Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Lobster (2015)

Last night Erin and I watched The Lobster on a semi-whim (not what we were after, but still something we both wanted to see). At the end, Erin felt the movie was ruined and hated it. I couldn't stop smiling and loved it, even though the movie took several surprising turns. Erin, of course, asked me why I loved it, which I couldn't really articulate the reason at the time.

I loved it because it's audacious and original and a complete world unto itself. I loved it because it was macabre and hilarious and violent.

Mostly, I loved it for scenes like this: (spoilers, obviously, because why write about a movie if you can't write about all of it)

David goes to the Limping Man and Nosebleed Woman's yacht test, seemingly to kill them. But -- twist -- all David does is blow up Limping Man's spot: he's faking the nosebleeds. They're not a match!

David proceeds to make a list of all the ways that Limping Man fakes a nosebleed. Then, taking in the blood stains on Limping Man's shirt, David creates a new list of all the products that Limping Man uses to fake blood stains instead of having to bother faking the nosebleed.

David turns back to confirm what a great job he does of eviscerating John's hope of a future, takes in current stain anew, then adds beetroot juice to his list. He turns back to Nosebleed Woman, and he's so damn proud of himself for coming up with beetroot juice.

Everyone is passionless and strange in their interactions for the run of the movie, so it falls to beetroot juice to bring David joy. David thought he had everything figured out. He gets to surprise himself instead. No one else is particularly surprised or happy, but, hey. It was nice moment for David.

Beetroot juice is why I love this movie.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Crimson Peak (2015)

Sometimes it's easy to figure out why you don't like a movie. I often don't like lazy characterization or a lack of female characters. When I didn't like Black Mass last month, I didn't like it because the centre didn't hold. It didn't make sense to me that anyone -- anyone at all in that movie -- would be loyal to a guy like Jimmy. Despite excellent performances across the board, Johnny Depp wasn't as magnetic or as menacing as he needed to be to develop the kind of over-the-top loyalty that, say, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) displayed. And, if you can't buy that, what can you buy about the rest of the movie? (Benedict Cumberbatch making eggs, as it turns out).

But not liking Crimson Peak ... that's been a little harder to put my finger on. 

I didn't like Guillermo del Toro's last outing, either. Of course, I don't remember all the much about Pacific Rim or why I didn't like it. The only thing that really stands out to me two years on is that all the fight scenes took place at night in the rain, and I couldn't tell the aliens and the humans apart. We kept cutting back to the boring people (so boring) swooping their arms around in the Jaegers, and I was like, "My kingdom for a daylight fight!" 

My initial reaction was to label Crimson Peak as shallow. Everyone's motivations are on the surface, and it takes nanoseconds to figure out what's "really" going on (hint: exactly what you think). 

I started to compare it to The Woman in Black in my mind (a movie which starred Daniel Radcliffe's sad eyes and some shadows), and then I realized what I really didn't like about Crimson Peak: it's not a haunted house movie.

Bear with me because I know that sounds like a YP. BUT! The movie's called Crimson Peak and the ghosts are all like, "Beware of Crimson Peak", and Tom Hiddleston warns that the house "starts holding onto things... keeping them alive when they shouldn't be", so you'd think that the very place presents a clear and present danger. 

I am here to tell you: it does not. 

Sure, there are ghosts, but they aren't even malevolent ghosts. Despite being black or bloody skeletons whose clothes go up in evaporating wisps (make no mistake - this movie looks wicked cool), those ghosts are simply trying to save Mia Wasikowska from getting her silly self murdered. Which makes them Caspar's creepy cousins. 

So even though the house is -- and again this is visually stunning -- oozing blood from the walls, the house is actually just a house. Jessica Chastain is a crazy killer, and Tom Hiddleston is her somewhat unwilling accomplice, and there you go. Run away, Mia! Run away!

Here's what I imagined, though: that Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston were, in fact, centuries-old supernatural beings that are kept alive by ritually sacrificing young girls to their spooky demon house. But with the advent of, I don't know, modern detection, it's getting harder and harder to marry ladies, take them away, and kill them every couple of years. Jessica Chastain thinks they should just keep going, Louise, but Tom Hiddleston -- 'cause he actually likes Mia Wasikowska -- thinks they should just throw in the towel. Mia, however, has other plans (agency!). She's been having encounters with ghosts her entire life, and she is not about to leave these poor tormented souls trapped in this hell house. She's going to put them to rest!

