Take on Me

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It rarely does to speculate on the lives of others and play doctor with tragedies prominent in gossip news. But of course, I have basically an outside job in based in speculation and induction and it sometimes leaks into my cinephilia. You’ve seen how I basically guessed based on circumstances and elements in Furious that Vin Diesel is an uncredited second director on that shit and I also think I have a pretty damn good idea on what led to Mickey Rourke’s departure from Seven Psychopaths and other things.

What I’m about to say is so close to consensus speculation that I don’t even think I should have any shame about it, so here goes…

Liam Neeson is way too overqualified an actor to be working the sort of B-grade Walmart action movies he does. And it’s not exactly to the degradation of him or the movie at times (in fact, I’d say The Grey is one of the man’s finest hours – but that’s for a different review one day). But everybody who was born before the year 2010 knows that the man is way the hell out of these movie’s league.

So why does he do them?

In March of 2009, Tony Award Winner Natasha Richardson had suffered a severe head injury while skiing and shortly after went into critical condition before dying at the hospital (this eerily is similar to the death of Jack Nance which I talked about last month). Richardson, in addition to being a very fulfilled stage actress (albeit one who died too young), was Liam Neeson’s beloved wife.

As of 2014, I can still read or watch interviews of Neeson and see that he still deeply misses his wife, even one in which he admits he has to keep himself working because he doesn’t want to be at home when somebody is at the door and it’s not her anymore.

Action movies had never been entirely absent from Neeson’s filmography (DarkmanThe Dead PoolBatman Begins, my very first time I saw him in a movie was as a child seeing Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace in theaters), but 2009 was the turning point of when Liam Neeson was suddenly being reinvented as a weathered and grizzly action star of earthy stature yet elegant presence. And from 2009 to 2015, you’d hard-pressed to pick a starring role of his that wasn’t an angry vengeful expert in tactics demanding violence and combat. His best-in-show voice role in The Lego Movie even parodies his screen persona.

And of course, all of these movies include a plot point involving the hero Neeson plays either dealing with his grief from a deceased female relative or having to save a deceased female relative from a grim fate.

I really don’t think I have to draw any lines between all these factors. Liam Neeson is unfortunately still dealing with his wife’s death and if or when he finally finds himself comfortable enough to move on, he will probably abandon his actor star status, but for right now… it’s clearly what he needs.

And while, in my opinion, The Grey is the best of these movies to come yet, I don’t think anybody could disagree that (quality aside) the French (though the main dialogue is English) Luc Besson-produced Taken trilogy (which he also co-writes with Mark Robert Kamen) has proven to be the quintessential map of how this span in Neeson’s career so far, essentially hallmarking where it started, where it continued to average degree, and where it started wearing itself out – we have in a row the second-best Neeson action film, the most-character less and functional one, and the out-and-out worst movie of his career (though I haven’t seen The Nut Job and you can’t make me!), hence why it’s so appealing to approach all three of them in one fell swoop and feel like you gained a lot from learning about Neeson’s career than you probably actually did.

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Taken, to begin with, is an interesting anomaly – it is the only one of the movies in this era to have been in production and released well before Richardson’s death, but it undoubtedly the movie that began this tread for Neeson’s career and we can especially pick out the scene that made him an action movie icon.

That done did it. Neeson didn’t have to so much as lift a pistol in any of the really impressive and fluid action setpieces that meld into each other for the rest of the movie’s thankfully brisk running time and we would have already had the man cemented as an action icon just from the restrained yet crackled way he threatens the men who kidnaps his daughter (Maggie Grace). The sound of his voice promises much unstoppable and chaotic violence with less fear on his face – juxtaposing the savagery of his words – of what’s to come and more fear of how far he’ll have to go. In retrospect, it reminds me of Bryan Cranston’s famous “I am the one who knocks” speech from Breaking Bad, a guy who wants to avoid having to be forced to do the things he is capable of doing. I mean, let me pull back a bit: this isn’t a GREAT PERFORMANCE by Neeson, a man who has proven all throughout his career up until then that he’s capable of giving those. Mills’ ultimatum doesn’t have all the depth and internal commentary that Cranston’s rant does, but we don’t need that depth or internal commentary. Sometimes less is more and Neeson gives Mills exactly the amount of presence he needs as an empty moving subject for the camera to follow and nothing more.

And you know what? That’s all the possible character or plot development we need. Taken takes the bare minimum in establishing former CIA Agent Bryan Mills’ (Neeson) estranged relationship with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and their daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) – even in that brief expository area of the movie, the movie is not content with being absent at least one action scene in the form Mills stop a pop star’s ridiculous assassination attempt – before speeding it up the daughter’s kidnapping and once we’re there all of Mills’ promises about the violence to come is met with.

This violence is brought forth by the ever involved eye of director Pierre Morel, a protege of Besson’s (his previous directorial debut was District B13) that knows well how to energize the film’s action setpieces so that well after Mills has escaped an explosion or shootout, we’re still just about ready to move on to the next deadly Bourne-esque anarchy that Mills is going to cause simply to find his daughter. And sure, there’s a lot of tactician work and detecting that takes place, but we’re also keeping our eye on how well his prey is aware of their scenario and moving in to start another fight. And my how giddy and fun these scenes are, even despite how obvious it is essentially nothing more than another usual blockbuster attempt at consequence-free bloodless death and destruction. Morel is no slouch in letting the rising tension of a dinner or an interrogation propel the film into the frenetic choreography Mills’ next fight demands and the result is making Taken as a film feel more and more jam-packed with its action content rather than crafting illusions of storytelling above it like a great cloth.

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It absolutely works to the movie’s benefit to be that bare bones of a story since Besson has trouble with his own movies on not only interjecting a bit too much involvement in characters and storytelling that simply never feel real flesh and blood to us. And even more so in trying to inject a lot of pseudointellectual elements into his films (Lucy, anybody?) but Taken even shrugs the possibility of it being a commentary on the reprehensible sex slave trade in Europe, probably because it would have occurred with the urgency of Reefer Madness. No, what really aids Morel and Neeson’s ability to elevate Taken from trashy action-thriller to memorable trashy action-thriller is how willing Besson and Kamen is to step back from their project to let Morel craft the explosive path Neeson’s character walks to get his daughter back home safe. Even once the mission is complete, the movie refuses to outstay its welcome – allowing one brief scene to act as a sign that the audience can take a breather and then just stopping (though I do have a problem with how dismissed another character’s fatality becomes to the leads). Yeah, Neeson + Morel… they made Taken what it is and Besson is humble enough to step back.

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Or at least, I’d have hoped if Taken 2 didn’t feel more like Besson trying to take the franchise into his own hands to remind everybody who was boss. Gone is Morel’s director’s seat, he’s now replaced by the hilariously named Olivier Megaton, another Besson protege who proclaims himself to be “the worst director in the world”. That seems like giving himself way too much credit, he wouldn’t get half of my mind based on Taken 2.

It’s just too pedestrian and a lot of that is based on how obviously it tries to squeeze out the idea that Taken was a movie narratively dense enough to warrant re-explore threads we didn’t think mattered. Taken 2  begins with Murad (Rade Serbedzija) the father of Marko, the most memorable of Taken‘s short-lived multiple antagonists, swearing vengeance on Mills for the death of his son.

Which is hokey and makes sense enough to warrant Taken 2‘s existence. But then there is the idea that pops in my head of Besson and Kamen asking aloud “Hey, you know what you fuckers loved about Taken? That’s right… the family storyline…” and so we spend maybe a third of the movie trying to pretend desperately that any ghost of chemistry between Neeson, Janssen, or Grace is present before finally getting on with its premise by having Lenore taken this time as well as *gasp* Mills!

And when he gets Taken, know what happens? The movie feels like it fucking halts. Like it just stops for a good while with nothing really going on except Kim avoiding her own kidnapping and Mills trying to communicate with her with never so much as a fear that Murad will return through the room to see Mills out of his cuffs or that anybody will be killed soon. The movie just politely asks us to wait it out until Mills and Kim finally get a connection and Mills gives her particular instructions that really feel like they set the movie off finally…

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But, here’s the thing… before I saw this movie, I actually spoiled it for myself by reading the Wikipedia synopsis and what happens at this point in the movie honestly sounded really cool to me: the idea that Kim throws grenades and Mills uses the noise to triangulate his position (public destruction be damned). But Megaton handles this in practice way too clumsily, not knowing how to capture any rhythm to either Kim’s sense of danger or Mills’ patience as well as just outright still refusing to give Mills any true time limit to look out for. It makes the sequence I looked most forward to feel like the slowest point of the movie and I’m talking about a movie that I was already complaining about feeling like it took 2 years to get to its point: being a goddamned action movie and re-introducing the unleash savagery of Bryan Mills’ particular set of skills.

And when the movie finally gets there, practically declaring that all the charms of Taken are back as an action film – it’s really just not there. There’s a prolonged car chase that just feels like a bunch of random landscape cuts biding its time so the movie can reach its 90 minute mark and a Turkish bath gun battle that serves as the climax and neither are as competently or sleekly done or even feel as exotic as Istanbul can be made to look as they probably would have been if Morel were given the reins of the film again.

Taken 2 is maybe a film that makes Liam Neeson feel his age with it just wasting time for a disappointing handling of action that follows a movie that blew minds in a pleasurable way.

DM-03656 – Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker in TAKEN 3.

Taken 3, though… oooooh boy… that movie blows my mind in a very unpleasurable way. It’s a total mess.

Where Taken 2 tries to pretend it still has the fire of the first film in its heart, Taken doesn’t waste any energy trying to recreate the original… it just about decides Luc Besson just saw that there The Fugitive movie and LITERALLY PLOT POINT BY PLOT POINT REMAKES THAT MOVIE INSTEAD. Down to bringing in the very overqualified Forest Whitaker in to fill in the Tommy Lee Jones-type role in a performance that can’t decide if its trying to make a remarkably incompetent detective feel at least like a man with quirks and nuance or if Whitaker just wants to ham it up because he cannot believe the stuff he has to say. You will hear the word “bagels” more times than you expect for a film like this and the movie takes it entirely too seriously.

It’s really the most upsetting thing about Taken 3 that brings it down several levels – the fact that Taken 3 has some of the most ridiculous storytelling elements possible, including and especially Forest Whitaker eating evidence and nobody giving him shit for it and the most hamfisted pregnancy subplot you could imagine that adds nothing thematically to the story AND… the movie thinks this is heavy and serious stuff. The Boy Next Door came out earlier with totally laughable elements, but that movie felt like it laughed with us. Taken 3 finishes one of many choppy action sequences after slogging through even more half-hour-feeling-like-half-a-decade relationship development between Mills and Kim and Lenore and Lenore’s husband Stuart (played by Xander Berkeley in the previous two films, here now replaced by actor Dougray Scott, which should telegraph exactly how the character develops over the film. Casting Scott and expecting us not to recognize his type is like casting Sean Bean and expecting not to wait for his death) and then turns around with a smug smirk expecting us to be impressed and we can’t lie to this movie.

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But as bad this script may be – and it is possibly the worst in Besson’s career, with its sole exaggerated bigness of its scenarios and none of the ambition that type of storytelling needs. It’s the epic version of a balloon getting poked by a needle and flying around the room with a giant fart sound – it would maybe be only a teensy bit more tolerable than it is now if Taken 3 didn’t have the worst editing ever. But oh my, it does, with sound panning out of relation to the shot during discussions and barely being able to keep up with the film when it decides to kickstart itself into being an action movie.

And the shots themselves. Do not keep still. The camera has to float around and the cuts cannot have longer than five seconds in between. It doesn’t matter that this sort of visual style is incoherent, the movie feels like it cannot still for two seconds. I can’t call it ADHD before it doesn’t have any of that exhuberant hyperactivity that even the worst of those types of flashy styles get, but I feel like calling it cinematic Parkinsons’ would be so much more insincere. But the movie has a talk between Kim and Mills (that goes nowhere by the way – Kim intends to tell Mills about her pregnancy and then changes her mind) and it somehow has a mind to make it look like Mills is having goddamn shellshock while he smiles and talks shit about a problem child behind him and that’s ALL the editing’s fault. It would just feel like useless father-daughter without that constant cutting, but instead, it’s a war zone for Mills. And worst of all, this cutting is not at all intense, if they remarkably boring car chases and firefights are any sign. It’s only fast and that’s it and it’s a sign that Megaton (who directs for a second time, because I guess Besson was fine with just one good Taken film) has brought the beginning of the end for maybe more than just this franchise, but hopefully his career. He really really wants that “worst director in the world” badge real bad.

