Sin City (March 13th, 2016)
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, and Rosario Dawson
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Exodus: Gods and Kings (March 13th, 2016)
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, and Aaron Paul
This is an odd beast of a movie. I went into thinking, and hearing, that it was a really bad movie. That of the two big budget, revisionist epics based on the bible it came in second place to Noah. But to me, this is the better one. It’s not good, but it isn’t as swing and a miss as the Aronofsky helmed biblical piece. Because to me, this feels like a movie that was chopped to bits and is missing some vital information. Like there is a longer, more coherent version out there but the one they put out is one only for those who are biblical scholars. Because this version skips over stuff and doesn’t really dwell on the details, so if you don’t know the details you might miss some stuff. Even the stuff that is slightly altered and done in a revisionist way, where you may not even realize something is being done differently. Now, there’s more problems to it than that. The biggest may be the brown face. Casting Bale and Edgerton in and off itself, as they are talented actors and could play the roles well. And they actually do, for the most part given the choppy nature of the movie. But the bronzing of them is so obnoxious and so badly done that you spend the whole movie just looking at the bad makeup work. It’s highly distracting, and it becomes even more distracting when you realize that all of the extras around them (and the other bronzed leads) are black and brown. The illusion is broken. Or if you’re like me and always know you’re watching a movie, it just runs through your mind of how ill conceived it is. Now, for all that though, this is a well made movie (save for the makeup). The visuals are stunning and the production design is really good. Par for the course with Ridley. It also dances close to a R rating at times with the violence. It’s got a big, grand scope and it feels the closest to a biblical epic of yore with a new coat of paint. But it really comes down to the script and what I have to assume is a brutal editing process. This is, somehow, better than the last two movies he made before it. It is still mind boggling that he jumped from this to The Martian in less than 12 months time.
Margaret (March 14th, 2016)
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Anna Paquin, J Smith Cameron, Jeannie Berlin, and Mark Ruffalo
There’s always a contingent of people that get all twisted when a movie focuses on unlikeable characters. The Hateful Eight just had to deal with it, having a good deal of people ignore the point it was making. And I feel like if this movie wasn’t dumped into theaters after 4 years of behind the scenes fights with the studio regarding run time, people would have been all twisted about the fact that it’s main character (Paquin) is very unlikeable. What follows is a 3 hour journey about this very selfish, highly obnoxious girl make a tragedy all about her for dramatic effect. She’s a very smart girl, but one from privilege and one raised by an actress. So she’s a bit stuck up, stubborn and highly dramatic. So when she accidentally causes a bus accident that kills someone, she starts a long process to make everyone recognize her. Either by trying to get sympathy for her grief, all the way to starting a legal case against the driver for a self professed sense of justice. But it’s really all for drama. There’s no easy sense of closure, nothing easy about the movie at all. It’s super long and diverts into different segments, basically showing us all the different aspects of this girls life. So while large portions of this movie isn’t about the accident, it’s all to fill in the very odd character that is Paquin. It’s a movie that has no real sense of definition to it, and that’s on purpose. It aims for a real life feel, so it can jump from moments of languid teenage life, to dramatic arguments, to a horrible accident, to funny discussions. I found it pretty engaging almost in spite of myself. But I can easily find people hating this movie as a self indulgent piece of white specific trash. I can see it, but I’ll disagree and argue about it.
The Harvest (March 15th, 2016)
Director: John McNaughton
Starring: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Charlie Tahan, and Natasha Calis
I just love picking up a movie based on good word of mouth and the filmmakers involved, with no sense of where the movie will be going. Thanks to Scream Factory for putting out this underseen gem, I got a hell of a ride watching this unsullied by any sort of hints at what was to come. Give me a movie directed by the man who helmed Henry:Portrait of A Serial Killer and starring Michael Shannon? I’m in. Yet somehow it is not the deep fried batch of lurid insanity I assumed it would be. What is inside the movie is a warm, human story about a sick boy and a grieving girl becoming friends. But as the story progresses, a darkness starts to drape the proceedings and imbue a deep sadness over what has come and a dread at what is to come. Honestly, to say any more would be a huge disservice to the movie. The performances are great all around, giving a humanity to all those involved. You really get invested in these people and what they’re going through. It makes it really difficult to see how it ends after spending a good amount of time in the beginning knowing them. Yet for as dark as the movie can be at points, there’s a sense of optimism by the end of it all. McNaughton has crafted a movie that impressed the hell out of me on all levels, and my respect has only grown even more for the man. Let’s hope that this signifies a resurgence for the man, despite the lack of burning the world up with its release. Hell, any low budget movie he wants to make, let him make it comfortably.
