Monday, September 11, 2017

IT

A bunch of kids in the 80s learn to face their fears as they fight an evil supernatural clown-monster who lives in the sewer and wants to eat them. It's the simple things that make the best stories.

I say that sarcastically, but honestly it's true -- even in this case.

Like with sci-fi, horror -- especially supernatural horror like this -- creates an impossible and heightened situation to put characters into, where they thrive. I like that side of the genre. Others prefer the side that puts weight on whether or not the movie is scary, sometimes to the detriment of plot and characters. In the balancing act, there's going to be disappointment on either side: the hardcore horror fans, who like the kids in Monsters Inc., are increasingly harder to scare, and the side I tend to, where the scares feel worthless if in the wake of unsatisfying character and plot. It's a hard thing to blend, and IT manages to be impressively balanced over a remarkably wide tonal range. Though personally, I was much gladder of the character development than I was the freaky bits.

On the character side IT is my cup of tea: the Pack of Boys™ character lineup is a classic. The quiet leader is Bill, , who keeps getting more impressive with each movie he does. Here, though there's plenty of interesting characters and crazy things happening around him, he doesn't let himself be overshadowed, and puts in the film's best and most enigmatic performance. The off-the-wall boy is Richie -- of Stranger Things (where he was the quiet leader of his own pack) -- and he impressed by comparison with his Mike Wheeler by being shockingly different from him. In spite of his potty mouth he wound up being a favorite, and was involved in many excellent moments.

Those two stood out to me, but even tiny moments of questionable acting from any of the kids were few and far between.

is Ben, the fat but incredibly lovable one. At his introduction I thought he was going to be a cliche, but from there he kept growing in endearment at an alarming rate. The rest stand out mostly because of their quirk: the Jewish kid Stanley ( (baby Star-Lord!)) the kid who's becoming his worry-wart mother, Eddie () and the outsider, homeschooled kid, Mike () -- represent! Then there's the girl, Beverly (). Her performance is up there with the best of them, and the character adds a ton to the dynamic of the story. She's exceptional -- but they all are. Each kid stands out in their own way, and each gets a solo scene of seeing Pennywise for the first time; that does make one section of the film repetitive, but worth it to get solid basic development in for everyone.

I found the character of Henry () extremely interesting too, but the character didn't have a real conclusion which mildly disappointing -- unless he comes back in Chapter 2. as Pennywise was of course excellent, ranging from disturbing to creepy to outright terrifying without coming across as too inhuman. And no, he's certainly not human, but he should still have character of some kind, and that he does. The makeup was top-notch, and his being naturally slightly wall-eyed was a fantastic detail. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention as Georgie, because my goodness. He was so young, and wasn't for a single moment unconvincing -- in any capacity.

The kids handle this dark fare excellently. It's amazing.

Plot draws the short straw -- such as it is. Individual scenes do a fine job blending horror with character development, but often do little to drive the story forward. You have the basic premise, and it moves along a straight path to the end with no twist or turns. Honestly twists and turns could have easily over-complicated things, and if only two were possible, complex characters and attention to horror thrills are the two most important, since plot can effectively work as a backdrop. The plot probably suffers from being compressed from that giant book into a two-hour-fifteen-minute runtime (even though only half the book was adapted!). You get the impression things are simplified and trimmed down to the bone, but the story does stay comprehensive, mainly held afloat by the solid characters.

IT dabbles in many types of horror which was a good idea. There's disturbing violence, edgy creepiness, suspense, gore, and jump-scares, but mainly it's good old-fashioned supernatural menace. The film's level of scariness depends on what scares you -- I felt scared only in the suspense, but many moments disturbed or surprised me, and overall the movie was tense, and yes, as scary as anything can objectively be. There's also a wonderful amount of effective comic relief, which I was monstrously glad to enjoy. And there were more than one or two moments that deftly pulled on the heartstrings.

Still not a horror fan, but I'll watch anything for something worthwhile -- and the heart here is definitely worthwhile.

To be completely honest, that's what I was there for. I understand that to make a good horror film you need certain elements, and to be effective in certain ways, while also creating a compelling story line, and sometimes the goals can conflict. This movie melds all its extreme elements as well as I've seen, and props to it for that, but I wasn't there for the horror and from my perspective the film succeeds almost in spite of the horror. Because the moments and elements that I loved about this story existed because of the horror-style premise, but were far, far superior to the thrill of a jump-scare. I loved watching the journey, struggle, and triumph of these characters, and I'm glad that's what mattered most to the filmmakers as well. IT is violent, dark, disturbing, and terrifying; effectively enhancing all the more the meager light that shines through.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - September

I didn't see a single movie in theaters in August, so I guess that means the summer season is over. I still want to see the indies I mentioned, but will have to wait for them. I did watch The Defenders on Netflix, and it was worse than my low expectations were expecting; absolutely pathetic, and the worst thing Netflix's Marvel has done, which is pretty incredible to me considering the long build-up the show had. Check out my review here.

