Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Movie Review: Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky **** / *****
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh.
Written by: Rebecca Blunt.
Starring: Channing Tatum (Jimmy Logan), Adam Driver (Clyde Logan), Riley Keough (Mellie Logan), Daniel Craig (Joe Bang), Hilary Swank (Agent Sarah Grayson), Seth MacFarlane (Max Chilblain), 
Katie Holmes (Bobbie Jo Logan Chapman), Katherine Waterston (Sylvia Harrison), Sebastian Stan (Dayton White), Brian Gleeson (Sam Bang), David Denman (Moody), Jack Quaid (Fish Bang), Dwight Yoakam (Warden Burns), Macon Blair (Brad Noonan), Charles Halford (Earl), Ann Mahoney (Gleema Purdue).
 
Since he “retired” from directing movies in 2013, Steven Soderbergh has kept busy – directing 20 episodes of his TV show The Knick - on which he also served as cinematographer and editor – two jobs he also did for Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to the film he directed. And now, he’s back directing movies again, with Logan Lucky. We knew Soderbergh wasn’t really retiring right? He’s one of the prolific directors out his generation – there are multiple years where he saw more than one of his features hit theaters, so although he’s undeniably right about so much of what he says about the state of the movie industry, it always seemed odd that one of its major players would just step away. And yet, perhaps it was a good thing for Soderbergh to do that. I think that perhaps he was too prolific for a time – and he spoiled us into thinking he’d always be around, producing high quality, entertaining genre films better than just about anyone else. Looking back at some of my reviews of his work, I think I was certainly guilty of taking Soderbergh for granted. Perhaps the reason I liked Logan Lucky as much as I did is because, without having Soderbergh around for a few years, you get to appreciate just how effortless he makes a heist film like this look.
 
The film stars frequent Soderbergh collaborator Channing Tatum as Jimmy – who was once going to be a football star, but hurt his leg, and is instead stuck in his dead-end West Virginia home town – a failed marriage in the rearview mirror, and a young daughter he adores – but no work to support himself. His brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) lost an arm (really, a forearm and a hand he says) in Iraq, and now works in a bar in the same town. There sister Mellie (Riley Keough) works in a beauty salon. Jimmy hatches a plan to rob the motor speedway – he had a short term job fixing sinkholes underneath it, and found out about their pneumatic tubes that takes the money to the vault. He’s going to need the help of his siblings of course, but also of an explosives and safe cracking expert. This is Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) – who wouldn’t seem to be available to pull a job since he is currently in-car-cer-rated – but the brothers have a plan to break him out so he can help with the robbery – and then back in, so he doesn’t get caught, and is out in 5 months like planned.
 
To say more would be to spoil the fun, so I won’t – except to say that this is the type of film Soderbergh excels at – the film plays with that knowledge, directly acknowledging the Ocean’s 11 movies that Soderbergh directed, although the film (written by Soderbergh’s wife, under an assumed name) has a touch of Coen brothers in it as well. For much of the running time, you really don’t know if these characters are complete and total idiots, or some sort of geniuses. The cast – most of whom are not from West Virginia – have fun with their exaggerated, mismatched accents. It was smart to cast Keough, Elvis’ granddaughter, who with this an American Honey is showing herself to be a great actress – and one who can plausibly play Southern, without devolving into caricature (the rest of the cast does that to a certain extent, so Keogh works as a counter note). I loved everyone in the cast pretty much though – Driver is probably the funniest, and Tatum shows that move star charisma the movie needs in the lead role.
 
The film works like a well-oiled-machine and even if you think you’ve spotted a plot hole, you really haven’t – the movie just hasn’t gotten to that point yet. It’s not an overly deep or overly original film – but it doesn’t have that ambition either. It is precisely the film it wants to be – and the most fun I’ve had at the movies since Baby Driver.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Movie Review: The Trip to Spain

The Trip to Spain *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom.
Written by: Michael Winterbottom.
Starring: Steve Coogan (Steve), Rob Brydon (Rob), Claire Keelan (Emma), Rebecca Johnson (Sally - Rob's Wife), Justin Edwards (Greg), Kerry Shale (Matt), Marta Barrio (Yolanda), Margo Stilley (Mischa), Timothy Leach (Joe), Tom Clegg (Busker), Kyle Soller (Jonathan).
 
There are now “Trip” movies, all directed by Michael Winterbottom – the prolific English director, who seems to be slowing down a little bit now (perhaps having concluded he’s just about accomplished the goal of having a film of every genre) and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing versions of themselves, and the drive around a country, stopping at various, amazing looking restaurants apparently for “magazine pieces” and generally riffing with each other. The comedians are competitive, but mainly friendly and by this third film, they’ve more or less settled into a routine. Yes, they can still grate on each other’s nerves, and play games of one upmanship – but they more or less understand each other, and give each other enough slack.
 
We’ve seen them in North England in 2010’s The Trip and Italy in 2014’s The Trip to Italy, and now, of course, we see the pair of them in Spain. Coogan is the bigger international star of course, and has the ego to prove it – not least of which because he received an Academy Award nomination for co-writing Philomena a few years ago, a fact he will mention to anyone if given half to chance. He’s also the more neurotic and insecure of the two of them still sort of struggling with his now 20-year old son, and an affair with a much younger woman, who happens to be married to someone else. Brydon has a young family himself (at 50, he says he snuck them in under the wire), and while the movie gets a laugh in the opening scene as Brydon surveys his life – including his crying 2-year-old – before immediately agreeing to another trip, he seems pretty comfortable and happy in his domestic life, and in his marriage.
 
The films don’t strain for any sort of relevance really – they know they are more or less meaningless, and an excuse to watch these two comedians riff with each other. The dueling impressions have become infamous – and while nothing here matches the brilliance of their Michael Caine’s in The Trip to Italy, there are good moments here where they compare Mick Jagger’s and David Bowie’s. There is a (very) one near the end where they start doing dueling Roger Moore’s – trying to impress two of the women who have shown up to help them through a photoshoot – and Coogan eventually tries to impress them with his knowledge of Spain – only to have Brydon just keeping going and going and going (and going) with his Roger Moore, which goes from hilarious to painfully awkward more than once. The movie only really hints at darker things that in their both of their minds – particularly Coogan’s – who is more apt to get hurt or embarrassed and sulk away (“He doesn’t like to be told things he thinks he knows” Brydon offers a young man who offends Coogan with travel advice).
 
