May 17, 2017

The 4th Annual Coopies! Top 5 Films of 2016

Poopie Coopie: Most Disappointing Film of 2016 - Don't Breathe (Review)
When there is a lot of hype on a modern horror film these days, it brings up memories of 2014's It Follows. There was probably an equal amount of hype surrounding this film in 2016. But it doesn't deliver. Not only that, it's a surprisingly well-reviewed film. I just don't understand why.

5. Hell or High Water (Review)

4. Rogue One (Review

3. Deadpool (Review)

2. Train to Busan (Review)

1. Manchester by the Sea (Review)
Sometimes a movie changes you forever. When I walked out of the theater after viewing this, I felt like I got punched in the stomach. But Manchester mirrors life in some ways. Life is filled with a lot of beautiful moments. But sometimes horrible things happen. Horrible things that forever change you, your family. Sometimes you can't move on from these things. Manchester is fortunately or unfortunately one of those films that will never leave me.

List of 2016 films that I saw:
  1. 10 Cloverfield Lane
  2. Arrival
  3. Blair Witch
  4. Captain America: Civil War
  5. Captain Fantastic
  6. Deadpool
  7. Doctor Strange
  8. Don't Breathe
  9. Fences
  10. Green Room
  11. Hacksaw Ridge
  12. Hell or High Water
  13. La La Land
  14. Manchester by the Sea
  15. Midnight Special
  16. Mountain Men
  17. Rogue One
  18. Sing Street
  19. Spectral
  20. Swiss Army Man
  21. The Confirmation
  22. The Invitation
  23. The Jungle Book
  24. The Shallows
  25. The Wailing
  26. Train to Busan
  27. What We Become

April 26, 2017

The Colony

Jeff Renfroe, 2013
We are now reaching an age where the dystopian film genre is saturated - and there are a handful of just plain shitty ones. The special effects are no longer an issue. They can be created on the cheap. It's the execution of a dystopian narrative. It has to be fresh. The Colony is in no way refreshing. The Colony feels like a film very envious of it's better neighboring films. It even struggles with identity. It's almost as if Renfroe struggled throughout the film on whether or not the villainous forces were cannibals or zombies. Mortal vs. immortal confusion. But both concepts are a lost cause. If he were to somehow make it a zombie film where a virus was released in an apocalyptic Ice Age - we would be sitting here talking about how far fetched and campy the film is. If they are clear cut cannibals, we would probably be talking about how it's a weak premise that never succeeds in its attempt to sustain quality storytelling. But the struggle with what the villains actually are not the only problem with this film. There are many problems. The Colony is misguided, not really using good actors like Fishburne and the late Paxton well. Not so great script here, not such great direction. If you really want to watch a better ominous forces in the snow film, just watch 30 Days of Night. At least there you know you are dealing with vampires and there is no confusion as to WHAT they are.

Rogue One

Gareth Edwards, 2016

I take quite a bit of pride as being someone that has been able to completely dodge the George Lucas Star Wars Prequels. I have no plans to see them. I don't care one bit that I will have that blind spot through the rest of my life. I am going to push my daughter into seeing the original 3 as soon as she is old enough. But I will warn her about those prequels just like I will warn her to stay away from the troublemakers at school. Lucas basically went Adam Sandler on the precious Star Wars franchise, where it was evident that he lost his fastball. It changed the way the fans viewed Lucas. Maybe it was because he never seemed apologetic. Instead he was the opposite, he actually seemed quite smug about them. He made the concious decision with those films to not take cinematic risks and shoot for something edgy that pleased the veteran adult audience. He made characters like Jar Jar Binks for his kids. The closest you will get me to seeing those three would be to watch one of the unofficial fan edits, such as Topher Grace's version.

So let's rank the original three. For me (and most people I think) - it goes Empire, New Hope, Jedi. With a pretty big drop off from Empire to Jedi. I watched Jedi a few months back now and all I can really recall (and this is probably the 3rd or 4th time I had seen it) is the Ewoks' dancing at the end. 
So where does Rogue One land? Well, in all fairness - I still have not seen the Force Awakens. But I would place this film directly behind A New Hope. This is better, and far better than Return of the Jedi.

You kind of have to go into this with neutral expectations, sit and just kind of take it all in. I didn't know much about it and went into it not expecting to see any familiar characters, other than the digital recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing - who died in 1994). I will admit at first glance when he appeared on screen that he didn't quite look 100% authentic and some of the digital elements bled through. But in the following scenes he sort of blended in. The idea of a standalone film is interesting because it completely abandons the familiarity of the characters that are buried in the zeitgeist. The Force Awakens was able to deliver a dose of nostalgia. But Rogue One isn't set on providing a dosage of nostalgia. But there are certain elements for sure that bring you back to the Star Wars universe and make you feel at home. Walks through trade districts, where you see all walks of (alien) life - as Jyn (Felicity Jones) bumps into a strange figure who immediately snarls "watch where you're going". Reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina in New Hope. One of the features of the Star Wars movies is how absorbing the world can be. Rogue One created this same feeling.