As it stands, there's no big releases of September I'll definitely be seeing in theaters either, though there's plenty of interesting releases to keep an eye on, and hopefully at least watch at home. What looks good to y'all this month? I hope you all had a fantastic summer!


It
Sept 8th; R
For some reason I feel like this movie is capitalizing on the success of Stranger Things. Maybe because Finn Wolfhard is in it, maybe because it really does have that flavor. Of course, IT existed first. So I always say I'm not a horror movie person, but whenever something like this comes along I find myself interested. This isn't your average cheap scary movie, but the scarier something is the more "worth it" it needs to be. And this looks like the absolute most terrifying thing I've ever had even an inclining to watch! If I had to venture a guess about the quality right now I'd say it's going to be high -- really high. But it also look pretty freaking scary, so. It stars the talented Jaeden Lieberher, and Bill Skarsgard of the Skarsgard acting family as Pennywise.




Anti Matter
Sept 8th; NR
This one claims to be a scifi noir which immediately grabbed my attention, but the trailer is just... odd. It does have a strong mystery element to it, and there's definitely scifi too, but the style could be more appealing. The visual style seems to lean more scifi than noir, which is all too often the case I find, but it does have style at least, so that's already ahead of the curve. Anyway this is the sort of movie you watch because of the genre and premise regardless of what the trailer looks like. This is the sort of thing I'd love to watch at home out of pure curiosity if I ever see it streaming, with not a whole lot of expectation, either low or high.




The Limehouse Golem
Sept 8th(limited); NR
British period mystery yes please. A "before Jack the Ripper" tale in the 1800s, with Bill Nighy as the detective, with Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, and ever-fantastic Eddie Marsan who supports the heck out of everything he supports. This looks like a classic British mystery in a borderline typical way, but even if it is, I think I'd prefer it that way, especially if it's done well. Will keep an eye out!




Rebel in the Rye
Sept 15th; PG-13
Nicholas Hoult looks pretty strange with brown eyes. This is a biopic about J.D. Salinger, who wrote The Catcher in the Rye, and I haven't read The Catcher in the Rye. It looks like the sort of thing I'd enjoy as a writer, but based on the few reviews around, it's not worth much. A case of wasted potential, it appears. At any rate, I wouldn't let myself watch it before reading the guy's book, but it does have Kevin Spacey and Sarah Paulson besides Hoult, and looks like a good drama on the surface.




Mother!
Sept 15th; NR
Well this one's already been making waves ever since the trailer first dropped, but it's also one of those cases where I'm not in on the joke. Even if it turned out appropriate enough that I want to bother with it, which is unlikely, I still have no obsession with Darren Aronofsky, having never seen a single movie of his, and my like of Jennifer Lawrence is dwindling at best. It's a psychological thriller, which produces idle curiosity over what the twist is, but otherwise doesn't seem to promise anything worthwhile beyond an extremely memorable style. I expect the day I watch this is the day I had nothing better to do. Javier Bardem co-stars.




American Assassin
Sept 15th(limited); R
So I guess Dylan O'Brien wants to be an action star. Good -- because he's really good at it. The energy he brings to his action is extremely unique and entertaining. I'm not a fangirl, but I'd watch this guy play in action flicks all day long. And that's the main appeal of this film, though it does have Michael Keaton in it, and what looks like a fun-while-being-super-serious kind of plot.




Brad's Status
Sept 15th(limited); R
Ben Stiller's back. For some reason I like Ben Stiller, especially when he's in dramedies and indies. The appeal of this one really is just him and the rest of the cast. Austin Abrams of Paper Towns is his son, Jenna Fischer is his wife, and Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson and Jemaine Clement are his more "successful" friends. Sounds nice. Sounds like I don't even care what the plot is.




Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Sept 22nd; R
I gave a favorable review to the first one, but the last half bothered me. I re-watched it recently and now firmly believe that while stylish, and charming on the surface, it isn't nearly as smart as it thinks it is, and has little going on under the surface. That's not to say this one won't be good, or even that I won't see it. I'm not sure. It's just to say that I'm not head-over-heels, and won't be holding out much hope that this sequel will be any improvement. The success of the first implies this will be more of the same, which is hardly ever an improvement, and almost always a relative let-down. But Taron Egerton is still here and being charming so it can only sink so far. Mark Strong is back too. Colin Firth returning is far-fetched, but I suppose that's the whole point!




