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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 5:41 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
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Live By Night

Alternate Title: The Ballad of Stoneface O'Straightmouth

One sentence synopsis: A prohibition-era gangster juggles morality and vengeance while trying to take over the liquor trade in 1920s Tampa.


Things Havoc liked: The career trajectory of Ben Affleck makes no sense when you think about it. A blockbuster actor who came to prominence thanks in part to the coattails of his friend Matt Damon, Affleck's career was thoroughly and convincingly annihilated over the course of the early 2000s by a series of disastrously-bad films such as Pearl Harbor, Gigli, Daredevil, and Surviving Christmas, until by mid-decade he was reduced to playing 17th-billing in the forgettable Joe Carnahan comedy, Smokin' Aces. And yet despite this, over the next ten years, Affleck dragged himself back into box office and critical prominence primarily through his directing escapades, making Hollywoodland, Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and finally 2012's Best Picture winner, Argo (which didn't deserve that honor, but was still a very good film). Though he's had his share of critical catastrophes since then (the man was in Batman v. Superman for God's sake), Affleck has re-invented himself as a superb actor-director, such that I've been forced to promote him to the rarefied ranks of directors whose output are automatically interesting to me. And so when he came up with a new film directed by and starring himself, promising guns, glitz, and dames in the roaring 20s, it seemed like a great place to start off 2017.

Plus, it's January, and the alternative was a Shyamalan movie.

In the middle of the gangster-and-booze-soaked prohibition years, Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a WWI vet who lost all sense of idealism in the trenches, desires to make himself a free man by any means necessary, even if that means skating the line between rival Irish and Italian mobs in Boston and across the East Coast. Of course playing both sides against the middle isn't a strategy calculated to work long-term, and following a series of disasters and violent encounters, Joe is forced to choose sides and dispatched south to Florida to take control of the liquor trade through Tampa and up the East Coast, engaging not only with rival mobsters but with the local efforts of the Klan as well, who are not terribly enamored with the notion of a bunch of Irish and Italian catholic mobsters showing up to do business with the Cuban and Dominican gangs who run the speakeasies and smuggling routes. We are therefore treated to scenes of mafiosos massacring members of the KKK, which always brightens the day.

Affleck is a serious director nowadays, and serious directors can attract serious star power to their films. Thus in this movie we have Brandon Gleeson, playing Affleck's quintessentially irish Police Captain father, who despairs of his son's chosen profession, but greases palms when necessary to keep him out of terrible trouble. We have Chris Cooper (yes, Chris Cooper is in this), and Ellie Fanning playing father and daughter, the former a sheriff in the Ybor neighborhood of Tampa where all of this goes down, the latter his would-be actress of a daughter, who falls instead into heroin and prostitution before finding Jesus and becoming a firebrand revivalist on a moral crusade to abolish drinking and gambling, items the mob have some interest in. Neither of these roles are particularly nuanced, but Cooper in particular is very very good, both as a desperate father with no answers but the bible and as a pragmatic sheriff who understands that his town's primary industry is bootlegging, and that accommodations must be made with those who engage in it. Veteran English actor Robert Glenister plays an Irish mob boss with whom Affleck fights an on-again, off-again war, portraying his character like something out of the Book fo Revelations, quoting aphorisms as he scummily prepares to obliterate all of his enemies. But the best role of all belongs to a relative newcomer, character actor Chris Messina (formerly of Argo and The Newsroom), who plays Affleck's partner in crime, Dion, as a womanizing, live-while-you-can New York gangster who accepts the life he has and holds no illusions as to what it promises in the future. "None of these men expected to see old age," he says at one point, shrugging off the killings that his gang has just engaged in. "Neither do I."


Things Havoc disliked: If only Affleck were as good, we might have had something here.

Ben Affleck is not a great actor, but he is a very good actor, which is why I'm surprised to report that he is not very good in this picture, a movie that requires that he play a bundled, quiet man who periodically explodes into displays of terrifying violence. This is the sort of thing his brother Casey, who is a great actor, excels at. Ben, meanwhile, chooses to simply adopt a straight-faced monotone for the entire picture, along the lines of Tom Hanks' portrayal of a similar character in the 2002 Sam Mendes picture, Road to Perdition. And like Road to Perdition, the result is to deaden the film (something I believe was done intentionally in the former movie), save that this time, the resulting tone is at odds with the glitz-and-glamour stylings of everything else going on. Affleck becomes fantastically successful in Tampa, winding up the most powerful mobster in the entire state, meets and weds the sister of the local Cuban mafia (Zoe Saldana), and prosecutes his campaign of vengeance against Robert Glenister's Irish devil, all while wearing an expression better suited to a man attending his mother's funeral. And given that Affleck is both directing and starring in the movie in question, it's not like the film can shoot around him or anything.

The movie also feels very choppy, as if cut down from a much longer, and likely better film. Many of the prominent events of the movie are established in voiceover montage sequences, following which we appear to be in a completely different movie in terms of tone and shot selection. At one point the film is a full-throated gangster flick with action, hedonism, and the luxurious benefits of a life of sin and crime, and then all of a sudden we're in a bittersweet mediation on mortality and ethics. A good movie can contain many elements of course, but this one just randomly seems to shift courses, pulling out of nowhere the notion that Joe is a good man fallen in with bad people, when we've never previously had any evidence of that. At one point, Elle Fanning's character tells Affleck that her father (Cooper) respected him once upon a time, a bit of information it would have been nice to see beforehand in their previous dealings, but which comes as a complete surprise to anyone who has seen the previous hour and a half or so of film. And so we move on, bouncing from one idea to the next, with the excellent actors in the cast doing what they can to make all these shifts of tone and theme make sense, while everyone else just waits for their scene to be over so that they can die offscreen.


Final Thoughts: Bilge Ebiri, movie critic for the Village Voice, said that "somewhere inside the 128-minute Live by Night is a reasonably solid 168-minute movie struggling to get out," and I agree completely with this assessment. Live by Night is certainly not a bad movie, and some of the gyrating elements coursing through it are actually quite decent, but it lacks the sure-handed structure of Affleck's previous works, and feels like a film mutilated on the editing machine into something halfway watchable. Whether that is because the original story didn't work at all or whether it was cut down to meet a timeslot, I could not tell you, but while the resulting film is halfway decent, it's not up to the level we've come to expect from Ben Affleck's directorial work. And that, right there, is a statement I never saw myself writing back in 2003, when I walked out of Daredevil.

Final Score: 6/10

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

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


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2017 2:19 am 
Mr. Party-Killbot
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Hidden Figures

Alternate Title: This Week, on a Very Special Episode of...

One sentence synopsis: Three female black mathematicians at NASA confront prejudice and open discrimination as they work on the Friendship 7 program to send the first Astronaut into orbit.


Things Havoc liked: Following the embarrassing racial flub that was the 2015 Lily-white Oscars, the Academy, in their wisdom, seems to have decided that the hashtag for their Oscars this year should be "#OscarsSoBlack" instead, giving out assorted nods to films like Moonlight (unseen by me), Fences (deserving at least in the acting categories), and the film we have before us today, the historical NASA/timely tolerance feature Hidden Figures. Yes, this movie, like the one from last week, did technically come out somewhere in 2016, but I do not base my film calendar around such technicalities. It entered wide release in 2017, and a part of 2017 it consequently is. So here we are.

1961. Langley, Virginia. The newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been in existence for three years, and spent all three of them getting embarrassingly lapped by their Soviet counterparts, who have succeeded in putting a satellite, then a dog, and then finally a human being in space, and returning the last one to the Earth. In their efforts to catch up to the Soviets and surpass them by being the first to place a man in orbit (not just grazing the outer atmosphere for a moment), NASA employs teams of computers, which at this time are not machines but job descriptions, men and women of tremendous mathematical gifts who perform the mind-shatteringly complex calculations necessary to launch anything into space, let alone to get it back again in one piece. Among these staggering mathematicians are a group of black women struggling under the prevailing racial attitudes of 1960s Virginia, and American society at large. Among this group are Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) a prodigal mathematician and astrophysicist, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), a pioneering computer programmer, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), a technician-turned-aeronautics-and-space-engineer, and it is about these three women, and their attempts to, each in their own way, deal with the prejudices blocking their success, that the movie concerns itself with.

Leaving Goble aside for a moment, the other two women are played extremely well, particularly Vaughan, who gets the most nuanced and interesting storyline. Stuck with the responsibilities of a supervisor at NASA, but neither the pay nor the title, and confronted with the reality that mechanical computers will soon be replacing human ones, Vaughan dodges the thinly-veiled racism of her own boss (played by Kirsten Dunst of all people), and trains herself and her staff on the operation of IBM 7090 mainframes, all while teaching herself FORTRAN (God help her). A cutting remark, late in the film, following this tremendous effort that she is absolutely sure that Dunst believes (wrongly) that she has nothing against black people is as sharply-written as anything else in the rest of the film, and Octavia Spencer herself is plainly the best actor of the bunch. Other plaudits go to Kevin Costner, whom I have never managed to hate as much as I probably should, who takes on yet another all-American role as Space Task Group director Al Harrison, a man obsessed with besting the Russians in the Space Race. Costner is good at few things, but one of them is everyman charm, and he brings a lot of it to this role as he stoically trudges on with his efforts to get the project moving whatever the cost (it's not as bad as it sounds).


Things Havoc disliked: I'm sure you can all guess why I chose to leave Goble aside a moment ago.

Goble, the main character among the three women at the heart of this case, is played by actress Taraji P. Henson, who has been in a great many other films and television shows, though none that I have previously watched. Based on her performance in this movie, I'm not about to start. Henson plays the character like a wilting violet, lacking all self-confidence and inclination to raise hell, which is fine in a general sense, but not when the character is going to be called upon to deliver a series of loud, aggressive speeches about the discrimination that she has been subjected to. There is a way, hell there are several ways that a character like this could have been naturally brought to the point where they would make such speeches, but just dropping one on a character not established to have enough wherewithal to speak above a mousy whisper is not one of those ways, and just turns the movie into a set of disjointed scenes fit awkwardly into place around disconnected lesson moments. The same problem afflicts Janelle Monáe, a much better actress with a much meatier role, who nevertheless, in the climax of her own plot arc, has to stop dead in her tracks to deliver a completely artificial speech about tolerance and justice, one that sounds like it was taken straight out of a fourth-grade essay on the subject of why we shouldn't be racist. Obviously I have nothing against the sentiment, but the message in question is hammered home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, resulting in a movie that feels less like a story of people that existed (which it is), and more like an after school special from the Lifetime channel, complete with dramatic, swelling music whenever it's time for someone to give their contractually-mandated speech about tolerance, and the big-damn-hero moment for our leading old white man character, as he demolishes a colored bathroom sign with a sledgehammer, in one of the least-subtle metaphors that Kevin Costner has ever engaged in. Think about that.

And unfortunately, if we try to turn aside from the message work here, there's just nothing else to the movie. 2016 omnipresent star Mahershala Ali has a completely pointless role as the love interest for our main character, one that doesn't emerge from behind that description, I'm afraid. Jim Parsons, meanwhile, of The Big Bang Theory, gets to play the obligatory role of the needlessly dickish racist asshole, something complicated by the fact that Parsons cannot act at all beyond his role in the aforementioned show, and comes across, consequentially, less like a figure of prejudice, and more like an oblivious douchebag who spends the entire movie being periodically astounded and amazed by the fascinating revelation that a woman, and a black woman no less, can perform mathematics! I wouldn't mind if he had expressed surprise once, but after the seventeenth time when Parson's character is astounded to discover that the black woman he disdains has managed to perform a complex calculation, it makes me think less of the crushing hand of institutional racism, and more than Parson is something of an imbecile who needs to be removed immediately from NASA before he accidentally impales himself with a protractor.


Final Thoughts: I could go on, of course, arguing about the fact that the movie gets its facts entirely screwy. NASA was, in reality, a fully integrated shop by executive decree from its inception in 1958, and women were in senior engineering positions, and authoring scientific papers at the organization by 1960, three years after this film is supposed to be taking place. I will not, however, complain about this, because these alterations to history were made in the interests of telling a compelling story, and represent one of the only concessions to doing so to be found throughout Hidden Figures. Admirable though the purposes of the movie may be, seeking to shine light on a subject relatively unknown to the public at large, the execution of the movie is almost entirely flat, pitched at the level of a classroom special for nine-year olds.

