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Movie Breakdown: Get Out (Noah)

February 24, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jordan Peele is a very, very funny guy. He’s also an enormous horror fan. Seeing what he can do with a racially-tinged horror film about a black guy going to meet his girlfriend’s white parents has been a delightful bit of anticipation.

Post-Screening Ramble:

For anybody, the ritual of going to meet your significant other’s parents for the first time is, well, panic inducing at best. How do you dress? What do you talk about? How can you come across as a good match for someone’s child without coming across as a faker just trying to hold the dogs at bay while you canoodle on the leather couch in the rec room? As my friend Arjun, a strapping Indian-American told me after seeing Get Out, “Going and meeting your white girlfriend’s parents for the first time is absolutely terrifying.” I can’t attest to this – I’m pasty – but Jordan Peele in his fantastic new film Get Out plays the tension of your initial-I’m-dating-your-daughter-meet-and-greet out with horrific results. But of course, Peele isn’t just using his deep understanding of classic horror films to tell the story of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) going to meet his beautiful, charming girlfriend Rose Armitage’s (Allison Williams) wealthy, white parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener in fine form). Oh no, this is a story about race my friends, about how acceptance and understanding can be used as a mask for our deeper set racism. How the smallest things we do, the things we say to make connections, can showcase our base level notions of people of color. It’s hard to talk about how well Peele plots this tight, fast moving little gem, because there’s secrets to be revealed, and I won’t be the one to do it. But know this: Peele knows his horror pacing, knows how to gently tug at your fear strings so everything normal seems just a little off. You cringe in this movie, a lot, at double-sided comments, the racism of the old, and terrors lying just off screen, but what really got me is how Get Out addresses the concept of the cycle of violence inherent in both horror movies and American society. A horror movie works like this: someone is killing people, people find out, people are scared, more people die, and then the only way to stop the killer doing the things that originally freaked you out is to, well, kill them. The horrified becomes the horror. American society isn’t that far off, with our guns and our right-to-carry laws, and the blood-soaked streets we lean closer and closer to. Peele gets this connection, sees that the horror films we love advocate this terrifying circle of gore (tongue-in-cheek one can hope). And when the film ends, and those left standing stagger down a street covered in blood, dead bodies trailing in their wake, you, me, anyone who even slightly understands this film, well, they’ll know, too. Jordan Peele, you’re a really funny guy, but hell, you’re an even better director.

One Last Thought:

This is going to be a great fucking year for horror.

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Movie Breakdown: Get Out

February 23, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jordan Peele’s Get Out looks like it’s going to be a blast, but occasionally I remind myself that his Keanu was a big fat dud and then I wonder if I’m just being wooed by a well crafted trailer.  WE SHALL SEE.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Get Out is a wild little ride.  The film begins with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) getting ready to spend the weekend at her parent’s house.  Chris is nervous, as he’s never met Ma and Pa before and he’s unsure of how they will react to their daughter dating a black man, but Rose assures him that there’s nothing to worry about.  Naturally, everything about Rose’s family is pretty weird right from the get-go.  They have black servants, her mother (Catherine Keener) wants to hypnotize Chris, her father (Bradley Whitford) is bizarrely fake and her brother (Caleb Landry Jones) is aggressive in all of the wrong ways.  Chris tries to hold it together though, hoping to ride out the weekend and to make a good impression, but it all goes bad.  Real bad, actually.

I wouldn’t say that Get Out is particularly scary, but it does make you feel uneasy at every turn.  Jordan Peele does a masterful job of leaving it up to you to decide whether what’s happening on the screen at any given moment is funny, ominous, racist, absurd or alarming, and then usually right after you’ve made a decision, something else happens and you question yourself.  The film is, without a doubt, a total mindfuck.  See it immediately.  And be ready to squirm.

One Last Thought:

Any time I watch a horror movie I always try to note when the characters should quietly say that they “forgot something in the car” and then drive right out of there, never to be seen again.  In Get Out, this moment occurred in the first act.  That’s how much side-eye-worthy stuff there is in it.

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Movie Breakdown: Fist Fight (Noah)

February 16, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s February, the doldrums of the movie season, and the studios are dumping their just palatable comedies on the masses. Oh, Fist Fight how laughless will you be?

