Happy Feet Two (November 29th, 2015)
Director: George Miller
Starring: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, and Brad Pitt
It’s a shame seeing anything George Miller has done before 2015, since by all definition they are lesser movies than Mad Max: Fury Road. Which isn’t to say anything he did before wasn’t any good. That’s far from the truth since he was a legend before 2015 anyways. The Road Warrior was a landmark action flick that changed cinema, made Mel Gibson an icon, and was seemingly the high point of Miller’s career and the Mad Max series. He’s a man that has made a career out of doing the impossible and making it seem easy. Even in the time period when he was making kids movies, they were so singular as to be obviously the work of a master. And as a man who does sequels like no one else, returning to the Happy Feet world was a good idea from the jump. And he made a worthy sequel, one that may not necessarily top the first one but works well enough to stand with it and does enough different to not be a repetitive entry. Where the first one was dick deep in music and dance numbers with a heavy global warming message, this one has some musicality and global warming but a more straight forward survival story. The penguins we know are closed off to the world by an iceberg and will die if they can’t get out. But Elijah Woods character and his son, among others, were gone when the iceberg hit and have to figure out how to save their people. It’s fun and cool for kids. Even for adults there’s some good stuff. Visually it’s great and all. Miller will never disappoint in that area. But this time out it very much focuses on community, showing how every animal is all part of the same team and helps out in some way. It also does some good stuff regarding fate and destiny and the lot in life we are dealt, specifically in the side story featuring two Krill voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. This story is so strong and funny that it make this entry my favorite one. It’s well written, performed amazingly by Pitt and is the perfect manifestation of the entire thematic work being done in the movie. If this was a short film, it would be widely loved by all. This movie may not change anyone’s opinion on this series, if the weird dancing to pop songs animals thing doesn’t float your boat. The krill stuff may do it, but it’s very much of a piece with the original. I appreciate it but I wouldn’t ever say I hold them in a special place in my heart. It’s more interesting within Miller’s filmography than interesting as a movie.
The Family (November 29th, 2015)
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, and Dianna Agron
It’s fucked up that Lucy is a rebound for Besson after making this movie, since that movie isn’t good and all but there it is. This movie is not good on such a fundamental level that it boggles my mind. Besson’s frenchness has always entered into his movies. Leon is not a very realistically New York movie, but it works in a weird way. This movie though feels like a middle aged French man, who has only seen some Mafia movies, trying to make a Mafia movie while also trying to be hip with kid plot lines and failing on almost every level. There is no reality to any of this movie. Everything feels fake and put on, no truth at all. The kids are absolute horseshit characters. “Is funny cause ze boy is 14 but acts like ze wiseguy, no?” “Ze girl is very pretty but is a puncher girl, wee?” No, you fucking goon. None of that is good or real or funny at all. On any level, it feels like something an ignorant man assumes mafia kids are like. Even the french kids we meet feel totally fake. Michelle Pfeiffer tries her best but her accent is a little too cartoony and she doesn’t really get anything to do. DeNiro is actually pretty good here, awake and trying his best to make this limp material work but isn’t up to the task to make it funny. But surprisingly, his stuff regarding his adjustment to witness protection life is dramatically interesting. And his relationship with Tommy Lee Jones is fun. But that all culminates in massively stupid scene where he watches Goodfellas. DeNiro, who starred in Goodfellas, is watching a movie that features a guy that looks exactly like him. Then it has him just ramble about phony old day mafia stuff, and it’s a movie killer. It’s so cute and full of itself. The movie isn’t aggressively bad, like a Kevin Smith movie. It’s decently made and has some good visuals. And the ending is really solid with an action scene, but even then it kinda makes the weird choice to have rape be a possibility. Maybe it’s just having a visceral thrill pump up such a bland movie that I liked it, but it’s still not good enough at all to recommend this movie in any way. It tries to be a mix of drama, hard violence and quirky comedy and it doesn’t do them well at all, let alone mix them convincingly. Skip it.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (December 1st, 2015)
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hammill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Alec Guiness
I’m not really gonna go deep into this. It’s Star Wars. The biggest franchise of all time. It changed cinema forever, moving it towards a blockbuster/franchise model. A new one is coming soon to massive excitement. This movie, the one that started it all, is perfect. Just a perfect, iconic experience. An amazingly crafted adventure movie that kickstarts Hollywoods obsession with the Campbell hero’s journey. I tend to under appreciate this movie after a while, but watching it always brings it back up. I still don’t think it’s as good as Empire Strikes Back, but that’s not fair since Empire is unreal. New Hope just feels much more simple than it’s sequel and more narrow minded. There’s hints throughout of the simple and unnatural dialogue that Lucas would become infamous for in his franchise crippling prequels. But here he has talent and hunger still so he throws everything he has into it and comes out on top. We all know it, it’s great. I’ll have more on the series as a whole (cinematically) later in the month. And to see Mike’s views on New Hope and more Star Wars stuff, click here. But for now, rejoice in knowing that Star Wars is great. Glad I could help you all come to grips with that.
