Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Raymond Cinematic

Science fiction! Drama! Comedy! You will find them all here. Like you did last time.

Dear White People: Although the trailers for Dear White People made it seem like an outrageous series of biting race jokes, the actual movie has characters and a plot and stuff! A prologue teases the aftermath of a blackface Halloween party at a college campus (this is a real thing that actually happens, of course), and then we flash back to the major players in this disaster. Samantha White, host of the radio show "Dear White People" and general starter of shit, who wants to preserve the sanctity of the only all-black residence hall at Winchester (she, like Obama, is "only half-black"). Troy Fairbanks, son of the dean, current president of said residence hall, who wants to write for the humor publication, Pastiche. Coco Conners, vlogger of the black experience among rich white kids, who wants to get on a reality show. Lionel Higgins, gay nerdy outcast writer, who wants to write for the school paper people actually read. Finally, Kurt Fletcher, son of the President, who wants to be a racist asshole. Justin Simien weaves all these stories together rather deftly, throwing in romantic and familial relationships as well, and it's impressive that the movie doesn't feel overstuffed, though of course some aspects get shortchanged. It helps makes all the characters feel real and complex, which is key to this movie. It examines race relations and racial identity in a way any non-white person, I think, can identify with. The pressure to conform to either "side." Honestly, the trailer-ready moments feel out of place and over the top compared to the rest of the film, which is much more subdued. It's sly and smart, letting the absurdity of what people are saying speak for itself: it's what actual people say, is the thing. Dear White People should be viewed, and it should be thought about, because it's saying true, important things. B+/A-

Selma: The Equal Voting Rights Act didn't just happen: Ava DuVernay shows us how. Martin Luther King, Jr. came down to the town of Selma and organized the fuck out of peaceful fucking protests, all the while meeting with the fucking President to convince him to get off his ass and do something about the denial of voting rights to black people. David Oyelowo gives a starmaking turn, owning every word of MLK's speeches (variations on the real text) but also any other conversation: with his wife, with the President, with his posse. And behind his eyes you can see all the conflict. What I love is how DuVernay almost crafts the film as a thriller, showing us the perspectives of the white people in power who are terrified of this black man with power. Text chyrons catalog the FBI's surveillance of King, and J. Edgar Hoover is all set to "take care of the problem." The governor is racist as fuck, even more racist than LBJ can handle. The police acquire intel on King's demonstrations and brutalize the participants. Hell, regular citizens brutalize the participants. Yet throughout all of this King must lead and inspire his people to demand what is theirs by law. The cinematography is great as well (I wasn't a fan of the music, though the closing song "Glory" is fantastic). Sadly, this movie is entirely relevant, reminding us that we are still fighting this fight. B+/A-

Kamikaze Girls: Two subcultures collide when a Lolita girl and a Yanki girl meet and bond over frilly dresses and pink scooters! Momoko wishes she were born in the Rococo period, when people just walked in gardens and had sex a lot. After she starts embroidering fake Versace clothes, Ichiko drives up in her pink scooter, and their lives are never the same again! Kamikaze Girls is utterly charming from the opening scene, in which Momoko is hit by a truck and says goodbye to everyone as she falls absurdly through space...and then she rewinds the story all the way back to the Rococo period. There's plenty of fourth-wall breaking as we get Momoko's history, and then Momoko and Ichiko's whirlwind friendship is a delight. Bright colors, freeze frames, high emotions, floating children, this movie coasts on its style and it works because not only is it loads of fun but the main characters are so endearing you want them to be BFFs, even if they're having conflicts. Girls! Being friends! That is what this movie is about! B+/A-

