Friday, August 4, 2017

Dunkirk, Colossal and Baby Driver (spoilers)

As a former filmmaker & storyboard artist it’s sometimes hard for me to fall into the frame of a film. If the film doesn’t catch me with its visuals or wrench my heart through story and performance I click over to becoming analytical.  I watch for tricks & techniques like interesting blocking, or lens choices or pieces of performance and dialogue. The thing of it is that most films can suck me in and wring me out like a rag, leaving to me to ponder them after I have experienced them.  Dunkirk, Colossal and Baby Driver had me pondering while I was watching, entranced and sometimes perplexed.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Oddly small in scope, Beyond plays like an enormously expensive episode of TOS. Character relationships and interactions are well established by this third film the newest Star Trek movie incarnation and the cast appear to be having a blast.  Essentially the story of Chris Pine’s Kirk meandering through a trifle of a plot while accompanied by Simon Pegg, Karl Urban et al, Beyond falls into Trek tropes by destroying the Enterprise (again) and stranded the crew on an alien world (again).
Pegg’s co-written script has a deep love and understanding of Star Trek, and director Justin Lin executes with the same physics bending flare he brought to the Fast & Furious franchise. Strangely paced and replete with stakes less set pieces, Beyond takes half of its running time to really hit its stride, leaping (spoiler) off-world and into a fantastic sequence set to the Beastie Boy’s Sabotage. The movie never really recovers as it races towards the climax, reducing scope from stellar to two guys punching each other.
Star Trek: Beyond is vastly superior to Into Darkness but does not have the pure emotional momentum of 2009’s Star Trek.

Friday, September 16, 2016

X-men: Apocalypse

XM:A is an example of a talented filmmaker sleepwalking through making a film. Vastly inferior to his previous X-film, Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer has a created a film with such impossible ridiculous stakes, that audience by-in is unfathomable. Re-introducing characters established in the original X-men as teenagers in the 80’s is an interesting choice, undermined by the use of Apocalypse as the film’s big bad. Apocalypse as played by Oscar Isaac, is a portentous blowhard that can absorb and use any mutant power, begging the question why he needs to recruit any other mutant. Angel, Storm & l Magneto are brought into the fold, to reap vast swaths of global destruction, including an incredibly disrespectful sequence where Magneto, inspired by Apocalypse, destroys Auschwitz.
Jennifer Lawrence joins Michael Fassbender in looking bored to tears as they work through the last movie of their deal. James McAvoy tries his hardest while spending most of the movie doing nothing and even a Hugh Jackman cameo as Weapon X does little to spice up the films bloated running time.
Ponderous and boring, XM:A dutifully trudges through plot towards its climax, never building to anything exciting or meaningful, and burdened with sub-par VFX, particularly in the opening sequences. With Jackman retiring from Wolverine with his next (and last) solo outing, XM:A unintentionally makes a good argument for this X-men universe to actually end.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, a young woman who drives (or is driven) off the road only to awaken underground, in a prepper nightmare. John Goodman’s Howard, with an unnerving calm, tells her that the world has ended and she is underground in his bunker alongside Emmett, (John Gallagher Jr.)

Goodman, in a startlingly intense and deep performance as Howard, brings real pathos and gravitas to the film, giving it a swirling pit of simmering dread. Winstead’s Michelle is no victim. Clever, resourceful and brave but desperate, she maneuvers in between Howard’s kind but menacing bulk and Emmett’s aw-shucks low key affability, trying to discern what is real or not.
10 Cloverfield Lane builds relentlessly, ratcheting tension, until the audience’s nerves are stretched like piano strings waiting to be plucked. It is a masterwork of craft and vision given the vast majority of the film takes place in 3 rooms with 3 people, until the climax.  
The ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane has to be seen to be believed and will be incredibly divisive as it essentially is the beginning of a completely different movie. Despite the massive shift in tone, this movie is spectacular and one of the best of 2016.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Pandemic is a take on found footage as well as a take on first person narrative (a la Hardcore Henry) that betrays its own premise from the start. Rachel Nichols is Lauren, a highly value CDC doctor who has arrived at one of the last remaining American strongholds during a zombie outbreak. Lauren is to be the fourth on a team of a Soldier, A Driver, and a Navigator that are sent out into the wasteland to recover survivors amongst the infected, who have 5 levels of disease. Level 1, we are told, is treatable; Level 5 is a ravenous mindless running cannibal.
Mekhi Phifer is Gunner, Alfie Allen is Wheeler and Missi Pyle is Denise. I will leave it to you to figure out their jobs.
Strangely empty of tension, Pandemic explores well-worn territory of civilization in collapse, and the veneer of humanity stripped away. Unable to explore character other than in broad archetypes, Pandemic fails to make much use of its format, but instead stages scenes within the perspective of each characters convenient helmet camera much as one would without the first person convention. The characters don’t act like people so we are never really in their shoes nor ever really in jeopardy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Suicide Squad

Beset with a troubled production and legendarily troubled reshoots, Suicide Squad had the unfortunate timing to be in production when the disastrous Batman Vs Superman was released to a critical drubbing and underwhelmed audiences. Suicide Squad as released is an incoherent mess that while not as blatant in its reshoots as the most recent Fantastic Four, still stinks of studio interference. Scenes introducing characters are repeated within minutes of each other and the film has a staccato pace that lurches from moment to moment of empty action.
The framework of the film gives glimpses of a larger work that delved deeper into the backstories of the characters, but in the final piece, the character moments are bite-sized chunks that allude poorly to whatever conflict may exist.  Punctuated with gratuitous and brief bits of tired licensed music such as “Born on the Bayou” and “Sympathy for the Devil” Suicide Squad feels like an attempt to capture the experience of Guardians of the Galaxy with no understanding why those decisions were made appropriately in that film.  
Make no mistake this is Margot Robbie and Will Smith’s movie, with each of their respective characters stealing the show whenever they are on screen. Robbie’s Harley Quinn is a sparkling gem of madness and spousal abuse where Smith’s Deadshot is a sociopath trying to do right by his daughter (which is an oxymoron). Each brings their full charm and intensity to the films, giving it far more life than it deserves. Viola Davis (Amanda Waller) and Jay Hernandez (Diablo) also standout as Waller proves to be as sociopathic as the Suicide Squad, and Diablo reveals a truly tragic backstory that makes him a reluctant hero. Jared Leto is an insignificant and impotent Joker, attempting to make hay of the role defined by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger and failing to do so. Leto’s Joker is occasional comic relief that exists only to further muddy an already inexplicable plot.
Suicide Squad is a mildly entertaining mess made from the threads of a likely more interesting movie and an embarrassing step down in quality for director David Ayers.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

The Lonely Island presents their first movie with Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Structured as a behind the scenes documentary of a Bieber-alike Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) and his former band The Style Boyz, Popstar has endless cameos from the hip hop and rap community talking about the impact The Style Boyz has had on pop culture. A glossy take on modern pop music and the inherent ridiculousness of massive egos and enormous money, Popstar skewers the modern industry delightfully, but relies heavily on the audience’s knowledge of the battles behind the scenes. 

Out of context vignettes parodying TMZ are dropped into the film and as a non-American who has never seen TMZ, left me cold. The film is earnest in its attempt to create empathetic characters within the madness on Conner4Real on tour but is light on laugh out loud moments, save for a wedding proposal gone wrong and a groupie scene flipped on its head. Those standout moments and the expertly crafted pop parody “Fuck Bin Laden” are the highlights of an ambitious but mediocre film.