Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lean on Pete


Want to see the saddest, most wonderful movie ever? It's this one. A heartfelt and brutal coming of age tale, where Charley (Charlie Plummer) the teen son of an affectionate but neglectful single dad (Travis Fimmel), must find his way through a hard and cynical world when he's left alone.

How does he get by? He leans on Pete.

Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, based on a novel. Charley gets a job at a horse track run by Del (Steve Buscemi), who cheats and misuses his animals in his desperate attempts to keep afloat. There, Charley becomes attached to a failing racehorse called Lean on Pete, and worries for Pete's safety. He must also contend with drama at home, and when things go bad, and then worse, his own inherent aversion to accepting help from strangers, who only ever seem interested in interfering with his life. The movie observes as he tries to go it alone, only to be beat down by life every step of the way.

The plot's constant down-turning is heartbreaking, but never enters unconvincing territory. Disaster gets its due of foreshadowing, and bad choices made are also the most natural ones -- stemming from Charley's flawed mindset, and admirable sense of obligation. He does reprehensible things out of perceived necessity; regret and an inner war is clear, yet his goal drives him on. Adults and authorities can seem antagonistic and careless, but they have cares of their own. There's no black and white villainy; it's just Charley's stubborn and driven naivete, clashing with a jaded and immovable world.

The movie is wholly dedicated to showing us who he is, and what he wants, even when he can't articulate it.

Charlie Plummer owns this movie. Even as a young, up-and-coming talent, this kind of role is already familiar to him -- he's a coming-of-age pro. His repressed, moody air is perfect for the film's tone, as is his magnetic screen presence for the singular focus on character. I loved seeing the subtle tips of balance he gives between telling the truth, and lies. Sometimes he'll give an expression that reads like words as to what he's thinking; communicating so well physically, that you only need the dialogue as a kind of enhancing chaser. Although the dialogue is often magnificent in its simplicity and powerful subtext.

I was so zeroed in on him that I feel like I barely ever looked at supporting characters, though that was almost certainly intentional on the movie's part. It frames him so that we're always drawn to him, but also so we'll constantly search too, to see him better. The supporters are excellent too, though, especially Steve Buscemi, and Chloë Sevigny who plays Bonnie, a jockey working for Del. And Travis Fimmel's father is fascinatingly complex. They have moments of guidance for Charley, but one by one, they falter. Passing characters feel real, though they're exclusively there to affect Charley. We mainly see his reactions to them, not them.

The cinematography felt like art in and of itself. Those desert landscapes. 

In true indie style, the movie utilizes long takes with confidence and grace, adding to the impact of performances, and keeping the film grounded and natural. But the longer shots are also often on the move, so changing of angle and environment is still there to hold interest. Camera movements stay simple, and there's no finagling to force extra long length. Two minutes is about as long as they go, and only then in key scenes. One such scene I can't figure exactly how they did it, but that's spoiler territory. The story is conveyed visually, and of course, crafted to reflect back on Charley.

The whole movie is a journey to understanding him; a task both easy in individual moments, and complex in the over-arc. If you think it's strange I haven't mentioned much of titular character, that's because this film isn't about the horse, really. We care only that Charley cares about him, and ultimately, as Bonnie says, he's just a horse. Well, maybe not. He's a mirror through which we can see Charley, and a metaphorical crutch for Charley to lean on as he chases goals and runs from pain. In the end the story is about family and home; Charley, and his father; a character much absent, but always in mind.

"Sorry I can't give you more." "No, don't worry about it. This is... I don't need more."

The heavy nature of the plot, the emphasis on artistic tone, and the methodical pacing doesn't make this one easily accessible to viewers strictly out for a good fun time -- but for anyone who loves character study, coming of age dramas, and the individuality of personal indie films, Lean on Pete is a must see; one of those rare films that utilizes its every feature in immaculate harmony. Moving, hard, and honest, it never sinks into sentiment or melodrama, but stings to the core, moves to empathy, and, somehow, like the best of its kind, finds hope through it all. A wonderful beast, indeed.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Spoiler free!

Ant-Man and the Wasp's tonal separation from Infinity War saves it; and its universe connection destroys it. From the consequences of Civil War coming into play at the beginning and dictating the plot, to the how inconsequential it becomes in the shadow of this year's earlier monstrosity, it's restricted by its universe ties. But, as it is not a monstrosity of melodrama, it is, despite significant failings, still more superficially enjoyable than that universe-ending party that Scott Lang was somehow not invited to.

Dodged a bullet there, buddy. Probably literally.

The movie's most obvious saving grace is its hero, played by Paul Rudd, who, after this, I'm am fully convinced could carry 12 gallons of water in his hands without the use of a bucket. He can probably carry a tune in the vacuum of space; or the whole world if only he could get underneath it; and he absolutely carries this movie. He single-handedly saves at least five jokes from cringe territory, and even the jokes that wouldn't have face-planted without him, he still elevates, by being, you know, actually funny and charming. Rudd had a hand in the writing too, but the writing only hits on external appeal.

No one has character arcs in this. It's a nonstarter. But with Scott it doesn't matter because he's fun to be around even when he doesn't need to grow or learn something -- perhaps especially so. Same goes for his sidekicks, like Luis, who's so much the same that he even makes the same jokes over again. The crazy part is, it's still funny, because Michael Peña is the man. Bobby Cannavale got the biggest laugh of the whole movie, and sadly Judy Greer was saddled with some stinkers that would've challenged even Rudd. I enjoyed Randal Park, simply for being lighthearted and amusing when the opposite is what you'd expect.

Story-wise, this movie should've been Hope/Wasp's, but it only almost is.

Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) have the most drama going on, and I guess that's what was meant to pass for development. Most of the "progress" they make is things that were backtracked from their growth level of the last movie, and when they overcome it, they're only back where they started. This is mostly applicable to Hope. Hank's more like an echo of her, dramatically. The villain (Hannah John-Kamen) didn't have much potential to start with, but in the end, she only seemed to exist to pad out the run time. Of course, that could be said of the whole movie; pad out a run time, to make a movie, to pad out year time, until Captain Marvel and Avengers: And Now the Other Half gets here.

With what it's sandwiched between, there was little room for creativity. It had to end where it did, and it had to start where it did -- though I do take some issue with how it started. Most of the nonsense the film contains accumulates there. Without the nonsense, the story wouldn't exist. It's a sticky situation, so I sympathize, but there had to be a less paint-by-numbers way of doing this. Ant-Man movies bank on being small-time, but when scaled down, more focus on heart and meaning is required, not less. The story is spread thin over the separate needs of too many characters, and under the microscope, we never get a clear picture of anything, or anyone.

That's why Ant-Man came down to a tiny battle in Cassie's room -- she was all that mattered.

Visually, I've never seen a Marvel movie done so lazily. The action is the best the writing had to offer besides the dialogue (there actually were plenty of good jokes that didn't need Paul Rudd-delivery to work) -- but the sequences are filmed so normally. Remember in the first movie when Scott shrinks for the first time and everything's so otherworldly? That wonder is gone. They plow through action with the style of a lawnmower cutting overgrown grass, and only slow down when they literally slow down -- for a slow-mo shot. There's an extra visual kick, and then it's back to the lame gracelessness.

If I ever watch this again it will be for Rudd and that montage of him hanging out in his house by himself. The movie only irritated me two or three times, but otherwise gave out so little to hold on to, or invest in. I never cared about anything; the characters, their success, their failure; anything. All I cared about was when the next glimmer of fun was going to happen -- moments that were extra welcome in a Marvel movie, but never succeeded in brightening their surroundings. They would flash, and fade, along with my interest.

I guess I should've known Hawkeye wasn't going to be in this. Too good to be true.

Marvel is getting more mechanized by the minute, with less and less importance placed on the human touch. This one barely even attempts to be any kind of art -- it's just there. A movie. I'm sure there were good intentions, and the charm of the leading man, and some commendable humor choices do lend it a nice, distracting coat of paint. Too little, too late. Not tiny and laser-focused, not giant, sweeping and epic; Ant-Man and the Wasp is just average.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Incredibles 2


The Pixar films that defined my childhood were Toy Story 1 and 2, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo. (I never got into A Bug's Life.) The Incredibles missed the cut-off by an inch. I liked it, but I never re and re and rewatched it on a cycle like those four. So, news of this long-awaited sequel wasn't so long-awaited for me. Instead it threatened to be like other sequels, marketing off previous success because the idea well has run dry. There were two promising aspects: the 14-years to work on it; and Brad Bird's return. And color me slightly less cynical than I was yesterday, because they pulled it off!

Pixar's best sequel since Toy Story 2.

Incredibles 2 matches its predecessor. It picks up right where it left off, (and gets the extra advantage that I haven't seen the original in a while) and has the same tone, purpose, structure, and ideas driving it as the original. Another long-await sequel, Toy Story 3 was fine, but felt disconnected from the other two, being more a nostalgia trip that veered into melodrama too many times. Not to hate on it, but the point is, Incredibles 2 feels as valid a sequel today as it might've felt in 2006. If they purposefully added nostalgia, it doesn't get in the way, and feels totally organic.

It started off on shaky ground, forced to revert a bit of the happy ending of the last film because the sequel starts up immediately with fighting The Underminer. They fail of course, not working as a family. Their interference actually causes more destruction than if they'd left Underminer to himself, reestablishing why supers are illegal in this story. The politics are like Civil War, but simplified, and both sides are clear and understandable, though we know the right thing is for them to be made legal again. Much better than the convoluted illogical mess of Civil War in a fraction of the time!

I love her bike and the way they have her use it!

After that things plod along, gaining momentum as the movie finds its feet. By the time Bob encourages Helen to take the secret Super job even though he's jealous of her, the feet are found and steady, and the rest of the movie falls into place. My favorite part was the whole middle section before the end game began. The train chase sequence knocked my socks off with originality and reminded me of what animation can do. And the home life was all wonderful, especially because of how hard Bob tries, keeping his head and putting in extra effort like staying up to learn Dash's homework.

Everyone said Jack-Jack was the highlight. Usually that kind of talk means a 50% chance I'll think the opposite because I despise pointless distractions, but Jack-Jack really was a highlight, and he was meant to be. The fight between him and the raccoon was hilarious, and the discovery and testing of all his powers is the kind of behind-the-scenes thing that made the first film so special too. Unfortunately, they had to start all over with Violet and Tony, so Violet's drama felt like retracing old steps. She's my favorite, so I would've liked to see much more progression there.

I love that at home they have a natural up and down instead of full chaos which would've been easier. Bob's a great dad.

The villain twist wasn't a total surprise; I was just glad that it wasn't as projected as I was worried it was. I did wonder at Elastigirl though, when she thought she caught the ScreenSlaver and the guy was clearly just another of his victims. The real villain's motivations worked well. Another classic case of a sympathetic idea taken way too far until it reaches villainy. She was nothing special, but got the plot where it needed to go. The sequence on the ship was where the film starts to stumble, though it never outright falls. Once no one's under mind-control anymore, everything picks back up and finishes in spectacular fashion.

Random details I really enjoyed: Dash's powers. I love how he fights, by machine-gunning people with his punches. The comedy. It fell in so naturally with the story and had me hooting many times. Jack-Jack was a laugh a second, and there were many subtle jokes and perfectly timed looks that were an absolute pleasure. Mr. Incredible has some delivery well worthy of his name. I also like how Elastigirl is the most marketable super, because she really is the most marketable. There's a reason that train chase worked so well. Her powers were used so creatively.

Never forget: The mundane is fascinating when Supers do it! 

So, here's hoping that in the next film we can see the whole family working together for a good, solid block of time; that they won't forget about the novelty of Super home life; that Violet will get back to her date before the movie starts; and that they'll take as much time as they need regarding Incredibles 3. If they give as much devotion and effort as they did here, it'll be worth whatever the wait-time might be.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - July

Okay! Last month I got out to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as expected, and I will be seeing Incredibles 2 later today! Fallen Kingdom was pretty dumb. Dumber than I expected in fact -- but it had solid elements to it, and I expect I'll watch it again someday, if only for that one scene that unintentionally made me belly-laugh. Read my review here!

I got around to seeing Solo, despite warnings, and yeah, it's not good. But it's the kind of not good you can enjoy if you're not offended by how literally the story takes the existing Star Wars canon while simultaneously destroying it with some of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard of in my life. Review here!

Not a great year for the Howards.

And I caught up on some of the artsy film releases of earlier in the year -- Annihilation, (review) which I didn't care for, but it was fine; no shade if you loved it -- and Thoroughbreds (review) which I did love. I think about it a lot.

Summer's in full swing and there's not an overwhelming amount of new releases this month! If all goes according to plan I'll be seeing two of them in theaters. What are your movie plans for for July? Stay cool out there!