The ending of The Trip to Spain is a little strange. I thought that movie was pretty much ending because Brydon and everyone else apart from Coogan are return to England – but Coogan stays for a little, and then travels farther. I don’t quite know what to make of it. But I do hope that Coogan and Brydon take another trip at some point. While you would think the charm of these films would have worn off by now, it really hasn’t.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Classic Movie Review: All About Eve (1950)

All About Eve (1950)
Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.   
Written by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Starring: Bette Davis (Margo Channing), Anne Baxter (Eve Harrington), George Sanders (Addison DeWitt), Celeste Holm (Karen Richards), Gary Merrill (Bill Simpson), Hugh Marlowe (Lloyd Richards), Gregory Ratoff (Max Fabian), Barbara Bates (Phoebe), Marilyn Monroe (Miss Casswell), Thelma Ritter (Birdie Coonan). 
 
Some films have become so infamous, so part of the canon – the foundation on which so much else has been built – that it can a little difficult to see them clearly for what they are. All About Eve is a film like that – it was a critical, financial and Oscar hit when it was released in 1950 – that rare best picture winner that is also a masterpiece, nominated for (still) a record 14 Oscars – including 5 acting awards (four for women, another record – although, of course, it was the one man nominated who was the only one who won). It is famous mainly for the acid tongued dialogue written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (who also direct) and the performances by Bette Davis and George Sanders – career bests for all of them. I saw the film a couple of times years ago, but hadn’t revisited it recently. I remembered a bitter, cynical but wickedly funny film – all of which is true – but there’s more to it than that as well. The title character is (necessarily) a cipher – she changes to whatever she needs to be at any time – but the rest of the cast are fully realized people. There is cynicism to All About Eve – a lot – but it remains a story of people who feel real.
 
Bette Davis gave her best performance in a career full of them as Margo Channing – the “aging” Broadway star, who will turn 40 during the course of the movie, but is still packing in audiences when she plays characters in her 20s. She is a legend, and she knows she’s a legend – as does everyone else. Her boyfriend is her director, Bill (Gary Merill) – only 32, something that if their gender were reversed wouldn’t matter – but, of course, they’re not, and it does. The playwright is Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), who knows Margo is his meal ticket, but still wishes he’d be recognized for his own (perceived) greatness. He’s married to Karen (Celeste Holm) – Margo’s best friend. It is soft-hearted Karen who first meets Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). She is on the street after a performance of the latest play – she has seen every performance she says, and taking pity on her, Karen invites her to meet Margo and company. Margo loves the attention, and laps up Eve’s sob story – everyone else does to, except for Birdie (Thelma Ritter) – Margo’s dresser, who sees through Eve from the get go. Eve has soon got herself inside Margo’s inner circle – where she’ll go from an assistant to an understudy to a rival of Margo’s.
 
The movie is narrated by Sanders’ Addison DeWitt – the powerful newspaper gossip writer and critic – who is the most cynical person in this film full of cynics. He has the power to make or break people, and he uses it. In Eve, he finds a kindred spirit of sorts – someone as ruthless as he is, but better able to hide it. Every word out of his mouth is full of cynical, sinister glee, except for the scene with him and Eve alone, where he brings it down a register – he knows precisely how to bring her down. Sanders is perfect for the role (given the wording of his suicide note, which I’ll let you look up, even more perfect than you first realize). Yet, as a great as Sanders is, even he plays second fiddle to Davis’ Margo. The aging actress is in many ways a clichéd movie role by now – Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond this same year for instance, and many films center on an aging actress and her youthful rival. None are better than All About Eve, and that’s because of Davis, capable of delivering the bitterest, most cynical lines in the movie, and still come across as sympathetic. Her speech about Bill being 32 is one of the best in screen history – and she makes the most of it. David knew this role all too well – she was 42 at the time – but she was already aging out of where Hollywood likes their leading ladies – she was a perennial Oscar contender from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, but hadn’t gotten the really good roles in a while (was nominated 7 times between 1935 and 1944 – and 1950’s All About Eve was her first since). This is a sad story for most actresses – who have much to offer after 40, but Hollywood isn’t interested – but downright tragic for Bette Davis, best at playing strong willed, mature women. She knew Margo Channing, she was Margo Channing, and that’s why it’s one of the great performances in film history.
 
The rest of the cast is fine as well – although neither Merill or Marlowe could keep up with the women (Merill does have a great put down of Eve, but other than that doesn’t do much, Marlowe remains a clueless dope throughout). You feel the worst for sweet, lovable Karen, as Holm makes her not stupid, but friendlier then the rest, and that gets her in trouble. I would have loved more Thelma Ritter – who seems born to play Birdie, but the film doesn’t make much time for her. Marilyn Monroe shows up at the infamous party scene, and when she’s onscreen, you cannot look away. As for Baxter, she is pretty much perfect as Eve – she is right in every moment in the film, even if Eve never really becomes a believable three-dimensional character – then again, perhaps Eve doesn’t have three dimensions at all. Margo is a great actress on stage, Eve is acting always. Davis – and others – blame the fact that Baxter was nominated alongside Davis for Best Actress, as to why Davis didn’t win the Oscar this year – because Baxter split the vote. Perhaps that’s true – perhaps Swanson, playing another aging actress, and going over-the-top with it – stole some votes to (Judy Holiday won for Born Yesterday – and fine, its good, but Davis and Swanson are literally two of perhaps the 10 greatest performances ever by an actress).
 
All About Eve is so beloved, so iconic so entrenched in the canon that I fear some are intimidated by it – what else is there to say about the film. Perhaps not much. But is beloved for a reason, iconic for a reason – and if nothing else you should see it to find out why.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Movie Review: Manifesto

Manifesto *** / *****
Directed by: Julian Rosefeldt.
Written by: Julian Rosefeldt.
Starring: Cate Blanchett (Various). 
 
Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto is one of those challenging movies that you have to accept on its own terms, or not at all. I cannot say the film “works” in a traditional sense, because the film isn’t interested in “working” in that way. It is a film in which its star – the great Cate Blanchett – plays 13 different characters, delivering 12 different Manifesto’s from history – mostly centered on art and the artist. Rosefeldt is a visual artist by trade, and the film started out as an art installation, and was later edited in the form we see it now. It’s a thought provoking mess of a film – humorous and self-important, brilliantly acted and staged, and yet confused and messy by design. It’s an odd film to be – maybe not a good one, but certainly not a bad one. Its one-of-a-kind whatever it is.
 
Casting Blanchett in these 13 different “roles” is important. I’m not sure there is another actress (maybe Tilda Swinton) who could have pulled this off, or that you would want to see attempt to. The word chameleon is overused a lot when discussing actors, but it’s fitting for Blanchett, who really does disappear into her roles. She’s perfectly suited for this role because she has always excelled at playing characters who themselves are playing characters – characters who are in essence putting on one face for those around her, but allowing the audience to see something different (this is one of the reasons why she works so well with Todd Haynes in I’m Not There, playing Bob Dylan at his most self-involved, and in Carol, as a closeted lesbian, pretending to be a perfect 1950s housewife).
 
In Manifesto, Blanchett plays everything from a houseless derelict screaming Karl Marx’s words through a megaphone, to a prim and proper elementary school teacher “teaching” Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 rules to her students. In another segment, she’s a news anchor and the “reporter on the street” she is interviewing about conceptional art. Or she’s a drunken punk in a bar, a housewife saying prayers around a Thanksgiving meal, a figure out of what seems like a dystopian future, a woman making puppets, the gallery host at an expensive art gallery, a choreographer upset with her dancers, a struggling single mother, etc. The various real life manifestos she is delivering are devoid of context, often contradict each other, and usually have little to nothing to do with how Rosefeldt has chosen to stage them, or how Blanchett has chosen to deliver them.
 
At this point, you may well be asking yourself what the purpose of all this is, or what it all means. Those are perfectly reasonable question to ask, and I don’t have adequate answers to them. I’m not going to trying to pretend that I even understand Manifesto completely, because I don’t. If the whole thing sounds like a pretentious art exercise, I think you’re partially right – except that I think Rosefeldt and Blanchett know that as well. There is something incredibly pretentious about manifestos in themselves, and the film recognizes that and pokes fun of that.
 
I’m not sure if Manifesto is a good film or not – but I do know that no matter what it is, it is by design, and is one-of-a-kind. Even if that doesn’t quite work, is that itself worth celebrating?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle: Creation

Annabelle: Creation *** / *****
Directed by: David F. Sandberg.
Written by: Gary Dauberman.
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia (Samuel Mullins), Talitha Bateman (Janice), Stephanie Sigman (Sister Charlotte), Miranda Otto (Esther Mullins), Lulu Wilson (Linda), Grace Fulton (Carol), Philippa Coulthard (Nancy), Tayler Buck (Kate), Lou Safran (Tierney), Samara Lee (Bee Mullins), Mark Bramhall (Father Massey). 
 
It’s become a standard trick in genre films over the years – when you run out of ideas of sequels, go back and tell the origin story that no one needed or asked for. That way, you can at least keep the lucrative franchise churning, for at least one more film. That’s kind of what happened here in Annabelle: Creation – the film is a prequel to 2014’s Annabelle, which itself was a spinoff/prequel to James Wan’s The Conjuring – one of the best mainstream American horror films of the decade. The original Annabelle was a middle of the road horror film – not great like The Conjuring was, but not horrible either. And best of all for the studio – it made money. But, there was a problem – that story took the title character – a creepy, inanimate doll – right up to the point where the protagonists of The Conjuring, Ed and Lorraine Warren, have the doll under lock and key – preventing it from having further evil adventures. So even if it kind of, sort of looked like they explained the origins of the evil in the doll in the original Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation reveals that wasn’t quite the case, and tells the origin story of that doll, and how that lead into Annabelle. By all reasons of logic, this movie therefore shouldn’t work at all – and yet, it does. It is magnificently creepy and atmospheric, and fits in well with the themes of the entire series up to this point. It is better than the original Annabelle – even if it doesn’t reach the level of either Conjuring film. It is, basically, as good as this movie could reasonably be expected to be.
 
The film takes place in the 1950s – and opens with what seems like a wholesome, mid-Western family – the Mullins. The father (Anthony LaPaglia) makes dolls – and we see him making Annabelle in the opening scene – and along with his wife (Miranda Otto) and daughter, Bee (Samara Lee) – they seem to be the personification of the ideal 1950s nuclear family. And then Bee gets hit by a car and dies. 12 years later (I’m just realizing now, that in order for the time line to fit with what we know, the main action of the film happens in 1955, which means that opening must have been 1943 – odd that everyone seems so enamored with the Mr. Mullins doll during WWII – but no matter), the Mullins welcome a nun – Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and a group of six orphan girls – ranging in age from about 10-16 – into their large home. Mr. Mullins barely speaks, and Mrs. Mullins is even more mysterious – she stays in her room day and night, and rings a bell when she needs anything. The film quickly focuses in on Janice (Talitha Bateman) – a young girl stricken with polio, and her friend Linda (Lulu Wilson). Mr. Mullins tells Janice not to go into his daughters old room – which he keeps locked at all times. But at night, the door becomes unlocked for some reason – and Janice cannot resist. You can tell where things will go from here – Annabelle the doll makes a return appearance, and soon everyone’s soul is on the line.
 
The film was directed by David F. Sandberg – which shouldn’t be too surprising, since his debut horror film (last year’s creepy and effective Lights Out) was produced by The Conjuring’s James Wan. Like he did with Lights Out, Sandberg clearly shows skill at slowly building atmosphere and tension, getting on the audience edge, so just a little push has them scared (it worked like a charm in the nearly full theater I saw the film in). The film is so well made by Sandberg in fact that it helps the film overcome many of its problems – the chief among them is the film internal logic consistency, which it doesn’t have it all. It almost feels like the screenwriters were making up this logic as the film progressed – which is a no-no in horror films, which thrive best when they stick to the rules they set out for themselves. Had Sandberg also found a way to make the film a little shorter (it runs nearly 2 hours, but doesn’t have nearly that much plot, so it does grow repetitive) the film would have been even better.
 
