Tag Archives: 2stars

Sleepless

Unlikable people doing unlikable things in stupid ways doesn’t add up to a good movie. We don’t even get an anti-hero to latch onto. Jamie Foxx (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Michelle Monaghan (Pixels) are simply just bad at their jobs, whether or not they are also bad/dirty cops.

To balance that, as inept bad guys we get Dermot Mulroney (August: Osage County) and Scoot McNairy (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), neither of which seems to deserve the empires they lead.  The only truly likable character in the entire film is Gabrielle Union, but she also pulls some stupid moves. Octavius J. Johnson (Ray Donovan), is mostly just a hot potato used to drive the action; his portrayal of the son has little depth and generates little sympathy.

To be fair, all these choices and lacks are the fault of writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) and director Baran bo Odar (Who Am I). The script is ill-conceived and poorly researched while the acting is relentlessly dark with few positive hooks for us to want to hold onto. Even an anti-hero needs to pull our sympathies in some way if we are to commit to them.

The cast was unable to rise above a bad foundation of this film. The idea that it could have a sequel (and boy do they set it up) was simply the bitter icing on the unpalatable cake at the very end. Basically, skip this one.

Sleepless

Road, Movie

The trailer for this film made it look like Cinema Paradiso on wheels… a rather irresistible idea. Instead, it is more like Field of Dreams made by Fellini in India. Not so irresistible (and I like Fellini).

In fact, this movie was ultimately rather unsatisfying, particularly since the main character is such a dick. He starts off a petulant boy in a man-suit and ends up, metaphorically at least, becoming a real, full man. But it wasn’t really sold well enough and we never care about the guy as he is, as I said, such a dick.

The supporting characters don’t add much either, though they aren’t unlikable or unentertaining. But they only exist as guides and bumpers for the main character whose motivations and goals are obtuse, at best, and non-existent at worse.

I will fully admit that perhaps I missed the point or was the wrong audience on this one, so I’m not saying run away unequivocally. There are aspects to this that show ability and intriguing possibility, but for me this never came together and I’d like my time back.

Road, Movie

Taste of Cherry (Ta’m e guilass)

You may recall that  I recently got to see another Iranian film, A Dragon Arrives!, and had mixed reactions. During the introduction to that film, this Palme d’Or co-winner was mentioned, so I decided to continue my understanding and education.

Up front, after watching it, I did look up the critical response to this movie. To say it was divisive is kind. Taste of Cherry is definitely a love it or hate it film. There is a particularly wonderful response by Roger Ebert. I also watched an interview with the director, Kiarostami, who is credited with altering the path and possibility of Iranian cinema with this offering (particularly its subject matter).

So, here’s the thing. Where this film falls apart for me is at the very end. Much like Dragon, it takes a wild left turn to either provide distance or make a point that was utterly lost on me. While I never expected an explicit ending, Kiarostami’s choice was frustrating at best. The lead up to the resolution is either a physical metaphor for the struggle of the main character or a long, drawn out and boring road trip movie on a circular track. Neither is a ringing endorsement, though the first option has a bit more resonance as a manifestation of the rumination involved in the man’s decision (which may be an unintended apologist’s remark).

After listening to the director and seeing the film, I can honestly say I don’t need to see another Kiarostami bit of cinema. From a purely cultural voyeuristic viewpoint, it certainly provides a window on a particular lawn to consider.

Taste of Cherry

The Tree of Wooden Clogs (L’albero degli zoccoli)

I tucked in for this 3 hour, year-in-the-life of late 19th century Bergamo peasants in Italy thinking it was going to be a story; that wasn’t exactly what I got. It is beautifully filmed and it has moments, but doesn’t really satisfy as a story. Because, if it is a story, the only message is that the Church destroys peoples lives, and I don’t really see that as the intended message. What I believe documentarian Ermanno Olmi, wrote and directed instead is a well-researched and nicely depicted slice of life.

Clogs released in 1978 and gathered up a number of awards. Today, if this film were to be made, it would probably have ended up as a mini- or event-series. There are through-lines, but no investment in a character by the audience is rewarded. People go about their lives, and life goes about its pounding of the peasants.

As an artistic achievement, it is quite the accomplishment. Criterion has also done a beautiful job on the restoration of the print and sound. If I had approached it as a documentary, my response may well have been different. If you are fascinated by, or curious about history, particularly the late 1880s in Italy, it is a must see. It is also disturbingly resonant with today’s world in both politics and economy. But as a movie, as a piece of fictional entertainment, it failed for me.

