Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Colt is My Passport Travels To Enjoyable Action Movie Territory

I gotta give a hearty thank you to Patton Oswalt for putting A Colt is My Passport on my radar. A 1967 yakuza-noir movie from director Takashi Nomura, Passport was heavily praised by Patton Oswalt in his Adventures in Moviegoing interview on the Criterion Channel. He called it the kind of movie that produces moments so cool one can't help but shout out "YEAH!" when they occur. Turns out, Oswalt, that cinematic devotee, was right on the money. A Colt is My Passport is an extremely interesting yarn, particularly in terms of seeing how it fuses together so many distinct cinematic influences.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

What Has Happened In The Last Two-and-a-Half Months of the Domestic Box Office?

On March 20, 2020, movie theaters came to a stop.

For the first time in history, movie theaters were suddenly abandoned and no longer showing movies. The entire release schedule for 2020 was thrown into disarray as the theatrical film business, like all other aspects of life, headed into uncharted waters brought out by COVID-19. One of the myriads of repercussions of movie theaters shutting down was that box office obsessives like myself suddenly had nothing to write about every Sunday morning. A Hollywood Reporter essay on the subject, published on March 23, 2020, was peppered with testimonies from box office analysts coming to terms with the new status quo of there being no box office to report.

The Vast of Night Takes Viewers Into An Eerie Sci-Fi Yarn

The Vast of Night makes no bones about its creative influences. It's quite upfront about what types of entertainment it's channeling right from its opening scene. This sequence frames the events of the movie as an episode of a TV show called Paradox Theater, an obvious pastiche for The Twilight Zone. The subsequent film also shares influences with everything from 1980s Amblin productions to the works of Stephen King to War of the Worlds. All of these influences are told in a story about radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and High Schooler Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick). On a seemingly normal night in 1950s Cayuga, New Mexico, a strange sound comes through the local radio station.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Les Miserables Lends an Unflinching Glimpse at Systemic Prejudice

No prisoner 24601 to be found here. Instead, Les Miserables is a 2020 French movie hailing from director Ladj Ly, one that follows an assortment of different lives in Paris, France who find themselves entangled over the course of a single day. This story begins with Stephane Ruiz (Damien Bonnard), a new transfer to the Paris police department. For his first day on the force, he's paired up with Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zonga). It isn't long before both Stephane and the viewer realize that Chris is prone to using his powers as an officer to target citizens of color. Meanwhile, juvenile delinquent Issa (Issa Perica) has sparked conflict in his neighborhood by poaching a lion cub from a circus troupe.

The Banker Is a Disappointingly Rushed and Paint-By-Numbers Affair

Ever since he was a kid, Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) was all about challenging the status quo. A math genius, Garrett has long harbored dreams of being a real estate broker. That's not an occupation usually filled by Black people in the mid-20th century. But again, Garrett's a rebel and he's not about to let the racist status quo hold him back. Eventually, Garrett, after pairing up with Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), begins to create an empire of real estate, one that most people aren't aware they control. That's because Garrett and Morris have had Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) pose as the owner of their business to white investors and fellow business owners. Steiner is the face of the operation but Garrett and Morris are the ones controlling all the cards.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Age of Innocence See's Martin Scorsese Excelling at Period-Era Romance

One of my very favorite things about Martin Scorsese is that his love for all kinds of films is reflected in the variety of genres he's explored as a filmmaker. Yes, he's done a couple of crime films, but he's also done a mystery thriller, a musical, screwball comedy/noir mixture, hell, in 2011 Scorsese embarked on a $165 million budgeted 3D kids movie! Scorsese doesn't just love one type of filmmaking, he loves all films and that's led him to dip his toes into an excitingly wide range of genres over the years. His foray into period-era costume romance cinema, The Age of Innocence, is one of the very best encapsulations of Scorsese's versatility.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Why Wasn't Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time the Next Pirates of the Caribbean?

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

Ten years ago tomorrow, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released in theaters all around the world. Armed with a $150 million budget, Prince of Persia was clearly being modeled after Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Both were Walt Disney Studios productions made with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, both were based on source material that doesn't usually spawn good film adaptations (theme park rides & video games). Heck, Disney even gave Prince of Perisa the late May release date Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End broke box office records in.

