At the beginning of June, I’m going to be embarking on a project that’s so fucking stupid for me to go for after how much a trying and exhausting affair the 31 Days of Halloween in 2014 was for me. And in that case, I was only working rather than going back to school – now I find myself in the middle of work AND school. I’ve tried to offset this by backing up a couple of the reviews in advance but I don’t I nearly got enough of it done that it won’t be a pain in the ass to be a timely thing.
Anyway, holy shit, that is A LOT of bitching about what I’m about to do without explaining what I’m about to do which is this…
On the 25th of June, I am turning 25. What a milestone of an age (that I didn’t expect myself to reach for a lot of reasons I won’t get into), just by the mathematical sense in its perfect square factor and how neatly it cleaves the concept of living a century (which I’ll definitely now aim for). I’m about to become 25 and so that means I want to do something special for this site that took up an amount of this decade for me just ’cause. Given the perfect location of my birthday in the month correlating to the age I’m becoming and how long a movie buff I’ve been, I wanted to write about 25 movies that mean… a hell of a lot to me and essentially shaped out the sort of cinephile I was to become.
Excuse me if these posts becoming messy and erratic and even if they say nothing of value for this will be the point where I am more concerned with saying what these movies mean to me than what makes me think they’re the best ever (and be assured, a lot of these movies are not going to be the best ever – though I will go over some movies I think can fight for the title). I also beg your patience if I find myself so overwhelmed with life that some of these come behind schedule, but I kind of have an idea of the movies I will write about, some are already drafted, and I aim to finish right on the 25 June with a movie I think many regular readers can already guess, so I hope to not have that be a frequent problem.
That MIGHT not be all. I’m making no promises at this point, but given that I’ve been wanting to make Motorbreath partly video for a while and had to cut down on it, I’m aiming to have three minimalist videos – one for each week – in the month to come to get me back in the habit of giving y’all my face talking to your face about movies.
So, yeah… I don’t know if this looks more or less scary outside of my head, but this stresses me out. But that’s ok because with adversity comes the age of 25, right? At least, that’s what I think the saying goes, right?
(Also, I will take this moment to peddle my Patreon page and thank those who have supported Motorbreath in the past, whether through this page or just through page views. It’s nice having a place where I can dump all my thoughts, but having them occasionally read and seeing people respond to it makes it even better. I will probably be putting this link at the end of everything within this month and hope it doesn’t look as obnoxious as I think it does).
TL;DR – 25 Reviews of Movies Dear to Me each day up until 25 June; possibly three videos – one per week.
When I actually look back on the expectations of Alien: Covenant, I wonder if it just had way too much to carry and if I might feel better for it with that in mind. Doubtful, because I’m thinking right now about how it is trying to be a successor to Alien AND a successor to Prometheus – both movies I like very much (fuck the Prometheus haters) – and I still am kind of disappointed by it. It cannot be both of those things whatsoever, something I think the evident mountain of cut footage by Ridley Scott (who directed all three movies I just mentioned) shows his awareness of because of how very dissonant both movies are. Prometheus is a philosophical musing and Alien is blunt horror film with no room for thought. There are great moments of Alien: Covenant that could function for both the scary monster movie genre film and for the introspective treatise on the cost of creation and meeting your maker and so it’s upsetting to have to choose between one or the other, but it’s a very obviously unbalanced mesh of ideas that cannot share the same movie and if I had to pick one: I wish Alien: Covenant were the shallower mad scientist/slasher horror movie it became in the later part of itself.
What makes me lean that way is so much of what is aesthetically great about Alien: Covenant would be better suited for genre filmmaking than existential writing: the production design by Chris Seagers full of gothic dark edges of ancient towers and surrounding ruins, industrial weary space station rooms, and chillingly light green exteriors (those colors especially brought out by cinematographer Darius Wolski). There’s an interior candlelit set that looks like the inside of a hollow body and the sketches all around it are the alarmingly clinical sort to spell out the intentions of its owner in plain sight. Which is to say nothing of the return of Giger’s phallic monstrous Xenomorphs and I… fuck, man, I wanted to start out sounding positive enough, but if I’m going to talk about the Xenomorphs, well…
It’s no secret Prometheus and Alien: Covenant function as prequels attempting to elaborate on the origin of the Xenomorph species, something NOBODY asked for and that is presented in an inevitably disappointing fashion by the script by John Logan and Dante Harper. So we’re meeting prototype versions of the xenomorphs and they just look flat-out stupid. They’re bad. They’re a bunch of overlit unconvincing CGI pygmy see-through versions of the Xenomorphs, they look even worse in motion, and we see them too much. We eventually get the full-grown versions of Giger’s creature and THOSE look fine, but they get very little screentime. So, the worse thing to me an Alien movie can do is make the actual monster – frightening nightmare fuel that he already is in design – look stupid and, man, this might just be the second worst work on the animal since Fincher’s Alien 3.
Anyway, back to sounding positive for a bit more, and it’s not gonna be easy given I’ve already gotten started on what I don’t like about Covenant. The other thing that aids the idea of Covenant working better as slasher film than Ridley Scott’s thoughts on God is how indistinct Logan and Harper’s characters are. We have 14 different crewmembers of the titular Covenant ship, all married to each other and all responsible for the safety of the over 200 also-paired colonists in hypersleep. After Captain Branson (James Franco, thankfully not saying a thing or even opening his eyes) is killed in a freak accident that wakes the rest of the crew, they find a potentially closer habitable planet. The new Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) makes the decision to give it a look, despite of the protest of Branson’s widow and terraforming expert Daniels (Katharine Waterston), and save them the longer trip. The boots on the ground discover the place to have shown evidence of a previous humanoid population and the wreckage of the Engineer ship from Prometheus yet the planet seems completely deserted. If you need to be told what happens once spores are shown to enter two of the crew’s bodies, you haven’t seen Alien.