Post-Screening Ramble:

There isn’t a lot to say about Ricky Keen’s toothless new comedy, Fist Fight. It is exactly the movie it is broadcast to be, the sort of bland, lower-tier comedian-packed film that bounces from one disconnected scene to another, weaving in a prescribed moral (“be yourself”) into the thinnest thread of storyline. It is, well, the definition of the modern studio comedy. Charlie Day plays Andy Campbell, a white-bread English teacher, lacking in spine, on the verge of losing his job to a lagging education system. His students don’t respect him, neither does his pregnant wife (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) and their first child (Alexa Nisenon). Enter Strickland (Ice Cube in full Ice Cube mode) a daunting, serious-minded, confrontation-dependent history teacher who challenges Campbell to an after-school fight when, in an effort to save his job, he rats him out for using a fire axe to chop a student’s desk in half. The rest of the film follows Campbell as he goes through the various stages of denying the fight – escape, bribery, even training, learning how to be some version of stereotypical manhood in the process. It plays like a series of SNL skits tied together by the looming confrontation. Campbell bounces between the various teacher stereotypes – Tracy Morgan as well Tracy Morgan playing a gym teacher, Christina Hendricks (wasted here) as a psychotic French-teacher, Jillian Bell as a meth-smoking, lecherous guidance counselor – tetchy and nervous, his ability to engage in confrontation growing as his nerves fray. I’ll be frank: it ends as you think it will, a piece of fluff bobbing along the standard Hollywood comedy narrative, the viewer simply along to try and find humor in the exceedingly blah film. Day is fine, naturally nervous with just enough edge of crazy to make the character stand out, while Ice Cube is one note, a mean guy with a code of morals. But neither of these actors is able to milk more than a few chuckles out of a film that uses dick-jokes as an attempt to smoke screen the fact that it is the same plodding, humorless comedy we’ve all seen before. It isn’t painful to watch – a waste of time maybe – just a sleek, manufactured bit of generic comedy, low on content, but easy enough to digest and then forget.

One Last Thought:

C’mon, this is a film where a teacher chops a student’s desk in half and it’s played for comedy. You okay with that? Then, by all means, buy a ticket to Fist Fight.

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Movie Breakdown: The Great Wall (Noah)

February 16, 2017

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Pre-Screening Ramble:

Matt Damon as a pan-European soldier sidling up to The Great Wall of China to fight monsters with a bow and arrow? Well, I mean, in description it sounds good. Somehow though, I’m still doubtful.

Post-Screening Ramble:

In some alternate reality, there’s a five hour cut of this film that not only makes sense, but doesn’t feel as overly truncated as Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall does. It’s a film about a century old wall and the age old guardians that protect China and the world from the onslaught of toothy, death-beasts. It’s packed with characters and notions and cool weapons, all of them demanding screen time. There’s a loose love story and some sort of political message about the inadequacy of China’s bureaucracy. And there’s monsters, lots and lots of monsters and arrows and spears and bungie-jumping, spear-tossing women. It is the hastily sketched outline of an epic, roughly shoved into an adequate, crowd-pleasing two hours. It stars Matt Damon as William, a lifetime soldier with a bad Irish accent, who with the help of Tovar (Pedro Pascal), has journeyed deep into China to try and find ‘black powder.’ Instead they find The Great Wall of China and monsters, lots and lots of monsters. The film starts strong, Tovar and William an odd couple of armor wearing Indiana Jones, smooth-talking and glorious to behold in battle. But the weight of what director Zhang Yimou is trying to accomplish here – big, epic, history … with monsters! – drags the film down, forcing it into a harried clip that leaves characters and their stories bleeding on the edges. Yimou stuffs the film with enough off-the-wall weapons and well-executed fight scenes to pull you along, but at some point – probably when a legion of hot-air balloon soldiers float their way into battle, you realize the film’s spread too thin, and all aspects suffer because of it. That said, Yimou’s action sequences are breathless and fun, and the film wholeheartedly embraces it’s sort of Power Rangers-meet-Game of Thrones oddity. It’s hard not to enjoy it, especially when Damon and Pascal are slaughtering the beasts with thrown axes and perfectly shot arrows, but it doesn’t add to anything. The scope is wide, but the execution strained because of it. This is an epic only in description, with characters, story and history short-shifted in the name of Hollywood palatability.

One Last Thought:

Why was everyone up in arms about Matt Damon playing the lead in this film? If I was a Chinese film maker, marketing a film towards a Chinese audience (which this film clearly is) and I wanted to capture the essence of European colonialism in one hunky star, well hell, Matt Damon’s square head and Midwestern good looks would be the direction I went as well.

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Movie Breakdown: A Cure For Wellness

February 16, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Gore Verbinski did a pretty great job with The Ring, so I’m all about him getting spooky/scary/suspenseful again via A Cure For Wellness.  With that being said, I can’t say I’ve found the early footage to be all that interesting.

