Grease (1978) (PG-13)

I don't think it comes to anyone's surprise that I didn't care for "Grease". The problem is that a lot of people do. I've made no hesitancy to share my distaste for other "great" movies like "The Godfather" or "The Shining" but it's hard to feel credible when you have to balance objective and subjective points of view. Subjectively I don't care for "Grease" and objectively I think it's only so-so.
The movie isn't a spectacle musical like "An American in Paris" or even something like "The Sound of Music". It's songs are fairly catchy but you won't find them as ingrained in our culture as Julie Andrews's solos or something out of "Chicago". What am I trying to say? The movie is more about its style than itself as a film.
The movie drops us into a very chic and well-coiffed 1970s highschool where all the kids have one thing on their mind: their GPA and being respectable. Hah! LOL no that's no it. All these kids want to do is have sex with each other, but being raised in America where everyone has icky feelings towards what happens in the dark, a lot of these 30 year olds playing highschoolers pretend that they've never had sex before. A lot of the songs condemn people who maintain their virginity or exalt the wonders of sex itself. It's no wonder all of us are kind of messed up.
Danny (John Travolta in an iconic role) is the leader of the greaser gang at school. The T-birds are the cool rebel kids with greased back hair, James Dean attitudes, and leather jackets. Like "West Side Story" before it, "Grease" gives the viewer a lot of different clicks that intermingle. It's kind of a gang story but without all the poignant racism commentary and interesting character development.
The Pink Ladies are led by Rizzo (Stockard Channing). These girls are not quintessential ladies, instead they're scrappy and intelligent, seen as the foils to the T-birds. Then there's the Scorpions who are the faceless villains of the movie. We see the leader, but he doesn't really have a personality and we don't really know anything about him other than he really doesn't like Danny and company.
In the first scene, Danny has found love in Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) but she won't "give it up" and she's going back to Australia anyway so he returns to Rydell Highschool and continues in his life of rebellious teen angst.
Meanwhile Sandy is actually not going back to Australia, but instead, coming to Rydell where we are sure the two will meet again under different circumstances. Ooh, intrigue. Can you feel my interest slowly draining out of my head? I hope so.
So the movie continues and the infamous songs get more infamous and we begin to wonder how anything like this was ever acceptable in 1978. This movie features such strange curiosities like an older man being disgustingly flirtatious with a highschool girl, a conversation about a broken condom, and references to masturbation. Not that any of that is bad, but for a movie that seems to tip-toe the line between condemning highschool kids for being sexual and yet flaunts that very sexuality, it's no wonder the best part of "Grease" is the fashion.
The shirts are tight, the poodle skirts are poodle-y, and the hair is very big tonight, Phyllis.
The plot shifts half-way through to include the rivalry between the Scorpions and the T-birds. It's a forced move that leads to a clunky race-car conclusion.
For all its fun set pieces and dance numbers I can't help but wonder if this movie would have worked better as one of these moments it features: just an hour long American Bandstand dance-off. Maybe then we could have cut out all the characters who didn't feel real.
Just look at how the film treats Frenchy (Didi Conn) as the butt of so many jokes. It's not that her presence is unwanted, but her mood seems to swing with her hair colors. She's sort of the moral center of the movie's commentary. Go back to school.
But maybe that's what I need to do. So if you want me, I'll be catching up on homework and trying to forget that "Grease" is a thing.

Score: ★★

A Room with a View (1985)