The Lego Ninjago Movie
Sept 22nd; PG
I'd be very surprised if this ends up being even in the same ballpark of quality as The Lego Movie or even The Lego Batman Movie, but it exists, so hey, you might as well watch it! That's maybe not the best thing to say. It is important that movies try to have good quality after all, and this one is probably mostly just banking on the success of the previously mentioned, but the trailer does provide a few giggles, so that's not nothing. Voice talents of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, and Jackie Chan will be heard.




American Made
Sept 29th; R
This is the sort of movie that looks good, but I just don't care. Tom Cruise is making up for The Mummy apparently; the story is light and full of comedy but is also based on a true story so that different and fun; and it's got a unique style to it, maybe coming from the era. It looks like a worthwhile watch, but is the sort of thing I wouldn't ever see unless it was convenient. In short, it looks great, and forgettable. Dohmnall Gleeson is also in it though.




Realive
Sept 29th; NR
Pronounced "re-alive" not "real-ive" I assume. Overlooking the kinda bad title, this is an interesting scifi movie to me, because it takes an idea that is very popular -- cryogenically freezing yourself when you're dying until the science is invented to save you -- and applies it in the most realistic way I've ever seen in a movie premise. Like, why has no one thought of making a movie from this perspective before? From the trailer it looks like it's told from a realistic perspective, though who knows how it plays out. Tom Hughes stars, and the movie promises a bit of romance as well. Gotta watch those scifi movies!




Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Defenders

Spoilers!

Well this turned out a lot worse than expected. And my expectations were halfway based on the quality of Iron Fist, which was spectacularly bad. Read my review of it here in order to get the full impact of my opinion when I compare them and say The Defenders is actually the worse of the two, trading in accidental laughs for apparent intentional boredom. This is what we've been building towards for two years? Color me stupefied at the absolute lack of anything worthwhile.

"Gonna go save this city.... I guess..."

My problem was that 50% of my expectations came from Iron Fist, but the other 50% came from Daredevil Season 1. If the 50% had been based on Daredevil's second season I would have only been marginally disappointed, but for some reason the one exceptional thing Netflix's Marvel has done out of five sneaked in there and got my hopes up. I also thought Iron Fist was rushed and cheapened to get this heavy hitter out faster and better, but now I'm scratching my head; if the brilliant plots and great production quality was being saved up, where did it all go? It isn't here, that's for sure.

This series is 8 episodes long, and it takes until episode three for all four Defenders to finally accumulate into the same room. Slow like molasses. But not smooth like molasses, because every scene change feels like switching channels between a cheapened versions of the solo shows for whichever character is on screen. They're even color-coordinated! Daredevil is shown in red, then Jessica Jones is blue, Luke Cage gets yellow, and Iron Fist is green. So cute right? Except every scene is colored that way. Think back on Daredevil season one: what was the prominent color? It was actually green, and the green actually set Daredevil's tone better than red. And it wasn't nearly as oppressive, with many highlight colors going on too. Even Iron Fist had a varying color palate; I don't know about Jessica Jones or Luke Cage but I can only suppose they weren't limited either.

Defenders assemble! ... in a minute. Hang on, let's talk about this first (and wait didn't I leave wet clothes in the wash?) Almost ready... oh darn the show's over!

It was obviously done here on purpose, especially since once they team up, specific colors are thrown out the window and everything just looks muddy. I cannot understand why though, because while it occasionally made memorable shots, the main effect it had was to emphasize how separate the characters were, which made their slow pace toward collaboration all the more maddening. And even once they "team up" they are constantly in-fighting, and never click like a team; lone-wolfing in close proximity. At the end of each episode I was thinking to myself, "Well, it seems like it might be about to get started..." And then the season ended and would you look at that -- nothing happened!

They didn't even defeat The Hand. Instead four brand spanking new additional leaders of The Hand were added and promptly killed off. Hand oldie Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) is still puttering around. The only permanent damage this show did was killing off Stick (Scott Glenn) (cue collective sigh of relief, though honestly he was one of the better characters) and removing Luke's cop friend's arm. Though I expect with Danny's "connections" she'll have a nice mechanical one soon. I was shocked they killed Sigourney Weaver's character in episode 6. She was being geared up to be the main villain; we had to watch her go to doctor visits, and take medication, and put on weird dresses, and stare at herself in the mirror -- and then there was no pay off? She pushes Electra (Elodie Yung) in the right direction and then dies? All the time wasted, and Madam Gao could have done the same thing.

HOW-w can you seeeeeeee into my-e-eyes, like open doOORS?