The First Purge
July 4th; R
Believe it or not, I've seen all the Purge movies so far. And I actually liked... one... of them. Or was it two? I dunno, but Frank Grillo's character is fun. I was super excited for the last one expecting it to be real dumb in a fun way because of the parallel's it seemed to draw with the 2016 election... but it wound up being all those things except the fun part. This one is even more political, and almost certainly even more toxic, so I'm probably done. Until it can be watched for free and then maybe. We'll see how high my curiosity gets, but without Frank... not promising.

Ant-Man and the Wasp
July 6th; PG-13
Man. I have never felt so ho-hum about a Marvel movie. I almost don't even want to see it -- but I already have tickets because I have a Marvel Fan for a brother. He, the Rotten Tomatoes score, and my pathetic hopes and dreams keep saying to me, "But what if it's actually good?" And to that I say: Then I'll have a real nice surprise I guess. I expect I'll enjoy it (as it's a comedy and therefore hopefully not a complete slog) more than Infinity War, but, man. The Marvel fatigue is for real right now. Still, I do my duty. They promised me Hawkeye and it had better be more than a cameo!

July 13th; PG-13
What's this movie about? *watches trailer* Oh. Okay. Because of the poster I had the impression that The Rock spends most of the movie trying to get inside. But I see. As far as Rock action flicks go, this looks like it's on the higher scale of potential. Like a scifi-ish Die Hard knock-off. It would probably be more my thing if it wound up being laughably bad. But then again, Jumanji was a Rock action flick and it was awesome!

The Night Eats the World
July 13; TV-14
The water buckets collecting rain water on the roof of the building reminds me of 28 Days Later, which makes this movie seem like if 28 Days Later was just the part where they're hiding out in the apartment, which makes me think I'd enjoy watching this.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
July 13th; NR
I have a ubersoft soft spot for Shakespeare adaptations that keep the language but set the story in modern day. So count me in -- no other reason needed. I did notice that Fran Kranz is in the cast though. He was in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing and is generally pretty awesome.

The Equalizer 2
July 20th; NR
I don't exactly remember much of the first Equalizer movie, but I definitely remember liking the first Equalizer movie -- and that, plus this trailer, is good enough for me!

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
July 20th; PG-13
Say the title with a sarcastic inflection. Yet, I'm kinda excited too. I hope it's as dumb and cheesy as it looks. They'd just better not rehash all the songs. I will be mad.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout
July 27th; (NR, but probably PG-13)
What is there even to say about this? It's Mission: Impossible, and has consistently been one of my top anticipated movies for the past three years! Tom Cruise is back to do dangerous things for our entertainment; my favorite Simon Pegg is back; the dark horse wonder woman from Rogue Nation Rebecca Ferguson is back; and the director who upped the anti in this impossibly crazy franchise, Christopher McQuarrie is back! No Jeremy Renner, but that's the nature of the franchise. New additions are Henry Cavill (with the infamous mustache) and Vanessa Kirby who I love. I'm ready. If this disappoints me I will never love again -- so don't let me down team! (With a trailer that looks like this I don't see how they could.)

Hot Summer Nights
July 27th; R
This movie looks so stylish I could watch it for that reason alone. All retro and neon. And I love the movie Charlie Bartlett so I guess I can't say anything about it being a teenage coming-of-age film where the main character deals drugs. I also saw Lady Bird a bit ago, so I can say I like Timothee Chalamet's acting abilities, and I definitely like Maika Monroe... so I guess I'm on board. Depends on how the plot goes as to if I'll like it or not.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


So now the island that housed the disastrous theme park Jurassic World of the last movie has a volcano on it, and it's going to explode. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), turned from prim and proper business woman to free-spirited animal lover in the last film, is heading up an organization to save the dinos. The government decides to stay out of it, so she jumps at the opportunity when a private company run by Rafe Spall offers to help her relocate the animals. Then she ropes in Owen (Chris Pratt) because his favorite Raptor, Blue, is still on the island.

Should've bombed the island as soon as all the humans got off. Then they wouldn't have this problem.

But surprise! Rafe Spall isn't actually relocating the dinos to another safe island -- he's bringing them to the mainland and keeping them in the cellar of a massive estate that belonged to John Hammond of the original, original film. What could possibly go wrong? Oh and Dr. Wu (BD Wong) helped him and Toby Jones create a new, new dino by mixing Raptor with the Indominous Rex of the last film. The Indoraptor. Super creative name, yeah? They plan on bidding all of them off to the wealthy and ill-intentioned of the world. Things go exactly as you imagine they will.