Prince of Persia, it turns out, was no Pirates. Grossing a disastrous $90 million domestically, Prince took in just $336 million worldwide on a $150 million budget. Though a better performer than subsequent mega-Disney bombs like John Carter and The Lone Ranger, this was still a disappointing turn that ensured Disney wouldn't be bankrolling further adventures of Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal).

But why exactly did Prince of Persia fail to replicate the Pirates of the Caribbean thunder? Prince of Persia was bad, but were there other reasons this Pirates imitator couldn't go the distance either at the box office or with audiences. Who else wants to break them down in an in-depth fashion? In the process, we'll all probably put more thought into Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time than any of the people involved in making it! Hey-o!

The Story & Characters

Part of what makes The Curse of the Black Pearl such fun to watch is that the three principal characters are all underdogs. Will Turner, for example, is just the apprentice to a local blacksmith. How could he ever earn the romantic affection of a governess like Elizabeth Swan, let alone face off against hordes of pirates? Meanwhile, Jack Sparrow's entire presence in Black Pearl is predicated on him being seen as a drunken buffoon only to actually be a far craftier soul. Elizabeth Swan comes from a more privileged background than Will or Jack. However, she's still got to face the uphill climb of reasserting her own perspective in the face of societal perceptions that, as a woman, her only job is to marry a powerful man.

Prince of Persia wants to be the next Pirates so badly, but it clearly missed this crucial underdog element that defined the protagonists of Pirates. I mean, the title alone makes it clear that the lead character is a dude from a royal background. Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) may have grown up as a street urchin but those days are long behind him once Prince of Persia begins. He's now one of the most powerful men in all of Persia. Dastan is not introduced as a regular person viewers can connect with but rather a guy who lays siege to any cities that even have whispers of carrying weapons that could destroy Persia. He's neither an underdog figure you could root for nor a wish-fulfillment fantasy character you want to be. He's mostly just boring while scenes of him laying waste to the city of Alamut make one wonder why he isn't the villain of the piece.

Female lead Tamina (Gemma Arterton) has no real personality to offer beyond fulfilling dual roles as an expository device and a love interest. Prince of Persia is already sinking based on its two boring lead characters and a similar sense of tedium plagues the supporting cast. Black Pearl wasn't just populated by underdogs. It was also home to a swarm of enjoyable backup players. A man with no tongue but a chatty parrot, Gibbs, Barbossa, Pintel & Ragetti, there are all kinds of amusing members of the cast beyond the central figures. Over in Prince of Persia, though, few in the supporting cast really leave an impression. 

Alfred Molina has moments of comedic inspiration as Sheik Amar but when even Ben Kingsley is phoning it in during a villain role, you know a movie is struggling to deliver distinct characters. Audiences can't survive on spectacle alone. We need characters we can connect to, whose adventures, romances, and triumphs we can get swept up in. Ten years later, does anyone even remember Prince Garsiv of Persia? Is there a moment from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time that stands out as memorably fun? The answer to such questions is "no" and much of that comes down to the forgettable nature of the characters.

Lack of Subversion

Pirates of the Caribbean helped break a massive dry spell for pirate movies. Previously, the likes of Cutthroat Island and Treasure Planet had become such massive box office bombs that it seemed like pirate films were automatic box office poison. But then The Curse of the Black Pearl managed to do something extraordinary. On the one hand, it managed to rejuvenate this subgenre by bringing plenty of new elements to the table. Jack Sparrow was unlike any other pirate in movie history while the central premise of pirates wanting to return, not find, gold was a stroke of subversive genius. But Black Pearl also made no bones about being a pirate adventure. It reveled in "Yo-ho-ho!"'s, rum, pirate flags and every other staple of pirates in pop culture. 

Meanwhile, Prince of Persia belongs to the sword and sandals genre. Whereas Pirates was the first live-action blockbuster in decades to really lend boatloads of money and spectacle to the world of pirate movies, sword and sandals movies have had actually been quite popular prior to Prince of Persia. The Mummy in 1999 and especially the subsequent years' Gladiator brought the genre roaring back to life in the modern era. Since then, tons of other sword and sandals blockbusters tried their best to replicate the Mummy/Gladiator formula. This not only lent less of an event status to Prince of Persia in 2010 but it also meant that it didn't have something to prove.