Shallow Grave (March 16th, 2016)
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, and Kerry Fox
It’s odd to me that Danny Boyle started out as a theater director, since his work in cinema does not feel theatrical at all. It’s literally the opposite of theater, so energetic and full of style that you can’t ever throw a lazy critique at his movies. And even from the very first movie, this one in fact, he had that energy and style from the jump. It feels like a independent movie, but not as static or cheap looking. You can tell it’s indie because it’s set in one locale for the most part and has only 3 real characters bouncing off each other. It also has that early 90s indie movie thing where of course people have to die or get bloody. And in that way it has to be very economical with it’s violence, never being really too graphic or unique. It really saves it’s hardest hitting violence for the end. The story at the center here is that three roommates/friends are looking for a new roommate and when they do, they find the guy dead the next morning with a suitcase of money. Being this is a movie, they decide to chop the body up and bury it so they can keep the money. And obviously tensions arise between the three regarding the money, greed getting the best of them until they cause too many oopsies to be friends anymore. Maybe someone dies too! I won’t tell! The movie is more than 20 years old, so I could spoil it. But I won’t. Cause I’m that kinda guy. This is an entertaining movie. Quick and thrilling, like many of Boyles best movies are. In hindsight you can see how this guy would go on to be as good as he became, but in the moment I don’t think anyone knew who unreal he’d be. It’s not perfect. Mainly because the characters are a little too undeveloped. There’s nothing more to them than the motormouth (McGregor), the stiff (Ecceston), and the lady (Fox). But they’re all so good that you don’t really notice it. The progression of the story is also a little too convenient, with people finding things out that I feel like they really shouldn’t have. There’s kind of a breeziness to the thing that you don’t really know how some of the steps came to be. Nothing to big, no real plot holes but it kinda leaves things a little too incomplete. But overall, this is a really fun and dark little movie that is a good proof of concept for Boyle’s career.
Spartacus (March 17th, 2016)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, and Jean Simmons
I greatly respect Kubrick, but I don’t love the mans work. Or at least, I thought I didn’t for the longest time. Because for the longest time, the only movies I’ve seen of his are the ones he made at the height of his success/the era he became auteur Stanley Kubrick. In that era, which I call a post 2001 era, he became ultimately more interested in the technical aspects of movie making and less interested in storytelling. The movies felt highly mechanical and lacking any sort of spark to them, registering purely as intellectual exercises more than anything else. I like most of them, but none of them really quite hit me in the heart in any kinda way. Nothing sticks. But getting into his pre 2001 days, when he wasn’t as set in the ways we all know him for, there’s actually quite a good deal of movies he made that I actually love. For me, he is one of the filmmakers that works better when he isn’t given too much free reign. Which brings me to this, the weakest of the three movies I love of his. And it’s the one where he pretty much had no control, a work for hire job that steal feels like a movie he’d make. Technically excellent and merciless in it’s journey for the main character, it may not be as bleak and antiseptic as his more personal movies, but it hits just as hard. A big, old school epic set in the Roman Empire about a slave revolution set into motion by the titular character (Douglas), this movie takes its grand ole time setting everything into motion. At over three hours, you get to know everyone and get the political backdrop of the Roman Empire detailed for you and how this revolution affects everyone. It’s all supremely well done and told with more humanity than I expected. Probably because Kubrick wasn’t given full reign, so it doesn’t descend into nihilism and it isn’t bleak the whole time through. Douglas seemed to be the biggest force in the making of the movie and his hand, along with writer Douglas Trumbo made a movie that was deeply human and mined some honest truths. Spartacus’ admission that he only wants his child to be born free, even if he had to die, is real. There’s no schmaltz to it. Watching the movie you get overwhelmed by the seer size of the thing and it made me feel very nostalgic for those kinds of movies. Especially in a week where I watched Exodus, by the only man working who makes movies like this yet failed to make one completely successful this time out, it really cements that the times are changed and cinema may not be able to tackle movies like this anymore. This is a great, epic, human movie that feels very Hollywood but also doesn’t play too nice with it’s story.
The Legend of Drunken Master (March 19th, 2016)
Directors: Lau Kar-Leung and Chia-Liang Liu
Starring: Jackie Chan, Lung Ti, Felix Wong, and Anita Mui
Jackie Chan really is something. His physical prowess is unreal, but that would be all for nothing if he wasn’t charming and charismatic. He’d be Jet Li. But he’s utterly charming and he knows it. So he can make movies that are serious, but there’s a sense of fun in those. And then he can make a movie that’s really funny with a sense of weight to it. This is one of those funny movies. It’s like a big cartoon, having fun the whole time. Shit, the movie revolves around Jackie being the best fighter in the world, using the style of drunken boxing. And his secret is being absolutely shitfaced. It makes him a burden to his father, a trainer, but he becomes a hero to his townsfolk when a antiquities smuggling ring is uncovered and he helps to stop it from happening. The story is fine and does it’s job to get you interested, but what keeps you in your seat is the action. Jackie Chans determination to be an absolute madman with this shit certainly can elevate anything he’s in. Watching the mindblowing stunts, done with much less editing work than fights today, is a sight to behold. And they aren’t simple fight scenes. Super elaborate and multilayered in the work being done. It’s crazy and really goes to show how crazier filmmaking can be when American Studios aren’t stifling things. And by stifling, I mean making the work safer for everyone involved. This is one of the most entertaining and thrilling movies I’ve seen in my day. I’m gonna dive into Chans work now, seeing what other insanity he got into over seas. Cause from what I hear, this is by far not the craziest.