And that's not really a bad thing in itself. The giant house wound up being a fun set piece for the last act; the first was getting on and off the island, and the second was adventures stowed-away on the transport ship. With a little tweaking it could have been a rollicking and pure-blooded adventure. But it gets distracted, by focusing way too hard on... trying to teach us a lesson? They were pushing us to feel sympathy for the dinos, which I guess they didn't realize is something we naturally feel. Dinosaurs are freaking awesome, and unless they're actively portrayed as evil beings, we not going to be eager to see them die.

I mean seriously -- look how freaking cute she is!

But they went all ham-handed on the tragedy of their situation anyway, and went so far overboard with it. At the end of the first act as they sail away on the ship, a Brontosaurus is left behind, literally calling to them from the dock as the ash and lava catches up to it. The music swells dramatically; the cloud engulfs the majestic creature; the fire lights its silhouette as it rears and seems to dissolve away.... and I was about to roll on the floor laughing. Feels bad. The harder I tried not to, the funnier it became. I did manage to laugh quietly, so hopefully I didn't annoy the person next to me.

There's also a big plot line involving Blue being a good dino, and one secondary bad guy (Ted Levine) who pulls teeth out of the dinos to collect for a necklace. In case the point about him being evil wasn't clear enough. But guess what they neglected to do? Yep, create sympathy for any of the humans. Maisie (Isabella Sermon) is the most because she spends time alone figuring out the bad guy's evil plot and running for her life. Claire and Owen are complete blanks except that they care about the dinos, which doesn't help me much. They had a bad break and allude to that, and by the end they're kissing again, but nothing happened to get them there.

If one shared near-death experience couldn't keep them together, why should a second? 

And the two sidekicks, Franklin (Justice Smith) and Zia (Daniella Pineda), I actually forgot existed whenever they disappeared from the screen. Everything they did could've been accomplished by Claire and Owen, or was unnecessary in the first place. Like, they have a whole sequence where they reboot the ventilation system to save the caged dinos from poisonous gas, but later their efforts have only stalled for time -- so the leak could've been slower in the first place with no different outcome. They didn't annoy me particularly, but were blank too, and if their time had been redistributed through a smaller cast -- but the problem wasn't lack of screen time, but of attentive writing.

The poisonous gas bit was inter-cut with Claire, Owen, and Maisie hiding from the Indoraptor, in what is probably the best extended sequence of the film. The dark house of endless rooms and museum-displays of fossils, the one dino tracking them down. It's the classic Jurassic Park stuff and only seemed lacking because it wasn't given time to breathe. It needed to revel more. Linger and seep in. It did that in brief staccato moments, but jumped around too much for the feeling to stay.

"Rafe?" "Yes, Toby?" "Are we the bad guys?" "I think." "Well, crap."

And it's probably just me but I wanted a lot more out of the villain. I like Rafe Spall. But he did his thing and then disappeared until it was time for his death scene. And speaking of deaths, literally all but one death goes as follows: person discovers dino danger; person tries very hard to survive; person survives by skin of teeth; person relaxes -- bam! -- person is dino lunch. Not that that's a terrible way to do a death scene, but a little variety would've been nice. Also, I felt weird watching bad guys get munched on. It was like the movie wanted us to enjoy it; to cheer or feel satisfaction over it.

In the previous movies, even a villain death was played for horror, not elation, right? We felt they deserved it, but it was still grisly and disturbing. It's also worth noting that no good guy is killed by a dino in this film. Not a single one. Not even a neutral, innocent bystander. It's not like even a hint of stakes were ever in place for anyone except the dinos -- that was just adding fuel to the fire.

Forgive me if I want to care about human characters in a movie where the human characters are the leads.

Fallen Kingdom builds on a decently solid skeleton, and that keeps it from falling into a distracted oblivion. That, and the innate likability of Pratt, Howard, and newbie Sermon. A quality level equal to Jurassic World was out of reach I think, simply because the "horror at the theme park" premise is tough to top -- but though it's not unworthy of the name, it clearly could've been better than this.

Sunday, June 17, 2018



From Alex Garland, the writer of one of my favorite movies, 28 Days Later. I wanted to be biased for this film.

Biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) goes through a mysterious shimmering wall in search of answers as to what it is and what it did to her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac). Lots of super weird things happen that are ostensibly explained through the imagery of a cell replicating and an overarching idea of biology blending inside "The Shimmer." In the end she more or less knows what happened to her husband due to some videos he shot while inside, and even gets him back, but overall the mystery is little more than an occasionally creepy or cool roller coaster of disappointments.

Whenever a Why is explained about The Shimmer, it's not a revelation. It's just ... "Oh ok."

I don't mind it out of principle. I'm totally okay with a movie not explaining itself, or using an umbrella explanation like "this unexplainable thing is making unexplainable things happen." I quite enjoyed it earlier this year when The Cloverfield Paradox utilized it. The two were received like polar opposites, but from my seat -- at home on my couch -- they're remarkably similar. Annihilation felt very much like a Netflix film -- in both the good way and the bad. Bad in that it was less than advertised, and good in that it was an original and well-assembled film.

It has practiced pacing, a slow increase of tension throughout, and a firm grip on how to build a quality moment. Each one gets ruined later of course. Sometimes preemptively through flash-forward interrogation scenes. It's like the exposition scenes are there because there was no confidence in the audience's ability to understand visual storytelling. The dialogue is reiteration of what we've seen but simplified; making it all feel mundane. But the curious moments in and of themselves work well. Disregarding the glaring soft white light, the cinematography is thoughtful and fits the style, and there are moments when the score is mesmerizing.

I presume the idea was the lights and colors were blended like everything in The Shimmer -- a neat idea in theory, but visually unpleasant. It gave an eye-ache. 

It's in the details that the movie most shows signs of life. Though many moments were ruined by the too-revealing trailer, including the return of the bear. Though it having Sheppard's voice was still a wonderfully disturbing feature. Also interesting: the guy who'd grown into the wall like a clicker from The Last of Us, the tree people, Kane's bear-rose tattoo, Lena's tattoo which appears on her arm and is also visible on Anya and Last of Us Dude; and the end sequence was extremely unusual to say the least. Things like the tattoos are just tidbits. Others like Dude and the trees are explained in ways that sucks out all the wonder while never satisfying your curiosity.

"Everything gets blended." Great, cool idea, but that's not an explanation, it's just a description of the result. Why? How? Is it good or bad? Why should we care? Scientific terms are used, but it's not challenging to understand. This movie was advertised like another Interstellar; promising mind-bending, science-y scifi. It spends half its time in exposition, but it never goes deeper than the main idea. I can't have my mind blown over the same thing twice, no matter how many times its illustrated. And they introduce many potentially strange things, only to explain them away in the same disengaging way over and over.

The rules were all-encompassing, so I accepted everything that happened unfazed.

The movie falters equally as a horror film, for the same reasons -- less than advertised, and lack of exploration leaves potentially disturbing elements as merely weird, so the terrifying things such as the bear are left as fleeting external threats. It's unclear if the alien being was meant to be viewed as a threat. Characters talk about it in an understanding way, but it's pattern is one of causing death, and the film ends with Lena tricking it into self-destructing instead of herself self-destructing for it. The Shimmer still exists inside Lena and Kane, so presumably it lives on -- but if it's a representation of self-destruction, isn't that bad?

"It wasn't destroying. It was making something new." "Making what?" "I don't know." That exchange sums up everything. We're meant to look at it positively but are given no reason why. Not even a vague one that invites interpretation. It seems to clash with the film's theme of self-destruction and replication. There's also a cancer thread that goes maddeningly unexplored. The movie only ever points out things; details that tie together into a meaningless theme. It's all very tidy and interesting, but at some point, I need satisfaction, and something concrete to hold on to.

"Kind of a lame movie." -- My Dad. It's not that it lacks the proper features; it just doesn't work them properly. 

As a drama, it's weird and very hit-or-miss. I liked what the actresses did to give an extra smidgen of personality to their characters, but the supporters are given one or two lines of exposition dialogue as their character development, and it doesn't go far. I liked Sheppard's quiet, matter-of-fact manner. And a clear thematic reason for all the cancer mentioned was missed. Oscar Isaac and Natalie Portman are good together. So good that I found it a stretch that she'd cheat on him. The idea is introduced that self-destruction is in our DNA, so she can't help it, but the ending was meant to counter that, I believe.

