Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Netflix and Krill

Every five or six months, perhaps? It's a good time to look back on a lot of movies.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter: After a lengthy five-minute prologue, the action kicks right off with Alice fighting a flying monster. Humanity has been almost completely exterminated by the undead, but she's still fighting for survival. When she discovers a way to save humanity, it leads her, of course, to Raccoon City and the Hive, where she meets up with yet another group of expendable characters (and one old friend). This movie has a decent first act and a fun, twisty third act, but the second act, hoo boy, it's mostly there to get to the third act and on the way lots of people die. The action scenes are edited so quickly it's really hard to tell what's going on, but Paul W.S. Anderson does get some cool stuff in there, and Alice remains a clever badass. After the first two or three, the movies in this series have felt more like "episodes" than movies, without enough plot or character to sustain the running time, and this makes for an okay series finale. B/B+

xXx: Return of Xander Cage: The original xXx was a silly nineties artifact that thought "James Bond but extreme sports" was a good idea, but we've evolved now! In a post-Fast and Furious world, what we need is "Ocean's Eleven but EXTREME." Or something. Anyway, the movie starts out with some strong action sequences introducing our heroes and villains (or are they antiheroes), slows down a bit as it tries to have a plot, then recovers as it orchestrates more fun action sequences. The inclusive cast of men and women all get their badass moments, and Vin Diesel does that thing he does. Basically you know what you're getting what this movie, and it delivers. B+

Exit Through the Gift Shop: In this delightfully bizarre documentary, French "filmmaker" Thierry Guetta, who is addicted to filming things, becomes obsessed with the world of street art, crossing paths with such luminaries as Shepard Fairey and...Banksy. Who explains at the beginning that the documentary we are watching is, in fact, not about him and street but about Thierry Guetta himself. That's right, the documentarian has become the documented! To say more would spoil some of the weird magic of this movie, which places the viewer in a strange position with regards to Guetta, who seems lovable and kooky enough initially but whose obsession becomes clearly unhealthy as time passes. It's a fascinating look at the art world, and the possibility that the whole story is really an elaborate Banksy prank only adds to its mysterious charm. A-

Passengers: The most controversial movie of 2016! Or at least the most misleadingly marketed, wow, did they sell a different movie. Chris Pratt gets woken up 90 years early on the way to a colony planet, and his only friend on the spaceship is an android bartender. Of course, we know Jennifer Lawrence is in this movie, so either she ALSO gets woken up or well, you can see where this movie is going. This is a well made movie with great production and acting, but the script is flawed as hell. Setting aside the character decision at the center of the film, which is clearly presented as wrong but not suitably interrogated, I had little idea what was happening in the third act, which ends up deflating the story despite looking like it's raising the tension. The ending is anticlimactic, which is disappointing after a pretty strong setup for good science fiction. An interesting failure with one pretty great zero gravity scene. B/B+

Evil Dead: I really liked Don't Breathe, and The Next Picture Show recommended checking out his Evil Dead remake/reboot/sequel/whatever. They rarely steer me wrong! Except this time. Instead of focusing on a hapless group of college kids in a cabin for no reason, this version focuses on Mia, whose friends and family are helping her kick a drug habit. In theory, we should care more about these characters and this story, but they're all so thinly drawn (and barely likeable) that I didn't give a shit about them. Especially the guy who finds an evil book, sees the words "DON'T SAY IT" written as a warning, and—you guessed it—says it. The movie fails to establish the rules of the world early on and as a result the horror is incoherent and the stakes are unclear. It's just lots of gore and grossness, and it's played straight. All the best moments are homages to the original film. This movie did not need to exist. C+

