Thursday, February 1, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS #144: "DUNKIRK", "BABY DRIVER", "LOGAN", "WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES", "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2", "WONDER WOMAN", "FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER", "RAW", "LADY MACBETH", "CITY OF GHOSTS (Heineman)", "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2", "CHASING CORAL", "IT COMES AT NIGHT", "STEP", "THE FOUNDER", "YOUR NAME", "PETE'S DRAGON (Lowery)", "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (Fuqua)", "ANTHROPOID", "AUDRIE & DAISY" and "IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE"!

Sorry, it's been so long between posts, but I needed a breather after the Oscar nominations were announced and time to catch up on everything else I was working on. (I might have some news in the future about some project(s) I was working on, I don't know, I might, not sure if I can say or not, still waiting for announcements...) anyway, I meant to catch up on some movies, and I did, but honestly, the Eagles made the Super Bowl, and right now, I'm basically just an on-edge fan who trying to go on about his days hoping and praying that his choice to remain calm and not get too excited over anything pays off at the end as we've only got one game left in our "One game at a time" strategy, so, my mind is basically mush as I use most of my remaining energy to keep my nerves intact.

So, as I catch up on my paperwork on my other paperwork, I'll quickly go over the other movies i've seen but couldn't get around to watching. First, there's "The Monkey King", which I've sat through twice now, 'cause I've got "The Monkey King 2" scheduled for next month. I- fell asleep once, I'm going through it a second time, I think it's basically a live-action, "Kung Fu Panda" story except the Panda is a guy in a monkey suit, it's live action, and the monkey is some kind of God-King. Technically, I think it might've gotten a 2016 theatrical release in America, but as of today, nobody's reviewed it, even on Rotten Tomatoes, and frankly I don't see a real need to. Wouldn't know what the hell to say anyway. It's somewhere between "Crouching Tiger" meets Stephen Chow-, I would legitimately would not be shocked if I found out that this was adapting from a bad video game.

I also watched on Netflix, "El Camino Christmas", for some reason. It's,-, it's one of those reasons where you think there might be some kind of greater metaphor to it all, 'cause all the parts don't seem to fit naturally, but I suspect it's just a bunch of random. Tim Allen's decent in it. I got around to "The Wolfpack" finally, I thought it was okay, "Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict", that was informative and a little interesting, for what it is; I can only bring up so much sympathy for somebody who bought, sold and put up art, but you know, I wish I had that opportunity, and-eh, the last documentary and the most fun "Very Semi-Serious: A Partially-Thorough Portrait of 'New Yorker' Cartoonists", which reminds me, I haven't submitted for this week's Caption Contest yet, hold on....

(Ten minutes later)

Alright, I'm submitted this week. What else? I got around to "The Good Doctor", not the TV show, an Orlando Bloom film from about five or so years ago, title is very deceptive; he's very much not a good doctor. Also, a French film from a few years back called "You Will Be My Son" a movie about family politics involving the future ownership of a family vineyard. Eh, had a few sudden twists I didn't foresee, but mostly it's the movie you think it is with that description. Alright, I'm tired, let's get to it, onto the long-delayed MOVIE REVIEWS, starting with some Oscar Nominated features, "Dunkirk", "Baby Driver". "Logan", "War for the Planet of the Apes" and "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2"!


DUNKIRK (2017) Director: Christopher Nolan

★★★★



(Shrugs) Well, I liked it better than Nolan's last film; I'll say that. (Sigh)

Has Nolan ever seem like a filmmaker who would make a straight-ahead war movie to you? I mean, I guess most people don't begin with a war movie, so it's probably always a bit of a shock to see somebody make one. I mean, until Spielberg made "Schindler's List", so... although in hindsight I can't imagine anybody was surprised Oliver Stone made "Platoon", so, there goes that theory. Seriously though, I love Nolan, but for as popular a filmmaker as he currently is, the trick to him is that he's always been a little more ethereal with his choice of projects than people realize. I mean, okay, I might not think much of "Interstellar", at all, but  he didn't just make a normal space adventure, he was philosophizing and challenges elements of space and time, even the dimensions between them; I called it out for it's bullshit, but that said, when you compare it to something more traditional in that genre, he's definitely coming at you with ideas more than just a typical blockbuster film would.

This is probably why "Dunkirk" seems off to me. It's not a bad movie by any standard, but I'm a little surprised. Although, then again, for some reason the Battle and Evacuation of Dunkirk seem to be on everybody's mind this year. This is already the second movie I've seen this year after "Their Finest", which was, ironically about a movie about Dunkirk and how the process of the creating and fictionalizing of the war began. (I'm not claiming it's fictionalized in Nolan's film, or that the Battle or whatever didn't happen or exist, I'm talking about the process of taking a real life event and turning it into a piece of art, like a movie.) To some extent, this movie feels like, what would've happened in an alternative universe where the film in "Their Finest" was told straight. (Also, I've heard parts of "Darkest Hour" deal with this too, so everything is apparently about "Dunkirk" lately.) For those who don't know their British Involvement in World War II History... (Reluctantly raises own hand), is a town in Nord Department of France, it's actually about the northernmost point in Mainland France, and it's right across from the English Channel. Anyway, this area was taken pretty quickly by Germany at the beginning of the Battle of France, and for some reason the Germans did not advance beyond it for awhile, apparently there was a Halt Order, not from Hitler though. Anyway, British, Belgian and French troops were surrounded and the Battle was not going well, and the British Navy didn't have the ships to go pick up troops and bring them home, at least not home safely as the Germans from the air had reign over the channel, so civilians boats and ships, often headed by aged fisherman and other locals, most of whom had limited military experience at best, were essentially deputized to go out into the water, that, the Germans still had basic control of at that time, and help evacuate soldiers, either from the Beach if they can get there, or any of them that were surviving by, well, floating, in the channel, if they were alive

It's a harrowing story, so I can see how it's become a critical piece of British Military Folklore over the years, personally I can't immediately think of an equivalent situation that America was ever involved in offhand, and Nolan is British, one of those weird facts that I think most of his superfans don't even realize, so in that sense I guess, this makes sense. Still, on paper, and in execution, I only kinda understand where he's coming from here. I think the real appeal of the movie, and the place where the movie is at it's best is when we're sucked into the horrors of war, not so much the battle scenes, in particular, but in the mindset of being in war. The visuals are what's most noted in this movie, and there's a ton of them, including several getting-ready-for-battle sequences and a lot of nightmarish scenarios playing out in real life, including one of my personal horrors, fire on water, that's a triggering one for me that I got from my mom, because, well yeah, that's not natural, but it's the sense and mindset of war that I believe he's going after. Take a look at Shrivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy) one of the soldiers saved by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), most characters here, barely have names and are only recognized by the way they act, look and behave really...-, anyway, Soldier is insisting the boat turn around and head home, as he is unable to deal with the war anymore, suffering from severe shellshock, but Mr. Dawson, an old fisherman on his private boat, is insisting he stays. as he continues into, what he knows is risking everyone's life in order to try and get more soldiers. They even have guns, in case they need to fight. Watching the movie, especially the first hour or so, really puts you in that mindset and that's when I kinda recognized a Nolan I'm familiar with here, 'cause the movie that most reminds me of "Dunkirk" oddly enough, is, "Insomnia".

"Insomnia" was his rare remake of a Norweigan film that was about how it's characters react and begin losing their mind and senses after a severe change of location and situation, in that film's case, how an inability to sleep distorts it's characters' minds after detectives travels up near the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn't set in order to investigate a murder. In this case, instead of his character's mindset distorted by lack of darkness and night or a lack of short-term memory loss, or space travel or becoming Batman, or whatever, magic, it's the effects of War that he's analyzing. Or, really that he wants to analyze. I think this is the movie he hoped was his "Apocalypse Now", but the way it turned out, it's really more like his "The Thin Red Line", 'cause he is paying tribute to a real battle and real soldiers, so you have these conflicting things, where we have a bunch of nameless soldiers in the middle of this huge military failure trying to survive and get the hell out of, Dunkirk, and this other aspect of trying to get the emotional feel of that from the inside and out and never really fully pulling off either, but still leaving and emotionally cluttered experience behind.



BABY DRIVER (2017) Director: Edgar Wright

★★1/2



So, I've been hearing about "Baby Driver" for awhile, and despite all the praise it was getting; I had this sickening thought that couldn't leave me that seem to force me to remain skeptical. I didn't realize how skeptical I should've been until I started watching it though. This movie basically starts the same way that "Driver" began, and it's, basically the same story, just filtered through Edgar Wright. Yeah, Wright is the main reason I remained skeptical; in just a short time he's developed a huge fanbase, and the guy is talented. He made "Hot Fuzz" which remains one of the funniest comedies I've seen this decade, one that I've gone back to several times over. That was my first movie of his, but most people were familiar with him through "Shaun of the Dead" originally, the first of his "Cornetto Trilogy" along with "Hot Fozz" and "At World's End". He's also made "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and before all of that, except for a brief glimpse into feature films with "A Fistful of Fingers", which I'm presuming is some kind of western parody, most of his early work was on British television, most notably "Spaced". I can't speak for his TV work, but I've always found, some reason to pan or dislike, or in "Scott Pilgrim..."'s case, absolutely despise, about his work. It's kinda weird, 'cause I loved "Hot Fuzz", but including "Baby Driver" I haven't even recommended a film of his since, and going back through his old work, I'm not impressed with his writing. He's famous for sound and editing style, but it's definitely confused me. He hasn't changed his style in any way; and yet, "Hot Fuzz" remains a 5 STAR modern comedy masterpiece and yet, and I can't seem to find an entry into any of his other work. Even when it's good; I think I conceded a lot about "At World's End" that I could at least admire if not recommend, but most of that movie was just going on a pub crawl with exactly the kind of asshole who you don't want to do that with, and yes, that's the joke, but, that's not a fun drink, or a fun film; that's why they had to make it so that aliens had taken over the town. That's actually quite horrifying.

Frankly, now I'm trying to figure out exactly why "Hot Fuzz" works so well, and everything else kinda stumbles, and I think I know why, it's that, he doesn't do anything with the genres he's working. Supposedly, he's going through genres and making comedies/parodies of them. But, is he really? With "Hot Fuzz", 'cause it was a distinct and clear contrast, you have the world of cop movies juxtaposed with the setting of a quaint little English countryside, that fish-out-of-water story and joke is why it worked so well, and why it was so ingenious and funny when at the end, both genres clashed and collided with each other. "Shaun of the Dead", is trying very hard to not be a zombie movie, so much so that it just becomes a bad zombie movie, hell that's the main joke about it. "At World's End" is a creative idea, but the genre's still kinda the same, it's the trope of the old friend from your past who hasn't grown up from his old times back together and having to put up with now. I mean, that's a comedy genre, there's nothing to parody, again, that's why they had to add aliens. (I'm not gonna shove "Scott Pilgrim..." into this, 'cause I know that wasn't his comic he was adapting.) "Baby Driver" is clearly, just "Drive", or the classic movies car chase pulp movies from the '60s and '70s that "Drive" was inspired by, done with his kind of technical and comedic slant to the material, and that's about it.