Pirates had to be subversive to be the first successful entry in the Pirates subgenre in decades. Prince of Persia, meanwhile, relied on a more tired narrative as it planned to ride on the coattails of the success of recent sword and sandal movies. Director Mike Newell didn't plan to reinvent the wheel with Prince of Persia and that led to a problem. For one thing, just from a marketing standpoint alone, the film wasn't all that distinctive. How could Prince of Persia stand out from the glut of Gladiator knock-off's that had emerged in the last ten years? Worst of all, though, it meant that the movie itself was utterly forgettable. Pirates of the Caribbean was a breath of fresh air whereas Prince of Persia was as stale as could.

It Didn't Fit the Disney Brand

We've looked at the artistic reasons why Prince of Persia fell short. Now let's look at a key marketing reason for its box office demise, one that actually reflects a lot about the kind of Disney movies that usually find the most success.

Most movie studios aren't adherent to one type of movie. Certain parts of their past may be (the '30s saw Universal being known for horror,  the '50s saw Columbia being famous for noirs), but not usually the whole studio. Disney, meanwhile, is known for family films and especially ones that utilize brand names associated with Disney. Even when they expand outside of that field a bit to PG-13 blockbusters kids can see, it's usually with brand names like Marvel and Star Wars they've bought outright. In 2020, it's rare to see a theatrical Disney release based on material the studio doesn't outright own.

That wasn't the case as late as 10 years ago. In fact, in 2010, it was still common for Disney to crib intellectual property from other studios. For example, Disney partnered up with Walden Media for the first two film adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia. Narnia may not have been something Disney owned but its family-friendly nature made it a perfect fit for the Disney moniker. On a conceptual level, Prince of Persia, meanwhile, was based on a 2003 video game that didn't have much in the way of family appeal.

Whereas Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl compensated for its darker nature by being based on a property from the Disney family, Prince of Persia always seemed like an odd fit for Walt Disney Pictures. It didn't have a familiar name audience could trust nor was it an original title that had the kind of family-friendly appeal people associated with the Disney name. If Prince of Persia had its own compelling distinct identity, then this whole point would be moot. But being a generic Pirates/Mummy knock-off only compounded problems Prince of Persia had with fitting into the Disney family. Sticking a Disney logo on intense trailers for a PG-13 action movie just made the whole affair seem even more puzzling. Why was this being released by Disney beyond the Mouse Hourse and producer Jerry Bruckheimer wanting another taste of the Pirates of the Caribbean gold?

Writing about how Prince of Persia doesn't really fit into the rigidly-enforced "Disney identity" did give me an amusing vision of what would have happened if Prince of Persia had actually been a box office hit. Would Disneyland have started trotting out parades with some buff guy dressed up as Dastan flipping a sword around on a float right after the Frozen float? Maybe that's in that alternate timeline NASA just found...

In Conclusion...

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was probably always a doomed project. That's not to say a film adaptation of this video game would inherently be bad. Rather, a film adaptation made under the pretense of trying to make the Pirates of the Caribbean lighting strike twice was always going to go poorly. The Curse of the Black Pearl was such an accidental fluke that was enhanced by spur-of-the-moment creative decisions as well as bold story details that subverted pirate movie norms. Meanwhile, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is rigidly going through the motions as it tries to replicate the aesthetic of the Pirates movies and generic sword-and-sandal adventure movies. 

How could Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time ever obtain the free-spirited inventiveness of The Curse of the Black Pearl when it's so busy following in the footsteps of older movies? In the process, $150 million and a prospective franchise went down the drain. If Prince of Persia really wanted to take a cue from the original Pirates movie, it should have allowed its creators to do the bold, the unexpected. Adhering to a formula will only result in formulaic films like Prince of Persia, not the kind of creative gems that spawn hackneyed knock-off's.

