Chad Comello

books, movies, libraries, typewriters

Category: Film (page 1 of 13)

Black Panther

So, did it meet my expectations? Definitely. I can’t believe writer-director Ryan Coogler is only 31, and that Michael B. Jordan (also 31) has been in so many great roles already.

I couldn’t help noticing the similarities to Wonder Woman. Hotly anticipated origin stories of beloved but neglected characters, both featuring hidden utopias, badass bands of female warriors, and powerful but conflicted scion-heroes at first uncomfortable with their power and soon disillusioned by unveiled secrets.

And like Wonder Woman, I think the critical hype got just a little too far ahead of the final product. But here are a few things that stood out:

  • Editing. For a long time I’ve pined for an action movie that doesn’t resort to filming an action scene in jump-cut shaky-cam chaos. This one still does, especially in the final act, but the casino fight scene early on is a thing of beauty. Seemingly in one take, the camera flows through the action steadily and lets us behold the combat as if we were there. More of this please!
  • Music. I’m thankful it’s not just more Superhero Action orchestral noise, but a creative mix of hip-hop, African-style percussion, and vocal flourishes.
  • Cast. The bland Martin Freeman aside, they got a crazy-good cast here, with Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis, and Michael B. Jordan providing most of the energy and charisma. And though I think he’s perfectly fine here as T’Challa/Black Panther, surely Chadwick Boseman isn’t the only black actor available for the Black Male Icon roles. Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall weren’t enough?

I saw it Sunday morning of opening weekend. We got to the theater a little before showtime and the lines at the box office were crazy long. Quickly found out that our desired showing was sold out, and the next one was in 3D. The last 3D movie I saw was Avatar, which was cool I guess, but the 3D was kinda dark and blurry from what I remember.

Not the case with Black Panther. The image was crisp and bright, and the wide shots had a cool miniaturized look (not sure if this is common to 3D movies or not). Regardless, I was happy to donate the surcharge to help its monster opening weekend.

Media of the Moment

An ongoing series on books, movies & more I’ve encountered recently:

Nurtured By Love by Shinichi Suzuki. Great little book on how to cultivate talent, specifically in children and music but also for anyone in anything.

On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor. Enjoyed the adventure of this winding, informative book on the nature of trails of all kinds. Like an erudite sequel to A Walk in the Woods.

The Million Dollar Duck. A documentary that follows 6 artists who enter their drawings into the apparently popular and lucrative annual Federal Duck Stamp design contest. Surprisingly dramatic.

Persepolis. Loved this graphic novel’s high-contrast black and white illustration style. Perfect mix of a girl’s light and funny memoir with the high drama of the Iranian revolution.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. It’s fun to watch Jim Carrey go full Method for Man on the Moon now, from a distance, but it looked like a nightmare for everyone else at the time. The Truman Show remains Carrey’s apex.

High Society. Great sick-day movie: Grace Kelly (in her final role) with a lot to do, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra quippin’ and singin’ around a mansion, plus a superfluous but lovely Louis Armstrong performance, in a funny and charming Philadelphia Story/Casablanca rehash that gives everyone a chance to shine. Hard to believe Kelly was only 26 when she retired from acting.

Phantom Thread. I realized pretty quickly this was a dark comedy, which helped me enjoy it in the moment. But not as much as everyone else seems to enjoy it. Pretty sure I was the only one laughing in my screening.

Ingrid Goes West. Taylor’s beefcake, possibly sociopathic bro holding valuable information hostage is the perfect metaphor for Silicon Valley right now, as is this movie overall.

Moonstruck. Can confirm that the conventional wisdom about this movie—”Nicholas Cage and Cher together in a rom-dramedy that strangely works well”—is correct.

School of Rock

“We’re not goofing off. We’re creating musical fusion.”

The video of a guy drumming to the “Just give up” speech from School of Rock inspired me to rewatch that 2003 Richard Linklater film for the first time in a while.

It’s a meaningful movie for me, coming out when I was in high school and a drummer in a rock band. Our guitarist/singer even had the same Gibson SG guitar that Jack Black’s Dewey uses.

At first, we’re meant to see Dewey as a delusional has-been, if a true believer in rock music’s ability to “change the world.” But in his new role as accidental teacher and musical mentor to a class of talented prep school kids, he finds a positive outlet for his enthusiastic idealism (if under shady circumstances). And his maxims about what rock is really about become sound wisdom for impressionable minds rather than just eye rolling platitudes.