Okay, admittedly there's a little more to "Baby Driver" than just that, and some of the stuff that isn't quite that, I liked a lot. So, Baby, (Ansel Elgort) is a driver. He does eventually get a pizza delivery job at the behest of his foster parent, Joseph (CJ Jones), but mostly he's been working as the best driver in town for a crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey), who he owes money to, but has also almost paid up and there's one last job...-, okay, to be fair, they actually subvert that trope well. Baby doesn't speak much, but he loves music, both listening and making it; he's got iPods full of, literally every song in the world I think, and he mixes peoples' speech into his own recordings, which involves him also carrying around a tape recorder. His obsession is related to his tinnitis, which means, basically that he can hear excessive sounds all around and so he always has headphones in his ears in order to drown out the rest of the world. He also begins trying to see this waitress, Debora (Lily James), who works at a diner his mother use to work at. Baby's parents were killed in a car accident, so when he drives he drives fast and to the beat of whatever particular song needs to be set to his escape routes.

The movie overall though, more than even it's homages to other films and narratives is mostly about the action and in particularly the editing, and there are some amazing edited sequences here. Some of it's just showing off, which, strangely is something I never really thought of as something Edgar Wright did a lot of, but it's mostly to the said of the plot. The real with this movie is just how generic and predictable it becomes. For instance, one of Doc's crew is this character Jamie Foxx plays named Bats, and he eventually that gets them all in trouble. He's also the kind of bad guy who's way too evil for this film, like in real life, somebody would've shot him by now. Somebody in this movie would've shot and killed him by now, and sure he's really good at being a thief and a murderer himself, but, no, this is on that level of annoyance that Gary King was at, without the fun, charm or humor. I don't understand why the Jon Hamm character didn't shoot him like a billion times this movie, and yes, they didn't meet 'til halfway through this movie, it still would've been better and more realistic if Jon Hamm shot him a million times. Hamm's characters interesting and his relationship Eliza Gonzalez I really like and enjoyed how that matched with Baby and Debora; they both feel like different versions of Nicholas Cage & Laura Dern's characters from "Wild at Heart" only at different points in their life. I enjoyed that, but ultimately, the movie left me cold, and mostly thinking about better movies honestly.

If I am comparing this to "Drive" which, let's face it, this is basically the same plot, then basically what we're looking at are two films that are exercises in style, and to me Refn's style, elevates the work and material and Edgar Wright's style mostly washes his films out with his style. I'm on the fence on this one, 'cause it's straddling that line between clever and stupid, like the reveals of Baby's real name at the end, that joke can go either way, but because it's so stylized whatever's naturally interesting about his work, gets pushed aside. (Sigh) It left me cold, I got to pan it. I see skill, I see technique and talent, I see a great soundtrack, but I don't see an interesting film though and I don't see an interesting enough twist to recommend it.


LOGAN (2017) Director: James Mangold

★★★★★



This is the saddest film I've seen in a long time. It's the most I've cried since,- since,- every time I've watched "Moonlight".

(Long pause, tears wiped away, sigh, taps table three times)

Alright, I give. I give. I was the last holdout on the "X-Men". I never understood this franchise. Even from the cartoon series from the '90s, what little I've seen of the comics, I've never been able to understand this thing or why it's so revered. Well-, actually I guess that's not entirely true; "X-Men: First Class" finally showed me that there could be an entry point into this franchise for someone who's not necessarily inclined to appreciate it. And I didn't hate "X-Men: Days of Future Past", but still, I'm behind; I haven't caught "...Apocalypse" yet, and for that matter I missed "X-Men 3" and "Wolverine" and frankly I don't remember much of "X-Men" or "X-Men 2: X-Men United", other than the latter being boring and confusing and the original being slow, boring, and annoyed at the two girls in bed with me watching it and getting way to turned on by Wolverine. (Shockingly, that story, which I won't be explaining, sounds like it should make me seem cool, but actually it really doesn't.) Actually, is this even an "X-Men" movie? I'm gonna presume it's in continuity, but it feels so foreign to everything else I've seen, that maybe this is it's own thing?

I don't know; I do know that I've always had an issue with "X-Men" that for one reason or another, I could never get over entirely. That issue: well, why are all the mutants, differently mutated? Seriously, I know it works metaphorically, sorta, but logically? Scientifically, within the universe, how can they all be so distinct and different; that doesn't make sense? That's not really how mutations work, especially on a large scale like this. Mutations, especially those that evolve a species, specific mutations are prevalent throughout. I'm not saying everybody needs to have self-healing powers and bone claws, or everybody walks through walls, or whatever, but there should be more than one of each, right!? The mutations shouldn't be this continuously distinctive. There should be a lot more similar mutations, but the way it's describe, it's like a mutation is just random so you get a mutation and maybe you turn into Mystique or you turn into, Magneto or whatever. I know this is sounding pedantic to every fan of the franchise right now, but it's annoying; I can't stop thinking about it. Look, I always look at the rules of the universe first, when it comes to fantasy, 'cause that's the big frickin' thing with fantasy, it's a different unique world, so I look to see if world holds up, this is why I despise certain things like "Lord of the Rings", and-eh.... I've never despised "X-Men" but this,- it's admittedly my only big, big, big issue (three bigs) rules of the universe, but it's really never been sufficient enough, even if it was a parable about how everyone's different and our struggles, well, some people are quite similar to each other, so some of the mutations should be similar?!

I'm not gonna say, "Logan" fixes this, but, it kinda tackles this issue a bit, 'cause, apparently, there's a second Wolverine. So, it's some time in the future, and I'm not quite sure what happened, but the state of mutants is bad. There's less of them, most of them seem to have died off, and even the great Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is no longer running a school; he's being taken care of by a belligerent and depressed Logan (Hugh Jackman) and a bald metallic guy named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) a mutant who's ability is to be able to track down other mutants. Charles Xavier is in his '90s and his brain is basically exploding upon himself and his body, to the point where he basically is a weapon if he isn't medicated and medication is hard to come by.  Despite there being less mutants around, there is still, a demand for them, for reasons that I'm not gonna explain, one group has an army led by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) who's contracted out Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who's, more cyborg than mutant, I think, to captured a little girl mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen). Laura is a mute, it seems, but she's also a slightly more powerful Wolverine. She even has bone claws in her toes, and she's very much like Wolverine, complete with self healing powers, and an extremely rebellious anti-social streak. Logic dictates that she is Wolverine's daughter. That's not quite 100% clear, in fact based on her origin story, I would consider the possibility that she isn't as being more powerful storytelling-wise, but it doesn't matter she thinks Logan is her father, and she also believes, based on the word of a nurse named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) that helped her escape from Dr. Rice, that if Charles Xavier and Logan can take them to North Dakota in a few days, they can escape and find clear passage across the border to Canada, which is a safe haven for Mutants. (Insert your own "The Handmaid's Tale" joke here)

Structurally, this is one of the least superhero-plotted type superhero movies I've seen in a while. The movie itself doesn't reference superhero films but makes it's obvious comparison to the western genre, and makes several reference to-, ooooooooh boy.- to George Stevens's classic "Shane".

(Deep regretful sighing breath)

Man, for a positive review, I'm managing to piss off a lot of fanbases today. Alright, screw it, let's get through this one.

TO AVOID SPOILERS ON "SHANE," SKIP DOWN UNTIL I START WRITING IN ALL CAPS AGAIN.

I don't think I've brought this film up before, but I have never liked "Shane", and frankly I'm not sure I understand why others love it so much. And this is a beloved western, one of the top ones in fact; my Grandfather god rest his soul, it was his favorite movie, but it doesn't really hold up well; even when I had to see it in film classes, they were like, "Look, we know this isn't great, but it's one of those you have to watch, so let's sit through it." I don't really disagree. It stars Alan Ladd as the titular mysterious stranger who comes into town, starts helping out with raising young Joey, who's Jean Arthur and Van Heflin's son, and Shane, by not doing much, seem to keep inciting people, including the town. He's not doing anything, wrong, per se, but it's often awkward the things he does and I think there's supposed to be the implication that because he's from out-of-town and different and bring trouble with him 'cause he's got a past that's catching up to him, that while he's a good guy, the tragedy is that he's unable to stick around long and it's supposed to be sad for young Joey. (Sigh) Now the way, I've always read the movie, is that it's metaphorical, and the metaphor is that Shane,- well,-, well, my interpretation...-ugh, alright, I'll just say it; I think he's supposed to be gay.

I'm not an expert on queer readings and studies, but there's a lot of coded gay references in "Shane". The fact that he wears a effeminate-colored shirt, the fact that he causes a stir dancing with the married Jean Arthur could be coded for a male relationship, hell, he even says at the very end to Joey that he should grow up, "Straight". I've always read "Shane" as a coded story about the struggles and necessity of repressing one's homosexuality, and what happens to somebody who doesn't. Yeah, he's the hero, but he's also ostracized from wherever he goes and has to leave town, despite having made connections to people.I'm sure I've just ruined this film to some of you, this is my interpretation, and I'm not really comfortable with the subtext it implies, so I don't like the film much. (It's also kind of a long bore anyway, but still....) That said, I like my theory, and it actually really works with "Logan". "X-Men" itself is often read as a coded gay parable and "Shane" kinda fits with that. Plus "Logan" is about a reluctant father figure who taking care of a kid that he sees similarities to him in. (And yeah, I did notice that both films are named after the title characters.)