Post-Screening Ramble:

A Cure For Wellness is one of those weird movies that you watch and watch and watch and as it continues on forever you just keep thinking “man, this is going to get good at any moment, I just know it!”.  Then it ends, and as you walk out of the theater (seemingly days after entering it), you find yourself feeling befuddled.  Why?  Because of everything.  It’s not a scary movie, but it does have some well crafted moments that are intense.  It’s not an interesting movie, but there are a few parts that will get you thinking.  It’s not a movie with a big, satisfying ending, but it sure does make you feel like one is barrelling towards you.  And so on and on and on.  In other words, if you enjoy being mildly entertained with no real payoff, then A Cure For Wellness is for you!

The rest of you though should stay far away from Gore Verbinski’s meandering film.  There’s nothing there for you but the feeling that something good almost happened, except probably not really and the only real thing you’re left with is the fact that you wasted hundreds of hours watching it.  Go walk in the park, or just spend some quality time with Shutter Island, which is the better version of A Cure For Wellness anyhow.

One Last Thought:

Dane DeHaan looks like Leonardo DiCaprio and A Cure For Wellness plays like Shutter Island.  Coincidence?  Yeah probably, but I’m OK with us tagging this one with a conspiracy theory sticker anyways.

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Movie Breakdown: John Wick: Chapter 2 (Noah)

February 10, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

John Wick was a great little action movie: simple, brutal, beautifully choreographed, stretching its little arms just far enough to encapsulate a cool world of assassins and their rules. This is a sequel though, to an action movie, and well, I think we all know how those can go. Nonetheless, I’m tentatively excited.

Post-Screening Ramble:

John Wick: Chapter 2 isn’t just a great action movie – one rife with twists and turns and enough one-on-an-army action scenes to keep you sated to the inevitable third film in the series – but a reminder of what a great sequel looks like. Chad Stahleski’s second film in what we can all hope well be a long, long franchise isn’t terribly different from the first John Wick film. Keanu Reeves (the titular character), a retired assassin of some, um, note, is trying to stay retired, but for a variety of reasons he keeps getting dragged back in. Headshots, lots of them, occur; a lot of European thugs die; Keanu Reeves says little, but runs the action scenes like a professional. It doesn’t seem to spend a considerably larger amount of money, this sequel, nor does it expand the film to exotic new locales (I mean, Rome, but you know, seen it), but it does vastly exceed the first John Wick. The part of these films that I love is the world that the creators are building on the sides of the main story. This is a world of assassins and a world of their strange, strict rules. And as much as John Wick is the main character of this story, he is a small cog in a larger machine, and the movie acknowledges this, never thinking that in the overall world-building that John Wick is anything more than a very good assassin that everyone is scared of. It’s great, instead of Wick being the Chosen One, or looking to assassinate the king of the world or whatever, he’s just a guy, existing in the slowly expanding world of, uh, Assassin Town, trying to get his revenge. It works because Stahleski and his crew can slowly roll-out the new aspects of this fascinating world – Laurence Fishburne as a bum-king; an Italian Continental hotel; the presence of blood markers and divided factions ruled over by what I’m hoping are super-assassins. The focus is always on John Wick’s revenge, and the rest of the story unfolds as he progresses, shooting Euro-trash and taking names. As John Laird put it, “the film doesn’t get bigger than the first one, it gets wider,” ballooning out at the perfect pace to keep you interested in the shooting, while not losing track of the bigger picture. And when the film ends on a cliffhanger, it’s an earned one. There’s no silly bumper with a new character, no twist, no curveball – just a conclusion of this film’s story, with a hint of what’s to come looming in the foreground. John Wick: Chapter 3, I’m waiting for you.

One Last Thought:

This might be the worst acting Keanu Reeves has done in his life. Every line he utters (which is maybe 25 in total) feels like he’s just trying to remember what he’s supposed to say next. That said, Reeves has been a bad actor for so long that his unnatural delivery and inability to control his facial muscles is now not only part of the package, but a part of the characters he’s given. John Wick is perfect for him – an awkward, nearly mute man with a penchant for shooting people.

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Movie Breakdown: John Wick: Chapter 2

February 9, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I’m so very excited for John Wick: Chapter 2.  Everything about it looks like “more of the same”, and that’s exactly what I want from it.  Here’s to another round of the Boogeyman shooting a zillion people in the head for pissing him off.