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The biggest tell about Taken 3 is that Neeson’s usually weary-but-intense performance as Mills’ for the majority of the last two films here abandons all that intensity – Neeson now looks like he’s just about keel over. Not because he’s not capable of making his action sequences feel weighty and solid, but he’s just delivering most of his lines even before the discovery of Lenore’s body with a whole lot of disinterest and uninvolvement in the characters around him… the very same characters the script to Taken 3 SWEARS are most important to him. I don’t if he’s by now almost through with his healing over Richardson’s death, but Neeson’s bored manner around him says one thing for sure: “I’m done with these films”. You simply can’t read his nonchalance, his anti-energy to the film any other way.

The only angry-Neeson-action film to follow Taken 3 was Run All Night. From here on forth, he was cast in Ted 2SilenceA Monster Calls, Operation Chromite, and ew… a cameo in Entourage. Not a one of them hinting at the possibility of him revisiting these types of action movies anymore.

The fact that I missed Run All Night and the movie before Taken 3A Walk Among the Tombstones, after dedicating a lot of my filmgoing experience over the turn of the decade to being a faithful follower of Neeson’s angry action flicks should also say that I by now share Neeson’s complete fatigue over this trend in role choices. Taken 3‘s self-implosion of story and action just leaves one deflated and I can’t think of any chance of him going back to these movies (Neeson felt reluctant to return to the franchise in the first place). That Taken 3 promises to be the finale of the story that took Neeson’s career to this place is the only worthwhile thing about the movie and may it never both coming back.

Here marks the end of an era – and it only makes sense that Bryan Mills was there at the beginning and there at the end.

Take it all away now.

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No, don’t be like that… you’re underrated

So now I must put myself back to this series and let it rest once and for all: My List of Movies I Consider Severely Underrated. “Underrated” being a term a little bit more fluid for subjectivity than “Overrated” as there’s not a completely agreed upon definition of the term – It’s either a movie that is lesser-known by people or a movie that gets flack that fans feel is undeserved.

I’m trying to play to both worlds. These are movies I have a fondness for that I just get little-to-no show of hands for when I try to bring them up and sometimes it’s because nobody likes them and sometimes it’s because nobody’s seen them.

Well, look how the tables have now turned… Hohoho! I can love movies as much as I dislike them!

Also, a sidenote: There will be no Mad Max: Fury Road/Citizen Kane self-check here. It is much easier to pretend I love a movie too much than to pretend I dislike a movie too much. If I had movies to consider for that, it’d be Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire – the lesser known Disney Animation films. The pocketful of people who have seen these forgotten films champion it as more mature than much of the Disney Renaissance, I am not one of those guys. I have little love for these movies, they feel like WDAS playing out of their element.

Hey hey, that’s the beauty of subjective opinion. Let’s get to it so I can shut up now.

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 Strike (1925, dir. Sergei Eisenstein)

Eisenstein of course is cannoned like nobody’s business by film historians, filmmakers, and critics alike and yet this is the one film I rarely see anybody mention. And that stuns me as it’s a lot more compelling and thematically dense as macrostorytelling than Potemkin, but I guess the Odessa Steps gets burned into memory more.

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Vampyr (1932, dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer)

You guys we almost lost this movie. Forever. And that would have been a shame because it is one of the most hallucinatory works of horror I have ever seen. I implore you, I beseech you to watch it. Dreyer does no wrong.

I also now have somewhat of a dream project to adapt it into a miniseries. The very bare and sparse plot (which gives way to heightened atmosphere of moving shadows and spaced-out performances) lends itself to that, I think, and I’d just love to explore how easily it is to make mood depressing and dark. And to play around with Dreyer’s style, since I’d most certainly make this miniseries mostly silent and in black and white.

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An American in Paris (1951, dir. Vincent Minnelli)

Because we simply don’t see this movie talked about as much as Singin’ in the Rain or The Red Shoes or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and… that’s fine. Those are masterpieces in a manner that An American in Paris isn’t really, but I love the bigness and florid style Minnelli has never shied from and I eat up. And that final number is as ambitious a musical as they come… maybe only The Red Shoes‘ central ballet can take it on.

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The Trouble with Harry (1955, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Wouldn’t you know it, Hitchcock did something near impossible. He took the exact same techniques and methods applied to his suspense films and thrillers and this time around applied it to a movie that is one of the few straightaway comedies he attempted and it works! His teasing sense of airing out the moments going into the laughs left us with some real belly bursters. This is why he’s the Master!

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Shoot the Piano Player (1960, dir. Francois Truffaut)

Maybe one of the few times we can actually say a French New Wave picture stopped playing gangster and actually felt like a gangster picture in all the right and pleasant ways. It would fit right in with the fast yet criminal tones of the ’30s.

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The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967, dir. Jacques Demy)

I totally blame every last person in my life for not talking enough about Demy so I didn’t have to have just discovered his lovely musicals this year and wonder where he has been all my life.

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Monterey Pop (1968, dir. D.A. Pennebaker)

Guys, believe it or not, this movie is better than Woodstock. All about the music. All about it.

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Phantasm & Bubba Ho-Tep (1979/2002, dir. Don Coscarelli)

Maybe I ought to extend this to the entire Phantasm franchise, but man, it’s just a close to forgotten bit of originality and creativity to turn a boy’s nightmares into an adventure. Maybe the whole sibling thing is overdone, but yeah, I love the places Phantasm takes me.

As for Bubba Ho-Tep, well, you remember how I spent the Evil Dead reviews all on how well Bruce Campbell can play exaggeration to a responsive level? Well, say hello to the fact that he can also play subtle, small inner characters arcs (well… as small as playing Elvis Presley can be) giving depth themes about age, feeling left behind, and waiting for life to end. Ain’t he a treasure?

Twitch of the Death Nerve (1972, dir. Mario Bava)

You got your slashers because of Bava, now sleep in his grave!

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Death Race 2000 (1975, prod. Roger Corman)

Corman’s films have always had that cheap enjoyable sense to themselves but are we going to also throw away the fact that Death Race 2000 is a pretty smart satire about television culture, gossip, and the pedestal raising of athletes? Am I reading too much about it? I don’t think so, but ok – it’s also just as fun and entertaining as any of Corman’s primes productions have been. Hell with Rocky or Rambo, THIS is my idea of how Sylvester Stallone oughtta be.

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Stop Making Sense (1984, dir. Jonathan Demme)

The good thing is this – it’s not THAT obscure. Talking Heads fans love it. People who love good music (which of course will include Talking Heads fans) love it. Jonathan Demme fans, which I assume exist, have probably seen it a couple of times. People alive in 1984. So it’s not unknown and nobody I know has ever said a single bad thing about this movie, save for maybe the Tom Tom Club song.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I want this movie to rule the world.

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Day of the Dead (1985, dir. George Romero)

Perhaps my fondness for it comes from how it’s the first of the trilogy I saw, but it’s considered the stepchild of the group and I don’t know why. People tell me Land of the Dead is better and hell with that. Day of the Dead is one of the finer zombie movies is existence. Anything in Romero’s original trilogy is.

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Big Trouble in Little China (1986, dir. John Carpenter)

I really mentally wrestled with myself between putting this and Repo Man by Alex Cox and some Terry Gilliam stuff and this won out. I didn’t want to overburden my list with too much cult films, but hey, give them a check out. Please. Don’t make me feel weird for liking cult films.

Full Metal Jacket (1987, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

I don’t think this movie as a whole really needs as much defending as its second half. Sure, maybe you viewers feel a little bit empty by the exit of R. Lee Ermey’s loud presence, but… I think the second half is not only superior to the first, it is the payoff that the first needs in order to complete Full Metal Jacket‘s survey about the many ways war changes a man into a mindless killing machine.

Raising ArizonaBarton Fink, Miller’s Crossing (1987/90/91, dir. the Coen brothers)

We talk about the Coen brothers all the damn time, but we don’t talk about these Coen brothers and damn it these are among the finest Coen brothers the Coens have ever brothered, with their slurry of wit, humor, and genre to make their place at the end of the conversation a shame.

Dick Tracy (1990, dir. Warren Beatty)

It’s vibrant, it’s poppy, each scene feels like a mini-movie in its own right, it’s Al Pacino carrying his later hammery to being a boon for Bad Boy Caprice, and it’s just unfortunate Warren Beatty and Disney feel so ashamed of this movie when Beatty’s developmental enthusiasm for the project shows in every single mark of its visuals and storytelling. I like my comic book movies feeling like moving panels and this has it without using the process that, well, Hulk ruined.

The People Under the Stairs (1991, dir. Wes Craven)

I promise this is not to cover for having two Craven films in my overrated list in a year where people are especially attached in reverence to the man. This is not only a severely underseen work of his, it’s a pretty spot-on recreation of classism and America’s disregard for its urban establishments and the black community (and it’s not the only horror movie to do this well – Clive Barker’s Candyman surpasses it both as a movie AND a social commentary). But it also works as another rise in Craven’s horror movie building technique, especially when the ghouls in question are domesticized in comparison to the real villains of this movie. It’s no Hills Have Eyes or Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s a damn good time.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992, dir. David Lynch)

What’s with the hate for this movie? Sure, it’s not resolving the cliffhanger the series was cancelled on (though honestly, I was ok with that lack of resolution – though I welcome the upcoming episodes with open arms. This is probably a conversation for when I finally fulfill my Peaks destiny), but did you really think that was what it was about? Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me didn’t just do an excellent job of illustrating all the complications of Laura Palmer’s life and psychology and shading in her ethereal near-invisible presence on the show with this flesh-and-blood real human being before us, it also was a shocking and repulsive portrayal of sexual abuse and what sometimes the victims has to go through in her mind to deal with it.

Prince of Darkness (1995, dir. John Carpenter)

I’m not a huge Carpenter apologist personally (I thought he sold out much much earlier than people think; he was re-hashing his work again and again and rarely ever emulated his idol Howard Hawks as much as he wanted to) but when the dude was on fire, he was BURNING like a motherfucker, even his haters have to admit that. Assault on Precinct 13The Thing, HalloweenBig Trouble in Little China… this is the one that people pass over and that’s just wrong to me. Prince of Darkness carries that Lovecraftian weight without being as guarded about it as The Thing or as obnoxious as In the Mouth of Madness and is one of Carpenter’s many obvious pseudo-remakes of Rio Bravo (something I think applies to a good 3/4 of his movies) that can actually carry the energy without bothering to fill us in on narrative. Plus, those dream sequences are among the most potent hallucinatory horror work Carpenter has given us, bordering on Italian Gates of Hell.

Actually, that seems about right: Italian Gates of Hell picture + Rio Bravo + Lovecraft (with a dose of Pleasance harbinging doom again) = Prince of Darkness! If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t want to know you.

Showgirls (1995, dir. Paul Verhoeven)

Here’s the thing: Verhoeven’s American movies have almost always been celebrated as intelligent satires with no subtlety whatsoever. RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers, we’re always in on the joke. For some reason, this is considered the odd man out and I don’t get why? Because the actors suck? They sucked in Starship Troopers too. Because it’s not as overt as Christ metaphors and propaganda? It’s Hollywood sensationalism. Ayiyiyi, I feel alone. I feel alone.

Mars Attacks! and Sleepy Hollow (1996/99, dir. Tim Burton)

Feel free to say what you want about Tim Burton post-1999, I will probably join you in jeering at his work. But 90s Burton is unfuckwitable for me and when it comes to his more cartoony works of this era… ain’t no cartoon like a Tim Burton cartoon, ’cause a Tim Burton cartoon don’t stop.

SchizopolisFull Frontal, and Ocean’s Twelve (1996/2002/04, dir. Steven Soderbergh)

I like Soderbergh at his most experimental. I like Soderbergh at his anything for the most part, but when he really gets to breaking down elements of movie culture like narrative in Schizopolis, the line between reality established in a film and fiction created in a film in Full Frontal, or celebrity culture in Ocean’s Twelve (I mean, I don’t think people are wrong to hate the Julia Roberts thing, but I loved every second of it), I’m game to see what he does with it. And it always feels rewarding to have patience for that, it informs the way I want to make movies.

Plus, his movies look really cool when they do it. They really have style.

