Saturday, March 18, 2017

Logan (2017)

There's a thin line between sensitive and tearjerking. And in "Logan" the line is crossed exactly when it shouldn't be... Actually I start to think it's something specific for Marvel, but in the end that's not the main problem here.

If you watch the trailer you'll sort of figure out the story. In a semi-dystopian future where we don't have many mutants left, Logan lives somewhere isolated taking care of an ailing Professor X. When a girl seems to show the same powers of extending retractable claws some not well-intended group of individuals want to get her. If you add to this what you might have heard = Hugh Jackman giving up on the role, there's no spoiler that Wolverine will die. I don't know how big of a spoiler is that others die too. A bit too many I would say. But that's also not the main problem here...

The problem is that James Mangold is an overrated director, although he wasn't for "Wolverine", which was actually almost bashed by critics. So I don't really get how the same guy was put in charge of the sequel. I'm sorry, but I don't agree with the general opinion that "Logan" is a small masterpiece. The directing is weak, the camera work is dull and even bad in some places (we have frame margins that are cut inappropriately), the script is... oh well... I don't know, but for me kids & violence don't get together when we have the amount of sheer roughness seen in "Logan". There's one thing what you see in "Kick-Ass" where everything should be taken lightly as a joke, there's one thing what you see in "Let the Right One In" (the Swedish version) where you have one gruesome scene in the end that's built over an entire context and has more meaning, there's one thing what you have in "Firestarter" or in "Looper" where the lack of control can be seen as problematic, and there's a totally different thing having a movie where an 11 years old child cuts heads or slashes people more than enough to kill them each 30 minutes, because that's how we get rid of the bad people and "excess violence sells". I can agree with that for a generic action movie, but not when the violence is produced by children and made to seem required. Spoiler: Even more, the attempt to "sentimentally" tune the ending after the final carnage is ridiculous...

It's true that I never really liked the X-Men series, but considering the ratings and even the trailer setting the story in a grim future I had some hopes. All I can say more is too bad for the semi-dystopian context that almost went unused...

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Saturday, March 11, 2017

John Wick 2 (2017)

There are few sequels who grow beyond the original. "T2: Judgment Day" and "Aliens" are two examples that just crossed my mind (no connection with having the same director). However, I don't seem able to find something to be at least two classes better than the first part... except "John Wick 2".

I wrote around a year and a half ago an entry about what I still believe to be one of the most stupid action movies released this decade, in total contradiction with the praise it got at the time (which tuned down a bit a while after). It seemed so bad then that 1) it was really hard to decide on watching the second part and 2) while watching the second part it was really hard to convince myself that I'm not losing time. I was effectively trying to find reasons to confirm my expectations that I'm watching yet another movie with a rating artificially inflated on every movie site. Well, it's not perfect but, they learned ... I don't know how since there were not many complaints on the first movie being bad, but they did. And the director is the same stuntman who didn't direct anything up to JW1, and the writer is the same guy who up to JW1 only wrote a couple scripts for bad B-series movies.

The story stays really simple. And still a bit more complex than last time = I. John Wick is brought back in the assassin business by an old debt that he has to pay, which he doesn't want to but "the rules demand it" and II. "The rules" do not exclude that after paying the debt to "pay" something extra. Well, it might not seem much, but we have an action line that moves between I and II and is more consistent than a linear revenge story in a stupid context that we had in the first movie. But the part that really matters in JW2 and brings it well beyond the first movie is not the story...

... It's the way the story is staged. We have an example here on how you can get maximum out of a simple subject, a violent one, without much to say. The dialogue is delivered sometimes in short lines, thoughtful, with pauses, which say little enough to keep just enough out of the ridiculous cliche area of the first movie but still have punchline effect, and overall it seems the movie's much more aware of not taking itself too seriously. The camera work gains a lot from locating the action in Italy, but leaving that aside we have some exceptionally composed frames, and a scene towards the end that seems slightly referring the classic "mirror fight" of Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon". The soundtrack is built upon a simple theme that fits perfectly with the action. Even the fights choreography seems much less exaggerated compared to the first movie. There are plenty technical nuances which bring value to what we see here. Or to put it shortly, you could say that it "finally has style". Remains to be seen in JW3 if it keeps it or this was just a fortunate accident ( yes, well, I'm still not convinced :) )...

