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Monday, July 31, 2017
Summer Not-Busters: The Happening (2008)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel
Domestic Box Office: $64,506,874
Well... what can one even say? The idea behind M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, his "the planet is trying to kill us" thriller, is actually a pretty good one. Humans are pretty terrible to the planet so the premise that, like any living thing, it would have an instinct for self-preservation that would drive it to try to rid itself of what's harming it, is a solid place to start a story. The problem is in the execution, which results in the film seeming more like a comedy (a very, very boring comedy) than a thriller. Add to it that it came from a filmmaker that audiences had clearly lost confidence in after two films that were terribly received (though much better received than some of his films yet to come) and you had a recipe for a film that had no business trying to make it work right in the heart of the summer release season.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Netflix Recommends... What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Director: Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi
Starring: Taika Waititi, Jermaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
When I take Netflix up on one of its recommendations, I'm usually taking a chance. Sometimes it has made really solid recommendations and I end up watching a movie that is either pretty good or objectively bad but fun to watch, but sometimes it recommends movies that are so completely outside the realm of my taste that I have to assume that the recommendations list is created randomly rather than according to an algorithm (though I'm sure the fact that I've seen several "Not Busters," many of which are movies that are outside of what I would normally watch, through Netflix has left it feeling that I'll just watch anything). What We Do in the Shadows, which I had heard of but didn't know much about, is one of Netflix's better recommendations, a very funny movie that manages to overcome the played out nature of many of its elements (it's about vampires and it's told in the mockumentary style).
Labels: Netflix Recommends
Saturday, July 29, 2017
21st Century Essentials: Brand Upon the Brain! (2006)
Director: Guy Maddin
Starring: Sullivan Brown, Erik Steffan Maahs, Gretchen Krich, Maya Lawson, Katherine E. Scharhon
Country: Canada/United States
To watch a Guy Maddin film is to have the feeling of being haunted twice over. You’re haunted first by the nascent years of cinema, before movies learned to talk, as Maddin uses silent films as his aesthetic inspiration. You’re then haunted by Maddin’s own anxieties as he builds his stories on repressed and forbidden desires and oh so many mother issues. In Brand Upon the Brain! Maddin invites you to accompany a man named Guy Maddin on a journey to his past, back to the island where he grew up and grappled with an absent father, an omnipresent mother, and an infatuation with both a boy and a girl (or so he thinks). Oh, and brain harvesting. Few films can truly be described as “unique” but the psychosexual surrealist adventure Brand Upon the Brain! certainly fits the bill.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Review: Dunkirk (2017)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Brannagh
I cannot imagine seeing Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk in IMAX. I'm sure it's an incredible viewing experience, I have no doubt that certain elements of the film would actually be enhanced by being seen in that format, but I don't think I'd be able to handle the intensity of it. I had to stress eat my way through the regular theatrical format as it is. That's how immersive an experience Dunkirk is; it leaves you feeling breathless and worn-out, but also exhilarated and, despite the deep wells of despair open just beneath the surface of many scenes, hopeful. The story of the evacuation of Dunkirk is one of disaster, destruction, and death, on the one hand, and the miracle of ordinary people stepping forward to do an extraordinary thing on the other. It's an epic tale told here in intimate, searing detail, minimalist in its scope but maximized in its power. Dunkirk is a triumph of filmmaking destined to join the ranks of the all-time great war movies as a standard bearer of the genre.
Labels: 2017 Top 10, 4 stars, Christopher Nolan, Review
Monday, July 24, 2017
Summer Not-Busters: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Domestic Box Office: $31,524,275
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one of those movies that seemingly everyone within a certain age range seems to know, yet judging by its box office only a small fraction of those people actually saw it in theaters. It is the definition of a cult film and I have a hard time believing that it would ever have been anything else. The way it looks, the way it plays, its humor and its references, pretty much everything about it from top to bottom suggests that it was always going to be the kind of movie that people watch at home with a group of friends, possibly while stoned, rather than at the multiplex, so I'm not entirely sure what Universal Pictures was thinking when it put $60 million into making it because there was virtually no way it was going to make that back (and it didn't, even when you factor in its international gross its box office take still falls well short of its production budget). Scott Pilgrim is what it was meant to be - for better and for worse.