Not to get all choose your own adventure (although they do, briefly, discuss choose your own adventure books), but that five minute treatment I just dreamed up is easily more entertaining that the movie I saw. 

Fun alternative: Hiddleston is so anemic looking in this movie that you can pretend he's still Adam from Only Lovers Left Alive and is mere seconds away from biting these ladies, then writing an opera about it.   

Dare to dream, self. Dare to dream.

UPDATE: I just realized that, like the story Edith is initially peddling, this isn't a ghost story, but a story that happens to have ghosts. Nicely done, del Toro, but also no.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Noah (2014)

Hey, were you ever reading the Biblical account of Noah and thought to yourself, "You know, this story could be improved by . . . "

  • Noah as a crazed vegan and environmentalist on a murder spree?
  • Barbarian hordes?
  • Giant rock monster-angels?
  • Magic snake skins?
  • Methuselah serving psychedelic tea?
  • Ham's horny teenaged shenanigans?
BUT did you get to the part where Noah gets drunk and passes out naked, and his sons are like, "Gross, Dad" and think, "Now we're talking!" 

Then has Darren Aronofsky got a movie for you!

I don't really have anything else to say about this movie. It's Aronofsky, so it looks stunning, and I dig all prehistoric CGI animals (one of them had scales made of bark!).

But Russell Crowe plays the most dour Noah imaginable. He also ages a good 20 to 30 years over the course of the movie while his wife, Jennifer Connelly, looks exactly the same from beginning to end.

Mostly -- strangely -- it's about how Ham (Logan Lerman) really wants to get laid, world-ending-deluge be damned. I guess you could say it's a movie about the practical difficulties of faith and interpreting the will of God, about knowing who to trust when they say that they know the will of God, and about seeing your way through disaster for the promise of brighter future.

But mostly it's about how Ham's kind of a d-bag, and Noah's entire family should learn to recognize the opportunity to tie up a psycho killer when they have it.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

12 Years a Slave (2013)

I feel like writing about the Best Picture nominees (that I've seen).

I don't think this movie could have been made by an American.

Or, I should say, I don't think this movie could have been properly made by an American.

It's an odd thing to say since I'm no big fan of Steve McQueen. His movies have left me cold in the past. There's a distance between creator and subject that prevents the audience from really feeling.

There's some of that here, too, and I worried early on as I watched the steamboat paddle-wheel spin (amidst some nagging The Master flashbacks) that this movie would be part and parcel with the rest. It's not. And while that's in large part due to Chiwetel Ejiofor, it's also down to Steve McQueen.

I almost can't believe I'm writing this, but . . . his subtlety and restraint do wonders here. An American director would revel in the viscera of every beating. He would flash chyrons on the screen with the passage of every year to make you feel the weight of them like bricks. He'd rub your nose in blood to make sure you really get how horrible slavery was.

McQueen, on the other hand, accomplishes the same task in a far more lyrical, ephemeral, and unsettling way. Years melt away without any understanding of where in the 12 you might be. It's made clear that Solomon is whipped daily under Epps (Michael Fassbender) for failing to pick the quota of 200 pounds of cotton, but you never see it up close. It's far off in a field, and you watch the other slaves react. You watch their lack of reaction.

Somehow, somehow, McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley and Ejifor turn it all around to make the movie not about the physical brutality of slavery but the heavy psychological cost. Benedict Cumberbatch does lovely work as a preacher whose heart rends at the thought of separating mother from child but still who prioritizes his pocketbook over the pricking of his conscience when Solomon reaches out. Solomon says over and over that he will not give into despair, and you watch him struggle to carry not only his own compassion but also to carry it for everyone else around him. They've given up trying, letting him stretch on a noose with his toes sliding in the mud for hours and hours.

The picture I chose comes from a scene that illustrates so exactly what I am talking about that it almost feels like a cheat to bring it up. You spend the entire time plastered to the back of your seat, breath caught in your chest, and just when it feels like the moment is finally going to let up, the camera pulls back to punch you in the gut. No American would have been able to go in for that shot without giving the game away first. No one but Steve McQueen could have pulled it off, I suspect.

