The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot

Release: Friday, February 8, 2019 (limited)

→ Redbox

Written by: Robert D. Krzykowski

Directed by: Robert D. Krzykowski

With a title as extravagant as The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot it’s hard not to build up some extravagant expectations. Maybe you’d assume this is an adaptation of an obscure graphic novel you’ve never heard of, something akin to V for Vendetta, or a righteously vicious midnight movie where the last one left standing is the audience in ovation.

Well, hate to say it but if you’re in bloodlust right now this movie just won’t do. Robert Krzykowski’s directorial début is more of a melancholic character piece than a slicked in dudesweat thrill ride to the edge of sanity. The good news is that it’s well worth seeking out, you just may need to be in the mood for something more quirky than straight-up crazy. This is a movie that unabashedly marches to the beat of its own idiosyncratic drum, and in so doing it largely and surprisingly steers clear of the expected, i.e. bloody machismo.

The story tells of the eventful life of a mysterious man named Calvin Barr and focuses on him in two different eras. The flashback-heavy first half gives us a glimpse of who he was, a young American spy/assassin sent on a highly classified and dangerous mission into the heart of Nazi Germany to take out the Führer. He’s played here by Aidan Turner who offers a convincing younger visage. By way of a small supporting turn from Caitlin Fitzgerald it also teases the life he might have led had he never shipped out.

All of this is filtered through the memories of Sam Elliott‘s world-weary, retired veteran in the present day. It is this version of the character we first meet, nursing a whisky at a bar. As he stares the drink down like it owes him money he disappears into his thoughts, taking us with him. After the war Calvin returned with some pretty big secrets and so retreated to a small town somewhere near the Canadian border where he’s spent most of his time minding his own business, contending with the occasional carjacking punk and the pebble that just won’t get out of his boot. His golden retriever has remained his most trusted confidante. If self-exile looks lonely, the feeling is certainly no reward for someone who ostensibly saved western civilization (and who will end up doing it twice).

At least it’s peaceful. But then all that gets trampled on by the Feds (Ron Livingston and Rizwan Manji) suddenly appearing on his doorstep. They’re seeking the legendary Nazi-slayer for his help in bringing down the one they call Bigfoot, whose (yes, actual) existence would be nothing more than a pretty cool photo op for any passerby were it not for the deadly virus the creature is lumbering around with. Calvin, finding himself once more exploited by Uncle Sam, must confront his painful past and the unsavory prospect of doing things he swore he’d never do again. What more of himself is he willing to sacrifice to someone, something that never says thanks?

The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot is preoccupied with grand concepts of heroism, legends and myths and how a lot of mountains are made out of mole hills when it comes to the way we preserve and pass down stories through the generations. Krzykowski doesn’t wax too philosophical on any of those ideas but they’re perceptible enough. What I found much more intriguing (and more pronounced) is the story’s attitude towards violence, what it does to the perpetrator, morally and emotionally. The journey is almost a shying away from violence rather than an enthusiastic march toward it. Yet an air of inevitability seeps into every scene. The Great Mustachioed One may not dominate the screen in movie minutes but he’s clearly the one in charge here, his down-home style of acting the ideal fit for the tone Krzykowski is uh, gunning for. Elliott has more gravitas than the rest of the cast combined — and yes that does include The Abominable Snowman, whose sickly appearance is both grotesque and just the teensiest bit sad.

Oh. Deer.

Recommendation: A far more mellow movie in action than its title suggests, The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot works best as a meditation on aging, regret and the ravages of time. Features a very sturdy, introspective Sam Elliott performance at its core, which goes a long way in helping us stay connected. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 98 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.cinema.pfpca.org

A Star is Born (2018)

Release: Friday, October 5, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Eric Roth; Bradley Cooper; Will Fetters

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper has been a star for some time, but alongside the inimitable pop star Lady Gaga he seems to burn even brighter. Legitimately honing another craft within the framework of one of his best acting showcases to date, Cooper, aided by a beard, a guitar and a mic, manages to hit all the right notes, on both ends of the camera.

