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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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Movie Breakdown: A Monster Calls

January 6, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The trailer for A Monster Calls is all kinds of sad, so I’m guessing that the actual movie is really going to be a bummer.  Guess I better pack some tissues.  And a bit of whiskey.  And maybe a therapist.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Being a kid can be really hard, and A Monster Calls is one of those films (kind of like Where The Wild Things Are) that aims to remind you of this.  The movie is centered around Conor O’Mally (Lewis MacDougall), a solid little fella who likes to draw and watch old films with his mom (Felicity Jones).  Unfortunately though, his mom is very sick, and because of this his life is on the verge of a major shakeup.  In an effort to help Conor process his feelings (and acknowledge the fact that vast changes that are about to tumble onto him), an ancient being (voiced by Liam Neeson) comes to him with an offer – he’ll tell the boy three stories as long as he receives one in return when he’s done.  Conor agrees and what follows is a heavy emotional journey that … well, reminds you that being a kid is hard.  I found the film to be touching.  It’s certainly far from being an easy watch, and I probably wouldn’t really recommend taking your kids to see it, but if you want something that’s well made and dedicated to delivering an important message/reminder, then you should definitely catch A Monster Calls at the theater.

One Last Thought:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are very few people on this planet who have a voice that resonates like Liam Neeson’s.  You could sit me down anywhere and make me listen to that man read anything and I’m fairly certain I’d be happy the whole damn time.  On a related note, it’s weird that he doesn’t narrate more stuff.

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Movie Breakdown: Silence

January 5, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Martin Scorsese has supposedly been developing Silence for somewhere around 25 years.  That’s crazy.  Here’s hoping he pulled something together that’s worth all that time and effort.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Silence left me in a weird spot.  I think that Martin Scorsese’s latest is a beautifully shot film with a lot of great performances and an interesting story (two Christian missionaries decide to infiltrate Japan in order to find their missing mentor), but it has a variety of elements that are either odd or just too much.  It’s long (and often feels like it), brutal, and full of so much religious persecution and suffering that you’ll likely reach an “alright, I get it, times were tough” moment somewhere in the first act.  Speaking of acts, I’m not a huge fan of the way the film concludes.  It builds and builds and then Scorsese jarringly jumps into an epilogue (one without a title card indicating as much, so you end up lost for a bit), provides a flurry of updates, and then it’s over.  Sometime ago I read that his original cut was well over three hours, so if I had to guess, I would go with the awkwardly narrated and presented “ending” as what got hacked apart.  Lastly, Scorsese delivers a muddled message.  My date thought one thing, I thought another and every friend I spoke with afterwards thought something entirely different … and none of us were particularly confident with our theories.  For a film that’s been in the work for roughly 25 years, you’d think it would feature a message that’s loud and clear.

Take The Revenant and The Passion Of The Christ, mix them up and what you’ll get on the other end is Silence.  If that sounds appealing to you, then mount up and head to the theater.  Otherwise, you should probably steer clear of Scorsese’s rather intense and thick passion project.

One Last Thought:

Anytime I watch a movie as serious and dramatic as Silence, I always wonder if there’s a blooper reel somewhere.  It would be so wonderful to watch Andrew Garfield look into someone’s eyes and then start laughing uncontrollably instead of talking about Jesus and stuff.

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Movie Breakdown: Paterson

December 23, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jim Jarmusch has always been a hit or miss director for me, so I’m heading into Paterson with my expectations firmly in check.  I do like the homely feel of the trailer though, and Adam Driver usually pops up in good films.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Here’s hoping you like watching someone’s day to day life, because that’s what Paterson is all about.  Paterson (Adam Driver) gets up, he goes to his day gig (bus driver), he comes home, he has dinner with his space cadet girlfriend, he takes his grumpy dog for a walk, he stops by his neighborhood dive bar for a beer or two, and then he goes home and crashes.  Oh, and if there’s free time, he writes poetry.  That’s it.  That’s the movie.  Director Jim Jarmusch shows this routine over the course of a week, and you’ll either be transfixed by it or bored out of your damn mind.  For a moment, I definitely got caught up in Paterson’s ho hum existence, as it’s comfy and features a few quirky details, but since the character has no ultimate goal and there’s no real measure of drama or anything in the film, it wasn’t long before I started wondering just when I might be able to escape his monotonous world.  Is that what Jarmusch was hoping to accomplish?  I don’t know.  Seems pretty unlikely though.

If you want something small and realistic that’s sort of artsy and devoid of any real dramatic highs or lows, then I guess see Paterson.  Otherwise you should probably let it slide right by you.

One Last Thought:

Paterson is the latest thing to make me wish that I had a legit neighborhood bar.  There are a few that are within walking distance from me, but I don’t like any of them enough to visit on a daily basis.  Talk about first world problems, right?

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Movie Breakdown: Lion

December 21, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

There are a lot of talented people attached to Lion.  This means it’s either going to be really good or just another slice of “based on a true story” style Oscar bait.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The first half of Lion is riveting.  A very young boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar) gets separated from his brother and ends up locked inside of a train that takes him so far away from his home that when he’s finally able to escape it he finds himself among people who don’t even speak the same language as him.  He attempts to get help, but since he can’t understand anyone and they can’t understand him, he soon finds himself alone and on the streets, where he narrowly avoids a variety of dangerous situations before eventually ending up in a seedy group home for kids.  Yikes, right?  Yes.  Yikes.  Eventually though Saroo gets adopted by a super nice Australian family, and this is where the film hits a wall.  The man (now played by Dev Patel) can’t stop thinking about the family he lost, and so he mopes around a lot and obsessively browses Google Earth in an effort to locate his hometown.  These parts are immensely boring.  I know the real life Saroo did something amazing in locating his lost hometown via Google Earth, but the cinematic retelling of his search is as dull as can be.  It straight up feels like seven hours of Dev Patel either crying or staring off into the distance and remembering what it was like to play with his brother and/or farm rocks with his mother.  Not good.

Lion starts out like it’s going to be something incredibly moving, but it ends up hobbled by poor storytelling.  If anything, wait until you can watch this one at home.

One Last Thought:

Lion made me realize that I no longer like Dev Patel.  He’s been playing the same sort of wide-eyed, unknowingly overbearing character since Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and I just can’t take it anymore.  Somebody get that fella a new role.

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Movie Breakdown: Assassin’s Creed

December 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Video game adaptations are rarely good, so that makes it difficult to believe Assassin’s Creed will be a winner.  Who knows though, maybe Michael Fassbender will change the tide.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Assassin’s Creed is a tedious mess.  The film begins with Aguilar (Michael Fassbender) reciting the … Assassin’s Creed.  Then The Black Angels’ Entrance Song starts blasting (the line “rolling fast down I-35″ is somewhat jarring when heard during the Spanish Inquisition) and an eventual transition happens where a boy named Cal is introduced and then quickly thrown away for the adult version of himself (Michael Fassbender).  Man-Cal is a baddie and is about to receive a big dose of Capital Punishment, but a company called Abstergo swipes him, plugs him into a machine called the Animus and then goes about using his genes to search for a mysterious object called The Apple of Eden.  The film then parkours back and forth between Cal as Aguilar in Spain on the hunt for the Apple and Cal as Cal in present day struggling to figure out if he wants to be an Assassin or a Templar.  And that’s about it.  There are other characters but they have zero depth, the Animus is only ever lightly explained, a startling lack of info on the Apple is provided, and the history of Templars v. Assassins isn’t really touched on.  I’d like to think that the lack of hand-holding/world-building was done on purpose since there are so many games in the rather popular Assassin’s Creed series, but because the movie overall doesn’t make a lot of sense, I’m going to go ahead and chalk up the lack of details to poor film-making by director Justin Kurzel.  While I’m at it, I’m also going to toss the bland action and the cold, dark and muddled look of the film on his shoulders, too.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed games, you don’t want to see this movie.  Skip.

One Last Thought:

These breakdowns of mine are spoiler free territory, but I have to note something about how this film ends.  Drag and highlight just below here to see it (if you want).