That said, it's worth noting that both of the people that I saw this movie with loved it, as did the audience at large, who gave it an ovation when the movie ended. Judging from the reaction the film has gotten, commercially and critically, it may simply be that I'm missing something here. Still, I have to call these films as I see them, or else there isn't much point to the entire project. And while the impetus behind Hidden Figures may be laudable, the movie that I was given to watch as a result of that impulse fails, comprehensively, to launch.

...

... I regret nothing.

Final Score: 5/10

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

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


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 6:37 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
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Silence

Alternate Title: The Passion of the Audience

One sentence synopsis: Two priests travel to Japan to discover the fate of their teacher while trying to avoid the agents of the Japanese inquisition, determined to eradicate Christianity in Japan.


Things Havoc liked: Despite Hollywood being a star-driven system overall, if you're a true cinephile, there are certain directors you simply pay attention to. Spielberg, Tarantino, Aranofsky, the Coens. And high on that list of key directors is Martin Scorsese, a man who has made 24 full length feature films over the course of his career, and been nominated as Best Director for exactly one third of them. Though obviously best known for his crime dramas like Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets, or Taxi Driver, Scorsese does occasionally step outside the confines of his normal routine, whether for whimsical fantasy (Hugo), or for pissing off authoritarian governments (Kundun). So it is with this film, a long-awaited historical mediation on spirituality, religion, sacrifice, and faith, in which Kylo Ren and Spiderman go to Japan to find Liam Neeson.

In the mid-1630, in Macao, then a Portuguese colony on the edge of China, two Jesuit priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), receive word through an intermediary that their former teacher and mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has been captured in Japan while attempting to preach the gospel, tortured and forced to recant his faith in public. Both young men immediately decide to venture to Japan to find and retrieve him, while also spreading their faith as best they may, despite all entreaties to the contrary. Japan in the 1630s, after all, is in the throes of the Tokugawan persecution of Christians, an attempt by the newly-victorious ruling parties of Japan to violently extirpate the Christian faith from their shores by any means necessary. So begins an epic journey into danger and faith, of martyrdom by the helpless and suffering inflicted by the powerful. So begins, in essence, Scorsese's attempt to delve into the contents of his own on-again, off-again Catholicism, to discover truths about faith, ritual, and God.

Heavy stuff? Unquestionably. So let's return to the temporal plane with a discussion of what works, and to my surprise, we have to start with the acting. Andrew Garfield has been a hit-or-miss figure with me over the films I've seen him in, particularly the abominable Amazing Spiderman, but his performance in this film is absolutely spot-perfect. Garfield's ability to project college-aged youth-with-confidence through films like The Social Network has never been in question, and in the role of a young priest who has no idea what he is getting into, but strives as best he can to do right by the parishioners he encounters in Japan, he finds the best role of his career, not that that's saying a whole hell of a lot. All joking aside, Garfield has to anchor the movie, and does it very well, oscillating between naivity and doubt as to what his mission should be in the face of the horrific, unending brutality on display from the Japanese authorities towards Christians native or foreign. His character is not a fool, nor blind to the suffering his presence may cause, and his struggles with the dictates of his faith and desire to bring compassion in the form of Christianity to the devout worshipers that cling to existence in Japan, despite all efforts to (literally) extirpate them. Almost as good is Adam Driver, of Kylo Ren fame, whose Father Garupe, another secret traveler to Japan, an equally-committed but more hardline priest who regards the torments of the local Christians as contributions towards martyrdom, and who holds to a hard line against the demands of the shogunate to trample upon images of Christ and the saints. A lesser role goes to Liam Neeson, not phoning it in for once, as a broken priest forced to adopt Buddhism and to become a hunter of Christians. I've said before that Neeson is a very good actor when a strong director takes him in-hand (and there are few stronger than Scorsese), and he manages considerable nuance and conflict through subtle elements of his performance, saying one thing, meaning another, and probably believing a third, or perhaps not, depending on the interpretation. The Japanese cast, including veterans like Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer), Issey Ogata (The Sun), and Yōsuke Kubozuka (Strangers in the City), all execute flawlessly, particularly Yosuke, who plays the perennially lapsing Christian Kichijiro, who constantly fails tests of his faith and devotion and constantly seeks redemption and repentance for doing so. His character is all-too-human, and would make, in another world, a fine subject for a movie in his own right.

Silence is also, above all else, a gorgeous film, with long, luxurious shots of Japanese country and seacoasts. Waves crash against rocks (and Christians), torches twinkle in the bitter darkness of the night, and peasants lead unglamorous, unsentimentalized lives amidst fields of tall grass and azure skies. The music is sparse to the point of non-existence, the film relying instead on whistling wind, shifting branches, running water, and distant cries to form its soundtrack. All in all, the film is a masterful work by a masterful filmmaker, plainly the product of infinite care and devotion on the part of one of the great filmmakers of modern times.


Things Havoc disliked: But goddamn is it long.

Silence clocks in at 161 minutes, which is long as movies go, but not impossibly so. The Hateful Eight still had more than a half hour to go at the point when Silence stopped, but despite that, Silence feels much longer, and that's really the metric that matters. The entire movie, absent a few shots at the beginning and some setup regarding the first village of hidden Christians that the priests come to, is basically comprised of two elements: Martyrdom, and gaslighting. The former is by no means Passion of the Christ level torture-porn, but there is just so damn much of it, at such endless length, as this set of Christians are found out and tortured to death while refusing to recant, and then this set, and then this one over here. I know this is the point of the movie and I know that martyrdom is a core element of the Catholic faith. I also know that seventeen separate scenes of "will the villager step on the image of Christ as commanded by the inquisitor or will he refuse" rapidly gets monotonous for anyone not as obsessively lapsed-catholic as Martin Scorsese, particularly when the answer is always "he will refuse", and the result is always "he will be abused and martyred for doing so".

As to the gaslighting, well if nothing else, this movie finally made it clear to me what is meant by that term, as Garfield is more or less subjected to the technique endlessly for about the last two thirds of the movie, as the authorities alternate the torture of Christians with telling Garfield that he is to blame for them being tortured. This may well be true from a certain point of view, and it certainly is historical to what went on (the Japanese authorities, recognizing that martyrdom was counterproductive, told priests that they would torture Japanese peasants until the priests apostatized. Again, it feels rather churlish to blame the movie for including things that it is ostensibly about, but we get the idea very early on in the process, and the terrible indecision that Garfield undergoes at interminable length only holds the interest for so long. And not to spoil the ending, but given that the movie is more or less entirely about Garfield and his reactions to the terrible tortures being inflicted upon him and others around him, the lack of any clear idea of what he (or anyone else) eventually comes to believe about all of this does not make for compelling filmmaking. The Japanese gaslight a young priest for what appears to be months until he either does or does not recant. Which does he do? Um...


Final Thoughts: There's a degree to which movies like this are enjoyable, as one can respect a good filmmaker making a project he believes in, but that degree ended for me quite a ways from the end of Silence, which ultimately is a punishing movie to sit through, not as literally as Passion of the Christ or its imitators, certainly, but in all the ways that a three hour movie with one hour of content in it can customarily be, irrespective of subject matter. The film is acted very well, shot very well, directed extremely well, and scored... not at all, to be honest, but that's plainly the intent. And yet I left the theater in no hurry to watch it ever again, so certain was I by the end that I had wrung every possible drop of interest out of the concept presented here. Still, subjective as my opinions are, I do try to retain a certain level of objectivity when it comes to a movie that is made as well as this one, but there is a limit to how far I can go in my praise for a movie I did not actually enjoy the act of watching. Catharsis is one thing, after all, but boredom is very hard to defend, no matter what the subject matter is.

Final Score: 6/10

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

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


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2017 11:03 am 
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I suspect that partway through the movie as described, my imagination and boredom would conspire and seize control of my cognitive processes, resulting in the rest of the movie being a blank to me as I bemuse myself with the thought of my in-head Sith alter ego Darth Martellus Force-choking the Japanese inquisitors with the obligatory remark of "I find your lack of faith disturbing"..... :razz:

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"The chance of Shep talking his way into the control room for an ICBM is probably higher than that." - Seth
"Come on, who wouldn't trade a few dozen square miles of French countryside for Warp 3.5?" - Marina


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2017 5:48 pm 
Mr. Party-Killbot
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Steve wrote:
I suspect that partway through the movie as described, my imagination and boredom would conspire and seize control of my cognitive processes, resulting in the rest of the movie being a blank to me as I bemuse myself with the thought of my in-head Sith alter ego Darth Martellus Force-choking the Japanese inquisitors with the obligatory remark of "I find your lack of faith disturbing"..... :razz:


I'd watch it.

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

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


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2017 10:52 pm 
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General Havoc wrote:
Steve wrote:
I suspect that partway through the movie as described, my imagination and boredom would conspire and seize control of my cognitive processes, resulting in the rest of the movie being a blank to me as I bemuse myself with the thought of my in-head Sith alter ego Darth Martellus Force-choking the Japanese inquisitors with the obligatory remark of "I find your lack of faith disturbing"..... :razz:


I'd watch it.


:lol:

Darth Martellus shows up in a lot of things I imagine. Mostly things that frustrate me... :biggrin:

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Chatniks on the (nonexistant) risks of the Large Hadron Collector:
"The chance of Shep talking his way into the control room for an ICBM is probably higher than that." - Seth
"Come on, who wouldn't trade a few dozen square miles of French countryside for Warp 3.5?" - Marina


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 26, 2017 3:57 pm 
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The Lego Batman Movie

Alternate Title: The Hero we Need

One sentence synopsis: Batman struggles with attachment issues relating to adopted-orphan Robin, newly-minted police commissioner Barbara Gordon, and long-suffering Alfred, even as the Joker plans to unleash a horde of the worst evildoers in all of metafiction.


Things Havoc liked: Of all the staggering surprises I have experienced in my years of watching movies for this project, very very few have been as astonishing to me as 2014's Lego Movie, a film that seemed like it was to be the children's version of Battleship, and turned instead into the best film of 2014. The reasons it did this were complicated, and likely best summarized by reading the review in question, but foremost among the qualities that movie presented were its sense of infinite wonder, its frenetic pace, and its complete and utter disregard for things like canon and continuity.

So how fares its sequel? Well... two out of three ain't bad, folks.

The Lego Batman movie is a very good film, bordering on an excellent one, a film that is directly in the vein of its predecessor with a similar sense of irreverent insanity and disregard for the super-serious canon that Batman, and other such superhero properties, have built up for themselves. Replete with in-jokes, references, and ballistic-grade visual gags, the movie is energetic, off-the-wall, and a lot of fun, simultaneously the most and least loyal film ever made to the tremendous backlog of Batman's history. I wasn't sure, going in, how in the world you could possibly follow up on something as... strange... as the Lego Movie, but this is hardly the worst idea that they could have come up with. Well done.

The list of voice actors that populate The Lego Batman is long enough to serve as its own review, so suffice to say that the film involves Batman's (Will Arnett) first encounters with such series staples as Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawsom), who in this film are portrayed respectively as a heartwarming orphan in the traditional sense of the term, and an analytics-based police officer who intends to put Batman out of business through the novel approach of actually doing policework. This Batman, who is both entirely the same and completely divorced from the previous incarnation of the character, is intended to be a send-up to the character, a meat-headed dude-bro obsessed with his dead parents and with how effortlessly awesome he is, whose reaction to change is uniformly negative, and whose comfort level beyond the confines of his cowl and batcave is nonexistent. Lest this sound like another recap of Batman v. Superman however, the character is played explicitly for laughs, a ludicrous man-child of undeniable skill whose password in the Batcave is "Iron Man Sucks", and whose butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), reminds him periodically of the last few times he entered a brooding phase (the dates of every other Batman movie ever made, as well as the Adam West Batman TV episode where he danced the Batoozie).