This is evident in the scene where the band comes together to make something new together in Zach’s song. Not only does it capture the excitement of “creating musical fusion” with bandmates, but the smile that emerges on Dewey’s face as he steps back to watch the kids come into their own as musicians is a testament to the joy of creative potential being realized.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout, not even counting the “I have been touched by your kids” scene. You really have to be a Jack Black fan to enjoy most of them, if not the whole movie. But even if you aren’t, I can’t see how he wouldn’t win you over with his relentless, goofy energy and legit talent.

Drumming to Dewey Finn in “School of Rock”

File this under “things I’d never think of but now make perfect sense”: drumming synced to Dewey Finn’s “Just give up” speech in School of Rock.

Incredible. He has a bunch more too, like Willy Wonka and Fawlty Towers.

School of Rock was a formative movie for me. It came out when I was in high school and a drummer in a rock band. I still think of it first when I hear “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. (Thor: Ragnarok second.)

See also: the cast’s 10-year reunion show.

#SheToo: Favorite Films of 2017

The overarching theme of the year in film, to me, was Wonder Women. Not only was the Wonder Woman film good, but in a year when badly behaving men dominated the news, I’m grateful there were so many richly drawn female protagonists who ran the gamut of strong, vulnerable, funny, and complicated, and who made their movies better.

I mean, just consider Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, Elizabeth Olsen in Wind River, Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project, Jenny Slate in Landline, Haley Lu Richardson in Columbus, Jennifer Lawrence in mother!, Meryl Streep in The Post, Jessica Chastain in Molly’s Game, Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion, Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Margot Robbie in I, Tonya, and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, to name a few.

As with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, I hope #MeToo and the new Time’s Up campaign in Hollywood lead to positive change in cinema. (I just realized all the aforementioned actresses are white…) The world benefits from different kinds of stories being told in fresh ways by people who in a different time wouldn’t be able to tell them. More power—and funding!—to those people.

So many films from this year have stayed in my mind. Ranking them felt as arbitrary and borderline sadistic as ranking works of art actually is. I almost took the coward’s way out and listed them alphabetically. But in a bid for clarity and uniformity with my previous best-of lists, here are my favorite films from 2017:

1. The Florida Project

No joke: Brooklynn Prince for Best Actress. Her very real chops as a 6-year-old allowed Tangerine director Sean Baker to wrangle from her a well-rounded, film-carrying performance as Moonee, a wily, incorrigible kid tromping around unsupervised in a low-income motel community. The fragmentary, mosaic-like narrative structure might have dragged a bit here and there, but it also created images that pay off later in the film, like Moonee in the bath. Very well done, with an ending that slams like a motel room door.


2. A Ghost Story

“Casey Affleck in a bedsheet” is technically what most of the movie consists of, but that ain’t the half of it. Focus too much on that and you’ll miss a beautifully shot, melancholic, slyly funny, and mercifully concise meditation on the slipperiness of time and memory. How mesmerizing it is to follow a ghost that is unstuck in time. Pairs well with Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here.


3. Coco

It’s become a cliche to laud the technical advances in film animation, especially from Pixar. But damn: this is a resplendent piece of work, and one that elicited a rare theater-cry from me. With music, family, memory, and a young boy playing a stringed instrument at the center, this makes a great companion to 2016 favorite Kubo and the Two Strings. The soundtrack is available on Hoopla for free with your library card.


4. The Lego Batman Movie

Holy Joke Density, Batman! Like The Lego Movie, every moment is packed with something: action, humor, meta-humor, color, or heart. How is it that an animated superhero movie accomplishes this way better than most human ones? I suppose I should be annoyed by another [Insert Brand Name Here] Cinematic Universe, but I’ll revisit this one any day. After all, friends are family you can choose.


5. Get Out

I don’t like watching horror films, so I was planning on skipping this until the universal acclaim compelled me otherwise. So glad I did because there’s a lot more going on than cheap scares. Speaking of scary: if this is writer-director Jordan Peele’s debut work, what does he have in store for the future?


6. Columbus (review)

Another debut, from film essayist Kogonada, this gorgeous film calls enough attention to its subjects—the modernist architecture of Columbus, IN, and the two sudden companions who take it in—to captivate viewers, but keeps enough distance to inspire pursuit. That’s usually a good formula for great cinema. Bonus points for the library references.


