Archives for posts with tag: 4 out of 5

MV5BNDFmZjgyMTEtYTk5MC00NmY0LWJhZjktOWY2MzI5YjkzODNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDA4NzMyOA@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

So this was always going to be refried Captain America. And to a certain extent they tried to make it not that, but not so much that they could avoid a guy, named Steve, leaving his lady love, in a plane, with a horrible weapon on board, and not planning to make it back. So not very hard.

Which is a shame, because a lot of the other stuff was quite good. It’s the first DC Comics movie in a while that didn’t make me fall asleep or want to die, for starters (Between this and “Powerless,” there’s rather a charm offensive going on, isn’t there?). Lucy Davis as a harried secretary was delightful. And Diana’s advance across No Man’s Land was visually stunning and emotionally affecting.

Quick capsule of the plot, for those of you currently living under rocks: Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised on the island of Amazons, who are biding their time until Ares is released back into the world and they must defeat him. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is an American spy and pilot who stumbles upon them. Diana decides that she must help him rescue the Germans from the influence of Ares. Imperial Germany is represented by General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), who are developing a still more terrible gas to release in the trenches. With their ragtag bunch of not-heroes–a vaguely shell-shocked Scottish sniper, Charlie (Ewen Bremner), a womanizing would-be actor, Samir (Saïd Taghmaoui), and a First Nations smuggler whose name I didn’t catch and who is billed as Chief (Eugene Brave Rock)–they go into Belgium in search of the plant that produces this weapon.

Diana’s childhood and origin story are well done, and her relationships with her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her mentor Antiope (Robin Wright) are largely charming if, you know, pretty exposition-heavy. The introduction of Steve and their mutual lack of comprehension is played for perhaps not enough laughs, and Diana’s failure to understand Edwardian fashion would be unbearable if not for Lucy Davis’s tremendous side-eye. The action stuff is not half-assed, although I suspect the effects will age rather badly. The film utterly fails to give the audience a sense of the scope of the war.

And this might be where it lost me. Diana–despite being a superweapon and speaking however many languages–was painfully dense. She never figured out how big the war was, partly because she interrupted everyone who tried to explain, and her constant lecturing just made her look self-righteous and naïve. Which, pardon me, is not a great look. I get that we’re trying to say something deep about humanity and evil or whatever, and something feminist about how women something or other, but if your paladin is too dumb to understand metaphors or numbers larger than four, it’s rough.

She was gorgeous and noble and athletic and her trench salon blowout was truly remarkable, but complete the goddamn thought.

Stray observations:

  • I would have thought that, in an equestrian society without the male gaze, there might be more trousers.
  • It was nice to see some downtrodden Belgian soldiers with their tasseled caps; they always get skipped. In fact, there is a refreshing variety generally of Allied forces.
  • She knows the difference between hydrogen- and sulfur-based weaponized gases, but not what the “front” is? Okay.

Director: Patty Jenkins
Rating: PG-13
Length: 141 minutes
Score: 4/5

MV5BYWFlY2E3ODQtZWNiNi00ZGU4LTkzNWEtZTQ2ZTViMWRhYjIzL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAyODkwOQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_We begin in a boy’s youth, as his grandfather teaches him to shoot wolves. He hesitates, and the wolf disembowels their horse.

We then launch in medias res, as Soviet recruits are ferried across the Volga to fight the Nazis in what you can already say is the ruins of Stalingrad. Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law) is among them. He is the boy of the earlier incident, but he is not one of the lucky few to be given a rifle before being sent into the hell between the German guns and those that ensure he will not retreat. Vassily starts out with a convincing expression of terrified panic on his face, but somehow Mr. Law manages to escalate as the film goes on.

After that first abortive offensive, Vassily is avoiding the Nazi mopping-up by hiding in a fountain full of corpses. There he is joined by the young political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), whose car has just blown up, whose glasses are broken, whose competence with a gun is merely nominal, and who is generally having a really bad case of the Mondays. He fumbles with a rifle he finds until Vassily takes it from him and rapidly kills every Nazi he can see. Danilov, in true Soviet style, makes Vassily into a Hero of the Motherland, with a new fancy sniper rifle, fanmail, and slightly exaggerated rustic bona fides. They become fast friends, but Danilov also sells the heroism to a young(ish) Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins).

