Licorice Pizza (*BP22)

Is a coming-of-age film considered nostalgia if it follows your own personal timeframe of growing up? Licorice Pizza is at the top of countless Top Ten critics’ lists and has been nominated for Best Picture. But as a person who was approximately the same age as the lead character in 1973, I found the fact that I had an almost identical haircut then as a horrifying reminder of what it was like be a teenager in the 70s. And I am referencing the male lead, not the Alana Haim character.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson created a story set in that era that is very true to the hideous clothing and ridiculous attitudes of the time, but the film is a little too specific to the California lifestyle to be universal. Over halfway through it, I still couldn’t figure out what it was about—a series of random events in the life of kids? The stupidity of teenagers? How not to run a waterbed store in the middle of an energy crisis? When even the title has to be assumed knowledge, it makes those of us who were being awkward elsewhere feel disconnected from whatever the plot was supposed to be. (Licorice Pizza was the name of a record store chain in southern CA., but it is never explained or even referenced in the movie.) There are also incidents of casual sexism and racism that were part of the seventies, but sit uneasily for today’s audience.

Fans of Anderson might find this another winner, but I found it disjointed with unappealing characters. But it did make me nostalgic for the waterbed I had for ten years.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film One Kernel. A solitary, unpopped Old Maid is all I can manage for this movie, but I add the caveat that I found the seventies to be an awkward time to be a teenager and did not particularly want to revisit it. Younger viewers may find this film hilarious.

Categories: FlicksYouShouldNotPick

Oscar 2022!

March is the most exciting month of the year, where the Madness takes over and we fill in our brackets and start placing our bets!

I am referring, of course, to the 94th Academy Awards, coming soon on March 27. The Oscars have lost some shimmer the past few years; no one seems to want to host and face masks just did not work with couture evening wear. Then there was that whole La La Land/Moonlight Best Picture debacle a few years ago that just made everyone look foolish. But the Awards will be back this year—with three hosts!—and the dubious statement that nominees don’t have to prove they are vaccinated. Let’s hope Ricky Schroeder isn’t up for Best Actor.
Flicksthatmakemesick will attempt to post a review for every Best Picture nominee. (These reviews will be marked as *BP22.) Most of them are streaming now, so the fact that I’ve only seen a few so far shouldn’t be a problem. I was going to say I simply won’t sleep, but frankly, after watching The Power of the Dog, I may never sleep again.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

(This review is going to give away so many previously unknown secrets about the movie that it will be like Charlotte wove SPOILER into her web. Proceed accordingly.)

To prepare for this event, I watched seven of the previous nine Spider-Man films the weekend before I saw the new one. A good critic will do the work necessary to research a movie, gathering all the background information that will inform what they are about to see so their review will be accurate, well-thought out and aware of the history that brought the film to this exact place in the franchise. Plus, I am currently crushing hard on Andrew Garfield and wanted to see him in the Spidey suit again.

I’ve often wondered how critics can review Marvel films if they hate this genre of movie. That won’t be a problem here, as I have seen 26 of the total 27 films, including WandaVision and Loki on Disney+. (I have not watched HawkEye yet, because seriously, what is a guy with a bow and arrow doing in the Avengers?)

Marvel apparently wasn’t worried that combining all the villains and Spideys from all the Spider-Man movies might confuse people, and after bringing in over a billion dollars, it appears they were correct. It helps to have seen the earlier films just to keep track of the bad guys, but no one really cares once the three Peter Parkers show up. The first half of the movie is Dr. Strange opening a portal with a defective spell that frees all the bad guys from the first seven movies. I felt this was somewhat out of character for Stephen Strange to botch this whole escape from the multiverse, which is essentially a network of parallel universes that don’t usually overlap but has been corrupted by the time stones and . . . you know what, never mind. If you don’t know what the multiverse is, you are not the demographic for this movie.

It’s when the wrong Peter Parker steps through the golden portal that the movie really snares you in its web. I have seen YouTube videos of audiences leaping to their feet and screaming when the mask came off to reveal Andrew Garfield in the tight red suit instead of Tom Holland, who is the most recent Spider-Man. When the OG Spidey Tobey Maguire shows up, too, the director could have simply thrown away the script and let these guys just riff on great power and responsibility. The chemistry between the three actors is off the charts, and although there are also a lot of things exploding and getting zapped, the real electricity is between Peters One, Two and Three. 

