Friday, December 30, 2016

Cimmerian Week, part V: Hey, maybe all this movie needed was a beard, and a little eyeliner


It may not be entirely devoid of any good points, but taken as a whole, Conan the Barbarian '11 is just about as bad as a remake of a great film could ever get.

Directed by Marcus Nispel
Written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood
With Jason Momoa (Conan), Ron Perlman (Corin), Rachel Nichols (Tamara), Nonso Anozie (Artus), Said Taghmaoui (Ela-Shan), Rose McGowan (Marique), and Stephen Lang (Khalar Zym)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A presence I've not felt since...


Wow, it really has been a good year for Disney, hasn't it?

Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, and Gary Whitta
With Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Alan Tudyk (K-2SO), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Imwe), Wen Jiang (Baze Malbus), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso), Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic), James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), and the Estate of Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin)

Spoiler alert: high

Monday, December 19, 2016

Cimmerian Week, part IV: And this story shall also be told


Welcome to the unlegendary journeys.

Directed by John Nicolella
Written by Charles Edward Pogue
With Kevin Sorbo (Kull), Karina Lombard (Zareta), Gary "Litefoot" Davis (Ascalante), Harvey Fierstein (Juba), Sven Ole-Thorson (King Borna), Thomas Ian Griffith (Taligaro), Edward Tudor-Pole (Enaros), and Tia Carerre (Akivasha)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cimmerian Week, part III: You're a brave girl, but danger is my trade!


The legend of Conan continues without Conan, but not without Schwazenegger, and what we get is a bog standard fantasy-actioner that does nothing very well and nothing very poorly.  It is content, instead, to just exist.

Directed by Richard Fleischer
Written by Clive Exton and George MacDonald Fraser
With Brigitte Nielsen (Sonja), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kalidor), Ernie Reyes Jr. (Prince Tam), Paul L. Smith (Falkon), and Sandahl Bergman (Queen Gedren)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Super Week, Addendum: Leave this place, and do no harm!


Now, what I said was, there was no such thing as a bad Superman movie—and it's a shame that it has to be phrased that misogynistically.  But here we are, and no matter how I phrase it, our return to Kryptonian cinema leads us to one of the most legendarily awful movies of the whole 1980s.

Directed by Jeannot Szwarcz
Written by David Odell
With Helen Slater (Kara Zor-El/Linda Lee), Mia Farrow (Alura Zor-El), Peter O'Toole (Zaltar), Maureen Teefy (Lucy Lane), Hart Bochner (Ethan), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Brenda Vicarro (Bianca), Peter Cook (Nigel), and Faye Dunaway (Selena)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XX: Stop saying "Casablanca"


Emptier than it has any right to be, considering what it wants to be about, Allied is a misstep from a master.  And while it's effortlessly watchable, because the only Zemeckis live-action joint that wasn't watchable came out almost four decades ago, it's still pretty close to the least-good good movie he ever made.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Steven Knight
With Brad Pitt (Wing Commander Maurice "Max" Vatan), Marion Cotillard (Marianne Beausejour), Lizzy Caplan (Bridget Vatan), and Jared Harris (Frank Heslop)

Spoiler alert: mild

Sunday, November 27, 2016

You can't expect a demigod to beat a decapod


For the first time in a long time, a movie lives up totally to my highest expectations.  Welcome back, Walt Disney.

Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, and Chris Williams
Written by Jared Bush, Pamela Ribon, Jordan Kandell, Aaron Kandell, Don Hall, Chris Williams, Ron Clements, and John Musker
With Auli'i Cravalho (Moana Waialiki), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Tala), Temeura Morrison (Chief Tui Waialiki), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina Waialiki), Alan Tudyk (Hei Hei the Chicken), and Jermaine Clement (Tamatoa)

Spoiler alert: mild

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reviews from gulag: The cover story we're going with is "borough-sized gas leak"

Welcome back to lazy reviews for lazy movies!  This week in lazy, there's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is kind of awful; fortunately, in the non-lazy column, we also have The Edge of Seventeen, which was good.  Note: there shall be some relatively minor spoilers for Fantastic Beasts.

It's 1926, and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a Hogwarts-trained cryptozoologist on the final leg of his global expedition.  Arriving in New York, New York, with a magical suitcase chock-full of supernatural critters, Newt's mission to catalog  and sample is derailed almost completely once his beasts are suspected of being responsible for a rash of magical disasters which threaten to reveal the existence of Wizard America to its secular counterpart.  In the process of escaping his accusers, Scamander teams up with a sympathetic Auror of the Magical Congress of America, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), as well as her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and, last but not least, the random Muggle who accidentally got roped into their mystical shenanigans, Jakob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).  But if any of them hope to survive, Scamander and his friends must clear their names, ensure that the mundane world and the magical realm remain healthily segregated, and prevent the real villain of the story (Colin Farrell) from raising up a monstrous "Obscuris," which turns out to be capable of wiping out all of Manhattan, both magical and regular alike.

So congratulations, nerd, if you knew what even half of the proper nouns in the preceding paragraph meant.  But at the risk of ruining your fangasm, I probably should mention that I dumbed it down a little bit anyway.  "Muggle," you see, is the British epithet for "regular human."  In America, however, our grand wizards use a different and much less credible word, "NoMaj," when they lower themselves to refer to those of us without magic in our blood.

As I am me, and I evidently have some kind of legitimate disorder, this minor linguistic disconnect led me down the dark rabbit hole—trying to figure out if, back in the 1770s, Wizard America fought a War of Wizard Independence against Wizard Parliament and Wizard England and Wizard King George, and, if so, did that mean there was a Wizard Glorious Revolution?  A Wizard Magna Carta?  A Wizard Norman Conquest?  And at that point, I realized: why the hell are the wizard states so incredibly determined to keep the two worlds separate, when it would be easy, and I mean Goddamn trivial, for their ancient and powerful orders to have established their own above-ground polity that didn't see fit to arbitrarily tie itself to human institutions and boundaries?  The reason, naturally, is that the Harry Potter novels are based in low fantasy, and are therefore required to bend their mythology around something that appears to be our real world.

