Thursday, January 12, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past couple of weeks.

KRAMPUS (2015)
I wanted this flick to be so much more than it was. I somewhat enjoyed it as I was watching it, but looking back on it now, I just don't feel like explaining it. The hipster-fueled resurgence of Krampus as an alt-Santa Claus figure has been, by and large, kind of silly to me. Anyway, a family gets besieged in their home on Christmas during a blizzard when Krampus and his army of evil elves and killer toys attack. It's really good at setting the mood for a downer Christmas story--the opening credits sequence is cynical, satirical perfections--and the first act is a lot like a Spielberg-produced movie from the eighties, something like Poltergeist or Gremlins. But the film never really lives up to its potential, which is a real shame coming from the director of Trick 'r Treat, which I loved and which I accurately called as a future cult movie. Eventually it stops being funny and it stops being weird in an interesting way and it stops being excited, and then it's just exhausting. It has a really good sense of atmosphere, but it loses that at some point. Too bad it turned into such a drag. **1/2

INNER WORKINGS (2016)
Disney short released with Moana. It was pleasant and cute; it's a wordless short about an office worker whose brain is at odds with his stomach, heart, etc., who want to have fun. I liked that the message was more "Treat yourself and find a balance between responsibility and enjoying your life" rather than "Fuck it, go wild and have fun and blow everything off." Reminded of the old Disney short Reason and Emotion, but bouncier. ***

MOANA (2016)
This is the first Disney movie I really felt in about the last seven or eight years. Of course, it is right up my alley with all of the Pacific Island culture and the ocean. But I liked how spiritual it was without being preachy. I was very invested in the story of Moana, a princess whose island village is failing because of an imbalance in nature and who has to free the demigod Maui in order to make it right. I especially appreciate that the balance was restored through understanding rather than violence. The music is quite good, too; I haven't actually listened to Hamilton, so this is my first real experience with Lin-Manuel Miranda's music (other than an appearance on Last Week Tonight). "You're Welcome" was instantly one of my favorite Disney songs, before I even saw the movie itself. Beautiful story, and one that hit me harder for being emotional in a genuine way rather than attempting to be clever. ****

CAROL (2015)
Cate Blanchett is excellent in title role of this film based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, about a woman who meets a younger woman (Therese, played by Rooney Mara) in a department store around Christmastime in 1950s New York City. It's a nuanced, sensitive drama about two women who are attracted to each other, then fall in love, and how that complicates Carol's divorce proceedings from a husband who refuses to let her go. This is a time period when homosexuality was treated as a mental illness, and watching Carol and Therese sort of bare themselves emotionally in private and then be forced to guard themselves in public made me very tense. Not in a way that made the movie hard to watch, but in a way that made me very invested in the outcome of their story. It's a fine movie, directed by Todd Haynes, which makes an interesting companion to his Far from Heaven. Blanchett is excellent, and Rooney Mara's understated performance complements her very well. ****

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
Quentin Tarantino's return to form, in my opinion, after the less-satisfying Django Unchained. The real star of the movie is Samuel L. Jackson, who stars as a bounty hunter who, by chance, becomes a traveling companion to another bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) who is escorting a dangerous criminal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into town to be hanged. The two then find themselves in the company of a former Confederate (Walton Goggins) claiming to be the new sheriff. There's a lot of tense, uncomfortable talk; this bounty is worth a lot of money, and everyone is nervous and full of anger. If there's one thing this movie gets across (and there are many), it's the terror of living in a society where everyone is armed and feels their right to murder someone in self-defense is legally assured. The four of them end up in a cabin waiting out a blizzard, along with their driver and four men who are already there, each of them tense and with stories that don't seem to add up. Nobody trusts anybody, and as the story unfolds, you see that no one has any reason to. It's true, the N-word is thrown around A LOT in this movie; not as much as in other Tarantino movies, apparently, but in a much more cutting way. The N-word here is a weapon designed for maximum brutality. The way Leigh's character is treated is also hard to watch; she's treated just as poorly as the other characters, but she has no way to defend herself as she spends the entire movie in chains. The movie is a study in brutality itself; the brutality with which people treat one another, a brutality that the characters here feel is justified in the world they live in, and which is amplified by their fear, distrust, and the brutality of nature as the blizzard rages on outside. Honestly, I thought this was masterful. Sure, it's not "fun" to watch, nor is it meant to be. But it takes the revenge fantasy of Django Unchained and turns it on its head, painting a bleak portrait of extreme racism, casual violence, the constant fear of danger, and the prison of hate. There's actually a very nuanced picture of race relations and the crushing weight of history going on here, and it doesn't pull any of its punches. This is a movie that, as much as it hurts to say, is about America now. ****

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)
Tense thriller about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who gets in a car accident and wakes up in a fallout shelter where John Goodman is tending to her wounds and telling her that there was some kind of disaster that has made the world unlivable. Is it a nuclear disaster? Was it an enemy nation? Was it aliens? All of these possibilities come up as Winstead attempts to master her situation while Goodman (creepy as hell in a typically excellent performance) remains cagey. There are some neat twists in here that I don't want to give away, but this is the kind of great B-movie I'm always hoping for and don't often get. I don't really care how it fits in with Cloverfield, honestly; I just know I enjoyed both movies, and this was a hell of a fun, creepy time. A great drive-in kind of movie. ***1/2

DEADPOOL (2016)
I laughed my ass off. Deadpool's never been one of my favorite characters, but this movie really captured the tone of the best of his comic book adventures, routinely breaking the fourth wall and refusing to take the business of superheroing seriously (which was a nice antidote after seeing Batman V. Superman recently, which takes that business so seriously that it has no room for humanity, much less humor). I admit, too, I've never liked Ryan Reynolds a ton, but this is what he was made to do; he's somehow perfect for the movie's smartass-yet-kinda-sincere tone. I do think the movie gets bogged down a little bit in its origin story (those scenes are as dull as they tend to be in X-Men movies), but it's a little dip in quality in an otherwise fun, breezy movie that both spoofs and loves superheroes. I dug this so much. ***1/2

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Song of the Week: "Station to Station"

David Bowie would have been 70 today. I think I've posted more of Bowie than any other artist on Song of the Week--he was the very first one, back in 2006--which is fitting. Here's another of my many favorite songs, this one from 1976, the year I was born.