A note about the viscera: if you're sensitive about that sort of thing, I don't want you to read what I wrote and think, "Oh, it's fine. I can handle that." There is viscera. When it comes, they really make it count.

But also, don't give up on this movie based on what you can handle. It's worth the weight.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

Jamie Campbell Bower and Lily Collins
© 2013 Constantin Film International GmbH and Unique Features (TMI) Inc.
There are two ways of looking at the latest YA would-be blockbuster adaptation: as a perfectly ordinary teen fantasy flick or as a truly dispiriting adaptation of one of the best kitchen sink fantasy series I've come across in a long time.

To be honest, I don't really want to get into the perfectly ordinary part of this convo. Aside from some super smart casting (I pretty much loved everyone in their roles, though Robert Sheehan as Simon is the standout), the movie starts to lose steam somewhere around Magnus' party and never really picks back up. The Mortal Cup becomes more and more of a MacGuffin (why do the vampires want it? And why would they kidnap Simon to get it?), so, by the time Jonathan Rhys Meyers and his insane hair/clothes/face come out of the puddle in the wall, you're just sort of over it.

I've been trying to puzzle out exactly what went wrong with this adaptation beyond the aforementioned Meyers and the completely baffling decision to reinvent his character from the ground up. I think I've finally put my finger on it: the movie pulls the book's punches.

[In honour of the return of Extra Hot Great!, spoilers ahead, fun ahoy!]

There's nothing more important than Valentine being Jace's dad. Not just as a reason to keep Jace and Clary apart (that's sort of secondary). It's that Jace's entire emotional arc over the course of all five of these novels is keyed into that one point. How he was raised and what that means for him -- the dichotomy between the man he was raised to be and the man he wants to be, and, yes, what that means for him and Clary, is tied up in one simple idea: Valentine as Jace's dad. Not as a trick suggested by Hodge (to what end?) or some sort of mental jiu-jitsu on Valentine's part. To look at the man who raised you and to realize what he is and to have to make difficult choices based not on pleasing him but on your own heart, that's the essence of growing up. And you can't really have a YA series where no one grows up.

The rest of it, I can sort of understand. Seraph blades are essentially angelic lightsabers. Bringing Alec and Isabelle to the Hotel Dumort allows for an action set-piece in the middle of the movie for the entire cast. Telling Luke's entire backstory would take forever (though the net result is that Luke ends up looking like a Jacobian interloper instead of a crucial component of Clary and Jocelyn's lives). Showing Jocelyn fighting and taking the potion serves the twin purposes of giving you a reason to care about her and justifying hiring Lena Headey for the role.

Of course, doing all that undoes the twin slaps of finding out that Jocelyn did this to herself and that she never wanted Clary to know anything about it. She's softened up, so Clary can have her cry at the end and tell her unconscious mom that she forgives her. Valentine's softened up from killing his whole family to maybe killing only two people. Hodge stays and fights (and dies?) instead of running the first chance he gets. Alec almost dies saving Clary's life instead of trying to impress Jace. So, while we're at it, why not let Clary keep the Mortal Cup instead of losing it to Valentine?

If you are going to mess something up, why not really, really mess it up?

Which brings me back to Valentine. If you are looking for a modern equivalent of the Valentine Morgenstern of the books, look no further than Vladimir Putin. He draws you in with a great deal personal charm and charisma, and you think it's so funny with his vigorous torso and bear staring. And then he starts taking away people's rights, and you realize he's a monster. Always has been, always will be. That's Valentine. Buttoned up cruelty. Not, you know, this:

The sad thing is that this movie is dying at the box office, which means it probably won't get the same chance The Hunger Games got to course correct. I was supposed to wrote a book vs film for that one, and I never quite got around to it. It wasn't even until the third time I saw the movie that I finally got what I didn't like about it: good is the enemy of great. Chasing a family friendly rating chases the greatness right out of that novel. You have to feel each death. What's more, you have to feel the way the entire system is rigged from start to finish, not just in the arena, but in every single district. The way Katniss wants to ask the rare senior in 12 how they managed to live so long. The way Rue describes how hard they work and how little they get in return, but at least they have music. It's all arenas all the way down.

I still don't think Mortal Instruments is as good, but it's still better than Twilight and that pile had hundreds of chances. Is it so wrong that I just want a chance to see the development of Jace, the greatest Shadowhunter the world has ever known? Jamie Campbell Bower's hair looks like it smells and his wardrobe is deplorable, but he does interesting things with his fingers that catch my attention despite myself. He deserves his chance to do a swan dive off the balcony instead of stupid faux-Valentine and his wet leather pants.

