Fantasy Gaming, SciFi and Irreverence

Blogs Blogs * FAQ  * Search
It is currently Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:37 am

All times are UTC - 6 hours




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 800 posts ]  Go to page Previous  1 ... 28, 29, 30, 31, 32
Author Message
PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2017 4:37 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Victoria and Abdul

Alternate Title: Most Unorthodox!!!

One sentence synopsis: An aging Queen Victoria befriends a young Indian servant, who becomes her teacher while earning the enmity of the rest of her court.


Things Havoc liked: In 1997, British director Stephen Frears made a film called Mrs. Brown, starring Dame Judy Dench and Billy Connolly as, respectively, Queen Victoria, and John Brown, her confidant, friend, and rumored lover in the years following Prince Albert's death. Mrs. Brown was a fine little movie, as are most films that ask Judy Dench to play imperious royalty (her role in Shakespeare in Love was good enough to earn an Oscar nod, despite receiving all of nine seconds of screentime), so much so that twenty years later, we find ourselves with an unofficial sequel of sorts, once more focusing on Victoria's relationship with the next in what appears to have been a long list of friends and confidantes that she amassed throughout her reign. It's good to be the queen.

In 1887, as Victoria was preparing to celebrate her Golden Jubilee, every component nation of the British Empire showered her with gifts from all corners of the world, and sent pages and representatives without number to present said rarities. Among these was Abdul Karim, a Muslim prison clerk from Agra (site of the Taj Mahal), who found himself roped into being sent halfway around the world to present a commemorative coin to the Empress of India, and who of course would come to do much more for the sovereign than that. In the film, Karim is played by Indian actor and model Ali Fazal as a wide-eyed young traveler who isn't quite sure what he's doing in the far off land that he is presently inhabiting, but who is happy to simply make the most of whatever happens, neither intimidated by royalty or the trappings of Empire nor shy about babbling semi-coherently about his homeland and the things about it that fill him with joy. This would probably be insufferable, but the film wisely supplies Karim with a fellow traveller in the form of the world-weary and cynical Mohammed, played by The Big Sick's Adeel Akhtar, whose role it is to suffer from the English climate, food, and imperialism, and to despise all three in equal measure. All comedy is based on pain.

But let's be honest with ourselves here, this movie exists and always existed from inception to showtime, as a showcase for Judy Dench at her Judy Denchiest. Reprising her role as Queen Victoria, Dench is covering old ground in this film, but she's so damn good at playing the tempestuous, impatient, power-addicted queen, that she basically knocks everyone else off the screen. Short-tempered, imperious, and capable of cutting men dead with a single disgruntled stare, this is and has always been Judy Dench's best sort of role, be it as a literal queen or empress, or some sort of substitute figure of unmatched authority (there's a reason she lasted longer in the Bond movies than Pierce Brosnan). Over half the movie is spent with Judy Dench cutting dead a slew of officials, servants, and officious busybodies who are, to a man, scandalized by the fact that she has dared befriend an Indian (the repeated mistaking of Karim for a "Hindu" by officious twits who know nothing is both hilarious and on-point for Victorian Britain). As an excuse to give Judy Dench scenes in which she destroys people with her cut-glass speeches, it's a fairly transparent device, but it's a good deal of fun for that, particularly when the said official is her son, the future King Edward VII (or as he's known in this film, "Bertie"), played by none other than Eddie Izzard, almost unrecognizable under mutton chops and morning dress.


Things Havoc disliked: The problem with a film that's so transparently about giving an actress known for being good at a specific thing a chance to do that thing, is that the film cannot, almost axiomatically, be about much else, particularly with a run-time of less than two hours. As such, the film rather breezes over a lot of material that would probably have been useful to have more of, such as a better sense of what Karim's life in India was like, and a more detailed process of just how it was that he was able to get Victoria's ear in the first place. As it stands, Karim takes the first opportunity he can to start running off in fifty directions about whatever seems interesting to him today, while VIctoria patiently indulges him, something she seems rather uninterested in doing when it comes to anyone else. I understand what the filmmakers are going for, that Karim's wide-eyed innocence is a breath of fresh air when it comes to the stifling atmosphere at court, I just wish it was better established is all, rather than forcing me to rely on the fact that I've seen this movie made fifty times before. There are occasional scenes, such as one between Victoria and Abdul alone on an island in the Scottish Hills, wherein Dench is allowed to give her character more emotional range than "Head Bitch in Charge", but they are few and far between.

There is, of course, also the question of historicity, which is a subject you are all sick of hearing about, and that is just too bad. I normally have little patience for reviewers who excoriate a film because its political content doesn't match with their opinions in every way, but in fairness, there is something to the claims that the film is mired in historical revisionism. The movie goes to extreme lengths to paint Victoria as a liberal, forward-thinking pan-humanitarian, which is, to put things mildly, an... 'interesting' take on the life and opinions of one of the most rabid imperialists in British history, a woman who once threatened to resign her office and retire in disgrace to Germany because the British government was being dilatory in their conquest of the Sudan. The movie professes, among other things, that Victoria was unaware of the provenance of the Koh-i-Noor diamond (captured during the second Anglo-Sikh war 1849), and so detached from the events of the Indian Mutiny that she was unaware of what role the Muslim people of India played in it, neither of which seems likely given Victoria's obsession with her Empire. I am not a stickler for absolute historical truths in every film, despite my reputation, and I both understand and support the concept of being able to tell a simple royalist fantasy once in a while (to say nothing of one who's primary message is one of tolerance for and by Islam), but there is some part of me that sits poorly with a film that not only does all this, but then contrasts it with the thuggish, racist, and reactionary behavior of Edward VII, who in reality was one of the most forward-thinking (and wildly popular) monarchs of his or any age, a man who once publicly upbraided the German Kaiser for his (widely held) opinions that Europeans were of superior bloodstock to the subject races of the colonial Empires.


Final Thoughts: Lest I start sounding like the very reviewers I have no use for, no, Victoria and Abdul is not some gross insult heaped upon the altar of history. It is a semi-fantastical story about an old queen and a young clerk and the friendship that develops between them, one that is, in all but tone, fully grounded in historical fact. Abdul Karim existed, did become close friends with Victoria, did teach her to speak and write Urdu (which she was fond of lapsing into during conversations with impenetrable bores), as well as give her lessons on Islam, the Koran, and Indian history. Efforts were made to erase his contributions in the years following Victoria's death, by a government none too interested in having him remember, efforts which were, until only a few years ago, entirely successful. The impetus to want to record such an event in film, not to mention take the opportunity to allow for Judy Dench to do her thing, is one I understand well. So when all is said and done, register my objections as mere... uneasiness with some of the elements of the film, and not a rejection thereof.

Victoria and Abdul is not the best film of the year, nor the best film to cover such well-worn territory. In some ways it is profoundly flawed. But's a fun little fantasist view of the last days of a legendary queen's life, and of the young man who made them richer, and it needs no further justification for existing than that.

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."


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2017 4:01 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Blade Runner 2049

Alternate Title: Ryan Gosling's Sad Face

One sentence synopsis: A replicant blade runner becomes embroiled in a mystery involving Deckard, Rachel, and what befell them after the events of the first movie.


Things Havoc liked: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to a very special edition of the General's Post. Why is it very special? Well, because this film represents a staggering milestone, the 300th review on this little project of mine, a number so astounding that I can scarcely believe it's real. Three hundred times, we have sat down to consider the movies on offer from our local theaters, amidst pain, pleasure, rapturous applause and bilious hate. And so before anything else happens here, before we undertake the review that actually lies before us, I want to take an opportunity to thank each and every one of you who are reading this, whether this is your first review or your 300th, for all of your kind words and support, and even for your angry denunciations of my terrible, terrible opinions. I have no idea what has driven me to make three hundred of these damn things, but I know that without you, I would not have even amassed a single one. So thank you all, from the bottom of my cold, ossified heart, and let us now consider a remake of a film made the year I was born.

I was not looking forward to a remake of Blade Runner, and I expect every one of you can easily figure out why. The trailers for one thing made the movie look like an action movie version of the original, but more importantly, the track record for nostalgia-based remake/sequels to Ridley Scott classics is not at all a good one (consider the double-suck-whamy of Prometheus and Alien Covenant if you don't believe me). Harisson Ford has been phoning in all of his older roles for the last few years, so that gave me no hope, and while I like Ryan Reynolds and... respect (?) Dennis Villeneuve, that alone wasn't enough to make me excited about the prospect of them ruining another old classic. Still, I confess to having been at least a bit intrigued by the possibility that they might do Blade Runner justice, and went to see it anyway, and... well whatever else the movie is, it is certainly not the Total Recall/Robocop remake-disaster that I was afraid of. Far, far from it.

Set thirty years (obviously) after the original film, Blade Runner 2049 starts things off in an interesting manner right off the bat by giving us a replicant as a main protagonist. Not the is-he-or-isn't-he speculative replicant question that the first movie spawned (something helped by its fifty-seven different "authoritative" versions), but an honest-to-god, established-as-such-right-from-scene-one replicant in the form of KD6-3.7, an advanced, perfectly obedient replicant played by Ryan Gosling and his ten thousand sad faces. This decision immediately makes the film more interesting, as it totally changes the perspective we have on the universe. KD6-3.7, or K for short, is a Blade Runner, tracking down escaped replicants and 'retiring' them by force. A more advanced model than the rebellious replicants of the previous film, K is exceptionally good at his job, which affords him the opportunity to live independently and carry on a relationship with his holographic AI girlfriend Joi (Cuban actress Ana de Armas), a development which, if nothing else, proves that someone in the writing staff saw 2013's Her. Gosling plays the character the way he generally plays every character, guarded, quiet, and with a face made of sadness, but as always, Gosling has chosen his projects well, and this is a movie that befits such choices. His character rapidly becomes embroiled in mystery and conspiracy, as the remains are discovered of a replicant who seems to have died in childbirth, the implications of which are many and disturbing to the status quo. But Gosling plays the character very cool all along, neither affecting a robotic monotone, nor giving in to the sorts of loud emotions that don't really fit a Blade Runner film.

The rest of the cast does reasonably well. De Armas' AI hologram manages to exceed the rather thin material she's given, portraying an AI trying to understand and push the boundaries of her experience. I joked before about Her, but the movie contains a scene halfway through where Joi hires another replicant to be her physical proxy for an evening, a scene far trippier here than it was in the previous film (something helped by the fact that we're asked to imagine Ryan Gosling in the throes of passion instead of Joaquin Phoenix). The corporate interests, such as they are, are played meanwhile by the dynamic duo of Jared Leto, playing the evil (or at least supremely creepy) corporate overlord/replicant magnate Niander Wallace, while his second in command, a replicant named Luv, is portrayed by Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks. I'm still deciding if I will ever forgive Leto for his role in Suicide Squad (probably not), but he tones it waaaaay back in this film, still a creepy bastard of course, but one that seems drawn from a genuine place as opposed to random stupidity and artifice. As to Hoeks, she's a discovery, a chilling, lethal, corporate killer-assassin-replicant, the sort of thing we got to see in all the movies Blade Runner inspired, but not in Blade Runner itself, and Hoeks does an excellent job with the material. Cameos from everyone from Dave Bautista to Lennie James also liven the film, but the best thing in the movie is Robin Wright, who has spontaneously started showing up in all of my movies this year, playing K's supervisor, Lt. Joshi. Where Robin Wright has been all these years, I have no idea, but she's perfect in this, as a veteran LAPD officer trying to keep the city from spiraling out of control, one who plainly humanizes the synthetic replicant who reports to her to a point, but only to a point. It's a nuanced performance that makes me regret Wright's absence all the more these last few decades.

Blade Runner was a revolutionary film in many regards, with a style, visual and directorial, all its own, and here, at the very least, the filmmakers have done their level best to ensure the new film matches up with the old. The visuals are dark and sodden, whether storm-lashed cities and coasts or fog/smoke-shrouded ruins in which men scrape a life together from the detritus of the world. As with the previous film, natural items like wood are a premium, and languages blend together in a mishmash of cultural crucibles. Standard cyberpunk fare nowadays, but director Dennis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) thrives in this sort of setting, delivering a slow-paced atmosphere picture, completely belying my concerns that someone or other along the line was going to have the bright idea to turn Blade Runner into an action movie. Several sequences, particularly the modified Voight-Kampf test that K is made to undergo periodically to ensure his conformity, are jarring to the point of bewilderment, as is the intention, and the film overall has a washed-out, drained quality to it despite the voluminous neon and product placement on display. Affer all, a Blade Runner movie is one of the few circumstances where product placement is appropriate. Overall, Villeneuve delivers an aesthetic that perfectly matches the original film, both in style and in pacing, obviating any concerns that this would be nothing more than another crappy remake.


Things Havoc disliked: In fact, so dedicated is Villeneuve to the desire to stray away from a typical Hollywood style of filmmaking that the end result is... kinda boring.

Blade Runner 2049 is not a short film, well over two and a half hours overall, but it's not the length that's the problem, it's the pace, combined with the resolute refusal to let the characters do much more than march about in an emotionless affect. Please don't mistake me, this isn't The Lobster or something, but the original Blade Runner did have action, have a comprehensible plot, have things happening within it, which seems to have been tossed from this movie under the theory that if nothing happens throughout the movie's run-time, nobody can accuse the film of being shallow.

I mean, that's slightly unfair, because things do happen in Blade Runner 2049, but I will be damned if I can piece together why they happen, let alone what they are intended to mean to the characters involved. The plot, such as it is, seems to wander about largely at random, from set-piece to set-piece, and so much time is taken up just luxuriating in the setting and atmosphere, and so little time taken up with anything actually happening, that what the movie starts to feel like is less a meditative examination of the ineffable and transitory nature of human experience, and more like Salvador Dali's vacation slideshow. Part of the problem is the soundtrack, which in the original was composed by the immortal greek album/film composer Vangelis, but which in this movie is undertaken by Hans Zimmer, a composer whose work I used to love, until he achieved such success with the Inception soundtrack that he decided to basically repeat the leitmotifs from that film (BWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!) ad nauseum for every movie he scored thereafter (consider Dunkirk if you want to see the result). As a result, the music, which in the last film was daring and bold and set an artificial, noirish vibe for the entire goings on, is in this case nothing but undifferentiated foghorn noise that symbolizes nothing (to me at least) except the promise of future migraines.

The plot contains multiple cul-de-sacs, concepts and ideas that are brought up largely for the sake of bringing them up and then forgotten about entirely, such as an underground replicant-rights movement whose existence is revealed to us all of a sudden midway through the film with no setup, who acts as a Deus Ex Machina for two minutes, and then who disappears with nary a mention ever again. There is, in fairness, something to be said for this sort of narrative, wherein the movie is about the main character meeting strange and diverse people who have their own agendas unconnected with the overall plot, but that only works when the overall plot itself is comprehensible, and this one just isn't. Early hints that certain characters may be feeling a particular way beneath the surface about their circumstances are abandoned immediately, lest the actors be made to act, as opposed to standing about like drones serving the purposes of the narrative. By the end of the film, I was having tremendous difficulties determining why people were acting the way they were, what their intentions were vis-a-vis one another, or what the hell was going on in general. This descends into even elementary mistakes on the level of continuity editing or idiot balls. Where, for instance, does one character spontaneously obtain what appears to be a missile-armed attack craft during one of the penultimate sequences, and why do the bad guys insist on knocking our protagonist unconscious repeatedly and then leaving him, unharmed, where he has fallen, without even taking the opportunity to deprive him of the vital clues or transportation he will need to continue to oppose their plan? Everything here, to me, points to a film that was entirely driven by the art department and the director's vision, rather than by the writers and the script, and while there are films for which that approach has paid great dividends (the better half of Tarantino's works, for instance), without proper care, the result veers dangerously close to just turning into a self-indulgent mess.


Final Thoughts: I sort of respect Blade Runner 2049 more than I actually like it, respect the achievement in producing it, and in adhering to a vision that is in many ways daring, though not in the same ways that it was back in 1982, respect the sensibility that went into trying to ensure that as a sequel to a nostalgic classic, it had a duty to try not to ruin the memories of the original with Hollywood pap. But all that respect does not really translate into me recommending the film unreservedly. It is a long sit, even for the time it actually takes up, and if your patience for staring at dim visuals while listening to atonal electronic music is limited, there is not going to be a lot here for you. I saw the film with two companions, one of whom loved it, and one of whom hated it, and that, I think, is a microcosm of the reaction that this film can expect to engender. It may, on some fictional objective level, be a great film, but here on the temporal plane, as a piece of entertainment, it is unavoidably inadequate on several levels. Whether those levels are minor nitpicks to you, or outright dealbreakers will depend entirely on what purposes you have for film overall. For my part, I'm glad I saw Blade Runner 2049, but it's not a film I have any need to experience again, let alone the nineteen different "authoritative" versions that may well be coming over the next few years.

Oh, and for those wondering why I didn't once mention Harrison Ford's reprisal of his original character in the review above, as either a good thing or a bad one, well it's because it is neither. Harrison Ford is in the movie, playing Harrison Ford. Like so much of the rest of Blade Runner 2049, whether that is a good or a bad thing depends entirely on how desperate you are to see Harrison Ford continue his farewell tour of all of his old classics.

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."


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2017 7:09 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Thor: Ragnarok

Alternate Title: Asgardians of the Galaxy

One sentence synopsis: Thor must escape from the gladiator pits of a far-flung world to save Asgard from the depredations of the Goddess of Death.


Things Havoc liked: Within the library of ongoing wonder that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a project that is now approaching its tenth anniversary, the Thor films have been kind of strange outliers. The first, directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh, was a Shakespearean ode, a huge, boisterous, fantastical film, full of drama and pathos and hilarity and adventure, a fish-out-of-water story crossed with a soap opera crossed with Wagner. I loved it. The second film, directed by TV (and Terminator: Genisys) director Alan Taylor, was much less universally-acclaimed, but still a good film, I thought, underrated by the public at large, as it continued the themes of adventure and family dynamics, expanded the character of the series' breakout star (Loki), and offered a lot of fun action, adventure, and cleverness along the way. I liked it, though I did not love it as I had its predecessor. All throughout, though, the films have sort of stood apart, not conventional enough for inclusion within the main tapestry of the MCU canon, not ludicrous enough to really branch out on their own the way Guardians of the Galaxy did. There was a sense, shared by many critics, that the Thor movies didn't quite know what they wanted to be, and good as they were (especially the original), there was something of an ephemeral quality to them as a result, that some new direction would need to be taken in order to make them into the pillar of the MCU community that Marvel plainly wanted them to be.

Enter Taika Waititi, and exit all remaining doubt.

Thor: Ragnarok, directed by the New Zealand creator of What We Do In the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is a masterpiece, a towering achievement that numbs the mind to consider, even now, two weeks removed. Not merely the best Thor movie of the three, it might (might) even stand as the best film in the entire MCU, a universe which includes everything from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, to Avengers 1 & 2. My period of reviewing films has coincided almost exactly with the entire scope of Marvel's insane triumphs, and I do not make claims such as these lightly, but even if Ragnarok ultimately proves less skillfully made than those previous cornerstones, it remains a stupifyingly great film, a movie made with care and love and tremendous skill by all involved, a movie which everyone and their mother should instantly go to see, for the fates are good to us this day, and have gifted us something magical, something spectacular, and something above all, fun.

The Marvel films, in many ways, are not typical of the way that Superhero movies are done. Superhero movies in general live and die by their villains, while Marvel uses their villains as props and plot devices, employing them not for their own sake, but to cast light and dimension upon their real main characters, the heroes themselves. This sounds elemental, but it's actually quite rare, as the ranks of movies like Batman, X-men, and the better Spiderman films will show you. Villains give more range of motion to actors and writers, allow for more character freedom, without the shackle of having to make the audience identify with and like them. Marvel though has an almost revolutionary obsession with the character of their main heroes, and thus in Ragnarok gives us what amounts to an close-cropped adventure story with two main and two secondary characters. The former are, of course, Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Tom Hiddleston's Loki, sometime enemies, sometime allies, brothers and adversaries all in one. Both characters and actors are on fire here, set loose in a world that doesn't take them or itself too seriously, to milk all of the ridiculous family drama and over-the-top viking madness that they embody, be it Thor's wisecracks and congenital inability to be serious, or Loki's supreme intelligence and craftiness mated with even more supreme arrogance and crushing inferiority complex. These two have been doing this dance for three movies by now (four in the case of Hemsworth), so it should come as no surprise that they are practiced experts at the ridiculous, Shakespearean, and classically tragic dynamic between the two. Thor has, in many ways, evolved over the course of the films, becoming a more whole, more stable, more balanced person, one who is, at last, beginning to accept his brother for who he is, as the God of Mischief, warts and all. Loki, on the other hand, knows seemingly less about his place in the world than when he started, still resenting Thor and Odin and all of Asgard, and yet yearning so desperately for acceptance by them all. An early sequence showcasing just what Loki's been up to since we last saw him in The Dark World hits right on the money, a combination of ham-fisted narcisism, weeping hilarity (the cameos, oh god, the cameos!), and truly tragic subtext once you stop and think about what's being done. Though the film has a lot to do, and devotes less time to our dynamic pairing than previous ones did, what sequences are included are uniformly excellent, such as a frank discussion between the brothers about Loki's probable future, with Thor no longer able to bear his brother ill-will, and Loki utterly unable to decide how to react to that.

The secondary characters I mentioned before are newcomers, in one case technically, in one case literally, and they're both awesome. The Hulk is one of them, not Bruce Banner (whom we'll get to), but the Hulk himself, who following the events of Age of Ultron, disappeared into Marvel's Cosmic Universe and now makes an appearance drawn directly from the pages of Planet Hulk. Imprisoned on an alien world where he is used as a gladiatorial champion, this Hulk has existed as Hulk for long enough to develop a personality and character of his own, and it's awesome. The writers seem to have realized both the character limitations of the musclebound green monster (limitations which sank the first two standalone Hulk films), and instead decided that he'd make a great straightman in a Lethal Weapon-style buddy comedy, which is genius itself. The other character is Valkyrie, played by Selma and Creed veteran Tessa Thompson. Thompson didn't impress much in those two films, but she makes up for lost time here, as her Valkyrie is a revelation. Too easily, a character like this can be introduced as nothing more than a token woman (or actor of color), either a love interest, or a tagalong, or a Strong-Independant-Woman-Who-Don't-Need-No-Man, or whatnot. Valkyrie, though, isn't just not the above (another pitfall), but an awesome, ludicrous character perfectly suiting the irreverent tone the film has in mind. Her introduction is a thing of beauty, a hero-moment spoiled, just briefly, by her falling off of her own starship due to being mind-shatteringly drunk, and her role is less token anything, than it is the fallen, dissolute veteran who must find their honor/skill/fire/guts/whatnot once again. A perfect match for the operatic viking saga that is the Thor movies in general, and Ragnarok in particular. Thompson is incredibly good, turning in a star-making performance that effortlessly fits into the wider MCU, equal parts badass and character study. I have no idea what Marvel has in mind for Valkyrie (probably, like everyone else, they intend to wait on events), but I can't wait for more, from her or from any of the others.

What others? Oh god, where do I even start? Jeff Goldblum plays Jeff Goldblum, and it's wonderful. His character probably has a name, but we're fooling nobody here. Ad-libbing all of his lines (apparently), Goldblum turns his warlord/gladiator promoter into a pastiche of his own public persona, all hemming and hawing, and awkward asides to his minions about when the appropriate moment to present the melting sticks is. Waititi himself takes a voice-role as Korg, a rock-creature and fellow gladiator whose job is to be comic relief in an action-comedy, something which probably wouldn't have worked had it been anyone but Flight of the Conchordes-veteran Waititi manning the controls. Waititi apparently derived the character's demeanor and voice from those of burly Maori bouncers at Aukland nightclubs, enormous men with soft-spoken voices, who need never shout, because one glance at their size tends to defuse situations better than any screaming would. Karl Urban, of all people, makes an appearance as an Asgardian named "Scourge", well supplied with guns and less so with brains, who positions himself as the right hand man of film antagonist Hela without him (or, frankly, her) having the slightest idea of how that relationship is supposed to function. And speaking of Hela, she is portrayed by Cate Blanchett, Galadriel herself, in her finest black queen regalia and icy demeanor. I mentioned before that Marvel isn't generally that interested in their villains relative to their heroes, but Hela is the first of their villains who seems to know that, luxuriating in her long-delayed revenge and stopping periodically for deadpan moments that fit right into the overall structure of the film, and prevent her or us from taking her too seriously. Blanchett is brilliant in the role, of course she is, and the script wisely allows her to take on a role and a motivation that has nothing whatsoever to do with Thor, Loki, or anyone else present, under the principle that if the movie isn't too interested in her, she won't be bothered to be interested in it. And while I don't want to over-focus on the socio-cultural "meanings" of the movie, or anything, it is worth noting that her entire plan revolves around revealing Asgard, the brilliant, peaceful, utopian land of lily white marble (and skin) as having been originally founded on a campaign of ruthless, violent conquest and subjugation, all swept conveniently under the rug when it became politically inconvenient to remember that the bloodshed had ever taken place. Given that director Waititi is of Maori heritage, and hails from New Zealand, a nation forged through bloody wars and conquest, and which now presents itself as a friendly, liberal bastion of racial tolerance and kindness, one has to wonder how much of this subtext is accidental.

