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It definitely has a lot of flaws and it can feel like a generic Hollywood blockbuster at times, but it's fairly competent and has some good action. It has two major problems right up front: 1) this is supposed to be the start of Universal's new "Dark Universe" shared universe, dredging up its classic monsters for the studio's version of Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. This doesn't exactly sound like a good idea, especially with these being action movies and not horror flicks. 2) Tom Cruise stars, Tom Cruise has creative control and he wants it to be another Tom Cruise movie. Tom Cruise! Just had to say it once more to satisfy Tom Cruise's ego. This is also just a bad way to start a new franchise, especially one in which Tom Cruise is probably not going to pop up in every future installment. "Tom Cruise movie" is just not the way to go with the initial film in your franchise. So, yeah, this film definitely has elements at odds with each other. It still kind of works, in my opinion. Tom Cruise is certainly getting past his sell-by date and I think another star may have worked better, but he's not bad and he can still do action stuff, like the thrilling plane crash showed prominently in the trailers and the many, many chase sequences. The monsters are pretty decent, too. Nothing you haven't seen before, but pretty cool, jerky undead monsters. And Sofia Boutella is quite good as the main villain. Jake Johnson is also kind of fun as Cruise's sidekick, often used for comic relief. As a huge fan of Johnson from New Girl, I love seeing him in these movies even if he doesn't belong. Russell Crowe is also very good as, well, it's easy enough to see on the IMDb page but let's just say he's the major expansion of the Dark Universe in this film. Annabelle Wallis isn't bad as the lead actress, but she doesn't have all that much to do. My major gripes with the film are its clunky opening exposition and especially the way it ends, which is just kind of confusing. Obviously it was going to end going towards a sequel / the expanded universe, but I could have used a bit more info here. Very low expectations paid off well for me, and I certainly wouldn't unabashedly recommend it, but I definitely had fun.
Written by Mike White, Beatriz at Dinner completes an unofficial trilogy with the screenwriter's Year of the Dog and the HBO series Enlightened. All three of these works are about middle aged women searching for relevance in modern society via politics. This one is a bit smaller in scale, a bit less comedic, but it shares a lot of traits with the other film and TV series. Salma Hayek stars (and is fantastic) as a holistic healer and masseuse. She is called to a rich client's home, where her car breaks down after the job. Stuck there overnight, she is invited by the client (Connie Britton) to stay overnight and dine at their party. There's a bit of fish-out-of-water comedy here, but it's more painfully awkward than funny, and the class issues are at time gut wrenching. One of the other guests is a rich mogul (John Lithgow), whom Hayek seems to know from the past. Perhaps fate has brought them together for a reason? Lithgow is an obvious stand-in for Donald Trump. Frankly, all the wealthy characters, even the relatively friendly Britton, are despicable, but White doesn't do much to stack the deck against them. They certainly don't speak in any way that feels egregiously unfair. Lithgow definitely chews into the role, but, hey, so does Donald Trump. I'm not entirely satisfied with the ending, and I would say this is the weakest of the trilogy, but it's easily the most thoughtful and most thought-provoking film I've seen all summer. 8/10.
I felt much the same way about this one as I felt about the previous, more famous Yoshida film I watched last week, Eros + Massacre: it's gorgeous but maddeningly esoteric. As a result of its difficulty, I found the film fairly boring. This one is perhaps even more difficult than Eros + Massacre, but it's also 90 minutes shorter, so I'd rate them pretty much even. The film involves Communist revolutionaries in Japan, who were more or less outlawed in the country by the U.S. The film spans several time periods, including the distant future of 1980 (you can tell it's the future because of the theremin music). The main action begins in 1952, which was a turbulent year for student protests. One might just watch it for the visuals - what Yoshida does with space is absolutely astounding at times. The filmmaking often brings to mind Antononi and Resnais. But it's hard to watch it just for the visuals when you know Yoshida is trying to get at something and is so deadly serious about it.
The Japanese New Wave is one of my favorite cinematic movements, and
this film comes recommended as one of the best of its era. Very
unfortunately, it didn't do much for me at all. The one thing about it
that I'll say right off the bat really impressed me was the
cinematography. No time and place ever produced such gorgeous black and
white movies, and this is up there with the best.
The film itself, though, is very slow-moving, kind of pretentious, and uninvolving. The story involves two timelines, one set in the Taisho period (starting in 1916) and the other in the present. It's about free love and the sexual revolution. In 1916, the philosopher Sakae Osugi practices and writes about free love. I'm pretty sure the Japanese word for philosopher translates literally in English to "aloof jerk," because this guy's version of free love is to screw around with different women and then say "Why can't you be chill about this?" when they confront him. In particular, Itsuko Masaoka becomes wildly jealous when he starts seeing Noe Ito on the side. She begins brandishing a knife, always threatening to get stabby with it. Late in the movie, there are like three consecutive sequences that take up a good quarter of the movie where she fulfills her promise.
The 1960s stuff involves two students who are studying Osugi. They have their own problems, but want to subscribe to the free love idea, which seems to be expanding around the world. At least in the director's cut, these segments take up only about a quarter of the film.
Look, I don't generally do well with long films, and perhaps this one's 3 hours and 36 minutes were just too daunting for me. The fact is, though, from the very beginning I was pretty bored with this one. 90% of the scenes just involve two or three people sitting around in a room bickering. I give Yoshida much credit for keeping it visually interesting throughout. The guy definitely has talent, but I wonder if this independently produced art film gave him too much freedom. Maybe he'd be better reigned in.
Whatever the case, I'm still perfectly happy to have this new Arrow Academy box set. Outside of Criterion, they're the best home video production company today. I hope I like the other two films better, and I hope one day I get to take a look at Yoshida's earlier, studio-produced films.
