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Review of MANOLO: THE BOY WHO MADE SHOES FOR LIZARDS (DVD)

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Grade: C+/B-
2017, 89 min., Color
Documentary
Music Box Films
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: B-
Trailer
Amazon link

As a documentary, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards is a product of the times. Reality TV programming has pushed the public’s fascination with celebrity and celebrities to an extent that we haven’t really seen since the Golden Age of Hollywood and the initial proliferation of gossip magazines. Atypical of road-to-success biographies, this film offers an adorational profile of high fashion “cobbler” Manolo Blahnik— one that celebrates the designer’s personality and celebrity more than it explains his methods or his rise to prominence.

The title is literal. As a young boy Blahnik, who grew up in the Canary Islands, really did make tiny little shoes for the lizards that he would catch and play with. But as I said, this isn’t the standard biography that proceeds chronologically in order to explain how that young boy grew up to be one of the most influential fashion figures of the 20th and now 21st century. It’s not emphasized how he lived with his aunt and uncle and how the latter helped his fashion tastes to evolve, and we really don’t learn much about the early transformative years.

The first two-thirds of the film is devoted to creating an impressionistic portrait of the flamboyant Spanish designer, reinforcing how big he actually is in world pop culture and fashion. We see celebrity after celebrity fawning all over Blahnik or his shoes and quickly deduce that he was the main designer on the radar of the rich and famous—both entertainers and political royalty. Blahnik repopularized the stiletto heel and when high-fashion footwear was called for in the movies, he was often the one costume designers turned to—with one film, Marie Antoinette, offered as an extended example. But mostly we hear people talking about Blahnik and we hear Blahnik talking about his life.

It’s not until the last third of the film that we actually get a few specific details on how Blahnik’s celebrity and high-level of success came about, though the impressionistic structure of the documentary still carries through. By the end of the film you feel as if you have some sense of who Blahnik is, why he’s important, and just how famous he really is. Quirks such as his germaphobia-driven white gloves seem to take on an air of normalcy as we listen to him and watch him go through interviews and book-signings and other events. Yet, you still have questions about his life.

Blahnik is really just a co-star in his own biographic documentary. The other stars are the shoes themselves, and director Michael Roberts showcases them as much as he does their creator—not so much how they were made or designed, mind you, but more of a celebration of them as pop culture celebrities themselves. As a result, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards feels like a fan film, a tribute film.

If your family is into TV shows like Project Runway and Say Yes to the Dress, this documentary will be of interest. Any budding designers in the family won’t exactly find tricks of the trade or a template for success, but Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards will reinforce the high-camp glitz of the fashion world enough to where they’ll be confirmed in their dreams of wanting to become a part of it all.

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Review of BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+/B
2017, 164 min., Color
Sci-Fi drama
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: A-/B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

Blade Runner 2049 is rated R, but if you have older teens (15+) they’re probably begging you to let them see it, so I’m reviewing it here.

More homage than sequel or remake, Blade Runner 2049 picks up 30 years after the action of the groundbreaking 1982 sci-fi film from director Ridley Scott, who probably would have directed this one if he wasn’t already working on a project. For fans, Blade Runner 2049 offers the same bonus attraction as Star Wars: The Force Awakens—the return of Harrison Ford to an iconic role. For a new generation, the appeal is current Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling, who plays a 2049 version of Ford’s LAPD replicant-hunting cop. The twist this time? By 2049, replicants (bioengineered synthetic humans) are so common and integrated into society that they even work as Blade Runners—those cops who track down and “retire” the old versions that are no longer functioning as they were programmed to do.

After K (Gosling) catches up with and eliminates an old replicant in the opening sequence, he discovers a box buried near a tree that, though dead, is still a rarity in this post-apocalyptic world. Rarer still are the small flowers he finds on the ground next to it. As it turns out, they were marking a grave, for inside the box are bones that have a number on it. A female replicant who, forensics explain, had died in childbirth. To them it’s a frightening discovery, for if replicants are capable of reproducing in the traditional way, it means they may also have feelings that the corporation that engineered them hadn’t programmed. That raises all sorts of questions. If they can reproduce, can they also harbor grudges? Can they mount a unified rebellion? Can they produce and store memories of their own, rather than being limited to those that are programmed into them?

K’s superior (Robin Wright) orders him to locate and take care of the replicant child in order to keep the truth from coming out and spreading panic—though this post-nuclear holocaust landscape is so bleak you wonder if anyone—replicant or human—is capable of extreme feelings. If that sounds like a slam, it’s not. The production design of Blade Runner 2049 is one of the film’s great strengths. It’s exquisite, if a bombed-out wasteland can be called that. The landscape and rubble and building remnants are as stylish as they are eerily believable. Is this where we’re headed? You can’t help but wonder, the terrain created by Dennis Gassner (Skyfall, Spectre, Road to Perdition) is so powerfully convincing—especially with a sound design and Hans Zimmer soundtrack that pulses like a futuristic heartbeat on life support.

