The most beautiful movie of 2016.

I saw Pete’s Dragon and Kubo and the Two Strings within a day of each other and they were wonderful companion pieces. Both films represent the very best in movies for kids, even as they give the adults tons of thematic richness potentially too complex for the kids to fully understand. They’ll feel stuff that stays with them, that they won’t recognize as coherent until long after its taken root. That’s the power of movies like these.

I have been a fan of Laika since Coraline and I would argue that ParaNorman is a masterpiece… but Kubo and the Two Strings blows all their other work out of the water. This is a movie that bleeds ambition, beauty, confidence, and grace. Every frame is a work of art and the kind of spectacle that will leave you scratching your head when you realize just how much of this movie is stop-motion with paper dolls and puppets. In Laika films, CGI is used only to enhance and to give backdrops, but you will have a hard time believing that.

Kubo is one of the best adventure movies since The Lord of the Rings, featuring the same tropes of quest narratives that are so well established but also very much taken for granted. It’s also heavy in a way that might surprise you. More even than Pete’s Dragon, which has an indie movie softness of tone, Kubo presents moments of powerful emotional weight that are punctuated by wonder, happiness, and humor. This movie is so well realized that it’s almost shocking how good it is. 2016 has been kind of a dismal year for films, but kids’ movies have consistently been great and Kubo is the best of them.

SPOILERS WILL NOT MAKE THIS MOVIE BETTER Read the rest of this entry »

Pete and Elliot looking at the evening sky_zpsuk7od7he.jpg

The film is gorgeous. Often jaw-droppingly.

The first indicator that Pete’s Dragon had the potential to be something special was the hiring of David Lowery, whose previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a moody, slow, and Malickian drama that was critically acclaimed and underseen. I saw it just prior to seeing this, and the contrast reminded me of Spike Jonze and his masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t know if Pete’s Dragon is as sophisticated and singular as that film, but it’s definitely just as powerful and perhaps more so for its accessibility. Though it never talks down to kids and deals with some very difficult subject matter, Pete’s Dragon maintains a safer overall approach. But I was reminded of the way Where the Wild Things Are, which to me is the gold standard for sophisticated movies about and for kids, weaves wonder and drama together into a relatively daring emotional core.

I dare you to feel nothing in the opening minutes of Pete’s Dragon. This is a movie, like the kids movies I grew up with (Land Before Time and The Neverending Story come to mind), that is unafraid to be as sad as it is happy. Whenever the movie could veer into a bouncy, safe, and condescendingly “kiddie” version of a sequence, it refrains. Lowery keeps the movie grounded even when you’re watching a giant CG dragon splashing in a stream. These scenes definitely owe a debt to How to Train Your Dragon but the association is a positive one, helping the audience to completely buy Elliot and his puppy-like behavior. This is key because where many films of this kind would under-utilize the “fantastic” elements, like big green dragons, and focus instead of human drama and safer, more familiar scenes and characterizations, Pete’s Dragon spends only the amount of time on that stuff as is needed to serve the story and its emotional, thematic beats. If anything, some characters could have used more time, but overall it’s a good thing that the film keeps its focus centered on the dragon and his boy.


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Oh look, a trainwreck.

Let’s just get this out of the way really quick: Suicide Squad is mostly dogshit but there are a few moments where it firmly enters genuine “so bad it’s good” territory and other moments where it’s trying so goddamn hard to manipulate you into feeling something that you just wanna say “good job, little guy” and give it a pat on the head. There’s even a few moments that feel earned, where the glimmer of a better movie is almost visible. But mostly it’s dogshit.