But there is absolutely no good answer to that vexing question in any of these Harry Potter movies, including this one.  That remains the case even though this question forms the fundamental basis of the whole universe's underlying plot, insofar as just about every villain in the series is some kind of dire fascist who wants to tear down the barrier and put the human race to the wand (that is, just as soon as he's finished figuring out which wizards live, and which ones go to the Wizard Gas Chambers instead).  Before, it was Voldemort; now, in this prequel, it is an offscreened, Goldstein-from-1984-like fugitive by the name of Grindelwald.  Even so, Grindewald has an obvious onscreen adherent in the form of MaCUSA's mean-minded bureaucrat, Percival Graves, whom we find being played by Colin Farrell with an alt-right haircut, just in case we hadn't gotten the picture yet.  (Or it's just a 1920s haircut, but either way, repressed memories of Winter's Tale rise up, threatening to drag me back down to hell with them.)  Meanwhile, on the side of Muggle supremacy, we have Samantha Morton, playing a 20th century witchfinder general.  Her goal is to uncover, persecute, and ultimately liquidate the secret wizarding community.  And, much like the proverbial story of the dog and the speeding car, you really have to stop and wonder exactly what this bigoted idiot thinks she's going to do with all these wizards and witches, were she to really, truly catch them.

Here's the rub, though: "what's the deal with Rowling's geopolitics?" is simply not any kind of important question in a film series made for children.  And yet, when the ninth in that series turns completely upon the Statute of Secrecy (oh, great, another proper noun), you wind up thinking about Rowling's Fake Wizard History anyway, and whether their commitment to invisibility was ever a remotely good idea in the first place, given that some mighty asshole is just going to tear that veil to pieces regardless, and in the meantime maybe some of these all-powerful mages could cure some cancers, or maybe help us fight the Real Nazis.

Of course, the preceding three paragraphs strongly suggest two things.  One: I have never read a single damned word that J.K. Rowling actually wrote, and hence I almost certainly come off as an ignorant jerk.  Two: this new Potter-related product is simply not that interesting or enjoyable on its own merits.  Its nominal premise—that is, the premise that's etched into the title of thing—is the story of Newt Scamander, wandering the world and rescuing and/or enslaving various magical animals.  Frankly, that seemed like a pretty cute idea to make a movie about.  But director David Yates is here to disabuse you quickly of any notion that his movie will be about Scamander's quest (for that part's over before the movie even starts), or that his movie is going to be particularly fun in any other way.  Yates, turning in his fifth monochromatic Potter movie in a row, has grown so terrifyingly resistant to any color other than gray—even the color of Scamander's (allegedly) magnificent  menagerie—that his film would've seemed noticeably livelier had it been shot in black-and-white instead.

(And yet, please, let's be fair: Yates and his film's scenarist—that selfsame global sensation Rowling, presently adapting herself, because what would professional screenwriters know about writing movies that she couldn't pick up on the fly?—do see fit to insert a few moments of fantastic beastliness into their movie, which I'll remind you is called "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," thanks to a few key creatures escaping from the magical geometry of Scamander's steamer chest.  Perhaps needless to say, each of them has their own silly name, their own arbitrary behavior pattern, their own uninspired design, and their own multi-gigabyte file worth of semi-competent CGI rendering; and if you like Rowling's marginalia, I suppose I really can't imagine that you might find these scenes unpleasant or boring.  But, since I kind of hate Rowling's marginalia, and since they are clearly not worth talking about in any other context, I won't—except that I'll happily admit I did rather appreciate the miniature Groot thing, who clings to Scamander like he was its mother, and can also pick locks when called upon to do so.)

Anyway, at least the proper Potters had a justification for their darkening palette.  Yet I guess this one really does go in pretty much the exact same direction, so I can't say it's entirely inappropriate, even if the specific choice here reads a lot less, "this film is serious business," and a lot more, "this film is set in the 1920s, and apparently I, David Yates, am a shameless hack."

In the end, what Beasts represents is a helplessly anodyne fantasy adventure, with a few good ideas spread far between, and mired in 21st century action movie tropes that were already old years and years ago.  There is the hero who falls ass-backwards into heroism; there is the villain who's evil mostly for the sake of it; and, in the end, there is the great big Thing in the Sky Above New York.  (Indeed, it's even worse than most such efforts at Septembersploitation, for in Beast's climax, it hits you like a diamond bullet that, in 1926, the Manhattan skyline wasn't worth destroying yet.)  Beasts suffers from prequel problems, too, since we know in broad strokes that nothing that happens will really matter.

It seems like it could have been fun, though, and yet it escapes me exactly how.  Perhaps it might have been better if Eddie Redmayne, who I am now convinced is a good actor but also an almost-offensively obvious one, played Newt Scamander less as a cringing geek—he casts his eyes downward in almost every scene, as if he's afraid he's going to be struck with a newspaper—and more as what the scenario honestly seems to call for, a Doctor Who-type ascended nerd, lost in his own bullshit, and who can muster up only a tenuous appreciation of or concern for the problems of his fellows.  It might have been better still if Tina were not swallowed whole by Katherine Waterston's herculean struggle to keep up an American accent, and if she and Redmayne therefore had some manner of pleasant antagonism between them, rather than what they actually get: her yelling, and him looking sorry.

Finally, I think there's a decent chance that Beasts might've been legitimately good, if it had been reworked from the ground up to foreground the sole completely effective element of the whole film.  That would be Scamander's accidental sidekick, the Muggle he neglected to mindwipe, after bouncing him with a whole bunch of magic.  Dan Fogler is in fine form as Kowalski, all wide-eyed, slack-jawed, "I'll-wake-up-soon-right?" wonderment.  (And there's just something honestly charming, in a deciedly old-school way, about the cute little miscegenation-fetishist romance that pops up between him and Queenie, the witchy flapper, whom we are not remotely prepared to believe when she says she's never met a NoMaj before, considering that she lives in New York, and is, also, an adult who presumably sometimes goes grocery shopping.  In any event,this relationship  is rather more charming than the one that "develops" between Kowalski and Scamander, for this relationship appears to be largely nonexistent outside of their tepid Screenwriting 101 exchanges.  It's definitely more charming than Scamander's relationship with Goldstein, for this one exists only in Yates and Rowling's imaginations.  And it doesn't show up on the screen until a final farewell scene, the likes of which would come off as genuinely confusing, if it weren't also rote-as-shit pseudo-romantic boilerplate.)

Still, if he were absolutely nothing else, then at least Kowalski represents something altogether novel in this franchise: a human being, whose only defense against wizardly magic is to punch it right in its stupid, ugly, elfin face.  Or maybe it was a goblin.  I can't tell, because I'm not a racist.

