Monday, May 30, 2016

At least everyone agrees that the third film in a series is always the worst!


A letdown of massive proportions (in all but one very crucial way, that is, since I guess I'll never not be impressed by Bryan Singer's super-speed shenanigans).  But, as for everything except Quicksilver, X-Men: Apocalypse kind of sucks.  It kind of sucks hard.

Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and Bryan Singer
With James McAvoy (Prof. Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Kodi Smitt-McPhee (Kurt Wagner), Alexandra Shipp (Ororo Munroe), Olivia Munn (Psylocke), Ben Hardy (Angel), and Oscar Isaac (En Sabah Nur)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Eros & aristos


A frothy little near-frivolity, and I guess I wouldn't have it any other way.

Written and directed by Whit Stillman (based on the novell Lady Susan by Jane Austen)
With Kate Beckinsale (Lady Susan Vernon), Morfydd Clark (Frederica Vernon), Chloe Sevigny (Alicia Johnson), Stephen Fry (Mr. Johnson), Xavier Samuel (Reginald DeCourcy), Emma Greenwell (Catherine DeCourcy Vernon), Justin Edwards (Charles Vernon), Tom Bennett (Sir James Martin), Jenn Murray (Lady Maria Manwaring), and Lochlan O'Mearain (Lord Manwaring)

Spoiler alert: mild

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cardboard Science: If God's a-comin', He ought to make it by then


George Pal comes back to Hollywood, to the science fiction genre, and to H.G. Wells, all at once, with his second directorial feature.  Happily, Pal's The Time Machine is a true classic of the genre, at turns almost hypnotic in its proto-psychedelic visuals—and, in that grand Wellsian tradition, possessed of an unsubtle but well-taken point about the era its creators happened to live in, too.

Directed by George Pal
Written by David Duncan (based on the novella by H.G. Wells)
With Rod Taylor (H. George Wells, the Time Traveller), Alan Young (David Filby and James Filby), and Yvette Mimeux (Weena)

Spoiler alert: the Morlocks are eating them

Cardboard Science: The wheel in the sky keeps on turning


George Pal returns to outer space, but we don't much like what he brings back.

Directed by Byron Haskin
Written by James O'Hanlon, Phillip Yordan, Barre Lyndon, and George Worthing Yates (vaguely inspired by the book The Conquest of Space by Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell)
With Eric Fleming (Capt. Barney Merritt), Phil Foster (Sgt. Jackie "Brooklyn" Seigel), Benson Fong (Sgt. Imoto), Ross Martin (Sgt. Andre Fodor), and William Redfield (Roy Cooper), Mickey Shaughnessy (Sgt. Mahoney), and Walter Brooke (Gen. Samuel T. Merritt)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, May 23, 2016

Cardboard Science: I married Colonel Kurtz!


A throwback even for 1954, this romantic creature-feature does the romance better than just about any "proper" sci-fi film, and does its creatures fair justice, too.

Directed by Byron Haskin
Written by Philip Yordan, Ranald MacDougall, and Ben Maddow (based on the story "Leiningen Versus the Ants" by Carl Stephenson)
With Charlton Heston (Christopher Leiningen), Eleanor Parker (Joanna Leiningen), Abraham Sofaer (Incacha), William Conrad (The Commissioner), and John Dierkes (Gruber)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Friday, May 20, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XXIX: Vast and cool and unsympathetic


Spielberg tries his hand at the end of the world, and by dint of making his adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel in 2005, manages to go very far in capturing all the spectacle and the horror of it.  Yet although this War of the Worlds succeeds, on average, as a film that might well be retitled Scenes From the Martian Apocalypse, it also mishandles almost as much as it gets right.  Its undeniable triumphs thus stand next to its great and glaring ineptitudes.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Josh Friedman and David Koepp (based on the novel by H.G. Wells)
With Tom Cruise (Ray Ferrier), Dakota Fanning (Rachel Ferrier), Justin Chatwin (Robbie Ferrier), Miranda Otto (Mary Ann), Tim Robbins (Harlan Oglivy), and Morgan Freeman (The Narrator)

Spoiler alert: once again, they die of germs; but as for the original content, severe

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Cardboard Science: "What are these Martians?" "What are we?" I answered, clearing my throat


One of the great science fiction novels becomes one of the most important science fiction movies—and so much is lost in the translation that what you actually wind up with is a very influential, yet (ironically) mostly sterile, genre experience.  So it goes.