There's nothing quite subtle about James Ivory's "A Room with a View". It's a quintessential "British" movie, so much so that comedians like Eddie Izzard have mocked the piece for being the marker for which all Americans measure British culture. It's hard to not be charmed by the upper class semantics and romances, the small gestures and letter writing and world traveling. It's simply charming, and yet, somewhere beneath the petticoats and the hoop dresses and the parasols, there is a quite a sensual nature to the piece.
For the first half of "A Room with a View", I was unimpressed with its trajectory. It seemed to just be flirting around the lives of the privileged, which is fine enough, but there's only so much voyeuristic jealousy that I can handle on a daily basis. Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) and her cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith) are visiting Florence. There, they find a plethora of interesting people and among them are an odd familial couple: father and son. The Emersons (Denholm Elliott and Julian Sands) are vacationing in Italy. Ever the eavesdropper, Mr. Emerson hears Charlotte complaining to Lucy that they failed to acquire a room with a view in the hotel they are staying at. He swiftly volunteers to switch rooms with the ladies so that they can view Florence in its beauty.
So begins an illustrious painting. Because that's what the movie is: more art of the eyes than of the brain. Its plot is so simplistic and often derived that it becomes difficult to take seriously. Yet, the landscape of Italy, the disposition of chastity, and the undeniable eroticism to the piece make up for the lack of originality or interesting conventions.
Ivory is a good storyteller, he doesn't have any spectacular way of twisting the movie to make it more compelling, but sometimes this basic approach works. Lucy and George Emerson seem destined to be together, since they obviously have a chemistry. Every time they pass in the hallways, the camera notes how their bodies shift and drift towards each other. The sexual tension is palpable. But some people are born to cock block and at the littlest provocation, Charlotte decides that it's time to curtain the adventure and return home.
So they come back and immediately Lucy is proposed to by Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis), a man of books and little knowledge on how to pleasure a woman. After all, we're being taught that making out is more fun than being intellectual. And to a certain extent, I think I'd agree. I mean, I'd rather have been making out through "A Room with a View". But that's not the point.
The point is that the movie is a sexual awakening for Lucy. Two hours of her realizing what and how she wants to be taken care of and if you think I'm reading too much into this, one moment in Florence in which she witnesses a street fight seems to prove my opinions. Let's just say there isn't that much phallic imagery in "The Exorcist". It's pretty ridiculous.
Okay, my snob is showing.
The camera captures the beauty of Italy and the wealth of the upper class effortlessly. Although I'm a great fan of Helena Bonham Carter, this is not one of her finest moments. Julian Sands, when he's not reciting his motto in the tops of trees, is undeniably sexy.
I guess the biggest takeaway from the movie is that, underneath all the graces and facades, there is a surprising amount of full-frontal nudity. But always with class.

Score: ★★★

Deadpool (2016) (R)

Surely, you've heard about "Deadpool" by now, and if you haven't, I won't be the one to explain the story. This isn't a movie that thrives on its plot, because with all of its quirky one-liners and fourth-wall breaking, the core of "Deadpool" is something fairly contrived. That's what makes it fun. It realizes that the plot is really basic, so it can make all the jokes it wants at the expenses of the studio, the Marvel-verse, Ryan Reynolds, and the super-hero genre as a whole. One would think with this amount of snark and sarcasm thrown at its predecessors, it wouldn't attempt to follow their trajectories...but then we realize that maybe "Deadpool" isn't as ground-breaking as it would like.
Okay, fine, I lied. I'll set up the idea: hired gun Wade (a surprisingly hunky Reynolds) gets cancer and in order to beat the illness, he allows a British mad scientist/mutant Ajax (Ed Skrein) to torture him for months. The result leaves him scarred and seeking vengeance...and also a person with super abilities. As he tells us many times after adopting the name Deadpool, he isn't a hero.
"Deadpool" couldn't have been made three years ago. I'm not talking about the uphill battle Reynolds and cohorts had to face to make the movie, I'm talking about the history of superhero movies. Within the last three years studios and audiences have realized one thing: popular culture can't get enough of superheros. Some of the biggest movies in history have been mutant action flicks like "The Avengers" or "Guardians of the Galaxy" or really take your pick of any of Marvel's larger films and you'll realize that this is a trend that isn't about to fade. So "Deadpool" comes along and fits nicely into the niche that was waiting for it: unashamed mockery.
I think it would be a disservice to call the movie a satire, because that's not exactly it. It's more of a horror comedy super hero action "Annie Hall". Imagine if Allen had filmed "The Avengers" instead of Joss Whedon and you're in the right ball park.
Yet there's a problem here. For as fun and likable as the whole movie is, it really isn't ground breaking. Films have been mocking their respective genres for a long time, this is just the first time it had a mask and bad ass fighting abilities. Think of Monty Python, "Fight Club", Michel Haneke, or Woody Allen.
That doesn't mean this can't be fun; but it does help us understand why some people have reacted negatively to "Deadpool's" sense of creating a genre. There is nothing horribly original to the movie, nothing outlandishly shocking, nor blisteringly sarcastic.
It's probably the most entertaining thing I've seen in a very long time, including the new "Star Wars" movie. "Deadpool" proves that you don't have to be a mindless action movie to be a magnificent success. The movie excels in every scene. It's brutal, uncomfortable, emotional at times, and always sarcastic. It's never cruel to the viewer like "Funny Games", but it could be. It makes me wonder what it would have been like had "Deadpool" been an independent movie; but maybe that's a rabbit trail I shouldn't go down.
It should be noted, as with most all reviews like this, that I haven't read any of the Deadpool comics, so I have no idea how loyal or disloyal the movie is to the comics. What I do know is that at the base of the movie, through all the graphic violence, gratuitous nudity, testicle jokes, and almost cringe-worthy antics, there is a very childlike moral.
All that glitters is not gold.
Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.
Okay, yeah, so we get it, but it was much more entertaining to see it in "Deadpool".
Do yourself a favor, go watch this movie in the theater.