Of course, even when you spot the film Rowling's comparatively low level of interest in what I presume must be, ironically, her most unique character of all time, Kowalski is pretty ill-served by a script that forgets he's right there, sitting at the same table, while people talk (in the third person) about "obliviating" him.  So: even in a screenplay where Rowling jams hatefully self-aggrandizing lines like "I don't got the brains to dream this!" into Kowalski's mouth, that dinner scene still has to contain the film's most arrogant moment—that is, when it assumes that just because the audience might know what Rowling's made-up English-adjacent jargon is supposed to mean, a layman who didn't would simply sit there quietly during the discussion of what to do with him, without immediately interjecting: "Hey, you swell buncha guys ain't about to murder me, right?"

But somehow, the most arrogant moment isn't also the most condescending, which is to say, its most outright insulting.  That moment comes a few hours after the credits roll, when you realize, with cold fury, that something like 10,000 people must have died during the climax of this film, yet the only thing the wizards have really accomplished when they "fix it" is simply ensure that the Muggles don't know why so many of their fellows perished.  (In the conclusion of Beasts, Jon Voigt's grieving father presumably forgets that his beloved son's organs were crushed into paste by an Obscuris, and one imagines that he will spend the next several weeks wondering why the lad won't return his phone calls.)  Rowling seems certain you won't notice this nasty turn—because her wizards did resurrect some Goddamn buildings.  That's this movie, guys.  So magical!  So wondrous!  So enchanting!

Score:  4/10

Saturday, November 12, 2016

So now when the aliens come, they're going to talk to Donald Trump, and maybe you should just think about that for five seconds if you didn't vote for Clinton on Tuesday, you stupid, useless fuck


Well, you can't say it doesn't try, and there are wonders to be found here.  It's impossible to fault Arrival for its ambition, only for its execution; but, God, that execution sure does turn into something lousy in the end.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Eric Heisserer (based on the short story "The Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang)
With Amy Adams (Dr. Louise Palmer), Jeremy Renner (Dr. Ian Donnelly), and Forest Whittaker (Col. Weber)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Lost horizon


There is so much in Doctor Strange that's almost great, and you wish it could just drag itself over that line; and, then, in the end, it finally manages to drag itself right onto that line, leaving you slightly confused about exactly how to score it.

Directed by Scott Derrickson
Written by Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill, and Scott Derrickson
With Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Stephen Strange), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo), Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One), Benedict Wong (Wong), Rachel McAdams (Dr. Christine Palmer), and Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, October 31, 2016

Census Bloodbath: And then it just ends, with her and Falkor flying off into the sunset—it was weird

October's end draws near—and so once again it's time to pull the old switcheroo with Brennan Klein, the finest human being I know not related to me by blood or sexual intercourse!  And so shall it ever be: while Brennan reviews three wonderful Cardboard Science classics over at Popcorn Culture, handpicked by yours truly for their moral uprightness and fine craftsmanship, we intend to wallow in whatever sleaze and gore that Brennan's deemed fit for me to review, in the form of three entries from Brennan's centerpiece feature, the increasingly-complete encyclopedia of the 1980s' slasher phenomenon that he calls Census Bloodbath.  But we take our duties seriously here, and, as usual, I'm having a blast.


Directed by Tibor Takacs
Written by David Chaskin
With Jenny Wright (Virginia), Clayton Rohner (Richard), Stephanie Hodge (Mona), and Randall William Cook (Dr. Alan Kessler/Malcolm Brand)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Census Bloodbath: Hit me, hit me, hit me, hit me with those laser beeeeeams

October's end draws near—and so once again it's time to pull the old switcheroo with Brennan Klein, the finest human being I know not related to me by blood or sexual intercourse!  And so shall it ever be: while Brennan reviews three wonderful Cardboard Science classics over at Popcorn Culture, handpicked by yours truly for their moral uprightness and fine craftsmanship, we intend to wallow in whatever sleaze and gore that Brennan's deemed fit for me to review, in the form of three entries from Brennan's centerpiece feature, the increasingly-complete encyclopedia of the 1980s' slasher phenomenon that he calls Census Bloodbath.  But we take our duties seriously here, and, as usual, I'm having a blast.


Directed by Jim Wynorski
Written by Steve Mitchell and Jim Wynorski
With Kelli Maroney (Alison Parks), Tony O'Dell (Ferdy Meisel), Karrie Emerson (Linda Stanton), Russell Todd (Rick Stanton), Barbara Crampton (Suzie Lynn), Nick Segal (Greg Williams), John Terlesky (Mike Brennan), Suzee Slater (Leslie Todd), Paul Bartel (Paul Bland), Mary Woronov (Mary Bland), and Dick Miller (Walter Paisley)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Census Bloodbath: A dangerous method

October's end draws near—and so once again it's time to pull the old switcheroo with Brennan Klein, the finest human being I know not related to me by blood or sexual intercourse!  And so shall it ever be: while Brennan reviews three wonderful Cardboard Science classics over at Popcorn Culture, handpicked by yours truly for their moral uprightness and fine craftsmanship, we intend to wallow in whatever sleaze and gore that Brennan's deemed fit for me to review, in the form of three entries from Brennan's centerpiece feature, the increasingly-complete encyclopedia of the 1980s' slasher phenomenon that he calls Census Bloodbath.  But we take our duties seriously here, and, as usual, I'm having a blast.


Directed by Larry Stewart
Written by Charles Pratt, Jr.
With Daphne Zuniga (Kelly Fairchild), Marilyn Kagan (Marcia), Hunter Tylo (Alison), Paula Knowles (Beth), James Read (Peter Adams), Joy Jones (Heidi), Frances Peterson (Megan), Robert Dowdell (Jason Randall), Clu Galager (Dwight Fairchild), and Vera Miles (Frances Fairchild)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Joe Dante, part VI: It's a town full of losers, and we're pulling out of here to win


If Joe Dante ever did make a masterpiece, you're looking at it.  What it does right, it does better than any other film of its kind, and what it does wrong is still hypnotically fascinating.  You know, like a car crash, only one with a lot of allegorical portent to go along with all the twisted metal and ruined lives.

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Eric Luke
With Ethan Hawke (Benjamin Crandall), River Phoenix (Wolfgang Mueller), Jason Presson (Darren Woods), James Cromwell (Mr. Mueller), Dick Miller (Charlie Drake), Amanda Peterson (Lori Swenson), Leslie Rickert (Neek), and Robert Picardo (Wak)

Spoiler alert: severe

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Joe Dante, part V: After all, the only thing that any 21 year old man, who already owns one dog and lives in his family's attic, could ever want for Christmas is a surprise high-maintenance pet


It's a rollicking good time, that much is for certain.  But indefeasible greatness wasn't in the cards for Dante this time around, even if you'd never know it from Gremlins' enduring reputation, its endless imitators, or its enormous box office success.  No, I suppose I'm definitely in the minority camp on this one.  And that's just for liking it—rather than loving the living shit out of it, as any boy born in the 1980s is required by federal law to do.

