallany isn't the star of the movie, that's Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (he who wanks with his left hand on Game of Thrones) and if I had the episode to do over I would have got to Shot Caller through him. Dude's building up a very respectable body of crime films including this one, Headhunters, Nightwatch and Small Crimes. And his latest honor is starring in the new Brian De Palma thriller, Domino. That should've been my way in.

Domino. Finally got around to seeing it and so glad I did. Here's the thing if it's first and foremost a 'thriller' than it is a disappointment. We don't really care about the relationships, the suspense and tension never amount to much, the atmosphere is intermittently arresting, but the air is continually let out of it by less successful scenes.

But if it's first and foremost a De Palma film it's got some real pleasures to offer. Two standout De Palma-esque sequences of cinematic playfulness as well as the presence of familiar De Palma elements (a spiral staircase! a big window! a train station! dual-focus shots! Hitchcockian nods!) make it well worth the time of De Palma fans. Watching the old masters muck around with the new toys and tech is sometimes excruciating and at times exhilarating.

I can picture what Domino might have been with the budgets and crews that he worked with at the height of his commercial viability and it's a considerably more satisfying picture - mostly in the atmospheric department - the warm hues of film quality, a less place-holdery original score, plenty of extras. To me, the fact that we didn't get the best version of this movie possible is not as big a bummer as the fact that we got (and might get more of) this type of De Palma film again at all is an unqualified win-column check.

Also on the new episode I mention A Simple Favor starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as a mismatched pair of mothers whose children become friends at school. Kendrick is a widow and vlogger who focuses on the challenges of being a single mother. She's unassuming and demur and painfully lonely and when Lively's character shows the slightest interest in friendship she latches on so hard that she sticks it out when it becomes apparent that she's being taken advantage of.

Until Blake is made permanently un-Lively.

It's a surprisingly nasty slice of domestic suspense to come from director Paul Feig better known for his comedic pictures often pairing female leads (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters, The Heat and Spy) and the fun is wondering how dark a pitch we're in for. Were it David Fincher making Gone Girl I'd be braced for pretty noir shit, but Feig? Kendrick? Wheeeeeere's it going?

You may or may not enjoy finding out.

A Simple Favor is based on a novel by Darcey Bell, but screenwriter Jessica Sharzer wrote another similarly out of my typical preferred fare flick that I enjoyed; Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's Nerve with Emma Roberts and Dave Franco (based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan). It's set up like a teen romantic adventure based around silly-seeming 21st century technological social networking, but it's a pretty effective, slippery escalation into scary-ass crime shit. I dunno, give it a shot.

But back to Feig, 'cause I had an idea the other day that I can not shake and it is this...
I want Paul Feig to make a gender-flipped remake of John Badham's Stakeout. Boom.

Are you with me? I mean, you love Stakeout as much as I do, right? It's one of those crime comedies from the 80s that made the decade the golden age of the genre as far as I'm concerned. I watched it again the other day and enjoyed it like I always do, but it's not the 80s anymore (and I'm not a teenager anymore) and yeah, some of it remains firmly in another time and social sensibility.

It's juuuuust a tad chauvinistic in its sensibilities (benignly so?) and man, I think there could be a lot of fun had by the right team to bring it full circle. I want this more than I should. 

Got around to watching it again because I fell down a Madeleine Stowe themed rabbit hole that included first watches of Ciro Duran's Tropical Snow and John Bailey's China Moon. China Moon wasn't great, but it's amazing what a couple decades' remove will do to the rewatchability of something mediocre. I mean, holy shit the cast hanging out in this otherwise tepid thriller: Ed Harris, Benicio Del Toro, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Charles Dance (shit! this is the crime movies populated by the cast of Game of Thrones blog post isn't it? I mean, that's two Lannisters mentioned and I forgot to say that Carice Van Houten was in Domino too). Anyway, it ain't great, but it ain't nothin. Very forgivable C movie for the pleasure of seeing these folks in their prime.

Anyway, I went down the Stowe hole after viewing Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans in preparation for that brannew Blake Howard podcast The Last (12 Minutes) of the Mohicans which will feature the Mann again in the final episode of this mini-project. Fuck, I'm so excited to be part of this project. I love, love, love the movie and the company.

First couple episodes are up now and if you enjoyed One Heat Minute, it looks like a bunch of the same crew have come back for this one and will... probably(?) be coming in to lend a hand on the Howard produced, Travis Woods-hosted Increment Vice which will tackle Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice a minute at a time (I think).

And speaking of Woods, he's back on his bullshit with this great bit on Elaine May's Mikey & Nicky for the May-in-September themed issue of Bright Wall/Dark Room. Seriously though, why didn't they do Elaine May's issue in May? I mean, a gender-flipped Stakeout project for Paul Feig, and a May May issue, do I have to think of everything?

Y'know something I wouldn't have thought of? Remaking The Disappearance of Alice Creed in German. I mean, fuckin Gemma Arterton and Eddie Marsan were two-thirds of the cast of the original, how do you think you're going to improve it? Well Thomas Sieben's Kidnapping Stella is said project and I can definitively say it was not an improvement. In fact it stuck so closely to J. Blakeson's original script it was nearly a shot-for-shot restaging, save a couple of details that favored the original. Oh well, glad to know shitty remakes go to other countries to. Kidnapping Stella is available in the U.S. as a Netflix original, but I'd highly recommend tracking down The Disappearance of Alice Creed instead.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, a WOKE version of Stakeout, a good idea.You should change your blog name to soyboy wonderland.

jedidiah ayres said...

yass!

N/A said...

Man, I love your site. It is so helpful in wading through the crap out there and so often you provide information very few others do on things more people should see, hear and read.

jedidiah ayres said...

thanks!