Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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A Series of Fortunate Movies

The big batches continue, as no one is reading anymore so this is just for me now, I guess!

Batman: With the release of the wonderful LEGO Batman Movie, it's finally time to revisit the original DARK Batman movie. Surprisingly, it holds up fairly well! While it's not as grounded and gritty as we're used to today, it fairly quickly creates the world of Gotham City (the production design is probably the best of any Batman movie) and tells a story that keeps moving, even if it does feel pretty long. Michael Keaton has the chin for Batman, but his Bruce Wayne doesn't have a whole lot of depth. Jack Nicholson's Joker is iconic, sure, but cartoony. Vicki Vale screams 23 times in this movie. Burton himself doesn't think it's a great movie, and it may not be, but it's a solid outing for sure, one that captures the spirit of the character and the comics. B+

Batman Returns: Although Tim Burton didn't want to do a sequel, he relented when he got more creative control, and it shows, as he turns Gotham City into a Christmas wonderland populated with killer clowns from underspace and also penguins for some reason. This time around, he hardly seems interested in Batman, which is fine because everyone else in this movie is more interesting than him, especially Catwoman, who manages to be a sex symbol and a feminist icon (at least for the early nineties). The Penguin starts out a sympathetic monster but turns pretty gross; he's no Edward Flipperhands. Like the first movie, it feels pretty long, but at least this time there's more actually going on, with three villains working together and at odds without feeling overstuffed. It flirts with themes of identity without delving too deeply, but it also has rocket penguins, so whatever. B+

3:10 to Yuma: After loving Logan, I wanted to check out James Mangold's previous Western, a well-regarded remake starring Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Ben Foster, lots of other white men, and two women who are barely in the movie. ~*Westerns!*~ Bale is Dan Evans, a one-legged Civil War veteran rancher dealing with an asshole who keeps shutting off his water. He's got a younger son who looks up to him and an older son who wishes he could look up to him. Crowe is Ben Wade, infamous outlaw who's taken much money and many lives. Foster is Charlie Prince, Wade's second, a manic but loyal death machine. Mangold takes some time introducing the characters and their statuses, and the script is fairly subtle and clever in how it lays out everyone's motivations. Eventually, however, the main plot comes into focus: Evans must help transport Wade to the the titular train, all the while evading Foster's rescue efforts. Evans and Wade form a complex bond along the way. Though the action sequences are great, the soul of the movie lies in the excellent performances, especially Crowe's portrayal of Wade as a Very Bad Man Who Is Nonetheless Not All Bad. It's a simple story in the Western tradition, and it works. B+

Unforgiven: Logan was heavily influenced by Unforgiven, so I wanted to check out this classic Western (from...the nineties). After a short text prologue, the movie gets right down to business with the inciting incident: two asshole cowboys cut up a prostitute, which leads to her sisters offering a reward for their murders, which leads to notorious outlaw William Munny coming out of retirement for One Last Job. Though the movie clocks in at over two hours, it's surprisingly tight, as each scene tends to lead to the next, and there's very little extraneous business. It's all character or plot, and the script explores what it's like to be a man who kills and seeks to dismantle the mythic appeal of gunslinging. Though Clint Eastwood plays grizzled gunslinger well (there is, of course, a wonderful meta layer to following the Man with No Name himself on this journey), Gene Hackman is somehow equally compelling as the sheriff who allows no firearms in his town. It's a simple story in the Western tradition, yet epic in its thematic scope. B+/A-

Rosemary's Baby: Since Jordan Peele cited Rosemary's Baby as one of his inspirations for Get Out, I thought it was finally time to give it a look. Rosemary and Guy move into a fancy new apartment and become friends with some very nosy elderly neighbors who are quite interested in their desire to have a baby. It takes close to half the movie for Rosemary to get pregnant—in a very troubling scene—but once she does, things start to get even weirder. Roman Polanski is adapting Ira Levin's novel, and it's apparently a very faithful adaptation, which may explain why it feels so choppy, with scenes that don't have a smooth setup or follow-through, simply there to present the events. The film gets much better in the last half hour or so, leading up to its memorable final scene. B/B+