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Chris Columbus
With Zach Galligan (Billy Peltzer), Phoebe Cates (Kate Beringer), Hoyt Axton (Rand Peltzer), Frances Lee McCain (Lynn Peltzer), Corey Feldman (Pete Fountaine), Dick Miller (Murray Fetterman), Howie Mandell (Gizmo), and Frank Welker (Stripe)

Spoiler alert: high

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cimmerian Week, part II: "And I suppose nothing hurts you." "Only pain!"


Even though there are still things to love about this watered-down sequel, it's one damned hard comedown.

Directed by Richard Fleischer
Written by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and Stanley Mann
With Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan), Tracey Walter (Malak), Mako Iwamatsu (Akiro the Wizard), Grace Jones (Zula), Olivia d'Abo (Princess Jehnna), Wilt Chamberlain (Bombaata), Pat Roach (Toth-Amon), Sarah Douglas (Queen Taramis), and Andre Rene Roussimoff (Dagoth)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Reviews from gulag: Tom and the Holograms

2016 keeps rolling along, despite our best efforts!  Here's three more for the pyre: The Birth of a Nation, De Palma, and A Hologram For the King.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION (Nate Parker, 2016)
In the early 19th century, Nat Turner (Nate Parker) is born on a slave plantation in Virginia.  He grows up, and comes to seize ahold of a grandiose, annihilating vision of racial justice: the eradication of the slaveholding class of the American South.  With a band of followers, he pursues his dream to its foregone conclusion, namely his own execution, but in the process he manages to shock the system he despised, and his name and his fame (or, perhaps, his infamy) live on.

Probably the single best thing about The Birth of a Nation—and I've got to warn you, this is pretty unfortunate—is still just its title.  That title is the cleverest fucking thing, but when it's also the cleverest thing Nate Parker ever gets up to here, it really must register as an estimable pity that it didn't get to be the title for a much better movie—one that, you know, actually managed to earn the subversive force of it.

Instead, Nation turns out to be Nate Parker's one man show: a somewhat aimless, even somewhat artless exercise in building in his own brand.  Perhaps needless to say, that doesn't really do the material much justice, social or otherwise.  It is certainly insufficient to overcome one's feeling that Parker himself is a very bad person, and this goes double when something like one-third of Parker's movie is devoted to a slavery-was-an-American-rape-camp narrative, giving Nation the same extraordinarily bitter flavor of a picture like (for example) Polanski's Repulsion—wherein your response is unavoidably conditioned by your extrinsic knowledge that the man bringing you this tale is, himself, far too deeply compromised to have the moral right to tell it.  (Shucks.  And after I promised myself I wouldn't mention any of that business, too.)

The fundamental problem with Nation isn't just that it was helmed by Nate Parker, the Bad Man, however.  For one thing, there are more people involved in a movie than just its director, even if there are somewhat fewer in this case than there usually would be, once you take Parker's position as Nation's writer-director-producer-star-and-scenarist into account.

But even then, let's be crystal clear: the fact that Parker is the star of his own movie is definitely a problem, and not for any external reason on this count, either.  Rather, it's because whatever acting prowess the man might possess—I rather enjoyed his supporting turn in Beyond the Lights—it has very obviously not been honed to the level it needs to be at for this particular role.  Thus does Parker provide his presumably-complicated hero, a man decried by many as an actual madperson, with roughly one single note per any given scene throughout the picture; and, because Parker evidently lacks much in the way of imagination, that note is almost permanently set to "theatrically angry at the world," except in the scenes where that note is "noble martyr"; and, of course, there is a smattering other scenes, wherein there aren't any notes to speak of at all.  Finally, there is always a certain lack of the heavenly fire you'd hope for, even in the notes Parker gets right.

So, seriously, I can't even tell anymore: should I be annoyed that the best performance in Nation comes either from noted white boy Armie Hammer, as Turner's master who thinks himself kind, or from Roger Guenveur Smith, as the Turner plantation's senior house negro who thinks himself wise?  You know, as opposed to the deeply, deeply backgrounded ensemble of abused and desperate field slaves, not to mention the film's protagonist?

The point is, whatever cosmetic indications of hubris that Nation no doubt displays—e.g., the filmmaker's name showing up in the credits roughly eighty times, and that's before you even get to the smaller print—the most glaring overreach of all is when he decided that Nate Parker was the man destined to portray Nat Turner.  (And this was clearly meant to be.  I mean, gosh, they share the same Christian name and everything.)

But, as I was saying: the fundamental problem with Nation isn't Parker, the Bad Man, it's Parker, the Mediocre Director.  He has no solid idea what his film ought to be, and it inevitably becomes something of a slurry (probably not intentionally), sometimes a very gripping slurry based on the content alone.  However, it just as often invites comparisons that it cannot easily survive: very unfortunately, Nation spends almost all of its two hour runtime laboring in the shadow of its immediate predecessor in bondage, McQueen's grim, methodical portrait of a human being being broken, 12 Years a Slave; and then, once Turner's rebellion has (finally) arrived, it leaves McQueen's shadow only to cross over into the penumbra of the other big slavery movie of recent years—namely, Tarantino's unhinged, borderline-pornographic historical revenge fantasy, Django Unchained.

Well, in the end, Nation splits the difference between those two extraordinarily different movies, and that's just no place for any film to be, unless "resolutely middle-of-the-road" was, in fact, always Parker's goal.  Indeed, Nation escapes a serious competition with Tarantino's picture solely because it appears to have no opinion to share about the Nat Turner Rebellion in the first place, except that a rebellion of some sort was justified, which is not necessarily something anyone needs a movie to tell them.

Therefore it cannot simply be a joyous explosion of rage, leavened with tragedy thanks to our foreknowledge that Turner's rebellion shall not succeed; nor can it be a troubled examination of the wisdom and morality of what Turner actually did (namely, annihilate families, including children—though, interestingly, not always!).  In fact, once Nation arrives at the Rebellion itself, it starts to come perilously close to refusing to function on the level of basic storytelling, presenting the events of Turner's 48-hour war as a rushed-through montage that keeps getting more and more elliptical as it goes on—and never to much of any cognizable purpose, either.  It is a baffling choice; and, ultimately, the story of the Rebellion shatters entirely in the editing room.  It is something of a surprise, given that the rest of the film has been nothing much more than a sturdy progression of things-that-happened; it is not much of a surprise, however, that in very short order Parker's quotidian direction reasserts itself, and Turner gets his Braveheart finale.

