Friday, April 27, 2018


Opening this weekend:

Godard Mon Amour--The "mon" in the title refers to Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), Godard's much younger second wife and the star of his 1967 La Chinoise. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius of The Artist, Godard Mon Amour chronicles the years of Godard and Wiazemsky's marriage. The particular focus is on the anti-De Gaulle demonstrations of May 1968, and the miseries Godard (Louis Garrel) inflicted on his wife, his friends and himself during that period, in his flailing attempts to be an authentic revolutionary.

Shot in gorgeous, sunny tones by Guillaume Shiffman, the film is well-acted, funny, sexy at times, and has a buoyant energy that is, if not Godardian, at least an amusing parody of the style. There are also nods to Woody Allen, like a redo of the subtitle gag from Annie Hall or, a la Stardust Memories, people asking Godard if he'll go back to making funny movies. And there are fourth wall gags, both overt and subtle, as when Godard is complaining about tracking shots just as Hazanavicius is in the midst of tracking up the length of Anne's sunbathing bikini-clad body.

In terms of its story, however, Godard Mon Amour most reminded me of Sullivan's Travels, the 1941 Preston Sturges comedy about a film director (Joel McCrea) of lightweight entertainments who hits the road as a bum to enrich his artistry by learning first hand about hardscrabble "real life." Sullivan ultimately comes to the conclusion that he can best serve mankind by making them laugh, but the humorless Godard we get here isn't about to reach that epiphany.

Hazanavicius derives much deadpan comedy from seeing Godard rant about the class struggle while dining with his friends at posh restaurants or romping with Anne in their beautiful Parisian apartment, and of course by snubbing admirers and behaving rudely toward the few actual working class people with whom he interacts. If the aim of the film, based on a book by Wiazemsky and also known under the title Le Redoubtable, is to depict Godard as an insufferably posturing, petulant, self-loathing douche, it succeeds mightily.

How fair any of this is I couldn't say; I don't even know how faithful Hazanavicius is to Wiazemsky's own, presumably subjective, account. But in general, fury at the inability to escape one's own middle-class sensibility is a very common phenomenon among middle-class lefty intellectuals, and it's a great subject, especially for comedy.  Hazanavicius makes his Godard the butt of this joke, but isn't able to make his hero likable in the process, as Godard himself might have.

Avengers: Infinity War--A big ogreish alien called Thanos (Josh Brolin) feels a strong need to de-clutter. Specifically, he wants to destroy half of all the living beings in the universe. To do this, he must capture six "Infinity Stones" stashed around the cosmos, including a couple on Earth, and implant them on his big armored gauntlet thingy. Opposed to his plan are both Iron Man's and Captain America's estranged factions of the Avengers, the Wakandans from Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-man, Dr. Strange, and other Marvel stars and bench players.

This Gotter-half-dammerung free-for-all, largely based on a limited-run comic series from the early '90s, was directed by the brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who also helmed two of the earlier Captain America flicks. Unless you're a hardcore Marvel brand loyalist, there's a good chance you could get lost now and then in the specifics of the eye-crossing multi-strand narrative. But the Russos do a capable job of keeping the basic conflict clear, and they keep the big action set-pieces coming.

Over the last few years, Marvel has given us some half-dozen genuinely fun, delightful pictures, like Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy the first, Dr. StrangeSpider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok, leading up to this year's grand slam Black Panther. For me, Infinity War was a slight step down from these, probably because it's such an overstuffed all-star spectacular that it inevitably lacks a certain balance and focus, and also because the plot and the stakes are so cosmically, apocalyptically heavy.

Even so, the actors manage to find more playfulness than might be expected. There's some serious charisma in this cast: Robert Downey, Jr.'s top billing feels right, he seems to just naturally assume a leading man status in this ensemble. But his costars come across strongly too--Chris Hemsworth's harried Thor, Benedict Cumberbatch's suavely low-key Dr. Strange, Chadwick Boseman's quiet, bashfully authoritative Black Panther with his elegant entourage, the peerlessly soulful Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, and Mark Ruffalo's chagrined Bruce Banner, who's having a bit of trouble getting a rise out of his inner green self.

A few of the stars seem to get lost in the shuffle of this movie's ambitions, among them the recessive Captain America of Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie's Falcon and the Black Widow of Scarlett Johansson. And when Scarlett Johansson is one of the less vivid presences in a movie, you know there's glamour going on.

