2016 Year End Roundup

Hey guys,

It’s that time of year. The Oscars are upon us, thus officially ending the 2016 film season. And with it, my list of all the new films I saw in 2016, ranked best to worst. Followed by some specific thoughts – standouts, let downs, etc. So here goes:

1. Arrival 2. Hell or High Water 3. Captain America: Civil War 4. Green Room 5. Train to Busan 6. Deadpool 7. The Nice Guys 8. In a Valley of Violence 9. The Invitation 10.Rogue One 11.Sausage Party 12.10 Cloverfield Lane 13.Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates 14.Don’t Breath 15.Doctor Strange 16.Hush 17.Zootopia 18.Bad Moms 19.Midnight Special 20.Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 21.American Fable 22.The Autopsy of Jane Doe 23.The Good Neighbor (aka, The Waiting) 24.Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 25.The Bandit 26.War on Everyone 27.Ghostbusters 28.Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising 29.Lights Out 30.Star Trek Beyond 31.Spectral 32.The Magnificent Seven 33.Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 34.X-Men Apocalypse 35.Phantasm: Ravager 36.Central Intelligence 37.Passengers 38.The Monster 39.Cell 40.The Conjuring 2 41.The Forest 42.The Witch 43.Zoolander 2 44.Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 45.The 5th Wave 46.Jason Bourne 47.The Divergent Series: Allegiant 48.Independence Day: Resurgence 49.Kickboxer: Vengeance 50.London Has Fallen 51.Suicide Squad 52.Masterminds 53.Hardcore Henry

Continuing my trend of seeing less and less new movies every year as I get older, 2016 was a historic low at 53. But, alas, Hardcore Henry was so fucking bad it could have easily been 10 shitty movies, there was that much to hate about it. Some other random thoughts…

Masterminds was terrible. I don’t think I smiled once during its running time. It’s almost admirable how well the director kept all humor out of a film starring Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Ken Marino. With that cast there should have been at least one chuckle, even by mistake. I can assure you, there wasn’t.

While we’re on the topic of terrible movies, Suicide Squad wins the Most Bafflingly Bad Filmmaking Award. When your threadbare plot becomes increasingly hard to follow as your film progresses, you’ve got problems.

I liked Olympus Has Fallen. It was the best Die Hard movie since the third Die Hard movie. So I was all like, cool, when I heard there was a sequel. The dipshits responsible for London Has Fallen should be flogged. Thematically bankrupt and shockingly stupid. The dialogue, I suspect, was written by a disturbed 12-year-old who still hasn’t made it past the 3rd grade.

Independence Day: Resurgence, like London Has Fallen, could win awards for stupidity. Dumbest third act in the history of film. All the main baddie had to do was NOT MOVE. Remain safely anonymous until the soldier aliens have won, because there was a non-sensical deadline I won’t bore you with the humans had to win by and most certainly could not if they couldn’t find the queen alien, who reveals herself for no reason minutes before said deadline. If it sounds confusing and dumb… I can assure you, it is. But hey, as least we get to see the lesser Hemsworth “ahhhhhhhh”-ing every few minutes as he performs some manner of maverick-ian heroics he’s not supposed to because he’s a rebel, or some such nonsense.

I know what you’re all thinking… why would anybody sit through Kickboxer: Vengeance? A terrible remake of a mediocre film whose only scene of note was removed in favor of a completely standard fight scene in a similar location, which is a pitiable state of affairs to be sure. Anyway, I sat through it because I’m an idiot.

Jason Bourne. Why?

Here are some of my biggest let downs, films that made it in the bottom half I was greatly looking forward to:

The Witch – I’ll never stop being bewildered by the warm reception for this movie.

The Conjuring 2 – obvious jump scares and some kid teleporting around a haunted house? what the deuce?

The Monster – A24 has been kicking ass for awhile now and as such, I was very much looking forward to this creature feature. Let me save you all from the concussion you would have received watching The Monster, as the director hammered you over the head with his heavy-handed POV: the mom is The Monster!!!! Not really, not physically, but metaphorically and thematically, you know, she’s a terrible mom. Spoiler Alert: she redeems herself at the end. Kinda.

Passengers – were it not for the chemistry of the leads, I’m sure I’d have no memory of the film’s plot by now. as it stands, I can still remember vividly what a turkey it was. well done Pratt and Lawrence. More here.

Central Intelligence – I like Dwayne Johnson. I like Kevin Hart. I did not like Central Intelligence.

X-Men: Apocalypse – a $200 million experiment to determine what happens when you remove Wolverine from an X-Men movie. I could have saved them some time, money and effort… he guys, you get a shitty movie. You’re welcome. Oh wait, he was in it, for like a minute. For no reason.

Okay, that about does it for the crap.

Best film for me was easily Arrival. I loved everything about it. I’ve spoken to a couple people who hated it. I think I can see why, but it resonated for me through and through.

Hell or High Water was a fantastic little crime film with rich and relevant themes that I suspect will hold up for years to come. Finally Chris Pine seems like an adult male human instead of a high school kid pretending to be an adult. This and Arrival are the only two Best Picture nominations I’ve actually seen. And other than Hacksaw Ridge, the only ones I’m likely to see. I’m okay with this.

I was surprised how much i liked Captain America: Civil War. If you’d like to read more on that, have a gander. Zack Snyder and the DC dipshits should take some notes… a comic book movie is supposed to be fun, you knobs.

Green Room is brutal and utterly compelling. Patrick Stewart is mesmerizing as a murderous white supremacist.

Train to Busan is one of the best zombie films I’ve seen pretty much ever. It’s definitely top five of the genre. And its emotional core packs a punch.

Deadpool, aka Ryan Reynolds stops making shitty movies and reminds us why he’s a movie star.

Shane Black brings his razor wit to The Nice Guys. Russell Crowe & Ryan Gosling aren’t quite Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr., but they are pretty great together.