The End of Evangelion (1997, dir. Anno Hideaki)

Remember how the end of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion got people fired up to riot and break down the studio it was made in? Well, this movie definitely put salt on those wounds by being every bit more obtuse than the actual television finale, but I’m fine with that. The disappointment of Shinji’s lack of growth in the first half actually feels like genuine despondency that colors the author’s involvement (it also spoke a lot louder to me about depression than anything in the show – mostly because the movie doesn’t demand we sympathize with Shinji like the show kind of did, but berate him for dooming the world), while the second half is just a beautifully glowing abstract collage of images with vague connections to the ideas of the show as though it were a late overture put in the backend of the show rather than the front.

And then it ends with a most provocative moment for the lone Shinji and Asuka and stops. And I don’t move for a long while.

I was gonna put The Iron Giant here, but I don’t think that counts anymore, do you think? We just got a successful theatrical re-release of the movie that made up for its failed initial release and promised it a Blu-Ray release, plus Brad Bird’s career is kind of on a roll, even past the hiccup of Tomorrowland.

Mystery Men (1999, dir. Kinka Usher)

It IS a really dated movie (name the latest movie you saw half of these folks in and then name the latest movie they made you laugh in), BUT it’s also a grab-bag of the type of comedy you couldn’t get except in the 90s and the best of those comedy types: Gen-X, superhero parody (based on the actual comic tropes rather than the cartoons or movies! Oh joy!), puerile juvenilia paraded as adult humor in that Comedy Central manner, it’s all here and given some creative threads by the film’s more disgruntled city design that feels like it’s just exhausted all its potential to be a metropolis and just wants to go back to sleep, steaming sewer drains and all.

Ravenous (1999, dir. Antonia Bird)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is the best episode of Tales from the Crypt never made and Antonia Bird should have had a career. Life is not fucking fair.

The Cell & The Fall (2000/06, dir. Tarsem Singh)

“Yeah, his stories suck but his visuals are amazing” these are claims applied to the likes of Zack Snyder and Michael Bay (ironically, both of them were classmates of Singh in Film School), both of whom I’d argue actually look awful visually, but these claims should really be applied to Tarsem Singh’s underappreciated output (though I guess his last few movies have made him tough to love – Self/Less didn’t even look good) and while I’ll hold that story lament towards The Cell, the Fall is so much more than just a pretty picture. It is a story ABOUT telling stories. And works wonders around that between the two leads and the repeated stylistic elements from the child’s world and her dreams.

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Shanghai Noon (2000, star Jackie Chan & Owen Wilson)

Hong Kong Jackie Chan from the 1980s and 1990s will always be superior to his attempts to break into Hollywood (or more so, Hollywood’s attempt to break him in). The man is too much of a master to be conformed. Police Story, Drunken Master II, and the like are godsends.

But American audiences are more quick to think of Rush Hour when they think of his movies. That just mortifies me – the first is tolerable, but the second and third installment are near unwatchable. Shanghai Noon always felt like the picture that cared a bit more about being a platform for showcasing Chan’s physical talents while playing to his broad strokes storytelling by being an unambitious but pleasant enough genre picture.

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25th Hour Inside Man (2002/06, dir. Spike Lee)

I know it’s shocking to some, but Spike Lee is perfectly capable of creative social portraits without bringing race into it and of making Scorsese-esque thrillers with only a minimum of artifice to his drama. I mean, sure his recent movies aren’t anything to be proud of, but Lee is not exactly a less than capable filmmaker so much as just a guy whose attitude has left him with very few resources.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005, dir. Shane Black)

Remember how in the Overrated list, I called this movie everything Last Action Hero wanted to be (I should note Black – perhaps the most accomplished writer in all of the action genre – wrote both LAH and this movie, the latter which was his directorial debut). Well, ahoy, ahoy, it most certainly is – it has the action setpieces, the detective story drama, and most importantly, all those shallow and toxic attitudes these movies have about women and masculinity and doesn’t hide those things.

Instead, by putting them in the hands of a narrator as unreliable and snarky as Robert Downey Jr., they just become aware that they’re problematic elements and self-critical. Not dismissed, but worse, Downey Jr.’s character stops let it hanging over his head (or if he tries Val Kilmer or Michelle Monaghan keep it hanging).

But more importantly, it does all this without ever feeling less than fun. I always feel like replaying this movie after I see it because it just feels done with way too soon, the banter between Downey and Kilmer is snappy and quotable like all hell. And the movie overall has a tone of cynical Godard, it knows it can’t be much more than just a shallow LA noir, but it also still knows that noirs are still fun and movie detectives are always going to be the coolest. And Gay Perry van Shrike and Harry Lockhart are as cool as they come.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005, dir. Doug Liman)

Come on, this was kind of the last of the great screwball couples, we don’t see this kind of romantic comedy work anywhere else. Right there with William Powell & Myrna Loy, or Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn, or Grant & Rosalind Russell, or Barbara Stanwyck & Henry Fonda, here we have ourselves the last of that dying race: Brad Pitt & Angeline Jolie playing off each others chemistry to make each other believable as romantic foils AND as enemies. I probably won’t see another screen couple do it as damned well as they do it, since it helps that Pitt and Jolie have established themselves as the coolest and sexiest people on the screen in the eyes of their audience. Hell, I don’t even find either actor THAT attractive and I still fall for the kinetic charge they give off in this film.

How do people dislike this movie? Is everybody Jennifer Aniston in disguise or something?

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005, dir. Tommy Lee Jones)

Tommy Lee Jones, as a director of Westerns, is just about the perfect visual and audial eye for the dried up skeleton ground and the teasing hot winds of the genre and I want HIM and nobody fucking else to make Blood Meridian into a movie like yesterday. He’s so much more gifted as a director as he already is as an actor, carrying both the morality and the exhausting atmosphere that a Western demands and after nourishing his stories with enough of those elements to make it feel weighty and make me involved, he pulls the rug out under me as a viewer and saps all my hope away til I feel bone-dry like the sands. If that doesn’t scream Cormac McCarthy to you, you haven’t read his works.

War of the Worlds (2005, dir. Steven Spielberg)

I made basically an essay when I came to it in an October list, but the basic gist of my feelings is: it’s surrounding, it’s loud, and it’s confusing in all the right ways that make it scary once the aliens begin attacking the Earth and that’s all the satisfaction I need to forgive Tom Cruise’s contrived narrative whose only real purpose is to have the worst luck so we can keep running into this huge and heartstopping setpieces with him and Spielberg can partake in all the grounded and harsh realism that 50s Hollywood sci-fi and destruction pictures could only dream of without the technology that was his playground then.

Fuck with me.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006, dir. Scott Glosserman)

Same with Stop Making Sense, it has a small yet dedicated fanbase of which I belong to, but why? It is a slasher that recognizes itself as a slasher to the point of letting itself take a point of view shift in its last third that only gets jarring for a few minutes until we actually start to let the movie continue with us watching. Until then it’s totally willing to guide us along with the “tricks of the trade” – both in slasher killing and in slasher movie tropes – pretty much acknowledging everything that we laugh and joke about, from the impossible physics to the misogyny of the genre, in hilarious fashion without ever denying these movies or the fans who love them any dignity. And Nathan Baesel is charismatic as one can be as the central killer. And yet this movie only has a niche audience and the creators of this movie, almost ten years later, have made NOTHING ELSE. NOT. A. THING. No shit.

Life is REALLY unfair.

Crank Crank 2: High Voltage (2006/09, dir. Neveldine/Taylor)

It’s pretty goshdarn fearless and I love that about it – the first movie alone drives its energy into the ground (and it’s short enough that I don’t get tired of it), but the second movie just keeps digging and digging for more ridiculous ways to continue the story of Chev Chelios, a man who is damn near unstoppable and made to exist by a performance by Jason Statham that is basically him going “well, fuck it! I would love to do all these things anyway!” And hey, it’s not just Statham, but we have directors willing toy around with visual elements to the point that Chev reacts to simple things like subtitles, breaking the fourth wall and a guy’s face at the same time to a soundtrack that feels like the musical equivalent of drinking a fizzy soda, eating a whole pack of mentos in one gulp, and shaking yourself for an hour (the score to the second movie is composed by my favorite vocalist ever, Mike Patton, and sounds like his sort of work: avant-garde tribal and primitive tones resembling something of a heartbeat). And a cast that is just as willing to say ridiculous things (the second movie has a hella lotta fun with the news anchors reacting to what they’re reading on-air and a layout of Chelios troubled childhood without going into all that “Oh poor Chev had a bad life!” sympathetic attitude) including performances by Dwight Yoakam, Amy Smart, Efren Ramirez, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Bai Ling, Clifton Collins Jr., David Carradine, Ginger Spice, Corey Haim, Glenn Howerton, Chester Bennington, Maynard James Keenan (doing something other than recording a new Tool album… AGAIN!), and so many more and everybody takes it to 11.

What results is a fiery wreck that’s still so goddamn fun to watch. You live this movie, man.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008, dir. Guillermo del Toro)

REALLY unpopular opinion time: this is my favorite Del Toro film. And that’s quite a leap to make – not only because this movie is kind of dismissed by even his biggest fans, but because – while conceding that I disliked Mimic and have not yet seen Crimson Peak – I LOVE HIS MOVIES. Faults and all, they are inspired and stylized with mixings of angelic monstrosities and living landscapes of stone and teeth for our eyes to explore the frame with. And yet, I think THIS is the movie where he feels most relaxed – he’s in his element with that beautiful underground monster bazaar and the environmental domain of the elves (feeling like if Miyazaki decided to animate with weathered stone rather than pen and paper) and he outright throws away any interest in secrecy with Hellboy – using it to further the development of these characters and make both their pains and their humor (there’s a lot of laughs in this movie that I didn’t expect) feel more amiable. And hell, even the villain Nuada seems like a guy whose heart is in the right place, as the movie ends on many unexpected notes that make me really really desperate for that sequel. Anytime now, Guillermo and Ron…

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, dir. Steven Spielberg)

OK, this one I can get people having a problem with. We didn’t need a new Indiana Jones film, same as we didn’t need a fourth season of Arrested Development. Especially when both ended on perfect notes. But you know what? I like the fourth season of Arrested Development too. Sure, they’re significantly less than their predecessors (well… I don’t think we can claim Temple of Doom is anywhere near as good as Kingdom), but I have a damn good time with both and recognize vintage Indy moments in Kingdom just as well as others.

Plus, are we kind of forgetting that, even with the near-perfection of Raiders of the Lost Ark, there are ridiculous moments in the original trilogy? And I’ll even take the way they treated Marion Ravenwood as a character here than in Raiders and I swear by Raiders.

The Limits of Control (2009, dir. Jim Jarmusch)

I know it feels uneventful or about nothing, but look at the title and then look at the content of the film, or better, Isaach de Bankole’s character. Does it kind of start to make sense now? Are you beginning to understand it now? Now you are allowed to hate it or love it. I mean, I find it unfortunate that we have an ADD esque culture that has a problem with a movie this dedicated to spanning its ideas out.

I can’t bring myself to listing movies from the past five years that I feel are underrated simply because I think the test of time has a lot of involvement in a movie’s status as underrated – as opposed to being immediately overrated which could just be given in as immediate word-of-mouth hype. There is still avenue for a movie’s reception to be raised in that five year span or even inflated.

But if I had to pick my underrated films of the 10s, I feel I’d get more shit my way than my overrated list:

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Rango, Haywire, Magic Mike, Cloud Atlas, The Lords of SalemThe Last of the Unjust, The Homesman, Jupiter Ascending, Blackhat

Pop Culture Sh*t STinG is Thankful For

So The Film Experience folks are having themselves a fine ol’ list of pop culture things they are thankful for. Since this seems fun and I usually relegate my facebook Thanksgiving posts to making jokes about stuff I do and cynicism I spit, I figure I’d focus all the actual pop culture stuff here so it doesn’t sink into my real-life and ruin me. Check out their own thankful lists and of course I invite Mike Margetis to join me on this if he wishes.

So let’s get started.

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  • Krysten Ritter, who is as amazingly gifted at playing onenote scumbags as Jon Bernthal is at playing onenote scumbags, gets to show off her ability to add depth to the grizzled cynicism and trades those darting mischievous eyes for mournful uncomforted fear in Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones. Netflix/Marvel are two-for-two in their output outshining Marvel Studios’ theatrical work.

