Find Me At Screen Rant

Friday, October 4, 2019

Joker

JOKER

** SPOILERS **

Watching Joker, I imagined how his Gotham arch criminal cohort, Harvey Two-Face, must feel like all the time. I was of two minds watching director Todd Philips' film: it's impossible to deny that Joker is a stunning cinematic achievement from an acting, direction, production, and cinematography standpoint. Joker creates a startlingly authentic Gotham City (New York City overdosed on steroids and vomit) circa 1981 and plunges a degenerate fiend into the very heart of it. Alternately, Joker is a grotesque journey into that degenerate fiend's heart and mind; sometimes the movie asks you to empathize or sympathize with Joker and his miserable - unfair in certain ways - existence, but in the end, it's impossible to (and if it isn't, if you agree with Joker, please keep it to yourself). Joker is the riveting and absorbing tale of who the murder clown is and how he came to be but, to quote his predecessor Jack Nicholson's Joker 30 years ago, "I didn't ask."

A supernatural Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, the sad sack who is destined to become the Joker. Life hasn't been good to him; physically and psychologically abused as a child, Arthur developed a neurological condition that makes him laugh hysterically at inappropriate times. He's on 7 different types of medication and none of it seems to help. Perpetually down on his luck, misunderstood, and offputting, the laughter makes him a pariah and a target of ridicule and abuse. He's eternally puffing on a cigarette held by fingers with nails he's chewed off. Arthur dreams of "bringing joy and laughter into the world" by becoming a standup comedian but he is the opposite of funny. Scoping out nightclubs and scribbling notes and his own original "jokes" as he surveys stand up comedians, Arthur can, at best, replicate the physical beats but he has no understanding of actual humor. Yet, Arthur worships Gotham's favorite late-night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) and yearns to be his guest and make the audience laugh.

Instead, Arthur ekes out a grim and thankless living as a clown for hire until, one day, he brings a loaded gun into a children's hospital, which gets him fired. This puts his dire financial situation in even more jeopardy since he is the lone caregiver of his elderly and sick mother, Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy). Mother Fleck subsists by writing desperate letters to Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), Gotham's top billionaire who's making a bid to become Mayor; Penny was a maid for the Waynes in the 1950s and claims that Arthur, whom she nicknamed Happy, is Thomas' bastard son. She dreams, in vain, of the great Thomas Wayne whisking them both away from their squalor.

One night on a train, Arthur's uncontrollable laughter provokes three drunken Wayne Finance stockbrokers who were about to molest an innocent woman. The assholes violently attack Arthur, who pulls out his gun and shoots them all dead - this is the flashpoint that gives birth to the Joker, or rather, released the Joker within Arthur - while also setting off a powderkeg in Gotham. Suddenly, Gotham's underclass regard the Clown Vigilante as a hero, which sparks protests and riots with hundreds of people donning clown masks. To Arthur, it means he's finally being seen and he takes it as proof of his existence. But when he discovers that his mother believes he's the son of Thomas Wayne, Arthur decides to visit Wayne Manor: he gets as far as the gate but he meets the 8-year-old Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson), who is destined to be his greatest enemy in a future we'll never see (of this version anyway), but we also know Batman and Joker are destined to do that dance forever. When Arthur forces his way into Wayne Hall to confront Thomas Wayne, his "father" (who really isn't) disappoints him with a punch to the face. The final straw that breaks Arthur and turns him into Joker is when he learns his mother was an inmate in Arkham State Hospital, was delusional about Thomas, adopted young Arthur, and she stood by while he was abused as a child. Admittedly, matricide is a crime the Joker hadn't committed before but Joker checks that off his long list of career murders.

