Thursday, March 30, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past few weeks and keep forgetting to do, because when you're home all the time, time loses its meaning.

I enjoyed Days of Future Past, so it was a real drag to come back to one of the X-Men universe's worst flicks. Oscar Isaac is such a good actor and he's wasted in a non-performance of a non-character. Apocalypse was always one of the lamest villains in the comics--he's always talked up, but when it comes down to a fight, it's like he always just forgets he has basically every power there is. At least, I think that's it. To this day, after first encountering the character over 25 years ago and up through this movie, I still couldn't tell you what Apocalypse's powers actually are, other than being a thin copy of Darkseid. Michael Fassbender is probably the best of the actors in here, and he's barely trying. Jennifer Lawrence is particularly phoning it in. Some of the kids are okay despite the horrible accents, but they get sidetracked by a side plot that literally only exists to force yet another Wolverine cameo into the picture. There's also the usual X-Men problem of having 60 main characters and terrible continuity (aside from the baffling lack of aging some of the characters have done since First Class took place in 1961, where this one takes place in 1983, there's also the Quicksilver scene, which is the best sequence in the movie but also goes against what was established in Days of Future Past, when Quicksilver said if he picked someone up and moved them their skin would basically flay off from friction, which was why he couldn't just go into that prison, pick up Magneto, and run out). Bryan Singer has occasional moments of flair as a visual director, but for the thousandth time, the guy just can't tell a story. These movies are way too committed to their "a wizard did it" continuity patchwork that you just can't hold on to the story. **

This is the kind of story I tend to really dig. I still refer to it as the Michael Crichton Plot: you have a mysterious guy with money who wants to do some science, you visit central casting and get a bunch of various experts and heavies, and then you go somewhere mysterious and do an old pulp story (or in this case, Apocalypse Now) with some kind of weird creature or new technology in it. (Example: Congo is King Solomon's Mines with a diamond laser and a talking gorilla.) (And yes, I know Michael Crichton didn't invent this plot, I just happened to read a lot of Michael Crichton in my senior year of high school, so that's how I think of it.) Anyway, I had a great time. Loved the cast; I'm constitutionally incapable of not loving Samuel L. Jackson in everything, and John Goodman is always great. John C. Reilly is fun and even poignant as a pilot who has been lost on Skull Island since World War II. This takes place immediately after the end of the Vietnam War ("We didn't lose the war, we abandoned it," Jackson's soldier explains), with John Goodman leading a team of soldiers, researchers, a photographer (Brie Larson) and an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston) to the remote island to discover... something. Of course, they discover Kong, and then we get a jungle picture with an anti-war message rolled into it that is just overwhelmingly fun. ***1/2

Mostly it's an incoherent mess, which is frustrating, because there are a lot of good individual elements to it. You kind of know you're in trouble right away because the film dicks around so much in the beginning, wasting its entire first half-hour on introducing every character (some of them three times), and explaining the premise of the film twice. It sucks, because you can see how they could have streamlined it and turned it into the fun flick it clearly thinks it is. After it settles in and we get the characters together, it starts to get really enjoyable, and then it just hits a wall and draaaaags to the end. Some of the actors are decent in underwritten roles: Will Smith's a pro, Viola Davis is fiery but wasted and the way Amanda Waller is written is nothing like the strategic genius of the comics, Jai Courtney is alright, Margot Robbie is superb, Joel Kinnaman is effective, and Jay Hernandez is given a great arc but not enough attention to make it work. The action scenes are long and not very interesting; the film doesn't really seem interested in developing the characters' personalities, even through individual action flourishes. The need to have the Joker in this movie is 98% marketing driven, and 2% the need to explain to the 1% of the audience that doesn't know what a Harley Quinn is. Lots of racial and gender stereotyping. The stakes are alternately not pressing or ridiculous (a witch is going to destroy all life on Earth, let's send in the guy who throws boomerangs twice in the whole picture and a guy who is... deformed?... half-crocodile?... eh, who cares, here's a crazy girl in booty shorts), and the conflict that should be inherent isn't made much of. It has that X-Men movie problem of having 10 or 11 main characters so that none of the relationships get served. (That alone surprised me coming from David Ayer, because I thought Fury really worked, and that had a bunch of characters, too.) It's a real disappointment, because some of this stuff really does work, but it never comes together into the fun movie it could be. Instead it's Escape from New York with eight Snake Plisskens. It's not the awful failure that Batman v Superman was, but it's still not like DC has righted the ship here. **1/2

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Song of the Week: "Lightning Strikes"

I love this. This is the kind of new wave avant garde art I've loved since I was a kid. It's this kind of thing that made people call me a weirdo, but it's the kind of thing that never seemed particularly weird to me. It's performance art. Whatev. Anyway, this is Klaus Nomi from his 1981 album (a favorite), covering the classic 1965 pop hit by Lou Christie. A marvelous, operatic reinterpretation.