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  • That Mulholland Dr.Death by Hanging, and The Apu Trilogy have all received the Criterion release I was long awaiting. Though I hope they don’t stick too long on movies that already have home video releases in the US. The real joy of the Criterion Collection has always been the discovery of gems and the mapping of different cultures in film for me.
  • Steven Spielberg’s development of Stanley Kubrick’s unrealized Napoleon project. If A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is anything to go by, this will turn into a perfect marriage in the cerebral dissection of a great big mad man as Kubrick does well and Spielberg’s eye for grandiose Lean/Fordian epic war landscaping like Saving Private Ryan and War of the Worlds. I can’t think of any room for sentimentality like A.I., but hey, it’s not like the ‘Berg can’t shut it off.
  • Also, like always, Steven Spielberg lives. I mean, usually I don’t make a point of stating that but in the same year where Terry Pratchett, Wes Craven, Gunnar Hansen, and Christopher Lee have left, I need that reminder that not all of my heroes have to be gone yet.
  • Jafar Panahi is still making movies and telling the Iranian Government to fuck with him as his Taxi earned the Golden Bear in Berlin earlier this year, while Asghar Farhadi has finally gotten a US release of his 2009 Silver Bear winner About Elly. Hail hail Iranian cinema!
  • Speaking of overdue US releases, hey hey hey, I was just mentioning how Only Yesterday is getting one next year and it’s only 25 years overdue and one of the best movies Ghibli and Takahata Isao has given us.
  • You guys don’t have to join me in cheering on the Wachowskis, but I’ll do it anyway. Contrary to popular opinion, I loved both Jupiter Ascending‘s pulpy sci-fi extravaganza down to the awful acting AND Sense8‘s intimate travelogue mosaic. I mean, yes, they’re both pretty much huge messes, but they’re my kind of messes.

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  • Oh boy oh boy, did you kickstart that Don Hertzfeldt blu-ray collection this year? Because I did and I can’t wait to receive my copy next year.
  • The end credits to Inside Out. I mean, most of the humor in Inside Out, but especially the end credits.
  • When I get Kahlil Gibran’s the Prophet on Blu-Ray, I can and will skip through the awful pseudo-Disney frame narrative for those amazing animations of Gibran’s poetry.
  • That Gravity Falls will not outstay its welcome, though I am sad to see that it is about to end.
  • And I can still get my Kristen Schaal fix (she’s kind of turning into a voice actress I can dig) with the pleasant (even if I’m getting fatigue over it now) Bob’s Burgers still going on.
  • That Eagles of Death Metal survived the Bataclan wave in the horrifying Paris attacks should never downplay the sorrow of the alarming body count (and takes a point in remembering those lives), especially when a crew member of theirs did not survive. But I would not have been able to take Jesse Hughes R.I.P. announcement so quickly nor would I be able to see any Josh Homme interviews afterwards where his reaction is documented.

  • I just this year discovered Best Coast’s music. It is my sort of oldies-gone-neo jam.
  • Dat Kendrick Lamar joint. Dat Kamasi Washington joint. Dat Ghost B.C. joint. Dat Sufjan Stevens joint. Dat Bjork bjoint.
  • Every line Jason Statham gives in fucking Spy. Between that movie and his introduction to Furious 7 by essentially shutting down The Rock and then surviving Rock Bottom, I want the sort of confidence this guy is on. He needs to be on an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine STAT.
  • Also The Rock. I’m always thankful for the Rock. Based on what Mike has said about Ballers, I gotta really avoid that show lest it damage how I see the man. And Macho Man Randy Savage. Who is immortal.
  • Also Charlize Theron. For giving us Furiosa!
  • Also Jessica Chastain.
  • Also Dave Grohl. For his Sweden show incident and then making the Broken Leg tour out of it with a kickass throne for himself!
  • Also Terry Crews.
  • Also Jack Black. For bringing the band back together!

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  • Lea Seydoux was a Bond girl. One that was wasted, but Seydoux can be anything and I’ll go see it.
  • Spike Lee’s trailer for Chi-raq looks incredible despite the off-putting presence of Nick Cannon in the lead role and I cannot wait. It looks like Bamboozled type of electrifying.
  • This is sort of old news for everyone, but I just saw Harmy’s Despecialized edits of the original Star Wars trilogy and Oh My God, I wish I hadn’t put off watching them for so much. It’s not just cleaned up it treats the composition in painstaking detail, it is how much clarity the actual image has to the point that I thought I was being projected a 70mm print on my MacBook. It’s insane. Any Star Wars fan ought to check it out, go! Go!
  • I can’t decide if I love Ash vs. Evil Dead or just like it, but man oh man, good or bad – it’s still groovy to see Campbell back in the saddle again.
  • Be honest, what killed your heart more: David Letterman’s final episode or Aqua Teen? Institutions now collapsed!
  • But hey, they announced a new season of The Venture Bros.
  • I have a complete home video collection of Terrence Malick’s films so far…. sort of. Everything is on Blu-Ray except for the not-yet-on-Bluray theatrical cut of The New World (which I prefer so pls!) and To the Wonder, which I bought for a dollar at the Dollar Tree. Which is depressing to hear about a Malick film, but given the particular Malick film, it’s also… well, appropriate.

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  • I am thankful for these films’ existence in the film canon and how the five of them essentially teach me all I feel I can know about the art…. though it would be much less fun if I didn’t keep scoping around otherwise. (BTW, Criterion, I’ve been waiting a long damn time for that Blu-Ray release of The Passion of Joan of Arc).
  • I’m gonna give a pre-emptive thanks for Josh Martinez, not only because he is my best friend, but because I hope to use his free ticket benefits from an old job of his to help me complete Fixing a Hole ’15 – this is indeed to put him on the spot and force him to say yes. I’m also very thankful that his name is so anonymous that I can use it on this blog (we had TWO Josh Martinez’s in our high school yearbook and I’m pretty sure the last name Martinez took up a good amount of pages. Yay, Miami.).
  • Finally, I’d thank Kanye West for giving us Kanye West… but I think Kanye West has covered me for that and for thanking Kanye West for thanking Kanye West on behalf of me, so… thanks!

What music, movies, literature, video games, fine art, or television are you thankful for this year? What the crap else are you thankful for? Go ahead and comment below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

And now to take stock of my potential in 2015

While I fix up the underrated films list to get me some more goodwill, time to lay some plans to look at and some things for you followers to hold me to as I continue to prove myself as the most unreliable critic in existence.

So… the first thing to do is to thank Michael Margetis another one thousand times for jumping on as a writer, keeping Motorbreath completely up with the times and relevant, and being a cool and reliable enough writer to hold on to. The man has been covering my ass where I could not. Which is indecent. And yet so intimate…

And indeed, one finds me in need to address a few things for what I’m going to do in the remaining five weeks to come for this here film blog. The first thing to address is semi-unkept promises, which is this…

I am NOT by any means canceling or even entertaining the thought of canceling the Lynch retrospective OR the Ghibli podcast. Like fucking hell, I’m really about to get to the real fucking good stuff (the back end is among my favorite Lynch; I have hit my favorite Ghibli early BUT there’s still treasures to show why it is among the most revered studios in the animation world).

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But new information has come to light that puts them both on less of a priority considering the stuff I want to get done – both on this blog and in the real outside world of my life. What was to be the next (solo) entry in the Ghibli podcast Only Yesterday is just now about to get its US theatrical release for the first time on an unspecified date next year – which means, while it’s a movie I’ve already seen (by the way, it’s phenomenal – see it when it comes here), it takes When Marnie Was There‘s place as the so-far last Ghibli release in America. This relief is one of the three factors that will make me postpone work and release on the Ghibli podcast. Another factor is also related to the release of the movie, it gives me a chance to actually grab a guest for what has previously not been a very widely seen film (and if they see it with the dub, even better – it’s quite a point of interest that I’m usually talking to folks who have watched the English dub of the films while I rarely to never have done so). And the third is very simple to call a spade a spade, the podcast is a fucking mess. Both aesthetically with my dog barking in, background noise and everything (even in Totoro where I specifically picked a location to avoid that), my voice sounding very bored every time (I gotta find peppy exercises), and in practice as I have to arrange around my own schedule and THEN listen to others’ schedules and figure around that.

It’s half-cocked and I want to clean my rifle before going back on the field (the same can also be said of the YouTube page which has been receiving more quickie exercises in filmmaking than anything but I’ll have a series created soon… one to address my lack of tribute for some ’15 deaths).

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The other news which is much better known by most audiences is this… Twin Peaks has been postponed to 2017. Which really pisses me off as it messes with the “See you in 25 years” connection. God fucking dammit.

But it also gives me time to breathe and let myself work on other things since it’s not an immediate immediate immediate future that I was racing towards anymore. I WILL NOT BE POSTPONING THIS, though. It simply will be less of a priority nagging in the back of my mind as it once was. Expect more leisurely spans between works and less “I PROMISE THE TWIN PEAKS VIDEO IS COMING”-ings. In fact, come the year, I’ll probably bypass it to go through his films and then come back to Twin Peaks as the continuation of the show approaches.

So… now that I’ve cleaned my plate of this, what am I going to be up to?

December is coming. The year is almost over. There’s a lot of movies to talk about. Time to shoot for FIXING A HOLE 2015.

And my main focus, while I will undoubtedly not get through all of them (though I thankfully have a headstart) is the movies that made number-one at the box office like I aimed for myself earlier in the summer and the movies that are considered heavy Oscar contenders (my main source of speculation is from Nathaniel R.’s chart at the Film Experience, the man being partially to thank for my Oscar pool picks last year.)

In addition, because I’m a stickler for covering all bases in a franchise, I’m going to make a point to review the other franchise works of movies that have not yet had a sequel announced (so I don’t have to worry about Pitch PerfectJurassic, making proper Fast and Furious full-length reviews until later when the next installment comes out). It’s hopefully doable, especially since I already have a lot of these reviews already done and a lot of the rest I have already seen. Let’s just take a look at the Box Office Weekend Winners of 2015 so far (listed in chronological order):

  1. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (+ The Fellowship of the RingThe Two TowersThe Return of the King, An Unexpected Journey, and The Desolation of Smaug)
  2. Taken 3 (+ Taken and Taken 2)
  3. American Sniper – Something on a sidenote, I had both full-length reviews for this and Selma completed and ready to post in January and they both got lost. It was easily the most devastating moment in all of my blogging and so this will take a hell of a lot traction to get me back out of the nihilistic funk I sit in every time I even think of reviewing this move again.
  4. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (+ The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie)
  5. Fifty Shades of Grey
  6. Focus
  7. Chappie
  8. Cinderella
  9. The Divergent Series: Insurgent
  10. Home
  11. Furious 7
  12. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  13. Pitch Perfect 2
  14. Tomorrowland
  15. San Andreas
  16. Spy
  17. Jurassic World
  18. Inside Out
  19. Minions (+ Despicable Me & Despicable Me 2)
  20. Ant-Man
  21. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  22. Straight Outta Compton
  23. War Room
  24. The Perfect Guy
  25. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
  26. Hotel Transylvania 2
  27. The Martian
  28. Goosebumps
  29. Spectre (+ Casino Royale ’06, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall) – see Mike’s review here
  30. The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part (+ The Hunger GamesCatching Fire, and Mockingjay Part 1)

30 movies with some franchise work in between that, at worst, I’ll save for the turn of the New Year. How much of this do I think I’ll get done? I’m hoping all of them.

The Oscar contenders are not really the ones I consider totally binding. Of course I’d love to cover what’s hot in the Awards season, but the only ones I really care for are catching all of the Best Picture nominees (which I of course will fill my gaps in once the nominees are announced on the 16th of January). In any case, THESE are really the ones I’ve been missing (the only box office winner I missed so far this year is War RoomGoosebumps, and the just-now released Mockingjay) and so it will take more work to catch up with my film-watching gaps here, let alone my reviewing gaps… but I will try anyway.