Posted by Norma Desmond at 8:00 AM 2 comments
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Ten Years Later... I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)
Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James
I would like to think that a movie like I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry couldn't be made in 2017, but I would have liked to have thought that a movie like this couldn't even have been made in 2007. This movie is vile. There are parts of it that are downright gleefully hateful, and it doesn't particularly matter that it ends by giving a shrug towards tolerance. Once a movie has spent two-thirds of its time positively luxuriating in homophobia, misogyny, and just a little bit of racism, it doesn't get any credit for spending a few minutes giving lip service to the notion that it's not cool to be a bigot. You don't get to throw the word "faggot" around with abandon and then close by casually remarking that people shouldn't use that word. This is one of the grossest movies I've ever seen.
Posted by Norma Desmond at 8:00 AM 2 comments
Labels: Ten Years Later
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson
Humans. We had a good run. We irreparably damaged parts of the planet, we wiped out hundreds of other species, we developed all kinds of inventive ways to destroy each other. You can't say we didn't leave it all on the field. Now it's time to celebrate a new champion and maybe the apes will be able to do it all better. War for the Planet of the Apes, which is the final chapter in this particular part of the Apes series (though almost certainly not the final Planet of the Apes movie), finds humanity on the brink, not yet ready to give up even though the writing is so clearly on the wall. It's a mournful film, probably not the sort of thing that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of a summer entertainment, and one which unlike its two immediate predecessors does not feel the need to find any good in humans, but it's the film that it needs to be. It's a good movie and a grand spectacle and if the powers that be intend to keep it up, then I can't wait to see where the series goes from here.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Review: The Big Sick (2017)
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
If The Big Sick is to be considered a romantic comedy (and I'm not entirely sure it should be, given that the genre is built on the interplay of a central couple, and one half of this film's couple spends the better part of the film out of commission), then it's an entry in the genre that has a more expansive set of interests than most of its brethren. It's not just a story about a boy and a girl who fall in love, but a story about cultural conflict, generational conflict, and questions of identity played out against the backdrop of a love story. It works well, aided in no small part by a lived-in feeling that comes from the fact the star/co-writer Kumail Nanjiani and co-writer Emily V. Gordon (married in real life) have mixed autobiographical elements into it. It's one of the best reviewed films of the year so far and though I'm not quite as high on it as many others, for reasons that I'll get into, I still think it's a really good film.
Monday, July 17, 2017
Summer Not-Busters: Pixels (2015)
Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James
Domestic Box Office: $78,747,585
Although Adam Sandler has never been a staple summer movie season - for a long time he was the sort of star who could open a film at any time of the year, so if you look at the release pattern of his films you'll see that his hits have been made in pretty much every season at the box office - when he did make a summer movie, his vehicles were pretty reliable money makers. Between 1999 and 2010 he had 8 summer releases, 7 of which met the $100 million benchmark and most of which exceeded it. The only outlier in that period was 2009's Funny People, whose $50 million gross foretold the drop that Sandler's films were about to take. Since 2010, the only $100 million summer movie Sandler has released has been Grown Ups 2 (perhaps not coincidentally, it's also the only live-action sequel he's ever done), while the rest of his summer movies have been failures of greater and lesser proportions: That's My Boy in 2012, Blended in 2014, and Pixels in 2015. Now, That's My Boy and Blended I've looked at previously in this series and they are both terrible and utterly deserving of failure. But Pixels? I'm actually not so sure.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Review: Julieta (2016)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte
In Pedro Almodovar's Julieta the sins of the child are revisited on the parent that child becomes, though that fact seems to be lost on the title character. Based on a trio of short stories by Alice Munro, Julieta is a melodrama that has been fashioned into something that's almost like a thriller in terms of tone and build up, and that weaves itself in and out of the past and present. I wouldn't put it on par with Almodovar's greatest works, but when you're as masterful a storyteller as he is with as many great works to his credit as he has, even the merely "good" is better than just about anything else out there.
Labels: 3 stars, Pedro Almodovar, Review
Saturday, July 15, 2017
21st Century Essentials: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray
“I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think your lives are more special.”
“I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about.”
To me, that exchange is Moonrise Kingdom in microcosm. It’s the story of two kids who are almost fatally romantic and so caught up in the performance of their adventures that they don’t appreciate the consequences of the actions that they’re taking, don’t understand the gravity of the pronouncements that they’re making. Misunderstood and written off by those around them, they long for adventure but, more than that, they long for where the adventure will take them: to a place where they will be understood and valued. One of Wes Anderson’s best films (to my mind, second only to The Royal Tenenbaums), Moonrise Kingdom is a deadpan delight.