SPOILERS OVER

Anyway, back to "Logan", the only thing that's really holding me back is that while I was familiar with Wolverine, but I'm not familiar enough to say that I'm emotionally attached to the character, but I think that's where the genius of the Laura character lies. All the mutants form their makeshift family in this universe, but they, like I mentioned, are all distinctly different from each other, for whatever reason. Here's a character, a young mutant in this world who finds somebody's that's the same, and this is what amounts to the the bulk of their time together, and after, I don't know how many movies and series and struggling to sorta learn the comics and why this is franchise is as big as it is..., and this nuance of a twist to the narrative; it-, it got me. For good or bad, this is the first time this franchise has ever effected me, and it hit me hard, 'cause the way the framing and writing works, eventually we move from Logan's perspective and then we eventually see it through Laura's. I wouldn't call that genius, but you'd be amazed how many would've screwed this uP. Credit to Dafne Keen's work; this is the young girl's first film performance and she only has limited credits, but both her parents are actors so she's got natural skills, so even though she doesn't say a lot, necessarily, she does enough here. I especially give credit to James Mangold's directing, he's somebody I've characterized as hit-and-miss, but this is by far his best film, and the script in particular by Mangold, the great Scott Frank, who makes any shortlist of the best writers in Hollywood and Michael Green, shockingly,- I've never been big on his work at all, but these talents came together perfectly to craft this brilliantly detailed screenplay. I don't like to characterize films as being "surprising", but this is as close as I probably get. Here's a franchise, I have never given a single shit about, even when it was good, and this many movie's in, it got me to care.


WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) Director: Matt Reeves

★★★★



You know, considering everything, it's really amazing how involved and how good this new re-imagined "Planet of the Apes" trilogy is. Honestly, they're not actually that different from the original franchise's story, but it's-, not just the special effects, it's just a more interesting and better telling of the complete story. I give most of this credit to Matt Reeves, who took over directing for the franchise at "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", the second and best film of this franchise. The first one, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", was really bizarre, but overall good. It's basically a narrative that felt more reminiscent of "The Flowers of Algernon" and somehow combined it with, the fourth movie in the original franchise, "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes". It was okay, but I certainly didn't see the next two movies coming. The second one, "Dawn..." takes some bits and pieces from "Battle of the Planet of the Apes" the last of the original franchise, but it also just continues on from the original, and envelopes the story into this complex survival tale; taking the dawn to a story of,- excuse the pun, guerrila warfare. It blew me away, and in particular Andy Serkis's work as Caesar.  I appreciated the performance in the first film, but there was so much more to this one.

Now comes, "War of the Planet of the Apes", which even goes beyond what was ultimately what "Battle..." was, the last great conflict between humans and apes, but it gives this other added dimension of it, basically completing the prequel story to the original, that actually, we really never got, strangely enough. It seemed like we did, but it was all rather simplified upon reflection. If the first one was "The Flowers of Algernon" and the second one was..., I don't know, "The Red Badge of Courage" maybe, this one, is, somewhere between "Schindler's List" and "Apocalypse Now", but with monkeys, sorta. (Shrugs) Maybe something more Biblical in nature, perhaps, complete with an attempted crucifixion?  Honestly, there's a lot of influences here you can point to, and amazingly they work way more than they should for a bunch of CGI chimpanzees.

Caesar's (Serkis) Army is still battling as the humans and apes have basically come to a standstill, although, for all-intensive purposes the Apes have taken over most of the land up 'til this point. He's seeking out somewhere he can make as his new homeland for him, his family and his followers/soldiers, but one Colonel, (Woody Harrelson) is out to get Caesar. At first, Caesar spares a couple humans who attacked, but they instead come back and hit Caesar personally. This lead him, to go out into the jungle and try and eradicate the Humans themselves, before they take out more of his clan. This isn't a good plan, and becomes more complex as he journeys deeper into the Heart of the forest. (Geographically, the movie is apparently on the West Coast, in the area of the Oregon/California border. They run into some people, who aren't doing too well, Caesar even reluctantly behind a mute little girl, Nova (Amiah Miller) which-eh, I don't know how much the timeline of that reference skewers or improves things, but that's an intriguing choice. They also run into a zoo ape called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who's somehow avoided everything until now and has finally himself a nice little corner of the forest where no one attacks and they eventually fall their way into where the Humans have been capturing Prisoners of War and where they're also preparing, for what at first seems like another attack, but then starts to seem more like a final battle.

There's some great performances here, and the visual effects and cinematography are top-notch, some of the best out there. Personally, I felt the conflicts in the 2nd movie were better, but I certainly like this one a lot. Woody Harrelson gives the best non-simian performance in any of the films here, including a great piece of exposition about why he's so hell-bent on fighting for survival in the face of extinction. Actually, his actions are quite reasonable when you think about it. Hmm... A lot of critics brought up the weird undertone about how we're essentially cheering on the end of our species, and how by the good guy's winning, humanity is over, literally. (Shrugs) I get it, I just don't think it's that big a deal, and besides that happened in the original films too. Here it's at least tragic on both sides. Monkeys battling monkeys, humans fighting with humans, while each sides also in conflict with each other, and hell, Caesar has great sympathy for humanity and we, and he knows why.

If this is the final film in the series, and I do hope it's not but it's a satisfying film; one of the surprisingly better Hollywood trilogies out there, and one that gets more powerful upon reflection, even with some of it's flaws. It's a fitting end to an evolutionary story, that we know personally, is just the beginning of the tale.



GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2 (2017) Director: James Gunn

★★★1/2



As per usual with Marvel and all movies in fact, I'm docking star points for stupid post-credits scenes; those still need to fucking die, (And no, not watching them is not a legitimate option, when they can just, not have them! You don't like a song you recorded but you put it on the album anyway, sorry, it's part of the album now, and I judge as a whole; I don't care if it's a hidden track, it ain't that hidden, you don't want it considered, don't put it there then!) but that said, I enjoyed the first "Guardians of the Galaxy", and I enjoyed even more "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2", not only 'cause it was just as funny, but also because, I'm gonna remember the plot and story of this one for awhile. If you go back to my original review, which you can find, here:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2015/01/movie-reviews-101-imitation-game-wind.html

I was not in a good place when I saw the first one when it comes to Marvel; that was mainly because I had just seen "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", which was terrible, and I was at that point sick of this (finger quotes) "cinematic universe". I'm still sick of it to be honest, but I'm more forgiving at this point. I haven't changed my thought on-, well, any "Captain America..." film and yeah, I've been sick of this shit for longer than almost all of you have, but I can't help but smile when I think of "Guardians...". For the most part, it's done a damn good job at staying out of the main universe, although apparently it's technically still apart of it, but they are most definitely, if I can channel David S. Pumpkins for a second, "It's own thAng!"

That said, ask me to remember anything specific about the first money, other it really weird and funny, and I'd probably be lost. "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2" however, I'm gonna remember this one. Okay, it's set up a little too conveniently. So Starlord (Chris Pratt) aka Peter Quill and his group of mercenaries are still out doing jobs all over the Universe and saving the world, this time helping out a group called The Sovereign, lead by a stick in the-, well, gold I guess, named Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) who they naturally make an enemy out of after Rocket (Bradley Cooper in ferret form) steals some of the rare batteries they were protecting. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) also has to deal with her cyborg criminal sister Nebula (Karin Gillan) who they're trying to not kill each other for most of this journey. Meanwhile, Starlord is suddenly taken to meet the long-lost father he never knew, which turns out to be a planet named Ego (Kurt Russell). Well, not a planet, but a "celestial" technically, and Starlord is half-celestial as well and has some talents involving harnessing light that he's only beginning to maybe be able to control and manipulate. There's also Drax (Dave Bautista) who befriends Ego's um, empath advisor, I guess, Mantis (Pom Klementieff)

How this plays out is not surprising, necessarily, but I was entertained and caught up. The special effects are top quality and bright and exhilarating and the story was genuinely interesting. There's also a touching performance by Michael Rooker of all actors, and I have to add that I liked the music choices more for this film, especially the great use of Fleetwood Mac. "Guardians..." feels like the one part of the Marvel universe that people who don't particularly like the MCU can always enjoy no matter what; it's eternally weird, bizarre and fun. A great combination of sitcom meets superheroes that "Fantastic Four" always wished it was. I don't know if we can see something better the next time we revisit them; this was about a complete a story you can make for the "Guardians...", but I definitely want to see what happens next anyway.


WONDER WOMAN (2017) Director: Patty Jenkins



Okay, before I get to everything else, what the hell's with these superhero movies rewriting history? Like-, c'mon- okay, alternative future, fine, I get that. Alternative parallel present world where now superheroes exists, okay, that I can get behind, but now both Marvel and DC, multiple times, are now taking superheroes into the past, and placing them in history. That is stupid. I don't care how well it's pulled off, the whole point of superheroes is that we're imagining a fictional world in which there are now a group of people greater than humans exist in the world that are capable of amazing feats, that we can only imagine. When you put those characters in the past, we can't imagine 'cause now they're there and history would then be changed. Why would there be a world where World War II, when any number of superheroes could have just flown and killed Hitler at any point, or any/everybody that would've effected history so negatively. (And no, it didn't even work for "Captain America," in fact the whole franchise fails 'cause of it. I get the callback to the original comic, but they didn't even do anything with it. One bad "Avengers" movie, and then, poof, 65+ years of history, caught up on.) I barely let "X-Men: First Class" get away, 'cause it made everything else in the franchise finally make sense, but this, all this has got to stop. The only way this works is that we get to some time period that resembles modern day, and then boom! Suddenly, there were superheroes. I'm not saying don't keep the Amazons part, but then, you gotta drop her in modern times, and NO! the fact that "Justice League" is a thing, doesn't make it okay, now all that means is that there's been, her, being on this planet since at least one world war, and nobody's documented or piece it together over that time, until now! This is stupid, this is the exact kind of stupid that makes people, myself included, look down at comic books and superheroes and only see them as childish, simplistic fantasy, the kind which aren't elevated stories, they're the kind that makes you believe you can just jump the TV screen and suddenly you're on your favorite TV show, and making sure everything you want to see happen on it happens. So yeah, stop this putting superheroes and history together, it's stupid!

Yes, I love the movie despite all this, putting the rating down.

★★★★1/2

Yeah, I'm being a hypocrite, but Patty Jenkins gets a pass on that from me. For the same reason that "X-Men" got a pass on it from me, but also because she was handcuffed with this story, 'cause stupid "Batman v Superman," placed "Wonder Woman" aka Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) aka Diana Princess of Thym- Sem-misc- Them-, oh- blugh!- Hold on, I can do this. Tongue in for s's, tongue out for t-h's, Take two... aka Diana Princess of Themys-cira-, Themyscira! I got it, the ancient home of Amazons who, fought and destroyed when he believed that humans were evil. Diana is being trained, reluctantly for the next battle when/if Aries ever returns to bring back and cause more human suffering. The time period selected for this is WWI, Belgian front, interesting choice, and a British spy, Steve (Chris Pine) somehow crashes into the waters Themyscira, (And I do like how they separated the two worlds, that worked for me) and informs them about the war. Diana, naturally decides to go with him, as she wants to go to the warfront and stop Aries, believing him to be the ultimate cause of the war while Steve, is aiming to go after Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya, who always seems to be playing a role involving plastic on her face, how- does that happen twice?) aka The Poisoner, and the architect of some of Germany's most destructive weapons which they have been stockpiling for a last ditch assault while diverting the West with peace and armistice talks and accords.

