“Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” short review

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Fascinating pastiche weaving together Yukio Mishima’s work with dramatizations of his life and, most importantly, his last day on earth. The segment with the mother/son/loan shark doesn’t work, and the movie doesn’t really get at what made Mishima tick, but it’s quite a journey nonetheless. Philip Glass’ score lends the film a sort of otherworldly feeling, and ends up being his least irritating since Koyaanisqatsi.

Review: Michael Mann’s “Thief”

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All the hallmarks of a Michael Mann production are here: long stretches of silence, sudden bursts of violence, men being men, women being subservient to men (an unfortunate hallmark).

Mann hadn’t yet learned to round out his stories with anything resembling subplots. This is one story, writ large, and I’m not sure I care much about the story. James Caan comes across as aloof instead of tough or righteous. Could be his fault, but I think it’s more Mann’s screenplay. Just look at poor Tuesday Weld’s character. She’s not even an archetype she’s so thinly drawn.

In any event, it’s cool to see all the things Mann would pack into each movie are here, albeit in a less polished form. Plus, I usually loathe Robert Prosky, but he’s goddamn good here.

Re-watching “Lady Bird”

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On second viewing, I realized this is truly a perfect film: Honest, funny, dramatic, and all the technical boxes are checked, too. Plus, as someone who has done time in Sacramento, it sums up all the good and bad about it. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are outstanding, but the entire cast deserves praise. Big win for writer/director Greta Gerwig.

“On Chesil Beach” review

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Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan during a happier moment in On Chesil Beach.

Apparently I’ve reached an age when a movie NOT having a happy ending counts against it. Or maybe I liked these characters so much that I REALLY wanted them to make it work. Either way, “On Chesil Beach” is one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen, with two dynamite performances at its center (though it’s no surprise that Saoirse Ronan is the standout).

We first meet Edward and Florence in 1962 on their wedding night. They’ve come straight from the ceremony and now they’re locked away in their hotel room on Chesil Beach for a terrible dinner that to an even worse night. For some reason – and I won’t get into why, but it’s heartbreaking – these two can’t have sex. Edward tries, and Florence is repulsed by the idea of sex even though she tries even harder than Edward to do it.

Through flashbacks we learn just enough about them to fill in the gaps – of note, they’re both virgins – and we see how society, circumstances, and our parents can damage us beyond repair. The final shot is crushing – we learn that one of them was more stubborn or unmovable (or insert adjective here) than the other – and we wonder what might have been. This movie is devastating.

“Disobedience” review

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The English-language debut by Oscar-winning Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) also puts its characters through difficult (to say the least) paces. It focuses on lapsed orthodox Jew and New Yorker-by-choice Ronit (a sublime Rachel Weisz), who returns to London for her father’s funeral. Ronit and her father hadn’t spoken in years, and when she arrives at the home of her old friend (and her father’s disciple), Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), and his wife Esti (Rachel McAdams, superb), it’s clear Ronit is at best unexpected. As Ronit, Dovid, and Esti spend more time together, it becomes clear why. The narrative resembles a love triangle, but it’s considerably more complicated. Lelio and co-screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz make the characters zig just when you think they’re going to zag, which saves Disobedience from lapsing into treacle or bathos, and Lelio’s direction makes you feel the weight of the world each of these characters—especially Esti—carries. The result is heart-wrenching, but rewarding.

This review first appeared in Salt Lake City Weekly.

“Blue City” review

MSDBLCI EC007It’s hard to know what the director and screenwriters (Walter Hill is one) were thinking making Blue City. It’s difficult to imagine, based on what’s on screen, that this thing could ever have had a shot at being decent.

The main character, Billy (Judd Nelson) is an unsympathetic asshole, the supporting characters are wafer-thin (not that Billy’s much thicker), and the story is thinner than the characters.

Plus, at 83 minutes (including credits) it shows signs of significant post-production tinkering. This movie was obviously supposed to be around the 105-110-minute mark, but the producers and studio realized they had a total shitshow on their hands and cut it to pieces.

Billy (Nelson) returns home after a five-year absence, discovers his father, the mayor, has been murdered, and the police have no leads. Billy decides to solve the crime himself, and with absolutely zero evidence, he decides a shady local club owner did it.

Aside: Count how many times Nelson says “killed my father.” It’s more times than Kris Kristofferson says “death list” in Heaven’s Gate.


Billy hooks up with his old pal David Caruso (who has a beef with the club owner), and they rob the place, shoot it to shit and generally wreak havoc. When he’s not waving a gun around like a guy who’s never held a gun, Billy bones Ally Sheedy, Caruso’s on-screen sister and a convenient plot device – she works in the city records office.

The acting is wretched, except for Caruso and Paul Winfield as the police chief. (Caruso does that tough-guy thing here that he perfected in “NYPD Blue”.) But scenes begin and end haphazardly – there’s so much ADR, dissolves and fades to black – that it’s clear this was a bigger story. What’s left is just worthless shit, a prime example of how NOT to make a movie. It’s a Walter Hill tough-guy piece without the story to explain the tough guys.

Plus, Billy’s character is a slimebag POS and Nelson plays him with no panache or charm or wit – he’s just a dick. Ry Cooder’s music ain’t half bad, tho, even if it sounds so much the ‘80s you’ll dream of big hair. What a waste.

BREAKING IN Review

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Gabrielle Union has a Zippo lighter, and it ain’t cuz she’s about to light up.

In Breaking In’s opening scenes, an older man is murdered on his morning run by what looks like a Ford F-150. Shaun (Gabrielle Union), his estranged daughter, goes to the family compound in Wisconsin to ready it for sale.

Of course, Pops was into a whole bunch of shady shit, was under investigation and liquidated most of his assets and stuck $4 million cash in a safe somewhere in the house. Of course, bad guys break in (ha) to find the dough the same night Shaun arrives with her daughter and son at the ol’ farm.

The compound’s state of the art security system magically works when the screenplay demands it, and mostly keeps Shaun locked out of the house while the criminals are locked in with the kids. But there are times, all too conveniently, when the security system lets Shaun in. Or back out.

Breaking In’s few effective moments—a fight scene between Shaun and one of the crooks; a showdown on the lawn with all the crooks and Shaun—are undercut by the dumber moments, and plot points cribbed from Die HardUnder Siege and Panic RoomBreaking In ultimately is a letdown, and a looooooong 88 minutes at that. Union deserves better. Also: How, exactly, is a movie this violent and bloody PG-13?

This review first appeared in Salt Lake City Weekly.