Post-Screening Ramble:

To be fair, John Wick: Chapter 2 should actually be called John Wick: Chapter 1.5, as it’s less of an entirely new story and more of a continuation of what was presented via the world’s initial introduction to one of the best ass-kickers of all time.  This – just in case you wondering – is meant as a total compliment.  So many action films completely fumble their sequels by trying to do too much or by simply forgetting what made the first film work so well.  But not here, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad essentially do what they did in the first film, and it works wonderfully.  Here’s the story – John Wick wants to be left alone, someone from his past pulls him into a world he no longer wants to be a part of, he gets mad and shoots a metric shit-ton of people in the head.  Is that Chapter 1 or Chapter 2?  It’s both, and that’s totally fine because it’s a formula that Stahelski and Kolstad clearly have 100% dialed in.

If you’ve been hoping that John Wick: Chapter 2 would do something different (why would you want that anyways?), then it’s going to disappoint you.  If you’re not weird and have been eager for more of the same, then you’re going to stroll out of the theater with a huge smile on your face.

One Last Thought:

It’s interesting that even after two films, I only know a little about the world that John Wick exists in.  I hope it stays that way for a good long while.  I like the slight glimpses.

One More Last Thought:

I’m good on Ruby Rose for the foreseeable future.  Sure, the woman is attractive, but she’s not a particularity good actress.  Hell, she can’t even really hold a gun in a convincing fashion.

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Movie Breakdown: The Lego Batman Movie

February 8, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve seen The Lego Movie.  It’s so damn good!  To be honest, I don’t think The Lego Batman Movie is going to match it, but I’m still expecting a lot from the block-filled film.  Fingers crossed.

Post-Screening Ramble:

If you have kids, they’re going to love The Lego Batman Movie.  It’s loud, flashy, silly and just manic enough to hold the attention of even the most ADHD-riddled child.  Take them to the theater, and do it now.  Seriously.

Know this for yourself though, I found the film to be too much of a good thing.  Will Arnett’s Batman is so great in The Lego Movie, and I now realize it’s probably because he has limited screen time.  His selfish attitude and ridiculous one-liners are hilarious alongside the sweetness of Chris Pratt’s Emmet, but just all on his own, the antics starts to wear you down and feel overblown.  So much so in fact that by the time the moral of the story is firmly in place (family and friends are important!), it never feels like Batman/Bruce Wayne is legit taking it seriously.  For me, this gave the film a somewhat hollow feel.  And sure, maybe it doesn’t matter since it’s a movie meant to sell toys and dazzle kids, but having some heart does go a long way.  I mean, that’s pretty much why I’ve gone back to The Lego Movie so often.

Odds are that I’ll enjoy The Lego Batman Movie more on my second viewing, but my initial impression is that it could have dialed back the loudness and delivered a more inspired story.  Either way though, your kids are going to dig it.

One Last Thought:

All of the voice work in The Lego Batman Movie is pretty great.  On a related note, this means we now live in a world where Zach Galifianakis has bested Jared Leto in portraying The Joker.  How weird is that?

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Movie Breakdown: The Salesman (Noah)

February 3, 2017

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Pre-Screening Ramble:

The Salesman has been drawing a lot of attention for more than a few reasons. First, it’s the new film by the director of A Separation, an Iranian film that hit hard in America three to four years ago. Second, it’s nominated for Best Foreign Film at a little award show called the Oscars. And third, director Asghar Farhadi will not be able to attend the event because of a certain Muslim ban being pushed on the world by a certain Golden Haired Cheeto currently resting his feet in the Oval Office.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Salesman is the type of film that makes me want to know more about a country, or a history, or a person, because my failure to understand the subject as well as I should, seems to leave me less awed by the movie. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has crafted a slow, naturalistic film about a couple – Rana and Emad Etesami (Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini) – who are starring in a community theater version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. When Rana is assaulted in their home, well, things, slowly start to fall apart. The Salesman, which I believe refers to either Miller’s titular character Willie Lohman or an elderly clothe salesman who shows up late in the film, is a film about what life gives us, what we do with it, and how our reactions ripple outwards to affect others. Rana and Emad at the beginning of the film are a seemingly happy, healthy, normal couple who lose their house and have to move into a hastily evacuated apartment owned by a friend and fellow actor. Then Rana is assaulted. And this is where my lack of understanding about Iranian culture seems to ding my enjoyment of the film, Emad, against Rana’s wishes, obsesses over who might’ve broken in, who might’ve hurt his wife, and starts searching for him. It’s interesting enough, the film unfolding one scene at a time, revealing its emotional core ever so slowly, but there’s interactions between the couple and the actors on the stage that seem important but I couldn’t fully grasp because aside from scary editorials I’ve read in The New York Times, I don’t know anything about Iranian gender politics. A lot of what I think was important to the story and to the power of the film, fell flat with me, because, well, I’m a dumb American. And without that knowledge, without the cultural awareness that I think makes this film standout from other films like it, well, it doesn’t. Worse off for me is that I couldn’t fully grasp what the connection to Miller’s play was. They show whole scenes throughout the film and though they worked as markers, or chapter heads, I never saw an enormous connection between the two. But again, maybe this is because I don’t know anything about the Iranian theater scene. It’s a good take on the sort of common story of revenge gone awry, with a dash more humanity and a drop more naturalism, but still fairly commonplace in the greater scheme of things. And as well acted as this film is, it doesn’t seem like a home run if I leave the theater wondering if maybe I just didn’t have enough pre-knowledge to really grab the film’s essence. A great film is great universally, and though this is a good one, it certainly isn’t great.