There's also some strong work here from David Thewlis, Robin Wright, Lucy Davis and Danny Huston among others. Anyway, while it's no secret that I've never been a comic book guy, I have actually always been a little fascinated by Wonder Woman. For one thing, she is, the woman of comic books. There are other female superheroes, but she's the only one that's ever been on the level of Superman and Batman to me, and she is probably more important than those considering her gender and how she's basically the only big pop culture female superhero out there. However she's always had trouble, until now, having any success outside of the comic. There was the TV show in the seventies with Lynda Carter, eh, it's okay, but you know, it's conspicuous that she's been absent in this,- what is this, like the 3rd or 4th generation of Superhero films now, starting with Richard Donner's "Superman", and-eh, yeah, I can kinda get why that is. Compared to Batman or Superman, she's really goofy.

I mean, seriously, the lasso of truth; the bracelets that can stop bullets, I mean, I know superheroes are naturally weird, but those legitimately sound like inventions I would've expected to see on "Get Smart". (OMG HOLY FUCK! Barbara Feldon, as "Wonder Woman", how did that idea at least, never happen!? God, we dropped the ball on this girl.) I'm not even gonna get into the weird Amazon stuff, but there's that little weird fish-out-of-water aspect to her as well. I think what I'm coming at with this is that, well, I bought it here. They found a way that I can take Wonder Woman as seriously as I've always thought we were supposed to,- well, maybe not supposed to-, I do know a little bit about her creation as well, although I do think there's a movie I have to see about that as well, but even the scene where she's tied up and can't get out here, is done incredibly well. It fits into a superhero narrative and a believable one. And they had to manipulate this into the clusterfuck of the Sony/DC universe? Huge credit to both Allen Heinberg, the film's accredited screenwriter and especially to Patty Jenkins, who thank frickin' Christ is directing movies again. I've been waiting on her return to theatrical features for awhile now; it's been 12 years since "Monster". I even forced my was through a season of "The Killing" because I heard she was involved. It was okay, but after a season, but I don't think I need to see any more of that. (Another show that can't figure out that you can't have solving a murder be the base of the show without solving the damn thing eventually...) Gal Gadot also is quite good here. She has a tough role and I think she probably played this part as well as could be. I mean, like I said, Wonder Woman is naturally a bit goofy, so the dialogue's always gonna be a little too off to fully pull off without seeming a little hammy, but she mostly pulls this off. To me though, Patty Jenkins deserves the most credit. She had a burning tightrope over a minefield she had to dance over and she pulled it off well and stuck the landing. It great to see how it works on both the big picture and in the details. The relationship between Diana and Steve for instance, the power and the philosophical dynamics between them, is really fascinating, and yeah, they found an interesting to clash to ancient world goddess with modern world goddess with modern world pragmatism in a way that makes them both seem logical as they struggle to both do the best to save lives while trying to make sure their actions don't cause more harm than good, and each struggling to figure out if the other's argument are right and wrong. I didn't think you tell a goddess that their belief in Gods might be wrong and not sound like an idiot would be possible, but they found a way.

This is the Superhero movie and franchise that will probably be the saving grace of this cinematic universe when all's said and done. It's quite an accomplishment and I want to see what's next for her.


FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER (2017) Director: Angelina Jolie

★★★★



Well, technically, first Nixon invaded Cambodia, but..., yeah, okay. I've been putting this one off to review. I didn't intend to, I certainly thought "First They Killed My Father" is a really good movie, I just don't really know quite what to say about. Well, I don't know what to say about it compared to every other piece of Cambodian film I see, which, all pretty much, or from here at least seems like, deal with the Khmer Rogue, that's not a knock by the way; if I was them I'd probably be focusing on that a lot as well. For those who aren't history or buffs, the Khmer Rouge was a splinter Communist faction that took over Cambodia shortly after the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war ended and they had some levels of control over the country for almost two decades, but it was 1975 'til 1979 during which time, they instituted the Cambodian genocide. By some measurement as many as three million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge during that time, about 1/4 of the country. Anyway, I think my main issue is that I just don't really know how to go about this film. It's Angelina Jolie's fourth feature as a director, the first I've seen since "Unbroken"; I somehow missed "By the Sea", I'm not sure how, and it's based on and co-written by Loung Ung's autobiography about being a child during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Here's the thing with them in particular, as atrocious as this story is, there aren't that many intricate aspects to this genocide, everybody's story really kinda the same. I'm not gonna say that if you've seen "The Killing Fields" or "The Missing Picture" you've seen the same movie, but the way this genocide was enacted, basically means you've seen the same story. This one, Cambodia's submission in the Oscars Foreign Language Feature category- I- guess when you select a country with as limiting a history in filmmaking as Cambodia than yeah, I guess an Angelina Jolie can come in and get a film recognized with that (#NotACriticsm #JustAnObservation), Luong (Sareum Srey Moch) is five years old and her father (Pheong Kompheak) is a mid-level government employee and their family lives a pretty elaborate life. You could mistake their house for the set of your average family sitcom. Then, things start to happen once the Khmer Rouge takes over.

So, they simple way it's understood to me, in the abstract, is Pol Pot, who was a history professor before become the most genocidal man on the second half of the 20th Century, believed two things, one that as a Communist class needed to be removed from society, which in theory, it's not the worst goal, however, he also believed that, in order to eradicate the horrors of the past, that Cambodia as a civilization, had to restart from the beginning. He believed that to be farming, the cities were depopulated and everybody, everybody who survived was either forced to become a farmer or a soldier. Basically, he turned Cambodia into a prison, even to the point of eliminating all privacy rights, and banning all contraband from the outside world which could include anything as simple as personal silverware to eat with, but would also ban things like foreign medicine. They were trying to set up a world where the country would be able to feed and grow onto itself, so they would naturally be able to produce everything on their own. (Sigh) The first people killed were people with glasses, 'cause if you wore glasses, you read a lot, and if you did a lot of reading, you were intelligent, and that knowledge and awareness was from outside sources, and not from your own skills. Most died from starvation, many died because they couldn't grow anything 'cause people in the cities have different skills than what's needed for agriculture, and a lot of the others just got sick and died. Meanwhile Luong is learning how to stab a Vietnamese in the skull, 'cause the fear of a Vietnamese invasion was important to the Khmer Rouge. You see, this ideal of recreating civilization from the beginning as a cleansing, I can see the romantic appeal of something like that, but it's really trying to put the toothpaste back into a tube, but for four years that's exactly what they tried to do and occasionally there was a lucky one like Luong who escaped and managed to survive and escape, but by the time she does that, her family's gone, either through forced separation, or....

(Sigh)

Like I said, this is a hard film to get through, and that's the accomplishment. Yeah, it does strike a weird note to me that Jolie, who's does a lot for human rights, does have this fascination it seems with human suffering in her directorial work, usually. I mean, this is the second foreign language film she's made and the first one, "In the Land of Blood and Honey" was about Bosnia; it does strike a strange for me. I mean, she's a second generation Hollywood starlet what does she know or feel about the horrors of war, but...- you know what, I don't think matters ultimately,  or maybe it does entirely, her father is a noted right-wing autocrat who she's never gotten along with, and her upbringing wasn't typical of a daughter of a star either and maybe it takes hearing and learning and dissecting what happened to people like Luong in order to fully engulf herself in empathy.

That's my natural auteur analytical instinct to go there, but while Jolie's amazingly talented and this is arguably her best film yet as a director, she's just a vessel for telling Luong's story, and unlike the Holocaust which was so diverse and widespread and involved many, many different layers and elements to it that we're still dissecting over seventy years later, with Cambodia it's one story to happened to an entire nation and it does need to be constantly repeated and repeated and repeated..., the same exact way.


RAW (2017) Director: Julia Ducournau

★★★1/2



Okay, so-em, (uncomfortable groaning), this movie had some triggering for me, and it probably will for you as well. Um, as far as I can tell, this is a horror movie about vegetarianism; I don't know what those ideas conjure up to you, to me, eh, the two movies I think of are "Troll 2" and "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," um, this movie, however, resembles neither of those.
Two vegetarian sisters, get a taste of meat, turn into obsessive vampire-like human who just want to taste meat. Cannibalism in involved.

(Ugh) Well, there's your warning, and it's sometimes gross, and not just in the normal ways cannibalism is gross too, there's also a little bit of "Wetlands" influence. It's not-, not as aggressively or unwatchable nauseating as that film is but, although in hindsight, it probably is. She doesn't know where that finger's been!- AGH! Oh god, why do I keep grossing myself out. Okay, the movie, "Raw", the debut feature from French filmmaker Julia Ducourneau, begins with the two sisters of extremely vegan parents. (Lucas Laurent and Joana Preiss), the youngest, Justine (Garance Marillier) is following in her sister Alexia's (Ella Rumpf) footsteps and is going to a Veterinary school. Which, apparently is hazing central in France. (God, after this and "Goat", I am so annoyed at all hazing rituals and those who defend them right now. #DeathtoFraternities) Anyway, in this universe, veterinary post-grads are all debauched sadists who have dead animals at their disposal, so all of the ritual hazings that don't just involve humiliation, sex or sexual humiliation also involve such things as drinking rabbit blood, a definite no-no for a vegan. (Oh, a lot of them involve eating various animal meats as well; ugh.) Okay, so inevitably, Justine caves in and it turns out that, she likes it.

Hey Mikey, she likes it! She likes it. And, long story short, she keeps eating. Even when it's pretty obviously a bad idea. Like, when your sister's trying to wax off your pubic hair, and she ends up accidentally cutting a finger....- (And, no, you don't want to know how waxing led to something being involved that could cut off a finger.) Basically, she goes on a nightly search for more and more meat.

I've read from nearly every critic that this is obviously a parable for growing up. Particularly female critics seemed to pick up on that message, picking up on the ideas of self-discovery and empowerment that, cannibalism, can have, apparently. No, it's there, I'm being a bit, flippant, but that's a good point, and the movie is well-made overall, and yeah, there's definitely a message about discovering and embracing your,- (Shrugs) kinks, or fetishes I guess.

Yeah, mostly I was just grossed out. Gross out, confused, sickened. Also, the movie has way too many endings, like, they could've cut like three of them and I would've been fine with it. There's also quite a bit about how our external desires conflict with our outer persona, and how, clearly Justine is someone who isn't capable of really discerning between the two, even before she became Hannibal Lecter. I guess I'm recommending it, just based on the quality of the filmmaking and the depths of the story, but I can't say I felt a greater narrative underneath the way I did with, say, "Get Out" for instance. Maybe it's because these are themes that have been approach in horror for years and in several different, albeit this is a different way than I'm used to, but I think that's what's holding me back on this. I think it works best as a horrifying, sickening, movie about somebody finding new stimuli and realizing how much her personal repression has been misguided. Well, sorta, misguided-, well you get the idea.


