Scattered Thoughts on Us

March 24, 2019

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There will be spoilers, so go see the movie before you read any further.  The movie is definitely worth seeing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Alita: Battle Angel

March 8, 2019

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There’s a type of film that is so in love with its source material it can’t get out of it’s own way.  Alita: Battle Angel is one such film.  After many, many years in development, initially by James Cameron (I recall thinking Luc Besson’s Angel-A was some type of adaptation because it was in the news at the time), and now finally brought to the screen from his script by Robert Rodriguez, it is very clearly a film that has suffered from overthinking.  It’s a property doomed to failure in a lot of ways, and though I have absolutely no knowledge of the manga from which it is adapted, I’d imagine it doesn’t lend itself to easy adaptation. 

Alita (Rosa Salazar) is a 300 year old cyborg found in a scrap heap and brought back to life by cybernetic surgeon Ido (Christoph Waltz).  She meets a guy, there are bounty hunters, ne’er do well scientists struggling with loss, a gargantuan cyborg baddie, an underworld (literally, in this case) kingpin, a violent sport called Motorball, a grieving mother who has sold herself out to get back to the good place, and a shadowy overlord living in the sky.  There is a lot going on here.  If I could hazard a guess, the creators didn’t know how much they could get away with or, more precisely, how many movies they would get to pull out of the property, and as a result, there are about 9 different stories all given short shrift in such a jarring fashion that it’s impossible to get your grounding.  It’s difficult enough to establish an entire world without feeling like you’re intentionally holding back information to fill out the details, and it’s another thing entirely to try to cram everything into two hours.  It’s a rare case in modern cinema where a 6 hour Netflix series would have been preferable, but this is one. 

The set pieces are good enough that I have to assume they were the starting point, and the job of the writers was to fill in the gaps to get to them.  It feels creaky as hell because of this, and it results in an early ominous warning from Ido to Alita never to pay attention to Motorball to, 90 minutes later and with absolutely no character development on his part to signal a change in ethos, he’s happily suiting her up with custom skates to join the league.  The visuals are striking at times, even if early scenes of Christoph Waltz hunting down a Jack the Ripper type killer with a giant hammer made me wish there was a Bloodborne movie instead.  The set pieces really are quite something, and Salazar’s CGI Alita is sympathetic enough that I want to root for the movie to work.  Unfortunately there are about four too many climaxes and endless interstitial scene handwaving to ever get fully on board.  It’s half assed and corny and punctuated with arresting visuals so, basically, it’s the ultimate Robert Rodriguez movie.  Bill Pope’s cinematography should be singled out for the sheer range of styles that have to be accomplished in a single film, but other than that an Alita’s genuinely affecting character, it’s a mess.  If it was shorn down to a few of its plot lines, it might have worked.  Instead, we get a team of talented people whose reach far exceeded their grasp.

Everybody Wants Some!!

July 21, 2016

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Lightness is an undervalued quality in the modern film environment.  That shouldn’t be confused with “insubstantial”, because that, as ever, abounds.  But lightness is rare virtue, probably because of long-held beliefs in storytelling and “conflict” being, fairly, more dramatically interesting than not.  A few years ago, Jon Favreau cashed in some Iron Man cache and made Chef, a wispy nothing of a film that, meta-textually, hilariously staked a claim for giving up on the corporate demands and getting back to something “true”.  Not only was that notion ridiculous, but the film itself had no conflict whilst also having no characters worth investing in (despite a solidly charming turn by John Leguizamo).  I thought of Chef a few times during Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, a film that tries a little too hard in its early stages to establish it’s quirky bro ball players before hitting a kind of casual stride that, despite having no real conflict and not much of what can be considered a climax, still leaves you wanting more.  

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The Neon Demon

July 15, 2016

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Nicolas Winding Refn begins his latest, The Neon Demon, by stamping his initials on the background of the opening credits.  Not just for a moment, but through virtually the whole thing.  His supreme sense of authorship could evoke a great sense of pride in his work or a high level of pretension to his own abilities.  I’m not against the notion, per se, though it does strike me as a little gauche to do underscore every other credit by making sure nobody forgets this is your baby, but to do so puts the audience in an almost combative sense of expectation.  “This better be some high art, dude, because your lack of humility is jarring.”  There’s no doubt Refn has a sense of style, even if he’s a little reliant on Kubrickian camera moves to evoke his states of dreamlike dread.  His larger problem is his lack of self control, something he wears as proudly as Lars Von Trier (another filmmaker I run very hot and cold on), though lacking the latter’s occasional sense of cutting introspection.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hail, Caesar!

March 15, 2016

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“This is real.”,  the Lockheed representative tells Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the Capital Pictures studio “fixer” while holding a picture of the detonation of the hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Atholl.  It is part of a somewhat ill-conceived headhunting ploy, where the rep tries to hide his contempt for the pointless frivolity of Hollywood and the job Mannix does.  He wants him to leave the studio and work for them, ironically explaining that it’s actually a much easier job with better benefits and more reasonable hours.  Mannix is up at all hours putting out fires for the contracted studio players so as to protect the studio’s image and assets.  Hail, Caesar! follows roughly 24 hours in Mannix’s life in a job that is, quite frankly, glorified babysitting.  An unmarried pregnant star, the bizarre decision by the owner of the studio to promote a B-list Western singer/stuntman into the leading role of an elegant drama, and most pressing of all, the kidnapping of the studio’s biggest star in the midst of filming the titular epic.  Read the rest of this entry »

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20. Queen of Earth

If the pretentious, writerly aspects of Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip weren’t to your taste (as they were to mine, somewhat predictably), then Queen of Earth might be a welcome shift into a different kind of pretension.  Taking on the relatively low key psychological horror of a woman going mad genre, Elisabeth Moss (the highlight of Philip) walks the tight wire of over-and-under playing someone coming undone.  Katherine Waterston also proves herself more than capable with deliciously ambiguous deliveries that further question the mental state of Moss’ Catherine while laying out the unspoken depths and, more importantly, longevity of their friendship.  The most surprising aspect is Perry’s visual style, which makes great use of the spaces in the lake house with eerie, sometimes subtle (and sometimes not) framings that blur the line between head space and physical space.  A late turn into overt Polanski-aping can be forgiven, then, considering just how well constructed and deeply understood Queen of Earth and its genre are, especially when it initially seemed like an afterthought of a film given the relative bigness of Philip. Read the rest of this entry »

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I did not do an end of year list last year.  There were several attempts, and probably three initial drafts and even a finalized rundown of the top 20, but due to work and social commitments I never found the time to sit down and write it out.  The same could be said for everything to do with this blog this year, which was sparsely updated at the beginning of the year and not even touched for a majority of the rest.  Part of the problem was my increasing knowledge of other lists, which came out earlier and earlier and, crucially, before I had a chance to see a lot of the big contenders given release schedules and the early access privilege of critics on the studio mailing lists.  Whereas there was a time I felt I should wait until February to really have a go at it, I had been doing it earlier and earlier through sheer list fatigue.  It was also the case that so many lists were so similar that the only difference was the placement of the top five.  This isn’t always the case, of course, but there’s enough broad consensus on the top thirty or so films of the year that it would almost be more interesting to go through the main contenders and explain why I wouldn’t have chosen some of them.  So my list felt eerily similar to everyone else’s and there was just nothing I felt I could say that was unique without boldly pandering to some minor films that nobody saw that I thought might have been “pretty good” and thought I’d outlandishly rep for hard, like putting Beyond the Lights in the top 3 or something.  Read the rest of this entry »