I’m gonna get back in the habit of full-length reviews as soon as continued access to an internet-wired computer becomes a regularity (videos will be another story – damn dem disasters, dawg). But in the meantime, I think it best to get myself back in the swing of reviewing movies for a change – considering the first post some newcomers might see is the honest yet over sentimental SCS post – so let me crack at my knuckles for a bit before hitting up some quickie capsule reviews for recently released movies I’ve been seeing in 2016.
Some of these I will be giving full-length reviews for eventually – especially since some are parts of series’ that I’m entertaining once I get my ass back in my seat (Coen brothers retrospective, X-Men series retrospective that I already sort of nudged at with reviewing the first one, Batman/Superman film retrospective, Disney Animation runaround, again mayyyyyyybe Terrence Malick retrospective – but I really don’t think I can tackle them yet) later this year. In the meantime, lemme get things back in full swing.
Knight of Cups (2015/dir. Terrence Malick/USA)
I can happily say that Knight of Cups is an improvement on the ok To the Wonder and Malick’s collaborative efforts with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki remains the single best looking element of the film. It’s not hard to really get what the movie is on about towards a Hollywood life of decadence and the empty feeling that enters Rick (Christian Bale) as he loses himself.
That doesn’t really stop this film from really feeling a bit more sloppy, despite very little changing in the visual aesthetic of Malick’s work and his preferred style of crafting his stories in the editing rooms. There’s more gaps and it’s a lot easier to catch the seams and that takes me out of a movie that very much wants to be meditative towards its characters. Maybe it doesn’t help to have a stacked and blocky structure towards the scenario. Maybe it makes it worse to not give your cast much to work with.
*sigh*, I know I liked it is all. I can’t put a true finger on why and I think I need a couple more rewatches before I give up a full-length review. Aren’t you guys happy I’m still flaking on that Terrence Malick retrospective now?
Hail, Caesar! (2016/dir. the Coen brothers/USA)
I seriously want to know what the fuck was everybody bitching about when Hail, Caesar came out? There is nothing about the movie I couldn’t love in the slightest. I heard it called out as just a bunch of vignettes, but those vignettes are gloriously conceived by cinematographer Roger Deakins, production designer Jess Gonchor, and costume designer Mary Zophres to be the best kind of Hollywood eye candy while still holding a great amount of satirical irreverence for the sort of culture it depicts.
People claiming that certain elements of the plot didn’t really matter, except insofar as it’s all obviously a depiction of the broken life of head fixer in Capitol Pictures Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), as he has to obviously deal with all these trials and ordeals while letting 1950s Hollywood still glimmer and shine as an icon. It’s essentially A Serious Man except replacing Judaism with Catholicism (and I know A Serious Man is not everyone’s cup of tea either, but it’s possibly in my top five favorite Coen films, so y’know, that’s like your opinion, man).
A cast of recognizable cameos personifying different aspects of this era in Hollywood who steal every scene they are in their short appearances. Leftist-Socialist-Marxist ideals are introduced while still poked and prodded in the same loving way as 1950s Hollywood and religion is here. What is not to love, what the fuck is not at least of some interest here?
AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO LOVED THIS FUCKING MOVIE?! FUCK!
The Witch (2015/dir. Robert Eggers/USA)
The reception of The Witch is a little more ambiguous to me. On the one hand, everybody whom I interact with face-to-face having seen The Witch, except my friend Josh (who I attended the film with) and two others, really hated it. I literally walked out of the theater hearing people talk shit about it. On the other, I see an overwhelming amount of praise given to the film from many major figures in horror culture and critics and general audiences.
I lean frankly to the high praise of the film. I was impressed, unnerved, and messed with all throughout the film, but there are some aspects of that praise I rein back from (without really dismissing the film). Namely how much random accolades are given to Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography that isn’t really much more than a facility for the number of close-ups and geometric shots that give us an ability to really be impressed with the cast.
I think it’s sort of a mistake figuring this movie as a straightforward witch film. The titular witch is of course a constant presence in the air, but the main focus of the film is on a Puritan banished based on how holier-than-thou their patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) was towards their settlement and how they deal with the sudden loss of their infant child, namely how quickly they are willing to blame the eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she was watching the baby when he literally vanished before her eyes. Namely how matriarch Katherine (Kate Dickie) is willing to transparently resent Thomasin’s existence while twins Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) make things worse in their naivete. Thomasin’s brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is the only person on her side and she’s losing more and more agency within the family as things just turn worse and worse.
And now I really made it sound like a domestic drama, but the asphyxiating amount of dread all throughout the film facilitated by Eggers’ ear for tension never leaves us with any true doubt that something more wicked above the family is sinking them more and more into a living hell. That plus a pretty shocking and upfront sequence early in the film lets us know early on that “yes… there is a Witch and yes… this movie will not have a happy ending (depending on how you look at it)”. And shocking moments are buried deep within the movie – most of the movie is functional and only works to maintain the space between characters, but then it wallops you with an image that widens your eyes and returns back to normalcy.