Before we all forget Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time for all of time, let's all remember this actual billboard for the movie, which featured its release date in such a massive size that it dwarfed both its title and lead actors. Who needs Jake Gyllenhaal when you've got "MAY 28"?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

An Overstuffed Script Leaves The Rainmaker Dry When it Comes to Engaging Characters

The Rainmaker may sound like the name of a supervillain origin story but it's actually a film adaptation of a John Grisham courtroom novel of the same name. The protagonist of the piece is young lawyer Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon). A devotee to the law and also the owner of a zoo, Baylor finds employment working for a famous lawyer by the name of Bruiser (Mickey Rourke). While working for Bruiser, Baylor partners up with Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), who teaches Baylor the tricks of ambulance chasing. Eventually, Baylor gets entangled in a trio of court cases, the most prominent of which involves helping a family take down an insurance company that denied their son a life-saving procedure.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

It Felt Like Love Is An Appropriately Hard-to-Watch Directorial Debut for Eliza Hittman

Lila (Gina Piersanti) really wants to be like her more experienced friend Chiara (Giovanni Salimeni). Chiara's got a steady boyfriend and has already had sex. In Lila's eyes, that's an easy ticket to adulthood and independence. Thus, she quickly strikes up a relationship with a much older guy named Patrick (Jesse Cordasco). It's all the start of Lila trying her best to change herself to fit her idea of what it means to be "adult". Her hair color changes, she brags about her fictional sexual exploits to anyone who will listen and she even begins to attend rowdy parties. In the process of changing herself so drastically, though, one has to wonder what will be left of Lila when this is all finished.

Kiera Knightley Goes in a Different Direction For The Endearing Laggies

In the year 2014, you could see many unique sights on the big screen. A gun-toting raccoon with the voice of Bradley Cooper made his first foray onto the big screen. Rosamund Pike stabbed Neil Patrick Harris in the genitals. Tom Cruise got run over by a truck while trying to save the world. But perhaps the most unexpected and unusual sight of all came in the indie feature Laggies. Said sight was seeing Kiera Knightley not only in a movie set in the modern world but also playing a lady residing in Seattle, Washington! The queen of British period pieces traveling across the pond to play a struggling twenty-something, what a concept!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Lynn Shelton Embraces Awkwardness and Vulnerability in the Exceptional Comedy Humpday

For much of the history of American comedies, gay panic jokes were as standard of a source of comedy as sleeping on a banana peel. Just because they were ubiquitous doesn't mean they weren't harmful or unfunny. The rampant presence of gay panic jokes no doubt contributed to pop culture broader issue of normalizing the dehumanization and mockery of queer individuals, particularly between men. Throughout the history of cinema, though, plenty of great classic comedies have managed to generate yuks without restoring to a cheap trick like gay panic gags. Among such comedies was Humpday, Lynn Shelton's second directorial effort that, on paper, seems like it could have gone down a much more mocking path.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Seberg Has a Great Kristen Stewart Performance But Little Else to Offer

Seberg is half of a good movie. Anytime it focuses exclusively on its titular character, real-life movie star Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart), it's not flawless but it's certainly more assured of itself. It's actually rooted in a real person with tangible goals and discernible struggles. But Jean Seberg is not the only focus of the screenplay by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. We also have an FBI agent named Jack Solomon, a fictitious character played by Jack O'Connell. Constantly cutting away from Seberg's storyline to the infinitely less interesting trials & tribulations of Solomon, that's where Seberg really loses its luster.

The Lovebirds Fails To Produce a Comedy Worthy of Its Lead Actors

Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) used to have a love straight out of a romance novel. Now, they can't stand the sight of each other. While driving to a friends' party, they come to a realization: this is it. Their relationship is over. After five years together, Jibran and Leilani have reached their endpoint. Or at least, they thought they had. But they're gonna have to stick together a little while longer now that they've become embroiled in the murder of a bicycling stranger. A random guy just took the wheel of Leilani's car (with Leilani and Jibran inside) and just ran this dude over. Now worried they'll be credited with the murder, Jibran and Leilani set out to find out who's actually responsible for the murder.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Talented Filmmakers and Actors Put Up a Grand Fight in Charlie Wilson's War

Laid bare, the political subtext of Charlie Wilson's War is not great. Now, I'm not saying the movies "offensive" or using this review to call for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to get  "canceled". I' m merely stating that the premise does hinge on halcyon ideas of political cooperation. Charlie Wilson's War occupies the Ellen Degeneres mindset of there being no difference between Democratic and Republican politicians, why can't everyone get along? After all, much like Ellen, the two lead characters of Charlie Wilson's War are rich white people who don't suffer any consequences associated with idealogy in either political party. Sorkin's take on the true story events of Operation Cyclone is an idealistic vision of the status quo, one that doesn't tamper with how things are but rather imagines what would happen if everything as it were just ran smoother.