But the big win here isn't with the cast, good as they are, nor with subtext overt or subdued, it's with Waititi himself, and his screenwriters Christopher Yost and newcomer Eric Pearson, who like many teams of directors and writers in Marvel's past, have put their own stamp on an MCU piece, but with effects far, far greater than most of the previous efforts. Waititi's a comedian after all, his previous work on this project was What We Do in the Shadows (which you should go and see, dammit), and for Thor Ragnarok, his decision was to drop the dramatic-comedic balance of previous films and make a straight-out action-adventure-comedy. There will be more on that decision in a moment, but whatever you think of it, the result is one of the funniest movies I have seen in goddamn years, and that's a fact. The entire film is riotously funny, from the piss-taking of overserious buffoons like Jeff Goldblum (God, he's good at that), to lightning-fast dialogue spit-takes, many of which were ad-libbed (the elevator scene with Thor and Loki is a high point), to glorious callbacks to signature moments of the previous films, deadpanned and dressed up for the most fanservicey-sorts of comedic throwbacks as can be imagined. I've long wondered what someone utterly unacquainted with the MCU would think of films like this one, this far into the series, but as someone who is acquainted with the series, the effect is paralyzingly funny, squeezing humor from the most juvenile of jokes ("your hammer pulls you off?") and even simple sight gags or situation comedy straight out of a Steve Carrel show. Hemsworth in particular is a terribly funny man, who has The Rock's gift of being able to clown himself without sacrificing authenticity, and playing this element up in the film to produce a weird Big-Trouble-in-Little-China vibe for it is manifestly the right call. In keeping with Thor's transition to the Cinematic side of the MCU, Waititi shoots the film in bold, vibrant color, luxuriating in the rich saturated worlds that it exists in, be it Asgard's Norse fantasy realm, the bowels of assorted and various Hell dimensions, or the oppulent Vegas-goes-to-Star-Wars planet Sakaar, comprised of half piles of garbage, half Roman orgy-palace. The score is incredible as well, a mix of classic rock tracks (Zeppelin's Immigrant Song features prominently, of course), and an ethereal electro-instrumental soundtrack provided by Mark Mothersbaugh, of Devo, as well as of literally dozens of other films ranging from most of Wes Anderson's work to the Lego Movie(s). The whole production, start-to-finish, is brilliantly-done, a labor of love and craft and care tremendously well-executed and realized. A tour-de-force for Marvel, Waititi, and his many collaborators.


Things Havoc disliked: That said, I do understand why some people hated it.

Okay, 'hated' is too strong a word. But I have spoken to quite a number of people, fans of the MCU in general, who were left very cold by Thor Ragnarok, for all the glitter and sparkle and hilarity on offer. And while I would hesitate to speak for all of them, the core of the objection seems to be tonal. Simply-put, Ragnarok is very different from the previous Thor movies, especially the magisterial first one, which was directed by Kenneth Branaugh in his finest Shakespearean pomp. It had comedy, to be sure, and quotable lines ("This drink! I like it!..."), but it was a family tragedy first and foremost, centered around the character arcs of Thor and Loki both, and while Ragnarok does not ever forget who these characters are, it is not at all the same thing, having eschewed most of the dramatics in favor of a straight-up comedy. And as a result, those who come in hoping for more depth to the bittersweet relationship between Loki and Thor, while they are not denied entirely, will probably find themselves disappointed, as the film is manifestly not about Thor and Loki (or really any other specific character or idea), but instead is about presenting an incredible, hilarious, and very funny adventure, starring characters we've all come to know and love. Ragnarok, ultimately, trades on its predecessors in ways that the other Marvel films typically do not, and it's only by dint of the high level of execution overall that stops the film from being honestly quite insufferable.

And it's not just Thor and Loki's relationship that gets the short shrift. Characters from previous films are either gone entirely (Sif, for instance, is nowhere to be seen), or get such a reduced share of screentime as to constitute being shelved (such as the Warriors Three). Odin is barely in the film (for admittedly defensible reasons), and while I appreciate the chance to watch Heimdall kicking ass (it's Idris Elba, I'd watch him make a sandwich), it would have unquestionably been nice to give him something substantive to actually do while he and everyone else waited for the plot to get back to him. The one who gets it the worst though, is Bruce Banner, as distinct from the Hulk. An interesting and tragic character in his own right, introduced and explored carefully in both of the Avengers movies, Banner is used basically as nothing but comic relief in the film, bumbling through his scenes as a fish out of water before it finally becomes time to let loose the Hulk once again. It's not that this is totally inappropriate given the setting, nor does Mark Ruffalo do a poor job with the material. But there's a certain lessening of the character by using him solely for this purpose that is hard to get around. Similarly, the film's relentless focus on comedy and snark also threaten to derail some of it's most genuine moments. Not that it never simply lets a moment happen, for it does, but as with the original Avengers, there's sequences that, in all honesty, could have done with a bit less guffaws and winks to the audience, and a bit more sincerity. This is particularly true near the end of the film, which is otherwise a rousing, triumphant action-setpiece, but also contains a couple of lines I would have cut, as they drain the impact from scenes that are decidedly not intended to be funny.


Final Thoughts: All hesitations aside though, Thor: Ragnarok is a goddamn marvel, a stupendously-good film that takes the series in a bold new direction with no hesitations whatsoever, and while it may not be the Thor movie that everyone wanted, its underlying qualities are so pronounced as to render the matter effectively moot. If Thor degenerates into nothing but a one-liner-ridden comedy-action mess the way the Transformers movies did, then perhaps its critics will be vindicated, but for now, I cannot confess fast enough how much I loved this film. Marvel's deranged cinematic universe has given us a lot of surprised, not the least of which was its own existence, but this film is one of the best surprises of all, presenting old characters in a new way, and giving us a film bursting at the seams with energy, excitement, and above all else, fun. Considering the comprehensive cinematic cataclysm that was Batman v. Superman, the abomination that was Suicide Squad, and the tonally-dissonent mess that reviewers are describing for Justice League (which I have no plans to see, thank you very much), Thor Ragnarok did not need to be this good to earn my praise. But it is this good, one of the finest films that Marvel has to offer, and the best thing they have done in their entire Third Phase of moviemaking.

Though if the trailers for Black Panther are properly indicative, it may soon have some competition on that front...

Final Score: 9/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2017 10:42 pm 
Dragon Death-Marine General
User avatar

Joined: Wed Jun 08, 2005 11:03 am
Posts: 14692
Location: Alone and unafraid
Blog: View Blog (1)
I thought the character work between Loki and Thor was pretty good. We saw a Thor that is pretty much over Loki, he's not mad anymore, he's not disappointed, he's just... Let it go and is moving on with his life. Loki on the flip side isn't over Thor, he's not able to really deal with the idea of not being a major part of Thor's world and can't really see a path to making a world separate from Asgard and his family. What Loki wants is explicitly to be celebrated and lauded by Asgard and Thor but what Thor wants is for Loki to just move on.

_________________
"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2017 1:26 am 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
And now for something completely somewhat different:

Following a sanity break, the General's Post now finds itself with more movies to review than it has time to properly explore. As such, we at the Post are pleased to present a round-up of all of the myriad films that we have seen in the last couple of months. Have at it, everyone!

The General's Post Fall Roundup, Part 1




The Foreigner

Alternate Title: Patriot Games II: This Time It's Personal

One sentence synopsis: When his daughter is killed in a neo-IRA bombing in London, an ex-refugee goes on the warpath to force the political head of the IRA to divulge the identity of the culprits.


The Verdict: As I get older, and have a wider range of movies to look back on, I find that I appreciate Jackie Chan more and more. One of the greatest Chinese action movie stars of all time, Chan's work as an actor, stuntman, choreographer, and director has always taken on a new dimension of impressiveness when you realize the backbreaking labor and preparation that goes into his many iconic stunts, as well as the insightful and complex filmmaking philosophy that underlies it. Though his heyday in the States is long-since over, Chan has never stopped working, and in recent years, has been taking on more against-type roles for his appearances over here in the States, such as 2010's Karate Kid remake. So it is that we find him here, in a Martin Campbell political thriller of all things.

You remember Martin Campbell, don't you? The famous New Zealand filmmaker whose credits include Goldeneye, Casino Royale (the good one), The Mask of Zorro, and No Escape (screw you, I liked that one!) Campbell is a generally excellent director, though his star took something of a tumble after the box office cataclysm that was 2011's Green Lantern, and this is consequently his first movie in six years. And for his big return, Campbell has chosen a script that's equal parts Tom Clancy terrorism-thriller and Lian Neeson MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW-vehicle (that stands for, say it with me now, Middle-Aged-Everyman-Who-Is-Secretly-A-Massive-Badass-And-Kills-Everyone-Who-Threatens-His-Women). MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW movies like Taken or The Equalizer are not generally very good, but Campbell cuts the rip-roaring campaign of revenge in a couple of innovative ways. One is the addition of the political drama. The plot revolves around a splinter cell of the IRA going back on the warpath, setting off bombs in flower shops and tourist busses across London in an attempt to force the Brits into cracking back down on Northern Ireland and re-igniting The Troubles. Pierce Brosnan, an actor I can generally take or leave, plays Irish Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy, a former IRA terrorist/freedom fighter (depending on your outlook), who now faces the dual threat of having his carefully-crafted peace accords destroyed by a league of hotheads, and having his own misdeeds brought back to light by Jackie Chan's dogged pursuit of the truth of what happened. The clever twist here is that Chan's character, a retired special forces operative named Ngoc Minh Quan, actually has nothing whatsoever to do with the political drama being played out, having become involved only through the most brutal of random chances, with his daughter being a victim of one of the early bombings by simple bad luck. It's Quan's very outsiderness that's the focus here, the fact that this whole drama is something he's not party to, doesn't understand, doesn't care about, isn't a partisan of, that sets The Foreigner apart from most films in which this all would turn out to be part of a conspiracy stemming from his own dark past. Quan's only interest is the fact that his daughter is dead and he has nothing to live for but bringing her killers to justice, a campaign for which he begins by trying to bribe everyone in sight for information, and when that fails, by escalating his own terror campaign against those whom he believes, rightly or wrongly, can give him the names he desires. The film thus becomes a very complex dance of competing motivations and goals, one which the participants of all wish that Quan would simply go away and stop interfering. The problem being of course that Quan cannot go away, having become involved by virtue of the cruel injustice of terrorism. So much of this genre is comprised of those with personal (and comprehensible) agendas or grievances, that we forget just how horrible it is to have your life ruined casually by someone who doesn't care about you at all, and it is refreshing in the extreme to see a film that champions the idea that such people have a stake in the long-term resolutions as well, ones that will be heard on pain of violence.

The other innovation is the addition of Chan's style to the action of the movie. One reason MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW films usually fail to elicit much interest is that the protagonists (who are usually named Liam Neeson) are invincible super-badasses, special forces death machines of unstoppable power, who effortlessly cleave through small armies of soldiers and henchmen (who are usually brown-skinned) en-route to their pre-ordained catharses. Taken 2 (and I must assume its sequels) were particularly bad examples of this. Chan, however, has gone on record in times past describing that audiences cannot identify with an action hero that cannot be hurt, and that his films take pains to show how dangerous and painful the stunts in his movies actually are. Obviously, at 63, Chan is not as spry as he once was (though, let me assure you, he would still kick my pasty white ass up one side of the street and down the other), but this actually helps the film more than it harms it. Chan's stunts are still impressive and amazing, but they also look more... plausible, the sorts of things that an older man in good shape and with a complete indifference to physical pain might be able to do. His engagement with multiple, armed assailants, all of them younger (and larger) than him, include brutal punishment that certainly looks like it hurts, and Chan's signature focus on prop-work and unconventional weapons remains filmly intact in all its glory.

The Foreigner is certainly not a perfect movie. Its plot gets awful labyrinthine at points, and it does evidence a tendency to tie everything up with a bow whether it makes sense to or not, but the project, on the whole is definitely a worthwhile enterprise, with multiple nuanced characters evidencing shades of grey morality as they try to negotiate the situation they are circling around and deal with the unexpected element of Quan's single-minded fixation on revenge. It's one of the better vehicles I've seen Pierce Brosnan in in a long time, and represents enough of a break from Chan's earlier, sillier work to make the whole exercise unpredictable and interesting. And as far as MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW movies go, it's not like there's a lot of competition out there...

Final Score: 7/10




Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Alternate Title: Polyamory: A Life

One sentence synopsis: Professor William Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and his lover Oliver Byrne, form a shockingly unconventional family during the 1930s and 40s, and collaborate together to create the iconic Superheroine Wonder Woman.


The Verdict: Talk about topical...

William Marston was one of the strangest people that even the comic book industry records, a man whose contributions to the art form were so fundamental and yet so utterly buried by the industry as a whole for the better part of half-a-century. A Harvard professor of Psychology in an era when the entire discipline was newly divided from Philosophy in general, he, and his equally accomplished wife Elizabeth Marston, combined to produce DISC theory, one of the very first behavior assessment tools ever created, one which is still used (in modified form) by behavioral psychologists today, as well as to invent the lie detector machine. And yet, this Harvard-educated academic's true claim to fame was none of the above, but the creation of Wonder Woman, one of DC's big-three comic book heroes, who earlier this year received, at last the big budget-extravaganza film that her fans have been clamoring for for decades, and whose creation and history are studded with rumors, constantly circulated, that the character was a thin veil for fantasies of bondage, sadomasochism, and other "deviant" practices, rumors fueled, no doubt, by the fact that William and Elizabeth Marston lived a more-or-less openly polyamorous threesome relationship, something barely heard of even today, and utterly unheard of in the 1930s. The reason that these suppositions are rumors, rather than established and widely-known facts, are of course the efforts of the Comics industry to cover up the salacious background of one of their flagship characters throughout the reign of the Comics Code Authority, and it is only now, with Wonder Woman back in the forefront of popular consciousness, and society as a whole more receptive to such things, that we can openly discuss the origins and themes of the character, and the man and women who created her all those many years ago.

Professor Marston is not a comic book film, let's get that out of the way initially, but instead a character study of three people, all three of them played expertly by actors I had no previous use for across the board. William Marston himself, an intellectual, forward thinking, and ruthlessly-honest academic of the roaring 20s-stamp, is played to absolute perfection by Luke freaking Evans, who until this year, I regarded as a useless waste of space on my cinema screens (go watch The Raven, Dracula Untold, The last Hobbit film, and High-Rise, and tell me if you come up with any other interpretation), and have been forced, thanks to this film and Beauty and the Beast, to utterly revise my opinion of. Evans is incredibly good, a driven, passionate man with theories of behavior and dominance that he simply knows to be correct, and who is prepared to not only practice what he preaches, but practice it while preaching. Evans is great, just great, but not as good as Rebecca Hall, a British actress I've only previously seen in bit parts, or in trailers for manifestly-awful movies like Transcendence which I had no intention of seeing. Her role is that of Elizabeth Marston, wife of William, and a fellow professor of Psychology in her own right, eminently frustrated by the restrictions imposed upon her by the casual sexism of the 1920s and 30s, forced to take menial work and suffer the condescension of male colleagues because of her membership in the "weaker sex". If there is anything to DISC theory, and I have no idea if there is, then Elizabeth is the "Dominant" personality trait given form, blunt and biting, brilliantly sharp and gifted, constrained not just by society but by her own defense mechanisms of intellectual superiority over all of her fellows, men and women alike. It's a transcendentally good performance (no pun intended), one which steals the show hands down, which is not to slight the third member of our trio, Bella Heathcote, an Australian actress whose pedigree includes Dark Shadows (ugh), and another bunch of films I didn't want to see (including one of the Fifty Shades films). Heathcote's character is Olive Byrne, a young graduate student and first-wave feminist, niece of Margaret Sanger herself, who rapidly becomes embroiled in the lives of the two Marstons and forms the beating heart of the polyamorous trio that results. Heathcote, like the others, is simply stellar in the film, a young woman whose tendencies are towards the self-effacing modesty women were encouraged to adopt at the time (and today, to an extent), and which has always been the particular preserve of those women attractive and smart enough to know that their looks will forever render others incapable of properly appreciating their minds. Olive is the desperately-needed foil to William and Elizabeth, the one whose life and pursuit of happiness is ultimately dependent on the choices that they make, the one who demands empathy from her fellows whether they feel themselves too superior to grant it or not. This is not to describe her character as a wilting violet or a willing victim. It is to describe her character as an embodiment of a different sort of feminism which was contemporary to the times, that of a woman whose conventional desires are pursued with no less fervor and conviction than those of the firebrand revolutionaries.

All three of the above actors are superb in every way, playing off one another with aplomb and wit and effortless charm, but the ringmaster of this whole affair is the biggest surprise of them all, for the film is both directed and written by Angela Robinson, whom I previously would have described as one of the worst directors working in Hollywood, thanks to a filmography comprised of cinematic excrement like D.E.B.S. and Herbie Fully Loaded (the last semi-sober thing that Lindsay Lohan ever did). Where the hell this film came from, given the above, I have no idea, but Robinson, who is a lesbian, and who deals with themes of unconventional sexuality in most of her work (not that you could tell that between dry heaves most of the time), brings a sure and careful approach to this outing as far at odds with her previous work as Sixth Sense is with The Last Airbender. The movie is crisp and beautiful, with soft, careful shots and brilliant, lived-in writing. The script is a triumph of concealed exposition, as academics ply one another with their theories, while sniping semi-contentedly and spinning nets of intellectual glamor around those whose ideal it is to live in such rarified worlds. The film is a tour-de-force, not only for the actors but for Robinson herself, whom I, among others, have drastically underestimated, and to whom I must offer my abject apologies. This is the sort of film that makes careers, and if there is justice in the world, it will do just that for its author and creator.

Indeed, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a great film in every sense, an achievement of directing, writing, and acting that one simply does not see very often, comparable in a strange way to similar "place actors in a room and give them material to chew on" movies like The End of the Tour or Locke. As with those movies, I don't know that this one will make much of an impact on the wider cinematic landscape, but I am thankful to them for existing nonetheless, though I must register my surprise that the only subject this film doesn't really seem all that interested in tackling is that of Wonder Woman herself, the creation and themes of the character being largely subsumed within the story of the lives of her creators. But then perhaps that is how it should be, as Wonder Woman, the cultural artifact, has outgrown those who brought her into being, and this film instead wishes for us to simply take a moment to appreciate the unique and interesting lives of a trio of forward thinkers who devised, through sacrifice and honesty, a way to be happy.

We should all be so lucky.

Final Score: 8/10




Battle of the Sexes

Alternate Title: Double Fault

One sentence synopsis: Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs' lives lead them to the famous 1973 inter-gender tennis showdown.


The Verdict: The 70s were weird.

So in 1973, an ex-Wimbledon and US Open champion named Bobby Riggs, 55 years of age at the time, hit upon an idea to catapult himself back into the limelight of international tennis. Inventing an act that would later be stolen by such luminaries as Andy Kaufman, Riggs declared that women's tennis was inferior to men's, and that despite his advanced age, that he could beat any female tennis player in the world, including the reigning champions. After doing exactly that in an exhibition match against then-champion Margaret Court, Riggs faced down the American tennis queen Billie Jean King in a match so hyped up that it was played in the Houston Astrodome before 100,000 people and broadcast live to 90 million more around the world (bear in mind that this was before the invention of Netflix). What impact this event had on the world of sport and women's participation therein, others are more qualified than I to speak to, but here we have a movie about the subject brought to us by the directing trio behind Little Miss Sunshine. I have heard worse pitches in my time.

The main thing that Battle of the Sexes has going for it is its cast. Steve Carell, who has been desperately trying to branch out of his doofus-roles of yesteryear, plays Bobby Riggs in this film and he is downright amazing, a tennis hustler and gambling addict who cannot resist the lure of the limelight and who will invent any hair-brained scheme imaginable if it means the possibility of obtaining fame and fortune. Riggs is the kind of guy who will call someone up in the middle of the night to breathlessly relate to them his latest scheme, one which usually involves stirring up controversy and acquiring what wrestlers call "cheap heat". And yet there's no maliciousness to his antics, just a thirst for attention that overrides all else. Even King herself admits to her confidantes that she knows that the whole "chauvinist pig" shtick is just that, a shtick designed to inflame opinion and drum up interest in the upcoming match, and that Riggs is quite happy to be labelled a neanderthal if it means selling tickets. Carell, who is a naturally charismatic actor (how else could he routinely play such well-meaning buffoons?) is in his element with this one, whether donning a dress to show off his tennis skills to the media, or telling a Gamblers Anonymous meeting that their problem isn't that they gamble, it's that they're bad at it.

Unfortunately, Carell's performance isn't matched by that of everyone else in the film. Emma Stone takes on Billy Jean King, and she's... fine? I guess? Her character doesn't get to be as showy or outgoing as Riggs', and it's her misfortune to be laden with the task of headlining the "serious, important" side of the movie, of how much the match between King and Riggs "meant" to the sport of tennis, to women everywhere, and to the feminist movements of the era. I am unqualified to speak in absolutes on that subject, of course, but the whole effort has a certain pedestrian feel to it, simply because the material isn't presented in an interesting manner. King goes on tour, she fights with the sexist head of the Association of Tennis Professionals (Bill Pullman), she participates in the revolt of the so-called "Houston Nine", a group of top female tennis players who broke away from the ATP to form their own tour over inequalities in prize money. She does all this while dealing with her own awakening as a lesbian, striking up a relationship with her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough, in an undistinguished performance). This is all heavy material, and all of it true, but Stone never really gets to do much of anything with it. All the best lines of her battles with the tennis establishment are stolen by her partner in crime Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman, who is legitimately excellent throughout), while the sexual awakening material is basically a series of dark, grainy scenes in cheap motel rooms repeated without much artistry over and over until the next sequence begins. Stone isn't bad, certainly, but there's just not that much of interest that she gets to do, and while I'm a fan of hers overall, she's not a caliber of actress who can singlehandedly elevate a movie that doesn't have a lot interesting going on. There's no sense, throughout, that the movie is depicting truly epochal events in the history of gender relations, though it does, several times, declare that it is doing just that. Riggs' antics are too silly to really stand in for the very real sexism that afflicted women of the time (and now), and King's stand against the tennis establishment, while admirable, just isn't interesting enough to carry the whole movie. Sports films are emotional films at their core, tugging on heartstrings in blunt, often even melodramatic ways, and Battle of the Sexes just doesn't have enough soul to it to do that, nor enough interesting material to do without.

I don't want to give the impression that Battle of the Sexes is a terrible movie at all, for it isn't. In addition to Carell, I've mentioned Silverman's work, and Alan Cumming of all people drops in to do a little showmanship (and provide some much needed believable context for all the social agonizing going on), but the film is ultimately a fairly forgettable endeavor, a match that, when all is said and done, really wasn't about much of anything at all besides its own empty spectacle.

Final Score: 5.5/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Dec 31, 2017 12:57 am 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
You're not done yet, ladies and gentlemen. It's New Years' weekend, and that means it's finally time to catch up once and for all.

The General's Post Fall Roundup, Part 2




Murder on the Orient Express

Alternate Title: Mustaches on the Orient Express

One sentence synopsis: Internationally-famed detective Hercule Poirot must spring into action when a man with many enemies is murdered aboard a luxury train in Eastern Europe


The Verdict: Those whose tastes run to detective fiction must know of Agatha Christie's most enduring creation, the fastidious Belgian investigator Hercule Poirot, a 20th century rendition of the Sherlocke Holmes archetype, the eccentric sleuth whose perceptions and deductive skill penetrates all efforts at obfuscation. The character has been portrayed dozens of times, by great actors across stage, screen, and television, including David Suchet, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Ian Holm, and even Orson Welles (in a 1939 radio-play). It's not entirely astonishing to find someone like Kenneth Branaugh, a man who has never seen a piece of scenery he could not eat, nor a classic character he did not wish to cast himself as, deciding to undertake a rendition of his own.

Unfortunately, nothing else is particularly astonishing either.

Murder on the Orient Express, despite the services of an impeccable cast, a luxurious old-world location, and several decent-to-good ideas on the part of the cinematographer (Cypriot veteran Haris Zambarloukos, of Locke, and Branaugh's Thor), is pretty much a dud, and for this we really have nobody except Branaugh himself to blame, given that he directed the film, starred in it, and helped produce it in conjunction with Scott Free films (Ridley Scott's production company). It is a rote film, blessed with neither novel ideas as to how to perform the material nor any sense of proper excitement as it runs through its labyrinthine and yet rather absurd plot. None of this is the fault of the cast, a fascinating collection of excellent actors, including Judy Dench, Willem Defoe, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley, all of whom do serviceable work as the various European and American archetypes they are assigned, particularly Dench's turn as a Russian Heiress and Defoe's as a bigotted Austrian doctor who is more than he seems. But none of the characters are given any real personalities beyond the vaguest sketches, it's as though Branaugh instructed all of them to do nothing more than look vaguely worried and recite their lines with a minimum of emotional effort. And given the sheer size of the cast, and the mechanical requirements of the plot (a murder has occurred, and Poirot must interrogate the various persons present to determine who the guilty party is), what this means is that the entire movie is simply a series of discussions wherein Poirot asks the same stone-faced upper-middle-class professional a series of questions which will slightly discomfit them, causing them to glance about their railway car in a guilty fashion before he moves on to the next one. Repeat for two hours and roll credits.

The plot's insane, of course. A wealthy American (Johnny Depp, an actor that studios seem to think we continue to want to see in the late 2010s) with a shady past is murdered while on a train from Istanbul to Vienna, and Poirot must deduce which of the other passengers has murdered him, after first digging into their backgrounds and associations with the murder victim, associations which every single one of them is plentifully supplied. I don't really blame the movie for this, as the book it's based on is equally labyrinthine, but the duty of the filmmakers is not only to give us something to elevate the complex material, but also to differentiate the film from the 1974 version, a rendition that (though I have little use for it) was regarded in its day as being one of the finest mystery thrillers ever made, directed by the great Sydney Lumet and starring a veritable cornucopia of towering screen actors, including Sean Connery (back when he still gave a shit), Lauren Bacall, (Sir) John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), and even Ingrid Bergman (who won her third Oscar for the role). It's not that Branaugh has no ideas as to how to freshen the material, for he does, including a few bits of interesting cinematography (such as an extended long-take from overhead to show the reveal of the murder, with all of the characters hidden from view by their period hats), as well as re-casting one of the principal suspects (Doctor Arbuthnot) as a black veteran of WWI, so as to entwine the racial dynamics of the 1920s into the plot. But minor changes to an established formula are not enough to salvage anything really interesting from the whole affair. As to Branaugh himself, the best that can really be said is that he fails to embaress himself unduly, despite the ridiculous French accent and a mustache that someone really should have talked him out of (though admittedly, a sight gag of the mustache protector he wears at night is pretty good).

The 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express is hardly an abomination, but in a year that has been packed full of great films, it is a decidedly amateurish, and fairly boring effort, one that does little beyond rehash the warmed over material without adding any spice to the mixture. It is a filler film that comes and goes without much actual impact, despite the services of the many talented and skilled individuals who were committed to its creation. It's honestly not worth spending as much time on as I have already, let alone any more, so my suggestion, given the transcendent year we've been having, and the plethora of excellent movies on offer, that you give this one a pass and go watch something worthwhile.