One Last Thought:

I watched The Salesman right after Nerurda (my review of that bold and strange film is here).  I wonder if I would have had a different experience with The Salesman had I viewed it before Nerurda?

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Movie Breakdown: Neruda (Noah)

February 3, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Everyone’s been crowing about director Pablo Larrain’s Jackie Onassis bio-pic, Jackie. I’m not usually a fan of the bio-pic format – because no one’s life in whole is really all that interesting – but Larrain is supposed to be tweaking it in smart and enjoyable ways. So, a two hour film about poet master Pablo Neruda, uh, sure!

Post-Screening Ramble:

Pablo Larrain’s Neruda starts as a well-crafted and beautiful film about the political struggles of Chile under Fascist rule, with poet-senator Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) pushing back against the government forces with both his art and his voice. It’s a beautiful look at a sliver of Neruda’s life, filmed just slightly off-kilter to evoke an almost magical realist feel to the entire proceedings. But it is the film’s second half, the crux of the story, that really solidifies it as something different than your run of the mill biographical film. Neruda, under pressure from the Chilean government and a hard-talking detective looking to prove himself to his dead father (Gael Garcia Bernal), goes into hiding, bouncing from one location to another as the web of the Chilean government grows ever tighter. Garcia Bernal’s Oscar Peluchonneau becomes a hunter, tracking Neruda from town-to-town and finally into the snowy depths of Southern Chile as if he was a serial killer, instead of an artist-turned-political symbol. The hunter and the hunted slowly start to mirror each other, and Larrain, a truly brilliant director, introduces the concept that Neruda, an artist, as he continues to go to greater and greater extremes to evade capture isn’t just trying to escape, he’s writing the epic story of a poet-turned-activist. And through this, Peluchonneau becomes merely a supporting character in Neruda’s story, a conglomeration of tropes and platitudes that Neruda has used to give his own escape a sense of purpose and adventure. Larrain uses Peluchonneau as a source of noir-paranoia, a mirror for which the Neruda’s old-school masculinity – the women, oh the women – and his want to ride into the Andes on a horseback begins to look more and more set-up, the ravings and manipulations of an attention seeker on a grand scale. This is a deeply layered film, with each character representing not only some aspect of the other character, but of the idea of story and the idea of genre and how modern film has taken iconic, beloved characters and stretched them to the outer reaches of their own legends. This is a film about what it means to represent a country or an ideal and how as individuals we are both more and less than the ideas we strive to uphold. Though the film loses its footing amongst all the layers of theme for a bit near the end, Garcia Bernal’s oddball narration and sly delivery hold it together. There are not enough words to describe how impressive Luis Gnecco’s Neruda is, at once a powerful figure in the mold of classic manliness and a poetic soul, broken by its own fatal flaws. Gnecco never settles for one side of the spectrum though, instead he embodies a fully formed character, accurate or not, at all times, and it is a marvel to watch.

One Last Thought:

Why haven’t I seen Jackie yet?

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Movie Breakdown: The Space Between Us

February 3, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I don’t really know much about The Space Between Us.  Before I had a chance to check out its trailer I happened upon a note that said it seemed to giveaway the whole story, so I decided to not bother.  I do know Gary Oldman is in it though, so that’s something to look forward to.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Space Between Us is a film that means well, and because of that I tried my hardest to stick with it, but the damn thing is just so overdone and dumb that it eventually broke me and I spent all of its third act laughing and rolling my eyes.  Right from the start the film doesn’t make a lot of sense – an astronaut discovers she’s pregnant just after shipping off on a pioneering mission to Mars (how would that even slip by?) – and things only get sillier from there.  People disappear for no reason, secrets are kept for no reason, impossible relationships exist for no reason, wild action-y things happen for no reason and on and on and on.  It’s ridiculous and difficult to watch because there’s often no explanation for what’s happening on the screen.  I will, however, say this about the unfortunately TeenNick-feeling production, it does come off as abbreviated, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a longer cut out there somewhere in the world.  If there is, here’s hoping it’s much less trying than what’s being shoved into theaters.