This movie has made too much money for Marvel not to capitalize on this trio and figure out a way to bring them all back, but they had better hurry. Tobey Maguire is forty-six years old and that suit is not going to fit for much longer.

As a nod to the previous mission statement that formed flicksthatmakemesick, I was a tad worried that all that swinging from various tall buildings multiplied by three might bring back triple nausea, but rest assured that the camera work (or the CGI—I don’t believe there is a GoPro strapped to a stuntman’s head as he jumps off the Chrysler building) is as steady as Peter’s conviction that he is just a good guy helping out around the neighborhood and not a somehow invincible superhero who never seems to get hurt no matter how many times he is thrown through concrete.

Fun Fact Number One: if you made it all the way to the end, of course you know enough to stay in your seat for the extra scenes. The first one features Venom and a bartender who looked very familiar, but I couldn’t place him, until someone whispered, “Football is life!” Will Dani Rojas be joining the MCU?!

Fun Fact Number Two: all three Spider-Man actors have fallen in love with their leading ladies and dated long after the movies wrapped. Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst, Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone, and Tom Holland/Zendaya. The first two couples broke up. Sorry, Tom.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is clever and fun and makes your spirits soar as high as you can shoot your web. Plus, Andrew Garfield.

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksIWantTolick

West Side Story (*BP22)

The film starts with the most famous whistle of any musical theater score ever written as the camera pans over heaps of rubble and garbage, the only thing left of the former tenements and neighborhoods of San Juan Hill, an area of urban decay on the Upper West Side that was home to thousands of displaced African Americans and Puerto Ricans. A large sign proclaims the area to be The Future Home of Lincoln Center. Each frame is a master class in chiaroscuro and composition, and you get the feeling that this is not going to be your typical musical comedy. 

This is the 2021 version of West Side Story; a reinterpretation of the 1961 award-winning film, this time with more violence, angst, and appropriate ethnic representation. The names behind this movie are the giants of theater and film; Bernstein, Sondheim, Spielberg, Kushner, Kaminski, Rita freakin’ Moreno. The direction is superb, the camera moving around the streets like it’s one of the dancers in the gorgeous choreography of Justin Peck. Every detail in this film has been authentically researched and the character’s subtext explored just enough to make some of their choices make more sense. It is a classic remake of a classic film, and it is wonderful.

Also, it bombed, quite spectacularly, taking out the box office like the wrecking ball that destroys the slums that the Jets gleefully dance through while snapping their fingers. How can a movie with this much genius behind it so thoroughly miss connecting with an audience? There are a lot of guesses about why people didn’t show up, number one being the fact that we are still in what feels like the 147th surge of the pandemic. And yet there was another movie that opened a week later that broke all box office records (more on that one later), so fear of disease wasn’t necessarily the problem.

West Side Story was supposed to open a year ago but was postponed because of the original pandemic, the one before we started adding Greek letters to the vocabulary. Would audiences have responded differently if we weren’t all worn down completely by the constant torrent of terrible news? Personally, I am finding it hard to focus on anything that is heavier than a Hallmark Christmas movie. West Side Story has gorgeous music, but it is still full of violence, hate, tragedy, and grief. It is definitely not a laff riot, which is really all that I want to watch right now.

I’ve often wondered how actual critics (not the wannabees who are typing in their basements, like me) put aside their own feelings and depression and review a piece of art (film, book, play, whatever) in a neutral way. What if they are in a terrible mood for the same reasons everyone else is these days? What if they hate comic book heroes but are reviewing their 19th Marvel movie?

Since I am a huge fan of all musical theater, I had been waiting to see this film for a long time. And as I watched the Jets and the Sharks try to kill each other but still keep their toes pointed, I couldn’t help but wish I was in the next theater watching Spider-Man.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is gorgeous and tremendously well-acted, danced, and photographed. It just isn’t a lot of fun.

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick

C’mon, 22!

I look forward to the new year with as much joy and trepidation as Julie Hagerty in Lost in America.

tick, tick . . . BOOM!