The result, sadly, is a film that is possibly already a little too long for the mere thing that it winds up being—a competent but never compelling biography (and not a terribly accurate one, if I'm not mistaken)—and which is also vastly too short for what that written-in-blood title advertises it as—namely, an epic historical fiction that actually has something subversive and edgy to say about race, either then or now.

So why does Nation not grapple more forcefully with its questions of tactics and morality?  Indeed, why does it do so precious little with what it does have?  Is it because it is, effectively, Oscarsploitation, assuming itself to be important because of its subject matter, rather than on its merits?  Possibly so.  Another explanation presents itself, however.  That's because it's Parker's very first feature length film as a director—and first-time directors don't typically cut their teeth on politically-charged prestige films about difficult characters for a good reason.  Parker acquits himself well enough behind the camera—he certainly has a halfway-decent eye for the tableau, if not for how to place them within a sequence to make them truly land—but he has no idea what to focus on.  Thus we get furtive glimpses of Turner's visions, when the full Ken Russell Freakout might have sold us on Turner's unerring certainty that he was on a bona fide mission from God.  We get all the ugly interstitial scenes of slavery we could want, in order to give us all the old time holocaustal catharsis we could need, but Parker tends to shy away from letting his film truly absorb the violence inherent in his scenario.  And we get the vague sensation that Parker is setting up Turner as the man who fired the first shots in the great war of liberation to come, yet, somewhat curiously—given the climate of 2016—there is not a whole lot of suggestion that this was a struggle that concluded without the fullest possible satisfaction.

Even so, the most redemptively cinematic moment in Nation's whole two hour span is its very final image: a match-dissolve from a black child to a black man, wearing the Union blue thirty years down the line.  It is the littlest bit trite—though it is perhaps somewhat less trite, when you know precisely who is growing up to be whom.  Either way, it does have a legitimate power to it—the kind of power the rest of the movie doesn't actually seem that interested in wielding.

But even then, if that's where this is all heading—"isn't it nice that the Civil War happened?" (and, yes, it was!)—then what we have is just about the safest movie about Nat Turner a man could possibly make.  And, sure, a pretty decent one, at that.

So, if I have regrettably done very little but complain about the thing, it's only because the substantial good that Nation offers is just not very interesting to talk about.  That's because—let's say it again—it's so fucking safe: from the way it redacts its chosen subject matter, to the way Parker services his vision of a bloody rebellion, even to the way that it characterizes Turner's breaking point.  It is scarcely good enough to be safe, I'm afraid, and in its essential tidiness, you almost wish it were a grasping, stupid, ambitious mess, instead of being safe and just okay.  Given its cool reception, I wouldn't be surprised if Parker himself wishes that, too.

Score:  6/10

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cimmerian Week, part I: The riddle of steel


Blessed with a director, a composer, and a team of designers all operating at the very height of their powers—and blessed further by a cast with all the right skills to pull this story off—Conan the Barbarian set fire to the box office back in '82, and it's no mystery why.

Directed by John Milius
Written by Oliver Stone and John Milius
With Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan), Sandahl Bergman (Valeria), Gerry Lopez (Subotai), Mako Iwamatsu (The Wizard of the Mounds), William Smith (Conan's Father), Nadiuska (Conan's Mother), Max von Sydow (King Osric), Valerie Quenessen (Osric's Daughter, The Princess), Sven-Ole Thorsen (Thorgrim), Ben Davidson (Rexor), and James Earl Jones (Thulsa Doom)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Joe Dante, part IV: Altered beast


Hey, one out of three ain't bad!

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Jack Conrad, Terence H. Winkless, and John Sayles (based on the novel by Gary Brandner)
With Dee Wallace (Karen White), Christopher Stone (Bill Neill), Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski), Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan), Dick Miller (Walter Paisley), Patrick Macnee (Dr. George Wagner), Elizabeth Brooks (Marsha Quist), and Robert Picardo (Eddie Quist)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Joe Dante, part III: The music that expresses the culture, the refinement, and the polite grace of the present day


Gabba gabba hey.

Directed by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante
Written by Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush, and Joe Dante
With P.J. Soles (Riff Randall), Dey Young (Kate Rambeau), Vince Van Patten (Tom Roberts), Clint Howard (Eaglebauer), Paul Bartel (Mr. McGree), The Ramones (The Ramones), Lynn Farrell (Angel Dust), Dick Miller (The Police Chief), Loren Lester (Fritz Hansel), Daniel Davies (Fritz Gretel), and Mary Woronov (Prinicipal Evelyn Togar)

Spoiler alert: mild

Sunday, September 25, 2016

When Jaws dies, nobody cry


No, seriously: what about the words "Dino De Laurentiis" and "Jaws with an orca" does not compel you to see it for yourself?

Directed by Michael Anderson
Written by Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, and Robert Towne (based on the novel Orca by Arthur Herzog)
With Richard Harris (Nolan), Charlotte Rampling (Dr. Rachel Bedford), Will Sampson (Jacob Umilak), Keenan Wynn (Novak), Bo Derek (Annie), Peter Hooten (Paul), Robert Carradine (Ken), and Yaka and Nepo (the Orca)

Spoiler alert: high

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Joe Dante, part II: Lost river


Well... plastic fish being rubbed on a bunch of appliances representing human flesh is kind of scary.  I guess.

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Richard Robinson and John Sayles
With Heather Menzies (Maggie McKeown), Brad Dillford (Paul Grogan), Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Robert Hoak), Keenan Wynn (Jack), Shannon Collins (Suzie Grogan), Paul Bartel (Mr. Dumont), Dick Miller (Buck Gardner), Bruce Gordon (Col. Waxman), Barbara Steele (Dr. Mengers)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Friday, September 23, 2016

Joe Dante, part I: If it's a good picture, it's a Miracle


Most directors' first films aren't great ones.  Maybe most directors' first films aren't even particularly good ones.  But somehow, when that filmmaker is Joe Dante, you'd expect more than this.  Hell, you'd expect more if the filmmaker were Roger Corman—but even by that standard, Hollywood Boulevard remains a piece of questionably moral trash.

Directed by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante
Written by Danny Opatoshu
With Candice Rialson (Candy Wednesday), Rita George (Bobbi), Tara Strohmeier (Jill), Dick Miller (Walter Paisley), Pat Hobby (Jeffrey Cramer), Paul Bartel (Eric von Leppe), Roger Doran (P.G.), and Mary Woronov (Mary McQueen)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Reviews from gulag: Komedy round-up!

