Another Mini-Review Extravaganza (Jan & Feb 2017 films)

Posted: February 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

I still don’t have time to write full reviews of every film I’ve been seeing, so here’s more mini-reviews.

If I weren’t an atheist, I’d probably find this film more powerful, and thus better. As it is, the film is kind of interesting from the perspective of Japan viewing Christianity as a European imperialist tool to turn the peasantry against the ruling government. Still, most of the main conflict is about whether Christians will denounce their god to save themselves, or suffer to be martyrs like they believe Jesus was, and wether suffering as a martyr is selfish and prideful when falsely renouncing (because your heart and beliefs can stay the same regardless of your actions) could save others. As someone who thinks faith is the dumbest thing in the world, I mostly was angry that characters chose to suffer and die, or cause others to suffer and die, because they refused to disrespect for renounce a false deity. So to me, the film is about stupid, pig-headed people (the Jesuits), the sad brainwashed fools (the Christian peasants), and the ruling party which commits atrocities, even as it has legitimate grievances with imperialist religions. I have no one to care about or root for, and the film ended up being a well-shot, well-acted movie that was too long and contained characters I didn’t care about, or down-right loathed. C

Patriots Day
This film was better than I expected. I have a big issue with the fact that they turned this real life event into essentially an action film, full of tone-deaf one-liners and comic relief that I found disrespectful and unnecessary. I also hated the Mark Wahlberg character, who through plot conveniences is always involved in the action, and who is the one character in this thing who is not even a real person, making the inclusion of this annoying and unlikable character that much more egregious. There are also legitimate quibbles with the film glossing over political issues surrounding the attacks, like whether basically having martial law with a militarized police was really necessary, and about civil rights violations with regard to the interrogation of one of the bomber’s wife. Still, the film was often times powerful, and aside from a few moments of bad writing when the film follows the bombers, I found the film to be a tense and accurate depiction of the events as I recall reading about them. The touches to show that the film takes place in Boston are maybe a bit much (Dunkin Donuts! Stop & Shop!), and the epilogue at the end featuring the real people was too transparently an attempt to avoid criticism of cashing on on a recent tragedy and being disrespectful. I did like that the film spent almost as much time focusing on the victims as on the perpetrators, as many films about these types of tragedies only focus on the perpetrators and law enforcement. So, this is a deeply flawed movie with glaring issues, but the things that it does well, it does REALLY well. B-

This film was extremely loosely based on a real life incident that happened in the 90s, and the setting was changed to the 80s to…I dunno, I guess the filmmakers thought the 80s aesthetic was better to evoke better films like “Wall Street”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “American Hustle”, and other, better films this movie so desperately wants to be considered in the same category as. The story is mildly interesting, involving a failed mining executive and a geologist who strike gold in Indonesia, or seem to, and the hardships and possible crimes committed in the process, but the story doesn’t have as much meat to hold the whole thing together. Matthew McConaughey does a good job, and the film is perfectly watchable and entertaining enough, but its pretensions at being more only to fall way short hold this film back. There’s not enough social or political commentary to elevate this to be anything more than a TV movie story. C+

Manchester by the Sea and Fifty Shades Darker have been covered in Youtube videos, so I won’t write mini-reviews for them here.

The Comedian
The film has tonal issues between whether it wants to be a drama, a comedy, a dark comedy, or a dramedy. Individual scenes work, but the film has no narrative thrust to propel it forward. The idea of Leslie Mann falling for the much older Robert DeNiro feels like ludicrous wish fulfillment on DeNiro’s part (he championed this film and fought to get it made). The cast and cameos are pretty good, but not as good as they could have been. For a film co-written by Jeff Ross, he of the great Comedy Central roasts, this is a disappointing film that could have been a big screen version of “Louie”, or at least a Woody Allen-esque spin on the stand-up comedy world and aging, past-their-prime celebrities. The film was enjoyable enough to watch, but it feels like the screenplay got muddled up after a decent idea spent too long brewing. C+

The Space Between Us
This movie didn’t know if it wanted to be a Nicholas Sparks or John Green-esque YA love story, a fish out of water comedy, a drama, or anything else. The concept behind the film is quite good, and individual scenes are also really good here and there, but the film see-saws from slapstick to drama, with unearned drama and horrible dialogue, and keeps changing the intelligence level and naivety of its main character, that the whole thing feels like a mess. Another 2 or 3 screenplay drafts could have probably harnessed this thing into a good movie, as all of the elements for one are there (or maybe they should have handed the story to a different writer to polish it), but as it exists this is a jarring, inconsistent misfire. I liked enough of it to not hate it, but the bad parts are obviously, groan-inducingly bad. C

John Wick: Chapter 2
The first really good movie of 2017. While it lacks the emotions of the first film (it wasn’t just that they killed his dog, it’s that the dog was a gift from his dead wife, and the last connection he had the one piece of his life where he was happy), but otherwise this film is almost as good as the original. The action is spectacular, and again the camera doesn’t cut all the time so you can actually see and ENJOY the action and know where everything is in relation to everything else. The world-building and mythology is expanded upon without getting mired in exposition, and all in all this is a top notch, solid, and highly enjoyable action film. I loved it. A

The Lego Batman Movie

This is a cute and funny film, but not as gut-bustingly hilarious as I had hoped. As a satire of Batman, it works pretty well. I enjoyed seeing villains who have never been on the big screen before (Clayface, Egghead) included with the usual villains. The visuals are enjoyable, the voice acting was spot-on (loved Arnett’s Batman and Cera’s Robin, though I wasn’t as impressed with Galifianakis’s Joker), and if the film drags in the middle or loses its humor by the end, that awesome first act still makes up for a lot of the film’s sins. B

A Cure For Wellness
The biggest problem with this film is that it is a mystery where you can easily solve the mystery by the end of the first act. Also, the film goes on for 20 minutes too long and has some repetitive story beats that could have been condensed of excised entirely. However, this film is often visually stunning. The first act has a David Lynchian feel that, sadly, the rest of the film doesn’t quite have. I enjoyed that this film, which is of the Gothic Horror variety, had a nice tone of dread throughout and didn’t rely on jump scares (like many theatrically released horror films these days). The subject matter is similar to other films, but unlike “Shutter Island”, which was a film I felt was a waste of A-list actors and an A-list director since it was a mediocre B-movie, and thus angry that those talents weren’t used for a more worthy film, this film feels like it reaches a satisfactory level of quality. Dane DeHaan is an underrated actor, and he shines in this film. Mia Goth is also quite good as the female lead. The film’s social commentary is odd (sort of about feudal lords and the peasantry joining forces against the bourgeoisie…weird) and not as deep as it seems like it’ll be in that first act, but at least its there. This is also, so far, the only Gore Verbinski film I have actually liked. B

Fist Fight
This was just a fun movie. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, and while I didn’t laugh hilariously, there were enough small and medium-sized laughs for me to consider this a good comedy. They try to throw in some social commentary about the education system, but it’s lackluster and feels half-hearted. The callbacks to other Ice Cube movies and songs were cool, and the cast all played their usual roles to a level that I was pleased to see them do. It’s funny, I laughed a good amount of time, and I enjoyed myself. B


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