Powerfully (and quite obviously) evoking producer Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, the newly and fully clownified Joker achieves his dream of appearing on The Murray Franklin Show. To say Joker a nightmare guest is an understatement but it's in the crucial final act that Joker and Joker shift the blame fully onto society for his crimes and murders. It's true Gotham's brutality bears the brunt of the blame for Arthur Fleck's miserable life but his multiple murders are, ultimately, no one's fault but Joker's. And yet, rather sickeningly, Joker is held up as a hero, applauded by the clown-masked rioters who have 'taken Gotham back' in their "Kill The Rich" riots - which includes Thomas and Martha Wayne (Carrie Louise Putrello), who are shot dead in an alleyway by a Joker acolyte (as they are destined to be), leaving young Bruce an orphan. 

What we're left with at the end of Joker is the awe that is due for an admittedly mesmerizing display of cinema attempting to elevate the 'comic book movie' to the level of high art coupled with the harrowing feeling of watching an empty vessel caked in clown makeup murdering people who 'aren't nice to him' unchallenged. There's nothing aspirational or inspirational in the Joker's origin and his self-actualization is Joker embracing his destiny as a homicidal maniac, so... ha ha? Altogether, Joker is simultaneously enthralling and disturbing, absorbing and repellant. Most of all, Joker illustrates how much he needs Batman and, further, how much any Joker story needs the counterbalance of Batman - even more specifically, Joker proves how much we, the audience, need to see the Joker punched in the face by Batman over and over. Many Bat times and many Bat punches.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Downton Abbey

DOWNTON ABBEY

** SPOILERS **

Downton Abbey, creator Julian Fellowes and director Michael Engler's splendid feature film of the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning TV series, is a pristine snowglobe where you peer into a lost and impossibly luxurious world that may never have existed quite like that but that's escapism of fantasy, isn't it? Downton Abbey picks up 18 months after the series finale and continues the stories of the Crawley family upstairs and the dauntless servants who live downstairs. As always, there's so much to do and there's no time for introductions; just as one cannot simply enter the magnificent estate of Downton Abbey and poke around willy-nilly, the film isn't for first-timers or someone just wandering in off the street. You have to know your Lady Marys from your Mr. Molesleys to truly appreciate what's happening. Downton Abbey may be for fans only but for the devotees, this is a glorious reunion that puts everyone's best foot forward.

When Downton Abbey begins, tremendous news arrives: King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are touring Yorkshire in the North of England and will stay at Downton for the night. This is a great honor for the Crawley family - Robert, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery), Tom Branson (Allen Leech), and Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) - but for the servants below-stairs, the arrival of the Royal staff only means one thing: invasion. Chuffed that the Royal Family will sample their food and hospitality, Downton's irrepressible servants Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol), Daisy (Sophie McShera), Andy the Footman (Michael Fox), Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), Mrs. Baxter (Racquel Cassidy), Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) are furious when Mr. Wilson, the Royal Butler (David Haig) and the snooty Royal Chef Monsieur Courbet (Philippe Spall) lay down a new pecking order: they have all been replaced by the King's men and women. Meanwhile, Lady Mary is concerned that Barrow (Robert James-Collier) isn't up to snuff as Downton's butler and recruits Carson (Jim Carter) to return to lead the staff and defend Downton's reputation. Carson, surprisingly, finds himself in over his head but so does Barrow, who discovers his first gay night club and gets himself in trouble. Luckily, his new friend, the King's valet Mr. Ellis (Max Brown) is there to bail him out. 

While all that happens downstairs, there's plenty of drama upstairs. Indeed, Downton Abbey has more characters and concurrent storylines than Avengers: Endgame. Violet is ready for a confrontation when she hears her distant cousin Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) is joining the King and Queen at Downton; Bagshaw refuses to name Robert Crawley the heir to her estate and instead plans to leave it all to her maid Lucy (Tuppance Middleton) - which prompts Isobel, Baroness Merton (Penelope Wilton), Violet's best frenemy, to serve as peacemaker. Captain Chetwode (Stephen Campbell Moore), a mystery man, recruits Branson - who's both Lord Grantham's son-in-law and an Irish Republican - for some sort of plot against the King. Edith, now Marchioness of Hexam (Laura Carmichael), arrives with her husband Bertie, the Marquess of Hexam (Harry Hadden-Paton) with happy news that she's pregnant but she receives unhappy news that the King requires Bertie to go on a tour of Africa just as their child will be born. The Crawleys also learn that Princess Mary (Kate Phillips) is unhappy in her marriage - oh, the Royals! They're just like us!