But it’s really the cast’s movie. The entire ensemble – even and especially the child actors – know that their characters are all completely followed and ruinous, which leans into getting the audience doubt if this fall from grace is truly the witch’s doing or the family’s own, but still retains a humanistic sympathy that twists the knife with every new ordeal.
I dunno, I really loved it. I haven’t gotten to the point of re-watching releases from 2016 yet, since I’ve been too busy, but I feel The Witch (or Hail, Caesar! will eventually find their way in my home movie collection).
Deadpool (2016/dir. Tim Miller/USA)
I really walked in expecting myself to dislike Deadpool. And while I laughed a hell of a lot less than the people around me and find it certain to turn into superhero films the way Shrek turned into animated films, I liked it. I liked how small the stakes were for this pretty straightforward revenge story (though I wasn’t too crazy about how it tried to wink against being a superhero origin story despite being exactly that). I liked how Ryan Reynolds (still not my ideal Deadpool) could work between his sarcastic attitude to making Deadpool a surprisingly humane character, aided by Morena Baccarin as a love interest with their chemistry on fire (my favorite gag of the movie is hands down a sex montage between the two of them based on holidays). I laughed at a few of the jokes, of course. And the mask… I was at first skeptical about the idea of hypocritically using a CGI suit after that in-film jab towards Green Lantern, but it’s so plasticky and animated without feeling separated from the frame and in the end, I like how the animation can match up to Reynolds’ energy and feel just as much a part of the character as anything else.
I’ll never entirely succumb to the hype of this film. I don’t think it’s “intelligent” simply because Deadpool says “fuck” to the audience rather than the characters. And certain elements are still kind of too juvenile for me. It’s narrative structure could be the most inspired thing about the whole movie, but it’s still a misfire for me – stunting and stopping just for the sake of prolonging one action scene (thankfully, it’s wrapped up a little over halfway through the film). But in an age where superhero films come out by the baker’s dozen and are so easily to identify on their aesthetic and attitude, Deadpool felt like a breath of fresh air by all means. That air isn’t really all that pure, but I’ll take what I have to before diving back into that pile of superhero white noise.
Zootopia (2016/Disney Animation Studios/USA)
Still trying to convince myself this isn’t a DreamWorks film. It fits the bill well enough – modernized film that feels almost immediately dated, based largely on a message that is kind of poorly communicated (so we at once have a mayor who is a predator and police officers that are primarily predators… and predators are also the persecuted minority… but they’re the ones in power… but… what?), ending with a dance party featuring celebrity voices simply because they are celebrity voices.
That’s a little too much tossed at a film that I in the end really enjoyed. The concept is gorgeously fun enough for me to shrug off whatever problems I have with the generic 48 Hours plot, with the imagination brought to defining the different zones of the titular city and how animals and their environments adapt together. And most of all, the lead duo of Jason Bateman as con artist fox Nick Wilde and Ginner Goodwin as police officer bunny Judy Hopps are such a good match for each other and I’d kill to see a screwball comedy with the two, their rapport is so good.
I don’t need to talk about the quality of the animation, do I? It’s Disney, guys. Since Tangled, they’ve been up on their game. Look at that picture! The texture on Bellweather’s wool! Come on!
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016/dir. Zack Snyder/USA)
If I had my way, we would not have a Superman movie dealing with the morality of being Superman directed by Zack Snyder or written by David S. Goyer. But we’d still have one. It’s certainly a concept I’ve always wanted to see (indeed one of the only compelling philosophical concepts we could possibly have for a character like him). And lo and behold we got one and I’m kind of happy to get it.
Which is not to say Batman v. Superman is an intelligent movie. It’s not even close. It’s a Zack Snyder/David S. Goyer movie. But it carries a gravity to many of its individual elements that gets away with making this feel mythic and look cool. And this is pretty much aided by an fascinating hash of a score between Hans Zimmer re-experimenting with the motifs he composed in the previous Man of Steel (one of the best works of Zimmer’s career in my opinion) and Junkie XL adding bombastic blasting momentum for many superhero themes (the Wonder Woman theme! That’s my favorite of the movie, the way it totally kickstarts my heart into the Doomsday fight once she appears, even if all but one of the fight scenes were so fucking bad) and the fact that most of the cast either satisfactorily accomplishes what they must (Cavill is not my idea Superman – maybe my heart is too settled on Christopher Reeve – but he gives each scene he’s in the mood it needs) or absolutely fights to steal whatever scene they are in (I don’t think I’m supposed to be as impressed with Holly Hunter or Laurence Fishburne as I should have been while Gal Gadot literally does nothing and still has more shot-stealing scene presence as Wonder Woman than she did in the whole of her Fast and Furious appearances). And I will definitely join the choir of praise that even the many detractors of Batman v. Superman have given that Ben Affleck makes a very transfixingly dark and nihilistic Batman (I would probably have more of a problem with the decision to have Batman kill people if they didn’t come in forms as badass as the “I believe you” scene). I hate to say it, but I had a lot of fun with the movie, more than I expected, more than I had with any Snyder film save Dawn of the Dead.
