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PostPosted: Sun Jun 04, 2017 5:37 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
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Colossal

Alternate Title: Gone Kaiju

One sentence synopsis: Following a traumatic breakup and dealing with spiraling alcoholism, a woman returns to her hometown to reconnect with old friends just as a tremendous monster begins attacking a city on the far side of the world.


Things Havoc liked: I had an astoundingly hard time coming up with the synopsis above, because Colossal, whatever else it might be, is a really weird movie.

A personal project directed and written by Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo (none of whose previous work I am familiar with), Colossal was a movie I went to see entirely on spec. A woman named Gloria (Anne Hathaway), unemployed and a raging alcoholic, breaks up with her boyfriend (Beauty and the Beast's Dan Stevens) in New York City, and moves back to her hometown somewhere in small town middle America. There, she meets an old childhood friend (Jason Sudeikis), who gives her a job at his bar to get back on her feet, and seems to be interested in kindling a relationship, introducing her to his friends around town and helping her put her place in order. What sounds like a setup for a particularly boring romantic dramady is salvaged however, by two complicating factors. One of these factors is that a two hundred foot reptilian monster begins assaulting the city of Seoul, South Korea, smashing things, killing people, and vanishing into thin air from whence it came. Over the course of several nights of these rampages broadcast on live news and YouTube, Gloria begins to realize that the monster is mirroring her own actions whenever she stumbles home drunk at eight in the morning through a disused playground somewhere in town, and that she is consequently responsible for the murder of hundreds and the destruction of much of Seoul. The other one of these factors is actually important.

But... before we get to that, let's talk about what we've got here. All of the above actors, particularly Hathaway, are sublime. Of course Anne Hathaway is always sublime, even in bad movies like Bride Wars or Alice in Wonderland. Her character is a blind drunk, accustomed to getting away with murder (metaphorically, one hopes) by acting cute and batting her eyes, and pivoting instantly to hyper-serious when confronted with real consequences, such as being thrown out of her home or realizing that she may have started World War III by accident. A great early sequence has Hathaway effortlessly expressing total desperation, shock, and misery, all without a word, after her boyfriend throws her own of their shared apartment and her drunken friends carry on carousing behind her, oblivious. GIven the weirdness of a premise that requires her to discover that she can control Godzilla, she, and the movie, plays things very down to earth, as she struggles to find a way to make things right without the wider world discovering what is actually going on. Vigalondo's direction is light on effects and heavy on quotidian observation (he wrote, smugly), with the emphasis firmly on the characters and their reactions to what, in a worse movie, would be a world-shattering discovery leading to super-heroism or chase scenes, and in this movie leads to slurred conversations in bars while watching events play out on television. In fact, one of the funniest things I've seen in years is a CNN report that plays a YouTube video of one of the Kaiju "incidents", complete with internet memes and embellishments. I almost choked.

But I said a moment ago that there was another factor that was actually important. What factor is this, you ask? It's the character of Jason Sudeikis' Oscar, who starts the movie off as a friendly, neighborhood bar-owner, willing to help Gloria out with a job and spare furniture, and ends it as... well... one of the most toxic, abusive, controlling people that I have ever seen applied to screen. It's not that Oscar is a monster, although he is, it's that the movie does a sterling job of portraying what an abusive person actually looks and acts like, rather than the cartoon psychopaths that are generally put on screen. His behavior is cyclical and self-delusional, with subtle warning signs initially before spiraling into full-blown narcissistic delusion and aggressive, controlling behavior, fueled, in-part, by his own incipient alcoholism and circumstantial opportunities (the aforementioned Kaiju situation) to force his fantasies into reality. Sudeikis, an SNL alum, is an actor I've known about forever, but I don't think I've ever seen before this, at least not in movies, and he's amazing. This is a role that most directors would fill with guys like Vince Vaughn or Billy Campbell, tough-looking creepers who can loom menacingly and appear monstrous at the drop of a hat, with the usual consequence that one wonders just how the abused protagonist couldn't see this coming. But this film has Jason Sudeikis, of Mother's Day and Zach Galifianakis movies, a guy whose established movie persona and look are about as threatening as a bowl of soup, turning on the repressed rage and toxicity, rather than unconvincingly turning it off. It's an incredibly good performance, a star-making performance, helped by a restrained script that only provides the barest glimpses of what must be going on underneath the surface of the character, letting the audience figure it out for themselves.


Things Havoc disliked: So... here's the thing...

Some films are just bad. That's hardly a shocking statement. Some are the product of bad scripts or writing, some of terrible performances, some of awful direction, a rare few are victims of all of the above. Over the years I've been doing this, in fact, I've come to appreciate that there are an infinite number of ways to make a bad movie, and in the aftermath of one, it is often not that easy to sit down and parse out what actually went wrong. That's one of the reasons (beyond simple procrastination) why these reviews take so long. You need to give a movie time to percolate, time to settle in your mind. Sometimes you simply need to take the time to clarify your thoughts on a film before you can start speaking intelligently about it. And this is often the case for films, like this one, that are objectively very well made, with good acting and good writing and a good director overseeing it all, and yet which, for whatever reason, I found I didn't like.

Why? What more could I be asking for beyond a bunch of good actors acting well together in a refreshing story that occasionally had me howling in laughter? Initially, I thought that the problem was that the movie reminded me too much of films like Enough, the 2002 Michael Apted "thriller" that starred Jennifer Lopez as a woman fleeing her cartoonishly-evil ex-husband, who would sneer at the camera before monologuing about how deliciously evil he was and how helpless she was to thwart him. But as I mentioned above, that comparison isn't fair, as Sudeikis' performance (and, frankly, Vigalondo's directing) is miles beyond the cheap mawkishness of that early-00s snoozer (there's a reason the 1997-2004 period is now regarded as the Dark Age of Cinema). What, then, was the problem? Was there something more fundamental in this film that made me react this way, some deep-rooted issue of script or premise? Or was it instead a subjective matter, and whatever it was had nothing to do with the movie at all, just a facet of the baggage that all critics, no matter how objective they try to be, bring into the theater with them?

Maybe. Or maybe the problem lies, not with Enough, but with a movie from 2014 called Gone Girl.

Long-time readers will remember Gone Girl, the David Fincher film based on a Gillian Flynn book, the one that starred Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck at the top of their form, with a labyrinthine script involving insanity, betrayal, murder, manipulation, and the hunger for scripted villains by mass media. It was, by many standards, a great film, well created and shot, and written crisply enough that even Tyler Perry wound up looking good. And I hated it. Not because of any of the things above, but because I concluded, following a similar agonizing process to the one above, that it was a shallow, manipulative piece, coded in the language of misogynist sexism, one that romanticized all of its men, no matter how awful, and condemned all of its women, no matter how unbelievable. It was a movie that pretended to show the steamy underworld of obsession and manipulation, but refused to play fair with its characters, with the audience, or with the scenario it had set up, preferring instead to deal in thin stereotypes hidden by good performances and direction. At the time I reviewed Gone Girl, I said that I rejected the film, in part because "If a movie was made this way about men (and there have been some), I and others would be trumpeting outrage to the skies." And readers, I'm sad to report that the time has come, because Colossal is that movie.

The problem isn't Sudeikis' character, not really. He's an obsessive, evil, manipulative person, willing to commit horrific acts so as to control Gloria's life, but that much isn't sexism any more than Norman Bates was, it's a character of terrible depths played brilliantly, and one we don't often get to see, at least not with this spin. No, the problem, as always, in the context in which we get to meet this character, because this isn't a simple story of girl-goes-home-and-is-manipulated-by-monster, Kaiju-laden or otherwise, and the movie treats it like it is. Gloria, lest we be reminded, is herself a blind drunk, one who, even after discovering this miraculous capacity to control the actions of Godzilla, drunkenly plays with the notion and shows off to her friends, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the obliteration of large portions of Seoul. It would be one thing if the story were one of Gloria learning from her terrible mistakes and taking back control of her life, while Oscar slides deeper into the throes of his own demons, but it's not, not really. Instead, Gloria is instantly forgiven everything that she's done wrong because... well because she's the heroine, I guess. She cures her raging alcoholism, a disease that has led her to kill thousands of people, offscreen, suddenly no longer suffering from it because she apparently decided not to. She does this, despite still working in a bar, surrounded by alcohol, an environment no alcoholic on Earth has sufficient willpower to resist. And just as she does so, everyone else in the movie swallows their evil pill, so that she can appear more saintly. Not only does Oscar take a turn from "weird and creepy" to "utterly irredeemable" (which is fine), but her ex-boyfriend (Stevens), the one who broke up with her in the beginning of the film because he didn't know what else to do, and has spent the movie calling her up and begging her to get help, even apologizing for sounding so superior and lecturing about it, the one who turns up in her hometown, having faked a buisness trip for the purpose, because he's afraid that she may be in real trouble (which she absolutely is), this boyfriend suddenly turns around and becomes a negging, verbally abusive, dismissive egomaniac, denigrating her attempts to do exactly the things he had previously been begging her to do, just so that when she inevitably tells him off and excises him from her life, the audience can feel good about cheering.

But that's not the only character this happens to. Consider Tim Blake Nelson, a wonderful character actor whom I've adored in films like Holes, Syriana, and O Brother, Where Art Thou. He plays Garth, an ex-drug abuser and friend of Oscar, whom Oscar turns on one night in a drunken rant, exposing his past as a drug addict and belittling him mercilessly. He tells Oscar off, and... is never seen again. Despite the fact that his character has been set up heavily as an important part of the story, and the fact that he knows the secret about the Kaiju, one of the most explosive in the history of mankind, he vanishes outright from the rest of the film, something the film tries to frame as moral cowardice, and I am tempted to re-frame as the film being afraid that having a male character who isn't an abusive monster will undercut their heroine. For proof of this, look no further than Austin Stowell, of Whiplash and Bridge of Spies, Oscar's other friend, with whom Gloria has a brief fling, prior to him turning into a doormat and an enabler for all of Oscar's worst habits, actively abetting him in the murder of thousands of people with no reason given beyond the fact that, well, he's a man, and you know how they are. I don't mind that these characters are all flawed, or addicts, or stupid, or abusive, or even monstrous. I've loved many a film with many a character that evidenced all of those things, some with much less acting skill than is on display here. I mind that the movie is coded such that they are those things because they're men. And that Gloria, no matter what she does, no matter who she kills, is not any of those things, because she isn't.


Final Thoughts: It should be noted, for the minutes, that the people I saw this movie with had no such experience, and thought the movie was interesting and well made, and rated it highly. I do not claim that they are necessarily wrong, but I will note that I felt the same way about Gone Girl when I left the theater, and that it was only after much time and conversation with those who had reacted negatively to that film's latent misogyny that I came to realize that I hated it. I would not go so far as to say that I hated Colossal the same way I ultimately did Gone Girl, but I did not like it, not when I saw it and even less now, with several weeks' distance to think about the matter. The issue isn't just that it stereotypes men as abusive, manipulative monsters, although it absolutely does this. It's that in doing so, it also manages to imply that the only way the audience will empathize with a woman in the throes of an abusive relationship is by making her literally the only likable person in existence, beatifying her by proxy despite the fact that she manifests many of the same behaviors as everyone else. The only difference is that, as a woman, she's infallible, while men are the scum of creation. And if you think I'm laying this on too thick, consider for a moment that the character is named Gloria, and that one of the final scenes has her literally walking on water.

Enough then. I don't expect that many people will hate Colossal, in fact I expect quite the opposite, as the movie is unquestionably well made and acted by all concerned. I don't begrudge those who find value in the exercise as a result, but I cannot number myself among them. I mentioned in the Gone Girl review that a good film can be made about any subject, but only if it made with honesty, and like that film, Colossal is a crude simplification that gathers airs of depth because of its evident technical virtues. I denounced Gone Girl because of its insidious misogyny despite these virtues, and I will not refrain in this case simply because the shoe is on the other foot. To do anything else would be dishonest, and that would make me no better than the film itself.

Final Score: 4/10

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Gaze upon my works, ye mighty, and despair...

Havoc: "So basically if you side against him, he summons Cthulu."
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 20, 2017 5:34 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
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Wonder Woman

Alternate Title: About Goddamn Time

One sentence synopsis: The daughter of the Queen of the Amazons enters the world of Men to stop a madman from using a horrific weapon to stop the end of World War One.


Things Havoc liked: ... hi everybody.

[chorus responds]: "Hi General Havoc."

So er... before we get started today, I'd... like to take a little trip back through memory lane.

Below, we have an excerpt from my review of last year's 2nd worst movie, Batman v. Superman, Dawn of Justice:

"... in keeping with my stated policy of only going to see movies that I suspect have a chance to prove worthwhile, consider this my preemptive rejection of the entire DC cinematic universe. I do this project for many reasons, but one of the main ones is to let my readers know what films are worth seeing and what ones are not, but there is a limit to even my cinematic fortitude, and in consequence, I am afraid that if you wish to know how the future movies in this series will turn out, you shall all have to find out for yourselves."

Next, an excerpt from my review of last year's 1st worst movie, Suicide Squad:

"It should be no surprise that after watching Batman v Superman, swearing off DC forever, relenting, and being presented with this movie, that I intend to see the error of my ways and return to my policy of bothering only with superhero films attached to the MCU."

And now, a transcript from my end-of-the-year podcast, in which I discussed both of these films.

"... fuck the entire DC Universe that they're building. Fuck Wonder Woman. Fuck Justice League. Fuck the Flash. Fuck Aquaman. Fuck all of it. [....] I'm through with that whole series. I said I was done after Batman v Superman, and I relented, because Suicide Squad looked different."

Yeah... um... so... here we are.

Wonder Woman, needless to say, is a movie I did not intend to go see. It's a movie I did not want to go see, not because I hate women (sorry to disappoint you all, you valiant keyboard warriors), nor because of that stupid promotion Alamo theaters ran down in Austin, but because... well because look at the fucking track record for this series. LOOK AT IT! See the decrepitudes, the depths, the vile nilotic rites that this series of films has fallen to. Batman v. Superman was a fucking atrocity cast forth onto screen, so bad that when Suicide Squad came out and somehow contrived to be even worse, I had entirely run out of superlatives and hyperboles to throw at it. I don't know how many times I've had to repeat this old saw, but I do not go and see movies for the express purpose of entertaining you all with my pain. I go see them because I want to. And when a series has disappointed me, hell has pissed in my face as much as this one has, I stop fucking going!!! What other rational course of action is there to take, I ask you? I said those things above because I meant them, every word, with every fiber of my being. And yet...

I don't read reviews before going to see a movie. To do so would be to prejudice my opinion after all. But for some movies, the hype is unavoidable, as reviews bury the internet at large, and so it was for Wonder Woman. Even then, I would not have relented on this one, save that several friends of mine, foremost among them Captain Corvidae (yarrrrr) insisted that this one was worth going to. Corvidae has previously been subjected, on my account, to films such as High-Rise, Under the Skin, Leviathan, and Suicide Squad (please bear the previous fact in mind if I should ever turn up the victim of a gruesome incident involving a wheat thresher), and so I felt that it was not a suggestion that I could refuse.