According to Nathaniel, the real contenders so far… (to be fluctuated according to his graph; in chronological initial release order)…

  1. The Look of Silence – Documentary
  2. Love & Mercy – Song
  3. Best of Enemies – Documentary
  4. Shaun the Sheep Movie – Animated
  5. Going Clear – Documentary
  6. The Second Mother – Foreign
  7. Brooklyn – Picture, Actress, Adapt. Screenplay, Costume
  8. I’ll See You in My Dreams – Song
  9. Grandma – Actress
  10. Mr. Holmes – Makeup
  11. The Pearl Button – Documentary
  12. Cinderella – Costume, Prod. Design
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron – Effects
  14. Pitch Perfect 2 – Song
  15. Mad Max: Fury Road – Cinematography, Effects, Sound Mix, Sound Edit
  16. Embrace of the Serpent – Foreign
  17. Son of Saul – Foreign
  18. Carol – Supp. Actress, Cinematography, Costume, Prod. Design
  19. Inside Out – Picture, Org. Screenplay
  20. Sicario – Picture, Supp. Actor, Cinematography, Editing, Score, Sound Mix, Sound Edit – see Mike’s review here
  21. Youth – Actor, Supp. Actress, Org. Screenplay, Song
  22. Jurassic World – Effects
  23. Ricki and the Flash – Song
  24. Spotlight – Picture, Director, Supp. Actor, Supp. Actress, Org. Screenplay, Editing  – see Mike’s review here
  25. Black Mass – Makeup
  26. Anomalisa – Animated – See Mike’s review here
  27. Room – Picture, Actress, Supp. Actor, Adapt. Screenplay – see Mike’s review here
  28. Suffragette – Actress
  29. The Danish Girl – Actor, Supp. Actress, Costume, Prod. Design, Makeup, Score
  30. Steve Jobs – Picture, Director, Actor, Supp. Actress, Adapt. Screenplay – see Mike’s review here
  31. Labyrinth of Lies – Foreign
  32. Baba Joon – Foreign
  33. The Martian – Picture, Director, Actor, Adapt. Screenplay, Cinematography, Prod. Design, Editing, Effects, Sound Mix, Sound Edit
  34. Bridge of Spies – Picture, Director, Supp. Actor, Org. Screenplay, Costume, Prod. Design, Editing, Score
  35. The Peanuts Movie – Animated
  36. The Good Dinosaur – Animated
  37. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Effects, Score, Sound Mix, Sound Edit
  38. The Hateful Eight – Org. Screenplay, Score, Sound Edit
  39. Joy – Picture, Actress
  40. The Revenant – Picture, Director, Actor, Adapt. Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Sound Mix
  41. Sherpa – (?release date undetermined) – documentary

And then a few shorts that I can tackle (one of which I already did). None of these except the Picture nominees binding and a good bit of overlap overall with the Box Office ones. I can focus on the top and do this… I can do this…

And I will of course make a brand new page called “Shit to hold STinG accountable for Fixing a Hole ’15” with these two lists and their continued progress. Thanks for sticking around and getting behind me.

Give me some peppy music, y’all…

 Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dave.

No, YOU’RE Overrated! aka STinG hates movies Pt. 2 – You’re Always Gonna Be Overrated

OK, now here’s the really funky part. The part where I decide to break down the bloated reception of some movies all throughout film canon and history et. al. The party where the people who study or looks up to or talk about film will really want to tear me apart because the film scholars will be wanting to defend the pictures they see as pinnacles of the medium, absolute watermarks of the artform.

I really can’t think to prolong that thrashing any longer so, I’ll just put the usual disclaimer that this is my, y’know, opinion and most of the entries on the observation of how much praise I see it received (you might never have heard a single person mention a single one of these movies). There will be movies in here that I don’t hate, dare I say, even movies I fucking love. Hell, one of my favorite movies even. Take that as you may alongside my this-time-brief ramblings to explain why I find each movie overrated. This could easily double as half of a list of movies I once adored and learned to step back from and half as a list of movies that get enthusiastic praise that I have trouble understanding how it earns that.

Let’s do this…

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Battleship Potemkin (1925, dir. Sergei Eisenstein)

Ahhhh, here’s something we’ve got especially put into the canon in terms of technique… as its Odessa Steps sequence, powerful as it is, is constantly used as an example of tremendously effective editing.

You rarely see people bother mentioning the rest of this film, though. Not because it’s boring (no Eisenstein has bored me), but because there’s not much to it except as a progandistic history piece. Eisenstein has made better with more of his heart into it – preventing Ivan the Terrible‘s third part from being made is maybe one of the worst things Joseph Stalin has ever done while in power. Y’know, besides the Great Purge and being cool for a while with the Nazis until they pushed him and indirectly causing famine…

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The Grapes of Wrath (1940, dir. John Ford)

Ford is maybe the most blessed filmmaker in history, both in his effortless and efficient skill and in the amount of output he’s had, but this is the one of his many I have seen where he’s simply disinteresting. Doesn’t seem like he gives Steinbeck’s ideas any damn mind (I mean, no way would that ending work if the movie otherwise were as truly depressing as the book was) and it’s undoubtedly just him sitting out of the way for Fonda, Carradine, and co. to give out their acting ability. It’s an actor’s picture, not a filmmaker’s picture.

The fact that it’s still a great worthwhile movie should say quite a bit about Ford’s awesomeness.

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Citizen Kane (1941, dir. Orson Welles)

Oh yeah, that favorite I was talking about that I love unashamedly. Basically the Fury Road of this bunch to keep my opinion in check. It is considered the Great American Movie and totally picked out as a cornerstone of sound design and cinematography and yet I hear people half the time telling me they can’t stand it, finding it boring, or outrageous as a story.

If you’re expecting ME to trash it, no way, I can’t think of anything I could hold against it, but I will have to represent the other guy in some way and so I take one for the team with this choice.

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A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, dir. Elia Kazan)

Fuck outta my face telling me Marlon Brando is the best actor of all time. If he ever proved himself worthy of that title, it’s not his casual-in-a-really-unimpressive-way performance here. I’d have to give it more to On the Waterfront where Brando totally gives one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a movie or on stage, but that body language is put to sloppy effect here and the sympathetic nuance is outright missing. It’s simply the fact that he’s thrown into being an animalistic sex symbol because of his physicality here and… dawg, I don’t see us claiming Emily Ratajkowski can act just because we find her hot.

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Rebel Without a Cause (1955, dir. Nicholas Ray)

I just really want to punch out every character. I know I should feel sorry that the enigmatically talented James Dean didn’t have many films before his untimely death, but what I’m really sorry about is how one of them is so frustratingly off-putting. It’s basically what I dislike about most high school movies mixed with the sobriety of Reefer Madness.

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967, dir. Arthur Penn)

Sigh, what this movie has done had been done by the French New Wave in a much badder and cooler style. That it brings their noir-based influence all the way home is fine by me and I love the movie. That it gets credit where credit for doing in small portions what Godard, Truffaut, and Melville did in spades really grinds my gears.

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A Clockwork Orange (1971, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

My sister and I were actually talking about this movie earlier today since she’d been digging in my movie collection and watching random picks – amongst them, this piece from Kubrick’s extremely solid output.

She hated it.

And I can’t say I completely disagree except in a manner. A Clockwork Orange is not anything less than impeccable craftwork. Everything Kubrick made from Dr. Strangelove til his death is impeccable craftswork. That’s just the way it is, that is his legacy, that he got everything done the way he wanted and the majority of his films are masterpieces of visual micromanagement.

 A Clockwork Orange, we both agreed felt single-mindedly cruel and mean-spirited. And that’s of course the point, but man, two hours is a long way to deal with that and I can’t stick around for the ride the entire way.

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The Last House on the Left (1972, dir. Wes Craven, prod. Sean Cunningham)

I know the apparent consensus by those who love is that it is a shocking and realistically nihilistic portrayal of cruel and unusual violence happening at random points. But that only goes for the, uh, centerpiece rape scene. That is entirely a hard-to-watch piece of docurealism work by Craven.

And there’s still hella movie on the way there. And it’s in no way possibly realistic. Not the dialogue that seems like the worst episode of Full House. Not the Keystone Kops knock-off bumbling about. Not the pornish way of introducing the girls. Not the way the dog reacts to a joke about tits. Not the soundtrack. It’s all pretty poor cover for Cunningham’s original intention to make a sexploitation flick (the acting is exactly how you expect those type of actors to be) and it’s absolutely tasteless to me to have such a picture surround a rape scene.

And to take Bergman’s name and besmirch it!

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Network (1976, dir. Sidney Lumet)

Paddy Chayefsky may very well be my favorite screenwriter in cinema (give me a moment to weigh him with Charlie Kaufman, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coens) and Network is undoubtedly the ideal masterwork in his impressive output, largely on account of how easy it is to spit out all this fire dialogue (it’s like a more coherent Robert Altman) and its revelations about television culture turning prophetic. But a script with this amount of of personality in it brings some baggage with it on account of the writer and Chayefsky turns from sharp satire to juvenile cartoonery (and borderline racism) around the second half of the picture. It thankfully never overturns the movie to keep it from being one of the hallmarks of a great year.

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Taxi Driver (1976, dir. Martin Scorsese)

Speaking of hallmarks of 1976 that are also kind of racist in a manner, the more I look at the script for Taxi Driver (like literally read the script online… I had a habit of reading those in high school), the more and more obvious it is that screenwriter Paul Schrader is (or hopefully moreso, WAS) in a pretty ugly mindset and, even worse, expected us to fully sympathize and identify with Travis Bickle, who is clearly a sociopath (and later a psychopath). No, this is still one of my favorite movies and it’s because clearly De Niro and Scorsese do the impossible in having their cake and eating it where the audience sympathizes with Travis without forcing them to accept his twisted worldview (there’s particularly a brief moment that illustrates Travis’ racism at arms length that I really appreciate) by giving the movie an extra layer of theme in its visuals and atmosphere on the dangers of loneliness and isolation.

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Caddyshack (1980, dir. Harold Ramis)

Man, it’s funny as all hell undoubtedly. But it’s a movie I could only really love in high school back when I first bought it. Now I just can’t shake off the double standard it has about two of the characters being promiscuous (each a different sex) and the incredibly disjointed (and honestly disinterested) manner it tries to pretend it’s not just a free-for-all raunchy comedy unconcerned with the story of Danny’s coming-of-age. We don’t give a fuck about Danny, we all just wanna get laid like Rodney Dangerfield promised!

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Akira (1988, dir. Otomo Katsuhiro)

Ahhhh, I love the hell out of this movie as perhaps the first anime movie I’ve ever watched (not the first anime outright – I know I got into, like, Outlaw Star and Dragonball Z and Future Boy Conan and all when I was young), but what I really regret is that most of this movie’s praise come from being the West’s biggest breakout for anime and most of the things Akira does being done better in most films, many of which are animated as well. It really hurts me to recognize that is where its canonization comes from, especially when Akira‘s animation still looks crazy good in consideration of how its fearless choice of framerate makes it one of the most fluid traditionally animated films I’ve ever seen.

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Rain Man (1988, dir. Barry Levinson)

I really can’t say it possibly better than Pauline Kael said it: “Rain Man is getting credit for treating autism “authentically,” because Raymond isn’t cured; in a simple transposition, it’s Charlie who’s cured. Actually, autism here is a dramatic gimmick that gives an offbeat tone to a conventional buddy movie.”

I’m serious… I can’t say it better than Kael…

Rain Man is Dustin Hoffman humping one note on a piano for two hours and eleven minutes. It’s his dream role.”

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Cinema Paradiso (1988, dir. Giuseppe Tornatore) and Life Is Beautiful (1997, dir. Roberto Benigni)

Man, the Italians can give you some of the most powerfully realist portrayals of sentimentality against harsh times (see: The Best of Youth or Bicycle Thieves or Mamma Roma) and then sometimes… it gives us some two to three hours of saccharine atmosphere to an nauseating degree against a tasteless backdrop of melodrama or, dare they, the Holocaust.

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Last Action Hero (1993, dir. John McTiernan)

You know, I’m kind of not a fan of the frame narrative… it’s a full 30 minutes before the plot actually kick starts, a home invasion/robbery scene that adds nothing, and it’s confusing to tell what time it is when the child is meant to be at school… at fucking night. From what I understand, they didn’t have time to finish editing before the premiere which makes this the worst kind of movie – an unfinished one.

But, mainly I just can’t stand how the movie spoonfeeds the in-jokes like “didja get it? Didja?! Let me tell why Arnold is doing this or that…” It’s worried that you’re stupid or jaded. Its own stupidity jades me, especially when its considered amazing simply for falling under “parody”. Go watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang instead, it does everything Last Action Hero wants to do, only better.

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The Lion King (1994, prod. Walt Disney Animation Studios)

It’s the one they picked. That’s it. There is nothing about the animation or storytelling that makes this any more better than some real gems in the Disney Renaissance like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid, it’s just that this is the one people pick to call the watershed moment. Maybe it’s because of its classical roots on taking the bare skeleton of Hamlet‘s plot (but with none of the weight or consequence Shakespeare’s play forced on its characters – Almost no character has to worry about anything, they have no stake in the fight between Simba and Scar).

