Ghostbusters (2016)

October 25, 2016 at 5:14 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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Well, if there is one advantage to a long flight, it is that I can catch up on the mediocre movies that I almost wanted to see in the theaters. There is really little to say about this reboot of the 1984 classic. Certainly, the crew of incredibly talented comedians have the right dynamic mix to make a successful comedy and there were times each of the 4 women really made me laugh. In fact, I did laugh multiple times over the almost 2 hour running time. I just didn’t laugh as much as I recall laughing the first time around. Perhaps, that was because I am not a teenager, anymore. Or, perhaps that was because I had seen so many of these gags before. It was sometimes hard to decide when specific scenes, characters, or lines were an homage to the original and when they were just lazy rip-offs. In fact, in the homage department, we got cameos from every single one of the (still living) major actors from the original: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver. Their roles were tiny and added nothing but nostalgia, which is not a bad thing, unless it reminds the audience of how much better the original was. And this is the problem. This was a relatively fun and funny film. The actresses are all charming and their dynamic worked, with Kristen Wiig playing the “straight man” around whom the other three spun their own goofy brands of humor. They are all easy enough to watch for 2 hours; I just wouldn’t go out of my way to do it.

The Accountant

October 22, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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This film has taken some hits from film critics. The criticisms aren’t untrue but, perhaps, a tad unfair. “The Accountant” isn’t Oscar-worthy, nor will anyone remember it in 5  years but it isn’t trying to be those things. Instead, it is a simple and compelling action movie. Ben Affleck plays our eponymous lead and does a good job of capturing his idiosyncrasies. Is an autistic accountant/killer realistic? Do we even have to ask that question? Who cares? There is great fun in watching the way the film played with the social awkwardness of autism vs the cold-heartedness of a killer, making the one look like the other. It gave the story an unusual/weird/weirdly funny vibe and anything that can shake up this genre is appreciated. Anna Kendrick did a fine job of playing the character she sure seems to play a lot (ie the very sharp, very naive young woman who’s wide-eyed wonder serves as an audience stand in). Ben and she don’t seem to have much charm together but, then, I guess they aren’t supposed to. The central plot, for all of its numbers and wonkishness, did intrigue me but, then, I like a good detective story. I would have preferred if they had spent more time unraveling that mystery rather than crowd the film with complicated subplots, like the accountant’s backstory or the federal agents trying to track him. Much as I like J.K. Simmons (and I enjoyed him here, quite a bit), this film might have benefited from fewer plots and more depth in its main one. All of that is small stuff. Far more annoying was the silly twists that came at the end of the film, tying all sorts of things together that didn’t need to be and relying on utter fantasy and ridiculous coincidences. It’s a shame. With a tighter, more disciplined plot, this could have been a really good film instead of just a good film, really.

The Birth of a Nation

October 17, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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What separates this film from the one it will most likely be compared to, “12 Years a Slave,” is the relative restraint that director, writer and lead, Nate Parker, brings to the story. I think there is a fully understandable tendency to show overt, almost garish, moral outrage when talking about slavery; there is a sort of eloquent indignation that leaks from every moment of a film like “12 Years.” That is not to say that Parker isn’t indignant. Make no mistake, this is a rageful film but it is also graceful and, in parts, almost lyrical. Parker builds his story and his characters slowly. In this fictionalized account of the Nat Turner rebellion, Turner is a soft spoken and timid man. At least at first. Parker plays him beautifully as shy, awkward and endearing. The audiences learns to genuinely like him and to like the family that owns him. One of Parker’s strokes of genius was to make that family so likable, making what eventually happens that much more upsetting. While all the actors did a fine job, the core of the film is Parker’s performance as Turner. The actor/director has been the focus of much controversy recently because of allegations made against him in the past that have resurfaced. I do not wish to weigh in on those allegations, other than to say that, if we can appreciate Michael Jackson for his skills, despite allegations against him (true or not), then I think we can extend Nate Parker the same courtesy. Parker is a natural talent with an incredibly expressive face. The backbone of this film was watching his timidity turn to rage and then action. But, even as the leader of the rebellion, he never lost the haunted look and hunched shoulders of a man who had seen too much horror to ever find peace. It was a remarkable performance. Turner was a preacher and his longest speeches were all Bible quotations. In many ways, this was a deeply religious work as Nate Parker (the director) and Nat Turner (the character) explored the uneasy balance between pro and anti-slavery scripture. The reading of scripture frequently punctuates the film and brings a sort of spiritual cadence to this work. I was acutely aware that this was not a film made for me but, rather, for the deeply religious African American community, many of whom in my audience called out and engaged with the film as though they were listening to a sermon at church. And, perhaps, they were in some ways. Parker takes some liberties with the story to reinforce an image of Turner as a Christ figure, but what historical film doesn’t take liberties? Parker named his film “The Birth of a Nation,” which is the exact same name as D.W. Griffith’s 1915 racist screed. In doing so, he lays his claim on history. He calls out Griffith’s lie and reveals, at America’s core, what forces are really responsible for our birth. In the intense scenes of violence against Blacks, it is impossible to not be mindful of our streets today. Unarmed Black men shot on the streets without cause; which era does a scene like that belong to? And, perhaps the real message in a film like this one is, if we do the same things now as we did then, why are we surprised that Nat Turner’s rage still lives on in Nate Parker and in so many others?