And so, having now wasted enough of everyone's time with preamble and explanations, I shall get to the question at hand. Having violated all semblance of consistency, to say nothing of common sense, and having gone to see the latest DC movie in direct defiance of all of the horrific acts of cinematic blight that preceded it, was it any good?

...

...

... well... yeah. Yeah it was.

Wonder Woman is, against all odds, a good movie. Indeed, in some ways it is a very good one, but the mere fact that the word 'good' can be applied to it in any form is something of a miracle in and of itself. To say I expected little from this film is... well I mean scroll back up and read those quotes, for I meant every word at the time that I wrote or said them, but despite the cynicism that DC and Warner Brothers has spent the last year or so inspiring within me, this film actually managed to produce something, dare I say... fun. Something creative and enjoyable and interesting. Of course the mere fact that the movie posits a setting in which fun and adventure and interest is possible makes it a tremendous step up from its predecessors, but rather than recap how terrible those movies were, let us discuss what Wonder Woman, miraculously, does right. And for that, let us begin with a woman named Patty Jenkins.

Who is Patty Jenkins? Well I assume the majority of you know this already, but she is a film director, or at least was a film director way back in 2003, when she wrote and directed a Charlize Theron film called Monster, which Roger Ebert called the best film of that year, and which won Theron her only Oscar (to date). Monster was a legitimately great film, and so I can't quite figure out why, in its aftermath, Patty Jenkins vanished without a trace, save for a handful of television episodes of shows I didn't watch, and a 2011 Lifetime Original Movie about breast cancer (be still, my beating heart). Whatever the reason, she has returned from the negative zone (or wherever) to helm Wonder Woman, and thank God she did because without a strong director at the helm, this film risked becoming yet another stamp on DC's frequent shopper's card at the House of Shitty Fucking Movies (franchising opportunities coming soon). Though I promised myself that this review would not simply turn into another list of all the ways that Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman sucked, this biggest differentiator between this film and those is simply the fundamental mechanics of how it is shot, with Wonder Woman taking place in a world with a vibrant color palate and artful, carefully-selected shots, designed to frame characters in the act of doing awesome things. The design, the cinematography, the sound design and score and all the other mechanistic elements of the film are all top notch, from the sun-dappled cliffs and beaches of the Amazonian island of Themiskyra, to the mud and trenches of the Western Front. There's no muddied darkness, no oversaturated color-leach, no desperate attempt to make the art design beat the audience over the head with how grim and gritty everything is. Instead, we get a movie that is actually... god forbid, fun and interesting to look at, a development so revolutionary, that I assume that the flywheels over at Warner Brothers will spend the next fifteen years trying to figure out how to prevent it from ever happening again. And yet this shying away from over-grim, over-gritty bro-douchery comes despite the fact that the movie is set in the middle of World War 1, a setting movies have traditionally avoided because of how unrelievedly grim everything is. As a result, Wonder Woman is one of the very small number of WWI films in existence that actually have something interesting to look at.

But what are we getting to look at, overall? Well among other things, action. Badass action, by any conceivable standard. One of the reasons I originally looked so favorably on Man of Steel was the tremendous scale of the thing, the Olympian action that covered for all of the misfiring story-beats and busted characters. While Wonder Woman (wisely) doesn't try to match the scale of that film, it does, within the bounds of its universe, manage to elicit the same feelings of awe and... well... wonder, that the aforementioned movie did. Unlike the choppy, badly-paced action of Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman uses a much more traditional format, including two absolutely standout action sequences, one a pitched battle between Amazons and German soldiers on a sun-draped beach, the other a set-piece, operatic assault across the tangled ruin of No-Man's Land and the lethal maze of the trench lines, a sequence that includes Wonder Woman caving an armored car in with her fists and taking out a sniper by decapitating a belfry. The direction for these sequences is a little heavy on the slow-mo, but as with SNyder's own 300, all that is forgiven if the scenes being focused upon are sufficiently awesome. And they are.

And then there's the cast, and for once Warner Brothers and the rest have outdone themselves in getting the right people for the job. Casting has always been Marvel's strength and DC's bane, but this time we have Chris Pine, Captain Kirk himself, as Captain Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman's partner in war, her introduction to the wider world, and her... love interest? Maybe? Whatever definition we use, Pine is absolutely spot-perfect in this role, as he has the Robert Downey Jr. skill of being able to disarm a scene or line that might sound insufferably cheesy through a combination of roguish charm and utter sincerity. The dynamic between his character and Wonder Woman is deft and nuanced, with just enough tension, romantic and otherwise, to keep everything interesting, while imparting his character with motives, skills, and interest of his own enough to stand alongside the main event (something, I need not remind you all, which is fantastically rare for the usually-female characters that typically populate this archetype in these sorts of films).

The rest of the cast does not let the side down either, including as it does the incomparable David Thewlis as a member of Parliament who seeks to bypass the red tape of the war office by means of Wonder Woman, and a host of excellent character actors as Wonder Woman's squad, including French actor Saïd Taghmaoui (whom I first met in the staggeringly-good 1995 Mathieu Kassovitz film La Haine), playing a Moroccan con-artist and womanizer straight out of the Casablanca playbook (upon watching Wonder Woman throw a man through a wall, he comments that he is simultaneously terrified and aroused). Veteran Spanish actress Elena Anaya (you might remember her from Justin Timberlake's 'Sexyback' video) gets to ham things up as the frazzled, obsessive "Doctor Poison" (there's a Golden Age of Comics name for you). The biggest surprise, though, is the Amazons themselves. Jenkins apparently lobbied to have their ranks filled, not by supermodels (as many films would have), but by towering Olympic athletes, all rippling muscle and... forgive me... Amazonian statures. These woman may or may not be great actors (my guess is not, given the limited lines they get), but they have the physicality of warrior-women down cold, and their stage presence and bearing is such that I was actually disappointed when the film left Themiscyra for a trip into the relatively sedate world of The Great War. Studded among the Amazons are real actors, including Gladiator's Connie Nielson as Queen Hippolyta, and none other than Robin Freaking Wright, Princess Buttercup herself (whom I hadn't seen in so long that I mistook her for Patricia Arquette), playing General Antiope, commander of the Amazon army. Robin Wright is a goddamn national treasure, and this, this role right here is why, as she takes her limited time on screen and turns it into rapturous badassery, culminating in the sorts of slow-mo action money shots usually reserved for scantily-dressed characters (male or female) in Zach Snyder films.


Things Havoc disliked: In case my above ravings was not clear enough, Wonder Woman is a good movie, and that alone is a hell of an achievement, given the pedigree from whence it was born. But is it a great movie, as some reviewers have been quick to pronounce? In a word... no. No, I'm afraid it's not.

Why not? Well, there's a couple of reasons, really, but the biggest one is front and center, and it's Wonder Woman herself, played in this case by Israeli actress Gal Gadot. I admit, I didn't expect much out of Gadot here, not after the dismal work she did in Batman v. Superman, and I admit as well that she easily outdoes that performance here, with one that has a number of things going for it. She has the look down pat, the presence, the physicality, everything but the acting itself which is... just not very good. It's not awful, mind you, but Gadot is just unrelievedly wooden throughout much of the film, only occasionally rising to the level of her co-stars. I appreciate that it's not easy acting in a language which isn't your native tongue (trust me, I know), but the end result is what it is, and it gives the movie's quieter scenes, the ones where the direction and action can't wallpaper over the movie's flaws, a decidedly B-grade feel to them.

There's also, of all things, the CGI, which, for some reason, is markedly sub-par, enough that it gets distracting more than once. How in the world this could happen on a $150,000,000 epic superhero film backed by several of the largest companies in Hollywood, I have no idea, but the CG work (as distinct from the practical effects) looks downright embarrassingly bad at points, with the digital stand-ins for Wonder Woman and her troops moving like marionettes from a mid-2000s throwaway film. Amber Hirsch, the film's VFX director, has a decent enough pedigree behind her (albeit mostly on shit movies), so I have no idea what the problem here was. But while Marvel's films have had their occasional slip-ups (one particular sequence involving Captain America in the climactic sequence of the Avengers comes to mind), this one looks so consistently awful that you can actually see the seam between the crappy CG effects and the decent practical ones. That's not something you ever want the audience to be able to pay attention to.

But overall, the problems with Wonder Woman aren't so much giant glaring things, it's small things, minor things, things that would normally, in the course of affairs not come up in a review like this, but which I must bring up here because there are so damn many of them. I'm talking about continuity mistakes, editing gaffes, minor (and less minor) errors in scripting, dialogue, and general research that point to a significant lack of attention to detail somewhere along the line during the production of this film. One of the aforementioned battle sequences, the brilliant one between the German soldiers and the Amazon warriors, involves a German warship joining the battle only to be mysteriously sunk, offscreen, by means we never get to see. The various trips that our heroes make to German bases and aerodromes involve innumerable errors of basic continuity and logic, with anachronistic weapons and equipment scattered about, or background material written in the wrong languages (duty rosters for German pilots written in French, for instance). And speaking of languages, one scene midway through the film has Wonder Woman identifying a captured German document as having been cyphered in a combination of "Sumerian and Ottoman", the writers being apparently completely unaware that Sumerian is a nigh-untranslatable language which has been dead for 5,000 years, one which the author of the document has no way of knowing, and 'Ottoman' doesn't exist, the language of the Ottoman Empire having been called 'Turkish' since its inception through to today. This isn't a pulp movie like Captain America or the Rocketeer, where such things could be hand-waved away as unimportant, the tone of Wonder Woman is reverent and earnest to a fault, attempting to use its WWI setting to tell a serious, mythic tale about the nature of war and the human urge to violence, and this many basic mistakes, ones that could have been corrected by a single line of dialogue or a simple editing alteration speaks to a general research failure on the part of the studio, the crew, or both. It's not that any one of these issues are major problems. It's that the sum total of them makes the film look sloppy, and when you consider the staggering lengths that epic film series like the MCU or the Lord of the Rings have gone to to produce a holistic, internally consistent universe, all this serves to show me is how far DC still has to go, even with a good movie under their belts at last.


Final Thoughts: And lest I render things murky with my criticism, that is exactly what Wonder Woman is, a Good film, a Very Good film at parts, one that clearly aspires to be a Great film but does not get there, held back by a limited leading actress, and generally sub-par crew and production work across the board. It is, at long last, a worthy inclusion in the ranks of Superhero staples from DC, a film on-par, qualitatively, with the second-tier offerings from Marvel such as Ant-Man or Thor 2. Like those movies before it, Wonder Woman, almost miraculously, has earned my seal of approval, and though it was not good enough to get me to re-think my policy on the DC-cinematic universe overall (the Justice League movie can go fuck itself, as far as I'm concerned), it has forced me to relent somewhat, in that I will see the inevitable Wonder Woman sequel, and will... consider the other standalone films that they have for me, though I still feel that the series has a long way to go before they can be spoken of alongside their august competition.

But... of course... there's another factor at work here, one that should in all fairness be addressed as well, which is that even with all of the positives and negatives I have summed up , the fact is that this is not just another Superhero movie, of the sort we have seen before, not simply another Ant-Man or Thor 2, but Wonder Woman, a movie that comic fans, particularly female ones, have been waiting to see realized for generations. It is a mainstream, A-list, multi-hundred-million-dollar superhero epic about a world-famous female superhero made by a female director for an audience that is expected to be in no small part female. And as such, while I stand by every line of my review above, and while I reject, in totality, all suggestions that I or other male critics have either no right or no capacity to review such a work, it is true that this is a movie made, in no small part, for another group of people entirely. It is a movie made for my sister, no stranger to movies like these, who saw the film and spent an hour on the phone with me describing nuances of shot selection and editorial decisions that stood out as obvious to her, but were entirely transparent to me. It is a movie made for Corvidae, whom all of you already know, who praised this movie in rapturous terms while I was out of the country, who loved it start to finish to the point where she volunteered to see it again alongside me, despite a schedule full of nightmares, and all of the awful, awful movies she has seen at my instigation.

It is a movie made for my mother. The original Wonder Woman. Who has no use for superhero movies in general, but who once spent every Halloween as Wonder Woman, and who went to see this movie for her own reasons, and loved it. When I asked her why, the main reason she gave me was not the action nor the fight sequences nor even the characters and story, but the fact that, for the first time in all her years of seeing movies like this, she could tell instantly that this one was directed by a woman, that it had a "woman's perspective", one I didn't even notice, but that she identified instantly. She loved this movie, because for the first time it was about a character she actually cared about, made by someone who wanted her, her specifically, to enjoy it.

I stand by everything that I have said about Wonder Woman, and about the wider DC universe. And I would be lying if I said I thought the fact that this movie is about a female superhero, about the female superhero, made these other opinions better than mine. But they are not worse than mine either, and the fact that this movie managed to cause people who hated the entire genre sing its praises, or become excited about future possibilities of future films from this source, all while still producing a film that I thought legitimately good, is something that deserves recognition. I did not regard Wonder Woman as a great film, but there are many, many others who did. And insofar as it's ever possible to be objective about film quality, maybe it is.

All I know, ultimately, is that Wonder Woman is a movie that has justified its existence. That is no small feat, when one regards all of its predecessors, both in and out of the official DC cinematic universe (consider Catwoman or Elektra), that did not. It is a film that I enjoyed watching, and that some people loved. Maybe, but if it does not, then at least those who loved it will have one film they can treasure forever.

And if it does, then it would not be the first time in history that, when all hope was lost, Wonder Woman saved the world.


Final Score: 7/10

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 20, 2017 11:16 pm 
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I was a bit kinder to GG but I haven't sat through as much acting as Havoc has.

Since he didn't mention it, this was going to be a guest review by me but he changed his mind when he heard the movie was good. :P

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2017 4:55 pm 
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frigidmagi wrote:
I was a bit kinder to GG but I haven't sat through as much acting as Havoc has.

Since he didn't mention it, this was going to be a guest review by me but he changed his mind when he heard the movie was good. :P


I changed my mind when it became apparent I was going to be dragged there come hell or high water. So I figured what the hell.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 03, 2017 4:22 pm 
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And now a note:

As some of you might already know, I spent a number of weeks on vacation last month in various remote parts of the world (Stalingrad!). As such, this threw my schedule into more chaos than it typically is in even at this time of year, and I was unable to give proper reviews and attention to a handful of movies I saw, and liked. Though the films below are now pretty much all out of theaters, I wanted to record, for the record, my thoughts on a trio of films that you may or may not have seen, such that if you did miss them, you have a chance to make up for it on Netflix or other such services.

I also wanted to take the chance to talk about a film that deserves no longer review, but we'll get there...

