Maybe the most surprising thing about Stacy Title’s The Bye Bye Man is that it makes no attempt to address how stupid its title is. At no point do we get an explanation of the name that might make progress toward diminishing its silliness. It’s just the name of the monster, plain and simple, and we have to listen to characters repeat it over and over for 90 minutes. The Bye Bye Man. The Bye Bye Man. See? It doesn’t get any less stupid no matter how many times you say it. Other than that, though, surprises are few and far between here. At any given point, you know exactly where the story is going to go next and, in case you don’t, the characters will explain it to you in detail. Despite this, however, Title produces consistently competent scares and even manages to maintain a bit of thematic heft.
It’s a shame we tend to assume that children won’t be able to handle works of art that upset us as adults. J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls concerns some heavy subject matter and is occasionally intense and scary to the point being a full blown horror movie but its subsequent PG-13 rating will likely keep it out of reach of far too many of the kids whose message it would probably help most. Part of its defining philosophy, in fact, is that the world can be unfair, senseless, dark and sad without regard for the age or delicacy of the people it blithely undoes. Yet A Monster Calls remains an optimistic film about growth, self-discovery and hope.
Title: Pan’s Labyrinth aka Il labertino del fauno
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdù, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, and Àlex Angulo
“If we have to win our wars with people like you, God help us!”
James Jones hated that line. He certainly had the grounds to. The author of The Thin Red Line and From Here to Eternity had served in World War II, and would go on to cover the Vietnam War as a journalist. In his 1963 Saturday Evening Post article “Phoney War Films” (reprinted in The Criterion Collection’s booklet accompanying their Blu-ray release of Terrence Malick’s adaptation of The Thin Red Line), he outlines the many dishonest ways Hollywood had portrayed that war, and many others, in the twenty years between his leaving the Army and writing the article. The offense of Anthony Mann’s Korean War drama Men in War, which he otherwise liked, was in positing that there was some moral barometer that metered combat, when in fact the Army and those who commanded it sought to enlist or create the very men that this film deems Unfit for Duty.
Men in War was shown last night to kick off UCLA Film & Television Archive’s biennial Festival of Preservation. I had never seen it before, but in the lead-up to that line, I suddenly realized that I had read of it before. Such is the mercurial nature of repertory attendance. One minute, you’re absolutely enthralled by a film that has proven resolutely original and singular; the next, you realize you were chuckling to yourself about it on your couch five years ago.
If you’re a savvy moviegoer, then you’re familiar with the lure behind Jupiter Ascending. The latest film from Andy and Lana Wachowski was meant to be a big blockbuster science fiction franchise starter for Warner Bros., but the movie studio got cold feet and decided to dump it in February instead of giving it a prime spot during the summer season. While the new movie has the trappings of the big summer blockbuster, with its all-star cast (including Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Eddie Redmayne), giant special effects, and heavy action, Jupiter Ascending is actually something quite different. It’s a very sprawling tale of warring intergalactic families and the search for true love wrapped in the science fiction genre and presented as a fairy tale.
Josh C. Waller’s new film Raze has an admittedly sleazy-sounding premise: A group of fifty women are abducted by a secret society and forced to fight each other to the death. Spurred by concern for their loved ones – the society has their captives’ families under constant surveillance, and will kill them if the women refuse to fight or wind up losing – Sabrina (Zoë Bell, in her first leading role) and her fellow prisoners are left with no choice but to beat the shit out of each other in death match after death match, until only one is left standing. It’s pretty ridiculous. But it’s also thrilling, well-constructed, surprisingly emotional, and refreshingly non-exploitative from a gender standpoint.
So many damn movies have been made about events surrounding World War II that one could be forgiven for thinking, “Hey, it’s cool, we’ve got this one covered already.” But while postwar Japanese reconstruction was a familiar, if slightly distanced, subject for its native cinema in the era, American cinema wasn’t too keen on touching anything having to do with its occupation, nor with the lingering effects of the use of the atomic bomb. So when I say I don’t think I’ve seen a film quite like Emperor, which follows Generals Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) and Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) as they establish American occupation immediately following Japan’s surrender and investigate the role Emperor Hirohito played in the war, this isn’t to say such a story has never been told, just that its relative freshness is much appreciated. Add to that some fine performances from the aforementioned men, and a surprisingly engaging and layered story (until…well, we’ll get there), and you’ve got a pretty solid evening at the movies.
As I now know from experience, when you tell someone you went to a screening of a movie called John Dies At The End, the first thing they want to know is whether John actually does die at the end. My honest answer to that question is, “I’m not sure.” First, the universe (or universes) in which John Dies takes place is so trippy, surreal, and willing to futz around with the very definitions of life and death that I’m not really sure what would or wouldn’t qualify as “dying” in this movie. Second, the timeline (or timelines) it follows is so convoluted that I’m not sure what part of it could be rightfully thought of as “the end.” You know that famous story about the making of The Big Sleep? The one where the screenwriters get so confused trying to adapt the novel that they actually have to call Raymond Chandler and ask him to clarify who murders a particular character, only to find that Chandler isn’t sure of the answer himself? I think if you asked the makers of John Dies At The End to explain whether John actually dies, they might be similarly unhelpful.