Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

CLOGGED (2014)
Caught up on the most recent Mickey Mouse cartoons the other day, and of course, loved them all. Of these four, Space Walkies was my favorite, which sees Mickey and Pluto in outer space looking for a pit stop before re-entry. (Loved the gag where Mickey called for Pluto, and the former planet appeared.) Mickey Monkey has a nice Steamboat Willie reference, which I'm always a sucker for, and I like that Clogged was another one of the foreign language episodes (Dutch this time). This series goes for the gross-out humor, but never more than when Goofy's the focus, so Goofy's First Love has that yuck factor. Most importantly, it has a cameo from Scrooge McDuck, one of my five favorite fictional characters. And even more importantly, he's still voiced by Alan Young. All cartoons ****

RUSH (2013)
Boring. Just a boring movie that makes Formula One racing look tedious. I know it's a true story, but even in this fictionalized account, the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt seems to barely exist. There's no real tension to it here, and not much chemistry. This movie just sort of indifferently happens, and I have no idea what we're supposed to take away from it. Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt is very sexy and nothing else; Daniel Bruhl as Lauda is doing an Austrian accent that may actually be worse than Don Cheadle's Cockney in the Ocean's flicks. Just long and dull and pointless, shaped all wrong. There is a story in there, but it's buried under a lot of obvious symbolism and underdeveloped characters and sports movie cliches. Basically it's a dick-measuring contest with director Ron Howard romanticizing the characters' obsessive competitiveness and misogyny as the Good Old Days of Manly Sports Heroes. *

47 RONIN (2013)
The story of the 47 Ronin is a tremendous epic. This... is not that story. It's very, very loosely based on that story and the names are the same, but with strong fantasy elements, creatures, Dutch pirates, a witch, and Keanu Reeves as a half-Japanese outcast raised by demons. Now, there are two kinds of people reading that description: people who are rolling their eyes, and people like me, because I found this movie surprisingly enjoyable and kinda awesome. I mean, yeah, it's not the 47 Ronin, but it's a fun fantasy flick in the vein of Krull or Dragonslayer (it feels like one of those 80s fantasy movies to me). The trailers oversold the size of Keanu's role, too--he's more like a co-lead than the star--but one of the things I respect about Keanu Reeves is that he's never really the spotlight-stealing star of these things. He's in the movie, but it's not built around him. The other lead is Hiroyuki Sanada (from Lost) as the leader of the 47 Ronin, who wants revenge for his disgraced daimyo. The villains are Tadanobu Asano (Hogun from Thor, doing a bit of a Loki thing here) and a witch played by Rinko Kikuchi, who at one point turns into a dragon and fights Keanu Reeves. Again, two kinds of people. If you dig fantasy weirdness, I recommend it. Tell your friends you saw (and maybe enjoyed) the second most expensive box office bomb ever! ***1/2 Fun as hell.

(Just as a note: the most expensive bomb ever is The 13th Warrior, one of my all time favorite movies. Yeah, according to the box office, I just love bad movies.)

I didn't have much interest in seeing this, but I caught it on HBO and was surprised how wrapped up I got in it. The plot sounds pretty simplistic boiled down--in a dystopian future, people are stratified by a defining character trait, but our main character is a divergent, because she doesn't easily fit into one category... it's child psychology stuff, but it makes for an effective science fiction story because it doesn't approach its premise simplistically. Shailene Woodley is the main character, Tris, who comes from a humanitarian background (Abnegation) but chooses the life of a fearless soldier (Dauntless). Woodley is a good actress, and her transformation is believable because she underplays it in her early scenes and then comes alive in her more action-packed moments. Of all the "Quick, find us another Twilight and/or Harry Potter!" movies, this is the one I've enjoyed the most. Or possibly just the one I've enjoyed, I'm not sure. ***1/2

Another one of those dumbass Lifetime movies where a girl displays all of the TV stereotypes of a psychotic and then everyone gets all "We need to help her!" in the last 20 minutes. Elizabeth Gillies is hammy but kind of awesome in a batshit crazy way for the first two thirds as a girl who wants revenge on her family for... something... and is successful for a minute. But, this being Lifetime, there's a self-righteous character to take her on and talk her out of it, because Lifetime never commits to a premise when it can just exploit and then condescend about mental illness instead. Stop it, Lifetime. *1/2

Cameron Diaz falls in love with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, only to find out he's actually married. When the wife (Leslie Mann) catches on, the two of them become friends and team up with another of his mistresses (Kate Upton, cute as hell) to exact revenge. It takes 9 to 5 as its template, though it's not as funny as that movie was, but I thought it was an alright movie. Not a hidden treasure, but better than I expected. It also gave me another chance to think about how to measure criticism by considering its source... I saw a lot of male critics shit all over this movie in a scolding, patriarchal tone, practically lecturing an imagined female reader/viewer for taking delight in "childish" revenge that "lowered" the women in the film. Except none of it is really too petty or too cruel--though some of it is a little cartoonish--particularly as more and more of his injustices are discovered (including one with the potential to land Leslie Mann in a federal prison). What I think you're looking at are male critics whose misogyny is so ingrained that they get angry to see women using their agency in a way that belittles a man, even one who has truly earned it. Food for thought, anyway. It's so hard to take most criticism seriously anymore. God, I miss Roger Ebert. ***

The first attempt at a Jack Ryan reboot. I don't think Ben Affleck is a fatal miscast, but it's the same as pretty much every performance he was giving at the time, only with somewhat floppier hair. Morgan Freeman is quite good, though, I think Affleck is a bit miscast, though, in that he doesn't have that everyman-in-a-hard-situation quality that Alec Baldwin brought to The Hunt for Red October (one of my all time favorite movies). Still, it's an engrossing political action thriller, one that goes for it in surprising ways and brings the superpowers to the brink of World War III in a tense and suspenseful way. I wouldn't have minded seeing them build on this with a second one. I think a lot of the harsher reviews of the time were mainly focused on the idea that it was too soon after 9/11 for a movie about terrorism. Seeing it now, it's a well-made, solid thriller that mostly works. ***

Ugh, that title. The latest attempt at a Jack Ryan reboot, this one directed by Kenneth Branagh, who plays the villain with surprising, un-Branagh-like restraint, considering he's directing himself. It's not a bad movie, but it's not a remarkable one, either. The movie obviously wants to split the difference between the Bourne movie style and something relatable, so we get a Ryan who is a capable action hero (former Marine, Afghan war vet) but somehow also a hapless analyst who's in over his head. The balance is uneasy. It also felt small-scale. What really makes The Hunt for Red October work is that it plays out like a docudrama, and there are so many characters that the crisis at hand feels very large scale and important (and yet it never loses its grasp on the heart of its characters... damn, it's just such a good movie). Because this movie is focused so much on Ryan and it really only involves a few characters, the movie barely ever gives us a sense of the vastness of the bad guy's plot, which is nothing less than to crash the American economy and usher in a global depression. Chris Pine is an okay Ryan, but you never doubt for a moment that he's going to be fine. He's not really a multifaceted actor. **1/2

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

Maybe I liked the Goofy cartoon a tad less than the others because the punchline was telegraphed. The Daughter saw it coming early on.