Three films you should see if you haven't already (and one you should probably not)




Sleight

Alternate Title: Straight Outta Frankenstein

One sentence synopsis: A young man with a passion for street magic gets tangled up in the drug world while trying to find a way out for himself and his sister.


The Verdict: When the mainstream theaters fail you, and they eventually will, I find that the indie parts of the multiplex often provide relief. And so it was that I decided to see an intriguing little film by the name of Sleight, a biopic of sorts about Bo (Jacob Latimore) a young black man living in the bad parts of LA. With his parents both dead, Bo's life consists of trying to make enough money to get himself and his younger sister out of the ghetto. By day, he works as a street magician, using sleight of hand, misdirection, showmanship, and clever film editing (all magician movies give into this tempation eventually) to amaze crowds on Venice Beach. By night, he works as a drug dealer for regional drug baron Angelo (played by The West Wing's Dulé Hill), selling pot and ecstasy to partiers and club owners around Los Angeles. Bo treats his drug work as just another job (as, I assume, do most dealers), but inevitably things begin to get darker when a rival gang moves in and Angelo's demands begin to escalate from drug running to hardcore violence, and Bo must find a way to get out of a life he no longer wants any part of.

Oh, and there's also mad science.

Yeah, Sleight is kind of a weird one, folks, in that it's a perfectly conventional "nice kid tries to escape the hard life" story that periodically dips into semi-deranged territory, as early on we discover that Bo's magic isn't a hobby or even a vocation but an obsession, a means by which he can, as he puts it "do what nobody else can", using everything from old-fashioned tricks to backyard cybernetic surgery to give himself the capacity to amaze and astonish. If that means implanting an electromagnetic dynamo in his shoulder and swabbing the resulting infection with iodine every day, then in Bo's mind, it's a small price to pay for greatness. As such, while the whole pattern of the movie is something we've seen a dozen times before, the film has these moments where all of a sudden it replaces the scared, naive kid at the center of the swirling world of drugs and crime with Magneto and just kind of watches what happens. The result isn't quite as revolutionary as it could be, but it has its moments, such as one scene where Bo walks into Angelo's house and responds to a gangster's threats by ripping out his dental fillings.

All of the participants do a reasonably decent job with the material, particularly Latimore, and Seychelle Gabriel, playing Bo's girlfriend Holly (and whose appearance in a movie I saw shall not be spoken of). Neither one are transcendent, mind you, but this is a genre where the primary competition is Pras in Turn it Up, and both of them manage to clear that low bar with fair ease. Dulé Hill, meanwhile, tries his best to be a menacing gangster in the vein of Denzel Washington from American Gangster, talking a big game and smiling a lot before switching on the screaming tirades and machete mutilations, but is hampered by the fact that Dulé Hill has always appeared approximately as intimidating as a bowl of soup, regardless of the role. The story is entirely predictable, from the gradual descent into moral quandaries to the beyond the pale threats of the villainous gang leader, to the final rousing scene in which our hero finally stands up to the violent thugs who are oppressing him, but the details, tinged as they are with the unhinged, keeps things reasonably fresh, even if we know where the movie is ultimately going.

In the end, I have to admit that I liked Sleight a good deal more than I expected to. There are, after all, always new ways to tell a well-worn story, and while Sleight never quite lives up to the zaniness of its premise, it does enough to avoid being just another stale rehash of one of Hollywood's oldest tales. And given that I've seen movies with literally a thousand times its budget come up with literally a thousandth of its sincerity and charm, I'm certainly not going to gainsay an interesting movie for not being anything more.

Final Score: 7/10




Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2

Alternate Title: Daddy Issues

One sentence synopsis: The Guardians discover Star Lord's semi-divine father while fleeing from a host of old foes hellbent on taking their revenge.


The Verdict: And speaking of small, modest indie films that you've probably never heard of...

Guardians of the Galaxy was a spectacular movie in more senses than one, proof positive (if ever it were needed) that Marvel's infinite universe of magic and wonder could extend beyond basic superhero stories and into other genres like Space Opera. I loved Guardians, but was concerned about the possibility of a sequel, so delicate was the balancing act it performed, trying to be both totally irreverent and totally sentimental at the same time. And perhaps returning writer/director James Gunn knew that, for this time he has put together a movie that is much heavier on the sentiment while going a bit lighter on the irreverence. I suppose there probably wasn't much of a choice.

Now a semi-organized band of douchebag mercenaries/bounty hunters for hire, the Guardians have made themselves a host of enemies across the galaxy, partly because of the Marvel Cosmos being filled with officious dickheads, and partly because the Guardians themselves are the same kleptomaniacal, violent lunatics that we all fell in love with back in 2014. On the run from several different gangs of heavily armed assholes out for their heads, they encounter Kurt Russell (his character has a name, but it's basically Kurt Russell), who has been searching for them so that he can reveal to Starlord that he's his father, and that he's a God. Because of course he is. At the same time, half the galaxy is chasing down the rest of the guardians, be it Gamora's sister Nebula (Dr. Who's Karen Gillian), screaming mad and desperate for revenge, Ravager captain Yondu (Michael Rooker), now exiled from his fellow space pirates for child trafficking and looking to find Starlord for purposes he himself likely doesn't know, or an entire host of gold-painted douchebags called the Sovereign, who want to lay waste to the Guardians because they are assholes (and because Rocket, in perfect raccoon style, stole everything of theirs that wasn't nailed down. A lot of these subplots exist simply to give some of the other Guardians something to do for most of the run-time, but I'm hardly going to complain about that, resulting as it does in things like an opening battle sequence filmed completely offscreen as a backdrop to the adventures of baby Groot's misadventures, David Hasselhoff cameos, two enormous battle sequences where one of our heroes disposes effortlessly of so many heavily-armed ravagers that the sequence becomes gut-bustingly funny, and best of all, Sylvester Stallone making an appearance as a Ravager admiral with ties to Yondu. Sly seems to be sending up his performance in Judge Dredd, which given the tone of this movie, is beyond hilarious, and if this leads to him appearing in future Marvel films, so much the better.

Honestly though, the focus this time isn't on the zaniness but the characters, which is not exactly what I expected from Guardians of all people, but looking back is probably the correct move. Starlord's lingering abandonment issues from having lost his mother and having been kidnapped by space pirates as a kid continue to haunt him, while both Gamora and even Rocket, of all people, get some excellent moments circulating around their place in a misfit surrogate family like the Guardians, and the distance between what they claim their place is and what it actually is. The film never moves into telling instead of showing, but it's plain that Gunn is more comfortable with the characters this time, and more willing to explore the dynamics between them in greater depth than the previous movie, five-way-origin-story as it was mixed with a galaxy-devouring threat, had time to do. The core theme of the film though is fatherhood, surrogate or otherwise, as evidenced by Kurt Russell trying to make up for lost time with his demigod son, Yondu's remarkably complex relationship with Starlord, one explored throughout the course of the film with surprising depth and even pathos, Nebula and Gamora's shared experience being raised by an abusive monster in Thanos, and even Sly's own semi-father relationship with Yondu (okay, I'm stretching here, but I wanted to shoehorn the fact that Stallone is in this film into the review once more).

So does this mean that Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is just as good as its predecessor? Well... no. It's not far off, to be fair, but with this much emphasis on secondary characters and on the sentimental possibilities of certain characters' stories, someone kind of has to get the shaft. Both Dave Bautista's Drax and Zoe Saldana's Gamora have very little to do in this film save for sitting around commenting on the actions of other characters, including those of Pom Klementieff's Mantis, a fairly forgettable throwaway who doesn't bring enough to the film to justify her existence there. The writing isn't quite as sharp as it was last time, the film needing to spell more of its emotional core out rather than let it flow organically. The difference is one of degrees, but it's there, palpable in that the sequel to a movie that created a surrogate family without once using the word 'family' now has to actually hammer the point home with considerably less finesse. There's also the question of the missing humor. Not that Guardians 2 isn't funny mind you, it's just not as funny as the last film, in part because the movie is concentrating on other matters, but also because the simple fact that the characters embody their archetypes is no longer good enough. Rocket being homicidal despite being a furry little procoynid, or Drax speaking in utterly literal statements all the time is no longer good enough to carry the film. In fairness to Gunn, it's clear he and the cast knows this, but nevertheless, some of the edge that carried Guardians through the original minefield of sentiment and saccharinity has clearly been lost, and will need to be freshly honed in the sequel.

All that being said, Guardians of the Galaxy's second chapter is a really good film, the best superhero movie of the year so-far, and a worthy addition to the illustrious Marvel canon. It may be a little less fresh than its predecessor and it may feel unavoidably like filler at points, but when the filler is this good, it's hard to get upset.

Final Score: 7.5/10




Your Name

Alternate Title: Freaky Friday the 13th

One sentence synopsis: A young man in Tokyo and a girl in the Japanese countryside begin spontaneously switching bodies, and struggle to discover who each other are.


The Verdict: I will not pretend to be the biggest anime fan around. Oh don't get me wrong, I've nothing against Japanese animation, and I've seen the classics, like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Naussica, Akira, Ghost in the Shell (not that one), Howl's Moving Castle, to name a few. But beyond the Miyazaki canon and a handful of other films or series that have crossed my path, Anime and I have a fairly cool, if cordial, relationship. It's not that I dislike it, it's just that the cultural conventions of the art form, from the stammering male protagonists to the unsubtle upskirt shots of the female ones, just really aren't my thing overall. Still, that sort of objection has never prevented me from catching a good movie when one presents itself, and so on the back of several absolutely glowing reports from friends of mine who do appreciate Anime, I decided to go and check out our latest import from our friends in the Far East.

Your Name comes to us from the CoMix Wave Films studio, a studio whose pedigree is second only to the legendary Studio Ghibli itself, and not by much at that. Though nowhere near as well known in the States, CoMix Wave is responsible for several classic masterpieces of the Anime film world, including 5 Centimeters per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and The Garden of Words. The majority of CoMix Wave's films, including the aforementioned three classics and Your Name itself, come from director Makoto Shinkai, CoMix' Miyazaki (though he disputes this characterization). Shinkai's specialty has always been labyrinthine films with complex, philosophical plots, rather than the more artful fantastical fare that Ghibli focuses in, and Your Name is no exception. At its core, the film is about two young people, Taki, a university student in Tokyo, who works nights as a waiter to make ends meet, and Mitsuha, a high school student from a small town in rural Japan, who serves as a shrine priestess in the local Shinto temple, and who is otherwise bored stiff by her small town's limited horizons. For reasons neither of them can understand, the two begin body swapping one day, waking up in one another's lives for a day at a time. Communicating with one another by leaving text messages on their smartphones, the two try and puzzle out what's happening without actually having physically met, at least until...

... well never mind the until, really. Let's just say the plot gets real complex real fast, as Taki and Mitsuha try and discover what seems to be happening here, and why. All of this, however, takes place before the backdrop of gorgeous animation, classical in style for anime, though not if one is only used to the Ghibli films. The focus here is on quotidian animation, fireflies at night, the glint of torchlight on painted faces, a weed-filled vacant lot near the outskirts of a town, cramped Tokyo apartments, that sort of thing. It's a far cry from the hyper-extended fantasias of films like Paprika or Spirited Away, but no less beautiful for the lack. The characters, as well, are more subdued than the customary anime stock types, less explosive screaming and sweat drops than the typically-madcap pace of Anime allows for (I don't want to paint with too broad a brush here, but Anime does have its tendencies). The characters are well written, and sharp enough to follow along with the twists of the plot, and the film overall has a charming, romantic quality to it that translates well out of context, cultural and otherwise.

Unfortunately, the need to translate out of context is pretty vital, because Your Name, for all its charming simplicity at points, is a tremendously complicated film, involving not only body swapping but time travel, astrophysics, spiritualism, hallucinogenic drugs, memory loss, and a pair of narrators, both of them unreliable. Readers of this blog know that I've got nothing against a complex plot, I sang the praises of Cloud Atlas for years after all, but Your Name stuffs so much intricacy into its runtime that it is legitimately difficult to follow. This is not an uncommon problem with more adult-oriented anime (not that kind of adult-oriented... well maybe that kind too). Ghost in the Shell's films and TV shows both involved complex philosophical-political discussions about everything from cognitive theory to tax policies in parliamentary governments, smashed into the middle of a modern techno-thriller. Your Name, though, is supposedly a lightweight romantic drama, which periodically gets so dense that the audience is expected to simultaneously keep track of intricate animation, complex subtitles, and explanatory super-titles used to illustrate untranslatable subtleties of grammar and wordplay within the sub-titled dialogue. Watching a film while reading two books at the same time is a tall order for anyone, and it's for that reason that, contrary to all of my snobbish tendencies, my recommendation for those who do go looking for Your Name is to find a dubbed copy, and reduce the parallel tracks you have to simultaneously juggle to two or so.

Honestly, Your Name is quite a good film, though its indulgence of far too much complex gamesmanship keeps its from being a great one. It bears very little in common with most of the popular anime which we of the non-Otaku world encounter, but it's no less of a film for it, a highly-complex telling of a very simple story, done without the melodrama and artifice that such stories would normally be lathered with, either in Japan or here. And given the number of people I know who absolutely adore this film, I'd bet that if you're willing to put work into decoding it, Your Name may just wind up surprising you.

Final Score: 7/10




Megan Leavey

Alternate Title: The Arf Locker

One sentence synopsis: A marine with a troubled past bonds with her bomb-sniffing dog while deployed to Iraq.


The Verdict: As longtime readers of this project already know, some weeks do not offer a lot of choice when it comes to what to see, weeks that offer either a slate of movies I've already seen, or things like Alien: Covenant (Prometheus did not warrant a sequel) or The Mummy (now with 90% less fun!). As such, I went to see Megan Leavey despite my ambivalence towards both subject and cast, in the hopes that, as has happened many a time, the movie would prove better than my expectations allowed for.

It did not.

Admittedly, it didn't prove much worse either. Megan Leavey stars Kate Mara, older sister of Rooney Mara, and an actress I have never, despite all the stuff I keep seeing her in, decided if I like or not. Marta plays the titular character of Megan Leavey, a washed up kid from some dead-end town on the Atlantic seaboard who joins the Marines due to a lack of options beyond overdosing on drugs, and through a series of misadventures, winds up assigned to the K-9 corps, working with an "incorrigible" German Shepherd named Rex. They don't like one another at first, they bond, they go to Iraq, they get into combat and perform heroically, they have trouble adjusting to civilian life back home, you've seen this song and dance before, both better and worse, in a hundred other movies. So what makes this one different?