It will be interesting to see how this movie is received by casual fans. Even allowing that mortality is highly flexible in comics, there are surprising losses here, and a resolution that seems inconclusive in the Empire Strikes Back vein. I enjoyed Infinity War, but it left me thoroughly unsatisfied, just as it was supposed to.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


In honor of Macron's visit, this has been Your Humble Narrator's reading material for the last couple of days...

It's a reprint of a 1936 collection of terrific Guy de Maupassant stories. They are indeed French, and they are indeed about love and passion, and most of them are on the racy side. But they aren't pornographic, no doubt to the disappointment of readers who bought it back in the '30s.

Maybe the best thing about the tome is that at the back, there are several blank pages marked for "NOTES."

Anyway, this week...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...let's acknowledge the Horla, the invisible title character of Maupassant's famed 1887 yarn, not included in the pamphlet above, but impressively depicted here:

Friday, April 20, 2018


Opening this weekend at Harkins Valley Art in Tempe:

The Endless--Brothers Justin and Aaron fled the Heaven's Gate-style cult commune in which they were raised years ago. Now they live in poverty and loneliness, and Aaron is wretchedly homesick for Cult Sweet Cult. After they receive a mysterious videotaped greeting from the old gang, Justin very reluctantly agrees to go back to the isolated, mountainous compound in southern California for a day and a night, to let Aaron say goodbye and get some closure.

Needless to say, things do not go smoothly. The cultists, with their oily, knowing grins, welcome the brothers back all too eagerly, even seductively, and Justin can see Aaron being drawn back in. More disturbing still are the increasingly freaky signs that the group really is connected to some otherworldy force involving time and dimensional warps.

The guys who play the brothers, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (no relation, as far as I know), also wrote, directed and shot this indie sci-fi creeper, and created its special effects, and their precise, confident touch not only overcomes their very low budget but turns it into an advantage. The film has a hazy, overexposed look at times which may or may not have been intentional, but which adds to its atmosphere either way. At other times the sound seemed fuzzy and the dialogue was hard for me to catch, but that might have had more to do with my hearing than with any technical shortcoming.

In any case, The Endless is genuinely tense and weird and uneasy, yet it also has an edge of oddball comedy that I didn't see coming, and a warmth I wasn't expecting, either. Although it's a very different movie, in its general flavor it reminded me of another low-budget sci-fi indie, 2015's wonderfully strange Ethiopian post-apocalyptic saga Crumbs.

The idea of being trapped in a revolving time loop has an allegorical link to the idea of inescapable patterns of behavior, like those that might be found between a pair of bickering brothers. What makes The Endless special is it shows us the glimmers of love and kindness and humor that makes those time loops tolerable.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Just because the excellent Comet TV is showing the movie this month...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...let's give the nod to...

...the title character of 1953's The Neanderthal Man.

Please I understand that I understand that the actual Neanderthal, as known to paleontology and anthropology, was no monster. But in this lurid, trashy and pretty funny quickie he's the savage, ape-like killer into which scientist Robert Shayne periodically transforms himself with injections of some formula; he also uses it to turn his maid into a beast-woman and a cat into a saber-tooth tiger.

The Neanderthal Man is on Comet at 2 a.m. Friday and 10 a.m. next Wednesday, Phoenix time, should you wish to partake. One of its posters trumpeted that it was the "Greatest Chiller-Thriller Since Frankenstein!!!" Not so much.

Friday, April 13, 2018


Opening this weekend:

Truth or Dare--A college senior (Lucy Hale), planning to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity on her last spring break, allows herself to be pressured into going to Mexico with her friends instead. Down there, a stranger (Landon Liboiron) invites them to play a game of truth or dare in the ruins of an old church. When they get back to school, the participants in the game start receiving Truth or Dare challenges through creepy psychic visions, and if they fail to either tell the truth or complete the dare, they gruesomely die.

I’ve seen far worse horror movies than Truth or Dare, also promoted under the title Blumhouse's Truth or Dare. Directed by Jason Wadlow, it’s slick and polished, with an attractive cast playing characters that aren’t as abrasive and obnoxious as they often are in movies like this. It helps that they seem to care about each other. Hale is particularly charming as the earnest good-girl heroine.

But it is, unmistakably, very derivative of other flicks of recent years like Final Destination and It Follows, and I found the ending bungled and unsatisfying. I appreciate the way Blumhouse Productions tries to give its young audience honest value on a modest scale, and this movie is not without merit. But it isn't anywhere near as good as Blumhouse's Get Out, or even as last fall's Happy Death Day.