I'm now wondering what would've happened if this show had been combined with Iron Fist, subtracting the multiple Hand leaders shtick and maybe even cutting out the team-up aspect. The root problem with The Defenders and Iron Fist was intolerably little content stretched thin over too many episodes, so double the content could only be an improvement. Of course that would still leave the Danny Rand (Finn Jones) character problem, because oh my goodness gracious sakes alive that kid is hard to like. Yet as irritating as he is, he was a central part of nearly all the most entertaining parts of the show. And honestly no one is particularly likeable. Even if their characters had been done successfully before, the lack of meaningful content in the show effectively keeps characters from having meaningful existences.

Daredevil's (Charlie Cox) abilities aren't as solid as they should be and have been. His drama with Foggy and Karen is boring, and his drama with Electra is forced and painful. Jessica Jones' (Krysten Ritter) investigating scenes are like actually watching people do real internet research, which is to say, boring; even by this show's standards. She pops off one-liners that occasionally warrant a chuckle but sometimes I could swear you can hear crickets. It doesn't help that no characters laugh, or even smile as far as I can remember. They're deadpan and deadbeat, and in some cases, literally dead. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) I found mildly interesting, but since I hadn't seen his show, I was expecting him to stand out more than he did. Maybe this show pulls him down like it does Daredevil. The fight between Luke and Danny was arguably the best scene altogether -- and certainly the most genuinely humorous.

Like, Danny is the most irritating character... but... at least he makes you feel something.

The Defenders is completely devoid of joy and feeling, moves like a glacier, and gets nothing done. It takes even fewer risks than Iron Fist did, if that's possible. They couldn't even manage the risk of leaving us in suspense of Matt's well-being. Conversations have no spark, and chemistry between characters is non-existent. Yet most of the show is characters talking; explaining what's happened and discussing what will happen. Fight scenes lack the originality we've come to expect and take no risks either. Violent things happen, but nothing feels violent. It feels... insignificant; boring; dead. There's nothing to surprise, nothing to impress, and at the end there's a Return of the King-style multiple endings going on, each one more dead and depressing than the last.

When did being a superhero and saving the city you love become such a downer? And when did watching downright boring superhero fodder become so inanely acceptable? I think it's time someone defends the superhero genre from this kind of inept lifelessness. Alas, none of these guys are up to the task.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Passengers

Some spoilers.

Thirty years into a hundred and twenty-year voyage into deep space, a cryogenic pod malfunction wakes up to the biggest bummer of his entire life: he's gonna have to spend the rest of his life alone. Starving for company, he wakes up to join him.

Romance blossoms! Oh but wait -- that was actually a super mean thing to do...

For such a straightforward movie, my thoughts on it are annoyingly complicated. I wish I could just say, "It's pretty, its characters are pretty, there's science fiction, there's romance, it's not great, but it's decent." That would be true enough, but not the full truth. The full truth is that this movie bugged me creatively and caused me to think about what I would have wanted to be different, which opened up a whole lot of possibilities -- potential alternate timelines if you will -- against which to judge the version we got stuck with.

It is pretty though. Oh boy. I can't even say that and leave it alone, because I think the movie's dedication to being beautiful actually hindered its storytelling. It's pristine, and when things go wrong, it's still pristine, just in red and black, instead of blue and white, and with a bit of glossy sweat. If it had committed, and stuck its hands in the mud, it might have pulled out something valuable.

See???

I wanted to see Pratt's character be darker -- like as dark as you can go while still clinging to a sliver of sympathy. As dark as only scifi can support so eloquently. But he's Chris Pratt, so no; he has to be a good guy who makes an extremely dark mistake. What if he didn't see waking Jen up as a mistake until near the end? That would have been dark, and honestly more believable, but Pratt is so much more enjoyable as a good guy. Also, he does some fine acting in this movie. Very fine. Like, Jen does her exploding-anger-mental-breakdown-serious-acting and I was still more impressed with Pratt and his subtlety.

I just couldn't buy that good-guy-Chris-Pratt would ever fall so low as to actually wake someone else up. He's hyper aware of how terrible a thing it is, and even immediately seems to regret his actions. The movie's inability to commit to its premise was irritating. I'd like to see a version play out where he doesn't hide that he woke her up, so the anger can be immediate, and then he can spend the rest of the movie returning to sanity and understanding his error, while Jen slowly falls in love.

Check out how creepy he looks here.

Or, as my family and I were discussing during the movie, there could be a horror twist where he goes completely crazy, and has woken up several people before Jen. They all get angry with him so he kills them. Jen finds out, and has to fight for her life. That, in all honesty, seems like the least contrived direction this movie could have taken -- the honest progression of a character who is so desperately alone that they ruin another person's life to help themselves. I would hate to see Chris Pratt do horror-villain, but at the same time, his innate niceness and charm would make the twist all the more disturbing.

