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Can't Stop the Movies

Pass Over (2018)

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Moses and Kitch, stuck on the corner, start imagining what their paradise would be if not for the realities of life keeping them where they are.  Spike Lee directs Pass Over, a theatrical production with collaborating director Danya Taymor, with the screenplay written by Antoinette Nwandu, and stars Jon Michael Hill and Julian Parker.

Every few years, Spike Lee takes time away from his own work to collaborate with the creative team of a theatrical production to bring it to the cinema.  My favorite Spike films are in this vein, from the nervy excitement of Freak to the heartbreaking creativity of Passing Strange.  They're as much a creative exorcism as they are a focused realignment, freeing Spike from multiple duties to place his faith in the theatrical talent and bring the closed-off world of the stage to the screen.  Pass Over is not as entertaining as Freak or Passing Strange, but vibrates with uncertainty and pain on a level similar to A Huey P. Newton Story.

The wordsmith behind Pass Over is Antoinette Nwandu, a name I was not familiar with prior to Pass Over and now realize I have much to learn from.  She's a passionate and powerful speaker which is reflected perfectly in the dialogue of Pass Over as the lightly reserved Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker) wait for something - anything - to free them from the corner.  Their waiting might be familiar to anyone who has seen Waiting For Godot but the affect taps into a tension I feel sitting in restaurants, going to the theater, or buying groceries.  The tension that at any point someone who feels my life is theirs to do as they see fit can snuff out my existence on this planet.


Proud Mary (2018)

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Mary's been working for, and finding love in, one of Boston's most powerful crime families.  Danny was orphaned by Mary after she kills his father during a routine assassination.  Some time later their paths cross with Mary hoping to break the cycle of violence and take Danny with her.  Babak Najafi directs Proud Mary, with the screenplay written by John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, and Steve Antin, and stars Taraji P. Henson.

Taraji P. Henson has a spot on my personal list of performers who make everything better by simply appearing in their product.  From the big to small screen - Henson has squared off with the likes of Terrence Howard, William Shatner, and Janelle Monáe, stolen the spotlight from them, and made whatever product she's in feel more unpredictable because of her presence.  The only other performer I can say that about is Eva Greene, and should the two cross paths in a film somewhere down the line I may rip myself apart like a '90s superhero.

A star of her caliber should not have been forced to carry the entire promotional work of Proud Mary on her own and that's essentially what happened earlier this year.  Now that I've seen Proud Mary, I understand why but not to distributor Paramount's benefit.  Proud Mary isn't the slam-bang action film the trailer might have made it out to be.  Instead, Proud Mary is something weirder and more entertaining with Henson's unpredictable performance as Mary spreading to the rest of the cast, resulting in a once charming then menacing turn from Danny Glover and others.


A Quiet Place (2018)

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Humanity has been ravaged by deadly creatures who hunt via sound and whoever remains live their lives in quiet routine.  The Abbott family, reeling from the loss of their youngest child, prepares for the birth of the newest addition by taking as many sound-dampening precautions as possible.  God laughs, and the Abbotts must respond to the threat facing their home.  John Krasinski directs A Quiet Place, with the screenplay written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski, and stars Millicent Simmonds, John Krasinski, and Emily Blunt.

The power of diversity and representation in cinema doesn't come from hitting a quota or an excuse to use different aesthetics.  It comes from the ability to tell different stories, focus on unexplored dimensions of established tropes, and let those who haven't had the opportunity to play with the big toys show what they can do.

Director and star John Krasinski is not a deaf performer but filmed A Quiet Place with a big creative rule - if the deaf performers or mentors have an idea then figure out how to implement it.  Krasinski, following this guideline with costar Millicent Simmonds and backstage mentor Douglas Ridloff, crafts a horror film that is absolutely thrilling from start to finish with a world that feels more lived-in than dramas taking place in "real" cities.  I'm not a fan of talking about whether something is believable or not but I'm all about verisimilitude, and A Quiet Place has the appearance of truth even with its otherworldly skeletal microphone beasts.


Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

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Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan are two articulate friends who love music and have the combined academic skill of a sunbathing sloth.  When a mysterious stranger approaches the two with a way to complete their history report, Bill and Ted go on an excellent adventure throughout time.  Stephen Herek directs Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, with the screenplay written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (just Excellent Adventure moving forward) is the tightest comedy ever captured on film.  In this post-Apatow era of long-winded improv, Excellent Adventure's a remember how many laughs can be mined from a great script.  Every joke is a setup to another joke, like how Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) blow out their audio equipment in the opening scene to show how bad they are at playing and when they get the "good stuff" at the end they still sound horrible.  Then there's the running oral fixation of Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis) whose gigantic corndog in the San Dimas mall never fails to get a laugh out of me.

The most important piece is Excellent Adventure's sincerity.  Despite the high concept plot, it's really just about two high school kids who want to be better than they are so that they can live out their dreams together.  That made this last go around, which I think is the 40+ time I've watched Excellent Adventure, hit my heart a bit harder than previous year's viewings.  I'm not successful yet, but Bill's maxim, "Be excellent to each other," is still an aspiration to live up to.


The Last Express Gold Edition (1997)

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Special note: while I urge you to experience The Last Express for yourself if possible, both parts of my longplay of The Last Express (failures and all) are temporarily available for viewing.  Here's part 1 and part 2.

With two narrow hallways, a sampling of side-rooms, a smoking section, dining center, and two intermittently accessible areas of the train - The Last Express Gold Edition (just The Last Express moving forward) provides more of an "open world" videogame than products that openly advertise that feature.  Jumping in can feel daunting.  I know I had some issues getting into it the first time because no matter where I went there was a conversation to overhear, discussions to jump in on, and a murder mystery my player character Robert Cath (David Svensson) unwittingly becomes a suspect in.  Then there's the steady hypnotic sounds of the train itself, bumping on bits of rail and providing the kind of low groaning grind that's catnip for an afternoon nap.

No first-person adventure game of the '90s, not even Myst, gives me the freedom to explore this fascinating microcosm of the world circa 1914.  In Myst there's a discrete objective, even if the means of achieving the goal allow the player to achieve them in whatever order they see fit.  There's no such goalpost system in The Last Express, I could tarry around the narrow corridors peeking in on eunuchs and passengers making idle small talk without even discovering the mutilated corpse of Tyler Whitney.  Granted, if I choose to ignore the compartment and go about my merry way, then I'll lose and be thrown off the Orient Express.