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The Shawshank Redemption (1994, dir. Frank Darabont)

It’s number one on IMDb. It’s a really run of the mill melodrama that is incredibly enjoyable and makes one feel good, but that’s about it. You couldn’t possibly make an essay on all of its cinematic elements, how it achieves its storytelling on a textual level, or how the acting is worth consideration as a performance for the ages.

That never crossed your mind at all when you watched it. You watched it because it was on TNT and it was a good movie.

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The Usual Suspects (1995, dir. Bryan Singer)

OK, yes, we have the twist and then… It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill neo-noir genre piece in the 90s, maybe the biggest era of neo-noirs. Kevin Spacey and the twist and that’s it… no more replay value.

And honestly, the twist actually pisses me off… it seems retroactive to the antagonist’s goals and makes him look like an idiot to me. Damn you, Keyser Soze.

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Scream (1996, dir. Wes Craven, wri. Kevin Williamson)

I basically said all I had to say about the film in my review but the gist of it is: Wes Craven is one of the best directors that could happen to any horror film and the problem is Kevin Williamson doesn’t really realize that “horror movie references” are not the same as “horror movie introspection”. That and it’s smug as a motherfucker about not being a slasher film… which is exactly what it is. Man, that dude is stuck in the 90s.

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American History X (1998, dir. Tony Kaye) – SPOILERS

I honestly do not think American History X is the best movie to showcase the idea of race relations. It’s a movie that kind of doesn’t know how to make its own point (which I attribute largely to the struggle of authorship between Tony Kaye and Edward Norton).

Derek and Daniel are both portrayed as intelligent and charismatic which is actually quite a balanced way to portray supremacists rather than black-and-white dickheads, but the worst part is that there is literally nobody to actively dispute or debate Derek’s views reasonably. The movie is inadvertently one-sided for this. There ARE arguments against what Derek says and instead everybody is supposed to just be fumbling and mumbling over their words?

How does Derek change his life? In the form of a one-dimensional comic-relief character that would feel so much like a parody of the magical negro if it wasn’t obviously not parody, and in a rape scene that occurs solely because Derek happened to be actively steadfast on his beliefs as opposed to his rapists who were a lot more hypocritical about their racism.

I really don’t think either reason is enough to change Derek’s mind. Plus, after all of that, we still don’t get any speeches or convictions against racism from any of the other characters – much less Derek, easily the smartest man in the film, who could easily be the character to present those anti-racism arguments (and is even given a good platform to do so with his final confrontation with Cameron). But nope, the movie is more concerned with Derek convincing Danny to change his ways too and instead of explaining “this is why bigotry is wrong”, the method is instead “here’s what happened to me in prison.”

Then, as if the message wasn’t muddled enough, the infamous ending happens where the same sort of tragedy that led Derek and Danny to their ways is repeated and suddenly the movie stops. That’s it. We don’t see any repercussions of this act except Derek’s immediate shock and grief. And I understand there is an alternate ending where Derek uses the moment to spur him back into being a Neo-Nazi, but what the fuck is he going to do then? Go back to Cameron? The other neo-Nazis will eat him alive and leave his bones for the gangbangers. It really made no sense as an ending, except that the movie couldn’t figure out a way to end itself on.

I like the movie solely for Edward Norton’s performance but it is among the last movies I’d consider a worthy look into racism in America.

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Saving Private Ryan (1998, dir. Steven Spielberg)

It’s totally the first 20 minutes that we love and damn well should. It is maybe one of the finest moments in Spielberg’s entire esteemable filmography (the guy’s my hero, so putting this movie on the list was hard). It’s a masterpiece of physical surrounding fear and confusion and it makes war feel like a circle of hell.

The rest of the movie is not as surrounding and physical… it’s just great. That’s it. It’s your usual war film about a company of brothers who are close but never fall out of being just stock personalities, who deal with the moral question of whether or not killing is right for their country and why they joined. That is literally every war film that has existed since as far back as the 30s. It is not a question that has not been asked.

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American Beauty (1999, dir. Sam Mendes)

I’m probably the only one who feels like this movie’s attitude towards people is just, kind of, maybe, nasty and off. Lester and Caroline both are apparently lost souls, but Lester is championed and giving out Moral Speeches at every damn turn from the dinner scene to the couch scene to his narration (maybe it’s just how Spacey’s voice is, but it is impossible to hear it without snark) while Caroline is the movie’s punching bag and given not one ounce of introspection. In the meantime, we got the comatose Thora Birch and Wes Bentley playing a teenager that made me hate teenagers (and I saw this movie at 15, so I WAS a teenager). It’s so convinced that its commentary on personal relations is the gospel, but it’s so broad and spiteful to everybody that isn’t Ricky and Lester and trying to sell their caricatures as real people that I can’t get on its side in the slightest.

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The Boondock Saints (1999, dir. Troy Duffy)

If Duffy had not gotten himself blacklisted in Hollywood by coming off as a poisonous person, he probably wouldn’t have gone far based on how this movie came off. Irritating and repulsive, it’s a thinly veiled revenge fantasy where that poisonous personality spills out like Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flannery’s shit accents. Honestly, the movie would have tanked from the get-go anyway.

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Fight Club (1999, dir. David Fincher)

Fight Club is at least well-made, but it’s also a pointed example of David Fincher’s way of making films – he gives his impressive all to the craft of making the film, with absolutely little to no interest in having it connect to anything in the story save for as presentation. And why that hurts Fight Club for me is this – people love the movie for its style, because it looks good, because much of the bullshit in it the movie ends up inadvertently making appealing and never giving itself a moment to intellectually go back to that stuff and say “fooled ya” although the book did. The movie spares energy making Tyler look really cool, takes a moment to say its horrified, and then remains entranced and in love with the character for the entirety of it.

Which is probably why the fans of this movie are always such a mess split between catching the satire on account of its surface commentary or simply idolizing Tyler Durden because he is so cool. That’s what happens when this is your first “edgy” film, as I saw this just as I was entering high school and spitting Tyler’s rhetoric like I’m suddenly enlightened because of this movie.

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The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, dir. Peter Jackson)

It is the single most ambitious and admirable piece of art of my lifetime and we recognize that it’s essentially the fantasy epic’s version of Star Wars. But it’s also kind of a narrative mess and a lot of that is, of course, more the fault of Tolkien… because the source material couldn’t even be arranged by the greatest editors in the world. Terrence Malick himself wouldn’t be able to clean up the track of this movie. Just look at the ending, a slothlike pace unpacking resolution for EVERYBODY as much as possible, and how much the second film had to screw itself around with the second literary volume (which does not adequately follow the two teams of protagonists in real-time) so that it doesn’t tip its focus on one group or another. The Lord of the Rings are among my favorite works of literature and it works specifically as literature – it is fantastic that Jackson and co. were able to make great sprawling adventurous films out of it, but it’s not without its damages.

And the other thing is… they’re telling a different story from the books, which are decidedly not adventures insomuch as they are just commentary on how war affects people and environments (*winkwink* to Saving Private Ryan, a war of which Tolkien himself fought in). That’s not what the movie is interested in at all and while I don’t think that hurts it, I can’t pretend that I don’t mind to have such rich themes removed entirely.

Though, if I were REALLY a Tolkien stickler, I’d probably hate the very ground Jackson walked on, much as his son Christopher clearly does.

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Crash (2004, dir. Paul Haggis), Finding Neverland (2004, dir. Marc Forster) and A Beautiful Mind (2001, dir. Ron Howard)

Listen, I don’t want to be here all night. They’re oscarbait in the most manipulatively bothersome way without an ounce of self-awareness.

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Garden State (2004, dir. Zach Braff)

Oh wow, it’s the Sundance darling… and… I guess it’s quirky enough…

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Saw (2004, dir. James Wan)

I threw up all my hate here during October. Let me charge myself again before I rip apart the entire Saw franchise. It’s not smart. It’s not fun. It’s just ugly.

And wow, that is a lot of movies that some of you readers probably love unabashedly. Feel free to call me out, rebuke me, or talk shit about me in the comments. In the meantime, hopefully the next two UNDERRATED movies lists will get me some goodwill…

… just in case, here’s pictures of my dog and cats to cool your anger, though…

FILM REVIEW – SPOTLIGHT

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When the the trailer for Spotlight first dropped, I was pretty much ready to write it off as a Lifetime Original Melodrama. The way the trailer was edited made it seem like the film focused more on the emotional turmoil of the journalists rather than the facts of the case. Intercut sequences of Mark Ruffalo practically screaming, “Give me an Oscar!” didn’t really help dissuade my initial impression either. There was one glimmer of hope, though. The fact that Spotlight was helmed by Thomas McCarthy. The actor turned filmmaker did such a fantastic job keeping the sentimentality at bay with his previous films The Station Agent and The Visitor, that it would be hard to believe he’d start making Shondaland bullshit once he booked an all-star cast. Plus, working on the final season of The Wire, which was centered around the Baltimore Sun, I was confident McCarthy got a genuine feel for what reporting is really like. It turns out whoever cut that trailer is an idiot, because Spotlight is a powerful and intelligent film that focuses more on the integrity of journalism rather than the personal lives of it’s characters.

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Spotlight is a rather optimistic film, because it shows that even in a world as cynical as our own, a news story that isn’t sponsored by a major corporation or has a political bias attached to it can still exist. The major story is child molestation in the Catholic Church and the vast conspiracy of high-ranking Church officials to bury it going all the way up to the Vatican. Michael Keaton is phenomenal as Walter “Robby” Robinson who heads up the Spotlight news team at the Boston Globe. He and his team (Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian D’Arcy James) begin investigating the abuse claims and realize the case is much bigger than any of them could have possibly imagined.

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While Michael Keaton is certainly the stand-out, the acting is uniformly excellent. Mark Ruffalo is solid as the emotional anchor of the film, a role he’s more than a little familiar playing, and Rachel McAdams is surprisingly restrained in a role that easily could have been stereotypical or overcooked. Speaking of restrained, the forever underrated Liev Schrieber is given the opportunity to provide some majestically low-key acting as the Globe’s new editor. Needless to say it’s much more complicated and delicate than his work in Ray Donovan. Rounding out the cast is John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Neal Huff, Jamey Sheridan, Billy Crudup and Brian D’Arcy James, all fantastic.

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For the most part, Spotlight never succumbs to being a Lifetime Original Melodrama. There’s no Precious-esque grainy flashback of a priest running his fingers through a little boy’s hair or dramatic confrontations between priests and molestation survivors. My biggest qualm with Spotlight lies is a montage towards the end featuring the team  writing the final draft of their story to the soundtrack of an altar boy choir. It’s a little too on-the-nose and doesn’t fit the tone the film has already established. I see how McCarthy might have thought this would properly punctuate the scene, but he didn’t need it to get his point across. Most films, especially about touchy issues, try to spoon-feed us everything . Spotlight excels when it assumes we’re not idiots. Grade: A- 

 

FILM REVIEW – ENTERTAINMENT

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Entertainment, the unsurprisingly bizarre but surprisingly hollow Tim Heidecker-produced existential crisis movie, follows an unnamed comedian (Gregg Turkington) on a stand-up tour he completely bombs. Depressed and anti-social, the only time we see the comedian come to life is when he’s on stage. Besides having an estranged daughter, we don’t really don’t anything about him and to be completely honest, we have no reason to care. The comedian throws a 110 minute pity party for himself, while making absolutely no strides to improve his life or his material.

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While the scenes involving the comedian not performing are painfully dull, the film comes to life when he hits the stage. The comedian’s sets are foul and shock-based in a way that completely alienates and confounds the viewer, but they are filmed with the urgency that anything could happen. The lighting and the pacing are perfect. “Why? Whyyyyy? Whhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?” the comedian taunts his audience before shattering his strangely intriguing build-up with a joke about Madonna lactating Alpo. I never felt sympathy for him as people heckled, jeered and literally threw things, but I was completely fascinated with him. Watching Turkington’s comedian immediately brought to mind watching Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper duet Roy Orbison in Blue Velvet. Watching something so ridiculous you think you might still be asleep.