Anyway, like said before, the crew members are all just a body count for the xenomorphs once they savage their way out into the world and they’re only as identifiable as their performance. Good news for Waterston’s final girl persona and Crudup’s obnoxious man of faith; okay news for Amy Seimetz and Carmen Ejogo who have really one scene where they get to provide a louder note of terror and admittedly do well with it; bad news for practically everyone else. Danny McBride is hands-down my biggest reason to be excited for this movie (my love for Eastbound & Down overwhelms my love for Alien or horror) and his attempts at drama and fear were frankly labored here. The only actor decently serviced by the script is Michael Fassbender as two separate synthetics – David’s sinister return from Prometheus and the duty-bound Walter – and I would do an injustice describing how astoundingly Fassbender serves their split identities and the thematic material that exits David’s lips and enter’s Walter’s minds as the former tries to influence the latter. Fassbender-on-Fassbender action (both literal and figurative) is literally the only time all Scott’s attempted eloquences on humanity and destiny and questions of God and man actually have the sort of profound attitudes that suit such a film, as well as serving to flesh out David’s attitudes as similar to that of Dr. Pretorius in Bride of Frankenstein and his motivations behind the third act of the film going full-on monster mode. It’s only a small amount unfortunately and that doesn’t work in anybody’s else’s shoes: not Crudup’s talk of the devil, not Waterston’s attempts at motivating her colleagues to survive. They’re good performances but they’re not Michael Fassbender and so don’t service the side of Covenant that wants to be the ponderous follow-up to Prometheus.
At a little under two hours, Alien: Covenant is not long at all. And yet it felt like it outstayed its welcome because of the double-stuffed goals of Ridley Scott and it’s seeming more and more like Scott should take it easy and stick to straightforward popcorn work. He hasn’t been nearly as successfully intellectual a filmmaker since Blade Runner(or the original cut of Kingdom of Heaven), but his eye for visuals still promises an ability to entertain on a surface-level. Prometheus and The Martian had the right idea only letting the strictly entertaining stand-out. It can’t satisfy otherwise.
I’ve been a long-time fan and reader of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule for a while and I want to relax for a moment rather than rush myself into another reviewing schedule (though I do intend to keep reviewing – hopefully expect John Wick: Chapter Two tomorrow night and the imminent return of Twin Peaks this weekend with its status as possibly the last David Lynch work makes my return to the retrospective imperative) and give myself time to work on other projects beyond Motorbreath (one slightly related). So, I’ve been looking back on all of Dennis Collazzo’s famous quizzes he’d pass out and figure I’d indulge myself in all of them over the coming days as a denouement for me. I’ll be doing them in reverse chronological order starting with Professor Moriarty’s one.
Of course, I AM five months late on this particular quiz, where the questions are obviously of a type trying to look back on 2016 as a year and looking forward into 2017 (and a lot of the quizzes will have dated questions). But better late than never, amirite?
1) Best movie of 2016
Toni Erdmann has been the one that stuck with me most. That’s what happens when you spend an unnecessary amount of time with your dad months before watching that movie for the first time.
2) Worst movie of 2016
Yoga Hosers is misguided, unclear, and probably not entirely qualifying as a movie. Remember how terrible Will Smith’s attempt at nepotizing Jaden into a movie star? That’s what happening with Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp here and it’s… fucking awful. And the ineptitude of the film plus the Nazism just makes me think of this as Foodfight! in live-action.
3) Best actress of 2016
I’m gonna be supremely boring by saying Viola Davis in Fences. It’s not fair, right? This is a performance she had been playing for 13 straight weeks and so now she can do it in her sleep, but hey… she’s so good in it, it looks like she’s been playing that role for 13 years and never skipped a beat. And August Wilson is just an actor’s dream of an writer, one that I’m so damn jealous I can’t indulge in as a non-black actor. He and Viola Davis MAKE Rose.
4) Best actor of 2016
I’m gonna continue being boring by stating that it’s Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea. Which also continues the whole “they had a goddamn genius” writing with Kenneth Lonergan behind Affleck’s back, but then same as Davis, Affleck put a lot into the performance in his coiled and tensed up inability to look calm.
5) What movie from 2016 would you prefer not hearing another word about? Why?
Ghostbusters. I literally do not give a fuck about that movie anymore and yet it’s still hella brought up by angry white boys as “feminist propaganda” (which it’s so not) and one of the worst things to ever happen to movies (which it’s not, it’s just a forgettable movie). If Ghostbusters 2016 is one of the worst movies you’ve ever seen, you’re going to be ok.
Actual facebook post I read
6) Second-favorite Olivier Assayas movie
The slick and pointedly unsexy demonlover is so damn good, it’s strange to call it second best, but that’s cause Irma Vep is the goodest, know what I’m saying?
7) Miriam Hopkins or Kay Francis?
Trouble in Paradise is good enough to make Hopkins number one all day every day. (Author’s Note, October 2020: My answer still remains Hopkins, but the explanation is – obviously – an extremely vapid dilettante moment on my part. They’re both banging in Trouble in Paradise.)
8) What’s the story of your first R-rated movie?
My very first fragment of an R-rated movie was watching my mom and her friend browsing through movie channels and being on Bram Stoker’s Dracula… RIGHT as Lucy was being mauled to death by Wolf-Dracula and talking about it until just after they decapitate vampire Lucy. Intense shit.
My first full R-rated movie watching was a TV-edited cut of Air Force One with my family one night.
Ironically, my parents were pretty damn strict on me not watching R-rated movies until I was 17 (hell, my dad didn’t even want me watching PG-13 most of the time). The first time I was able to actually watch an R-rated movie uncensored without any problems was Watchmen in theaters.