I was serious when I noted that The Space Between Us means well.  Asa Butterfield’s Gardner is an odd-but-charming character and the film does carry a nice heartwarming message, but because of all the overly dramatic teen-talk and nonsensical plot points, it’s just not something that’s worth your time.  Skip.

One Last Thought:

The teenage version of Asa Butterfield essentially looks like this.  He even moves like one of those things.  It’s really awkward.  And hilarious.

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Movie Breakdown: XXX: Return Of Xander Cage

January 19, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I like 2002′s XXX.  I like Vin Diesel.  So, naturally, I like that Vin is back as the titular character.  Here’s hoping his second go-round as the extreme sports-loving secret agent doesn’t suck.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The original XXX works because the people who made it truly believed that everything in their world was cool.  The nu-metal soundtrack with Rammstein, Drowning Pool, etc.  They thought it was cool.  The extreme sports in it – base jumping, snowboarding, etc.  They thought it was cool.  The anti-establishment hero with the smart mouth.  They thought he was cool.  Sure, maybe in hindsight it was all more cheesy than cool, but that’s not what really matters.  The point is just that it was made by people who dug what they were doing, and that enthusiasm is a big reason why it’s a fun flick (and why it holds up).

As for XXX: Return of Xander Cage, it was clearly crafted by a mishmash of people with no passion for anything who simply just wanted to cash a nice sequel check, and because of that it’s a lazy, cringe-inducing, awful movie that isn’t even the slightest bit fun.  Vin Diesel is woefully flat in it, mostly because his dialogue consists of nothing but shitty dad jokes and recycled lines from the first XXX.  There’s a team building aspect that makes no sense and feels really forced.  The plot itself is a cheap, super dumb rip off of Furious 7′s (shame on you, Vin).  The CG is somehow worse than the film that was released 15 years before it.  Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa are wasted.  Toni Collette is terribly miscast.  And on and on and on.  I figured the film would at least be tolerable, but it’s thoroughly terrible.  What a disaster.

Trust me when I say that you should never ever bother with XXX: Return of Xander Cage.

One Last Thought:

There’s a part in Return Of Xander Cage where XXX recruits a guy called The Hood for his “save the world” team.  Want to know what his special ability is?  He’s a DJ.  A GODDAMN DJ.  That’s it.  The dude doesn’t do anything else.  At all!  He might be the dumbest and most useless character in the history of film.

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Movie Breakdown: 20th Century Women

January 19, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Mike Mills’ Beginners is a great film, and judging by its trailer, 20th Century Women is going to be a more than worthy follow-up.  Still, it’s hard to keep my expectations in check because I legit really love Beginners.  It’s so damn touching!

Post-Screening Ramble:

I went into 20th Century Women expecting a lot, and yet it still managed to knock me over.  Its story centers around a single mother, Dorothea (a very good Annette Bening), and her mission to figure out how to help usher her teen son, Jamie (a very good Lucas Jade Zumann), into manhood.  To do this she enlists a whole cast of characters.  There’s Abbie (a very good Greta Gerwig), who is a punk-loving but sensitive photographer, William (a very good Billy Crudup), who is a hippie-like handyman, and Julie (a very good Elle Fanning), who is a rebellious young lady that Jamie has long been in love with.  Together, but also separately because they’re each so wildly different, they go about assisting Dorothea with helping Jamie grow up.  To be honest, I kind of hate tagging 20th Century Women as a coming of age film, as I think it’s something more than that, but I guess that is the best way to cram director Mike Mills’ latest gem into a nutshell.  Here’s the deal though, Mills allows the story and narration to float around in such a clever, engaging way that you don’t just watch Jamie grow up, you get to actually see into each supporting character and learn why they are the way are and more.  This makes for a warm, nostalgic, intimate and charming film that does well to remind you that everyone grows up differently, and no one ever stops learning and evolving.

Please see this one as soon as you can.

One Last Thought:

Lucas Jade Zumann is like Asa Butterfield if Asa Butterfield wasn’t super weird and could actually act.  So, how do we go about CG’ing Lucas into every film that Asa has ever done?  It’ll be good for the world.  Promise.

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Top Films Of 2016

January 13, 2017

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JOHN’S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2016

All in all, I saw 109 new releases in 2016.  Below you’ll find all of the ones I liked (roughly 40% of what I saw), and one in particular that I loathed more than any other.  Take a look, make a note or two, then go watch something.