LADY MACBETH (2017) Director: William Oldroyd

★★★★★



Okay, I think I have to start with my initials impressions, 'cause-eh, I didn't come into this movie, prepared for anything in particular. I knew it was called "Lady MacBeth", and that it was somewhat popular on the Indy scene. First thing I noticed, was that the movie had very nothing particularly in common with the "Lady MacBeth" that I know about, the Shakespearean one. Instead however it's based on a novel called "Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk" or "Lady MacBeth of the Mtsensk District" by Nicolai Leskov, and this isn't the first adaptation of that novel, it's most known for being adapted to an opera by Dmitri Shostakovich, and it's also been adapted to film previous by the great Polish director Andrzej Wadja. So, to me, I felt like I was watching a victorian era version of "The Last Seduction", only this bitch is way the more vicious and worst than Linda Fiorentino's Bridget Gregory, was a bit of a shock to me.  (BTW Mtsensk is a Russian district in Eastern Europe, it's doesn't quite border Ukraine or Belarus, but it's right near there, which means nothing to you since this movie takes place in 19th Century England, so-eh, nevermind.)

The "Lady MacBeth" in the title is Katherine (Florence Pugh) a teenage girl, who is forced into marriage to a man twice her age, Alexander (Paul Hilton). because she's been purchased by Alexander's father Boris (Christopher Fairbank) 'cause she came with the land he bought. You know, say what you want about Sheldon Cooper's relationship agreements and contracts, but historically  marriage is first and foremost a business transaction, and her part of the transaction, is of course to produce an heir, which is tough considering that his idea of sex is to strip naked and masturbate while she stares at a wall. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the best part of her day, waiting around for Alexander's chaste and humiliating rejections of her. The only outside influence is her maid Anna (Naomi Ackie) who dresses her up to do, well, eventually nothing. She's quiet, barely educated at best, and so, eventually starts having an affair with a groomsmen, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) and then, she becomes a murderous nymphomaniac, and it's awesome!

I don't think I have to explain why that's awesome in general, but this combination of society and class repressions mixed with the coming-of-age combination of anger and sex, and bing-bang-boom, you've got yourself a 19th Century femme fatale being born, and a deadly-as-fuck one at that, a vicious one, a conniving and smart one. I don't want to give too much away, 'cause this needs to be discovered, but it so caught me offguard. Maybe it's just that I'm new to the story, but it's really done well. It's a slow-build character study of a mysterious and fascinating character that becomes enthralling the more you watch. It really does remind me a lot of "The Last Seduction" in how that movie is about one sexual character and how she just manipulates everybody using her sexuality, basically to their deaths, and this movie's basically the same, but in a way different setting and world, and it's actually intriguing to see a character like this here. I can totally see why this would inspiration for opera and a couple movies now. This was the debut feature for William Oldroyd, and I'm much impress. Great choice of material and very well executed, and Florence Pugh's performance in particular is special. I'm not familiar with her, but this is a star-making role. Really surprised and impressed with "Lady MacBeth".


CITY OF GHOSTS (2017) Director: Matthew Heinemann

★★★★1/2



They call it, "The Islamic State", the sliver of the world that they clam to control. It's weird to think about it, but they don't consider themselves a fringe terrorist group, although that's clearly what ISIS or ISIL are, but they think they're a new nation, something that I don't even think Al-Qaeda ever really thought of themselves as. Of course, they're way of rule is simply, to destroy. There's several documentaries coming out about ISIS and the struggles with that part of the world, "City of Ghosts" is one of the more powerful and inspiring, as is follows the people who started Racca is Being Slaughtered Secretly, or the R.B.S.S. for short, the investigate journalism online magazine that covers events inside Raqqa, the ISIS-run Syrian city that they consider the capital of The Islamic State, and where they've completely restricted access to all of the outside world, and of course, they're under the constant threat of death every time they even try to report anything, but yeah, that doesn't stop them. Most of the founding members live outside of Raqqa now, and it's harder and harder to get information out of the area as ISIS has taken down everything from satellites to electricity, and killing everybody who remotely disagrees or objects to them, and if you don't know what they do to jounrlaists, you might want to watch "Jim : The James Foley Story", and yes, they've lost several journalists. These journalists by the way, they're just average people in the town. Citizen jounralists. Teachers were the ones that began the rebellion and the group is run by some of it's surviving leaders who have safe houses in Turkey or Germany, outside of ISIS's control. Looking at their website, the last report was two weeks ago. Not surprising that they're reporting would naturally be scattered as it's hard to get out, but the last report from Raqqa on the site is about how the sewer system is the town is down. That was a couple months ago, nothing reported about it being fixed.

Essentially, this is the equivalent of journalists reporting from inside Auschwitz today, or something along those lines. Amazingly, they find a way to get to the outside world. "City of Ghosts" is documenting what some will do everything possible to not have documented at all. It's an amazing story about the power of journalism as, not only information, but as a connection for change. Not much change, but certainly none will happen if it isn't documented at all. There are people stuck in towns where many or most of their friends have been killed and here they are reporting on those who continue to commit genocide upon their people. Yeah, it'd be nice if the rest of the world could hear them, and they do, to an extent. It's gonna be interesting keeping up with R.B.S.S. over these next few years, if they survive that long, but if they don't, I'm glad for a movie like "City of Ghosts" exists to tell their story.


JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017) Director: Chad Stehelski

★★★



Goddammit! I hate when this happens. So, apparently there was a cult movie that came out a couple years ago called "John Wick". I never got around to it, but for some reason they decided to make a sequel to it and according to some; it turned out to be good so it kept popping up on some Best of and awards list. I mean, not Best Picture or anything, but it might show up in a Best Genre category or something, so anyway, since it kept popping up, now and then and moving up on my To-Watch lists, now I'm in the position where I have to catch up and watch the sequel before I can get to the original. I hate when this happens-, I try to be on top of everything and then I get blindsided by something like this. This happens a lot lately with foreign films, especially Chinese foreign blockbusters where they give you the sequel first in America, because it was the bigger hit, but they don't make it easy to find the first one, and you gotta back-

Wait, what?-. What do you mean I saw the first one?- I'm sorry, my Editor's being a dick here, just give me a second.

(Stands up and walk away from keyboard)

(Muffled, out of range)
What are you talking about?.... No, I didn't see the original! No, I didn't- what are you talking about?! No, that doesn't sound familiar; why would that?.... I think I would've written a review of it if I had seen...-
(Sound of paper being handed over)

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2015/06/movie-reviews-110-interstellar-last.html

What are you handing me? Wait, I did see this?! They-, there was enough interest to make a sequel to that?

(Whining and moaning sound, walking back to keyboard, confused and distraught)

Okay, nevermind, forget everything I just wrote, apparently I did see this film, and apparently it had more of an impact on others than it did on me, 'cause most of that review, a negative review that I wrote, was me trying to figure out what everybody else saw in it that made it so interesting and impressive to others. My constant refrain was that it was just a "Hitman story", which it was by the way. And, to be honest, I don't think much else to "John Wick: Chapter 2"...- okay sidebar, chapter indicates parts of a book; this-, this story does not feel like a book, not one long enough to have chapters-, again, as I was saying, it's just a "Hitman story", and yes, i know there are some good filmmakers who are constantly seeking out new narratives and ideas with stories about hitmen, one of my professors was one of them, and he was the biggest Luc Besson I ever knew. I've never cared for him that much, although I'm starting to appreciate "La Femme Nikita" from afar these days, but admittedly, this time, I think I kinda get it. I didn't get the appeal of John Wick (Keanu Reeves) this supposedly badass of all badass hitman before, the one, no matter how powerful you are up in the underworld, you don't want coming after you. I felt it was really good stylized action, but with a boring story. He's the badass guy in the beginning, and then by the end, he's just kills everybody. I mean, I guess there was a little bit of a "Death Wish" narrative too, but mostly it was just, stunts, people kicking everybody else's ass. I was bored.

This time, I get it enough to recommend it at least. Wick has at this point escaped the life and moved on, except for his car being stolen and he has to go kill Peter Stormare and all his crew to get it back. Then, a crime boss named Santino (Riccardo Scarmarcio) who Wick owes a marker to comes back, and he insists he pay up. He burns down his house as inspiration, and he has to go and kill his, Santino's sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), in order to gain her seat on the Underworld Board of Directors, I guess. Yeah, if you give it any thought, even in the movie world, this is a weird portrayal of the Underworld. It's like, part business, part James Bond and part,- I don't know, "Clue", or something. It's weird. Anyway,  he gets sanctuary from Winston (Ian McShane) and he prepares for to kill the sister who's in Rome at the time and surrounded by guards and the glitz and glamorous of Rome, so after he kills her, he's gonna have everybody around her to kill, most notably a fellow hitman named Cassian (Common), and of course, everybody else, 'cause now they're angry that he let this Santino asshole get a seat on the board and control the underworld, so they want to kill for him for that, except for those who might want to help and protect him.

(Sigh)

I think this is why I don't give much of a shit about this franchise, it's-, it's just people trying to kill each other, and not much else. There's barely a plot, and there's barely a fragment of a story. I mean, it's enough in this movie, it wasn't for the first one, 'cause now I actually kinda care about John Wick, but this is mostly all that it is. Other than some interesting characters like a deaf hitman played by Ruby Rose and a- I guess they were going for an crime boss variant on "Ghost Dog" simply called the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, and yes, I saw what you did there. Casting; ...real cute.) this movie is just a bunch of action scenes sprung together. I mean, sure you can say that about, say, "Mad Max: Fury Road", or something, but there's nothing else to it either. Like the last "John Wick", this film is directed by Chad Stahelski, who's background is in martial arts, kickboxing primarily and he became famous in town as a stunt man, body double and stunt coordinator, and that's not a knock against him by any means, and you know anybody can come into film and who knows how great a storyteller they can be, just look at someone like Tom Ford recently coming from a design background, but I just haven't been that impressed with Stahelski so far, outside of the stuntwork. Well-, I guess that's not entirely fair, he's not the worst visual artist; he can direct, but I'm not sure he's much of a storyteller though. Maybe he'll be better with his next film... (Checks IMDB page...) oh, sonofa- (Frustrated scoff) a remake of "Highlander"! Goddamit, I thought we were done remaking the worst films of the '80s?!!!! (Angry Scoff, deep breath)

Anyway, as to "John Wick: Chapter 2", I guess I enjoy it enough to recommend this time, but again, this is a franchise I'm struggling to understand the appeal of.