Defending Your Life Provides an Imaginative and Thoughtful Rendering of the Afterlife

You gotta begin your movie with a bang and Defending Your Life certainly starts off its story with a whopper of a development. Before the opening credits even begin, the protagonist, Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks), has died. On his birthday no less! Yes, while driving around in a new car and loudly singing along to a tune on the radio, Daniel didn't see that bus headed straight for him until it was too late. Just as he's about to collide with the vehicle, Daniel awakens in another place entirely. The now-deceased Daniel is in the afterlife, though he's in neither Heaven or Hell. Turns out he's in Judgement City, a place of purgatory where Daniel learns that humans are not the only beings in the universe.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Capone Is No Ordinary Gangster Movie, For Better and For Worse

The best way to explain what kind of movie Capone is is by saying that if this movie had gotten a theatrical release, it would have garnered an F CinemaScore. Theaters across the nation would have been filled with audiences reacting to Capone finishing not with applause but with cries of "That's it?!?" and befuddlement. This is not meant as a way of saying that Capone is a bad movie but rather that it's not going to be to everyone's taste. Anyone expecting anything remotely resembling a traditional gangster movie or biopic drama will be understandably disappointed. Capone is its own creature, one that's messy as heck and isn't quite as strange as it could have been. However, it's also frequently intriguing and has go-for-broke energy that's hard to resist.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

In Laman's Terms: Twenty Years of Forgetting About Dinosaur

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

It feels like each of the films in Disney Animation Canon have their own fanbase. This isn't a surprise when it comes to something like Beauty & the Beast or The Lion King. But even box office misfires in the canon have their share of devotees. For instance, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet lost plenty of cash at the box office but have inspired expansive fanbases nearly twenty years later (I'm happily part of the Treasure Planet one). However, there's one entry in the Disney Animation Canon that seems to inspire no real affection. Even among my generation that loves to use GIF's from childhood movie staples in everyday conversation, this particular Disney title never seems to come up.

I'm talking, of course, about Dinosaur.

Blazing Saddles Is A Hoot Because of Its Attention to Western Details

It's often been repeated that you couldn't make Blazing Saddles today because of people being "too PC". To me, that registers as a bunch of hooey. Plenty of provocative comedy gets made. Sorry to Bother You? It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Slut in a Good Way? Now, I'd agree Blazing Saddles couldn't get made today but not because of old white dude conspiracy theories regarding "kids are too sensitive these a day". Blazing Saddles was a response to the then-omnipresent Westner genre that had only started to fade from American cinemas at the start of the 1970s. It's skewering of Westerns was a byproduct of its time. To remove it from 1974 is to remove important historical context informing its comedy.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Mule Is Super Messy But Also Has More of a Personality Than Most Late-Period Clint Eastwood Fare

For the last decade, Clint Eastwood has directed movies that have followed a rigid formula. Eastwood has been fascinated by straightforward biopics about normal people doing heroic things while frequently being persecuted by "the man". Chris Kyle, Sully, the trio at the heart of The 15:17 to Paris, Richard Jewell, these have all been Eastwood's central focus in the last ten years. Unfortunately, Eastwood never has much to say about these people. His films don't render famous faces as people but as statues, monuments to ideas of human goodness without a trace of humanity in sight.