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Unfortunately, these stellar scenes take up a combined ten minutes of the film. The rest of the hour and forty minutes is full of glacially-paced, pretentiously-shot exposition. The comedian is such an apathetic character that we are unable to give a shit about him. He has all the power in the world to improve his life or at his perspective but he acts like that’s too big of a chore. One scene features Turkington delivering a still-born baby in a truck stop restroom, then awkwardly staring into space for a good thirty seconds. How deep. Life is so fleeting, right? I understand that writer/director Rick Alverson was trying to create a film about a man who is completely disconnected with the world, but in so doing he created a film that was so completely disconnected with it’s audience.

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The cast is solid but misused. Tye Sheridan plays a hipster clown that accompanies Turkington on his tour. Michael Cera plays a lonely dude. Speaking of Dean Stockwell, Dean Stockwell and Tim Heidecker play a couple of Hollywood millionaires that scream obscenities at girls in a swimming pool. John C. Reilly, admittedly, the funniest performance of the bunch, is the comedian’s supportive cousin who speaks in mumbles. Gregg Turkington is riveting in his stand-up scenes but practically non-existent in 95% of the film.

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In the end, Entertainment has no weight. There is no poignancy or deep irony to be found in it. Much like the comedian’s set, it’s just posturing. Grade: C- 

FILM REVIEW – SPECTRE

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I have to be honest, I’m not a very big James Bond fan. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t exposed to the films at a young age, so seeing Roger Moore kick ass on the moon with a 1970s film budget really didn’t blow my mind at the age of seventeen. I’ll admit that Goldfinger is a classic though, and I loved two out of three of the Daniel Craig re-boot Bonds. Quantum of Solace was a prime example of the horrors of the 2007 writer’s strike, but Casino Royale and Skyfall were great films. Skyfall in particular, with it’s stunning cinematography by Roger “God” Deakins and non-campy performances, didn’t even feel like a Bond film. Going into Sam Mendes’ follow-up Spectre I was concerned it couldn’t live up to the precedent set by Skyfall, but I honestly wasn’t expecting one of the worst Bond films I’ve ever seen. That is not to say that Spectre is a bad film, it’s just pretty mediocre. That is also not to say that it’s necessarily one of the worst of the series, because I’ve only seen twelve Bond films and eight were Brosnan and Craig installments.

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The problems start in the opening credit sequence, one of the least exciting I’ve seen in the series. Casino Royale gave us this pulse-pounding roof-top chase and Skyfall gave us that riveting train sequence. This gives us Daniel Craig suavely changing out of a Dia de Los Muertos suit and a surprisingly calm helicopter take-over. Judi Dench’s M is gone, and Ralph Fiennes has taken over as Bond’s handler. Fiennes is a fine actor, but him and Craig don’t possess the chemistry that Craig shared with Dench. Their back-and-forths are awkward and seem forced, and Naomi Harris’ Moneypenny is presented a lot quirkier here than she was in Skyfall. In fact, everything is much more in keeping with the groovy one-liner campiness of the earlier Bond films and it just doesn’t work with a Bond we already established as more hardened and realistic.

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The misogynist women-are-objects aspect also rears it’s ugly little head as well, with the Bond girl (the criminally underused Lea Seydoux) swooning to a man that basically tells her what to do. It would be nice to see a lesbian Bond in the future or at least a Bond girl that actually has a personality and doesn’t drop her panties to the site of Bond violently murdering someone. “What does one do after they kill someone?” Ralph Fiennes’ M asks in the movie. Craig provides an answer, grab a woman and start stabbing her with your dick. Maybe I’m being too harsh, the character of the suave, ladykiller Bond was created in a time where no one really thought twice about it being demeaning to women. It just seems odd that Sam Mendes would have Bond fall into old habits if the last three movies worked towards re-shaping him for the twenty-first century.

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I expected the high-point of the movie to be Christoph Waltz as the villain, but he’s barely used and incredibly underwhelming. Javier Bardem and Mads Mikkelsen underplayed their villains as well but they had a piercing level of aggressiveness under their characters’ cool surface. Waltz just comes across as boring.

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This review might make it seem like I absolutely loathed Spectre, but I did in fact enjoy most of the action sequences. A car chase sequence involving Dave Bautista had me on the edge of my seat. It was very well-choreographed. However, thirty minutes of combined action sequences don’t make up for two solid hours of clunky exposition that isn’t clever. I suppose the film is less of a action/thriller and more of a mystery, though. The mystery being that if creating a more realistic and vulnerable Bond made Casino Royale and Skyfall so successful, why would a seasoned Academy Award winning director fall back on shit that hasn’t worked since the eighties. Grade: C+ 

Daniel Craig’s Dia de Los Muertos Suit Grade: A

No, YOU’RE overrated! No, YOU are!

It is never at all wise to react very much to posts in a kneejerk reaction, but I constantly see either posts or articles or lists of movies that are overrated and – like in any writing where the thoughts communicated are inarguably subjective – I always find something to disagree with. Most of the time they’re movies that won arbitrary Oscars that have been long-forgotten by now and many of them are restrained to American films from 1990 onward. It’s like they’re unaware of a whole canon of film to back in the 1910s or afraid to approach it critically… The latest of these lists that actually incited a reaction out of me was by Rigers Avdo on the site Taste of Cinema, though he wisely titled it The 10 Most Overrated Movies of the Last Decade.

Not only because I am of the ancient philosophy that anybody who calls The Tree of Life overrated is not somebody I want to hang with, but many of the films he mentions have almost immediately washed out of public conversation – The Blind Side lives in Miami-Dade County Jury Pool and that’s it; The King’s Speech and The Hurt Locker I like and still recognize as not entirely deserving of their Best Picture Oscars, but I’ve never heard them mentioned even when one of them had the first female Best Director winner attached to it. Some of them are actually not very much praised – Taken fulfills itself as an action-thriller, nobody calls it anything else. Some of the criticism comes to “there’s not enough script” like with Gravity. And then there’s this gem about 12 Years a Slave:

And speaking of Spielberg, even Amistad (1997), may be better then 12 Years A Slave. It is an all black movie, the producer, director and main actors are black. The result is: Too much violence and less art.

First of all, Steve McQueen is the only black person out of the eight producers credited for 12 Years. Second of all… like, what the fuck?!

Anyway, as much as it’d fulfill to a very unimpressive and embarrassing degree to rip apart another online post that’s more glorified than mine, I’ve decided to join in and dump my own cynicism towards cinema by making this my first post in a series of four…

I’m going to make my own list of 10 Overrated Movies from 2005-2015 (this very post) and then from the beginning of cinema-2005. Why the separation? Because we have to recognize that there is still the test of time that movies do go through and that the same movies we grant onto the canon now may not be the same in ten years. A decade is a good round amount of time to allow for it simmer in public sensibilities and see how our thoughts have changed altogether. And it’s much easier to react to immediate reception than it is to reflect on how film history has complimented a motion picture.

BUT I will offset that cynicism by also listing my ten most underrated films by each temporal grouping as well. So I can be nice and smile and like movies too, I promise.

Needless to say, it will entirely be based on my surrounding experiences. Not only in my response to the film itself or in retrospect of it, but how often I hear praises or credit given and whether or not I agree with that sentiment (I feel like this list will give away how much time I spent on reddit). If I’m being honest, most of these movies are good. Fantastic, even. I know of one movie that will probably get a “no fucking way you put that here” response from anyone who follows this blog. But I wanted to measure the balance between assessing its qualities and how amplified its praises seem to be.

STinG’s TOP TEN OVERRATED MOVIES (2005-2015)

The Departed (2006, dir. Martin Scorsese)

Behold we’re already on a movie I like, but not yet on a movie I love. The Departed was seen as the giant return of Scorsese at the time and wasn’t wrong to earn that praise. But it is perhaps Scorsese’s most style-over-substance picture (largely because the script services itself) – Rolling Stones drops, sudden freeze frames, audio cues all announce themselves in boisterous ways to remind Marty what kind of filmmaker he is and it feels less complimentary here than it felt back in his heyday of the 70s to Goodfellas. Maybe it’s because Infernal Affairs was able to pull beat-for-beat the exact same pressures out of its actors and situation without being so loud about it (save for the Elevator scene – the ONE moment I prefer in The Departed than I do in IA). God damn, I was really trying not to compare it to IA, but it IS a remake.

And if I’m being frank, Thelma Schoonmaker seems to have just given up since 2002 (maybe sooner, but she is a legend for a reason, remember). The shootouts are a distractingly obstructive clusterfuck in the most excitement-killing way and I want to pretend that says something about its themes, but what? What does it say about lapsed Catholicism?

… I promise I like the movie, though.

P.S. – I forgot Shutter Island until well into writing this… it is maybe my least favorite Scorsese other than Boxcar Bertha and had I remembered it, THAT movie would find its way here instead of The Departed.

The Dark Knight (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan)

Perhaps the hype of hypes, but it has died down a bit since ’08 when it was being around proclaimed as the Second Coming and the greatest thing humanity has ever been granted. Now, it’s just the people who REALLY liked it that want to toss it around as a flawless masterpiece.

I’ll give them one thing: Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker IS flawless. Believe that. I wouldn’t call it a Top Ten performance of all time, but it’d be in the conversation. He builds the Joker as an absolute to the point that he is, well, a cartoon as far as motivation is concerned, but still takes the dripping darkness at the Joker’s core to give him physical weight and grounding in a movie dedicated to realism.

Aye, that’s the big one. The “realism” is why The Dark Knight is praised as much as it is, yet it stands as the reason I don’t feel like 100% realism is a true virtue in any movie. Especially with the boat climax being easily called out as a “deus ex machina”, but my primary gripe is perhaps how Gotham is not Gotham here. It’s Chicago. We know it’s Chicago.

I prefer Batman Begins for so many reasons (it is my favorite Nolan film yet) but the biggest one is that The Dark Knight is more concerned with narrative escalation (which isn’t a bad thing – it’s a really thrilling film no matter how many times you watch) than world building and exploring the way that Begins was when it literally built its noir nightmare out of the Gallows.

Watchmen (2009, dir. Zack Snyder)

Oh boy, the first film I actually didn’t like on this list.

Have you guys seen Gus van Sant’s Psycho? Heralded as a shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock’s classic but condemned for missing the point kind of? That’s kind of how I feel about Watchmen the graphic novel. Same set design to a T – all praises to Alex McDowell for that, although at points it feels more like a comic book representation of 1985 Manhattan than actually 1985 Manhattan and that hurts it for a couple of times. Most of the actors know what the hell synecdoche they are meant to embody – Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Billy Crudup really impressed me. I don’t even need to say that Jackie Earle Haley is Rorschach. Can’t say the same for the stone-faced Malin Akerman or the overly theatrical in Matthew Goode, but my point is the cast and design for the most part worked.

But Snyder’s stylized violence and aimless in-the-moment direction (what the jiminy fuck is that soundtrack on about?) removes the gravity of most of the situations in Watchmen and especially makes its characters less grounded than they ought to be. Instead of being pathetic shlubbs or rabid paranoics, they are only so on-surface until they get to break bones and be superhuman for scenes too numerous to count.

And here’s my thing: As a very rabid fan of Alan Moore’s, Glycon bless him, but if he were adapted into a film, he’d hate himself. I call bullshit on his claim that Watchmen is unfilmable. In fact, I think there’s a lot to gain from a Watchmen movie. Many of the comic book panel-work compliments and challenges moviemaking. The idea of somebody who might be dedicated enough to work out how to translate these two visual mediums in a blur without going Sin City on it is exciting to me. But it wasn’t Snyder’s Watchmen and we only had the one shot.

And one more thing, I don’t agree with the movie ending working at all. Not for the reason you’d think for an Alan Moore purist: I agree that the squid does not work in the film (especially when you have no time to build it up). I think making Dr. Manhattan the perpetrator is just worse, though. Because it ignores that the entire runtime of the film – the whole reason that the Cold War is so fucking on in Watchmen – is because of Dr. Manhattan’s existence and apparent allegiance to the American Flag. Having THE American Weapon appear to have destroyed and attacked Earth is not going to remove Russia’s finger off the trigger.

They’re going to pull it.

The Social Network (2010, dir. David Fincher)

When a movie is considered a zeitgeist of any generation, it’s going to be a given that more people will love it than anticipated and that it will be put on a higher platform than it probably deserves. Easy Rider is maybe most famous for getting away with this, and behold another popular choice. The Social Network is one of two movies on here that is not any less than a great movie which simply is listed for the imbalance it has for its praise. I’m serious, this is shit I wouldn’t even let Citizen Kane get away with and I love that movie more than I love The Social Network.