Focus: Will Smith is king of the con men, an experienced ringleader. Margot Robbie is a neophyte with potential. They hook up, both professionally and personally, and then things get complicated. Con movies are inherently fun and twisty, and I especially enjoyed the scenes showing Smith's team in action, running entire crowds for small-time grabs that add up to big-time money. But unlike most con movies, it doesn't focus on some Big One Last Con; the movie even hangs a lampshade on that idea. Instead it's much more character-focused, which I liked: how do two people who lie for a living love and trust each other? Then again, it does get pretty wrapped up in being a con movie, reveling in tricking the audience, which sometimes works and sometimes feels like too much. Overall, though, it's a fairly enjoyable con flick. B+

The DUFF: The trailers for this movie looked bad and offensive, but then I found out it was written by Josh A. Cagan, and everyone who actually saw the movie said it was really funny and good. They were right! Mae Whitman has two hot friends everyone notices while they ignore her, and one night her jock-bro neighbor gives it to her straight: she's the Designated Ugly Fat Friend, or DUFF. Cue a journey of self-discovery modeled after her mother's motivational seminars! The movie has a lot going for it (besides an extremely attractive cast): Whitman is super charming, she and jock-bro have great chemistry, ALLISON JANNEY EXISTS, Ken Jeong is fun, and it's so ~*modern*~. That may be one of my very favorite parts about it, how it's so unashamedly of this generation, with references to social media all over the place; it's the teen movie as it would exist today. It does take some predictable turns, but the formula is comforting and doesn't detract from the movie's enjoyment. Of course everything comes to a head at the school dance! Of COURSE. But it's got a good, positive message of self-acceptance, strong female friendships, and a good soundtrack. B+

Jupiter Ascending: Jupiter Ascending begins with some voiceover narration from Jupiter, a device that is never used again, which is typical of this bloated, incoherent mess of a film that drops characters and subplots left and right...but still manages to entertain for two hours thanks to its visual splendor and boundless imagination. The first ten minutes manage to go through four different tones that do eventually start to mesh, thankfully, when Epic Space Adventure invades upon Banal Earth Life and Jupiter Jones discovers she is a Chosen One when saved (for the first of about three thousand times) by Caine Wise, space werewolf, who has fifteen times more backstory than Jupiter and/or any character that has ever been in a movie ever. ALSO HE HAS AN INVISIBLE SHIELD AND SPACE ROLLERBLADES AND ENDLESS AMMO AND HE IS TOTALLY COOL OKAY. Meanwhile Jupiter basically does nothing at all for the first half of the movie until she ~*ascends*~ and then she occasionally does things in between being captured and/or saved. Basically the Wachowskis have translated The Matrix into female-centric space opera with a lot of diversity in supporting roles, plus space dragons, and it's a fucking blast. EVERYTHING EXPLODES. It's not a good movie, but I wish more people were making movies like this, just going all out and telling original-ish stories instead of playing it safe with another reboot or remake or sequel. B/B+

Chappie: Neill Blomkamp burst onto the scene with District 9 but hasn't yet recaptured that magic. In the futuristic Johannesburg of Chappie, police robots created by Dev Patel patrol the streets, and Hugh Jackman just really hates A.I., like super does not think robots should go around thinking for themselves. Except Dev Patel thinks that, no, actually, robots should be thinking for themselves more. Enter Chappie, cute baby robot gangster. ...What? Because, lo, Chappie's parents are Die Antwoord, and they want him to do crimes. Chappie is a strange movie, and the initial goal of creating a new being that can make art quickly gives way to having created a new being who can be molded into a South African gangster because he's stupid and impressionable. It's unclear how silly this is supposed to be, and Ninja (Chappie's "daddy") is so unlikable that it's hard to care about what he wants, in contrast to Yolandi's mothering influence. Meanwhile, Dev Patel is the Maker, and there are a lot of interesting elements in play here that somehow fail to cohere into a compelling whole. Then it makes a lot of bizarre decisions in the more action-packed last half hour, which has more explosions and more focus on the nature of consciousness and souls. Like the idea of artificial intelligence in general, all of this is glossed over very quickly, and I wish Blomkamp had figured out, like, one or two things he wanted to say about...anything and done that. B/B+