CHASING CORAL (2017) Director: Jeff Orlowski

★★1/2



This is a perfect example of a documentary that just kills itself with too much talking. And, look, I get why the people in the film doing what they're doing is impressive, but why they're doing it, is far more interesting, and they really needed to shut up so we could see more of that..... And I'm not sure how, but it needed to happen. The strange thing is that I think I'm one of the few who thinks this, 'cause every review I've seen is praising the people as characters they were interested in, and it's not hard to see why, 'cause they are doing something powerful. They're basically creating visual evidence to show that the Corals in the Oceans are dying.

I love the Ocean, and I've known and followed talk about the dying and bleaching coral populations all over the world, especially at the Great Barrier Reef, which is quickly turning into, a decent-sized barrier, that used to be a reef, for a while now. And I want to see that. I can watch a film of just underwater photography and be enthralled, even if it to show how the Ocean are dying and that we are doing it through Global Warming, which we totally are btw, but more shot, less telling. God, where are those damn "Microcosmos" filmmakers when you fucking need them?! Or the "Winged Migration" guys; the one time they'd be useful. Eh, anyway, we do get to see these character, the main ones being a former business executive who gave up his high-power career in order to feel like he was doing something important like savind the Corals, Richard Vellas (Shrugs), okay; and the other is the film's director Jeff Orlowski who also made another environmental documentary that others liked more than I did called "Chasing Ice", which documenting the people who recorded the Ice at the poles of the Earth and show how that was evaporating, and it interesting seeing them, having to figure out the specifics of it all. Just getting the cameras into the water to record months on end is hard enough, much less knowing the right direction to put them and manipulate them and then getting them out. I enjoy being admired by the process, but I don't want to feel like I'm apart of it; I just want to see the images. That's what's going to be powerful, that's what going to induce inevitable change. (Sigh)

Maybe I'm just annoyed by these guys, maybe they're a little too Type A personality for my, and that smugness that I get from people, who, for all-intensive purposes are good people and are doing great things, is misguided and they just rub me the wrong, but you can get the sense that they're doing it to say they're doing it, and not because it's what they'd be doing naturally. I didn't love, "Chasing Ice" much, but I never got that impression from that group. (Shrugs) I guess that's just me. Anyway, other than the fact that, the talking heads seem a little too enthralled with idea of talking in a documentary, I guess there's nothing terribly wrong about this documentary. Sure, there's better environmental docs on the same subject you can find, and it's an important issue to focus on and one that needs to...- (Stops typing, turns around to TV and listens movie's closing song.)

WHAT THE FUCK,,,,!?!?!?!?!?

You've got to be fucking kidding me! I-eh,- I did not just hear that!!!! Tell me that didn't just happen! Please tell me I just imagined that?




"...Tell Me How Long,
Tell Me How Long Will it Take
'Til we wake up."

'Til we WAKE UP!?!!?



Okay, I know it's a trend for a half-ass documentary to shove a song at the end to get an extra Oscar nomination, but, blatantly and lazily copying the first,  most famous and arguably the best song that did that! This isn't homage, this is outright hackery! This is taking the tense, changing it around enough hoping nobody would notice! Oh, and making it 50X worst times in the process. Oh fuck this-, I don't normally care about a movie's song enough for it to effect my rating, but ooooh-grrr! They ran into the wrong die hard Melissa Etheridge fan. No, my negative instinct's are right, this is a path to Hell, filled with good intentions, by people who, are doing good work, but think they're more important and insightful than they actually are because they're doing that work. This is, "We're in a movie, let's do everything like movie stars do now," bullshit, and that's the exact wrong place to be for an environment documentary. That's why this movie seems so impressed with itself and why they thought they can just get away this can of laziness for the song at the end, in a desperate attempt to get a cheap Oscar nomination. I was gonna give this movie a break, but screw it now-, I'm changing my rating to a negative review. There's better documentaries about the dangers of the eradication of the Coral population, go seek them out.


IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) Director: Trey Edward Shults

★★1/2



Look, I have no idea whether this is a good movie or not, but I'm-, I'm just sick of this apocalypse crap. I mean, it probably is, okay, it's a got a good premise, but-I, I couldn't deal with it. This is the exact kind of End of the World story, where-, when you really step away and think about it, this isn't a story that needs an end of the world apocalypse scenario to work. I honestly think that's critical and something we should be more looking into when analyzing apocalyptic literature, why does this story need to take place after the Apocalypse. I'm not saying that should be the only criteria, and I don't think that's enough of a reason to pan an apocalyptic work, but I certainly think that should matter, and this feels way too much like adding the end of the world to something that's probably more interesting without it.

Apparently it might be too. This is the second feature from Trey Shults who debut feature "Krisha", which is one of those movies I keep thinking I've seen, but actually haven't...- (Huh. Gotta but put that on some watchlists) was about a family member coming back to the family for Thanksgiving after ten years. This is also a family drama, and it involves two families. The head of the main one is Paul (Joel Edgerton), who's protecting his family from an outside predator, Will (Christopher Abbott). Will, turns out to have a family that's somehow survived, whatever air virus that's destroyed the rest of the world and left the survivors to take out each other, and they strike a deal for them to share and trade and supplies, and since Paul's house is more ready for the end-of-the-world, they decide to start living together, both families. There's Paul's wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) along with their son Travis (Kelvin Harrington, Jr.), and Will's family include his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) and basically they try to get along, but being in close proximity with the outside world being hostile and deadly, and yes, this illness that's around, is zombie-like in nature, so they got to avoid it at all cost, they begin to have a deep mistrust of each other as events develop. (Oh also, Paul's family has a Grandfather, Bud (David Pendleton) in the beginning, but, he-eh, he doesn't make it)

I kinda get what he's getting here, Shults, who is clearly a talented filmmaker btw, and to be fair, this doesn't get go by the numbers of what you'd naturally think would happen with this kind of narrative, and I was taken aback a lot by the surprises, but I'm not sure they ever went anywhere either. I kinda want to see this kind of narrative redone but with a more Robert Altman-like approach. The fact that the tone is so haunting and the lighting is so dark and everything's so morose and shadowy, it doesn't help this film as much as you'd think. It does help create a tone, but I wouldn't call that a positive. Some contrast would've been nice, and maybe not shooting this like a horror would've helped do that, and probably made the movie more emotionally ethereal to me. I was just, tuning out too much with "It Comes at Night", which by the way, I don't get the generic title.

Still though, two families struggling to live with each other, in seclusion, things go violently array and some characters lose their senses or minds; did this need to be apocalyptic? (Shrugs) I guess it doesn't hurt, but I'm just- I'm just tired of this tone and I'm tired of the end of the world narratives. I was sick of it, when I thought it was a disturbing fantasy too many people had, and now I'm sick of it for fearing that we're closer to it than ever before. More than that, it's just dark, drizzle of a movie that's part horror and part psychological thriller, and I'd rather watch one that are just as, or more deep and not as serious. "The Babadook" for instance comes to mind. I expect good things from Shults in the future, he's talented, and he may have caught me on a bad day here, I'll admit, but I'm just a little too tired of the trend at the moment.


STEP (2017) Director: Amanda Lipitz

★★1/2



"Step", the acclaimed documentary from Amanda Lipitz, tells the story of the Step Team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, which is a charter school, the first all-girls one in the city that had secondary and high school education. It opened only in 2009 with only sixth graders, and a Step Team that has gone on to compete locally better, and more impressive than that, every member of that team had earned academic scholarships for college. The movie follows some of these girls from the beginning 'til there graduation.

(Sigh)

I have one question, what the hell is "Step"? Like, maybe they explained it, but the personal stories were more interesting, but- what's Wikipedia say:

"Step dance is the generic term for dance styles in which the footwork is the most important part of the dance. Limb movements and styling are either restricted or considered irrelevant."

I'm still confused, what the hell is Step dancing? I'm not a dancing expert, but isn't most dancing, the footwork the most important part? I mean, that's why it's called "Steps" when you learn it, right?

Okay, I guess, that's a misnomer, having done a little research on this, there are specific dance styles that especially focus on such things as the footwork, but-eh, I-, I don't know. I watch a few step routines on Youtube after watching this movie, and-eh, I-, I kinda think I'd rather just learn like a particular kind of step dance, like tap or clog,or riverdance even. I'm sure these girls are impressive, but I don't get it, and that's not a good thing for a dance documentary. Dancing, is always a little tricky when it comes to filming, but it's also simultaneously the artistic medium that most needs to be filmed, in order for it to be preserved. I think the stories of the few girls they focused on were interesting enough to preserve, but I kinda would've liked to have seen the dancing more honestly. At least enough to get a sense of what it is.

Anyway, the movie follows most closely, three of the young girls from the original class, Tayla, Cori and Blessin. Blessin, is the one that founded the team and also it's most devoted, vocal and high-profile member, all three of those facts have periodically gotten her into some trouble of the years, including once being kicked off the team because of failing grades. Despite this, she seems the most mature of the group, partly 'cause she's probably had to take of things on her own for much of her life as her mother suffers from a severe depression; even most of her teachers have never met or seen the mother. Cori's mother had her when she was in high school and feared the same with her, but she's turned out to be the class valedictorian in response and is trying to become a doctor and get into Johns Hopkins. Tayla's the most skilled and knowledgeable abot the dancing although her mother is a corrections officer who's particularly enthused with her work.

It's not that these aren't inspirational stories, they are, but there's something about the presentation here that doesn't feel earned. I've seen this film compared to "Hoop Dreams" for instance, eh, I can see it, but no. That movie followed characters intimately for years, and that's not a knock against "Step", this movie's not required to do that, but "Step seems to be trying to have it both way, or all way. It's about the school, it's about the kids, it's about the class, it's about the step dancing...- I mean, it's all impressive and the accomplishments are quite special, but I don't know. This doesn't quite feel like a finished film product to me. It the first feature film from Amanda Lipitz, who's got connections to the school, although she's also a Tony-winning Broadway producer and as much as I love Broadway, it does have a way of smoothing the rough edges if you will. (I mean, the first major rap musical to capture Broadway's attention, was about one of the whitest of white American revolutionary heroes.) I kept feeling like the movie was telling me to be inspired, instead of just inspiring me, and that's where I think I draw the line. I'm torn, and maybe if it was more zoomed in and focused I'd give it a break, but ultimately I think it's too scattered.