The Tree of Wooden Clogs

Beyond the Edge

I will say this for Beyond the Edge, in a large field of movies about this subject, this one remained interesting up till near the end. At that point, it all goes just a bit weird and confusing as it tries to represent the concepts in question. I really think this is a tale that would have fared better as a short story rather than as a movie. Trying to depict quantum/existential concepts in film is like trying to clearly depict a 9 dimensional object on the 2 dimensional plane of a piece of paper. Only Mr. Nobody really succeeded for me in recent memory, but I still give this one props for trying.

First time director and co-writer Zellen probably should have tackled something a bit less complex for his first outing. The result wasn’t unwatchable, just not particularly satisfying. I will say that the effects, design, and some of the moments were impressive for a low-budget indie.

To be fair, when one of your main actors is a massive B-Movie face, Casper Van Dien, and you even have Adrienne Barbeau showing up, you know it is also a little tongue-in-cheek by design. Van Dien knows this and really has some fun with his role. (And, yes, I’m aware that Van Dien also has some solid credits.) So does Sean Maher (Firefly) playing opposite him. Maher has the harder job of the two and manages fairly well. However, since so much is not clarified, it isn’t easy to judge all of his efforts.

Overall, there are some interesting aspects and a good tackle at a challenging subject. For a rainy Saturday, or if you’re totally at loose ends for a choice, go for it. Otherwise, well, I wouldn’t say I want my two hours back, but I probably could have made a stronger selection. I will say that I’d watch for Zellen in the future to see what he has learned and what he comes up with next. It took guts to do this film and do it as well as he did.

Beyond the Edge

Why Him?

Why Him is, at times, hysterical. But between those moments it is clunky and almost unwatchable. The result is a like a rosary of humor, moving from one bead to the next as the touch-point to get to the end. Of course, I knew this was a gamble for me as it was from the writer of Zoolander 2 and Little Fockers, John Hamburg. Neither of these were on target for me. Even with the addition of his more adept co-writer, Ian Helfer (The Oranges), I probably should have known to run away.

Comedy is hard. This is a truism in entertainment. Hamburg is more often a writer and TV director. It really is more the directing than the writing I object to in this tale. He should have taken pause before diving into this stew. Another truism: Comedy is also highly personal. So, yes, I should have taken a pause as well.

Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some) is the thread that keeps all the beads of this comic rosary from rolling away; she remains grounded through the whole tale. Without her I would have turned this film off in the first 10 minutes. The rest of the cast all have their moments, but none ever felt entirely real to me. James Franco (True Story), Bryan Cranston (Power Rangers), Megan Mullally (Hotel Transylvania 2), Griffin Gluck (Red Band Society), and Keegan-Michael Key (Don’t Think Twice) are all talented comedians. But they are all also talented actors, though you’d never know that from their roles in this movie.

In a weird twist, the best comedian of them all never shows her face: Kaley Cuoco (The Wedding Ringer). Much like Emma Thompson in Men, Women, Children, she gets to have a sort of running commentary in the film and does it well.

If you want some broad humor and don’t really care how well it is packaged, you’ll enjoy this. I don’t judge, but, really, you could find something better to waste a couple hours on.

Why Him?

Assassin’s Creed

Well, it is certainly a pretty film. Yep, that’s about it.

I hate seeing potential unrealized, especially when a good idea (not making a movie of a game, but the base concept) and a truly talented cast are brought together. Michael Fassbender (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Marion Cotillard (April and the Extraordinary World) are usually hypnotic on screen. They are masters of hidden depths and small gestures. This script gave them no quarter despite their efforts. Even the additions of Jeremy Irons (Man Who Knew Infinity), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), Brendan Gleeson (Song of the Sea), and Michael Kenneth Williams (When We Rise) couldn’t help it over the top to something good.

I get the sense that Fassbender brought in his previous Macbeth collaborators to save his passion project; Kurzel to direct and Leeslie to rewrite the script. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the work by the writing team of Cooper and Collage (Allegiant, Transporter Refuled). The characters have shifting motivations and the tale has incomplete logic and massive gaps. And, frankly, no one you really care about in the story.

Generally, there isn’t enough for lovers of the game series, nor enough to bring in those that have no previous investment in that universe. That pretty much makes it a pointless couple of hours and a dead end for what should have been a solid franchise. I know a number of you will still want to ignore these comments, as I ignored other’s, and will sit down to watch it. Just remember, I tried to stop you.

Assassin

The Happiness of the Katakuris (Katakuri-ke no kôfuku)

After being pleasantly surprised by The Bird People in China, I was curious to see this other Takashi Miike directed tale. Described as “Sound of Music meets Dawn of the Dead,” how could I resist? The result, however, did not leave me intrigued me enough to continuing digging much more into his more offbeat opus. To be clear, it has nothing in common with either of those seminal films on any level, it was just empty marketing hype.