Annabelle: Creation should have been terrible, so the fact that it’s a good horror film is a pleasant surprise. It confirms the talent that was apparent in Lights Out – that Sandberg is a classicist horror director, and I want to see him make something even better. Something like, say, The Conjuring.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Movie Review: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature * ½ / *****
Directed by: Cal Brunker.   
Written by: Bob Barlen & Cal Brunker & Scott Bindley & Peter Lepeniotis & Daniel Woo based on characters created by Peter Lepeniotis.
Starring: Will Arnett (Surly), Katherine Heigl (Andie), Maya Rudolph (Precious), Jackie Chan (Mr. Feng), Isabela Moner (Heather), Peter Stormare (Gunther), Bobby Cannavale (Frankie), Bobby Moynihan (The Mayor), Jeff Dunham (Mole), Gabriel Iglesias (Jimmy), Sebastian Maniscalco (Johnny), Tom Kenny (Buddy), Kari Wahlgren (Jamie), Rob Tinkler (Redline), Julie Lemieux (Lil' Chip).
It sometimes surprises me what movies get sequels. The original Nut Job – from 2014 – was a forgettable animated film, about cute, talking animals that I don’t think has entered my mind since I wrote my review of it then. It wasn’t exactly a huge hit at the time (although when I checked Box Office Mojo, it is the highest grossing film released by Open Road Films – ever – sadly, beating out the Liam Neeson and the wolves film The Grey) so that probably explains it. The fact that it made less than half what the first film did in its opening weekend is a sign no one was really clamoring for this film. And yet, here it is, and it’s my daughter’s 6th birthday, and she wanted to go (as did her 3 year old sister – who I must be raising right, as this was her first 3-D movie and she complained that the “glasses make the movie dark”, which has been my complaint for years) and so we went. Like the first film, it is a fast paced, cheaply animated, lazily written film that produces a chuckle or two because of its talented voice cast, and then ends without ever really doing much of anything. It’s not a painful sit – it’s nowhere close to as bad as The Emoji Movie for instance – but there’s not much reason for it to exist either.
The film is the further adventures of Surly the Squirrel (Will Arnett) and his posse of forest animals, who when we last saw them were living large in the nut shop, where they no longer had to work for food. In the opening of this film though, the nut shop explodes – and these pampered animals have to head back to the park, and scrounge for food. That would be bad enough, but even worse is that the corrupt mayor (who, I’m sorry, reminded me of Donald Trump) is angry at the park, because it’s the one part of town that produces no profit, and he needs to keeping skimming off the top – he has a private Golf Club to maintain, etc. So the mayor wants to make the park into a cheap amusement park to milk money out of suckers. And it’s up to the animals to stop him.
The Nut Job 2, like the first movie, makes the mistake of thinking that all you need to do to please kids have cute talking animals, some lame jokes, and quickly paced action sequences and they’ll be happy. My two kids were quiet during the movie, but I didn’t sense they were all that engaged. They had fun – because they always have fun at the movies (like I mentioned before, they enjoyed The Emoji Movie – so perhaps I should take back that comment about how I must be raising them right). Basically, I cannot help but think that a movie like this is little more than a babysitter – something to throw on TV on rainy Sunday afternoon, when your kids are bored of all the better animated film out there. In that way, it’s very much like the first film. I doubt I’ll think of it again after I finish this sentence.

The Return of Star Ratings

A couple of years ago, I stopped issuing star ratings on my movie reviews – essentially because I think they are kind of silly, and often I get bored of questions of why this film got 3 stars, and that one got 3 ½ stars – or that, over the course of days, weeks or months, I change my mind, and people seem to want absolute consistency, which I cannot guarantee. So I stopped. And yet, on Letterboxd, I continue to assign star ratings, so after a lot of though, I’ve decided to bring it back – and this time, I’ll use the LEtterboxd 5 star system, instead of the Roger Ebert/Leonard Maltin 4 star system I used for years. I think five stars give a little more nuance than 4. I will note this – don’t expect too many five star reviews (probably 2-3 per year (for instance, last year, I gave 5 stars to OJ: Made in America, Manchester by the Sea and Toni Erdmann – the year before, to Inside Out, Carol and Anomalisa – and nothing so far in 2017). This extra nuance allows me to reserve 5 stars for the best of the best. I’m going to go back and put star ratings on the 2017 films I have reviewed – but I won’t go back and further, and for the time being on the “classic movie reviews” I won’t be doing that either. I’ll see how it goes.
 
Basically the star ratings work like this
5 Stars - Masterpiece
4.5 Stars – Great Film
4 Stars – Very Good Film
3.5 Stars – Good Film
3 Stars – Mediocre
2.5 Stars and Down – Various degrees of Bad
 
Basically, I’d recommend anything 3.5 stars and up, and wouldn’t recommend 2.5 stars and down – and if it’s a three, it’s a tossup.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Review: The Dinner

The Dinner * ½ / *****
Directed by: Oren Moverman.
Written by: Oren Moverman based on the novel by Herman Koch.
Starring: Richard Gere (Stan Lohman),  Laura Linney (Claire Lohman),  Steve Coogan (Paul Lohman), Rebecca Hall (Katelyn Lohman),  Chloë Sevigny (Barbara Lohman),  Michael Chernus (Dylan Heinz), Charlie Plummer (Michael Lohman),  Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (Rick Lohman),  Miles J. Harvey (Beau Lohman), Laura Hajek (Anna),  Adepero Oduye (Nina).
 
Herman Koch’s The Dinner is a pitch black, cynical satire about awful people who do awful things. It is about affluence, and how that breeds apathy. It is told from the unreliable point-of-view of its main character, who can see how horrible other people are, but cannot see it in himself – even if the reader can. It is a novel about two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant to discuss something abhorrent their children did together, but spend most of the time doing everything except discussing it. The film version – it’s actually the third, as one was made in Koch’s native Netherlands, and another made in Italy (both unseen by me) – was written and directed by Oren Moverman, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out if Moverman didn’t understand the source material (which I find hard to believe – it isn’t overly complicated) – or else he got so wrapped up in trying to overcome the inherent staginess in the premise as well as straining to add some sort of historical resonance to the situation – that he lost sight of what the film was actually about. In short, I know what Koch’s novel was about – but I have no idea what Moverman’s film is about.
 
