Month in Review: September ’19

I don’t really know what happened, but in September I found a bit more rhythm and motivation to put up content. Maybe I was starting to feel guilty calling myself a “blogger” by putting up nothing but empty wrap-around posts and the occasional streamed review (see August — that was dire!). I have been one drag-and-drop away from inserting a John Wick gif declaring my triumphant return but the truth is I can’t provide any assurance October will be the same, so I’ll hold off on making anything Official.

It also helped I think that September supplied some really cool new movies, including a pair of potential end-of-year favorites in The Peanut Butter Falcon and Ad Astra — two distinctly different movies that each earned really high scores (4.5/5) for different reasons. The former for its pure entertainment value and winsomeness and the latter for its bold vision, impeccable visuals and an awards-worthy performance from Brad Pitt.

Without further gas-bagging, here’s what happened on Thomas J during September:


New Posts

Theatrical Releases: Ad Astra; The Peanut Butter Falcon; Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood

Streaming: I Am Mother; Mission of Honor (Hurricane)

Alternative Content: The Marvelous Brie Larson #5


Bite Sized Reviews: Hulu vs Netflix — Fight! 

Body at Brighton Rock · April 26, 2019 · Directed by Roxanne Benjamin · Clocking in at just under the hour-and-a-half mark this disappointingly uneventful “survival” thriller with a millennial lean is one of those rare examples of a movie needing to be just a hair longer for some of the elements to come together in a more satisfying way. Roxanne Benjamin writes and directs her first stand-alone feature film and if there’s one thing distinct about it it’s her style, her unapologetic fandom for “Hitchcock Hour” — the film presented as what could pass for a weekly installment into an anthology of close calls and misadventures. Body at Brighton Rock is defined by atmosphere rather than performance, one that’s both complimented and contrived by a screeching soundtrack provided by The Gifted. Bookended by 60s-style title cards, her story follows a rookie park ranger named Wendy (Karina Fontes), an “indoor type” who wants to prove her worth by doing some actual Park Ranger-ing. Of course the map-misplacing Wendy gets more than she bargains for when she stumbles across a lifeless body away from the trail she’s supposed to be on and when, through a combination of “circumstance” and “incompetence,” her communications devices all crap out on her — the dreaded dead phone icon, no!! — she’s left to fend for herself against “the elements.” I’m using a lot of quotation marks here because a lot of the movie feels superficial, not least of which being these so-called dire circumstances. Nearly 24 hours spent lost in the woods would suck in real life, an ordeal certainly worthy of Facebook status. But 127 Hours this is not. Body at Brighton Rock is, yes, impressively atmospheric and Fontes makes beans and rice out of what little she’s given but cinematic this also is not. It’s too staid in the action department, too plodding in detail — at least to support the ridiculous proposal that is the twist ending, something that’s clearly meant to evoke the Master of Horror and Suspense but ends up evoking more laughs than anything else. (2/5) 

Between Two Ferns: The Movie · September 20, 2019 · Directed by Scott Aukerman · Even as a fan regularly overwhelmed by fits of the giggles by Zach Galifianakis’ tawdry and tacky roast-the-guest web series Between Two Ferns, I’m not sure we really needed it to be stretched into a feature-length movie. Predictably, the movie’s best bits are the bits themselves, with the King of Awkward hosting/”humiliating” the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Keanu Reeves, Tessa Thompson, David Letterman, Brie Larson, Awkwafina, John Legend, Adam Scott, Tiffany Haddish, Chance the Rapper, Paul Rudd, Peter Dinklage, Jon Hamm, Hailee Steinfeld and Matthew McConaughey, as he feeds on both personal and professional insecurities. The plot, as it were, finds Galifianakis and his trusted production crew road tripping across the country in an attempt to secure 10 more episodes so the show host can placate his boss (Will Ferrell) and thereby fulfill his dream of becoming a late night talk show host. In between the ruthless onslaught of just . . . absurdly personal and uncomfortable questioning the movie half-heartedly fumbles around with a search for “true friendship” and “artistic integrity.” It may have been all the beer I was imbibing during, but it’s impressive how these actors manage to keep a straight face during these interrogations. That, I feel, is the entire point of the exercise — watching actors act awkward, and the results are surprisingly homogenous: The downward glances, the lip bites, the eye-rolls. David “Santa Clause on Crack” Letterman’s words of wisdom for Zach are also fairly revealing. Beyond that, Between Two Ferns: The Movie gets a flubbed high-five just for featuring Matt Berninger (frontman of The National) in a brief scene at a bar, singing alongside Phoebe Bridgers on an original duet (“Walking on a String”). (3/5)


What’s your most anticipated movie in October? 