9) What movie from any era that you haven’t yet seen would you be willing to resolve to see before this day next year?
I just got a message from my library that my request of Rumble Fish arrived so I’ll be picking that up immediately after I post it. One of my Francis Ford Coppola gaps, but I have three critic friends who hold this as among their favorite movies (one of them has it as his number one) and my co-workers from a film festival I worked at told me recently that during a screening they attended Rusty James reminded them of me.
I haven’t the slightest idea why.
10) Second-favorite Pedro Almodovar movie
One of my favorite filmmakers of all time and yet it’s with some quickness I point to Talk to Her being my number-two as a perverse and yet sincere portrayal of love. My number one remains the utterly sweet All About My Mother.
11) What movie do you think comes closest to summing up or otherwise addressing the qualities of 2016?
I wanna say Ghostbusters again, in all of its forgettability but I just said I didn’t want to mention it. So I guess I’ll lean into calling out Deadpool. I will let you figure out what I mean by that… I think it sounds petty god.
12) Chris Pine or Chris Pratt?
Until the end of 2014, I would have said Pratt without skipping a beat, but now the fun of his screen presence has worn out in record time (Jurassic World is a far step away from Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie), while Pine – a previously frustrating actor based on his bland performance as Captain Kirk – somehow turned right around into being one of my favorite things about the middling Into the Woods and giving an astonishingly earthy and conflicted performance in last years’ Hell or High Water. So yeah, I’m gonna have to give it to Pine here.
Plus his third turn as Kirk in Beyond felt like a person finally.
13) Your favorite movie theater, presently or from the past
God, I reserve the right to change this answer upon finally running into The Music Box in Chicago, but my favorite theater I’ve been to in recent years was The Metrograph in New York City that just opened up.
However… I kind of want to be real and say I think spending more time away from Phoenix, Arizona has made me realize just how much I miss the smaller kinds of theaters that don’t look fancy or only play arthouse works. If I were picking my favorite theater that I’ve been too, I might be inclined to pick the strip mall Pollack Tempe Cinemas that generally played second-run movies for like 4 bucks and would usually involve me taking a two hour walk home (as I liked to do at night) that allowed me to think about what I just watched. Alongside the fact that they’d do monthly cult classic screenings and always have these weird ass celebrity statues. And it was so bright and pink. Honestly, I’m getting nostalgic thinking about it.
14) Favorite movie involving a family celebration
I literally skipped this question to give myself time to think and I can’t stop thinking about Muppets from Space‘s finale – Gonzo’s alien family being the chorus to “Celebration” – so… I guess that’s my answer. Even though I haven’t seen the movie since I was a kid.
15) Second-favorite Paul Schrader movie
I am not at all crazy about Paul Schrader, but I guess I’ll lean to Affliction with Mishima: A Story in Four Chapters taking number one.
16) Ruth Negga or Hayley Atwell?
This is kind of unfair. I only just found out Negga exists last year and to date I have only seen one of her film performances (Loving, I’m pretty much way too hesitant to watch Preacher though I did see the pilot episode). Hayley Atwell on the other hand has been hella fun in pretty much everything I’ve seen her in since 2008 (and I’m very very sad Agent Carter was cancelled before I had a chance to watch it). So I shall give it to Atwell for now, but I’m looking damn forward to digging more into Negga’s career.
17) Last three movies you saw, in any format
Cool As Ice on 35mm – Absolutely spectacular fun to watch with a group of people who can make fun of how ridiculous Vanilla Ice’s persona was.
Excalibur on HBO – The Best King Arthur Movie. Period. (Ironically I was making this case to a few friends just hours before seeing it was on HBO and deciding to drop my shit to watch it).
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg on Blu-Ray (itself the second part of a double feature with La La Land)
18) Your first X-rated, or porn movie?
God, is it really Who’s Nailin’ Paylin?. I don’t really watch porn movies (Paylin was a curiosity and has nothing that promises I should keep watching them) and I don’t think Midnight Cowboy or A Clockwork Orange count as X-rated.
19) Richard Boone or Charles McGraw?
I’ve seen several Charles McGraw films and nothing consciously of Richard Boone’s so, McGraw.
20) Second-favorite Chan-wook Park movie
See now… that’s an answer I keep tossing and flipping over. No matter what, Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance always are in my top two Park Chan-wook movies, it’s just the order that depends on my mood. Sometimes I want the overt exploitative poeticism of Oldboy, sometimes I’m in the mood for the nihilistic grit of Mr. Vengeance.
21) Movie that best encompasses or expresses loneliness
I’m looking forward to spending my 25th Birthday next month eating canned pineapples in order to reflect upon Chungking Express.
22) What’s your favorite movie to watch with your best friend?
I will never be less grateful than having the chance to watch the great Miami Connection with my friend Josh and introducing it to him surrounded by other friends of mine and able to get into how ridiculously fantastic it is.
Between Cool as Ice and Miami Connection, I guess the moral is “watch shitty movies with your friends”. It works af.
23) Who’s the current actor you most look forward to seeing in 2017?
Nicole Kidman essentially owns 2017 doesn’t she? With The Beguiled, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Top of the Lake, and Big Little Lies. Is there really any other possible answer?
24) Your New Year’s wish for the movies
52 Films by Women at the end of the year. And watch some good shit, please do not be like last year.
There’s something that I wanna give The Lego Batman Moviea lot of awesome credit for right out the gate and that’s being the first theatrical Batman movie since Tim Burton’s 1989 film to introduce a new incarnation of the Dark Knight himself and yet not feeling obliged to have to recreate his origin story (Even if you consider Burton’s and Schumacher’s films to not be the same series, Batman Forever has a recreation of that fateful alley scene). I’m sure Thomas and Martha Wayne are being tired of being shot to death outside of theaters. The Lego Batman Movie has enough trust in its audience to figure they know the origin story of arguably the most popular superhero movie came from.