But I can’t just list this here, say “it’s cause too many people like it”, and move on (I can, but I’d be an idiot), what really makes me pull The Social Network back to earth from the heavens is beyond any flaw with its craft. Baxter/Wall, Reznor/Ross, Sorkin, Eisenberg… they’re all hard-core on top of their game. I just don’t agree that it’s “generation-defining”. And as far as I’ve seen, Fincher and co. don’t think so either, though I’m not going to back them. The truth is The Social Network registered to me as simply a small personal story of a guy too inadvertently odious to have friends and all the things he does to try to make it not matter. It just happens to be Mark Zuckerberg that is that guy. It’s less communal than we really recognize the movie for and it is hard to believe most of the audience – least of all the real Zuckerberg – would be able to relate to the character Eisenberg plays brilliantly.

Although unlike another movie to be later showing up here, Zuckerberg is thankfully not the only “real” person in The Social Network and so the movie feels full of a lot more life and is quite a breeze to watch. But now that movie’s floating back to the heavens when I say that. Get back here!

The Master (2012, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

First of all, believe the hype about it’s acting. Believe it, Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are at their career best in giving their all to having their reactions to each other become a duel character study of sociology and psychology way too dense and complex for me to go into without babbling more than I already am. I’d maybe add Amy Adams as a career-best if I hadn’t developed into an extreme American Hustle apologist.

But… and this is wholly me at this point, I don’t think a lot of people could nor should see where I’m going with this… there’s nothing this film says that I don’t think could be said, louder… stronger even… if this were simply an intimate black box theatrical production.

I don’t think there’s anything outright at fault with it being a movie in itself (on the contrary, I think Mihai Malaimaire Jr. and especially Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty’s work provide a lot of character), but its main core is how we are spending time with these two individuals and not much else. There’s no real plot or momentum to drive us for the nearly 2 and a half hours, it’s a story about people and how they grow off of their ideas and actions.

I think there’s a lot more potency in removing the screen from dividing the audience and the performance. Now we’re in the actual room, without bits of poetic and inspired but distracted discontinuity that Jones and McNulty gives it at its most intense moments… I’d love to have seen it as a stage production.

And then I remember Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead and begin drinking moonshine with paint thinner mixed in.

Spring Breakers (2012, dir. Harmony Korine)

Possibly the only film that I simply would not call a good movie. I mean, let’s get one thing straight: it looks flat-out gorgeous. Nobody gets to deny to Benoit Debie’s pop-neon lens work adds wonders to the movie’s enjoyability and is in itself probably worth the watch. It’s the only real gateway the film gives us to entering the film as an experience and Debie’s camera movements feel drunken enough to mesh with the atmosphere without being so distracting it pulls us out of the film.

But while the consensus seems to be that movie is a masterpiece of subversion… what is it subverting? Because I’ve heard it said both ways. If it’s subverting the male gaze-y way every girl in the movie is objectified, there’s never a point where it says so. In fact, it seems to more be concerned with showcasing the girls’ flaws as people than the boys at the party. There is no doubt that the script hates its characters too much to pretend they don’t deserve it. If it’s subverting the party culture, it loses grasp of that the moment the film decides to go into a clownish crime thriller and even then ludicrously holds up the idea of “partying all the time” as a verbal MacGuffin by a performance that never made me want to punch James Franco harder than I ever did.

Sorry, but there also seems to be some sort of unspoken law that if you want your thoughts on cinema to be taken seriously, you gotta kowtow to Harmony Korine as a filmmaker and that can just fuck right off. I don’t have time for a filmmaker who attempts to have his cake and eat it too by making provocative films and pretending they just mock the current panic without actually having it within the text.

Prisoners (2013, dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Ahhhhh, the reddit choice. Prisoners is a movie I enjoyed at the time I watched it and the more I look back on it, the more I don’t find any depth in it at all, no real themes or intellectual anchor save for (maybe) the whole Abu Ghraib mirror of the situation. It’s really just a surface-level thriller overall with some great performances and Roger Deakins being no less than the smart sharp photographer he is, no different from a quick airport read novel like Gone Girl and the like.

And there’s honestly nothing wrong with that being the case.

It’s more that I personally see more slavish praise given to this and (but I’ll get into it later) Sicario as complex discussions of morality and ethics and they’re both just not that. Villeneuve’s thrillers paint their lines broadly and make it clear that characters cross lines and means don’t justify ends, leaving no real discussion or musings possible beyond “Oh look how far they went” – especially in the case of Prisoners where the actions of Hugh Jackman’s character are more ludicrous than the revelations discovered afterwards.

They’re of course made by craftsman who want to movie to look and sound good and deliver a decent watchable film, they’re just not anymore rewarding thematically than an episode of Law and Order. It’s quick pop entertainment. Even as dark as it is. Very very dark.

Whiplash (2014, dir. Damien Chazelle)

Ooooh boy, this one is gonna get me attacked. It’s only been a year but this movie is still held high on a pedestal as the ARTIST’s picture and… I know I sound like a broken record since I just used this same claim about The Social Network and Prisoners, but bring it down, guys. It’s not that heavy. It’s a tug-o-war between two characters, not a metaphor for the crafting of talent. Even the dissenters of the film who claim “it’s not accurate to jazz or music”, as one jazz drummer to another, chill out with that shit.

It’s an impressive enough debut for Damien Chazelle. It really is. It functions. It gets its plot from A to B without falling apart on itself in any real way. But it also falls into a lot of pitfalls like most feature debuts do. To begin with, the only character who feels like a real flesh-and-blood human being is Andrew. Nobody else is anything below the surface. That’s fine for Fletcher… the point of the movie is how hard it is to get a bead on him, but every other character is just a meat puppet to feed Andrew into an argumentative scenario (for fuck’s sake, that dinner table scene was just… unreal. It was like watching a second-tier Aaron Sorkin scene) or let Andrew grow more into an asshole without any reason for us to feel sorry for said character (namely his girlfriend or dad). It’s all surface. And then there’s the really contrived stuff – like the lead-up to the ending where we are meant to believe a character whose reputation is on the line would risk said reputation simply to sabotage somebody else’s appearance at Carnegie fucking Hall!

Dat ending doe. That ending is the one moment where I realized Chazelle might just know how to really take control of every aspect of the cinematic medium and make it pop right out into the viewer’s chest. Dude just needs to get the amount of control he had then and keep hold of it for his next film.

Big Hero 6 (2014, prod. Walt Disney Animation Studios)

I get that Frozen is everywhere but I constantly see it getting slammed by everyone as much as possible while Big Hero 6 is the main Disney Renaissance 2.0 flick given an enormous amount of praise which just blows my mind. Quality-wise, it’s frankly no contest – the animation in Frozen does beautifully subtle things with the cold air (complimented by the sound design) that make me shudder in my seat and parody the Disney Princess Love Story formule while Big Hero 6 gives bold and poppy colors (appealingly) to a boilerplate superhero story and uses the bare stock personalities and plot points to set up what will most certainly be a Disney XD tv series and franchise as soon as possible.

And if most of those Frozen woes feel more pointed towards the character of Olaf and how obvious he is something made to sell merchandise and toys, guys… Baymax! Hell, the robotic designs of the characters and the faux-ensemble presentation of them – plus the fact that it’s obviously Disney just pulling a superhero property bought under Marvel that wouldn’t have fans outcrying and synergizing it – basically makes Big Hero 6 feel like one gigantic Saturday Morning Cartoon action figure line-up rather than a movie.

I know that’s a lot of bad will to dedicate to just a movie’s existence than the movie itself, but these wouldn’t hurt me as much if Big Hero 6 just wasn’t disappointingly sparse and didn’t pretend there was more to it than itself than how it’s just one 90 minute pilot.

And if people didn’t call it the best of the Disney Renaissance 2.0 when it’s so far the emptiest. The worst.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, dir. George Miller)

Yes. Yes. Listen, every single bit of praise I gave Mad Max: Fury Road I’d give again in a heartbeat. Every single amount of strengths it has have been hitting hard all five times that I’ve seen the movie already. I would absolutely standby calling Mad Max: Fury Road a masterpiece. I don’t give a fuck.

But of course, I’m part of the hype and the fact is… hype kills. Ideally it kills the perspective than the film, but of course, that doesn’t help in a subjective manner as film criticism. Mad Max is not ruling any Oscar conversations, but it’s still in those conversations. It’s still finding its way to being held up as the finest action cinema in decades, of all time, and most voices against it are being drowned out.

But of course, if you’re asking me to talk about what’s wrong with the movie, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you. I love the movie truly madly deeply. I just wanted to point out the still over-inflated reception of the movie in the same manner as every other film on this list to both humble myself after spending time pointing out flaws in every movie and say that the minority opinion doesn’t make it the wrong opinion. I await the moment when we all calm down enough about the movie to consider it maybe a worthwhile watch, maybe a masterpiece, maybe even in retrospect it becomes dismissed. We’ll give it the test of time.

And that’s about all she wrote.

FILM REVIEW – ANOMALISA

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It’s been seven long years since a Charlie Kaufman movie has been released. His last film and directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, was brilliant but a box office failure. This prompted him to launch a kickstarter to get Anomalisa, his stop-motion feature about a depressed customer service guru trying to make sense of life, made. The process came with both creative advantages and budgetary disadvantages, the biggest advantage being that Kaufman didn’t have any studio restrictions when crafting something this unique and bizarre. It’s pretty incredible Anomalisa got made without any studio interference, but it’s an absolute miracle it came out more polished and concise than Kaufman’s previous efforts that had an endless amount of outside tinkering.

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Anomalisa opens on a plane with a barely famous customer service guru Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis). He’s flying to Cincinnati to speak about his book on customer service and the passenger next to him (voiced by Tom Noonan) won’t leave him alone. When he gets off the plane, he has to deal with a pesky cab driver that insists he has time to see the Cincinnati zoo because it’s only zoo-sized (also voiced by Tom Noonan) before dealing with a bunch of other drone-like customer service representatives all voiced by Tom Noonan. This is to show Michael’s perception of the rest of the world’s population. Everyone is the same with the exception of him. Yeah, it’s next-level narcissism. Even his wife and eight-year-old are voiced by Tom Noonan, which is great because hearing Tom Noonan nonchalantly voice an eight-year-old is among the funniest things I’ve ever heard. All of this changes when he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who for some reason sounds and looks different than everybody else. She’s an anomaly and her name is Lisa.

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Anomalisa is a tightly structured 90-minute character study that centers solely around Michael. Kaufman has made his most simple movie yet and I’d wager, his best. The first stretch of Anomalisa is the funniest film I’ve seen all year, but it slowly morphs into a very poignant and painfully realistic film about human nature. I’ve never seen stop-motion puppets emote in the way Kaufman’s emote. There’s also nothing manipulative about Anomalisa, especially in it’s love story between Michael and Lisa. Studio interference might have made Lisa incredibly intelligent and quirky or might have made Michael’s wife a horrible witch so the audience could justify him having an affair. Thankfully, Anomalisa doesn’t fall into these tropes. Lisa is a fairly stupid character and her sweetness is primarily built on her practically non-existent self-esteem. Michael’s wife isn’t cruel or demanding, even if his eight-year-old is kind of a little prick. And Michael doesn’t have Lisa’s best interests at heart, it seems at times he’s just using her as a vessel to try and cure his unhappiness.

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If Anomalisa sounds terribly cynical and depressing, it is and it isn’t. While not the type of animated film that critics would call “life-affirming”, it doesn’t completely disappear up it’s own asshole and wallow in it’s own pessimism. I don’t want to say the film pulls any of it’s punches, but I do think that the puppets help soften the blow of some of the more upsetting moments. Some might find this diluted, but this actually makes it’s characters more accessible. Part of this is due to the extraordinary voice work by David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and especially Tom Noonan, who somehow manages to create dozens of wholly different characters while restrained to giving them all the same voice.

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While it’s certainly less of a downer than the gaping black hole of misery that was Synecdoche, New York, parts of Anomalisa are definitely more uncomfortable to watch than any other Kaufman film. Co-directed by Duke Johnson, who helmed the excellent stop motion Community episode, Anomalisa looks beautiful which wonderfully contrasts with the darker parts of the story. Truly one of the most unique filmgoing experiences I’ve ever had in my life, Anomalisa is a technical marvel as well as a masterstroke in storytelling. You can’t afford to miss it when it opens in theaters December 30th. Grade: A