Well... not much, to be honest. This one has a dog, certainly, and that's not nothing, as the dog actor playing Rex is the best actor in the movie (animal actors often are, I find, mostly because they have better lines). True, the film has the usual problem wherein they get the dog to bark a few times and then expect the audience to pretend that it's a 'wild, uncontrollable beast', but I suppose there's limited options for getting a nice dog to appear fearsome. There are, admittedly, a couple of nice lines relating to the business of dogs in Iraq, such as the one where a soldier tries to scare Megan with tales of how the insurgents will kidnap K-9 dogs and strap bombs to them before sending them back to their handlers, only for Megan to respond that, given that Rex can tear a man's arm off with his jaws at her command, she's not overly concerned about that possibility (there's a really awesome action movie to be made here somewhere).

There's also the cast, which is somewhat more exalted than one might normally find in movies like this, though the film does not exactly take full advantage of that fact. Common, who I'm finding increasingly ubiquitous in my filmgoing experiences, plays Megan's tough-but-with-a-good-heart sergeant at the K-9 corps, but while on paper this should seem to be a perfect choice, the fact is that Common is not a particularly good actor when forced to play things straight, being wooden and inflexible in all the wrong ways. Granted, there are movies where he can work around this (John Wick 2 for instance), but here he goes into his Selma/Timothy Green style of direct unemotional declarations of his lines, and it just doesn't work. Tom Felton, of the Harry Potter series, has a small role as a veteran dog handler, which seems to have been added to the movie purely to make the young girls coo (which several of them literally did upon seeing him in my screening), while veteran stars Edie Falco and Will Patton get to play Megan's mother and step-father, the former as a bubble-headed shrew, the latter practically without lines. Neither has much chance to do more than play stereotypes. At least they get a better shot than Bradley Whitford though, who is horrifically mis-cast as Megan's blue-collar working stiff father. I love Whitford, I have for years, but he's about as authentically blue collar as Donald Trump, and has about the same ability to pretend as much, and his attempts to portray a salt-of-the-earth character are just embarrassing, given his polished accent and upper-crust mannerisms. Whitford works great in films like Get Out or The Cabin in the Woods, not in this.

Ultimately, Megan Leavey isn't a bad film. The dog is always entertaining, and Mara is actually pretty decent given the material, underselling everything heavily, which is the right call in a story that can easily slide into melodrama. But the movie overall is really nothing special, a re-hash of American Sniper with dogs, and of about the same level of quality. Unless you're one of those who absolutely has to see every movie involving the military out of some misplaced sense of patriotism (or if you're punishing yourself with a weekly film schedule), there's just no reason to run out for this one. If you've seen the trailers, you've already seen the entire production.

Final Score: 5/10

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:13 am 
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Baby Driver

Alternate Title: Reservoir Pups

One sentence synopsis: A young man with a gift for getaway driving tries to extricate himself and his girlfriend from the criminal world.


Things Havoc liked: Edgar Wright is a good filmmaker. This much is not really in question. He's made a number of original, interesting, stylish movies like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and was in line to direct Ant-Man before Disney forced him out over the dreaded "creative differences". Following his departure from that film, Wright decided to revive a passion project that he conceived of all the way back in 1993, a movie about a music-loving kid who drives cars really well, and about the various cast of criminal ne'erdowells that he practices this skill with.

Who is this kid? Well, that would be Baby, played by a young actor named Ansel Elgort, whose previous roles were all in movies I have desperately avoided seeing (things like the Carrie remake, Divergent, or The Fault in our Stars). Baby (where he got that name is never explained), is a supremely talented driver who relies on music, mostly indie rock classics from the 60s through today, to not only time the mind-shatteringly difficult stunts he pulls in the various commuter cars that he hijacks for his missions, but also to drown out the tinnitus that he is afflicted with, thanks to a car wreck as a child. Don't take any of this preposterous setup seriously though, as the movie doesn't much, simply throwing character traits that the filmmakers imagine sound cool at the wall and seeing what sticks. Elgort himself is actually quite good in the role, a sweet, down-home southern boy with an encyclopedic MP3 library and a penchant for recording the criminal discussions of his co-conspirators, not for blackmail material, but because he likes to remix them into mix tapes. And a sweet young thing like Baby must, of course, have a sweet young thing as a girlfriend, in this case Lily James, as Debora, a waitress with a heart of gold and an eye for fellow sweet young things. There are rules to this kind of setup, after all.

So who else is in Baby Driver? A lot of people actually. Kevin Spacey and John Hamm get to play criminals extraordinaire, the former basically channeling his House of Cards persona as a ringleader who calls the shots, the latter as a sexed-up playboy who, one senses, does these jobs because they are fun, and because his hot girlfriend (Eiza González) wants to do them. I jump at any chance to see John Hamm in anything, and Spacey is a fun presence even in bad movies, which Baby Driver is manifestly not. But neither Hamm nor Spacey can hold a candle to Jamie Foxx, playing a wound up impulsive killer named Bats, who seems to be drawn from a combination of Pulp Fiction and Training Day. Foxx is always at his best when he's playing characters that are a little bit deranged (Any Given Sunday proved that, if nothing else), and so naturally he's in his element here. If you just want to watch good, fun actors having a blast bouncing off one another, look no further.

And that's really the key to Baby Driver. It's not the sort of movie where plot synopses and dramatic acting chops are the order of the day. It's instead the sort of movie that was more common around twenty-five years ago, a film that's about a style more than it is a plot or a character set. It's the kind of movie where a character will slip headphones on and listen to an indie rock song that just happens to narrate everything he encounters while fetching coffee that day, where characters exhibit superhuman feats of timing, skill, and coolness so effortlessly that nobody even acts surprised when they handbrake their car into a u-turn on a freeway and begin weaving through oncoming traffic at a hundred miles an hour. It's the kind of movie where people pop up out of nowhere with guns whenever they are needed, where everyone speaks in the same metaphor-laden dialect without being prompted, where everyone has a name like "Doc" or "Buddy" or "Baby", and there's no real need to explain why, because this is just a world where cool things happen because they are cool, and everyone is kind of expected to already know this.


Things Havoc disliked: In short, it's a Tarantino movie. And that's a problem, because Edgar Wright is not Quentin Tarantino.

Now, granted, neither is Tarantino himself on occasion. I'll be the first to admit that Inglorious Basterds was a bit of a disaster, and Django Unchained was about two thirds of a good movie stapled to one third of an awful one. But even in his down-periods, Tarantino is a legitimately great filmmaker, a genius of style over substance who has produced some of the most astounding works this sort of genre has to offer. And while there's a case to be made that Edgar Wright is also a great filmmaker (both Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim are legitimately great films), this is not his genre or style, and it shows.

Remember how I mentioned that Wright dreamed this film up in the early 90s? Well that's what this whole exercise feels like, an early 90s indie film, aping quite directly the style of Tarantino masterworks like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. And that's fine, really, except that Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were revolutionary movies, legitimate masterpieces that redefined how films could be made, while Baby Driver feels like a fun weekend for the cast and crew, driving around downtown Atlanta and reciting cliched dialogue ironically. It's not that it's done badly, in fact in several moments its done quite well, but quite well is not a good enough excuse when the plot is as conventional as "earnest criminal wants to give up his life of crime but has trouble getting out". Pulp Fiction, which this movie so desperately wants to be, with its long-takes and musical sensibilities and dialogue cribbed in turn from 70s B-movie classics, had a plot that was sprawling and multi-layered, told out of order and re-arranged into a cinematic ouroboros. Baby Driver, meanwhile, carries a plot so standard that I've seen three separate versions of it this year alone. Reservoir Dogs, which this movie also desperately wants to be, punctuated the collected and luxurious dialogue of the various characters with moments of stark brutality and wild tonal shifts that purposely disoriented the audience for effect. Baby Driver, meanwhile, seems to have gone through the trouble of obtaining an R-rating just so it could say 'fuck' a couple of times. Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, in short, were created by a master of the genre. Baby Driver was created by someone who admires a master of the genre, who may himself be a master of other genres, but not of this one.


Final Thoughts: I don't want to give the impression that Baby Driver is a bad movie, because it isn't, not at all. Indeed it's a fun movie with fun driving and fun actors having a lot of fun. But the critical acclaim it has been garnering on its route through the festival circuit puzzles me, if I'm being honest, as the movie is really nothing more than a fun diversion with a couple of nods towards much better films of yesteryear. I have nothing against throwback films, nor against skilled directors trying their hand at another style than the one they got famous for, but not all such experiments are going to result in Oscar-caliber stuff, and Baby Driver, while a fun diversion, is really nothing special, all things considered.

That said, gearheads or driving enthusiasts who like anything with a car chase will find Baby Driver diverting, as will anyone who just wants to kill a couple of hours watching something reasonably fun. Just don't go into the movie expecting something life-changing, because the only revolutions to be found here belong to a couple of tires.


Final Score: 6/10

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Gaze upon my works, ye mighty, and despair...

Havoc: "So basically if you side against him, he summons Cthulu."
Hotfoot: "Yes, which is reasonable."


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 30, 2017 11:18 pm 
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And now another note:

August, in most movie calendars, is a pretty quiet month, usually starting out with a bang and fizzling out quickly, but 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year, and the momentum of Blockbuster season simply refuses to abate as film after film assails us. Accordingly, we here at the General's Post have found ourselves in the unenviable position of needing to sprint just to keep up. And as such, we present

Three Summer Films Worth Seeing




The Big Sick

Alternate Title: Everybody Loves Kumail

One sentence synopsis: A Pakistani-American stand-up comedian tries to deal with his white girlfriend's serious illness, while juggling the pressures of his family's traditionalist views.


The Verdict: I don't watch a lot of television. Movies are more my thing. In consequence, I had no idea who Kumail Nanjiani was nor why I should give a damn about him and his life. The Silicon Valley/Portlandia/Franklin & Bash alum was, to me, simply the latest in a long line of comedians who have decided to grace my theater screens with their autobiographical stories. And while I may know very little of Nanjiani's work, I do know a fair amount about what projects like this one typically result in, having subjected myself to both Sleepwalk With Me and Don't Think Twice. Those two movies were, to put things simply, bad, and I had every expectation that this one would be yet another entry in the "I'm a comedian, look how interesting my life is!" hall of shame. I had consequently resolved to avoid this movie at all costs, and had to be dragged into it by main force. The fact that the alternatives began with Despicable Me 3 didn't help my case to avoid it.

Fortunately, though, the resulting film turned out to be slightly different than the aforementioned disasters. How so? Well unlike those other movie, The Big Sick is funny.

Actually it's really funny, riotous even, thanks to an extremely strong script and superb comic actors to perform it. Not only is Nanjiani miles better at portraying his own autobiography (that's gotta be awkward, doesn't it?) than either Mike Birbiglia or the collection of humorless dunces that made up Don't Think Twice, but he has wisely buttressed his own performance with veteran comic talent such as an unrecognizable Ray Romano, and the increasingly ubiquitous (and irreplaceable) Holly Hunter. I was never a big fan of Ray Romano's sitcom work back in the day (I did mention that TV isn't my thing), but I have always liked his ultra-dry standup work, and that's the dynamic he brings to this one. The humor is black, he's playing the father of a young woman dealing with a mysterious, possibly fatal illness, after all, but there's such an effortless verisimilitude to his ramblings about how Kumail's life is a mess, and so is his own, that it's impossible not to laugh along. Holly Hunter meanwhile, who was the only good thing in Batman v. Superman (and that's not a small matter) plays Romano's wife, Kumail's eventual mother in law, as an irascible North Carolinian filled with piss, vinegar, and drunken stories. I don't think I appreciated just how wonderful Holly Hunter was until recently, but she's absolutely wonderful in this film, particularly in a scene where a bro-douche starts shouting racial epithets at Kumail moments before she jumps him with a liquor bottle. Hunter and Romano have an effortless, beautiful chemistry to them, and they alone make the movie worthwhile.

But they're not alone. Like I said, I don't know Kumail Nanjiani from anyone else, but while his standup routine in this film isn't anything to write home about, his interactions with the other comedians in his little group, which (in keeping with all inter-comedian dialogue in every film I've ever seen), is brutal and savage and entirely without restraint. We also get to meet Kumail's family, including Silver Linings Playbook's Anupam Kher as his father, and Zenobia Shroff as his forever-meddling mother, whose brittle attempts at pretending that the succession of Pakistani women she brings over to meet him have "just dropped by" are so stale that even the rest of his conservative family roundly mocks them. The tensions between Kumail's family and his desire to live a modern, secular life with his white girlfriend is a major element of the plot, and fortunately, it is handled deftly and with tremendous skill, neither showcasing Kumail as some perfect, passionate crusader against the demands of his rigid family (we've only seen that story done a hundred and thirty times), nor muddled with personal anecdotes of no interest to anyone except the author himself (as happened to Sleepwalk With Me).

And that's... pretty much all there is to it. The Big Sick is a family drama (actually multiple family dramas all rolled together), but it all just works, in fact it works astoundingly well, given how badly most of these sorts of films tend to fail. The whole exercise has a warmth to it, a wondrous chemistry that one sees only on the rare occasions when a cast and a script come together in just the right way. All of the minor characters, from Kumail's fellow comedians (mostly SNL alums like Aidy Bryant and Bo Burnham), to his more conservative brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), to the patient herself, played by Zoe Kazan, who has the unenviable role of portraying the writer of the movie. Everyone just works so well together in this one that the whole movie gels around them. As a result, despite every expectation I had, The Big Sick turned out to be one of the best films I've seen in this remarkable year.

Final Score: 8/10




Spiderman: Homecoming

Alternate Title: Spiderman, or, The Unexpected Virtue of Meta-casting

One sentence synopsis: Peter Parker struggles to balance life as a high schooler with his desire to become an Avenger, while confronting an underground arms trafficking ring and trying to prove himself to Tony Stark.


The Verdict: I'm a Marvel kid. As such, the offerings of the MCU have been a neverending fount of riches to me. But that said, Spiderman was not really my thing. I don't have anything against the character, mind you, just no particular enthusiasm for him (my preference was for Iron Man and Cap). Ever since Spiderman first made it to screen back in 2002, he's shown up six times, in the original three films, which were very good (up until number 3, at least), in the two Sony reboots, which were godawful, and in Civil War, which... was. The news that, following the cataclysm that was Amazing Spiderman 2, that Spidey would be returning to the MCU where he belonged, was certainly overdue, and a source of some approval from me (more MCU is an absolute good at this point), but I wasn't blown away by the prospect of starting all over again with Spiderman, having done so twice already in this young century.

I should have been.