Aardvark--Josh (Zachary Quinto) is a psychologically troubled guy, haunted by the powerful presence, and absence, of his older brother Craig (Jon Hamm), a famous TV actor. Craig pays Josh's bills, but isn't otherwise in touch with him, except through Josh's occasional apparent delusions, in which a homeless woman or a virile cop seem to him to be his brother, buried in a brilliant new characterization.

The real Craig does show up in the life of Josh's lonely therapist Emily (Jenny Slate), and unethically but perhaps understandably they start an affair. Meanwhile Josh meets an attractive young woman named Hannah (Sheila Vand), but is she another hallucination?

And so on. Aardvark is worth watching. It's perfectly well directed by Brian Shoaf, from his own script, which has perfectly speakable, intriguing, at times touching dialogue. The acting is top shelf. The tiny, exquisite Slate continues to show her range; her prim evasiveness is both funny and moving. Hamm is effortlessly convincing as this veteran celebrity, simultaneously sheepish and confident, quietly disappointed in his life. And Quinto brings dignity and humor to Josh, declining to milk the part for overt pathos.

But I sat there hoping, and doubting, that Shoaf would be able to snap Aardvark's ambiguities together into a dramatically coherent whole, and alas, he missed, at least for me. It was a near miss, maybe; the movie has a number of minor emotional payoffs, but they don't add up to a major emotional payoff.

In case you're wondering, I'm happy to report that the title isn't a cheat: There is an aardvark in Aardvark, played by a handsome creature billed as "Amani the Aardvark." The culmination of the aardvark's strand is, indeed, one of the movie's sweetest moments.

Check out my interview, on Phoenix Magazine online, with my pal, Arizona actress turned mystery novelist Cindy Brown, who signs her book The Phantom of the Oz at the Orpheum Theatre next Tuesday, April 17, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., as a benefit for Friends of the Orpheum Theatre.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


It's been a while since an American movie featured a giant white gorilla; probably since 1933's Son of Kong. So...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...this week our honoree has to be George...

...the albino gorilla who gets supersized in Rampage, opening tomorrow.

I missed the screening of this, but I'll probably have to go see it.

Friday, April 6, 2018


Saturday night at 10 p.m. only, at FilmBar Phoenix:

Time Masters (Les Maitres du Temps)--This animated 1982 space opera, directed by Rene Laloux from a tale by Stefan Wul, with the collaboration of illustrator Jean "Moebius" Geraud, maybe doesn't quite have the eerie beauty of Laloux's 1973 classic Fantastic Planet. But it has a charm and a sweetly imaginative atmosphere all its own. It concerns the efforts of a band of good-hearted (and terribly chic) space adventurers to rescue a rather irritable little boy stranded on a distant planet. In the course of the rescuers' odyssey, they encounter a planet of winged, faceless ciphers in thrall to a conformist intelligence, well-intentioned telepathic spore creatures, greedy bureaucratic officials and other obstacles, while the boy must contend with tentacled cave dwellers and giant insects. I've seen an English-dubbed version for Brit TV, but the chance to see this one on a screen is a bit of a rarity, and probably shouldn't be passed up.

Check out the April issue of Phoenix Magazine...

...for my "Four Corners" column, this time about patio dining.

Also underway this week, and continuning through April 15, are both Phoenix Film Festival and, running concurrently, the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival. Check out Phoenix Magazine online for my interview with IHSFF director Monte Yazzie.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


My pal Barry emailed me from Scotland to reprove me for failing to note on this blog the passing of a favorite of ours, actor Bradford Dillman, this past January. "You may have to consider seppuku," wrote Barry.

I had indeed not heard the sad news that Dillman, whose career ranged from O'Neill on Broadway to O'Neill in the movies to one of the Leopold-and-Loeb-ish creeps in Compulsion to supporting roles in a couple of Dirty Harry flicks to the mad scientist in the 1975 shocker Bug to the title character in 1961's Francis of Assisi, had passed on, at 87. But I pointed out to Barry that having to soldier on in a Dillman-less world was a greater punishment for me than seppuku.

I should also note that when I was in my early teens, I once started babbling on about how great Bradford Dillman was in front of my older brother, who mocked me by asking repeatedly if I was talking about Bradford Dillman, Bradford Dillman, Jr., Bradford Dillman III etc ad nauseam. The very name "Bradford Dillman" became a running gag with my brother for years.


Monster-of-the-Week: light of the news, this week's honoree can only be...

...Dillman's werewolf in the 1972 TV-movie classic Moon of the Wolf (based on a genuinely good novel by the neglected Leslie H. Whitten). The movie can, and should, be enjoyed in its entirety here.