The Commuter, 2018 – ★★★

A pulpy bit of fun which evaporates the longer you think about it so don’t. Liam Neeson is surely buying several houses from his second act in show business as the everyman who threatens people down a phone and then kicks ass. The first half reminded me of the early ’90s action films that mixed middle-class anxiety with action; the second half is big boffo set pieces (thought that “one-take” fight sequence with the guitar is very well done). Strange seeing Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in the same film after The Conjuring but here not conjuring anything together. Docked a point for wasting Jonathan Banks. Raised several points for giving the finger to a Gordon Gecko from Goldman Sachs. (That guy should have been thrown out the train on principle.)

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Cam, 2018 – ★★★

Madeline Brewer plays a camgirl whose account is taken over by her doppelganger. Written by a former camgirl, the portrayal of the daily grind of cam sexworkers is very well done, even when it takes a backseat to the supernatural elements. It’s also respectful of sex work, which, this being a horror film, one doesn’t expect. (Reading up on the production, they pretty much created a functioning website that Brewer played off of).

As some other reviewers have said, it doesn’t go far enough and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Once Alice realizes what is happening, the film is in its final act. I wanted to like it even more than I did.

However, while so many digitally shot films are washed out and bland, Cam is a visual treat of secondary colors and cold blues.

(Also of note: so many of the actors are from other Netflix properties, and this film was funded by Netflix, when will Netflix admit it has contract actors like studios of yore?)

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

A Simple Favor, 2018 – ★★★

The story itself is plain guff, a parody of sorts of the Gillian Flynn industry of thriller novels, and has a fatal misstep halfway through which ruins the tone of the film, which is already all over the place to begin with. It feels and looks like a comedy but is also a thriller, and it’s a credit to both Blake Lively and Anna Kendricks who deftly walk a tightrope over this mess. Both actors are just dazzling to watch. Kendricks is in her comfort zone, playing a repressed mommy blogger; Lively commands the screen in every scene like Terence Stamp does in Theorem. It’s a shame she then disappears for the middle of the film.

The two should reunite for a better film.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

High and Low, 1963 – ★★★★½

I have only one friend who can shame me with the classic “YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE?!?!?” and not make me feel bad, and this is how I wound up finally watching High & Low and yes, my friend, you are correct. Amazing film, even among a filmography of other amazing films. Shifting protagonists for each section, each with its own masterclass for filmmakers: The ever changing, never-boring way of shooting many people in one location in the “Heaven” section; the tense and absolutely perfect train section (why isn’t this discussed in film school like the Seven Samurai rain sequence); the noir-ish squalor of the junkie den at the end, contrasted with the flower-surrounded hillside hideout.

The middle section is also a paean to the middle and working classes, as the police question dock workers, railroad workers, and such, and all offer their own expertise formed from years of work. (This sequence could never be filmed now, I think, everybody would be a part-time worker).

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Carnage, 2011 – ★★½

I’d be hard-pressed to call this as a comedy as it only produced a few mild chuckles from me and that’s was solely due to John C. Reilly. It was entirely how I thought this adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s play would go: two nice liberal couples reveal their prejudices as they get sicker and drunker during one hot-house afternoon. I think the problem lies in both casting (Waltz is too duplicitous from the beginning, Foster too brittle), and the director (Polanski, who is pretty pedestrian here in his choices, really it could be anybody) whose understanding of the characters is at odds with the satirical bent the play needs.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Loving Vincent, 2017 – ★★½

So here’s the thing: the craft and/or the gimmick of this film is impressive in terms of the work put into it. (Although aren’t all non-CGI films “hand painted” cel by cel?) But the story on top of this, oy yoy yoy. A Citizen Kane-esque mystery in which Armand Roulin acts as “journalist/detective” trying to answer why Vincent killed himself–it felt forced (heading as it was to ‘based-on-painting’ signposts along the way every five minutes) and in the end too long and kinda boring. It’s the fetishizing of a tormented artist both in story and in technique, and as I watched this from a distance at an outdoor screening, the technique looked like video with an advanced Instagram filter on it. Backgrounds remain static while talking heads run dialog. I guess I was kind of expecting something much more psychedelic and constantly moving, like what happens when animators indeed paint every single frame.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Dallas Buyers Club, 2013 – ★★½

After all the build-up, strangely unaffecting. There’s a whole bunch of hand-wringing over the FDA but none over what the main character does with the club, despite it being sold to us as a *means of making money*. There’s no scene where he worries over his exploitation of patients. There’s absolutely no insight into the people of the DBC, including for whatever reason the guy who turns up at the start of the club and is turned away for only having $50 (of the $400 needed to join) and then returns later with the full amount. He’s never talked to or considered, so why show him? Sadly, it feels like another Oscar trap of “look how these actors changed their appearance” instead of a story.

2013 feels a lonnnnnnng way away, but in saying so, that’s a good thing.

And what’s with Rayon’s boyfriend (?) character being given basically nothing to do in his scenes? And giving Ron this “I just want to ride a bull again” ending is just…sigh. Perfunctory.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Persepolis, 2007 – ★★★½

Another film watched outside at the Sunken Gardens in Santa Barbara. I liked the loose narrative of this film, the way it didn’t seem to be hewing to a narrative arc, especially when it bounced out to Austria in the middle. And then there was a musical number in the middle! My only problem was that it just seemed to end after promising an resolution.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

BlacKkKlansman, 2018 – ★★★★

There’s a few 20-20 Irony nods to the racist in the White House (before the ending of course) here, but considering that Spike Lee’s first ever film was a rebuttal to “Birth of a Nation” (having had to sit through it in film school), this film more importantly brings him completely full circle in righteous anger. A black man working inside the white man’s machine–it describes the film and Lee himself. Funny, suspenseful, and infuriating in turns (or all at the same time), this and “Sorry to Bother You” are the true films of this particularly dysfunctional American summer.

Some critics here make a good case for the film’s weaknesses–Adam Driver’s character never resolves, several other threads are dropped, racist cop is way too comically evil, etc.–but as a whole the movie is a bomb thrown against the establishment. And who else is going to give over a full 5 minutes to Harry Belafonte (gawdblessim!!) and also hire Isiah Whitlock, Jr. for one scene just so he can drop his most famous line from “The Wire”? Nobody except Spike Lee.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Game Night, 2018 – ★★★½

Surprising to find a mainstream Hollywood comedy so full of laughs and humor. For one thing, the set-up (a murder mystery night that involves a real kidnapping) is funny in itself, as the various players don’t take it seriously for most of the film. And the other thing is a cast of skilled comedic actors playing it straight. Plemons does his psycho thing well, although at some point he might want to start working against type. Bateman n McAdams make a good couple. African-American couple get sidelined a bit, part of the film’s weakness. But it never flags, and it’s well worth your time. No doubt the film will be forgotten, so seek it out.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills