Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Seen in… April

Hey there, Brigsby Bear. Image via The Movie Database

This morning I was reading some reviews from users on the site Letterboxd of the latest Marvel movie and some people were simply dumping all over it, while others were gushing with the kind of hyperbole one expects from a fan. In recent years we’ve realized that’s what the Internet has become. A place of divisive thought where everyone poses as an expert. The problem with film criticism (or any form really; art, literary etc) is that you know what you like and what you don’t and you think “like” and “don’t like” equals “good” and “bad”. Yet this is not so and that’s why “critics” exist and a lot of the approach is based in literary criticism and theory - so it’s kind of highfalutin and full of $10 words and such. Still, there’s nothing wrong with sharing your opinions about why you like or didn’t like a movie, but being critical isn't capital “C” criticism, which is fine. I realize I can sound like a jerk when I write this stuff. I’m trying to be funny not jerky, but I get how being both unfunny and jerky equals “jerk”. Henceforth, if something sounds jerky remember not to take it too seriously.

I guess I feel guilty about saying how bad Temple of Doom was…

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1 & 2

This is a surprisingly great adaptation of the movies to a continuing series of 30 minute episodes. If you know and love Sam Raimi’s films, The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, then this is a slam dunk as the same level of gore, fright, camp and humour are maintained and balanced throughout. Bruce Campbell is back as the eponymous Ash, and we find that he’s pretty much the same immature, irresponsible slayer of evil he was 30 years ago. Somehow Ash has kept the evil book of the dead, the Necronomicon, that opens a portal of evilness upon the world without consequence for all the time that has passed between the original movies and today but of course, that couldn’t last if you want to make a series about the forces of evil fighting a one-handed guy who uses a chainsaw as a prosthetic. You’d think seeing our hero and his new young friends getting into and out of more evil circumstances would grow old but after 20 episodes it’s just as fun as the first time.

Between a rock and a hard place and a disappointing sequel. Image via The Movie Database

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Eew and ugh. Despite Spielberg’s deftness with the camera this is a terrible movie, only partly due to the deafness of the script. It would be pointless to go back to an old movie and be critical of its political correctness but luckily there is no reason to revisit this movie anyway. The movie begins with our hero, Indiana Jones narrowly escaping what looks like a more interesting adventure only to board a plane set to crash over India. Since the previous film, Jones has for no reason, picked up a 10 or 11-year-old sidekick (who annoying yells every line), swapped his previous love interest of Karen Allen for a tag along night club performer, Kate Capshaw but maintained his trademark swagger. This unlikely trio wind up in a tiny Indian village that has lost a sacred stone which Indy, without much provocation, decides to help retrieve it. What follows is pretty bad. I tend to think of this film like the 3 Star Wars where a series goes off the rails, but fortunately the film that followed (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) was one of the best.

There's no way that bag of sand is even remotely the same weight as that statuette. Image via The Movie Database

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

I watched this movie again because the series has appeared in Netflix but also, I wanted to be reminded of what an almost perfect piece of entertainment looks like. Spielberg and Lucas clearly wanted to capture the kind of fun matinee super adventure they remembered as kids but honestly, I don’t think there really was a single film like this that was packed with “exotic” locales, action, Nazis, adventure, death-defying stunts, romance and comedy. The script is great but Spielberg’s direction, scene construction and camera moves are a masterclass. Though made in the 80s this film withstands a lot of current sensitivities (there is a strong, confident female character. The non-European characters are empowered and well-rounded - even if a Welshman plays an Egyptian) and again the direction and storytelling devices are all so well executed you could watch it many times over and still learn something from it.

Bang, bang, she shot me down - wait, wasn't that another movie? Image via The Movie Database

Kong: Skull Island

I didn’t actually have a lot of expectations for this remaking of a sci-fi classic. The basic story is a group of explorers finding a secret island with gigantic and unique species - like Galapagos on steroids. This version is set at the end of the US Army’s withdrawal from Vietnam and an American researcher who wants to prove to the world that the hidden Skull Island is home to a threat far greater than Southeast Asian Communism. What follows is an expeditionary team consisting of several scientists, a group of hotshot/hothead military men, a former SAS tracker and an adventurous photographer going where few have gone before. While the creatures, including King Kong, that they encounter are entirely unbelievable (with an incomprehensible scale) the human reaction is very believable and the internal conflict between fight and destroy versus conserve and flee is where the real tension lies.

The Gatekeepers

It’s generally true that those that have seen war are the least likely to want to continue it. In this revealing documentary, we meet six previous directors of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency that overtook the Mossad intelligence agency as the pointy end of the stick in Israel’s ongoing and often violent engagement with Palestinians. I had recently read Joe Sacco’s exasperating and harrowing account of several incidents from Gaza’s history predominantly told from the Palestinian perspective so to hear the surprisingly frank retelling from the Israeli side was that much more poignant. It’s incredible to hear from these frontline veterans that while they saw the need for the actions they took at the time, they also saw the mistakes and that one of the greatest threats to Israeli security was other Israelis, particularly the very conservative groups creating illegal settlements. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin proved this point. In the end, it is the politicians who ultimately decide the fate of Israel and the occupied territories and having become more conservative and divisive than ever the gap between the tactics the politicians want to use and the strategy of their own intelligence agencies grows ever wider. So yeah, this film is no ray of sunshine nor bucket of laughs.

I woke up on a golf course once, but I wasn't nearly as well dressed as these two. Image via The Movie Database

La Notte

This is Michelangelo Antonioni’s second of what is considered a trilogy of his treatise on modern alienation. Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau portray Giovanni and Lidia, a modern couple who are growing apart and find little comfort in the affluent but vapid social circle they are a part of. Over the course of an evening and an immense and sprawling party, they both spend their time conversing and flirting with more intriguing people. Monica Vitti is the vivacious and lively daughter of the host who is a wealthy industrialist who has offered Giovanni a fairly comfy corporate position. Vitti’s character is sort of an extra spanner in Giovanni’s and Lidia’s relationship as she appears to be everything Giovanni desires (and perhaps he sees her the way he used to see Lidia). In any case, the “plot” is inconsequential and this movie is more of a study of how a marriage has lost all of its love and perhaps the lives of these people, without any true emotional connection to anyone else, have lost their love of life. This is a beautifully filmed movie in which almost any still image could be its own framed artwork. Antonioni seems to be commenting on the emptiness and superficiality of an affluent and bourgeois society. Our modern world is full of affluent and well dressed people moving amongst other beautiful people in beautiful gardens and places but it's all just empty vanity (or something like that).

Brigsby Bear

Have you ever reminisced about a kids show you loved only to find out no one knows what you’re talking about (Uncle Bobby anyone? Anyone?) Well imagine that the show you obsessed over was created solely for you by parents who are really your captors who kidnapped you when you were just an infant. That’s the crux of Brigsby Bear, which is the name of an invented (and inventive) kids show about a magical bear living in a fictional universe created by James Pope’s captors. When James, now an adult, is freed and returns to his real parents and teenaged sister, he’s lost in the world and the only thing he really knows or cares about doesn’t exist anymore. That’s when he, as a type of naive, innocent man-boy, befriends his sister’s classmates and starts creating a feature length film that completes the Brigsby Bear story. This is a fairly funny and touching metaphor about creativity, imagination and the ability of films and storytelling to transport us beyond our own everyday existence. Though in truth it could’ve been a little more funny and a little less touching. If you’re going to make a fun story about a couple who kidnap a child and convince him he can’t go outside because the air is toxic you really should set your rainbow ray-gun for “kill” not “stun”.

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