As we try to open up flicksthatmakemesick to more people with the new categories, it is unfortunate that the first movie reviewed will only appeal to a specific group of people. How just like the internet to make a headline clickbait and then give you something completely different.

I am aware that much of the general public doesn’t really like musicals, and although I cannot fathom why, you may want to visit other sites to read recaps of Succession.

tick, tick. . . BOOM! is the latest (off) Broadway musical adapted to film, in a banner year that has already seen Dear Evan Hansen and In the Heights hit the multiplex. I would assume that people would want to watch musicals after the pandemic, because what will cheer you up more than tap dancing chorus boys? Of course, the subject matter of these shows focuses on suicide, poverty and early death, so perhaps these weren’t the best choices for 2021. But West Side Story has also opened, and is supposedly fabulous—except for the poverty, murders and early death. But the music is great!

Although my Broadway soundtrack knowledge has won trivia contests, tick, tick. . . BOOM is a musical I was not familiar with when I watched it on Netflix. The film recounts the early life of composer Jonathan Larson, who would go on to write the score for Rent, a show that would change the sound of musicals and influence countless future composers. One of those composers was Lin Manuel Miranda, who often credits Rent with being the first show he ever saw that showed him musicals didn’t have to sound like Rodgers and Hammerstein. In his film directing debut, Miranda poured all his love and gratitude into this story of believing in yourself even when no one else does. Larson died on the eve of Rent’s opening; although the film only briefly mentions this, his early death looms over the entire film.

I’m always interested in the different ways people react to art. I have several friends who watched this film; most were positive about it, saying they liked the music and especially the performance of Andrew Garfield as Larson. None of them mentioned sobbing hysterically during the swimming sequence where he finally writes a song he has been working on for weeks or feeling bereft during the parts that featured Stephen Sondheim mentoring him.

I watched this film the day after Sondheim died, and his presence dominates greatly. Although Sondheim was a personal hero of mine, I wasn’t aware of his practice of taking young composers under his wing and encouraging the next generation to write. The film takes on a different meaning when seen as an homage to this master, and the Sunday diner number is a love letter to his music. Add into this the depiction of an artist being blocked creatively in a way he never has been before, and anyone who has ever struggled with a new idea or concept can immediately relate and then rejoice when Larson finally breaks through the figurative wall.

I found this film to be thrilling and emotionally involving, with the final song “Come to Your Senses” a beautiful reward for having suffered along with Larson as he tried to write it. I was astonished by Andrew Garfield, having mostly thought of him as Spiderman and unaware that he could sing. (I hope he has a musical number in the upcoming Spiderman: No Way Home—oh, wait, he’s not in it. Or is he?!)

I am aware that an obscure musical about the early life of a dead broke composer who dies at thirty-five just before he finds success may not be on everyone’s Must See list. But it moved me in a way that I haven’t felt by a film in some time, and I hope that somewhere, someone in the tiny flicksthatmakemesick universe can share this experience. And if not . . . well, at least you won’t throw up.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksIWantToLick

What’s Passed is Past — Hurl No More!

flicksthatmakemesick is celebrating its 10th anniversary! Launched in 2011, we’ve had one whole decade of googling synonyms for vomit and using nausea as a verb. This site has had more comebacks than the Mexican food I had for lunch yesterday, as whole years went by with no one remembering it existed.

Happily, the bad habit of using hand-held cameras has waned; the peak seemed to be in 2013, the year that brought us Captain Phillips and Gravity, both Four Barf Baggers (our highest rating!). But what is a balm to our tummies is death to a website that depends on queasiness for its existence. We must face the truth that the Shaky Cam Era is over, and gratefully put down our Pepto Bismol.

But WAIT! This is the internet, and like the Meta-verse we all hate but still inhabit, we can be reborn with a different label even though we are the exact same thing! Since we no longer need to use our empty popcorn buckets as potential puke receptacles, we will now put different categories in them.

Introducing:

FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix—as we all hesitantly try to slide back into movie theaters, we continue to watch a lot of first run movies on TV. This category is very broad but does not include reviews of The Great British Baking Show, even thought that is what I mostly watch on Netflix.