Two frighteningly bad, one pretty damn good: our catch-up with 2016 continues apace, with a sequel to a pair of romantic comedies, that's worthless even within the context of its half-crappy franchise, Bridget Jones' Baby; a backstage melodrama about comedy, that's even more worthless than that, Don't Think Twice; and one utterly delightful eco-comedy, The Mermaid, which is the sort of miracle that reminds you that comedies don't have to be completely terrible after all!

BRIDGET JONES'S BABY (Sharon Maguire, 2016)
Twelve years on, Bridget Jones (Renee Zellwegger) is still single, because we're apparently ignoring the living shit out of how her last film ended up, with her engaged to Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), her greatest love.  But where there's life, there's hope, and Bridget manages to get herself impregnated, either by the random (yet implausibly dreamy and rich) tech guru she recently met at a musical festival (Patrick Dempsey), or—surprise, surprise—by one Mr. Darcy.  Can you guess how this all will end?  You can; you almost certainly already have; and therefore there's absolutely no reason for you to waste two hours and two minutes of your life seeing it play out in what amounts to excruciating slow motion.

There are lazy sequels, and then there are lazy sequels.  Bridget Jones's Baby is a dictionary-definition version of the latter.  It is the latecoming third offering in the series which began reasonably auspiciously in 2001 with the success of Bridget Jones's Diary, and continued three years later, with Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.  As such, it had no particularly great expectations to live up to, given that its immediate predecessor was already pretty bad—and the franchise's progenitor, itself, is likewise not any gold-plated kind of good.  Simple mediocrity, then, would have put it completely on par.  BJB doesn't meet even that minimal standard; it is handily the very worst of the lot.  Now, those first two films burned through a whole laundry list of sins—the sins of being instantly forgettable, of being terrifically pandering, of not being especially funny, of calling Renee Zellwegger fat every ten minutes, and (above all) of condescending totally to their target audience with a heroine who is, at best, only vaguely likeable, and, at worst, a mildly annoying nonentity, yet is still somehow the romantic focus of two loosely-drawn dream boys.

But those first two Bridget Jones pictures redeem their sins a little bit, because the farcical, almost magical-realist tone they each whip up manages to serve as a pleasant backdrop to an ongoing romantic triangle that, whether or not it's more than marginally credible, and whether or not it's particularly heartfelt, does still manage to be kind of actually enjoyable.  They did this through the expedient of giving its two wish-fulfillment figures to Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, who performed their one-note roles with capable aplomb.  Grant played up everything scummy about his tantalizing bad boy; Firth, meanwhile, was busy being the Firthiest version of himself he could be—which is more-or-less to say, he looks absolutely miserable that he even chose acting as a career in the first place.  But since this is exactly why we like Colin Firth, you can't say you never had any fun with him here.

Obviously, it would be unfair to say Renee Zellwegger herself had nothing to do with the films' (apparently) tremendous appeal.  And I would be the last person to say it.  To the extent that Diary (and its derivative and racist follow-up) ever wind up featuring a worthy protagonist, it's almost entirely due to her efforts at forging a human being out of the shards of ignorance and ill-judgment that constitute the simulacrum of singlehood called "Bridget Jones," so that what we actually saw was a woman whose major tragic flaw was that nobody had ever bothered teaching her the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.  And this went an awful long way to covering up the films' problems, explaining why she kept getting angry at her two lovers for, essentially, being the vacant romantic comedy archetypes they were.  (And, of course, it also helped explain why she kept stinging Mark Darcy right in his fucking neck—two films running!—when they were already halfway across the river.)  The point is that Daniel and Darcy were very well-opposed forces, and this lent their films a certain watchability.  Well, in Bridget Jones's Baby, the notion of Daniel shows up—while Hugh Grant emphatically does not—only so the screenwriters can savagely execute his character offscreen.

But, because this is a Bridget Jones movie, and because reinventing the wheel at this point would be way too much work, he inevitably does have a replacement.  And this man is categorically unacceptable, on pretty much every level possible, except that "he is an attractive age-appropriate partner for Bridget"; but maybe that's just as well, too, since the premise is even more unacceptable still, for once BJB gets going (it takes something like fifty minutes) every last thing in this film comes to turn entirely upon a question of paternity that, with our science, ought to be answered within a couple of weeks.

It is not answered, however, because Bridget is squeamish and refuses an amniocentesis.  (And she really shouldn't be squeamish about it, because not only is Bridget herself getting old, both of her prospective sperm donors are a lot closer to their graves than they are the maternity ward, too.  Incidentally, the only person to escape BJB with honor is Emma Thompson, as Bridget's OBGYN.)  But, of course, "responsibility" and "consequences" and "agency" have never been tremendously big issues in the Jones universe.  And never less so than now, when the script commits fully to its conceit of not one but two possible fathers, neither one of whom so much as raises an eyebrow, let alone a voice, over the fact that Bridget is willfully refusing to disclose which one of them is the guy who knocked her up.  And so the pandering has reached, in this third installment, the level of crazed pornography.

The worst of it is, it's the sort of thing that could be effortlessly handwaved away—Bridget tries! there's complications! and now she's legitimately afraid—and the writers would have actually made the melodrama tighter for their effort.  But effort is the last thing anyone was putting into this.  Even Firth is just on Firth Autopilot—which is still kind of funny, but it's not that funny.  Especially not when BJB's sense of humor can be summed up by its trailer-ready "setpiece," a lamaze class with two men, wherein Dempsey's watery billionaire and Firth's stolid super-lawyer are (gasp!) mistaken for a gay couple—and this is supposed to be amusing, for despite all the wear-and-tear you can see on the actors, it's pretty clearly going to be 2001 forever in Bridget Jones's boozy bourgeois rendition of the hellhole called London.

But, you know, at least this gag has the decency to have a punchline, even when that punchline is not really anything more profound than Firth in a reaction shot, easing us back into laughing at some unpalatably stale homosexual panic, with a look that's (cunningly enough) a lot more weary than it is actually anxious.  Unfortunately, most of BJB's efforts at comedy only get to the set-up, before they stop.

So, behold: there are vile hipsters running Bridget's tabloid media show now, and, boy, do they ever have some stupid facial hair!  (That's the joke.)  Thrill, as Bridget goes into labor and must hitch a ride with a pizza delivery truck, which is itself delayed by a feminist protest, and isn't that some value of ironic!  (That's the joke.)  And laugh, I guess, when BJB goes completely out of its way to set up a potentially delightful farce, wherein our heroine must doublespeak to both her men at once—and to a perfect stranger, too!—in order to keep the uncertain paterntity of her baby a secret, but then, presumably because good farce turns out to be hard to write, just has her vomit out the truth, about thirty seconds after she's told the brown guy to buzz off, because, sadly, he won't be needed for this bit.  (And, yes.  That is the joke.)