Final Score: 4.5/10




Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Alternate Title: South Fargo

One sentence synopsis: A woman purchases space on three billboards outside a small town, demanding to know why the police have not solved the rape and murder of her daughter.


The Verdict: ... for instance, you could consider this.

Martin McDonagh is a man with a strange pedigree when it comes to film in specific and art in general. An English/Irish expat who is probably better known as a playwright than a filmmaker, he has directed only a couple of films, but these included the wonderfully quirky, and difficult to describe In Bruges, as well as 2012's incredibly strange (too much so for its own good, frankly), Seven Psychopaths. This isn't enough of a filmography to really establish a career trajectory, but insofar as one can describe McDonagh's work, he seems to be a fan of extremely black comedy. This isn't exactly an uncommon affectation for the indie-minded directorial set, and there is an established cabal of actors who make the circuit of such films, floating in and out of the Coen Brothers' orbits. Among these actors are Francis McDormand and Sam Rockwell, and it is to them that McDonagh has turned to create one of the blackest comedies I've ever seen.

And holy hell, it's so good.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (the length of the title is going to necessitate some adjustment) is a wonderful film, brilliantly written, acted, shot, and produced on every level, a tour-de-force and one of the best movies of an incredible year. It is packed full of bleak humor and deep sincerity, with characters that are blunt and violent and awful and cruel and deeply human on every level. It introduces us to characters that have few if any parallels across mainstream cinema, and forces us to watch their lives and the way that they interact, mocking their foibles and showcasing their flaws all while forcing us to look past the mockery and the condemnation at the humanity beneath. No, I have not just segued into a particularly bad bout of Leonard Malkin worship, that is simply what the movie is about, and if you need further proof as to its qualities, consider that the film is more than two hours long, and part of the reason I didn't give it an even higher score is that I felt like it ended way too early.

McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, the divorced mother of a dead daughter and a living son, the former having been raped and murdered by an unknown assailant some seven months before. Seething with anger and resentment at the lack of progress in the case, she takes it upon herself to rent out three billboards outside of town, castigating the town police chief by name for not prioritizing her case, and lashing out angrily at anyone who tries to talk her into taking them down, whether they attempt to do so by careful persuasion or blunt intimidation. This leaves Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, who has finally found a good role to play) in a bit of a bind, as he has no leads with which to solve the murder, and is presently busy dying of pancreatic cancer regardless. Willoughby's attempts to coax Mildred into taking down her billboards quietly are rebuffed, which infuriates Willoughby's chief deputy, Officer Dixon (Rockwell), a violent, racist thug and incompetent who nonetheless dreams of becoming a detective one day, and who takes care of his widowed mother as best he can. All of these characters, and the ones that surround them are fully realized people, horrible at times, violent, blunt and emotional, and watching them bounce off of one another is a true treasure. McDormand is on fire here, brimming over with relentless moral absolutism as she devastatingly rejects any and all excuses for why her daughter's murder has not been solved. Yet the film doesn't let her off the hook either, as her crusade for justice leads her to make demands that every male in town (or the country) have their DNA requisitioned to determine their guilt, and to ignore and even belittle the consequences that her crusade has for her still-living son (Manchester-by-the-Sea's Lucas Hedges). Harrelson, an actor I've never had a lot of use for, is almost as good this time, a cynical, weary sheriff who is simply trying to do right by everyone he knows with what little time he has left, the only person in town who manages to disarm Mildred, if only for a moment. But the star of the show is Rockwell, who takes a character that in any other movie would be a (entirely genuine) caricature of small-town ignorance, and manages to humanize even him, using his gift for acidic comic timing and incomparable character work to render Officer Dixon into something more than just a repulsive slug, all without losing the inherent awfulness of who he is and what he does. McDonagh wisely simply lets the characters work, filling in the gaps with superb secondary work by actors like John Hawkes, playing Mildred's violent, probably-abusive ex-husband (again without losing the humanity of the character), or Peter Dinklage (who worked with McDonagh on In Bruges), playing a local car salesman with a deeply un-reciprocated crush on Mildred, who among other things gets one of the best lines in the film.

Mouthful though the name is, and limited though its release was, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an exceptional film, a staggering triumph of character design, writing, and acting, showcasing excellent actors at the peak of their craft. Not only does it contrive to present characters more rich, more nuanced, and more textured than most films would dare attempt, but it does all of this while still managing to come out a comedy, albeit a very dark one indeed. Moments like Dixon's inability to find his badge during a moment where it is particularly important that he do so, or Mildred getting one over on a dentist who decides to take it upon himself to enforce his own moral policing on her behavior are simply ludicrously funny, despite or perhaps because of the underlying issues smouldering beneath the town surface. The entire production is a consequent gem, a movie that demands to be seen by anyone who enjoys pure cinema, or anything related to the Coen Brothers' orbit.

But... if this sort of thing isn't really up your alley, don't worry...

Final Score: 8.5/10




Coco

Alternate Title: El Mariachi

One sentence synopsis: A boy who dreams of becoming a musician finds his way into the Land of the Dead, and must discover the truth about his ancestors.


The Verdict: ... we've got you covered.

Pixar was the defining animation studio of the 2000s, of that there's really no debating. The 2010s... not so much. An increasing addition to sequels to movies that were not all that good in the first place (the Cars series for instance) was coupled with new features that simply did not meet the high standards of their glory days. Brave, Inside Out, and The Good Dinosaur were decent movies, certainly, but not the equal of masterpieces like Up and Wall-E, and even these were intercut with things like Monsters University, Cars 2/3, and Finding Dory, which varied from the good to the... less good. Admittedly, most of the above films would have been perfectly acceptable offerings from any studio other than Pixar, but setting high expectations comes with the price of not being able to slum it insofar as the critics are concerned. And with parent company Disney's own in-house animation studio producing signature masterpieces like Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia, I, at least, began to wonder if Disney hadn't poached all of Pixar's best people or ideas, and if the studio would ever return to the prominence it once enjoyed.

I still wonder that, to be frank, but the question has become somewhat more nuanced in recent weeks, because it turns out that Coco is a goddamn masterpiece.

Yes, that's right, from out of nowhere whatsoever, Pixar has pulled a gem out of their bag of tricks and given us a movie as great as their classics of yesteryear, a film that deserves to sit in the same pantheon as the finest Pixar films to be found. Though not an emotional gut-ripper like Up or Toy Story 3 (movies I have watched reduce whole theaters to puddles of slobbery tears), nor perhaps quite the equal of the singular animated achievement that was Wall-E (one of the finest animated films ever made), Coco is nonetheless a staggeringly great film, thanks to a compelling story, wonderful music, gorgeous animation, and a whimsical sense of fantastical fun drawn from another of the diverse collection of world mythologies that Pixar (and Disney) have decided to dive into in recent times, in this case the Mexican folklore surrounding Dia de los Muertos, known better north of the border as the Day of the Dead.

Miguel Rivera, the young scion of a large Mexican family of shoemakers, dreams of becoming a musician, like his great-great-grandfather before him, a world-famous balladeer who died in an untimely accident many years before. Unfortunately, his family is stridently against music and musicians, due to turmoils stemming back to the family's past, and forbids such pursuits. With the Day of the Dead approaching, and the boundaries between spirit and real worlds wearing customarily thin, Miguel's efforts to circumvent his family-imposed restrictions lands him as an accidental trespasser in the Land of the Dead, where his large, extended family of dead relatives further complicates matters. The mythology here is rich and detailed, but not spelled out beyond the absolute basics required to follow the plot, relying instead on a deep, rich, beautifully-textured and omnicolored art design that draws from everything from Aztec reliefs to Diego Rivera and everything in between. From Alebrijes (chimerical particolored creatures of Mexican folklore), to posthumous cameos by Frida Kahlo and El Santo (just... look them up), the movie is absolutely dripping in clever cultural in-jokes and references, all rendered in Pixar style, with a color palate that explodes off the screen, and a depth of field that, even in 2D, seems to stretch on for miles. What feats of technical wizardry were required to produce this gorgeous film, I can't possibly say, but the effort was worth it, as rarely, even in animation, does one encounter a visual feast such as the one Coco has to offer.

Equally good is the voice-cast, neither stunt-cast from name-brand celebrities nor tossed out as the least important element of the film (you may laugh, but I've watched major studios do both of those things with multi-hundred-million-dollar animated films in the last couple of years alone). Gael Garcia Bernal, of The Motorcycle Diaries, Babel, No, and Desierto, voices Hector, a con-artist and poor dead man with nobody left in the living world to remember him, with whom Miguel falls in in his attempt to find his illustrious ancestor. The ancestor in question is voiced by the increasingly ubiquitous Benjamin Bratt, an actor I have had little use for in the past (he was not exactly riveting in The Infiltrator), but who is unrecognizably excellent in this. Indeed both Bernal and Bratt, as well as youngster Anthony Gonzalez (playing Miguel) are spot on perfect in voice work that rivals anything being done in any animated context in recent years. Miguel is a clever, driven boy, desperate to follow his dreams despite the violent opposition of his entire extended family, living and dead alike, Hector is a trickster and a scoundrel, apparently on first-name terms with half of the dead of Mexico (most of whom would seemingly kill him if he wasn't already dead), while Miguel's Great Grandfather, Ernesto De la Cruz, is the sort of character that would be appearing in particularly un-self-aware telanovellas from the 1940s, all large hats and sweeping gestures. All three, along with a veritable army of secondary and tertiary characters are drawn so brilliantly well, but figuratively and literally, that the movie just (if you'll forgive the term, pops to life before you. And then there's the music, assembled by veteran film composer Michael Giacchino, whose credits include everything from Zootopia to Rogue One to half of Marvel's Phase 3 offerings. Infused deeply with everything from Bolero to Flamenco to Salsa to classic Mariachi fare, it's a fantastic accompaniment for a film that is, ultimately, about diving headfirst into a fantasy realm and luxuriating in its richness.

Coco is certainly not a perfect movie. The film's plot, when boiled down to bare bones, is nothing that special, and it carries a very strange message that could easily be interpreted as "stick with your family, even when they are abusive dicks", but balanced against the fundamental qualities of the film as a film, such complaints are very small beer. Coco is the first Pixar film in nearly a decade that has earned the title of "a Pixar film", and this fact alone should banish all doubt. It is a bouncy, adventurous film, with a vibrant atmosphere and a genuine warmth absent from all but the absolute finest animated movies on offer. Practically everything about this movie is fantastic, and if, like me, you assumed that Pixar's best years were behind them... well you were still probably right, but at least they can still muster up the old magic when it really matters.

Final Score: 8.5/10




The Disaster Artist

Alternate Title: Oh Hi, Oscarbait!

One sentence synopsis: A would-be actor meets one of the strangest men on Earth, who finances, writes, and directs a feature film that will go on to become one of the worst movies ever made.


The Verdict: There's a concept in film criticism of a movie being "so bad, it's good", movies that are so baffling in their utter wretchedness that they become paradoxically fascinating and even highly enjoyable to watch. As someone who has spent more than their fair share of time watching bad films, I can assure you all, my gentle readers, that such concepts are 99% crap. Bad movies are generally just bad movies, unless of course they are really bad, at which point they become truly awful movies, and you all get to chortle at my misfortune as I expend rivers of virtual ink excoriating them for your amusement. And yet, even I have to admit that there are a very, very small handful of movies who actually do manage to attain some kind of idiot-nirvana, either by being so alien to common sense and decency as to defy belief, or by evidencing an almost touching lack of awareness of their own purulence. Plan 9 from Outer Space, the infamous Ed Wood magnum opus, is one such film, a movie that today plays like a brilliant parody of Z-grade 50s sci-fi, and features a chiropractor with his face covered serving as a stand-in for Bela Legosi, who died midway through production. Zardoz, the 1974 John Boorman film that can only be explained by vast quantities of hallucinogens or a series of massive brain aneurysms, is another (it features Sean Connery in a red diaper chasing a flying Easter Island statue which vomits assault rifles and intones, with stark gravitas, "The gun is good. The penis is evil"). In all the many years and hundreds and thousands of movies I have seen, only a handful of films have ever reached the lofty heights of being truly so bad that they were good. And one of those is The Room.

The Room, for those who haven't seen it, is a film that defies description in terms of its direction, script, and acting, all three provided by a certain Tommy Wiseau, who is one of the strangest people I have encountered in all my years of filmwatching. A mysterious pan-European film producer of unknown origin, whose accent is unsourceably weird and whose mannerisms resemble those of space aliens unacquainted with the proper functioning of human social structures, Wiseau was the brainchild of The Room, and for this has my eternal thanks. To attempt to describe what is wrong with The Room in a short-form review like this one is simply impossible. Like the Matrix before it, you must see it for yourself, hear Wiseau's unfathomable accent, see the brain-twistingly insane decisions made as to continuity, shot selection, and simple concept, in order to appreciate just what a colossal misfire that it is. And yet I love it, earnestly and honestly, for reasons that I do not properly comprehend, and which likely do not speak well of my general nature as a person. There is something endearing about The Room's cosmic lack of shame and filter, something utterly fearless about its baffling failure to rise to any rudimentary standard of filmcraft and narrative structure. It is platonic in its awfulness, and the ineffable qualities that have led me to love it are apparently not restricted to me, as the film has become a cult hit, playing to midnight screens of rabid "fans", and now, giving birth to a major Hollywood movie depicting its creation, and the minds, tangential to sense as they are, that could have dreamed up such a thing. And so we come to the Franco brothers.

James Franco has been a hit or miss quality for me for years, though on balance I don't mind him, and it is his task in this film to portray Tommy Wiseau, a Herculean one to be sure, as Wiseau has simultaneously one of the most imitable mannerisms and accents of any living human, and a quality to him that utterly defies replication. James does his method-acting best, hamming up the crazy Eastern-European-by-way-of-New-Orleans accent, donning the tragic black hair and curious mannerisms, acting weird at every opportunity, claiming to all and sundry that he is both a native-born American and an experienced filmmaker, all while evidencing absolutely no understanding of either filmmaking or American culture. It's honestly more of an impression than a performance, if I'm being honest, a little too deliberate to actually match the gonzo insanity that is Tommy Wiseau, especially when trying to mirror some of the more infamous sequences from The Room itself. Maybe James Franco is just too good an actor? Hard to say. His brother, however, Dave Franco, whom we ran into earlier this year back in The Little Hours, is better, or perhaps just better cast, playing Greg Sistero, Tommy's best (and probably only) friend, co-star of the Room, and the man who wrote the book on which The Disaster Artist is based. I've not seen enough of Dave Franco to properly gauge how good he is, but his forte seems to be playing earnest young guys getting dragged into strange circumstances they don't quite know how to deal with. Honestly though, however accurate Dave Franco is to the "real" Greg SIstero, he's intensely compelling here, playing the eager young actor who is made to bear witness to the absurd oddity of Tommy Wiseau, as well as the one tasked with showcasing to the audience just what he saw in Tommy in the first place. It's a careful balancing act that's not easy to pull off given the gonzo insanity of the subject matter.

The rest of the film is entirely peopled with a who's who of Hollywood actors, all of whom, I assume, thought it would be fun to appear in a bad movie on purpose for once. The film doesn't draw attention to any of them, to the point where I didn't know that bit characters were being played by Sharon Stone or Melanie Griffith until just a few moments ago, to say nothing of the dozens of little cameos, most of which flew right over my head. Long-time Franco collaborator Seth Rogan plays the embattled Script Supervisor/Assistant Director, and is used just sparingly enough to provide a voice of reason as the shoot for The Room goes completely off the rails, and the production falls apart. The other actors portraying the characters in The Room (the film-within-a-film thing is necessitating an awful lot of over-clarification in this review) range from Jackie Weaver (whom I've always loved) to Josh Hutcherson (whom I've generally not), but all of them are excellent (though Weaver, alone among the cast, cannot seem to get her counterpart's stilted performance right), and are buttressed by an armada of cameos from largely anyone who could convince the director (also James Franco, because a movie like this could only be directed by its lead actor) that they should be involved in it. Quite a few celebrities star as themselves, including super-producer Judd Apatow, who gets to steal one of the better scenes in the film when he berates Tommy for being a creepy bastard and interrupting his dinner out with his wife, insisting to him that he has no future in the movies.

Indeed, the whole film is more about Tommy the weird and occasionally creepy bastard, than it is about the fun-loving keystone-kop hilarity that was The Room's production. The movie pulls few punches when it comes to Tommy, recognizing his passion for filmmaking, his deep and abiding loneliness, as well as his staggeringly petty behavior as soon as anything comes between him and his one friend or goal. Without trying to diagnose a man over the internet, Tommy in this movie comes across as a truly weird individual, not in a conventional "zany artist" manner, nor a bumbling incompetent, but a sometimes-vindictive, sometimes-incomprehensible, sometimes-tragic, and sometimes-absurd figure who simply has latched onto the idea of making a movie with himself as the hero, and will not be talked out of it, no matter how batshit insane the ideas he has surrounding this notion are. This does not make Tommy Wiseau look particularly good, but paradoxically it humanizes him far more than all the gut-wrenching laughs to be had from The Room showings ever could.

I won't pretend that The Disaster Artist is some masterpiece, particularly as large stretches of it seem to have been included simply to pander to rabid fans of The Room (something I recognize, even as I appreciate it. And as mentioned before, for a film whose entire existence hinges on Franco's impression of the highly-impressionable Tommy Wiseau, Franco's impression is not exactly world-class. But it's an enjoyable and very human film nonetheless, a look into the side of Hollywood far removed from glitter and Oscar statuettes, and the story of how one of the weirdest films I have ever seen (and boy is that saying something) came into being. It may not win many awards, but I am deeply glad that I saw it, and that Tommy Wiseau lifelong dream to have his work appreciated on the big screen has come to fruition.

Though I have to say, if this movie somehow wins an Oscar, and the winner in question brings Tommy Wiseau up onto the stage to help accept it, then my lifelong dream will also be complete.

Final Score: 7/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Tue Jan 02, 2018 11:38 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
One last catch-up, before we can start the New Year fresh. One last journey into the breach, dear friends.

The General's Post Winter Roundup, Part 3




The Shape of Water

Alternate Title: Fishfucking

One sentence synopsis: A mute custodian at a top secret research clinic gets to know a strange, magical fish-creature brought there from the Amazon at the height of the Cold War.


The Verdict: No, I don't think the alt-title is at all inappropriate, given what this move is about. You go see an R-Rated Guillermo del Toro movie, and you're gonna see some strange shit, man.

I'm a movie critic, and therefore I'm more or less contractually obligated to sing the praises of Mexican fantasist Guillermo del Toro, and to discourse windily whenever his name comes up about how much of a visionary he is relative to the studio hacks that populate Hollywood, etc etc etc... Unfortunately, I've always been hamstrung by the fact that I've disliked more of his movies than I've liked. Yes, Pan's Labyrinth was a masterpiece. Yes, the Hellboy series is awesome. But absent those two, we're left with crap like Mimic, Crimson Peak, Blade II, and Pacific Rim (yes, Pacific Rim was crap. Fight me!). He's a fantastic visual director, one of the few imagesmiths in Hollywood who really understands the soul behind B-movie genres like splatter-horror and Kaiju, but he also brings a real lack of narrative and structural polish to the proceedings, which ultimately result in most of his films turning out to be average creature features with excellent art design. I was consequently nervous about this new features of his, a send-up to Creature from the Black Lagoon, but was somewhat re-assured by the strength of the cast.

So who's in it? Well Michael Shannon, for one, an absolutely stellar character actor who has been in bad movies but never been bad in them, and who here is playing to type as a tightly-wound G-man in charge of a project to capture a fish-man thing from the Amazon jungle and bring it to the United States for testing. Shannon is in his element here, menacing and fragile and awkward and creepy all at the same time, a pastiche of 50s stoicism asked to loom about as only he can. His nemesis, this time around, is English indie actress Sally Hawkins. I've yet to have an opportunity to speak of Hawkins in these reviews, as she's always been firmly lodged in the independent film circuit (she's been in several recent Woody Allen films, and won a slew of awards for a 2008 Mike Leigh comedy). Nevertheless, I now have cause to regret the lack for she is fantastic in this movie, pulling off one of the hardest tricks in the world by creating a comprehensive, three-dimensional character, complete with goals, desires, aspirations, and libido (it's astounding how often the scriptwriters forget that part), all without speaking a word. Her character, Elisa, is a mute, communicating only by sign language and expression, a useful characteristic when dealing with fish-men who do not possess vocal chords. The movie does not infantalize her, which is a rarety for characters with disabilities, and her performance is the best thing here.

The rest of the cast is equally stellar, from Boardwalk Empire's Michael Stuhlbarg as a concerned scientist (movies like this require one), to Olivia Spencer, who is basically playing the sassy black friend, but is really damn good at it, so who am I to complain, to Richard Jenkins as a closeted gay artist who lives next to Eliza, and who, due to his co-star being mute, gets to steal all the best lines in the film. The creature itself, meanwhile (played, of course, by long-time del Toro collaborator Doug Jones), while it isn't the phantasmagorical nightmare-beast of some of del Toro's other creations (the fucking Pale Man has everyone beat there), is toned down into something more humanizable and evocative, which is a good thing, given that the movie requires it not to be terrifying to be pitied, studied, and, eventually, screwed. Yes, screwed. The movie is explicit about this, so if you ever wanted to see a scene where the mother from Paddington Bear has sex with a fish-man, boy, have I got a film for you. I'm not sure if this aspect adds to the movie or not, to be honest, the sequences are fine but it brings up certain unavoidably uncomfortable questions (of consent, for one thing). Then again, this is a fairy tale, and del Toro a modern fantabulist who does not shy away from the adult materials therein, so I suppose I should not complain. The film makes the most of its early-cold-war setting, with everything taking place inside massive ferrocrete bunkers, gargantuan brutalist laboratories, enormous industrial plants, or spiraling, Victorian buildings. Always, the aesthetic seems to be elegant corners carved out of enormous facilities, like the upstairs lofts that Eliza and her neighbor inhabit above a richly-appointed movie palace. None of this is all that uncommon for del Toro, consider where Hellboy took place, but it works with the paranoid structure of Shannon's character, and as a space for Eliza and her friends to scoot about in unseen.

Ultimately, The Shape of Water isn't a great movie, it's a bit too pedestrian a retelling of Creature from the Black Lagoon for that, despite the fish-sex, but it is a good one, in parts a very good one. Del Toro's command of space and aesthetic is entirely intact, and despite the absurdities on-offer, the movie does not embarrass itself at any point. It does seem to think that there's more hay to be made from its central conceit of "look how uptight the 50s were" than there is, given that every film since 1966 has had the same, but that doesn't hurt it overmuch. As such, if creature features are your thing, this film will be an excellent choice. And if not, then give it a shot anyway. Where else are you likely to encounter a sign language explanation of the proper functioning of fish-man sexual organs.

... you know what, I don't want to know the answer to that.


Final Score: 7/10




Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Alternate Title: Jumanji: GOTY Edition

One sentence synopsis: Four high school students discover a video game that transports them into a fantastic adventure world.


The Verdict: The original Jumanji, a 1995 movie by pulp-master-general Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America), was not a great movie, but it was a good one, a Robin Williams vehicle that was funny and adventurous when it needed to be, didn't take itself tremendously seriously, and did everything it needed to do in order to be remembered fondly as a landmark of 90s nostalgia. As we presently live in the era when 90s nostalgia is regarded as a lode to be mined by every film studio on the planet, of course we wound up with a sequel, and I probably would have given it not a second thought, save that the trailers... intrigued me. They promised a movie that was fun and funny, starring multiple comedians of note, and placing, front and center, one of my favorite actors working, and the highest-paid man in Hollywood at the moment, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Dwayne Johnson is a man hewed directly out of calcified charisma, who has been in bad movies but always manages to elevate them at least somewhat, and so I went to see this movie, expecting that The Rock would headline a cavalcade of adventure-comedy and bring a smile to my face.

What I did not expect was for the film to remind me how much I have missed Kevin Hart, and Jack Black.

Kevin Hart is a comedian who rides a very thin line between funny and annoying, and who has fallen off of it before. He generally appears in awful-looking films that I have no interest in seeing, and so I have not had much to do with him in the last several years. And now I regret this lack, because Hart is riotously funny in this movie, easily the best thing in it. With the premise being that four high schoolers are transported into video game archetypes in the world of Jumanji, Hart plays a football star who finds himself now in the diminuative body of... well... Kevin Hart, and is not happy about it in the slightest. The sequences where he tries to exert his will physically against The Rock are exactly as hilarious as you would expect, as both men are skilled physical comedians, and are in their element here. Almost as good is Jack Black, who often plays a caricature of himself, but this time does a brilliant job as an instagram-obsessed popular girl/airhead shunted into the body of an overweight, middle-aged man. In lesser hands, or with a lesser script, this could all have been played as nothing but a Gay Panic joke, but Black plays the material sermon-straight, which is manifestly the right choice. Perhaps the best sequence in the movie is one where he, as the popular girl, must teach Karen Gillian, a bookish nerd-girl transported into the body of Lara-Croft-style sex bomb, how to be sexy and flirtatious. As to Gillian herself, I've not known her from much beyond certain seasons of Doctor Who, but she's excellent here, playing a semi-genre-savvy high school revolutionary who abruptly finds herself stuck in a crop top and short shorts, and given the ability to dance-fight with armed men. Ironically, the only main character who doesn't pop off the screen the way the rest of them do is The Rock himself, not from any lack of charisma (God no), but because his character arc (the nerdy hero who gets transported into Superman's body, and must discover his inner bravery) doesn't allow for much. There's moments, of course, any movie with The Rock is likely to have those, but overall, the movie puts The Rock in a back-seat position when it comes to the best lines and sequences. It's a weird decision, narratively.