Yeah, in case it wasn't clear, this is a movie that doesn't take itself overly seriously, and given the propensity for comic book films, particularly DC/Batman-related comic book films to do just that in the last decade, the result is a welcome change away from the "SERIOUS BUSINESS!" style that every other Batman property has had, to varying effect, since Joel Schumacher gave it up. Early on in the movie, Batman simultaneously defeats his entire rogue's gallery at once, all while singing (and occasionally performing a guitar solo) about how incredibly awesome he is, because he's Batman. That's not to say that there's no heart to the story, certainly, just that the movie accepts that we all know how badass Batman is, and wishes to tell something else about him, something not seen in proper Batman media outside of fan comics. Along with this comes The Lego Movie's wanton disregard for the boundaries of licensing and canon, as Joker, in his quixotic quest to get Batman to admit that he hates him most of all (this is exactly as ridiculous as you think), eventually comes by the services of such luminaries as Sauron, Agent Smith, Voldemort, Godzilla, The Wicked Witch of the West, and the Daleks, not as cameos, but as actual elements of the plot and story. This tendency by the Lego Movie series (recall that the last movie had Batman beating up Han Solo so as to steal a vital component for his impending rescue of the 2002 Los Angeles Lakers) has always been one of the great uses of a master-license in modern filmmaking, and it's refreshing to see it all over again, even if they inexplicably miss an opportunity to have Fiennes reprise his voice-role for Voldemort. Even when not literally robbing the stables of other great properties, the film uses visual gags and even voicework ones to send-up largely every superhero convention in existence, from the Bane and Mr. Freeze voices clearly pasticheing their most famous portrayers, to the Justice League "forgetting" to invite Batman to their anniversary party at the Fortress of Solitude because he's such a misanthropic douche. What's not to love?


Things Havoc disliked: As with any sequel, the question must arise as to whether The Lego Batman Movie is as good as The Lego Movie was, and no, it is not. The reason for this isn't just because The Lego Movie caught lightning in a bottle and that this film cannot possibly replicate the astounding surprise that was its predecessor, though of course there is that. It also has to do with the fact that The Lego Movie's scale and breadth of imagination was satisfyingly vast, with settings and characters stolen from fantasy films, crime dramas, space operas, sports teams, internet memes, Adult Swim cartoons, and the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Aristophanes, all tied together with an intensely humanizing meta-story about the nature of imagination and wonder. The Lego Batman movie does not contain those things, content instead to tell a fairly conventional Batman story, albeit one that is both well-crafted, and unlikely to be seen outside the bounds of imgur or Fanfiction.net. Beyond the fact that vast numbers of villains from other properties exist and are thrown into the story, there is really no hint of the wider Lego Metaverse that the first movie established, and the whole concept of Master Builders or the assembly of ridiculous contraptions out of the ubiquitous Lego bricks is either absent entirely, or surfaces just for a second here and there throughout the movie. There's nothing wrong with that per se, as the film's predecessor more or less said everything that needed to be said on that subject, but it does leave the film feeling much more restricted than The Lego Movie itself did. That puts it in good company with 99% of movies made, of course, but it also makes the inevitable comparisons all the more obvious. The Lego Batman movie is a very good Batman film. The Lego Movie itself was a masterpiece.


Final Thoughts: But at the same time, I have never, ever allowed myself to fall into the trap of disliking a film simply for not being another film, and a very good Batman movie is quite a thing in and of itself, particularly one that is so radically different from all the previous Batman movies we have experienced. As such, my recommendation is that people leave the previous film entirely out of their calculations when deciding whether or not to see this one, and simply try to see the movie as its own thing, an extremely-funny send-up to the conventions and tropes of the Batman franchise and legacy. It may not be a stone classic the way that the first one was, but it is a fine, well-crafted, and highly-entertaining film. And if that's not good enough for you, then you either see way too many movies, or none at all.

Final Score: 7.5/10

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


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 05, 2017 3:52 pm 
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John Wick: Chapter 2

Alternate Title: Keanu Reeves Kills Everyone Again

One sentence synopsis: John Wick confronts a figure from his past and a horde of secret assassins intent on killing him.


Things Havoc liked: You write reviews for long enough in regards to any kind of subjective thing, and eventually you're going to make mistakes. Obviously I, being an expert, am less prone to such things than others are, but the fact remains that even I can make the occasional slip up, or simply have my viewpoints on movies evolve over time. So it is with 2014's Neo-noir action extravaganza, John Wick, a Keanu Reeves showcase of excellent action, excellent cinematography, and very, very little else. I was complimentary towards John Wick in its original incarnation, but somewhat grudgingly-so, as i felt that the movie's lack of any kind of story beyond the most basic excuse for action sequences was a flaw, and that the movie was consequently one-dimensional. I try to put enough thought into these reviews to avoid having to eat crow later on, but over the course of the years between that review and this one, I must admit that I began to re-think my position on John Wick, as the film's simplicity came to look more and more like leanness, and the other issues I had with it came to feel less important on the periodic, repeat viewings that I engaged in. Moreover, the film's strengths, particularly its fantastic action, became more impressive in hindsight, particularly as I went through movies like The Expendables 3 or Spectre. Though I still didn't think it amazing, I have come to respect John Wick more than I did before, and wish that I had given it a higher score.

Fortunately, I now have an opportunity to make up for past amends. Because the sequel is goddamned awesome.

John Wick, Chapter 2, is a staggeringly good action movie, a purified exercise in cinematic talent, a baroque ode to the fine art of staging and filming violence as performed by masters of the art. It is a polished, expertly-crafted jewel in the dross that is typically February releases, a work of excess-laden, artistic bliss. If you are at all a fan of action movies as a theoretical concept, you will adore its every blood-spattered moment, and need read no further for me to convince you. And even if action movies are lost upon you, this one is so classically-made and lovingly-crafted that you may find yourself enjoying it despite your best efforts. Which category I am in should be obvious.

The original John Wick's action was its strongest suit, so good that it influenced other action movies like The Accountant, but this film's action makes the first look like an exercise in Jason-Bournesque shaky-cam. The fighting, and there is so goddamn much of it, is a ballet of death, with crisp, beautifully-framed shots of shooting, of knife-fighting, of close-quarters combat by men who clearly intend to kill one another with ruthless, bloody efficiency. Some of the best scenes in the film come when John Wick fights some other super-assassin over who will get control of a single knife or gun and kill the other with a shot to the head. Bone-shattering blows and falls alternate with artistic gunplay of all types, as dozens of men are cut down in hails of gunfire filmed to make their demises seem neither comical, as in a bad action movie, nor foregone conclusions, as in a middling one. So relentlessly superb is the action in this movie that when special scenes finally arise, such as the on-screen revelation of just how lethal John Wick can be with something as benign as a pencil, it actually feels like a shocking confirmation of how deadly the character is, not some director's contrivance to allow the hero to show off. Director Chad Stahelski, whose only directed films are the John Wick series, has a stuntman background going all the way back to 1994's The Crow (where he served as Brandon Lee's replacement stand-in following the terrible on-set accident that killed him), and it shows in this film, as the entire movie is cored around its action, and exists as a showcase of the art form.

Which is not to say that the cast is letting the side down. Keanu Reeves is a known quantity at this point, an actor whose range is perhaps not the widest, but who is consistently entertaining and effective within that range. This is no slur against (by all accounts) one of the kindest and most thoughtful men in Hollywood, only an attempt to point out that, in the John Wick series, Reeves has found what might be his perfect role. Whatever his acting limitations may be, Reeves is ruthlessly good at playing a preternaturally-skilled killer of men, encompassing both the physical demands of the role (for which he performed his own stunts, of course), and the dead-eyed, monotone expressionless soul-void that must reside at the core of a character that does the things he does. The film is by no means a deconstruction of action heroes or anything, it's simply a role written (literally, I imagine), for Keanu, which he is unsurprisingly great at.

What is surprising, though, is how good the rest of his castmates are, particularly rapper/actor Common, whom I've always sort of casually liked without having any real affection for. No longer. Playing the role of Cassian, another member of the Invisible, International Fraternity of Invincible Super-Assassins, Common is on another goddamn level here, as his attempts to take revenge on Wick lead to a series of action setpieces that are staggering to behold, even by comparison to the rest of the movie. A standout moment involves the two of them walking as casually as they can through a train station attempting to kill one another with silenced handguns without anyone else finding out that they are shooting at each other, and ends with a knife-fight on a train that is, by itself, more exciting and energetic than the entire Taken series put together. The rest of the cast includes recurring characters like Ian MacShane's Winston, and Lance Reddick's Charon, respectively the director and the concierge of "The Continental", a series of hotels and underground service providers who govern and manage the aforementioned Invisible, International Fraternity of Invincible Super-Assassins (hereafter referred to as the IIFISA). The film expands on the fascinating, briefly-glimpsed world of the IIFISA, showing us its locations elsewhere in the world, its services on-offer (including Peter Serafinowicz as a Sommelier who deals in more than just wine), and even hints about its top-level organization. The film stops short of showing us enough to spoil the mystery, but tantalizes us with hints and references and the charming anachronisms of the IIFISA's old-world operational style that feel, at times, like something out of a gothic-punk vampire story of the late 90s. Newcomers (besides Common), include the increasingly ubiquitous Ruby Rose as a mute assassin (the IIFISA has always been quite inclusive) working for yet another impeccably-powerful mafia boss, and none other than Laurence Fishburne playing "The Bowrey King", a lord of beggars and thieves throughout New York who takes the opportunity of his scenes with Reeves to make all the Matrix in-jokes imaginable, while feasting gluttonously on the nearby scenery. This is not criticism.


Things Havoc disliked: The setting of the John Wick films has always been fascinating. The story has not. Particularly here, where absent the (flimsy) motivations of the first film (summarized expertly at the beginning of the movie by the irreplaceable Peter Stormare), Wick seems to be plunged into this movie for no reason at all. Indeed, the plot is so absent that it kind of starts to resemble an idiot plot, in that Wick makes a decision early on in the film that he knows (being a member of the IIFISA himself) will automatically and absolutely lead to violence and outrages being performed against his person, and then acts put out and astonished that it has done so. The rules of this world are fascinating to us as viewers, but are not that complicated (part of their appeal, frankly), and Wick violates them in the first place for no reason other than he can't be bothered to comply. I know I opened the last movie by opining that John Wick was actually the bad guy in the first movie, but here, he seems to be dragged into things more or less by default, which kick-starts the film in a very strange, not particularly compelling way. I know that a movie like that is going for the "all-style, little-substance" route that a lot of action movies (and most of Quentin Tarantino's work) aims for, and by and large it does it very well, but the base fact is that John Wick has always been the least interesting part of the world of the John Wick films. And for a little while, at least, the movie seems to have forgotten that, before things finally start to pick up.


Final Thoughts: As people have never let me forget, I once famously predicted that Action Movies as a genre were dead, and in that sense, John Wick Chapter 2 is merely the latest refutation of my most infamous prediction. Rarely, however, am I this glad to be wrong about something. John Wick, Chapter 2, is a bloody, orgiastic masterpiece, restrained and unhinged all at the same time, with conceits that run right up to the boundary between brilliant and stupid, and tease you before bringing on the next showcase. Like the Raid films of Indonesia, it is a solid, demonstrable step up from what came before it, and leaves one hungry to see more of the stylish, fascinating, and incredibly cool world that it has constructed for itself, all without over-explanation or condescension to the audience. It is fucking awesome.

Go see this movie. If you like action in even a theoretical sense, you will not regret it. And if you don't, it may just convert you.

Final Score: 8/10

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

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


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 05, 2017 7:48 pm 
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It vaguely bothered me that John Wick 2 opens with him killing an assload of mobsters to get back a car that they clearly would have gladly handed to him. Just one phone call, "I want my car back." And the mob boss would have been all, "Yes John Wick, sir. Right away, sir. The tank's topped up and we buffed the paint for you, sir." John Wick acting like a child when faced the Camorra came calling also bugged me, since he clearly knew what was going to happen if he refused. How the fuck is he surprised that the guy who implied he was going to burn his house down went and burnt his house down? Crime lords are not known for making idle threats! Though bonus points to the movie for knowing that not all Italian organized crime are the Mafia.