Spiderman: Homecoming is a superb movie, one of the better offerings of the post-Avengers' MCU, a small-scale film with big-scale skill behind it, one that manages to fit Spiderman, or more precisely this Spiderman into the wider universe as though he had always been there, finding a niche for him that isn't taken up by the other films in the MCU canon. It boasts yet another stellar super-cast, which begins with Billy Elliot's Tom Holland as a Peter Parker who finally both looks and acts like a High Schooler. While there are varying opinions on how good Toby McGuire was in the role, and Andrew Garfield would eventually go on to become a fine actor in his own right, I think it's unquestionable that Hooper is the best Peter Parker we've so far seen, naive and foolish and trying to be more responsible than his age normally allows for. Hooper plays a nerd (and an American one at that) perfectly, and is supplemented by a whole host of other high-school(ish) aged actors for his peers, from newcomer Jacob Batalon as Peter's best friend Ned, Disney channel star Zendaya Coleman as "MJ", re-envisioned in this film as a slightly weird, intellectual loner, and Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori as "Flash", the class dickhead, who is fortunately much better in this film than he was in that one. All of these kids act like kids, awkward as hell, smart-asses to a fault, completely without an idea what they are doing most of the time, and obsessed with looking cool, however they imagine that to be. The kids, Parker in particular, are at the center of the story, which is one of the main reasons this film works at all.

But of course there are other elements to the film as well, including Robert Downey Jr., reprising his role once again as Tony Stark, who this time is tasked with taking on a sort of mentorship role to a young would-be superhero. Tony Stark is, of course, roughly the last person in the MCU one would normally trust with molding young minds (next to Ultron, I suppose), but the movie plainly knows this, and more importantly, doesn't over-use Stark, having him step in where necessary for a series of stupifyingly-good scenes, among the best in the film overall. Part of this is the fact that, ten years on, Downey as Stark is still the greatest casting job in history, but it's also just a measure of how far the character has come that he can fit into a situation like this at all, lecturing Peter on irresponsibility before hesitating and remarking to himself that he sounds like his father.

The rest of the cast is stellar as well, from Jon Favreau reprising his role as Happy Hogan, tasked this time with keeping an eye on Peter, to Marisa Tomei (whose casting caused a stir for some reason) as Aunt May, a more down-to-earth version than the elderly saints we have thus far seen in the role. Smaller appearances by Donald Glover (much better than he was in The Martian), Bokeem Woodbine, and Jennifer Connelly of all people, voicing a Stark-designed onboard AI within Peter's high-tech spider-suit. But the biggest stunt cast is, of course, Michael Keaton, whom I do not need to make any jokes about because the fact that he has come full circle from Batman to Birdman to The Vulture has already been talked to death by everyone living. Keaton is magnificent, because of course he is, a working-class construction worker-made-good who is now trying to stay on top economically by any means necessary, even if that means stealing alien super-tech from the Government and Stark Industries and selling it to the highest bidder. Keaton is a charming bastard even when in a murderous frenzy, but the film never turns him into a mustache-twirling asshole the way a lot of Marvel villains have. Marvel is unique among superhero franchises in building its films not on its villains but on the main characters (this is not as common as it might sound), but Keaton's Vulture is a major step away from that, and while he's not quite the equal of Loki, he's still one of the best villains the series has given us.

Homecoming isn't perfect, of course. The plot, despite the excellent use of detail and setting, is fairly bog-standard, and the movie seems to be aiming for either an underclass anti-hero or Donald-Trump-as-a-supervillain theme with Vulture, neither of which ultimately come to fruition. The stakes and scale are kept deliberately low as well, so if you're obsessive about big sweeping changes being made to the universe as a whole, it will be possible to dismiss the film as nothing but filler (as some already have. But the film is ultimately just extremely well-made , with Onion News Network's Creative Director Jon Watts at the helm. By this point, Marvel hitting these things out of the park is so routine it barely merits comment (he said while commenting upon it...), but given what the rest of the world manages to foul up when it comes to superheroes, the fact that they're not only still going but still going at this level is worth stopping to recognize, even if we've done it so many times before.

And if the trailers for Thor 3 are anything to go by, we'll probably be doing so again before the year is out.

Final Score: 7.5/10




The Little Hours

Alternate Title: Chanson de Geste

One sentence synopsis: A servant fleeing from the vengeance of his master masquerades as a deaf-mute worker at a rural convent where the nuns are all crazy.


The Verdict: People occasionally accuse me of not seeing enough indie movies, accusing me of having too much love for the MCU, for instance, or for the mainstream wing of Hollywood overall. And it's true, I have always rejected the temptation to engage in hipsterisms, whereby movies are only good if they have budgets of nine dollars and nobody else has ever heard of them. It does not hurt that some of the worst films I've ever seen on this project, films like Under the Skin or White God or Ballet 422, are all obscure indie films watched by a handful of critics, and one savage, raving lunatic (hi). But while I've never made a secret of my appreciation for popular filmmaking (at least when it's not undertaken by Michael Bay, I have standards), a quick glance through my back-catalogue of reviews will reveal many dozens of obsure indie films that I saw on a lark, some of which I hated and some of which I did not. And if anyone needs more proof, consider the film before us here, a narrow-released indie comedy based on the works of a 12th century poet.

Indie enough for you, motherfuckers?

The Little Hours comes to us courtesy of boyfriend/girlfriend team Jeff Baena and Aubrey Plaza, respectively director of and star of this film, one of several they've done together. Baena I know nothing about, as his previous work failed to cross my radar, but Plaza I do know, and don't like. It's not that she's a bad actress, far from it, it's that her preferred character is one designed, as if in a laboratory, to piss me the hell off, the entitled, hipster douche who gets to be a dickhead to everyone because this is her movie (I call this particular malady 'House Syndrome'). But while I'm no fan of Plaza's, I'm a huge fan of John C. Reilly, who has only risen in my estimation with (almost) every film I've seen him in, and who steals the show in this movie, playing a jovial, lecherous, drunken, charming, wonderful priest named Father Tommaso, head of a convent of nuns who are themselves abusive, violent, foul-mouthed lechers, and who fits right in perfectly. These nuns are played variously by such actresses as Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, and Plaza herself, who betrays a certain self-awareness of her archetypical role by casting herself explicitly as a horrible, grating person who is also a violent rapist and a human-sacrificing witch.

Yes, this is still a comedy.

In fact, it's not just any comedy. The Little Hours is in fact a re-telling of Giovanni Boccacio's Decameron, the classical collection of novellas written in the mid-14th century about a group of young, wealthy Italians who amuse themselves by making up and telling ribald tales. The framing story is absent here, but the plot itself is straight out of the Boccacio's tales, which are reasonably obscure now but were the Lord of the Rings of the late Middle Ages, read endlessly, compared to Dante's Divine Comedy, and used as the explicit model for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Where Plaza and Baena got the notion to turn a handful of these tales into a movie, I have no idea, but they have studiously done so, placing the film in its historical setting of Northern Italy, while updating the language to make everyone sound like foul-mouthed Brooklyners, as a way of "de-mystifying" the language of stories which were originally about everyday, average folk in all their drunken, debauched lechery. The result is a classical, medieval farce, featuring such people as Fred Armisen as a hysterical Bishop and Nick Offerman as a noble lord obsessed with the goings-on of the Guelfs (I can't decide if Offerman's inability to pronounce 'Guelf' is intentional or not). Dave Franco (brother of James), finally finds a worthwhile role after the tepid fart that was the Now You See Me series, playing a young man fleeing from Offerman's guards after cuckolding him (someone is always getting cuckolded in classical farces), and who winds up staying at a nunnery from hell, where he is abused and raped and nearly sacrificed by a coven of witches, before everyone involved is revealed to be equally lecherous and bawdy and merriment is permitted to break out at last. It's a classical farce, this is what you get.

But classical or not, is it any good? Well... actually yeah, surprisingly so. Some movies need a while to percolate in one's mind before one can make definitive claims on them, and The Little Hours was one that I was lukewarm on initially but have thought more and more highly of as the days have passed. It's certainly not going to be to everyone's taste, and the story structure (such as it is) is a complete mess by modern standards, but I find I admire the film for daring to be what it is, for adopting the anachronistic elements of the old 14th century story, warts and all (nuns raping men was the rage back in the early modern period) without a care in the world as to what people might think of it. I admire it for not attempting to force a modern three-act structure into a tale that was designed as a throwaway piece of light entertainment, and for wisely selecting Reilly as a soft, emotional core of the film, rather than bloviating endlessly on the iniquities of women's roles in the 14th century or some other academic polemic. Its ribaldry is properly ribald, not merely an occasional recitation of a four-letter word, and it neither luxuriates in how backwards the Middle Ages were, nor "modernizes" them the way a lot of over-artistic crap does. And to top all, it's actually funny. Not screamingly-so, but funny enough to be worth a see, if you are inclined to check out the weirder side of the indie world.

I don't pretend that The Little Hours is for everyone, but not every movie has to be. And loathe as I am to admit it, I am pretty much exactly the intended audience that it is for. Maybe that means I can't be impartial, but if I can't use this blog to champion quirky little films that are weird and horrible in all the right ways, what purpose in having it in the first place?

Final Score: 6.5/10

_________________
Gaze upon my works, ye mighty, and despair...

Havoc: "So basically if you side against him, he summons Cthulu."
Hotfoot: "Yes, which is reasonable."


Last edited by General Havoc on Sun Aug 06, 2017 2:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 12:54 pm 
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You still forgot to fix the error of calling Tom Holland "Toby Hooper". :razz: At least here.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 12, 2017 6:37 pm 
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Dunkirk

Alternate Title: We Shall Bore Them on the Beaches...

One sentence synopsis: A soldier, a civilian sailor, and a fighter pilot, all participate in the Battle of Dunkirk.


Things Havoc liked: Christopher Nolan is a bit of a polarizing figure. There are those who regard him as the visionary auteur of modern high-concept classics like Inception, Memento, and the Dark Knight, and believe him to be a genius of tremendous skill and craft. There are also those who regard him as the talentless hack director of incorrigible disasters like Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises, and believe him to be a useless waste of cinema-space, incapable of producing a human element to go with his admittedly-pretty pictures. Strangely enough though, I find that very few people regard Christopher Nolan as I do, a director of considerable talents within a narrow range of filmmaking, whose high-concept balancing acts are not always buttressed by sufficient skill to actually pull them off, but who must, at least in some regard, be admired for the attempt. Perhaps there's no room in people's lives for gradations any longer, but I do like Nolan's work so long as he stays within his comfort zone, and given that Nolan's best films tend towards the clinical (Inception being basically two hours of exposition punctuated with explosions and Edith Piaf), I was interested in seeing what he might do with a classical, lavish war film. The cast is certainly no blemish, comprising reliable British fixtures like Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branaugh, Cillian Murphy, and even Michael Caine, and while I've not seen Nolan attempt a war film, I have seen him attain great success through ensemble casts in an intricate plot before. This seemed right up his alley, all told, and given the year that 2017 has shaped up to be, I was very much looking forward to this one.


Things Havoc disliked: So... let's get a few things straight.

I am aware of my reputation, as both a film critic and a historian, for getting a trifle... dogmatic when it comes to "historical" films like The Eagle, or The Flowers of War, or even Dallas Buyer's Club, and of flying off the handle into epochal rants concerning how a bad film has mutilated history, or how the critics of a good one are attempting to do so. With Dunkirk being such a historical film, I can appreciate the expectation that some of my readers have that such a rant, one way or the other, is soon to forthcome, and wish to allay those fears. For while I do have certain quibbles with the history portrayed in Nolan's Dunkirk, they are, for the most part, reasonably minor, and unimportant to the overall question of the film's quality, nor do I intend to stand upon soapboxes and direct fire and thunder at those who have misinterpreted the historical context of the film in making their own criticisms, as I so famously did to Roger Ebert's bafflingly ignorant assertion that Zhang Yimou was in the habit of whitewashing his own films. Cognizant as I am of the fact that most of my audience are not as obsessive about historical questions, I wish to assure readers that I shall not be using this time we have together to rant deliriously about history, real or imagined, within the context of this film.

I shall instead be ranting deliriously about everything else, because Dunkirk fucking SUCKS.

Yes, you heard me correctly, Dunkirk sucks, in fact it sucks with tremendous vigor and velocity, an ugly, tone-deaf, ineptly-produced calamity of a film that stands up to neither logical thought nor emotional judgment. It is all of Christopher Nolan's worst habits rolled into one and combined with new, fresh, entirely unexpected bad habits which he has manifested solely for the purpose of rendering this film an unwatchable, boring mess. The problem here is not that Nolan is an untalented filmmaker, nor that, as a war film, it is highly unconventional (Nolan himself has insisted that it is not a war film, but a "suspense" film). The problem is that whatever you choose to call it, it is one of the most boring movies imaginable, an achievement of some note given that the subject of the film is, theoretically at least, a battle involving hundreds of aircraft, thousands of ships, and hundreds of thousands of men. Except of course that Dunkirk is not about this battle nor the masses of men and machines that fought in it, but about a small handful of characters who do nothing but stare into the middle distance for a minor eternity while the soundtrack attempts to convince you to engage in trepanation by means of your soda straw.

God, where do I even start...

Dunkirk is a film built around three intertwining narratives, that of a soldier attempting to escape France and return to England, an elderly yachtsman called forth to save the British sailors so-trapped, and a fighter pilot engaging in combat over the Channel. All three of these narratives take place on different time-scales, the soldier's ordeal lasts a full week, the sailor's a single dodgy day, and the pilot's an excitement-filled hour. The film interweaves the various threads together in a tangled web, along the lines of better films like Cloud Atlas, but unlike these, the material for each storyline is unevenly applied. The soldiers must escape death some dozen different times, generally through repetitions of the formula "get on boat, boat sinks, get on other boat", something the movie does so many times that it begins to resemble outtakes from Waterworld. The pilots, however, have nothing whatsoever to do for most of the runtime, resulting in entire scenes where a pilot, caught between a dwindling fuel tank and a German bomber attacking a defenseless ship, will resolve their dilemma by looking at the fuel gauge, then the bomber, then the fuel gauge, then the bomber, then the fuel gauge, then the bomber, then the fuel gauge, then the bomber, before the movie mercifully cuts away to another storyline for a few minutes. Don't worry though, when we return to the pilot after several days have passed for the rest of the cast, he will be looking at the fuel gauge, then the bomber, then the fuel gauge, then the bomber, then the fuel gauge, then the bomber, then the fuel gauge...

Seriously, the above sequence repeats itself five times.

