A review of the films I've seen this past month or so.
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
I really enjoyed this one; this is a side of the MCU we haven't really seen before, and the whole thing was actually much more fun than I expected it to be. Benedict Cumberbatch is fine as Stephen Strange--let's be honest, he's never going to be surprising in anything at this point; even his casting seems de rigueur--but I particularly loved Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius. It's very in vogue right now to say "Marvel has a villain problem" just because they don't tend to have characters standing on hilltops, laughing maniacally and screaming "I WILL RULE THE WORLD!!!!" I really disagree with that, and a character like Kaecilius, who is driven by his past tragedy and thinks he's making the right decisions is so much more interesting than that, and Mikkelsen plays him with gentility and charisma at the edges of his fervency. I liked Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and Benedict Wong as Wong. I wanted more and more of the cosmic stuff; the Steve Ditko-inspired visuals are exactly what I was hoping for. And it's nice to have these films that are breathers between the bigger pieces of the tapestry. Just... just a fun movie, man. ****
HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE (1980)
Slasher flick about a man stalking and killing young brides. Alternately interesting and ridiculous; fun to make fun of with your partner. And, of course, this is Tom Hanks' first role, though he really only has a couple of scenes. **
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)
We are deep into the inconsequential phase of Woody Allen's career, and this movie--about a troubled professor (Joaquin Phoenix) who has an affair with a colleague's wife (Parker Posey) as well as his wide-eyed student (Emma Stone) is as inconsequential and overly familiar as it gets. Same Woody Allen tropes, without any nuance or insight. Stop arguing that every man needs some young muse to make sense of his life. We get it, you like little girls. Just... just shut up. *
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015)
Biopic of N.W.A is well-acted, but suffers from the same problem as most music business biopics: the first half is high energy and compelling as Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre overcome obstacles and achieve success and make political statements, but becomes static in the second half as N.W.A gradually breaks up and the three rappers go on with their careers. There's too much plot to pack in, so none of the arcs are really satisfying, because the focus has to keep moving around. Overall it's a good movie, but it's long. Fantastic soundtrack, obviously. ***
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)
The third film in the series is a prequel focusing on Lin Shaye's character and how she and her paranormal investigator partners came together while trying to stop a possession. It's not as fun as the first two movies, or as focused. This story wasn't really crying out to be told, and seems like a placeholder until a fourth film happens. **1/2
BLACK MASS (2015)
You know, I guess I really don't care about organized crime movies anymore. They're all the same movie, terrible regional accents optional. This one's about Whitey Bulger, a personage whom we're always told is endlessly fascinating. Turns out no. And this movie feels about three hours longer than it actually is. Johnny Depp is actually fine--his accent's not any more egregious or self-indulgent than any of his castmates. But the whole movie is just somewhat well-shot nothing. **1/2
BY THE SEA (2015)
The critics trashed this one, but I actually really loved it. Angelina Jolie is interesting as director and writer here; she didn't make a movie influenced by the French New Wave, she just made a French New Wave movie. It's not apologetic about it, nor is it showy, though it looks great. She and Brad Pitt play an American couple on vacation in Malta in the early sixties. They're trying to save their marriage, attempting to recover from some tragedy that isn't explained until late into the movie. They discover a hole in the wall of their hotel room and become fascinated with the newlywed couple staying in the room next door. A lot of critics seemed to feel that the movie was morose and inert, but I didn't feel that way. Jolie's character is morose and inert, but that felt true to what PTSD can be like. It's been that way for me at times. She has a numbness that she's felt so long, she's using it as a security blanket and fears losing it, even going as far as to attempt to sabotage her marriage. I found it fascinating and well-made. ****
COP CAR (2015)
I was absolutely not prepared for the weight and intensity of this movie. Two young kids--we're talking under 10--run away from home and find a seemingly abandoned police cruiser. They decide to steal it, but find themselves pursued by the desperate cop (Kevin Bacon) who wants it back. The way this movie keeps escalating is almost brutal as the children find themselves bystanders to the adult chaos they become witnesses to. Director Jon Watts understands just how much tension an audience can take, but keeps pushing the limit in a way that's provocative and, sometimes, creepy. ***1/2
Excellent samurai film that I was completely riveted to. Masaki Kobayashi's film about a poor ronin who asks to commit harakiri in the palace courtyard, and spins a tale that examines the disparity of the samurai code of honor, weighing it against ethical conduct, human cruelty, and human tragedy. I want to steal/quote Roger Ebert's description here: the film "is about an older wandering samurai who takes his time to create an unanswerable dilemma for the elder of a powerful clan. By playing strictly within the rules of Bushido Code which governs the conduct of all samurai, he lures the powerful leader into a situation where sheer naked logic leaves him humiliated before his retainers." It's a controlled, measured film, very thoughtful and totally compelling. ****
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)
I don't even want to talk about it. I mean, I could write an entire post about how terrible this movie is, but it's not worth it. First, because I don't want to invite discussion, because this movie is so stupidly polarizing. And second, because it's not worth the effort. It's shit. It's somehow too long and too short, breezing through scenes that have no beginning and no end, only brief middles with sophomoric dialogue and something vaguely resembling a plot. It's not even about Superman or Batman, it's about a self-loathing symbol and a hypocritical murderer wearing Superman and Batman costumes and struggling with their misguided savior complexes while Jesse Eisenberg flounces around being annoying and everyone else has what I can only describe as extended, inconsequential cameos. This movie is incomprehensible and poorly made and has no redeeming factor. Not even Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman has such little bearing on the plot that I actually forgot she was in it; her whole role is a teaser for a movie that looks like a more dour version of Captain America: The First Avenger. I don't know who this movie is made for, but it wasn't made for me. I love Superman and Batman. This movie doesn't understand them. I hated this movie. I feel like this movie hated me back. Fuck this movie. Zero stars.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
A review of the films I've seen this past month or so.