Finally, then, just die a little bit inside, as the screenplay tries quite desperately to convince you that the billionaire's utter lack of personality and charisma—these are replaced by his invention of a dating website and a so-called "love algorithm"—is supposed to have the mildest thematic value.  (Should I have mentioned that the billionaire's name was "Jack Qwant"?  Why, do you think that's funny?)

Well, in case these examples don't make it entirely clear, this whole movie is obnoxiously tilted toward some of the flimsiest and most hypocritical generational warfare you'll have the chance to see this whole damn year.  (Not enough examples?  How about "Bridget gets fired by her hipster bosses, which is bad, somehow, even though she was fired for being demonstrably unethical and bad at her job"—and, obviously, this seemingly-important plot element has virtually no plot ramifications.)  Now, it is never once as labia-out offensive as Edge of Reason's third act detour into a Thai prison—mostly because almost no movie is, up to and including The Temple of Doom—but it is one whole hell of a lot more consistently grating, in its general disdain for Millennials as well as the year it's supposedly set in.  I half-expect the editor's working title for this film was Bridget Jones's Snide Insert Shots of Trendy Beards.  This fucking movie voted for Brexit.

But, of course, this is the same movie that can't so much as bother alluding to how the ending of Edge of Reason came undone in the first place.  So you just can't claim anything like real surprise when it doesn't wind up putting any of its boundlessly-lacking energy toward being actually humorous or insightful, rather than just being generally blithe and intermittently playful, kind of like a cat that has cancer.

In fact, when the offscreen death of Daniel Cleaver is also the funniest joke BJB ever manages to make land, that should probably serve as some kind of warning in its own right.  Indeed, it ought to have served as a warning to the filmmakers themselves: because if you can't even get Hugh Grant to sign up to your lousy movie in 2016, then why in God's name are you bothering making it at all?

Score:  3/10

Thursday, September 15, 2016

There is a place where dreams survive


It's my birthday, and I can indulge if I want to.

Directed by Nelson Shin
Written by Ron Friedman and Flint Dille
With Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Judd Nelson (Hot Rod), Lionel Stander (Kup), Robert Stack (Ultra Magnus), Neil Ross (Springer), Susan Blu (Arcee), John Moschitta, Jr. (Blurr), Gregg Berger (Grimlock), Eric Idle (Wreck-Gar), Frank Welker (Megatron), Chris Latta (Starscream), Frank Welker (Soundwave), Leonard Nimoy (Galvatron), Frank Welker (Wheelie), and Orson Welles (Unicron)

Spoiler alert: high

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Coens, part I: What I know about is Texas, and down here, you're on your own


Though not without a few rankling problems with its plot and staging, Blood Simple is almost too good to be a pair of inexperienced brothers' first time at bat.

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
With Frances McDormand (Abby), John Getz (Ray), Samm Art-Williams (Meurice), Dan Hedaya (Marty), and M. Emmett Walsh (Loren Visser)

Spoiler alert: moderate, considering it's also 31 years old
Note: this review is based on the very slightly re-edited "director's cut" of Blood Simple released in 2001

Monday, September 5, 2016

I'm not even ovulating, you idiot


Close to ideal for what it aims to be, most of the issues that Don't Breathe has comes from writing itself into a corner, then writing itself out with a sticky keyboard.  And let's call them issues, because "problems" might overstate the matter, simply because this movie's so nuts, and I'm terribly loath to condemn a preposterous thriller like this just for going nuts.  As for the rest of it, outside of one or two annoying characters and a yawning gap or two in its premise—hey, did you not see those two words, "preposterous thriller"?—but other than that, well.  It's damn near unimpeachable.

Directed by Fede Alvarez
Written by Rodo Sayagues and Fede Alvarez
With Jane Levy (Rocky), Dylan Minnette (Alex), Daniel Zovatto (Money), and Stephen Lang (The Blind Man)

Spoiler alert: moderate? high?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Reviews from gulag: It's been a year since I haven't hit double-digit updates in a month, and, God knows, upwards of four people must be relying on me

Several factors have combined to make updating burdensome, not least my general ennui, which does indeed feel more like an actual gulag every day.  But, enough about my bullshit problems.  I've still managed to watch a few movies lately.  This isn't an exhaustive list, obviously, but I promised myself I wouldn't let a 2016 release slip by without reviewing it if I actually took the time to watch it.  Thus do I present these four semi-brief reviews: Imperium, The Innocents, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Knight of Cups.

IMPERIUM (Daniel Ragussis, 2016)
After a derailed train points to the theft of a shipment of cesium-137, our empathetic and intuitive hero, FBI Agent Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe), is sent undercover amidst neo-Nazis to ferret out the domestic terrorists who intend to unleash a dirty bomb attack upon an American city and use the catastrophe to bring about the race war they've always wanted.

You'd like to start a review by saying something like, "Imperium is at its best when..."

Obviously, that's when you suddenly trail off and realize you have absolutely nothing to say about it that sounds anything at all like a real compliment, and this is the case even though there's hardly one thing that's badly, overtly wrong about the movie—at least once you get past all the smaller nitpicks, here and there.

Not that those nitpicks are nothing.  For example, in our empathetic and intuitive hero, Nate Foster—I swear that phrase must be written in the treatment, and the script comes perilously close to just saying it out loud, in actual fucking dialogue—we get what seems like it must be the billionth artless recapitulation of the Clarice Starling arc, something that will never get old in Silence of the Lambs, and something that will (apparently) never be done well ever afuckinggain.  In this instance, we find Imperium abandoning the inefficient concepts of "subtlety" and "nuance" in its bid to rush-characterize our protaongist, presenting the FBI office he works for less as a disciplined police force and more as a frathouse with a stricter dress code.  It's an effort that winds up making America's premier law enforcement agency appear to be only slightly more professional than ISIS on Archer—and possibly less competent.  The one point they score, and it was the only point they needed to score, was at the expense of our post-9/11 tunnel vision, for it seems that only the empathetic and intuitive Nate Foster, along with his handler, Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette), can conceive of the mere possibility that it was anybody other than a bunch of radical Islamist brown people who might've stolen all that delicious cesium.