But it's not just the macro-editing of the film that's the problem, it's everything. The score, made by legendary film composer Hans Zimmer, who has worked with Nolan on most of his best films and scored everything from Gladiator to The Lion King, is one of the most incompetent pieces of music I've ever experienced in or out of a theater. Not only is it entirely comprised of the same sort of atonal electro-music that Under the Skin tried to use to make whatever it's point was, but it does not vary, either in "intensity" or tone, from the beginning of the film to the end of it. Action scenes, danger scenes, quiet scenes of soldiers staring out to sea, heroic scenes where the cavalry finally arrives, all of them are set to the same formless mass of abstract electronica, with the result that the film has no emotional depth, and scenes that are intended to be scary, claustrophobic, or suspenseful, fall completely flat tonally. Not that they wouldn't even without the score, as the film manages to take the massive scope of the Battle of Dunkirk and turn it into a cross between a Vincent Gallo film and a Calvin Klein ad. Hundreds of thousands of men fought in the Battle of Dunkirk. Thousands of ships and aircraft participated. Yet the entire film comprises perhaps five aircraft, half a dozen ships, and maybe a couple hundred extras at the most. This isn't some stylistic attempt to humanize the battle by restricting the perspective to that of a few men, this is the High School play version of Dunkirk. Tiny knots of huddled men stand dwarfed by the enormous, empty beaches that surround them, all while a couple of officers sit on a pier and wonder out loud if a ship might come for them today, or perhaps tomorrow. Once in a long while, a single German bomber will appear out of a clear, empty sky, and drop a single bomb, whereupon the several dozen men trapped in France will fling themselves to the ground in terror, before rising anew and resuming their long, lonely wait. I knew that I said I wasn't going to complain about the historicity of the events in the film, but if the movie is attempting to convince us that these events are small pieces of a much greater whole, it utterly and completely fails to do so. At one point, one of our heroes traverses the distance between the front lines of the German assault force and the beaches where he will spend the next eight or ten days in less than thirty seconds. I have literally fought paintball matches that took place in larger canvasses than this film conjures up for one of the greatest battles of the 20th century.

I could speak here of the actors, but they truly do get lost in the mess, whether it's people I adore, like Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branaugh, Cillian Murphy, or Mark Rylance, or people I've never seen before, such as the bulk of the faceless, characterless soldiers who stare into the distance in this film in the hopes that someone will remember to give them something to do. Hardy, one of my favorite actors working, spends the entire movie hidden behind an oxygen mask, speaking in monotones and staring at fuel gauges (then bombers, then fuel gauges...), while Branaugh has literally nothing to do except exposit information to the audience about the tremendous scale and epic scope of the raging battle taking place offscreen, which we are expected to take his word on, I suppose. The other soldiers meanwhile, so non-descript that I absolutely lost track of which one was our main character, do nothing except board ships, jump off said ships, sit on the beaches staring at the waves, and act stupidly, such as a sterling moment late in the film where desperate soldiers demand that one of their number jump overboard, so as to lighten a ship's load enough to make it off the beach, heedless of the fact that they are currently standing in four feet of water within the ship's hold, water which outweighs the lot of them by a factor of twenty or so.

And this is a film that critics are calling one of the greatest war movies ever made?!


Final Thoughts: Even by the standards of the disaster that was Interstellar, Dunkirk is a gruesome misfire, a truly awful film that, among other things, manages to do what even Red Tails did not, and render dogfights boring. I am well aware of Nolan's stated intention of making a non-war war film, a movie that was more suspense than action and one relying entirely on practical effects, but whatever his intentions, the resulting film is terrible on every level you measure it by, a bad war film, a bad suspense film, a bad historical film, and a very bad film in general. I am well aware that this review stands in stark contrast to the universal acclaim with which Dunkirk has been greeted, acclaim which utterly mystifies me, even when I try and put on my professional critics' hat and see the movie through the lens of people paid to tell you about how their taste is superior to yours. The film's incredibly short run-time (106 minutes for a film that, despite what Nolan wants to claim, was plainly intended at least in part as a war epic), subdivided into three awkwardly-assembled plot threads of uneven length, does not stop the final product from feeling about nine hours long, and if there's any artistic, or god help us, political point to be made in the decision to make the least warlike war film ever, I have completely failed to discover it, either during the viewing or in my research since. It is, in short, a dismal failure of a movie, certainly one of the worst that the otherwise strong cinema calendar of 2017 has offered us.

I've defended Christopher Nolan many times in conversation and in these reviews, pardoning his flaws as a filmmaker, his weak characters and basic emotions, because of his evident strengths of concept and plot. It was for this reason that I forgave him for the unreserved mess that was Interstellar, and for this reason that I was excited to see what he would do with a war film like Dunkirk. Having now discovered the answer to that mystery, I have to confess that, despite all the love I bear Nolan's Dark Knight series and Interstellar, I will be taking a very long, hard look at any work he does in the future before deciding that it's worth a gamble, as, no matter how often I go see films, no schedule is generous enough to make tolerating crap like this acceptable.

Dunkirk, in short, should be thrown unceremoniously into the sea.


Final Score: 3.5/10

_________________
Gaze upon my works, ye mighty, and despair...

Havoc: "So basically if you side against him, he summons Cthulu."
Hotfoot: "Yes, which is reasonable."


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 13, 2017 5:51 pm 
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It honestly sounds very contrived and well... Boring. Sorry you had to sit through it, but at least it wasn't 2 and a 1/2 hours.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 13, 2017 11:54 pm 
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General Havoc wrote:
But it's not just the macro-editing of the film that's the problem, it's everything. The score, made by legendary film composer Hans Zimmer, who has worked with Nolan on most of his best films and scored everything from Gladiator to The Lion King, is one of the most incompetent pieces of music I've ever experienced in or out of a theater. Not only is it entirely comprised of the same sort of atonal electro-music that Under the Skin tried to use to make whatever it's point was, but it does not vary, either in "intensity" or tone, from the beginning of the film to the end of it. Action scenes, danger scenes, quiet scenes of soldiers staring out to sea, heroic scenes where the cavalry finally arrives, all of them are set to the same formless mass of abstract electronica, with the result that the film has no emotional depth, and scenes that are intended to be scary, claustrophobic, or suspenseful, fall completely flat tonally.

Huh, apparently Shepard Tones don't work on you Havoc. The soundtrack is designed to produce a constant feeling of rising tension without end via an auditory illusion using looped Shepard Tones (see video). Nolan is very fond of it and many of his other films have used this trick in parts of the soundtrack, but for Dunkirk he had Zimmer build the entire score around it. It works on most people, which is why so many reviews will talk about how tense and engaging the movie is, but it seems your ears aren't fooled by it.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:33 pm 
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The irony there is that if the movie wasn't so short, Nolan could have taken the time to actually establish tension and suspense. Instead, Nolan cut out all the context establishment that would have handled that and tried to paper it over with a soundtrack gimmick.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 16, 2017 1:56 am 
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Atomic Blonde

Alternate Title: Sexy Iron Curtain

One sentence synopsis: An MI6 super-spy is sent to 1989 Berlin to extract a Communist dissident with a list of undercover agents.


Things Havoc liked: And so begins the John Wick ripoffs!

Well, actually, let's be honest. John Wick ripoffs have been a thing for a while now, pretty much since the original John Wick came out back in late 2014. Movies like The Accountant and The Equalizer have been gleefuly stealing a page from John Wick's handbook, to say nothing of the sequel itself, and frankly, I'm all for it. I once famously predicted that Action movies were "over", right before a whole slew of them came out and proved how wrong I was. Not all of this new wave of action films used John Wick as a model but a lot of them did, and why not? John Wick was a breath of fresh air in a stale genre, a move away from the ugly, grimy dictates of shaky-cam into a more stylized and cinematic style of action filmmaking. Not all of the movies made in this style have been any good (The Equalizer was largely a waste of time), but the style itself has earned my attention, and throwing one of the biggest female action stars of the day into one of them was the sort of thing destined to make my film schedule, particularly when the director of the affair is David Leitch, a former stuntman whose directorial debut, all the way back in 2014, was John Wick itself.

Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron, the most beautiful woman in the world, of Snow White and the Huntsman, Fast and Furious 8, and Mad Freaking Max (to name only her recent works). I was sold on this one from the word go, as a result, and as far as Theron is concerned, that was a wise decision. Theron is no stranger to action films, of course, nor to inflicting tremendous punishment on herself in order to make them work, and her credentials as an actress have never been in doubt (she won an Oscar for Monster, after all). Theron's character, a late-cold-war spy and ludicrously dangerous killer, is rather thin on detail, but Charlize has so much native charisma that she can take the "tough, monotone badass" interesting to watch despite the paucity of actual material. And she is ably assisted in this one by her supporting cast, including James McAvoy as a gallivanting British spymaster (and drunk), John Goodman as a CIA handler (doing his best avuncular semi-asshole routine), and everyone from legendary character actors James Faulkner, Toby Jones, and Til Schwieger to ubiquitous Algerian badass Sofia Boutella in supporting roles. I will be the first to admit that these guys don't always have a lot to work with, but they're an exalted group of cinematic veterans, and it's fun watching any of them doing anything at all, to be honest.

But John Wick and its imitators are not character-heavy dramas bursting with human interest, they are action movies, and the action in Atomic Blonde is what the movie has to stand on. We'll talk more about the action overall in a moment, but the quality of the work here is superb, by and large, hinging in particular around a showstopper of a long-take sequence in which our heroine has to battle six men inside a Berlin apartment building, a battle which lasts at least six minutes, and spills through corridors, stairwells, and into vacant apartments. Not only is the sequence a masterpiece of action filmmaking, something that should be beyond question with someone like Leich at the helm, but it is a masterpiece of how to shoot a female action lead, as with the exception of a few action movie suspension of disbelief staples (like the fact that anyone can keep fighting after having been thrown down a flight of stairs and struck in the face with a lead pipe), the movie showcases the myriad ways in which a 120-pound woman might well try to fight six men who are each twice her size and weight. The sequence begins with precise, brutal martial arts, and ends with two combatants so exhausted and beaten that they can barely stand, grabbing desperately at corkscrews and shards of crockery to try and stab one another's eyes out. It's marvelous.


Things Havoc disliked: The rest of the film is not.

John Wick for those who don't remember, was a seminal work of action filmmaking, but part of the reason for that was its laser focus on the action and the style. Its plot was so throwaway as to be a joke, a single invincible killing machine wreaking death and vengeance on his enemies for the slight of having stolen his car and killed his dog. Atomic Blonde, on the other hand, based as it is on an Antony Johnson graphic novel (unread by me), tries to be much more than just a grindhouse-style action fest, and in doing so, more or less screws the whole enterprise. Absent that one, stellar action sequence, the movie is almost entirely bereft of major action, instead concentrating on its plot, a labyrinthine, inchoate mess of espionage and double crosses that seems poorly thought out and barely coherent. Characters double and triple cross one another left and right, occasionally seeing through one another's intended double crosses, all without letting the audience actually know what is happening, with the result that most of the film, we spend in a complete fog as to what is happening and why it is doing so. Several times, I thought that one major character had been established as having betrayed and attempted to murder Charlize Theron, only for the characters to pretend that nothing had happened, until all of a sudden they ceased to do so for no discernible reason. This all wouldn't matter so much if Atomic Blonde were a typical action movie (the plots for which are usually thinly-veiled excuses for the action), but this film wants so desperately to be taken seriously as a spy thriller in the style of a John LeCarre novel that it spends most of its run-time laboriously running through the motions of backstabs and betrayals by characters we know nothing about in the background of a grey, grimy city. I'm not saying that all action movies have to be brainless, but the core tenets of LeCarre films like The Constant Gardiner or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy are that spy work is not a matter of gun battles or action setpieces, but boring, mundane work performed by dumpy, middle-aged men with no particular combat aptitude. This sort of thing clashes dramatically with high-powered luxury-and-assassins style Bond escapades, created as it was to refute the mythos of the Super-spy as a dashing womanizer with high-tech gadgets and superb fighting skills. Trying to merge the two together creates nothing but a giant mess.

But fine, tone and plot are not what you go to see this movie for. Unfortunately, the film spends so much time on the tone and plot that there's not much room for anything else, not even for the action, which absent the one sequence referenced earlier, is pretty much a complete bust. A handful of brief and un-inventive action sequences, sprinkled throughout the plot as though keeping to a timetable, are all we have to look at between bouts of Charlize Theron wandering rather aimlessly through Berlin in search of this informant or that macguffin. The filmmakers attempt to raise some interest by providing a lesbian subplot between Theron and Sofia Boutella, playing a young French spy caught up in the middle of this tangled web, but the sequence, for all its progressive credentials, seems entirely pointless, as though it was felt that if Bond has a sexy female spy to fall in with, then Theron must as well. Theron and Boutella share no real chemistry, an achievement of sorts given their respective pedigrees, and Boutella's character serves no purpose that I was able to discern in the movie at all. She's not the only one to suffer that fate. Indeed, it's probably not a co-incidence that Kurt Johnstad, writer of this gnarled mess, made his bones on the epochal 300, another graphic novel adaptation that had an exceptionally simple plot, preferring to focus the movie entirely on narrative and visual artistry. Making a similar choice might have saved this movie, but we shall never know.


Final Thoughts: Atomic Blonde is by no means an awful film, but it is a pretty lackluster one all told, not smart enough to be a proper spy thriller, and too obsessed with pretending it is smart enough to be anything else. I've got nothing against incoherent films if they have compensating virtues, but Atomic Blonde almost entirely lacks these, and the one good action sequence and the prospect of watching Theron parade around East Berlin in thigh-high boots is not enough to retain interest across the board. By the end of the movie, long after I had worked out who was probably going to wind up on whose side based on the time-honored ratio of screentime to billing rank (I have been going to the movies for a while now, folks), I was prepared to simply write this one off as another misfired action film with intellectual pretensions, and that position has not shifted in the days since I saw it.

Still, if all you want to do is watch a bunch of good actors play off one another for a couple hours, I suppose Atomic Blonde is a harmless diversion. For my money though, I'd suggest looking up the one great scene on Youtube, and finding something else to do with twelve dollars and two hours.


Final Score: 5/10

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 16, 2017 6:56 am 
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You know, Atonement wasn't a very good movie, mostly because it's based on a plodding bore of a book, but its Dunkirk scene is an illustrative contrast to Dunkirk the movie. From a thematic standpoint the scene does a great job of capturing the feeling on the beach during a lull in the fighting: the chaos and disarray of the British forces, their low morale, the overcrowding from the sheer number of men and materiel pressed into such a small area. Form a technical standpoint it's simply amazing. It's a five minute long, single take tracking shot, involving one thousand extras, over a dozen horses, multiple active props, a moving vehicle, and a fucking active Ferris Wheel with soldiers visibly goofing off on it. Pity Nolan couldn't be inspired to do something similar.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 18, 2017 12:28 am 
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Lys wrote:
You know, Atonement wasn't a very good movie, mostly because it's based on a plodding bore of a book, but its Dunkirk scene is an illustrative contrast to Dunkirk the movie. From a thematic standpoint the scene does a great job of capturing the feeling on the beach during a lull in the fighting: the chaos and disarray of the British forces, their low morale, the overcrowding from the sheer number of men and materiel pressed into such a small area. Form a technical standpoint it's simply amazing. It's a five minute long, single take tracking shot, involving one thousand extras, over a dozen horses, multiple active props, a moving vehicle, and a fucking active Ferris Wheel with soldiers visibly goofing off on it. Pity Nolan couldn't be inspired to do something similar.