Two complications emerge. The first is a beautiful woman, Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz), who can both read German and shoot, and thus bounces back and forth awkwardly between Danilov’s staff and Vassily’s band of miracle-workers. The second is a Nazi sniper, a Major König (Ed Harris), who has come all the way from Berlin to kill Vassily.

It doesn’t seem as though many saw this film, perhaps because in early 2001 it was still fashionable to imagine that we had solved the problem of war. It was particularly unpalatable at the time to consider a war in which neither side was hunky freedom-loving good guys. To be sure, Enemy at the Gates never for a moment questions that the Nazis must be stopped, but it also pulls no punches about the miseries of Soviet life–the wolf has already taken everything you love, the film tells you, but you must continue to fight.

Overlooking this movie, however, was a collective failure in judgement, because it’s rather good. It is affecting without being emotionally manipulative, unlike the vast majority of WWII movies. Everyone, particularly Hoskins and Harris, is well cast; it is difficult to believe that Ed Harris has only played a Nazi officer in one other film, as far as I can tell. You want to like Fiennes, but political officers are necessarily squirrelly. Weisz and Law are impossibly beautiful, and impossibly young, but they are carefully encrusted in dirt, so it isn’t jarring. They joke adorably about how Vassily’s crisp new uniform will probably be taken back directly after a photo-op.

Heads up, though, an entirely plausible number of people die.

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Rating: R
Length: 131 minutes
Score: 4/5

MV5BMTUwNjUxMTM4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODExMDQzMTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_If you ever worried about how a ten-year-old orphan gets cruelly cursed forever for being an honestly rather mild type of brat, the new live-action adaptation of Beauty & the Beast somewhat mitigates the problem. Time stands still for him, so he is grown when the curse falls, and no more grown when it ends. But now he has an explicitly unhappy childhood, and is, one feels, more to be pitied than censured.

On the whole, the plot holes of the animated movie are filled–the alarmingly various weather, the mysteriously unknown castle some twenty minutes away from the village, Mrs. Potts’s age… Few are added, amazingly, though Belle (Emma Watson) becomes less practical in matters of dress for visual effect and spends a surprising amount of time in her underwear. Gaston (Luke Evans) has a backstory now, and slides gracefully from amusingly vacuous to really quite evil. Mr. Evans commits completely to the part; he’s great.

The casting generally is strong. Lefou (Josh Gad) is having the most fun, and has the most material, but everyone else–Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) and her husband the harpsichord (Stanley Tucci), and the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)–is also enjoyably jolly. Their houseware-persons are well-executed, although Lumière was slightly too mechanical for my tastes, particularly about the knees. Maurice (Kevin Kline) is easier to take seriously than in the cartoon, which may surprise you.

Visuals are stupendous, although they did the annoying Disney thing of having a building that is made entirely of staircases and bridges for no discernible reason. The yellow dress does not disappoint. The big finish of the Beast (Dan Stevens) will, I think, age badly. But for now the capture technology and the humanity of his admittedly striking eyes works excellently well, and they took care with the eye-lines, so he and Belle speak and interact plausibly.

I wanted not to enjoy this movie, just so I could be dismissively smug, but it was delightful. The new songs are nice, the slightly elevated jokes are a joy, and the people have somewhere between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half dimensions.

Stray observations:

  • The lyric “I can feel a change in me” while modulating begs to be heard “I can feel a change in key.”
  • The owner of the bookshop is turned into a priest, Père Robert (Ray Fearon), and he is handsome and humane and disappears pointlessly. I was certain he would be helpful in escaping, but he just…wasn’t there.
  • Some of them are in Greek!
  • Super glad everything is fixed just in time for, I assume, everyone to be beheaded in about a decade.
  • Dan Stevens should only ever wear blues between sky and Prussian.

Director: Bill Condon
Rating: PG
Length: 129 minutes
Score: 4/5

You know how New York in movies now is always clean and, even if people aren’t rich, everything is nice? This was not always the case. New York used to be gross, and housewives from Fort Lee might get amnesia and be mistaken for prostitutes.

