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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

2020 Netflix
Directed by: David Dobkin ; Written by:Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Melissanthi Mahut, Mikael Persbrandt, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Graham Norton, Demi Lovato, and Pierce Brosnan
MPAA Rating: PG-13; Running Time: 123 Minutes

The Nicsperiment Score: 8/10

Lars Erickssong has a dream: ever since he was a small boy, he has wanted to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Sigrit Ericksdóttir also has a dream: ever since she was a small girl, she has wanted to be with Lars Erickssong. And finally, Erick Erickssong has a dream: that his son was somebody other than Lars Erickssong. As Lars and Sigrit approach middle-age, it appears neither of their dreams will be coming true. Despite their tireless musical work together, Lars and Sigrit don't seem anywhere close to getting into the Eurovision Song Contest, and because Lars can only focus on writing the perfect song, he has no time to turn his affections toward Sigrit. Meanwhile, life in their idyllic Icelandic town of Húsavík goes on until suddenly, through a series of bizarre events, Lars and Sigrit land a spot in the contest. As they leave for foreign shores, will they make their town and tiny island nation proud, or bring down national and regional embarrassment? Elrick sure hopes its not the latter.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga seems like a surefire miss on paper. Will Ferrell, despite past glories, hasn't exactly enjoyed any cinematic triumphs over the past decade. Underdog stories like the one found in this film have been done to death, and nobody can recycle a tired formula to middling results like Netflix's film division. On top of that, the high concept of an Iceland-set comedy based around an over-the-top singing contest could have produced something overly weird and stereotypical.
Thankfully, cliches and tired formulas can be overcome by an overwhelming abundance of heart. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga's got that enduring, charming heart of an underdog. Somehow, against all odds, nearly every element of this movie works. It starts with Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele's script, which deftly balances both broad and specific comedic elements. The laughs also come from carefully built character work. Despite some decidedly dark humor sprinkled throughout, the film isn't mean toward its core duo, instead letting the laughs flow from a genuine understanding of these characters. Ferrell, as Lars, does a great job of playing a guy whose short-sighted ambition has clearly blinded him appreciating what he already has. He's flawed, but in a relatable way that never allows his character to slip into outright unlike-ability. Even better as Sigrit, Rachel McAdams proves yet again how big of cinematic treasure she has become. The talented actress long ago proved her dramatic chops, but in recent films like Game Night, and now Eurovision, she's proven that she's only more highly refined the comedic skills she showcased early in her career. McAdams dives into this role, fleshing out Sigrit's hilarious eccentricities, but never allowing the part to become a caricature. The talented actress deftly blends humor and heart, and the script, along with Dobkin's direction, wisely puts her front and center, particularly in the film's final act. 
With all of this heart, along with McAdams' excellent performance, and even though Eurovision hits major beats underdog flicks have been working for decades, the film's emotional lynchpin moments all work. Most impressive is a stirring, surprisingly powerful moment celebrating Iceland and Húsavík. The film does real work creating a full character for Húsavík, painting the far north town as a unique and charming place where I must admit,  I'd gladly move to this very moment.
The film even gets the old "I just didn't know how to raise a kid like you" trope to work, particularly due to a wonderfully prickly performance by Pierce Brosnan as Elrick, along with the ex-Bond's great chemistry with Ferrell.  Really, I can't believe how well this film works. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a fine example of how, with heart, thought, and care, even the most exhausted cinematic elements can feel fresh and invigorating.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Doctor Sleep Director's Cut