Unfortunately, it's also the only at-all weird decision that the filmmakers made. The new Jumanji is the brainchild of Jake Kasdan, son of the renowned Laurence Kasdan, one of the very greatest genre scriptwriters to ever work in Hollywood (his resume includes Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and four separate Oscar nominations. This may be unfair, but his son has a lot of catching up to do. There's nothing tremendously wrong with the structure of Jumanji or with its direction, but that's only because the movie is as formula as you can get, a structure-obsessed piece of Hollywood fluff, with action setpieces parceled out at precise intervals, between which lie beats of character "drama" so obvious that one knows which way the film is going with them before they even begin. I certainly wasn't looking to a Jumanji sequel to revolutionize my understanding of narrative storytelling, certainly, but it's disappointing that nothing was done to spice the material up beyond hiring comic actors with charisma and giving them license to improvise. And even that doesn't extend to everyone. Bobby Cannavale, a fine character actor whom I know best from various television dramas, has basically nothing to do, playing a one-note video game boss (literally) whose biggest character attribute is the ability to spit centipedes from his mouth. More importantly, a fifth member of the troupe, un-announced by the trailers, turns out to be portrayed by one of the Jonas Brothers of all people (Nick, for those who can tell them apart). The best thing that can be said about Nick Jonas in this film is that he does not embarrass himself. The worst thing that can be said is that the previous sentence was the best thing.

So... Jumanji is not some kind of epochal story, destined to be remembered for all time, nor even a side-splitting classic of modern comedy, but for all that, it is not without its charms. I mean what I say when I praise all four of the leads, even The Rock, who may not have much to do, but mugs for the camera regardless in the best Rockian fashion. I won't pretend that I loved the film, but it's a decent enough little diversion, enjoyable on its own terms, and one that doesn't take itself seriously enough to ruin the proceedings. I can't pretend it will be remembered as a classic, nor that it will be featuring strong in my memory, but for what it is, it's an entertaining film, and one should never become too cynical to appreciate that.

Final Score: 6/10




Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi

Alternate Title: Metastory

One sentence synopsis: As the First Order attempts to eradicate the last remnants of the resistance, Rey seeks to unravel her destiny as a wielder of the Force with the help of Luke Skywalker.


The Verdict: So, here we are.

It's a new year now, and every movie critic alive, from myself to the professionals, is presently engaged in looking back over the year just ended to see what sense can be pulled from it. Personally, I've been trying to catch up for the first time all year so that I can start 2018 with no review backlog (be still, my beating heart!), but as a result, I feel like I've come a bit late to the discussion of Star Wars, by which I mean that everyone has already commenced calling one another Nazis over their opinion of the film, and I feel sad to have missed my chance to be so-labelled. All joking aside, The Last Jedi has been one of the most polarizing movies that even recent history records. Though it has, thus far, made a billion dollars worldwide, there are those who still see those numbers as somewhat disappointing, given the scale of the all-out global media offensive that has accompanied it (has anyone seen a car ad that didn't feature Star Wars in the last couple months?). More importantly, the responses to the movie from critics and audience-goers alike has been decidedly mixed, with the obvious result that everyone has begun calling one another cucks, libtards, Nazis, racists and citing Donald Trump. Boy do I love the internet.

It's unlikely, given everything, that this review is going to be the deciding factor as to whether any of you reading it go see the movie, indeed its unlikely, given everything, that any of you haven't seen it already. As such, my purpose here must be a bit different than the standard review tenet of "tell the people whether they should see the film", but rather a retrospective of what I, an experienced filmgoer and fan of Star Wars, thought of the proceedings. And the answer? Well... it's complicated.

Let's get some basic elements out of the way. The Last Jedi is, above everything else, heartrendingly beautiful, shot and framed like a work of fine art, with a richness and eye for visual detail that stands alongside any of the great genre works of yesteryear. Certain sequences reference visually the classic shots of the old trilogy, while others showcase the universe of Star Wars in a way that we've never before seen. The soundtrack is spectacular, because of course it is, rousing and classical, and though it lacks any of the singular touchstone leitmotifs like the Imperial March or Duel of the Fates, it still buttresses the action tremendously well. The acting is superb across the board, something not always the case with Star Wars movies, with the standouts being Daisy Ridley (Rey), and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), both of whom get the best and juiciest material as they both struggle with their place in the universe, with responsibility and duty, with their respective pasts, and with what place they wish to have in the new universe being created. Both of these actors took a while to grow on me in the first movie, but both of them are stand-out amazing here, and feature in several of the best sequences in the film, including a lightsaber combat (I shall speak no more of who is fighting what) that is the hands-down highlight of the entire affair. They are not, however, alone in this, as the returning characters from the original trilogy are just as good, with Carrie Fisher turning in her best performance in the entire series (as is fitting) as the world-weary, but still struggling on figurehead of the entire resistance, a figure of almost mythical reverence to her crew and officers, and who gets several of the funniest lines in the movie. Mark Hamill, meanwhile, is absolutely on fire this time, playing Luke Skywalker not as simply Yoda to Rey's Luke, but as a bitter, defeated hermit, who has lived now long enough to see the cycles that perpetuate across the galaxy with the choices he and others have made, and wants to be done with it all. The story is consequently less Rey learning the ways of the Force from a wise old master, than it is Luke facing down what demons and flaws he had within him all along, trying to make a younger force sensitive see the larger picture to the mythic events of the day, and trying to provide not only guidance for Rey, but closure for himself. Finally, I'm just gonna come out and say it: The Porgs are cute and awesome. Fight me.

But let's be honest here, all of you already knew all of this before opening this review. Of course the visuals were amazing, they cost over half a billion dollars to produce. Of course the score is excellent, John Williams is a God. Of course the lead actors are great, we found that out from the previous movie. So what do I have to tell you about this film, as a Star Wars film, and its qualities or lack thereof? Well, simply put, this is probably the most daring Star Wars film I've ever seen, one of the most daring major franchise films of all time, purely because of the decisions that it makes concerning what the movie is actually about, both in terms of theme and tone, and in terms of simple plot mechanics. This is commendable, hell in some ways it's downright revolutionary. But it's also the source of a lot of problems, as some of the decisions the film makes, ballsy as they are, just aren't good.

What do I mean? Well, it's mostly a matter of structure and narrative. The concern prior to the film being released was that as Force Awakens was basically a clone of A New Hope, that Last Jedi would basically be a retread of Empire Strikes Back. It is very, very much not that, which is a positive overall, but it also makes the choice of sending my favorite character from the new series, former-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) down a plot cul-de-sac for the first hour of the movie for no real purpose beyond tendentious gestures at the wider universe that never really pay off to anything. It's not that Finn gets no screentime, for he does, nor that he is unenjoyable to watch during this time, for he is, but the whole sequence is awkwardly-placed, features the worst writing of the entire film, and sticks Finn next to an additional character, new to the series, named Rose. Again, there's nothing wrong with the concept here, Rose is the sort of below-decks, non-fantastical character that we don't get to see a lot of in Star Wars, nor does her actress (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) do a poor job of portraying her. But the character feels shoehorned into the proceedings, given an immediate importance well beyond the scope of what her position in the narrative would appear to warrant, to the point where I seriously considered the possibility that this was a character introduced in some ancillary related media (a book, comic, or TV episode) with which I was simply expected to be familiar. A similar fate befalls Laura Dern's newly-introduced Admiral Holdo, brought into the narrative with the cinematic equivalent of trumpets to announce her advent, only for her entire plot arc to be a massive contrivance bordering on an idiot plot, wherein many large-scale problems could easily have been resolved with a single word to the right person, and were not solely so that Poe Dameron (still ably played by Oscar Isaac) has something to do for the first half of the film. Yes, Laura Dern is excellent overall. Yes her character arc is resolved in the most appropriate manner possible, but all that Admiral Holdo does throughout the film is highlight the enormous pacing problems bedeviling most of the film as characters get shot off in different directions in pursuit of objectives that make little sense within the plot and less sense outside of it. On top of all that, is a massive tonal fault line running through the entire movie, as the earnest, pulpy line delivery clashes spectacularly with more snark-laden comedic lines designed to "take the piss" as it were out of the self-seriousness of Star Wars. It's not that I have anything against Star Wars playing things a little less Buck Rogers once in a while, but you can't match up dialogue from an Edgar Wright film directly next to something out of the Joseph Campbell stable and expect everything to come up shining, as the "let's not take this too seriously" material prevents people from taking seriously the material that comes directly after, begging the audience to take it seriously.

These are all serious problems with the film as a whole, not merely the sour grapes of various retrograde scum whom we imagine to comprise all forms of opposition to our opinions. And yet, I do not see them as "flaws" so much as "unavoidable complications" that arise when you take great risks as a storyteller, and director Rian Johnson, whom I have previously seen very little of, has swallowed enormous risk this time around, to the point where I have to stand in awe, for The Last Jedi is a movie that knows what it is to be a Star Wars movie, a film that plays with every aspect of audience expectation as to theme and narrative and meta-narrative and character, in the service of trying to create something that is truly "about" Star Wars as much as it is of Star Wars. Not all of these attempts work. Some blow up violently in the film's face. But when the movie threads that narrow passage, it produces sequences and character moments that we simply haven't seen before in any context within Star Wars, and precious few in any massive, multi-billion-dollar entertainment franchise. The character arcs for Rey and Kylo Ren, though they are the focal points of the film, work nothing like what I or anyone else would have anticipated, answering questions posed by the previous film(s) in ways that comment on our expectations as much as the characters involved themselves, and diverts the entire narrative theme of Star Wars into directions that it previously has not seen. Things as simple as what Kylo Ren's motivation actually is, what he desires and why he desires it, are fascinating, not so much because of the implications they line up for later films, but because we have simply never explored Star Wars before from these perspectives, and are now getting to do so. The entire plot arc of Rey and Luke on the hermetic island is less a retread of the Dagobah sequence from Empire Strikes Back than it is a metaphysical analysis of what Star Wars is on a narrative level, what sorts of stories it has told us in the past and what stories it might be able to tell us in the future. As much as this matters to Rey, and moreso to Luke, the person actually being addressed through most of it is us, the fans of Star Wars, we who find the series compelling and worthwhile, even if we don't necessarily know (or care) why. There are explosions in this movie. Dogfights and battles reminiscent of the greatest periodicals of WWII (including a bombing-run sequence that has few analogues in sci-fi in any context, mostly because the physics are stupid even by Star Wars standards). There are lightsabers and the use of the Force, and old mentors confronting fallen students on several sides of several coins. There is even comic relief, some of it good and some less so. But The Last Jedi is less a Star Wars movie than it is a movie about Star Wars movies, about legends and stories and what they mean to all of us, here and elsewhere. If A New Hope was a retelling of Joseph Campbell's Hero-with-a-Thousand-Faces theory, then The Last Jedi is a movie that asks us, sincerely, and without necessarily knowing the answer, what it is about that archetypical story that appeals to us so much, and what role such a tale plays in our lives, as imagined above the circumstances that we live in.

So, yes, I would have changed things in The Last Jedi. I would have reduced the presence of characters like Admiral Holdo and Rose and other characters we are told to care about for no reason other than the movie says so, and increased in turn the presence of previously-established, and interesting characters like Captain Fasma and Maz Kanata. I would have junked about a fifth of the dialogue overall, in an attempt to smooth out the cracks between the "Star Wars" writing and the "modern" writing. I would have restructured the plot in a number of major and minor ways. But given the film as it stands, warts and all, I am deeply impressed by it. It's a movie that does not play things safe, as the previous film did, seeking to prove that modern Star Wars films are possible, but instead seeks to show what is possible within Star Wars' framework, not necessarily by telling strange new stories, but by broadening the horizons of what Star Wars means as a franchise and a concept. It's a metanarrative gambit that could only have been spectacularly difficult to pull off, but that the director manages, somehow to execute upon, even if it leaves the film itself lacking polish that one might normally, and with reason, expect from a multimedia extravaganza like this one.

I enjoyed The Last Jedi very much, despite my reservations, and I respect the achievement of creating it even more. What it augurs for future Star Wars movies, I cannot say, as the film's purpose is not really to augur specific things, but to instead instill within us the sense that anything is possible. Perhaps Episode XI will be nothing but a return to the beats and themes of Return of the Jedi. Perhaps the new Han Solo movie will suck. Or perhaps none of these things will be the case, because this is Star Wars, and ultimately, there is a reason we gravitated towards it in the first place. This film doesn't always know what that reason is. But it does know that the reason is there, buried within ourselves and the stories we tell, waiting for the slightest spark of imagination to spring triumphantly to life.

Final Score: 7.5/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Jan 08, 2018 4:00 am 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Hostiles

Alternate Title: A Million Ways to Die in the West

One sentence synopsis: A veteran of the Indian Wars is assigned to escort a dying Indian chief back to his tribal homelands in Montana.


Things Havoc liked: I love Westerns. I love the iconography, the setting, the themes, the action, everything about Westerns. Not to say that there aren't incomprehensibly awful movies made with that setting, but in January, when there's nothing to see but a bunch of dump-off films that no studio has faith in, and a screaming horde of oscar-bait movies that all came out on New Year's Eve, one kind of has to take movies by genre and concept more than by anything else, and a Western suited me just fine. The entire genre still lives in the shadow of the titans of the early 90s, especially Unforgiven and Tombstone, both masterpieces of the genre (the former won the Best Picture award that year), which stamped their form indelibly upon the genre and all films within it thereafter. At the time, many critics thought that Unforgiven in particular had closed the books on all there was to be said for the Western, but Hollywood doesn't work that way, and we've had a number of Westerns since then, some good (True Grit), some bad (Cowboys and Aliens), some modern (Hell or High Water) or otherwise setting-crossing (Serenity), but all ineffably Westerns, and most, on the whole, a credit to their forebears. The genre may not have the prominence that it once had back in the 50s or 60s, when the Western was regarded as one of the surest moneymaking prospects in Hollywood, but Westerns still get made, and the good ones, at least still try to say something about the world when they are. So it was that, still in recovery from the flu and looking for something with which to start the calendar year of 2018 (even if 2017's film calendar still has a film or two to run), I spotted a Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike vehicle promising six-shooters and mustaches and long tracking shots across desolate plains, and settled in on a Friday night to watch something good.


Things Havoc disliked: That is not what happened.

2017 has been a banner year for film, without question, and one of the many consequences of its stellar slate of films has been that we haven't seen a lot of films like this one in a while, but they are still out there, waiting to strike as soon as your guard is down. Hostiles is just such a hidden trap, a movie that looks very good from the trailers, cast, and concept level, but completely implodes once it gets around to actually trying to tell its story. It is not a good film in general, nor a good western in specific. In fact, it downright sucks, in a way that we have not seen in quite some time. So let's analyze for a moment who could possibly be the one responsible for this dreadful state of -

... what's that? It's directed by Scott Cooper? Oh... well there we have it then.

Yes, Scott Cooper, a man who never met a screenplay he did not feel needed to be more on-the-nose, more anvilicious, more filled with trepidatious pauses and forlorn looks at the camera, a director whose entire filmography is full of sound and fury and signifies very very little. I know that many people liked Crazy Heart, the 2009 Jeff Bridges vehicle, and I even know some who liked Out of the Furnace, but I remember him from 2015's Black Mass, a movie in which Johnny Depp played a vampire and called himself Whitey Bulger, and the Cooper did everything he could to disguise whatever else the film might have been about beyond a handful of disconnected events that may or may not have had anything to do with Whitey Bulger. I didn't hate Black Mass, but it was not a good movie, and Hostiles, for all the differences in tone and theme and genre, is honestly even more of the same, a plodding, placid film directly from the Terrence Mallick school of filmmaking. But where Mallick is at least an interesting visual filmmaker, Cooper has simply learned that some directors place long, empty spaces between every line that every actor intones, but has not learned why. The result is a movie that is stuck in the tonal sensibilities of the worst parts of recent years, but the genre sensibilities of the early 1990s. Not a good combination.

The year is 1898, and life is hard in the West. Commanches raid farmsteads in New Mexico, while reservation jumpers are hunted down by the US Army with extreme prejudice. Captain Blocker (Christian Bale), a veteran US Army Captain, is assigned a mission by his commanding officer (Stephen Lang, in a rare moment of life within the otherwise dead film) to escort a dying Indian chief and his family (Wes Studi) back to their homelands in Montana, so that he can die in peace. Why is this mission so vital that the President of the United States issues a personal and direct order that it be accomplished? I have no idea, for the film is not interested in that question. It is interested instead in the fact that Captain Blocker, who seemingly fought in every single war between the US Army and an Indian tribe in the thirty years prior to this film, is a very bad man, a murderer of men, women, and children, and consumed by all-powerful hate for the Natives he has spent a lifetime battling. Thus far, we are on good thematic ground, with the hero revealed as a broken-down killer, much like in this film's most obvious ancestor, Unforgiven itself, which this movie is so endebted to that it steals quite a few major lines from the aforementioned Clint Eastwood piece, wholesale. Still, this would all serve well enough were the rest of the film, say, a character study of this broken and hate-ravaged soldier, or perhaps a slow exploration of the means by which he discovers a route to becoming something else. Unfortunately, the movie is neither of these things, preferring instead to be about nothing at all besides its own portentous, over-weighty dialogue, and its cynical marginalization of the very people it purports to be exposing the cruelties towards.

What do I mean? Well consider the setup above. A man who hates Natives is now forced to escort a Native chief halfway across the country through territories filled with hostile bandits and Commanche raiders. And yet of all the many and varied paths that the film could potentially take from here, the film chooses none of them, preferring instead to simply have Bale sit stone-facedly in the grass or in his saddle and stare off across the plains as though reviewing internally the emptiness of his life. I don't mean the life of the character, I mean the emptiness of Bale's life having been forced to make this movie. Bale spends the entire film in an unplaceable monotone that sounds like a Ron Swanson impression, staring into space blankly as the various other characters he meets recite ridiculously overwrought lines at him about how dark his soul is or how dark their own souls are or how dark everyone's soul has become or how much they wish they understood the meaning of the darkness that lies within their souls or how they wish their souls were not so dark but unfortunately they are, or or or or or. I get the desire to tell a revisionist Western (as though there have been anything else for the last thirty years), but you actually do have to tell the Western, not just gesture at the self-evident notion that everyone who dared set foot in The West was a soul-destroyed PTSD-riddled hollow wreck of a person, whispering dialogue concerning the darkness that was their souls at ten second intervals before riding over the next ridge to do it all over again. The entire film is comprised of nothing but dead-eyed stares and monotone line delivery, until we as the audience start to wonder if the problem isn't something more medical than "the sickness of man". At least when The Homesman acted like this, it had the excuse of portraying characters that had literally gone insane.

But heavy-handed as this sort of thing is, I might have forgiven it (might) if the movie had had the balls to actually follow through with the premise that the story of the West is truly the story of the Natives, and that the disconnection the other characters feel has to do with the horrors they have perpetrated on such people. Unfortunately, for all its pretensions at telling a revisionist story of modern understandings of The West, the movie's interest in its Native characters, which as mentioned before include Wes Studi, the greatest Native American actor of all time (go watch Geronimo or Last of the Mohicans if you disagree with that), is practically non-existent. In addition to Studi's Chief Yellow Hawk, there is his son, Black Hawk, his daughter, his daughter-in-law, and grandson, and not a single one of these characters get a goddamn thing to do throughout the entire movie but sit in a circle and look enigmatically upon everyone else, without saying a word, and occasionally demurely giving gifts to the white characters and radiating angelicness. Yellow Hawk himself doesn't get much more to do. He and Blocker are established as being old enemies, both bad men who did bad things during the Indian Wars to one another's people, who have hated one another for years without halt. Yet Studi doesn't get more than a handful of lines across the entire movie, all of which are calm, dispassionate requests for Captain Blocker to listen to his wisdom in terms of how to deal with other Indian tribes, how to deal with his guilt, or (get this) thanks to the good Captain for having the common decency to treat him... better? It's not quite as obsequious as it sounds, but it's not far off, and this is the only Native character in the film with what amounts to a real part! Yellow Hawk and Blocker share barely a handful of scenes together, and then suddenly transform into best friends, with Blocker telling Yellow Hawk in his own language that he carries a piece of him in his heart. There is a way that this sort of admission between two old enemies could work, hell there is a way where it could be profoundly moving. But it would have to be in a movie that was about the relationship between these men, while this film is not interested in being about anyone, least of all the Natives, who are treated here like the Indian equivelant of Spike Lee's famous Magical Negro archetype, props for the movie to trigger the spiritual renewal of a sinful white character who is now redeemed. At least the majority of the Magical Negro movies out there (Legend of Bagger Vance for instance) actually involve the black character getting to do something, be it give wizened speeches or demonstrate his superior ways. This movie seems to posit that the mere presence of Native Americans will render you more spiritual and absolve you of your sins, like the symbols of some holy faith, bereft of the need to actually do anything.


Final Thoughts: I said before that I love Westerns, even though this sort of failing is not unheard of in the majority of them. Hell, I like Dances with Wolves, which had a number of people retrospectively up in arms for being a White Savior movie. Maybe that's fair and maybe it isn't, but goddammit, in Dances with Wolves the Natives got to be real characters, with speaking parts and character arcs and everything, not mute props dragged along so that the "real" characters could react to their presence and be cleansed of their guilt. And when you combine all this with the fact that none of the characters actually do anything to cleanse said guilt beyond staring into space and occasionally getting in gunfights with the most thinly-characterized "bad people" imaginable, well let's just say that the movie is not precisely everything I would want in a modern Western.

Westerns have come a long way in the last three decades, not always to great effect, but frequently so. Go watch Unforgiven or Tombstone, or Geronimo, or for that matter Wind River from earlier this year, as all of those movies are good movies first and foremost, with characters who take action and who deal with one another as people might do. Not all of them involve Native Americans, but the ones that do actually involve them, they don't play-act at involving them and then pretend that they somehow have something to say that the aforementioned movies did not say. Above all though, go watch movies that are actually about something, because Hostiles is about nothing besides its director's ego, and the highly out-of-date sensibility that the only thing you have to do to increase representation of Native Americans in movies is to physically include them within the frame occasionally.


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."


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2018 9:14 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Molly's Game

Alternate Title: The Poker Room

One sentence synopsis: A former competitive skier builds an empire of underground poker games before being caught up in a massive federal case against the Russian Mafia.


Things Havoc liked: Some stories are just too good not to film, really. Molly Bloom, a downhill skier whose career was derailed by injury, moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and was hired to staff a Poker game out of a backroom club called the Viper Room, catering to Hollywood celebrities. The game expanded, and Molly first took it over, then took it big, throwing lavish events and attracting moguls from industry, finance, entertainment, and every other corner of the high-roller world. By 2009, she had moved her operation to New York, running one of the most sought-after games in the country, before a 2013 raid and indictment caused her to lose everything in a massive RICO sting aimed at the many members of the Russian mob who were participants in her game. Along the way she dealt with addicts, egomaniacs, mobsters, drunks, Hollywood big shots, princes of various European and Middle Eastern royal families, and plenty of people who fit into more than one of the above categories. Her career came to an abrupt end in 2013 when she was caught up in a money laundering and racketeering sting by the FBI and Justice Departments, as part of their attempts to crush the Russian Mafia, most of whose most prominent members were players in her game. In the intervening years, she wrote a tell-all book (notable primarily for not even remotely telling all), and there were a number of attempts to turn her story into a movie, and after several abortive attempts, who has decided to take this on, but Television's master of self-important dialogue, Aaron Sorkin.

Molly's Game stars Jessica Chastain, an actress I have famously had little use for over the years (see my reviews for Zero Dark Thirty and Interstellar for more on that), as Molly Bloom, but for all my objections to Chastain's typical style of acting, if there's one thing 2016's The Huntsman: Winter's War taught me, it's that I had Chastain pegged incorrectly. The problem isn't that she can't act, the problem is that she can't act seriously. Her attempts to emote sincerity and seriousness have always fallen flat to me, making her sound alternately like a marionette struggling to understand these "hu-man" emotions, or like a petulant seven-year-old who has been denied a cookie. But give her a film or a situation in which she's supposed to be campy, or ridiculous, or over-the-top, and she suddenly becomes a completely different actor. And while Molly's Game is certainly intended to be a realistic portrayal of a young woman who simply got caught up in strange events, it's also written by Aaron Sorkin, of The Social Network and The West Wing (and several other things we will get to), who has one of the strongest and most distinctive authorial voices of any screenwriter in Hollywood (yes, moreso even than Joss Whedon). Sorkin's dialogue, no matter the setting or medium, has always felt like written dialogue, like something prepared in advance by a speechwriter, rather than something people might conceivably come up with and say in a real setting, and while that's not always a strength, it allows Chastain to do what she's good at, giving her the sort of snappy, witty, erudite one-liners that nobody would come up with in the spur of the moment. The long and the short of all this is that Chastain is excellent in this film, playing a driven young woman from a hyper-demanding background who is subjected to the sorts of raving, savagely egomaniacal, borderline sociopathic douchebags and pressures that are instantaneously believable as coming from the ranks of Hollywood or high finance.

And of course, Chastain is not alone. Idris Elba, my man-crush and yours, plays Bloom's lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, in the typical style of an Aaron Sorkin lawyer, meaning with wit, erudition, and snappy comebacks to every situation. As I know several people (Hi, Colleen!) who fantasize about Idris Elba yelling at them, this movie should provide plenty of fodder, and Elba is, as he always is, wonderful in the role, though his American accent this time is about as authentic as my British one. Kevin Costner, of all people, plays Molly's father, a professor of psychology and a helicopter parent, whose tough-love-style of borderline-verbally-abusive behavior is intentionally played in contrast with Costner's native salt-of-the-Earth persona. I've admitted before that for all the garbage that Costner has made over the years (and still continues to make, lest anyone forget Criminal), I've always liked him, at least in the rare occasions when the director and scriptwriters manage to get him something to say or do that is within his range. Sorkin does, and Costner, surprisingly, proves an excellent fit for Sorkin's stilted style, particularly in a late sequence where he sits down with his daughter and speaks what, to him at least, is brutal honesty. And then there's the various shitheads that Bloom encounters throughout her career, foremost among which is Michael Cera, of all people, as "Player X", a composite of various A-list Hollywood celebrities who frequented Molly's games, but apparently primarily based on Toby Maguire, or so the rumors have it. If those rumors are true, Maguire should take real care given the tenor of Hollywood today, as Cera plays this character as an actual raving sociopath, one who admits that despite all the poker he plays, he actually doesn't much like the game itself. What he likes, in his own words, is "ruining people's lives", something he does with Iago-like gusto to everyone he meets. My old pals Chris O'Dowd (of The Sapphires), and Jeremy Strong (of a whole bunch of crap), take smaller roles as, respectively, a drunken Irish associate of the Russian Mafia with a heart of gold, and a Hollywood wannabe/failed Los Angeles real estate agent with seemingly no heart whatsoever. This is the sort of thing one runs into when one turns in these circles, it seems. Both are superb, customarily so in O'Dowd's case, the opposite in Strong's, with O'Dowd managing to inject some real emotion into one of the oldest cinema character cliches in existence (the drunken Irishman), and Strong evidencing some of the douchiest behavior known to man outside of the White House.