With A Star is Born, the 43-year-old isn’t exactly stepping out on a limb when it comes to finding a subject for his directing début. Famously A Star is Born tells of two careers in showbiz trending in different directions — one star rising as the other fades. The luminous Judy Garland beat Lady Gaga to the role by more than half a century (that film, although about a woman yearning to become a Hollywood starlet rather than a world-touring singer/songwriter, is the template I’m told this one adheres closest to) while Cooper shares a similar arc with the likes of Fredric March, James Mason and Kris Kristofferson in years past. So yes, the story Cooper is telling has already been told several times before, but that doesn’t mean his version has nothing to offer. The craftsmanship and character work make the movie worth savoring. That Gaga and Cooper make quality music together is the cherry.

In the 2018 rendition Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a big time performer who sold out stadiums in his prime and whose tired eyes and gravelly, baritone voice have seen and sung it all. Years of demanding tour schedules have taken their toll on him physically and mentally. Drugs and alcohol have become better roadies to him than his older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott). Each successive gig finds Jackson deeper and deeper into a bottle, until one night there is no more and he’s compelled to scout local dives to quench his thirst. As fate would have it, he stumbles into the same drag bar Ally (Gaga) spends much of her free time singing and dreaming of a different life. Worlds collide when Jackson is permitted a meet-and-greet. A deep connection is formed and instantly.

Nowhere is the evolution of a classical romance more apparent than in Cooper’s casting of Gaga as the meteorically rising Ally, who has been told ten times too many how people like how she sounds but not the way she looks. Mother Monster, as her fans call her, is of course the embodiment of a modern culture and a modern industry, a chameleonic performer whose flashy stage presence often obscures reality. Not that all the colorful accoutrement tell an untruth, but there is certainly a sense of dressing down, or a veil being lifted both in terms of wardrobe and in her performance as she confesses her insecurities to a sympathetic stranger. And it isn’t just in this first intimate moment, some of her own numbers at the piano (“Always Remember Us This Way”) feel like revelations in their own right.

The film features an assortment of impactful performances, evidenced by smaller but still significant supporting turns from the likes of Dave Chapelle as Noodles, an old drinking buddy who has cleaned himself up but still finds himself having to help a spiraling Jack out of the gutter, and Andrew “The Dice Man!” Clay as Ally’s father who once imagined himself a knock-off Sinatra. Still does. But none hog the gravitas all to themselves like the mustachioed Elliot as Bobby who is helpless, like Ally, to do anything about the demons that continue to plague his younger brother.

Quite honestly Elliot deserves an entire paragraph dedicated just to him. He is that good here and that voice of his always deserves more press. But this isn’t his show. This is unequivocally Cooper and Gaga’s time. A Star is Born dramatizes aspects of the entertainment industry, namely the tug-of-war between artists and their vision and managers/producers who have their own agendas, as well as the stresses of not simply finding success but trying to make it last. More fundamentally though this is a love saga and the enduring power of love. If there is any justice, this movie too shall endure.

Recommendation: A Star is Born is given a modern facelift with the innately likable Bradley Cooper and a revelatory Lady Gaga, and the results are surprisingly powerful. Beyond the professional fakery, the music is genuinely good. Who knew Rocket the Raccoon had such pipes? 

Rated: R

Running Time: 135 mins.

Quoted: “Can I touch your nose?”

Song played most frequently during the writing of this review

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

The Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur movie poster

Release: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Meg LeFauve

Directed by: Peter Sohn

Life’s pretty good if you’re a Pixar film. Contrary to the fact the ambitious animation studio is consistently held to a higher standard than the likes of DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Fox and Warner Bros. (to name a few), such an impressive track record has earned it the luxury of being able to crank out the occasional less-ambitious production without fearing a major media storm in which words like “disaster,” “major setback” or “uninspired” could comprise the headlines of the day.