Our titular Susan (Madonna) is the sort of person who keeps all her possessions in a hatbox and mooches shamelessly off her friends. They find this charming. In fairness, it is the early 80s and everyone has a completely fake job (magician’s assistant, cinema operator) but a giant apartment, so maybe that’s just how things were. Through a completely absurd sequence of events, another small blonde ends up with Susan’s distinctive jacket, and then gets hit in the head, so everyone thinks she’s Susan and she doesn’t know any better. This small blonde, Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), is married to a jacuzzi salesman, Gary Glass (Mark Blum), and he is the worst. His sister Leslie (Laurie Metcalf) is gloriously insane in the Joan Cusack mold. In a crisis, when everyone is stress-eating, she yells, “Take a Valium like a normal person!” They get involved in mix-ups but are largely off-stage.

mv5bmtizmza5njizof5bml5banbnxkftztywota2nti5-_v1_uy268_cr20182268_al_So: Roberta has no memories, Susan’s clothes, and only her own common sense. That is not much. She is like a polite woodland animal, caught in 80s New York and surrounded by people who think she’s a wild free spirit. Fortunately, both onstage and sympathetic is Dez (Aidan Quinn), who lives an enormous loft in Tribeca and works in the projection room at the Bleecker Street Cinema.

It is delightful nonsense. There is both antiquities theft and a murderer on the loose, but that doesn’t detract from how surprisingly appealing Roberta’s cluelessness is. The movie is well encapsulated when Dez asks Roberta if she wants a drink, and she says Diet Coke or Perrier would be fine.

“There’s Miller Lite, or Heineken,” he deadpans.

Director: Susan Seidelman
Rating: PG-13
Length: 104 minutes
Score: 4/5

PS OMG SO EIGHTIES

In our continuing obsession with robots and how they’ll probably take over the world and murder us comes the entry Ex Machina. I seem to recall a lot of hype about how ground-breaking and intelligent it was. I disagree on at least one of those points.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a tech billionaire who is developing humanoid AIs in his remote mansion, because obviously he is. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a peon in his company who wins a contest to go meet the AI. Ava (Alicia Vikander) is the AI. Amid very stylish surroundings, Nathan is a giant creep, Caleb is creeped out, Ava is a really convincing robot.

MV5BMTUxNzc0OTIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDI3NzU2NDE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgTo its credit, this movie addresses a few issues that often come up in this scenario, like “why does the AI have to be a sexy lady?” The answer to that is that Nathan is a creepy weirdo, which is at least stereotypically probable. “Why does Oscar Isaac have that terrible beard?” goes unanswered. “How did we get to the point where AIs are really plausible sexy ladies without a lot of hiccups?” is, however, terrifyingly answered by a gallery of uncanny valley failed AIs. “Can robots dance?” is a glorious yes.

This movie did, at least, kind of consider how robots might think and how this may or may not make them want to kill us all.

On the other hand, I don’t know about you, but I watched Battlestar Galactica, so….

Director: Alex Garland
Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes
Score: 4/5

This may have been the Star Wars movie we were looking for. It is both darker and more whimsical than any previous installment, and succeeds at both. Because its outcome is largely predetermined, it may lack some of the highs, but it absolutely lacks the lows.

More interestingly, this is a war movie in the way that previous forays into the universe have not been. Rogue One is willing to wonder about how collaboration, empire, and resistance actually work. The good guys squabble with each other. Moral certainty is rare. People die. It’s not exactly Armée des Ombres, but hard choices do have to be made, and victory is at least nominally uncertain. (Yeah, we’ve seen Episodes IV through VI, so it’s not actually up for grabs, but the Allies won WWII, as well, and Battle of Britain still ends on an ambivalent shrug.)

Also the new robot is amazing.rogueone

I liked it a lot, even though it left some things on the table. I wasn’t sure why they didn’t do more with Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso or Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, if they bothered to hire such recognizable and talented actors. Alistair Petrie’s head of Rebel intelligence, General Draven, should have had more to say about how reality is a thing, although Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) had a good line about it. Jyn (Felicity Jones) could have had a name I could catch–it took about two hours for me to realize her name wasn’t “Jed.”

But the fan service, such as it was, was restrained and effective. The effects were in the main excellent. Dialogue, as always, was a weak point, but the comic beats literally all landed, thanks to Alan Tudyk’s voice inside K-2SO. Donnie Yen’s wannabe Jedi Chirrut Îmwe added a new and welcome dimension to the Force.

Definitely better than Force Awakens, maybe better than Revenge of the Sith.

Director: Gareth Edwards
Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 minutes
Score: 4/5

Action movies that don’t go for it are such a disappointment. John Wick is not that kind of disappointment. It’s also very few other kinds of disappointment. This is a film that sets out its stall very early and then follows through completely. If you’re not sold in the first twenty minutes, stop. But if you are, keep going.