As it is, the plotting is as straightforward as they come, and incredibly, hopelessly predictable, in spite of the forced direction it takes. If only they had hidden something from us. I saw a video suggesting that the film begin with Lawrence waking up, and filling in Pratt's character slowly. That would have been tremendously better. Or even if we aren't told that he woke her up -- if were allowed to believe maybe it was an incredible coincidence; be suspicious of him; any kind of intrigue or mystery at all!

This movie focused way too much on looking good. (Note in the background. He's the android bartender. The reveal of him being an android was spoiled by the trailer. My fault for watching it, I suppose.)

There is mystery involving why the original malfunction happened, and that's the most intriguing aspect of the movie. Until the mystery is solved of course, (by deus ex machina ) and then it becomes the film's most trite aspect. But since this movie is a character piece, it needs more character intrigue than plot intrigue. It desperately needed character intrigue, and was sadly, sadly lacking. You would think there would be a lot, considering the fantastic situation these characters are put in, but the bulk of the meager character interest is due to performances that are better than their material.

It's unfortunate. A great number of things could have been done to change this movie into something, if not great, at least better. As it is, it isn't terrible. It has two fine leads, and a memorable premise -- the things that attracted me in the first place. It's visually unique, and should get credit for being an original story in this age of remakes. It has plenty of small flaws, but nothing huge or glaring.

Probably works best if you're looking for a romance rather than a scifi.

If you can turn off your mind, suspend your disbelief, and be ready for a disproportionate amount of romance, you might get something out of Passengers. And if that something is being entertained for two hours by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence roaming through a pretty scifi world... well, it could be better, sure, but it certainly could be worse.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - August

Well 2017 is officially a very impressive movie year! Last month I said it would be if anything managed to top the brilliant Baby Driver, and, (while I hesitate to compare them so directly since they're such completely different pieces of filmmaking) I think Dunkirk has done just that. I saw it regular, and then again in 70mm, and since I wrote my review before seeing the 70mm version, I'd like to talk a bit about the 70mm experience. Just skip down if this is completely uninteresting to you:


Firstly, yes, digital 70mm is a thing. Being a novice about being picky about movie screens it confused me for a while that my theater claimed to be showing a movie in film format digitally, but yes, everything looked and sounded as it should. I don't know if this is a super common question to have, but I would have liked a nice straightforward answer like this when I was wondering, so I'm putting it out there.

Next, what to expect with 70mm: If you're a film connoisseur or already know you love Dunkirk I'd absolutely recommend seeing it in 70mm. If you're a casual moviegoer, you might find it odd, because while the 70mm is being presented to us as the movie enhanced, it's enhanced in style rather than in quality. It is sharper, yes, and there more contrast to the picture, but those are minute details, and some of the more major differences in a lot of ways actually detract from the movie's quality. (Such as we've come to think of movie quality of course.) The 70mm's whites are much brighter and appear to vibrate on the screen -- the sort of thing you'd call a flaw if you saw it in a Transformer movie. The blacks are also much darker (at one point in the movie the lights go out, and it's as if the film itself goes out) and colors seemed more true. Some scenes had different tints from others. And you can see tiny imperfections in the film.

The biggest change though, and one I didn't expect, was the sound. There was much more bass overall (so as Spitfires fly overhead in the film, you feel their noise move through you as you would in real life) and the dialogue had some difficult to describe qualities to it -- to me it sounded vaguely like dialogue from on old 30's or 40's movie, which is appropriate, but it had a lowness to it, like higher frequencies in the voices were cut out. It also sounded grainy (if things can sound grainy) and almost muted, yet I found it easier to understand the lines. That seems counter-intuitive, but my dad said the same thing, and he's the one in the family who usually doesn't understand dialogue, so I swear, it's not just me being weird. Honestly the sound was my favorite difference, and absolutely enhanced the movie, which had already blown me away, to an even higher level.

Some of those things could easily be called flaws in a normal movie situation, except, here, that is how Christopher Nolan meant the film to be. What was made obsolete by improving technology has now become an artistic style choice, and Nolan used it to great advantage. Regular movie projection now shows us the film as less than it's meant to be -- and I find that very neat. (Then of course there's IMAX to consider but I won't go there.) It goes along with how the characters were done; Nolan stripped away the common and the unnecessary from the film, making his vision all the more focused. In short, after seeing Dunkirk in 70mm, I feel that my experience experiencing this experience of a film is only now truly complete. And the ticket price was not a cent more expensive!


(Click here to read my review of the film itself!)

I also saw Spider-Man: Homecoming in July, but after Dunkirk, poor Spidey is a bit overshadowed right now! I liked the movie, and loved Tom Holland as the kid hero, and even saw it twice! (Review here!) I still want to see Valerian someday, but probably won't waste ticket money on it, and since War for the Planet of the Apes got such a good response from fans, I'll watch that eventually too; to either solidify my low opinion, or change my mind (unlikely, but possible I suppose.)