FlicksThatYouShouldPick—this label is reserved for my very favorite movies. Some reviews may fit into more than one category, such as a favorite that may have been seen on Netflix, or possibly have Richard Gere in it, or is maybe porn.

FlicksWithGuysNamedRick—a limited category, because there are not a lot of actors named Rick these days (see above).

FlicksThatHaveADick —could be a movie that is incredibly misogynistic; or is maybe porn.

FlicksIWantToLick—a sub-category that is totally random depending upon whether or not it has someone I find hot in it. This does not affect the quality of the film and is an editorial choice that may apply only to me. YMMV.

The Barf Bag Rating System has been put in storage, waiting for the day that Paul Greengrass decides to go back to his old habits. Let us hope the bags were washed out very well before they were put away.

The new ranking system will feature The Popcorn Kernels of Truth: One Kernel means you may as well watch The Great British Baking Show because this movie is not worth your time. Two Kernels indicates the film was moderately entertaining; Three Kernels means this movie was pretty great; and an actual piece of One Perfect Popped Corn means you should drop everything because this film will change your life.

Coming up: tick, tick . . . BOOM! This shown-in-theaters-but-also-streaming film fits into THREE categories. Can you guess which ones?

The Boys

Flicksthatmakemesick hasn’t had a lot of material to write about in the past few years. The whole hand-held camera technique that was responsible for much of the motion-sickness issues of a certain percentage of the audience (granted, a small percentage but we were out there, holding our sticky hands up to be counted) has been replaced by cinematographers with steadier grips and directors with more original vision. But the lack of a trembling lens is no longer really the problem—at this point I’d watch something by Paul Greengrass just to actually be able to go to a theater to see a movie. (For those of you who may need a refresher, Paul Greengrass is the Dark Prince of Shaky Cams, the director of the film that started it all—The Bourne Supremacy. The man has the shakes that one would find in the hands of a drunk coming off a two-week bender combo of Jagermeister and Malort.)
            Of course, one of the perks of not leaving the house for six months and watching a lot of television is the fact that the hand-held camerawork on TV does not affect we of the sensitive tummies. I could watch all the Bourne movies in one marathon binge on Netflix and the only side effect would be my ass falling asleep. It’s a small thing, but the lockdown has eliminated so much joy from our lives that we have to celebrate the little silver linings when we find them.
            Since we no longer have to worry about actual physical nausea, we can turn our attention to other subjects that can cause emotional distress. I’ve never been a fan of violence and extreme bloodletting in films – I gave up on Tarantino after Django Unchained. I know many folks enjoy a good spatter film, but here, too, the smaller screen can diminish the effect until it becomes almost cartoonish (another silver lining, although this one is more reddish). 
            This is fortunate for me, because otherwise I might have skipped a new superhero series called The Boys. This show could be called The Anti-Avengers, because the supes are all assholes who have a really top-notch marketing team to promote them. The Boys of the title are a mismatched gang of criminals and innocents who have banded together to take down the supes, who have started to believe their own publicity. Season Two just started streaming on Amazon Prime but definitely go back and start at the beginning of Season One. If you can’t handle what happens in the first five minutes of Episode One, be warned that it’s nothing compared to Season Two, which I will try not to spoil but just tease with the idea of a speedboat driving through a very large sea mammal. The director works with exploding body fluids and organs like a contemporary Jackson Pollack.
            The cast is universally fabulous, the humor is very, very dark, and the action moves like a speedboat driving through a … well, you get the idea.
            The best scene so far of the second season was the smarmy director pitching the supes the concept for their new origin film. Wearing a black T-shirt modestly emblazoned with “Fassbinder”, he storyboards the opening and introduces the title Dawn of The Seven. He fakes some opening credit music and says, “I want to shoot the whole thing hand-held – right? Very Greengrass!”
            Any series that can use Greengrass as a punchline gets two thumbs up from me.

The Barf Bag Rating System does not really work in this setting. As flicksthatmakemesick tries to discover where it belongs in this dystopian new world we inhabit, it will need to come up with a different way to rate things. Maybe after I’m done watching all the Bourne movies again.