The original Blade Runner wasn’t exactly a sprint to the end credits, but by comparison Blade Runner 2049 seems slow-paced—at least through the first act and the start of the second. Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival) embraces a pace so deliberate in the beginning that it gives the film a brooding quality. Blade Runner fans will love every minute of this homage and its richly imagined futuristic world, but younger viewers who are more into Gosling than they are sci-fi will find the beginning slow-going enough to wish that Villeneuve would have cut this 164-minute film by another 20 minutes.

If those same younger viewers were hoping to see Gosling shirtless, get ready for another disappointment. Blade Runner 2049 derives its R rating from violence, some sensuality, language, and female nudity—some of it quite gratuitous. So, #Timesnotexactlyup, basically the film reinforces that sexism and the objectification of the female body are alive and well in the even creepier corporate-controlled future.

Since Jared Leto has a relatively small part as the slightly insane CEO and Ford doesn’t come into play until the third act, this is really Gosling’s show, and fans will find him incredibly understated as K. This is L.A. in the future, not La La Land. But as a futurescape it’s a thing of beauty, and the main plot, though different, is faithful to the tone, message, and emotional core of the original 1982 film. Just be warned: though a woman

Yes there’s a female killing machine and there are perilous situations, but Blade Runner 2049 is not so much a sci-fi adventure, sci-fi action film, or sci-fi thriller as it is a serious sci-fi drama. It did quite well abroad but disappointed at the U.S. box office, and executive producer Ridley Scott told Yahoo! Entertainment he thought the reason why was because it’s “slow” and “too long. I would have taken out half an hour,” he said.

So would my 15-year-old daughter—the minimum age for this film, I would think—who spent much of the time on her phone.

Language: A handful of f-bombs plus a few lesser swearwords
Sex: Hologram nudes, female frontal nudity, naked replicants in glass cases
Violence: Occasional but significant, with people’s stomachs slashed, people shot point-blank in the head, an underwater strangling, and a bludgeoning that turns bloody
Adult situations: Some alcohol use and smoking, and prostitutes presumably engaged in their trade (but nothing graphic shown)
Takeaway: Good movie, but it would have been interesting to see what Ridley Scott’s version would have looked like

Review of THEEB (DVD)

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Grade: A-/B+
2014, 100 min., Color
Drama
Film Movement
Not Rated (Would be PG-13 for some bloody sequences and violence)
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Arabic 5.1 Surround (with automatic English subtitles)
Bonus features: B+ (director’s commentary)
Trailer
Amazon link

No offense to James Franco or director Danny Boyle, but I think if I’m locked in a room with only one survival-in-the-wilderness film to watch again and again, I might pass on 127 Hours and opt for Theeb instead.

Theeb is a 2014 Arabic-language drama-thriller from Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar, who describes his film as a “Bedouin Western.” Nowar and co-writer Bassel Ghandour lived for a year in Wadi Rum in order to get a feel for Bedouin culture and legends, and the result is this WWI-era film about a young boy’s highly unusual coming of age in the harsh desert. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of the equally atmospheric Lawrence of Arabia, parts of which were also filmed in the striking Wadi Rum desert. David Lean took three-and-a-half hours to tell his epic tale; Nowar takes a little over an hour and a half to tell his, which also has an epic feel to it because it’s about so much more than one boy and his adventure.

At the outset, Theeb (“wolf” in Arabic) and his older brother, Hussein, are talking over an evening fire with others in their tribe not long after the boys’ father, the Sheikh, had died. Into their midst comes a man from a different tribe and an Englishman who had hired him to take him to a rendezvous in the desert. The next morning, Hussein, the most qualified guide to lead the men to an old Roman well on a pilgrim’s trail deep in bandit territory, leaves with the two men. Though told to stay home because it’s too dangerous, Theeb, whom we are shown is exceptionally close to his brother, doesn’t often do what he’s told. He follows the men and their camels from a distance on his donkey, and after a day’s journey—too far and too late for them to send him home— he reveals himself to them.

Nowar uses the Wadi Rum setting in much the same way as American director John Ford used Monument Valley: as an iconic symbol, but also as such a dominant presence that it takes on the importance of character, rather than being a simple visual backdrop. The cinematography is gorgeous, and adds a rich texture to an already rich story.

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Review of IT (2017) (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+/A-
2017, 135 min., Color
Horror-Thriller
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B+ (nice interview with King, great feature on the kids)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

The 2017 reincarnation of It might be rated R, but it was one of those exceptions that under-18s begged their parents to take them to see in theaters. Why? Because that young audience absolutely loves the hit TV series Stranger Things, which pays tribute to ‘80s movies and takes its central structure from It, the Stephen King novel that inspired a popular 1990 TV miniseries before it did this remake.