Directed by Byron Haskin
Written by Barre Lyndon (based on the novel by H.G. Wells)
With Gene Barry (Dr. Clayon Forrester), Ann Robinson (Sylvia van Buren), Lewis Martin (Pastor Collins), Les Tremayne (Gen. Mann), Charles Gemora (The Martian), and Sir Cedric Hardwicke (The Narrator)

Spoiler alert: they die from germs

Monday, May 16, 2016

Class war weekend, part II


Arty to a fault, High-Rise is a largely pointless fable of the collapse of a society that hasn't existed in forty years, and although it manages to get a few palpable hits in (and some swell images), even the film's prospect of traveling back to a world that didn't destroy itself (but might've) doesn't pay off in any really serious way.

Directed by Ben Wheatley
Written by Amy Jump (based on the novel by J.G. Ballard)
With Tom Hiddleston (Dr. Robert Laing), Sienna Miller (Charlotte Melville), Elisabeth Moss (Helen Wilder), Luke Evans (Richard Wilder), Keeley Hawls (Ann Royal), and Jeremy Irons (Anthony Royal)

Spoiler alert: mild

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part infinity: Robert Zemeckis

I. I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) II. 1941** (1979) III. Used Cars (1980) IV. Romancing the Stone (1984) V. Back to the Future (1985) VI. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) VII. Back to the Future Part II (1989) VIII. Back to the Future Part III (1990) IX. Death Becomes Her (1992) X. Forrest Gump (1994) XI. Contact (1997) XII. What Lies Beneath (2000) XIII. Cast Away (2000) XIV. The Polar Express (2004) XV. Beowulf (2007) XVI. A Christmas Carol (2009) XVII. Mars Needs Moms* (2011) XVIII. Flight (2012) XIX. The Walk (2015) XX. Allied (2016) XXI. Welcome to Marwen (2018)

Well, unlike in our last filmmaker's retrospective, Robert Zemeckis is still very much an active director: he's got a movie coming out later this year, in fact, and I'm sure as hell excited about it, because the man's been on an upswing lately.  Of course, most people would be on an upswing after A Christmas Carol and Mars Needs Moms, but, hey—let's not take Flight and The Walk away from the man, okay?

The point is, there is no final word on Zemeckis as of yet: he's still making pictures, and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come.  We can therefore only sum up what he's done so far—and it's a career that any director (or writer, or producer) would envy.  Even his one-time mentor and all-time friend, Steven Spielberg, must have had to take a step back every five or six years and say, "Well, Bob, you did it better."  Okay, he probably didn't—Spielberg is Spielberg, after all, and keeps his own counsel.  But Forrest Gump does syrupy sentimentality better than any Spielberg film ever has (and even manages to spike it with a bit of real American venom in the process).  Contact is Close Encounters, perhaps not writ larger—but certainly writ one hell of a lot more legibly.  And if the Back to the Future films aren't about to stand up to Indy... well, it's still one fantastic adventure, and the world would be far poorer without it.

Ah, but why must this be the lens through which we view Zemeckis—always a pupil, never the master?  It's a long shadow for a man to live in.  And it hasn't been the right way to look at Zemeckis since at least 1994.  Heck, maybe 1984.

Instead, let's reflect upon Zemeckis' career as Zemeckis' career.  It began with Spielberg, sure.  And it also began with a lot of crap: it took Zemeckis a long time to learn that full-tilt insanity was no way to make movies that people liked, and that's how his Shrillness Trilogy—for Zemeckis' career is extraordinarily amenable to being subdivided into trilogies, and not just the obvious, official one—must be seen as something of a stain upon his early filmography.  Yes, Used Cars has its charms, and Spielberg's 1941 (which Zemeckis helped script) is worthwhile in a very, very attenuated sense, but I Wanna Hold Your Hand would be a pretty lousy debut for anybody, and especially a director who'd bounce back with some of the greatest movies of all time.