7. Wonder Woman (review)

The only movie I saw twice in theaters this year. What I found powerful about the now iconic No Man’s Land sequence, beyond the single-minded drive and badassery Diana shows in battle, was how it was the culmination of a day’s worth of her being told No over and over again, and choosing to ignore it each time. No, you can’t dress like that. No, you can’t go to the front. No, you can’t brandish your sword. No, you can’t enter this men’s-only room, or that other men’s-only room. No, you can’t stop to help people on the way to the front. No, you can’t go into No Man’s Land. Nevertheless, she persisted.


8. Dunkirk

In a film that’s so short and efficient (by Christopher Nolan standards), Nolan still captures the full scope of war: from the smallest stories of individual soldiers trying to survive and do their duty to the haunting grandness of thousands of soldiers trapped on a beach awaiting their doom. The interweaving timelines from the air, land, and sea might confound at first, but a second viewing confirms they fit snugly together, and build dramatically towards (78-year spoiler alert) the successful evacuation, or Miracle On Sand as I’m calling it.


9. Obit (review)

An eloquent, observant, and superbly crafted documentary by Vanessa Gould on the New York Times obituary writers and the people they cover. It’s the rare instance of the writing process being just as interesting as the writing itself. Now how about a documentary just on Jeff Roth and the Morgue (pictured above)?


10. California Typewriter (review)

Doug Nichol, a commercial and music video cinematographer, finds lots of lovingly framed images and scenes in this documentary about the “People’s Machine” and the people who love them. Between talking heads of famous typers and a reading of the Typewriter Insurgency Manifesto, Nichol’s best decision was picking a subject that is already damn photogenic.


Just missed the cut: I, Tonya, Wind River, mother!, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, A Quiet Passion, The Shape of Water, and Lady Bird

I also liked: The Big Sick, Landline, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Haven’t seen yet: The Post, Phantom Thread, The Square

Entertaining ‘Angels’: which ‘Home Alone’ fake gangster film is the filthiest?

home_alone_filthy_animal-1

Here’s an important question for the Christmas season: which is better, Angels with Filthy Souls or Angels with Even Filthier Souls?

Both share a template: character walks in, gets threatened/insulted by Johnny, gets blown away by Johnny, and gets a memorable kicker. Kevin McCallister also enjoys a smorgasbord while watching both of them, and gets scared by the violence (which is ironic given his casual sadism toward the Wet/Sticky Bandits later in the films). Let’s dig into them to decide:

Angels with Filthy Souls

From Home Alone, it features Johnny and Snakes, who wants his money for “the stuff”:

(Vanity Fair wrote a cool feature on the making of this one.)

Johnny’s Threat/Insult: “I’m gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your ugly, yella, no-good keister off my property, before I pump your guts full of lead!”

Tagline: “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

Angels with Even Filthier Souls

From Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, it has Johnny confronting Carlotta, his two-timing smoocher of a gal:

Johnny’s Threat/Insult: “I’m gonna give ya ’til the count of 3 to get your lousy, lyin’, low-down, 4-flushin’ carcass out my door!”

Tagline: “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal. And a Happy New Year.”

Verdict:

I gotta go with the original. While I like the seasonal application of the latter tagline and reference to four flushing, the threat/insult and tagline in Filthy are perfect ersatz gangster noir lines. I also like how Johnny jumps right from 2 to 10 and that he has a typewriter at his desk.

Little Women

I was a good amount into a post celebrating the 1994 film Little Women when I discovered I was basically writing Alissa Wilkinson’s appreciation of the film at Vox from last year. It’s one of many movies I watched a lot with my sisters as a kid, in rotation with other female-focused ’90s films like Ever After, Never Been Kissed, Return to Me and You’ve Got Mail. (Also the Ace Ventura duology.)

In my mind it was a Christmas movie, but after my latest rewatch I realized it’s not. Its Christmas and winter scenes might be the best ones, but they are only part of the story that follows the passing seasons and growth of a Civil War-era New England family.

This time around I understood more historical context than I could have as a kid, context that grounds the story in its particular time. Jo mentioning the March family’s adherence to Transcendentalism, for instance, and the gravity of Beth contracting scarlet fever in a time of epidemics and poor medicine, which forces uninoculated Amy to be sent away. And despite living in what looks like a nice, big house, the March family is struggling through trying times. Writes Wilkinson:

The Civil War is still taking place when the story begins, Mr. March is away with the military, and money and rations are tight. Meg is embarrassed about her clothing, Amy doesn’t have the faddish pickled limes that her peers trade and eat at school, and things are actually quite difficult.