The film is about Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney), who are going out to meet his brother, Stan (Richard Gere) and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). Paul and Claire’s son, Michael (Charlie Plummer) alongside Stan’s son from a previous marriage, Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) did something terrible to a homeless woman sleeping in an ATM vestibule – and a video of them doing it has been posted online. No one knows that it was the boys who did it – yet – but this is not a secret it seems this family can keep (there is already blackmail going on, and other things, inside this family). If and when the truth is discovered, it could, of course, end with their children going to jail – and could cost Stan his rising political career as well. The film cuts back and forth in time – in deliberately jarring fashion – not just to their kids and that night, but also mainly to Paul’s past, which is marked by mental illness, and a few instances of violence of his own.
 
I’m not quite sure where it was along the way that Moverman lost sight of what the movie was about – but it was clearly somewhere in the writing process. The film has been transplanted from the Netherlands to America, which necessitated some changes to be sure – but the changes Moverman makes are odd to say the least. Paul was once a history teacher – and was working on a book about Gettysburg – and we get a long (long) flashback to him and Stan visiting the Gettysburg site as Paul was trying to recover from one of his breakdowns. Whatever Moverman is trying to say here, about America’s violent past, and its effect on the action in the present of this movie is lost on me (there is no real correlation between Gettysburg and affluenza, which is what the movie is about, that I can see). Moverman also makes the rather odd choice to make Hall’s Katelyn Stan’s second wife – we see his first, Barbara (Chloe Sevigny) in all the flashbacks – a detail that wasn’t in Koch’s book. I’m not sure what this accomplishes, rather than just adding another character to the narratives – and since it pretty much takes the film nearly 100 minutes of its 120 minute runtime to give Hall anything of interest to do or say, it really doesn’t work.
 
At the very least, The Dinner should work as an actors showcase if nothing else – but unfortunately, that doesn’t work very well either. Coogan is miscast as Paul – it is a very heavy role, and while Coogan is a talented actor, he doesn’t do well here. His American accent doesn’t sound convincing, and the narrative requires so many personality changes for his character, that its rather jarring (this is an instance of things working better in the novel than the movie – because in the novel, it’s his point-of-view, and we can tell that the way he sees himself, isn’t the way he really is – in the movie, it all looks the same, so he comes across as wildly inconsistent). Gere fares a little better as Stan – but I’m not quite sure that either he or the movie realize how awful a character he really is – he almost comes across as the good guy in the narrative – or at least the only one trying to do the right thing, but doesn’t make it clear how selfish his motivations actually are. The movie also skimps on the details of their children – Michael just coming across as a whiny brat, and Rick not getting almost any screen time (and the film, which follows the book’s example, and has Stan have another son – an adopted one, who is black, does nothing with that character, and fails to show the racism of everyone else in the movie. Yes, in the book, that adopted son is also a prop – Koch’s novel was hardly perfect – but the character at least had a purpose.
 
Really, the only ones who escape unscathed in the film are Laura Linney as Claire, and Michael Chernus as the waiter, who is remarkable at keeping things flowing through the awkward dinner. Linney is, of course, one of the best actresses working today, and she always finds a way to show that – which she does here as well, even if her character is not that unsimilar to her one in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (in that film, she only gets the one scene to show her true colors – which are more prevalent here).
 
The movie pulls its punches right to the end – it’s an abrupt ending, that doesn’t really offer anything resembling resolution, but also cuts out some of the worse things the adult character do in Koch’s novel. When the author saw the film at this year’s Berlin film festival, he didn’t go to the after party, because he hated the movie – and saw it as overly “moralizing”. I think Koch was being generous – in reality, the film is just a mess. It doesn’t know what its saying or what it’s about – and wastes a talented cast. Moverman is good filmmaker – this is his fourth film, and his other three are all excellent – but here, he clearly missed the mark.

Movie Review: the bomb

the bomb ****/*****
Directed by: Kevin Ford & Smriti Keshari & Eric Schlosser.
 
There are times in which, by pure happenstance, the timing of something works out just about perfectly – and releasing the montage documentary the bomb on Netflix for everyone to see on August 1 – and having the leaders of North Korea and Donald Trump trade threats of nuclear annulation the following week is one of them. The film was originally made has essentially a 360 degree art installation, in which viewers were to be surrounded by screens, showing the same images, and listening to the hypnotic score by The Acid, and seeing the history of nuclear weapons play out in front of their eyes, with no words, until close to the end. The makers of the film said one of the reasons why they made it is because no one talks about nuclear weapons anymore – even if there are more than enough to kill us all many times over. Well, they’re talking now – and a film like the bomb, even in the much diminished form of watching it on Netflix instead of how it was made to be watched is still hypnotic and frightening.
 
The film runs just under an hour, and is basically a long montage of images about the how the bomb was created, tested, and used – the images start out almost triumphant, and the music echoes this – as of course, this is a magnificent scientific achievement, even if it’s a horrifying one as well. The makers get there as well, showing us clips of old educational films about the bomb, and how to protect your family and what to do in the event of a nuclear strike – which, of course, was pretty much all lies. We get images of the tests as they happen, as they blow apart houses and other structures. We get images of the two times these bombs were actually used in war – in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and the tremendous cost of those. Through it all, we hear no words, just the music by The Acid, which finds the right notes as it moves along.
 
The film, which seems to be one of mounting hopelessness and despair, doesn’t actually end as bleak as you may it expect it will. The only time the filmmakers allow words to come into the film, they pick a few snippets of speeches by two US Presidents – Reagan and Obama – both of whom hoping for a nuclear weapon free future. It was a TV film – The Day After – which helped Reagan reach this conclusion, so who the hell knows if the bomb could help anyone else do the same – but it cannot hurt.
 