Rogue One for the most part fits into the Hero's Journey structure with some deviation. But it's visually stunning, sounds great, compelling, and completely engaging. If I were to criticize anything, its that once the plot is set up, you can kind of predict the direction things are heading and the pace it takes to get there starts to slow down in the second act. But ultimately it's another Star Wars installment that goes down easy and feels ripe for a rewatch.

March 31, 2017


Tim Miller, 2016
You can't really look at Ryan Reynolds filmography and see winner after winner. But to be fair, who can you really do that with? It's unlikely that any actor is going to bat 1000 in terms of always picking something that is going to be artistically fulfilling and please an audience. A respectable actor takes on risky roles, are willing to put themselves out there. Reynolds has proven that he is willing to do this when you consider his roles in The Nines, Buried and The Voices. Clearly he had better hopes for Green Lantern and he wouldn't be to blame for the film's flaws. You also can't blame him for his first portrayal as Deadpool in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As director Gavin Hood explained in an interview with The Independent, the studios had too much control and mishandled the character.

Fortunately the studio heads didn't ruin this Deadpool. Which could have been so easy to do. They could have stripped away the R-Rating and made it PG-13 to put more bodies in theaters. That would have been an early kiss of death, as this movie just wouldn't work with much restriction. Instead Deadpool becomes the R-Rated superhero film that we didn't we know we needed. In a way it's very refreshing after enduring so many safeguarded Marvel universe films. Deadpool has some real grit and danger to it. It's also probably the most self-aware superhero film to be released. From the opening credits where it makes fun of the category's tropes to the latter points of the movie where it's still poking fun at other superhero films. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues of the studios providing superhero films for adult audiences and not just for mid-puberty teenagers borrowing $9 admission from their parents. People have accused Deadpool of being too topical, as if it's going to date itself. But I didn't have that reaction. It is certainly topical, but it feels like it will have a longer shelf life. Certainly more than an Eminem song. Go listen to one of those early tracks (with the Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey references) and tell me they don't feel dated.

March 21, 2017

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Macon Blair, 2017
Anyone familiar with Jeremy Saulnier's films is going to recognize Macon Blair. Blair has had roles in every one of Saulnier's feature films from Murder Party to 2016's Green Room. The pairing is almost like a dark art-house variant of Scorcese and Dicaprio where Saulnier has clearly found someone he can remain confident in who shares similar sensibilities. All of Saulnier's films have dark elements to them and Blair is responsible for carrying a bulk of the weight of those very tones to the screen in Saulnier's movies. He is a very distinctive actor. More of an internal force, playing more reserved characters who have a certain level of unpredictability to them. With them having so many cinematic collaborations with each other of course one of the big questions going into this directorial debut of Blair's is going to be "does it feel like a Saulnier film in any way"? The answer is yes, but to avoid marginalizing this very good film we should just say it feels inspired by Saulnier in ways but also feels like it really has some identity on it's own.

You could describe this film as an adventure into the underbelly of society, if, say, you caught a junky stealing from you and you followed him home. But junkies don't live in modest homes. They live in condemned houses, or in the woods. So now imagine that you continued to follow this junky into the woods. Instead of getting too creeped out when you find a bum-camp in the woods you decide to get out of your car to further confront the person. Of course the depths that you could venture down with these types of people will continue to descend lower and lower. These are the types of people who lurk in the shadows. They come out at night. Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is not this type of person. She is a 9-5er who is bound to a mundane daily routine.

Lynskey (who has a lot of indie credits under her belt now- Happy Christmas, Perks of Being a Wallflower, etc) is completely fitting and really nails the Ruth character. Ruth is a person that is having one of those totally identifiable bouts of misfortune. When you feel like the world is just shitting on you over and over again. She drowns her sorrows at home, and when she discovers the break-in the theft of her aunt's silver is the last straw. I Don't Feel at Home reveals itself to be the black comedy that it is when Elijah Wood's Tony character appears. Wood is so great in this movie and it's really refreshing to see him continuing to take on indie roles like this when he could just take a pass on everything and enjoy his Hobbit money.

