Oscar Quest 2018: “The Shape of Water”

Shape of Water!

Real talk: there are so many fish in the sea that fish puns are way too easy, so I’m resisting the urge to see if I can string together ten of them in a roe.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

This time of year is my annual Oscar Quest, during which I venture out to see all Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, regardless of whether I think I’ll like them or not, whether their politics and beliefs agree with mine or not, whether they’re good or bad for me, and whether or not my friends and family have ever heard of them. I’ve seen every Best Picture nominee from 1997 to the present. As of February 21st I’ve officially seen all nine of this year’s Best Picture nominees. I’m not sure I’ll be able to cover the other seven in full before the Oscars telecast on March 4th, but let’s see how far I can get before I burn out.

Onward to nominee #6: Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, the monster movie that’s been winning hearts and votes in many other competitions throughout this awards season. If you loved his previous creature features like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Mimic, or the best Blade film, chances are you won’t be disappointed here. Not guaranteed, but quite probable.

Continue reading

MCC Home Video Scorecard #2: Costumes and Scares

42: the Jackie Robinson Story!

Chadwick Boseman: a black hero in a white genre.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: we launched a new recurring feature that’s me jotting down capsule-sized notes about not-new movies I catch at home. In this batch of Stuff I Recently Watched: two recent horror DVDs that were given to me for free, just in time for Halloween; one Shakespearean adaptation with a most unusual costuming approach; and one period-piece/biopic featuring an actor whose biggest starring role yet was just announced earlier today with much delightful fanfare.

Continue reading

MCC Request Line #7: “Take Shelter”

Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Hey, wow, it’s a supposedly recurring feature everyone forgot because it stopped recurring!

Dormant but far from nonexistent, the Midlife Crisis Crossover Request Line is always open and accepting recommendations from MCC fans for stuff I can or should read, watch, or experience and then relay the results here, whether it’s high art or deep hurting. Today’s suggestion was offered a while back by British film reviewer Natalie Stendall, whose current home is at Writer Loves Movies.

Our feature presentation: the 2011 indie drama Take Shelter, starring Man of Steel‘s Michael Shannon and Academy Award Nominee Jessica Chastain. Writer/director Jeff Nichols would later go on to greater acclaim with 2013’s Mud, which signaled the beginning of Best Year Ever for its star Matthew McConaughey.

But before Mud…there was General Zod going mad in a quiet little town.

This way lies madness! Or doom! Or both!

“Man of Steel”: a Farewell to Role Modeling

Henry Cavill, Superman, Man of SteelIn Part One of this two-part non-epic, I covered what I liked best about Man of Steel, the new Superman treatment from director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan, and screenwriter David S. Goyer. As I mentioned there, despite the team’s successes on numerous fronts, I thought the film had room for improvement.

Those examples require a courtesy spoiler alert because a few of my complaints happen toward the film’s back end and involve major plot points. If you plan to see it pristine and unspoiled for yourself, abandon the reading trail here, and I look forward to seeing you next time.

Onward, then, to what I liked least:

Continue reading

“Man of Steel”: the Greatest Zack Snyder Film of All Time

Henry Cavill, Superman, Man of SteelAfter seeing Man of Steel today, that sweeping statement occurred to me and required two minutes’ worth of thought to confirm. It helps that I’ve seen all six of director Zack Snyder’s feature films to date, even the animated ones.

Of the other five: Dawn of the Dead was not bad for what it was — arguably his second-best, but not quite essential. 300 broke visual ground and set new standards for faithfulness in graphic-novel-to-movie adaptations, but makes me snicker in a few extraordinarily hammy spots. I’m glad someone finally adapted Watchmen so we could all say it’s been done and move on with our lives, but its brazen attempt to do for super-hero movies what the original miniseries did for super-hero comics didn’t have nearly the same intellectual impact or coherence. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole admirably demonstrated the visual techniques of 300 for an all-ages audience, but was incomprehensible unless you’d read the entire book series beforehand and could spot the dozens of pages’ worth of vital backstory that was excised for the big screen. (Thankfully my son was a fan and explained the crucial omissions.) And Sucker Punch was a skeevy, disjointed orphanage for outlandish sci-fi skirmishes that had apparently wandered away from the nonexistent movies that spawned them.

In comparison to the rest of the Snyder oeuvre, Man of Steel stands tall as his boldest achievement yet.

Continue reading

“Premium Rush” Shows Why Bicycles Should Digitally Replace Cars in All Action Flicks Ever

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Premium Rush"After seeing the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt flick Premium Rush tonight, I’ve realized that bicycles are the greatest machine ever. I should already know this after multiple viewings of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and my mastery of the old arcade game Paperboy, but those are old and Premium Rush is new. To today’s young folk that means it’s more influential than either of those works by definition.

Consider the pros of bicycle ownership that I’ve learned tonight:

* Bicycles use no gas. Not only does this save average consumers money, it means movies that replace all their cars with bikes will overflow with carbon credits or go-green points or whatever currency this market uses.

* Bicycles fit through tight cracks in traffic jams. Related note: traffic laws only apply if bicycle policemen can catch you. Don’t get too overconfident, since bikecops do have the power of teleportation, based on how many places our hero’s bikecop nemesis (stuntman Christopher Place) shows up in the movie through magical point-A-to-point-B locale shifts. That power only gets bikecops so far, though — their advanced age and lack of BMX tricks makes them an easily evaded adversary.

