Archive for the 'Film' Category

‘Ingrid Goes West’ takes a critical look at self-reinvention, stalking and social media

September 23, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 23, 2017

Ingrid Thorburn, the main character in the new movie Ingrid Goes West, would really really like to be your friend — if, that is, you’re one of those young women who projects a kind of effortless perfection on social media.

Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza, probably best known from a recurring role on the sitcom Parks and Recreation) can be an excellent friend. She’ll like all your posts on Facebook or Instagram, and she can engage in the kind of amusing digital banter that sometimes makes social networking such an entertaining diversion. She’ll even move halfway across the country, rent a room in your neighborhood, buy the kind of clothing you wear, patronize your favorite restaurant, get her hair styled just like yours and kidnap your dog just so she can insinuate her way into your life.

There’s a catch, of course. (There’s always a catch, isn’t there?) Ingrid would prefer that your friendship be kind of an exclusive thing. While she might be willing to share your affections with a husband, she’s not particularly down to be BFFs with the kind of woman who wastes time or attention on a fiancé or a brother or anyone else who enters your orbit.

On second thought, maybe Ingrid isn’t such a good friend to have. But once you’ve made her acquaintance, you’ll find it’s not that easy to break out of her grasp…

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Comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon grapple with love, family expectations and other afflictions in ‘The Big Sick’

August 18, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 18, 2017

Director Michael Showalter’s new dramatic comedy, The Big Sick, is the appealing real-life meet-cute story of Uber driver–cum–comedian/actor Kumail Nanjiani and graduate student–cum–comedy writer/producer Emily V. Gordon.

The story, co-written by Nanjiani and Gordon themselves, begins at a comedy show in Chicago, where Kumail (playing himself) mock-seriously lectures psychology graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan) for heckling him during his set. The two say they’re not looking for anything serious, but their physical attraction is supplemented by a personal affection that develops between the pair, and soon they’re seeing each other multiple times a week.

Unfortunately, Kumail isn’t ready for commitment, partly because he’s focused on winning a slot at a comedy festival in Montreal, but also because his very traditional Pakistani parents and brother expect him to have an arranged marriage, just like they did. While the family is openly skeptical of Kumail’s comedic dabbling — they’d prefer that he apply to law school — they flat-out declare that they’ll disown him if he doesn’t marry a Muslim woman.

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Diana of the Amazons gets the royal treatment in Patty Jenkins’s spectacular ‘Wonder Woman’

August 12, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 12, 2017

Previously, I wrote about the movie rivalry between DC and Marvel Comics. Left unmentioned in my screed was the iconic comic-book character of Wonder Woman, who — at least for my generation — is probably the foremost female superhero.

There was a very good reason for that omission; actually, there were two of them. One was that I’d planned to compose this review. (Well, to be honest, I’d intended for my DC-Marvel movie rivalry recap to be an introduction to this review, but it took on a life of its own in the writing.) The other was that Wonder Woman hadn’t had a proper live-action movie until this June, although her appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was hailed as perhaps that 2016 film’s only bright spot.

Previously, the character’s main live-action incarnation had been in the television series Wonder Woman, which spanned three seasons from 1975 through 1979. I have very vague memories of the program; they mainly center around Wonder Woman fighting Russians and my having a huge crush on the show’s star, Lynda Carter. The current obscurity of the series speaks to what I presume was its dearth of progressive gender politics, convincing special effects and overall quality. The same could probably be said of 1974 and 2011 TV movies respectively starring Cathy Lee Crosby and Adrianne Palicki and of the (rogue?) 2014 micro-budgeted movie fronted by Veronica Pierce.

Thankfully, the spectacular cinematic staging of the warrior Diana’s origin story in the new Wonder Woman is everything that the previous versions evidently were not. Moreover, this thoroughly impressive production could mark a turning of the tide in DC and Marvel’s movie feud.

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DC vs. Marvel at the movies

August 5, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 5, 2017

Author’s note: A few hours after I published this post, I added a note to my ersatz table indicating that two of the listings included ticket sales from the same Marvel movie. MEM

East Coast vs. West Coast, New York vs. Boston, Apple vs. Microsoft, DC vs. Marvel: Each one of these rivalries is famous and hard-fought. But over the past decade or so, perhaps none of these have been so one-sided as that between the two titans of comic books.