With so many characters and stories and so much opulence and pageantry, it's fascinating who falls into mere supporting roles (Lord Grantham, Mr. Bates) and who emerges to the forefront. As much as anyone's, the movie belongs to Tom Branson, Daisy, and Anna Bates. Anna masterminds the defense of "the glory of Downton". She leads the revolution downstairs where Downton's staff engineers the dismissal of the King's people so that they would have the honor of cooking and serving the royal dinner - which Mr. Molesley almost ruins in the film's most gasp-inducing moment. Daisy, more confident and spirited than ever, reveals that she's not a monarchist and asserts herself throughout the film before deciding it's time to marry Andy (a story thread that will perhaps be picked up in a sequel). And cheerful, noble Branson is literally the hero of the hour: he prevents a dastardly assassination plot on the King and finds a new romance with Lucy, who, it really comes as no surprise to anyone who remembers Lady Edith's storyline with Marigold, is actually Lady Bagshaw's daughter. Of course, if Tom marries Lucy, her vast inheritance would go to him - a delicious scheme Violet is calculatedly perpetrating from the shadows. Speaking of Violet, there's a moment between her and Lady Mary that harkens back to Spock telling Valeris that she is meant to succeed him in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country that's both sad and lovely - no doubt, it will work out better for the Crawleys than it did the Vulcans.

Despite the rich drama (and the notable absences of Lily James as Lady Rose and Samantha Bond as Aunt Rosamund), there is lovely heart and humor all throughout Downton Abbey and nary a villain to be found upstairs. Even the King and Queen turn out to be decent and affable people who are "quite used to people acting strangely" around them. Indeed, the film, like Downton Abbey the series, is about second chances, looking closer past a facade to find the (often beautiful) truth underneath, and celebrating people above and below, in all stations of life. Thankfully, Downton Abbey saw no need to reinvent the wheel or transform what the series was into something it isn't to please the masses. As a feature film adaptation of a beloved TV series, Downton Abbey is superior to and more fulfulling than its peers like X-Files: Fight The Future, Star Trek Generations, and the Veronica Mars movie. Downton Abbey, like the great house, the Crawley family, and the traditions they cling to, refuses to change (too much) and, in these troubled times, that's its greatest and most reassuring strength.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

IT: Chapter Two

IT: CHAPTER TWO 🎈🎈

** SPOILERS **

In IT: Chapter Two, the Losers Club return to their haunted home town of Derry, Maine after 27 years to solve the same problem they faced as tweens: How do you kill a CGI clown? In IT: Chapter One, they beat IT with the power of friendship, a united front, and by hitting it over and over with whatever blunt instruments they had on hand. But IT, also known as its preferred form (for some reason), Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard), is awake again and launched a new reign of terror over Derry. The lone Loser who remained in town, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) sends out the TroubAlert ordering the rest of the Losers back to Derry to honor the solemn vows they made as children. They all shit their pants when they get the call and they continue shitting their pants all throughout IT: Chapter Two as the Losers face their old enemy and the memories of the horrific trauma they all suffered at the hands of IT.

Structurally, IT: Chapter Two is something to behold - and you're forced to because the movie three hours long and feels it. Just as the adult Losers are plunged in a cycle of repetition as they remember the awful moments of the summer of 1989 (when none of them watched Batman), the audience is also plunged into a cycle of repetition. IT: Chapter Two takes about a half-hour to check in with each Loser and how they're doing in their adult lives before they reluctantly return to Derry. Then, once they're back in Derry and meet for Chinese food, they split up like an old Justice League comic book and we have to follow each individual Loser as they collect a special magical token and confront their memories of events we didn't see in IT: Chapter One. The young actors who played the Losers, including Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, Jaeden Martell as Bill Denbrough, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom, Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier, Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon, Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak, and Wyatt Oleff as Stanley Ulis, return in the flashbacks and while they don't quite blow the adult actors out of the water, the kids still bring more heart and emotion than their grown-up selves can muster, try as they might.