Things Havoc disliked: You may have noticed by this point that I seem to be talking an awful lot about Aaron Sorkin, and that's kind of unavoidable, and not just because he both wrote, produced, and directed this film, his directorial debut, in fact. Honestly the direction is fine, Sorkin has a lengthy and well-established background in Television after all and has been working in film for over thirty years. But when it comes to the writing, we start to have an issue. You see, I mentioned before that Sorkin's authorial voice is one of the strongest in Hollywood, up there with the likes of David Mamet or Joss Whedon. This is not necessarily a good thing. You see for all of the success that Sorkin has had, with The West Wing, with Social Network, with Moneyball or Charlie Wilson's War, when Sorkin has nobody to restrain him the way David Fincher did, he generally produces works of such staggering, monumental authorial arrogance as to inspire mocking fake-twitter feeds that long-outlast the work in question. It was thus for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a failed behind-the-scenes-at-Saturday-Night-Live show that was so painfully preachy and unfunny as to make paint drying look like a Megadeth concert, and wherein Sorkin famously responded to the criticisms he was subjected to by calling all his critics basement-dwelling virginial bloggers with no taste. It was also thus for The Newsroom, one of the preachiest and most hamfisted television shows ever invented, wherein Sorkin re-wrote every story of the day as he would have reported on it with perfect hindsight, and then spent the rest of the runtime making his characters recite endless denunciations of strawman after strawman, particularly when it came to "the youths" and their "blogosphere". Now, let me be clear, Molly's Game doesn't have anything like those shows' levels of unfettered arrogance. What it does have, however, is the tendency for every character to sound the same.

You see, with a voice this strong, this recognizable, it's clear enough to me at this point that Sorkin doesn't know how to write anyone who isn't just like himself, an overeducated political and cultural snob (I say this with some endearment, as I am also an overeducated political and cultural snob). In shows like The West Wing, which was about a group of exceptionally intelligent and driven people at the heart of the political system, this mattered less, as Sorkin wrote his characters the way we'd like all of our elected officials to act and speak. With The Social Network, he was again dealing with masters of the universe, students at Harvard University with spectacular pedigrees and impeccable contempt for all the lesser creatures of the world. But in Molly's Game, despite all the high-rollers on offer, the movie is ultimately a character study of Molly, and to a lesser extent her lawyer, none of whom should sound the same as one another, and all of whom do, speaking in this inflappable, ultra-witty style of hyper-stylized dialogue that just does not exist when we are supposedly dealing with the real world. Everyone's speach consists of the same one-liners, peppered with references to high culture and in-jokes that it makes no sense for their characters to be making. And while I do like movies about smart people speaking in a smart fashion, Sorkin's voice is so overpowering that he risks losing the humanity of what's happening. It's hard for us as an audience to feel sorry or frightened alongside the main character when the film has spent the entire run-time establishing them as being beyond such mortal concerns as fright or sorrow. And none of this is helped by Sorkin, in the last third of the film, giving into his worst habits and spending a good portion of the movie waxing eloquently about the injustice of the FBI seizing Molly's assets and fining her hundreds of thousands of dollars, when in reality (as it turns out) neither actually occurred. I don't demand all biopics stick scrupulously to the truth of the matter, of course, but it's a bit rich to turn your film into an excoriation of the Federal Government for having done terrible things to poor Molly, when it did not actually do those things.


Final Thoughts: All that being said though, Molly's Game is certainly an enjoyable film, with a compelling story full of sleaze and greed and power games and, it must be admitted, luxuriously fun dialogue at times. Even if Sorkin makes everyone sound like himself, the fact is that his style of witty repartee is a lot of fun to listen to, especially when good (citation needed) actors are the ones reciting it. I don't know if it's worthy of the Oscars that it clearly is looking for, but as a film about the seedier side of high society and organized crime, I have seen far worse examples, and would recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone who likes the idea of the film, or just wants to watch Idris Elba yell for a while. And really, who doesn't?


Final Score: 7.5/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2018 3:09 pm 
Dragon Death-Marine General
User avatar

Joined: Wed Jun 08, 2005 11:03 am
Posts: 14692
Location: Alone and unafraid
Blog: View Blog (1)
If she did launder money, wouldn't the FBI be justified in fining her though? Not that they did, just wouldn't that be justified?

_________________
"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2018 10:44 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
frigidmagi wrote:
If she did launder money, wouldn't the FBI be justified in fining her though? Not that they did, just wouldn't that be justified?


It would, but it's worth noting that she did not plead guilty to money laundering, only to lesser charges. Which is why she got a $1,000 fine, and not the $200,000 one that this film mysteriously claims she got.

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Jan 28, 2018 5:13 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
I, Tonya

Alternate Title: Abuse: A comedy

One sentence synopsis: Tonya Harding deals with her abusive mother and husband, all while trying to win acceptance through figure skating before and after the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.


Things Havoc liked: Like everyone else who was alive and above the age of eight at the time, I remember the infamous Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident from the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. It was, in many ways, the perfect scandal, filled with lurid details to titillate and thrill a news audience, women fighting one another for supremacy, America's sweetheart attacked by a violent thug, lurid plots among stupid people, overtones of classism, one of the first big media frenzies. I was there man, every one of us ate it up with a spoon. Following the Olympics, in which Kerrigan won a silver medal, and Harding won such infamy, Tonya Harding disappeared into the tabloids, popping up on news feeds periodically in celebrity boxing matches, in sex tapes, and in one trashy thing after another. I cannot say that I thought much about her in the intervening years, but all of a sudden, here we have a movie about the story of Tonya Harding from beginning to end, a film I ultimately decided to see purely because I felt I owed its main actress another shot.

You see, I didn't see I, Tonya, because I really desperately wanted to know more about Tonya Harding, I saw it because of Suicide Squad, a movie so bad I still suspect it to have been the result of some gruesome experiment in human psychology. Margot Robbie, who had the singular misfortune of starring in that film as Harley Quinn (a misfortune only slightly lesser than those of us who had to watch her) is an actress I have seen in nothing else to date (save a cameo in The Big Short), and while she was pretty goddamn awful in Suicide Squad, that much could easily be explained by the fact that everything touched by Suicide Squad turned to galvanized shit. After all, Viola Davis and Will Smith are both charismatic actors of considerable skill, and neither one of them could salvage any dignity. I therefore felt, given her increasing prominence, that I owed it to Margot Robbie to find out if she could act at all, an exercise I try to engage in when I encounter actors or actresses who have had the misfortune of making their major debut in a film so bad that nothing positive could be gleaned from it. The ur-example here is Twilight, a film that forced me to seek other examples of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart's acting efforts, determining empirically that while Pattinson can act, Stewart cannot.

So with all that preamble aside, can Margot Robbie act? Ohhhhh yes. Yes she can, in fact Margot Robbie, playing a character that none of us ever got to know except in the pages of a tabloid, is phenomenal this time around, a treasure of a performance that fully justifies all of the faith that people placed in her following the atrocity that was Suicide Squad. Biopics are a dangerous game, as apt to win you condemnation as they are an Oscar, but Robbie, playing a character nobody really knows anything about, is exceptional, bringing all the classless rancor, the bitter devotion to her craft, the wounded patched-together pride of a victim of nigh-constant abuse, the serially-unreliable mentality of someone trying to make sense of her own life, bringing all of it together into a performance that merits the Oscar nomination that should be (and at time of writing, has been) forthcoming. It's a career-making performance, comic and tragic all at once, while still retaining the essence of what the public remembers of the character, and if that wasn't Robbie performing the fantastically-difficult skating maneuvers studded throughout, then the movie certainly fooled me.

I, Tonya, comes to us courtesy of Craig Gillespie, an Australian director who has yet to feature on this project, due to his propensity for mostly doing projects that don't look particularly interesting. The only movie of his prior to this one that I know anything about is 2007's exceedingly-odd Ryan Gosling vehicle Lars and the Real Girl, a movie that was effectively a weirder version of Her, and if you remember Her, that's quite a statement. This one is a bit more accessable than that one was, but is done in a fourth-wall-shattering style that emphasizes just how unreliable the various stories that the characters involved tell of the Kerrigan incident and everything that led up to it are. The result resembles The Big Short, or other movies that use unconventional directing techniques as a tool to emphasize the artificiality of the concepts they're attempting to get across, and in retrospect, it's probably the only way to do something like this without turning the entire thing into a Rashomon-style philosophical treatise, which would be highly unsuited for the material. It does, however, require a superb cast to be able to pull something like this off, and fortunately Gillespie has assembled one. Sebastian Stan, Bucky Barnes from the Marvel films, is utterly unrecognizable as Jeff Gillooly, an abusive loser who Tonya falls for due primarily to the fact that she has been conditioned by her upbringing to expect nothing but abusive losers to be interested in her. It's deceptively difficult to play a loser on screen, if only because most successful actors are charismatic, and the camera introduces such tremendous bias in their favor, but Stan pulls it off, giving us a character by turns entirely loathesome and yet completely believable, not a screaming monster but a person whose life is what it was always fated to be, and whose worst traits go utterly unexamined by himself or even his victims. But the best performance of all is Allison Janney's, because she gets to play a true monster. Tonya's mother LaVona, expertly portrayed by the one-time West Wing alum, is a vile, twisted, hyper-abusive harpy, an utterly loathsome creature whose every action and thought drips bitterness and resentment. And yet even here, Janney puts together a character that isn't just a caricature of an abusive single mother, but simply a person who is missing parts of their soul, who acts as she does because she thinks it the only way to properly act. We hate her all the more because we understand where she is coming from, and is that not the definition of an excellent villain?

If it sounds like the theme of abuse is coming up a lot in my description so far, that is because the movie is rife with it, not sensationalized, not dialed up to some unwatchable level, but inculcated into its very bones. The story of Tonya Harding, the movie claims, is a story of long-term abuse, not always cinematic and violent, and not always unreciprocated, but always there, poisoning everything it touches until actions that would seem unthinkable to any normal, rational person, are perfectly normal and indeed not deserving of comment to the characters that inhabit this world. Tonya is abused by her mother, by her husband, by the Media, by the US Figure Skating association which is made to look, probably with very good reason, like a bunch of classic snobs who never even considered giving Harding a real shot. Months and years of brutally-difficult work are rewarded time and again with "stylistic" point deductions and low-seeded rankings, despite Tonya being an exceptionally gifted technical skater, the only American woman to perform a Triple Axel jump. Without ever calling things out explicitly, the movie effortlessly places you in a mindset wherein anything, even attacking a rival with a retractable baton, seems reasonable, given that nobody else is playing fairly either. Moreover, despite everything I've just finished saying, the movie is also riotously funny at parts, mostly due to just how stupid so many of the participants in this little farce of a conspiracy were. Paul Walter Hauser, whom I've never seen or heard of before, plays Shaun Ekhart, Tonya's bodyguard, a loser among losers, who fancies himself some kind of CIA-trained espionage expert while living in his mother's house and plotting the dumbest caper in the history of dumb capers. Bobby Cannavale, whom I love dearly, gets the job of narrating most of this to us as a spray-tanned Hard Copy producer, describing in breathless glee how dumb the plan to assault Kerrigan actually was, with one conspirator staking out Kerrigan's training arena for three days, parking in an empty parking lot, and moving his car around it every fifteen minutes to avoid suspicion! Why only for three days? Because that's how long it took him to realize that Kerrigan was actually training in a different arena entirely in another state.


Things Havoc disliked: The film goes to some lengths to ensure that you know just how unreliable all participants in this absurd farce are. Everyone has their own version of what happened before and during the Kerrigan assault (the movie calls it "the incident"), and none of those versions stack up at all, particularly those of Harding and Gillooly themselves. This is fine, indeed it's only to be expected, nor is it surprising, given how much time it spends humanizing her, that the film ultimately winds up taking more of Harding's perspective than anyone else's. But the problem is that about two thirds of the way through the movie, without mentioning it or otherwise indicating, it basically hews entirely to the notion that Harding knew nothing about the impending attack, and if she did know something about it she didn't understand it, and if she did understand it she thought it was a joke, and if she didn't think it was a joke she thought the plan would involve threats, not violence, and if she did think the plan involved violence well it was only to be expected given her upbringing.

Um... right...

Look, nobody but Tonya Harding herself really knows how much she was or wasn't actually involved in the assault on Kerrigan, and given the nature of human memory and rationalization, probably not her either at this point. And it is certainly possible, though not much more, that Harding had nothing to do with the planning of the assault that put her back in the Olympics after her career was largely over. But for the movie to turn around so far into a story that is being told from multiple directions, and suddenly claim authoritatively that not only was the entire prosecution of Harding nothing but a political witch-hunt on the part of a classist Figure Skating world looking to finally be rid of her, but that it knows this for a fact is just ridiculous on its face. I don't demand that all movies represent nothing but the unvarnished truth, especially when that truth is open to interpretation, but when the movie's central thesis is that nobody knows the truth, it's a bit churlish to suddenly reframe everything that's happening as the truth because it casts your sympathetic protagonist in a more flattering light. And if you're going to do that, suddenly pivot from an unreliable to an authoritative viewpoint on the events in question, it's probably a good idea not to misrepresent the few actual facts that are known about the case. The movie's climax involves a tearful court hearing, where a barely-controlled Harding begs and pleads for her life after a stern, unsympathetic judge bans her from figure skating for life. Powerful stuff, if it had actually happened, but it did not. It doesn't take much research to know that criminal courts have no bearing on who can and can't participate in Figure Skating associations, and Harding was never so-sentenced. Instead, after she pled guilty to obstructing justice in the investigation of an assault on one of her competitors, the US Figure Skating association banned her for life, after their investigation concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened. Call the investigation a witch-hunt if you like, but please don't make up criminal penalties that never happened, framed to make your unreliable protagonist look sympathetic, and then wrap yourselves in the mantle of the one true arbiters of truth.


Final Thoughts: But I have to say, whatever the film's authorial bent or pretensions of truth and honesty, I, Tonya is an incredible film, a tightly-crafted, instantly-compelling, and brilliant-acted piece of 90s absurdity, taking a story we all knew and giving us even more salacious details about it, assuming we're willing to acknowledge that doing so makes us no better than the other people who tried to exploit Tonya Harding for our own purposes. It is a fantastic movie across the board, one that is entirely deserving of its buzz, and a fitting place to leave off the greatest single year I have ever experienced at the movies. With Awards season finally upon us, I, Tonya, along with many other fine films, is once more being re-released in theaters, and you all owe it to yourselves to give it a shot, whether you know the story or not.

Thank you to everyone who has followed these reviews over the course of the year now past. It has been quite a run, and I hope you are all ready to hear about it again, because it is finally time to evaluate the best this year offered us, and the worst.


Final Score: 8/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 12:43 am 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
All right, guys, it's time to get back on the horse.

The General's Post Spring 2018 Roundup, Part 1




12 Strong

Alternate Title: Charge of the God-Mode Brigade

One sentence synopsis: A dozen special forces soldiers are inserted into Afghanistan during the first days after 9/11 to help local insurgents fight the Taliban.


The Verdict: So let's start things with a movie none of you have ever heard of.

January releases are a messy lot, as most of the time people are either busy returning to work or watching Oscar films, and have no time to deal with any new releases not good enough to be deployed during Oscar season proper. As such you get a lot of films from genres that are famously not very good, banking on the fact that their audiences will not go see anything else. Christian message films, bad horror ripoffs, foreign imports of no general interest, and also the subject we have before us today: Military wank films not good enough to get a fall/winter release. So it is with 12 Strong, a movie about a very cool event in military history, but that was not regarded well enough either by critics or by its studio to merit anything beyond a January release.

So was that a mistake? Well no, not really. But there are virtues to the film.

12 Strong is about the US 5th Special Forces Group, Operational Detachment Alpha 595, a very boring name for a very tough group of hombres who did some very insane things in the first two months after 9/11 in Northern Afghanistan. Those of you old enough to remember it, might recall pictures of US special forces soldiers fighting on horseback in the Afghan mountains, and these are the men in question, the first American horse cavaliers since 1942, who battled the Taliban alongside an alliance of warlords and guerilla fighters, calling air strikes in from B-52s while galloping into battle with armored vehicles. This event, this concept, is goddamn amazing, and ripe for a badass movie to be made about it, and the filmmakers (primarily Danish documentarian Nicolai Fuglsig) assembled one of the better casts I've seen in a war film to make it. Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and Michael Peña are all actors I have tremendous love for, as any regular reader knows, and all three star in the film as the officers and NCOs in command of the 12-strong unit. There's not a great deal of material for any of them to sink their teeth into (especially Shannon), but these are the sorts of actors that elevate any role their in, be it through Hemsworth's charisma, Shannon's
world-weariness, or Peña's general hilarity. Small touches, like the running joke of the soldiers' ever-more fantastical descriptions of how much they love the barren shitholes they are in, add a good deal of humanity to a movie that could easily be left without. Smaller roles go to the indispensable William Fichtner, the completely out of place, but somehow still decent Rob Riggle (what in god's name is Rob Riggle doing in a movie like this?), or to German-Iranian actor Navid Negahban, who probably gets the best role of the bunch, playing a veteran Northern Alliance commander which the movie takes some pains to humanize.

So what else does the film have? Well... not a whole lot to be honest. There are battle sequences of course, many of them, but they all sort of run together into one giant mess. Our heroes are invincible supermen, riding directly into machine gun and cannonfire and coming out unscathed while accurately gunning down their foes with perfectly-placed shots from a rearing horse. There are moments that liven things, like a confused sequence wherein hundreds of Taliban troops try to surrender simultaneously to four American soldiers, but these are few and far between. Discussions between Hemsworth's character (the commander of the unit), and the General played by Negahban never go beyond the whole "learning how to be an effective leader of men" stage of military speech-making. The film does dot itself with some moments of self-awareness, such as a riotous moment where Hemsworth, demanding to see proof that the troops he's about to carpet bomb belong to the Taliban, gets an answer in the form of the General calling up his opposite number on the radio, calling him the son of a flea-bitten dog, and telling him to confirm his identity to the Americans so that they can all go kill him.

There's nothing really wrong with 12 Strong beyond a certain lack of ambition, for the movie is competently enough made and the shots of whatever more commodious terrain passed for the mountains of Afghanistan are striking and beautiful in their rugged, barren way. As an excuse to watch good actors ride horses and shoot machine guns for a while, there are far worse films than 12 Strong out there. Just don't expect too much else from it.

Final Score: 6/10




The Insult

Alternate Title: Another day in the Middle East

One sentence synopsis: A Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian Refugee's confrontation over a minor grievance turns into a massive political setpiece in modern Beirut.


The Verdict: I try not to be a snob on this project, I do, but it's a basic fact that my enjoyment of the movies is almost directly proportional to the amount of weird shit I get to see. I can overdo it, certainly, like I did in the early part of 2015 (to the point where sitting in traffic for an hour and a half to go see Maggie seemed like a good idea), but in the spring, when movies suck, it's not a bad idea to look for what you can catch at the smaller theaters, and what did I catch this time but Lebanon's contribution to the Best Foreign Language Film category, a little film called The Insult.

The Insult is a movie that serves as both a primer on Middle Eastern politics (at least those of Lebanon), while also serving as a simultaneous send-up to Law and Order and to Crash, the 2004 Paul Haggis film about race relations in Los Angeles, and a short list candidate for the award of "worst film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards" (fight me). It comes to us courtesy of Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, a man who recently achieved the feat of being banned from Lebanon for being too pro-Israeli, while also being banned from Israel for being too anti-Israeli. Any man who pulls that off is deserving of respect and attention, and his film is one of the better things I've seen in this young year, a polemic of sorts (in a good way) about race and nationality and the wounds of civil strife in a poly-ethnic society like that of Lebanon.

Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) is a Lebanese Christian auto mechanic, and an asshole. He supports hyper-partisan politicians (most politicians in Lebanon fit this description), and regards immigrants to his country, particularly refugees from Palestine, as dogs. This is a problem, because the foreman of a construction project in his neighborhood, Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha) is himself a Palestinian refugee, a man of considerable expertise and education, but who must work under the table and live in a refugee zone because he is a Palestinian, a group not well regarded in Lebanon since the violent events of Black September. A minor altercation between the two men over the code status of a leaking drainpipe results in one insulting the other, and kicks off a chain of gradual but believable escalations that lands both men in court to try and prove that they are the aggrieved party and the other an unreasonable menace to public safety. Heedless to the pleas of loved ones and friends to let things go, the men proceed with their dispute, until, almost inevitably, it blows up well beyond their control, breaking open the hastily papered-over fault lines in Lebanese society, a society which as little as thirty years ago was a full-fledged war zone, and which has not recovered therefrom by any stretch.

And yet rather than turn the movie in another parable about how bad sectarianism is, The Insult strangely goes the route of a courtroom drama, wherein lawyers stand up and give impassioned speeches regarding how terrible the life of their client was, and how many horrible things the other party has done or said in their lives, until both men are grudgingly left on the sidelines of their original conflict, their deepest wounds brought to the surface to be probed by the legal system. Hanna, it turns out, despises the Palestinian people because of the annihilation of his village during Black September at the hands of a screaming Palestinian mob, which executed his family and burned his home, while Salameh is forced to relive all the moments in his life when, pushed to the edge by indignity heaped upon indignity, he snapped and lashed back. Arguments are leveled about subjects that sound all too familiar to us Stateside, from affirmative action to free speech to incitements to hate crimes. And of course, being as this is the Middle East, even as the participants speak of high-minded ideals and racial tolerance, they layer every sentence of every accusation of wrongdoing with a thick coating of un-examined antisemitism.

The Insult isn't quite a great movie, the courtroom antics quickly begin to feel early-90s-era Law and Order, with lawyers basically allowed to recite dissertations at infinite length because the filmmaker said so, but it is, all in all, a very good one, buttressed by excellent acting by the two leads and most of the supporting cast. It's a small film with a big topic and one that handles things deftly, and if it's available on a streaming service or a showcase of foreign cinema, I would strongly suggest undertaking it. The alternatives from early this year are not encouraging.

Final Score: 7.5/10




Black Panther

Alternate Title: Anti-Marvel

One sentence synopsis: Newly-crowned King T'Challa must defend his crown and country against the machinations of an international arms smuggler, and a warmongering figure intent on claiming his throne.


The Verdict: I am an unapologetic fan of Marvel's work. You all know this. I have lauded them time and time and time again for all of the myriad reasons that their films are heir to. You all know this. Eighteen movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and with the most ambitious one yet being seen by yours truly the day after I write these words), there is no doubt in my mind that this universe of cinema they have created is, to-date, the crowning film achievement of the 21st century, a fountain of staggering creativity, enjoyment, fun, and splendor, even with the occasional stumble here and there. I love the MCU as I have loved few things in cinema, and there have been times in the past where it alone represented the only reason I continued to do this. Nor has the series been getting worse, not by any long shot. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy 2. I loved Spiderman. I adored Thor Ragnarok. And I was desperately excited for Black Panther, which looked supremely awesome, starred a half dozen actors I adore, and was being made by one of the better directors working. I wanted this film to be great. You all, if you know me at all, know this.

So when I criticize Black Panther, please understand that I do it from a place of love. Because no matter how I slice it, Black Panther is not great.

Now don't misunderstand me, Black Panther is not bad either, nor even close to it. It is always adecent, frequently good, and occasionally very good, but never does it rise to greatness, and in the company it keeps, within the lofty heights of the MCU, that does not suffice to obtain my unquestioning praise. There is a great deal to love about Black Panther, and yet something is missing from it, something fundamental and hard to elucidate. So let's give it a shot.

As always, I like to start with what does work, and the list is admittedly long. The film is gorgeous, vibrant and brilliant of color, with all the sweeping glories and rich palette that an African setting can offer. The styling of the film is even better, an Afro-Futurist riot of brilliant design-work, African-inspired of course, but with unexpected twists to the atmosphere that the film pieces together, turning it into a wonderland cornucopia of non-western design often without (to my western eye, at least) obvious source. Elements of the Wakandan world, such as the Dahomey-inspired Techno-Masai stylings of the "Dora Milaje", a kind of all-female royal guard regiment comprised of shaven-headed Amazonian Hoplites is goddamned brilliant, and serves more than adequately to ground the film in comic awesomeness while remaining true to its inspirations. Several of the new characters we are introduced to, particularly Shuri (Letitia Wright), the younger sister of T'Challa, a technophile genius who steals the best lines in the film, Okoye (Danai Gurira), the stoic (to a fault) head of the aforementioned royal guards, and Killmonger (Michael B. Freaking Jordan), the villain of the piece, who gets waaaaaaay more backstory and interesting material than any Marvel villain not named Loki has ever gotten. Indeed, Killmonger might be the best thing in the movie, a villain with a comprehensible, timely, and well-fleshed out backstory, one that encourages sympathy even as it paints him as a violent extremist prepared to wage worldwide race war to right the wrongs he and his people have suffered. That Michael B. Jordan can pull something like this off should be no surprise to anybody who's seen the rest of Ryan Coogler's work, and the screen is enlivened whenever he is on it.

But for all of these virtues, Black Panther is a deeply uneven film, and this is primarily due to a problem I don't think I've ever seen before: Accents.

You might be wondering how a bad accent can ruin a film. It can't (usually), but what I mean when I say this isn't that someone has a bad accent, it's that someone is unable to perform their role because of it, and that someone is Chadwick Boseman himself, an actor I have desperately tried to like in movies from 42 to Get on Up to Draft Day, for he is a likeable guy whom I assumed would use this movie as his coming out party. Instead, he falls completely flat, and the reason he does is because he cannot fathom that pan-African accent that they gave his character. I don't mean that his accent is unconvincing, though it is. I mean that it actively stops him from emoting, from project force and volume with his words, from acting, in short, restricting his entire performance to an awkward monotone that kills the movie's momentum whenever the main goddamn character has to speak for any length of time. This isn't a problem unique to Boseman. Other actors, good actors, from Angela Bassett to Lupita N'Yongo, have tremendous difficulty reciting the dialogue they have been given, this despite the fact that Bassett is a phenomenal actress (go watch Strange Days if you don't believe me), and N'yongo (also a phenomenal actress) is actually Kenyan, but is not allowed to use her native accent for the role.