In the world of John Wick, contract killers have their own demi-monde, with stylish safe zone hotels and absolute codes of conduct. This may be more or less true; I wouldn’t know. I doubt that their concierges are quite as perfectly anticipatory of guests’ needs. It also seems unlikely that they all have such careful (but various) taste in interior décor: Wick’s house is all cool greys and straight lines, where one of his rivals lives in warm neutrals and rounded cushions. Both are extremely pleasing.

Of course, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) doesn’t want to be a hitman, and has successfully quit. But then his beloved wife dies, and somebody steals his car and kills his dog.

This dog, man. It is a very, very cute puppy, and I think I knew that it would be killed, but I still couldn’t believe it. Even I would probably come out of hitman retirement if he were mine and someone hurt him, and I’m not one of those slightly alarming people who couldn’t give a damn when a person in a movie dies but just can’t watch Marley & Me.

As you’ve surely sussed out, John Wick decides to make a comeback and proceeds to kill everyone. With élan. And extreme prejudice. And often a knife.

Director: Chad Stahelski
Rating: R
Length: 101 minutes
Score: 4/5

It is mesmerizing to me that someone once looked at roughly twelve pounds of Victor Hugo’s nonsense and thought, “I bet that would make a great musical.” I resisted the musical for a long time, because I had read the book and success seemed unlikely, and also because little girls are taught “Castle on a Cloud” in music class, and Cosette was rather a wet blanket. But Pandora had other ideas, and the rest of the show is mostly better, and there we were in 2012 and I went to the cinema and was not greatly disappointed.

Most people, when they saw Les Mis the film, were disappointed because the singing wasn’t that good, or that Samantha Barks was thrown to Broadway diehards like a pacifier to a fussy infant. And they hated both Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. I’m not particularly interested in those factors, and neither are you, three and a half years later.

My problems stem from twin causes: changes the musical had to make because it wasn’t three years long and Marius had to be likable, and choices the movie made from the musical that exacerbated those flaws.

Marius Pontmercy, in the book, is extremely handsome. So far, so good. He’s dark where Eddie Redmayne is incipiently ginger, but that’s all right. The other thing about Marius, though, is that he’s a drip. He has cards printed calling himself a baron (his father was vaguely entitled to do so), has stupid fights with his rich relatives, is too lazy to do the very undemanding work that his school friends find him when he needs money, decides that the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen is named Ursule (I mean, come on), and after talking to her once decides that he’d rather die than lose her, so he belatedly cares about the revolution in which his friends ardently believe. They, unlike him, are interesting and varied.

This is my main problem with the show. I love everything to do with these lads. They’re not viciously useless, like Fantine’s lover’s crowd. They’re not venal, like the Thénardiers. They’re not hopelessly boring, like Cosette. They’re crazy, and probably wrong, and criminally naïve, but they’re more like people than anyone else Victor Hugo limned. Hugo’s Enjolras is a glorious lunatic Adonis. The musical’s Enjolras is a mildly nuts co-firebrand. Tom Hooper’s Enjolras is a handsome, scarlet-clad, interchangeable sidekick until the moment of his death (not Aaron Tveit’s fault). Except for one sublime second of mad joy when he first scrambles behind the barricade, Enjolras is just like all the others, aside from the jacket. Now, I get it. Marius has to believe in the cause, because otherwise Marius is an unappealing moral tourist, so he takes half of Enjolras’s revolutionary vim, and Enjolras just gets to be a moderately self-righteous scold.

And this is why you shouldn’t cut any of “Drink with Me.” Because then it’s not just about Marius, and you give the boys a little more time to be different from each other. A little more time for Enjolras to have crazier eyes, or for Grantaire to be noticeably drunker than everyone else, or for us to learn which one Courfeyrac actually is. A little more time for you to see that they do care, and not just because they have a crush on some blonde they’ve hardly met. Maybe a little time to see why Grantaire claws himself out of a hangover to die next to Enjolras. Too much to ask?

Still, though. I am at home for ruffly shirts and barricades, and this movie is gorgeous.

Stray observations:

  • We do not need to see Javert’s back break. No, thank you.
  • The early 1830s had bad sleeves, huh.
  • I hate the Thénardiers so much, but since you’re supposed to, I’m not sure I can dock points for it.
  • Grantaire is my spirit animal. There is no chance I won’t be hungover when the revolution comes.

Director: Tom Hooper
Rating: PG-13
Length: 158 minutes
Score: 4/5

This is one of those movies where bad things happen to a mild-mannered man because women are crazy and dishonest, and yet, I did not mind as much as usual, because Jemaine Clement is a genius.

No, honestly. Will (Clement) is a graphic novelist, and the film begins at his twin daughters’ fifth birthday party. He’s looking for matches, and he walks in on his girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) having sex. She moves in with that guy (who is a monologuist, helpfully glossed as “stand-up comedy without the jokes”), starts taking improv, and then decides she believes in marriage after all. Because she’s that woman from the movies, who is the worst. Meanwhile, of course, Will is just trying to be a good dad, and teach his class on graphic novels, and not jerk around a woman he meets (Regina Hall’s Diane). He is very put-upon and can’t even throw his cup in anger without getting his drink all over himself.

I hate these sorts of things, as a rule, but it is impossible not to root for Clement as Will, even though you probably think that unshaven graphic novelists deserve most of the nonsense that comes their way. His gentle brand of satire and occasional flashes of anger are very effective, and his daughters are adorable. He is evidently trying to be a grown-up, which is a pleasant change from all characters in films ever.

Also, if you enjoy that now largely standard low-key slightly arty New York vibe, you’ll love this.

Stray observations:

  • When I typed “she believes in marriage after all” above, I first typed “magic” instead of “marriage.” So.
  • Will and Diane have sex in her office. She is a college professor. So am I, and that is not a call I would make.

Director: James C. Strouse
Rating: R
Length: 85 minutes
Score: 4/5

The internet, I’m sure, has a lot of feelings about this movie, relating to how it works with the comic books and general questions of diversity and gender and whether or not Emily VanCamp is physically capable of expressing an emotion with her face. That’s a little deeper than I care to go, and also when I saw it I was under the influence of too many Skittles and a truly staggering amount of popcorn.

Civil War suffered from one of the problems that Age of Ultron had, namely that it had way too much going on. But it did not suffer from some of the other problems, like making no sense or being exactly the same as the previous movie or taking itself way too seriously. Sure, no one needs another Iron Man movie (and there’s no reason this couldn’t be called Iron Man: Civil War, except probably contractual stuff you can explain to me), and Scarlet Witch is boring, and Black Widow is supposed to be unreadable but is actually just flat, and the Winter Soldier needs a haircut, and Hawkeye continues to be pointless….

But! Though I didn’t fully buy some of the motivations in this movie, they didn’t make me spitting mad, as they did in Age of Ultron. In Civil War, the world’s governments are rather cross about the catastrophe in Sokovia (which you’ll remember from Age of Ultron, if you remember anything about Age of Ultron), and want the Avengers to have some oversight. Captain America is so sure that he’ll be right in every future situation that he resents this (to be fair, his track record is pretty solid). Tony, in a sudden access of righteous guilt, misses the point of self-flagellation and spreads it around. Thus battle lines are drawn.

The film sells this opposition as much as it can. That’s not very much, since Tony and Steve have been roughly this annoyed with each other from the get-go, and the stakes don’t seem that much higher than in every previous iteration. The only thing that really gets my goat is that Tony is 100 percent completely responsible for Sokovia because he made a decision so asinine and rapid that a backward hummingbird would probably have balked at it. That was my main problem with Age of Ultron, and I resent that it is allowed to spill over into what is, in defiance of probability, a moderately whimsical and rather enjoyable two and a half hours.

There are still too many people in this movie, but since they’re put onto teams, it doesn’t always feel like they’re jostling for your attention. Perhaps more importantly, the film is usefully split into acts, so characters flow into and out of the action smoothly and it doesn’t seem interminable. All in all, this ends up being the best installment in this corner of Marvel since the first Avengers movie. That may have been only four years ago, but there’s been a lot of crap produced since then. Possibly it’s top three overall, and more likely so if you didn’t like Thor or the first Cap movie very much.

Stray observations:

  • Anthony Mackie (Sam/Falcon) is a delight. He has two of the best comic beats in the film, including a VW Beetle gag. He and Sebastian Stan (Bucky/Soviet Winter Soldier Nonsense) have a surprisingly excellent comedic rapport.
  • New Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is the BEST. I was surprised that the film didn’t follow the new comics and have Peter be black, but this kid is so great. It makes you resent Tobey Maguire even more.
  • If he’s not kissing Peggy, Cap should be kissing Tommy Lee Jones. Full stop, end of story.
  • His jeans can stay, though.

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Rating: PG-13
Length: 147 minutes
Score: 4/5