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Monday, May 25, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Battleship (2012)

Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Taylor Kitsch
Domestic Gross: $65,422,625

Not that there was ever a good reason to make a movie based on the board game Battleship, but I have to think that at some point there was a better reason than to make yet another humanity vs. aliens story which turns out to be as generic as the production budget is high ($209 million, high). Battleship is a film that exists for no reason except in the hope (misplaced, as it turns out) that brand recognition would translate to box office dollars. It doesn't even have the distinction of knowing what kind of movie it wants to be and is a bizarre mishmash of tones and genres, a film haphazardly put together from the bits and pieces of a bunch of different kinds of stories and then stretched out to an interminable 131 minutes. At the very least a film based on a board game - even one which only references its source in as brief and perfunctory a fashion as this one - should have a decent sense of fun. Battleship doesn't even have that, unless its thread of retro jingoism stirs something in you.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Review: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

* * *

Director: Martin Ritt
Starring: Richard Burton

"What the hell do you think spies are?... They're just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me, little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives." I don't know that there are many popular writers with world views as consistently cynical and hard-edged as John le Carre, whose stories so often turn on the worst in human behavior (much of it sanctioned and/or encouraged by government agencies) and the men whose spirits have been decimated by it. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is no different, which makes it a somewhat hard movie to enjoy because it's so depressing that you don't necessarily want to watch it again, even though it's a very well made piece of work. Maybe the fact that you don't want to watch it again (or, at least, that you don't want to see it again for a while) is a sign of just how good it is and how effectively this adaptation tells the story.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

21st Century Essentials: This Is England (2006)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Shane Meadows
Starring: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham
Country: United Kingdom

Shane Meadows This Is England is a film that succeeds in two thematic respects. First as a story about that in between stage of adolescence, when one is still young enough and underdeveloped enough to still be considered a kid, but emotionally attuned enough to be struggling with very adult issues; second as a story about how hatred is learned and created in a volatile space borne out of fear. It is an uncommonly intelligent and sensitive movie in both respects. In fact, so complete and fascinating is Meadows’ depiction of the milieu and its characters that This Is England has resulted in two sequel tv miniseries, with another one on the way. But it all starts here, with the story of a young misfit struggling to make sense of the world and find a place where he belongs, and taking the wrong fork in the road in the process.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

* * *

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts

"It is my intention to astonish you all." The statement, made by the heroine of Far From the Madding Crowd is a bold one, particularly for a woman in the late 19th century, and it's one of several that she makes. While Thomas Hardy's best known characters are his tragic ones (Jude, Tess, the man known as the Mayor of Casterbridge), Bathsheba Everdene may very well be his best, a strong willed, independent minded woman who, through her willingness to pull up her bootstraps and get her hands dirty in order to get a job done, is sort of a precursor to Scarlett O'Hara. She's one of the great female characters in literature, and in Thomas Vinterberg's adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd she is brought beautifully to life by Carey Mulligan. Even if the film itself doesn't rise to the level of nuance and perfection of that central performance, the performance is more than enough reason to check this one out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

* * * 1/2

Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron

The summer movie season has only just started, but honestly it might as well be over now because I doubt it's going to get much better than Mad Max: Fury Road. Writer/director George Miller's triumphant return to the franchise which started his career 36 years ago (and which he last revisited 30 years ago - yes, it's been that long since Thunderdome) is a work of great vision and incredible execution. It is loaded to the brim with ridiculous, amazing action, grounded by rich thematic concerns (its success in this regard is all the more impressive for how little dialogue the film contains), and augmented by some incredible world building (which, again, is impressive given how little is said throughout). It is a relentless thrill ride that barely stops to take a breath for 120 minutes and when it's over you feel like you've just been repeatedly punched in the face - but in a good way.