Following on that, John Wick insists that the hit is impossible and can't be done, suggesting that he's going to have a hell of a time pulling it off. Then when the time comes, the movie shows us how well protected and difficult to kill this person is by having John Wick just walk in through the back door and past all the guards without any apparent effort. It was kind of a let down after building it up like that. Basically the movie is a beautiful over the top action extravaganza like the first one, but unlike the first one they forgot that even a barebones plot needs to hold together.

Also partway through the movie i suddenly pictured Lucretia watching it, and resolving to get herself a cute mute tomboy assassin. Because the Camorra bosses in the movie have a great sense of style, and the cute mute tomboy assassin is the best accessory. The best.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 7:26 pm 
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Logan

Alternate Title: Requiem for a Wolverine

One sentence synopsis: In a dystopian future bereft of all mutants, Logan and Charles Xavier must protect a young mutant from a PMC intent on taking her into custody.


Things Havoc liked: For seventeen years and ten films, the X-men movies have existed in one form or another. Seventeen years and ten films, some good (X-Men 2, First Class, Days of Future Past, Deadpool), some execrable (Origins, The Wolverine, X-Men 3, Apocalypse). If nothing else, here at the end of all things, it's worth stopping and recognizing just how long and how important this series has been in the ongoing godzilla-like rampage of Superhero movies at the box office. And while the question of whether or not Logan represents an end to the entire affair is more open than I anticipated when I first saw the movie, for whatever it's worth, Logan feels like an ending to a series of weight and importance, and deserves to be judged as such. The promises of the ad campaign that preceded it were that we had never before seen a superhero movie like this, and that, for better or worse, was no lie.

The year is 2029, a dystopian time of brown skies, corporate dominance, and wind-blown grit. Logan (Hugh Jackman), AKA the Wolverine, is an old man at last, his body ravaged by the abuse he has suffered over the years (centuries if you believe X-Men Origins, but I can understanding why one would not), and by the fact that his unbreakable adamantium skeleton is finally starting to poison him to death. Kept going only by his preternatural healing factor and the need to care for a nonagenarian Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose brilliant mind is finally disintegrating under the weight of raw age and raw despair. Together with a new-to-the-series precognitive mutant named Caliban (a barely-recognizable Stephen Merchant), these three may well be the last mutants on Earth, due to a combination of an unexplained cessation in mutant births some twenty-five years ago, and a horrible accident, only hinted at in the story, in which Xavier's faltering mind obliterated a large number of mutants and humans some years previously. I normally try not to go so deep into plot matters in these reviews, but what's important here is how distinct this setup is from anything else we've ever seen in X-men movies, or really in comic book movies whatsoever. The style is not high adventure, as is the common theme for these films, nor mystery or thriller or heist or space opera, as in many of Marvel's recent outings, but modern western, ala Hell or High Water or No Country for Old Men. The scenes are elongated, the characters exhausted and worn, the tone funereal and bleak, the shot selection (by Kingdom of Heaven and X-Men: First Class' cinematographer John Mathieson) positively Coenesque. If only by sheer novelty, in consequence, Logan is a revelation for the entire Superhero genre, an application of dramatic cinematic language to a genre still dismissed by many critics as having no soul. I've never seen someone try to adapt a Cormac McCarthy book to the screen with superheroes in it, but if I ever do, I expect it will look exactly like Logan.

The director of Logan, James Mangold, also directed Wolverine's last solo instalment, 2013's The Wolverine, which was distinguished only in that it was better than its predecessor. For Logan, though, Mangold has chosen a very tight story, wrapped closely around three characters, trusting that the actors involved will sell the material themselves, as they have been doing for the better part of two decades now. It's a wise decision. Jackman has always been the original genius-casting for a superhero character, even in the worst of all movies. Here, he's given an opportunity to dig down into the soul of the character in a way he was only ever allowed to hint at before, and the result is everything it should be. He plays Wolverine like a broken, beaten man going through the motions because he doesn't know what else to do, who has grown accustomed to losing, and whose primal rage is no longer sufficient to carry him through. Stewart meanwhile, in the character he defined, is the picture of sadness, his high-minded ideals in ashes, his life's work a failure. The sudden shift to an R-Rating (a first for the X-men series if you don't count Deadpool, and you shouldn't), only re-enforces things, as listening to Professor Xavier, the grandfatherly mentor of the mutants of old, cursing and weeping in a deserted steel foundry that has become his jail cell and hospice room is a more startling image than I expected it to be, accustomed as we are to seeing the character in a totally different context. And with none of the rest of the panoply of X-men characters on-hand or even mentioned, much of the film is given over to the interplay between Logan and Xavier, as though in the end of this epochal series, we have returned at last to its original roots. But the final element the film cores itself around is a new addition, a young mutant girl named X-23 (Laura, eventually), lab-grown by the inevitable evil super-corporation, and now on the run from their army of paramilitary hitmen, played by Spanish-English child actress Dafne Keen. There's a lot of you out there who, upon hearing that Wolverine was to be paired with a child sidekick, no doubt reached for vomit bags, but let me assure you, this girl, and this character, are goddamned incredible. Entirely mute for most of the film save for guttural growls of tempestuous rage, and possessed of a violent potency that makes Hit-Girl look like Kit Kittredge (the introduction to her mutant powers involves a freshly-severed head), this is not your average child sidekick, but a violent blender in the shape of a pint-sized girl, and Keen, whether speaking in English, Spanish, or not at all, is transcendently-good in the film, not merely the physicality demanded by the action, but also in holding her own against two titans of the superhero genre in the quieter, more desolate scenes that the movie is replete with.

And that's... more or less Logan in a nutshell, folks, an experiment in character and tone and the capabilities of superhero violence, as the R-rating allows the movie to get sublimely brutal with its action, befitting the darker tone of the movie and thrilling any long-time fan of ultra-violence (hi). Snapshots of Americana, such as an extended sequence with a black farming family somewhere in Kansas (headed by ER's Eriq LaSalle) are interspersed with moments of quiet desolation, allowing the characters to reflect on the irrecoverable ruin that their lives have become. The classic comic relief that comes naturally when a character as broody as Wolverine is forcibly paired with small children breaks up the tension now and again in the right spots, but the film is overall a dark and funereal mediation on the end of dreams, on the grim side of human nature, and on the human condition in its most agonizing forms.


Things Havoc disliked: That does not make it a good movie.

I wanted to like Logan. I wanted to love it. I wanted to use it as ammunition against every snobbish artistic oligarch who have been spitting on this entire genre for twenty years, and implicitly or explicitly on those who enjoy them. I wanted to herald it as a sea-change in the makeup of Superhero filmmaking, as proof positive that these films are the Greek Myths of our modern world, re-shaped and re-packaged to deliver the universal truths of the human condition by exaggerating what it is to be human. I wanted Logan to blow me out of my seat, and to leave the theater showering it with praise. And maybe that was my mistake in the first place, because for all of the very good things in Logan... I didn't like it at all.

Why not? Well, let's see if I can illustrate.

Logan wishes, very very much, to be its own film, to be viewed as its own film, unrestrained by the decisions and canon of the nine movies that preceded it. To an extent, I understand. Ten films is a lot of films, particularly if you are not Marvel, and have not been comprehensively building your cinematic universe in a holistic manner. We've already retconned one film (X-men 3) out of existence entirely, after all, and I can fully understand the desire to break with tradition in this regard. The problem though, is that the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too. It relies entirely on those previous movies for the establishment of the characters of Logan and Xavier, to give weight to what's actually going on here. Otherwise we're just watching two ornery old men snap at one another for two hours with no context. And yet, having invited us to remember all of the previous adventures of Xavier and Logan and their band of merry mutants, the film expects us to selectively forget everything else in those movies, from Magneto to Mystique to the X-men to the fundamental themes of the X-men movies themselves, all without comment. That is a huge order for any franchise, the equivalent of releasing a Star Wars movie that has no spaceships, no Jedi, no Empire or Rebellion, no Force, no aliens, no adventure, and no fun, and then pretending that any confusion that results is the fault of viewers who are afraid of change.

Where, for instance, are the X-Men? This is not an unreasonable question to ask given that the plot of the movie is entirely contingent on the fact that they no longer exist, and that nine previous films were entirely or in part about the X-men in one form or another. I'm not asking that the movie be identical to First Class or Days of Future Past, or upset that Cyclops and Jean Grey didn't get cameos. I'm annoyed that the question of where all the mutants are is not answered in any manner save by one of the most perfunctory, stupid, and ill-thought-out plot excuses imaginable. This isn't a minor question. The entire series was built around mutants' position in society, as allegories for homosexuality or other forms of discrimination. I don't expect Logan to chain itself to the themes of previous films, but if it's going to position itself as the last word to a twenty-year series of films, it has a goddamned obligation to remember that they existed, at the very least. But no, those movies are entirely separate from this one, except for when we say so. Or indicate so. Or decide retroactively that it is so. And it doesn't stop with that question alone, indeed Logan seems almost perversely uninterested in answering any questions, whether brought up by previous films or by its own plot. If Wolverine's adamantium is poisoning him to death, then doesn't that indicate that Laura, who is established to also have Adamantium grafted to her skeleton, is also at risk of being so-poisoned? Never addressed. If the X-men have been destroyed (which I think is where the movie is going, but it hardly makes things clear), then what happened to all the other mutants of the world, particularly the world-shattering ones that the X-men fought? Never addressed. How is it that a PMC is operating throughout Mexico, Canada, and the US with massive military deployments, utterly unchecked by even a modicum of government oversight, up-to-and-including drone strikes and massive civilian casualties? Never addressed. These aren't minor nitpicks, like how Laura's growing skeleton is going to respond to adamantium grafts, or why evil corporations always think that living-weapon super-soldiers are going to pay for themselves despite their propensity to kill everyone nearby (I call this the Wayland-Yutani paradox), these are core elements of the story, logical questions that anyone, let alone the fans of the series that the movie has gone out of its way to attract, would wonder at the instant the subjects were brought up. And the film's response is to ignore them all entirely as unimportant, because they might take valuable time away from the misery on screen.

But all of this I might have forgiven if not for the ending of the film, an ending that is so deliberately unfulfilling that it can only have been intentionally designed that way. After an hour-and-a-half of confusing but interesting buildup, of morbidly funereal tone, of the nadirs of human experience being showcased on screen, we get to the end of the film, and the filmmakers reveal that there was no point to any of it save to wallow in the misery of human suffering. Make no mistake, there are great movies that exist solely to wallow in the misery of human suffering, as films as diverse as Requiem for a Dream, Grave of the Fireflies, Dancer in the Dark, or Breaking the Waves can attest to. But those movies were trying to make a statement about their characters, their world, and what it is to be human. Logan is not, in fact Logan rejects the notion of such things so violently as to appear contemptuous of them. Not only does it seek to end the X-men movies with a whimper, but it implies in doing so that the themes around which the previous films lived or died were so unimportant that they aren't worth a mention, and that the movie's own plot, independent of what came before, is similarly unimportant. Nothing is resolved by this film, not from previous installments nor from this one itself. We never even get to know if the purpose that Logan and Xavier drove themselves out of retirement for, the driving force of the entire film, was a success or not. Some might call that decision bold. I call it lazy. And the film ended, I realized that the whole business, the quantum canonicity, the alternating respect for and rejection of the previous works, the wild and unexplained shift in tone, the casual discarding of the hallmarks of the series in favor of something else entirely... all of it spoke to me not of a movie in a series, but of Fanfiction. An experiment in fiction by those who want to take what they want of the canon and discard the rest without comment. And while I remain a stalwart defender of, and yes, even practitioner of the art of Fanfiction (come the fuck at me), Fanfiction is not what I go to the movies to see.


Final Thoughts: Logan is a movie of great paradoxes. It has many admirable qualities to it and many decisions that baffle me even now, a month after seeing it, and it is this paradox that has kept this review so-long delayed (among other things). I cannot, in good conscience, call it a great film, as many others have, though I also do not deny that it is in many ways a daring and admirable experiment in how one may take Superhero movies. As such, I remain of two minds about Logan, as I likely always will be. On the one hand, it is a film that has finally managed to be taken seriously by all and sundry, critics, audiences, and filmmakers alike. It has proven that not only can Superhero movies be serious, but that they can be R-rated and adult-themed and dour and reflective, and still make money at the box office. On the other hand though, it has also, probably inadvertently, sent a message to the critics that Superhero movies can indeed be good films, assuming that they jettison all that childish "superhero" stuff in favor of a grim deconstruction of the genre that borders on the monomaniacal at times. There is a consequent part of me that is concerned at the fact that a movie that many are calling the Greatest Superhero Movie of All Time is a film that regards the genre of Superhero movies as being stupid and lightweight to the point where it does not deserve consideration or thought.