So to the movie itself. Bizarre is a kind word for this odd musical. It starts off amusingly enough, strangely, but amusingly with a claymation sequence that attempts to set the theme of what is to come. And then… well, imagine an amateur musical production of a black comedy with a cast that can neither sing nor dance. Add to this that the entire plot is really about this family coming together, except there is no sense of connectedness between them at all. It is a broad black comedy, which probably isn’t helping on that count, but neither does it succeed. On an individual level, it is supposed to be about finding happiness by, for lack of a better way to put it, playing through the pain and not getting lost in the past.

The first two thirds of the film is essentially episodic, but with little more plot than an escalating sense of the absurd. There is one truly effective sequence, also on theme, in a toxic dump that sends up echos of WWII in a funny but scathing way. I’m not entirely sure it belonged in this tale, but I think I understand why it was there.

Claymation plays into the action a few more times, usually to keep costs for f/x down (this according to Miike), and they are strangely effective. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t all come together. The film and tale just spin off into a final statement that is, again, on point, but baffling from a story point of view. None of the frames, from beginning to end, come back together; neither the opening sequence, nor the voice-over purpose of the youngest Katakuri who narrates.

I will say that the disc appears to have an excellent dubbed translation of the commentary by director Miike… though there isn’t nearly enough substance to it to make it the sole reason you watch. I turned it on to see if, maybe, perhaps, I could get some insights that would help me understand what I’d just seen. There were definitely a few clarifications, but the rest was meandering and, frankly, stuff I’d already sussed.

Miike is prolific, with over 100 films to his name. At this point, I’ll wait for explicit recommendations before I pick up others. When he delivers, he really delivers, but with that kind of output, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that at least some of them are duds. Personally, I’d skip this unless you area  Miike freak or know and like the source Korean film that it is loosely based on.

The Happiness of the Katakuris

Life

You sit there at the end of this movie stunned… at just how bad and predictable it was. It is almost as if they just gave up as they realized what they had and edited it down to something approximating a good space-horror film before sending it out into the world to survive, or not.

It starts off promisingly enough. There is some light humor (thank you Ryan Reynolds [Deadpool]) near the top that suggests a good direction. There are nods to Alien in what is probably the best shot of the film from the opening sequence; what you think are titles turn out to be something else which is then followed by the title slate which does resemble the Alien logo. They knew what they had was a copy. But still, that is no excuse to have no characters… and I mean none. Characters are indicated, clichés put in place, and dialogue spoken that suggest actual individuals exist in this movie, but they don’t.

And if they did, allow me to state unequivocally they are all too bloody stupid to live. The number of obvious dumb decisions beggars imagination. Worse, no one, other than Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train) and Olga Dihovichnaya, appear to even know the ultimate risks and protocols that they signed up for.

Life never deserved the CPR that got it to screen after bouncing around the schedule. Despite some small attempts at biology, the Reese\Wernick script is embarrassing and worries for me for Deadpool 2, which they are also writing. However it does explain why Reynolds got all the good lines.

OK, to be fair, I’ve seen way worse in theater (yes, I speak of you Resident Evil: Final Chapter), but my expectations were a bit higher. An intelligent script alone would have helped. At least the f/x were good and no one was truly bad in their roles. I trusted the cast, which also included Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals) and Hiroyuki Sanada (Mr. Holmes), and Ariyon Bakare (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell); but despite completely committing to the tale, they couldn’t Spackle-over the gaping holes and bad choices.  But that is about as much as there is to recommend here.

Skip this. Don’t even bother to rent it. I had gone knowing it was a shadow of a shade of an idea, but had no clue it was going to be so bad.

Life

Evangelion: 3.3 You Can (Not) Redo

OK, yeah, I’m done.

After 2.22 I was gritting my teeth, but wanted to finally, maybe, understand the story as it got beyond the original, epic and classic series. But while there is a bit of information and explanation, and it is just as pretty as ever, it has just gotten boring and repetitive. On top of the issues of plot, Shinji even beats out Harry Potter for whiny-ness and lack of ability to act. Sadly, unlike Potter, he doesn’t have any positive qualities that make me want to back him.

But this installment isn’t even the last… there is another (at least) to come. But, given who is left, I’ve frankly stopped caring if humanity survives… I’m not sure they should.

There are plenty of great, new anime to fill your time with; don’t waste it on this series retread. It isn’t visually enhanced so much nor that much more story that it is worth your time investment. If you haven’t seen Evangelion…then the choice is yours, but I think the original series, for all its flaws and incomplete ending, was more satisfying.

Evangelion: 3.3 You Can (Not) Redo