It turns out most of the adult Losers are doing great, at least on the surface: Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful screenwriter, even though everyone hates the endings he writes, including director Peter Bogdonavich. Ben (Jay Ryan) is a rich architect. Richie (Bill Hader) is a successful stand-up comedian, even though he still tells the same foul-mouthed jokes he did when he was 12 and didn't evolve his material to be more sophisticated. Eddie (James Ransone) is a successful NYC business guy of some sort. Stanley (Andy Bean) is also rich and married.  Poor Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a millionaire fashion designer but she's trapped in an abusive marriage (and she has the scars on her wrists to prove it, which none of the Losers ever mention). Only Mike is living in a ramshackle fashion in the attic above the Derry Library, but he's spent 27 years communing with Native Americans trying to figure out a way to kill IT. Yikes, look how long this review is already just name-checking everyone and trying to get up to speed. I haven't even mentioned the other characters from Chapter One that reappear, like Beverly's sicko dad and Henry Bowers, the psychopathic bully who turned into a psychopathic adult bully/killer/servant of Pennywise. Also, Stephen King lives in Derry and runs the thrift store because of course he does.

As the Losers get reacquinted with their past lives in Derry, old buried traumas bubble to the surface, always accompanied by Pennywise terrorizing them but never going for the kill for some reason. Bev remembers the postcard she thought Bill sent her but it was really Ben, who loved her from afar and still does. Richie confronts a secret he's long buried (he's gay) that Pennywise taunts him about but no one else discovers and why is it such a big secret in 2016 anyway? (Maybe the reason is this movie contains a sickening amount of literal bashing of gay men.) Bill has to reconcile his guilt where he believes he's the reason that Pennywise killed his little brother back in '89. Eddie has to face that his mom was fat... or something? Poor Stan killed himself rather than return to Derry; he explains this later in a letter that he "took himself off the board" and thereby did the Losers a solid since he's "the weakest one". Meanwhile, Mike has the thankless job of trying to wrangle all of the Losers and explain his half-baked plan to do a ritual to kill Pennywise, using an old Native American thing that has a drawing of six people holding hands (so I guess it's convenient that Stan couldn't make it).

It (and IT) all culminates in the cavernous bowels underneath the obvious haunted house in Derry where the true origin of Pennywise is revealed: IT came from outer space! The malevolent entity is a space alien of some sort and the remains of his meteor are still deep beneath Derry. The Losers have to muster all of their bravery to confront IT in its domain, but unlike when they were 12, only one of them brought a weapon: a fireplace poker fueled by the power of belief. Yet, in the end, the Losers defeat Pennywise not by hitting it with stuff but with a new, even more effective method: by yelling at it a lot and bullying the clown into submission - then they literally tear its heart out and smush it. Sure, why not. And with that, the Losers finally triumph over the ancient evil that infected their hometown, although no one else in the town is any the wiser.

IT: Chapter Two is best broken up into thirds: one third is very good, specifically the children and their relationships back in 1989, which are hearteningly resolved. One third is quite fine, specifically the adult Losers, who labor in the shadows of their childhood selves. The final third is complete schlock, specifically the jarring tonal abnormalities of the relentless comedy awkwardly jammed into this movie all throughout, and also Pennywise himself, a CGI monstrosity that's scary if you're absolutely terrified of pixels. IT: Chapter Two relies on the same moves over and over: LOUD noises and showing the clown briefly behind someone, wait until they turn around, and then the clown attacks them as a PlayStation-caliber CGI thingamajig that they escape by screaming and running away. And yet, despite the machinations of the jump scares, IT: Chapter Two is held together with a poignant underlying message of loyalty, unity, and caring for one another. Just as they did in IT: Chapter One, it's really thanks to the young Losers that IT: Chapter Two is occasionally elevated above being IT: Chapter Schlock.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ready Or Not