2020 Warner Bros. Pictures
Written and Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, and Cliff Curtis

MPAA Rating: R; Running Time: 180 Minutes
The Nicsperiment Score: 8/10

Danny Torrance has The Shining, a power which gives him clairvoyance and telepathy. When Danny was a child, his father took on a job as the winter caretaker for a remote Colorado mountain hotel called The Overlook. Danny and his mother and father find they're not actually alone at The Overlook, which appears to be home to some force of malevolent evil. This force corrupts Danny's father, causing him to give in to his alcoholism and anger. It covets and wants to consume Danny for his power. In the end, Danny and his mother escape, but his father isn't so lucky. Unfortunately, this experience haunts the rest of Danny's childhood, as The Overlook's demons follow him, still wishing to take him. Danny learns to capture these demons with the power of his mind, but he can't overcome the constant stress his own powers cause him. 
As Danny grows older, he numbs the pain with alcohol, becoming an addict, just like his father, until he hits rock bottom. Determined not to become his father, Danny spends his few remaining dollars on a bus ride to a remote Maine town. There, he finds an advocate and employer in Billy Freeman, kicks the booze, and eventually takes on a job as a hospice orderly, where his powers allow him to peacefully guide his dying patients to the afterlife. All seems to be right in the world, except for one thing--unbeknownst to Danny, an evil, ancient group, known as the "True Knot" has been traveling the world, murdering and consuming The Shining from children who are gifted just like Danny, so that the True Knot can live for seemingly forever. This group, led by an ageless woman called Rose the Hat, comes to Danny's attention from their nearest target, Abra Stone. Young Abra has powers that dwarf Danny's own. Abra, feeling alone and terrified, lets out a psychic call to anyone who can hear...and it turns out Danny, several towns over, is the only one with the right kind of ears.
Doctor Sleep writer and director, Mike Flanagan had an unenviable job. He not only had to adapt Stephen King's just okay novel Doctor Sleep, but delicately navigate the major differences between the novel and cinematic Doctor Sleep predecessor, The Shining. While Flanagan wanted to honor King, who loathes the Stanley Kubrick cinematic adaptation that so heavily changed his original novel, he also wanted to recognize the events of Kubrick's The Shining, which have been heavily embedded into public consciousness. While I can't speak to the original cut of Doctor Sleep, I'm happy to say, Flanagan's Doctor Sleep Director's Cut successfully unites both versions of The Shining's realm.
Flanagan, most known for the atmospheric horror series, The Haunting of Hill House, as well as a successful Netflix adaptation of King's Gerald's Game, brings superior visual sensibilities to the table. Doctor Sleep's early scenes, which lean more heavily into outright horror, are macabrely beautiful. As the movie's world opens up, and Doctor Sleep becomes more of a supernatural drama, Flanagan's visuals evoke a comforting nostalgia. For the climax, Flanagan is somehow able to both recapture the feel of Kubrick's work and maintain his own style. However, Flanagan's biggest miracle is the way he unites the differences in Kubrick's and King's interpretations.
Flanagan's script also does some great improvement upon King's work in Doctor Sleep. Flanagan not only finds ways to give Danny closure with his father, something the novel only touches lightly, but creates a more satisfying overall climax. However, some of the book's major flaws are still here. Just like in the book, Abra is shown to be more powerful than the whole of The True Knot very early on. With Danny on her side, as well, there's little doubt that Abra will prevail, despite the fact that Flanagan does a better job of selling Rose's menace. There's also still a bit of a disjointed feel, with The Knot not really interacting with our protagonists until late in the work. While Flanagan's attempts are admirable, this still sometimes feels like two different narratives. He also does nothing to fulfill a major setup King left incomplete:
The audience is introduced to a character who becomes The True Knot's newest convert. It seems like this character is being fleshed out to be Abra's parallel, while Danny seems as if he will parallel Rose. However, after a lengthy introduction to this character, she comes to nothing, just like in the book--a disappointing waste. She does serve to introduce more of The Knot's customs, acting as a brief audience surrogate, but she could and should have been so much more.
Overall, though, Flanagan's Doctor Sleep Director's Cut is an admirable adaptation, more fully exploring themes of addiction than its source material, and featuring a standout performance from Ewan McGregor as the adult Danny. McGregor wouldn't seem the first choice for this role, but he puts in multifaceted work, and actually makes Danny more relatable than his novel analogue. Kiwi, Cliff Curtis, also does great work as the empathetic Freeman, who wants to help Danny, but is also harboring his own pain. I generally expect Rebecca Ferguson to be great, and she's a solid Rose, though her accent fluctuates a bit (perhaps intentionally). Meanwhile, young Kyliegh Curran is a little stiff as Abra, though she gets better as the film goes on, and Abra takes a more active role. 
A three hour film can generally travel in two directions: to a land of boredom or to a place you want to stay forever. I could most definitely live in Doctor Sleep Director's Cut. Flanagan has created a wondrous, sometimes frightening, yet comfortingly familiar world, and not once did I check my watch. In fact, I was sad that the film had to end. I didn't want to leave.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Never Do Something Halfway

My commitment to my 90's podcast with Jordan Courtney can never be questioned! I really dive into the material, and if there's a video game, the tubular thing to do is play it and review it.
With that said, we just released an episode focused upon the controversial Alien³. Not only did I watch the movie four times, but I played the video game too! Here's a review of Alien³ for the Super Nintendo:

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

It's Time for Filmshake's Alien³ Episode!


My 90's movie podcast with Jordan Courtney doesn't often get the chance to deeply analyze a film--after all, there's not much in 1999's Wild Wild West or 1998's Godzilla that deserves a deeper look. Maybe because of this, for our new episode on 1992's Alien³, we went hard...really hard. If you want to listen to me relate a 28-year-old overlooked science fiction film to the writings of Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger, Alan Pratt, William Shakespeare, and Dylan Thomas, look no further. This episode is it!
It's's got some funny bits too. You can't say we're not diverse!