Rating: 4 out of 5

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Oscar 2017 - Epilogue ( ...or why I'm done with this ...sort of ;) )

I don't have other subject this week & I normally don't do this. I think I wrote just one time a post-Oscar entry in the previous 8 editions I covered, no matter if my prediction rate was 100%, 50%, whatever... This year I had 7/10. That doesn't bother me. I always said that I give the predictions for fun, more important are the movies these awards bring on my "should watch" list year by year. Still, you cannot ignore who wins indefinitely...

The Academy Awards have a voting mechanism that should make these in theory the most objective award in cinema. If the Globes have behind something called "The Foreign Press Association" composed of 30-40 people, who you could expect to be more often "politically correct", for the Oscars there are somewhere around 5000+ members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences voting. For 5000 people I would expect to see in the vote result some artistic criteria and less "politics". How do we know it's not like this?... Well...

It's the second consecutive year when the Oscar for best picture gets to a movie who has 3 awards or less in total (last year it did have only 2...). You would expect some correlation between "Best Picture" and other sections won. Well.. maybe if "other sections" include only technical awards we could forget the correlation, but for a movie which had: a Oscar for directing, one for actors, one for cinematography, one for production design, and two for music - and another movie who has an award for actors and one for script ... now tell me, how the 2nd gets to be appreciated overall as the best?

Statistics. Let's check an evolution of "Best Picture" of the previous year in the last 3 decades:

The '90s:
  • 1990: Dances with Wolves
  • 1991: The Silence of the Lambs
  • 1992: Unforgiven
  • 1993: Schindler's List
  • 1994: Forrest Gump
  • 1995: Braveheart
  • 1996: The English Patient
  • 1997: Titanic
  • 1998: Shakespeare in Love
  • 1999: American Beauty
The 2000's:
  • 2000: Gladiator
  • 2001: A Beautiful Mind
  • 2002: Chicago
  • 2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • 2004: Million Dollar Baby
  • 2005: Crash
  • 2006: The Departed
  • 2007: No Country for Old Men
  • 2008: Slumdog Millionaire
  • 2009: The Hurt Locker
The 2010's (up to now):
  • 2010: The King's Speech
  • 2011: The Artist
  • 2012: Argo
  • 2013: 12 Years a Slave
  • 2014: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • 2015: Spotlight
  • 2016: Moonlight
Now tell me... Which ones since "The Hurt Locker" could qualify as a heavy, solid movie, a movie to impress you more than through its subject, a movie that stays in your mind for 10-15-20 year from when you've seen it. Or well... compare the latest with what you got left from "Dances with Wolves", "The Silence of the Lambs", etc...

Some analysis (if we're already at statistics). In 2009, the American Academy had the clever decision that the best movie to be chosen out of 9-10 nominations (for a higher impact on the public of more titles). Now, consider the following... On one hand we have votes given based on artistic criteria. On the other hand we have votes given based on "politically correctness" criteria. The votes for artistic appreciation will always have a higher dispersion rate. Just for the taste factor. In other words, as many the nominees number, as many votes the best movie will lose here. On the other hand, the votes given for "that's fair in this unfair world" will pretty much focus on the same title. Ergo - "Spootlight", "Moonlight" and whatever "...light" follows.

Politically correctness might have sense in casting, in payment rates, and in many parts related to work on a movie. But I think it doesn't have any place in appreciating a movie. The best movie is the best movie for its general artistic value, not because half or more of the cast is black or for the social themes approached as correct and fair may these be. Don't mix that with art. It would be as saying that Rubens is the greatest Flemish painter because he painted more fat women than any other cared to do. It's simply stupid.

It's hard to believe that I got to take the side of a musical I rated with 3 out of 5, especially considering that I don't have anything against "Moonlight", which is a good movie, but not that good... So, let's cut this short: Starting next year I'll only dedicate max one entry for Oscars instead of a full month as I did before. At least until I see it's given based on merit, or we're getting back to the best of 5 system that seemed more fair. Until then, this thing doesn't really matter anymore...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscar 2017 - Best Picture

I was considering skipping the final Oscar entry for this year. Besides the fact that I rushed the previous, I'm also disappointed of what we have on the list... I kept hoping this week when I watched the last couple movies that I'll finally get to "the one". Well, I didn't ... although maybe there's still a small exception...