In The Valley of Violence was a nice surprise. Didn’t know anything about it going in other than it was a western directed by Ti West, a dude who’s been making excellent small budget horror movies for quite a few years now. ITVOV is a tense little western with a surprising amount of humor. John Travolta. Such an odd actor. Every once in a while, he kills it. Other times you get Hairspray, Old Dogs, and Battlefield Earth.

The Invitation was one of those movies I overheard someone, somewhere say it was excellent and then decided to check it out on Netflix based solely on that. Because I do that sometimes. Remember Kickboxer: Vengeance. This time, it paid off. Best if you know as little as possible going in.

And rounding out my top ten, Rogue One. Everyone’s seen it, no need to rehash.

A few more thoughts…

My favorite line in Sausage Party still makes me laugh just thinking about it: “Fuck you, weiners.” Don’t Breathe starts to fall apart right around the beginning of the third act, but until then its tension is palpable – edge of your seat type shit. Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates made me laugh. A lot. Who knew? The Zootopia scene in which the sloth at the DMV laughs at a joke he’s told is worth the price of admission right there. Midnight Special is a fascinating representation of how removing all exposition from a film will render it virtually inert. But Michael Shannon elevates pretty much everything he’s in. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is almost a masterpiece, were it only a bit more fleshed out and a little more clever. Looking back at my list, it probably should have been higher. The Bandit is a terribly made documentary, but it doesn’t matter. The subject matter is so dang entertaining.

And that’s all, folks. For the first time in my adult life, I won’t be making Oscar picks. This year, I really don’t care. Dear me, am I maturing a bit, finally? Probably not. After all, “Fuck you, weiners.”

-cohan

The unfortunate meh of Passengers

Hi guys,

I have a pet peeve.  Well, I have several pet peeves, but one of those peeves has to do with deceptive film trailers.  I don’t like it when you see shots in a trailer that aren’t in the released film.  The latest Fantastic Four rebooted turd was a huge offender in that regard. I realize that in a rush to entice viewers marketers often release trailers before a film is finished, oftentimes resulting in cut shots appearing in trailers that don’t make it into the finished film.  I find it somewhat annoying, but understandable. But way worse, is when a trailer essentially lies to you. It doesn’t happen all that often, but there are a few key offenders. A few spring to mind…

I’m sure you’ve all seen, and most likely liked or loved, Pan’s Labyrinth.  But if you recall their marketing campaign before the film’s release, they conveniently ignored the fact that the film was in Spanish, not English.  But judging by this early trailer, you’d never know. The supers are all in English, as is the decidedly American-accented voiceover.

Another offender on the more egregious side would be Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Nowhere in that trailer do they even allude to the fact that the film is a musical.

There are lots of more minor offenses.  Kangaroo Jack is not a film about a talking kangaroo. Bryan Cranston is not the star of Godzilla. Drive is not a film in the mold of The Fast & The Furious, Alien 3 is not set on earth, Bridge to Tarabithia is not a kid-friendly adventure fantasy film….

And Passengers is not a mystery.

Do you recall the trailer for Passengers?  Pay close attention to Chris Pratt’s voiceover at 2:21.  It’s hard to miss.  There put extra focus on the line by having it occur under a black screen, giving it extra weight:

“There’s a reason we woke up early.”

This line isn’t in the finished film. And in the trailer, it was preceded by Pratt onscreen saying, “There’s something I have to tell you.” They set up a mystery in the trailer that does not exist in the film.  He knows immediately why he woke up early. It is, in fact, an overly simplistic explanation. There’s no ambiguity, subterfuge, or conspiracy going on.

Nowhere in the trailer do they even hint at what Passengers is really about. Keeping the core plot secret is great.  These days trailers give away too much, but such an obvious bait and switch is just plain shitty.

So… if it’s not a mystery set on a space ship bound for a distant world, what is it? At its core, Passengers is a character drama centered around an amoral decision made by one of the leads. It’s an interesting moral dilemma treated with patience and thought right up until that decision is made.  After that, the moral quandary and interesting character study is tossed out the window (or air lock, as it were, ha ha ha) in favor of an obvious, by the numbers space thriller pitting man vs. technology in a way that makes very little sense and leans far two heavily on the chemistry and charisma of the two leads. Throw in Lawrence “Stop Trying To Hit Me And Hit Me” Fishburne because the plot requires a character to explain some stuff and a bizarre non-speaking cameo by Andy Garcia in a single throwaway shot at the end, and you have a fairly lazy, standardized “space movie” with extremely watchable leads doing stuff nobody really cares about.  Passengers is a missed opportunity.  The questionable action taken at the end of the first act could have lead down a darker and more interesting path.  There’s a psychological thriller hiding in Passengers somewhere, an honest portrayal of man succumbing to his/her baser instincts in a moment of weakness and the aftermath that comes with such a decision.  Instead they chose to have a couple of beautiful hollywood A-listers run around a space ship putting out fires with little regard for the fascinating character study they jettisoned along with a sensical plot and believable motivations.

The most maddening part is that the director made a film in his native Norway a few years ago called, Headhunters.  It stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of Game of Thrones fame.   Headhunters is a grisly and violent little dark comedy whose twists and turns keep you guessing throughout.  Passengers needed those oddball thriller sensibilities to elevate it beyond a dull yarn we’ve all seen before.  The effects are great, and Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt are an endlessly watchable duo, but ultimately Passengers fails at presenting itself as anything more than proficiently made.  Another middle of the road science fiction bore we see far too many of these days.

The most concise thing I can say about Passengers is this: what if 2001: A Space Odyssey was just about a malfunctioning computer aboard a space ship?

-cohan

p.s. I neglected to mention that Michael Sheen as the robotic bartender was great. I would love to see a better movie starring him and Chris Pratt.  They have great chemistry and play off each other well.

 

 

ARRIVAL. All caps. (Not to be confused with Charlie Sheen’s, The Arrival which, to be honest, isn’t a bad little alien invasion film from the guy who directed the fantastic Pitch Black and the not-so-fantastic The Chronicles of Riddick, before Charlie Sheen suffered a Freaky Friday-like mind switch with a brain damaged hedgehog)

Hey guys,

It would seem we fans of Smart Science Fiction only get about one worthy entry in the sub-genre a year (I count Smart Science Fiction as a category all its own).  Sometimes every few years.  Films like The Martian, Ex Machina, Moon, Contact, Solaris (both versions, although the original Russian film is superior), Primer, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey and dare I say it… Interstellar (I didn’t particularly like Interstellar, but I never considered it a stupid science fiction film – it just wasn’t my cup of tea) come out in theaters all-too-rarely.  Instead we get stupid shit like endless Transformers, Resident Evil, and Alien vs. Predator franchise films.  For every one fantastic and cerebral film like Timecrimes we get a dozen Battlefield Earths, the Rollerball remake, Wing Commander, Lost in Space, the Lawnmower “Virtual Reality Will Turn You into a Superhuman Digital Monster” Man, that totally fucked first Planet of the Apes reboot starring Mark Walberg directed by, holy creeping Jesus, Tim Burton?!?  I mean, seriously, I could spend the next several days amassing a master list of all the worst Science Fiction films ever made.  It would take me an hour to make the same list for the greatest Sci Fi films.  There’s that many bad Sci Fi films out there and that few good.  It’s like film studios are clown cars and stupid sci fi movies are the clowns.  Stupid, ugly clowns sitting around drooling into a pile of their own shit wondering how in the world anybody can possibly sort out gross grammatical pickles like the proper usage of there, their and they’re.  You see, because they’re morons.

And then there’s ARRIVAL. That’s right, all caps [sic].  I put it in all caps because, HOLY SHIT IT’S GOOD.

Arrival is one of those rare films where your movie-going experience is 100% enhanced by knowing exactly dick going into it.  If you’ve seen a trailer then you know the basic premise, but what the trailers do not show you is what makes Arrival such a fantastic, not only Science Fiction film, but film, period. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote a very pointed and concise description of how Science Fiction is unfairly viewed in critical circles. Arrival is one of those films brimming with heart, brains and confidence, the same qualities that allowed ________ to win a Best Picture Oscar in _______. You’ll notice the Best Picture winner and year are left blank.  That’s because no Science Fiction film has ever won a Best Picture Academy Award.  This is a trophy that has gone to dreck like Crash, Chicago, A Beautiful Mind, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, and the king mother of films wrapped in unwarranted, unearned, and totally unbelievable praise… Forrest Fucking Gump.  Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated for Best Picture last year, along with nominations in 9 other categories.  It did not win Best Picture, but it did win 6 Oscars in other categories.  So there is hope.  Maybe this year Arrival will make history by actually winning Best Picture.  It won’t.  Not when critics are creaming themselves over ‘serious drama’ like Manchester by the Sea and Fences.  But one can dream.

I’m not going to run the risk of negatively impacting your movie-going experience in any way if you have not seen Arrival.  I won’t get into the super smart plot or wonderful performances.  Just go see it.  Nooooooo, don’t get sucked in by La La Land’s pandering horse shit, Assassin’s Creed’s hazy rooftop antics, or Passengers lead actors’ chemistry.  Buy a ticket and go see Arrival. If you come out of it with a negative opinion, then ask yourself this… is Forrest Gump a better film than Pulp Fiction (or The Shawshank Redemption for that matter)? If your answer is yes, then please, for the good of humanity, lay down and stop breathing.  You’re poisoning the gene pool.

I really hate Forrest Gump.

-cohan

p.s. I am aware that Lord of the Rings: The Return of the The King won Best Picture in 2003.  It’s not Science Fiction.  It’s Fantasy.

 

 

Doctor Strange entertains

Hi guys,

I gotta be honest here… i’m getting a little burned out on Marvel movies.  Not so much comic book movies in general (despite my less than glowing reviews of BvS & Suicide Squad), but the Marvel Cinematic Universe specifically.  They’ve done a damn fine job so far creating inter-connecting, but independent stories featuring rich characters, storylines and histories from the extensive Marvel Comics universe, BUT…

It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore, as the movie-going audience, the big old gaping hole in that continuity.  Which is this:  how is every MCU film not an Avengers movie?  They’re trying here and there.  Thor and the Hulk were not in Captain America: Civil War for pretty good reasons, but where was the gang during the Winter Soldier? Where was Captain America when killer elves were wreaking havoc in London in Thor: Dark World? You could go on and on.  Even the trailer for the new Spider-man looks like it has been marketed as Spider-man: Ironman’s Protege.  Not necessarily a bad thing, again, up until now, but totally unsustainable.  By the time Infinity Wars rolls around, everyone but Howard the Duck, Dazzler & Squirrel Girl are going to be out there jockeying for screen time.  It’ll be too much.

I could be wrong about Howard the Duck.  He might show up too, to kick Thanos in the shins or something. Maybe accost him with harsh language.

Anyway, I’m gonna let that thread go… I already discussed it at some length in my Captain America: Civil War review.  No need to flog that dead horse here.

That being said, Doctor Strange does a pretty good job of side-stepping this continuity quagmire by keeping the primary action beats in parallel universes.  And in that endeavor brings to the MCU the most impressive visuals we’ve seen to date.  DS falls into the same basic tropes most, if not all, the Marvel films do… unworthy protagonist becomes superhero and then earns it after-the-fact.  Ironman, Spider-man, Ant-man, Guardians of the Galaxy, even Captain America and Thor to a certain extent.  Doctor Strange is no different, but it looks so goddamn cool, you forgive it.  The introduction of magic into the MCU is a major step is de-grounding the films from reality.  Which I would argue is a good thing.  Grounding X-Men is what kept X-Men from being truly great films.  There was nothing grounded about Donner’s Superman and that still continues to hold a special place in all comic book film-loving nerds’ hearts.  Because they said, fuck it.  And made a comic book movie starring Superman.  It wasn’t gritty and the costume remained silly and ridiculous.  And it worked.

Doctor Strange’s visual storytelling is definitely its strongpoint.  You probably saw in the trailers, the Inception-like cityscapes folding in on themselves, only now with characters running across them, interacting, fighting.  I saw it in 3D and it looks nothing short of stunning.  Add to that several triumphs of less-awesome visual storytelling, like a magical cape with a mind of its own, magical spells that manifest themselves as CG visual treats, and one of the highlights of the film – a scene where doctor Jonathan Strange must assist a colleague performing surgery on an injured and dying Doctor Strange, from the astral plane.  It’s a visually inventive scene and entertaining as hell.  I almost forgot Jonathan Strange’s introduction to the multiverse near the beginning of the film.  A visual feast most would compare to the end of 2001: a Space Odyssey… and yet comparing these two scenes in DS and 2001 is like comparing Jurassic Park to the Dinosaurs TV show.  Sorry, Mr. Kubrick, I love your films but FX have come along way since 1968.  And before any purists get all on my nuts about it, yes the end of 2001 looks great.  But it looks like the greatest Mac OS screensaver ever put to film, okay?

A note about Benedict Cumberbatch… I think there was maybe one film in 2016 he wasn’t in, but I cannot for the life of me think of what that may have been.  He’s basically in everything.  And for good reason.  His range and watchability are pretty damn unparalleled.  For someone with such an odd and distinctive face, he really disappears into his roles.

Doctor Strange toes some storytelling and character cliches, but the visual storytelling and shear scope of the film help elevator it from 3rd rate dreck like Suicide Squad, but also ticks off the standard comic book film boxes enough to keep it from being exceptional in any way except visually.  I smiled through the whole thing.  In a couple years I probably won’t remember much at all.  It reminded me more of Ant-man than any other Marvel film actually.  I enjoyed the hell out of it in the moment, but it’s lasting impact is minimal at best.

Yes, there is a mid-credits sequence where Doctor Strange has a chat with Thor, during which they basically say, “let’s become Goose and Maverick, but like… without either of us dying is a fiery crash.” We’ll see how that goes, or even if it goes.  So far, advance word on Thor: Ragnorak has not mentioned Doctor Strange at all.

If you’re a diehard Marvel fan who eagerly awaits each film at every Phase, continuity issues be damned, Doctor Strange should satisfy and excite on a level somewhere between Iron Man 3 and Ant-man.  Everyone else, I would say see it in 3D at the nearest state-of-the-art theater and you probably won’t leave feeling ripped off.  I wish the same could be said for Passengers.   Holy shit, foreshadow much?

-cohan

p.s. I almost forgot the mention the end of Doctor Strange.  It’s a clever bit of plotting.  How does the hero, even a magic-wielding wizard of a hero defeat a character who is, essentially, an incorporeal god?  The answer to that is simple within the context of the film and makes for a great visual gag to cap off the film.  The only problem with it is that it doesn’t hold up under further scrutiny.  I don’t want to give it away, but I will use a metaphor to describe it.  The ending is like the hero took the villain in a headlock and made him promise to stop being a dick before he’ll let him go.  But you know, on a much grander scale.

p.p.s.  Yes, i know… that was a simile, not a metaphor.  Shut up before I put you in a headlock.

 

Suicide Squad. I mean, Jesus.

Hey guys,

Do me a favor.  Go back and read my review of Batman v Superman.  Okay, fresh in your mind?  Now, apply it all to Suicide Squad.

End of review.

Okay, so there is a bit more to it than that, but it’s pretty eerie how terrible Suicide Squad is, in so many of the same way BvS is.  The plot is threadbare and confusing. The characters are poorly motivated.  Neither film feels like the vision of a single Director, but rather a mish-mash of indigestible garbage cobbled together from focus groups and studio notes. If that’s not a red flag signaling studio interference on a franchise scale, I don’t know what is.  If you’re plugged into the popular culture of modern Hollywood filmmaking at all, you’re aware that Suicide Squad went through major reshoots after the director, in this case David Ayer, turned in his cut to the studio.  Rarely is this ever a good sign, and even more rare when the film in question turns out even remotely watchable.  I think World War Z is the only case in recent memory whereas reported reshoots didn’t totally sink a film.  The climax of that one isn’t flashy, but it’s mostly satisfying.  Oh wait, Rogue One.  Forgot about that one.  Lots of reshoots, re-edits, etc., turned out pretty damn good.  I’ll have a review of that up sometime soon.

Okay, reel in that tangent.  Back to David Ayer.  This is a filmmaker who wrote the first The Fast & The Furious.  He wrote Training Day.  He wrote Dark Blue, an obscure and endlessly entertaining yarn about modern gunslingers in the LAPD starring Kurt fucking Russell.  Ayer also wrote and directed Street Kings, an underrated gem about police corruption in which Keanu Reeves actually emotes.  He wrote and directed the absolutely fantastic End of Watch, another LA cop film. And he wrote and directed Fury, a WWII film that mostly takes place in a tank.  You see what I’m getting at?  This guy can do gritty, testosterone-driven ensemble pieces.  Which is probably why Warner Brothers/DC hired him for Suicide Squad in the first place.  What doesn’t make any goddamn sense is why, with that track record, they wouldn’t just step off and say, “You got this, Dave.” More on this in a minute.

Suicide Squad is a mess.  To the point where scene to scene progressions don’t make any sense.  You sit there thinking, “wait just a gd minute… how did all these characters get from point A to point B anyway?” The plot is a circular turd of a tale whereas the quote/unquote protagonist created the very threat she then assembles the team to combat.  Much like the problematic Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s hard to root for the good guys when the good guys are directly responsible for the bad guys in the first place. Unless that’s the whole damn point and believe me, when it comes to Suicide Squad, there is no discernible point.

Will Smith tries.  Almost succeeds.  How he manages to be watchable in this dreck is a true testament to the Fresh Prince’s on-screen charisma.  Other reviewers out there also lauded Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn, but frankly I found her irritating.  I hear there are to be spinoff films starring her as Quinn and I wish her luck, but I have little interest in anything focusing on Harley Quinn as a main protagonist.  Even if it involves heavy doses of the Joker.  Speaking of which…

If you go into Suicide Squad thinking the Joker is the main antagonist, as the trailers quite dishonestly lead you to believe, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  He’s in it, sure.  For like two seconds as part of Harley Quinn’s back story.  Her and Deadshot (Will Smith) get some flashbacks to flesh out their characters.  Nobody else does.  Anyway, what can you say about Jared Leto’s Joker?  Remember when you first saw Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight? Remember that feeling you had like you were witnessing the first true iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime in the way he was always intended?  The way he captured the dichotomy of intensely cool calculations, fierce intelligence, coupled with pants-shitting insanity?  The feeling he might literally explode at any minute, he’s that goddamn crazy? Totally buying that some rando dude with a painted face and no gadgets was somehow not only equal to Batman, but in some ways superior?  Leto’s version is nothing like that. He bugs his eyes out, he laughs and such, he sounds like someone mixed Caesar Romero and Heather Ledger’s performances into a derivative crap-fest. Also, Hollywood Studio types and casting agents, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, when you cast an actor who looks like a fart would knock him off his feet, physical intimidation and an imposing personality become impossible.  I’m looking at you, Tom “Jack Reacher” Cruise.

I’d love to see a David Ayer Director’s Cut.  I don’t think it’ll ever see the light of day.  I don’t think Warner Brothers would allow it.  But man, i bet it’s a hell of a lot better than the garbage they released in theaters.  You have to wonder why studios hire auteur type filmmakers for these big budget tent pole films if they’re just gonna tie their hands behind their backs and make a movie by committee.  As I wrote earlier, David Ayer has a history of making exactly this kind of film and making them stinking well.  Why not let him make it? Lack of conviction?  Lack of courage?  A fundamental misunderstanding of what movie-going audiences are looking for?  Or, more likely, a ploy to get butts in the seats and a blatant disregard for final quality knowing they’ll make back their entire production and marketing budgets in a week oversees.  Cynical, but probably true.  Just look at recent history.  Josh Trank makes the fantastic Chronicle on an indie film budget, gets hired for what is supposed to be the definitive Fantastic Four film.  Look how that turned out.  Ever see Monsters? An excellent independent genre film by Gareth Edwards.  He went on to direct the flat and tone deaf Godzilla remake.  Of course, he totally shit all over my theory when they released Rogue One, also directed by Edwards.  And as long as we’re touching on Star Wars… awhile back, Colin Trevorrow made a little gem called Safety Not Guaranteed and then gets hired to make Jurassic World, which played like a bigger budgeted (if that’s even possible) remake of Jurassic Park.  Totally homogenized and forgettable in every way (even though it made a bejillion dollars and I normally love Chris Pratt).  Not a good sign for Star Wars Episode VIII, but at least Ryan Johnson is responsible for the screenplay.  Speaking of which, how about the guy who made fucking Brick getting hired to write Episode VIII and write & direct Episode IX.  We’ll have to wait and see if Disney can pull their heads out of their asses long enough to let the man who created Looper give us what we can only hope is a truly original Star Wars film we’ve all been waiting for.  I think we can all agree that The Force Awakens felt far too familiar.

Okay, got off topic there for a bit.  Let’s just cut to the chase.  I am having a hard time finding any reason for anybody outside of diehard DC fans to sit through Suicide Squad. It sucks.

-cohan

 

JASON BO(u)R(n)E. See what I did there?

Hi guys,

Let’s get right to it, shall we?  Jason Bourne is dull.  It’s a total retread of everything that has come before.  There’s nothing new, no reason for it even to exist.  Except the studio was annoyed that the Jeremy Renner spinoff, The Bourne Legacy was received with little more than a collective, “eh” from audiences.  The most recent entry has a lot of Matt Damon walking away from the camera & disappearing into crowds, a car chase through crowded streets and a fight or two.  Culminates in a face to face with the aging big bad, in this case Tommy Lee Jones and essentially asking, “What gives, shitbird?” Only this time, the answer is contrived hokum and adds nothing to the mythology of the character.  In fact, pretty much undercuts the gravity of his plight completely.  I’m going to sum up the plot and would be point of the film in a single declarative sentence…

Ready?  Major Spoiler Alert.

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Still with me?  Okay.

David Webb’s father created Treadstone, offered up his son as the ideal candidate, realized what a colossal fucking mistake that was, reneged, got killed as a result which is blamed on terrorists and Webb volunteers out of vengeance and becomes Jason Bourne.

Who. Fucking. Cares.

The major revelation closing out the original trilogy: David Webb’s life wasn’t stolen from him, HE VOLUNTEERED, was a goddamn doozy.  Why retcon that?  It’s tantamount to midichlorians.  Friggin’ midichlorians.  Just painful.

That annoying blonde from 10 Things I Hate About You is still around, still looking like Jessie Plemons (who kinda looks like Matt Damon – whoa), still kinda sorta of helping Bourne although in this one, she’s the entire reason he resurfaces and gets discovered.  She should have just STFU.

The other character addition is Alicia Vikander, who made some waves awhile back in the excellent, Ex Machina, in a role I still can’t really define.  She’s in charge of something, wants to be in charge of more, speaks with the strangest monotone accent this side of Nicolas “Put The Bunny Back in the Box” Cage in Con Air and does something at some point I don’t recall.  I’m no expert, but I’m guessing the CIA doesn’t allow people in their 20’s in positions of power.  Just a hunch.

Anyway, there was that scene in the trailer where he punches that guy.  That was okay. If you’re jonesing for more Bourne, rewatch the first 3.  They said everything that needed saying.  The latest is merely an echo.

-cohan

 

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost is a Double Negative

Howdy Guys,

I saw the Ghostbusters reboot awhile back and I’m finally getting around to writing up some thoughts on it.  Everyone knows the “controversy” surrounding this particular remake, which is all the rage in Hollywood these days (and has been for a while now).  Now I’m not automatically opposed to remakes in every instance.  If someone has something new to bring to a story that’s already been told, if effects weren’t up to the task in the original or if the filmmakers clearly dropped the ball the first time around, then a remake can be a wonderful movie-going experience.  Sadly, these days the norm is to take everything that worked in the original, remove it, sometimes replace it with substandard material (usually not replace at all, just leave a weird void) and try to market it as a brilliant new approach.  This rarely works.  Dawn of the Dead is one of the few remakes I can think of off the top of my head that took a story everyone loved, took it in a new direction and created a reboot that faithful fans of the original could embrace and enjoy for completely different reasons.  Oh Zack Snyder, what in the unholy fuck happened to you anyway?

Here are a few others:  The Fly, Ocean’s Eleven, Cape Fear, The Thing (Carpenter’s film, NOT the 2014 turd), This doesn’t include the American remakes of foreign films like The Departed, The Ring, The Magnificent Seven (the 1960 film, NOT the 2016 version — this is getting confusing, Hollywood, please just stop) which were all successes in their own rights.

Naturally, Ghostbusters (2016) is not a success story.  And after all the debate, reviews, discussion and rationalizations, the reason is simply this:  Ghostbusters (1984) was a goddamn masterpiece.  There is no defendable reason to reboot it other than to turn a sure thing profit.  We all know the film business is a business, but come on.  TV is doing pretty effin’ good these days doing all kinds of interesting and original shit.  Stranger Things anyone?  Oh hell, but then Westworld on HBO is pretty stinking good.  Case in point of retooling a story to tell something wholly original.  Now I’m just talking in circles.

Okay, anyway, consider this exchange in an elevator:

RAY:  You know, it just occurred to me, we haven’t had a completely successful test of this equipment.

EGON:  I blame myself.

PETER:  So do I.

RAY:  No sense worrying about it now.

PETER:  Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.

RAY:  Yep. Let’s get ready. Switch me on!
EGON charges RAY’s proton pack, then backs away

I would argue that, “Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator in his back.” is not only the best, funniest line in the movie, but a microcosm of why the film works in the first place.  4 bumbling scientists completely over their heads and succeeding anyway, against insurmountable odds.  And when you have the perfect cast of some of the funniest comedic actors of our time in those roles bouncing dialogue off each other like a fine-tuned humor machine… well, you’ve seen it, you know.

Now this:

Cabbie (Dan Akroyd cameo):  … I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!

Erin: That’s a double negative.  It means you are afraid of ghosts.

Pretty good line actually (I actually can’t remember if it made it into the final film – I remember it in the trailers, but now don’t recall).  Observational humor poking fun at a trope from the original.  But herein lies the problem with Ghostbusters (2016) and perhaps Paul Feig movies in general.  He relies on what I’m coining here as Expositional Humor far too much.  What I mean is that the humor is found in explaining the joke.  Homer Simpson set the stage years ago with, “It’s funny because it’s true.” Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are masters of this comedic style and there are many a laugh to be had in the Ghostbusters remake.  But very little of it is memorable.  It’s a bland dinner at a restaurant you didn’t really mind, but wouldn’t recommend to friends.  Bridesmaids and The Heat are two occurrences where the cleverness of the screenplay and the progression of the plot are inherently funny and don’t rely on the droll explanation of every joke.  Unfortunately, Ghostbusters (2016), for the most part, does not fit this mold at all.  There’s very little situational or character-based humor.  Everything feels like a gag or gimmick. I say very little because there is one glowing reason to pay money to see this film and that is Kate McKinnon.  By the time I write this the world is already well on the way to recognizing the comedic gifts this woman possesses.  First as the funniest cast member on SNL and now in her ever-expanding film career.  Every time she’s in a scene it comes alive.  Was she worth the price of admission?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Certainly worth a rental.

I will also mention that the “plot” of Ghostbusters (2016) is thin.  Like so thin it’s nearly transparent.  I’m not gonna bother getting into it, it doesn’t matter.  Caddyshack proves you don’t need a coherent plot to be a comedy masterpiece.

There was one chance for this remake to succeed.  And that is if the 2016 film was a direct sequel to Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2.  The first act of the new film even set it up. The new cast is let in on a secret – the Mayor of New York and his staff know that ghosts are real and have been covertly covering it up for years, and even offer to pay the new Ghostbusters to keep up the good work on the condition that they do not reveal what they know publicly.  Now how would the Mayor’s office know about ghosts unless the 80’s films had actually happened within the new film’s historical continuity?  That would have been awesome.  But sadly, it’s almost like they lost the nerve at the last-minute and decided to go to some length establishing that this was not a sequel, but a remake in every sense of the word.  Going so far as to give ever-increasingly distracting cameos to the original cast (minus Rick Moranis).  They even shoehorn Bill Murray into the narrative as a supernatural debunker who eventually receives his comeuppance.  It’s as lame as it sounds.

The new Ghostbusters is not as godawful as some reviewers would have you believe.  And there are quite a few laughs in there.  But it’s a losing battle when your source material is this rich.  Like Wesley Snipe’s title character said in one of the first truly great comic book films since Donner’s Superman, “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill.”

– cohan

It’s Been Awhile

Hey guys,

I realize quite some time has gone by since my last post.  What can I say?  Life.  In the time since my last review, I have seen a few movies I shall be reviewing henceforth.  Goes back a bit to some slightly older stuff, but I’m gonna write them up anyway.  Because why not?  In short order you’ll be seeing reviews for Ghostbusters (meh), Suicide Squad (ugh), Jason Bourne (why?), Doctor Strange (zang), Arrival (wow), Rogue One (yay) and most recently, Passengers (huh?).

Okay then.  Stay tuned.

– cohan

“Hardcore Henry” Doesn’t Deserve a Clever Headline

Okay guys, time for some tough love.  Do yourself a favor and stop reading now.  Don’t waste a single second of your life even reading about an artistically bankrupt, witless turkey like Hardcore Henry.  Just take my emphatic thumbs down at face value, and go on about your lives content in knowing you’re smarter for not having suffered through this turd.

Seriously.

Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Here goes…

Hardcore Henry is what can only be called a gimmick film.  Gimmick films are nothing new.  There are single-take movies like Rope or Birdman (which both faked it), and Russian Ark or Timecode, both of which did not.  3D is an old gimmick that has made a comeback as of late.  Black & white/color photography can be used as a gimmick, whether in a classic like The Wizard of Oz or a more contemporary movie like Pleasantville.  There are plenty of variations out there – Unfriended was a chat session calling itself a horror movie.  Who Framed Roger Rabbit combined live action and animated characters and sets.   In 1985 movie theaters had remote controls at every seat so viewers could vote who they thought the killer was in the underrated comic gem, Clue. Terminator: Salvation took a big chance on a ponderous gimmick when they cast a 6 foot piece of wood as its lead.  Then James Cameron out-gimmicked the same damn gimmick by animating that lumber.  And let us not forgot the single biggest gimmick of the last 20 years, the fucking found footage film. Well, Hardcore Henry‘s contribution to film gimmicks is that it is all told in first person point of view.  The audience sees what the protagonist sees, from his angle, and nothing else.  Now, if you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s sounds really interesting” you’d be wrong.  Hardcore Henry is hardcore shit.  My apologies to all varieties of shit, the world round.  Hardcore Henry gives shit a bad name. That’s how shitty it is.

Hold up – just so we’re clear – “underrated comic gem, Clue” was not tongue-in-cheek. Seriously, watch it again some time.  It’s hilarious.

Hardcore Henry, I suppose, could be labeled an Experimental Film.  If that experiment is, “let’s see what happens if we remove plot, character, theme, cinematography, editing, writing, performance and all basic elements of logic, coherence and artistic merit.” It’s an experiment in spinning a limited-use gimmick into 96 minutes of nauseating violence and lazy visuals. To quote Roger Ebert, I hated hated hated hated this film. From the abject cynicism so prominently on display in every scene to the contempt the filmmakers seem to hold for the audience’s intelligence, Hardcore Henry is a failure on every level.   Here’s a short list of HH’s numerous problems:

  • First person point of view grows tedious after a few minutes, torture thereafter.
  • The protagonist cannot talk.  For real.
  • The villain has telekinesis for some reason that is never explained.
  • There are unmotivated jumps cuts in the edit periodically, apparently because the director couldn’t figure out a reasonable way to get his main character from point A to point B.
  • Sharlto Copley, while amusing, plays an endlessly murdered, then returning character (who can at least talk), each with a different personality, accent and attire for no good reason at all. Yes, like a video game where you get several lives to cash in before the game is over.
  • SPOILER ALERT!!!! – the protagonist’s wife, who he’s been trying to save the whole time, ISN’T REALLY HIS WIFE! – for what reason? who gives a shit.
  • He kills the bad guy in the end.  With his bare hands.  Remember the part before about telekinesis?  Stupid, stupid climax.
  • Tons of hyper-kinetic action we as an audience can’t see.
  • Tons of murder and mayhem affecting would-be characters nobody cares about anyway.
  • Some bullshit about memory implants.  I guess.  Hell, I don’t know.
  • Holy shit, was that Tim Roth in a glorified cameo?  Yes, it was.  Poor fucker.
  • Watching someone play a first person shooter video game IS BORING.
  • Did they really use Go Pro cameras? Yes, they did.  And it looks like murky shit on the big screen.
  • THE GUY DOESN’T TALK!

I’d rather watch Nell (do not click this link unless you want to smash your computer screen in with a brick) on repeat for a month straight than sit through HH again.  I’d rather be Nell.

If you think HH is right up your alley, it’s not.  Watch Crank again.  Hell, watch Crank 2 again.  Or better yet, check out John Wick.  Now that’s how you make an ultra-violent action movie.  It’s like going to the goddamn ballet.  Where all the dancers die horribly.

– cohan

 

p.s. The one redeeming value of having sat through 96 minutes of visual hell, is that I sat through it as the SXSW film festival in Austin.  How Hardcore Henry ended up as a headlining film along with such thoughtful flicks like Midnight Special, Everybody Wants Some and In a Valley of Violence, I’ll never know.

p.p.s. One of HH’s producers, Timur Bekmambetov, directed two Russian films from an aborted trilogy, Night Watch and Day Watch that also had a gimmick, although this one was actually pretty interesting.  He weaved the English subtitles into the narrative of the story. Hard to describe, but worth a look, particularly if you like urban fantasy and hyper-stylized visuals. Of course, he then cashed in whatever goodwill he earned with those two by directing Wanted (only redeeming value is Chris Pratt being very Chris Pratt-ish in a tiny role) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a movie almost as stunningly stupid as Hardcore Henry.

“Captain America: Civil War” Pretty Much Kicks Ass

Hey guys,

The reviews are plenty and pretty much positive, and if box office is any indication (which it oftentimes is not), Captain America: Civil War is a winner.  And I’m here to tell you that yes indeed, Captain America: Civil War pretty much kicks ass.  It not only kicks ass, it stomps it, cruelly sometimes, with reckless abandon and takes a huge steaming dump on its corpse.  That probably doesn’t sound as good on the page as it did in my brain.  Let’s just say CACW is probably my favorite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.  This film, even more so than either Avengers films, finally pays off all the world-building put in so far in the MCU.  It’s dense… and not the stupid kind of dense… but rather jam packed with story, character development, emotion and giant-nutted-action, all playing off the key story-lines and character beats we’ve all witnessed in previous films, while still incorporating all new material.  If you’re coming into CACW blind, having not seen pretty much all the previous Marvel films, do yourself a favor, buy a ticket to Keanu, or Green Room, or The Jungle Book, or any other film currently playing that is not Batman v Superman.  It won’t make a goddamn bit of sense if you haven’t laid that groundwork.

The plot is pretty much what you would expect from the trailers except for the low-key villain lurking in the shadows that has been held back from the promo materials.  The great thing about this particular antagonist is that he is, essentially, nobody.  He’s just a dude with an axe to grind and the wherewithal and intelligence to impose his will with machiavellian precision. The biggest problem with the Marvel films so far is the scope of each film.  How can there be any standalone films when each one is about saving the world?  Why in the world would Captain America and Thor sit to the side with their thumbs up their butts while Tony Stark is saving the planet in Iron Man 3?  It’s a tough spot to be in and the MCU has chugged along through several films simply ignoring this fact.  The bad guys get bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger.  But in CACW, they finally reel it in a bit.  And that’s a good thing.  It is a subtle reminder of why the Marvel series on Netflix work so well.  They counterbalance the epic nature of the films with small scale conflict – localized, personal and character-based.

The best thing about CACW are the action scenes.  If you’ve read any reviews at all then you’ve probably heard about the showdown at the airport set piece.  It’s a goddamn doozy and works on every level.  The fight choreography, the camera work, the editing, the superheroes use of their powers in relevant and interesting ways combine with the humor and dramatic beats so well I would recommend seeing it on the big screen for that scene alone.  With that in mind, I encourage everyone to see it in 2D.  We saw it in 3D, mostly due to showtimes, and regretted it.  The 3D is excellent, no murky dark bullshit you might see in substandard post 3D conversion dreck like The Last Airbender.  But, there is too much movement on screen creating irritating motion blur.  Sometimes it can be hard to see what’s going on.  There was also something called 4DX at the theater we went to.  I had to look it up.  Basically for $30 shitting dollars a ticket, you can have your seat vibrate, shake, rattle and twist with the action on screen.  No thanks.  I can’t stand it when an audience member behind me kicks the back of my seat.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel sitting in a seat having a perpetual seizure for the entire 2.5 hours I would be sitting in it.  I would imagine this would probably happen.

Action isn’t the only reason to catch CACW on the big screen, there’s plenty or humor and emotion, all organic to the story.  There are 3 new additions to the proxy-Avengers lineup, 2 of which have yet to grace the MCU.  If you’ve seen Ant-Man, then you already know what a welcome addition Paul Rudd is to the Marvel world.  Rudd (or as I like to call him, Ruddy P.) is like pizza, Raiders of the Lost Ark and some dipshit named Raymond (creeping Jesus)… everybody loves him.  His character’s wide-eyed awe and humble appreciation for just being included are all spot on in the brief time he’s on screen.  His role is pretty pivotal in the airport scene and he nails it.  Looking forward to Ant-Man & The Wasp.  The other 2 new characters, Spider-man and The Black Panther are also welcome additions.  This iteration of Spider-man finally feels like the definitive film version of the web-slinger.  Spider-man 2 was a hell of a good time despite Toby McGuire’s squeaking and Andrew Garfield did what he could with the material at hand, but Tom Holland is absolutely perfect.  His role in CACW is a bit bigger than marketing led us to believe, allowing us a brief glimpse into his life in Queens and meeting his “strangely attractive” Aunt May.  Side note: it’s kind of hard not to hate Iron Man a little bit for enlisting a child to help fight his battle.  Kind of a dick move there, Tony.

It’s about time Sony got smart and went in halfsies with Marvel.  Hard to argue with Disney’s track record so far.  Now if only dumb-shit Fox would stop crapping all over The Fantastic Four and strike a similar deal.  Speaking of The Fantastic Four reboot… actually never mind, we shall never speak of it again.  [shudder]

The Black Panther plays a much larger role than Spider-man, helping propel the plot to its conclusion and setting up his own stand-alone film.  I have yet to see a movie starring Chadwick Boseman, but I fully understand that Hollywood has been trying to make him an A-list star for awhile now.  While CACW probably won’t do it, his stand alone version of The Black Panther probably will.  He’s great both in and out of costume in CACW.  He’s also ferocious, intelligent and interesting.  TBP is a warrior and, by the end of the film, a King.  It’ll be nice to get away from the Iron Man, Captain America, Thor trio of stand-alones.

Of course, Captain America: Civil War is far from perfect.  There are plot gaps (not exactly holes) that get glossed over.  The villain’s path to vengeance is cloudy and under-explained.  It feels like there’s an easy 20 minutes of expository material missing from the film.  Which is strange given its 2.5 hours running time.  Some character motivations start to crumble under extended scrutiny.  The story isn’t nearly as tight and zig-zagging as The Winter Soldier (but then again, how could it be with this many characters weaved in). And honestly, it can get fatiguing watching god-like creatures punch each other.  But goddammit, who cares? There’s so much spectacle, humor and more than a little pathos going on here, I’ll forgive it’s shortcomings.  The fact that this film works at all is a minor miracle.  Take note, Warner Brothers/DC.  This is how you make a superhero team-up film.  You ass-hats.

CACW ends on an unusual and somewhat darker note, making one wonder how in the hell they go from here?  I, for one, have renewed interest in finding out.

– cohan

p.s. Every time I write, CACW, in my mind I hear Dignan calling for his gang when he’s getting beat up at the bar (at 2:05 in the linked video) in Bottle Rocket.