A lot of elements of this film continue to stick with me days after viewing. Blair has veteran indie sense and clearly understands pacing and character development. I Don't Feel at Home is a movie I will be pushing on the people around me. I am actually eager to get another look at this one again soon. 

March 13, 2017

Doctor Strange

Scott Derrickson, 2016

Kids today don't realize how good they have it. The enormous amount of great content that is available to them. Anyone looking for a visual spectacle has a vast library to pick from, readily available. When we were in High School, if we were high and wanted some kind of eye candy, we had to download a visualization screensaver and attempt to line it up with the bpm of some primitive, poorly produced techno. It often failed, but we took what we could get and were happy with it. Doctor Strange is a visual spectacle to say the least. It's a bit of an ocular masterpiece that feels like Inception and Guardians of the Galaxy had a baby. When Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) desperately ventures to the far East in search of a cure for his damaged hands, he meets "The Ancient One". Skeptical and unsure of The Ancient One's abilities, she throws him into an multidimensional wormhole to shake his senses. This entire sequence might have you thinking someone laced your popcorn with LSD, but no need to worry. A 14 year old version of me would have literally watched this segment repeatedly until my eyes gave out and I fell asleep. The special effects capabilities that are available today continue to be mind-blowing. Marvel Studios continues to keep upping the ante as well, raising the bar from a technical standpoint. It's really gotten to the point that when you watch these Marvel stories come to screen, you know you are going to be fed such quality magical realism that you can just sit back and take it all in. Like Pixar studios, these are beautiful looking films that transcend generations in terms of story that is mature enough to keep adults watching along with their kids.

Cumberbatch is kind of the perfect fit for the Stephen Strange character. He is able to channel that over-confident English-cored arrogance that worked in The Imitation Game and the Sherlock television series. Strange is an ego-driven brain surgeon who feels like he has lost everything when he sustains serious nerve damage to his hands. Strange is a lot like Tony Stark in the sense that they have humongous egos that people sort of forgive because of their impressive brain power. But they are both reckless characters as well. Strange's accident is totally self-inflicted. He learns quite quickly how vulnerable and as human as (everyone he has operated on) he really is. Sometimes movies that play with time can become convoluted quickly. Derrickson keeps things manageable enough that you don't get lost in confusion. If anything it seems like Stephen picks up on the magical arts a little too quickly, but I suppose its excusable because of his tremendous brain power. He admits himself that he has a photographic memory. So this would mean he would be able to consume the texts in his chambers and retain the vast knowledge contained in them without any problems. Either way, his quick grasp of the powers only helps to move the already interesting story along.

Doctor Strange is a unique offering to the MCU from a stylistic standpoint. You could argue that it falls into the same formula as the other origin stories do. Person has some kind of conflict. Conflict creates need for special ability. Special ability obtained. Special ability used in climactic segment. But the delivery of this formula is done through such a spectacular visual spectacle that it makes you eager to stay in the world shown to you.

An optical feast, a visual journey, something that I am eager to jump back into. Something I wish was on screen 15 years ago when I was most hungry for these types of movies. When you think about all of the atrocious superhero offerings we have had to endure over the years: Batman Forever, Spawn, Batman and Robin, Elektra, Affleck's Daredevil film, those Fantastic Four films. Ugh. It's safe to say I personally won't take films like Dr. Strange for granted. The unfortunate thing is - today's youth totally will.

Captain America: Civil War

Anthony Russo, Joe Russo - 2016
Along with the Iron Man films, the Captain America Marvel installments have proven to be the most dependable and consistent, possibly even more than the former. Winter Soldier was such a solid film that I was convinced I will give them all a view when the opportunity arose. When I was browsing through Netflix and saw Civil War - the only thing keeping me from putting it on for so long was the 147 minute run time. Interestingly enough, while Captain America is a central figure in the film, Civil War could really be a stand-alone film not bound to the Captain America narrative. This is the first film to put normally very friendly characters at odds with each other. There's always the small conflicts and differences between the various characters but this is the first outright battle story.

Faced with the global ramifications of some of the collalteral damage that the Avengers created, the UN has drafted an agreement holding the Avengers accountable for their actions. Tony Stark, feeling the weight of his actions, is eager to sign the agreement while Steve / Captain America is against doing so. The main thing keeping Steve from signing is it pits him against his old friend Bucky (Winter Soldier) who has been accused of a terrorist attack and is now a global target. Steve being loyal and protective to Bucky forces him to create a Captain America vs. Iron Man dilemma.

The tension builds between Tony and Steve and while the divide grows between them, they both build their own camps on each side. It all erupts into one of the big moments which of course is the battle sequence between them all. The delicate balance of conflict leading up to it is so impressively well-done. It's also another great showcase of these well developed characters in the Marvel Universe coming together in these big moments.