Obviously not everyone is unable to overcome this issue. Leticia Wright manages just fine, as does Daniel Kaluuya (whom I didn't even recognize). Forest Whitaker basically retreats into his Idi Amin impression, which is fine by me, and the portion of the cast that is actually African (N'yongo excepted) has no trouble. But while I don't care that the accent is fake, nor that some people can't manage it, I definitely care when major actors the film are so busy struggling with it that they can't actually act. Boseman is not terrible uniformly, but he is the weakest element of a movie that is the also the star of. This is a problem.

And it's not the only one. The movie is structured very strangely, with two distinct halves that effectively represent completely different stories, tied together with editorial duct tape and bungee cord. Killmonger's character is well established, but considerable chunks of that establishment are thrown out around the midway point of the movie so as to re-establish him with other, different establishment. This second establishment is indeed stronger than the first, but it leaves one wondering what the point of the initial material was. The plot, meanwhile, is overwrought to the point of melodrama (admittedly, so is about half of the MCU), and less-forgivably, is entirely predictable, beat for beat, being one of the most convenitionally-plotted films the MCU has yet to give us. The other films in Marvel's canon are hardly the stuff of Neo-Noir, but many of them, even relatively bad ones, include interesting twists and developments, either in the characters' fortunes or the machinations of the bad guys. Black Panther meanwhile, plays like a first draft, uninspired in its plotting and with very little in the way of character significance for anyone concerned. It's a fun outing, don't get me wrong, but it tells us relatively little about anybody except the villain of the piece, and leaves most of the characters exactly where they started. This might be fine for a proof of concept popcorn flick, but it is not the stuff of great cinema. And contrary to the opinions of those too stuck up to care, much of the MCU is great cinema.

I did not hate Black Panther, nor even dislike it, and there are moments and even entire scenes that are fascinating, if only for the richness of the setting and the novelty of the world. It is also worth noting, of course, that I am a white guy reviewing a movie that is probably not entirely made for me. But while I acknowledge this factor, and do not seek to denigrate the experience of others who have seen the movie, the flaws in Black Panther are much more fundamental than those that afflicted last year's Wonder Woman, and do not, I believe, represent some kind of special coding which I am unable to perceive, as some of Wonder Woman's did. A flawed film remains a flawed film no matter who is making it, and Marvel's movies, being the product of an international media conglomerate the likes of which find few parallels in history, are explicitly intended as universalist efforts, whether or not they attain such heights. Black Panther too attempts to appeal to everyone, and in many cases succeeds, but as MCU films go, it is unavoidably one of the weaker efforts, providing us with the rare example of a Marvel film whose hero is weakly drawn, and who is propped up by its villain, when almost every other Marvel film is the precise opposite.

And now you know where that Alt-Title comes from.

Final Score: 6/10




A Wrinkle in Time

Alternate Title: A Platitude in Script

One sentence synopsis: The daughter of a missing astrophysicist must embark on an adventure with her younger brother and school friend to save him from the forces of darkness.


The Verdict: I receive criticism on occasion that I do not watch enough bad movies. This is generally criticism from those who enjoy my pain (which I assume to be true of all of you), and who want me to go and watch and then review some horrific piece of cinematic excrement that was obviously going to suck from the get-go. I reject these invitations, partially because I have a working brain, but also because there is no need. As I continuously remind people, I do not need to go looking for bad movies to see. By simple means of attempting to watch one film a week, and gauging their qualities purely on their trailers, the bad movies will find me eventually.

For example, we have A Wrinkle in Time.

Oh yes, A Wrinkle in Time is a bad movie, in fact it's an awful movie, a meaningless, smarmy, intensely boring piece of cinematic waste excreted by a director I had previously thought competent and must revise my opinions of accordingly. Brainless, stultifying and stupid, it is to children's films what Interstellar was to adult science fiction, a repudiation of whatever qualities its source material had and a strong incentive to seek for diabetes medication upon watching it. This is not a controversial opinion. I have seen this film compared negatively to Tomorrowland, and I'll remind you that I am the only person on Earth who liked Tomorrowland. Well even I couldn't stand A Wrinkle in Time. If it were not for the demands of my reviews, I would have left after five minutes.

I have nothing against children's films. Hell, I love good children's films, they can touch our souls the way that few things can, but a good children's film demands that someone have a sense of what the difference between whimsy and saccharine is, and Ava DuVernay, whatever her actual qualities are as a reasonable filmmaker, is not this person. The film is aggressively annoying, written in a disbelief-shatteringly on-the-nose fashion, a place where child and adult actors alike are forced to recite dialogue so wooden that I am currently re-enforcing my writing desk with one of the monologues. No character acts human in this movie, instead they stand around and use "As You Know" phrases over and over and over because the scriptwriter can't figure out how to shovel exposition into the audience's heads any other way. The children meanwhile do not act like kids anywhere, not even in the Disney sitcom land that this world takes inspiration from, but like pastiches of "bright-eyed eager youngsters", so squeaky-clean and inhuman that Leave it to Beaver would have rejected them as unrealistic. I understand that six-year-old Charles Wallace (the repeated name is never explained) is a super-genius. I should prefer that he also be a six-year-old boy than a robot programmed to spout "affirmations" every five seconds whilst others look on in rapt awe at how precious he is.

Indeed "precious" is a good word for this movie. Calvin, the boy next door to our main character Meg, looks and acts like he's auditioning for a younger version of One Direction, and spends the entire fucking film telling Meg over and over and over again that she's beautiful on the inside. I have nothing against the sentiment of wanting to teach such morals, but I have seen greater nuance in instilling them on episodes of Veggie Tales. Meg, meanwhile, must put up with the gamut of lazy scriptwriting cliche middle-school problems, from random, unexplained bullies, to stern, unfeeling principals, to teachers who gossip openly about the failings of their students in the hallways like a Greek Chorus. Once the adventure begins however, it's simply an unending barrage of positivity quotes taken from someone's page-a-day calendar on the subject, many of which come with attributions designed to be "quirky". If you removed from the movie all of the scenes in which Oprah (who I will remind you all, is a phenomenal actress) scolds Meg for not being sufficiently perky, happy, or positive (all without giving her any reasons to be perky, happy, or positive), then the film would be about thirteen minutes long. As it stands, generic "evil energy" must be combated by the power of... I don't even know. At least Interstellar had the balls to claim that love was the most powerful force in the universe. A Wrinkle in Time awards that distinction to generic contentedness.

A Wrinkle in Time is a truly wretched movie, one that was difficult, at least for me, to sit through, and inspired many a forlorn look at my smartphone as I desperately tried to determine how much of it was left. Whatever point I was through the film, the answer was always "too damn much", and the movie itself stands as a reminder that nobody, no matter how well praised or liked, is incapable of making a complete piece of crap.

Final Score: 3/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Apr 29, 2018 5:21 pm 
Dragon Death-Marine General
User avatar

Joined: Wed Jun 08, 2005 11:03 am
Posts: 14692
Location: Alone and unafraid
Blog: View Blog (1)
You know I didn't have a problem with the accent or understanding it. It's vaguely reminds me of some hard of hearing Africans I've known... So my grade for Black Panther would be a bit higher then yours. It doesn't dethrone any of my favorites like Winter Soldier or Guardians but I thought it a good entry. Although I did think some folks utterly lost their minds (I had one guy tell me this was the most important thing to happen to black Americans in the last 10 years and I had to ask... Huh, did a Black American becoming President get an asterisk or something?).

_________________
"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sat May 05, 2018 11:30 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Avengers: Infinity War

Alternate Title: Not Fucking Around

One sentence synopsis: The Avengers and their allies gather to try and stop Thanos from obtaining all of the Infinity Stones, and slaying half of the universe's life.


Things Havoc liked: For eleven years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been giving us movies, and for most of those eleven years, I have been reviewing them. Starting with Thor, back in 2011, I have reviewed fourteen of the fifteen Marvel movies that have been deployed since I began reviewing, skipping Civil War only due to personal reasons. And yet despite the multitude of movies I have reviewed, and the heaps of praise I have typically poured forth upon them, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the universe to turn bad in some kind of cosmic balancing act against the glories that the MCU has given us. Cinematic Universes like this just don't work. They can't work. Universal and Warner Brothers and a host of other examples dating back a hundred years have shown us that. This sort of thing just isn't sustainable long term, right? This has to come to an end. One way or another.

Infinity War, the culmination of a decade-plus work on the part of Marvel and Disney and directors and actors and filmmakers great and small, was, as a friend of mine put it, yet another chance for the entire project to fall apart. Every film is, of course, in one sense, but this one, a crossover involving more than two dozen major and twice that in minor characters, had every chance to blow the entire enterprise by proving that movies like this could not be made, for all the thousands of reasons obvious enough to anyone casually familiar with the making of movies. Though the eighteen Marvel films leading up to this one have all served as opportunities for failure, this was perhaps the greatest chance for Marvel to blow it yet. This was where they had to lay all their cards down and determine if the iron laws of filmmaking applied even to their lofty ambitions.

So did they pull it off? Well of course they pulled it off, you idiots, this is Marvel.

Infinity War is amazing. It is fantastic. It is glorious. It is an act of pure, cinematic arrogance deployed in praise of itself and the accomplishments of a studio that has conquered the cinematic world. It is a wonderful film that all but dares you to hate it, a movie full of glories (and a few missteps), replete with bone-shattering action and wonderful moments of characterization for characters we've all come to know so well, and even a few that we haven't. I enjoyed the hell out of it because I have always enjoyed the MCU, and this is the MCU throwing itself a party, while reducing its entire fanbase to shocked gasps and, according to the reports of many others who have seen the movie, blubbering tears.

This review is not going to be long enough to recap where we are in the MCU at this point, nor go through what I thought of all the characters therein. I've reviewed fourteen Marvel movies to this point, go look them up. But in a cast this large, the filmmakers manage to deftly grant everyone who needs it a moment of their own, even for characters I had previously little-to-no use for. So it is with Scarlett Witch and Vision (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany), who turn out to be more interesting than I had expected them to be, having formed a couple offscreen and contriving to bring some actual warmth to the scant time we are given to establish it. So it is with the characters set up between the last team-up movie and this one, with Spiderman, still expertly played by Tom Holland as the protoge/sidekick, willing or otherwise, of Tony Stark, himself a man trying desperately to keep himself together in the face of a truly world-shattering apocolypse. So it is with Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr. Strange, who has matured considerably since the beginning of his film, and brings a cynical wit to the occasions to bounce perfectly off of Robert Downey Jr.'s own masterful performance. I loved Cumberbatch and Holland in their respective films and I loved them here, but Downey's Tony Stark/Iron Man has always been my favorite, and this time we get a Stark who is truly desperate, throwing everything he has of himself and his ingenuity at the problem in the knowledge that it may simply not be enough. But better than any of that is Thor's part, Thor who got shortchanged in Avengers 2 by any account, but who here turns back up off the momentum of last year's superlative Ragnarok, and flows effortlessly into the Guardians of the Galaxy universe, and takes the whole "space-viking" theme that Thor's world had blended into to a whole new level. And so it is that we get space-dwarves forging space-weapons for space-gods so that they can do space-deeds worthy of space-sagas. And it is fucking awesome, though to say much more would involve spoilers that should not be spoken of.

All this, and I still haven't spoken of a good half of the cast, but that's because I have no time to. Suffice to say that all of them are awesome (though Chadwick Boseman still can't manage his goddamn accent), with even bit characters like Winston Duke's M'Baku livening the moments they are given. But all this I expected, I expected the cast to work wonders for they are the greatest cast of actors ever assembled for any cinematic project ever. What I didn't expect, what I thought could well sink the entire movie, was two other things, the first of which is Thanos.

You see, Thanos has been looming in the background of the MCU for nearly a decade, but we have seen nothing of him, and nothing would be easier than to make this arch-force of malevolance into nothing but a looming, monstrous, character-free CGI-fest, an excuse to punch something large for a while while reciting portentous dialogue about the inevitability of doom. Last year's Justice League apparently did just that. But Thanos as realized in this movie is nothing of the sort, instead forming a fully-realized, three-dimensional character laden with weight, emotional turmoil, and his own twisted internal logic, a charming, philosophizing psychopath who believes that the universe demands that he use semi-divine power to cull its population lest Malthusian catastrophe overcome it. Thanos is fascinating in this film, consitent, driven, warped, and yet very human, the protagonist, in a strange sense, of his own story, as though this film were another introductory movie bringing another character into the wider MCU world (which in a sense, it very much is). I've never been wild about the Malthusian-catastrophe-as-excuse-for-genocide plot device but this film, this comic book movie about magic rocks and a twelve-foot purple alien who wants to collect them, might be the best use I've ever seen that tired trope put to, and while plenty of the praise for this must go to the scriptwriters (veteran MCU duo Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), plenty more belongs to Josh Brolin, an actor I have never loved, but who with this role has finally won me over. I know the MCU has a reputation for bad villains, but Thanos exorcises that demon almost effortlessly. He is the most interesting villain Marvel has come up with since Loki, and he almost forces the movie to work around him.

I say 'almost', because of the second thing I thought would sink the project. The simple mechanical fact that a movie with nearly thirty main characters cannot be made. That to make such a thing is in defiance of all rules of screencraft, and that movies as varied as 13 Samurai and X-Men Apocalypse have shown why this is. But aparently nobody bothered to let the Russo brothers know about this, because they tried it anyway, and somehow, they made it work.

I... have seen lots of movies in my time, ladies and gentlemen. I've reviewed more than three hundred of them for you all here on this blog, and I have no idea how Infinity War worked at all. Maybe it didn't, and I simply have bad taste, but I think it did, and I think it has something to do with a screenplay and a direction style that just has no time to waste. There is no fat (almost) on this movie, every minute of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime is justified carefully and with great precision. This isn't to say I couldn't call out one choice over another, but the movie in and of itself is a doctoral thesis in how to make a film out of something unfilmable, in a way that only the most daring adaptations and films are. Like Fellowship of the Ring or 2001 or Watchmen, Infinity War's simple existence, its functional structure which bounces between half a dozen settings and three dozen characters without ever losing us or becoming nothing but a paceless mess, is itself a miracle. There is fighting in this movie, lots of it. There is pathos and loss, and humor and moments that are even touching. But every second of the film has been placed with precision and care, for if the Russo's, veteran MCU directors though they are, had done anything else, the entire movie would have imploded like a soap bubble.



Things Havoc disliked: None of this is to say that the movie is perfect, indeed there are moments that will drive viewers absolutely around the bend. Most of these are, I believe, intentional, but some are not. The juggling act to give each of the characters their defined characterization does slip once or twice, particularly in the case of Starlord, who is written a bit too buffoonish, contradicting some of the character growth we saw back in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. A single scene near the end (you'll know it when you see it), is a bit much, even for a man-child like Peter Quill.

But the big issue, for any movie that has to rely so heavily on narrative shorthand (in this case because there's no physical way to fit the narrative structure in otherwise), is telegraphing. A lot of this movie is pretty heavily telegraphed, either for events to happen later in the film or to happen in the followup. It's not so bad as to make the movie obvious and rote, but it has moments where you simply know what is to happen next and need to wait for the characters to come to the same state of awareness that you have. Granted, for most of the film, the pace is so damn fast that there isn't a lot of time to dwell on such things, but it still comes up, and not for the better.


Final Thoughts: 'Infinity War,' another reviewer claimed after walking out of it, 'was as good as it possibly could have been', and this sentiment is one that I wholly agree with. It is difficult to gauge it in the context of the other Marvel films, partly because it is incomplete, with a sequel due next year, and partly because it resembles none of them, not even the other team-up movies which led up to them. I adored it, but I can be counted upon to adore most Marvel films, and so what I give you as a final thought is simply my awe that such a project could have worked at all, that someone could have brought it into being after all this time and build-up and produced something that did not suck, did not disappoint, did not bring the characterization so painfully-crafted by its predecessors crashing to the ground, and even contrived to characterize more. The filmcraft, the staggering filmcraft on display in Infinity War is breathtaking, leaving aside the questions of nostalgia or excitement, or the joy at seeing beloved characters come to life.

Infinity War is the best film I have seen so-far in 2018. That itself does not say a great deal of course, but it remains true nonetheless. And when it comes to films that had no right to be as good as they were, there are few examples worthy of citing above this one, for this is the film that once and for all time proved that insofar as the MCU is concerned, the rules just don't apply.


Final Score: 8/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun May 20, 2018 7:11 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Now that the Infinity War is on hiatus for a while, let's see what else we saw this spring.

The General's Post Spring 2018 Roundup, Part 2




Pacific Rim: Uprising

Alternate Title: That's... better?

One sentence synopsis: The son of Stacker Pentacost and a war orphan with her own Jaeger must join the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps to help save the world from a resurgence of Kaiju.


The Verdict: I... did not like Pacific Rim. I think I might be the only one. I did not like it because it was goddamn boring, a slog of bad characters, piss-poor fights, cringeable comic relief, and no decent ideas beyond the first five minutes of the thing (and the bit with the cargo ship being used as a club, that was pretty cool.) Despite this, I did decide to see the new Pacific Rim movie. Why? Well partly because there was nothing else playing (an empty schedule is the best friend to a bad franchise), but also partly because it looked, trailerwise at least, like they had fixed some of the most obvious problems of the original. They had dropped Charlie Hunnam, the acting equivelant of a jar of mayonnaise, and replaced him with Star Wars' John Boyega. In film terms, this is like comparing the intellect of Donald Trump with that of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an upgrade so fundamental as to defy the term. And that wasn't the only thing they fixed. I objected to the way in which the previous film's love interest plot was hackneyed and useless, and the new film eliminates that entirely, replacing it with an (admittedly pretty generic) story about duty and finding oneself. I objected to all the fight scenes lacking a sense of scale, due to the majority of them being set way out to sea, rather than in settings filled with human-scale objects. The movie obliges by putting all the action in downtown Tokyo and Hong Kong, or in windswept arctic settings amidst massive, calving glaciers. If you took only a bullet point listing of the various elements of this film and compared it to my review, you might conclude that the filmmakers specifically had me in mind when they made the sequel. And for this, they are to be commended.

Does this mean the sequel is good? Um... no. No I'm afraid it does not.

Look, many of you liked Pacific Rim, but I think we're going to meet in the middle on this one and call it "average". Uprising is an average movie, with average action, average acting, average thrills in service of an average plot. It never falls to the level of boring, but neither does it raise more than the occasional twinge of interest as it mechanically moves from plot point to plot point. The original film did well in China, so we have the obligatory censor-pleasing throwaway valiant Chinese government official added into the original mix, the praise of Chinese industrial conglomorates, who always act forthrightly and without corruption in their quest to improve the world, and so forth. Meanwhile our main characters learn well-trod lessons in well-trod manners before getting together for the obligatory fight sequence at the end of the film, wherein only they can save the very world. The result is a movie that feels like Independence Day: Resurgence, but without the camp value that the aforementioned sequel had. Even the comic relief, which last time was insufferable and stupid, now feels just tired and obligatory, and while Boyega does his best with the material he's given, the film patently lacks for Idris Elba and Ron Perlman, who at the very least have the experience to elevate a movie like this one.

Pacific Rim Uprising was worth a shot, but ultimately the movie just isn't about anything beyond milking the Chinese market for all it's worth and moving on with everyone's life, which is what I now intend to do with this franchise as a whole should the PRC decide it's worthwhile to make a third.

Final Score: 5.5/10




The Death of Stalin

Alternate Title: Banned in Russia

One sentence synopsis: Stalin's death in 1953 throws the tightly-wound Soviet Politburo into chaos as the members struggle to determine who will come out on top.


The Verdict: "Dictators are comical," said Charlie Chaplin once. "My job is to make people laugh at them." He said that in reference to his classic "The Great Dictator", which was about Hitler and Mussolini, and now here comes veteran Scottish satyrist Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It, and In the Loop, to do the same with their Soviet counterpart. The resulting film got itself banned from Russia and its sattelites for being disrespectful to a murderous dictator, which was all the impetus I needed to go and see the thing. Call this the Anti-Interview.

The Death of Stalin stars a number of wonderful actors, from Steve Buscemi to Simon Russell Beale, to Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, and the absolutely irreplaceable Jason Isaacs, all of whom are playing senior members in the Soviet Aristocracy, craven bootlickers by necessity, who must kowtow to Stalin at all times while maneuvering among one another to stay alive. Stalin's death, early in the film, throws these men up against one another, be it the secret reformer Kruschev (Buscemi) to the psychotic and pederastic Beria (Beale) to the utterly weak Malenkov (Tambor), and the movie itself consists of their maneuverings, political and otherwise, as they scheme and plot and try to remain in control of events that are happening more or less automatically. Autocracies all resemble one another in the end, after all, and so the pomp and circumstance provides the backdrop for absurdist humor of a very British sort, where officiousness is the joke, and reality the punchline, and the deaths of thousands of people, which occur regularly in this film, are merely the sticks that the players can use to beat one another and maybe survive until the next day. The only person not playing the game, as it were, is Grand Marshall of the Soviet Union Georgi Zhukov (Isaacs), who is the goddamn best thing in the entire movie, a hard-drinking Russian general who knows himself to be inviolate, and who has no interest in who takes over, which grants him a freedom nobody else in the film has, one he exploits with savagely-hilarious gusto. The movie needs this counterpoint to the tightly-wound businessmen in their identical grey suits desperately trying not to be shot. This is still a comedy after all.

So is Death of Stalin a masterpiece? Well I'm not sure about that. The humor is very British, by which I mean dry as a desert, and that's just not always my taste. Rather than make people ridiculous, it tends to simply portray things as they were and let the absurdity of their situation carry the comedy. This is a bold and stylish choice, but it also results in a hell of a lot of tonal whiplash, which may or may not have been unavoidable, but is still present. Sometimes letting characters be themselves works great. Stalin's children, entitled, spoiled-rotten, delusional, divorced from everyday life to the point of derangement, are played by Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough, two actors I've never much liked, but who find their calling in playing bitchy, dramatic, drunken wrecks with whom our main characters must deal because the alternative could wind them up shot. At the same time though, the film struggles to find something to do with characters whose roles were not that funny, such as Foreign Minister Molotov (Palin), who is basically there because Michael Palin was in Monty Python, and is consequently British comedic royalty. There just isn't a lot of humor to be wrung from straightforward depictions of torture, rape, and husbands publicly turning on their wrongly-accused wives, and so we're back to the tonal whiplash again.

But all that having been said, The Death of Stalin is one of the better films I've seen this year, a movie I was looking forward to since it was announced and am privileged to have seen and supported. I encourage everyone here to do the same, as doing so will aggravate other, less murderous but no less comical dictators with whom we are forced to deal nowadays. And that's really the best thing that can come from any movie, now isn't it?

Final Score: 7/10




Isle of Dogs

Alternate Title: Arch-Anderson

One sentence synopsis: A young boy in Japan searches for his dog on the island that the nation's dogs have been all banished to.


The Verdict: I do like Wes Anderson and always have, my reviews of Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel have indicated as much, but there has always been a certain sense about him that he risks disappearing up his own ass after a point. Wes Anderson films are so distinctive that other movies with wide-angle perpendicular shots are compared to him automatically, as are films with casts of twenty thousand. There are risks, in establishing such a style, that the accidents of one's typical filming style are going to swallow the actual filmcraft. Just ask M. Night Shayamalan.

Nevertheless, here we are with another Wes Anderson film, for which he has eschewed the temporal plane altogether this time, and decided to proceed with an animated film, done in woodcut Japanese style, in Japanese, with and without subtitles as he deems it appropriate. Anderson himself has described the film as being if Kurosawa made a Rankin/Bass stop-motion picture, and while I would shudder to compare this film to anything Kurosawa ever did, the intention is there and plain to see. Great masses of computers and highly-qualified artists have been employed to ensure that we have a film that looks as cheap and as homespun as possible, and while normally that sort of thing fails, the movie does a bang-up job of producing something that actually looks like an Anderson picture. Wes Anderson's movies have always had a dreamlike quality to them, and animation suits that very well, what with its ability to frame and composite any way you choose. The stylization is unsubtle (determining who the bad guys are in the film is made easier when they look like the Butler from the Addams Family), but it does the job.

Anderson's other claim to fame is for his giant casts, however, and this is both a blessing and a curse, and always has been. Having enormous, highly-talented casts, fills every role, even inconsequential ones, with a tremendous amount of interesting choices and fun. But it also ensures that Anderson movies have to scramble to find things for their various characters to do. Anderson can't ever make a movie about a single character's life, because there would be no room for the eight hundred and fourteen other major actors he needs to squeeze into the movie. It's a dance he's well accustomed to, and has pulled off repeatedly before, but this time it's harder than it was, because Isle of Dogs, at its core, is a "Boy and his Dog" movie, which does not leave a lot of room for meaty roles beyond those of the aforementioned Boy and his aforementioned Dog. Oh plenty of other shit transpires, from political conspiracies and murder, to public health scares, ancient curses, samurai legends, twists of motivation and plot, several love interests that have nothing to do but take up time, and an entirely out-of-place subplot about a foreign exchange student from Iowa who becomes a rabble rouser. But while most Anderson films also have their nested forest of subplots, this is the first film of Anderson's I've seen that felt burdened with them, as though the movie could not get on with it because Scarlett Johansson and F. Murray Abraham hadn't had their scenes yet.

I know I'm being negative here, but that's only because I expect a lot from Wes Anderson nowadays, and Isle of Dogs, while a good film, does not clear his high bar. The movie is enjoyable, highly unpredictable, and has practically every major actor in Hollywood in it, albeit in voice roles. If that's all you want from a film, then Isle of Dogs will do very nicely for you. But if you were hoping that Anderson would outdo himself after the triumph that was The Grand Budapest Hotel, I'm afraid you may need to bark up another tree.

I regret nothing.

