MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

Wilmington By Mike WilmingtonWilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Lawless

Directed and written by the team of John Hillcoat and rocker-scenarist Nick Cave (who also joined forces on the nerve-jangling 2006 Aussie western The Proposition), Lawless is also a very arty film about a rustic underworld — and it’s arty in both good and grating ways.

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Wilmington on DVDs: A Separation

  DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW A SEPARATION (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) (Four Stars) Iran: Asghar Farhadi, 2011 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) Movies can open up a whole world for audiences, revealing even the most remote people and places. That’s especially true of movues like A Separation, last year’s much-praised, much-awarded foreign language Oscar-winner…

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Wilmington on DVDs: Darling Companion; Headhunters; Down by Law… more

The movie has its flaws — an outlandishly implausible ending chiefly among them — but compared to most of the un-naturalistic, unfunny, unserious, totally phony and sometimes obnoxiously ageist and condescendingly smart-ass gloppy stuff that often passes for American movie comedy-drama these days (and that sometimes gets a pass from the same people who pile on movies like Darling Companion), it’s a movie that deserves some encouragement.

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Wilmington on DVDs: High Noon, 60th Anniversary Edition

High Noon became one of the most influential of all movie Westerns, exerting lasting effects even on films and filmmakers you wouldn’t expect it to, like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (four men, like the Miller gang, walking alone at the end, instead of one), Clint Eastwood‘s hip, dark High Plains Drifter (which might have been the last vengeful nightmare of a dying Will Kane) and Sergio Leone‘s operatic Once Upon a Time in the West.

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Wilmington on Movies: Samsara

One of the tasks of art is to create beauty. (I’ll call it a sacred task, since I lived most of my life with an artist and treasure her memory, and it‘s what she would have said.) Another is to reveal the truth, or to give us both, together. I wouldn’t be so pretentious as to say that Samsara achieves all or any of these. But it tries. Honor to it then, and praise to all cinema that reveals a world to us — worlds upon worlds, the wheels of death and the Wheel of Life as well.

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Wilmington on Movies: Hit and Run

Part of Hit and Run — a hell-on-wheels car-chase comedy-actioner from actor-writer-co-director Dax Shepard — is playful, funny and even sweet-tempered. And part of it is hard and raunchy and a little mean. The two parts don’t always jibe or mix well, but at least they provide a little variety and at least some entertainment — more than most shows of this kind do.

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Wilmington on Movies: Premium Rush

It’s a smart movie that sometimes goes off the track. Writer-director David Koepp has scripted some of the biggest grossing action or adventure films ever, including “Jurassic Park” and the first “Spider-Man,” and he has a definite flair for rapid-fire clichés D.D.F. (done damned fast). His own directorial efforts haven’t been as good. But “Premium Rush” is probably the best of them.

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Wilmington on DVDs: The Dictator; The War Room; Simba: The King of Beasts

Sacha Baron Cohen is no Charlie Chaplin, and he probably never will be. But at least he‘s willing to give his comedy a shot of social and political consciousness, like Charlie did

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Wilmington on Movies: Sparkle

I think we’re wrong when we say the story doesn’t matter in shows like this, because the audience just comes for the music. (People say the same kind of thing about action and horror movies, and they‘re wrong there, too.) The story does matter, always, and when we start getting more great musicals again — and I hope we will — it’ll be because all of the movie will click and not just a part of it.

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Wilmington on Movies: ParaNorman

I liked it a lot more than any of the “Paranormal Activity” movies — which I suppose isn’t saying much, because I dislike the “Paranormal Activity” series in toto. But ParaNorman activity, you know: that can be cool — as long as those undead guys don’t litter too many body parts on the sidewalks, when they‘re running away from the solid citizens.

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Wilmington on DVDs: Battleship, Tonight You’re Mine

Battleship? Why? The idea of spending of two hundred million dollars and change to try to adapt a Hasbro board or video game (called “Battleship,” natch) into a huge would-be blockbuster war-action movie (likewise Battleship)’ toplining TV star Taylor Kitsch (“Friday Night Lights,” John Carter), and swimsuit model and would-be movie star Brooklyn Decker (What to Expect When You‘re Expecting), struck me as a waste of time, sight unseen.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Bourne Legacy

I miss Jason Bourne already — missed him, in fact, even before I saw “The Bourne Legacy”, fourth in the multi-million dollar grossing Bourne spy movie series, based on Robert Ludlum’s books.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Campaign

Are politicians whores? Are movie comedies whorehouses? Are whores and poets and comedians the great unacknowleged legislators of mankind — and East Canarsie? Then why don’t they all get together and count votes more often?

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Wilmington on DVDs: Shallow Grave

This seems a typical set-up for Boyle, whose propensity for cautionry break-the-bank films might well earn him the nickname “Get Rick Quick” Danny Boyle. But here’s where I stop the synopsis. Believe me, you don’t want me to go any further, and not out of skittishness or fear, but because you likely and sensibly don’t want to miss the deliciously macabre surprises and ingenious suspense set-pieces Boyle and Hodge keep detonating throughout the movie.

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Wilmington on DVDs: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

A long time ago, back in ’71, In a season of tumult and fear,
The good Dr. Seuss, with his pens sharp and loose, Wrote a book called “The Lorax,” we hear.
It was all about greed , about Oncelers and thneeds, About chopping down Truffula trees…

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Wilmington on DVDs: Le Havre

That’s an awful lot of allusions or maybe-allusions and I probably don’t even have them all. (Thanks to Jim Hoberman and the Criterion booklet’s Michael Sicinski for some of them.) Le Havre, a great favorite at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, has a dimension of reality but it also exists in its own private world of cinephilia and Kaurismakiana. It’s simply not intended as a believably realistic film — and even its seeming realism (the straight-on slow camera style, the drab locations, the terse dialogue), is, in its way, yet another filmic allusion, this time to Italian neo-realism or to Robert Bresson.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Babymakers

I think it’s safe to say though that Jay Chandrasekhar will never win the Nobel Prize for Physics, or even for sperm preservation research, though he might well open up his own bank, if his customers have good shoes and a Farrellyesque sense of humor.

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Wilmington on Movies: Total Recall

Another Philip K. Dick movie. Another terrific opportunity wasted. It bewilders me. Why are so many of the current makers of the super-action-movies so seemingly uninterested in writing good or clever dialogue or in devising original plots or in creating interesting characters?

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Wilmington on DVDs: Marilyn Monroe

She was blonde and beautiful and often late. She grew up poor and unhappy. Her life changed. She became a starlet and a notorious nude calendar model and finally she became a movie star to the world, and the dream girl of many people, and many cultures. She played dumb in a lot of her pictures –but she was actually very smart and very talented and well-read and the friend or favorite star of major writers and artists, and even of one great French philosopher.

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Wilmington on DVDs: La Grande Illusion

  PICK OF THE WEEK: Classic GRAND ILLUSION (“La Grande Illusion”) (Also Blu-ray) Four Stars France: Jean Renoir, 1937 (Lions Gate) 1. A Grand Illusion: The Great War That Can Be Stopped Few films about war and the men who fight them have the beauty and power and resonance of Jean Renoir’s 1937 Grand Illusion — based…

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Wilmington

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Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin