John Michael McDonagh’s films – quietly depraved though they may be – have until this point benefited from a superficially nonchalant demeanor with just enough negative space for the creeping anxiety lurking underfoot to seep in, revealing the worried minds underneath the carnage. The low-and-slow black comedy The Guard wore its Irish brogue smoothly and the superior existential drama Calvary was frighteningly calm under heavy pressure. By way of comparison, War on Everyone, his third directorial effort, really can’t be bothered to give us a glimpse of its own private madnesses at all. It’s too busy showing off. Any meaningful observation it has is intercepted by its own lacquer of cool, ambushed by the script’s incessant compulsion to entertain at any cost. This film is coked-up and addicted to its own cleverness, so eager to please that it doesn’t notice how high on its own material it actually is. Continue reading
Among the finest traditional superhero films ever made, or so I’m told, Wonder Woman nonetheless provoked, for me, not out-of-body effervescence, nor rapturous wonder, nor thoughtful introspection, but merely mild contentedness. This year’s other critical-darling superhero flick, Logan, stuck a tripartite claw into certain regulations of the superhero genre. Although it merely dressed other genre-norms up in a thick coating of sinew and muscle, the film had moral meat on its Charcuterie board, all of it rare and bloody. Wonder Woman is a resolutely traditional film by way of comparison, and its minute-to-minute successes and failures have entirely to do with which of two particular traditions it settles into at any given moment. Continue reading
The second time around, James Gunn’s motley crew of aliens, trees, and raccoons cast much the same unsettled, antic, amusingly insecure shadow as they did in the first film. Gunn doubles down on the emotional hesitancies of the titular Guardians in the final act, but, for the most part, he stays the course of compositional whimsy and philharmonic ‘70s tunes, all egg-beating the action scenes into a whipped fervor of aesthetic inflammation. In this case, second helpings is fine, considering how ecstatically messy the course was the first time around, and how off-handedly flirtatious and cunning it continues to be three years later. That is, when the film isn’t trying too hard by settling for the idea of Guardians of the Galaxy more than the real item. But we’ll get there. Continue reading
This post in honor of the late Adam West, who is obviously an object of worship for the latest in a long string of Batman films and the closest to reignite West’s matter-of-factly deranged insouciance. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is a perfect tribute. RIP.
The first entry in Warner’s sure-to-drag-on-past-its-expiration-date Lego film franchise is not all that dissimilar from its progenitor race, 2014’s unexpectedly spirited, spiky, and whip-smart The Lego Movie. The Lego Batman Movie, perhaps expectedly, doubles down on both that film’s general vibe and its various specificities, including, unfortunately, corporate synergy. Grotesque product placement is de rigueur in this franchise. (Or is that character placement in this film? What does that say about the nature of individual consciousness when your protagonist is a product?). Conceptual thorniness aside though, The Lego Batman Movie is a generally sprightly and amusingly dysfunctional young upstart that feels just off-its-rocker and iconoclastic enough to not succumb to the realization that it is little more than a corporate gold-rush of marketing genius. Continue reading
Really, the literary pretensions of the appended subtitle – a simple John Wick 2 will not do for director Chad Stahelski when the medium of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky may be invoked – tell us everything we need to know about the regal aspirations of John Wick: Chapter 2. Although, in point of fact, it is not literature that is the guiding light of Chapter 2. The most overt antecedent is actually dance, especially if you solder the performance to the dexterous, lustrous lighting of an interactive art showpiece, leading to a film that is not unlike a work of immersive theater. Provided that it is immersing you into buckets of the red stuff of course. A good hundred or so people meet the nasty end of Keanu Reeves’ gun. And knives. And pencil. But it has the florid resplendence of Swan Lake. Somewhere, Wagner is probably smiling. Continue reading
One of our greatest directors, Jim Jarmusch’s only folly is also, typically, his greatest strength: a mantra of stylistic overtness, an inclination to pleasure himself with artistic beauty. Most evidenced in his recent Only Lovers Left Alive – a wonderful film that occasionally felt like a parody of a Jarmusch film – he cannot easily resist the lustrous glaze afforded by bold and brash stylistic provocation. In that film, he took the form of an aesthetic kinship with his subjects: withered, ailing souls subjecting themselves to a life of oppressively organized faux-clutter, basking in the ersatz-messiness of high-class low-class pretensions as they erect a wall of Bob Dylan records and Jean Pierre-Melville films to hide themselves form the world. To the extent that Jarmusch is akin to his specimens (and again, he’s among my favorite filmmakers), he risks aesthetic over-commitment and the cloying sedative of self-canonization, returning to his longtime well rather than introducing himself to the wider world away from his mind. It is telling that the protagonists of Lovers both look like Jarmusch and act his films and are, coincidentally, vampires that consume the past to hide their own lack of presence. Continue reading
Still agitated, still frustrated, and still trucking along for over a half-century, Britain’s resident muckraker and political Force To Be Reckoned With explores the tragedy of comedy, or the comedy of tragedy. It is, in short, an exercise in Loach Doing What He Does. Loach is among the fiercest leftists in modern cinema, and who am I to bemoan his semi-stagnancy as an artist? If I, Daniel Blake is still-water as far as artistic advancement is concerned, its nuances into the mind of oppression under late capitalism are uniquely advanced none-the-less. In other words, there’s no institution in I, Daniel Blake that Loach hasn’t agitated before, and agitated better. But he was a vanguard of leftist cinema once, and all these years later, he still seems like a lone pillar in an empty field, especially with the drop-off in serious leftist public scholarship these days. So if an artist repeating himself is all we can drag out of him … well, capitalism hasn’t exactly fixed its problems during Loach’s career, so there’s reason for him to keep hammering the same nails to make sure they continue to stay in place. Continue reading