Frank

August 27, 2014

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The tricky thing about any film about a fictional band is expressing talent without actually having the years of hard work and, well, talent that goes into a truly exceptional band. Harder still, in the case of Frank, is crafting something believable about an avant-garde pop group based on some of the most idiosyncratic and unique artists of our time. Drawing most obviously from the alternative comedian Frank Sidebottom, but also liberally from Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston to flesh out the story, journalist Jon Ronson (whom played in Sidebottom’s band briefly) and co-writer Peter Straughan use an approach that is at times cloyingly obvious until it becomes genuinely surprising. It is a traditional rock band film in a lot of ways, but as Soronprfbs (the fictional band) are in no way traditional, it becomes a freeing exploration of this kind of oddball band destined for cult status by contrasting the way this story would normally go with the way it actually does. It is, in a fashion, using the subversion of the genre to understand the art it depicts. Read the rest of this entry »

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Having no insight into the financial reasons behind studios deciding what pictures to make and when, it is from a place of pure conjecture that I posit that X-Men: Days of Future Past was greenlit as a last ditch effort to save a once-beloved and now decently performing property.  Though I believe X-Men: First Class and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Wolverine were financial successes, they also didn’t quite make the splash desired.  If the re-boot/pre-boot/door-to-a-new trilogy didn’t work, then abandon those plans and just fold it into the “classic” line-up and everyone will be pleased.  The cinematic X-Men­ world isn’t as planned or cohesive as its Marvel Studios cousin, but given the number of characters involved it certainly could be something equivalent.  DOFP is an interesting creature because of this, and the fact that it’s not an overwhelming mess is praiseworthy.  Unfortunately it’s got the strange feeling of too-little-too-late, and it’s greatest virtues are it’s pleasurable but pointless fan service.  It sometimes comes across as a belated victory lap to the franchise that started the most profitable trend in Hollywood of the new century. Read the rest of this entry »

The Counselor

March 9, 2014

Note: I have seen the 20-odd-minute longer Extended Cut and not the Theatrical version. Also: More spoilers than usual. Not that it matters.  

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The Counselor doesn’t care what you think of it.  It just doesn’t.  It’s an admirable quality in this instance, and doubly so when you consider the pedigree: First screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy (who has entered the cinematic pantheon to some degree when his book No Country Old Men was adapted into a Best Picture winner), directed by Ridley Scott, supporting roles for Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz and a host of character actors to boot.  Despite all this, or maybe because of its gravitas-heavy position before a camera began to roll, it really just doesn’t give a damn what you think.  None of which is to say it’s a good movie, though it is certainly an interesting one, even in a somewhat limited “your mileage may vary” sort of way.  If you can handle (or, preferably, relish) the hard-bitten cynicism that dwarfs most modern noirs, this might be for you.  If you can handle long exchanges that probe the nature of existence to varying degrees of success, then it might be for you.  If you can appreciate that the McGuffin spends the entire film traveling in a septic truck – yes, the thing everyone wants is submerged in shit – then this might be the film for you. Read the rest of this entry »

12 Years a Slave

November 7, 2013

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Perhaps one of the most difficult endeavors a filmmaker – or any artist really – is to tackle a real-life subject of such widespread and impossibly horrible cruelty.  The ways in which it can be approached, as well as the potential offensive nature of any depiction, is hard enough without having to deal with the necessities of storytelling, certainly in such an expensive and entertainment-minded medium as film.  One of the great atrocities of the modern era that Hollywood has tackled a number of times is the Holocaust, a contentious issue amongst filmmakers and critics (most regarding appropriateness and taste), but one that has served well in the sense of privileged American distance (it’s easy awards bait, especially for foreign films when it comes to garnering Oscars).  Slavery has been approached far fewer times, if only because the wounds are still being felt and they’re also so specifically American (we, as a culture, don’t like to look at ourselves too critically after all).  British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen has now made 12 Years a Slave, which many have called the Schindler’s List of slavery movies”, though that reduction is wildly unfair.  There are crucial differences in the approach to the material that make it a vastly more affecting film.  Still, despite the near-universal praise, there are also a number of critics (the internet makes them not hard to find) who find your standard faults in approach, specifically that it reflects a tourist eyed view of slavery and thus nicely adheres to a privileged white audience view of accepting horrors but also giving the kind of “historical triumph” that makes the medicine go down easier, so to speak.  I’m not unsympathetic, but I don’t feel it falls into that trap, despite the overall narrative of the story.

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Prometheus

June 20, 2012

All the anticipation, all clever viral marketing, and that stunningly awesome trailer have all led to this:  2012’s “yeah, but” movie.  Prometheus is one of those movies designed to flood the internet with endless debates amongst nerds and/or film critics – it’s a not-quite-prequel to one of the greatest science fiction and horror films of all time, co-written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, and directed by the ever dubious Ridley Scott, the director of two beloved masterpieces early in his career and a whole slew of middling-to-fascinating-to-downright-awful films ever since.  Big budget, an R rating, gloopy sci-fi horror and spaceships and a great cast and you have to wonder, is it any good?  Well, yeah, but… Read the rest of this entry »