The film is a stunning achievement in editing and music – a ride that is both terrifying, and, oddly enjoyable. There isn’t a ton to say about the film, and I really do wish I had been able to experience like those at film festivals in 2016 were able to. Yet, even playing on Netflix, the film is stunning and unforgettable.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Classic Movie Review: The Devil, Probably (1977)

The Devil, Probably (1977)
Directed by: Robert Bresson.
Written by: Robert Bresson.
Starring: Antoine Monnier (Charles), Tina Irissari (Alberte), Henri de Maublanc (Michel), Laetitia Carcano (Edwige), Nicolas Deguy (Valentin), Régis Hanrion (Dr. Mime, Psychanalyste), Geoffroy Gaussen (Libraire), Roger Honorat (Commissaire).
 
In the film of Robert Bresson, suffering is often only alleviated by death. His is not a happy filmography, as his title characters – in Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) or Mouchette (1967) have lives of suffering and pain, that is only relieved by death – for Balthazar, when he is finally allowed to stop working and being tormented so he can lie in a field and die, and for Mouchette, finally stopping the abuse through suicide. By the time he made his penultimate film, The Devil Probably, in 1977, he had to have known people were onto his tricks, and I think he’s poking fun at them in the film. His final film – L’Argent (1983) messes with you more because of what you know about Bresson’s previous films – which makes where that one ends up even more devastating. But between all these masterpieces, there is this film which I found to be insufferable. Perhaps I was supposed to though – we cannot possibly be meant to like or sympathize with Charles, the main character in this film are we? Next time someone tells you millennials are spoiled and entitled brats, and it’s different in this generation than in previous ones, show them this film. Charles has them all beat by a mile.
 
Charles, played by Antoine Monnier, you see is a pure soul. He’s brilliant, but depressed. He sees through all the phoniness around him see – the emptiness of political engagement, of philosophy, or psychology, etc. He’s not crazy, he tells a psychologist near the end of the film – he just sees things too clearly. Throughout much of the film, I wondered just how seriously we were supposed to take Charles – does he actually believe the idiocy that comes out of his mouth, or is it all just a line (if it was a line, it was working – he has two beautiful young women fighting over who gets to save him through sex). But no, it appears, it is no line – Charles believes it. The question is, does Bresson?
 
I don’t think he does – while Bresson recognizes how Charles believes his own bullshit, and how those around him mistake that for depth, he also mocks them for it. There earnest readings as the show footage of environmental destruction, and people clubbing baby seals is certainly meant as mockery, isn’t it?
 
Ultimately, I do think that Bresson is trying to have it both ways in The Devil, Probably – trying to show just how seriously Charles –and the other youths in the movie – take themselves, and especially how Charles takes his “suffering”, while at the same time, mocks them for not really understanding the world around them. As he showed in Au Hasard Balthazar, Mouchette and L’Argent, the world can be a brutal, unfeeling, cold, cruel world. But the protagonists of those movies had much more to complain about that Charles, who sadly will never grow old to realize what an idiot he was as a teenager like the rest of us have to. I find much of Bresson’s work to be profound and moving – but not this one, which is more annoying than anything else.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Movie Review: Detroit

Detroit *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow.
Written by: Mark Boal.                             
Starring: John Boyega (Dismukes), Will Poulter (Krauss), Algee Smith (Larry), Jacob Latimore (Fred), Jason Mitchell (Carl), Hannah Murray (Julie), Jack Reynor (Demens), Kaitlyn Dever (Karen), Ben O'Toole (Flynn), John Krasinski (Attorney Auerbach), Anthony Mackie (Greene), Nathan Davis Jr. (Aubrey), Peyton 'Alex' Smith (Lee), Malcolm David Kelley (Michael), Joseph David-Jones (Morris), Laz Alonso (Conyers), Ephraim Sykes (Jimmy), Leon Thomas III (Darryl), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Aubrey Pollard Sr.), Miguel Pimentel (Malcolm).
 
T
he centerpiece section of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is both the reason to see the film, and the reason why some viewers won’t want to. It probably lasts for about half the film’s 2 hour and 25 minute runtime, after a section that sets up what led there, and before a section about the aftermath, and is the type of filmmaking Bigelow does best – tense, edge of your seat filmmaking, that puts the audience there, right alongside its characters and makes them sit in their discomfort. It’s a sequence that viewers will want to stop – it’s hard to sit through, hard to shake, and yet we are powerless to stop. This, of course, is the point of this sequence – as many of the characters in this sequence are either powerless to stop it themselves, or at least think they are, because they don’t. I completely and totally understand the reaction of some critics – many of whom are black – who think Bigelow is just exploiting black pain for her movie and really do not want to sit through more scenes of black people being tormented by police officers. They have argued that the film isn’t for them – and they may well be right. Maybe the film is for white people – the kind of white people we see in Jordan Peele’s brilliant Get Out, who think one think and get comforted with the reality. Perhaps that’s why in so much of the movie outside this tense middle section of the film, so much of the dialogue is awkward and stilted, and feels like screenwriter Mark Boal and Bigelow are trying – way too hard – to draw direct parallels to the racial tension in America today, and how little really has changed in the 50 years since the events depicted in Detroit took place.
 
That centerpiece sequence takes place at the Algiers Motel in Detroit, in the summer of 1967, in the middle of Detroit Riots or Detroit Rebellion (depending on the language you choose to use). This was far from the first racially motivate riots that broke out in America in the 1960s. The films opens with what kicked off the unrest – basically the straw that broke the camel’s back – when cops raided an unlicensed after hours drinking club in the black part of town. Those not arrested, got pissed, and tensions boiled over – and riots broke out. A few days into those riots, the National Guard has been called in. A group at the Algiers motel – mostly black, but with two white girls – are hanging out in the Annex of the motel – and one of them thinks it will be funny to fire off his starts pistol in the direction of the amassing National Guard and police officers. They come to the motel, and want answers – and are willing to do anything to get them. It has already been established that their leader – Krauss (Will Poulter) is a violent, racist – we see him shoot an unarmed black man in the back for stealing groceries, and then having the audacity of running away (he’s basically given a warning, and sent back to work). He kills one of the men right away – and lines the rest up against the wall. Through the hours and hours that follow, he and his cohorts will “play a game” with the rest of them to get answers. One by one, they take the rest of them into another room, and “pretend” to shoot them, to get the rest to talk. Until one of them doesn’t pretend anymore. Killing one of them – as they were running away – may be okay, but two? By the end of the night, another black man will be dead as well.
 