Ultimately, Logan is a movie that many will love, some will despise, and I will not know what to do with for as long as I live. I did not, ultimately, enjoy it particularly, nor do I think that its gross ignorance of the basic conceits of plot, and its palpable contempt for and embarrassment by its predecessors somehow makes it a great film. But like it or not, Logan feels like a sea-change in how Superheros can be represented on the silver screen. I can only hope that the lessons we learn from it are to the genre's credit.

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."


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 2:01 pm 
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Get Out

Alternate Title: The Stepford Black People

One sentence synopsis: The black boyfriend of a white girl visits her parents' house in upstate New York, only to find that things are stranger than he expected.


Things Havoc liked: By now, regular readers must be aware that I'm a big fan of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, the funniest duo since the end of That Mitchell and Webb Look (I promise that I made none of the preceding sentence up. I've had occasion to mention this a couple of times in the last eighteen months or so, thanks to the fact that both Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key have spent that period making a series of films and film appearances. Between Keanu, written by the former, and Don't Think Twice, starring the latter, I've been seeing quite a bit of what the two have to offer. This time however, Mr. Peele has broken off on his own, writing and directing a comedy-horror film filled, at least ostensibly, with the same biting racial satire that the show involved. Worse ideas than this have been made into good movies.

Regular readers will also know by now that horror is not my genre, by and large. Part of that is just personal preference, but part of it is also that most horror movies are just boring, trope-laden exercises in jump scares and contrivances, lacking all artistry or subtlety. I appreciate that the same could be said for 90% of most genres, and further that it's a bit churlish of me to dismiss a genre of film that I admittedly don't partake of terribly often, but when you see as many movies as I do, hard choices must be made. That said, I've always had a bit of admiration for movies that combine horror with other genres, particularly comedy, as in the case of the original Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, or 2012's standout The Cabin in the Woods. Get Out is another addition to that genre, this time bringing not slapstick or deconstruction to the horror genre, but modern satire replete with clever touches that start with a reversal of the typical urban horror movie opening scene, as a black man tries to convince himself that everything is going to be fine as he walks through an affluent suburban neighborhood, only for things to go just as horribly as he fears they will. It's a scene combining ironic humor with bitter reflections on race and society, and strikes just the right tone for the rest of the movie to follow. Scenes where our protagonist, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a burgeoning photographer, is visiting the wealthy parents of his white girlfriend, involve endless moments of perfectly ripe awkwardness, as legions of rich, old white people, who likely have never spoken to a black person in their lives who didn't work for them, struggle to find something to say to this person who might as well be from Mars for all they know, and grasp at the same tired, unprompted declarations concerning their appreciation of black athletes, their admiration of hip hop culture (something they plainly know nothing about), and their constant and loudly affirmed support for Barack Obama, even when politics is not being discussed. There's a weary familiarity to this whole concept, to being an outsider who is not allowed to forget that he is an outsider by the simple fact of people refusing to see him as anything else, that rings absolutely true, and while I would never claim I have the first idea of what it is to be Black in America (or anywhere else), I have been in such situations before, standing in a theoretically convivial setting as people sputter and stammer and desperately try to regurgitate something socially acceptable to say when they are confronted, for the first time in years no doubt, with a member of a group they are not a part of. In my case it involves a lot of unprompted lectures about Israel. In Chris' case, it leads to actual mad science.

Indeed, lest I make Get Out sound like an after-school special about how to treat people like people, the movie is, at its core, a horror film, and things begin to get very weird very quickly in this quaint hamlet in the New York woods. Fortunately, unlike roughly every other horror movie made in the last thirty years, this one anchors itself around suspense and unease more than gimmicks and blood. Lest I sound too critical of horror directors, the reason the majority of them eschew subtlety, is that absent gore and jump scares, they would be forced to rely upon such unpredictable things as "acting", which this film has the temerity to place front and center. Both Kaluuya and Alison Williams (playing his girlfriend, Rose) are perfectly fine as the leads, but the stars of the show are the supporting characters, particularly Bradley Whitford (who also stole the show in Cabin in the Woods), playing Rose's neurosurgeon father who is up to far more than he appears to be. Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson play the family's black servants, who are convincingly and comprehensively creepy as hell. Standup comedian Lil Rel Howery, meanwhile, plays Chris' friend Rod, a TSA agent who investigates the nefarious goings on and provides some welcome comic relief. For a film built entirely on mood and disquiet, the actors all do a spectacular job, providing the creepy, right-angled atmosphere that any proper horror movie, even horror-comedies, require.


Things Havoc disliked: I won't pretend that the resulting film is perfect, of course. The ultimate explanation for why everything is happening as it is happening is, of course, demonstrably goofy, which is fine, but also doesn't really fit the satirical and socio-political themes that the movie has been stirring up, which is not. Even within the context of a horror-comedy like this, there are a lot of questions left unanswered as to why characters are acting the way they do, and why certain terrible things are happening to particular characters. To say more would be a fairly serious spoiler, but I'll just point out that had the movie not raised these questions in the first place, I would probably have given it a pass for not answering them.

There's also, of course, the end of the film, which is a violent, ridiculous act of lunacy (this is not an objection), but which does require an awful lot of characters to spontaneously start acting an awful lot different than they have been established as acting, in a way that exceeded, at least for me, the bounds of suspension of disbelief and began to enter the bounds of script contrivance. Again, normally this wouldn't be such a big deal, save that the movie plays around with questions such as the pre-established assumptions about people based on race in modern society, and then seems to miss the fact that it is asking us all to accept that a black man, confronted with a weird and dangerous situation, will immediately transform into the Punisher, capable, without any hesitation, of killing half a dozen people in cold blood that he has just met. To be clear, I'm not calling the film racist, or anything so stupid as that, lots of horror movies assume the exact same thing of their protagonists when the ending approaches and we need to winnow the cast in an efficient manner. I'm just saying that there were opportunities for more superstitious satire left on the table untouched, and that consequently a lot of what is there seems a bit... shall we say 'obvious'? At least to my Bay Area-trained social senses?


Final Thoughts: Still, with or without such decisions, Get Out is a fine movie, perceptive without being monomaniacal, timely without being datable, funny without losing its focus on the fundamental horror of the situation, and satirical without being absurdly strident. All of these virtues, have, of course, not stopped most of the mainstream critics who have reviewed this movie from falling all over themselves in efforts to out-do one another's stupidity, with some claiming that it "finally indicts the dark terrors at the heart of limousine liberalism" (apparently the reviewer in question believes that rich white people who vote democrat are doing so because they secretly wish to use mad science to enslave black people?), and others indicating that it "plays like anti-miscegenation propaganda from the 50s" (which is kind of like claiming that Alien was designed to advocate repealing the 20th amendment). I could reflect here that, as usual, the instant you try and talk cogently about race in America, everyone involved becomes an idiot, but none of that is the film's fault. Get Out, whatever purposes people choose to put it to, is a strong, funny, tense, and well-crafted film. I heartily look forward to what Jordan Peele has to offer us in the future. And I'd be lying if I denied that I also look forward to seeing how dumb those offerings make the rest of my fellow critics sound.

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."


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 30, 2017 5:37 am 
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Beauty and the Beast

Alternate Title: Hermione Granger and the Castle of Hallucinogenic Allergens

One sentence synopsis: A bookish girl from a parochial village in fairy tale France becomes the prisoner of a terrible beast locked in a castle until someone learns to love him.


Things Havoc liked: Though it has its detractors, I stand by the notion that 1991's Beauty and the Beast is one of the finest works that Disney's Animation studio ever produced, a small step behind the Lion King as the best Disney film. A Golden Globe and Oscar-winning film, the first (and only) animated movie ever nominated for a Best Picture award at the Academy Awards, and a film selected for preservation by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant". And now, following the... success(?) of last year's Live Action Jungle Book remake, a film that has also been re-imagined in live action form, thanks to the unstinting efforts of the director of Twilight - Breaking Dawn. Yipee. As you all know, I was rather lukewarm on the subject of the Jungle Book remake (my compatriot Corvidae went so far as to put on her list of worst films of the year), and did not actually intend to go see this one, unconvinced as I was that a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast could be anything but an awkward mess, given the strength of the original. Cooler heads prevailed (mostly due to the fact that I owed several people after the Suicide Squad disaster), so the question thus became, having been dragged into the theater by main force, what did I think of the re-imagined live version of an all-time animated classic?

The answer? I loved it.

Beauty and the Beast, in its modern, live-action form, has lost absolutely nothing of the charm it evidenced some 26 years ago, and has, in fact, layered considerable additions on top of it. Despite all of my misgivings, despite the evident awkwardness that a live-action musical generally involves, despite the middling results the last time Disney tried this, this time, in this year, this movie is just wonderful, though whether this is because of careful production, the underlying strength of the source material, or both is somewhat difficult to say. But if we're going to discuss the virtues of this film, the best place to begin is, as is often the case, the cast. The film stars Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, the former of Harry Potter fame, the latter of Downton Abbey and little else, as the titular Beauty and Beast, and both are excellent, with Watson affecting the same sort of bookish charm she brought to the Potter series , while Stevens cuts the bestial rage with the pomposity of an over-educated aristocrat, which is not the worst decision ever. Both actors are called upon to sing quite a lot (naturally) and both do very well at it, particularly Stevens, whose big solo number Evermore (a new song written specifically for the film) is probably the strongest of the lot overall, no small feet given the songs that the rest of the movie is replete with. The big surprise though is neither Watson nor Stevens but Luke Evans of all people, the quasi-useless doofus from the Hobbit films and last year's High-Rise, who is almost perfect as the swaggering asshole non-hero Gaston. Though Evans lacks Gaston's oversized physicality (as would anyone not named The Rock), he lacks pretty much nothing else, delivering a performance that is melodramatic and over-the-top in all the right ways, the sort of performance that will make me forget an actor's flaws and embrace their strengths, strengths which appear to involve being campy as hell, something I've noticed before with actors I don't much care for (Jessica Chastain comes to mind).

But the real strength of the cast comes from the supporting cast, either on-screen or off, which includes Ewan McGregor taking on the role of Lumiere, a role previously played by the late, great, Jerry Orbach, using one of the most outrageous French accents that film records. McGregor, following in Orbach's footsteps, matches that accent with an awful one of his own, which is the manifestly correct move. The rest of the castle cast involves luminaries such as Ian McKellan as Cogsworth (bringing all his Gandalfian grumpiness to the role), Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts (the CG face of whom will give you nightmares), Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette (upgraded to a talking character), and several entirely new servants/furnitures including the irreplaceable Stanley Tucci as the irrascable Maestro Cadenza, a harpsichord, and husband to the operatic Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald). Though these performers mostly serve as voice actors, their work is unformly excellent, and complements well the surreal rococo stylings of the various characters, from the over-elaborate brass finishings on Lumiere to the intricate arms and gears comprising Cogsworth's face, to a wardrobe that could only have cost the lives of fifty keyframe animators. But lest we all drown in computer-generated tchotchkes (that's a real word, people), we also receive the services of Kevin Kline, one of my favorite actors working, playing Belle's father Maurice in a more subdued role than the mad scientist of the previous version, and Josh Gad, an actor who continues to surprise me, playing Le Fou, in the 1991 version, a simple comic relief character from the original film who here is... well still a comic relief character, certainly, but with a very different slant, being portrayed as a screamingly gay sidekick whose unrequited love for Gaston is invariably interpreted as platonic admiration (to truly hilarious effect several times). This attribute got the movie banned in several regressive places like Malaysia, Kuwait, Russia (momentarily), and portions of northeastern Alabama. It's statistics like these that I must rely upon when making my weekly decisions as to which movies will make the cut around here.