* Bicycle parts are sturdy and survive any and all forms of undue stress, short of a head-on collision. In that event, temporary replacement bikes should be readily available for borrowing from your immediate vicinity.

* Bicycles are much faster than cars. They can dodge and weave through the thickest of traffic, especially if you have the power of instant super-calculus like Amadeus Cho. If a crooked cop is several feet behind you, just pedal really hard. Sure. he could put his pedal to the metal and flatten you, but he won’t. For some reason. Mental block, maybe, who knows. One exception to this rule: when a finale is coming up, cars are faster because they have to catch up with you before the last big set piece begins. You can’t just arrive in time to save the day while the bad guy is still several blocks away because of rush hour or construction delays. No audience wants to cheer the defeat of a villain in absentia.

* Bicycle-related jobs never have a dress code. Our hero’s pride in avoiding nice suits and ties is a large part of Who He Is. (Our hero clearly learned nothing from Pee-Wee.) Late in the movie, a montage of assorted bicycling professionals confirms that clothing, hair care, and hygiene are left to the employee’s discretion. Hopefully they disinfect their packages before handing them to the intended recipient.

* The bad guys never try shooting you during chase scenes. You’re a small moving target, and they’re probably lousy shots anyway, even if they carry a gun for a living. This facet remains largely unexplored in Premium Rush, but in other chase movies, judging by the average number of missed shots per movie, I get the impression that crooked cops and evil military men never have to fret about marksmanship on their performance review.

* Bicycle lanes are optional. Over the past few years, Indianapolis has spent millions renovating and redesigning numerous thoroughfares to add bicycle lanes — sometime widening streets, sometimes taking an entire lane away from cars and designating it as a bicycle lane instead (White River Parkway North Drive, I’m looking in your excessively named direction). As seen in Premium Rush, Manhattan bicyclists seem to do just fine without them. The closest they come to compromising is when they have to share a walkway in Central Park with wheel-deprived pedestrians.

With so much going for bicycles, I foresee a day when filmmakers and studios revisit their works George-Lucas-style and decide it’s time to tamper with them for the sake of a modern audience. Imagine The French Connection with Popeye Doyle free-styling it up, or The Bourne Supremacy filmed in you-are-there Bicycle-Smashing-Cam. Stephen King’s Christine would have been about twenty minutes long, once the possessed 1957 Schwinn American realized it wasn’t really equipped to kill. Best of all in my mind would be the late John Frankenheimer’s Ronin — narrow chases through all those claustrophobic European streets, still at breakneck speeds, and everyone’s still armed with bazookas. The mind reels at the cinematic possibilities, so much so that I have to stop myself from staying up overnight and brainstorming any more. (Maybe that’s tomorrow night’s entry. No one tempt me.)

Setting all that aside, this was a fun, footloose, albeit PG-13-languaged 91 minutes’ worth of popcorn-movie excuse to watch Gordon-Levitt play the same kind of tenacious, hard-luck, unlikely hero that worked well for him in (500) Days of Summer, except here he’s not a jerk and he gets to win. It’s also a showcase for anyone who wants to know what Michael Shannon looks like, before he appears in next year’s Man of Steel. I didn’t see Revolutionary Road, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for what I read was a fairly tiny role, but here he dominates plenty of screen time as a foul-mouthed crooked cop (who naturally is the one to fill the movie’s one-F-word quota) with an amoral attitude and an unfortunate addiction to Pai gow. His tough New York sounds more like other movies than what we heard last year on vacation, but that only added to his scary intensity.

Other random, disconnected thoughts that flew through my head while watching the Greatest Bicycle Film of All Time:

* Fun geek note: Shannon continually hides behind the alias “Forrest J. Ackerman”, named after the famous sci-fi fan. (Yes, once upon a time, they used to have those. 105% of all sci-fi fans wish that were still the case.)

* Other than Gordon-Levitt and Shannon, the only other actor I recognized without research was Aasif Mandvi, my favorite correspondent in those rare moments when I have time to watch secondhand online clips from The Daily Show with John Stewart. Mandvi basically reprises his role as cranky boss Mr. Aziz from Spider-Man 2, but his presence is value-added good times.

* Listen carefully during one of Gordon-Levitt’s course-plotting moments, and you’ll be rewarded with a Wilhelm scream, to no small comedic effect.

* Do the kids these days still say “shred” in any bike-related context? It sounds like previous-decade slang.

* Gordon-Levitt’s motto, “Brakes are death,” sums up every bad commute I’ve ever harrumphed my way through.

* My favorite thing about the movie was recognizing Manhattan landmarks and locales that our family encountered on our 2011 road trip. Among the notable sights that nab screen time are Chinatown; Columbus Circle; a #1 subway station (the 116th Street Station, if the visuals match the story); the Ed Sullivan Theatre (blink and you miss it); Columbus Street alongside the Natural History Museum; and, of course, Central Park. Natives no doubt will recognize three times as many places as I did.

* No, there’s no scene after the end credits, but you can stick around and hear several more minutes of “Baba O’Riley” if you’d like. You can also recover from the shock of realizing that the entire movie flew right by without a single character using the phrase “need for speed.” Writing without that cliché in a movie all about speed may be its most skillful trick.

%d bloggers like this: