A review of the films I've seen this past week.
MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES (2016)
Interesting documentary about photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Like a lot of creative people, he comes across as self-absorbed, and I appreciate that the directors Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato (directors of Inside Deep Throat) and the subjects interviewed don't try to soften Mapplethorpe. (That sounds like a weird attempt at a pun.) I can't remember when exactly, or how, I first heard of Mapplethorpe, but I remember being aware of who he was when he died--and of how he died. Being born in 1976, I do remember my Mother especially trying to shield me from that kind of thing, but probably the early life combination of HBO and MTV curbed a lot of that, as sheltered as I could be. Most of what I knew of the man himself, though, came either from the controversy or from other books and memoirs I've read of the 70s New York art and music scenes. I also thought it was interesting that so many of the people who knew him still aren't sure whether his work is art or provocation or whether the provocation itself is art. ****
THE GOOD DINOSAUR (2015)
Oh, my, did I truly hate this movie. So, I guess it's the modern day, but in a world where the asteroid never hit the Earth and killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. So... over 65 million years the dinosaurs evolved to be more cartoony and develop some kind of agrarian-based Rocky Mountain culture. You've got Apatosaurus homesteaders who farm corn, which is appropriate. All this movie does is farm corn. Something I've come to really hate from Disney and Pixar for at least the past decade is that so many of their projects just run into this artless kind of homespun nonsense that mainly consists of unearned sentimentality and reductive intonations about the importance of living up to some vague idea of family. Even the plot is nothing original; if it weren't for the computer animation, it would be easy to mistake this for one of those tedious live action flicks about animals that Disney made so many of in the sixties. The backgrounds and the little critters are beautifully rendered; I feel like a lot of time and effort was spent creating a realistic world, and just as much time and effort was spent destroying the realism of that world with a derivative, unengaging story. Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that it's completely inconsequential to the story whether or not the main characters are dinosaurs. They could be robots, people, or talking donuts, and the story would be exactly the same and make just as much sense. (Which is not very much... just don't think about how they build any of the damn tools they use.) So apparently Pixar can't imagine anything interesting for dinosaurs to do in a movie, because they characters don't have to be dinosaurs at all. At least the cars in the odious Cars movies--movies which I dislike but enjoyed much more than this one--have a society based on the fact that they're damn cars. This is a bad movie. A bad, bad movie that, luckily, I've slowly been forgetting I even saw for several days now. Homesteading country wisdom, my ass. Why is Hollywood so completely unable to make an interesting movie about dinosaurs? Jesus. *
Overrated but enjoyable Disney flick about a world of anthropomorphic animals--basically the biggest cartoon trope in history, and yet one which the trailers and the movie itself really seemed to feel the need to explain at length, lest someone feel confusion at why rabbits are talking and driving cars and such. Then again, this is a nation that voted for Trump, so who knows what people need explained them anymore? Anyway, it was interesting seeing this on the same day as The Good Dinosaur. Whereas I felt that the movie didn't remotely have to be about dinosaurs--there was nothing essential to the story that said the characters needed to be dinosaurs--Zootopia's plot depends on the fact that an animal society has evolved. So I liked that this movie was as much about the world it takes place in as its characters. I have to say, I enjoyed this one much more than I thought I would, but I still thought it was predictable and a tad... precious. ***
ROGUE ONE (2016)
Well, as usual, I'd rather scratch my forehead with an angry wolverine than discuss Star Wars online. I'll just say I enjoyed it very much, thought it was very well made, and K-2SO is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars things. Maybe it's unnecessary, but who gives a shit? It was a surprisingly emotional run-up to the events of Episode IV and I dug it. I just have no desire to engage in conversation about it. ***1/2
HITLER'S CHILDREN (1943)
Too earnest and melodramatic to really take seriously as a cautionary tale about the rise of Hitler. I appreciate what it was trying to say and when--there's a very good moment where a priest tries to put the dangers of Hitler into a historical context--but the lesson overwhelmed the attempt at story. It's based on the book Education for Death, about the Hitler Youth, but Disney did a much more harrowing and convincing and powerful film with their animated short version the same year. **
Joan Crawford stars as a woman with mental illness who is jerked around by an asshole (Van Heflin), marries a nice man (Raymond Massey), and slowly succumbs to the paranoia and power of her own schizophrenia. It's an interesting movie... there's a message here about why mental illness should be taken as seriously as a physical illness (and an implication that a lot of women are not helped because they're dismissed by society as being emotional or dramatic), but it doesn't overpower the film. There are noirish touches and German expressionism, and at times it threatens to go over the top into melodrama. It didn't break the movie for me, but I do wish it had reined itself in at times so we could take the schizophrenia more seriously. Still, as a man with mental illnesses of my own, I thought it handled the subject pretty well for its time. And Joan Crawford is excellent, acting everyone else in this movie off the screen. ***1/2
Thursday, December 22, 2016
A review of the films I've seen this past week.