Home: Look, I am not going to be rational and objective about this because The True Meaning of Smekday is one of my favorite books, a book I recommend all the time, and WHAT THE FUCK DID THEY DO TO IT. They took a smart, clever book about a biracial black-Italian girl looking for her mom (with bonus Native American colonialism allegory) and turned it into a slapstick comedy about an incompetent alien. I am fucking furious that they made the ALIEN the main character instead of the GIRL. Way to not whitewash Tip, but way to fucking snatch the story from her too. So now the Boov take over the Earth in a very silly sequence, and O (not J.Lo, though I'm amused they got actual J.Lo to voice Tip's mom) is a pariah thanks to all his stupid mistakes, and eventually he meets Tip, and they go looking for her mom and have all sorts of WACKY MISADVENTURES...around the world? And not in America, because we have taken out the Native American colonialism allegory. Tip is pretty good in the 25% of the time the movie actually focuses on her, but it's still O's movie, the Boov's movie. The story is more about O learning about humanity than Tip...doing...much of anything really. Taken as its own movie, it is probably a perfectly entertaining piece of fluff—it does keep moving forward, and it certainly keeps the "jokes" flying fast and furious, however ineffectual they are—but the storytelling doesn't feel coherent or confident. Plus the soundtrack of Rihanna songs did not work for me. If you are a fan of the book, DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE. C+

RoboCop: It's the future in Detroit, and crime is rampant, so what's the answer? ROBOTS OBVIOUSLY. Paul Verhoeven delights in the satire of the situation with amazing fake commercials and cheeky humor throughout, but he takes RoboCop himself quite seriously. Alex Murphy had a life, and it was taken away from him, and now he is a cyborg programmed to serve and protect. Is he RoboCop? Is he Murphy? Is he something new? And what will he do about the motherfuckers who killed him? There's so much to like about this movie. Actual black characters in a movie set in Detroit (hey-oh, It Follows)! A tough female cop who is not a love interest! Commentary on corporations and police forces and the hypotheical intersection thereof! A giant expensive stop-motion robot that can't use stairs! Guns, violence, toxic waste, random people laughing at the television, criminals quoting Shakespeare, good times, man. This movie totally deserves its classic, iconic status. B+/A-

About a Boy: Hugh Grant does literally nothing! He has no job, he has never had a job, he does nothing with his life. But he does want to find a woman! Or just sleep with a woman. Then he discovers that single moms are emotionally vulnerable, so time to try lying about having a kid. Meanwhile wee Nicholas Hoult's mom is crying all the time, and maybe Hugh Grant can be a father figure. Now most often I hear this movie being brought up simply as That Movie Nicholas Hoult Was In, but to my surprise this movie is...really good. I love how organic and natural the movie feels: it's not just hitting plot points. The story develops out of the two main characters, who narrate their lives and their feelings, and the strange relationship they form. Grant is typically charming, despite his character being a self-aware prat, but he grows! And Hoult's character grows as well. The movie is funny, yet tackles depression in a serious, honest fashion. It doesn't necessarily go the expected route, though it finds its way to a happy ending that is perhaps a little too easy given the rest of the film but is still incredibly satisfying. I'm just very impressed with how fresh and pleasant this whole thing feels in comparison to your standard romantic comedy. B+/A-

Harold and Maude: This romantic comedy begins with a young man hanging himself! It ends with—okay, no spoilers. But Harold and Maude has more suicide attempts than your typical romantic comedy. Harold stages gobs of suicides to shock his mother—it's never really explained how some of them actually work, I think he is a wizard—but his mother just wants him to get married. What Harold wants is to hang out with Maude, a 79-year-old woman who also likes attending funerals. And stealing cars. Maude is kooky as fuck, a Manic Pixie Dream Grandma, and she and Harold have a lot of fun together. Meanwhile Harold has a lot of fun faking suicides. This is a very strange movie, blackly comic and absurd, but very sweet. Harold and Maude just work, and it's nice to have a romance between an older woman and a young man instead of the opposite (though the age difference is much greater than most May-December romances...this is more January-December). The movie sort of freewheels as their relationship develops over what seems like a much longer time than it actually is, to the tune of various Cat Stevens songs. It's something else, this film. B+/A-