Notorious: It's Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains in a Hitchcock spy noir romance! Well, "romance." Grant recruits Bergman, daughter of a Nazi spy, to spy on Rains, a Nazi hiding out in Brazil. The first problem is Grant falls in love with her. The second problem is Rains falls in love with her. The latter was part of the job, the former not so much. There is a bit of intrigue, most notably regarding a wine cellar, but the real tension is in whether Bergman will be found out, especially since Grant keeps hanging around as both her contact and erstwhile paramour. Rains seems a decent fellow (for a Nazi), so we even feel somewhat bad for his being duped since he genuinely cares for her. The film is a bit slow, and the "romance" is the Hollywood kind that's not rooted in much but pretty actors and plot necessity, but those pretty actors give great performances. B/B+

Loving: Jeff Nichols tells the story of the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia that declared laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional by focusing unwaveringly on Richard and Mildred Loving, the white man and black woman who got married and changed history. For such an incendiary topic, Nichols takes an incredibly understated approach; hardly anyone so much as raises their voice in this movie. Instead we watch Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga give quiet, restrained performances full of warmth and humanity while the lawyers do their work offscreen. It's a biopic that eschews conventions, and as such, it will be dissatisfying to those who expect the expected, but there's something beautiful about the way Nichols lets everything linger and creates moments out of what's unsaid. B+

Lion: In this amazing true story, an Indian boy gets on a train and loses his whole family only to find a new one when he's adopted by an Australian couple. Director Garth Davis and writer Luke Davies take a huge risk by eschewing the more conventional method of focusing on the adult character and interspersing his story with flashbacks. Instead, almost the entire first half of the film is carried by newcomer Sunny Pawar as we follow his Dickensian misadventures in India with little dialogue and none of it in English. It's risky, but it gives the viewer so much more emotional investment in Saroo because when we meet him as an adult, now played by Dev Patel, we understand what he's been through. The second half is a bit looser, but it's anchored by Saroo's relationship to his adoptive mother, whom he's afraid of offending by searching for his birth mother. The tears will come, as we learn a lesson abou the true meaning of home and family. I'm not sure how cohesive the film is and it feels like pieces are missing, but Davis acquits himself well for a first feature and the performances are strong. B+

The Girl with All the Gifts: Mike Carey adapted his own fantastic novel, which leads to a pretty faithful adaptation, even if it would be impossible to do complete justice to such an incredibly written book whose major strength is its narrative voices distinct to each character. But Colm McCarthy helms an atmospheric pic that focuses entirely on Melanie, the titular girl, and her struggles with her own nature as she helps a teacher and some soldiers to survive. It can't rely on dipping into different POVs to offset the slow pace and general feeling of Nothing Happening, but Melanie is a great enough character (newcomer Sennia Nanua is wonderful and should be in more things) that we're always interested in what she's doing. McCarthy's shaky-cam and the unusual, unnerving choral score (reminiscent of the score for Arrival) may be offputting to some, but all the choices made add up to a film refreshingly different from most in its genre. B+

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: If there were a book called Fantastic Movies and Where to Find Them, this movie would not be in it. Newt Scamander comes to New York for...some reason you don't find out for 40 minutes that's not interesting. A bunch of magical creatures get out and they spend most of the movie trying to catch them and it's not interesting. In fact, it's ASTOUNDINGLY BORING. Worse, it's COMPLETELY POINTLESS. This extremely thin plot about finding magical creatures is only there as a vehicle to introduce some worldbuilding and set up a five-movie franchise. The visual effects are mostly nice but, wow, there is more gratuitous magic in this movie than in all eight Harry Potter movies. B-/B