Besides, don't you want to see Clary tear that ship apart?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

World War Z (2013)

Brad Pitt, Abigail Hargrove, and Mireille Enos
© Paramount Pictures
Turns out that if you are looking for an example of Hollywood's sexist attitude toward women, particularly in action movies, you need only cast your eyes back to last month's release of World War Z.

Poor Mireille Enos. By now everyone knows that the original ending of this movie was scrapped, and massive rewrites drastically changed its content. But since the other ending would have been pretty damn sexist, too, we might as well stick to what's made it to the screen.

So here's what we get: in exchange for keeping his family safe and fed, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) has to go back to work as a UN investigator to help put an end to the zombie apocalypse. While it's natural to not want to be separated in a time of crisis, his wife Karin (Enos) objects on the grounds that the job is too hard on Gerry.

I mean, women, am I right? Always nagging you to not go out there and save the world, thereby ensuring that your daughters can grow up without getting eaten by zombies. You know, if you can even survive that long. Because what about your feeeeelingsssssss?

Before you start to object that that is just one scene, it also includes her very passive-aggressively remarking that she will be the one to keep their family safe (because, again, ending the zombie apocalypse and provide them with safe passage until that end is totally the opposite of keeping one's family safe). And that would be the sum total of her scenes, unless you also want to count the time that she calls Gerry at the exact wrong moment, inciting a zombie attack. AmIrite?

By way of not-actually-achieving balance, the movie does feature another central, strong female character. She gets to occupy a role traditionally held by a man and by styled like a man as well. It kind of feels like a zero sum game.

I don't know. There's a fantastic opening sequence, where the whole world just goes crazy and you don't know why, and you run, run, run, trying to survive. But after that, the movie just deflates. Gerry flies around picking up clues (thanks, Michiel Huisman! Come back to Nashville soon!), and I'm sort of in love with the 10th man rule, but the resolution is so boring and abrupt that it's hard to believe it's happening, even as Peter Capaldi assures me it is.

It's just . . . alright, spoilers, you guys. If you had a pen and multiple pieces of paper, and you were about to inject yourself with a deadly virus because you have no play left but to test your theory that zombies don't bite the dying, and you wrote a message to hold up to the security camera, would you write, "Tell my family I love them"? Or would you write what you were taking and the dosage? Because it strikes me that a personal message is some page 2 stuff.

This whole movie is page 2 stuff.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Jam 2013

I stole this from mouthonlinedotcom
In addition to being my fabulous brother's birthday (Happy birthday, John!), it's also the first day of summer, which means it's time to choose my summer jam.

Origin story: Amy and I once did a Saturday glass art course where we made table tops. The glass lady left some Galaxie station on in the background all day. Unlike the stations I listen to, this one only had so many songs, so the same ones popped up many times over the course of the day. At first, I didn't like Ben Lee's "Catch my disease." It's a pretty groody title, after all. Eight hours later, I was brainwashed. By the time it came on in the car on the way home, I declared it my summer jam.

So, what am I looking for in a summer jam? It's gotta be fun and upbeat and danceable. Danceable is a pretty flexible idea 'round these parts because it basically means that I boogie around my apartment while it's on. Summer jams get a very heavy rotation for the season and help me reset when needs be.
No depress-o feelings-y shizz allowed.

Here are some previous entries in the summer jam series:

Evern, "Do I Go"

Ida Maria, "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" (Not family-friendly, obvs)

The Gaslight Anthem, "Meet Me By The River's Edge"

The Gaslight Anthem, "Biloxi Parish"

Icona Pop, "I Love It"

They don't have to be new or even new to me. They just have to have that nebulous quality that tells me they are going to set the right tone for the season.

I'm not 100% yet, but here are the front runners so far:

Chuck Ragan ft Brian Fallon, "Meet You In The Middle"

The Gaslight Anthem, "Film Noir"

The Gaslight Anthem, "Handwritten"

Motion City Soundtrack, "Bad Idea"

Not that there's a pattern there or anything . . .

Anyway, I'll let y'all know when I finally get around to making a choice. Which one will I take, Rebecca Black?