The film concludes with the Assassins infiltrating a secret Templar meeting and recovering their magical apple.  And by infiltrate, I mean they get wanded by security and then walk into the meeting like it’s no big deal.  They even do it while wearing ominous hoods!  How is this possible?!  If you’re a Templar and your mortal enemies always wear hoods, then wouldn’t you find all hooded figures suspicious?  Or, you know, wouldn’t at least one person recall the faces of those who just ransacked a Templar facility?  So dumb.

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Movie Breakdown: Passengers

December 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Passengers seems to exist solely as a way to place hotties Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt onto the same the screen together, so I have no idea if it’s going to be any good at all.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Passengers is an odd film.  Its overall premise is fine – Jim Preston (Christ Pratt) is bumped out of suspended animation when his pod malfunctions just 30 years into a 120 year trip.  This is bad.  Not only because there’s no way he can go back to sleep, but because his pod is the only one that malfunctioned, which means he is set to spend the next 90 years alone.  He lasts on his own for a while (a year and some change), but eventually he gives in and wakes up the hilariously named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).  This is where the film gets odd.  Jim essentially kills Aurora by waking her up early, and even though he feels bad about it, that doesn’t stop him from wooing her and then treating their situation as though fate brought them together.  The film also never really makes it seem like that big of a deal.  Sure, his actions are presented in somewhat of a “it ain’t right” kind of way, but he and Aurora are so cute and perfect together that, like, it’s fine!  As OMC once sang, how bizarre.  Eventually the love stuff takes a backseat and the film attempts to be more of a sci-fi thing, but those parts are pretty silly and forgettable since they’re loaded with one-liners that feel like they should be delivered with either Lawrence or Pratt looking into the camera and winking.  I chuckled frequently.

Here’s the deal, Passengers isn’t terrible, it’s just a largely forgettable film with a strange message (do what you want regardless of the consequences because it’ll be fine in the end).  See it if you want something glossy with two very pretty faces and a spaceship (which I guess makes it sci-fi).

One Last Thought:

I just noticed that the poster mentions that you can see the film in 3D.  Don’t do that.  There’s absolutely nothing in it that warrants any type of 3D viewing (and the up-charge that will come with it).

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Movie Breakdown: Why Him?

December 19, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The marketing for Why Him? has pretty much clued me in on what to expect.  There will be a lot of yelling, some gross stuff, a few funny bits and at least two heartfelt moments.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Why Him? pretty much fell in line with what I was expecting (see my pre-screening stance).  Ned (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally), along with their son Scott (Griffin Gluck), make the jump to California to meet their daughter Stephanie’s (Zoey Deutch) new squeeze, the very rich and obtuse Laird Mayhew (James Franco).  Naturally, things start out rough, stay rough and then go smooth right before the credits hit the screen.  You’ll be mildly entertained by some of it, and not surprised by any of it.

Here’s the deal though, Why Him? isn’t all that bad.  Ned, Barb and Scott’s wholesome qualities mixed with Laird and his staff’s ridiculous lifestyle often make for chuckle-worthy moments, and the “gross-out” bits weren’t as over the top as I was expecting.  I also steadily found myself appreciating the way the film is full of characters who want to make their awkward holiday situation work, but it’s their own insecurities that keep screwing everything up.  In most of these sort of forced-family movies it’s one person (usually the new boyfriend/girlfriend) in total screwball mode and they just can’t seem to do anything right.  Not in Why Him? though, everyone is a mess, and it’s generally fun watching each character work their way out of their shells.

Why Him? isn’t going to win any awards and honestly it’s one of those films that you’ll watch once and probably forget almost instantly, but it’s not terrible.  Get a little toasty and matinee it.

One Last Thought:

I don’t really get James Franco anymore.  His on-screen presence has become immensely wonky, and I can no longer tell if he’s being serious or just off his damn rocker.  It’s really weird.