Train to Busan: From the chilling opening scene to the nailbiting final scene, this movie is a fucking ride. One shitty father wants to take his cute daughter to her mom in Busan for her birthday, but wouldn't you know it, there's a zombie outbreak. ZOMBIES ON A TRAIN!! Yeon Sang-ho expertly characterizes the zombie fodder in short scenes before the mayhem begins, and the actors bring a lot to their roles as well. So it becomes a survival story, and the overarching theme is clearly selflessness vs. selfishness. In a time of crisis, will you help others, or will you only look out for yourself? It's not particularly subtle at times, but it totally works. The zombie action is fucking intense and creative, especially when zombies do shit en masse. This is a movie that sucks you the fuck in. This is the sort of movie where you're screaming at the characters to run faster, or groaning in agony when zombies appear around the corner, or declaring out loud that this one character definitely deserves to be eaten. I didn't think I would cry at a zombie movie but I cried THREE FUCKING TIMES. A-

The Godfather: I have finally seen the greatest movie of all time, or the second-greatest movie of all time, or whatever! And I...kind of liked it? It's rather slow, and I had trouble keeping track of all the protagonists and antagonists, which made it hard for me to become emotionally invested in all but a couple characters like, thankfully, Vito Corleone and Michael Corleone, the two most important ones. The former is a fascinating figure, a fearsome patriarch with layers, and the latter has a great character arc but isn't as compelling as he ought to be. The second half is more engaging than the first half, and it has a pretty killer final scene. Overall, good performances and some nice sequences occasionally, but also overlong and hard to follow. B/B+

The Godfather: Part II: Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as Michael Corleone discovers in this lauded sequel that...compounds the problems of the first movie without offering up a coherent narrative upon which to hang its confusions. It smashes in a Vito Corleone prequel story that is so disconnected from the main story that it feels like an afterthought, never fully integrated. The Michael Corleone sequel story finds him...doing things because of reasons. This movie is boring and long, though it does have its moments, of course. B-/B

The Godfather: Part III: A quarter of a century later, everyone needed some money, so it's time to check in on the Corleone family. Michael has finally gone straight-ish, but here comes literal bastard Vincent Mancini to collect his sorta birthright. As usual, it is hard to follow the plot and who is being murdered by whom and why, but this time Al Pacino is very tired and all the energy belongs to newcomer Andy Garcia. None of the energy belongs to Sofia Coppola, who is legendarily bad as Michael's daughter. While some of the core elements at play here have potential, the film lacks the ambition and vision of the first two movies, and the last five minutes are fucking terrible, practically a slap in the face after nearly three hours of...some kind of story. B-

Tombstone: The cast of this beloved classic nineties Westerns keeps dying (first Bill Paxton, then Powers Boothe), so I thought it was time to give it a go. Kurt Russell is retired lawman Wyatt Earp, who comes to Tombstone with his brothers to settle down and get rich. But you can't just turn your back on the law when in the lawless West, as the Cowboys are wreaking havoc. Also, that Dana Delany sure is a minx, even though he's married. It's unclear for a while what the real story is here; the romantic plot starts to get so much focus I thought maybe that was the main one. But things pick up in the second half, with lots of montages of dudes shooting dudes. It's The Good Guys vs. The Bad Guys, with very little nuance (except for defector Michael Rooker [EVERYONE IS IN THIS GODDAMN MOVIE]). Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday steals the damn movie and gets all the best lines. It's a fairly traditional Western but a solid one with strong performances all around. B+

Moana: What a quietly revolutionary little Disney movie! Here is a Disney "princess" movie steeped in Polynesian culture where the storytelling is stripped down to a simple adventure plot with no romantic subplot at all. It's essentially a two-hander for most of it, with Moana and the demigod Maui (who knew The Rock was such a good voice actor?) on a quest to save the world by returning a stone to a goddess while they both explore their identity issues. This refreshing departure from traditional Disney film structure is also somewhat confusing because whaaaaat, there's no villain song? There aren't three additional subplots? YOU'RE ALLOWED TO DO THIS?? The songs are lovely, and Lin-Manuel Miranda's hand is evident in the rhythm and rhyme (and the voice, in one). Also Jemaine Clement is a giant crab. B+

