Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Boyhood

Boyhood is absolutely remarkable.  I’ve never seen anything like it.


The film follows a boy named Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane.  We meet him at Age 6, the younger of two children in a working-class household headed by single mom Patricia Arquette.  His father (Ethan Hawke) is a dreamer and a flake, but not a bad guy.  And, over the next 12 years, Mason grows up.

That’s it.  He doesn’t solve crimes, or save the planet, or anything like that.  He just … grows up.  This film’s magic lies in its close, sympathetic observance of that process.  He and his older sister deal with their parents’ loves, with moves and schools and teachers and other kids, with sibling rivalry and love and puberty and bullies and beer and joy and all the rest.  There’s beauty in this kind of close observation, in watching Mason and his family navigate the river of life.  It evokes such tenderness, both for our own children and the children we used to be.

While much has been made of the fact that Boyhood took 12 years to film, giving us the real-time maturation of its actors, this film is much more than a “gimmick movie.” Writer/Director Richard Linklater created a story for those actors into which they could grow, and he gave them to us in a way that makes us feel that they’re a part of our family.  So in watching Boyhood, I felt that I was watching my own sons, that I was watching my own, younger self.  I felt that I was watching a testimony of the human (or, at least, the young American male) experience.


It was unique, and fascinating, and touching.  It’s the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Maps to the Stars

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” – T.R. Roosevelt


David Cronenberg is a great director.  From essential experiments like  Videodrome and Naked Lunch to mature and gripping crowd pleasers like The Fly, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, the man has created a filmography that constitutes a must-see list for those who engage with film as an art form as serious as it is entertaining.  In short, David Cronenberg isn’t just cranking ‘em out and cashing checks.

So Maps to the Stars doesn’t quite work.  So it’s a bit too elliptical at some points, too on-the-nose at others.  So it’s 111 minutes spent with terrible people doing mean things to one another, with no audience-identification characters and no hint of levity to season the mix.  So it’s a miserable way to spend a couple of hours.


I’d still rather watch it than Ted 2.  Cronenberg’s daring a mighty thing with Maps to the Stars, tackling a tough story peopled with difficult characters and trying to make something of it.  Even if he doesn’t quite pull it off, I’d rather watch one of Cronenberg’s misses than many other filmmakers’ hits. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3

Kung Fu Panda was a gorgeous, funny, exciting action-adventure.  Kung Fu Panda 3 is a not-so-gorgeous, reasonably funny action-adventure.

I recall Kung Fu Panda as featuring a bright, vibrant color palette that seemed to make every frame a work of art.  Either it was a fault with my theater’s projection, or Kung Fu Panda 3 used a more muted palette, one that looked nice but didn’t dazzle in the way the first film had.


Palette choices aside, the film felt more like a remake of than a sequel to the original.  Both feature old foes, back from a time in (a) prison, or (b) the afterlife.  Both feature training montages, a climactic battle, and a victory founded in the principle of finding one’s true self.  Both have the power to entertain children, but I found myself growing restless during the second act of the latter entry, making a non-imperative trip to the restroom and taking the time to inspect the “coming attractions” posters on my way to and from.


Still, my kids rolled out of the theater energized, and they happily discussed the film over sundaes afterward.  And hey, if they’re happy, I’m happy.  I just don’t know that I’m going to be in a rush to see Kung Fu Panda 4.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  -- I Corinthians, 13:11

I was 9 or 10 when Star Wars came out.  Like everyone else I knew at that age, I saw the movie multiple times, wore the t-shirt, had the lunchbox, etc.  

But, hey, I grew out of it.  I didn't make a point of showing the movies to my kids, though I did make the 'Clone Wars' cartoons available and even TiVo'd the first few episodes of 'Star Wars: Rebels.'  Star Wars was just another property in the entertainment marketplace.

Walking out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then, I was a happy guy.  The movie offered an enjoyable time in the theater with my wife and kids.  It featured a more interesting and entertaining villain's arc than all three prequels put together.  It had lightsaber duels, space-fighters, yet another exploding Death Star, and even a nu-Yoda there at the end.  I didn't expect The Force Awakens to change my life, so I was happy simply to enjoy a derivative, yet entertaining, science fantasy / space opera.

Did it capture my imagination for more than a few minutes after leaving the theater?  No, but that's ok.  I'm a man now.  My children liked, and that's who Stars Wars has always been for, all along.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


I loved The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  This is a fun, frothy movie with fast cars, stunning Mediterranean locations, beautiful people, and loads of stunts; and it’s all served up with an early-60’s lounge-cool vibe that’s just plain irresistible.

Here’s the setup: there are leftover Nazis, and they’re hiding out in Italy.  They’re about to get their hands on a nuclear weapon.  The CIA and KGB put their top agents on the case, forcing them to work together.  In other words, it’s a movie about a couple of ubermenschen who team up to fight Nazis off the Amalfi Coast. 


Now, if that isn’t the setup for a good time at the movies, I don’t know what is.  Ubermenschen Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer make for great spies, and Alicia Vikander more than holds her own as a spy in training.  The movie looks great, the music bops along wonderfully, and everyone seems to be having a great time.  What more could you ask for?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Kingsman: Secret Service; Creed; The Judge


Kingsman: The Secret Service

Andrew Ting said it best: Kingsman: The Secret Service is an amusing spy romp with an undertone of unsettling nastiness.  I’m still not sure whether that works for me or not.

Creed

Creed made me lose track of time.  Creed made me cry.  Creed didn’t move me in quite the same way as did the superlative Rocky Balboa, but you can’t blame a good movie for not being a great movie.  I’m ready for Creed II.

The Judge

There’s a scene in The Judge in which protagonist Robert Downey, Jr. tries to make an uncomfortable confession.  “This is going to be rough,” he says to himself.
This one line encapsulates my problem with the film.  At this point, I’ve already been watching for over an hour.  I know what he needs to confess, I know to whom he needs to confess it, and I can guess at the very serious consequences this confession will entail.  And yet, The Judge thinks I’m an idiot so it tells me that yes, this confession will be rough. 

This is just one of many ways The Judge thinks I’m an idiot.  It thinks I’m an idiot because it underlines the film with a score designed to inform me, in very clear terms, when to laugh and when to weep.  It thinks I’m an idiot because it’s compelled to show me, again and again, how unimaginably idyllic Indiana really is.  It thinks I’m an idiot because it expects me to believe that absolutely everyone in its protagonist’s life has been stuck in time, like mosquitos in amber, since the day Downey moved away some thirty years before.  [Interlude]Look.  I come from an idyllic small town.  My wife comes from an idyllic small town.  We each moved away from our respective idyllic small towns roughly thirty years ago.  When we return for the occasional visit, we may run into one or two people who remember us and are happy to see us.  But nobody’s accusing us of having run out, of having turned our backs on our roots.  We’re just nice people who moved away to another idyllic town.  Those old friends are happy to see us and chew the fat for a bit, but they’ve moved on.  That’s how life goes. [/Interlude]  It thinks I’m an idiot because it photographs its heroes in the golden light of hagiography, its villains in the harsh blues of villainy.  Basically, it thinks I’m an idiot.

All of which leads me to inquire: what kind of an idiot reads a script that’s basically My CousinVinny with all the jokes torn out and replaced with heavy handed family dynamics, “coming home”
mythology, and uncomfortable incest subplots, and thinks, “Bingo?”
I’m not sure, but I am sure that I’ll be very careful about investing the time to see said idiots’ next film.  I know they didn’t mean to crash the car, but that doesn’t mean I need to be in a hurry to climb back in.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Calvary

Calvary is rough going.

The film begins with an Irish priest (Brendan Gleeson) sitting in confessional.  He’s listening to a man recount his tale of having been raped by a priest at the age of seven.  Then he hears the man say that since the rapist is long dead, the man will take the life of one good priest in a week’s time.  Brendan Gleeson is the good priest.

One could go a lot of places with a story like this.  It could be a pre-murder mystery.  It could be a meditation on faith.  It could be a thriller.  This film’s approach, however, is right there in the title: Calvary.  This is The Passion of the Christ, with the scorn of an Irish village and the sting of cruel words taking the place of the scorn of Jerusalem and the sting of the lash.


You see, this is an Ireland reeling from financial meltdown and revelations of years of sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy.  The people of our priest’s little town have not only lost faith, they’ve turned actively hostile to faith, actively hostile to the church, actively hostile to our priest.

And in the middle of it all, walking his own road to Calvary, our priest struggles to maintain his own dignity, his own faith, his own love.  He’s miserable.

On one level then, we can view Calvary as an exercise in making Brendan Gleeson unhappy.  On another, however, we can see it as a story of the very toughest part of Christianity: the imperative to actively love people who may actively hate you.  As such, Calvary has much to offer the devout viewer.


But that viewer is going to have to work for it.  This is not a film for the faint of heart or faith.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Without an extended sequence in the Hunger Games Arena, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is merely half of a dystopian revolutionary thriller. 

That said, it’s a *good* half of a dystopian revolutionary thriller, thanks to its cast.

I’ve been on the Jennifer Lawrence train since Winter’s Bone While I still haven’t quite forgiven her for Silver Linings Playbook, there’s no denying that she’s a movie star through and through: whenever she’s onscreen, she’s the most interesting thing onscreen.  Surround her with supporting players like Rachel McAdams (having a wonderful time), Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, Julianne Moore, and the late (and legitimately great) Philip Seymour Hoffman, and you have a cast that could elevate a soap commercial to the realm of high art.


And elevate they do, for while this is only half of a story, they fill it full of interesting moments.  I look forward to viewing the other half and seeing how the whole thing hangs together.