Angelina Jolie’s experimental, trying By The Sea

By_The_Sea_posterAngelina Jolie’s third movie as a director, By The Sea, is like a curio cabinet. The cabinet itself is very well crafted and exquisite to look at, and inside are many interesting things. But really, no matter how pretty it is, all you’re doing is pawing through some junk. The film, which is also written by Jolie, is beautiful to look at and it contains some interesting ideas and turns, but the story is so thin it’s almost non-existent. The result is an uneven film that tests viewers’ patience as holes in the narrative are filled with unhappy stares and beauty shots of the Maltese coastline (standing in for the south of France). Continue reading “Angelina Jolie’s experimental, trying By The Sea”

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Steve Jobs: Portrait of the Artist as an Asshole

steve-jobs-movie-posterAfter much sturm and drang getting it to the big screen, the Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic Steve Jobs finally in wide release, where it face-planted for reasons ranging from “Michael Fassbender isn’t a star” to “everyone just spent their money on The Martian and they’re done with movies for the month”. (That second one has a lot more to do with it than anything else.) It’s too bad Steve Jobs was ever taken out of the arthouse, its natural habitat, because it’s actually a really good movie that doesn’t deserve to be remembered as a failure just because general audiences weren’t into it. It’s an excellent character drama featuring stellar performances from Fassbender and Kate Winslet, and if Aaron Sorkin seems like the kind of guy who imagines he’s the besieged lord of the castle of good taste, well. It doesn’t make his dialogue any less entertaining. Continue reading “Steve Jobs: Portrait of the Artist as an Asshole”

Emily Blunt is Sidelined Action Heroine in Sicario

sicario posterI FINALLY caught up with Sicario after it managed to avoid me for a couple weeks, and while I’m glad I saw it, it did not blow me away. It’s a highly competent movie featuring highly competent actors, made by a bunch of highly competent people, but it’s only intermittently engaging and it does not offer any ideas or insights deeper than your average Nightline special. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) and starring Emily Blunt, Sicario is basically Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic with a dash of Michael Mann’s inscrutability. With Roger Deakins working as the director of photography, this is a gorgeous movie to look at, and Villeneuve puts together a few really tense action sequences, but in between the action beats the film is curiously flat, with characters who are all so painfully cool—and one who is epically dumb—that they’re more like ideas of people dreamed up by a sixteen year old boy who thinks CIA agents and hitmen are like, totally awesome. Continue reading “Emily Blunt is Sidelined Action Heroine in Sicario”

Cooties is an odd-ball horror/comedy that excels at neither

Cooties_posterI have generally enjoyed Elijah Wood’s post-Lord of the Rings career as he’s largely retreated into genre and takes on interesting and offbeat projects like Wilfred and the Maniac remake—both of which are good, as is last year’s Grand Piano—but his latest movie, Cooties, of which he is both producer and star, is not up to his usual standard of oddball fare. (He also has movies with Vin Diesel AND Nicolas Cage coming up, which means that either he’s taking “ironic performance” to whole new levels or that LOTR money is running low.) Cooties is a zombie movie with the twist that it’s set at an elementary school and the kids are the only ones affected by a zombie virus outbreak, leaving their beleaguered teachers to fend them off or die trying. Continue reading “Cooties is an odd-ball horror/comedy that excels at neither”

Straight Outta Compton is half incendiary history, half rote biopic

Straight_Outta_Compton_posterThe first half of Straight Outta Compton is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Tense, incendiary, tightly directed by F. Gary Gray (Law Abiding Citizen, The Italian Job) and beautifully acted by an ensemble cast fronted by Corey Hawkins (Non-Stop), Jason Mitchell (Contraband), and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ice Cube’s actual son), Compton is fierce and unrelenting and explosive. …Until it downshifts about halfway through and becomes a chronicle of contract disputes, and then it loses all momentum and limps across the finish line, hobbled by a genre it outstripped within the first twenty minutes. It’s a worthwhile movie for a lot of reasons, and definitely worth seeing even if you don’t care about the history of rap, but the lame second half throws a big bucket of ice water over the fire and rage of the legitimately brilliant first half. Continue reading “Straight Outta Compton is half incendiary history, half rote biopic”

Southpaw is a lot of Jake Gyllenhaal’s wasted effort

southpaw-posterThe problem with boxing movies is that there are only two possible stories to tell: 1) A boxer trains hard, overcomes adversity, and wins, or 2) a boxer trains hard, overcomes adversity, and loses. Occasionally you get a boxing movie that throws a little extra juice into the formula, either by supplying a twist (Million Dollar Baby), or by using side plots as co-dependent metaphors—boxing is life and life is boxing!—like in Rocky and The Fighter. But no matter how you tinker with it, boxing movies only ever come in two varieties, win or lose, which means escaping clichés is virtually impossible. It’s the inherent problem of boxing movies, and it’s a problem that Southpaw, written by Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) and directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), can’t overcome. Also Southpaw is incredibly stupid on a fundamental level. Continue reading “Southpaw is a lot of Jake Gyllenhaal’s wasted effort”