Those aforementioned qualities of subtlety and nuance aren't in big supply throughout Imperium's runtime; the very closest it ever gets is what I suppose writer-director Daniel Ragussis thinks is a clever reversal of expectations, in the form of a white supremacist nutjob (Sam Trammell), who (gasp!) has a job, lives in the suburbs, loves his children, keeps his rabid racism on the down-low, and somehow doesn't even have a giant swastika tattooed on his face!  Incidentally, if you can't figure out where this movie is heading within seconds of his introduction, then you've got no sympathy from me, bud.

At the center of it all, we have Daniel Radcliffe, apparently continuing his program of working exclusively with directors who share his given name.  It's kind of hard to imagine whatever else it was he saw in Ragussis' screenplay.  Maybe it was just one more chance to shed the Potterness of his persona; perhaps it was the potential to play in the same sandbox of capital-I Importance that Ed Norton did, in American History X.  (And yet, of course, as an undercover agent who's only pretending to be a Nazi, Radcliffe's very nearly completely boxed in when it comes to grappling with any of the human motivations behind historical evil.)  Either way, the result is an intermittently mediocre performance that peaks completely at "merely effective," notably in a scene where he has to quickly come up with a reason why it might be a bad idea to murder a Hispanic man on the street in broad daylight, especially when he and his skinhead buddies have literally just stepped out of a liquor store with some booze that they'd paid for with a credit card.  It's possibly a better scene than that summary makes it sound.

But, as noted, this is mostly nitpickery; the film doesn't want to be anything more than a somewhat socially-aware thriller.  And it mostly plays.  The overarching problem here is that everything about it is so unnecessary—and, not to put too fine a point on it, so meagerly rewarding.  Imperium is the most cautious, anonymous film I've seen the whole year—maybe in several years—and I'd say it felt like television (network television), but honestly even that's not a comparison that it completely survives.  Practically nothing in the entire movie hits you and makes you say, "This is poorly made," but that's when you realize it simply doesn't feel "made" in the first place.  Its absence of personality is positively palpable—sometimes, it's even oppressive, particularly when the screenplay keeps putting words into the characters' mouths that suggest that this was supposed to be some kind of an examination of the subjectively-experienced trauma Nate is meant to be undergoing.  It is, obviously, not that: subjectivity is missing entirely from the film; the cold, cruddy objectivity it actually delivers feels like a mere demonstration that the director was capable of creating a functional object; and style must have been a four-letter word, considering that the quotidian cinematography, editing, performances, and dialogue all soon merge into a slurry of indifferently competent mediocrity.  Hell, Imperium doesn't even really handle time very well.  We've got, on one hand, a ticking clock scenario; on the other, we have what's supposed to be Nate's grueling process of "becoming the enemy."  (In point of fact, these Nazis are pretty damned easily bamboozled by a shaved head and hilariously obvious lies.)

The closest Ragussis gets to anything like flair is when he ham-handedly injects quick-cut montages of white supremacist imagery into the film—Klansmen, Nazi rallies, and the like—barraging the viewer with ugly images of white hooligans playing dress-up.  In other words, the operating mode of Imperium is barren sterility, and when the director finally tries to punch it up, he winds up making a feature film that's distinguishable from a high school kid's YouTube video about tolerance purely because you get a close-up of a former wizard looking constipated at the end of it.  So if I had said it's like TV—which, again, it isn't, because even something as determinedly-formulaic as SVfreakingU reveals a vastly superior command of cinematic language as a form of artistic expression than Imperium ever does—but, anyway, if I had said that, what I'd have meant was this: you watch it, you don't necessarily mind it, and yet you still feel vaguely bad about it, because when you're done, there's not a single thing about it that lets you so much as pretend that it wasn't wasting the shit out of your time.  There are far worse films that have been released this year, to be sure; and yet, in its way, Imperium discredits the idea of movies more than any of them.

Score:  5.01/10

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Super Week, part V: This is an imaginary story... Aren't they all?


Personally, I adore it, but wouldn't it have been improved by a giant mechanical spider?  (If not, then how about a pair of better actors in the lead roles?  No?)

Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Dan Harris, Michael Dougherty, and Bryan Singer
With Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Kal-El), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), James Marsden (Richard White), Tristan Lake Leabu (Jason White), Frank Langella (Perry White), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen), Marlon Brando's digital ghost (Jor-El), Parker Posey (Kitty Kowalski), and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor)

Spoiler alert: high

Monday, August 22, 2016

Super Week, part IV: Global thermonuclear war


Bad?  Hell, maybe it is, by some half-imagined objective standard for what it means to be "good."  But Superman IV is the furthest thing from unwatchable, and remains to this day one of the most faithful adaptations of the idea of "the superhero comic book" as has ever been brought to the screen.

Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Written by Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, and Christopher Reeve
With Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Kal-El), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Mariel Hemingway (Lacy Warfield), Sam Wanamaker (David Warfield), Jon Cryer (Lenny Luthor), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), and Mark Pillow/Gene Hackman (The Nuclear Man)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Super Week, part III: Superdick


If for nothing else other than evening out the tone of the franchise, Superman III should be congratulated—even if it only got evened out in favor of idiotic hi-jinx.  The point is, at least it feels of a piece with itself, and that's some kind of improvement over the patchwork of Superman II.  Obviously, however, nobody in their right mind would ever describe it as an actual better movie.  Or would I?

Directed by Richard Lester
Written by David Newman and Leslie Newman
With Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Kal-El), Annette O'Toole (Lana Lang), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Richard Pryor (Gus Gorman), Pamela Stephenson (Lorelei), Annie Ross (Vera Webster), and Robert Vaughn (Ross Webster)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Super Week, part II: So this is Planet Houston


Notice how all my themed weeks take at least two to get finished?  That's what they call a "running gag."  Anyway, Superman II: charming in its crappiness.

Directed by Richard Lester and Richard Donner
Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton, and Tom Mankiewicz
With Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Kal-El), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Sussanah York (Lara Lor-Van), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Ned Beatty (Otis), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), and Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Jack O'Halloran (Non), and Terence Stamp (General Zod)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, August 15, 2016

We killed you once already, damn you!


When a movie comes along that's this pointedly indifferent to one of its own central jokes, you just aren't going to wind up loving it; but that doesn't mean you can't still like it an awful lot, and respect the hell out of how well it handles its other central joke.  Can you handle your sex almost annoyingly juvenile, and your ultraviolence surprisingly awesome?  Because that's Sausage Party.

Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon
Written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg
With Seth Rogen (Frank), Kristen Wiig (Brenda), Jonah Hill (Carl), Michael Cera (Barry), Ed Norton (Sammy Bagel, Jr.), David Krumholtz (Kareem Abdul Lavash), Paul Rudd (Darren), James Franco (The Druggie), and Nick Kroll (Douche)

Spoiler alert: mild