Final Score: 6.5/10




You Were Never Really Here

Alternate Title: The Taxi Driver's Still Here

One sentence synopsis: An ex-FBI agent tries to rescue a young girl from sexual slavery.


The Verdict: "Joaquin Phoenix is remaking Taxi Driver." That was basically all I needed to hear to sign on to this one. I can't say I love Joaquin Phoenix, but I have liked a good deal of his work, especially in his older, crazier phase, after the massive and disastrous publicity-stunt/trolling-attempt that was I'm Still Here and his abortive rap career (anyone who can make David Letterman look like a fool has got my thumb's up). As to Taxi Driver, well it's a masterpiece of course, and I was all in for a weird, psychological trip into dark places, especially as written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, the Glaswegian director of Ratcatcher and We Need to Talk About Kevin. Ramsay likes her films dark and twisted and full of weird shit, and this sounded like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Stop judging me.

So how is the movie? Wellllll... it's weird. It's really weird. Phoenix plays Joe, a combat veteran with terrible PTSD, not the fun or uplifting kind, but the real kind, the kind he has to treat by gargling drugs and beating people who annoy him with his fists. Formerly a cop of some sort, Joe is now a rescuer of young girls, who tracks them to the underground, underage brothels that movies like to imagine exist in every other corner of every major city, brutally murders their staff with a hammer, and takes them back to their families. Hired to do this for a State Senator, whose daughter has disappeared, he vanishes into a web of corruption, politics, and very very unreliable narrators.

And it's just a mess. Joe is a completely broken soul, not on the edge like Travis Bickle, but so far past the edge that he doesn't remember which direction it's in. He hallucinates throughout the film, sometimes in shocking sequences of some power, but usually in sequences that rob the audience of any sense of what in the living hell is supposed to be going on here. In a film like Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream this might have worked, but this is no psycho-drama within the character's head. Not only is he a hallucinating paranoiac, but people are actually trying to kill him, and this undercuts the film's emphasis on Joe's mental state by placing him in a world in which everyone is insane, a world where the cops gleefully murder dozens of people in public so as to prevent them from opposing the Governor of New York's efforts to turn his mansion into a permanent orgy for underaged girls. Even in the 80s, this would have been over the top, and the juxtaposition of an insane protagonist in an insane world is never commented on. We are expected to accept that this is a world in which pedophilia is just fine and dandy, but that the man who hallucinates is insane because the gritty, realistic world he is in has denied him the help he needs.

I tried, I really tried to like You Were Never Really Here, as it's the kind of movie I tend to like. Hell, I had nice things to say about Only God Forgives, for Christ's sake. But a movie I can't follow, which annoys me when I can follow it, is not going to win a lot of points from me. You Were Never Really Here is well made and well acted, but to what purpose, I have no idea.

Final Score: 5/10




RBG

Alternate Title: Notorious RBG

One sentence synopsis: A look at Ruth Bader Ginsberg's life and career as a supreme court justice.


The Verdict: I can't take credit for the alt title on this one, people. If the filmmakers had had any sense, they'd have used it themselves.

RBG is a look at the life and times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Brooklyn-born Jewish jurist who became the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court. Now in her 80s, Ginsberg has served on the court for 25 years, overseeing much landmark legislation, trying and judging cases, and becoming infamous for the number and quality of her dissents from the opinions of her fellow justices. But you all, being erudite persons of culture and wit (I assume you must be so if you read this blog), knew all this already, and are not here to have a hagiography or wikipedia bio-summary dropped on you, but to find out if the biographical documentary made about Justice Ginsberg is any good.

Well yes, yes it is. It's one of those sober, respectful, documentaries that tell us all we ever wanted to know about a person's life, intercut with scenes from their more recent life. Life Itself, the documentary biopic on Roger Ebert, was similar, save that for some reason its filmmakers decided to focus exclusively on Ebert's decrepitude and impending death, rather than on the man's works. No such muddle disrupts the movie here. We get a long list of history on Ginsberg's life, her education at Harvard, her struggles to be accepted as a litigating attorney in New York as a woman, and her gradual push into civil rights law, first as an attorney, then as a judge. We learn, as I did not know, that Ginsberg was a well-known figure at the Supreme Court long before she joined it, having fought six cases there as a litigator and won five of them. I further did not know her centrality to the wider march of Women's rights in the United States long before reaching the bench, her calculated strategy of dismantling patriarchal structures piece by piece, occasionally by means of taking cases where men were being discriminated against to make a wider point. I was tangentially though not fully familiar with the fact that she maintained a long friendship with Anton Scalia, the rock-anchor of the Arch-Conservative wing of the Supreme Court for many years. As the two were political opposites, this was a friendship which mystified everyone for whom political orthodoxy is a prerequisite for human interaction, which is to say, idiots.

And that's... really all there is to RBG. It's a victory lap by a public figure who has won great plaudits from the country as a whole. It does not sidestep the stridency of the political times we live in now, but neither does it speak in woeful, hand-wringing terms, about how noble politics and justice "used to be". It simply tells of the life of a woman who has shaped our times, and who, God willing, will continue to do just that into the future. If that sort of thing interests you, then my recommendation is that you go and see it. And if it does not, then my recommendation is that you wait for Deadpool 2.

Sorry, did I just spoil my next review?

Final Score: 7/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2018 10:44 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Deadpool 2

Alternate Title: Wait for the End Credits

One sentence synopsis: Deadpool must save a mutant boy from being killed by a time-travelling bionic commando named Cable.


Things Havoc liked: 2016's Deadpool was a goddamn miracle, even in this era where superhero movies have conquered the world, primarily because it was about a character that should have been unfilmable, given the fourth-wall-shredding madness that it customarily came with. And yet somehow, by the grace of God and Ryan Reynolds, they pulled it off, producing a madcap lunatic movie filled with all of the raunchy humor and general narrative absurdity that one should properly think of when one imagines "Deadpool: The Movie". Having drastically outperformed expectations, it is only fitting that the film be rewarded with a sequel, so here we are.

So how is it? Well... it's good! Primarily because Ryan Reynolds is still in it, and Ryan Reynolds is still awesome. There was a consensus among friends of mine that Ryan Reynolds, despite all the awful movies he made a habit of making (Blade 3, RIPD, Green Lantern, X-Men Origins Wolverine...) was not a bad actor, but simply one who was waiting for that one movie that he would make, to make everyone fall in love with him again. I don't know that anyone except him thought that Deadpool would be that movie, but it's a personal labor of love for Reynolds (he co-wrote the thing this time), and it shows. Reynolds is just as perfect for this round as he was before, indeed his performance is slightly more subtle than it was, imbuing Deadpool with a bit more of a settled, cool affect. There were moments in the last movie where I felt that the film was trying a bit too hard. There are no such moments this time.

All the old favorites from last time are back. Collosus (Stefan Kapičić), Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), and Weasel (TJ Miller, who will likely not be appearing in the third film after getting caught calling fake bomb threats in against New York trains). But there are also a number of additions, foremost among them Josh Brolin, whom we last saw like two weeks ago in another Marvel film, this time playing the time travelling cyborg Cable. All of a sudden, I've become a huge fan of Brolin's, thanks to the incredible work he did on Infinity War. This round isn't quite as demanding, as Cable is basically a foil to Deadpool's insanity, but Brolin, as it turns out, is an incredibly good straightman to the antics of the Merc with a Mouth. Cable joins the cast by virtue of traveling back in time to slay a dangerous mutant who will one day do horrific things, the mutant in question being Firefist (Hunt for the Wilderpeople's Julian Dennison) a pyrokinetic kid stuck in a horrific situation, whose bitterness at the abuses he has suffered threatens to boil over into a cataclysm of pent-up frustration and rage.

Oh I'm sorry, did I forget to mention the themes of child abuse and murder that are riven into Deadpool 2? Because it's there, alongside a bunch of other heavy stuff, like suicide, depression, the pain of loss, and so forth. Why is all of this present in a madcap comedy? Because Reynolds and his co-writers (Paul Wernack and Rhett Resse, returning from the original) understand that the strength of the original Deadpool was that it wasn't a straight comedy, but tempered with a great deal of relationship drama, well-excuted relationship drama at that, which cut the insanity just enough for your average moviegoer (or your above-average movie critic) to get into the movie without being put off by a world without rules. Deadpool 2 doubles down on this concept, using its lunacy to get into some heavy topics, and coming off reasonably well across the board for all that. Family-style drama is hard to play straight, and yet ironically, it's Deadpool, Deadpool of all movies that pulls it off in a superhero context, better than practically any film I've ever seen. And it's not like this isn't tried, for half the superhero movies out there involve characters forming a surrogate family, and almost none of them do it as well as Deadpool does, in between the shirtdick gags and the R-rated ultraviolence.


Things Havoc disliked: Sooo... do y'all know what "Fridging" is?

"Fridging" is a term invented about twenty years ago by Comic author Gail Simone (a former writer of Deadpool), a trope found in comics whereby a female character is murdered, injured, or otherwise thrown out of the story so as to make the male character she is closest to sad, vengeful, or enraged. It's a veeery common trope in comics, and it is regarded, generally, as a lazy one (to say nothing else), a cheap way of generating pathos whilst robbing the audience of a potentially interesting character. Not every character who gets fridged is an interesting one, of course (one could argue that John Wick's dog got fridged, and nobody batted an eye there), but some of them are, and in Deadpool 2, the one that gets hit with the refrigerator is arguably one of the best characters from the first movie, Monica Baccarin's Vanessa.

No, I'm not giving the movie away, this literally comes before the opening credits, nor is the fridging standard by several metrics (which I shall not go into), but the fact is that one of the best things from the first movie is cashed out just to provide a bit of plot motivation for Deadpool himself, and that's just lazy goddamn writing right there, and there's no other way to put it. Fridging is a contentious subject among pop culture critics, and one that I have no interest in diving down, but on a narrative level, the point of writing characters out of a story is to get something out of it, either audience shock or narrative development, or yes, character growth from the remaining party members, and the return on investment that Deadpool 2 gets from shock-eliminating one of its strongest elements from the last time around is grossly disproportionate for what was given up. Deadpool is a character that can evolve any way the writers want, he's literally insane for God's sake, and the writers have shown themselves more than capable of evolving him along the razor's edge of what the film can support, and it strikes me, both now and as I was watching the film, that this was the first-draft response, and that no additional thought was put into it.

Neither am I impressed by the film's attempts to replace Vanessa with a brand new super-kewl character that we are supposed to care about (I SAID CARE ABOUT THEM DAMMIT) by the name of Domino (Zazie Beetz). I've never liked Domino in the comics or out of them, as the character's shtick (preternatural luck) means that there is never any meaningful tension as to whether or not she will get out of a situation, nor any reason to cause her to have to exert herself in any way, as lady luck will come to her rescue automatically. It's like if Death from the Final Destination universe were to come to life as an actual character, it's a character built on contrivances and narrative convenience, it sucks. And the screenwriters knew it too, because they basically stop the movie for ten minutes so that we can all bear witness to how awesome Domino is, how amazing it is that circumstances arrange itself for her to give no shits because she's protected by narrative fiat. This is the mark of an insecure screen element, and even if it were not, detatched apathy is a sensibility that only works in limited circumstances in movies, and certainly not in your epic superhero tale that is trying desperately to convince you has a heart.

Ultimately, all things being equal, Deadpool 2 just isn't as sharp as Deadpool 1 was. The jokes are just a little more forced, the action just a little more rote, the sentiment just a little less real, the writing just a little less expert. We've already proven that Deadpool can exist in his own movie, somehow, and so a bit of let down was probably inevitable, as the shock of just what Deadpool is has worn off a little bit. Still, there was unquestionably a part of me that hoped that the magicians who managed to put the original together in defiance of all common sense, might have been able to avoid a sophomore slump.

Pity.


Final Thoughts: I don't want to give the wrong impression here, for Deadpool 2 is, ultimately, a good movie, one that I enjoyed, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who liked the first film. In a way, it is lightning striking twice, a return to the well that yields water almost as sweet as the first draught. That the movie ultimately relies on narrative tropes that are dated and tired to get its point across prevents it from being great, but not from being good, nor from being a worthwhile watch to anyone interested in the Superhero film as an art form.

Oh, and incidentally, Deadpool 2 has the greatest mid-credits sequence of any movie ever. That sequence alone earned it another half-point.


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."


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2018 11:59 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Solo

Alternate Title: Bros Before Hos

One sentence synopsis: Han Solo tries to escape a dead-end life of poverty and gutter-running on Corellia by joining up with a crew of thieves and outcasts from across the Galaxy.


Things Havoc liked: I was not a big fan of Rogue One, Star Wars' first foray into the standalone movies that they were establishing separate from the mainline continuities, mostly because the movie, while interesting enough in theme and style, had way too many characters and not enough time to establish any of them. I was consequently not entirely enthusiastic about the prospect of a Solo Solo movie , as the trailers were underwhelming, and the idea rather obvious, I thought. I try not to let rumors of production madness affect my judgment on films, but there was that as well, with directors being fired for not doing what the studio wanted and other directors and actors being hurriedly hired to fix things in post. All this together produced a movie I had little expectation for, and went into figuring that, whatever happened, at least it was unlikely to be Attack of the Clones.

So, was Solo any good? Well to my surprise, yes. Yes it was. Not great mind you, but still quite good, better than I expected it to be given the combination of rumor, hearsay, and scheduling that was being leveraged against it. And the primary reason for all of this, as so often, is the cast.

Alden Ehrenreich, an actor I have seen in Hail, Caesar, and little else, is tasked with somehow trying to replace Harrison Ford in the titular role, and while I was skeptical of such, he manages actually fairly well with the role. Is he better than Ford was? Of course not. But he manages to be recognizably Han Solo, albeit a younger, less cynical version of our favorite roguish scoundrel, and that's more difficult a task than it appears to be. He's assisted by a secondary cast that overall manages well, including Emilia Clarke, Danarys Targarian herself, as Qi'ra, a fellow gutter runner from the slum planet of Corellia, who manages, like Han, to somehow work her way out. I've not been a fan of Clarke's non-GoT roles in the other movies I've seen her in (the execrable Terminator: Genesys being the first to come to mind), but she's actually pretty decent this time around, sharing workable chemistry with Ehrenreich, and avoiding the stone-faced routine that she's usually engaged in with her other roles.

No Solo movie would be complete without a cast of ruffians, rogues, thieves, and gangsters of course, and by and large the film fills itself with a good catalogue thereof. Woody Harrelson, who has increasingly become an actor I look forward to as he's gotten older, plays Tobias Beckett, an older smuggler and criminal who winds up taking the younger Han under his wing and into his crew, comprised of Thandie Newton and a four-armed alien creature played by Jon Favreau. Despite limited time to set up and get to know these characters, unlike in Rogue One, we get a good sense of camaraderie and lived-in understandings, and a clear sense of the world and place these people fit into, even as the cast swells with the addition of everything from a revolutionary droid-rights activist, to Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, who has been playing the character in the new films, and with whom Han's relationship works very well), to Paul Bettany as a last-minute addition to the cast, playing the requisite crime syndicate leader, lording his power over everyone, partying and killing with equal efficiency, and snarling at people constantly in the best Jabbaesque tradition. Bettany doesn't do much beyond reprise his performance in Legend with a few extra scars on his face, but it works.

The best thing in the movie though? Donald Glover, Childish Gambino himself, an actor I've never liked (though I am assured this is because I've not seen him in the correct roles), but who is absolutely spot-on perfect as a younger Lando Calrissian. Unlike Han's grubby background, Glover plays Lando as a conman and cardshark, a charming gambler with a rakish side to him, the sort of man who can both handle a blaster and keep a wardrobe full of half-capes at the ready, because a man must look stylish to play the proper part. Glover has everything down, the cool, charming affect, the Billy-Dee Williams cadence, the magnetism of a character who was once the only black guy in the galaxy. It's a performance good enough to convince me that I was probably wrong about Glover the entire time, that his role in The Martian was a fluke of bad directing or something, and that he's an actor to watch moving forward.



Things Havoc disliked: The plot of Solo is nothing to write home about, for all the twists and turns that it takes. Aspirational kid gets out of bad situation, gets in trouble, gets himself out of trouble, finds more trouble, etc etc... It's not done poorly done or anything, and indeed there are some sequences that are fairly inspired, such as a quiet heist that gets turned into a massive revolution almost by accident. Overall though, the film is fairly formulaic, and gets moreso as the movie continues. And that's something of the problem.

You see, Solo was supposed to have been directed by The Lego Movie's Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, a superb directing team who have already once struck gold with a movie that had a pretty standard plot to it. For whatever reason, this arrangement failed, and Lord and Miller were taken off the project and replaced by Ron Howard. Though Howard is one of the finest directors working, he was brought late into the project, had bare weeks left to shoot and reshoot key scenes, something not helped by having to re-cast major characters and hire acting coaches for others. Don't get me wrong, Howard did a credible job, but the seams between what he put together and what Lord and Miller did are obvious and visible, and result in the movie being both overlong (two different plots have to be established one after the next), and possessed of a weak third act that seems a let down from what came before it. I don't blame Howard for this at all, mind you, nor veteran editor Pietro Scalia (of Gladiator, Kick Ass, and Black Hawk Down). They did the best they could with the circumstances they were handed. I blame whatever studio shenanigans resulted in this decision being made in the first place, because for all Howard and Scalia's efforts, the film left me wanting to watch the rest of Lord and Miller's version, as that one promised to be much more interesting than what we ultimately got.



Final Thoughts: Still, I can only get so angry at a movie for failing to be as good as the Lego Movie, and despite its patched together state, Solo is actually a pretty damn good little film, entertaining throughout and palpably fun in a way that bad Star Wars media is not. Neither weighty like the new films or Rogue One, nor stupid like the prequels, it stands as its own thing, a partial (and conditional) vindication of the concept of the Star Wars anthology series, good enough at least to warrant a look, and to justify its existence. I'm uncertain if there are more sequels to Solo in the offing, the film hints at possibilities at the very least, but given what we have here, I'm at least open to the possibility.

If nothing else, it's a better idea than the Boba Fett: Origins movie they've continuously threatened to make.


Final Score: 7/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2018 11:07 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Upgrade

Alternate Title: Poor Life Choices

One sentence synopsis: A man crippled by the attack which killed his wife seeks an experimental AI-implanted surgery to enable him to seek revenge.


Things Havoc liked: I've talked a lot about MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW movies (that stands for Middle-Aged-Everyman-Who-Is-Secretly-A-Massive-Badass-And-Kills-Everyone-Who-Threatens-His-Women) on this little project of mine, in such fine fare as the Taken sequels and the Equalizer (soon to get an entirely unearned sequel of its own). But the truth is that the MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW-film is really nothing more than a sub-genre of another, similarly-august type of film, the Revenge thriller. Revenge thrillers go way, waaaaay back, at least as far back as 1974's Death Wish, the Charles Bronson movie that spawned an entire series of films of decreasing quality, and inspired a genre that includes its own remake from earlier this year. I am neither in favor of nor against the Revenge Thriller, it is a genre like any other, but I was intrigued by one that offered to combine it with the cyberpunk techno-thriller genre to create something at least slightly different.

Upgrade stars Logan Michael-Green, the very, very poor man's Tom Hardy, as an auto mechanic named Grey who, in keeping with the theme of the genre, has his life turned upside down when a group of hardened criminals ambush him and his wife, killing her and crippling him. Traditional Revenge movies would involve him proceeding to train rigorously as a badass with the intention of taking violent, cinematic vengeance against those who have wronged him. The trick this time though, is that as a quadriplegic, Michael Green needs the assistance of the obligatory antisocial Tech genius (Harrison Gilbertson), who outfits him with a revolutionary new cybernetic system called STEM (SYMBOLISM!!!). This bypasses the need for the obligatory training montage, by enabling STEM to take control of Grey's body and eradicate his enemies with judicious Kung-Fu and General Ultra-violence. I have never been much of a fan of Michael-Green's, (his greatest previous claim to fame was Prometheus of all things), but it can't be denied that he meets the demands of the physical acting required to portray a man controlled by a robot which is kung-fu fighting, evidencing a minimalist combat-style that is actually quite unique in my vast experience of watching people beat the shit out of one another on screen. I won't go as far as to say that I became a fan of Michael-Green through this performance, Prometheus looms large in my memory, but he helps the movie more than he hurts it, and that isn't nothing.

Upgrade was written and directed by Australian horror author and director Leigh Whannell, formerly of the Insidious series and some of the Saw sequels. Upgrade never gets to the point of torture porn films, but has a rather unique body-horror twist on the general Revenge-movie formula, involving the semi- and involuntary takeover of one's body by external forces, as well as the panic when those forces begin to fail. Whannell's direction isn't inspired, but the film has twists in it I didn't expect going in even accounting for the oddity of the genre-mashing premise. Revenge movies tend to be extremely simplistic affairs, our hero kills the bad men until he is done doing so. Occasionally someone, usually a woman, will fret over the inhumanity of the violence he is unleashing, but the film does not stop said violence until the bad men are dead, roll credits. Upgrade does not take a novel moral approach to this question, (something the actual Death Wish novel did, interestingly enough), but it does bring a bit of modern horror sensibility to its mashup. The direction and cinematography are dark and gruesome where they need to be, though no more. Overall the term "workmanlike" comes to mind thinking of Upgrade. It manages to avoid embarrassing itself, not a small feat given the pedigree of its actors and director.



Things Havoc disliked: You can't gauge a movie like this one on the same lines that you could Casablanca or a Star Wars film. Moreso than anything else, Upgrade is a genre piece, and must be judged by the conventions of its genre, in this case R rated action thrillers. And by those standards, one must admit that Upgrade doesn't quite measure up. It's not that the film is terrible, it isn't, but there is little for an MPAA censor to become upset about. I have a long and tempestuous history with R-rated action films and this one could have been PG-13 with about 30 seconds of footage removed. That is not a compliment. I understand, this was an Australian micro-budget production with very little room for fancy effects, but when I go to see a R-rated action-body horror movie, I expect to see some real shit, man, not two-minute sections of awkward Kung-Fu followed by a little bit of blood. There's just not enough here to justify the great claims that a movie that pretends to be re-inventing the action genre makes, and as a result, true aficionados of the genre (both of them) need not worry that they are missing something earthshattering in this one.

There is also the acting, which I would dearly love to say very little about, and cannot, because it generally sucks. I know I praised the physical work of Michael-Green, but the rest of the cast is pretty lackluster, even accounting for the fact that they're mostly Australian micro-production actors of no real pedigree. Everyone is wooden, reciting their lines with a bare minimum of emphasis, generally in the wrong places. People calmly and glibly ask not to be murdered by screaming psychopaths, while overselling perfectly basic comments to one another over dinner. The body horror aspect becomes forced after a while, with developments like guns built laboriously into people's arms (the advantages thereby offered over just carrying a damn gun do not jump out at me) which are utterly useless except to "shock" us with their horror (um... noooo?). The movie never becomes boring or outright bad, but the mechanics of the basic building blocks are not in order, and that does limit how good the thing can become.



Final Thoughts: Upgrade is a decent little film, if nothing more, though nothing that will either give you a rush of supreme excitement to be remembered through the years, nor that will keep you up at night from its terrifying horror elements. It's a reasonably clever little film about cyborgs beating the crap out of one another that doesn't intend to be a whole lot more than the above sentence. If that sounds like it's your cup of tea, then go forth and bear witness. And if not, well, there are worse things for you to catch on late night cable in a few years' time.


Final Score: 6/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2018 10:32 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Red Sparrow

Alternate Title: Trigger Warning

One sentence synopsis: A ballet dancer becomes a Russian spy at a specialized training school, before being assigned to uncover the identity of a mole in the Russian intelligence service.


Things Havoc liked: The whole point of seeing one movie a week is that I get to see everything I want to, and nothing I don't, something I continuously remind the people who insist that I go see godawful pieces of obvious crap for their amusement. Overall, this system has worked well for me, but it's not perfect, as occasionally the movies stack up in such a way that I miss something I was hoping to catch. So it was with Red Sparrow, a spy thriller that looked, according to the trailers, like a cross between Atomic Blonde and the Black Widow movie that Marvel has been threatening to make for quite some time, all starring one of my favorite working actresses. So when, recently, I had a chance to double back and actually catch this one, I was excited to have a chance to do so?

So what did I think? I think the trailer house responsible for this one are filthy, filthy liars.

Why? Because Red Sparrow is not what it was sold to me as. It is not some kind of spy thriller romp through the badass parts of spydom. No, sir, it's something entirely different, and this fact is something anyone considering the movie needs to bear in mind. Red Sparrow has nothing to do with Black Widow or Spygame or other movies about the cool parts of spywork, it instead draws inspiration from two places: John leCarre movies about the bland, thankless, awful parts of real spywork, and I Spit on Your Grave.

Yeah, the Trigger Warning above was real, folks. Dig in.

Red Sparrow, based on an award-winning novel from a former CIA operative, is about a Russian ballerina named Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), who, following a career-ending injury, is forced by her connected uncle to join the ranks of spy workers, called Sparrows, who train in the arts of seduction, emotional manipulation, and general ruthlessness to advance the Russian policy of "Kompromat" (the discovery and exploitation of compromising material on foreign assets) by means of (I'm not making this word up) "Sexpionage". Everything is portrayed in as realistic a manner as possible, from the dehumanizing training methods, to the constant one-eye-over-your-shoulder means by which such agents are required to go about their actual work, with very little to look forward to beyond being dragged back home for an even more dehumanizing "debriefing"/interrogation. It should be said that Lawrence is very good at portraying all of this (even if her Russian accent is less only slightly more convincing than Scarlett Johanson's). She nails the paranoia and helplessness of the character, who is in a position wherein staying alive for five more minutes is contingent on her willingness to do unspeakable, disgusting things, and where the danger comes not from the CIA, but from her own handlers.

As you can imagine, this all makes Red Sparrow a very bleak movie, something director Francis Lawrence (Hunger Games, Constantine) takes as many pains as possible to reinforce. The color palate is all muted greys and overcast, icy landscapes, the sterile confines of doctors' offices and the dingy interiors of FSB black sites. Characters are constantly being forced to strip naked and cast aside moral distinctions, to do one disgusting, vile task after another, to seduce one another and spy on each other for the slimmest of political advantages. The music (Longtime Lawrence collaborator James Newton Howard) is dour and laden with pregnant minor chords, building an air of paranoia across the board. It's a quintessential film school movie, ultimately, where all the elements reinforce the tone of the thing, and are available to be broken down into their constituent parts so that essays like these ones can be written about them.



