Archive | combined RSS feed for this section

The Great Wall: Clash of the Titans, by David Bax

16 Feb

Like its horde of monster villains that only awaken to attack China every 60 years, Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall is slow to come to life. The opening scenes, in which a band of pan-European mercenaries led by Irishman William (Matt Damon) and Spaniard Tovar (Pedro Pascal) ride through the Northern Chinese countryside, evading capture and seeking to steal the secret of gunpowder in order to sell it back home, are plodding and hokey, with dialogue marked by exchanges that were clearly reverse engineered from the quips (“I’ve been left for dead twice. It was bad luck.” “For who?” “The people who left me.”) Once William and Tovar arrive at the Wall itself, though, some color and life begin to flow into the movie. This trend will continue; any scene that features no Chinese characters (Willem Dafoe also appears) is comparatively dull and drab. Perhap Zhang is tugging back at the problematic “white savior” conventions of the screenplay by reminding us that the only reason the Europeans (or the audience) are present is because of the Chinese setting and characters. Still, the first major battle sequence is the movie’s least thrilling, consisting largely of noisy effects shots alternating with shots of people reacting to them, like a chintzy episode of Charmed. But it’s in these same scenes that we are introduced to the “Nameless Order,” The Great Wall’s fictitious military legion tasked with repelling the army of beasts. The more time we get to spend with them, their innovative battle tactics and their byzantine hierarchy, the more the movie starts to have fun, kicking off a snowball effect in which each set-piece outdoes the last, building to an implausibly rollicking finale.

(more…)

Lovesong: Strings Attached, by David Bax

16 Feb

lovesong-still1-ferriswheel

When we see the word “love” in the context of a movie title, we’re conditioned to assume it means the romantic type. With her yearning and perfectly pitched Lovesong, director So-yong Kim challenges that reflex by blurring the line between friends and lovers.

(more…)

The 2017 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts: No Small Stories, by Alexander Miller

10 Feb

The Oscar-nominated documentary shorts begin their theatrical tour today.

Documentaries are a misleading genre; by definition said genre should be the most simple area of interest to investigate, but documentaries are anything but. Let’s forego the obligatory listing of every subgenre and acknowledge that consolidated documentary filmmaking is something of a feat in and of itself, and in concert with the academies proclivity toward “most of” as a qualifier for “best of” there’s a socio-political urgency with every selection and, given the current state of world affairs, a little more insight regarding these curious times.

(more…)

The LEGO Batman Movie: Out of Darkness, by Rudie Obias

10 Feb

The LEGO Batman Movie is the first spin-off from The LEGO Movie, the surprise hit animated film from 2014. As in the latter, the former takes a satiric spin on Batman and a majority of the DC Comics universe with appearances from practically every villain from the Dark Knight’s history, even The Condiment King, who was a throwaway joke from Batman: The Animated Series. The LEGO Batman Movie has just about everything a Batman fan could ever want in a movie, while it also has a lot of heart and genuine character moments that are missing from the current DC Extended Universe films from director Zack Snyder and screenwriter/producer David S. Goyer.

(more…)

The 2017 Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts: Process and Politics, by Dayne Linford

9 Feb

The Oscar-nominated live-action shorts being their theatrical tour tomorrow.

Perhaps the most unwatched category of the Academy’s nominated films, the shorts nevertheless often feature some of the most inventive, responsive, and interesting filmmaking of the year. For this year’s live action crop, that promise is variably fulfilled, some shorts tending in a typical, Oscar-friendly direction, while others live up to their potential, utilizing their time well and delivering innovative filmmaking on a small scale. This year is rather interesting in that the nominated films are all mainland European, perhaps reflecting international politics and the activism latent throughout this year’s nominations in other categories. The content of each film can be viewed in that same sense, two of them dealing with immigration and social violence, three concerning stratification and criticizing social predation, three concerning the invasive, or democratizing, or alienating, effects of modern technology. They’re surprisingly deep films considering their short running time, though, with one exception, they’re generally quite straightforward, not in keeping with the iconoclasm of the best of the genre.

(more…)

Fifty Shades Darker: Dry As a Bone, by Rudie Obias

9 Feb

The sequel to one of the most profitable movies from 2015 saw some controversy before its release. Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel left the franchise because of creative differences with the original novel’s author and trilogy producer, E. L. James. They were replaced with director James Foley and screenwriter Niall Leonard who is also James’ husband. The film’s stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan were also in contract disputes to return, but ultimately opted to come back. Despite all of its behind the scenes problems, Fifty Shades Darker is on-time in theaters for Valentine’s Day 2017. Although Fifty Shades of Grey was a fun and serviceable little trashy drama (my review), its sequel is none of those things.

(more…)

The 2017 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts: Innovation and Industry, by Alexander Miller

9 Feb

The Oscar-nominated animated shorts begin their theatrical tour tomorrow.

“Borrowed Time” is an unexpectedly mature western from Pixar, evaluating the nature of (as the title suggests) time, grief, and redemption – you know, the motifs you’d see in a western? The brilliance lies in discovering the shared DNA between Pixar and the western genre through universally touching themes regarding family, growth and endurance.

(more…)

A Cure for Wellness: Falling Apart to Live Again, by Scott Nye

8 Feb

Gore Verbinski has spent the better part of the past fifteen years making enormous studio tentpoles, and even if you respond to the insanity of his Pirates of the Caribbean films or the cultural subversion in The Lone Ranger as strongly as his more ardent admirers (count me deep in the Pirates crowd and a skeptical guest of the Ranger bunch), it’s not hard to see the bundled creative force dying to fully break free of Disney’s chains. A slight outlet in Rango provided such an opening, but I would submit that A Cure for Wellness – more comfortably though it fits in a genre mode – is the true cry of an artist yearning for, and finally finding, that freedom. It’s explicitly about becoming brainwashed by a domineering, eternal life force that drains you of your individuality and briefly convinces you that maybe that’s not so bad. Like so much Verbinski, it’s grotesque and overlong, casually indulgent in its weirdest aspects and a little overheated when it needs to be graceful. But it’s creepy, incisive, gorgeous, nightmarishly imaginative, and a potent reminder that we’re always dying.

(more…)

Criterion Prediction #75: Out of Life, by Alexander Miller

8 Feb

Title: Out of Life a.k.a. Hors la vie

Year: 1991

Director: Maroun Baghdadi

Cast: Hippolyte Girardot, Rafic Ali Ahmad Hussein, Sbeity Majdi Machmouchi Habib Hammoud

(more…)

The L.A. Rep-port: 2/3 to 2/9, by Scott Nye

3 Feb

The Rep-port is a weekly(ish) series highlighting the best and most compelling repertory screenings in the city.

UCLA is kicking off a fantastic retrospective celebrating female filmmakers in the 1970s and ‘80s, starting with their new restoration of Desert Hearts (1986, DCP) on Saturday and a double bill of Hester Street (1975, 35mm) and The Gold Diggers (1983, 35mm) on Sunday. The series runs through the rest of the month, and includes major works by Chantal Akerman, Susan Seidelman, Barbara Loden, and more.

(more…)