There’s also a lot more to give The Lego Batman Movie credit for in its writing, but sadly not as much as I want to and that’s from a very distinctive authorial voice being replaced – the genius duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the writers of the first Lego Movie(along with Dan and Kevin Hageman). Lord and Miller had already made a career out of turning can’t win high concepts into wholly creative and entertaining comedic filmmaking (especially on the animated side) since their wonderful television show Clone High came about (apropos of nothing, Lord is a Miami-native like yours truly and I’ve heard it rumored he actually went to the same middle school as I did, but I can’t really confirm that). With The Lego Movie, they turned an idea that sounded like an product placement scheme into an ode to imagination and ingenuity and teamwork.
Turn around to The Lego Batman Movie, which follows specifically the already primary character of Batman (voiced by Will Arnett in the most appropriate usage of his GOB voice and persona since Arrested Development) and focuses more on his own inability to connect with anyone, and we have Lord and Miller replaced by a rogues’ gallery of names that promise rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. Admittedly 4 out of the 5 names on the writing credits – Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington – ring no bells in my head, but one particular name Seth Grahame-Smith (who is credited for the overall story) made one post-modern novel I enjoyed when I was in high school (and I’m not sure I’ll have the same sentiment on a re-read) and promptly went on to write nothing that impressed me. Not only was it a downgrade from Lord and Miller’s genius, it was an alarm.
Fortunately, The Lego Batman Movie pleased me and not necessarily in spite of its script. The humor is not as energetic and fun as the others and it happens to abandon a sort of gleefully jolly on joking about the Batman franchise by its halfway mark (in fact, the middle twist of the movie is a clear sign that Grahame-Smith and co. may have been more eager to abandon the resources available to them simply from the source material), but the story of Batman learning to stop being an island with the help of his trusty butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), the accidental adoption Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), and the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), is a touching and impressively drawn one. It’s not reinventing the wheel about isolation turning into teamwork turning into family, but it’s aided by four fantastic cast performances (and a fifth by Zach Galifinakis voicing the most down-to-earth version of the Joker yet) and has a heart that sneaks up on us once the movie stops deciding to be about BATMAN the property and focus on this Batman as an individual. So yeah, well done, motley crew of writers.
There is another great big authorial presence that has been abandoned in the development of this film that can’t be ignored and that, indeed, is Phil Lord and Chris Miller – the directors. For obviously, they directed the first Lego Movie and moved on later to bigger things like making a Han Solo solo movie. In their replacement is a kind of unknown named Chris McKay, who was already attached to the previous film as an animation co-director for the Australian company Animal Logic. And while McKay isn’t a match for energetic humor and visual comedy, what he clearly is an upgrade in is outright beauty. You wouldn’t think there’s a way to massively improve an animation aesthetic that’s deliberate rigid and simple in movement and surfaces, but McKay clearly wants you to remember just how distinct the physicality of the characters and settings, even in the uniform toy world of Lego, can be. And that’s without even touching on the lighting effects which are so fluid and jaw-dropping in their illuminating rays that I couldn’t help but wonder if they physically had lights moving around Lego playsets, especially in a scene at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude involving lasers and party lights. And that’s just on top of the mapping of Batman’s more ambitious fight scenes, namely the opening round-up of all his famous villains to a metal earworm by Patrick Stump.
Anyway, it’s phenomenally animated and sincere, even if it’s nothing eye-popping beyond that. I’m not sure I can even say the humor is all that fresh against the Dark Knight since Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders came out last year, but that’s also one of the throwaway Warner Bros. Animation Straight-to-DVD films. The Lego Batman Movie is a straight up feature and a hell of a promising animation debut that happens to be a worthwhile time. Even if my expectations on a sequel to The Lego Movie and a new Batman film were a bit too high, nothing about The Lego Batman Movie‘s first 3/4 is dissatisfying in the least and the finale is quick enough to bow out before everything ends up ruined. Batman knows how to make an exit after all. He’s Batman.
I don’t know if we feel safe with identifying the very beginning of this exhausting span of Live-Action (or Photorealistic CGI) remakes of their animated classics as 1994 with Stephen Sommers’ The Jungle Book, 1996 with the Glenn Close vehicle 101 Dalmatians, or 2010 with Tim Burton’s nightmare version of Alice in Wonderland. In any case, despite being really impressed with the Jon Favreau version of The Jungle Bookand David Gordon Green Lowery’s version of Pete’s Dragonlast year, I think Bill Condon’s remake of Beauty and the Beasthas proven to be enough to exhaust me from wanting these things to happen again, no matter how many Donald Glovers you cast as Simba. It’s not a fatigue things where there’s too many of them (I mean, there are, but one was already too many), it’s a “THIS MOVIE IS FUCKING BAD AND POTENTIALLY THE WORST OF THE REMAKES SO FAR GIVE OR TAKE A REWATCH OF BURTON’S ALICE IN WONDERLAND THAT WILL NEVER FUCKING HAPPEN” thing.
I am aware I may be overreacting, given that Beauty and the Beastis a movie that I can find very few problems with and one of my favorite Disney movies of all-time (hence a contender for one of my favorite movies of all time outright), but I can’t think of any which way that most of the changes made to the story or aesthetic of the original animated film could be assumedly directed towards the good end of things. Like for real, the times when the movie isn’t being totally offensive to my eyes are how it just tries to or Ewan McGregor as the candelabra Lumiere actually displays campy swagger within his scenes, thus invigorating energy into the sloggish film just from his own voice acting (the design of the character… ehhhhh… we’ll get back to that.
