theferrett: (Meazel)

Magic Mike:
Critics were astounded when it turned out that men wanted to watch a movie about male strippers.  This is because critics are dumb.  Magic Mike appeals to men because male strippers are shown as a low-level form of gangsters – having threesomes by the dozens, earning mad cash, part of a clan that only a few six-packed beauties can aspire to.  The bodies on display are for women, sure, but the storyline is pure masculine wish-fulfillment.

Unfortunately, Magic Mike is precisely half a good movie.  The tale of Magic Mike bringing his bro-heim into the fold is compelling, interesting, and clever.  But then the movie gets weighted down by society, where everyone knows that Those People Who Take Off Their Clothes Can Be Up To No Good, and so we are treated to a really tortured, character-wrenching series of plot twists where we see the emotional toll that all of this happiness and freedom brings you, complete with a botched drug deal and backstabbing and OH THESE STRIPPERS, THEY CAN NEVER BE HAPPY.  And so, as payment (spoilers!), Magic Mike has to abandon his club, and all his money, but as his reward he gets the cute, innocent girl he’s wanted to fuck all along.

Yes, society.  Good women are the prize that all men should get for acting wonderfully, and no person can be a sex worker without being secretly miserable and dysfunctional.  Way to go, fellas.

As a side note: the dance sequences in the film are elaborate, creative, and amazing.  One suspects there are a lot of disappointed women turning up at Chippendale’s afterwards.

Flight:
I know what they’re trying to do with this movie, but they fucked it up.

The intent is to ask, “How do you get back to your normal life after a major, life-changing event?”  And the first half hour of Flight, where the plane crashes and only Denzel Washington can save from total wreckage, are riveting.  Denzel earns his Oscar nomination here, because while the plane is plummeting straight down at 10,000 feet a minute and the crew is panicking, Denzel is barking our orders, calmly telling everyone what to do in the attempts to fix this.  Except, because Denzel’s acting is pitch-perfect, you realize that Denzel realizes just how bad things are, and is pretty sure he’s about to die, but is refusing to let it get to him.  (Perhaps, in part, because he’s drunk.  But he’s also a damn good pilot.)

The problem is that the most intense part of the film comes at the beginning; hell, you could have ended Flight at 34:00 and I would have been entirely satisfied.  But no, we then have to follow an alcoholic through his increasing assholery… so we not only have the aftershock of a lot of talking heads, which feels like a come-down after GOD DAMN THAT PLANE CRASHED, but the lead is entirely unsympathetic.  So we’re feeling drained, and though we don’t care.

The ending is also a large portion of bullshit.  We also probably did not need the ridiculously stereotyped porn star/junkie, fucking desperately for cash.

Django Unchained:
Like Flight and Magic Mike, this was a beautiful first half of the film.  The segments where Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz meet and become friends, with Christoph training Django how to be a bounty hunter… it was beautiful.  There were moments of true friendship, laughs as race was played with overtly, and some great action sequences.

Then there’s an hour and a half at Leonardo DiCaprio’s mansion when there should have been forty-five minutes.  And to drag the movie out further, one of the characters does a truly stupid thing that’s totally at odds with everything he’s been shown to be beforehand, at a time when he had effectively won.  (I mean, seriously, a little humiliation aside, he’d gotten everything he set out to do.)  It just felt tedious at the mansion (though I loved DiCaprio’s performance), with too many mundane plot twists and not enough forward motion.  I mean, if you’re gonna have people speaking, sure!  Have DiCaprio whip out the skull of his old slave servant and whap it on the table.  But we needed more skull-whapping moments, and less long dinner conversations.

Also, though I enjoyed it, I kept thinking, What would be the reaction if this had been made by Spike Lee?  And if we hadn’t had the ha ha, the guy directing this is on our side, this movie would have freaked the fuck out of America, and so it’s basically a multi-million dollar exercise in white privilege.  That doesn’t dismiss the goodness of the film, of course, but realistically it proves that this is all about the messenger.   And Tarantino’s in-film assertion (who knows whether he believes it) that the reason the slaves didn’t revolt is because they were meek and not as good as Django was, just maaaaaybe, a little facile given that at at least three points, Django only escapes out of purest fucking luck.  Hey, great to think that the point of the entire slavery thing is that blacks need to be more badass, but if Samuel Jackson had limped into that shed literally a minute later, we’d be talking about a very dead and humiliated Django.

So lots of problems.  Still entertaining.  But hoo boy.

Beasts of the Southern Wild:
Like the Battlestar Galactica remake, I did not enjoy this so much as I appreciated it.  It was beautifully done, a window to a level of poverty and culture that we don’t see much, but the whole thing was catastrophically painful and depressing.  Some seemed to think it was an uplifting fairy tale, to which I ask them exactly what brand of crack they are smoking.

This is the perfect Oscar movie.  Brilliant performances, saddening, you leave the theater feeling wrung of all happiness.  Good work, Oscars.