Civil War actually did something for me that hasn't been done since I saw the first Avengers film back in 2012. I admit that, like many other people, had become fatigued a bit by the constant superhero movie drops. Since that Avengers film, I would casually check in with the Marvel universe periodically, never at release point but with more of a "when i get to it" attitude. What continued to be absent for me was that level of excitement that I would get. That little boy excitement. Can't even remember the last time I had a gross sense of that excitement. Decades ago probably. But Civil War managed to resurrect at least a hint of it. Civil War also managed to resurrect a character that I had written off in Spiderman. Being a fan of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman films, when it was announced that Maguire was no longer going to be involved in the franchise and Andrew Garfield was taking over in a rebooted version I basically checked out. For me it was going to be just another product of money-hungry studios rebooting the shit out of everything and their inability to turn down the next dollar-making opportunity.

Tom Holland brings an energy to Spiderman that should have always been there. High School-age innocence and youthful naivety. Tobey Maguire was 27 when he played Peter Parker for the first time so of course he just wasn't able to fully capture a high school student. But Holland is 21, and could easily pass for a 17 year old. When he meets Tony Stark for the first time, he is at a loss for words and is completely star-struck. Later when in costume doing his thing, he talks too much and makes rookie mistakes just like any high school age kid would 6 months into having superpowers. There's a lot to look forward to with Holland in the Spidey suit. It seems like Marvel Studios cutting a deal with Sony may have saved the character from total mediocrity.

The level of quality that these films are working with should override the cultural fatigue that the marketing executives are inadvertantly unleashing upon us. There's no reason to believe that these films are going to degrade anytime soon.

March 8, 2017

The Jungle Book

Jon Favreau, 2016
Before I ramble about all of the ways in which the Jungle Book failed to wow me, I need to point out something. I am not a non-believer in CGI-heavy film. Seeing Avatar in IMAX 3D was one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of my lifetime. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my Star Wars in terms of it's immersive world-building and how I just want to live inside of it. I didn't even have that much of a problem with the copy-and-paste army in the Battle of Five Armies.

So going into The Jungle Book, a movie in an almost entirely CGI constructed world, I went in with an open mind and with open eyes. I am a supporter of Favreau, who has really contributed some solid films in his career. Elf, the first two Iron Man films, Chef are all well-made films. But now he is taking this direction in his career that almost feels Tim Burton like by "re-imagining" classic Disney favorites. After making this film - they are of course going to continue to wring out the proverbial sponge by having Favreau direct a Jungle Book sequel. But they are also employing him to direct a live action reboot of The Lion King. Nothing is untouched these days.

I wanted this movie to be great and impactful, especially being someone that grew up with the original animated version. I sat watching and kept waiting for it to hit me. Waiting and waiting. I realized by the mid-point that it likely wasn't going to happen. For whatever reason I wasn't ever able to make an emotional connection to anything on screen. Was it the abundance of CGI? I am not sure, because the animals all look amazing. But Life of Pi had one CGI Tiger and I was totally on board with the film emotionally.

It was a delight to see veteran actors like Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Christopher Walken provide the voices for Baloo, Bagheera and King Louie. But it didn't elevate the movie from more than just good grabs. Shere Kahn left more to be desired in a villain. He wasn't nearly as ruthless as he should have been. He didn't have that despicable nature to him as say, Scar in the Lion King. While Neel Sethi deserves some credit for working hard in front of a green screen, he wasn't exactly the next Jacob Tremblay (Room) with his performance as Mowgli. The best sequence in the film by far is the sequence in The Monkey City with King Louie. But the climax was just underwhelming and it just didn't feel like the stakes were high enough. Like the rest of the movie, it just seemed to run through the motions without ever being too significant.

The Impossible

J.A. Bayona, 2012
There are disaster movies that focus on the disaster, and then there are disaster movies that aren't really disaster movies because they focus on the characters that are victim to the disaster. The Impossible is definitely the latter of the two. A disaster film with a heart. Focusing on an English family of five, they are on Christmas holiday in Thailand in 2004 when the historic tsunami hit their beachside resort. The images of this natural disaster have been in my memory for the past 13 years since it happened. Seeing the beautiful country decimated by Mother Nature so quickly. I remember seeing the amateur footage on Youtube back when the disaster occurred.

Bayona's immediate accomplishment with this film is getting you invested in the characters so quickly. Without this they would be nameless faces dealing with the destruction. But instead, you are familiar with them very early on. You see their vulnerabilities as they sit on an airplane on their way to their vacation spot. Maria (Naomi Watts) has anxiety from the turbulence. Henry (Ewan McGregor) has some OCD tendencies with trying to remember if he had set an alarm at home before they left. These elements cleverly humanize them and help to generate empathy early.