In It, as in Stranger Things, the plot revolves around a fantastic sci-fi/horror force that is somehow involved in the mysterious disappearances of local children. And in It, as in Stranger Things, a group of pre-teen friends defy parents and secretly try to solve the mystery and stop the disappearances. Not coincidentally, there is one girl and one black boy in this group of bullied kids who band together, just as there was in Stephen King’s novel and TV miniseries.

The book does a much better job of explaining how “It” came to Earth like an asteroid, crashing into the small Maine town of Derry, which King based on his experience living in Bangor. “It” is a shape-shifter who surfaces every 27 years and feeds on children after preying on their fears—one of those fears being clowns, a shape that Pennywise, as the character calls himself, relishes. If you weren’t afraid of clowns before the 2017 version of It, you might be. Bill Skarsgard plays the creepy character with the same kind of unpredictable, hypo-energetic madness that Heath Ledger brought to the role of The Joker in The Dark Knight.

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Review of BAD LUCKY GOAT (DVD)

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Grade: B+
2017, 76 min., Color
Comedy-Drama
Film Movement
Not Rated (would be PG for the use of a goat head, some dirty dancing)
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Bonus features: B+ (“Miss World” 20-min. short film)
Trailer
Amazon link

Bad Lucky Goat is a film in English . . . with English subtitles, because the Caribbean accents are so thick that it’s easy to miss some of the dialogue if you’re not from the area. It’s also that rare foreign film that feels suitable for families with children, since it’s about two teens and there’s no sex, not much profanity, and none of the graphic violence that American audiences are accustomed to seeing.

Plot-wise, it’s a bit like the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. That is, a single incident sets an entire plot chain in motion: If you accidentally hit a goat while driving to pick up benches for your family’s small tourist hotel . . . you have to get rid of the body and somehow fix the damage to the family truck, or face the consequences. And if you have to get the truck fixed, you have to find the money to pay for it. That’s the simple premise behind this island tale about two siblings who are brought closer together because of their shared one-day adventure.

I said that Bad Lucky Goat was family-friendly, and it is. But you should know that these kids, while basically good, are no angels. They’re scam artists of the highest order—though you get the feeling that in Port Paradise scamming might be a way of life. After all, the first glimpse we get of life in this unspecified country (though it feels like Jamaica, Bad Lucky Goat was filmed in Columbia) is of a hapless police officer sitting on a curve with a radar gun, trying to catch a speeder. But we see that Cornelius (“Corn” for short) and his friend are using the situation as a money-maker to help them record a demo that might get them a tourist gig as musicians. One of the boys comes out of the bushes in a stretch of road just ahead of the cop to warn drivers with a sign; the other is positioned after the cop with a bucket to collect “tips.” Clever? You bet. Almost as clever as a scam one of the boys works later to fleece money from a congregational flock.

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Review of TIME TO DIE (1965) (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B+/A-
1965, 89 min., Black and White
Western
Film Movement
Not rated (would be PG for some violence)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Spanish LPCM 2.0
Bonus features: B-
Trailer (in Spanish)
Amazon link

The cover of Time to Die (Tiempo de morir) makes it look like a telenovela—the kind satirized in the popular TV series Jane the Virgin. But this film by legendary Mexican director Arturo Ripstein has more in common with classic, tense psychological Westerns like High Noon and the original 3:10 to Yuma. It’s an intelligently written drama that holds your attention from start to finish—no surprise, really, if you consider that the screenplay is by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with additional dialogue courtesy of another Nobel laureate, Carlos Fuentes.

If Time to Die wasn’t a Spanish language film with English subtitles, it would probably appear on lists of Best Westerns (top movies, that is—not the hotel chain).

Like High Noon and 3:10 to Yuma, this Western moves at a slower pace than is typical of the genre, with tension, not nonstop shoot-‘em-up action, the single most reason for the film’s success. That pacing also makes it an ideal film for families with junior high or high school age children who are studying Spanish in school.

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Review of DUCKTALES: WOO-OO! (DVD)

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Grade: B
2017, 21 min., Color
Children’s, Animation
Disney
Rated TV-G
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

It would be tempting to say that the 2017 reincarnation of the popular ‘80s animated TV series DuckTales pales by comparison, but that would be like trying to tell people who grew up with Roger Moore that Sean Connery is the better Bond.

A whole new generation is being introduced to the new DuckTales, and they have never seen the more traditionally animated ‘80s version. As a result, they also have no idea that the earlier TV series had more color and fuller animation, with characters rendered to reflect what viewers had seen in the last remnants of Disney comic books and voices that still matched what families saw on Disney’s Sunday television programs. Watching the new DuckTales, this new group of viewers has no idea that Donald Duck’s nephews—Huey, Dewey, and Louie—are drawn more with more rounded heads and barely formed beaks to distinguish them from Donald and his trillionaire uncle, Scrooge McDuck, or that their voices are more contemporary.

Just as they’re too young to know the difference, they’re also too young to think it matters. All they care about is if it’s fun to watch, and DuckTales: Woo-oo! is probably as good as any non-educational cartoons currently being produced for children.

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