A Secret Love Provides Simple But Heartwarming Pleasures

A Secret Love will receive one of my shortest movie reviews in a while. However, that shouldn't be taken as a comment on it being lackluster in quality or not being substantive. It's just that the movie sets out to do something relatively simple and achieves it. Sometimes you can break films like this into complex explanations for how they secured their artistic success. Sometimes, though, a movie like A Secret Love reminds you of its success in more basic, but no less worthy, terms. A documentary that wants to be a heartfelt tearjerker succeeds in being a heartfelt tearjerker. You don't need 3000 words to explain why this one works.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Scoob! Has Easter Eggs A-Plenty But Little Else to Offer

Have you ever wondered about the origins behind the friendship between Scooby-Doo and Shaggy? Never? Well, Scoob!, a brand new feature-length animated Scooby-Doo movie available on premium video-on-demand (it was once set for a theatrical release), is here to tell it anyway. A prologue sequence shows stray pup Scooby and lonely kid Shaggy uniting on Halloween. That night, they also meet Fred, Velma and Daphine. These five don't just cross paths that fateful night, they also take down a monster who turns out to be a man in a rubber mask. From there, this group is inseparable as they spend the next thirteen years off against a whole slew of monsters.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

This is Not a Film Rebels Through the Core Tenets of Filmmaking

Rebellion comes in many forms.

Sometimes, a person's very existence is a form of rebellion. As I mentioned in my review of BPM (Beats per Minute), when a person is born as queer/a person of color/a woman, they're inherently viewed by larger society as inferior. Embracing the very traits that don't adhere to cishet white male norms while doing something as simple as walking down the street, that's rebellion. You're telling the world you will not be stopping. You will not cease being you even in the face of oppression. This is Not a Film is another vivid example of how subtle insurgency. In this case, the very artform of cinema as another form of quiet rebellion.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams Headline State of Play, a Solidly-Crafted Political Thriller

In my opinion, Russell Crowe is at his best playing morally complicated figures as prone to darkness as they are helping people. When he's playing a straightforward biopic protagonist in something like A Beautiful Mind, I just can't buy him. Even his lead performance as the action hero in Gladiator doesn't quite work for me. But put Crowe in Noah, The Nice Guys or the 2009 movie State of Play, suddenly we're cooking with gas. Crowe's genuinely gifted at portraying rough and tumble figures who seem to have leaped out of reality rather than a studio executive's cliche-ridden idea of what a "tough guy" is.  There's actual menace and unpredictability to his best performances and he's even able to imbue a distinctly different personality to, say, his version of Noah compared to his Nice Guys role.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Beastie Boys Story Isn't Substantive But It Is a Fun Trip Through the Past

Beastie Boys Story is a reunion in a number of ways. The most obvious example of this is that the two surviving members of the band The Beastie Boys, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz, are coming together to tell tales about their experiences working together over the last thirty years. In another sense, this provides director Spike Jonze a chance to reunite with The Beastie Boys after directing a number of their music videos (including the one for Sabotage) in the early 1990s. Everybody's reunited and it feels so good. Those good vibes aren't enough to make Beastie Boys Story something outstanding but they are enough to make it a pleasant watch.

In Laman's Terms: Scooby-Doo's Direct-to-Video Adventures Explain the Characters Lasting Appeal

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

How exactly has Scooby-Doo existed for nearly 60 years? What has kept the Mystery Machine gang a constant presence in pop culture while fellow Hanna-Barbara creations like Magilla Gorilla languish in obscurity? Well, kids do love reliable routine and Scooby-Doo has provided that for generations of youngsters. However, I'd say a more critical part of why Scooby-Doo has consistently been a staple for kids is how it provides a safer version of horror.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Bacurau Uses Blood, Suspense and Social Commentary All to Great Effect

There is so much confidence surging through the bloodstream of Bacurau. There are countless moments I could reference to demonstrate the immense level of confidence found in the new film from the directorial duo of Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles. However, my personal favorite has to be the sudden appearance of a UFO around the half-hour mark of Bacurau. Up to now, there hasn't even been a hint of science-fiction material in Bacurau and they provide no explanation for where this UFO came from. Filho and Dornelles (who also penned the screenplay) trust the audience enough to not need an explanation that would undercut the sense of uncertainty this memorable image is trying to convey.