This is a waaaaaaaaaaay better rendition of the pocket than Nolan managed to put together. Instead he went with three soldiers sitting on an enormous empty beach staring into the middle distance for all eternity.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2017 12:55 pm 
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The Dark Tower

Alternate Title: The Lord of the .45 ACPs

One sentence synopsis: The last of a legendary order of gunslingers and a boy from New York must stop an evil wizard from unmaking all creation.


Things Havoc liked: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

Since it was first published in serial in 1978, people have been trying, off and on, to bring Stephen King's Dark Tower to the screen in some form or another. It wasn't until 2007 that active production began on what would become this film, with directors as varied as J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard being attached to the project, while the list of actors offered the role of the semi-titular gunslinger is too long to repeat here. One would have been forgiven for wondering if this Development Hell victim would ever wind up showing its face, but at long last it has arrived, a troubled production of a difficult property, but one with two excellent actors attached to play the leads.

Who am I speaking of? Why Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey of course, taking on respectively the roles of hero (Roland of Gillead) and villain (The Man in Black). Neither role is all that well fleshed out beyond the basic character archetypes of epic fantasy literature, but both actors are supremely fun to watch working even in bad films, and remain so here. Elba is in his element as a world-weary gunslinger of legendary skill, a cowboy crossed with a questing knight, who wields six shooters the way Legolas wields his bow (and with a lot less pretty-boy annoyance). It's nothing revolutionary here, in fact it's pretty much Idris Elba doing a Clint Eastwood impression crossed with a standard fish-out-of-water story when he heads to New York and starts tipping hospital nurses with gold coins, but I'll be damned if Elba doesn't make the most of it. He doesn't make as much as McConaughey though, who gets the juicier role of playing Walter Padick, the Man in Black. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from McConaughey as a villain, but this is pretty much the exact scenario I should have been envisioning, as McConaughey takes the Angus Macfadyen approach to villainy, constantly grinning at his own delicious evilness, as he seeks to do nothing less than destroy the universe by... you know I'm not actually sure what the evil plan at work here is, but it scarcely matters. McConaughey's black magic takes the form not of fireballs and special effects, but of whispered commands that vary from "kill each other" to "stop breathing", and unlike a lot of villains in movies like this, he is given free reign to kill more than just random passers by, decimating everyone and everything that crosses his path all while chortling to himself about how gloriously wicked he is. It's not the most subtle thing in the world, but it works.

Indeed, subtlety isn't the strong suit of The Dark Tower in general, and believe it or not, that's a good thing. Most YA-style fantasy movies are quite pedestrian in their aims and ambitions, with the bad guys pushing the good guys through a hero's journey so standard that one can (and in the case of many a Hollywood film, has) write it all out by rote outline. It's not that Dark Tower is all that different in that regard, but that the film commits to its premise with more aplomb than most of its competitors do. Villains do not take people prisoner for no reason other than to grant the heroes a chance to save them, but instead outright murder everyone they come across, whether a traditional narrative would hold that character important or not. The backstory is not delivered in a massive narration dump, nor does the movie over-emphasize the one plot element that will turn out to be drastically important later on. Indeed, very little is actually established in this movie before it's actually used, which would be bad storytelling in any genre that was less formula-ridden than YA Fantasy, and which paradoxically actually turns this movie into a frankly surprising one at points. And if nothing else, it's the only movie I've ever seen which tries the old "buck up the hero at his lowest point with an inspiring speech routine" by means of giving an untrained teenager a gun to play with, as well as one of the very few whose moral is not that one should be content with the life one has, but that when one is given a chance to go do awesome fantastical things in another world, you say yes.


Things Havoc disliked: That all said, I don't want to give the impression that Dark Tower is some kind of fantasy masterpiece, re-inventing the genre for all time. Oddly enough for a movie called The Gunslinger, there's precious little action to it, and such action as there is is rather lackluster, as the Gunslinger simply shoots his enemies with unerring accuracy, while six thousand henchmen armed with machine guns fail to hurt him. I grant that guns are a fairly one-dimensional tool insofar as awesome action is concerned, but given the premise of a preternatural, divinely-gifted pistolier with weapons forged in crucibles of legend, surely anyone could come up with something a bit more exciting than "shoot a guy, then shoot another guy."

But it's the writing, the Achilles' heel of these sorts of works, that really lets the side down, something which makes the decision not to give the writing much time to showcase its poverty a bit more context. Backstory elements that seem like they ought to merit an explanation or two are simply dropped onto us for no reason at all, particularly a sudden and baffling reference to Arthurian mythology that lands out of nowhere and is never mentioned again. More seriously though, the film commits the unfortunate (and commonplace) sin of having characters explain things to other characters that they already know for the benefit of the audience. Obviously, given a seven-book series famous for its labyrinthine, interconnected mythology, and the need to condense it into a workable two=hour film, certain liberties have to be taken, but there's never an excuse for clunky writing, no matter what the structural pressures the source material layers upon you. References to other Steven King works such as It or the Shining go well beyond the level of easter egg and are catapulted into major elements of the plot with no explanation, confusing what's actually going on for anyone who's seen a movie in the last thirty years, and the unevenness of the script combined with the aforementioned sparseness of detail gives the film a rather arbitrary feel, wherein we get the impression that things happen because the filmmakers made something up at lunch and shot it.


Final Thoughts: I have to admit that my original review of Dark Tower, the one I was formulating in my head as we walked out of the theater, was considerably more critical of the film's flaws, but over time, I've softened on it considerably, partly because all of my viewing companions liked it more than I did, and partly because I realized that the movie it reminds me of the most is 2012's epochal failure, John Carter, the greatest box office disaster in the history of Hollywood. Like Dark Tower, John Carter was a flawed movie, but one that had considerable virtues to it, mostly to do with the cast (Taylor Kitsch notwithstanding), and the overall pulp-irreverent feel of the thing. So many bad movies compound their mistakes by taking their source material over-seriously, while John Carter, and The Dark Tower like it, accepted the fundamental oddball nature of the story they were trying to tell, recognizing that epic fantasy has to be taken in its own terms, and doing just that. As such, while Dark Tower is no masterpiece, it's actually not a bad rendition of a legendarily un-filmable property. It's true that my native sympathy for actors like Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey probably slants my opinion somewhat, but then again the whole point of an exercise like this one is to identify actors and concepts you like, and then go see them.

And if nothing else, rest assured that at least this one's better than Maximum Overdrive.


Final Score: 6/10

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 06, 2017 12:51 am 
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Wait...

Why is the gunslinger a young adult movie?

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2017 2:02 am 
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frigidmagi wrote:
Wait...

Why is the gunslinger a young adult movie?


I suppose it's not, but it had that feel to me when I saw it. Call it a personal reaction.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:33 am 
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Logan Lucky

Alternate Title: Ocean's Five and a Half

One sentence synopsis: Two brothers in West Virginia assemble a team to rob a NASCAR speedway during one of the biggest races of the year.


Things Havoc liked: I can take or leave Steven Soderbergh. The man makes good movies, at least on occasion, from Ocean's 11 to Magic Mike to Erin Brokovich, but he also makes a whole lot of meandering crap such as The Informant, Bubble, Che, or Eros (don't ask), and seems to regard filmmaking as an occasion to shower everyone with his insightful views on the world, such as his many public resignations from directing (Logan Lucky being the fifth consecutive "last film" of his, with a sixth in the works for next year), his prediliction for pseudonyms (such that nobody's actually sure who the screenwriter of this film is), and his fervent support of internet censorship as a means to save the soul of art (???). That said, when it comes to procedural heist-comedies, at least nowadays, Soderbergh is pretty much the man you look to to get things done. So leaving aside Soderbergh's hangups for the moment, I decided that this one, a redneck-themed remake of Ocean's 11, sounded promising, particularly when it came to the cast.

And what a cast it is. Channing Tatum, a long-time Soderbergh regular, and Adam Driver (of Star Wars), play the Logan brothers, a pair of blue-collar West Virginians, who like all West Virginians in all movies, are fated to suffer under the cruel arm of "the man" while evidencing down-home folksy character and virtue in contrast to the slick hucksterism of the city folk that surround them. Tatum, sadly, gets stuck with not much more than the above character description, but Driver gets a bit more, as a none-too-bright Iraq war vet with a prosthetic arm who gets dragged into his brother's hair-brained scheme for getting rich by means of robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway on the day of an enormous NASCAR race. Driver's an actor I've become a big fan of in the last couple of years, as every performance he gives is so strikingly different from the previous. This time he plays what amounts to the role of a Steven Soderbergh heist character with perfect stonefaced aplomb, and it's perfect.

Surrounding Tatum and Driver are other actors having a grand old time. Brian Gleeson (son of Brendan) and Jack Quaid (son of Dennis) play the Bang Brothers, two redneck idiots with pretensions of religious scruple who are among the funnier things in the film, and whose older brother is played by Daniel Freaking Craig, James Bond himself, as a safecracker and felon brought along to bring his particular knowledge of homemade explosives into the mix. Craig is goddamned amazing in this movie, a screamingly-funny old lecher of a bomb expert who steals every scene he's in and runs away with them. His role is effectively that of Don Cheedle in the Ocean's movies, but an Appalachia layered over. If you've ever wanted to watch James Bond hit on everything in sight... well you'd watch a James Bond film most likely, but if you wanted to watch him do so in a comedy, this is probably your best bet. If nothing else, Daniel Craig wins his way onto the ever-elongating list of British actors whose American accents are undetectably flawless. It must be all the warm beer...


Things Havoc disliked: So, the whole point of a heist film is to watch the heroes work. To see them undertake a seemingly-impossible task and accomplish it through clever planning, outsmarting their rivals, dumb luck, or whathaveyou. That's the whole reason that heist movies make such great comedies, the entire purpose of the film is to showcase how much smarter one group of characters is than another, and humiliation is the foundation of most comedy. You'd think that Soderbergh, of all directors, would know all this, having now made three Ocean's films (with a fourth in the works), to say nothing of things like Traffic or The Good German, which while not comedies, had labyrinthine plots full of people outwitting one another. And yet, judging from the evidence, either Soderbergh has entirely lost the plot or I have, because I have no goddamn idea what happens in this movie.

Heist plots are complex. They have to be, in order to hold the audience's attention, but the point of the entire exercise is to marvel at how clever the characters (and by extension, the filmmakers) are once we see just how elaborate the plan was, that's the been the genre's mainstay since The Sting for God's sake. Yet the whole last half of Logan Lucky makes no damned sense, not in the more common manner of the characters acting out of character, but in the sense that I literally had, and still have, no idea whatsoever of what was intended to be happening. Once the plot is underway we rapidly lose track of what's going on, to the point where it's not made clear at all if the heist is a success, a failure, or some mixture of the two. To be fair, a certain amount of confusion on those points is only natural to the genre, as a means to build tension if nothing else, but it's customary to at least let the audience in on what the hell the plan actually was before the movie ends. I've seen a lot of movies in the last six and a half years, many with plots far more labyrinthine than anything this movie puts together, but I still wasn't sure of what the hell had happened in this thing until I read the Wikipedia summary in preparation for this review. And even then, I wondered how the article's author had managed to puzzle it out. It's not a matter of artifice or winking or the filmmaker trying to show off how much smarter he is than the audience (which would be bad enough). Necessary information to the interpretation of the events on screen is simply not provided.

And it would be bad enough were the plot simply impenetrable, but there's a lot of strangeness surrounding this film, a lot of fat that went untrimmed, so to speak. Fairly major actors, such as Katie Holmes and Hillary Swank, the former of whom plays Channing Tatum's ex-wife, the latter an FBI agent, are barely in the film, to the point where one wonders if there wasn't a massive editing fiasco somewhere in the movie's production. Holmes is there more or less just to make Tatum look long-suffering and saintly, while Swank only enters the film at the very end, with a role that feels rather like its missing two thirds of its character arc (the awful Louis Gossett Jr. impression she adopts throughout does her no favors either). Seth McFarlaine, of all people, also makes an appearance as a stuck-up British racer straight out of a Ricky Bobby movie, for no reason other than to be annoying and get punched once or twice. Meanwhile the film takes an inordinate amount of time dealing with Tatum's family drama, with his ex-wife (Holmes), his adorable daughter , his ex-wife's husband who is of course an abrupt douchebag with more money than him, etc, etc. Admittedly, this isn't the first heist movie to drum up stock family drama to give the hero a reason to steal things, Ant-Man did much the same, but the difference is that Ant-Man established the family and then left them out of the picture for a while so that the heist could take place. This movie, on the other hand, is the first film I can remember that combines waacky heist hijinx with the tired old question of whether Dad will be able to make his daughter's recital/talent show contest, as though the prospect of goofballs robbing NASCAR wasn't a big enough sell, and what we're really here for is the inevitable moment where the father races in at the last minute and shares and understanding nod with his long-suffering child. Awwww.


Final Thoughts: Logan Lucky is a frustrating movie, as it's nowhere near badly-made enough to actually be bad, but all that means is that we feel resentful that the actually good movie we can see signs of doesn't show up. Craig and Driver are excellent in the thing, don't get me wrong, and some of the fifty-three tangents that the film flies off on are actually pretty funny (the demands that the prisoners make during the prison riot are inspired). But the whole thing plays like a mass of dead-ends, truncated plot elements, and tired cliches, layered over with a thick helping of utter bewilderment as to what is actually going on. I know the film has been praised immodestly by critics and audiences alike, but I'm of no use to anyone if I fail to give my honest opinion. And my honest opinion is that this movie, like so much of Soderbergh work, enthusiastically fails to work.

Still, if you're a hardcore Daniel Craig fan, and frankly who isn't, it's not the worst thing you'll have been forced to put up with.


Final Score: 4.5/10

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2017 4:09 am 
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So... as you have had contact with several actual West Virginians, how painful was the portrayal? Typical Hollywood, where we're low-intelligence, but cunningly clever? Backwoods uneducated folk living in houses that look like they're about to fall down?

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2017 3:23 am 
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Wind River

Alternate Title: Home on the Range

One sentence synopsis: A professional hunter and an FBI agent try to solve a brutal murder on an Arapaho reservation in remote Wyoming.


Things Havoc liked: As anyone who listens to my end-of-year podcasts already knows (and that is all of you, right?), last year was a pretty dismal year for movies. It happens. But one of the shining exceptions was the neo-western crime thriller Hell or High Water, a superb film set in the bleak landscape of the West Texas plains, about a pair of brothers robbing banks to try and save their family's farm, while being pursued by Texas Rangers. I waxed eloquently over the virtues of Hell or High Water twice, once during the review itself, and once during the best-of-the-year Havoc Awards, but what I did not know when I was waxing so was that the writer of that film, a man named Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario, was in the process of making the leap from writer to writer-director of another windswept neo-western, this time a murder mystery set in the magnificent desolation of North-west Wyoming.

And it's amazing.