After that, there was Romancing the Stone, which finally gave him his own traction in the industry, and the valuable experience of working on someone else's screenplay—an exercise which apparently finally taught him that "characterization" and "tone" were important parts of a motion picture.

He brought that experience back to his friend and old writing partner, Bob Gale, and they finished Back to the Future.  And we needn't belabor BttF any more than we already have, though we clearly can't get away with failing to note what he did in between BttF and Part II, which was one of the most technologically-audacious films ever made, that amazing hybrid of live-action and animation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Following those twin triumphs, he transitioned into more prestigious fare (with a stopover in super-goofy body horror, in the half-forgotten gem Death Becomes Her).  Thus began what I like to call Zemeckis' Philosophical Pessimist Trilogy—Forrest Gump, Contact, and Cast Away—which all dealt meaningfully with the apparent lack of meaning in our existence.  Yet, as befitting Zemeckis' resolute commitment to telling stories for a mass audience, they do so in an unflaggingly populist manner.  (Well, maybe not Contact.  But, damn it, I love it anyway.)

Well, we can disregard What Lies Beneath as make-work, I suppose—even if it's nowhere even close to a "bad" movie.  And that leaves us with the Mo-Cap Trilogy... and what to say about that, that I haven't said already?  The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol (not to mention Zemeckis' production of Simon Wells' studio-leveling Mars Needs Moms) represent more-or-less the nadir of his career.  Certainly, it is the nadir of his mature career.  (Should I mention that I'm the only one who calls his first three flicks a "Shrillness Trilogy"?  Perhaps it'll catch on.  Those movies have some pretty serious issues.)

Anyway, Zemeckis had a dream—and, honestly, if nothing else, you have to admire the passion with which Zemeckis took up arms to try to make motion capture animation the future of filmmaking, even if you stridently disagree with him.  And yet, whether the technology wasn't there, or the technique, or perhaps even the talent, I'm afraid we must write off those twelve years he spent on his mad quest as a failure.  Leave it to James Cameron, Bob; he has the formula.

But now we're back to the future, so to speak, and here we find our new Zemeckian classics, Flight and The Walk.  What will Allied bring to the table?  Can we put those three movies together into some new trilogy?  Well, that would be pretty arbitrary, but we'll see.  (Update: we did, and it brought very little to this particular table, sad to say; it was up to 2018's Welcome to Marwen to complete that trilogy, instead.)

So let us simply close on a brief defense of Zemeckis, as if he needs it—but perhaps he does, because I can't think of a single filmmaker as absolutely and routinely successful as Robert Zemeckis who is not given his due as an artist and as an auteur (whatever that word really means).  His is a singular style; his is a singular vision.  Indeed, it's a vision that I'd like to see more of in Hollywood—he has the demeanor of a natural entertainer, but he's never been afraid to go places where lesser filmmakers have feared to tread.  So: three cheers for one of the greats, and here's a ranked list, since people seem to enjoy that kind of thing.  (Updated 11/30/2016, to bring Allied into the fold, and 1/12/2019, for Welcome to Marwen)

19a. MARS NEEDS MOMS (3/10)*
17a. 1941 (5.01/10)**
17. THE POLAR EXPRESS (5.01/10)
16. USED CARS (6/10)
15. BEOWULF (6/10)
14. ALLIED (6/10)
10. THE WALK (8/10)
9. FLIGHT (8/10)
6. CONTACT (9/10)
2. FORREST GUMP (10/10)
1. CAST AWAY (10/10)***

Films marked with one asterisk (*) indicate films that Zemeckis only produced, but did not write or direct.  Films marked with two asterisks (**) indicate films that Zemeckis helped write, but did not direct.
Films marked with three asterisks (***) indicate Cast Away, and man, do I fucking love Cast Away.

Robert Zemeckis, part XIX: Welcome to the coup!