Although DC’s Superman and Batman are inarguably the best-known superheroes of all time, Marvel’s superhero teams — the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and, in recent years, the Guardians of the Galaxy — are by far more popular. Moreover, Marvel comics are generally thought to have more artistic merit and to be more socially relevant than DC products.

To add insult to injury, Marvel has been kicking DC’s heinie on the film front for a decade or more. This is despite the fact that DC’s flagship characters were phenomenally successful at the box office and helped establish the comic-book movie as a genre on the strength of productions such as Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and its 2008 and 2012 sequels.

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Humanity has an inauspicious introduction to an alien organism in the sci-fi/horror movie ‘Life’

May 17, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 17, 2017

The grandly named 2017 movie Life is a grimly efficient horror flick set aboard the International Space Station in the near future. I use the word flick advisedly: This is a B-movie premise mounted on a very respectable $58 million budget.

The space station’s six-person course — ah, I mean crew — is working on a project called Pilgrim, in which an automated probe is returning Martian rock and soil samples to near-Earth orbit for analysis and experimentation. Matters get off to a rocky start when the probe is damaged by debris, which leads to a hair-raising high-speed rendezvous.

But that’s nothing compared to what happens when exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers that one of the samples contains a dormant single-celled organism. Once Derry brings the laboratory chamber’s temperature and atmosphere to Earth-like conditions, the microscopic creature begins first moving and then multiplying.

Humanity is captivated by the discovery, and an overjoyed elementary-school student names the life form Calvin on a live broadcast. No one is happier than Derry — although he and his crewmates will soon come to regret their finding.

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Confessions of a lifelong fraidy-cat; or, Why I (mostly) can’t abide horror films

May 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 15, 2017

When I was a child, I would sometimes glimpse horror films on television. These brief exposures inevitably made my pulse race and usually left me terrified, regardless of whether the scene showed someone being harmed or even threatened.

Once when I was 10 years old, my family and I attended a family gathering at my Great-Uncle Paul and Great-Aunt Jesse’s apartment in Queens. (Or maybe I was 8 or 13. Who knows?) The apartment’s combined living room and dining room was full of people. But one moment, when I happened to be facing the TV, I saw something that made me feel completely alone and utterly vulnerable.

There was some old 1960s movie on; I remember it being in color, although I couldn’t even tell you if the scene I saw involved a Frankenstein’s monster coming to life or a vampiric woman awakening. In fact, I’m not even sure if the sound was on or off. But just watching a few seconds of this production frightened me to the core. I think one of my parents — my mother? — noticed that I was petrified and steered my attention somewhere else, or perhaps got someone to change the channel.

It’s a weird childhood trauma to remember, if trauma is indeed the right word for such a minor ordeal. And yet thinking back on that moment — muddled though my recall of it might be — I get terrified all over again.

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Death doesn’t get in the way of a good time, even years after I first watched ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’

May 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 11, 2017

A few years ago, as I wrote Wednesday, I re-watched The Black Hole, a science fiction movie that I’d enjoyed as a kid but which seemed severely lacking when viewed through my adult eyes. The other day, I revisited Weekend at Bernie’s, a 1989 comedy that had struck my adolescent self as hilarious, despite being poorly received by critics upon its release.

Reader, I must report the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: I thought that Weekend at Bernie’s held up pretty well on my recent viewing.

The movie features a darkly hilarious setup. The two protagonists, young insurance-company employees played by Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, get their holiday off to a rocky start when they discover that their boss and Labor Day weekend host, Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser), has just died. Because the pair wants to enjoy a few days in Bernie’s opulent beach house, they manipulate the corpse so people think that he’s still alive — much to the consternation of Paulie (Don Calfa), the drug-addled hit man who keeps assassinating Lomax on behalf of a mafioso whom the profligate Lomax has angered.