This film has entirely drained me of my willingness to sacrifice time and energy to provide a prose review so I’m opting to just rush this as quickly as I can by listing all the things about this movie that I either very much enjoyed (for there are indeed things that I enjoyed that tried – but failed due to overwhelming circumstances – to dull the pain of watching this) and by listing everything about it that I fucking hated. I will not forgive this movie for the following items:
Dan Stevens has been on a roll already from Downton Abbey to Legion to even a star-making performance (in a perfect world) in The Guest, a movie I otherwise dislike. He’s not in The Cobbler enough to let that derail his career, why the fuck would you dare to ruin his stride by giving him the rubberiest beast face one could ever see and morphing his voice? This is an unfair way to tarnish his legacy!
Speaking of the visual aesthetic of the thing, all of the characters who are transformed into frightening looking frigid items that inspire more shock and body horror fear than the sort of magical wonder Beauty and the Beast as a story should aim for? In some cases, like Lumiere, the physicality of the thing is outright ghastly and devoid of a way to match the personality to the look (which is why I enjoy animation so much). Is this deliberate? I hope not because it just shows contempt for the whole concept. Like, this screenshot from Twin Peaks is essentially the vibe I get from every single physical design of the house staff:
And yet their voices are so cheerful.
Speaking of the aesthetic, did Sarah Greenwood’s unicorn shit all over the fucking set and they couldn’t clean it up in time? This castle of the beast is a garish gold! The provincial town is fine if still lost in time, but who looks to these movies for temporal identity.
If you’re going to have a cast of singers, this isn’t La La Land where they’re meant to feel like real people. They better damn well sing and I will never EVER FUCKING EVER forgive director Bill Condon for having an autotuned Emma Thompson throw her Lansbury impersonation to perform a Daft Punk rendition of Beauty and the Beast. Let alone Emma Watson sounding like T-Pain overdubbed her.
Josh Gad’s self-aware post-modern performance would be welcome in a movie that’s obviously supposed to feel like a parody of Beauty and the Beast and even then… the stuff he says is just not funny. There has never been a comedy actor that’s made me more conflicted than Gad.
Tim Rice is not Howard Ashman. Because Ashman was a God and Tim Rice is a terrible lyricist. So please, stop using Rice’s fucking songs. “How Does a Moment Last Forever” and “Evermore” do not remotely compare to “Gaston”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “Belle”. Not to mention the visuals of those numbers are just fractured and not nearly as sweeping as the original.
More importantly somehow the movie thought “Daddy Issues” was the answer to making the Beast seem a much more interesting character and ignoring complaints Stockholm Syndrome. Instead it makes The Beast seem so petulant and it’s inconceivable how the brand new “feminist” version of Belle would be even remotely attracted to him.
The consequence of all this is padding a fleet 86 minute fairy tale to a 129 minute overgluttonous grotesquerie.
And because I am absolutely generous, I will also list everything I like about this movie’s existence.
The costumes are good in a cosplay contest winner sort of way. Nothing truly expressive, but Jacqueline Durran obviously wants to emulate the original in the most theatrical manner and gets the job done.
Ewan McGregor gives a fun vocal performance as Lumiere just chewing up scenery without even being physicially on-screen and his chemistry with Gugu Mbatha-Raw lights things up enough (pun intended).
McGregor, Mbatha-Raw, Stanley Tucci, and Audra McDonald have the most hilariously fake accents I’ve ever heard and put so much character and personality in their limited screentime that I would have much rather THEY were the stars of the movie.
And that’s it. None for Gretchen Wieners. Fuck this movie.
I feel like I’m going to be unfair to The Fate of the Furious and that’s coming from the fact that it is now the 8th film in the Fast and the Furiousseries, a franchise where I am head-over-heels in love with the lastthreemovies in despite a lot of the same flaws Fate indulges in. For one, it’s too long and that’s not something new or unexpected. Since Fast Five came out in 2011, producer/star Vin Diesel has happily indulged in bloated runtimes upwards of 2 hours to give the films an epic quality and that’s been something I’ve had no problem with, even if those movies were starting to drag during the home stretch. The other thing is that the writing is beaten to death with profundities about family and life lessons, usually espoused by Diesel’s tank top sporting Superman Dom Toretto to his motley crew he assembles during his adventures of distinct personalities and ethnicities (The Fast and the Furious‘ status as one of the highest-grossing franchises and one of the most culturally diverse is one I am very happy with). It’s no secret at this point how in love with himself Diesel truly is and yet when it comes to recognizing how Toretto looks out for his crew, it’s never any less than sincere and genuine.
I don’t want to claim the Fast and the Furious movies are poorly acted, but it’s absolutely not the stuff of Oscars. And yet every actor for the past few films have shown themselves to be comfortable in their roles, whether or not they’re effective in it. Most importantly, the villain of the previous entry, 2015’s Furious 7, is suddenly recruited as a member of Toretto’s family – not team, outright “family” as we discover by the end of it – and this despite spending the last movie murdering a member of said family and attempting to massacre the others (including blowing up Toretto’s home with his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew in the proximity). But hey, if they can roll with it…
For the last three movies, I could roll with it just alongside them, but this time around… I’m not sure I could, although I tried. Not as much as I feel the plot provided by Chris Morgan’s script wanted to destroy all the relationship dynamics by having the big hook of Toretto turning rogue on his family. Obviously, Toretto is not evil at this point, he’s just being blackmailed into performing cyberterrorist actions by hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron), a character who looks and sounds left over from the Matrix and is a significantly more boring than her henchman Rhodes (Kristofer Hivju). Cipher’s dialogue is itself overlong pseudo-intellectual attempts at being the opposite perspective from Toretto’s community attitude and that Morgan and Diesel don’t seem to believe this lends them to be braindead and boring. And my man… there is a lot of those moments, namely in a dark cramped aerial space while Diesel tries to mug his way to an Oscar. Sure, the previous three Fast and Furious movies are overlong, but this is the first one since… I guess since The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to be outright boring.