Is the script a mess? Absolutely. Almost irritatingly so, since a lot of its sloppiness just needs a little bit of housecleaning by some screenwriter who is honestly not Chris Terrio (sorry, y’all, I didn’t like Argo THAAAT much). Is the editing vomit? Oh god yes, I am so very disappointed with how David Brenner made the few fight scenes in Batman v. Superman incoherently in Michael Bay fashion and sucked out all the energy that could possibly come from Batman giving that whole Arkham video game beatdown. And that’s not to mention how annoying all the fan service “Justice League” peeks are (and the only one that might have mattered – the Death in the Family reference that was featured in the trailer… that one was two seconds and I’d say it’s a lot more integral to explaining Batman’s psychological nature in this movie. Any viewers who don’t comic books will undoubtedly be lost on that.).
But I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy myself. I can’t help feeling that there was more good than bad. And I can’t help feeling like there’s more sincerity in Snyder’s work on this movie than in Man of Steel (where he unambiguously tried to Nolanise Superman). There’s a lot of cool comic book shots coming from Larry Fong, there’s a lot of curiosity in what to do with these characters in the same room, and I’m sorry but large-scale movies are my jam as long as they don’t collapse hard.
Oh, but Jesse Eisenberg was awful. A poorly wigged clown that had no place in a movie with such a sobering tone. Absolutely the worst thing about a movie with THAT editing.
Hardcore Henry (2015/dir. Ilya Naishuller/Russia & USA)
When a movie is so very eager to be a mindless brainless piece of action moviemaking and yet my only interest is in the development of the story, that’s me twisting the knife in how underwhelming the movie was to me.
Inspired by the success of the music video of “Bad Motherfucker”, a song by director/writer Ilya Naishuller’s rock band Biting Elbows (which is admittedly worth a watch), Hardcore Henry is a movie following the literal point of view of the titular Henry as he finds himself in a circumstance where he has to beat, shoot, stab, crush, run over, immolate, and essentially kill a whole lot of people in order to reach his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) who is currently kidnapped by psychic psycho
Lex Luthor Akan ( Jesse Eisenberg Danila Kozlovsky). As simple as it needs to be, so that it can get straight to the action, right?
Except the movie is shot with Go Pro cameras. All except a flashback sequence to Henry’s childhood (with Tim Roth giving a grizzled appearance). And while it’s a fun concept for some something as short-scale as a music video directed by a bandmate, the problem is that there’s no depth to any images we’re watching. There’s a lack of clarity to the scenes that give it the impression of one 90 minute YouTube video. I don’t feel immersed in these moments. In fact, while I personally didn’t even get dizzy, I can understand how that sort of nauseates audience members.
I’d really like to say at least the setpieces are somewhat inspired and unique, but they really aren’t. It’s just a bunch of gunshots and fistfights that happen in different locations for arbitrary reasons – now a shopping center, now an abandoned building, now a helipad, etc. Nothing really sets them apart from each other, it’s a white noise of bullets and blood. And while I feel I should have expected cuts (yes, there are cuts in the film. Multitudes of them.), I can’t help but feel cheated by their presence, especially in a scene where Henry scales a building. The amount of disorientingly exciting vertigo we could have gotten from watching the ground get more and more distant from us is undercut by just deciding “Fuck it, we wanna go to the 14th floor already.”
The only source of any true energy comes from Sharlto Copley as an immediate ally in Henry’s predicament named Jimmy (Kozlovsky tries so damn hard to be worthwhile camp and just becomes a nuisance in everyway). Jimmy is not really a singular personality in the film, he’s a grab bag of stereotypes and entities and they don’t demand anything of Copley except that he chew on every accent and attire big time to make damn sure the viewer is having fun with him. It is the first time I didn’t hate a Copley performance since his debut in District 9.
It is an unenergizing version of the Crank films. Those were brainless junk food films that knew how to be enjoyable and find creative ways to make already ridiculous moments seem immensely banal ’til we can’t stop laughing and cheering (and given how blatantly a scene is lifted from Gamer, it is hard to believe Naishuller did not see Neveldine/Taylor’s more popular action franchise). Hardcore Henry is felt like the sloppy end of a sugar rush right before you find your legs can’t run anymore.