Why? God, where do I even start. It’s a music video of loosely connected moments, an insultingly hackneyed plot, and poorly constructed characterizations which are usually good for a laugh or an incredulous “what the fuck?” but rarely more. There’s also that it’s the most smugly, overtly misogynistic mainstream movie I’ve seen in a long time. May our inner fourteen year olds cheer. I mean, there’s definitely an audience for this. The anti-PC crowd will eat up every utterance of “bitch” or “ho”, every sexed up costume and variation on “women be crazy“. I already know from the audience I saw it with that women getting punched in the face at the drop of a dime is just delightful. Your faith in humanity will not be well served by Suicide Squad audiences, but that’s nothing unusual. More than the overall quality of the movie, I was surprised by the misogyny. I like David Ayer. FuryEnd of Watch, and Training Day are all fantastic films. But his aesthetic is “street” and here it is the kind of street evoked by youtube gangsta rappers who are trying too hard. Likely, this is where the unaddressed misogyny comes from: it’s part of the assumed iconography of “street” culture where there’s men and there’s bitches or hos or bitch-hos. I think the script of Suicide Squad says a lot about what he and the other creatives for the DC movieverse think about the fans of these stories and characters, though. I think instead of whining to critics (or threatening them) or trying to sue because Joker isn’t in the movie enough, these fanboys ought to vote with their dollars (and their attention) and give WB a reason to stop hiring people who think so little of them. Of all of us, really.

Anyway, yeah, Suicide Squad is really bad. Is it worse than Batman vs. Superman? I don’t know. Do you compare dogshit to catshit very often? They’re two of the worst superhero movies in recent memory, I can tell you that much. And yet. And yet, Suicide Squad is also a fascinating watch. I was never bored. Very much like the first viewing of a Michael Bay Transformers movie, I was kind of transfixed (and yes, entertained) by what I was seeing and hearing. Sometimes I could not believe the movie and other times I was almost on the hook for a heroic moment or a badass line. I think it’s fair to say I was never “with” this movie, and my enjoyment was almost always at its expense. This movie might have had something, but it’s like watching Jared Leto play hot potato with himself for almost two hours. Or like an episode of The Venture Brothers that wasn’t trying to be a parody. Read the rest of this entry »


Ohai Fran Kranz!

Netflix is kicking ass and taking names, quickly becoming one of the biggest names in entertainment and probably one of the more trustworthy in terms of content and accessibility. Lately, they’ve been on another run of amazing original content including the masterpiece Stranger Things and are preparing to shower us with even more riches in the back half of 2016. As you can see, I’m a big fan of what they’re doing as a business and the content they are putting out there. But mostly, it’s their TV shows that I tend to be most interested in. I rarely watch their original movies, but that’s more down to missing the marketing. I did manage to catch the trailer for Rebirth, from writer-director Karl Mueller (who wrote the vicious apocalyptic movie The Divide).

Rebirth starts out as a tense thriller that deals with cults. Eventually, it becomes something much more than that but it’s the kind of thing that is kept so far back in reserve that I think there’s bound to be some misgivings over expectations not being met with the movie. Warning a potential viewer that it’s not exactly what it seems is probably a good thing. It’s definitely not a horror movie, for example.

Because it’s readily available, you should check out Rebirth if you have a Netflix subscription. It’s a movie that I don’t want to spoil for people before they watch it, so I don’t think you should read my review unless you’ve seen it or just don’t care about spoilers. Read the rest of this entry »


Whoa Matt Damon, you looking grim.

I am a huge fan of the Bourne movies. Never read the books, never cared to, but always liked the energy and aesthetic of the movies. They are muscular, spartan, and relentless. But what happens when an ill-advised pseudo-sequel is poorly received and prompts a “return to form” sequel a few years later, bringing back an aging lead and the series’ best writer-director? You’d think that it would be triumphant. Putting the “Bourne” back in Jason Bourne.

Unfortunately, if that was their goal, they were maybe a little too zealous. The problem with Jason Bourne isn’t that it returns to the titular character. It isn’t even the “shaky-cam” (I fucking hate that term) aesthetics of Paul Greengrass. It’s that the movie is so hell-bent on reconstructing the formula it developed over three great movies that it forgets to really do anything else, other than trotting out some story tropes that really don’t belong as a way to make the drama “more personal”. It doesn’t really work, so we’re left with a Bourne movie that is definitely what it says on the tin, but manages to make the series feel formulaic and kind of tired. It’s missing the special symmetrical magic of Ultimatum which is really where they should have stopped making these movies.