Anyway, Toretto’s absence from the main crew means that somebody out of the remnants – Tyrese Gibson’s Class Clown shtick (and only in a movie this dour can his performance somehow be a relief), Kurt Russell’s out-of-the-action Mr. Nobody, Michelle Rodriguez’s tomboyish Mrs. Letty Toretto, Ludacris and Nathalie Emmanuel’s duel younger modern hackers – has to take the lead and none of them ARE lead material. The Rock absolutely is but even ignoring the backstage drama between Rock and Diesel that promises less and less screentime for the former, it’s pretty clear Rock’s DSS Agent Luke Hobbs is too busy getting ready to have some hot and steamy shit-talking contests with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw (the aforementioned homicidal villain turned good guy) to try and take over the team. Not to mention nobody in this cast seems to be as into it as Statham, Diesel, Rodriguez, and Hivju and only Diesel is the one that gives a performance I’d gladly give 137 minutes to watch.
If I sound like I’m getting into the idea that The Fate of the Furious is simply not fun, that IS my point. I spent more time looking at my phone for the time than any other movie this year thus far. And yet all I’ve talked about is the plot to Fate rather than the actual action setpieces, the REAL reason anybody would bother to walk into a theater for these films. My friends… I’m afraid director F. Gary Gray (recruited, I feel, from the Awards hype of Straight Outta Compton from the awards-hungry Diesel) is a bad addition to the franchise. Whereas Justin Lin and James Wan both had an absolute disdain for real-world physics and embraced the ridiculousness of cars jumping out of planes and boxes destroying the police, Gray seems to take the action way too grounded to the service of choppy editing and geometry, not to mention this is the most CGI-ey of a franchise that obviously used CGI to jump cars between buildings, but also had a love for the cars physically in frame. If there’s one action element salvaged, it’s Statham and the Rock’s hand to hand combat scenes exuding their stage presence better than any words out of their mouths could. Otherwise, Gray has one good setpiece in his arsenal and it’s ironically the only time the franchise returns to the street racing roots it came from: a gorgeous photographic map of Havana as two cars intense parallel each other down an urban mile. So if Gray’s here to stay, maybe he ought to bring F&F back to Race Wars.
I dunno, maybe in later years, I’ll warm up to this as the natural narrative progression to the series since Paul Walker’s death, but it’s so self-serious and underwhelming in a way that I can’t see myself looking forward to that rewatch.
Somewhere down the line since Homewas miraculously able to keep Dreamworks Animation Studios alive at a time when its death seemed so very imminent, somebody up top in the creative sector must have realized “Hey, we have a color and shapes and depth that we can actually play with in our animated work rather than rely on our pop culture references and obnoxious music cues!” The consequence of which we’ve had three of the best-looking animated works they’ve supplied us to date – Kung Fu Panda 3(still my favorite DWA movie except for maybe How to Train Your Dragon), Trolls, and now 2017’s The Boss Baby. The Boss Baby, not having nearly as much moxie about lighting as Panda or color and camera movements as Trolls, is by a large margin the least interesting-looking of the three but it’s also the most pleasant surprise of them as well. That was going to happen regardless when a movie apparently invented solely on the gimmick of having Alec Baldwin play that cold businessman voice on a baby’s body comes across as halfway distant.
The Boss Baby is surprisingly more than that. It’s a shockingly well-earned narrative on growing up and how small changes to a child as young as 7-year-old Timothy Templeton (voiced by Miles Bakshi, grandson of the legendary animator Ralph) can be perceived as big things, something director Tom McGrath relishes portraying with the scale of set designs within spaces as small as Tim’s room to as vast as Las Vegas. The animation team ups the size of walls and shadows if Tim is in a bad mood, stretches the depth of field if Tim is feeling distant or isolated, practically shakes the frame with intense chase action setpieces. All with the editing by James Ryan letting us know what Tim sees happening is not necessarily what IS happening without undoing the bigness of Tim’s imagination that we’re spending our time in.
Which is probably what makes Michael McCullers’ screenplay (adapting Marla Frazee’s children’s picture book, though I do not know how faithful it is an adaptation) get to work so well despite a few logical gaps that go beyond “this is a kid making it up to explain his brother’s existence” and some dodgy dialogue (I have a friend who works in a theater who walked in on the line “Suck it! Don’t you want to know where baby’s come from?” without seeing what’s on the screen and boy that must’ve been uncomfortable for him). McCullers starts simple enough: Tim’s parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) come home suddenly one day with a new baby (Baldwin) who dresses in suits and spends his day plotting a takeover of the parents’ invested love towards the two children. Tim is obviously using this theory to deal with the fact that he’s getting too old for the bedtime stories and that he has a responsibility to take care of his new brother and both Bakshi and Baldwin are great enough voice actors to give this “worlds apart” antagonism that lends the two a believable cadence as siblings but a prickliness to grow into their distrust and hate of each other. That’s when The Boss Baby is at its best, including a surprisingly uninsulting usage of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” as an emotional motif. It’s still got its problems – the trailer already warned me of the random audience-ignorant throwback to Baldwin’s famous Glengarry Glen Ross rant and I still rolled my eyes; the movie trades DWA’s soundtrack and pop culture reference M.O. for toilet humor, which is the number one way for me to guess a family film hates kids – but it’s satisfying during that first third of its runtime.