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Movie Breakdown: La La Land

December 14, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Even if La La Land wasn’t riding an enormous wave of positive buzz, I’d still be excited to see the film because it’s a musical directed by Damien Chazelle, who did the rather excellent Whiplash, and it stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, both of whom are really pretty and charismatic.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Oh boy.  La La Land is a gem.  It features Mia (Emma Stone), a young lady who works a dead-end job and endlessly auditions for roles in attempt to “make it” as an actress, and a fella named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a musician who hopes to save jazz by opening up his own club.  They meet, it doesn’t go well, then they meet again and so many sparks fly about that it made me worry my theater might catch on fire.  After that there’s love, music, hope, successes, failures, harsh realizations and more that fill the screen and swallow you whole.  Stone and Gosling definitely deserve a big high five for their performances in La La Land (neither could possibly be more charming and/or genuine), but I think it’s director Damien Chazelle that really should be showered with adoration.  His film feels and looks like an old Hollywood throwback, but it’s a modern story with modern characters and modern ideals.  This will sound odd, but it reminds of the approach that James Gunn took with Guardians of the Galaxy.  That movie looks and feels like an old school adventure flick with its classic rock tunes and whatnot, but it’s total new sci-fi, comic book nerdiness at its core.  Same sort of thing with La La Land – Chazelle’s film may feature a lot of whimsical singing and dancing (all of it is really well done, by the way) and it may in general present a classic version of Hollywood, but at the end of the day it’s a modern love story that aims to provide a dash of nostalgia as it shoves you into the future.

See La La Land immediately.  Even if you don’t like musicals, I promise you’ll dig it.

One Last Thought:

Ryan Gosling seems to largely play Ryan Gosling in a lot of movies, but somehow it works for him and doesn’t come off as flat and uninteresting.  Now that’s the life!  “The thing about this new character is that, well … it’s just me again.”  Then you toss ‘em a wink and stroll right home or wherever witchy charmers like Ryan go.

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Movie Breakdown: Domain (Noah)

December 6, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

When you get at-home-screeners that you’ve never heard of before, it’s a toss-up. I will say that for the most part the at-home-screeners that fall into the sci-fi genre usually have a better chance of being okay.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There’s a real history of low-budget, high-quality science-fiction in the cinematic world. Films that manage to overstep their paltry financials to shine as both idea-heavy cinema and engaging stories with solid acting and decent enough cinematography. Science-fiction, and genre narratives in general, seem born to be produced on the cheap (putting aside the recent outburst of extremely costly, computer-graphic heavy films and television shows), and Nathaniel Atcheson’s Domain fits that bill. In the future, a horrible virus has wiped out much of the human population and the rest have been placed in singular rooms (to avoid the spread of disease) where they are allowed to communicate – via screen – with six other survivors. But, as you may well have guessed, things are not what they seem. The film’s characters, each named after their location when the virus hit, interact through the “social network” of Domain, a sort of seven-person democracy, and when they vote someone off the proverbial “island,” well, things go badly. The enjoyment of the film rests in the unveiling of what exactly is going on, and Atcheson pulls back the curtain just slowly enough that by the time all is revealed, we care enough about the characters to actually give a shit about their fates. And the reveal, not terrible, is marred by the fact that after six years (the length of time these characters are in Domain together) it would seem that very few secrets would exist between them. What Domain feels like, and this is a compliment, is a pretty good episode of Twilight Zone or better yet, Black Mirror. A cast of solid actors who help bring a world, briefly, to life, just enough to make a point, create some tension, and then move along.

One Last Thought:

I spent this entire film thinking that Sonja Sohn was Angela Bassett in makeup. Honestly, they’re uncannily similar in appearance and it sort of clouded my viewing of the film because I kept wondering, “how did they get Angela Bassett in this movie?” It’s not her though, uh uh, but hey, Sonja Sohn is good, too.

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Movie Breakdown: Miss Sloane

December 5, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jessica Chastain takes on gun control in Miss Sloane!  Am I ready for this?  Probably not.  But I’m going in anyways.

Post-Screening Ramble:

If you’re into legal thrillers (Michael Clayton, The Firm, Pelican Brief, A Few Good Men, etc.), then you’re going to love Miss Sloane.  The titular character (a fiery and very in charge Jessica Chastain) is a lobbyist – seemingly the world’s best – and the film begins with her ditching her fancy (i.e. evil) firm for a boutique (i.e. morally pure) group in an attempt to pass a bill that will impose regulations on firearms.  From there a lot of sass is thrown around, unrealistic things happen repeatedly, and then the film ends in a way that would warrant at least one really nice high five from John Grisham himself.  It is undoubtedly a largely silly ride, one that often had me chuckling and rolling my eyes, but I did have a good time with the film.  Chastain is clearly having a blast in it, and I also appreciated the way that director John Madden (he made Shakespeare In Love way back) keeps things tense and occasionally twists the story just enough to make you think that all of your assumptions could in fact be very wrong.