The Edge of Seventeen: Hailee Steinfeld is a teenage girl with teenage girl angst! Her dad died, her best friend is dating her brother, she has a crush on the hot guy at Pet Land, her only confidant is this one cool teacher, you know the drill. From all the rave reviews, I was expecting something a little more innovative and new, but as in many things, the draw here is not in the content but the execution. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig weaves together the many elements of Nadine's life such that there's no real main "plot" here but watching Nadine deal with all her shit. And Hailee Steinfeld carries the entire movie, making you laugh and cry (metaphorically, I did not actually cry). It's an emotionally honest film with strong performances across the board, PLUS a Korean male love interest! B+

Full Metal Jacket: Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam War classic is best known for the performances of Vincent D'Onofrio and R. Lee Ermey...who only appear in the first forty minutes of the film. This first act, depicting the brutal abuse Marines undergo during basic training, functions as a powerful short film of its own, as we see D'Onofrio's character go from a lovable man who can't help grinning to a man completely broken, thanks to the environment the constantly screaming drill sergeant creates. Once the film jumps to the actual war, it feels almost like a different movie (the sporadic voiceovers by Matthew Modine's character attempt to lend some narrative cohesion). Now we return to that most common of themes, the dehumanization of everyone in wartime. It does lead to a strong climactic scene for Modine's character, completing his own arc. Even when the largely plotless film fails to engage, the artistry and craft is evident in every shot and ironic musical selection. B/B+

Tangerine: Tangerine opens with best friends and transgender prostitutes Alexandra and Sin-Dee catching up at a donut shop on Christmas Eve after the latter has gotten out of prison. Sin-Dee learns her pimp/boyfriend has been cheating on her with some white girl whose name begins with D, and she immediately vows revenge. Alexandra wants her friends to come see her sing at a club that evening. Meanwhile Armenian cab driver Razmik does his job. Sean Baker follows these three characters and their intersecting paths over the course of a few hours, and from the word GO the movie never lets up, thanks to Sin-Dee's motormouth frenetic energy and the kicking soundtrack. I cannot believe this goddamn movie was shot on iPhones; it looks as good as any indie flick you see in theaters. But unlike any indie flick in theaters, it's refreshingly unpretentious, not trying to make any grand statements about anything. Instead it just follows the characters, and the statements, if not so grand, get made by the experience of viewing a story about people. Also it's very funny and sweet. B+/A-

Rififi: The Next Picture Show covered Soderbergh's heist flicks Ocean's Eleven and Logan Lucky, and they spoke rapturously of this classic heist flick, which I'd heard of but never seen. What caught my interest was talk of a half-hour heist scene with no dialogue. We do eventually get to that, after we establish the main characters, including Tony, the mastermind, recently released from prison and angry that his girlfriend is with someone else now; Jo, the muscle, who has the most pure and innocent kid imaginable; Mario, the...I don't know, who has an adorable relationship with his wife; and Spaghetti/Macaroni/Whatever His Real Name Is, the safecracker, who apparently does not know how to work a combination lock. As always, it's very fun to watch the planning, and the famous scene is impressive in how well it functions without dialogue or music, keeping the tension high, but by modern heist movie standards, what they actually do is not really that cool. And unlike some heist narratives, very little goes wrong during the actual heist: it's afterward that everything falls apart so horribly. Overall, quite solid, and deserving of its reputation if only for that heist scene. B+/A-

Free Fire: An arms deal gone wrong turns into a shootout! That's it, that's the movie. Free Fire follows a pretty clear three-act structure, with thirty minutes of introducing the "character" and setting up the deal, thirty minutes of fairly straight shootout mayhem, and then thirty minutes of more creative violence. The question is do we care about any of this? The answer is...not really! I appreciate how simple and lean the film is, but that leaves little time for establishing anyone's actual character or motivation. But it's also clearly a comedy, and it balances the action and comedy pretty well, since eventually everything devolves into everyone just yelling insults at each other as they try to kill each other and/or grab the briefcase full of money. It doesn't really have a lot to say or do, but it's mildly diverting, maybe? It all feels pretty empty. B