Then there’s the moment it doubles down on what the Boss Baby’s secret mission is, for it is established early on in a fairly cute opening credits sequence depicting a Busby-Berkeley-esque factory for babies to be either sent in the real world or work for Baby Corp. with the consciousness of an adult… and that’s already weird and something that demands a lot more from the audience than you want to do for a children’s film out the gate. Anyway, the deeper Tim and the Boss Baby get into working on that case, the more convoluted the screenplay becomes and the tangle never really gets cleared up until the last 15 minutes when our protagonists are in the wind-down of their accomplishments and trying to remember this is essentially about Tim dealing with his family issues, not whatever the Boss Baby’s career aspirations are meant to be. This is a very labored plot that doesn’t seem to feel that family dynamic is enough to carry the film and while I don’t think it’s wrong, I would have rather it taken a leap of faith on just being Tim vs. The Boss Baby than the direction it went with introducing The Big Boss Baby (Steve Buscemi) as a myth and then an antagonist.
OK, so when I actually look back at the mess that is the plot, my eyes do start to water, but they’re not watering when I look at the roundness of the baby characters (The Boss Baby has a whole squad and this is the closest DWA came to good-looking human animation with how adorable they are shaped) or the brilliant boldness of the fantasy-esque sequences in Baby Corp in all its light, white-set colorings. Nobody expected to hate The Boss Baby more than I did as an uninspired children’s flick without a semblance of fun, but it’s actually just light enough as fluff to make me consider that maybe Dreamworks Animation has been growing better and better. Maybe I won’t even dread the next film they make with this streak they’re on.
I’ve been struggling to write my pained angry review of Beauty and the Beastpartly because I have no way to not turn everything all around to the injection of Daddy Issues and that is, at best, just a couple of scenes.
James Gunn’sGuardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2is proving to be a tougher time as it is loaded to the brim with Daddy Issues and, while this was a shocker even before the trailers with Kurt Russell’s reveal as Peter “Starlord” Quill (Chris Pratt)’s father Ego showed up (given Yondu’s very last lines in the first movie), I’m not 100% certain it felt organic to the film. Largely because Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 means backpedaling a lot on the relationship growth between the central group: Starlord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper, motion captured by James’ brother Sean Gunn, who also gets a live-action role as a space pirate Ravager), and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are almost all pushed backwards into feeling more like people who just met each other than a team who had their fair share of trials together. This is most severe on Rocket, whose retrograde is how the plot kicks off, but it’s also lessened by the fact that Cooper is just a fantastic voice actor in the role and sarcastic and biting things to say are like a second language to him. Can’t say the rest about most of the other cast members – the energy in both Pratt and Bautista’s comic element seems to be draining, but they put up a good fight and Diesel’s voice is at this point so altered he feels like a practical non-entity. Saldana at least gets more to work with in Gamora’s continued feud with her cyborg adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) (with its own amount of ties to daddy issues), but it’s tough to keep yourself engaged in that story when one of the characters is a stern and terse figure and the other is written as a one-emotion character of rage. Which is not to see Saldana and Gillan can’t make their arc work, but it doesn’t make for compelling cinema.
That’s a lot more words than I intended to open with ragging the hell on a movie that I actually walked out enjoying and liking. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 may have not known the proper way to bring back its characters, but it’s actually some of the most impressive visual work Marvel has done since the first movie came around. The bold and bright color palette design of the first movie is now bolder and brighter and yet still balanced by the hands of Scott Chambliss, even when it’s complete blocks of one shade like the gold of the Sovereign throne room and the wonderous kaleidoscopic fauna of Ego’s… well Ego’s home world, I will stick to in order to avoid spoilers for people who aren’t fans of the comic. And this in itself is home to some wonderfully kinetic comic book framing by Gunn and cinematographer Henry Braham, which in turn lends themselves to the most creative fight scenes the MCU has brought us this side of Captain America: Civil War. A zippy arrowflight shown via closed-circuit television, an opening monster battle out of focus in the background as Baby Groot dances along to the best soundtrack he could. Yep, there is now a second Awesome Mix with songs I am compelled to say I overall prefer to the selections in the first movie’s Awesome Mix – Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” (which was on the soundtrack to my high school angst), and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me” – but I’m not so sure about how its used in the film. A lot more inorganically (like the character developments) and sometimes blatantly recycled or out of place (“The Chain” appears in one scene it doesn’t need to and the movie cuts the song before it reaches its awesome climax) and yet there are moments like the aforementioned arrow battle that it works like magic or Rocket’s ambush of Ravengers using traps and guerrilla tactics. Basically as an aesthetical delight, this movie delivered some and more on feeling like the trailer to Thor: Ragnarok thought it was gonna be the first zany and bouncy MCU film.
And then there’s still the fact that not all of the characters are a wash. Sure, Michael Rooker is not playing Yondu, but instead a version of Space Merle, but the extended screentime in the presence of Space Merle and the new ties he has with the Guardians (and chemistry with Rocket) is wonderous thing (generally, getting a closer look at the Ravagers culture appeals to the punk in me). Kurt Russell has moxy enough to believe that he and Pratt could be related while turning his charm levels up high for when the movie is expects him to about face as a character. And Pom Klementieff is the best possible new discovery as Ego’s cute socially awkward empath Mantis, who seems to have stolen all of Bautista’s oblivious humor and yet is generous enough to make the two actors a perfect odd couple to share the screen with together. Yeah yeah yeah, she’s a Born Sexy Yesterday, but a fun and unsexualized version.
It’s weird to admit I was dreading this as a simple retread (and it IS) and sure it does not earn its 130 minute runtime, but it is the most fun you could have being recycled another storyline and isn’t it enough to ask we have a good time? If Marvel can keep things at that level like Vol. 2 and Ragnarok promise, I can see myself getting tired of the “same-old comic book movie” criticisms.