Director Ted Kotcheff (The Apprenticeship of Duddy KravitzFirst Blood and Uncommon Valor) and screenwriter Robert Klane (National Lampoon’s European Vacation) embrace the corniness at the heart of this premise. The cast goes for broke, too, especially Calfa, whose eyes seem to bulge more and more with every passing moment.

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Return to outer space — recalling another not-so-terrific science-fiction adventure from the waning weeks of 1979

May 10, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 10, 2017

Occasionally, YouTube’s algorithms offer up something interesting. That happened the other week when I stumbled upon some video clips excerpted from The Black Hole, the poorly received 1979 film that was the first-ever Disney production to receive a PG rating.

When I looked up the film’s release date, I found that it came out on Dec. 21, 1979 — exactly two weeks after the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I went to see The Black Hole in the cinema during its initial theatrical run, which meant that that month was full of science fiction excitement and disappointment.

The nearest art-house cinema to my current home is the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham, N.C. The Carolina regularly shows old science fiction, horror and fantasy movies, and a few years ago, they brought in The Black Hole for a showing. Naturally, I went.

The film that had disappointed young me also disappointed adult me, albeit for somewhat different reasons. But that hasn’t stopped me from returning to movies (and occasionally books) that my younger self enjoyed. Which, not at all coincidentally, will be the topic of my next post…

Disappointed and thrilled: Memories from 1979’s premiere ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’

April 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 29, 2017

The original Star Trek series debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, some five years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. On July 20, 1969, about six weeks after NBC aired the show’s final episode, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin became the first men to set foot on the moon. It would be more than 10 years before any further live-action Trek appeared, in the form of 1979’s beautiful but ponderous Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The show did have some new on-screen life over this fallow decade. Twenty-two episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series featuring the original cast were broadcast over a 13-month period spanning September 1973 through September 1974.

But the franchise mainly flourished in other forms during the interregnum: Through print and reruns. A variety of comic books generally chronicled new adventures that hadn’t been produced for television, while a passel of prose books mixed adaptations of TV episodes with original stories. Reruns — aired in New York City and beyond by WPIX for years and years beginning shortly after Star Trek was canceled by NBC — presented the show more or less as it had been originally produced. (The “less” part came from two things — wear and tear on the film prints, which WPIX replaced with tapes in the 1980s, and editing to accommodate more commercials and other promotions.)

Information in 1979 wasn’t as easy to obtain as it is now, when lifetimes’ worth of video, audio and other content can be accessed nearly anywhere with a lap- or palmtop device. Still, newspapers, television and magazines — I particularly remember drooling over issues of Starlog — did an ample job of spreading the word about upcoming movies. And believe you me, I was very excited for the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in December 1979.

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The 2016 ‘Star Trek’ movie urged viewers to tolerate and embrace differences even as some Americans sought safety in homogeneity

April 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 28, 2017

Author’s note: I am once again on a bit of a Star Trek kick. Having just written, respectively, about the most recent and the first Trek movies, I now intend to discuss the cultural and political implications of the latest Star Trek and Star Wars features (that’s the purpose of this post). Be on the lookout for a vignette about going to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the movie theater, after which I’ll return to more varied subjects. MEM

The Star Wars franchise is a largely apolitical one. Creator George Lucas conceived of his space saga in largely black-and-white terms. The color lines were literal in some cases, as when the towering evil black-clad Sith Lord, Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), menaced the elfin, virtuous white-clad rebel, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in 1977’s Star Wars (retroactively retitled Star Wars: A New Hope).

Lucas later introduced some more nuance and ambiguity, with moody protagonist Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) donning dark-colored apparel for the latter half of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and most of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. And to his credit, Lucas attempted to explore what happens when peaceful societies are overtaken by complacency, greed and corruption in his prequel trilogy.

But even in the prequel trilogy, Lucas was pretty light on specificity; other than “Don’t vote to establish a standing army” or “Don’t entrust leadership of your enfeebled and embattled republic to a creepy politician who is also secretly a master manipulator and skilled warrior with awesome telekinetic powers who can shoot death lightning from his fingertips,” he offers no solid prescriptions for preserving peace and democracy. This is, perhaps, no surprise: The franchise is called Star Wars, after all, not Star Governance.

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