Monday, February 27, 2017

Something robust


A worthy-as-hell sequel to a movie that I can never quite tell if I slightly underrated or not.

Directed by Chad Stahelski
Written by Derek Kolstad
With Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Ian McShane (Winston), Lance Reddick (Charon), John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Laurence Fishburne (The Bowery King), Peter Stormare (Abram Tarasov), Claudia Gerini (Gianna D'Antonio), Common (Cassian), Ruby Rose (Ares), and Riccardo Scamarcio (Santino D'Antonio)

Spoiler alert: I think moderate, but reasonable minds may differ

Sunday, February 26, 2017

2016: I saw it happen! Don't tell me it didn't happen!

2016 was a terrible year, I mean a God-fucking-awful year—personally, professionally, and politically.  But cinematically?  Not really, and I kind of wish everyone would stop acting like one year's slack summer season, redeemed by a relatively strong arthouse presence, was the end of the damned world.  If for nothing else, because the end of the world came for some us in the form of an absolutely obliterated career, a deeply uncertain future, and what amounts to a full-on midlife crisis at age 34—and, if that wasn't enough (it was enough), the destruction of our hope for others' futures, too, thanks to a legion of scrawny Nazis, sexless Internet trolls, blacklunged Vicodin addicts, actual-literal traitors to the United States, and (let us not forget) a whole lot of feckless morons, as well, who considered themselves too pure for electoral politics.  Wanna fight about it?  I just saw John Wick: Chapter 2, my blood's pumping nicely, and odds are I'm in way better shape, especially if you're one of those insufferable purity-leftists, since at least Nazis do sometimes bother to lift.

Anyway, it wasn't nearly as bad a year for film as 2015, which I still think must be the weakest since I started paying attention.  2016, by contrast, was simply okay—but at least it produced a Top Ten that doesn't look like a complete joke.  (Okay, fine, it's my Top Ten, so it'll always look a little bit like a joke.)

But enough jabbering.  Quickly, quickly now, before you google the Oscars and find out what the Man is telling you to think this year, I give you my best pictures for 2016—just to get it off my chest.

10. FINDING DORY (8/10)
9. THE NICE GUYS (9/10)
8. THE NEON DEMON (9/10)
7. LA LA LAND (9/10)
6. THE SHALLOWS (9/10)
4. SILENCE (10/10)
2. SWISS ARMY MAN (10/10)
1. MOANA (10/10)

Reviews from gulag: Late-winter cleaning

Just to get them all out of the way at last, here's a bunch of mini-reviews of the features I screened in 2016, but never got around to properly reviewing.  To wit: The Jungle Book, Nocturnal Animals, Denial, Sing Street, The Wailing, The Handmaiden, God's Not Dead 2, and The Nice Guys.  (I guess I should be a gentleman and warn you, I get somewhat spoilery for The Wailing and Nocturnal Animals.)

First up, we have Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book, presumptively the best Disney live-action remake of a classic animated film to date.  I say "presumptively" because I didn't see Pete's Dragon, but, of course, neither did you, so you're not likely to care about any misattributed superlative on its account.  Either way, more than anything else, The Jungle Book is a fantabulous technical exercise—albeit one that takes ages and ages to get used to, simply because there's just no preparing yourself for the incongruous and deeply upsetting sight of all these nearly-photorealistic CGI animals who flap their lips in a simulacrum of speaking English.  (And even after you've finally gotten your head around that, then you have to deal with those two musical numbers, imported from the animated original, neither one of which feels precisely on-target, and the latter of which does its absolute damnedest, in conjunction with the film's abysmal reimagination of King Louie as a Kongian kaiju, to ruin your fucking life.)

On the other hand, you have Idris Elba's Shere Khan, monumentally terrifying, though this has somewhat more to do with the sterling CGI performance, and Favreau's willingness to stage some genuine high-test brutality in his kid's talking animal adventure, than it does with Elba's vocal performance—although it is a rather good one.  On that same hand, however, you have Scarlett Johannson's giant-sized Kaa, who is, objectively speaking, probably just as ridiculous a creation as King Louie—but who still comes off as a bolt of creepy horror-movie perfection, right in The Jungle Book's heart.  Best talking snake ever?  Maybe.  But the best use of the focal plane in a 2016 movie, hiding Kaa's body against the limbs of the tree Mowgli's found himself in, until the electric moment she begins to move?  Oh, almost without a doubt.  (And yet Kaa's success is just as much thanks to Johannson's vocals.  In combination with Her, it leads me to believe that the woman is a significantly better voice actor than she is an actor-actor.  Plus, if they'd kept her musical number—which is relegated instead to the closing credits, even though it's by far the best of all three—it might have helped the other two feel even the slightest bit organic to the proceedings.)

