Thursday, June 29, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen the past two weeks or so.

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR (2016)
You may remember that I really liked Snow White and the Huntsman. This part-prequel, part-sequel is utterly terrible. I guess they really wanted to keep Kristen Stewart out of it badly enough to make this half-baked, overproduced, forgettable trash that feels like someone really wanted to make an episode of Shelley Duvall's Fairie Tale Theatre, but has no idea why that show worked. (Hint: it's emotional sincerity.) Chris Hemsworth is fine as the Huntsman (the role's in his wheelhouse, and he's a charming guy), and Jessica Chastain is okay even with her variable accent (to her credit, she seems to think it's all bullshit, too). The movie brings back Charlize Theron as evil queen Ravenna, and this focuses on her heretofore unmentioned rivalry with her sister, the Snow Queen (Emily Blunt), who lost a child and now hates love itself and has dedicated her life to proving love is a lie, and yes, this whole subtext-as-text thing is really that dumb and plainspoken in the movie. It's just... not smart. And it's not fun, either. I liked Theron, but only because she's slipped her chain and gone so over the top in this one, like Frank Langella in Masters of the Universe. Blunt tries, bless her, to imbue her role with some kind of believable pathos, but the role is just so stupidly written that she can only do so much. It's unwatchable, and the big twist is totally predictable. Lots of talent wasted on this. *

DODES'KA-DEN (1970)
Akira Kurosawa film about the residents of a tenement and how they go about their lives. Keenly observed. I don't know why this isn't better thought of, because I really found myself wrapped up in the lives of people who are hopeless, and yet continue to dream. ****

CONFLAGRATION (1958)
Kon Ichikawa directed this film about a young man with a stammer who becomes a student acolyte at the Golden Pavilion. Haunted by the death of his father and the infidelity of his abusive mother, the young man struggles, but is overwhelmed to be studying at the place his father thought the most beautiful in the world. Reality, however, can be cruel and disappointing, and there's some interesting symbolism going on that speaks to Japanese culture and the preservation of its natural character post World War II. ***1/2

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 (1986)
Gonzo sequel to one of the greatest horror flicks ever made. I actually dug this, although I see it's not very well liked. It is much more over the top, mixing extreme gore with wacky humor in a way I found especially interesting. The mix of extreme styles is the kind of thing I don't always think horror directors get right, but this one worked for me as almost a spoof of the original movie. Hard to explain, but I liked it. ***

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016)
I love Tarzan, and this is definitely one of my favorite interpretations of him. I honestly don't think the character always works well on film, but this one has a real Edgar Rice Burroughs feel (thank you for remembering that Jane is American and that the Mangani aren't gorillas) and interestingly places the story within a historical context, dealing with real people like Leon Rom (played by Christoph Waltz) and his role in the terrors of the Belgian Congo, and George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and his role in exposing the slavery that ran rampant there. So, it's a pulp adventure with some serious touches that come both from ERB's novels and from history. Alexander Skarsgaard was not my first choice to play Tarzan, but he's very good, particularly with his physicality. He really seems apelike, wearing a suit comfortably, but not naturally. So much of his civilization is learned behavior, which contrasts with Rom and his utter (ironic) faith in the trappings of civilization. It's a surprisingly thoughtful movie, and I just really enjoyed it. ***1/2

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)
Not as terrible as its reputation suggests, but not a movie that really works, either. I like the mythology of it, I just wish the movie had done something with it. Too bad; it could have been the John Wick of Hellboy wannabes. **1/2

GLOW: THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING (2012)
My sister and I used to watch GLOW when we were kids. I was one of those "ugh, this is for girls" boys, but my sister absolutely loved the cartoony and exaggerated wrestling show. (I liked the WWF, which was no less cartoony and exaggerated, so no judgments.) Really interesting to get the oral history of how and why that show was put together, and what about it made it so special to the people who were into it. I love that we're getting these histories now on the sometimes ill-remembered pop culture of my childhood. ***1/2

ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS (2014)
Fast-paced, fascinating documentary of how Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus took on Hollywood with cheap films and made a killing, before reaching too far and bankrupting their business. One of the things I like about this is that it's entertaining as hell whether you like Cannon's product or don't (and it is hit or miss, to be generous). ***1/2

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016)
Beautiful stop motion-animated film about a young boy who journeys through the Far Lands with a monkey companion and a cursed samurai to piece together a suit of enchanted armor to fight his grandfather, the Moon King. Laika has made nothing but great movies, but this is the studio's most delicate and lovely so far, a tale of the powers of love and understanding and how seeing the world through in that way can be more powerful than magic weapons. ****

THE WITCH (2015)
Excellent horror film about a Puritan farm family in 17th century New England. I don't want to say too much about it, because I think not knowing much about it really helps the experience (it was acclaimed, but I avoided reading reviews and thinkpieces about it because I didn't want to know too much). It's not gimmicky and gory, but more of a reaction to Puritan repression. And the ending... I'll leave you to decide for yourself, but I have ideas about the ending and the price of freedom. A visceral movie that gets to its horror with much of the frills of fantasy sanded down, making it more real and, I thought, more involving. Artful, thoughtful, and a triumph of tone. ****

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