THE FOUNDER (2016) Director: John Lee Hancock

★★★1/2



I've been hearing about "The Founder" for awhile from some friends of mine. I got around to it late, 'cause I tend to prioritize films that get into the Awards during the season and despite some lingerings out there for Michael Keaton's performance, which is amazing by the way, it didn't get any traction. That said, I can see why they were talking about it so long afterwards. It's one of those movies that right on that weird line where you can't quite tell if they know just how dark the story they're telling is, but you think they do, so you're kinda going along with it.

Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the man behind McDonald's. Well, sorta behind McDonald's. There's a few movies I've seen this film compared to "Steve Jobs" comes to mind, "Wall Streets" to some extent comes to mind, the ones that sorta makes the most sense to me is "The Social Network", because that film to me was about a business's origin story, and the origin story of McDonald's is a little complicated. For instance, who's McDonald? Well, we know there's a Ronald McDonald, but actually they're two brothers in San Bernadino, Dick & Mac MacDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) that ran a restaurant and they invented something called the Speedy System, which is essentially fast food's version of the Assembly line. Now this was in the '40s, right forties right at the dawn of the age of the drive-in restaurants. One of the best scenes in the movie is the McDonald's brothers actually practicing this process where they eliminated all the unnecessary steps and items to their restaurant and become a strictly walk-up burger joint where the food is brought to the customer in seconds. Good freshly-made food in seconds. The sequence where they show this in the beginning from the training on the tennis court to the beginning of their success is quite amazing btw.

Kroc, a former door-to-door food service salesman who's amazed at their work, is the one that comes up with the original idea to franchise the property. Actually, he's not the one that had that idea either. The McDonald's tried to franchise it themselves at first and failed because the franchisees couldn't keep up with their standards and even began selling other foods than hamburgers and since the Speedy System wasn't enacted to it's fullest potential, timing of the food slowed down and like many drive-thrus of the day, they became populated with the lesser-valued customers of teenagers. (See, we think of McDonald's as a place for kids, that's deceptive, it's really a place for "families" to go; you don't really want that many juveniles hanging around the place; it scares off repeat customers other customers.

Kroc, takes a shot at it in the Midwest anyway, originally with some rich backers, but that's failing as well, but eventually, he start figuring out the right couples to sign up as franchise owners. This then, begins the slow descend into..., well, I'm not sure what exactly. He kinda just starts running what we think of as McDonald's. It starts when he meets a bank lawyer Harry Sonneborn (B.J. Novak, really good) who convinces him into buying land for the properties instead of simply having to be at the helm of permits and ordinances and rental agreements and whatnot. Eventually what we see is a slow-motion squashing of a bug, and everybody's getting swatted. The brothers being the first and biggest ones to fall, but not the only ones, Ray's long-suffering but faithful wife Joan (Laura Dern) eventually gets replaced by Ethel, (Linda Cardellini, one of those great actresses we never see enough of.) in this version, she introduces the idea to Ray about milk shakes with no ice cream in them.

"The Founder" is a strange tale that's slick and glossy like a commercial, but like food in a commercial, it never looks exactly that way in real life. I'm thinking this movie is aware of who it's about and the way it's about it; it's got some of the most peculiar framing I've ever seen. You love Ray Kroc, but you hate everything he stands for and everything he does to get to where he got, but not the man he becomes because,- well, he doesn't exactly change. He's a guy who stumbled upon the right product and managed to do with it what the two guy who came up with the idea couldn't. There's a scene at the end of the movie where the brothers ask him why, 'cause he could've easily just become competition instead of uploading them, and you can't help but concede that, Kroc's answer isn't wrong, it's awful in own right, but he wasn't wrong.


YOUR NAME (2016) Director: Makoto Shinkai

★★★1/2



(Scratches head, for several seconds. Stares at fingernails with look of disappointment. Mutters under breath)

Stupid dandruff.

(Continues to scratch head)

Seriously though, this is a-eh, well, headscratcher for me. A big one. I feel like I missed something.
You see, I've been hearing about "Your Name", for awhile now, it's been wildly popular with fans and critics and in terms of Japanese anime, it's a big blockbuster film that's long-captured the public's imagination. Currently, it's ranked as the most successful and most profitable Japanese animated feature to hit theaters, ever, that's not made by Studio Ghibli. Yeah, that last part's critical for a couple reasons. Obviously the big one is the growing world of animation in Japan outside of that major superstudio, but it's also marks Funimation on the map as a worldwide anime power. I've probably watched a film or two from them before, but I'll be honest, I've not had that much success with anime outside of Studio Ghibli, especially lately, in my limited viewings at least, so I guess I was skeptical, going in. That said, for awhile, it seemed like everybody who saw "Your Name" easily ranked it among the best films of that year and-eh, for me, I-eh, I don't know. I'm not saying Studio Ghibli's infallible, they've certainly made their share of duds, but I could always understand the appeal of their work."Your Name" is well-animated, but tonally this movie's a bit all over the map. I'm not sure the use of pop songs help either.

Okay, you know America has this typical "Freaky Friday" formula for movies, where two people, through some magical means end up switching bodies and lives? Okay, that's mostly played for fodder here in the West, but in the Far East, it's actually a fairly common motif in Japanese literature and a more powerful dramatic one at that. (There's still some comedy with it, but still...) "Your Name" basically starts with that kind of premise, but it's also got "The Lake House" effect, where the two parallel lives and stories also happened to take place over different time periods, but the people experiencing the switch don't exactly understand that quite yet, but the bigger aspect that's really somewhat distinctive about this formula for Japanese films, is that the switch is usually between people of opposite genders. Yeah, come to think of it, I can't really think of a Western film with that particular "Freaky Friday" twist. Maybe "All of Me", if I'm stretching a bit? Anyway, that happens in "Your Name" where Mitsuha, female high school student in a rural Japanese town, seems to be switching bodies and lives and occasionally emotions and experiences with a male high school student in Tokyo named Taki.

This, from what I've heard about Japanese culture, actually makes some sense to me; I know it's a powerful metaphor for one sex, particularly a male to be able to fully emphasize with a female perspective; I've heard this is actually a major thing regarding how widely respected Japanese transvestite performers are, but don't quote on that fact; that's digging into an obscure part of my recall to pull that out. That said though, at a certain point in this movie, several points, actually, but there's one in particular, where these two lives are gonna cross, which forces Taki to go and seek out Mitsuha.

So, okay, back to real life for a second, on March 3,2011 the Tohoku Earthquake struck in the Atlantic Ocean, hitting a 9.0 on the Richter scale, which causes a catastrophic and devastating tsunami in Japan; you might remember having seen the news footage from back then. Estimates currently mark that devastation in the range of around 16,000 deaths. So, 3/11 as it's referred to there, still to this day, has naturally effected the whole nation, and the after-effects of that are starting to represent themselves in their art. Hirakazu Koreeda's "After the Storm" took place in the aftermath of it, and "Your Name" uses a similar incident, this one being a comet falling to the Earth of alarming size to represent that incident and sets up a situation where thousands were killed, in this case, the entire rural area where Mitsuha lived, including Mitsuha, were perished, although Taki only has faint memories of this incident.

I think this, is where the movie loses whatever power it had, to me. It's not that they go here and use this recent piece of history as recall but how they use it, because-, and I don't want to insinuate too much and give away, but this is essentially a time travel story. I mean, it's not about the tsunami in any literal sense, but the way they do seem to be trying to rewrite and circumvent recent history, that is something that I find trouble with. And connecting that, with the spiritual connection made between the two kids, ultimately feels a bit wrong. I'm still recommending the movie, but I'm not getting the people who really inspired by this; I felt like I was getting tonal whiplash for the majority of the film. Again, it's possible that this film just got lost in translation for me, but I had trouble finding this film as emotionally inspiring as others and frankly found myself disturbing by some of the indications they were trying to bring up and where they decided to take those.


PETE'S DRAGON (2016) Director: David Lowery

★★



I'm a little behind the eight ball on this one, 'cause while I tend to think I've seen my fair share of Disney, somehow I completely missed the original "Pete's Dragon" as a kid, so-eh, from what I can tell, it apparently seems like it was a musical of some kind. (Shrugs) Anyway, in this version, we have an orphan boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) who lives in the woods, outside of town in...- um,... um,... where the hell does this take place in? (Google search.) Millhaven, in the state of... um, Pacific Northwest. (Google search, again, shrugs) Millhaven, Pacific Northwest, that fine city and state, I guess.  Anyway, he has a pet Dragon he named Elliot. Oh-kay. So, he's lived in the woods since a car accident killed his parents and now there's a father/daughter environmental team, Meacham and Grace (Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard), who have heard and believed of stories of this dragon for awhile and are now interested in Pete, and are hoping to go and protect the dragon before he's captured by a local logging company...- (Sigh)

Alright, I'm gonna be straight with everyone; I only jumped this on my Netflix to make sure I could nominate that Lindsay Sterling song for my fake awards. I love that song, but, everything else about this, I could not care one second about. I mean, that's basically the whole movies, and it's not a terrible twist on the genre, but I don't give a shit about this dragon or this kid, than this movie's got nothing for me. I don't want to simplity that way, but I feel like the movie is supposed to make me feel, but I don't know, maybe I'm just being cynical and I just couldn't appreciate it, but...- you know, all the elements are for a decent movie, but it really plays up the magical realism elements that frankly turns me off. Well,-, it's magical realism, but it's also supposed to be earnest in it's approach. Like, I've seen people compare this movie to "Where the Red Fern Grows", and "Shiloh", to childhood books about kids relationships with their dogs, both of which I never liked; especially "Where the Red Fern Grows", which was both torture to read and sit through, 'cause they had made a movie about it at the time. (I haven't seen any of the "Shiloh" films from the '90s, although I've heard decent things about them. Honestly, I can't even buy this movie on those levels; I'm already supposed to believe this dragon's been around forever just hiding in these woods outside of this logging town, I mean, already were in Loch Ness Monster territory here, and now I feel like I gotta swing into...- I don't know, "Free Willy" maybe?

It looks luscious, it's pretty well-made, a lot of good landscape shots. (Shrugs) Mostly I was just bored shitless waiting for the appropriate beats to hit, and those took a little too long. I guess the CGI animation on the dragon is fine. From what I remember, this wasn't exactly the most popular Disney live-action film; it had a cult following, but this feels like an unnecessary bottom-of-the-barrel adaptation of a story that those involved either don't want to tell or don't know how, and I can't blame them for either one. Mostly I found myself confused. Is it a fairy tale, is an environmental parable, is it a fish out of water narrative, is it an orphan tragedy...- I don't know, and I didn't care. Maybe this sweeping epic suburban childhood fantasy narrative just doesn't work on me anymore, but mostly I think this was just a confused movie that doesn't know why it exists.