The score of Beauty and the Beast has never been in question, as it's one of the finest musical scores to come from an animated film in history, a fact proven when Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman were nominated for three separate songs at the Academy Awards and won one of them. Most of the songs from the original film had a fairly rough style to them, sung as they were by actors who did not have a background in song, and who were occasionally saddled with ludicrous accents to boot. The new film retains those attributes, rough edges and all, supplementing them with new songs either taken from the Broadway musical or written specifically for the film itself, all of which fit in perfectly to the general symphonic aesthetic of the show as a whole. The world is visualized in absurd splendor, with the Beast's Castle being re-imagined into an elaborate riot of baroque artistry that could easily have been taken from the palatial estates of Louis XIV, while the pastoral bustle of Belle's village and the spooky atmosphere of the haunted woods surrounding the castle retain the sense of semi-animated artificiality that plays well with timeless tales like this. As to the plot, it obviously runs the same route as the original film, but with additions that tighten or expand on the story just a bit here and there. We get a renewed focus on the servants themselves, on their desperation to return to human form, and on what it was that caused the enchantress to curse them all in the first place alongside their noble lords. Belle's own backstory (and that of her father) is embellished upon to give her a bit more depth than 'the nerdy daughter of a lunatic'. But the biggest shifts come in the conversations and scenes between Belle and the Beast directly. Beauty and the Beast has long been subject to criticisms that it portrayed an abusive, perhaps Stockholm-syndrome-style relationship, and while the dynamic between the two is still strained, a great effort is made by the film to show why the two might fall in love, and what attributes they share, playing up the fact that, curse or no curse, the Beast was once a Prince, and thus well-educated and erudite, something which would naturally appeal to a bookish girl desperate to escape the limited intellectual horizons of her provincial town. A scene in which Belle mentions that she would like to see Paris results in the Beast reminiscing about the times he spent there, presenting (rather paradoxically) a wider world trapped within his castle than she was experiencing outside of it. I'm not going to pretend that the subtext isn't still awkward, it is, and unavoidably so in all likelihood. But the effort to update the story and polish it further with a narrative that fits a more modern conception of the fairy tale strikes just the right chord, and really serves to push the film into a truly superb work in its own right.



Things Havoc disliked: Fair or unfair, a movie like a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast is going to be saddled with comparisons, generally unflattering, with the original, and while it stands quite well against the best that the original has to offer in many cases, there are obvious areas where more could perhaps have been done. A couple of the songs, particularly Gaston's number, Be Our Guest, and the Mob song are mixed quite poorly (this afflicted the Mob song in the original film as well), rendering it actually quite difficult to figure out what people are singing about, even if one knows the lyrics by heart, as I do. This tends to afflict the earthy ensemble pieces more than the grandiose ballads for which the movie is more famous, but it does spoil some of the charm of the numbers in question. Moreover the action in the movie, which was energetic, frantic, and frightening in the animated film, is here somewhat muted. Gaston looks almost bored as he calmly shoots at the Beast during his ultimate scene, the wolf attacks seem rather perfunctory, like the dogs-attacking-the-Hulk scene from Ang Lee's Hulk, and many of the human characters seem occasionally perplexed as to what sort of emotion they should be emoting at a particular moment. And while the makeup for the Beast is excellent (sharing even a few notes from the Ron Pearlman TV series of the late 80s), and the blend between CG and real life is all but seamless, there is nevertheless a certain loss of freedom when it comes to a movie that was once animated and is no longer. The Beast is less feral, the fight scenes less violent, the slapstick comedy less hilarious, and the camera work less unconstrained, thanks to the basic, unavoidable fact that real people are acting in a real location, even if it's a location covered with green-screens, with a bevy of computers on-hand to assist in producing the necessary magic.


Final Thoughts: One is tempted, at this stage, to ask the inevitable question of whether the new Beauty and the Beast is better or worse than its illustrious predecessor from the Silver Age of Disney Animation. I have thought much on that question in the weeks since I saw the movie, and have no answer for it, but I do know that the new film is worthy of the old, and that alone places it in rare company. Maybe it's simply the material itself that's so strong, the Menchin songs and timeless nature of the tale itself, which does indeed date back to the mid-1700s if not before. Maybe it's the quality of the cast or the new additions to plot and soundtrack. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for the right sort of fairy tale. But for whatever reason, I truly loved Beauty and the Beast, just as I once loved the original, and for a remake to induce anything like that to its audience is unheard of, even in these remake-obsessed days that we live in. But even if the film does not have the same impact upon you, either because you never much liked the original in the first place, or because you find that the deviations made from the original's template are simply not acceptable, we are still left with a charming, wonderful, and warm rendition of a timeless story.

Utimately, Beauty and the Beast is a fantastic movie, one of the finest if not the finest that I have seen so far this year. Whether you take that statement in the context of its predecessor or not, all that really matters, in the end, is whether you will enjoy the act of watching the film. And to that, my only suggestion is to go forth and determine for yourself.

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."


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 30, 2017 10:25 pm 
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Kong: Skull Island

Alternate Title: Viet-Kong

One sentence synopsis: Near the end of the Vietnam war, A joint army-research expedition heads to a mysterious island to discover its terrible secrets.


Things Havoc liked: I've never been a big fan of the King Kong movies, mostly because the majority of them suck. Leaving aside the original 1933 classic, which is hard to evaluate properly in a modern setting, all of the other King Kong movies (and there have between 7 and 13, depending on which ones count) have been godawful rubber-suit-monster affairs, over-effected "extravaganzas", or big-budget wastes of time, particularly 2005's Peter Jackson version, in which the Lord of the Rings managed to give in to all of his worst habits while wasting a stellar cast. As such, I was not exactly chomping at the bit to go see this one, cast or no cast, but in the Doldrums season, one must often take what one can get, and so to the theater I went, to watch Samuel L. Jackson endeavor to get this motherfucking apes, off his motherfucking island.

... I'll stop.

Yes, Kong: Skull Island stars Samuel L. Jackson, he of the shouting and the myriad biblical quotes, as Colonel Packard, a hardcore military man of the sort that Jackson has played many times before, and God-willing, will play many times again. Bitter over the US' impending withdrawal in Vietnam, he leads an expedition in the best Doc-Savage-meets-Apocalypse-Now tradition to Skull Island, a hidden island that has peaked the interest of government agencies, corporations, and researchers for a variety of purposes, altruistic and nefarious. Jackson is amazing, because of course he is, a hard-bitten military officer who takes the Captain Ahab role after things begin to go FUBAR and King Kong beats the everloving crap out of his hyper-macho air cavalry force. I shouldn't have to tell any of you now that Samuel L. Jackson knows how to play a role like this, and his turn reminds me, in kind of a weird way, of The Rock's performance in the 2005 movie adaptation of Doom, a terrible movie whose one redeeming quality was the snarling, over-the-top macho military commander trying to seize control of the situation back from the demons in whose hands it lay. Or maybe he's doing a sendup to Robert Duvall's Colonel Killgore. Who knows?

The rest of the cast does not let the side down. John Goodman, America's slightly sleazy-but-fun uncle, plays Bill Randa, head of "Monarch", a government organization designed to investigate... well anything monsterous and dangerous it appears, who has stapled his own research team to the military expedition, and gets to look forlorn and world-weary as everything goes to hell around him. Corey Hawkins (who played Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton) and Chinese actress Jing Tian, get the 'young, idealistic scientist' roles, and do a fine job with them, horrified civilians entirely unready for the pulp-movie insanity that is exploding all around them. But the biggest surprise within the cast is none other than John C. Reilly, who plays a WWII fighter pilot shot down (along with his quarry) on Skull Island some thirty years before. Though Reilly is known for bufoonish roles, he's an excellent actor, and here he gets to actually play the wise voice of reason for once, filling the characters (and the audience) in on what is actually going on in this mysterious island. Reilly wrings considerable depth and even heartfelt sentiment from his character, a man who has been looking to go home for thirty-something years, not precisely what I was expecting to encounter in a movie about giant apes and dinosaurs.

Oh, did I mention there were giant apes and dinosaurs? And giant tree-spiders that can impale a man with one stomp? Because there are those things, and there are also Huey attack helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers and flame-throwers with which these things are repeatedly fought, and if that's not the sort of thing that interests you, then you should mentally chalk this movie up right now as "not your thing" and walk away from it. For all the rest of us who appreciate the chance to see giant monsters beating the ever-living crap out of one another, this movie has plenty to offer. Unlike 2014's utterly useless Godzilla, this movie is full of Kong, from a thunderous opening sequence that calls back to the best of Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Copolla's work, only with a hundred-foot ape dropped into the middle of everything, to the obligatory monster-on-monster fights, shot in vibrant technicolor, in full daylight, with every bone-shattering impact there to see on the screen. I cannot believe that in 2017 I still have to express surprise whenever a filmmaker does something as revolutionary as show us what the movie is about, but one takes what one can get after a point. And when Kong isn't on screen, we have other monsters to tide us over, enormous dinosauroid-things called Skullcrawlers, arachnids so large that they can pass for bamboo stalks, and a host of other creatures with voracious appetites and an overabundance of teeth. Our heroes are devoured, stabbed, smashed, and crushed in their dozens (of course), but the film never gets to the creature-feature levels that the Jackson version did, remaining in the realm of campy action fun, the way these movies are supposed to.


Things Havoc disliked: I could nitpick, of course. I could talk about how the weapons that the air-cavalry brings with them seem about as effective as potato guns, despite the fact that they are shooting at living, breathing creatures, and that the weapons in question were designed to punch holes in face-hardened steel plate. I could talk about the fact that people seem awfully willing to take the aforementioned useless weapons up against the monsters time and time again, despite the fact that the previous occasions have generally involved people firing the same useless guns at the same ravenous monsters before being turned into the same bloody smears. But this sort of thing is a convention of the monster movie, and it would be a bit churlish to get up in arms over it.

What is not churlish to object to are our actual two leads, Tom Hiddleston, playing an SAS/Lone Competent soldier named James Conrad (BEHOLD THE WONDEROUS SUBTLETY OF THE SYMBOLISM IN THIS FILM!!!), and Brie Larson, playing a peacenik photojournalist who is here to serve as our token "maybe we should not barge onto the island and butcher everything in sight" moral compass. I unabashedly love Tom Hiddleston in the Thor films of course, but I have to admit that, outside the MCU, he has not made a particularly good case for himself, appearing either in middling films like Only Lovers Left Alive and Crimson Peak, and utter dreck like High Rise. Hiddleston here plays a Great White Hunter archetype that really exists only to contrast with the macho military men who obediently waltz off to be slaughtered, and has little to no character beyond the fact that he does not believe in beating his head uselessly against sixty-foot eating machines. As to Larson... well I just can't quite figure out if Brie Larson is any good as an actress or not, as she keeps popping up in movies I don't care about, or playing roles that demand nothing of her. This is par for the course, as she's more or less here just to be a purely platonic love interest for Hiddleston, without even the token interest of having the giant gorilla fall in love with her, as is typical with the other movies in this series. Neither of these two are bad per se, it's just that there's nothing at all interesting about either of them, which makes all the time we spend with them as opposed to Samuel L. Jackson or the office-building-sized monstrosities that inhabit the island, something of a waste.


Final Thoughts: I expected nothing of Kong: Skull Island, as I have expected nothing of basically any giant monster movie for the last twenty years, but lo and behold, this one surprised me. It's not a masterpiece of the genre or anything (and I am not qualified to pronounce it one even if it was), but it's a fun, enjoyable movie, sufficiently campy and pulpy for the central conceit to work, and full of lush, vibrant action, several legitimately hillarious sight gags (the heroic last stand of a character played by veteran character actor Shea Whigham is amazing), and excellent Vietnam-style cinematography by newcomer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (as well as his co-director, his epic beard of power). Supposedly, this film, like every other film in existence nowadays, is supposed to be the start of a wider franchise of giant monster movies, one which includes Godzilla and several more films to come. I'm rather ambivalent on that subject at the moment, but leaving the future aside for the moment, Skull Island is a worthy film and a good use of time if, like me, you think Oliver Stone could stand to throw a few more giant monsters into his movies.

If nothing else, it would make his next movie (a hagiographic puff piece about how Vladimir Putin is the best person ever) considerably more interesting.