Since introducing Woody and friends in the mid-90s the studio has essentially controlled its own destiny. So why shouldn’t it be allowed to conjure something that, narratively speaking, doesn’t aspire to classic status? I haven’t seen everything the studio has put out, not even close, but I feel comfortable suggesting that Cars 2 looks forward to greater replay value than, say, Hotel Transylvania 2. After all, the one constant that can be found in these films is the visual grandeur. In fact Hayao Miyazaki’s team of impossibly talented artists over at Studio Ghibli seem to be the only ones interested in giving Pixar a legitimate run for its money.

I don’t mean to suggest Pixar should ever become complacent though. With its latest adventure, The Good Dinosaur, a charming tale focusing on a family of green apatosauruses, there is an undeniable emphasis on graphics rendering over narrative construction. It tells of Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an unconfident and wobbly-kneed youngster trying to make his way back home after falling in a river in his attempts to fend off an intruder in the form of feral child Spot (aw, how cute! — no, wait; he’s going to eat these dinosaurs out of house and home . . . not cute).

The Good Dinosaur theorizes something pretty radical: what if the meteor that wiped out these prehistoric beasts never actually hit Earth? In this scenario, millions of years on, dinosaurs not only still exist but dominate the landscape, and have developed to the point of being able to articulate their thoughts and verbally communicate with one another. Arlo’s family happen to be efficient farmers. They place high value on working hard and loving one another, with Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) encouraging their three offspring to make their mark — a literal mud-print on the side of their stone silo — by doing something for the family and not just themselves.

Inevitably Arlo and Spot become reluctant traveling companions as Arlo starts to realize his enemy might actually be of help in getting back home. In practical terms, he recalls the advice of his father: as long as he follows the river he’ll find his way, but in this harsh, unpredictable and ultimately impossibly beautiful environment Arlo could use the company. He often benefits from Spot’s defensive nature and knack for finding sustenance. In a brilliantly crafted scene that sees the pair mourning — with almost no dialogue — their respective home lives, Arlo learns the little boy is also desperate for companionship.

The Good Dinosaur boils down to a generally well-intentioned though considerably flawed protagonist having to confront his deepest fears and ultimately overcome them. As the film expands, the meteor strike that never was turns out to be a footnote rather than a headline. It’s nothing if not a convoluted way to justify talking dinos and the role reversal between humans and prehistoric reptiles.

We get the requisite subplot that obliges Arlo to put others’ needs in front of his own (just as Poppa had encouraged him to do). A trio of Tyrannosaurus Rex, led by Sam Elliot’s intrepid Butch, ends up rescuing the pair from some insane pterodactyls. Arlo pays it forward by helping them recover a herd of long-horned bison they had lost track of. In the process, he gets one step closer to being back in familiar territory.

As an audience we never truly leave familiar territory behind. We’ve seen this story replayed dozens of times before, and within the Pixar universe. Thankfully, the photorealistic backdrop goes a long way in compensating. As per usual, the world is fully realized and completely immersive. Throughout our journey we come across creatures both friend and foe, bare witness to spectacular sunrises that crest the jagged peaks of Teton-esque mountain ranges, and weather severe storms that manifest as some of the film’s most unforgiving antagonists.

In keeping with tradition, almost everything you see on screen is a character unto itself, with some becoming far more memorable than others. Arlo comes in a close second behind the curious little Spot, who is very difficult not to fall in love with come the tear-jerking conclusion. I’m willing to forgive the film it’s few shortcomings because, and I reiterate, this isn’t proof of Pixar forgetting how to tell sophisticated stories. This is proof the studio knows there are different ways to express sophistication.

umm. . .yeah, supposedly this is an animated film

Recommendation: This isn’t a film that satisfies both halves of its audience in equal measure. Adults aren’t going to share in their children’s giddiness in the same way they did with Pixar’s earlier 2015 offering but there’s more than enough here for those with more matured palettes to feel comfortable kicking back and basking in the technical achievements made possible by the advent of superior graphics rendering software. And while the story isn’t the most ambitious, The Good Dinosaur is still a beautiful film in more ways than one.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “The storm provides!” 

