Thursday, January 22, 2015

Big Hero 6 Brings Fresh Comedy to Stale Formulas

Big Hero 6 has an absolutely wonderful sense of humor, and it's hard to overstate the importance of that in a genre which is growing more and more stale by the minute (it's an obvious combination of the Disney and Marvel blueprints). And the best part is not only that it's funny, but that it's funny in so many ways. It uses all the tools at its disposal to get jokes across—visuals (try and tell me the way Baymax walks doesn't remind you of Charlie Chaplin), sound (the scene where Baymax is taping up the holes in his arms), script ("There are no red lights during car chases!")—and it's not even primarily a comedy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Oscar Season 2015: Discussion and Breakdown

So, the Oscar nominations were announced. In fact, they were announced several days ago, making them decidedly old news at this point. Oscar season brings out the worst in me. It turns me into a cynical, whiny brat, because it could be this great celebration of American film, but it's not. It's the same thing every year: another collection of tales of human exceptionality. One Man Facing Unspeakable Odds. Rewarding movies which have all the depth of Captain America but are considered "real movies" because they feature an abundance of actors shouting and/or crying. Reappropriating our love of strong leaders without considering what they might entail. It's everything wrong with Hollywood.

But as much as I wish the Oscars were different, I can't seem to give them up. They're one of the few times each year where it becomes acceptable to be obsessed with cinema. And even if they don't come close to representing the most impressive or important movies of the year, they're a fun game to play. You pick your favorites and you shout at the TV when Crash wins Best Picture. So without anymore pointless caveats, here's my take on the 2015 Oscar nominations.

Incestuous Sexual Satire in Maps to the Stars

Maps to the Stars is a satire of Hollywood nepotism which takes director David Cronenberg's signature Freudian sexual politics and turns it into a message about how the film industry is in love with itself.

Inherent Vice Simplified: 200 Words or Less

"As long as American life was something to be escaped from, the cartel could always be sure of a bottomless pool of new customers."

A drug-fueled crime comedy with the added thematic complexity of that rare director who works well with the details of actors' performances while keeping in mind the bigger picture of the film. An all-star ensemble pushed to their peaks by a restrained camera that would rather hold on a long, slow zoom than constantly edit itself into oblivion. An effortless 70's vibe with an uproarious sense of humor that emerges naturally from the characters rather than staging artificial gags. A purposefully convoluted story about a stoner with fading memory which leaves us wondering what our lives mean when we spend so much time asking questions and when any answers we might find will eventually be forgotten.

Confronting the Controversial American Sniper

American Sniper is Clint Eastwood's war film about real life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), a figure who has recently stirred up controversy responding primarily to his 160+ confirmed kills. To some, he's a patriot; to others, a murderer. But there's a more important question to be asked first: does the film endorse him? He's built from a problematic blend of violent machismo and egotistical patriotism, and many viewers have come away from the film disliking him. But just like last year's Wolf of Wall Street, rejecting the film based on an aversion to its protagonist misses the point. There are plenty of problems with American Sniper, but the controversial way it presents Chris Kyle is not one of them. For me, that's its greatest strength.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Intimidating Masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey

Ever since I started writing about film, nothing has scared me more than the idea of trying to write about 2001: A Space Odyssey. The fact that everything has "already been said" about this masterpiece has itself already been said so many times that there's not even an original means of expressing my lack of originality. So with the knowledge that I will probably never be able to fully encapsulate what makes this my favorite movie of all time—let alone say something truly unique about it—here is a small list of a few things I love about it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Finding Nicky: A Local Low-Budget Indie Gem

Nicky is a stylish short thriller from local Massachusetts director Dom Portalla, and like The Darkness Within before it, it showcases his talent for filmmaking with almost nonexistent funding. There's no getting around the fact that he made this film for less than 1% of the average Hollywood budget, but he uses all the tools available to great effect. He crafts this story about a missing child as a taut psychological thriller rather than a formulaic personal drama, expertly feeding us enough information to keep us hooked while keeping enough in the dark to maintain suspense and mystery.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Walk Among the Tombstones Stumbles onto the Screen

A Walk Among the Tombstones is ostensibly a crime drama/thriller about a private detective searching for two kidnappers, but it succeeds at generating neither drama nor thrills. It is a messy and misjudged collection of recycled cliches and empty red herrings centered around Liam Neeson's standard retired/alcoholic blank slate.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Trouble of Adapting Your Own Material in The Drop

The Drop is an atmospheric crime drama worth watching for Tom Hardy's performance alone. The story doesn't seem to really know what it wants to be, but he plays his character perfectly. He manages to look good next to James Gandolfini doing what James Gandolfini does best. He's very quiet and keeps to himself, but you can tell there's something volatile beneath the surface, some remnants of a troubled past. This is hinted at gradually though his mannerisms (as well as through some of the lighting), so that when the movie reaches its climax, it earns its sudden power.

The General: Combining Action & Comedy

Part 2 of my Back to Work Recovery silent comedy double feature

The General is only my second outing with Buster Keaton, but it's easy to see why he's such an enduring figure of the silent era. He's a master of integrating action and comedy into the same scenes*. His stunts are some of the most impressive of all time (jumping around a moving train), made all the more magnificent because the star of the show is also the stunt double (something which was perhaps easier before the advent of sound). But these sequences aren't just spectacular or exciting, they can also be hilarious. Like Chaplin, Keaton establishes himself early on as an underdog so that we root for him and rejoice in his successes. We put ourselves in his shoes, and that makes the laughter all the more genuine when he makes a fool of himself.