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."


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PostPosted: Wed May 03, 2017 1:42 am 
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Ghost in the Shell

Alternate Title: Blade Runner: Days

One sentence synopsis: A special forces operative with a cyborg body confronts the truth of her own past in a techno-futurist Tokyo.


Things Havoc liked: Anime is not, by and large, my thing. Oh I've seen the classics, Akira, the Miyazaki films, Paprika, and so forth, but the conventions and cultural stamps of Anime just aren't really what appeal to me, absent a handful of exceptions. One of the biggest of these exceptions, however, was Ghost in the Shell, an animated series (and pair of films) about an anti-terrorist unit in nano-tech-era Tokyo, one that not only included excellent action and cool technological gadgets, but also involved byzantine political plots, and lengthy discussions on the ethics, philosophies, and new questions brought about by the logical extremes of the information age. Though, as I mentioned, the series spawned its own animated films, rumors of a live action Hollywood adaptation have abounded for years. And now they've been finally brought to fruition, albeit in a form guaranteed to piss off a huge segment of the population that would naturally be inclined to see the movie. Well done, you geniuses of Hollywood, well done.

So let's start with what works, shall we?

Ghost in the Shell, directed by Snow White and the Huntsman alum Rupert Sanders, is first and foremost a gorgeous film, stunningly beautiful in sequence after sequence. Much of the credit for this belongs rightly to veteran cinematographer Jess Hall, of Brideshead Revisited, Hot Fuzz, and a handful of other films. It showcases a futurist society in all its splendor and sleaze, but unlike the usual cyberpunk ultra-metropoli that one encounters occasionally in the movies, this one is filmed (usually) in the full light of day, or the sharp neon-tinted glow of a lit night. It's as if Wes Anderson decided to re-shoot a Ridley Scott film, it's that stylistically impressive, with a full color palate and plenty of set-piece imagery drawn, not merely from someone's vibrant (or depraved) imagination, but also from the anime itself. Indeed, several shots and even whole scenes are re-created from the original anime film shot for shot, including a couple of the most visually memorable ones from the entire enterprise, including a battle between a gun-wielding terrorist and an invisible assailant, filmed on a flooded street, and a sequence inside a ruined zen-temple-turned-arena featuring the aforementioned assailant and a walking tank designed to resemble a spider. The color palate is rich and deep and vibrant, with garish imagery that could have been rotoscoped off of a high-quality cartoon, contrasted with inky shadows and stark relief shots. Given that most cyberpunk seems to take place entirely within a New Jersey trash dump at three in the morning during Hurricane Sandy, this sort of thing is a welcome addition to the genre. So gorgeous was the imagery in this film, that I broke a cardinal rule of mine and saw it in IMAX 3D (the fake kind), and was not disappointed, though as always the 3D merely served to not suck the life out of the film, rather than adding much.

There are other matters of use here as well. The score, by veteran film scorer Clint Mansell, is superb, an electro-choral orchestral soundtrack that sets a techno-futurist patina on the entire proceeding. I've been a massive fan of Mansell's work since Reqiuem for a Dream, and he does not fail to deliver here, particularly during intense action sequences, which are not scored with pulse-pounding thriller beats, but with strange ethereal music, as though the action were but the surface elements of the true depths being portrayed. The actors themselves, meanwhile, vary widely in quality and usefulness, but particular mention should go to Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, who plays Batou, the second in command of the counter-terrorist unit the movie circulates around, as well as legendary Japanese actor/filmmaker "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, who plays the Section chief of the selfsame organization. Asbæk's character is not quite (or at all) the same as the one in the show I so loved, but I've never permitted myself to condemn a film for not being like another film I would have preferred to see, and his portrayal is actually fine, in keeping with the style of the movie this is, a monotone professional soldier and world-weary loner who keeps to himself and watches his teammates' back. As to Kitano, his character of Chief Aramaki was my favorite in the show, an old man whose experience in penetrating political and terroristic conspiracies to get to the truth of the matter was unparalleled. Kitano doesn't get to do a lot of that sort of thing, but he still gets several awesome sequences in his own right, where the movie laboriously reveals that he was five steps ahead of his opposition all along. It's nothing revolutionary, but I just so enjoy watching Kitano do his thing, that I couldn't help but enjoy every moment he was on screen.


Things Havoc disliked: Let's talk about the elephant in the room here.

Motoko Kusinagi, the main character of every version of Ghost in the Shell that there is, is Japanese. Scarlett Johansson, the actor who was selected to play her in this movie, is white. Not surprisingly, this has attracted a hell of a lot of criticism from a number of sources accusing the studio of whitewashing the movie to suit their own racist, or at least mercenary, ends. This is not the first film I've come across that has done such a thing. Both The Flowers of War and Doctor Strange were pilloried for supposedly placing white actors in Asian roles, to say nothing of the furor that erupted over Cloud Atlas. With all three of the aforementioned films, I denounced this interpretation, in the first case because it was bullshit (the character in question was white), in the second case because the movie could not have been made without making a change of the sort (such is the reality of PRC censorship), and in the third because the very purpose of the movie was to break the laws of race and gender. I believe I consequently have plenty of standing as not being some sort of easily-offended keyboard warrior looking to show off my progressive credentials to my echo chamber. And as such, I'd like you all to gauge my criticisms in context when I say that casting Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusinagi in a Ghost in the Shell movie is utter bullshit.

Forget, for a moment, that Scarlett Johansson is simply not a good actress, or at least is a very limited one. Forget that her vaunted "cyberpunk credentials" are based around a set of godawful movies that start with Lucy and get worse from there. Forget the thin excuses about whether a movie that didn't have a recognizable name at the top of the marquis would appeal to American audiences (because Lord knows the one we got with that name still managed to bomb severely). This casting decision is bullshit because it is not the only one in the movie. Not only is the main character of the film switched over inexplicably from a Japanese character to a white one, but so is everyone else in the goddamn film. The main villain, the secondary members of the squad, the scientists and businessmen at the heart of the conspiracy, everyone with a speaking role has been re-cast from their original race. In fairness to the filmmakers, not all of the re-casts are with white actors, yet somehow, as if by accident, all the characters that have nothing to do with anything, the bit characters that barely have lines or any purpose in the film, those are the ones with black and Hispanic and Asian actors, while all the actual roles, including multiple major characters from the original series/films, all just happen to have white people in them. Trying to play this off as nothing more than a co-incidence is worse than simple run-of-the-mill racism, it's the sort of racism that insults your intelligence while it's doing it.

And you know what's worse? The movie knows all this. Why else would they have basically built the entire plot of the story around the question of Kusinagi's origins, and how it is that she came to look like Scarlett Johansson, throwing out all of the byzantine plots, political intrigue, and cyber-philosophy that was at the core of the original series. Horrible as I found this decision, it isn't in and of itself a bad thing. There are movies (World War Z comes to mind) that have entirely discarded their source material and still made something great, and there is a version of this film I can imagine wherein the fact of casting a white actress to play a Japanese role would be used as an examination of the fetishization of white women in Japan. But this film is written by none other than Ehren "Fucking" Kruger, one of, if not the worst writers in all of Hollywood, and given that Tyler Perry and Adam Sandler still have careers, boy is that saying something. The writing in this film is consequently terrible as one might expect from the pen of the auteur of such works as Transformers 2, 3, and 4, The Brothers Grimm, and The Ring Two. Every line in the film is stilted, robotic, and entirely functional, serving to inform the audience that a certain character is the designated evil business leader, or the designated conflicted scientist, or that the plot is about to enter action section 4b (sub-paragraph nine). An example midway through the film comes when Johansson inexplicably walks into the home of an older Japanese woman, who, without prompting, invites her to have a cup of tea, and talks about how she rarely has visitors now that her daughter, who would be about Johansson's age, disappeared under circumstances that nobody knows about, and how much she misses how she used to do things that Johansson also does. WHERE COULD THIS PLOT POSSIBLY BE GOING, THE WORLD WONDERS?! As a result of all this, the entire film feels flat and empty, a soulless exercise in violence and pretty pictures, where every scene serves simply to get us to the next scene along the painfully pre-established "revelations" that anyone with half a working brainstem will have figured out five seconds into the film, and must then spend the next hour and forty-six minutes waiting for the movie to catch up. We get no sense of the character of the Major, of the villain, of anyone really, for the simple reason that nobody preparing the script had the writing skill to give them any.


Final Thoughts: Ghost in the Shell is a frustrating film, far more so than it really deserves, to be honest. It would be easy to dismiss it as the product of studio-sanctioned racial games, along the lines of the abortion that was The Last Airbender, or even simply as a low-rent animesploitation flick like Ultraviolet. But the sad part is that the movie does have virtues locked away inside it, namely its gorgeous style and distinctive visual world, one realized in loving, painstaking detail by aficionados of the genre and the source material. Yet all the efforts of a great many talented people have been committed in service of a film that is, when you get past the outrage, simply bad, a victim of awful writing, poor scripting, terrible casting, and hackneyed production overall.

At time of writing, Ghost in the Shell is in the process of losing Paramount roughly 60 million dollars, which is only appropriate given what it is. And yet what gets me is that the nominal argument for doing all of this crap has always been that in order to attract an audience, such films need to whitewash simply to get a big name actor. Leaving aside the question of whether this is a moral act or not, the fact that the movie did this and then lost a pile of money anyway, just like all the other movies that have done this (Last Airbender, Gods and Kings, 21, Aloha) should serve to torpedo this particular line of argument. Of course Hollywood is a place where people need a long time and a lot of failures to learn their lessons. But if Ghost in the Shell can serve as a stepping stone in that particular path, then maybe there was a point to the entire exercise after all.

And if not, well, maybe the DVD version will let you mute the dialogue.

Final Score: 4.5/10

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PostPosted: Mon May 08, 2017 2:49 pm 
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Did they set the movie in the United States? Because recasting for a different setting is, in my opinion, not inappropriate. Nobody complains that the Magnificent Seven are seven white dudes instead of seven samurai, because the movie is set in the wild west. Nor for that matter does anybody complain that Throne of Blood features an all Japanese cast with zero Scotsmen to be found, because it's set in feudal Japan rather than Scotland. Though i should note that generally if you're adapting a movie to a different setting, you should have the decency of giving it a different title so people don't come in with the wrong expectations. Something which Ghost in the Shell did not do.

Also i didn't watch the film, but i randomly found out that at the end of it it's revealed the the Major's real name is Motoko Kusanagi. It is another example of the tone deafness of the movie, wherein they lovingly recreate all the details without understanding any of them. In this particular case, Motoko Kusanagi is a blatantly fake name. Like literally, in the page of the manga where she is formally introduced the narration box goes, "Motoko Kusanagi (an obviously fake name)." That's because while Motoko is a very common Japanese female name, Kusanagi means "Grass-Cutter" and is the name of a legendary sword. The Anglophone equivalent would be Jane Excalibur. It's nobody's real name.

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PostPosted: Tue May 16, 2017 12:07 am 
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The movie was set in Japan.

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PostPosted: Tue May 16, 2017 12:25 pm 
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Sooo half the cast is white in a country that is presently as much as 0.2% white. Generally i'm not in favour of demanding that media adhere to certain racial quotas, but there is such a thing as missing the mark by such a wide margin that it's hard not to accuse the creators of bigotry, and this is fucking it. There is precisely one arguably white-looking member of the cast in Ghost in the Shell: Batou. His body (note that he's also a full cyborg) has strong square features, blocky musculature, and pale blond hair, all of which look very caucasian. He could very well be an ethnically Japanese man in a European-looking body though.

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PostPosted: Thu May 18, 2017 10:03 am 
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In the show, at least, Batou is explicitly a white American expat. His backstory hinges on this at several points. Making Batou white, as a result, is only being true to the source material and this entirely reasonable. Making everyone else white, from the major to the villains to fucking Togusa, is a decision made entirely of galvanized bullshit. And the movie may consequently kiss my white ass.