Things Havoc disliked: Which is all well and good, but we're not in film school here, we're here to talk about movies to see and movies to avoid, and all that bleakness is going to (hell, HAS) resulted in a big old warning sign being stapled on the film for a considerable number of people.

Look, I'm no enemy to bleak films. I thought Wind River was one of the best movies of last year. But there needs to be a point to all of it for such movies to be worthy of a recommendation, and Red Sparrow... struggles to find one. I know that the practice of spywork resembles John leCarre more than it does James Bond. I know that real spywork is not glamorous but thankless, boring busiwork carried out by mediocre men in airless rooms. I know all these things because fifty different films from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold onwards have taught me them, and so I need something beyond "Being a spy sucks" to justify being dragged through it all once again, especially when the film in question advertises itself as being a fun spy romp in the style of Salt. I've always said that it's not fair to criticize a movie for not being another movie, but it is fair to criticize a movie for not being the movie it pretended to be during the marketing push, and Red Sparrow sets off that alarm loud and clear.

Ultimately, the movie is just not enjoyable in a way that fun spy romps are made to be. It is a cryptic, difficult movie to penetrate, one that ultimately proves not as intelligent as it thinks it is, nor does it have any of the sense of trashy fun that might have elevated the material into a must-watch. Everything in the movie is done competently, but nothing about it demands to be seen, justifying the awful lengths to which the actors and characters are put with some kind of haunting, thought-provoking, or simply gripping story in some regard. Instead we get to watch a bunch of characters put through hell for a corrupt spy agency that hates them and then we get to go home. Fun times at the local cineplex?



Final Thoughts: I'm never sure what to do with movies like Red Sparrow, which are well-made films, but ultimately not very enjoyable to the viewer. In part, it seems unfair to give them low scores, as the movies are, as I mentioned, well-structured and shot, but at the same time, I go to the movies to be entertained, and there isn't much in terms of entertainment value to a movie this grim for this little purpose. Fully half of the people I watched this one with walked out of it, simply uninterested in putting themselves through the thing for any further length of time, when the reward was simply going to be a moral of "Spywork sucks". As such, the best I can do is suggest that you make your own mind up as to whether Red Sparrow is a good one for you, and move on to the next movie.


Final Score: 6/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2018 10:34 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Hotel Artemis

Alternate Title: Budget John Wick

One sentence synopsis: Various characters turn up at a secret hospital for criminals during a massive riot in Los Angeles.


Things Havoc liked: I don't see enough of Jodie Foster. She's one of Hollywood's gems, always interesting to watch, choosing interesting roles, and I only encounter her about once every five years or so, and the last time was Elysium, so to hell with that. I went to see this movie entirely because she was in it (and because of who else was), and so before we go anywhere else, I want recognition from you all that this was a good decision.

Hotel Artemis stars Jodie Foster as a nurse, known almost exclusively as "The Nurse", an agoraphobic who runs a seedy hotel named the Artemis that moonlights as a hospital for paying members of a criminal club that strongly resembles the one in the John Wick movies, albeit the low-rent version. Foster's brilliant in this one, shuffling through the halls of her semi-decrepit old hotel like an old woman, trying to keep the plates spinning as one semi-crazed criminal after another requires her services on the night of a gigantic riot sweeping through downtown Los Angeles. Wrapped up in an inexplicable Brooklyn accent, she carries the film effortlessly.

Though not without help. Indeed Hotel Artemis has a whole bunch of actors in it that I adore seeing. Sterling K Brown, whom most of you will remember as N'Jobu (Father of Killmonger) in Black Panther, plays Waikiki, an armed robber whose brother is shot in the theft of a bank vault and who winds up having to hole up at the Artemis as the riots spread across the city. Similarly holed up are Sofia Boutella, one of my favorite action actresses working, playing (what else) a French super-assassin, and Charlie Day (of Lego Movie) as a douchebag (Charlie Day is very good at this). Dave Bautista, meanwhile, who has become a much better actor since getting his start in Guardians of the Galaxy, plays Everest, who is so named because... well... you get it. The combination of all of these actors together would be enough for me, but add Zachary Quinto and Jeff Freaking Goldblum (playing a mafia don of all things) really pitches the film over the edge into truly awesome territory. I would watch these actors having lunch, let alone starring in a crazy kooky action-hijinx movie. And fortunately, Hotel Artemis is not about them having lunch.



Things Havoc disliked: Unfortunately, it's not a crazy kooky action-hijinx movie either.

I don't know who's been setting up trailers for these films recently, but this is the third or fourth film in a very short amount of time whose trailers were written by lying liars who tell lies. Hotel Artemis was pitched to me in the trailers as being a fun action-comedy, a crazy madcap movie full of wacky hijinx and hilarious interplay between the various characters. Instead, the movie is a fairly dramatic character-study of the Nurse and a number of other characters, all set against the backdrop of a dystopian cyberpunk reality.

Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact the resulting film is possibly more interesting than the alternative would have been, but it's never a great thing to go in expecting comedy and not receiving it, and Hotel Artemis does that. Instead, there are interminable sequences wherein we are intended to get to know the characters better through threat and dramatic interplay. Some of these work, mostly because it's excellent actors engaging in them, and some do not, such as an endless sequence that goes nowhere involving a cop that the nurse decides to allow into the facility, in violation of the hallowed "rules". Your mileage will vary as always, I didn't have too much of a problem with the bait and switch, but do not go into this movie expecting a cornucopia of wacky hijinx, as suggested by the marketing campaign.

There's also the question of the film's ending, which is a muddled mess of bad ideas, as though the scriptwriters, having gotten to a certain point, could not figure out what to do afterwards. There are obligatory fight sequences, not shot with any particular energy or stylism, there are tearful departures and triumphant moments as characters overcome the handicaps they have been presented as living with, it all feels tremendously rote. The dystopian elements of the background setting are never expounded upon or dealt with in any way, making it feel as though large sections of plot were cut for time or interest, and the entire film just sort of... ends eventually. It's hardly enough to ruin everything, but it's not the best way to leave a strong impression of your movie as I'm walking out the door.



Final Thoughts: Hotel Artemis is a strange film, there's no question, and it is not the film that I was expecting to watch, but despite a meandering plot that seems to waste a lot of time and an ending that goes nowhere in particular, the cast itself has such a genuine strength and chemistry to it that I have to admit I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's not a movie destined to reshape the landscape of film or anything (and it's presently engaged in bombing spectacularly), but it's a solid movie, interesting enough to be worth a watch, and unlike Red Sparrow, it will not send anyone into flashbacks.

Well, unless groaty hotels bring up your worst nightmares, that is.


Final Score: 7/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2018 2:32 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Ocean's 8

Alternate Title: Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

One sentence synopsis: Danny Ocean's sister recruits a team of female thieves to steal a valuable diamond necklace from the New York Met Gala.


Things Havoc liked: I really liked Ocean's Eleven (the Clooney version). I did not like its sequels. In this, I expect that I resemble largely every moviegoer in America. The original (yes, I know it's a remake, shut up), was a cool, confident heist film, one that held together well, had interesting character actors playing interesting character roles, and was overall a template for how modern heist movies should be made. Soderbergh has gone on to bigger and better things since the Ocean's series seemingly ended, but here comes Gary Ross, of Pleasantville and the surprisingly good Free State of Jones, to give us an all-female version of the formula.

All-female versions of movies, well... let's be honest with ourselves here, they generally suck. They suck because the selling point of the movie is simply that the cast is female, with no thought given to making the movie stand out from their source material in any way, meaning that the film is almost definitionally derivatives, resulting in abject crap like the Ghostbusters remake of 2016. But to do this as a heist film makes a lot more sense. Heist films are inherently derivative, in that the plot is effectively "steal some shit", and the film is the course of the characters going about stealing it. Doing an all-female version of that makes far more sense than remaking a specific film, especially if the cast is good.

And oh yes, this cast is good. Cate Blanchett, an actress I love, plays Lou, partner in crime to Debbie Ocean, our protagonist, and basically takes on the Brad Pitt role from the original film, wisecracking and being generally cool. Mindy Kaling, whom I love dearly, and Helena Bonham Carter, whom I love dearly on the rare occasions when she's not working with Tim Burton, both liven the cast tremendously, the former as a jeweler desperate to get away from her domineering parents, the latter as an Irish fashion designer desperate to get away from the piles of IRS debt she has incurred through disastrous decisions (an early sequence wherein one of her fashion shows flops magnificently is a highlight). But the best element of the cast is Anne Hathaway, playing the air-headed celebrity target of the heist itself, who gets all the best material playing the sort of person who can lose someone else's $150,000,000 necklace and get angry at them for being upset.

Heist films live or die by their plot coherence, and Ocean's 8 manages to avoid the pitfalls that ruined movies like Logan Lucky by having one that works. The key here is plausibility. The steps that the girls take to steal the jewels they are after make sense within the context of the film, even if a sharp-eyed smark can find ways in which things would fall apart in the real world. We can follow the action from start to finish, and the obligatory twists as the plan almost falls apart and is rescued at the last second are believable, if extreme. This is not as minor a factor as it sounds, as it takes real skill to put together a plot that convincingly sounds like an impossibly difficult plan pulled off by a team of skilled con artists and thieves, and not like a load of writer contrivance designed to get the audience forcefully to the next scene.



Things Havoc disliked: You may have noticed, if you are familiar with this movie, that when I praised the cast, I neglected to mention the actual lead, Sandra Bullock, an actress I also dearly love, and who is just not good at all in this one. I don't know what went wrong, if she made a bad set of decisions in terms of her acting or if the director gave her bad instructions, but she's terrible in this film, attempting to replicate the George Clooney chill by simply bleeding all emotion out of her character entirely. Everyone else in the movie manages to evidence cool without evidencing such a boring affect, so why Bullock can't is utterly beyond me.

But the main problem with Ocean's 8 is that it's just... alright. It has an all right plot with an alright heist attached to it, planned and executed by alright characters to meet its alright ending with some alright jokes along the way. It managed to entertain for its run time, but only just, and leave a positive impression, but only slightly. It's in every way a 'passable' film, not excelling, not failing, just pretty decent across the board. Whether this is because there was no real intention to make it more than "alright", given that most movies of its type are not even that, or because whatever thrills and excitement the filmmakers intended to add to it simply didn't make it through, I have no idea. The result is the same. Ocean's 8 is an alright film. It is not much more.



Final Thoughts: I really hate writing reviews like this one, as movies that engender a passionate response, be it positive or negative, are much easier to review. Still, I can't get mad at Ocean's 8, as it is a perfectly serviceable, pretty decent movie, one I will not be recalling with scorn once the end of the year worst list comes around (probably). Go see it if you are enthusiastic about the cast or concept, and skip it if not. It makes very little difference either way.


Final Score: 5.5/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 9:08 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Alternate Title: That Explains the Laser-Raptors

One sentence synopsis: Claire Dearing and Owen Grady attempt to rescue the dinosaurs of Isla Nublar from an impending volcanic eruption.


Things Havoc liked: To hell with both haters and critics, I liked Jurassic World, stupidity and all. I liked it because it was fun and adventurous and enjoyable to look at and managed to avoid pissing me off too terribly much. A lot of people did not like it, for they felt it exemplified all of the opposite qualities above, but nevertheless, the movie contrived to do almost everything that a Jurassic Park reboot could be expected to do, given that we no longer live in an age where a nearly-photorealistic dinosaur can alone be expected to sell a ticket. And so, while the trailers did not give me a lot of reason to hope, the fact that I did like the previous incarnation of this series, combined with the fact that Corvidae, my partner in crime, adores anything with dinosaurs in it, I felt I had to see this one. Besides, the worst-of-the-year list isn't going to fill itself.

I kid, I kid. Fallen Kingdom, despite doubling down on the previous movie's stupidity, is actually a pretty good film. Nothing great, nothing earthshattering, but a better movie than I anticipated it being, and the reasons for that vary considerably. Some of the credit belongs to the actors, particularly Chris Pratt, who continues to be an enjoyable leading man in most every film I've seen him in, and who manages to be considerably less of a douche in this film than he was intended as being in the previous. Newcomers to the series, particularly Justice Smith as an IT technician wrapped up in a situation far beyond his pay grade, Toby Jones (of the Captain America series) as an arms-dealer/auctioneer to the morally bankrupt, or Ted Levine (Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs), as a great white hunter sent to oversee the operations on the island, all liven the film with their performances, Smith as a terrified college student, Jones as a sleazy mega-capitalist, and Levine as... well Levine as only Ted Levine can light up a role. Even Bryce Dallas Howard, whom I've never liked, improves on her showing this time around, though I still won't go so far as to say she's good. Some of the credit also belongs to the effects-work, which is stellar as always, showcasing us dinosaurs in all their glory and the myriad ways in which they ruin foolish humans' days. The art department, or whatever they call it these days, also deserves quite a bit, having once again turned much of Hawaii into the lush, insane death-trap that is the original island, or for outfitting the absurd Edwardian mansion/mad science facility tha thte climax of the movie takes place in.

But the majority of the credit for the non-suckitude of Jurassic World 2 belongs to Spanish director J. A. Bayona, of The Impossible and A Monster Calls.Bayona, who was given the reigns of this one after Colin Trevorrow left for greener pastures, actually puts in a highly effective turn with this one, framing and shooting the movie with just the right balance of callbacks to the original films without ever devolving into kitch, with an arsenal of effective and tension-building long-take sequences, particularly a brilliantly-paced one involving a mass stampede and a subsequent sudden trip into the ocean, and a generally effective use of space, scene, and timing that is well beyond what a cash-in movie like this generally receives. I cannot pretend that I'd ever heard of Bayona previously, but I have to give props where they are due, it's one of the best directorial efforts I've seen since Infinity War, and it marks him out as a director to watch out for in the future.



Things Havoc disliked: None of the credit belongs to the scriptwriters.

Jurassic World was a stupid movie, but it knew that it was stupid, and played with its premise in a way that felt fun and interesting. Fallen Kingdom on the other hand stretches our patience with such things to its breaking point, finding yet another way to posit that weaponized dinosaurs are something that a good many someones with a lot of money feels is a good idea. Some of you may have thought that my little alt-title up above was a pure joke, but I ask you in this case, in what world does it make more sense to breed and train a dinosaur to kill anyone who has a laser pointer aimed at them, than it does to attach said laser pointer to a gun and shoot the people you train it upon directly? I am reminded of the scene in the Jackie Chan movie, The Tuxedo, in which a villain devises a secret, multi-billion-dollar compound which, when injected into someone, kills them via nanobots. Roger Ebert famously asked if there was a reason that injecting them with arsenic was not good enough, given the intent.

But back to Fallen Kingdom, which is a very stupid movie, involving very stupid decisions on the part of very large portions of the cast. I'm not talking about the basic fact that every single interaction with these dinosaurs on the part of anyone has resulted in catastrophe, there does need to be a movie after all, nor am I objecting to the movie's premise of a de-extinction rights campaign on the part of well-meaning environmentalists who wish to save the dinosaurs from their impending extinction. What I object to is the fact that, for the roughly fifth time in a row in this series, the heroes walk into the middle of a PMC camp staffed by grizzled, amoral mercenaries, and assume that all is to be comprised of peace and love. It's not that the moment-to-moment stuff is terrible, it's not, we're not in a horror movie here, but the plot is so irretrievably stupid that we can predict the entire thing by simply asking ourselves "what decision would the characters have to make to maximize the number of large teeth they are likely to encounter in the near future", and then watch as our wildest fantasies are realized before us.



Final Thoughts: Honestly, while Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a very dumb film, I actually expected it to be worse, assuming that the acting would be terrible, or the directing sloppy, or the effects sub-par, or the plot even dumber than it turned out to be. Given that none of the above actually happened, I'm actually in a rather awkward position vis-a-vis Fallen Kingdom, in that despite how dumb it is, I have to admit that I... actually kinda liked it, and I think that most people who go see it might find they like it as well.

If you demand that all of your movies be intellectual in nature, then you must at all costs avoid the latest Jurassic World movie, but if you're willing to turn off your brain and just watch some interesting characters go through a romp with a bunch of dinosaurs (or if you find the baby dinosaurs insufferably cute... as I do), then I think you might find something to like, even in a movie as dumb as Fallen Kingdom.


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."


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 11:47 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Alternate Title: Once Upon a Time in Mexico

One sentence synopsis: Alejandro Gillick and Matt Graver reconvene to start a war between two rival drug cartels by kidnapping the daughter of a cartel leader.


Things Havoc liked: The original Sicario, back in 2015, was a truly great film, as well as being my first introduction to Taylor Sheridan, a man who has gone on to dominate my best of the year lists with films such as Hell or High Water and Wind River. He wrote the original Sicario, a bleak, gritty, wonderfully-made film about the quasi-legal components of the battle against the Drug trade in the US and Mexico. Though Sheridan has become a world-class director as well as writer, he has returned to just the writing duties for this one, teaming up instead with Italian crime drama director (and former war zone news cameraman) Stefano Sollima. With pedigrees like that, you could not have gotten me into the theater fast enough.

So how's the sequel? It's good. Not great, but good, principally because so many of the original team are back for another round. Front and center is Benicio del Toro, reprising his central role as the lawyer-turned-hitman Alejandro Gillick. This is the role that brought del Toro to my good graces, and he's very good in it, dialing things back to a low burn as he takes on another job to make life difficult for the cartels that ruined his life. He's not as good, however, as the increasingly ubiquitous Josh Brolin, this time reprising the role of CIA fixer and hatchetman Matt Graver, the man who runs the circus which Gillick is a part of. Brolin is absolutely at home with this material, with a relaxed, sure approach that comes with the territory, as his character is the consummate military and wet work professional. Both actors dance through the weighty material they've given as though it's all just another day at the office, which it manifestly is. Younger actors, such as Isabella Moner and Elijah Rodriguez, play teens caught up in some aspect of the drug war and the cartels' business, the former as the conceited daughter of a cartel lord, who winds up becoming the fulcrum of events, the latter as a high-school kid from Texas who gets drawn into the web of Cartel human smugglers ferrying people into the US. All sides are covered in dirt here, as special forces and cartel assault teams comb the trackless wastes of Northern Mexico in search of their targets, and civilians are left to do the best they can in between the bombs.

I shouldn't have to tell you, then, that Taylor Sheridan's script is still as punchy as ever, with brutal action sequences alternating with the banal aspects of fighting this undeclared war on human traffickers and drug smugglers. Sheridan, the grand dean of modern westerns nowadays, turns this one into a parable-free tale of deception and bloodshed, keeping the polemics down in favor of a simple story of bad men doing bad things in a bad place. Though I had never heard of Sollima, the Director, he draws on a bountiful background in war reporting and crime drama to put this one together, and creates a film that feels effortlessly real throughout.



Things Havoc disliked: Which is all the more surprising, given that it isn't.

Sicario 1 was a superb film, precisely because the madness that was taking place was properly placed in a context that was entirely believable, with a blurry line between policing and military operations. Sicario 2 does not. It's a plot straight out of several video games I've played, in which a CIA wet work squad, at several points, engages in open warfare with Mexican cartels, police, and the state itself, all seemingly without consequences.

Look, I'm not a fool. A lot of shady shit goes down in the drug war, on all sides. This isn't about morality, or me objecting to how villainous the actions of our characters are or are not, it's about scenarios that just don't make sense. Mexico is not Somalia, not in the real world, and so armed military invasions of large portions of its territory are the sort of thing that doesn't fit with a scrupulously ripped-from-the-headlines sort of movie. A general action movie would have no trouble getting away with some of the things that occur in this film, but this is Sicario, this is the "real" war on Cartels right here, and so events like a PMC flying armed helicopters full of special forces to and fro across the border on a regular basis just don't fly.



Final Thoughts: Day of the Soldado is a perfectly good film, though not the triumph that its predecessor was, a tense, gripping crime and violence-drama punctuated with just a little too much action and just a little too much suspension of disbelief to measure up to its illustrious predecessor. Still, with the year having been mostly a dud so far, there are far worse things to see in the theaters. Especially when it comes to subjects like drugs or illegal immigration, about which nobody has the slightest intention of speaking sense.


Final Score: 7/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2018 11:11 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:12 pm
Posts: 5243
Location: The City that is not Frisco
Blog: View Blog (0)
The Incredibles 2

Alternate Title: Bird Food

One sentence synopsis: The Incredible family struggles to get Superheroes accepted by the populace at large while facing down the threat of the mysterious Screen Slaver.


Things Havoc liked: It's hard to imagine the cinematic world that the original Incredibles was released into in 2004, a world wherein superhero movies were considered a risky proposition, cinematic universes did not exist, Marvel made bad movies, and Brad Bird was an ex-Disney animator, who had directed and written a well-regarded bomb called The Iron Giant, and whom Pixar was taking one of a series of massive gambles on in entrusting him with another animated picture to helm. Of course that gamble paid off, with Incredibles becoming one of the many sterling victories that led Pixar to dominate the animation landscape of the 00s. In the wake of its success, I, and others, wondered for years why Pixar never followed up on such a rich opportunity, particularly as other sequels such as Monsters University or the Cars followups came and went. I still don't know the answer, but I do know that here we are, fourteen years later, and Bird has finally come up with the sequel we all expected years ago.

Picking up exactly where the last film left off, Incredibles 2 continues the (mis)adventures of the Parr family, still struggling with the fact that superheroes like them are officially illegal. With their existence exposed yet again following the first movie, and their house destroyed by a supervillain, they come into contact with a pair of billionaire siblings who intend to see the laws against superheroes reversed through timely, high-profile actions and heroics. While Elasti-girl (Holly Hunter) goes out to fight crime, legally or otherwise, her husband Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) must stay at home to take care of their kids, Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack. This much the trailers reveal, and I wasn't exactly enthralled with the prospect, as the "bumbling Dad trying to take care of the house and kids" routine is a staple of bad sitcoms for a reason. To my surprise though, these sequences are probably the best ones in the film, full of sight gags and general madness enough to keep the movie moving. As with the first film, the characters are both well-drawn and well-animated (I apologize for nothing), and the movie doesn't spend a lot of time on Mr. Incredible's incredible shortcomings, instead going rapidly for mad science, the insanities of a superhero fashion designer (voiced again by Brad Bird), and battles between a superpowered baby, a raccoon, and physics. The best parts of Incredibles 2 are when the characters are just allowed to exist in their world together, as it was in the first movie.

Not that the rest of the movie is letting the side down, necessarily. Samuel L. Jackson's Frozone gets a much increased role, including impromptu babysitting support, which is always good for a laugh. The action, and there is quite a bit of it, is well-paced and orchestrated beautifully, with most of the work going to Elasti-Girl, and standout sequences involving a fistfight in a Faraday Cage covered in hypnosis-inducing screens, and an extended brawl in the innards of a cruise ship between a girl who can turn invisible and summon forcefields and another one who thinks with Portals. The voice-acting is top notch across the board (save for Nelson, who sounds tired and detached from his role), with all of the old standbyes returning for more, and the addition of everyone from Catherine Keener (second week in a row I've encountered her), to Johnathan Banks, Phil LaMarr, and (of all people) Isabella Rossellini.



Things Havoc disliked: If all of the above seems rather mechanical (here is what the movie is about, here is who is in it), I assure you, there's a reason.

I want to get out ahead and say that I didn't dislike Incredibles 2 at all, it's a well-made movie with decent-to-good animation, casting, and action. But I also want to get out ahead and say that it isn't much more than those things, a competent movie executed by a competent cast, crew, writer and director. And as to why that is, we have to go back to the creator of the Incredibles, Brad Bird.

You see, Brad Bird, moreso than most writers or directors in Hollywood, is obsessed with a single idea, that of special, uniquely gifted people who are hated and feared by the wider society around them. The Incredibles 1 was about this. The Iron Giant was about this. Tomorrowland was about this. And guess what, Incredibles 2 is... also about this. Granted, to a certain extent that makes sense, the first movie set up a world wherein supers were feared and rendered illegal, and dealing with the ramifications of that is an obvious way to take the story, but that's just it, it's an obvious way to proceed, and one that should have been re-thought. Incredibles is set in no discernible time, but seems to be focused on some kind of golden-age-of-comics era crossed with a comic book future, and that whole dynamic does not jive very well with sad parents contemplating homelessness for themselves and their children because their superpowers make them outcasts and pariahs. I don't mind a bit of tonal discord now and again, but Bird's continuing fixation on how put-upon the special people of the world are gets in the way of the story, and is one of the reasons he's often accused of being way too Randian in his fixations (trying to get a movie version of The Fountainhead produced doesn't help). I'm not going to go that far (Tomorrowland spent half its runtime rebutting such allegations by casting the Randians as the villains), but at this point, Bird has said everything there is to say on this subject, and it's becoming boring.

And when you take that subject out of the movie, there's just not much to Incredibles 2. The plot is... fine, I guess, but entirely predictable from beginning to end, with yet another villain who is not only telegraphed but out to get the Parr's because they resent special people for some reason (*yawn*). The progression of the story is pedestrian in the extreme, with everything happening because it makes sense structurally to happen. When the end of the movie comes, there's little-to-no emotional catharsis to anything, because the stakes have never been established in a way anyone can relate to, and if the MCU has taught us anything, it's that this is something great comic book movies need to be able to do. Incredibles 2 cannot, which in turn leads one to question automatically if it can be called a great anything.



Final Thoughts: I see why Incredibles 2 made a billion dollars and why it is popular, for there's nothing really wrong with it, but like most of the films I've seen in 2018 so far, there's not a lot really right with it either. The characters are engaging enough, particularly Violet, and the animation is generally engaging and occasionally interesting (though it does come with a warning about photosensitive epilepsy, so YMMV). But there's just not a lot within it that demands to be seen. Maybe that's faint criticism overall, but I'm just getting tired of movies that refuse to insist on a reason for their own existence.

Go see Incredibles 2 if you're interested. I, on the other hand, am moving on to smaller and better things. I hope.


Final Score: 5.5/10

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

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


Top
 Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 800 posts ]  Go to page Previous  1 ... 28, 29, 30, 31, 32

All times are UTC - 6 hours


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group