Never lacking something odd to look at, the main fault I have with Annihilation is that I looked hard for answers to the mysteries beneath the oddities, and the hidden intelligence I thought I'd been promised; I was prepared and ready to have my mind challenged, but I never found anything inside to interpret. It was all a pretty shell; and when laid bare, the fascination crumbles.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story



In its long and not at all reassuring build-up and production, the biggest apprehension I had over this film was the casting of Han Solo. Turns out, that's the one thing they got right.

I won't even argue if he was miscast. I don't know and don't care about that. He put in a heck of an effort and saved the whole movie as far as I'm concerned. And Chewie helped. Man, I wish the movie had just been about them...

This project is so convoluted I have no idea how anything got done at all, but now that I've seen it, I imagine a Think Tank for this film that goes something like:

"Okay fellas, what should the plot be for this Han Solo solo movie?"
"It could show his home planet, and how he leaves."
"It could be about how he meets Chewie!"
"Or about how he meets Lando."
"I think it should be about the Kessel Run."
"I want to know how he got his blaster."
"Shush, Karl."
"It should be about him being a pilot and a smuggler."
"What's the most important thing about Han? The Falcon! It's gotta be about how he gets her."
"I think it should have romance."
"Shut up Karl!"
"Ooh, I know! The origin of his NAME!"
"Karl! I swear--"
"Okay now fellas, listen up, I've got it -- we'll make it about ALL those things!"
"Even Karl's?"
"Cool, who should play the love interest?"
"Ooooh! Oooooooh!"
"Yes, Karl?"
"Emilia Clarke!"
".... Brilliant."


In short, the only idea that was worse than all the small ideas that made up the plot of this film was the main idea that it should be a film at all. I held out hope that it had potential -- I did. But there is only one feature in this pile of a result that I'm willing to give any significant amount of praise to, and that is Alden Ehrenreich. He tried his damnedest, I'm sure he did. Maybe he was trying to salvage his career at some point, but he really gave 110% and I think his career is intact. While pros like Harrelson and Bettany were phoning in, he was searching for an impossible balance between an impression, and an original interpretation, and the pleasing of different directors with different visions, and honestly, well done to him.

Han isn't written well. He has no character arc and is constantly overshadowed by inferior characters. Every time the plot starts heading in a direction that might lead somewhere interesting for him, it quickly diverts back to the safety of fan service. But this I can say for Ehrenreich: he did everything he could with what he had. He performed admirably. There were moments where you could see a glimmer of Harrison Ford inside him, and there were times when you forgot who he was supposed to be at all and he briefly became his own thing. And he gave the acting side way more than was necessary for a movie like this. Even if it was a good Star Wars movie he didn't have to be that good.

This particular one features an insufferable SJW robot and decides that it's just too far-fetched that Solo might be his real name. A pinnacle of filmmaking, it is not.

The rest of the movie is garbage -- as someone has said about its iconic ship. Garbage; mildly assembled into something that if you tilt you head and squint and the lighting is juuuust right has some semblance of a scifi action adventure plot. It's got everything the "Think Tank" members came up with. None of it works. If they had picked one thing and focused hard on that, maybe it could have pulled off the decency level of Rogue One. Instead it never spends enough time anywhere to do anything except serve some fans while simultaneously irritating others.

I didn't care for the idea that Han might have fought for the Empire, but if the movie had been about that they could have given a good reason; expanded on what they had and convinced me why it makes sense and matters. Make something matter for goodness sake! There was so much jumping around and switching of tracks that absolutely nothing stuck. Ideally, I think the movie should've been smaller. Cut out characters; cut mini origin stories for things that don't matter; give Han a character arc and make us care for the new iteration of him. Have him do something that isn't inspired by one line of dialogue from a forty-year-old movie.

The number of times they edge on something good, and the glimpses of a compelling character he gives us, are downright infuriating. 

This movie is afraid of intimacy. Afraid that if passion and dedication had been given to any part, it would've been the wrong part, and people would hate it. So, they compromised, and threw in everything they had in one sheepish haul, shrugged, and figured it would do in a pinch. Well, I still hate it, and if they had really tried -- like their star of a star -- and produced something that had actually been handcrafted, but not what I wanted, I could at least have told them good job on the effort. Instead, production-line mediocrity leaves me number than ever. Is it time for the rebellion yet?