Miss Sloane isn’t a great film and it certainly isn’t going to win any awards for realism, but it is entertaining.  Catch it if you’re in the mood for something with a legal thriller lean to it.

One Last Thought:

I think it’s time for Hollywood to rally up a Legal Cinematic Universe.  It would feature the world’s best lawyers and lobbyists and whatnot, and after a series of really wordy origin stories, there would then be a team-up film where they’d have to battle some sort of all-encompassing social injustice (like the band Twenty One Pilots).

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Movie Breakdown: Rules Don’t Apply

November 23, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I didn’t even know this movie existed until I got an invite to a press screening for it.  How does that happen with a film that’s written and directed by Warren Beatty?  Anyhow, it looks like it could be a quirky good time, so I’m heading into it with at least mild expectations.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Rules Don’t Apply is one of those movies that’s made up of pretty people and they’re all clearly having a really good time just doing whatever and you keep watching and noticing that nothing really seems to be happening but everyone is so damn cute, charming and quirky that you just shrug your shoulders and keep your eyes glued to the screen.  Set in 1950s Hollywood, the film is centered around Howard Hughes.  I’m not entirely sure why – my best guess is that Warren Beatty just really wanted to portray him.  Anyhow, alongside Hughes there’s a slew of famous faces and then two kids with chunky parts – Lily Collins (as the super pretty Maria) and Alden Ehrenreich (as the super handsome Frank).  The former is a young lady hired to be in Howard Hughes’ actress stable (it’s never made quite clear exactly what he does with these women) and the latter is hired to be a driver (this part is made clear – he drives).  Because Howard Hughes is crazy, both young adults are explicitly told not to fall in love with each other … so of course they do exactly that.  There never seems to be any real point to their relationship though, and mostly the film ends up being driven by a weird vortex of screwbally madness between Howard Hughes, Maria and Frank.  And that’s it.  There’s no real point or any discernible message provided by the time the credits hit the screen.  Again, it’s just pretty people having a good time in a period film.  If you aren’t concerned with a real plot or some sort of meaning to everything, then my advice is that you check it out, because it is oddly entertaining.  If you want structure or a point though, then be sure to skip this one.

One Last Thought:

I like Alden Ehrenreich.  He legit seems like a good kid and in the films I’ve seen him in, he’s been entertaining.  With that being said, I’m nowhere near convinced that he’s going to be a good Han Solo.  Good luck to him, though.

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Movie Breakdown: Allied

November 23, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The early word on Allied has been slightly negative (at least in my feeds), but I’m still looking forward to it.  Mostly because Robert Zemeckis, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are a trio I’ll take any day of the week.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I really enjoyed Allied, but I can understand why it’s been registering as a miss for some.  The film moves pretty quick at first.  An operative named Max Vatan (a stoic Brad Pitt) arrives in North Africa, he immediately gets teamed up with a French Resistance fighter named Marianne Beausejour (an alluring Marion Cotillard), the two of them start going about working together to kill a Nazi official, and then bang, the action ends and the tone shifts.  I think this is where the film stops working for some.  That first act is brisk, kind of dangerous and the back and forth between Max and Marianne is palpable.  But then their mission ends and their relationship begins and director Robert Zemeckis really slows things down in order to let the viewer see just how deeply in love they are with each other.  Personally, I felt like this made the conclusion that much more suspenseful and touching, but if you dive in hoping for a thriller of a spy flick and instead get a love story (even if it contains a mystery that needs to be solved), I can see why you’d scoff and check out.

Allied may be a bit uneven, but I found it to be a nice love story with a solid twist.  See it.

One Last Thought:

There’s a part in Allied where that German fella with the glass boot in the basement scene in Inglorious Basterds shows up and tests Brad Pitt’s character to see if he is who he claims to be.  This made me wonder what it feels like to be typecast as a Nazi.  Like, does he tell people’s he’s “made it” in Hollywood?  Or no?