Posted by Norma Desmond at 8:00 AM 1 comments
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Tales from the Black List: Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz
In hindsight, the fact that Oz the Great and Powerful would be met with both enthusiasm and disdain was inevitable. The screenplay hit the Black List in 2010, about 8 months after the release and massive success of Alice in Wonderland, so the people who shell out money to make movies had every reason to be excited about the prospect of using people's connection to a beloved old property, pumping it full of CGI, and then watching the money roll in. But 3 years can be a long time in pop culture, particularly when your project is anchored by an actor who has become a lightning rod for animosity, and by the time Oz the Great and Powerful hit theaters, the knives were out. The film did okay box office-wise but was critically savaged and went on to become one of those movies that makes hundreds of millions at the box office but leaves absolutely no lasting mark on pop culture. As a result my expectations were pretty low, but to my surprise Oz the Great and Powerful is actually not terrible - it's not great, mind you, but it's a perfectly fine (if totally forgettable) movie.
Labels: Black List
Monday, July 10, 2017
Summer Not-Busters: We Are Your Friends (2015)
Director: Max Joseph
Starring: Zac Efron
Domestic Box Office: $3,591,417
August is the cruelest month at the box office. Though still part of the summer movie season, it's the point at which the money train noticeably begins to cool off and instead of launching several big hits, is more likely to launch just one big hit that goes on to dominate for several weekends. Released at the tail end of the tail end of the summer of 2015, We Are Your Friends was probably not expected to be a Guardians of the Galaxy (which dominated the August box office previous summer) level success, though it had relatively little competition with only Straight Outta Compton hitting it big that month, but it was clearly expected to do decent box office given that it was released in 2,300 theaters. When it opened to just $1.8 million in sales, it became the fourth worst wide release opening weekend for a film since 1982, which made it not just a bomb, but an historic bomb. And this was no little indie with a boutique release either, this was a major studio release, headlined by an actor still looking to prove that he can carry a movie all on his own.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Review: The Beguiled (2017)
Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning
The effect that he has is immediate. It's a change - a charge - in the air, a fear that pulsates through the house, something that at once repels and attracts. He's a volatile presence, a grenade tossed into a room, and yet everyone seems surprised when the situation finally explodes. A hothouse melodrama adapted from the novel of the same name, The Beguiled makes excellent use of Colin Farrell's capacity for soulful villainy and Nicole Kidman's for icy ferocity, but ultimately ends up being slightly less than it perhaps could have been. It's a handsomely mounted film (Philippe Le Sourd's cinematography, in particular, stands out for its atmospheric contribution) and well-acted all around, but it tends to strike symbolic poses more often than it actually uses its narrative to really say anything, resulting in a good movie that never quite reaches greatness.
Labels: 3 stars, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman, Review, Sofia Coppola
Monday, July 3, 2017
Summer Not-Busters: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
Director: Dave Green
Starring: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell
Domestic Box Office: $82,051,601
The fact that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows failed hard enough to be considered one of the biggest bombs of 2016 ever so slightly restores my faith in humanity. This movie is garbage, and I say that having come into it with expectations low enough that it should have been difficult not to meet them. It's crass, visually ugly, and will leave you feeling approximately 5% dumber than you were before you saw it. In an era when kid-friendly entertainment is continuously pushing the boundaries of ambition and creating films that are intelligent and emotionally resonant for people of all ages, the existence of Out of the Shadows feels particularly egregious.
Sunday, July 2, 2017
21st Century Essentials: Boyhood (2014)
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Country: United States
It’s a little known fact, but Boyhood took Richard Linklater 12 years to complete. I mention that because it’s something that’s seldom brought up in discussion of the film, provided one has never read or heard anything about it. Of course in actuality the process of making Boyhood has been scrutinized just as closely as the actual content of the film, which is probably both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s a remarkable technical achievement that speaks not only to Linklater’s ambition but also to how much the other people involved in making the film must respect and like him to keep making time to come back year after year for this project even though they had no contractual obligation to do so (due to the De Havilland Law). On the other hand, it might sometimes feel as though people are so fixated on the unusual circumstances of its creation that their appreciation is more for the process than the actual product. Boyhood is an incredible achievement, but it’s also an incredible film that easily transcends the inherent gimmickiness of its construction and captures the elusive nature of time as it passes. It’s not just one of the greatest films of its era, it is the film of its era.
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