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

Grandma

Release: Friday, August 21, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Paul Weitz

Directed by: Paul Weitz

Grandma is a misleading title for a film dealing with taboos such as teen pregnancy and abortion. Presenting a thoroughly convincing conundrum in which a young girl turns to her unstable grandmother following a one-night stand that causes her to become pregnant, Paul Weitz’s latest deflects accusations of being just another political soap box movie with wonderful performances and a nonjudgmental tone.

I know what you’re thinking (other than the fact you can’t believe the guy who made American Pie came up with this one): this is one of those guilt-trip flicks, and it would be a good idea to have a position on the issue before watching. You wouldn’t be completely off-base by assuming this is a film with an agenda. After all, Weitz doesn’t really hide his feelings by using a teen as his subject. But Grandma is far less manipulative than you might (fairly) assume, maturing over the course of 80 short minutes into a heartfelt tale about motherly responsibility and the galvanizing power of familial love.

Lily Tomlin stars as the titular grandma, Elle Reid, a cantankerous sort who’s currently in a bit of a spat with her ex-girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer) and having a difficult time financially. Clad in denim and dark clothes, her hair a perpetual mess, Elle is a somewhat obstinate older woman who can’t seem to get along with others. She’s not even particularly liked by other members of her family, though her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) is more level-headed and understanding than Elle’s own daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden). Sage approaches Elle because she believes she will be more willing (not necessarily more able, as the film will prove) to assist her. The pair set off on a quasi-adventure, scouting the area for people who’d be able to help them raise the $600 needed for the procedure. In the process the two become closer to one another.

Their mission is sort of time sensitive, as Sage makes an appointment the same day she asks Grandma for help. Nat Wolff plays the (not good) guy in question. He’s the first of many whom Elle and Sage seek out and, predictably, he refuses to chip in. So Elle righteously smacks him in the crotch with the handle of a hockey stick. (I don’t know if she was attempting to prevent him from making babies in the future, but it sure looked that way.) We move on down the road, coming across many of Elle’s old acquaintances and friends — a tattoo parlor owner named Deathy (nice, that’ll keep customers coming back); an employee working in a small restaurant where Elle’s ex used to work . . . although it turns out Elle was wrong about her employment status; and an old flame in the form of Sam Elliot’s Karl who sniffs out Elle’s ulterior motives quickly.

Grandma isn’t ambitious. Neither is its leading pair — whose age gap actually makes for an unusual and compelling dynamic. Merely seeking a way to solve Sage’s current crisis, they are people we can really get behind and root for, despite our feelings on the subject. With a story involving abortion, there’s no chance of it escaping the label of ‘controversial,’ ‘bold,’ or other similar, neutral descriptions. Tomlin’s highly entertaining performance makes for a well-rounded and fleshed-out Elle; young Garner impresses as the troubled teen, and though innocence radiates from her in contradictory fashion, that’s sort of the point. The situation having befallen her is more shocking than the decision she makes on her own.

At the same time, Weitz is really putting himself out there, tackling such hot button topics as abortion, sexuality and parenthood, the latter obviously being the least hot button of them all. The way he blends his themes together is ambitious. That he can infuse the drama with a decidedly heavier comedic touch is a plus. Grandma‘s breezy narrative traces the long-term effects that parenting can have, while offering incisive commentary on the different values each generation seems to adopt and discard accordingly. You may not agree with the characters’ decisions but it might be easier to agree that Sage’s grandma is pretty awesome.

Recommendation: A slight production, Grandma could have been a prickly little pear but thanks to heartwarming performances and a genuine understanding of the importance of family it is hardly confrontational. I actually find it to be one of the better non-family-oriented family films of recent times (if that makes any sense at all — basically, don’t take the kids to this one). I’m a newcomer when it comes to Lily Tomlin but I have found one of the year’s greatest performances. Tomlin really makes this movie. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 82 mins.

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.sonyclassics.com