This centerpiece section is brilliantly directed by Bigelow, and does a great job of establishing the various characters through their actions. Krauss is the leader – the man who can bully the rest of the cops to go along with him, speaking in “coded” language about “them” and about how they are likely are guilty of “something”. His two fellow officers Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole) – are not as overtly racist or sadistic as Krauss – but they go right along with everything. There’s also a National Guardsman there, who plays along up to a point, and then leaves. And there is also Dismukes (John Boyega) – a black security guard who tags along, in the hopes of keeping things under control, although he is clearly unable to do so. The black men tortured by the cops include a Vietnam war vet (Anthony Mackie) who is smart and disciplined enough to realize fighting back will get him nowhere, two members of a musical group – Larry and Fred (Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore) who were just trying to lay low until the heat died down of the riots, and got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s also Carl (Jason Mitchell) – who earlier breaks down the fear black people experience that white people do not understand. The two white girls who are there (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever) – set off the cops as much as the black men do, simply for being with them. The cops immediately assume they must be prostitutes, and want to know why they sleep with blacks, but not “nice” white guys like them. The sequence is brutally intense and unrelenting. You sit and watch, and want to step in, want it to end, and it just keeps going. Like her previous two films – The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty (also written by Boal) – Bigelow wants her audience on edge the whole time, constantly on the brink of going over.
 
Everything that surrounds this brilliantly, brutally effective sequence is not nearly as effective. Part of that is just the inevitable boring parts of having to set everything up – this is a big movie, with a lot of cast members, and movie parts, and requires a certain degree of exposition to place it in context (the opening, with intertitles over paintings is more effective than the other earlier scenes). But much of it seems to Boal and Bigelow trying to draw parallels to then and today – using language that would sound awkward now, but even stranger in the context of 1967 – the movie almost goes out of its way to make sure you know that not all cops are racist, but tries (less successfully) to paint them as part of a larger system of institutional racism, that allows and excuses their behavior.
 
A film like Detroit is clearly meant to make its audience uneasy – which it does, and at times brilliantly so. At other times though, it makes them uneasy in another way – because it is trying so hard to draw connections to today, and trying so hard to be both fair to everyone, and yet not excuse any of them either. This has been Bigelow and Boal’s approach in their last three films – and honestly, it worked better in The Hurt Locker and (especially) Zero Dark Thirty than it does in Detroit. I think they are trying to sidestep the traps in films like this – films that document historical traumas that allow audiences to feel comfortable, because as horrible as they are, they can be relegated to the past. Bigelow and Boal try very hard to make sure you do not forget that these cannot be so easily relegated. They aren’t entirely successful – but I admire the effort.

Movie Review: Message from the King

Message from the King ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Fabrice du Welz.
Written by: Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell.
Starring: Chadwick Boseman (Jacob King), Teresa Palmer (Kelly), Luke Evans (Wentworth), Alfred Molina (Preston), Tom Felton (Frankie), Jake Weary (Bill), Natalie Martinez (Trish), Dale Dickey (Mrs. Lazlo), Chris Mulkey (Leary), Ava Kolker (Boot), James Jordan (Scott), Amin El Gamal (Martine), Arthur Darbinyan (Duc), Diego Josef (Armand), Lucan Melkonian (Zico). 
 
Message from the King is the kind of film that keeps you entertained from beginning to end, but never really gets you involved in it. You never really get invested in the story, because somehow the film just doesn’t quite connect on the level it should. This is a straight up revenge thriller – a neo-noir set in L.A. where a man from South Africa, Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) shows up to find his sister he hasn’t heard from lately, and gets involved in the seedy underworld that took her down – before following that chain up to bigger, richer fish. The film is directed by Fabrice du Welz, and the thing looks fantastic, and has a great cast – and yet, du Welz seems a little too in love with the films style to keep the damn thing moving at a pace something like this needs to be great, The film kind of feels like it wants to be a twist on Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979) – but without doing the heavy lifting that films does to establish everything. The whole thing is a bit of a mess – although an entertaining one.
 
If there is a reason to see the film, it’s to see Chadwick Boseman is a terrific performance as King. He is a commanding screen presence, and he pretty much carries the opening scenes, where not a lot is happening, on his back by doing very little. He will eventually spring into action – using a bike chain to take down a group of Eastern European baddies at a car wash of all things – and when he does, it is glorious, although by that point, it almost feels like it’s part of a different movie (one where his character could convincing say the title of the film, and mean it).
 
The films plot is basically King seemingly coming to the end of the underworld that destroyed his sister, and then discovering another level, higher up, but more depraved. It’s how he meets a high priced dentist (Luke Evans) and a movie producer (Alfred Molina) with peculiar tastes. It’s also how he learns just how far his sister had sunk during her time in L.A. – while she is clearly a victim, you could hardly call her innocent.
 
The film looks great to be sure, and I loved Boseman in the lead role. There are narrative strands that make little sense – no matter how much I like her, I don’t think the film needs Teresa Palmer as King’s neighbor/single mother/sometime prostitute/object to be saved in the film at all (let alone her daughter). I did, sort of, admire the films willingness to not tie everything up in a neat package, or pretend that given the level of depravity involved, that everyone will get a happy ending. And the film held my interest from beginning to end. But the film just never quite finds its level – stuck somewhere between trashy exploitation thriller and its higher impulses, it doesn’t quite manage to do either all that well.

Movie Review: Icarus

Icarus *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Bryan Fogel.
Written by: Bryan Fogel & Jon Bertain & Mark Monroe & Timothy Rode.
 
Icarus, a documentary directed by Bryan Fogel, is not the film that Fogel set out to make when he started. Fortunately for him, it’s much better, deeper and more complex than the film Fogel thought he was making when he started filming himself. In the film’s first half hour (which should have been even shorter) we see the film Fogel wanted to make – as the director, a very good amateur bike racer, decides that what he wants to do is prove how easy it is to beat the sports anti-doping tests. In order to do that, he’s going to enter the Haute Route – the biggest, most difficult amateur bike race in the world, one that he did, cleanly, and came in 14th, but this time after months of taking steroids and other PEDs – to improve his performance, and beat the results. This doesn’t seem like a good idea for many (many) reasons – the biggest one may be practical – since the race is for amateurs, they don’t really test the racers, so who exactly is he trying to beat. Fortunately for Fogel though, in order to do this as safely as possible, he needs medical help – and when his original doctor (an American) backs out, he gets in contact with Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who agrees to help him. Rodchenkov is a Russian doctor, and the head of that country’s anti-doping lab – the guy who is supposed to catch cheaters using the PEDs he’s now going to help Fogel hide. A few months into filming though – after he has become friends with Fogel – all hell breaks loose. A documentary on German TV accuses pretty much all Russian Olympic athletes of doping, and that brings down pressure of all levels of Russia’s sport – including Rodchenkov – who will eventually turn against his former bosses, and admit to everything they did to dope their athletes, and get away with it. And through it all, Fogel has a front row seat.
 