Score: ★★★½

Drown (2015) (Unrated)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Have you ever seen a hazing? Maybe you've just heard about them. Upon hearing or seeing did you think to yourself, "damn, that's hot"? Because I'm pretty sure Dean Francis did. Everything in "Drown" is supercharged with a homophobic lens that can't help but eroticize every single action in the movie. It ogles men's bodies, noting their muscular physique, the story makes sure that almost all screen time is eaten up with speedos and beach bodies, dripping in sweat. This is more homoerotic than "Top Gun".
But there's a danger to this. The film's protagonist is so avidly homophobic and closeted that he is willing to go through any lengths to maintain his rigid heterosexuality, while compulsively putting himself in situations that demand a certain level of homosexuality.
Len (Matt Levett) is a head lifesaver on a beach in Australia. He likes drinking, swimming, and being the best at both. For five years in a row he has won a regional swim match and for five years in a row he has been awarded the top lifesaver award for the club he represents. Everything changes when a new guard gets introduced into the mix. Phil (Jack Matthews) is an attractive, curly headed, softer-spoken guard who Len becomes radically obsessed with upon first sight.
The film is structured so that we aren't quite sure of the linear progression until the very end of the movie. The chronology is fractured and thus part of the fun is having to put the pieces back together. Unfortunately, unlike a movie like "Memento", when the pieces assemble they don't attempt at anything dramatic. Or rather, they try desperately and fail so badly we can't help but give the benefit of the doubt that this drama was not their intention.
Len seems privy to Phil's life in an oddly stalker-ish fashion. We see him sitting and staring off into the distance and pining over Phil, who has found a gay lover and seems to be settling down into something quite romantic. The film makes sure we notice how agitated Len is when he thinks about all the sexual moments Phil and his boyfriend find themselves in. The problem them arises that Len desperately wants to experiment with homosexuality but he can't because his father was so intensely homophobic it seems drilled into his being.
The issue with the film is its culmination/beginning. Because of the broken timeline, the movie starts with Len and his buddy Meat (Harry Cook) dragging Phil out onto the beach to haze him. This 'hazing' as I'm calling it, is more of a straight up assault but it presents a lot of issues concerning masculinity. Meat finds himself not wanting to comply as the events start to escalate and Len keeps upping the ante while Phil is so drunk he has to go along.
It's uncomfortable to say the least, mostly because we are supposed to care for Len, to feel his pains. He obviously has some sort of psychological issue that prompts him to keep thinking about death. The motif of a woman committing suicide by swimming out to sea keeps returning to Len. Since he begins the movie talking about the end of the world, we have to note as the film reaches its climax and everything starts to madly swirl together, crashing down on Len.
To be sure, there's a lot to be analyzed here; but that's not the issue. The issue is I think this analysis springs from a lack of intelligence. I don't think Dean Francis meant to make a movie like this. It is evident that he did not by the constant eroticism that permeates the screen.
Of course, I could be wrong. It could all be Len's mind and how every male body is so attractive and sexual to him; but I don't think that's it...and if it is, the film has one big plot moment I take issue with. Meat remembers his childhood in one scene and how he was bullied into showing his penis to some of the other boys. Being very well-endowed earns him his nickname, but that's not exactly the point here. Why does he get to control the narrative for one moment if this is entirely Len's movie? Furthermore, why does Len know everything about Phil and his boyfriend, including their sex life? Unless of course, this is all just "close eyed fantasy" as Len tells Meat in a scene.
As the film winds to a close the monstrosities get more and more bizarre until the commentary the movie could have been pushing for vanishes completely
It attempts to make the whole assault on Phil somehow sexy. The camera ogles his body, and Len can't seem to help but molest Phil, letting his hands wonder everywhere on his body. Their hips get pushed together, their lips almost meet, and in one particularly bizarre moment, Len forces Phil to gag himself and vomit. Len's fingers disappear into Phil's mouth and he begins pumping in and out and in and out, this goes on for a long time until finally Phil vomits and Len falls back on the ground with Phil on his chest, both of them heaving like they just orgasmed. What right does this moment have to be in the movie? Unless it's all about the hyperbole in which case, I find myself not interested.
This is Len's movie, not Phil's.
Len, who attempts to mirror the actions of the woman who swims out to sea and ends the movie this way. He, rigorously proving his masculinity and manhood to himself, swims and swims and fades from the narrative. Phil is left on the beach and the last shot of him is looking at to the ocean, wondering what happened to Len.
While the movie could be trying to help us rethink masculinity as a concept so as not to injure ourselves and others, I think it's just not that smart.
The movie is cheap, offensive, but it flirts with such odd concepts and such powerful images that it can't help but be vaguely interesting. I think in different hands, with a different director, this could have been great. Instead, I just feel sort of sick and confused.