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Movie Breakdown: Moana (Noah)

November 23, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

At this point, with all the soft splits Disney’s animation division has endured, I’m a little confused as to who makes what and if those who are making it are the talented ones or the cheesy ones. But hey, The Rock is funny!

Post-Screening Stance:

Moana, directed by a handful of people, is a beautiful, at times psychedelic film shackled by the traditions of the Disney “princess movies.” The film follows Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), an aspiring chieftain whose wild thoughts about “going beyond the reef” are squelched time and time again by her overbearing father. But when the “darkness” comes, brought on by the demi-god Maui’s (Dwayne Johnson) stealing of super goddess/island Te Fiti’s heart, Moana must disobey her father’s strict rules and set out, like her people before her, to find Maui, return the stone, and fight a giant lava monster with nothing but a bobble-eyed chicken to protect her. It’s like if The Odyssey was told through the eyes of the Pacific-Islander’s pantheon of gods, monsters and realms. And when it hews close to the traditions of the Pacific-Island tribes, the film is, simply put, amazing. Moana, after discovering and convincing Maui (an unrepentant selfish trickster who’s only out for himself) to join her, journeys through the Pacific Ocean’s wonders, each stranger and more amazing than the last. They’re attacked by a group of coconut pirates with a ship that grows and shrinks through a series of pulleys. They enter the Realm of Monsters to steal an object of great importance from Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) – a giant crab who’s back is adorned with the treasures he’s stolen for himself. These aspects, and the solid pairing of Johnson and Cravalho, speak of a new step forward for classic Disney animation. One that’s unchained from the typical romanticized worlds Disney has been inhabiting for, well, nearly ever. Yet, the film never finds its way entirely outside of the boundaries of Disney’s hindering tropes. There is, of course, songs and though there a couple memorable ones (Tamatoa’s Shiny is a standout and I found myself tearing up anytime Moana started singing How Far I’ll Go), a lot of them, including Dwayne Johnson’s tone-deaf You’re Welcome, fall particularly flat. The opening song, an ensemble sing-along, is the most egregious, a sort of homage to Bonjour from Beauty and The Beast, but this time featuring smiling Pacific-Islanders crooning about how great their lives are, and how happy they are to work as a team. It clearly isn’t intended this way, but the simplification of the Pacific-Islanders society borders on stereotype, regardless of how well researched that stereotype is. But lame songs are not the film’s downfall, instead it’s the need to strike out on a path already well-trod by traditional Disney films. This is, very much so, the story we’ve seen in all of the famous Disney productions – a character must endure the trials of an enormous test while finding out just who she really is. It’s a classic yarn, sure, but Moana sticks so closely to the blueprint, that the odder, more enjoyable elements at play, get smothered. It almost feels like two films, as if Disney wanted to show the beautiful intricacies of Pacific-Islander culture, but only if it was bordered with the generic Disney structure pre-acknowledged to work well with an audience. The animation is stunning (the water work itself deserves awards) and – once again – in the more “out-there” scenes, which push what we’ve come to accept as a Disney film (the 2-D hybrid work on Tamatoa’s face is amazing). But it’s Moana where the animation fails. She looks, aside from a slightly wider nose and a light brown skin tone, like a white girl, but not just any white girl, one with creepy doll eyes that seem to move separately from the rest of facial musculature. It’s a creepy effect that sets a well-written, strong female character, somewhere along the line of CG American Girl dolls. The film is enjoyable though, an easily digested bit of animation that will make you laugh and ooh and ahh at the wonders of its design. But it’s almost a tease, as if Disney is striving to make change in its most cherished sandbox, but unable to let fully go yet. Keep at it Disney, you’re moving in the right direction.

One Last Thought:

Remember The Little Mermaid and King Triton and how he was just a total dick that smashed all Ariel’s pretty things and everyone was like, “Damn girl, underwater kings ain’t to be fucked with.” It seems like that sort of switch-first parenting has been expelled from Disney’s writing, as Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) is the authority figure you’ve come to expect, but without the fire and brimstone. He just wants his daughter to be safe. Welcome to 2016 everyone, nothing has changed at all.

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