August has no must-sees (unless new information develops) but a good spread of pretty interesting movies! A nice number of indies! I like indies. Anyway, on to my list. How was your movie-July? And how is you movie-August shaping up? Let me know in the comments!


The Dark Tower
Aug 4th; PG-13
Based on the novel series by Steven King, and the trailer looks cool, but I don't really have a dog in this race. I never got around to reading the book, though I usually do whenever an interesting movie based on a book is coming up. Maybe I could still squeeze it in, but I'm not sure I want to. I heard rumors that there were changes made, and the book fans aren't terribly happy? Of course based solely on the trailer, it being based on a King story is a definite plus. Idris Elba is always effortlessly cool and hardcore, and Matthew McConaughey playing the baddie is nice for once. I'm not holding out much hope that it'll be much more than a fun mid-summer action flick with some neat sci-fi elements, but if it does that, and does it well, that'll be all it needs to be anyway -- for me that is. For the fans I hope it's a satisfying adaptation. If there are good reviews it's likely that I'll go see this one.




Wind River
Aug 4th; R
I still haven't seen Sicario or Hell or High Water, but every time this Taylor Sheridan writes a movie it looks very interesting. This one is a murder mystery starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. I've always liked the niche dynamic they have in the Avengers movies, so I'd like to see this one someday on that point alone. I think the trailer gives too much away though, so maybe think twice before watching it.




Some Freaks
Aug 4th(limited); NR
Thomas Mann is great. I'll watch him in any kind of romance/dramedy. He seems to like the quirky ones, and this one's about as quirky as they come! It's an indie so who knows when it'll pop up somewhere, but I'll be on the lookout.




The Only Living Boy in New York
Aug 11th(limited); R
Whether I want to see this depends largely on how it ends, and what the take-away is, but in order to know that, you have to see it. So I'll keep an eye open. It's got a great cast. Listening to Jeff Bridges explain existential things is one of the finer things in life.




Pilgrimage
Aug 11th(limited); NR
Me watching this trailer: "Ooo, Peter Parker and Punisher medieval team up, that's sounds cool." "Woah, it's a quest movie -- very Lord of the Rings." "Oh my gosh, Ritchard Armitage! It is Middle Earth!" And then finally: "Yikes." This actually looks quite a bit more interesting than a mere Spidey/Punisher team-up. Will be on the lookout.




The Hitman's Bodyguard
Aug 18th; R
So, like, the comedy version of Safe House? Sounds neat. Honestly I expected I wouldn't even have to bother with this one since it's so blatantly R-rated, but apparently there will be only language and violence so not as bad as I was expecting. R-rated comedies can work for me, but it has to be genuinely a good movie for me to brave the waters. This is a case of "wait-and-see." The trailer I saw in theaters a while back made it look pretty dumb, but this one has more promise. Samuel L. Jackson is for sure, but Ryan Reynolds is hit or miss. Hopefully it's a hit, but I won't be missing anything if it isn't.




Logan Lucky
Aug 18th; PG-13
Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig getting as far away from Bond as he possibly can poor guy, Sebastian Stan, Katie Holmes, Katherine Watterson, Hilary Swank -- it's definitely got the cast of a good movie! It's got oddball comedy, a memorable quirky plot, weirdo characters, and a heist. Sounds like a pretty great movie actually. It's also got an early perfect score on RT. It hasn't reached must-see status for me yet, but I will be paying close attention as it comes around the bend.




The Defenders
Aug 18th on Netflix
Daredevil season 1 was fantastic. Season 2 was barely passable only because of Punisher. I never watched Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, and probably never will. And Iron Fist was laughably bad and a sad letdown. Yet, here I am, garnering up excitement for the team-up. My optimistic mind is considering that Iron Fist was only terrible because it was rushed, and since Defenders is Netflix-Marvel's big event effort will be put into it. My rational mind watches this trailer, and sees nothing worth getting hopes up for. I won't be surprised if the 18th rolls around and I find myself sitting down to watch this -- the surprise will come if it's actually as great as it should be.




Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk

Spoiler-free.

That Dunkirk is a great piece of filmmaking is no surprise. That it is immaculately crafted in Nolan's palpable style, that it's a beautiful and loud, that it's an intense and visceral experience; all things expected. I honestly expected that it would be every bit as well-made a film as it truly is, and from a technical aspect, as flawless as they come. I expected to feel and appreciate it's worth, but, as with so many other films of its type, to not be able to form a personal attachment to it; its story or its characters. That I would be impressed and pleased, but untouched; approving and satisfied, but aloof. As the movie continues to sink in, my surprise continues to grow, because this wartime epic is sinking straight into my heart.