A Cure for Wellness: Dane DeHaan goes to a Swiss spa to retrieve an errant CEO, but there's something weird about this spa! No one ever leaves, they say! Including him, of course. Gore Verbinski brings the visual and aural flair he brought to The Ring, with plenty of trailer-worthy shots and unnerving sounds. The production design is lavish, the cinematography meticulous. Dane DeHaan's character is not likable, but I was still interested in his attempts to unravel what the fuck was going on in this EVIL SPA. Unfortunately, your best guesses as to what is going on in this EVIL SPA are all probably right. The movie does not earn its 2.5-hour running time—it's not necessarily a pacing issue since I wasn't bored but more an issue with not having enough There there. It's frustratingly well made, and I love the modern take on Gothic horror, but it's not as good as I wanted it to be. B/B+

Nocturnal Animals: This movie begins with what turns out to be Amy Adams's character's art exhibition, which is about dancing nude Rubenesque women for some reason that is never explained, she doesn't really care about her art so why should we. Amy Adams' marriage is not great, and then she receives a novel written by her ex-husband, Jake Gyllenhaal. The novel is your standard revenge narrative, and IT TAKES OVER THE FUCKING MOVIE. Like...the majority of the film is the novel, yet the novel is of an entirely different genre than the real-world story and nothing in it actually connects to the real world beyond superficial visual mirrors that have no actual significance. Literally this whole movie is just Amy Adams reading a fucking book. She reminisces about her relationship and marriage, not that it has anything to do with the events in the book we keep watching (which, admittedly, are well acted). Eventually the book ends the way those stories tend to end, and then the movie ends with everyone being sad. What was even the point of any of this. C+/B-

Elle: This movie straight-up starts with a cat watching a woman be brutally raped, so it is not fucking around. Nor is the woman, who proceeds to go on with her day as if nothing happened. Michèle runs a video game company, and they are six months behind schedule, so she's not going to let a little rape get in the way. Until her rapist starts fucking with her. So she fucks back, and things get...fucked up. I expected the "cat-and-mouse thriller" aspect of the movie to take more focus, but the majority of the film covers the basic scope of this woman's life: how much she hates her parents, how she deals with her ex-husband's new lover, how she attempts to help her loser son, and so on. Isabelle Huppert's performance makes this hard-to-read (and hard-to-like) character compelling in a film that's often hard to watch because of the multiple scenes of physical and sexual violence. It's a twisted film with a unique protagonist, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. B/B+

Me and You and Everyone We Know: Miranda July had earned comparisons to Lorrie Moore, one of my literary idols/influences, so I was interested in her film debut, which follows interconnected characters as they...seek a connection or whatever. Struggling artist/ElderCab driver Miranda July doggedly pursues recently divorced shoe salesman John Hawkes, whose older son is trying to be friend their new neighbor and whose younger son is exchanging dirty chats with an anonymous person and whose co-worker is exchanging dirty talk with teenage girls. Also there's a really dramatic scene with a goldfish. This movie is so quirky and twee, and it's trying so hard to be profound at every moment, attempting to make all the dialogue super meaningful. It is certainly amusing at times, but it is just...wow, trying so hard at every turn. I know the movie thinks it has a point, but by the end, I was not sure what the point of it all was. B

Bright: Will Smith is a human! Joel Edgerton is an orc! They fight crime! And prejudice! The first half hour of Bright tries way too hard to deliver worldbuilding without looking like it's trying (it is), and this urban fantasy environment brought to life onscreen with attempted grittiness can come across as laughable initially. But if you accept all that, it soon becomes an exciting fantasy action adventure with Our Heroes running from badass ninja elves, being hassled by gangbanging orcs, and encountering some explosive magic along the way. It packs a lot of history and present into two hours, but it holds together surprisingly well, even with its issues. B/B+