Director/Writer Jordan Peele’s Get Outis a special sort of screenplay the likes of with I can’t remember having encountered since Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day. It is the sort of screenplay where the writer wanted every single element that comes up to turn around full circle by the end of the film like Chekov’s Gun on maximum. Which leads to storytelling on paper that is rich enough to have the audience speculate on a character’s eating habits (even though Peele has gone on record claiming any possible reading of said moment is inadvertent on his part) or the motivations of its antagonists as they traumatize and assault black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) on his visit to meet the white family of his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). And this is especially wonderful when a movie is as eager to function as commentary on anything, let alone racial commentary which Get Out is for the majority of its duration. Very rich and deep commentary on race that also shows off Peele’s knowledge about horror structure and how he uses it (namely the beats of The Stepford Wives, itself a commentary on gender roles). That and Peele having a great handle on the comedy to keep it from undercutting the unsettling control of atmosphere and tone.
Oh yes, despite the spoilerific marketing driving home the idea that Get Out is an all-the-way horror film from the go-to indie horror house Blumhouse, Get Out IS in the end a horror-comedy. There is a sect of its fans that argue it’s not, but there’s way too prevalent an edge of satirical surrealism and a subplot that is so often brought up calling it a “subplot” feels inadequate is so unambiguously comedic in execution (not only does this subplot have an integral part in the final act, it practically gets the last word in the movie) that I can’t imagine anybody trying to sell that Get Out is not a horror-comedy unless they feel there’s a negative connotation with associating it with comedy. Which to be fair, it could be assumed that Peele – best-known for his comedic partnership with Keegan Michael-Key – was unconfident enough in his ability to make a horror movie that he had to use comedy as a crutch, but whether or not that’s the case, it just feels like almost every single choice we see on-screen was one he had absolute control over. He certainly had that much clout as an artist today.
Anyway, I mentioned the subplot of Chris’ best friend, TSA worker Rod (Lil Rey Howery), and his paranoia about the trip Chris is taking without elaborating on the actual plot as is, so let me backpedal as is. Like I said, Chris and Rose go on a trip up to what looks like it has to be an isolated New England town (though the film was shot in Alabama) Rose’s overtly rich white liberal parents neurosurgeon Dean and therapist Missy, who are given perhaps the most inspired piece of casting in the form of the wonderful Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. Both of them, especially Dean, are remarkably fulsome to Chris’ arrival and it only gets worse later on when they have a backyard dinner party where the degree to which Chris is complimented and questioned on his racial makeup, how it affects his experience in America, and – most creepily – his bodily anatomy becomes aggressive and disarming and yet, shockingly, not antagonistic. In fact, the only outright form of antagonism is from Rose’s douchey masculine brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), drinking and trying to try MMA moves on Chris.
And that’s the wonderful surprise about Get Out and its tackling of racism: we’re used to a certain portrayal of racists in pop culture and media that it has to be angry white conservatives who absolutely scowl at black people are uneducated and so on, but not here. No, Peele is not interested in that but in how white liberals’ eagerness to be so sincerely helpful to the black man can be translated into patronizing microaggressions and that sometimes meaning well doesn’t mean shit if you’re making someone uncomfortable. And sometimes you can still be tone-deaf about some things, like having a black groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson) and maid (Betty Gabriel).
The sincerity of the villains’ actions and comments is legitimate. They seem to be motivated by a fascination with black people as possibly superior beings, not inferior and a desire to… well, I don’t want to spoil it, but it doesn’t feel like the villains hate black people at all. This sort of sharp exaggeration of how people want to look progressive without much identifying a minority as an individual is eye-opening to people like me who fit exactly into the target of this movie’s satire (and the ones it pisses off… well, the less said about them, the better).
There’s two main weapons to creating a satire so effective alongside Peele’s knowledge of the horror genre and they’re kind of complimentary to each other. The first is that the cast is just perfect. Like no argument about it, every single performance is perfect. Keith Stanfield, an actor I love so much he’s the sole reason I’m willing to watch Adam Wingard’s next movie, has little screentime and yet embodies two distinct personalities (one relaxed and genuine, the other restrained and mysterious) eerily and effectively. Keener and Whitford layer cringe dialogue of out-of-touch characters with sinister attitudes and that’s before the obvious reveal of their intentions with Chris. Gabriel certainly made a memorable turn in one single scene and one repeated “No” over and over (it helps that her big scene involves a constant close-up on Peele’s call), but best in show is unambiguously Kaluuya.
Because the second thing is that Peele’s trusts Kaluuya’s reactions to everything he’s being asked and going through that Peele’s direction can play with the ridiculousness of this situation being overt and almost comic. Indeed, that’s how a lot of the inquiries – namely “would you consider being black to be advantage or disadvantage?” or “I would have voted for Obama a third time” – are presented during the day as laughable as a Key & Peele skit, especially the dinner party. Kaluuya’s reactions and disarmament off-sets it from waving aside the problematic element.
And then there are the moments at night, which are intense and on Chris’ wavelength so that Kaluuya can guide the viewer to being unnervingly helpless just from his eyes watering and his hindered movements. And the movie gets visually interesting here, with Missy’s therapy sessions being a vehicle for engulfing blacks and ominous firelit interiors.
All of this trips when Get Out goes full-throttle in its final 20 minutes as a horror film, in which case it just becomes all the sort of disinteresting Blumhouse tropes I’ve never been moved by without an ounce of self-awareness until its final beats. This is also however the moment where the audience I was in the theater with (especially my girlfriend) got exhilarated by the action taken in a cathartic way, so that may just be me. In any case, the movie doesn’t stop with the subtle race jabs (especially with how Chris escapes), the design of the Armitage’s domestic dungeon, and the overall craft of Peele’s work on this most impressive and intelligent of film debuts until the credits roll, so what can I say except gesture at the great film Peele made up until that point.