"You can practically see it from here." "What?" "Home."


Unconventional in style, Dunkirk gets a non-linear timeline from writer/director that evokes a similar reaction to what we got with his sci-fi movies like Inception. The "what's going on?"'s and the quiet gasps of realization as pieces fall into place are unexpected in a true-event war film, but the three overlapping timelines made pacing a breeze, and the film feel like a concise and stand-alone story, instead of a small piece of the giant big-picture that is WWII. Executing the story with precision and minimal exposition, Nolan counts on the intelligence of his audience, and that feeling of confidence, all too lacking in all too many movies, is most welcome.

The oddest thing about this film is its characters. While labeling 's character of Tommy (so named in the credits but never mentioned in the film) as the lead is the most accurate thing to do, really the movie declines to adhere to traditional film-character guidelines such as lead or secondaries, heroes or villains, revealing names, or even conducting well-rounded character arcs. Characters come and go and we are served a brief glimpse into their lives within this crisis. Tommy gets lead status from me not simply because he's most present throughout the film, but more because his essence reflects the movie's tone, so even in the corners of the story the character doesn't literally observe, the film consistently feels as though it's shown through his eyes. If any character is important to the film, even as it doesn't rely on character, it's him.

His face is striking, and gorgeous in the cinematography, but, that's not what makes him the best pick to be the film's poster-child.

The timeline he belongs to is the longest and most filled with familiar faces. and are often by his side, and and are in command on the beach. In the second timeline civilian captains a yacht to the rescue. He is wonderful, and the two boys assisting him ( and ) are excellent. 's harrowing character is just called "shivering soldier." The third timeline is in the sky with heroic and his wing-man . Performances are all-around excellent; subtle and exceptionally real. And characterization is such as each soldier who wanders through the frame bestows that feeling you get when you pass a stranger on the street, and are suddenly acutely aware that they have a life of their own that you'll never understand. Though we often don't get to see it, we know there's more to them.

Visually the film is spectacular and intimate, giving an epic, raw experience that has that "like you're really there" feeling like nothing else I've seen. Shots from the air, showing off the distant ocean as planes chase each other down, took my breath away. And my ears are still stinging from the explosions of gunfire. I hated watching people drown, and I felt like cheering out loud in the moments of elation, relief and success. And importantly, I never felt prodded to feel those things. Nolan had no underlying agenda here; he just told his story and made it something worth witnessing, leaving us to understand, judge and love characters, and come to conclusions on our own. Hand-holding has no place in this film's style, and point-making within such complexity is arrogant and cheapening.

The emotions in this movie are as un-fabricated and honest as fiction can be.

Sweeping and intimate, deafening and still, distant and involving, Nolan has again broken convention to tell a story, and the result is a magnificent, one-of-a-kind piece of art. Tense, suspenseful, terrifying; everything it's expected to be. Poignant, complex, and sincere; everything it needed to be. A beautiful assault on the senses. Dunkirk defies the odds, breaks the rules, and becomes something extraordinarily special and magnificently rare; but is, at the end of the day, simple to define: an outstanding war film.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Mild Spoilers.

Though we may be sick of all the rebooting this character has been subjected to, Sony has buckled down and teamed up with Marvel to prove that everyone's favorite web-slinger is far from being used up. It's easy to say Marvel is saving Sony here, giving Spidey a ready-made world to inhabit, but it's just as true that Sony is helping Marvel, lending them a ready-made lovable character that fits into their world like a webbed glove.

Spider-Man is pretty much the best thing ever, isn't he? It certainly seems like it right now!

is our Friendly Neighborhood You Know What, and after our sneak preview via Civil War, it's no surprise that he's this movie's most valuable commodity. He has that genuine but kinda awkward quality that Maguire had, and the nervous energy of Garfield without overdoing it to the point of (too much) pain, plus adding a new element of actually being believable as a teenager. Holland settles into the role with ease and confidence, delivers the cheesy lines when it's called for, and lets loose on the drama in impressive fashion. I hoped but hardly expected this to be a role for him to show off acting chops; turns out it was, and the opportunities were neither wasted nor overdone. In short, Holland's Peter is a well-meaning sweetheart and impossible not to love.

One of the most pleasant choices this film made was to limit the role of Tony Stark (). They needed conflict between him and Peter as Peter wants to become a full-time Avenger but Stark doesn't have the time or the confidence in his maturity to comply. I was fittingly very happy to see Happy Hogan () cast as a intermediary for this conflict, babysitting Peter and ignoring his texts and calls for an even lower blow to the kid's morale. Then it's all the more devastating when the big man does show up to deal out punishment when Peter messes up. It's a scary and effective absent-father and son type dynamic.