Let's hope Disney stops with these soon, I fear we're gonna end up with an animated remake of "The Three Lives of Thomasina" soon if we keep this up.


THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) Director: Antoine Fuqua

★★1/2



Oh man, some days it feels like I'm just going from one pointless remake to another pointless remake, and this one, Jesus. It's a pointless remake, of a remake! And the original remake, I know this will be sacrilegious to some, but that was already kinda pointless to begin with. Okay, not entirely pointless,- but yeah, kinda. For those who somehow don't know this, "The Magnificent Seven" was the original title of Kurosawa's masterpiece that we know now as "Seven Samurai", and per tradition, a lot of great Samurai movies would get remade in Hollywood as American Westerns, and the Western version of this became the film we now recognize as "The Magnificent Seven", and that's not a terrible movie by any means. It totally lackluster compared to "Seven Samurai" which is an all-time classic, some even consider that among the best films of all-time, and it's got a good argument for it, but "The Magnificent Seven" the western, was originally directed by John Sturges, who is an interesting director; I'm not sure he was a great one though. I tend to recognize him mostly for what's probably regarded as his best film, "The Great Escape" nad generally I tend to think of Sturges as sorta Howard Hawks-lite. Now, I'm not a Hawks guy to begin with, but we generally consider Hawks as being a very masculine and manly director, and that was true although Hawks when situation necessitated, could expand out of his limitations. Sturges is also a manly, masculine filmmaker. his films are filled with action and adventure and risk-takings and whatnot. That said, generally, I think he's good-not-great, and "The Magnificent Seven" is a very good example of this with Sturges. It's got all the beats, but I don't seriously consider it a great film or anything.

However this film is Antoine Fuqua''s feature and-, I'm-, I'm about ready to give up on him at this point. He's another one who's never been great, but I keep waiting around for the next one, hoping it'll eventually click, and it never really does. and he also makes a lot of what I call "Masculine" films, one that star men and usually have them participating in some kind of masculine tough activity. I think universally everybody concedes that "Training Day" is his best work, and it is, although even that one is about, eh, twenty minutes too long in hindsight, maybe thirty even. Almost all his movies seem a little long, or are just too traditional in their narrative for me to really notice or care. Usually the one thing he has that's kinda interesting in his best work is that they're typically about characters who are from the slums or ghettos of society, or often work within those worlds like police for instance, and some of his movies like "Southpaw" which is about a professional boxer, actually confront the issues of growing up in one lifestyle while making it to another and having to struggle to have these two sides of the character's experiences coincide, even if that kinda thing is deadly. That's actually intriguing and admirable, which is probably why I keep giving a second and third and fourth and fiftieth chance, but I probably shouldn't, and I really can't with "The Magnificent Seven".

There's honestly not too much that's interesting enough to talk with this film, it's basically a loud, and full-blasted remake of the original. And Loud, there are some gunfighting scenes in this that just seem to wanna blow out ear drums. I could be wrong but I don't think most gunfire was that loud back then. It's not a straight remake, but it might as well be. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt have the most to do, they're hired to protect a town from a vicious murdering, robber baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). It's a lot of build for a climax that just wears you down. (Shrugs) There's two popular, better versions of this film out there and it's not nearly interesting or different enough to hold up with either of them. It's not the worst thing, I'm sure, but that's pretty much where I'm at with it.


ANTHROPOID (2016) Director: Sean Ellis

★★★



So, I actually was not aware of this story, which is somewhat surprising to me, because 'cause it's actually been made into several films already over the years, even when it first happened. "Anthropoid" is named after "Operation Anthropoid" the code-word name given to Czech Resistance's successful assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the German Nazi officer often considered third in Command after Hitler and Himmler during World War Ii and is often credited with having been the architect of the "Final Solution". He was shot in '42, during what's probably considered outside of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising the most successful civilian resistance effort during the war. He didn't from the attempted assassination, he died instead of from Sepsis that occurred during his treatment. "Anthropoid" is about the resistance fighters and the plan to attack. Well,- it's mostly about that. The movie, sorta drifts. I'm recommending sorta, 'cause it's a good story and once we finally get to the attack and the climax, a shootout in a building, it's more than made up for it's shortcomings as a narrative story, but before then, it's really paced. I kinda get why, 'cause first there's the planning and the plotting, but then there's a lot of downtime and we get to see the Resistance soldiers' lives. We get more of that then we probably should, but less than it seems, if that's possible. Mike D'Angelo of AV Club, who I'm not normally a fan of, makes a decent point, that the film is not really about anything. I mean, it's good historical story, and for all I know, it's the most accurate version, but it's playing into the Hollywood cliches of giving characters background and lives and focusing on them, instead of what would probably be a better idea in this case, and that's focus and zone in with tunnel vision on the details of the attack, what could go wrong, what might go wrong, seeing it play out, seeing the planning fail, etc. I mean, this could've been, maybe like Kubrick's "The Killing", which does have some focus on things outside of the crime they're committing, but nothing that's extemporaneous, and despite all the good things about it and in it, it does come across as that, too often at the time and in hindsight.

I couldn't figure out why that is, and then I looked up the Director. I thought the name sounded familiar, Sean Ellis made an Oscar-nominated short film awhile ago called "Cashback", that was adapted to a feature-length film that's been stuck on my Netflix queue for about a decade now. The short is clever, but it's exactly the kind of meandering, plotless short that people who don't like shorts would probably hate, and while I thought the short was cute, I'm definitely not looking forward to eventually seeing that feature-length version.

Anyway, "Anthropoid", good story, worth telling, could be told better, I can't get too upset over it though. It's nice to see Cillian Murphy in a lead role as well. 


AUDRIE & DAISY (2016) Directors: Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk

★★★★1/2



I'm gonna be blunt here and it might piss some people off but, small town sucks. The most unrealistic and overrated myth of Americana is the myth of the small town. I call it, "Big Fish, Small Pond"-syndrome, and it's truly the worst of America. It's corruption disguised as community. Incompetence taken for folksy. Trying to get away from it all, is just code for, we'd like to have more control of our situation, and that situation is, too many people and situations we can't control. I go after Donald Trump as much as anybody, and deservedly so, but I'll give him this one thing, at least he was doing it in New York City. At least he always went big. At least he aspired and dreamed big enough to think about Presidency as an option. He should have never been given that kind of opportunity over and over and over again, sure, but the thing, for every one of him, there's hundreds, thousands of people just like him, only worst because they hold their powers in places like Maryville, Missouri. That's where a two teenagers named Daisy Henderson and Paige Parkhurst were sexually assaulted by two older teenage friends of Daisy's brother Charlie. The boys knocked them unconscious, assaulted them, took pictures, and through the two girls in front of Daisy's house, only one of them making it inside. They got a couple years suspension. Mostly because they're family's knew people and the town leadership didn't want to hurt them too bad, especially since it could hurt the reputation of the town, and their prized high school football team that Charlie was on. You'd think the town would be angered by this. They were, they were pissed at the girls for going to the police. Eventually the town ostracized them so badly, that somebody burned down their house.

That was the good story, what happened to Audrie Pott, a similar event in Saratoga, California, a 15-year-old who was passed out drunk at a party, boys wrote stuff on her, took pictures, sent them to the entire school, assaulted her, which she didn't remember, and basically was slut-shamed by entire town until eight days later, she committed suicide. "Audrie & Daisy" are two  two of several similar stories about cyberbullying, sexual assault and slut-shaming that happens to high school girls. It's not an easy watch; it's a frustrating tale that's happening so often that Daisy's started a support group and has basically become a political leader in the anti-sexual assault movement. She's still a teenager btw, this isn't an old story, this is an ongoing. And my slight against small towns in particular doesn't mean this is an entirely small town issue, but it is an issue that's more likely to continue in separated communities like small towns where everything is local and everybody knows everybody, if for no other reason than because it's our natural inclination to protect boys and to blame women. This movie doesn't give me much else to conclude, even when they're interviewing the other side, even when they may be making a good legal point, they call help but not realize and reveal just how truly bias their slant is. It is systemic nationwide, and those girls are cursed by the fact that we live in an era of social media where moving to a different town, isn't a reasonable option anymore, although they wouldn't have gotten together to fight it without it either. "Audrie & Daisy"'s greatest accomplishment is showing how it's not necessarily the tools that are at fault, it's the people using them and how that is.


IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE (2016) Director: Hans Petter Molland

★★



Oh, I saw this too. Um, "In Order of Disappearance", it's...- (Sigh) what's the opposite of Randy Feldman's Screenwriting Rule, "Kill the Bad Guys in Order of Badness"? Okay, that's not fair, the film probably did that, but I couldn't care or notice; I mostly just remember we kept seeing new bad guys every twenty minutes and then Stellan Skarsgard went all "Death Wish" on their asses. Honestly there's not much else to it. Skarsgard is Nils Dickman and he's normally a pretty community-driven guy, so community-driven he wins awards for it. He runs the town snow plow and yeah, okay, this is a Swedish film, so yeah, I can see how that'd be important, and then he, one-by-one, goes and kills a people bunch of people after his son is found dead of an overdose. And that's it. I mean, okay, there is a punchline about how each villain gets their own little title card and it's shown from,- well, not perspective necessarily, but we got told their story, sorta, but then they get killed, so who cares. Like, "Okay here's this guy, now watch him die!" And that's "In Order of Disappearance"; I don't get it. Look, I'm actually sorta familiar with this structure, and I can kinda see it working, in the right context, Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies uses this format to a degree, but he does selectively and with the adding of drama, plus it's separated into chapters in order to more correctly imitate the structure of a book. and likewish, the narrative takes more of a structure of a book as well. It's not simply, introduce character, then kill them, he builds up the characters as he introduces them, tells us why and how they're important to the story and they the adding drama makes us more intrigued and we give a shit. There's no giving a shit here. Here's clearly imitating a for of Tarantino or Coen Brothers's-esque aesthetics here, there's a lot of "Fargo" in this film too, but there's no reason for it and the effect just doesn't work. This director, I've seen one other film of his, I believe, "A Somewhat Gentle Man" that also starred Stellan Skarsgard, and I believe I liked that one, that was a little better and had a more driven plot but it had a lot of the same off-kilter humor and perspective as this film, but it had a reason and purpose. This movie just feels like connective threads that are just there to get to the murders. I guess similar to how I don't think "Se7en" is any good, but at least "Se7en" is memorable. This movie's just, vapor that wipes from your head right away. I didn't even remember that Bruno Ganz was in this until I looked it up, how do I forget him?

This could've been interesting in the right context, but frankly I don't think much of it.

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