Monster: Before Patty Jenkins made history with Wonder Woman, she made a smaller film about a woman less wondrous but no less compelling: Aileen Wuornos, the rare female serial killer. Except you wouldn't know it if you just started watching, as Jenkins simply begins telling her story as if she is just a down-on-her-luck prostitute who meets a woman at a gay bar and begins to feel like she can turn her life around. By the time she starts killing men, you feel so sympathetic for her that you can't see her as the monster of the title. Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci disappear into their roles (Theron justifiably got a shitload of praise, but Ricci is fantastic as well)as Jenkins tracks the ups and downs of their relationship, which holds the movie together. It's simple and intimate and gripping. B+/A-

Monsoon Wedding: After seeing Mira Nair's adaptation of her popular film, I finally watched said popular film and...had basically all the same problems I had with the musical. The titular wedding is fraught from the start, as the betrothed bride is sleeping with a married man, so her arranged marriage to an American groom is possibly doomed. But Sabrina Dhawan's script jams three or four more storylines into this ensemble piece, as if this is some kind of Indian Love Actually. The lack of focus isn't helped by the subdued tone of the film, which, despite some vibrant cinematography, keeps most of the onscreen action from being super entertaining. Especially having seen the same story as a holly jolly musical, I found little reason to care about what was going on most of the time. The ostensible "main" storyline is dull as balls thanks to the actors' lack of charisma (the bride has, like, one expression for the whole movie). The most compelling characters are the father and his surrogate daughter (the bride's cousin), with honorable mention to the reliably entertaining wedding planner. On the upside, there are Indians kissing onscreen! That's new! B

Patriot Games: Jack Ryan is back! And this time he's got a FAMILY. But so does Sean Bean, IRA fanatic who tries to do some terrorism when Jack Ryan stops him and also kills his brother. Thus begins an obsessive revenge plot, as Sean Bean targets Jack's wife and daughter. Too bad Jack Ryan is Harrison fucking Ford now, so he's smart AND badass. This movie is full of plot, and I didn't really follow all the IRA shenanigans, but the Jack Ryan part was always great because he's just this analyst who's out of his league. So he uses his analyst skills to try to catch the guy but he also needs to be an action hero at times. The stakes are always high, and the tension remains throughout, so it ends up being a pretty solid flick. B+

Clear and Present Danger: Jack Ryan is back again! And this time he's become Acting Deputy Director of the CIA at a really bad time because the President has authorized a covert war on a Colombian drug cartel. So while Ryan investigates this cartel, he discovers some shady shit, which doesn't sit well with this Boy Scout. This movie is definitely better than Patriot Games because it's both easier to follow (the cartel shit is less murky than the IRA shit) and more complex, plus there are way more explosions. The movie moves pretty swiftly, with several standout sequences (some hilariously dated thanks to 1994 computers). The stakes are always high, and the tension remains high throughout, so it ends up being a pretty solid flick. B+

The Sum of All Fears: Jack Ryan is back yet again! And this time he's younger and sexier and only just met the woman who will become his wife. Ben Affleck plays a fresher Ryan but doesn't really give him much extra beyond his general Affleckness, which is not as powerful as Harrison Ford's general Fordness. This time the antagonists are the Russians again...or are they? Something something neo-Nazis, something something nuclear war, someth—oh God this movie is too relevant right now. I had trouble following who the bad guys were and who the bad guys weren't, but Ryan does his usual Digging for Information and tries to get people to listen to him or MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WILL DIE. Even though the stakes are higher than they've ever been for a Jack Ryan movie, it doesn't feel as constantly tense as usual, as the film feels very slick and sterile somehow. It's lacking a certain something, and there aren't very many action scenes. It ends up being perfectly serviceable, but a definite step down from the first three. B/B+

Next time? Catching up on movies I didn't see in the theater, plus maybe making a dent in my Netflix Instant Queue.
Tags: making the grade, movies

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