Sunday, March 19, 2017

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

I actually liked this sequel to the raunchy 2014 comedy Neighbors slightly better then the original (which this movie largely repeats in format),owing in large part to how much I have grown to rather like the lead characters. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are of course good, and Chloë Grace Moretz works better then I thought she would, but Zac Effron's Teddy Sanders is the dominate force here, I really enjoy this character, even enough to be open to a Neighbors 3. ***

Logan (2017)

Intended as actor Hugh Jackman's swan song performance as Wolverine, the character he built his career on, Logan is easily the grittiest, most violent, and yet most reflective 'X-Men' movie yet. Based, apparently quite loosely, on 'the old man Logan' story line from the comic books, Logan is set in the year 2029, with mutants on the brink of extension owing to an as yet unexplained 100% drop off in their birthrates. Logan is living in northern Mexico where he is hiding a ninety-something year old Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who appears to be in the early stages of dementia. Leaving Charles in the care of and albino mutant named Caliban (unusual but effective casting of Stephen Merchant), Logan is working as a limo driver across the boarder in El Paso, hoping to raise enough money to buy a yacht so he and Charles can live safely out at sea.

Wanting above all not to be noticed Logan is annoyed when a desperate Mexican woman and her mysterious 'daughter' come to him for help, followed shortly thereafter by cyborg security personal from a multinational corporation in pursuit of the two. The 'daughter' turns out to be a young (12ish) mutant, and before long, Logan, Charles, and the girl are being persued across country and headed for reported sanctuary at the Canadian boarder. The bulk of the film is an unusual 'on the lamb'/ 'on the road' movie, though thematically its pretty much a western, something its director James Mangold is pretty upfront about, at one point Charles and the girl (new comer Dafne Keen, impressive) are shown watching the 1953 classic Shane.

This movie is quite different from earlier X-Men fair, with the exception of Mangold's pervious film in the franchise The Wolverine (2013), which this movie seems to combine tonally with Mangold's 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma. There is a rough, weather-beaten feel to the whole proceeding, from Jackman's slightly aged look, to the near future society in slow decline depicted around the characters. This is to Marvel what the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan Batman films were to DC. A satisfying benediction on Jackman's 17 years of playing Wolverine, a character who is much more interesting for having been played by him. ***1/2

Not for kids.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Resident Evil (2002)

Resident Evil is the first of a now six film series based on the Capcom survival horror video game franchise of the same name. A small group of corporate sponsored security personal, including of course at least one double agent, must infiltrate a secret underground genetic testing facility to determine what caused its sentient computer system to kill everyone inside. Well the short answer to that is zombie virus, so at this point you should know if this movie would be something you'd be at all interested in our not. A small band of characters having its membership picked off one by one is certainly a reliable cinematic formula, if a lazy one. I disliked this movie at lot at first, but it grew on me enough that I'd be interested in seeing where the series goes from her. I have never paid much attention to Milla Jovovich before, but she is really beautiful. **

The A-Team (2010)

Big screen adaption of the 1980's action television series, The A-Team is cinematic empty calories. Competently executed, with some well done action sequences, the plot feels inconsequential and so do the characters. A relatively early entry in Liam Neeson's rebranding of himself as primarily an action star, while Bradly Cooper takes to his role as "Face" as if it was his by right of birth. Still more watchable then I had expected. **

A Man Called Ove (2015)

Swedish film based on the international best selling novel of the same name, A Man Called Ove tells of the emotional reawaking of a 59 year old, widowed pensioner, after a mixed raced couple move into the house across the street. Ove starts as the stereotypical grumpy old man, and from the outset of the film there is little doubt as to the conventional general direction the movie will take. What surprised is how well handled the getting there was, and how much you truly love this man by the end of the film. Ove's backstory is imparted principally through a series of flash backs that trace his life from the childhood death of his mother to the death of his beloved wife. The flash backs are trigged by multiple failed suicide attempts, efforts in which he is regularly interrupted by neighbors at the door, or the sounds of local commotion he feels obliged to investigate. Despite that dark shading, this is a Swedish film after all, this is ultimately a life affirming, and upbeat film which puts forward the heartening thought that there is a more to the people around you then there might at first appear. Rolf Lassgard as the old Ove and Filip Berg as the young Ove the films standout performances. and  I loved this movie. ****

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

A rather writerly film. Very finally constructed. Though not based on one it concerns and is reminiscent of a play, the action is even divided into two acts with a lengthy epilogue. The story centers on Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) a respected Swiss actress of about 50 years of age, who after the unexpected passing of her dear friend and playwright Wilhelm Melchior, agrees to appear in a London stage revival of the play that launched her career, Maloja Snake. While 30 years ago she had played the scene stealing young ingénue role, now Maria is to play the part of the fading older woman, something of a pathetic character so desperate to cling to what she can no longer hold onto. Ms. Enders is having trouble coping with this change to her self identity both on screen and in real life, and its not long before plot elements of the play start bleeding over and repeating into her reality. This is most present in Maria's relationship to her young personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) but also intrudes into her interactions with the troubled Hollywood starlet brought in to play her old role (Chloë Grace Moretz). There is some good show business specific critique here, but the themes of aging and psychological displacement of course work broader then that. Though Clouds of Sils Maria is a very different film then Berberian Sound Studio, it does manages the kind of smart, working payoff to its building unease which the latter film never accomplished. Three rather different, but all very fine, female performances in this ****

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Toby Jones stars as a mild mannered English sound engineer named Gilderoy, who travels to Italy to do the audio effects for a film called The Equestrian Vortex. Gildeory, who has spent most of his career doing sound work for documentaries and children's television goes into the project thinking this to be just a movie about horses, but instead it turns out to be a grizzly horror film. Working long hours, in a confided place, in a foreign country, simulating the sounds of torture for a group of difficult show people exerts a lot of strain on this simple man who lives at home with his mother and whose big hobby is ornithology. It's a great set up for a film, the problem is there is no real pay off, the movie  feels like it should be building to something but instead it just kind of ends. Gildeory slowly loses his grip on reality, he starts seeing bits of his life on screen, a letter his mother wrote him ends up in the dialogue of the script, and then suddenly he's speaking fluent Italian, his words now showing as subtitles at the bottom of the screen. However this is mostly just existential crises, there is not much real danger here, annoyingly little actually happens in this film, and Gildeory's character doesn't change much at all. While I thought the device of not actually seeing the horror film on screen worked for awhile, by the end of the movie I kind of wished they'd show us some of that film just for a change of pace. **