READY OR NOT

** SPOILERS **

Regardless of everything else that happened in the gleefully gruesome Ready Or Not, Grace (Samara Weaving) accomplished something none of the X-Men were able to do in 7 movies over 19 years: get married at the X-Mansion. The opulent estate that once housed Charles Xavier and his mutants stands in as the home of the Le Domas family - or the Le Domas Dominion as they like to be called. Grace is overjoyed to marry into a clan of billionaires who created an empire from selling board games and playing cards, but her delight lasts until exactly midnight before the Le Domases hunt her in a deadly game of hide-and-seek. For Grace, the Le Domas family is literally the in-laws from Hell.

Grace is an orphan who grew up in foster homes so the prospect of marrying Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), heir to the dominion, and being part of an actual family is a dream come true for her. But while Alex is the prodigal son, he's no prize: he neglects to tell Grace about his family's little tradition that anyone marrying a Le Domas has to play a game with the family to prove they're worthy of being "one of us". Most times, it's a harmless board game but when Grace draws the card that says "hide-and-seek" from the family heirloom, a black box given to the patriarch Victor Le Domas by a mysterious Mr. Le Bail in the 19th century, the game turns deadly right away. Grace has to hide in the mansion, which is on lockdown, while the family, armed with weapons, hunts her. If she can make it to dawn, she wins - except the family has to kill and sacrifice her or else they'll all die themselves.

The great news is Samara Weaving is sensational and she's all-in as Grace, who literally has to fight off all of her in-laws and endures a night of pure torture. No one has suffered so much to be accepted into a family: Grace is shot and a hole is blown through her left hand, she's bloodied and scarred, she's tranquilized, survives a car crash, is stabbed in the shoulder, and she falls into a pit of goat and human corpses. Grace climbing out of said pit and forcing a nail through the hole in her left hand is one of the standout movie moments of 2019 along with Captain America ordering the Avengers to assemble and Brad Pitt beating a hippie to death by pounding her face into a wall. In fact, Grace can match Pitt in the face-pounding department, as her mother-in-law Becky (Andie MacDowell) found out.

Ready Or Not triumphantly (if a bit awkwardly) weaves black comedy, survival horror, a labyrinthine mythology about the Le Domas' family history, and pointed social commentary about how dirty and rotten the 1% can really be. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have fun staging the whacked-out theatrics but they don't do a particularly splendid job utilizing the geography and layout of the Le Domas mansion to place the audience alongside Grace as she tries to escape her confinement. Along with Weaving, Adam Brody as Alex's conscience-stricken "weak" older brother Daniel is a standout, as is the family's lunatic patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny). Vitally, the ending delivers the goods, with a insanely gruesome sequence of events where the Le Domas family get their just desserts - not unlike how Professor X met his end thanks to Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand. The unforgettable sight of the completely blood-covered Grace at the end is right up there with Florence Pugh covered in flowers at the end of Midsommar as two of the most fucked up climactic movie visuals of the year. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD

** SPOILERS **

Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is a vivid dream of a Tinsel Town that existed once - not quite like that - but we wish it did. A lovingly detailed, freewheeling immersion into the 1969 Los Angeles of Tarantino's memories and desires, Once Upon a Time... is also the most genuinely endearing of the nine feature films he's directed. In fact, not only does Tarantino persuasively recreate the era of 1969 Hollywood, complete with the sights and the sounds of an epic soundtrack, but by the end, Tarantino shockingly does reality one better and saves Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) from the tragic fate that would befall her in real life.

In Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, an actor immensely worried about his place in the burgeoning New Hollywood movement. Rick was the star of a 1950s cowboy show called Bounty Law but he quit to go into the movies, only to get passed over for the lead role in The Great Escape. The guy who got the part? Steve McQueen - something that rankles Rick to this day and partly drove him to alcoholism and endless anxiety. Rick gets a rundown of his career from his agent Martin Schwarz (Al Pacino), who suggests the cure for his career troubles is to spend six months in Rome shooting spaghetti westerns. This confirms it for Rick: "I'm a has-been!" he moans to his best friend and stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt); Cliff calmly replies, "Don't cry in front of the Mexicans."

Honestly, Rick's not doing so badly. He may no longer be a star but he's a working actor who wisely invested in a nice home in the Hollywood Hills. But he gazes longingly at the house right above him on the hill, which is now owned by Roman Polanski, the director of Rosemary's Baby, and his wife Sharon Tate. If Polanski would just cast Rick in one of his movies, that would be his ticket to movie stardom but alas, he's never met his neighbors. Instead, a hungover Rick goes to his guest spot on a pilot for a Western called Lancer, where all of his anxieties rise up. Rick meets Trudi (Julia Butters), an 8-year-old actor who's wise beyond her years and gives him a better peptalk than any adult he knows. When Rick musters up his talent and wows the cast and crew of Lancer, Trudi rewards him with praise he's been longing for: "That was the best acting I've ever seen in my whole life." Better than any five-star review in the papers, Rick's heart is buoyed and he's "Rick fuckin' Dalton" again. With Rick's arc, Tarantino creates perhaps his most endearing lead character; Dalton may be a drunk and temperamental, but thanks to DiCaprio baring Rick's heart to us, he's someone we truly root for.

Meanwhile, Tarantino pulls a more subtle trick with Sharon Tate; without anywhere close to the amount of dialogue Rick gets, Tarantino's camera follows Sharon through some of her adventures, like partying at the Playboy Mansion. The next day, Sharon goes to Westwood Village to buy a book and she decides to go to the movies to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew with Dean Martin. With her bare feet up on the chair in front of her (Tarantino's foot fetish is on full display in this film), Tate listens delightedly as the audience cheers and laughs at all the right places. Purely through her performance, Robbie makes Tate as endearing as Rick Dalton, and we get a pit in our stomach dreading what is bound to happen to her according to history.

While all that's going on, however, Cliff Booth goes on his own adventure. The stuntman is shunned by the Hollywood community because he's known as "the guy who killed his wife and got away with it". (Whether he did or not is up to the audience to believe.) Hence, Cliff sticks close to his buddy Rick and is satisfied being his driver and gofer, despite his poor career prospects. While Rick is shooting Lancer, Cliff picks up a hippie chick named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) he's seen hitching around Hollywood Boulevard. Decades older than her, Cliff knows enough not to do anything that'll land him in jail. Besides, his stuntman sense starts tingling when she says she and "others like her" live in Spahn Movie Ranch, where Cliff worked as a stuntman 8 years ago.

At Spahn Ranch, Cliff unwittingly discovers the Charles Manson Family, though he escapes unharmed never realizing who and what they are. One of the most intense set pieces in the film, the Spahn Ranch sequence also pays off the lecture Rick's agent gives him earlier: Schwarz gives Rick a breakdown on how audiences perceive an actor based on the choice of roles they take. At Spahn Ranch, it all comes into focus: the audience knows and sees Brad Pitt is a movie star so, even though he's surrounded by hippies and in danger, the audience never doubts Cliff could whoop those hippies' asses. And that comes to pass in the film's finale.

In real life, the Manson Family breaks into Sharon Tate's home on Cielo Drive and murders her as well as her three friends staying there. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood brings events right up to the precipice of that grisly tragedy and then inserts an X-factor the real world didn't have: Rick Fuckin' Dalton! In a brazenly bravura action sequence, a very inebriated Dalton and a very high-on-acid Cliff run afoul of the four hippies Manson sent to kill Tate and violently dispatch the hapless interlopers while reaffirming their tried-and-true friendship.

