Thursday, June 02, 2016

Film Week

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

JUPITER ASCENDING (2015)
Hoo boy. I keep forgetting I even watched this, which is itself a bad sign. I was really hoping there was something here that I would enjoy. It got terrible reviews, but so did Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, and I loved both of those movies. But this... it's hard to know where to start. It's sort of like a rip-off of Dune mixed with the spirit of Flash Gordon, but not even a little bit fun. The film is structured terribly; we start on a totally unnecessary flashback, then zip all over space, and there's a pointless bit with space bounty hunters, but we should be following Mila Kunis the whole time. She plays Jupiter, who lives in Chicago with her immigrant family, works a punishing schedule as a cleaning lady, and dreams of the stars. And then she finds out she's the reincarnation of a member of an intergalactic nobility who seed planets (including Earth) in order to farm humans to make a solution that keeps them genetically young, and is commercially very valuable. Because of laws governing genetics, Jupiter essentially owns the Earth, and is caught in a power play between three nobles (including Eddie Redmayne in a performance I can only describe as embarrassing) who want to inherit it and make gene-juice out of its residents.

It... it almost sounds complex, but it isn't. It's underwritten, and the explanations are so simplistic that the Wachowskis tend to use the score and the editing to rush through those scenes. The biggest problem here is that even though the structure is all wrong--we should stay with Jupiter the entire time, but with all of the cutting back and forth we lose all sense of her story, which kills the picture--the story itself is relatively straightforward, but at every turn the Wachowskis are doing all that they can to make it seem bigger and more complicated than it actually is, destroying any chance of it being enjoyable or intimate. Honestly, the intimate moments are probably worse, because there's supposed to be this love story between Channing Tatum, as an alien soldier, and Jupiter that is just... very, very tedious. It's perverse; it's like the movie just stops everything so you can experience these long, dull stretches that only exist to prove that Tatum and Kunis have absolutely no chemistry together. Seriously, Mila Kunis is awful in this; I've seen her do so much better, but here she just seems to want it to be over, playing Jupiter like she's just had a head injury and is trying not to fall asleep so the concussion doesn't kill her.

Good points? The special effects are mostly great, and the designs are amazing. Someone clearly liked Chris Foss' designs for Jodorowsky's Dune. The grandeur of the shots of planets and space ships that look like sunfish skimming Saturn's rings almost, almost convince you there's a real epic happening. The score by Michael Giacchino is pretty good. But even the good things get to be too much at once, and the action scenes drag on interminably. I remember consciously thinking at one point in the climactic battle, "I'm watching Channing Tatum get dragged across a collapsing mining station inside the planet Jupiter by a flying lizard-man... how the hell am I bored?" I think that really sums it up. To see these designs, FX, and creatures wasted is just a shame. **

GET HARD (2015)
Will Ferrell as an investment broker facing prison, who hires Kevin Hart as a trainer to get him ready to survive maximum security. (And all the stereotyped humor that goes with that.) Hart's funny, but it's a forgettable trifle. **

THE PERFECT GUY (2015)
I like the cast, but I wish it didn't take half the movie to go full Lifetime thriller. And even then, it's not as satisfyingly dumb-fun as you hope. It's your standard time-waster about a professional woman (the beautiful Sanaa Lathan) who meets a guy (Michael Ealy) who seems perfect at first, but turns out to have a violent temper and then starts stalking her when she ends it. Michael Ealy is good, though. He's an actor I quite like (would've loved to see him get cast as Doctor Strange), but I've only seen him play wholesome nice guys before, so it was kind of chilling to see him play more and more of a psychopath as the movie goes on. **1/2

LT. ROBIN CRUSOE, USN (1966)
Disney movie that sees Dick Van Dyke in the title role, a Navy pilot who gets lost at sea and washes up on a deserted tropical island. Immediately he starts doing the things guys always do after getting washed up somewhere in Disney movies: he builds a very complex home out of bamboo and thatch, makes friends with a chimp, makes himself a golf course and never once has a single hair out of place. It's a cartoon, with a lot of cartoon sight gags. You could substitute Goofy into the lead role and have pretty much the same movie. That's not a complaint. And then he meets lovely Nancy Kwan in the role of a banished headhunter's daughter, and there's a lot of stereotyping that seems a little (and at times more than a little) embarrassing sixty years later, and then it somehow turns into a women's lib picture in a way I found... well, it wasn't condescending. I enjoyed myself, eating hot dogs and drinking soda on a Memorial Day afternoon. It must have meant something to Walt, as it was his only onscreen story credit (and even then as "Retlaw Yensid"). ***

PARIS IS BURNING (1990)
Documentary about the 80s New York City drag ball culture that I found interesting and moving. It became famous as the movie that brought voguing to mainstream attention (around the same time as the Madonna song). I found myself invested in the personalities onscreen, and was surprised at the movie's sensitivity to their lives considering the time period. Some of them are trans, most are black, many are gay, and the movie follows them without judging, letting them tell their own stories and relate their hopes to us. It does make some of the end a little devastating. ****

UNZIPPED (1995)
Documentary about fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi putting together his fall 1994 collection. Fitfully interesting; the film (directed by Mizrahi's then-boyfriend) is more interested in Mizrahi's big personality and portraying him as a sort of eccentric genius, but I was more interested in the too-fleeting bits about how the show was planned and designed. I do enjoy seeing 1994's most popular models, because I'm me, but I wish there was more about Mizrahi's creative process and less of him telling stories about movies he's seen. **1/2

4 comments:

Devilham said...

Lt. Robinson Crusoe, USN. .... I loved these kind of Disney movies, and remember the early days of the Disney Channel (early 90's, maybe even late 80's), when it would be nothing but Disney shorts and these kind of flicks. Goofy fun, pure and simple. I think of the one that was 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court', only NASA as an example. Good memories of childhood

Devilham said...

it's really makes me wish there was more material for your Disney series of essays you wrote a few years back....those really tickled a part of my brain I didn't realize needed tickling, so to speak

SamuraiFrog said...

I remember that Disney Channel well; it started like that in the 80s, and I remember coming home from school and watching the original Mickey Mouse Club and collections of the shorts and the various iterations of the Disneyland TV show. So much rich Disney material. And for the longest time they were only on in the daytime; at night it would just be old movies, and I'd usually watch Nick at Nite.

I know the movie you're talking about--Unidentified Flying Oddball--but I've never seen it.

Roger Owen Green said...

I haven't seen it since it came out, but Paris Is Burning I recall as quite riveting, and a bit depressing.