First Man

first-manWelcome back, o ye of feeble tummy! In case no one noticed, flicksthatmakesmesick has been quietly dormant for an astonishingly long four years. That’s what happens when you create a website that is so specifically about one thing that there is nothing to write about when that one thing goes away. Kind of like what happened with Beanie Babies. Or democracy.

But eventually, everything that goes around comes around (and around and around as you watch $20 worth of popcorn and junior mints swirl away, along with your dignity and self-respect). So here I am again, ready to gently guide you on your digestive film journey, in hopes of lightening your load. Um, actually, the point is to NOT lighten your load, but you get what I mean.

I’m sad to report that after years of blissfully rock-steady camera work, the opening of First Man means the directorial, self-indulgent shaky cam has returned, and the hands that have the tremor this time belong to Damien Chazelle, last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Director. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he shares a name with Damien from The Omen. (He was born of Satan and a jackal!)

A quick recap: A lot of celluloid has been run through the projector since flicks last reviewed a film, and two of the biggies missed were both by our buddy Damien.

Whiplash (2014) had quite a bit of unsteadiness about it as we watched Miles Teller obsessively learn to be the Best Jazz Drummer Ever, as well as an Oscar-winning performance by the State Farm spokesman. It wasn’t the rushing or the dragging of the cinematography that disturbed me— it was watching Miles drum until his fingers started bleeding.  This was effective to show how devoted he was to his craft; but by the time he got hit by a truck and crawled out of the wreckage to get to the concert stage, bloody and determined, you wondered if perhaps his obsession might have been put toward something more useful. The quick edits in this film are a Chazelle signature move, and made me want to employ the kind of tough love used by J.K. Simmons the insurance guy (i.e. throwing a chair at him, humiliating him on stage) to get him to stop doing them.

La La Land (2016): Since this review is supposed to be about First Man and not the others, I will only say that I hated La La Land with the intensity of the white-hot flame that powered the Apollo rocket to the moon. I would rather watch a musical than just about anything else, but this one had two leads who couldn’t sing or dance very well and was pretty much a direct rip off of Scorcese’s New York, New York. Watching Ryan Gosling mansplain jazz made this film particularly annoying. One of the happiest moments of my movie-obsessed life was when La La Land thought it won Best Picture but actually did not. (Congrats, Moonlight!)

But enough about Chazelle’s past films – let’s focus on what’s shakin’ today. First Man is the director’s latest study in obsession; in this case, Neil Armstrong and his journey to the moon. I could tell this one was going to be problematic even before the opening credits. The vibration that happens inside a space capsule as it tries to re-enter the atmosphere is credibly demonstrated here by the movement of the camera; it feels as if you are sitting inside a movie theater and banging your head back and forth between the people sitting on either side of you, only you’re doing it really fast and they are screaming in your ears for you to stop. The sound designer will probably win an Academy Award for this, because the decibel level may have exceeded the sound barrier. Eventually, the pilot hits the ejector button and parachutes into the ground, which is a relief because the camera finally stops moving and you can crawl out of the harness and curl up in a fetal position under your seat. That was the first four minutes.

It didn’t get any better after that.

Even the domestic scenes between Armstrong and his wife, Clair Foy, are shot with a trembling gaze and quick cuts to emphasize the constant tension in the marriage. Clair Foy is so far removed from her role as the Queen in The Crown that I didn’t even recognize her at first. Ryan Gosling is stoic and taciturn and all those adjectives that mean his facial expressions barely change —Armstrong was not a man to express strong emotion. But at least he didn’t mansplain rocket science.

Halfway thru the film, there is a training session for the astronauts going to the moon. They are strapped into a simulator and spun around in every direction until they can no longer walk. The next scene is a classroom where they are about to study 600 pages of physics, and every single man is wearing a shirt caked in vomit. I kind of felt like I was, too.

First Man had intensity and history and a fascinating story to tell, but I had my eyes closed for over half the film and can’t say I saw enough of it to form an opinion. Let me know when they make the movie about the faking of the moon landing – I’ll bet there is a lot less vibration in that one.

Four BagsThis one goes right next to the Bourne movies in The Barf Bag Hall of Fame. It’s hard to keep people on the janitorial staff in there.