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PostPosted: Thu May 18, 2017 10:56 pm 
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Lys wrote:
Sooo half the cast is white in a country that is presently as much as 0.2% white. Generally i'm not in favour of demanding that media adhere to certain racial quotas, but there is such a thing as missing the mark by such a wide margin that it's hard not to accuse the creators of bigotry, and this is fucking it. There is precisely one arguably white-looking member of the cast in Ghost in the Shell: Batou. His body (note that he's also a full cyborg) has strong square features, blocky musculature, and pale blond hair, all of which look very caucasian. He could very well be an ethnically Japanese man in a European-looking body though.


I do think that there should have been more Japanese actors in the movie, but that said... Batou is not the only white looking guy on the cast to me.

Image

Togusa with light hair and skin looks fairly white to me as well, I asked around and it wasn't just me either on that. Now I'll admit I think that's a result of the art style and always assumed Togusa was a Japanese man ethnically speaking but I can see how others might make a different determination. Course I've been accused of "seeing whiteness" before, I always thought Aang looked fairly European for example.

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PostPosted: Sat May 20, 2017 6:45 pm 
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I would have to see the movie again to make sure, but I believe they did cast Togusa as a Japanese ethnic. He was in the group scenes with the others in Section 9.

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PostPosted: Mon May 22, 2017 12:27 am 
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General Havoc wrote:
In the show, at least, Batou is explicitly a white American expat. His backstory hinges on this at several points. Making Batou white, as a result, is only being true to the source material and this entirely reasonable.

People make that mistake a lot, but no in the show he is still Japanese. The confusion comes from an episode involving the fallout from when that Batou fought in South America along side American Empire spec-ops units, and the shit he saw there. However his experience is not from being American himself, but because Japan and the American Empire were allied in the World War IV. His actual posting was to a JGSDF Ranger unit. There isn't any actual textual evidence to Batou being anything but Japanese in the show or manga. That said reinterpreting him as an American expat so that they could have one white guy in the film would have been fine, if not for everything else.

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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2017 4:47 pm 
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The Fate of the Furious

Alternate Title: As the Rock Turns

One sentence synopsis: Following a shocking betrayal from within, the Toretto crew must team up with old friends and adversaries to stop an international cyber-terrorist from seizing control of a doomsday weapon.


Things Havoc liked: Let us now consider a work of high art...

The Fast and Furious franchise is one of the strangest things in film, an action movie series that somehow re-invented itself halfway through and became awesome on its fifth installment. How it did this is a complete mystery to me, partly because this is something that is simply never done, and partly because I took one look at the original Fast and the Furious and noped out right then and there. It took the dregs of 2015's indie dreck to drag me, kicking and screaming, into Fast & Furious 7, where I discovered to my amazement that the series had metamorphed into an action-soap opera involving wonderful self-aware humor, and some of the most ludicrous action setpieces I've seen since the heyday of the 80s. The writing was terrible, the actors sub-par, the plot ludicrous, the movie patently stupid. I kind of loved it. And now here we are, two years later, with another sequel, the eighth in the franchise, and one which has, at time of writing, scored the biggest opening weekend in the history of cinema (a record that is broken every six months or so, but still). Not bad for a movie series where two of the lead characters can't act and the third one is dead.

Too soon?

The Fate of the Furious is a movie directly taken from the vein of the previous films (I assume. Remember, I haven't seen any but 1 and 7). Dominic (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon in Cuba, visiting old friends, when trouble arrives in the form of Charlize Theron's Cypher, a super-hacker/Bond villain with ties to Dom's past (after eight movies, are there people still in existence who do not have ties to Dom's past?) out to do nefarious things for the sake of being nefarious. This is the sort of villain character that we have seen time and again in bad action movie after bad action movie, but this is Charlize Theron, a woman who embodies campy insanity, as a glance at the Snow White and the Huntsman movies will tell you, and she makes it work by vamping it up with icy-blonde dreadlocks and a murderous stare. She joins a cast that by now has passed unmanagably large and entered ludicrous territory (zing!), including The Rock, Kurt Russell, and F&F7's main villain (now converted into a protagonist, like every Fast and Furious villain), Jason Statham. Each and every one of these men are veterans of myriad bad action movies, and know just what they are doing here, from The Rock's larger-than-life personality (an early scene where he coaches a girls' soccer team includes a hilarious bit I would not dream of spoiling), to Kurt Russel's cock-eyed, self-assured arrogance (something he does oh-so-well), to Jason Statham's virtuosity when playing an abrasive asshole (something he is so much better at than playing a leading nice guy). These characters join the "crew", now comprising half-a-dozen members in their own right, even without the late Paul Walker, including Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson (I love these two men so much), Nathalie Emmanuel (who played a hacker character in the seventh movie that I assumed was disposable, forgetting that this series never discards anyone), Michelle Rodriguez, Elsa Pataky, and... you know what if I keep going, we're gonna be here all day, so let's just leave it at "also everyone else in the universe". Some of these people are good actors, some are not, but every one of them inhabits a lived-in role designed just for them, one that fits their strengths and er... non-strengths... just right, with the result that even the bad performances are charming in their own way. This isn't a movie you go to see in order to watch great thespians bare their souls. It's a movie you go to see to watch shit explode and one-liners said.

So who is the ringmaster of this absurd collection of action movie tropes and variable-quality acting? None other than F. Gary Gray, who we last saw two years ago directing the incomparable musical biopic Straight Outta Compton. One forgets, given the critical acclaim that movie produced, that Gray got his start directing stupid, stupid action movies like The Negotiator, The Italian Job (the 2003 version), and Law Abiding Citizen. While I would not recommend you all run out to find those movies (especially not the last one), they are in the vein of this sort of willfully absurd action extravaganza, and fortunately, Gray, as well as long time series screenwriter Chris Morgan (whose other work we shall not speak of here), seem to have found their senses of humor this time to go along with the ridiculous action. One of the secrets of this series' success is just how little it cares about how dumb everything is, and while it's hardly the first action series to give in to the stupidity and just run with everything, Gray succeeds where others fail by playing up the melodrama of everything to truly hilarious levels. Characters cannot simply discuss their feelings, they must weep and wail and gnash their teeth and cast about for scenery to chew upon, so overwrought are they by the soap opera-style drama and relationship complexities that overcome them minute by minute. With a lesser cast, this sort of thing would be insufferable, but Gray trusts his cast to go for it, relying on the good actors (or at least the good bad actors) to carry the bad ones through the material, and the stunts and action to take care of the rest.

Oh did I mention there was action in this movie? Because there is. And it's awesome. Granted, I don't know that anything will top the sheer lunacy that was the climax to the last movie (recall that that one ended with an akimbo lug-wrench fight between Vin Diesel and Jason Statham on top of a collapsing building), but I'll be damned if they don't try. Listing everything insane that happens in this movie would take a hundred years, but standout sequences include one where a computer hacker seizes control of thousands of self-driving cars for a chase through New York City, one that quickly comes to echo the zombie hordes from World War Z more than your traditional car chase. An extended, Mad-Max style car chase sequence on a frozen estuary livens things up with the addition of a nuclear submarine to the mix, while Jason Statham, in the company of several cameos that made us all howl with laughter, gets to have a brutal hand to hand fight with innumerable military goons while holding a baby in a bassinet. I won't say this is the weirdest fight I've seen Statham engage in (the aforementioned lugwrench fight comes to mind, as does the occasion in The Expendables 2 when he fought off a platoon of soldiers with an incense censer), but it's one of the funniest, as Statham mugs for the baby (and the camera) during the entire engagement, which had me, at least, in stitches.


Things Havoc disliked: I love a good, stupid action movie as much as anyone, believe me, but all joking aside, I don't mistake it for a work of high cinematic achievement. Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez simply cannot act, not like this (in Rodriguez' case, not ever), and I'd be lying if I said it didn't get tiresome watching them try. And the film, in making them share the screen with actors like Charlize Theron, does not do them any favors, nor even when it pairs them with people like Statham and The Rock, who whatever their acting limits, are extremely good at overacting in action movies like these, and thus can't help but show up those in the cast who do not have such skills. This was a problem in the seventh movie as well, but it's a bigger one here, as the soap opera turns of the plot (has Dom Toretto turned on his "family"?!?!) forces everyone to start overacting in a hyper-melodramatic manner, resulting in about seventy billion repetitions of the already pre-established fact that the crew here are a family, and that family is very important when family bonds are strained by familial family obligations of family family family family family. Given that Guardians of the Galaxy managed to set up a believable, fun, surrogate family dynamic without ever once using the word 'family', it's a little much to sit through scene after scene after scene in which characters narrate their own familial relationships to one another in repetitive detail, especially when the actors doing so have no idea how to deliver a goddamn line.

That said, there's nothing wrong with the concept of course, in fact more movies could stand to have a showcase of characters of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and accents like this, family or not. But if you're going to have a cast this size, then the question of what the hell to do with everyone is going to rear its head, and while the film manages to give most of the cast something to do, there's an unavoidable sense that some people are just here because they're expected to be here. With so much attention on Dom's dilemma and his cat-and-mouse games with Theron's evil villainess, the rest of his crew gets short shrift. Gibson and Ludacris are mostly there to score points off one another and flirt with Emmanuel, Rodriguez has nothing whatsoever to do besides look constipated and growl the word family every five minutes, and a new character, a stick-in-the-mud G-man played by Suicide Squad's Scott Eastwood (because an association with fucking Suicide Squad was what this series needed), is pretty much introduced becasue we need someone to play the handsome generic white dude in the absence of Paul Walker, and I guess he'll do. Even The Rock, whom I adore to death, has very little material in this film, other than a handful of fun scenes playing off his rivalry with Statham. I understand that there's a limited number of movie minutes to go around, but a film that fails to use The Rock properly is a movie that is struggling to invent a reason why everyone is there. I grant that plot is a tertiary concern at best in a movie like this, but there has to be something in it for everyone, or the film will begin to resemble nothing but franchise maintenance, along the lines of the third films from the X-Men and Iron Man series.


Final Thoughts: Granted, I wouldn't quite go so far to directly compare Fate of the Furious with those films, but the parallel did assert itself as I was watching, and thus for all its action setpieces and soap opera plotting, I have to confess that Fast & Furious 8 is not as good a film as its direct predecessor was. By no means is it a bad film, but it feels... limited, in a way that the previous one did not. It's possible that's just a reversion to the mean, or a factor of the previous film being an auspicious combination of low expectations and bad competition, but I honestly think that the series, given its disregard for taste and its enormous cast of quality bad actors, is capable of better than this.

That said, for all my reservations, I do recommend Fate of the Furious, perhaps not as strongly as its predecessor, but strongly nonetheless, as only in this series have I found such a wonderful disregard of logic crossed with an embracing of fun, despite all the efforts to ape it by lesser studios and series. For my part, I shall file this one away as a lesser-but-still-fun episode of my favorite action-soap opera, and wait for better things. Of course, given the fact that Fate of the Furious has just finished making roughly all of the money in existence, I expect that the aforementioned cast will soon have an opportunity to try the whole exercise again. And when they do, I will be there to see it.

Final Score: 6/10

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PostPosted: Thu May 25, 2017 12:57 pm 
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Just want to take a moment here to appreciate the fact that, unlike damn near every other reviewer on the planet, Havoc not only uses the full range of his twenty point scale, and but also tries to keep his scores roughly centred around the middle. Giving a movie a 6/10 and saying that it's still worth watching, since it is after all above average, is as unusual as it is refreshing.

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PostPosted: Fri May 26, 2017 3:33 am 
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Lys wrote:
Just want to take a moment here to appreciate the fact that, unlike damn near every other reviewer on the planet, Havoc not only uses the full range of his twenty point scale, and but also tries to keep his scores roughly centred around the middle. Giving a movie a 6/10 and saying that it's still worth watching, since it is after all above average, is as unusual as it is refreshing.


:P I have plenty of C's in my reviews Lys. Still I'll admit Havoc does a good job of saving the 8's and 9's.

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PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2017 3:44 am 
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Lys wrote:
Just want to take a moment here to appreciate the fact that, unlike damn near every other reviewer on the planet, Havoc not only uses the full range of his twenty point scale, and but also tries to keep his scores roughly centred around the middle. Giving a movie a 6/10 and saying that it's still worth watching, since it is after all above average, is as unusual as it is refreshing.


I strive mightily to fight against grade inflation, as it results in a drastic shortening of one's options when you can't rate anything below a 5.

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