When the tsunami hits, it doesn't feel like a bastardized CGI construct. It feels like an authentic force. The film doesn't heavily lean on the CGI though. It feels completely necessary, like its just enough. How it should be. A supplemental tool in the absence of the real thing. There is an obvious sense of panic. You are left with no real answers as to which members of the family have survived and which members have perished. The film then evolves into more of a gripping survival film as a wounded and incomplete family desperately tries to become complete again.

The sense of desperation and heartbreak resonates throughout the film and I can't remember the last time that a 2 hour running time passed by so quickly. Watts and McGregor deliver remarkable performances as they usually do. Surprising to see that Watts was the only one that received attention from the Academy with a Best Actress nomination (she lost to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook). McGregor really deserved a nomination too. It's actually quite surprising to realize that McGregor has yet to receive a single Oscar nomination in his entire career when you remember his performances in films like Trainspotting and Big Fish. The Impossible is a really gripping film, rich in detail. History should be kind to this film. A really accurate look at one of the most tragic and destructive natural disasters in our modern era.

February 21, 2017

The Fall (Season 1 & 2)

Allan Cubitt, 2013 & 2014
There is certainly a variety of serial killer related dramas across the Television landscape. A lot of them are quite good: Dexter (until the awful final season), Hannibal, first season of True Detective, first season of Fargo. But there are of course some duds - like The Following.

The Fall, created by Alan Cubitt, is an offering set in Belfast Ireland. The film focuses on both sides of the spectrum. Gillian Anderson (widely known for her role in the iconic X Files) plays Stella Gibson, the reserved but dedicated investigator leading the hunt. Jamie Dornan plays Paul Spector, the man they are after. Paul is a family man who moonlights as a serial killer. He seeks out a particular type of woman and plans a meticulous strategy to sneak into their home and kill them. He is a man living two lives. During the day he is employed as a grief counseler. He gets his two kids ready in the morning and sends them off to school. He kisses his wife goodbye. It's not until his family is in bed that his nocturnal murderous side comes out. He has his wife convinced that he is working a suicide hotline when he is out filling his savage needs.

One interesting feature right off the bat with The Fall is the fact that you are introduced to Paul quite quickly. Once you are introduced, Paul and Stella get equal screen time. You learn quite quickly that Stella fits into the workaholic investigator trope that we've seen so many times. Strong-willed female. Sleeps at her desk, never really taking any time off, married to her job. Completely wrapped up in whatever case she's on. She's that person that can get into the mind of the serial killer. She knows how he thinks. She can predict his behavior. This concept is nothing new, we've seen it many many times.

This is where the series gets conflicting for me. You have two central characters, neither of which are very likeable figures. Stella is a very cold woman; she doesn't offer much in terms of vulnerability and openness. Paul is equally cold, and the lack of history provided just has you spending time with a distant man with no real sympathy for his evil compulsions. So it becomes a situation where you can tolerate Stella because she is dedicated to hunting down a guy that you just don't like because he continues to kill beautiful women for whatever reason. This decision to not reveal much of Paul's backstory may have been a deliberate decision by the show's creators, but that doesn't mean it was the right choice.

We discover more about Paul's past in Season 2 which does shine some light onto his dark proclivity. But this could have been done in the first. They could have even had some flashback sequences to provide more of a complete illustration of Paul. The lack of these elemnents were something that constantly troubled me watching the first season, but the series clearly was doing something right because I couldn't resist watching more even with those frustrations noted. The series without a doubt is better in the second season. Most notably the extended-length season 2 finale. That is without a doubt the best episode of the series thus far. Multiple story threads come together so remarkably and the balance of tension and delivery is outstanding.

February 17, 2017


Denzel Washington, 2016
Adapted from the August Wilson play, Fences is a limited storytelling piece set in Pittsburgh in the mid-1950's. Directed by and starring Denzel Washington, its main focus is lead character Troy Maxson - a struggling sanitation worker. Troy struggles with the cultural racial divides, regrets about his past baseball career, his role as a husband to his wife Rose (Viola Davis), and his role as father to his son Cory (Jovan Adepo).