That said, there’s still enough of the old magic in here for the movie to skate by more or less. In other words, if you’re expecting a Bourne movie then you’re going to get one. Every box is checked: car chases, improbable escapes, improvised weapons, and an “Asset” hot on Bourne’s trail. If you’re willing to settle for the formula, Jason Bourne will be just fine for you. However, I wanted a little more than “just fine”. I wanted a movie that maybe expanded its world or gave us a reason to follow Bourne back into the fray. Instead, the world is shrunk down and made insular by focusing too much on Bourne’s backstory and not enough on where he goes from here. Read the rest of this entry »


A richly symbolic film.

The Neon Demon carries on the tradition of weird, confrontational Nicholas Winding Refn movies. After the success of Drive, which I think bothered and bemused him, he has made sure his next two movies are more like Valhalla Rising in that they are textured, visually arresting, and precisely constructed films that hold their audiences at arm’s length while tantalizing them with symbols, colors, clues, and scenes that feel like moving tapestries. If you didn’t like Only God Forgives it’s safe to say you probably won’t like this, but it’s that movie’s companion piece. As much as that one was about masculinity, The Neon Demon is about femininity. It has a lot in common with Black Swan at first glance, and probably would play as a great companion piece to The Witch (brilliant film) from earlier this year.

Even if you did like all his prior work, there’s still a chance you won’t like this one. It’s as ambivalent about plot and ambiguous about theme as it is disturbing, violent, and deliberately paced (in other words: episodic and potentially slow). This movie feels like an exploration, but also like a puckish practical joke which consistently sets up red herrings, expectations, and plot points only to veer hard in the other direction, often leaving elements resonating in symbolism and dying on the vine in terms of narrative. All the while, there’s a dark humor and awareness of genre conventions which plays out under the (perfect) skin of this film. Right up to the end, it feels like something(s) it probably isn’t. It feels like a movie made in the wrong decade, like something your parents had on VHS tucked away in the very back of the cabinet. If this sounds like something you’ll enjoy, NWR has a treat for you. Read the rest of this entry »


The few shots that actually take place in space are nice.

I follow a few rules when I set out to review a movie. One of them is that I try to review the movie I’ve seen and not the movie I wish I’d seen. The big difference is that, when you go into something with expectations (sometimes very clear ones), you wind up missing the forest for the trees. On this hook can be hung a lot of unfair reactions and reviews for movies, either positive or negative. It’s a kind of easily avoidable bias and avoiding it raises the caliber of a review. Or at least that’s what I think. Feel free to disagree.

Anyway, that notion is why I’m going to get something out of the way before I dive into this review. I was hoping for a Star Trek movie that finally did something different than the plethora of action-adventure movies we already have, especially in the scifi genre. Star Wars is back, so why does Star Trek need to be so similar to it? Maybe because studios like to make money. I didn’t like this movie very much, and at least a little of that is because it consistently felt like wasted potential. But if you take away my expectation for a more wonder-driven, thoughtful third entry to this reboot franchise, what is left? Hopefully something more fair to the movie. You’ll have to let me know.

My argument is that the movie I saw (as opposed to the one I wished I’d seen) is as fundamentally flawed, shallow, and messy as the previous two. My disinterest in Wrath of Khan helped me appreciate Into Darkness more than the majority of the audience, but this time around I feel like if I were a fan of the Original Series, I’d have appreciated this movie more. It certainly panders to Original Series fans yet again, but asks way less of them (unlike Into Darkness and the ’09 movie). Because I don’t have much feel for what is meant by “it was like a movie length version of an OS episode”, I don’t have to consciously avoid the nostalgia-based bias that comes with that. For what it’s worth, I do think I’ll like this movie more as time goes on (much like ’09) where I like Into Darkness much less.  Read the rest of this entry »


Don’t let this fun pic fool you.