It was nice actually, because May didn't have to be the antagonistic parent-type. Stark fit the part perfectly.

Aunt May () then takes a parental backseat, though she and Peter have a handful of sweet scenes together that help ground the film. Peter's best friend is Ned () who works foremost and most effectively as a sounding board for Peter, and only secondarily has a few fun things to do for himself. Peter's crush is Liz () and my pants would spontaneously combust if I said I didn't enjoy the mess out of the teen-flick rom-com elements her character created. No glorious cliche was left un-reveled in, and every irritating cliche was left undisturbed. But don't forget Michelle () who was a darkly sarcastic cynic on par with April Ludgate, and as such I loved her immediately with zero inhibitions. She was underused plot-wise, but has a promising future. even gets a fun cameo role for the fans.

is the film's villain, Toomes, and the movie started out boldly giving its entire opening to him. It established him as a man in a sympathetic situation who makes the not heroic choice, falling down the slippery slope of immorality into villainy. It's typical of Marvel, but their best villain formula and done particularly well in the capable hands of Keaton. He finds an excellent balance of sympathy and evil, and digs in deep for plenty of content fantastically disturbing and conflictingly sad. In the Vulture costume there's not much besides the menace, and the physical fights between him and Spider-Man are only great when grounded by their emotional and moral conflict. The scenes of mere conversation between them were much more compelling, and fortunately were heavily featured.

About as good a Marvel villain as one could hope for. He gets the job done memorably.

One of my favorite things this movie did, and the lead-in for my least favorite thing is how Homecoming felt like a behind-the-scenes Avenger type film. It starts it pointedly with Peter's phone-video Civil War experience, and does a great job keeping it up throughout. Toomes begins the film cleaning up after the Chitari. We see Peter in school before we see him as Spider-Man, and before we get to watch him stop petty crimes, he takes a minute to change clothes for his "after school job" in a back alley, and the real-life element this (and other similar moments) lends is brilliant; amusing comedy plus a solid foundation, making the fantastical elements easy to swallow.

Classic Spider-Man cliches have fun poked at them in winking good humor (upside down kiss?), or are used in such a straightforward way that they lose their contrivance. Spidey must fight the climactic battle sans mask, but instead of contriving some complicated reason or way for it to come off, he just takes it off! And most reliving to me, his ditching friends and school to fight crime without explanation doesn't cause undue repercussions. People get mad at him, but his absence never ruins anything but his reliability. When the movie was in this space, I was on cloud nine, watching it dodge every oncoming bullet so nimbly and cheekily. But once or twice it shoots itself in the foot out of nowhere.

The movie is directed by Jon Watts and was written by him and five other writers. Disconnect makes sense.

The first time was in a no-man's-land section of act two, where after disabling Stark's "training wheel" program in Peter's suit he is overwhelmed with too many new features right before a fight. It's played for comedy and tries to squeeze fifteen laughs out of what should have been two. Irritatingly, Peter is deprived of all common sense to let it happen. Later he takes a few minutes to learn about the new features, and from there it's actually cool. The second time is in the ending. Right after a wonderfully small-scale and character-driven battle, we and Peter are introduced to the new Avengers facility and are supposed to be wowed by Tony's wit and gadgets when all we want and need is a resolution for Peter's character arc. We get it, but it feels distracted and too frivolous. It could have been done much more effectively in a grounded and quiet scene between Peter and Tony, but sadly the need to refer to Marvel! and The Avengers! overruled.

Spider-Man does fall victim to the classic Marvel-production-line-blockbuster problem, but even considering the couple of blatant missteps and sporadic minor stumbles it hardly seems fair to say "fall victim" because few movies have handled the cut-and-paste formula so comfortably. Jokes land at an average Marvel ratio, but failed jokes don't irritate; lively performances breathe life into the tired script; and the assembly-line action sequences are yet again responsible for turning in fun, if generic, visual thrills. The plot formula is at home here, successfully creating a story that builds interest and is better at the end than it is at the beginning. And the third act is the most spectacular wish-fulfilling thing I've seen in a superhero flick in a terribly long time.

Sixteen Candles with a superhero lead? If it had stuck closer to that it might have been incredible.

I remember reading that the idea was to make a John Hughes-esque flick, and the moments where that came across on screen were by far the best -- quiet, heartfelt moments, that never seemed to last long enough, and subtle details presented with tact. Distractions occurred, so it's half a Marvel flick and half an every-teen dramedy, and somehow it finds a semblance of balance, and the combo holds together, say, 97% of the way. At times exactly and miraculously what it should be, at times falling to temptation; one thing at least is sure: missteps and mistakes may happen, but Spider-Man has a big heart, and Spider-Man put it in the right place.