Like many men in the 1950's, Troy is an authoritarian figure in his household. His is stubborn, arrogant, eager to discipline. Set in his ways. It's actually upsetting to think about how many people grew up with this dynamic in their households. These families were largely patriarchal with the wife staying home and doing the household duties during the day while the father worked to generate income. When the father would come home his precense would be felt throughout the house. Troy was this type of guy. Denzel is the perfect type of actor to play Troy. Because with all of the personality flaws that Troy possesses, there is still some charm that comes through and Denzel is so adept at channeling that type of energy. Troy is really an exhausting character, going off on long dialogue without ever taking a breather. We see the layers of the onion unpeel as the movie progresses. Troy's character continues to be draining - even as his character unravels. What was a pretty fortified routine is challenged by Troy's inability to resolve some of his conflicts. And as frustrating as Troy becomes, watching Denzel and Viola play off each other is absolutely compelling.

Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson, 2016
Mel Gibson probably doesn't get the credit that he really deserves from his work directing films. Most people probably praise him for his work directing Braveheart, which was really the closest thing that we had to Game of Thrones in the mid-1990's. Then there was the controversial Passion of the Christ, Gibson's violently honest offering to his Christian faith. But I will come out and say it was his next film Apocalypto that had me convinced that he is a solid filmmaker. Apocalypto still didn't get nearly the same amount of eyes on it as the previous two films did. Probably never will. It's not necesarilly a film intended to please the masses, being a quite brutal depiction of the Mayan civilization.

Hacksaw is another tribute to Gibson's Christian faith. It tells the true story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a Seventh Day Adventist Army Medic who saved the lives of 75 soldiers in one night and was awarded the Medal of Honor without ever firing a shot. Doss, because of his devout faith, intended on going to war but never had any interest in even holding a rifle - considering it to be a killing machine and going against his principles. This didn't go over well early on, with much of the first act focusing on the adversity that Doss was up against. He refused to engage in basic rifle drills in basic training - causing tension amongst his peers and ultimately causing him to become court martialed. I personally had my doubts about Garfield in a leading role going into this film. That's not to say he isn't a good actor - he certainly is. For me his standout performance was as Eduardo in David Finscher's The Social Network. But after seeing what kind of actor the Doss character would require, I could see why Garfield was cast here. There is a softness for the Desmond character thats required for it to be authentic, Garfield is able to deliver that. I still have no intention of seeing the Spiderman reboots but Garfield was totally capable here.

There is a defining moment in his film, and it's in the second act when they enter the battlefield. Uncomfortable silence erupts into complete pandemonium in a way that I've never seen. Gibson is able to create a World War II battle sequence that not only looks original, but will probably go down as one of the best ever. Right up there with the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan. It's done in a way that feels authentic and doesn't glamorize war. You get a sense of the desperation and shock on both sides. It's the first battle sequence that really punches the gas pedal. From that point on the film doesn't really change. It becomes more intense, more magnetic, more gripping. This movie should only continue to reinforce Gibson's ability to really direct a film. He's told very different stories at this point, it seems like there's no topic that he really can't manage.

February 14, 2017

Blair Witch

Adam Wingard, 2016
The original Blair Witch Project seemed to create two camps. One camp was the people who bought into the movie. They were terrified, they admired the innovation involved in making the movie with little resources. This camp probably continues to watch the Found Footage genre and explores what it has to offer. Then there's the other camp. The camp that didn't buy into the original. Didn't have the effect. These people probably complained about all of the shaky cam. They will tell you the original is overrated, a whole lot of nothing. I will say with no hesitation at all that I am in the camp that was totally on board with the original Blair Witch Project. It scared the living shit out of me. I was a sophmore in High School when I saw it in the theater. I happened to live a mile deep in the Connecticut woods at the time. That movie was in my brain for years, made me afraid of those woods. I remember being too freaked out to even step out onto our backyard patio to smoke cigarettes for a while. I am also someone who believes that the found footage genre is a legitimate genre that has provided many other good films (REC, Willow Creek, Paranormal Activity, Grave Encounters) - mostly due to the Blair Witch Project inspiring them. That being said, when it was revealed that upcoming movie "The Woods" was actually a secret sequel to the Blair Witch Project, I was certainly excited.

Blair Witch does exactly what a sequel is supposed to do: take the original and build off of it. Expand upon it. This could mean expanding the universe that the original exists in. Which this movie does do. The original Blair Witch Project was known for it's subtlety, it was one of the defining characteristics. This film completely discards all of that subtlety and still manages to create a product that generates real tension and terror. What were faint noises in the woods are now loud bangs with tree limbs collapsing. What was the absense of a real figure but simply your mind playing tricks on you is now a ghastly figure hiding behind a tree that jumps into sight. What was a couple minutes inside a terrifying dilapidated house is now 25 minutes of pure tense horror inside of the same building with absolute chaos unfolding. The film maintains a certain found footage quality without that complete indie feel of the original.