I did write about "Arrival" already. It's an interesting idea in the "time travel" context, but hardly believable given the way it's explained in the end. Ultimately it's the fault of the book, not of the movie, but even the movie, it's not Villeneuve's best ... Enough said.

"Fences" adapts a play, whose author is also posthumously nominated for the script. We have some excerpts from the not so happy life of a black family. The movie gets across the racial aspects issues, and delves into a more general area of family problems. I would actually say that the second half of the movie could be used as definition for the idea that "families are very complicated", and it also might touch some sensitive aspects depending on the viewer. However, to get there, you have to get through the first half of the movie, which has too many unnecessary lengths...

I did write also about "Hacksaw Ridge". That's the small exception in this list I was referring to. Still, even though the movie is undeniably good, and Gibson's comeback as director is a really nice surprise, something still seems missing... Something that we had in "Apocalypto", in "Passion", and mostly in "Braveheart". There's some feeling there which here is faded, not completely but it is :) ...

"Hell or High Water" is a revenge story. And as any revenge story has a sort of catchy romantic side. Two brothers, from yet another family with problems (that's a recurring theme this year), decide to solve the issue of a mortgage with the "help" of the bank that set it. Up to some point I would say that the movie is ok, but in the end it got a bit too rough due to some unnecessary kills... or maybe I'm getting too disgusted about the reality of life and I prefer watching fairy tales :)...

"Hidden Figures" is a sort of biopic of three black women who worked at NASA in computing during the first space missions. The movie is not bad, but from somebody who's active in a technical area I can't get over some obvious exaggerations. Besides that, somehow brought back to me memories on a "A Beautiful Mind", and we can't compare that with this...

And we're getting to the "La La Land" about which I also wrote already. Given the massive appreciation this seems to get, I think that people are fed up with life issues, may these be family related, poverty, social/racial/whatever inequity and others, and expect from a movie exactly what I'm saying since ages that I think a movie should offer = a time to clear your head of reality's daily issues with a story. And I have to admit that "La La Land" is probably the closest in this list, although... even even here, the ending brings you back from the fairy tale.

"Lion" presents another incredible life story, of a child from India who gets lost more 1500 km away from his mother, ends up adopted by an Australian couple, and finally after around 25 years finds his way back to his still living relatives... The story is touching, but even though the irony is that his life probably turned more positive like this, it has some really really sad parts in it...

"Manchester by the Sea" brings us another family with issues. The main character has to move back to his town he left after an arson he unwillingly provoked years ago, when his brother dies, and his nephew needs a legal guardian. The interesting part here is a calm that the movie expresses from start to finish. It somehow tells you that things will eventually settle, no matter how complicated the situation is... Is it like that, it's not like that... In any case, it's more comforting :)

"Moonlight" moves through three periods of the life of a young black gay living in a rough community somewhere in Florida. We don't get rid of the "family issues" factor. Even harsher and bitter than the previous, and without an actual "solution" in the end. It's not what I expect from a movie, I'm sorry. However, this sorts of get as second favorite in various polls for getting the award. I hope it stays like that...

Verdict: Well... "La La Land" doesn't seem to have much competition, so I doubt we'll see a surprise again :). I'll stick to my personal option of "Hacksaw Ridge" being the best movie in this list. At least due to the unreal of the reality that gets it closer to a fairy tale ;) ...

Oscar 2017 - Supporting Actors

Yet another quick entry. I never liked commenting too much the acting, but on the other hand, the "supporting" area seems to me this year that deserves more attention than the "leading", so I'll just quickly roll out a couple clips and the wrapping prediction...

Viola Davis in "Fences":

Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali in "Moonlight":

Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel in "Lion":

Octavia Spencer in "Hidden Figures":

Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges in "Manchester by the Sea":

Jeff Bridges in "Hell or High Water":

Michael Shannon in "Nocturnal Animals":

Verdict: For actress is pretty clear that the monologue in "Fences" sets Viola Davis with the highest chances on winning this. For actor to be in trend with what the critics say, the winner will most probably be Mahershala Ali. My opinion though, is that his role in "Moonlight" is a short one that doesn't show much - the act of Jeff Bridges in "Hell or High Water" was much more consistent.. I would even say the best part in that movie. But I'm not voting ;)...