Side note, I’ve gone back and forth quite a bit trying to decide whether or not 2016 was a good one for film, and I’ve finally decided that it was a … “middle of the road” kind of year.  Noah expands on this fairly well down below.

10) Manchester By The Sea

This is not a film that I’m in a hurry to see again, but I do think it’s a truly fantastic effort.  Both Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams are as good as they’ve ever been in anything.  Also, it’s just impossible to not greatly appreciate this immensely tragic film’s sharp sense of humor.

Did It Make Me Cry: Yes.  Oh my, that one scene between Affleck and Williams ripped me up real good.

09) Jackie

I firmly believe that Jackie is the best thing that Natalie Portman has done since Black Swan.  She’s 100% fascinating to watch as the Jackie that existed both before and after JFK was assassinated.  The movie itself is also just crafted in an interesting manner.  Good on director Pablo Larrain.

Did It Make Me Cry: No.  But I did gasp in horror a few times.

08) Pete’s Dragon

Somehow someway this film came and went without much fanfare, and that’s just a shame.  It’s funny, heartwarming, wholesome and just about perfect.

Did It Make Me Cry: Yes.  Like a damn baby.

07) The Edge Of Seventeen

Just as I was ready to give up on post-True Grit Hailee Steinfeld, she goes and thoroughly impresses here in this very hilarious and genuine flick.  If you’re at all a fan of coming of age films, then you need to see The Edge Of Seventeen.  Pair it up with Superbad and spend an evening laughing and remembering what was like to be a teen.

Did It Make Me Cry: Maybe a little.

06) Captain America: Civil War

While Civil War is somewhat bland in the cinematography department, it is a very entertaining film.  Also, just like the previous Captain America entry, it actually shifts the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe instead of just poking around and hinting at changes to come.  I love that about it.

Did It Make Me Cry: No.  Well, perhaps a bit when Spider-Man turned out to be rad.  Oh, and when Black Panther showed up.

05) Moonlight

Like Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight is a great film that I’m not exactly in a rush to see again.  What a beautiful but tough to watch effort from director Barry Jenkins.

Did It Make Me Cry: Yeah man.  Yeah.

04) The Handmaiden

I love me some Chan-wook Park.  His latest is whimsical and sexy and twisted and just an all-around delight.

Did It Make Me Cry: No, but I should have.

03) Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a damn gem that’s very funny and heartfelt.  Here’s hoping Julian Dennison continues to pop up in stuff.  The kid has the goods.

Did It Make Me Cry: Yeah mate.  Yeah.

02) Elle

I saw Paul Verhoeven’s latest during Fantastic Fest (back in September) and I still occasionally find myself thinking about it.  No other film in 2016 challenged me like this one.

Did It Make Me Cry: No, but holy shit did I feel weird laughing so much.

01) La La Land

I’m not exactly what you would call a big fan of musicals, so you know I mean it when I say that La La Land swept me off my feet.  It’s so damn enjoyable!  And charming!  And smart!  Way to hit a home run, Damien Chazelle.

Did It Make Me Cry: Yes.  That ending.  Geeze.

Just for fun, here are entries 20-11:

20) Split
19) The Neon Demon
18) 45 Years
17) 10 Cloverfield Lane
16) Moana
15) The Nice Guys
14) Deadpool
13) Midnight Special
12) Arrival
11) Zootopia

Bonus Honorable Mentions: Zoology, Star Trek Beyond, Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (Ultimate Edition), Rogue One, Hell Or High Water, Allied, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Doctor Strange, Colossal, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, The Eyes Of My Mother, Don’t Breathe, Kubo And The Two Strings, Captain Fantastic, Swiss Army Man, Finding Dory, Maggie’s Plan, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The Meddler, The Jungle Book, Sausage Party, Demolition, Young Offenders.

PS – If you looked at this and scowled because it doesn’t included Green Room, The Lobster or The Witch, it’s because I saw those in 2015, so they made that year-end list.

PSx2 – No, I didn’t see Sing Street. I will eventually, though.

PSx3 – My worst film of the year nod goes to Warcraft.  What a disaster.

NOAH’S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2016

For every film I absolutely loved in 2016, there was one I hated with equal fervor. Part of this seems to be a sort of deadening of the middle class of films. There is a dearth of solid mid-level pictures, a scant amount of films that may not hit every note pitch perfectly, but still manage to entertain, amuse, and wring some emotion from my dead, dead heart. These films have evaporated, replaced by enormous CG-shit shows and braindead comedies aimed at focus-group tested demographics. We continue to lower our expectations of what good film is, and because of that, money hungry studios continue to force feed us sub-standard films.