I am not going to sit here and say that Blair Witch is without its flaws. There is a tree-climbing moment that is the modern day equivolent of running into the house with a killer at the front door. The whole forced connection to the original film with having James (James Allen McCune) be original Blair Witch project lead Heather's brother is unecesarry and weak. Why can't it just be a group of curious college students who are shooting a documentary? I would think that if there was a familial connection to the original disappeareance of Heather, they wouldn't want to go back to the very place that she disappeared and expect to find her. After all, its 20 years later. The thread with Ashley having an infection on her foot also seemed unnecessary. But what happens with Talia about halfway through the film with the stick figure was shocking and unforgettable. Wow. One thing that we don't get that would have been really powerful would be a cameo from one of the original cast-mates. Like if we saw Mike or Josh staring at a wall. Or even Heather.

The expectations are so unreasonably high for a sequel to waht is probably the most divisive horror movie ever made that it's impossible for there to be a scenario where this movie blows everyone away and wins over both sides. The skeptics are going to go into this movie and come away unsatisfied just like they were with the orignal. The question is, why would they see the sequel to begin with? They shouldn't. They should move on to something else because the Blair Witch movies are clearly not for them. But for the people who did buy in to the original, they should come away from this feeling satisfied. Because it brings you back to those all too familiar woods. The memories will come back to you. That might not be a good thing. There were actually a couple of minutes during this viewing where I was thinking to myself: "Why the hell am I continuing to do this to myself at this age with horror movies? I don't think I can handle this kind of tension anymore". But I appreciate this sequel having been made. Thank you Adam Wingard. I am just happy I was able to leave those Burkittsville woods when the credits rolled. Blair Witch lies somewhere between Willow Creek and Grave Encounters, and that's not a bad place to be.

February 10, 2017

La La Land

Damien Chazelle, 2016
After seeing La La Land it isn't surprising that it's an Oscar front-runner and exists virtually critic-proof. It checks off all of the things that Academy voters pine over: Musical elements, a love story, and a love letter to Los Angeles and particularly the golden age of Cinema. It might be THE movie to watch at home with your wife. And at least in my marriage, it's a movie that offers separate things for the two of us. She happened to be more emotionally connected to the romantic component of the film. For me, I found myself more invested in the variety of technical achievements made. Like how did Chazelle pull off that introductory sequence on the LA highway? What about the pool party segment? Or how did they create that planetarium sequence with the stars?

Jazz plays a large role in La La Land just as it did in Chazelle's last film Whiplash. Both have a sincere appreciation for the genre. Whiplash approached Jazz from more of a strict academic standpoint and La La is definitely more of a romantic standpoint. But there's a clear sense that Chazelle likes Jazz. Beyond that, Chazelle is someone who also seems very fond of classic cinema. And now after watching his last two contributions to film it's pretty clear that hes absorbed so much of what he's clearly passionate for. Chazelle is a pretty masterful filmmaker, that's quite clear.

One notable thing about La La Land is also the way that it depicts modern Los Angeles. Instead of making it an unforgiving landscape like last year's Tangerine, it approaches LA with daydreaming eyes. There is a deliberate attempt to paint Los Angeles as this fantastical place - as Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) navigate their way through scenes in the Griffith Observatory, Watts Towers and Chateau Marmont where a million classic LA films have been made.

It's interesting reflecting on La La Land. Because when personally evaluating this film it's not about whether or not it's a good film or a bad film. It's without question a GOOD film. Well made, well acted. Emma Stone will probably get an Oscar for her performance and she totally deserves it. She's unbelievable here. Gosling is great, the only real criticism you can make about him is maybe his singing chops aren't completely up to par but it's really not distracting at all. This is one of those films I have to judge on the impact that it had on me. Years from now will I be thinking about La La Land? That's the thing, I really don't think I will be. I will most certainly remember Whiplash, which clearly had more of a personal impact on me. Whiplash is one of the best films made in the past 10 years. Ten years from now I will probably look back on La La Land the same way I look back on The Artist - a well made movie that wasn't necesarilly made for someone like me. Something I can respect for what it is but something that isn't going to permanently reside in the depths of my memory.

January 31, 2017

Sing Street

John Carney, 2016
I have to confess that Sing Street was one of those movies that I watched the trailer for the first time and felt a little annoyed. It was clearly the headspace that I was in at the time. Because the movie surfaced one night through a brief Netflix browsing session with my wife who was looking for something with some heart and not blood. Sing Street would prove to be one of the better 2016 films to watch with my wife.