The documentary Fogel wanted to make isn’t really all that interesting – it’s essentially a version of Morgan Spurlock’s Super-Size Me, but for steroids, but I’m not sure what it would have proved even if it did work. After all, we all know what these PEDs do – they help the athletes – and we all know that athletes have been getting away with them for years, because they’re always one (or more) steps ahead of those trying to catch them (which is why when we hear of someone testing positive now, it’s often for years ago, as advances in testing have caught up with what athletes were doing). Doing it to himself is the hook, but not a particularly good one – especially since Fogel didn’t actually do any better (he did worse) on drugs as off of them.
 
But the documentary he did make, about Rodchenkov, is fascinating and tense. This is a documentarian’s dream – to have a better film than the one you want to make fall into your lap. Rodchenkov trusts Fogel, in part because who else does he know in America? When the investigation starts getting closer to him, their conversations over Skype grow tenser and short – and Rodchenkov will eventually flee Russia in order to try and keep himself safe. Others he knew, and we involved in the same scandal, mysteriously wind up dead (that happens a lot in Russia to people the government doesn’t like), and he fears for his life. Eventually, he will reveal the elaborate methods Russia went through not to be caught – especially at their home Olympics in Sochi, where Russian did way better than at the previous Winter Games. The movie morphs almost into a spy thriller – or at the very least, something more like Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour or Risk, than how things started.
 
There are certainly complains you could make about Icarus – it does run too long (at just over two hours), and Fogel does seem too eager to be at the center of the film, even as it becomes clear he should step aside and let Rodchenkov have center stage all to himself. In particular, that first section of the film – the film that Fogel wanted this to be – is way too long for what we get out of it. And, truth be told, all this information is already out there, so if you followed along, I’m not sure how much new information there actually is here. But overall, Icarus is a fascinating film – another chapter in the seemingly ever expanding series about doping in sports – a scandal that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Classic Movie Review: A Night in Casablanca (1946)

A Night in Casablanca (1946)
Directed by: Archie Mayo.
Written by: Joseph Fields and Roland Kibbee.
Starring: Groucho Marx (Kornblow), Harpo Marx (Rusty), Chico Marx (Corbaccio), Charles Drake (Pierre), Lois Collier (Annette), Sig Ruman (Pfferman), Lisette Verea (Bea), Lewis L. Russell (Governor), Dan Seymour (Prefect of Police), Frederick Giermann (Kurt), Harro Mellor (Emile).
 
The difference between good Marx brothers and mediocre Marx brothers (I’m not sure there’s such a thing as bad Marx brothers) is how little the plot gets in the way of the brothers and their antics, and how quickly they keep the gags coming. The less time spent on plot, the less time spent on characters who aren’t played by Groucho, Harp or Chico, the better. Their 1946 film, A Night in Casablanca, was their first film after a five year “retirement” – and the second last, the three brothers would make together. It is not one of their best films to be sure, but it’s also far from bad. Even mediocre Marx brothers is still pretty damn funny.
 
The plot of the film is a little too busy. After three managers of the Hotel Casablanca are murdered, Groucho’s Kornblow, who managed a hotel in the middle of nowhere, is hired for the job. What he doesn’t know is that a former Nazi, disguising himself as a Frenchman named Pfferman (Sig Ruman) is killing the managers, because in the hotel there is hidden Nazi treasure, he and his cohorts – want to get. Harpo plays Rusty, who is an assistant to Pfferman, but basically shows up wherever the movie needs his silent comedy stylings, and Chico is Corbaccio, who runs a camel taxi service – and eventually is dragged into things as well. There are other characters as well (too many) – including a French pilot (Charles Drake) who knows the treasure is in Casablanca, but doesn’t know where – and no one believes him, his fiancé (Lois Collier), who works at the hotel, and Bea (Listette Verea), who is posing as Pfferman’s fiancé, and tries to lure Kornblow – again and again – to his death by seducing him.
 
The plot is too complicated for a Marx brother film – not because it is difficult to follow in anyway, but because it takes so much time to unravel, and requires so much time in the company of Pfferman and his cohorts explaining their plans, that the Marx brothers are off-screen. The movie works best, of course, when it jettisons the plot and goes from comedic set pieces. The film has two wonderful musical set-pieces as well – one featuring Chico on the piano, another featuring Harpo on the harp, which have nothing to do with the plot, and really stop the movie dead in its tracks for minutes on end, and are still among the best things in the movie. An extended comedic set piece having the three movies trying to stop Pfferman from packing his stuff to make his escape – hiding in his room, and unpacking and basically sabotaging him, with him knowing, which brings some of the old Marx brother magic back.
 
Some of the other set-pieces – including the extended climax aboard a plane – are a mixed bag, and have good moments, but also drag a little. Groucho’s series of one-liners feel a little tired more often than not this time around – as if he may be trying just a little too hard to be funny (although, his uttering “The master race” at a key moment is hilarious – and there are plenty of good moments – visual gags, etc. throughout the film.
 
If A Night in Casablanca disappoints somewhat, it’s because after five years away from the screen together, you’d think the trio would have something more up their sleeve then they do. It’s not that the brothers didn’t make some mediocre films even during their 1930s heyday – they certainly did – but when you’re making a film a year, that’s to be expected. A Night in Casablanca is far from a bad film – it’s only 85 minutes long, and still has a fairly good joke-to-laugh ratio. Then again, these brothers are responsible for some of the best comedies of all time, and this isn’t one of those either – so I guess the question is on what curve do you want to grade the film.