Documentary Review: They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018)

Release Date: August 30th, 2018 (Venice premiere)
Directed by: Morgan Neville
Music by: Daniel Wohl
Cast: Orson Welles (archive footage), Alan Cumming (host, narrator), Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, Peter Jason, Cybill Shepherd, Frank Marshall, Beatrice Welles, John Huston (archive footage), Dennis Hopper (archive footage) 

Tremolo Productions, Royal Road Entertainment, Netflix, 98 Minutes

Review:

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is a pretty fascinating documentary but then Orson Welles, the film’s subject, is an immensely fascinating guy.

This tells the story of Welles’ attempt at trying to complete what would have been his final film: The Other Side of the Wind. However, the picture, despite Welles’ best efforts and years spent filming footage, would not see the light of day.

Beyond that, this explores why it never materialized into a final, complete form. It looks at Welles’ rocky relationship with the Hollywood elite but also shows how passionate he was about the project, which seemed to be ever evolving and not something that had any sort of definitive framework.

More than anything, this was a great documentary simply because it showed us an intimate look into Welles’ life and career at its final stages. He was a lovable, charismatic guy that remained somewhat enigmatic till the end.

It’s also worth seeing for any Welles’ fan, as it does show a lot of the footage that was filmed for The Other Side of the Wind. And even if you don’t get a clear understanding of what the film was to be, you do at least come to understand, as much as a mortal can, Welles’ creative process and motivation in making it.

This is a stupendous documentary film on the man and his brand of filmmaking. And since it is on Netflix, those with the streaming service should probably check it out.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Orson Welles and filmmaking from his era.

Film Review: X2: X-Men United (2003)

Also known as: X2 (original title), X-Men II (working title), X² (alternative spelling)
Release Date: April 24th, 2003 (UK premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter, Zak Penn, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu, Daniel Cudmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 134 Minutes

Review:

“You know, outside the circus, most people were afraid of me. But I didn’t hate them. I pitied them. Do you know why? Because most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.” – Nightcrawler

When this came out, I was pretty much blown away by it. Seeing it seventeen years later, not so much.

X2 is a film riddled with problems but it’s still good for what it is and for its era. It’s slightly better than its predecessor but after having just watched the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, it pales in comparison to the first two films in that series. In fact, I like the wonky Spider-Man 3 a hair bit more than this.

That being said, this does still have one of the greatest sequences in comic book movie history and that’s the part where the military squad attacks the X-Mansion, abducting the children and sending Wolverine and a few of the younger mutants fleeing into the night. I especially liked the inclusion of Colossus in this scene but that also made me wonder why he didn’t come back into the picture because he would’ve been helpful during the final battle. But I guess someone’s got to protect the kids hiding out who knows where.

Anyway, this is a film that is too driven by plot convenience and poor execution of those conveniences.

For instance, Storm can unleash dozens of tornadoes on military fighter jets but no one is worried about the innocent people living on the ground? And she does this while flying a high tech jet. Where was this immense wind power when the jet was going to be hit by raging water?

Which brings me to another poor plot convenience moment that saw Jean Grey have to push back a raging river while trying to lift the parked jet in an effort to save her friends. She’s powerful as fuck, why couldn’t she have just lifted the jet? An hour earlier, she stopped a missile with her mind. And getting back to Storm, where’s that wind power in this scene? Did you not pick up your power-ups in the final level?

I know I’m being pretty nitpicky here but these moments could’ve been shot better, explained better and just not been as stupid and devoid of logic. It seems like really lazy writing and if you needed to kill off Jean for the story, there are better ways to do it and they still could’ve had her sacrifice herself for those she loves. It just felt cheap and baffling.

This also must’ve been made in the era where they didn’t sign actors to multi-film deals because they spent so much time developing Nightcrawler but then he’s nowhere to be seen in the third film. His arc from the original X-Men trilogy is left incomplete. That just adds to the overall sloppiness of this film franchise. And it sucks because Alan Cumming was great as Nightcrawler and he was one of the high points in this trilogy.

The overall story in the film is pretty good though. I thought that the big finale was too long and could’ve been whittled down somewhat but it moves at a good, brisk pace.

Also, the set design, cinematography and overall look of the picture was a big step up from the previous one.

Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman kill it in just about every scene but Jackman really is the scene stealer, which is impressive when you think about where he was at in his film career in 2003 versus Stewart and McKellan.

In the end, this is still a decent way to waste a few hours but it’s not the great, epic film I saw it as when I was young and didn’t have such refined taste. Also, its since been overshadowed by the Raimi Spider-Man pictures, Nolan’s Batman movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Wallace Langham, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley

Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I’m the ladies number one. I’m the champ. Why would I lose?” – Bobby Riggs, “Because dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” – Billie Jean King

I wanted to see this in the theater last year but there were so many top notch indie movies coming out around the same time that this one got lost in the shuffle. It also didn’t help that it came and went in the cinemas near me pretty quickly. I think it was gone within two weeks.

Luckily, we live in a time where you can stream almost any movie in less than three months after it hits theaters. So when this popped up to rent, that’s what I did.

For the most part, this was entertaining and I cared about what was happening. The film felt like it was lacking some weight though. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it. It focused a lot of its time on Billie Jean King’s personal life in regards to her sexuality and that’s perfectly fine, as it may have really effected her game in the way that it did in this film but the actual “Battle of the Sexes” element seemed to be on the backburner through large portions of the film. It certainly didn’t feel like the real focal point until it happens on screen. Mostly this felt like two pictures pushed into one film without enough care and balance given to the script. Also, and I rarely say this, this is a film that would have benefited greatly with a longer running time.