Green Room is a nasty, gut-punch of a movie that made me, a guy who doesn’t think of himself as squeamish or easily shocked, squirm in my fucking seat. The knot in the stomach is real, folks. If this description makes the movie sound like a cup of tea that isn’t yours, you’re probably right. Though it’s an impeccable film, one of the best of the year easily, it is also not for everyone.

Green Room isn’t a stirring tale of heroism set against an elemental evil, but rather an intimate portrait of savage, everyday violence. The realness of it is what gets under your skin, rather than the body count or the diabolical nature of the bad guys’ plans. This as far from a superhero movie version of violence as you can get. This is violence right up in your face, of the kind you can very easily imagine happening to you should you ever be in as wrong a place at as wrong a time as the protagonists of this movie.

That’s basically a long way of saying that Green Room is incredibly effective. Atmosphere and tension blaze through this movie, punctuated by violence that you may never be able to fully get out of your head. Read the rest of this entry »


Uh oh… ladies!

I’m probably risking a lot of bullshit by endeavoring to post a (mostly) positive review of Ghostbusters 2016, but what the hell. Let’s lean into it.

First, some context: For those who don’t know, this has probably been the most hilariously and disproportionately controversial movie release in recent memory. Hate has poured onto this project before even the first trailer, and the common denominator always seems to be the fact that it’s a reimagining where the titular ‘busters are women instead of men. Look, I get it. People like to see themselves represented in things, and men (especially white men) now have to share space with people of color, women, and even men who prefer to have sex with other men. Gasp! Ultimately, this is a good thing for society but try telling that to some people. In the end, though, I’d never go so far as to say that someone who saw the trailers for Ghostbusters and wasn’t excited, or gave the movie a chance and left disappointed, is necessarily some kind of closet misogynist. You are allowed to dislike this movie, but you’re also responsible for the reasons why you dislike it. If it’s on any level down to the fact that the Ghostbusters are now women, you need to have yourself a think.

As for the movie itself, it’s a pretty good time. It’s less brazen, more middle-of-the-road (with some notable exceptions) in its comedy and quirkiness than something like Bridesmaids. It feels more like a Marvel film due to its tonal balancing, which seems intended for mass appeal. It has the same sense of fun, embrace of the colorful and cartoony, and the same tendency to undercut cheese or melodrama with a quick witticism or sight gag. That said, it’s as confrontational as a big budget movie can be about its gender politics. Visually, which was a big concern apparently, there are sequences and moments in this film that are simply gorgeous, and though it never commits enough to its characterization to achieve much depth, it feels like a really solid first entry/origin flick that nicely introduces characters, a world, some ground rules, and room for more down the line. Read the rest of this entry »



I’ve been loving this show since it first landed. Full of actors I liked or loved and with a lavish, detail-driven production that rivals that of any top tier show (yes including Game of Thrones), Penny Dreadful set a wonderful stage for the performances, writing, drama, and boldness that it eventually became known for. It’s an incredibly well-regarded show, but this is not good enough for old media and the lich of ratings-derived decisions.

If you’re mildly interested or a big fan of the show wondering just what in fuck happened with that ending, a season finale that magically became a series finale out of nowhere, then it may be of interest to you to check out all the press there is on it. The showrunner, John Logan, and the prez of Showtime (Penny Dreadful’s home) are going to great lengths to convince everyone that this was all planned and the show was not cancelled. I say they are on damage control. Big time.

My theory is the show got canceled but Logan’s deal with Showtime remains intact. Why was it canceled? Some point to the expense of the show vs. ratings (closest to the truth I think) and others say it was probably Eva Green wanting to leave (impossible to substantiate but a compelling theory). I can almost understand cancellation if Green was done with the show, since she’s definitely its heart… but, well, spoilers to follow. Read the rest of this entry »


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