Dreyer's rarest talkie, it was a flop upon release and was later dismissed by its director and has rarely played even at retrospectives. I finally got a hold of it, and it's pretty easy to see why. It's crud. You definitely have to wonder how an artist as excellent as Carl Dreyer had anything to do with it. Two People concerns, you guessed it, two people, a married couple (Georg Rydeberg and Wanda Rothgardt). Pretty much the entire thing takes place in their living room (with a couple of quick trips to a lab somewhere else in their house and a flashback to a place that looks remarkably similar to their living room). Rydeberg has been accused of plagiarism by a famous doctor, but early on in the film the couple learns that the accuser has passed away. There is some relief, but that quickly turns to fear as it is revealed the doctor was murdered and Rydeberg is the main suspect. The script here is pretty clunky, and Rydeberg isn't much of an actor. Rothgardt fares a bit better. There are some twists that are both kind of predictable but also don't make much sense. It is definitely best left forgotten. If you are curious, though, a company called Video Dimensions has released it on DVD (of poor but acceptable quality) and one can find it on Amazon. 4/10.
Maren Ade's debut. I wasn't expecting too much out of this one, since it doesn't have much of a reputation and I didn't really like Ade's sophomore feature, Everyone Else. I did like her third film, Toni Erdmann, but I kind of figured that was a major step forward for her. To my surprise, I found Forest for the Trees to be her best work so far. Shot on video, this is the story of a lonely, young teacher (Eva Löbau). She isn't too good at her new job, and she's not too good at life outside of school, either. Her 9th grade students walk all over her and the only friendship she can strike up is an awkward one with her neighbor. Löbau's neediness is exacerbated by work stress, and her friend soon grows annoyed with her. As someone who dipped his toes into teaching, I felt like this would have been my experience and, even though I spent a lot of time learning how to do it, I abruptly decided it was not for me. This situation is one of my nightmares, and I felt every painful moment of this film like a needle in my flesh. The film might have seemed perfect to me if not for the sort of cheap, magical realism ending. It's unpleasant, but truthful. Outstanding.
A bizarre work of surrealist art. I don't know if I've just outgrown this kind of thing or if this one in particular is just sophomoric, but I didn't like it all that much. I didn't exactly hate it either. It surely has its share of outrageous and entertaining images and gags, but it feels like director Arrabal (best known for writing Jodorowsky's debut film, Fando and Lis) is doing little besides trying to shock the audience. So we get all kinds of penis torture, cannibalism, and poo play, and it gets tiresome long before the film is over. What little story there is has on-the-lam murderer George Shannon running into holy fool dwarf (Hachemi Marzouk) in the desert. The dwarf shows him how he lives in the desert, so Shannon later repays him by bringing him back to Paris. The dwarf, an outcast, continuously points out how silly the modern world is. I rented the film because it was the only one with Emmanuelle Riva that Netflix carried that I hadn't already seen. In particular, the film wasn't worth seeing as a memorial to the recently deceased actress. She plays Shannon's mother and murder victim. She barely says a word and catches some guy's ejaculate. Not her proudest moment.
A small documentary from Akerman about the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. Interestingly, the project began as a doc about William Faulkner. The racially motivated murder occurred, and Akerman and her crew skirted on over to Jasper, Texas. It is pretty typical of an Akerman doc, in that the vast majority of it is made up of extremely long takes where nothing much is happening. Sometimes it just observes people (always African Americans in these sequences) going about their lives, a lot of times the camera is just pointed out the window of a moving car - this can actually be a tad icky, honestly, especially when the camera is pointed out the back of the car. James Byrd Jr. was dragged to death behind a vehicle, and these sequences can't help but recall that, intentionally or not. There are also interviews, which are probably the more interesting part of the film, despite being less artful. Akerman has little insight into the issue - after all, she sees herself as more an observer than a documentarian - but it's still a decent documentary.
Weak comedy, the kind that doesn't bother with a script and just hopes the stars do the heavy lifting. Charlie Day and Ice Cube play two teachers at a super shitty high school. After Ice Cube flips out on a student, Day tattles on him and gets him fired. Cube challenges him to a fist fight after school, and Day, a little wimp, will do everything in his power to avoid it. Day and Cube do the stuff they pretty much always do, not getting many laughs in the process. Some of the supporting players fare better, with Jillian Bell winning the vast majority of the film's laughs as a dunder-headed, drug-addicted guidance counselor who would rather be boinking the students than guiding them. Tracy Morgan also has a couple of funny gags as a gym teacher, and Dean Norris and Kumail Nanjiani are okay as the principal and a security guard respectively. I have no clue what the heck Christina Hendricks is doing here. She has a couple of weird moments that don't land at all. The film has enough laughs that it won't end up on my year-end worst-of list or anything, but I doubt I'll remember it whatsoever when I wake up tomorrow.
Hoo boy, what a mess! It's not the worst action movie of the year, but it's the least comprehensible. And its nonsensical incomprehensibility is the kind that can only come from being adapted from a video game! I've played a little bit of one of them. I remember parkouring around some rooftops and jumping into hay carts. Much later on I learned that there's a convoluted science fiction background to the games - apparently you're in some sort of virtual reality simulation (only it's really happening in the past - or something). This film is mostly focused on the science fiction section of the games. Michael Fassbender stars as the assassin who is being forced to do the virtual reality stuff and Marion Cotillard plays the semi-evil scientist who is making him do it (kind of - eh, don't worry about it, you'll never understand it fully). One has to believe these two fine actors could have found something better to do. I just can't imagine them reading the script and saying, "I want to do this!" I'm sure it was more like, "For how much?" Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling and Brendan Gleeson also appear. Some of the action isn't too bad. It's confusingly edited at times, but it has a nice kinetic energy. It looks and sounds good, too. Still, it's lousy.
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