Caddyshack: When it comes to golf comedies, give me Happy Gilmore. This movie really is about caddies at a golf course...or, well, it's supposed to be, since the ostensible main narrative is that of a young caddy trying to succeed at caddying to get a scholarship to go to college, but his story is overshadowed by the antics of comedians like Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield, none of whom feel like actual characters (Chevy Chase's dry humor gave me a chuckle occasionally, Bill Murray's drunken schtick is mildly amusing, Rodney Dangerfield's brash insult "comedy" was just irritating). Rich white people are assholes, country clubs are for squares, there is a dancing gopher. I could see the movie trying to be funny over and over, but I wasn't laughing. I was kind of invested in the kid, and I liked how the plots all converged at the end, but I never laughed. Guess you had to be there. Or be drunk. Or stoned. If you're an R-rated comedy, you just have to put the sex and drugs and drinking and Kenny Loggins in there, and the humor is optional. B-

Broadcast News: I meant to watch this movie as a double feature with Network, which would have worked even better, since they ARE both behind-the-scenes news stories focusing on high-powered, confident women. Except this is the lighthearted version that cares more about romance than a searing indictment of corporate media (writer/director/producer James "Hell" Brooks gets in a dig near the beginning in his typical dry fashion). Our major players are introduced in cute opening scenes from when they were kids: producer Jane (Holly Hunter), reporter Aaron (Albert Brooks), and anchorman Tom (William Hurt). Broadcast News is sort of like Sports Night but about news instead of sports: Jane is Dana, Tom is Casey, and Aaron is sort of a Dan/Jeremy hybrid. Also Joan Cusack is Natalie. The news stuff is secondary to the personal stuff, but it's still pretty exciting. Basically the movie is absolutely carried by the three leads, mostly Holly Hunter, who is wonderful. William Hurt is surprisingly endearing as Tom, a man who's essentially gotten by on his pretty face but absolutely acknowledges his own deficiencies (while also knowing he has real strengths and value to bring to the organization). Albert Brooks gets a lot of dry, sad-sack humor, and he's alternately sympathetic and execrable, with Nice Guy tendencies. Things happen, there isn't one core "plot," and yet it's extremely watchable. I'm not totally sure about the ending, but it is in line with the idea that this is a comedic drama, not a comedy. Also what the shit I did not know Jack Nicholson was in this. B+

Lucy: Where...do I even begin with this movie? It doesn't waste any time, immediately throwing ordinary woman Lucy into a fucked-up situation where she ends up a drug mule and then the bag bursts inside her and the drugs literally explode throughout her body and suddenly she can use more than 10% of her brain. The movie goes all in on that myth, having an actual count-up as she "unlocks more of her cerebral activity." And...gets literal superpowers. And basically becomes a god. Or something. The first half hour tries to lay a foundation of science, with Morgan Freeman giving a lecture and Luc Besson helpfully intercutting scenes of animals to show that humans are animals, how profound. But once Lucy starts changing, the movie goes from "Huh" to WHAT THE FUCK and just becomes ridiculous, and things amp up so quickly as to be absurd. There are small interesting moments that explore Lucy's loss of humanity and her struggle to retain some connection to her sense of self, but mostly Lucy goes around and shoots thing and has superpowers. It's fun. And then the last half hour goes completely off the rails and it feels like a live-action anime with the amount of sense it's not making. Besson swings for the fences, I'll give him that. The thing about all of it is it's so much nonsense that it's difficult to really care, even if it's pretty cool to watch. It's trying so hard to be Actual Science Fiction, though. So cute. B

What will I watch next? Who knows, I AM FICKLE.
Tags: making the grade, movies
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