Hope Springs
This is a perfect little movie.  It doesn’t shoot high, restraining itself to the sex life of a very frigid old couple, but it hits every note it sets out to.  In a weaker Oscar year, I think Tommy Lee Jones could (and should) have been nominated for his performance.

A lot of people don’t like this film because, well, it’s about old people learning to fuck again, and OMG EYEW.  To which I say, fuck you, old people have every right to fuck and even more, and your disgust shouldn’t enter into it.  But Hope Springs is also a small movie; there’s no outside interference.  Steve Carell plays their therapist, in a truly amazing role because he’s actually a perfectly helpful therapist. He’s not trying to break them apart, he’s not incompetent, he is just in fact there to help, and he bats probably 85% in terms of giving good advice.

So what you have is a paintcan movie, where two people are effectively locked in a room until they work out their problems.  It’s good, subtle work, and enjoyable.

Plus, if there’s another film where Meryl Streep is sucking off somebody in a movie theater, I can’t think of it.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There are many similarities between Muppets and talking apes; they both talk, they’re both furry, they’re both intended to be reflections of humanity.  The only difference is that the talking apes don’t break out into spontaneous musical numbers, and even that’s been rectified once.

Oh yeah, there’s one other similarity: As I said in my review of “Rise of Planet of the Apes,” I will lie to you about both.  Because both talking apes and Muppets are wedged close to my heart.  They were installed during childhood, and as such it is impossible for me to be objective about such things.

The new Muppets movie is made for Muppet fans.  If you’ve ever teared up during “The Rainbow Connection,” this movie is for you.

Now, I believe it’s pretty good for non-Muppets fans.  It’s got some great musical numbers – including an excellent addition to the Muppets canon “Life’s A Happy Song,” the heartbreaker “Pictures in my Head,” and of course what we’ve all been waiting for – a barbership quartet version of “Smells like Teen Spirit.”  And the humor is appropriately meta, with a bunch of old Muppets-style references to the fact that yes, they’re in a movie.  *Diabolical laughter.*

The Muppets is, I believe, quite funny even if you’re not a die-hard Muppets fan.  But if you are, there are tons of jokes that reference all the good Muppet movies, and a couple of nons.  The more you know, the more you recognize how this movie is total and utter fan service.

If anything, the weakest bit about the Muppets is the addition of Walter, a young eager fan whose love for the Muppets kick-starts the events that bring the now-forgotten-and-far-spread Muppets team back together for one last reunion tour.  It’s not that Walter is a bad Muppet – far from it, he’s lovable and earnest.  But “lovable and earnest” is also Kermit’s schtick, so there’s a fair amount of overlap between Kermit’s “trying hard and believing the best of everybody” and Walter’s “trying hard and believing the best of everybody,” which leads to a slightly twinned climax where Kermit’s giving speeches that Walter could give, and vice versa.

…well, that and the fact that each of the Muppets gets very little air-time.  Aside from Fozzie, Kermit, and Miss Piggy (who would not be IN the movie if she didn’t have air-time), all of the Muppets are introduced quickly, so quickly I wonder whether kids will get who they are.  Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are introduced in fifteen seconds of a montage and then largely forgotten, which is par for the course.  It worked for me, who actively cheered when Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphones showed up… But will it snare new kids, who won’t have a real handle on who all these crazy guys are?  Or will the tantalizing glimpses make them want to know more?

Regardless, Jason Segal understands exactly what makes the Muppets tick.  Because the truth is, life in the Muppets universe kind of sucks.  People have big dreams, and they don’t all come true.  It’s a reflection of the Muppet way that the two lovers, Miss Piggy and Kermit, are really not meant to be together – they have such grand love and (in Kermit’s case, hidden) affection, but their personalities are such that they can only achieve happiness in short spurts, in eternal reunions just before the reality of love comes crashing down.

That’s okay, though.  The Muppets are about what happens when dreams break and you’re still there, and what do you do then?  And Kermit winces and takes your hand and bravely tells you that yes, you keep going.  You always keep going.

The one true lesson of the Muppets is hope.  Jason Segal knows this.  And as such, there is hope, and love, and bravery in the face of total defeat, enough to make me cry.  A lot.

The Muppets is not a great movie – like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it is a B-movie that swings hard and hits far, arriving right on target.  It’s as though Babe Ruth pointed his finger and announced, “I AM GOING TO HIT TO GET ME ON THIRD BASE!” and hit a perfect ball to the outfield.  I don’t think the Muppets was meant to be great, merely entertaining.  And in that, it succeeds.  I’ll watch it on video, probably a lot.

I can’t tell you whether you should see it, unless you still feel this soft punch to your heart whenever you remember that Jim Henson’s dead.  If you do, then you owe it to yourself to go.  Jason Segal did Jim Henson proud, I think.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You should not trust me. I will lie to you about apes.

I do not mean to. But in my boyhood heart, the only movie that may be greater than Star Wars is the Planet of the Apes movie series.  Once a year, Channel 7 had “Ape Week” for its 4:30 movie, and showed all five movies, and my best friend Bryan and I always watched them together. Planet of the Apes was the first movie I recall seeing with not just one unhappy ending, but a slew of them; Colonel Taylor discovering it was Earth all along, Colonel Taylor detonating the super-nuclear bomb that blows up the world, Zira and Cornelius being shot as they try to protect their baby.