What's Up, Doc? Is a Hysterical Tribute to Screwball Comedies

Filmmakers are versatile artists. Us film critics (and I'm as guilty of it as anybody) sometimes like to box in directors into a certain type. Martin Scorsese only does gangster movies, Richard Linklater only does slice-of-life indies, Akira Kurosawa only does jidaigeki pictures. In reality, these three filmmakers, and really any director, are usually capable of making far more than just one type of movie. You know who serves as a great example of the elasticity of a filmmaker? Director Peter Bogdanovich. Back in 1971, he did a relentlessly bleak portrait of a suffocating small town entitled The Last Picture Show. After such a grim motion picture, its no surprise he opted for something lighter for his directorial follow-up.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Summer 2020 Box Office Predictions

Despite COVID-19 shutting down movie theaters for two months, the theatrical moviegoing experience is about to come roaring back to life. To boot, it's bringing a whole swarm of highly-anticipated blockbusters with it. Though a number of films previously scheduled for Summer 2020, like Black Widow, have chosen to open in Autumn instead, movie studios have gotten crafty with how to quickly make titles to fill out their Summer 2020 slate. Such ingenuity has resulted in some of the most anticipated movies of the season. Which ten of these films will end up as the biggest movies of Summer 2020? Well, as per annual tradition, I'm here to offer my predictions on who will end up as the ten biggest movies of the summer moviegoing season.

My Life as a Courgette Uses Stylized Animation To Make Something That Taps Into Reality

More live-action filmmakers should give animated filmmaking a try. After all, animation isn't a filmmaking technique from another planet, it's just another way to tell a story. When masters of live-action cinema give animation a spin such as with Gore Vebrinski with Rango or Steven Spielberg with The Adventures of Tintin, the results can be dynamite. The imagination of these auteurs can be fully unleashed in the limitless domain of animation. See also Celina Sciamma, the writer/director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, who penned the screenplay for My Life as a Courgette. Her gift for exploring people's internal struggles is utilized poignantly here in a tale that fully takes advantage of the unique aspects of animation.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Watch Out For Delightful Wacky Comedy in George of the Jungle

I have a very unorthodox relationship with the George of the Jungle movie. While the actual film is wacky enough to make it the last thing that'd ever traumatize a child, George of the Jungle's teaser trailer scared four-year-old Doug Laman something fierce. That first-half of the teaser where it's putting on airs of being something serious, complete with an ominous drumbeat, absolutely terrified me, I couldn't even watch the trailer long enough to make it to the second half where it's all revealed to be silly and harmless. I consumed everything with the Disney logo on it as a kid. That traumatic teaser trailer ensured that I didn't watch George of the Jungle until I was well into adulthood.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Cane River Took Decades to Get Released But It Was Worth The Wait

Cane River has taken quite the journey on its road to being released. Written and directed by Horace B. Jenkins, the film was independently financed and filmed outside of the Hollywood studio system. As 1982 drew to a close, the production hoped to secure distribution that would get Cane River seen by millions. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Jenkins died oh a heart attack in December 1982 at the age of 42. Afterward, Cane River failed to secure distribution and went unseen. For thirty years, it sat on a shelf until the discovery of a print of Cane River in 2013 sparked an effort to restore the film. Five years of editing and polishing later, Cane River premiered on the film festival circuit in 2018 before finally receiving a theatrical release in February 2020.

Samuel Fuller's The Crimson Kimono Is a Unique Film Noir In Many Ways

Judging solely by the poster for The Crimson Kimono, you'd be reasonable to assume this Samuel Fuller directorial effort will be using its Japanese lead character, Detective Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta), for exploitative means rather than actually exploring Kojaku as a human being. However, posters can be deceiving. Remember how that one guy with a skull tattoo on his face was plastered all over every 47 Ronin poster only for him to appear in the movie for ten seconds? Similarly, The Crimson Kimono has far more to offer than its poster suggests. Not only does it provide a far more layered portrait of a Japanese character than you'd expect in American cinema circa. 1959 but it's also just a well-made noir tale in its own right.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Lodge's Filmmaking and Lead Performance Are Thoughtful, Its Script Less So

Right away, The Lodge lets the viewer know that it's going to be playing things gruesomely. Once Laura Hall (Alicia Silverstone) learns that her ex-husband Richard Hall (Richard Armitage) is marrying a woman named Grace Marshall (Riley Keough), she pours herself a glass of wine, sits down at her kitchen table and proceeds to shoot herself. Now deceased, Laura's kids, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and especially Mia (Lia McHugh), are traumatized from the whole affair and harbor a deep level of resentment again Grace. They blame her for the death of Laura. Grace having a past associated with a Catholic church death cult also makes them suspicious of Grace.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