One of the redeeming qualities about Sing Street is the fact that when the group of high school strangers assemble, their first attempts of making music don't actually suck much. In fact even their first tune that they make is actually pretty catchy. By doing this it eliminates a lot of technical build up like in School of Rock where students literally have to learn from the ground up in terms of form. A device used is to sort of skip over the rudimentary obstacles is to plug in character Eamon (Mark McKenna) who not only is a multi-instrumentalist but he is even able to provide practice space because his father is in a cover band. School of Rock is a fitting movie to bring into this conversation because there are obvious parallels. Young school kids making music together, all bringing their own life experiences and using music as a form of expression. But the differences between the two are stark. Admittedly a lot of it is cultural. With Sing Street being an Irish production, the story is set in the rigid and strict confines of the UK educational system in the 1980's. The landscape is gloomy. There is an obvious sense of authoritarian rule. Bullying is rampant. School of Rock was more about a wild teacher finding a way to connect with a classroom. Sing Street is more about a young man dealing with all of the normal angst-ridden things that teenagers have to deal with and finding a way to deal with it. While a lot of what lead character Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) are common teenage problems, they are all illustrated in a way that makes it compelling on screen.

Perhaps the only negative that exists with Sing Street is the fact that its filled with the conventional teenage movie tropes. Frustration toward your parents. Not having a lot of friends. Not liking your teachers. The crush on the unattainable girl. Escape through music. But Carney finds a way to put blend these elements on screen that make it feel fresh and charming. This is likely to do with it with being an Irish production and having fresh faces on screen. It speaks well for international film, telling stories that might not be completely unique but telling the story in a place that doesn't get as much attention as it probably should. Its obvious that Sing Street would be a much different movie if it were set in New York City with American actors. But it wasn't. Instead it's a sweet little Irish film that will have "Drive it like you stole it" in your head for a few days after viewing.

January 30, 2017

Narcos (Season 1 & 2)

Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro, 2015-2016
When I think about really detailed gritty crime dramas, I think of Jean-Francois Richet's Mesrine: Killer Instinct films. Split into two films, it's a biopic of "Public Enemy 1" Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine was a French gangster responsible for several bank robberies and kidnappings in France and Canada. He managed to elude the law and even escaped from prison. Jacques Mesrine and Pablo Escobar have a lot in common. They are both solitary figures both considered to be highly dangerous & sought after to their respective countries. They were both incredibly elusive and constantly in hiding. They both managed to escape from prison. They were both considered to be "Robin Hood" figures to the common people.

But Wagner Moura's Pablo Escobar will have more of a lasting impact on the cinematic landscape than Cassel's Mesrine. This is probably because through a television series, he's really able to cultivate the Pablo character and let it build rather than try to let it build through 4-6 hours of two movies. But the similarties between the two don't stop at the leading performances. They both have an elaborate backdrop. Mesrine in urban France. Narcos in urban Colombia. Through fly over shots of Colombia, tracking shots through the streets, it creates an detail rich world that pulls you in. As dangerous as the city may be there is still something that draws you back to it.

As each episode continues in Narcos, the stakes continue to elevate as does Escobar's wealth and influence. As his empire grows, his moral concessions do as well. Almost like Breaking Bad, he's a figure in slow deteriortion. Someone that has concrete morals at the beginning turns into a comprimised villain with blurred vision. Escobar is undoubtedly an interesting figure. Someone who has unimaginable wealth and power. Yet there is a hunger for more. More of what? Well, that's what the series is all about. Legacy, respect, family. These are all important things to Pablo. In a sense the money is just secondary. It really becomes a disposable thing. We are constantly seeing stacks and stacks of money thrown around like napkins through the series. Buried underground, thrown in bags, throwns in boxes. There's so much of it they don't even know what to do with it all.

I gave Mesrine 5 stars back when I reviewed the two films. I feel the same for Narcos. It's hard to find any noticeable flaws with this series. It's just so well filmed, so well acted, so well put together. Everything from the production design to the intricate sound design - it's all top notch. It's all just top notch. Call me a sucker for gritty crime dramas, I deserve it. Cutting my teeth with Scorcese's great body of work has set a certain standard. Narcos meets and exceeds these standards.

Season 2 manages to keep raising the stakes, the only difference being that we finally get to see some pieces of Escobar's empire finally breaking down. But the mystique around him builds. There are times that, even if you are aware of the historical facts, it feels like he's never going to be caught. One of the constant thoughts I have while watching Narcos is what if Pablo had never run for that political office early on? By doing that he put the spotlight on him, a spotlight that never went away. It seems possible that if continued to lurk in the shadows of Colombian society rather than trying to become such a mainstream figure that he could have gone on growing his empire and wouldn't have to spend his life on the run.