Chi-Raq (December 4th, 2015)
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson
Spike Lee is one of kind. Not just in the fact that he’s one of the very few black directors that gets movies made with any real attention, but in the fact that he is well known for swinging for the fences like no one else. Reckless abandon is his MO, and it doesn’t always work out. But it’s been a while since he took a massive swing, feeling like he’s been out of energy for a while. Inside Man is great, as is 25th Hour, and I find enjoyment in Oldboy, but no one is gonna say those are the work of a searingly angry man with a point to make. They’re workman like movies, and the stuff that feels like it could be vintage Spike has felt perfunctory. Probably since Bamboozled in 2000 that he’s harnessed his fury. But that’s all changed with his trek to Chicago, a war ravaged city beset by a wave of gang violence. Chicago is a perfect stew of racial and economic strife, so Spike comes in with a big ole satire that uses the old greek story Lysistrata and importing it onto modern day Chicago, he doesn’t hold back his wildest impulses at all. A mixture of big theatrical moments and hardcore realism, this does it all. And somehow, it works. The balancing act is precarious but Spike pulls it off with aplomb. Going so big means some moments are gonna miss, but the rest of the movie is so strong that you just breeze right past it. And this isn’t a movie where Spike has a narrow view of things. He takes everyone to task and makes the case that we all need to come together to fix the problem. But he does so in such a way that certain imbeciles will see as exploitative. After the sub par film student aesthetic of his last flick, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, he roars back with a beautifully cinematic movie. And unlike that last movie, an utter piece of shit, he has a fantastic cast that helps him bring the message out. Parris is a treasure, an absolute revelation that sells Lysistrata’s (her character’s name, Spike isn’t subtle) drive to stop the violence. It makes you mad at Mad Men for wasting her in such a massive way. Angela Basset pulls herself away from the utter filmic excrement that is American Horror Story to be the soul of the movie, pushing Parris to make a move. Wesley Snipes does what fellow Expendable Sylvester Stallone did and returned to past success by reuniting with Spike to do the best work he’s done since Blade II, just having a ball and doing hilarious work. John Cusack manages to pull himself away from DTV crap to give off a searing performance as a good natured priest in the neighborhood, being the mouthpiece for Spike. And of course, there’s Samuel L Jackson as the narrator of the movie, showing up to spout some of the most hilarious dialogue he’s been given outside a Tarantino movie. His name is Dolemedes, because of course he’s given a Greek version of the blaxploitation character name. But the biggest surprise here is Nick Cannon, a man who has never done anything good in his acting career but comes in here like a fucking professional and gives an immense performance. He is the symbol of the entire city of Chicago, so his journey is fascinating and he never falters at all. Spike gives him the big moment at the end of the movie, and he nails it. It’s totally surprising and hopefully spurs him onto to doing tougher work. And through it all, everyone does great work with dialogue that’s all in rhyming verse delivery. Spike ain’t fucking around. I can see why why people won’t like it because it’s big and wild, but to say it’s exploitative is retarded. Beyond retarded. I think it’s a great movie, his best since Inside Man and maybe since He Got Game. See it and enjoy the madness. It’s for a good cause.
1. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
3. Happy Feet Two
4. The Family