Meanwhile, Bill Murray's pretty well-cast himself, as the lazy Baloo; and Ben Kingsley is likewise doing just fine with one more check-chasing late-career role, as the stolid Bagheera.  As for that kid playing Mowgli, Neel Sethi, he is frankly doing much better than he's gotten credit for: can you imagine playing make-pretend on a set like this one, let alone at his age?  He's fantastic.

And yet, if you throw in an ending that seems to be at cross-purposes not only with the original text (whether "original" means the Kipling tale or the '67 cartoon), but at cross-purposes with its own themes and story, what you're ultimately left with is not that much more than one amazing-looking mess.  (And one that probably needed an R-rating to really reach its full potential, at that.  I live and I dream, guys.)  But it is amazing-looking, and that still counts, even in 2016.  And so even all the things that you're bound to hate about it just don't matter nearly as much as they really probably should.

Score:  7/10

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Joe Dante, part X: Fun—but in no sense civilized


Everything that the first one, burdened with establishing the basic premise, simply couldn't be.

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Charles S. Haas 
With Zach Galligan (Billy Peltzer), Phoebe Cates (Kate Beringer), John Glover (Daniel Clamp), Havilland Morris (Marla Bloodstone), Dick Miller (Murray Futterman), Robert Picardo (Chief Forster), Robert Prosky (Grandpa Fred), Gedde Watanabe (Mr. Katsuji), Christopher Lee (Dr. Catheter), Neil Ross (The Voice of Clamp Enterprises), Hulk Hogan (himself), Howie Mandell (Gizmo), Frank Welker (Mohawk), and Tony Randall (The Brain Gremlin)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Joe Dante, part IX: The monsters are due


One of the 80s' best and funniest satires, it's known that The 'Burbs doesn't quite manage to stick its landing.  And yet it finally concludes, on one particular grace note, which suggests that The 'Burbs' bizarre and self-contradicting ending might actually be the single cleverest part of its indictment.

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Dana Olsen
With Tom Hanks (Ray Peterson), Carrie Fisher (Carol Petersen), Rick Docommun (Art Weingarter), Bruce Dern (Lt. Mark Rumsfield), Wendy Schaal (Bonnie Rumsfield), Corey Feldman (Ricky Butler), Brother Theodore (Rueben Klopek), Courtney Gains (Hans Klopek), and Henry Gibson (Dr. Werner Klopek)

Spoiler alert: severe

Friday, February 17, 2017

That's right, I'm Best-At-Teamwork Man


Ah, the spin-off: taking a great character you loved in his original context and making him worse.  But, hey, at least it's still funny.

Directed by Chris McKay
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Washington
With Will Arnett (Batman), Michael Cera (Robin), Ralph Fiennes (Alfred Pennyworth), Rosario Dawson (Commissioner Barbara Gordon), Channing Tatum (Superman), and Zach Galifianakis (The Joker)

Spoiler alert: mild

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Joe Dante, part VII: Adequate voyage


The less you expect out of this 80s-style extrapolation of a classic sci-fi trope, the more you're likely to enjoy it.

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Jeffrey Boam and Chip Proser
With Dennis Quaid (Lt. Tuck Pendleton), Martin Short (Jack Putter), Meg Ryan (Lydia Maxwell), Henry Gibson (Mr. Wormwood), Wendy Shaal (Wendy), John Hora (Ozzie Wexler), Vernon Wells (Mr. Igoe), Fiona Lewis (Dr. Margaret Canker), Kevin McCarthy (Victor Scrimshaw), and Robert Picardo (The Cowboy)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I swear to God, if I was flying this thing we'd be home by now


A premise in search of a more resonant telling, but you can't deny that it's one hell of a premise for a kid's adventure flick to have in the first place—nor that it doesn't wind up grasping for something halfway-meaningful at the end.

Directed by Randal Kleiser
Written by Mark Baker, Michael Burton, and Matt MacManus
With Joey Cramer (David Freeman), Cliff De Young (Bill Freeman), Veronica Cartwright (Helen Freeman), Sarah Jessica Parker (Carolyn McAdams), Albie Whitaker/Matt Adler (Jeff Freeman, at 8 and 16 respectively), Howard Hessemen (Dr. Louis Faraday), and Paul Reubens (Max)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Saturday, February 4, 2017

As previously established, that was when I was carrying you


Shall we call it "magisterial"?  That's as good a word as any for a movie that's this rich and rigorous and (not to put to fine a point on it) honestly great—and yet is also long, and slow, and coolly intellectual, occasionally to a fault.

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese (based on the novel by Shusaku Endo)
With Andrew Garfield (Sebastiao Rodrigues), Adam Driver (Francisco Garupe), Yosuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro), Tadanobu Asano (The Interpreter), Issey Ogata (Inoue Masashige), and Liam Neeson (Cristovao Ferraira)

Spoiler alert: moderate