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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April Roundup

I've fallen somewhat behind what with paying work and what have you taking up my time so here are some quick thoughts about the films released over the last few weeks - including this past Friday! Heyo!

10 Cloverfield Lane. The studio didn't feel like showing this to most critics so I - gasp! - had to pay to see it. I honestly have no idea why the studio was so skittish, though, because this was a pretty terrific debut feature from first-time director, Dan Trachtenberg. Bolstered by three extremely strong performances from literally the only three people in the film (not including voices on radios and phones), John Gallagher Jr. and, most especially, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, this "distant blood relative" of Cloverfield fortunately drops that film's shaky-cam found-gfootage gimmick for something much more claustrophobic and stripped down. It's terrifically tense stuff that jumps between different genres with incredible grace and ease (I know some disagree, but they're clearly wrong), constantly playing with the audience expectations and comfort levels along the way. And, no, the fact that it has ties to Cloverfield is not the spoiler that you might expect it to be. (8/10)

Macbeth. A visually stunning but borderline incomprehensible retelling of one of the most famous works of fiction ever. The actors are good but the decision to bury those timeless words under questionable sound mixing and an overly "method" way of acting means (read: mumbling) that it does precisely the opposite of what a good Shakespeare adaptation should. It's pretty boring too, which doesn't exactly help matters either. (4/10)

Eddie the Eagle. I can't quite bring myself to give this an objectively higher score, as it is, when you get right down to it, extremely predictable, overly familiar and more than a little corny but Dexter Fletcher follows up his terrifically entertaining jukebox musical, Sunshine on Leith, with something that is even more effortlessly enjoyable. A true-life underdog story that takes place at the same Olympics that the Jamaican bobsled team made famous in the thoroughly wonderful Cool Runnings, it's actually pretty similar - if not quite as good - as that modern cult classic; with ski jumping, Hugh Jackman and Britain taking the place of bobsledding, John Candy and Jamaica respectively. Whatever, I kind of loved it - even if the critic part of my brain has its honestly quite fair objections. Feel free to add a couple of points for sheer enjoyment, though. (7/10)

The Jungle Book. A somewhat complicated one, this. On the one hand, this is easily the best "live-action" adaptation of a Disney classic yet and the CG animation that makes up 99% of everything you see (only the kid who plays Mowgli and the ground he walks on aren't products of a computer) is really all kinds of jawdropping. The voice cast is also top-notch with Bill Murray being particularly perfect as a  hilariously loveable Baloo and Christopher Walken being supremely Christopher Walkeny (thereby: awesome) as King Louie.  On the other hand, though, I can't shake the feeling that the stunning, photo-real CG animation still feels fundamentally wrong when applied to talking animals: the whole thing never quite managing to escape the uncanny valley. And, I'm sorry, but is it just me or is the actual narrative here nowhere near as good as some of the other fairy tales out there? Maybe the Kipling original is but here it just feels like a great premise, never quite fulfilled - and I kind of feel the same way about the original animation. It ain't the Lion King, that's for sure. (7/10)

Fan. Hear it's  very good. No one bothered to show it to critics.

Criminal. Hear it's terrible. No one bothered to show it to critics, either.

High Strung. Silly dance movie so it could be good fun. They did show it to critics but I missed it.

The Adderall Diaries. Another recent film by a first-time director, this story of a self-destructive writer with daddy issues is unfortunately far too cliched for its own good but is still somehow not half bad with a good cast and decent direction. It especially clicked when dealing with the father/ son relationship and the way that memory can so easily be corrupted but unfortunately falls horribly flat when dealing with an extraneous murder court case that only made the film feel all the more disjointed than it already was. (5/10)

Irrational Man. I hate to say it but this is very easily one of my least favourite Woody Allen films ever. The big problem here is that it goes back to the well-worn theme of the morality of murder that Woody dealt with most profoundly in his mid-eighties masterpiece, Crimes and Misdemeanors. It's odd, actually, that two of his weakest "serious" films are those that reference Crime and Misdemeanors but in the same way that Melinda and Melinda all but entirely botched the former's division of comedy and existential drama, Irrational Man totally screws up the same film's poignant morality tale.

 Instead of Martin Landau's fascinating everyman facing a truly horrific moral dilemma and the intriguing role that his religion plays in it, we get the usually exceptional Joacquin Phoenix as a decidedly uninteresting sociopath, faced with a rather ludicrous and largely un-nuanced moral choice, all played against some fairly banal philosophical posturing; dragging down poor Emma Stone along with him in the process. Tonally, the film is all over the place, with the overwhelming lack of comedy in the script smashing head first into an overly perky score and weirdly whimsical direction. This is also the first time I've ever really sympathized with the usual criticism that Woody Allen only writes about snobby, upper-class pseudo-intellectuals - which has always been at the back of most of his films after the classic, "early funny ones" but has never, until now, bothered me in the slightest. Here, though, the characters grate almost from the get go and I cared little for anything that happened to any of them.

Still, two things do save this film. First, the fact that it is such a failure when it draws so heavily on some of Woody Allen's very best work makes Irrational Man a very interesting failure - if an absolute failure nonetheless. Second, there's bound to be a brand new Woody Allen film coming along in a few months and, considering his track record, it's bound to be better or at least more enjoyable than this. Sometimes being this prolific really does pay off. (4/10)

Demolition. Jake Gyllenhaal is back as another crazed outsider; this time as a grieving husband who tries to cope with the sudden tragic death of his wife by taking things apart to see how they work or, with newfound friend and fellow lost soul Karen (Naomi Watts, great as always) by simply demolishing the living hell out of his house. It's a decidedly weird, off-kilter movie that doesn't exactly offer much in the way of profound insights about life and death and it occasionally does get mired in uninteresting, sometimes even unsavory plot developments, but it gets by through both its excellent performances and nicely demented, unsettling atmosphere. It's not for everyone to be sure, but Demolition still makes for a fairly interesting, if not entirely successful cinematic experience. (7/10)

The Huntsman: Winter's War. This unnecessary sequel to the instantly forgettable Snow White and the Huntsman is actually no worse but no less instantly forgettable. Carried mostly by its kind of ludicrously great cast who may be in it for the money but are charismatic enough and talented enough and good looking enough that they elevate the otherwise bland material. You won't remember a thing about it ten minutes after leaving the cinema but it's diverting enough, funny enough, enjoyable enough and good looking enough to deserve at least a lukewarm recommendation for people just looking for super light entertainment. (6/10)

Coming tomorrow... CIVIL WAR! Watch this space...

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