I like both aspects of the story but things felt sacrificed on both ends, as this was a film that didn’t establish its identity well enough or at least given us both sides with more organic fluidity. It honestly feels like there was a half hour lobbed off of this movie late in post production. Like the studio decided that no one would sit through a 150 minute movie without superheroes blowing up cities.

Regardless of the disjointed narrative, the performances by Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great. Stone was absolutely believable as King, especially in showing her emotional struggle with her sexuality and with fighting for respect for women.

Carell’s take on Bobby Riggs reminded me a lot of his most famous character, Michael Scott from The Office. He didn’t play Riggs exactly like Scott but he had that same sort of presence where he was highly comedic and could still touch your heart dramatically in very subtle ways. He played Riggs with respect and didn’t just make him a sexist oppressor, which is so common in Hollywood movies these days. He was just as much a comedian as he was a tennis giant. And really, you’re sort of left wondering if Riggs was a genius and a hero in his own right because maybe, just maybe, he was trying to help women by being the chauvinist archetype that needed to be conquered. Granted, I don’t think he fixed the match, I just think that his anti-women stance was a show to create the perfect climate for the event to happen.

I also loved seeing Natalie Morales in this, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks & Recreation.

Furthermore, I adored Alan Cumming’s role, as he was an almost fatherly figure to King in regards to helping her accept her sexuality and reassuring her that she is going to be okay because times are changing and she’s a big part of that. It almost makes up for Cumming annoying the hell out of me as Boris in GoldenEye.

This film handles the issue of gender equality very well. Stone’s King sums it up best when she tells reporters that she isn’t doing this because she wants to show that women are better than men, she’s doing it for respect. That’s something that seems lost with the sentiment of a lot of modern feminists and social justice warriors. It’s about respect and coexisting for everyone’s benefit, not warring over who is better or trashing those who aren’t your gender.

At its core, this film was respectful to the historical figures it represented and to the culmination of their conflict. It’s also nice to know that everyone did go on to live happy lives and there was a real respect and appreciation between King and Riggs after the dust settled.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there just aren’t a lot of good tennis movies. Almost none, actually. At least where tennis isn’t just a minor element. But for 2017 and for being a historical sports biopic, I’d put this with I, Tonya.

Film Review: GoldenEye (1995)

Release Date: November 13th, 1995 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Jeffrey Caine, Bruce Feirstein, Michael France (uncredited), Kevin Wade (uncredited)
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Eric Serra, John Altman (uncredited)
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Cumming, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Minnie Driver

Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 130 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t like me, Bond. You don’t like my methods. You think I’m an accountant, a bean counter more interested in my numbers than your instincts.” – M, “The thought had occurred to me.” – James Bond, “Good, because I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.” – M, “Point taken.” – James Bond

I had always considered GoldenEye to be the best James Bond movie that starred Pierce Brosnan. It still is but revisiting it now, I realize that it isn’t the best by a wide margin. It’s a film that feels incredibly dated, boasts an atrocious score and is so goofy and over the top that the old Nintendo 64 game felt more realistic.

I like Pierce Brosnan as James Bond… A. LOT. It’s just that the vehicles they gave him weren’t up to the standard that his performances were. And to be honest, I think that the high opinion that people have about this chapter in the massive Bond franchise is really just caused by nostalgia for its video game adaptation.

Granted, that game, as fun as it was in 1997, is also extremely dated and sort of a relic from a bygone era of primitive polygonal first-person shooters. Some people still love that game but I picked it up recently and thought it was unplayable. And like that game, this movie is a product of its era and really only speaks to that era. It could have been the coolest thing at the time but we moved past that era pretty damn quickly and never looked back except through rose colored nostalgia glasses.

The score is the biggest problem for me. It pulls me right out of the film and is in conflict with the classical James Bond scores the franchise has become synonymous with. That early scene where Bond is racing his car through the mountains against Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp is a prime example of how the score ruins everything on the screen. It takes what should have been a cool and classic Bond moment and turns it into a corny cat and mouse game accented by a generic synth heavy tune that sounds like it should be in an early Tekken game or a Bulgarian porno movie.

We get one good moment with the score when the tank chase happens. However, John Altman stepped in to score that scene, where Eric Serra was the one who composed all that other bizarre stuff that wrecked the film’s vibe.

This film does have some strong positives and its those positives that keep this chapter above the other Brosnan Bond outings.

The biggest positive is that most of the cast was really good.

I loved Sean Bean and Famke Janssen as the villains and they made a great pair. I also liked Joe Don Baker returning to the franchise as an ally and not a villain. Also, Robbie Coltrane’s character is one of my favorites from the Brosnan era. The real highlight though, was the addition of Judi Dench as M. Her scenes with Brosnan were spectacular and she immediately walked in, stepped into the role and had a bigger impact than all the previous Ms.

On the flip side, Alan Cumming’s Boris was one of the most annoying characters I have ever seen on film. I guess he was supposed to be but over twenty year later, I still want to punch him in the face: ten times for each scene he’s in, multiplied by the amount of times I’ve seen this film. At least he was a good Nightcrawler in X-Men 2.

GoldenEye is decent but it is not great and certainly not as amazing as some people seem to remember it being. Sure, maybe it worked for 1995 but isn’t that the same year that the “Macarena” blew up?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Any other Pierce Brosnan Bond movie. But ignore Die Another Day at all costs.