It’s no lie to say that the Planet of the Apes series taught me the meaning of the word “tragedy.”  It’s one of those film series that is in my DNA.  And so I am incapable of bringing you an honest review, because Rise of the Planet of the Apes was made by fanboys, for fanboys.

It is the perfect movie if you loved the original series.  (And no, I’ve never seen the Tim Burton version; when I heard what he did to the ending, I lost all interest.)

But let me take my pre-adolescent blinders off and tell you what Rise of the Planet of the Apes is: the best B-movie we’ve had in years.

The plot of Rise is simple: a kindly scientist, in his quest to cure his father of Alzheimer’s, infects a baby chimpanzee with a virus that boosts his intelligence.  The chimp, called Caesar, is in danger of being put down; as any good person would, the scientist smuggles him home and raises him as his own son.  But sad to say, the world is not quite ready to accept a super-intelligent chimpanzee.

…or at least this world.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a comic book movie, set in the kind of comic book world where everyone who are not the good guys exists for the sole purpose of oppressing them. The job is evil, the neighbor is evil, the primate refuge is evil.  Literally everyone who isn’t the hero of the movie goes out of their way to be a complete and utter bastard to the noble handful of men at the heart of this film, often for no good reason.

(Ironically, it’s erroneous on every level to say “noble handful of men,” because there’s one woman and one chimpanzee.  Such are the vagaries of language.  Let us continue.)

In a lesser movie (or for those who can’t appreciate the starkness of a comic-book world), this might be ham-handed – but the goodness of Rise is that the kindly scientist and poor, clever Caesar are so sympathetic, so trying to be good, that all the meanness does is make them shine brighter.  Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is brilliant, since Caesar has only three lines of dialogue in the whole film – and yet he is the protagonist, on-screen for long periods of time.  It is a special form of physical acting where emotions can be conveyed so perfectly with a body movement that we feel Caesar’s betrayal at the world he was born into, burn with his desire to be free.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a perfect example of what happens if you do the two things that are important in a movie: give us characters we can root for, and give them an emotional arc we believe in.  We utterly believe that Caesar wants to be treated with dignity, understand why he becomes a leader, understand his motivations for ultimately leading (spoilers!) an ape rebellion against humanity.  We utterly believe that the human scientist, so bland he barely deserves a name, wants to do the right thing in both curing Alzheimer’s and in protecting his friend Caesar. Their reasons for acting are clear, their goodness manifest.

This emotional truth salvages the monstrous plot holes in the movie.  This is a comic book movie with a soap opera timeframe, and we have such corkers as:

  • A chimpanzee in a testing facility can not only arrive pregnant, but give birth without anyone noticing it in the slightest.
  • A man accidentally exposed to an experimental virus in full view of his co-workers, boss, and the CEO of his company, is allowed to go home without being tested. Furthermore, when he disappears from work for a week without calling in sick, not one person thinks to check in on and him and see if anything might have gone awry.
  • There is a home for wayward primates in California (not the zoo, which is a separate place) that is a) large enough to hold about fifty various primates, b) is run by people whose sole job seems to be to torture monkeys, c) is under government control but run by a father-son team where the father seemingly expects this to be a family business, and d) actually has accumulated fifty monkeys, orangutans, and silverbacked apes.  How many random monkeys are running around in California, anyway?
  • Despite the fact that the Evil Corporation of Evil supposedly discontinued all development of the Mystery Drug three years ago, said corporation still has pallets of professionally-packaged ampules of the Mystery Drug being ferried about conveniently in plain view for the good doctor to steal.  And nobody seems to notice these drugs going missing.  Ever.

But you know what?  You can pick holes in this film all day long, but the truth is that it’s no less enjoyable for having them.  The film is not necessarily about the intellectual journey, but the emotional one, and Caesar’s journey from helpless baby to chimp commander is what rings true.  The heart of Planet of the Apes has always been that monkey or man, what makes someone a thinking being is the heart – and Caesar has heart.   It’s not a great film, but it’s a wondrous good film.

And it’s an even better film if you love the original movie, since there are all sorts of callouts to the original – yes, someone says, “Take your damn hands off of me, you damn dirty ape” and someone says “It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!” – but there are subtler tributes, such as a chimp being called “Bright Eyes” and Caesar playing with a model of the Statue of Liberty.

These in-jokes and tributes render me blind.  It’s a movie that fits perfectly into canon – so perfectly, in fact, that if it didn’t negate the beautifully tragic time-loop of Zera and Cornelius, I’d cheerfully jettison all past history and slot it into 1968 canon.  As it is, I don’t know which I prefer more, but I know this: it’s a good film.  It’s worthy of the Apes franchise.

Then again, I might be lying. Don’t mean to.  But you know, you should beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s spawn.  A wise person once said it, and it never rings truer than when I am discussing apes.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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