Navigating these challenges while cohering as a family is what makes the film a delight, and much more than just a Christmas movie. A big part of this is its soundtrack by Thomas Newman, who also scored The Shawshank Redemption in the same year and got Oscar nominations for both films. (The Lion King beat them and Forrest Gump.) The score even sounds like Christmas, writes Wilkinson, with Newman’s

strings, bells, oboes, and some joyful melodic patterns. There’s a hum of happiness to Newman’s soundtrack that reminds me of the season, a buoyancy that portends a new year, new surprises, new life.

In addition to capturing a nostalgic Christmas feeling, the score is exactly what it needs to be moment to moment, throughout the seasons and circumstances. Lush and triumphant at a climactic encounter, tender and dramatic when Jo sells her hair to pay for Marmie’s train ticket to visit their ailing father. (Sidenote: Susan Sarandon was nominated for Best Actress for The Client that year, along with Winona Ryder for Little Women, but she could have earned a nod for that scene alone:)

In one sense: Duh, a good soundtrack should appropriately underscore moments and moods. A great soundtrack like this one, however, makes its film better.

Top films of 2007: will ‘There Will Be Blood’ be there?

Filmspotting’s recent Sacred Cow review of There Will Be Blood inspired me to rewatch it for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and go back and look at my top films of 2007. They were:

1) The Lives of Others (technically 2006, but released in the U.S. in 2007)
2) Once
3) Waitress
4) Zodiac
5) Michael Clayton
6) No Country for Old Men
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
8) Ratatouille
9) Juno
10) 3:10 to Yuma

As you can see, There Will Be Blood did not make the list. I remember in the theater being impressed but bored, which was not the case for its Oscar “rival” that year, No Country for Old Men. Because of that I predicted Blood wouldn’t win Best Picture; compared to the tight plotting and propulsive thrills of No Country, its sprawling scope and tonal opacity would be a tough sell in a popularity contest.

I’d still give Best Picture to No Country. But a second viewing of Blood brought it way up in my estimation. What P.T. Anderson’s films lack in scrutability they more than make up for in production design, soundtrack, and acting prowess. What superlative could I use for Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t already been beaten to death with a bowling pin? The man is mesmerizing. In a 158-minute movie, I couldn’t take my eyes off him for one of them. He shares MVP with the cinematographer Robert Elswit, who similarly has earned the hyperbole around his work.

So where would I rank There Will Be Blood now? Making a new list without rewatching all the films I rated highly but haven’t seen since then, like Waitress and Michael Clayton, is a bit of a fool’s errand. But as it stands now, including the 2007 films I’ve seen since making the list, here’s what it looks like:

1) The Lives of Others
2) Once
3) Zodiac
4) No Country for Old Men
5) Waitress
6) Munyurangabo
7) There Will Be Blood
8) Michael Clayton
9) Ratatouille
10) Into the Wild

Sorry, Juno, 3:10 to Yuma, and Sweeney Todd, but I had to make room for There Will Be Blood, Into the Wild, and Munyurangabo. Honorable mention goes to The Diving Bell and the ButterflyHairspray, and Enchanted. Pretty great year overall!

Family Video to the rescue

Home for Thanksgiving weekend and in the market for a Christmas movie to watch, my sister suggested Die Hard. A great choice for many reasons, one of which being I hadn’t seen it in a while and was due for a seasonal rewatch. Plus my wife hadn’t seen it. (Perish the thought!)

The problem was we didn’t have a copy of it, the library was closed, and it wasn’t on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Instead of picking another Christmas movie, we did something I haven’t done since high school: rented the DVD from Family Video.

Until about ten years ago this was commonplace. I have many fond memories browsing the shelves of Blockbuster, Family Video, Hollywood Video and the like, taking too much time to decide as the evening’s movie-watching time dwindled. Frankly I’m surprised Family Video is still around, but this weekend I was happy for it and for its continuing presence in the cultural landscape.

Yippee-ki-yay, movierenters!

A Ghost Story

“O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted.”
– Thomas Hood, “The Haunted House”

I thought of that poem, used to great effect in Slow West, after seeing A Ghost Story, David Lowery’s breath of a film.

It’s best to know as little as possible about it. But know that it’s a haunting, beautifully shot, melancholic, slyly funny, and mercifully short meditation on the slipperiness of time and memory. Quiet, bathed in natural light, it shows how mesmerizing it is to follow a ghost that is unstuck in time. Pairs well with Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here.

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