Thus, Quentin Tarantino rewrites history for the better because in his universe, one of the seminal tragedies of 1969 Hollywood never occurred, while he simultaneously reaffirms the power of movie stars. What's more, Dalton's Old Hollywood ended up saving the life of Tate's New Hollywood, while never quite realizing he did so. At the end of Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, Rick finally meets his next-door neighbor Sharon, opening the gate to possibly getting his dream role in a Roman Polanski picture. With that, Quentin Tarantino closes out his fantastic and fantastical dreamland version of 1969 Hollywood - one of his all-time best films - on an unexpectedly uplifting note of hope.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Crawl

CRAWL

** SPOILERS **

Apex Predator All Day

"I never thought it'd end like this," Kaya Scodelario tells her father Barry Pepper in Crawl. No doubt. How could she ever think she'd die in a watery basement eaten by alligators during a Category 5 hurricane? That's a very specific way to die but in Alexandre Aja's Crawl, that's exactly the life or death scenario Scodelario and Pepper find themselves in. Crawl is a perfect storm in more ways than one: beyond just the hurricane, which has caused floods and broken levees in South Florida, it's beyond unfortunate Pepper's house is right next to an alligator farm. Going up against one gator would be bad enough but there are multiple gators in Crawl, each hungry for Scodelario and Pepper's limbs - and they definitely get their licks in.

In Crawl, Scoledario plays a swimmer for the University of Georgia, Gainsville swim team. She's estranged from her father but goes looking for him when a hurricane hits and she finds him unconscious and badly wounded in the filthy crawl spaces of his basement. Unfortunately, Pepper's not alone: there are two gators down there too, with more on the way. That's it, that's the movie - Scodelario and Pepper have to somehow survive as the storm gets worse and worse, flooding the town and turning it into a gator party. Within this simple premise, a father and daughter reconnect and go to extremes to survive. They don't necessarily make it out with all of their limbs intact. They also have a dog, a wonderful pup named Sugar that the filmmakers wisely don't use as gator feed. Mostly a two-person and one doggo show, Crawl has a few extra characters who the gators make mincemeat out of. Meanwhile, Scoledario is in nearly every scene and she's a champ whether she has a medal for swimming or not.

Unlike sharks, the basic factoids of which have seeped into the collective unconsciousness ever since Jaws and the annual Shark Weeks and Sharknados, Crawl takes advantage of the fact that most of us don't really know a lot about alligators (I sure don't). Besides the obvious basics like avoiding the jaws, the ins-and-outs of fighting gators are a mystery, as Scoledario finds out when she dodges a gator's snapping mouth but gets whacked in the face with its tail. We wonder whether a gator attacks because its visual acuity is based on movement, like a T-Rex. And we're not exactly sure if a champion swimmer like Scoledario can swim faster than a gator - but it's fun finding out. The gators act like movie monsters when they need to and come out of the water for jump scares, but they also stay in the shadows when necessary to effectively build tension. 

Crawl starts off a bit like a crawl but then ramps up nicely. Pepper and Scoledario both get bitten quite a bit and are badly injured throughout the movie; it's probably not as easy to shake off multiple gator bites as they both make it seem and, in reality, they likely should both have bled out and died from their nasty wounds. There's one moment where a gator clamps onto Scoledario's arm and takes her on a death roll but at that late point in the film, Scoledario has been bitten so many times that she just takes it in stride as she tries to reach a flare to electricute the gator with. 

Overall, considering how Pepper, Scoledario, and the other actors and crew must have spent weeks in a wet, cold, filthy set, everyone comes out of Crawl looking like champs for their total commitment. Especially Scoledario, who holds the movie together with determination and gusto; she even has to swim through rancid water with her eyes wide open which should earn her an award of some sort just for being a great sport. Crawl is as good a father-daughter v alligators movie as you could ask for. And Crawl could even be a segment from Batman V Superman; when Scoledario and Pepper are on top of their house waiting for help, if they'd drawn a giant S shield on the roof, Superman probably would have shown up hovering over them.

Followers