We prepare to end our look backwards at Robert Zemeckis' career with The Walk, which I am more certain than ever really was 2015's most worthwhile biopic.  So: at once a caper film of extraordinary wackiness, an enthralling testament to human awesomeness, and a sensitive tribute to the fallen Twin Towers upon which its story turns, that The Walk all seems of a piece is nothing short of a miracle—although it can't be denied that, in its most theoretically enrapturing moments, it suffers from a slight (but noticeable) lack of punch.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Christopher Brown and Robert Zemeckis (based on the book by Philippe Petit)
With Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Philippe Petit), Charlotte Le Bon (Annie), Clement Sibony (Jean-Louis), Cesar Domboy (Jeff), James Badge Dale (J.P.), Ben Schwartz (Albert), Benedict Samuel (David), Steve Valentine (Barry), and Ben Kingsley (Papa Rudy)

Spoiler alert: N/A
Note: This is a re-edited version of a review posted in January 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XVIII: This film was brought to you by the Cocaine Council


Zemeckis comes back very strong, with one of the better addiction dramedies of our age.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by John Gatins
With Denzel Washington (Whip Whitaker), Kelly Reilly (Nicole), Nadine Velasquez (Katerina Marquez), Bruce Greenwood (Charlie Anderson), Don Cheadle (Hugh Lang), and John Goodman (Harling Mays)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Class war weekend, part I


Jodie Foster rocks her Sidney Lumet impression in what amounts to the best film of the year so far.

Directed by Jodie Foster
Written by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf
George Clooney (Lee Gates), Julia Roberts (Patty Fenn), Jack O'Connell (Kyle Budwell), Christopher Denham (Ron Spencer), Lenny Venito (Lenny the Cameraman), Giancarlo Esposito (Capt. Powell), Caitriona Balfe (Diane Lester), and Dominic West (Walt Camby)

Spoiler alert: mild

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XVII: Why couldn't we have just done a feature-length Bloom County cartoon instead?


How can so many people go so mad all at one time, and decide to make something like this?

Directed by Simon Wells
Written by Wendy Wells and Simon Wells (based on the book by Berkeley Breathed)
With Seth Green/Seth Dusky (Milo), Joan Cusack (Mom), Dan Fogler (Gribble), Elisabeth Harnois (Ki), and Mindy Sterling (The Supervisor)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Carboard Science: Now that's a deep impact!


George Pal teaches us that contemplating the destruction of all we know can actually be a pretty swell time.

Directed by Rudolph Mate
Written by Sydney Boehm
With Richard Derr (David Randall), Barbara Rush (Joyce Hendron), Larry Keating (Dr. Cole Hendron), John Hoyt (Sydney Stanton), and Peter Hansen (Dr. Tony Drake)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, May 9, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XVI: There's more of gravy than of grave about you


Zemeckis' mo-cap efforts had been getting better, but with A Christmas Carol, the director does something he hadn't done in a full thirty years—namely, make a really bad movie.

Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis (based on the novella by Charles Dickens)
With Jim Carrey (Ebenezer Scrooge and several ghosts), Gary Oldman (Bob Cratchit, "Tiny" Tim Crachit, and another ghost, Jacob Marley), Robin Wright (Belle), Bob Hoskins (Fezziwig), and Colin Firth (Fred)

Spoiler alert: c'mon, man, for real?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XV: Ripper, tearer, slasher, gouger, and so forth


Not the abject artistic failure you might have expected, Beowulf at least suggests why Zemeckis kept at the mo-cap thing.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary (based on the poem)
With Ray Winstone (Beowulf), Anthony Hopkins (Hrothgar), Robin Wright (Wealthow), Brendan Gleeson (Wigraf), John Malkovich (Unferth), Crispin Glover (Grendel), and Angelina Jolie (Grendel's Mother)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Continuing Adventures of Shield Man, Bird Dude, and That Guy With the Robot Arm


Hey, not only did they make an unambiguously good Captain America movie for once, they made the best Avengers ensemble film so far, too—and even the fact that both of these things don't seem like they should go together all that well can't stop it.

