The Power of the Dog (*BP22)

I had very little knowledge of what this film was about before I saw it except that it was a western directed by Jane Campion (whose work I love) and hated by Sam Elliott (who has a very big moustache). 

The story is set in Montana, 1925, and although Campion uses vistas from New Zealand as a stand-in for the state, her sweeping camera captures the beautiful desolation of the land and the immense isolation of the gothic farmhouse where two wealthy rancher siblings live. One brother is awkward and repressed; the other is a psycho who slathers his naked body with mud before swimming and castrates bulls with his bare hands. As Sam Elliott pointed out, this is not your typical western. It is a brooding psychological thriller with chaps. 

I watched this film with horrible fascination as the four main characters descended into alcoholism, despair and murder. It starts out a bit stilted and slow-moving and then builds until the tension is nearly unbearable. All of the performances are extraordinary, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is the skinniest, weirdest medical student you hope you will never meet in a doctor’s office. 

Hollywood bookies seem to think this is the odds-on favorite for Best Picture right now, and it does have many of the dark, brooding qualities that voters admire. I’m not sure that I agree with that; I still have a few more films to watch.

 “That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie look like. They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie.” Elliott also calls out director Jane Campion, asking what she knows about the American West and why she would film it in New Zealand and call it Montana, adding,
“That fucking rubbed me the wrong way, pal.”
He does go on to say that he’s a fan of her previous work.”

Sam Elliott, NYPost article

Side note: I have to admit that even before I read Sam Elliott’s comments, I wondered why the cowboys were working shirtless with just chaps. Seemed like they could get a bad sunburn that way.

Second Side note: Because apparently people want to know when there is a flash of Benedict Cumberbatch’s penis as he slathers himself in mud, I have added a new category.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is powerful, unsettling and will definitely make you steer clear of dead cows.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksThatHaveADick

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.

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.

 

flicksthatmakemesick is back!

My apologies to all the filmgoers with weak guts who look to this site for guidance and may have accidentally wandered into the 48 frame per second version of The Hobbit because I wasn’t here to tell them not to. It’s like I’m George Bailey and Clarence was testing me by showing the audience what movies would be like if flicksthatmakemesick never existed. But I’ve realized the error of my ways and I promise I will never again take a two-month hiatus, at least without telling you first. (By the way, this is what I was doing: The Samoan Letters)

Academy Award nominations are coming up soon (January 10), and flicksthatmakemesick will be your guide for the best movies of 2012! I’m a little behind, but coming soon I’ll have reviews for Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi. Hey! It’s snowing! Merry Christmas, you old savings and loan! Zuzu’s petals!

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