Score: ★★

The Great Dictator (1940)

It's ironic that such an iconic silent movie star would be well known for one of his only speaking roles. "The Great Dictator" places Charlie Chaplin in the highest golden strata of cinema for a moving propaganda piece (for it really is) that remains curiously serious amidst all of its slapstick jokes.
The movie begins with a statement that any resemblance the two lead characters bear to any real person is completely coincidental which, of course, is bullshit. "The Great Dictator" could possibly be mocking any foreign dictator of great power, but it's not. This one is aimed right at Hitler. The titular character's name is Hynkel and whenever his subjects salute him it's with the stiff armed Nazi salute accompanied by "Heil Hynkel". Plus, the made up language that Hynkel speaks in sounds a great deal like German. Probably not so coincidental.
That's not really important though.
The movie begins with the country of Tomania laying siege to the surrounding countries. The leader, this Hynkel character, is kind of attracted to the idea of world dictators generally are. One of his soldiers, a barber also played by Chaplin, rescues a man in a plane and gets knocked on the head, waking up later with amnesia.
He returns back to his barber shop in the ghetto where he shop is right up to a rebel pretty girl named Hannah (Paulette Goddard). She's trying to fight the occupation of the military single handedly and, because this is a comedy, she hasn't gotten shot yet.
What "The Great Dictator" fails to do is present Chaplin at his finest. An often quoted axiom of his was to note the separation of tragedy and comedy as quite small. In 'The Great Dictator", it's only pure satire and low on emotions at all. We feel for Hannah and the unnamed protagonist, but much of the movie is split in half, watching the dictator flounder around, making an ass of himself to foreign dignitaries. This is unusual because both comedy and tragedy were usually embodied in Chaplin's tramp characters. Does this make the movie less successful? Well, as an empathetic, emotional, satisfying experience I think yes. But as propaganda, no. It's incredibly successful.
There's nothing terribly twisted about the plot. Nothing jumps out and scares you. I can understand how, in 1940, this would have been much more influential and motivating; but in 2016, there is no current war so its call to arms, to reboot democracy, sort of just seems out of place.
In its historical context, I understand why this is a great movie. On its own, it's not Chaplin's best.

Score: ★★★