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (based on the comic by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven)
With Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson), Sebastian Stan (James "Bucky" Barnes), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Elizabeth Olson (Wanda Maximoff), Scarlett Johannson (Natasha Romanoff), Paul Bettany (The Vision), Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa), Don Cheadle (James "Rhodey" Rhodes), Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark), William Hurt (Thaddeus Ross), and Daniel Bruhl (Zemo)

Spoiler alert: mild

Friday, May 6, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XIV: Snowpiercer


Zemeckis' first mo-cap cartoon is blessed with not just a great deal of appealingly colorful design, but a whole new second volume in Tom Hanks' Encylcopedia of Amusingly Stupid Voices, too.  But reach beyond these attractive (albeit sometimes clunkily-animated) surfaces, and all you have left is the hollowness that lay at the heart of The Polar Express, a genial-as-shit nothing of a movie that I can't quite bring myself to even really dislike, yet shall never, ever truly enjoy.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by William Broyles, Jr. and Robert Zemeckis (based on the book by Chris Van Allsberg)
With Daryl Sabara/Josh Hutcherson/Tom Hanks (The Boy), Nona Gaye/Chantel Valdivieso/Meagan Moore/Tinashe Kachingwe (The Girl), Eddie Deezen/Jimmy Pinchak (Know-It-All), Jimmy Bennett/Peter Scolari/Hayden McFarland (Billy), and Tom Hanks (The Father, The Conductor, The Hobo, The Puppet Scrooge, Santa Claus, and The Narrator, the Boy as a Man)

Spoiler alert: insofar as this movie has a plot in the first place, moderate

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cardboard Science: Do you wanna go to lunch, or do you wanna go to the moon?


Opening the decade with a big nuclear bang, this hyper-conservative Cold War tale of human advancement through atom-based capitalism remains influential—and pretty damned good on its merits, too, despite its frankly laughable assumptions about the way the world works.

Directed by Irving Pichel
Written by Alford Van Ronkel, Robert Heinlein, and James O'Hanlon (based on the novel Rocketship Galileo by Robert Heinlein)
With John Archer (Jim Barnes), Warner Anderson (Dr. Charles Cargraves), Tom Powers (Gen. Thayer), and Dick Wesson (Joe Sweeney)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Cardboard Science: Five brave men go to probe the mysteries of Uranus


Cardboard Science returns for 2016 with the worst old crappy sci-fi film we've so far reviewed.

Directed by Sid Pink
Written by Ib Melchior and Sid Pink
With Carl Ottosen (Eric, some brand of mission commander), John Agar (Don), Peter Monch (Karl), Ove Sprogoe (Barry), Louis Miehe-Renard (Svend), and Ann Smyrner (Ingrid)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, May 2, 2016

I have an index now! part II: Chronological

Every movie reviewed on Kinemalogue, sorted by year of release, with two sections, the first being films released since the year this blog began (in reverse order, going back to 2013), the second being films released in the years prior to its institution (beginning in 1920, and going forward)

Steven Spielberg, part XXVIII: Yes, "geniality" is one of my metrics for these things


A movie I'm apparently not supposed to love at all, but it turns out I do anyway.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson, and Andrew Niccol
With Tom Hanks (Victor Navorski), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Amelia Warren), Kumar Pallana (Gupta), Chi McBride (Mulroy), Diego Luna (Enrique Cruz), Zoe Saldana (Dolores Torres), Barry Shabaka Henley (Thurman), and Stanley Tucci (Frank Dixon)

Spoiler alert: moderate

I have an index now! part I: Alphabetical

Every review on Kinemalogue, sorted alphabetically

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XXVII: Who am I here?


As a piece of very minor Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can certainly has its charms—but it has so much fewer of them than you'd have every right in the world to expect.  And thus it avoids high-pitched fun, yet it disdains any really penetrating insight into what makes its weird protagonist tick, too.  So if it's not the worst of both worlds, it remains very far from the best.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Jeff Nathanson (based on the book by Frank Abagnale, Jr., and Stan Redding
With Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abagnale, Jr.), Christopher Walken (Frank Abagnale, Sr.), Nathalie Baye (Paula Abagnale), Amy Adams (Brenda Strong), Martin Sheen (Roger Strong), and Tom Hanks (Special Agent Carl Hanratty)

Spoiler alert: more-or-less N/A; moderate, if you want to be a stickler