 

Into the Woods

Into-the-Woods-2014-posterIf you’re a casual movie go-er, you may have noticed that there was a new Disney movie opening on Christmas Day. Probably one of those Princess movies that would force you to listen to another anthemic showstopper for the next six months. But if you are a fan and a freak for a certain Broadway genius whose music can move you to tears within seconds, your hands were sweating and your ticket stub limp as you entered the theatre, anticipation and fear causing you to wish the twenty-five minutes of previews would never end because you weren’t sure you were going to be able to handle what came next.

For Sondheim aficionados, the filming of Into the Woods had us excited, well, excited and scared. This classic piece of theatre opened on Broadway in 1987 and has been considered by many to be Sondheim’s greatest work. When the news came out that Disney was finally making it into a film, it seemed impossible that this could have a happy ending. Into the Woods may be about wishes and princesses, but it gets pretty dark, as fairy tales are wont to do. What if they turned it into Frozen In the Woods?

Everyone can slowly exhale. While the movie is not perfect, it captures most of the essence of the original show and doesn’t try to whitewash the angst that follows the happy ending. I wish some of the reviewers had done their homework and realized that this is a good thing. More on that later.

The cast was uniformly terrific. With the exception of Johnny Depp (who was completely forgettable as The Wolf), every person was perfect for the part and could actually sing. Meryl Streep was a great witch, although it’s hard to listen to those songs and not hear Bernadette Peters from the original cast. One review mentioned that Streep’s voice seemed “a little thin”: he must have been standing in the lobby when she blasted through “The Last Midnight”, because she has a powerful instrument that made the whole thing seem pretty apocalyptic. James Corden and Emily Blunt as The Baker and His Wife were charming together and Little Red Riding Hood practically stole the movie with her eyebrows. The kid playing Jack was way too young but his singing was fine, and I didn’t really care if Chris Pine (Prince Charming) could sing after he ripped open his shirt (turns out he can!).

As I feared, many reviews have mentioned how the first part was wonderful but everything falls apart in the second half and maybe they should have stopped before a major character got squished to death. To which I say: That was the whole point! Happy Ever After comes with consequences! This is a Sondheim show! Aaargh!

For me, the second half was actually better than the first, because the first hour seemed rushed. There are four interwoven stories that have to be introduced so it’s understandable, but the pace to get everything in place didn’t really give you time to savor the lyrics. I was grateful they didn’t try to dumb it down, although making Little Red Riding Hood and Jack younger lost some of the sexual subtext that is implied with the wolf and the giant’s wife. And they cut a few songs, which makes me sad (particularly the “Agony” reprise, which is hilarious). A lot of back story was lost by trying to cram it into two hours, but my guess is they figured fans of the show would already know it and newbies wouldn’t care all that much.

This is not a kid’s movie. There were people in the theatre with children under the age of five and a lot of restlessness in the audience. The two teenage girls in front of me who kept texting throughout the whole movie needed to be slapped up the side of the head like Jack’s mother kept doing in the film. A few people actually got up and left after (SPOILER ALERT!) the Baker’s Wife died. This story has so much going on in it and so many wonderful messages about parenting and life that I wanted to stand up and shout, “Listen to these words!! The man is a genius!”

Anyone who has read this far is probably a Sondheim fan, so let me be self-indulgent and speak to you as a kindred spirit. The man’s music and lyrics move me in ways that I cannot begin to express and I am constantly stunned when I listen to this score. Any parent who has ever sent a child off to camp or college or Brooklyn will immediately weep while listening to “Stay With Me”, a plea that your children never leave you that goes against every rule of good parenting. Or “Children Will Listen”, which is a primer on what you should be doing. Or the reassurance of “No One is Alone”, that no matter how many mistakes you make, you always carry those you’ve lost along the path with you. I can’t wait until the Into the Woods merchandise comes out, because I want a Sondheim doll of my own.

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flicksthatmakemesick.com has been in hibernation lately because winter makes it feel like wearing sweat pants and sleeping on the couch. Also, directors don’t seem to be using hand held cameras anymore so they have pretty much rendered this site obsolete. But occasionally a film comes out that elicits a strong response and requires a review, queasiness be damned. So watch for an occasional post here but don’t set your expectations very high. I’m still wearing sweat pants.