The Armstrong Lie

hr_The_Armstrong_Lie_1

Release: Friday, November 8, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

In one of the more infamous press conferences involving the disgraced cyclist, Lance boldly made the claim that one of the reporters who had just asked him a tough question “was not worthy of the seat he sat in.” The irony of that biting statement is not lost on the rest of us, since no one anymore believes Lance is worthy of the one he once sat upon, either.

Before anything else is said, it should be noted that there’s not a great deal presented in this surprisingly dark documentary that the public hasn’t already known — unless you’re crawling out from under a massive rock, you are well aware this was one of, if not the greatest deceptions in all of sports history. And, spoiler alert, there’s no great argument presented that attempts to defend Lance. Based on the gravity of his actions and the way he went about handling the effects of them, he may be one of the most indefensible athletes in the era of televised sports.

An incredibly intimidating figure, Lance was not only infamously good at cheating an already broken system (plenty of bikers in the 90s were doping, and the film points out an alarming number of them), but perhaps the more important takeaway from all of this — the more disturbing motif of his life story — was his ability and desire to crush any opponent who dared cross him. If this happened on the bike, it would almost always guarantee you came in second place to the Plano, Texas-born rider. If ever you were unfortunate enough to blow the whistle on him off the bike, however, quite simply there’d be hell to pay. You’d rather Lance not know you.

Despite the air of familiarity, and the fact that the press has successfully plastered his image all over the globe by now, the quiet power of The Armstrong Lie is mostly derived from exclusive footage of the man himself. And, despite his true character, it feels almost like privilege to see Lance relaxing in a hotel room, discussing race strategies, considerations. . . such as how he’s going to transfuse his blood somewhere along the way. (Faking a transportation issue between race stages is one way to do it.) Multiple discussions are had between himself and his team about whether or not his doping will actually be a factor in the upcoming Tour de France. The frankness of such conversations might be best described as eye-opening.

We may all have some big picture idea of this guy and how his legend (rather, the lack thereof) is going to proceed him, but Alex Gibney managed to put himself in a position, both throughout the many stages of Lance’s penultimate Tour de France (2009) and throughout his day-to-day life across several critical years, a perspective that gives us little extra glimpses of a man we wished he could have been instead of what he became. Thanks to Gibney’s persistence in shadowing Lance, viewers officially have a more intimate window into the life of one of the world’s most efficient, professional and perverse deceivers currently walking around.

The word ‘perverse’ seems appropriate because of the many groups he has taken along for a ride (uh…pun intended?), the most disturbing of which undoubtedly being the organization he created to help cancer victims.

Debating whether he truly cared for other cancer patients sadly is academic when the overriding narrative is so heinous (though it’s a little difficult to think he didn’t, considering the terrible state he was in throughout his own extensive treatment). The man lied about his natural abilities on the bike and, natch, everything seems to come in second place to that fact. As a result, the foundation — formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation — has been renamed to reflect the severity of his fall from grace. It’s now titled Live Strong, and Lance has lost all connections to it. Old news, yes. Still, there’s a lot of rare footage contained herein that allows the viewer to get closer to the rider than they might have otherwise been able to.

Perhaps the most crucial moment of all, both in the film and in Lance’s turbulent last ten years, revolves around one particularly embittered former teammate and friend, Floyd Landis, who rode with Lance on the USPS team. As Landis had also been involved in doping, he too faced punishment, though nothing to the extent his more notorious teammate would ultimately deal with. Landis’ 2006 Tour de France title was stripped and after several years of struggling to find another team to take him on after he admitted to continual drug use, his professional career more or less slipped away, in no small part due to the complicated relationship with Lance. His testimony is not only emotional, it’s difficult to comprehend. It is in these moments of the documentary we can get an idea of just what it was like living the professional cyclist’s life in the shadows of someone like Lance Armstrong.

One of the more poignant observations made here is that this is not a story about drug abuse, this is a story about power and the loss of control that fame can give someone. In some ways it is impressive to think about how he managed to hold things together for as long as he did. As an audience, the greatest reward for sitting through this depressing affair might be just getting to hear the words of defeat coming from the man’s mouth. Yes, it’s somewhat of a foregone conclusion that he would not get away with such a profoundly huge lie, but there is a sense of finality derived from this film that you might not get by sampling all the bad press he has on the internet and elsewhere.

Originally titled The Road Back, and intended to detail the miraculous recovery of this athlete and his improbable return to glory on the bike, Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie proves instead to be a thoroughly damning product, and one that shouldn’t be missed, if you can help it.

douchebag

4-0Recommendation: Not likely to move audiences in the sense that we might see something about the supposed seven-time Tour de France winner that we haven’t known about him. There is no positive takeaway, but this well-constructed story certainly adds color to an already dramatic event that effectively tarnished the sport of professional cycling in its entirety. I’d recommend it to those who hate his guts. I’d even recommend it to Landis.

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

Quoted: “I like to win. But more than anything, I can’t stand the idea of losing, because to me, that equals death.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com