In Laman's Terms: Yoda and the Art of Making the Unreal Real

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

An umpteenth viewing of Return of the Jedi on May the Fourth inspired a number of new thoughts on this particular Star Wars entry. For one thing, Leia's line to Luke about "You have a power I could never hope to understand!", in reference to The Force, now stands as extra bittersweet given how we saw her understanding and using that power in The Last Jedi. For another, I actually like the Ewok's. They're cute and they viciously beat up evildoers. This means the Ewok's are OK by me. And then there's Yoda. Though he only appears in Return of the Jedi for one scene, watching Yoda reminded me of something important. No matter how many times I watch these Star Wars movies, this character will always resonate as something real to me.

Kurt Russell Solidifies His Action Movie Bona Fidas with Escape from New York

You gotta love it when movie poster taglines so succinctly sum up the premise of the film they're advertising. "Breaking out is impossible. Breaking in is insane." Yes, that'll do nicely for accurately summing up the stakes of John Carpenter's Escape from New York. This feature takes place in the then-far off time of 1997. All of America's most dangerous criminals have been contained in one expansive prison: New York City. Yes, the Big Apple is now rotten to the core as it's been converted into a place for criminals. You know who just landed in NYC? The President of the United States (Donald Pleasence). Air Force One crashed into New York and now the President has been taken hostage by somebody in NYC.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Bleakness and Ambitious Storytelling Abound in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead begins with a bank robbery gone awry. A masked man tries to get money out of some mom-and-pop jewelry store while holding an elderly woman at gunpoint. We do not know who any of these people are or what their motivations are. We just know that this is not how things were supposed to go. Eventually, the masked man is shot while the elderly woman is also left deceased. As getaway driver Hank Hanson (Ethan Hawke), seeing that his cohort is dead, drives away in a panic, the frame freezes. From here, writer Kelly Masterson and director Sidney Lumet begin to travel down a non-linear path to show the viewer exactly what went wrong here and why.

The Final Three Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episodes Demonstrate Why This Show Was So Special


This is not the first time fans have had to say good-bye to Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Harakiri Is a Jidaigeki Tale That's All Too Relevant In 2020

I went into Harakiri knowing nothing about it. I did know it hailed from Kwaidan director Masaki Kobayashi, which was extremely exciting considering how hard Kwaidan slaps. I was also aware that the title is a reference to the practice of seppuku as well as the fact that the film itself belonged to the Jidaigeki genre. Beyond those surface-level details, though, I went into Harakiri blind. That turned out to be for the best. As I soon learned, Harakiri's story inhabits a world where surprising new layers of nuance are always lurking around the corner. That isn't to say Harakiri requires the element of surprise to work as a satisfying movie, heavens no. But going in dark does enhance the incredible experience writer Shinobu Hashimoto and director Masaka Kobayashi have created here.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Changing Lanes Is A Solidly-Crafted Courtroom Drama

The courtroom thriller is basically dead in the modern American landscape. However, for decades, it was a ubiquitous sight in multiplexes. At the dawn of the 21st-century, one studio making these movies with extreme frequency was Paramount Pictures. Nowadays they're more known for movies based on Sonic the Hedgehog and for developing numerous films based on Hasbro properties. For a moment there, though, Paramount really cornered the market on crime-based movies for adults as the 2000s began. One example of the studios' brief dominance in this genre was the April 2002 drama Changing Lanes.

Alice Wu's Exceptional The Half of It Has Heart and Clever Filmmaking To Spare

The Half of It takes place in the fictitious American town of Squahamish. We don't get told what state it occupies or even what region of America it's located in. That turns out to be a positive thing. Writer/director Alice Wu could have imbued Squahamish in specific stereotypes (thick Southern accents, specific regional foods, etc.) that would have allowed viewers to minimize the darker aspects of Squahamish. Instead, the way Squahamish makes LGBTQIA+ youth feel petrified of embracing themselves or making women feel like they only have the option of being a wife cannot be dismissed as just "a Texas thing" or just "an Arkansas thing". This town could be anywhere just like how societal structures that hurt marginalized communities can appear anywhere.