 

 

American Honey

October 15, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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It’s hard to adequately described what a complex and long trip this film was. It was sometimes rambling and sometimes repetitive but, even at 2 hours 43 minutes, every bit of it seemed vital. I was struck several times by how this film seemed like a darker, cynical version of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” only here we get a sense of what it means to be a young girl in America today. Or, at least, what it means to be a  girl of a certain socioeconomic group. British writer and director Andrea Arnold (“Fish Tank”) seems to have a sense of what it means to be a disconnected and disenfranchised American youth. In a story rich with almost too much symbolism (recurring imagery included Christianity, dogs, fireworks, American flags and a whole host of other things), we watch a feral tribe of young adults burn their way across the country. They seem to be representatives of not just the disaffected poor youth of today but also a glimpse into a savage American future. There is a definite anarchist vibe that courses through this film and gives every scene a sense of potential danger. The young actors, most of them unknowns, are all fantastic and the dialogue felt so natural that, at times, some scenes almost felt like a documentary. The actress who played the lead, and not-at-all-symbolically-named, Star (Sasha Lane) was magnetic to watch. She was continually defiant and vulnerable, all at the same time. Also, Riley Keough (who played the “boss” of this group) was another stand out, as the constantly inebriated Krystal. The other truly powerful performance came from Shia LaBeouf. This role gave him the opportunity to prove that he is a far better actor than he is given credit for . His superficial charm and menace drove much of the tension of the film. This long, meandering ride was not a pleasant look into the decay festering on the underside of the American dream but it was a beautiful and fascinating one, none-the-less.

 

Microbe and Gasoline

October 11, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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After almost a month of not seeing anything (!), I have returned on a strong note. This lovely French film is just the light fare one needs during this heavy season. It tells the story of two misfit 14 year olds, Daniel and Theo, who take themselves on a grand adventure during their summer break. Daniel has been nicknamed “Microbe” by his peers, because he is so small for his age and Theo is nicknamed “Gasoline” because he smells like the motors he is always working on. One has an anxious and smothering mother and the other has a distant one. They bond over their sense of alienation and decide to head off into the furthest reaches of France in a bizarre house-car they built. The film is mostly goofy fun, with an occasional sprinkle of sentiment. Writer and director Michel Gondry is probably best known for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but also made “The Science of Sleep” and the truly amazing “The We and the I” (you can see my review here). He takes a much lighter approach here, focusing on the joy of these boys’ adventures together and is able to draw wonderful performances out of the two, inexperienced leads (Ange Dargent and Théophile Baquet), in part because he seems to be letting them play themselves. This is meant to be simple, playful fun and almost every moment is filled with a lightness and a joy (even the difficult moments were never that dark and passed fairly quickly). That said, the film does have a beautifully bittersweet ending that an American film would never dare. It may feel tonally wrong to some but I felt like it made for the perfect final moments, as reality crept back into these boys’ summer of fantasy. This is a story about the confusion of young adolescence, of all the insecurity and self-doubt that comes with growing up. Gondry himself grew up in Versailles, which is where the boys live in the film, and he brings an honesty to the story that suggests he was tapping into his own experiences. The fact that he can be honest about the challenges of youth and still make a film so full of laughter, is a testament to his abilities as a storyteller.  This is truly just a lovely film that made me laugh more times than I would have thought it could.

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