But, looking back, 2016 was a good, if not great, year for movies, big and small. Sure, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Boo Yah, Fuck The World, Juggalos Forever nearly nut-punched my love of movies right out my b-hole, but the smaller films – no matter how much hype was smeared on them – managed to stand strong in the shadow of some truly enormous dumps.

10. April And The Extraordinary World

In an alternate future where the Industrial Revolution never ended, a girl, her talking cat, and an old man must evade evil scientists to find her parents. It’s a magical, wholly original piece of animation, with every frame holding a marvel for the human eye.

09. Arrival

Denis Villeneuve is a cinematic master. Arrival is a visually stunning film about a grieving woman’s linguistic interaction with octopus aliens. Amy Adams is spectacular as the linguist, and Villeneuve proves that not every alien invasion movie needs to be about killing the shit out of stuff.

08. Moonlight

The story – told in three sections – of a black kid’s painful acceptance of his own sexuality is striking across all platforms. A small, beautiful film that uses a cast of relative unknowns (for the most part) to explore sexuality in the poor streets of Miami.

07. Sausage Party

I trust Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg with any genre after Sausage Party. This exceptionally crass (the two minute food orgy scene at the end might be the raunchiest bit of film this year), pointedly offensive take on a Pixar film not only gives the goods in Rogen-esque dick and poop jokes, it also takes on organized religion like no other animated film before it.

06. Zootopia

This is an animated buddy comedy about a talking bunny cop and a sleazy fox that manages to explore the issues of race in America within the perfectly executed structure of a detective story.  Do I need to say more?

05. Midnight Special

Mr. Nichols plays in the genre sandbox with his own realistically emotional take on the “kid-with-super-powers” film. Every character in this film pops off the screen, with the story evoking the very best of Spielberg’s Amblin years.

04. Captain America: Civil War

Called it Avengers 2.5 if you want, but this stylish, enormously budgeted, super-hero brawl is somehow both emotionally sound and the best big budget film of the year. Also, Spider-Man is finally cool, and Black Panther proves he always was. Marvel, continue to do things this well, please.

03. Green Room

You want a home invasion film set in an abandoned skinhead night club in the dark, twisty forests of the far Northwest? Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is just that. Patrick Stewart plays refined evil as it’s meant to be played, Imogen Poots is an animal unleashed and Anton Yelchin’s performance only makes me miss him more.

02. Manchester by the Sea

I didn’t think anyone was coming back from Lonergan’s disastrous Margaret. But, hey, never doubt the man who directed You Can Count On Me. Casey Affleck’s subtle, nuanced performance as a grieving brother who has to take up responsibilities he’s uniquely unprepared for anchors a film that discusses the rippling effects of grief. It is somehow laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally devastating in one, somber breath.

01. La La Land

For a man that detests all but the most classic of musicals, to anoint La La Land – a film steeped in its love of the musicals of the 40s and 50s – is saying a lot. But Chazelle proves Whiplash was not a flash in the pan, crafting a film that pulls the classic musical into the 21st century, with two stars – Gosling and Stone – never shining brighter.

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Movie Breakdown: Patriot’s Day

January 12, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The main thing I remember about the Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt that ensued afterwards was that the whole thing felt like something out of a movie.  So, I suppose it makes sense that there’s now a movie based on the aforementioned events.  I will say this though, Patriot’s Day does feel a bit too soon.

Post-Screening Ramble:

If you’re not from Boston, then I believe that Patriot’s Day is the kind of film that is best described as “it is what it is.”  Director Peter Berg’s latest covers the Boston Marathon bombing and the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers.  It’s pretty quick paced, emotional and fairly interesting.  And that’s that.  If, however, you’re from Boston (or just love the city), it’s a whole other sort of film.  In fact, I’m somewhat surprised it wasn’t called Boston Strong since it seems more bent on celebrating the resilience of the city than deep diving into the terrible events that unfolded.  Everyone from the governor to the mayor to the police commissioner to the cops to the citizens, they’re all shown as snappy, passionate, prideful people who will not be deterred from fucking up some terrorists and restoring peace to their beloved city.  It’s hard to knock Berg for going this route because, well, why shouldn’t the city of Boston have two hours to figuratively pump double middle fingers at those Tsarnaev fools?  I say good for them!  I just also think Patriot’s Day could have used a bit more content to balance out all of the bravado.

In other words, catch Patriot’s Day if you want to cheer on Boston, not if you’d like more insight on the bombings and/or the Tsarnaev manhunt.

One Last Thought:

For a long while I thought it was weird that Peter Berg directed Battleship, but it’s really starting to make more and more sense.  Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriot’s Day – the man just loves his all-American hero flicks.

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