Growing Up Smith: Smith Bhatnagar is a 10-year-old Indian boy growing up in midwestern American in 1979, and he is in love with the girl next door. Of course, his immigrant parents have already picked out his future wife for him. Co-written by Anjul Nigam, who plays his father, Bhaaskar, Growing Up Smith tells yet another story of cross-cultural differences and the difficulties of balancing your cultural heritage with the American way of life. It does so with sweetness, humor, and warmth, which makes it a perfectly enjoyable film with some familiar faces like Jason Lee, Hilarie Burton, and Brighton Sharbino (Lizzie from The Walking Dead). The plot takes a bizarre turn in the last fifteen minutes or so as it circles back to the frame story with an older Smith reminiscing, but it doesn't tank the film or anything. Sure, I want to see more stories about Indian characters that aren't about The Immigrant Experience, but I'll take these too. B+

Misery: In Stephen King's taut, tense novel, we live inside the head of popular author Paul Sheldon, who gets in an accident and is saved but held captive by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes. Rob Reiner and William Goldman's adaptation focuses on the external over the internal (so, of course, The Book Is Better), but they do capture the spirit of the novel and the relationship between Paul (James Caan) and Annie (Kathy Bates). Kathy Bates makes Annie as sweet as she is terrifying, shifting from one to the other at a moment's notice. The best cinematic innovation, however, is the creation of a persistent old sheriff named Buster who investigates Paul's disappearance, giving us a physical manifestation of Paul's hope that he will be rescued and some welcome comic relief to boot. Misery is a ripping yarn that never flags, just like the book. B+/A-

The Lure: Two mermaid sisters join an eighties rock band and sing in a nightclub. Why? Who knows! In any case, one of them falls in love with a man, and that's bad news, since the other is still more into eating them. The Lure keeps things moving, but it's sometimes hard to follow what story it's trying to tell. My comprehension was complicated but my not having a grasp on how exactly mermaids fit into this world, how commonplace they were and what the rules are (we eventually learn the rules from another mermaid rock star, and they are the rules from "The Little Mermaid" [the story, not the movie]). This is a strange film for sure, but I liked the twist on the old tale, especially with the addition of the sister. B/B+

Mudbound: The first Netflix original film to garner Oscar nominations? This I've got to see! In 1940s Mississippi, a white family and a black family live on a farm in Mississippi, and there is racism. Basically every character gets very poetic, evocative voiceovers, so I could never tell where my focus was supposed to be, what the larger story was. The summaries boil it down to the return of two WWII veterans (one from each family), but that doesn't happen for half the damn movie. I am glad I didn't quit before then, as indeed that is when I finally found a compelling story thread to follow. There is racism. Things actually happen in the last half hour! It feels very much like a novel (it is based on a novel), as it's more about characters' internal journeys than plot, than external manifestations of those journeys. So many dangling threads. B

Sleight: Bo is a street magician who literally grafts an electromagnet into his arm. This is a cool science fiction element that...barely figures into the plot of this film until close to the end. Thankfully, writer-director J.D. Dillard and the excellent cast are able to engage us with the indie drama of a boy trying to take care of his little sister by dealing drugs, but then he wants to stop dealing drugs, and Dulé Hill is not the nice kind of drug lord. Also he stumbles across the most supportive girl on the planet. While most of the story elements are not fresh, it is refreshing that nearly every character is a POC, most of them black. I wish movies would stop making me wait till the last twenty minutes to pay off, but I still appreciated a fresh new (black) talent with a low-key approach to sci-fi. B/B+

Girls Trip: Regina Hall is Ryan Pierce, a woman who's built her brand on Having It All. Queen Latifah is Sasha Franklin, gossip blogger. Jada Pinkett Smith is Lisa Cooper, a straight-laced mom. Tiffany Haddish is Dina, who doesn't get a last name because she's too raucous and wild for last names. Together, they are the Flossy Posse, and after five years of not hanging out, they're getting back together for a GIRLS TRIP. While this R-rated comedy absolutely delivers on R-rated humor, it's all so grounded in character that the crass gags don't feel cheap. These women feel like longtime friends with history and all the small (and large) conflicts that come with it. And their big hurrah gets a wrench thrown into it when the Posse must band together to support Ryan in a time of personal and professional crisis. It's this story that I found most compelling in how it held together what could have simply been a typical R-rated comedy with jokes about pissing and big dicks. Every time the movie turned serious, it felt real and earned, and every time the movie turned funny, it was so funny I didn't mind that the scene's sole purpose was to make me laugh, and then there were plenty of moments where they intersected. Girls Trip is a great comedy, hilariously and surprisingly affecting. B+/A-