Monday, August 03, 2020

Alien³ (Film Review)

1992 20th Century Fox
Directed by: David Fincher; Written by: David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, and Lance Henriksen
MPAA Rating: R; Running Time: 114 Minutes/145 Minutes

The Nicsperiment Score: 8/10 (for both the original and Assembly cuts)

Ellen Ripley has just experienced one of the biggest victories of her life. She's seemingly destroyed the xenomorphs, those acid-for-blood, killing machine aliens that have haunted her life for years. Even better, she seems to have gained a surrogate family, with a new daughter in Newt, a partner in Hicks, and a friend in Bishop. However, as the foursome cryosleep on their way back to Earth, something begins to wreak havoc on their ship. Before you know it, their pod has crash-landed on a grimy prison planet, and everyone but Ripley is dead. Even worse, the culprit is a sole-remaining, hidden alien-facehugger...and it's produced another xenomorph. To make matters even more grim, Ripley is stranded not only with a xenomorph, but with a gaggle of former rapists and murderers. These men have apparently found God way out on this godforsaken planet, and volunteered to stay and work the prison foundry long after the actual prison has closed. As the xenomorph makes its presence known, and matters become more and more dire, Ripley finds that the greatest threat of all may be her waning will to live.
Look, I hated Alien³ back when I saw it for the first time. I love the first two Alien films, and the first ten minutes of Alien³ seemed like a slap in my and other fans' faces. However, as the years have passed, and I've slowly forgiven Alien³ for the fact that it immediately discards the survivors of Aliens, I've come to appreciate it for what it is: a thematic completion of the Alien series, and a worthy ending for the character of Ellen Ripley. There's an even bigger miracle at work here than me changing my mind about something, though:
Despite having to battle a meddlesome studio throughout Alien³'s shoot, first-time director, David Fincher, still manages to make his style and themes reign supreme. 
Rather unusually for a major studio blockbuster, Alien³ deals with heavy topics like nihilism, as Ripley struggles to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. Fincher may have disowned the film due to the studio's intereference, but the fact of the matter is, this is a stunning debut, full of brilliant visuals, as Fincher somehow makes rusty grey and tan seem lush and sumptuous. He also coaxes some incredible performances out of his actors. 
Sigourney Weaver puts in one of her career best as the broken Ripley. Charles Dance is brilliant as the prison's sensitive doctor, while Charles S. Dutton shines brightly as the collective's religious leader. 
The film does have minor issues with continuity due to the studio cuts, and not all of the prisoners get their due as a result. This issue is remedied by a later-released "Assembly Cut," which restores much of the removed footage to great effect, yet bloats the film and makes several minor, yet questionable changes. Overall, the same themes and incredible performances and visuals are conveyed (as well as Elliot Goldenthal's incredible score), regardless of which version one watches.
Alien³  requires the viewer to leave their expectations at the door. It's taken me quite a while to do that, but now that I have, I've found more and more to chew on the more I revisit. I hope one day Fincher can embrace his debut, as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Film Review Archive (A-Z)

















Tuesday, July 28, 2020

This Will Destroy You -- This Will Destroy You


For Christmas in 2011, my cousin Adrian, aka "The Rabbit," bought me a stack of CD's. He was unsure if I'd like them, outside of one, which he thought was a gimme. I enjoyed every album from the stack...but the gimme. Which is weird, considering Adrian and I have a very similar tastes in music. That not so gimme "gimme" was This Will Destroy You's 2008 self-titled album.
This Will Destroy fits the so-called instrumental post-rock genre to a T. Meaning if that mold was T-shaped, and you put the album in there, you would have to do no shoving to make space, and yet would have no space left over. The album's songs are long, drawn-out pieces, generally featuring minimalist, effect-laden, guitar-heavy builds, finally climaxing with distortion, crashing percussion, and of course, louder volumes, though this album's crescendos are quieter than most. The songs on This Will Destroy You either do that, or simply trickle along on ambience for a few minutes. That's about it. The album adds nothing new to the genre, and seems tailor-made for commercials that could use a certain type of sound in the background. Indeed, after the album's release, the commercials came calling.
I don't mean to cast aspersions upon this band. Though I find This Will Destroy You to be pleasantly boring, I can tell there's some passion underneath. And Adrian really likes it, so that's got to count for something.

2008 Magic Bullet
1. A Three-Legged Workhorse 9:12
2. Villa Del Refugio 7:06
3. Threads 5:41
4. Leather Wings 3:30
5. The Mighty Rio Grande 11:18
6. They Move on Tracks of Never-Ending Light 6:59
7. Burial on the Presidio Banks 7:44