Wind River is one of the best films of the year, a staggeringly-good and unflinching character-and-setting study mated with an excellent murder-mystery. Like Hell or High Water before it, it is a film with a tremendous sense of place, specifically in this case the Wind River Arapaho Reservation of Wyoming, a place which, in the dead of winter, is not particularly conducive to human life. Also like Hell or High Water, it is a quiet, subtle film, taking the time to languish over its setting and characters, indulging in the magnificent desolation of the wintry mountains, and punctuating things when necessary with scenes of brutal violence. I was always a fan of Sheridan's writing, his pedigree alone demanded that, but with this film he has vaulted himself into the ranks of excellent writer-directors, a perilous perch that few can ever attain.

Wind River stars Jeremy Renner, an actor I have long admired, as Cory Lambert, a Fish & Game agent who works in the remote Wyoming mountains. Lambert is white, but his ex-wife, and thus his son and daughter are or were Arapaho Indians, and his job as a predator hunter places him in close contact with the inhabitants of what everyone calls "The Rez". I say 'are and were' because Renner's daughter is dead, killed in unknown circumstances, as so many Native American women are, and found in a remote area with no evidence as to how she came to be there. As such, when he discovers the body of another young woman in the snow, raped and dead of exposure, the daughter of a friend of his, he throws himself into the task of finding out what happened to this one girl with the aid of anyone he can find. Make no mistake, this is a tricky role, as it would be very easy to appear as the typical "white savior", or follow the Dances with Wolves trope of the white man being purged of his evil white guilt by becoming an Indian, but the film is too well-made, and Renner too good an actor to fall into these pitfalls. A standout scene early on in the movie has an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) inadvertently insult the grieving parents of the murdered girl through ignorance and officiousness, only for Renner to show up moments later to ask more or less the same questions, but with a completely different attitude and level of experience with the culture he's dealing with and the people he's talking to. Lest I sound like I'm picking on Olsen, though, she's excellent as well, a fresh-faced FBI agent who knows next-to-nothing about the situation she's been dropped into except for the fact that she knows next-to-nothing about it, which is the most important fact of all. Aware that the only reason she was sent to the Reservation was because crimes there are considered unimportant, she does her level best, conscious of her inadequacy for the task, because nobody else is coming.

But while Renner and Olsen are both very, very good, it's the supporting cast that really sells the film. Gil Birmingham, of Hell or High Water (and the Twilight series, though we'll forgive him for that), plays the aforementioned father of the aforementioned murder victim, a small role that is nonetheless fantastically-well-done, combining existential-grade grief with a practical side generally missing from roles like this one. Graham Greene meanwhile, one of my favorite character actors working, plays the Reservation Police Chief, whose task it is and has been for years to try and police an area the size of Connecticut with six men. As this is manifestly impossible, Greene's character, like everyone else, simply does what he can do, despite everything, and Greene is exceptionally good at showcasing someone whose choices are cynicism or doggedness, and whose chooses the latter with open eyes despite all evidence to the contrary. There is also an extended flashback sequence involving Kelsey Chow and Baby Driver and Fury's Jon Bernthal as Natalie, the murdered girl, and Matt, her boyfriend, both of whom are superb, as are a host of other more minor actors such as James Jordan. This sequence, though difficult to watch (it involves murder and rape, among other wholesome pursuits), is one of the best scenes of the sort that I have ever seen, a sequence that showcases, without histrionics or dramatic irony, just how the most heinous of crimes can come about through a combination of alcohol, testosterone, group dynamics, and unrestrained escalation. Were the film nothing but this scene, it would justify its existence, but as it stands, it is the jewel in the film's crown.

Indeed, the entire film is remarkably well-made, from the gorgeous cinematography and understated score, to the brief, brutal flashes of violence that erupt without warning. It calls back, quite consciously, to westerns and crime dramas like Unforgiven, Collateral, or Heat, using referential shot selection and self aware stylism. The soundtrack is all mood-music, western-influenced electronica and rock, primarily scored together by legendary musicians Warren Ellis and Nick Cave (the latter of whom holds the most awesome nickname in history as "Rock Music's Prince of Darkness", bestowed on him by Johnny Cash of all people). The pacing is slower than any of Sheridan's previous works (probably an effect of him directing, this time), but the result is a sombre, windswept, dramatic piece that doesn't luxuriate in darkness or give in to rabid polemic. It's a balancing act that gets more impressive every time I think about it. It's close to being a masterpiece.


Things Havoc disliked: Honestly, there's not much wrong with Wind River whatsoever, at least nothing that isn't clearly done for effect as opposed to sloppiness. Some of the predator/prey symbolism is a bit on the nose for my taste, but that's the risk that comes with shooting movies in the American West, an area rich with scenic mythology and symbolic landscapes. There are also a handful of plot cul-de-sacs that are reasonably well-established before being dropped unceremoniously, such as Renner's relationship with his son, ex-wife, and in-laws, all of whom get time devoted to their setup, all of whom are forgotten about in the aftermath of the film's payoff. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a bit of tonal whiplash on occasion, as the film oscillates between hyper-realistic murder-mystery and sudden, explosive gun battles (I'm not quite sure what the end-game of someone who decides to start a shootout with six cops and the FBI is). But overall, none of these issues mar the film's qualities beyond the occasional quizzical moment.


Final Thoughts: In case I've somehow been unclear, Wind River is a phenomenal film, one of the best neo-westerns I've ever seen, and a strong contender for the best film of 2017. I absolutely love and unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone even casually interested in westerns, thrillers, mysteries, or any one of the fine actors that appear within it. As for myself, I will be watching Taylor Sheridan closely for whatever he does next, as a new filmmaker capable of producing a movie this good can only either continue to make spectacular movies, or can take the Michael Cimino/Tod Browning route, and follow up their breakout hit with a movie so off-kilter that it bankrupts their studio and gets them blacklisted from Hollywood forever.

Either way, it'll be fun to watch.


Final Score: 8.5/10

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2017 5:39 pm 
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It sounds awesome, I gotta say that much.

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2017 12:39 pm 
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I'm...I'm going to have to take a little bit to process this. Havoc is here, but there's no hating going on.

I don't understand...

Seriously though, with a recommendation like that, this goes on my to-do list, and you lot know how few movies I actually see.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2017 12:30 am 
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For however much it is worth, I concur with Havoc about Wind River.

Regarding "what was those guys plan" I think they really didn't have one. They weren't the smartest bunch and it was clear that the line of bullshit they were spinning wasn't working so violence moved from a fallback plan to plan A.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 08, 2017 3:45 pm 
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Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Alternate Title: 'Murica!

One sentence synopsis: A devastating attack by a mysterious assailant forces the Kingsmen to enlist the aid of their American cousins, the Statesmen.


Things Havoc liked: 2015 was one of the best years in this project's history, and of all the films that graced it, the one that was the largest surprise to me was unquestionably Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service, a movie in which Vaughn continued his career policy of only making movies adapted from the comics of legendary indie comic author (and gargantuan asshole) Mark Millar. This is a very strange policy for a director who previously made excellent films like Stardust and X-Men: First Class, but the results have been uniformly great, so who am I to complain. Kingsman was a smash hit by every metric, so it's not surprising that a sequel should have been commissioned, and given how flat Kick-Ass 2 fell without Vaughn's direction (even though I liked it), it's not a surprise that Vaughn should be tapped to actually direct the followup this time. And thus here we are.

Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) has certainly come up in the world. Not only did he save the world during the events of Kingsman 1, joining an elite organization of super-spies dedicated to world peace and making off with riches and panache in the offing, he has since become one of the foremost agents of the Kingsmen, pursued his relationship with the Crown Princess of Sweden, and is otherwise enjoying his life as the world's foremost throwback to James Bond (and who could blame him). Obviously it's no spoiler to state that his idyllic existence is about to be upended, but Edgerton remains an excellent actor who can handle both the camp and the serious aspects of the film with aplomb, and his mugging for the camera is helpfully supplemented by the addition of a half-dozen other actors who are just as good at doing so. Mark Strong returns as Merlin, the Q-analogue of the Kingsman world, who is brutally and violently promoted into active status with a sudden, devastating assault on the Kingsmen from assailants unknown. Any casual reader of my reviews knows that it is my concerted opinion that Mark Strong is the man, and the man he remains here, with a running joke of his character's appreciation for John Denver of all things being used particularly well. Colin Firth returns as Galahad, a surprise the trailers themselves could not wait to spoil, and which I shall as well. It's unquestionable that his character's presence in this movie is a massive plot shoehorn designed to let him play again, but at the same time, his performance in the first one was one of the best thing Firth has ever done, and I'd be very churlish to object to more. Firth retains his refined Mr-Darcy-as-James-Bond charm from the first movie, and it's just awesome. If, like me, you simply loved the first movie and wanted more of it, Golden Circle offers just the dish.

Which is not to say that there aren't new elements here, nor that those elements are uninteresting. For one thing, Julianne Moore (I got her name right this time!) plays a villain drawn directly from the same stable as Samuel L. Jackson's Mike Tyson/Steve Jobs crossover from last time. Her character is Poppy Adams, a fifties-obsessed Pleasantville escapee who has reconstructed an amalgamated theme park version of the 1950s in the Cambodian jungle, and uses it as the headquarters of her worldwide drug empire. If this sounds absurd, that is because it is, and the movie wastes no time in having her find a number of dogs to kick to establish her off-brand evil, even as she prepares a diabolical plot to poison the very drugs she is pumping out abroad to force the world to legalize her product. Moore and I have not had the best of relationships in movies before (I was so mad at the last Hunger Games movie that I accidentally started ranting about a completely different actress), but this is her sweet spot, where she can play a totally deranged killer with a dose of syrupy sweetness, perfectly fitting with a movie like this. And the fact that a major element of her evil plan involves kidnapped Elton John (playing himself), and forcing him to play his greatest hits at gunpoint certainly does not detract.

But the biggest addition is the Statesmen, the American cousins of the Kingsmen, and this, right here, is the movie's strongest element, because the Statesmen are insane and ludicrous in all the right ways, a campy send-up to the most American steriotypes imaginable. Front and center are agents Tequila and Whiskey, respectively Channing Tatum and Pedro Pascal. Tatum is a veteran of super-campy movies, of course, and as a fine character actor, does better, I find, the more ludicrous the role (see Hail, Caesar! for evidence of this). But oddly, given the billing, Tatum's role is far less important than Pascal's, whom I've been a huge fan of since Game of Thrones' fourth season, and who in this movie is awesome, a drawling cowboy who does battle with six shooters, a retractable bullwhip, and an electric lariat that can saw people in half. Pascal is awesome, he's been awesome in everything I've ever seen him in, and so having him play the lion's share of the Statesmen roles in this round is no slight whatsoever. Rounding out the Statesmen are Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges, the former playing Mark Strong, and the latter playing himself. Just think about it, and you will realize that this is perfect.

But there's more to like here than the characters. The whole aesthetic of the movie is genius, as it was in the last film, but moreso here. The Kingsmen are, after all, a hyper-stylized version of both what the world sees of Britain, and what Britain sees itself as. As such they are invincible super-spies in impossibly well-manicured bespoke suits, their entire look and feel being that of Saville Row and Buckingham Palace. Only such a mentality could have resulted in a film in which the protagonists' main weapons are cuff links and umbrellas. The Statesmen, existing in the same universe, are the equivalent hyper-stylization of what Americans see of themselves, and what everyone else sees of them, and thus they are cowboys and gunslingers, their entire aesthetic being firearms and mahogany, not Saville Row but a hunting lodge. The Statesmen are headquartered in a Kentucky whiskey distillery, their weapons of choice the tools of cowboys, their affect a southern drawl, even when the actors themselves can barely manage it. Every element of this is perfect, over-the-top, sensationalized, steriotypical, awesome, and deeply appropriate. Keeping its eye forever on the salient themes of the series, the movie never allows itself to forget that this is a universe in which it is a completely normal part of human existence to have Colin Firth and Elton John battling killer dog robots with bowling balls.



Things Havoc disliked: The plot is a mess, of course, but that was also true of the first one. It may or may not be a bit more of a mess here though, with plot cul-de-sacs galore, such as the question, awkwardly brought up and resolved, of whether Halle Berry's Agent Ginger Ale can be promoted to a field agent, or Pedro Pascal's Agent Whiskey's motivations for his actions throughout the movie. Various characters, some from the first film, some brought in specially for this one, have very little to do, either being killed off rather unceremoniously, or in one case getting literally stuffed in a refrigerator to wait for the film to end. None of these things are truly crushing blows to the film's overall quality, don't get me wrong, but they do speak to a somewhat larger problem at work here.

Kingsman 1 was, in many ways, a very complete story, not leaving us with much leverage in terms of sequels, and Kingsman 2 really never manages to get over that particular hurdle. A lot of elements in the film, from Colin Firth's presence in it at all, to the extended action sequence that starts it off, do not seem to exist because they're integral to the story (as opposed to the plot), but because they are the sort of thing (in some cases the literal thing) that was in the first movie and that people responded positively to, and so by God we have to have it in the next film as well. Fanservice of this sort can work, certainly, but it's not generally the place that great storytelling emerges from, and there just isn't much great storytelling, or even really... any storytelling going on in this movie. Plenty of stuff happens, don't get me wrong. Things explode, people get the crap beaten out of them in hyper-cinematic fashion (a fight sequence in the end shot in a dizzying long-take is pretty damned epic), people die, some of them with significant send-offs, and we even get some mechanistic plot advancement for some of the characters, but the entire enterprise is spectacle. Spectacle is good, don't get me wrong, and in fact Vaughn knows how to produce it better than most, but it isn't a proper substitute for a full fledged story arc, and the entire film, no matter how well made it is mechanically, does unavoidably feel like a contractually-obligated sequel at a number of points.


Final Thoughts: I adored Kingsman: The Secret Service, if only because of the tremendous surprise that it was, coming at a bad time on top of a bad marketing campaign and looking like nothing more than a generic action film made to fill space on a calendar. If only by virtue of heightened expectations, Kingsman: The Golden Circle simply can't match the astounding impact of the first film, being neither as astonishing, nor (to be frank) cored around as signature a sequence as the infamous Mr. Darcy vs. The Westboro Baptist Church scene from the original (a sequence that was so jaw-dropping that my first comment thereafter was "I can't believe that someone committed this to film"). It does, unavoidably, carry a hint of empty spectacle within its shooting and exploding. But lest I sound too negative, it is masterful empty spectacle, a ridiculous, campy, ultra-violent, very fun little movie that I did enjoy pretty much start to finish. Is it a great movie? No, ultimately it is not. But it is a good movie, perhaps a very good one. And one should never let oneself get so spoiled, even in an excellent year, that you start objecting to that.

Final Score: 7/10

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Gaze upon my works, ye mighty, and despair...

Havoc: "So basically if you side against him, he summons Cthulu."
Hotfoot: "Yes, which is reasonable."


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