The Cloverfield Paradox: I loved Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, so I was super excited for a new Cloverfield movie...until I watched it and understood why it had been relegated to Netflix and surprise-dropped without being screened for critics. The film has a wonderful cast, almost none of whom have any definable characters besides Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who's easily the best thing about the movie. Basically they're in a space station trying to create energy with a particle accelerator or something, and then things go wonky, which means...anything can happen! And it doesn't have to make any sense! Seriously, I've watched Doctor Who episodes that made more sense than this. There are some neat concepts scattered about, all squandered, and the attempt to link it all to the Cloverfield franchise is just as nonsensical and not nearly as effective as it was in 10 Cloverfield Lane, where it was more integrated into what the original film was doing. B-/B

Forbidden Zone: Before Danny Elfman was a respected film composer, he was in the band Oingo Boingo. And before Oingo Boingo was a popular band, they were the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo in Forbidden Zone, Richard Elfman's gonzo fantasy musical that...is very out there. It revels in being outrageous and absurd, with low-budget sets and cheeky animation and unnecessary onscreen text. The plot, as it were, involves a woman who ends up in the Sixth Dimension, ruled by a king (Tattoo from Fantasy Island) and a queen who have a topless princess and a frog butler, and that's not even the weirdest thing about this movie. It's just...really hard to watch, aggressively grotesque with no sense of boundaries. Hell, the movie begins with a pimp in blackface, and the makeup doesn't get any better from there. The music is okay, with a couple decent songs, and also Danny Elfman is Satan. The movie has its moments, but when it comes to bad movies, this is not really my jam. C

Rebecca: After learning that Paul Thomas Anderson took inspiration from this classic Hitchcock film for Phantom Thread, I thought it was finally time to check it out. A lower-class woman marries a condescending rich man and goes to live at his estate, Manderley, but she is haunted by the metaphorical ghost of his late wife, Rebecca, and the Rebecca-fangirl housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers is a fantastically creepy character, and every scene with her, you're just waiting for her to snap. Meanwhile, the new Mrs. de Winter attempts to settle into life with her husband, Maxim. The burbling tensions come to a head as we begin to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding Rebecca's death, and the third act has a very different vibe from the rest of the movie. It all builds to a glorious ending, though. B+

Paddington: I had no childhood attachment to Paddington Bear, but the rave reviews for the Paddington film (and its sequel) intrigued me, and...my God, this film is fantastic, which I could tell from the fact that it made me laugh out loud within two minutes and then cry five minutes later. The story is simple: Paddington comes from Darkest Peru looking for a home, and a family takes him in. There are shenanigans, and also Evil Nicole Kidman is trying to catch him. Writer-director Paul King cut his teeth on The Mighty Boosh, though, so he has a wonderful sense of humor, rarely resorting to the easy butt and fart and poop jokes that plague most children's films (and the couple times he does, they are as charming and delightful as the rest of the film). The film is visually inventive and fiendishly clever in its callbacks, which makes for an immensely satisfying viewing experience. It's fun and heartwarming, with an emotional climax that's predictable yet effective all the same. I can't deal with how surprisingly good this movie is. A-

Tank Girl: In this cult comic adaptation, a comet hits the Earth and creates a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland where Water and Power has the power because they have the water. Lori Petty is the titular Tank Girl (aka Rebecca), who gets taken prisoner and meets the non-titular Jet Girl (a pre-fame Naomi Watts playing a shy nerd). Together, they fight to take down the villainous Kesslee (Malcom frickin' McDowell). So this movie makes very little sense, and I believe that the studio fucked up a lot of the editing, but also the editing in this movie is atrocious, making it hard to follow, especially when it shoves comic book panels or frenetic animated sequences in your face. Despite all the weirdness (just wait till you meet Ice T and Reg E. Cathey in full makeup), there's a lot of charm due to Lori Petty's giving no fucks about anything and the sweet relationship between Tank Girl and Jet Girl. This is not a good movie, but it's an enjoyably bad one. B/B+

The Master: Joaquin Phoenix is a drunk World War II vet who ends up on a boat with cult leader Philip Seymour Hoffman, and their struggle or whatever is at the center of The Master. I found Hoffman's performance compelling, but I was never invested in Phoenix's character, so using him as a narrative focus didn't work for me. Does he truly believe in The Cause? I don't care! Does Hoffman truly believe in The Cause? That's more interesting, but we don't get into that too much. Phoenix's character does go on some sort of journey, I suppose, but...eh, this one time he made a woman out of sand and that should make us sad, I guess. I did like Jonny Greenwood's score though. Unlike There Will Be Blood, which also focused on a struggle between two men, this wasn't two hours of tension with a great payoff, more two hours of Nothing Happening with no real payoff. B-

The Queen of Katwe: David Oyelowo brings the word of God to the Ugandan slum of Katwe, also chess. Newcomer Madina Nalwanga plays real-life chess whiz Phiona Mutesi, who finds in chess a way to rise above her station and perhaps provide for her mother, played by Lupita Nyong'o. Mira Nair, who met her husband in Kampala, Uganda, shot the film entirely in Katwe and Johannesburg (for the non-Katwe scenes, presumably), lending the film tremendous authenticity. Here is how people live in this part of the world. She mostly gets out of the way of the story, as we follow Phiona's progress and how it affects her family. With the help of the score, she makes the chess games intense and exciting even if we don't follow the moves. It's real sports movie stuff! While it's not full of surprises, it's full of heart and great performances. B+

Boogie Nights: Despite loving Magnolia and liking other Paul Thomas Anderson films quite a bit, I never felt like Boogie Nights was worth checking out because I only knew it as "that movie where Mark Wahlberg has a big dick and becomes a porn star in the 1970s." What's so interesting and compelling about that? Turns out it's so much more than that! Paul Thomas Anderson assembles an impressive ensemble of actors to give to life to characters in the porn industry who all have their own dreams, be it magic or stereos. Dreams can be deferred or dashed as the decade changes and the lighter, carefree '70s give way to the darker, consequential '80s. Mark Wahlberg is surprisingly good here, both as an awkward newcomer and a seasoned pro; his arc actually is compelling! But I was so enamored of all the other smaller stories that complemented his, leaving me with much to think about. Like Magnolia, it's a very loving film that also has some appreciation for the quirks of life. And as always, PTA is great with his use of music and score, damn. B+/A-

Wind River: Jeremy Renner tracks and kills predators on a Native American reservation in Wyoming. One day he finds the body of a woman who's been raped. The nearest available FBI agent is Elizabeth Olson, who doesn't even have warm clothing but she's going to try to solve this case. Writer-director Taylor Sheridan isn't interested in the ~*mystery*~ as such; it's not like there's a list of suspects and a big plot twist. They find clues and we find out what happened. That's not even the point. Renner's character lost his own daughter, so he has a lot of emotional involvement here, and he delivers several soulful, affecting monologues (sometimes I forget he actually is a good actor). Sheridan manages to keep the tone relatively quiet and muted, never resorting to the usual tricks of conveying tension and intensity that you'd see in a typical procedural mystery-thriller. It's all about the characters here, in a way that works for me, I think because the movie DOES have a plot and a narrative. B+

Next up: movies I've been wanting to see for yonks, maybe documentaries, maybe some surprises, who knows!
Tags: making the grade, movies
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