The Dark Knight Rises is the Best Christopher Nolan Batman Movie (This is not a Hyperbolic Hot-Take; This is the Truth)

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I’ll be completely honest, I was never all that into Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I thought the movies were fine and wholly entertaining, but it always bothered me that the greatest modern film director was spending so many of his prime years making Batman movies.

After Inception came out, I was so jazzed on Nolan, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Inception was the work of someone who had a very specific passion (dreams) since they were a child and spent decades making it happen. Do you know how often “passion projects” end up being a director’s shittiest work? For every Inception or Almost Famous, we have to put up with an endless lineup of dumpster fires like This is 40, Aloha, Super 8, After Earth and so on. But Inception worked so well; I thought Christopher Nolan could do anything (and based on what you think of Interstellar [it’s great] he either can or can’t but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Unfortunately, I became completely deflated when I found out he was doing yet another Batman movie to follow up Inception. So two years went by and I saw The Dark Knight Rises. Once again, I was definitely entertained from start to finish but wasn’t blown away like I was with Inception. But back then, after I first saw it, on the car ride home with my friends, who were complaining about the ridiculous issues they had with the movie, I thought to myself, “I think that was pretty good…”

The Dark Knight Rises has been plagued over the years by fanboys breaking down every single small element of the movie that might not make sense: “How did Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham after escaping the pit??” “How can there be a program that deletes your entire electronic history??” “How would Bane know his entire convoluted plan would go off without a hitch??”

Seriously? The fanboys who worshiped the previous movie about a man who dresses up as a bat, and fights a criminal wearing clown makeup, suddenly have issues about the minutiae of the plot?

The Dark Knight Rises is a massive movie and constantly has five or six story mechanics churning all at once. If anyone can handle this, it’s Christopher Nolan, and while detractors of the movie say he didn’t, he did. He absolutely fucking did.

I re-watched this movie twice in the last few years and it blows me away with every line. I couldn’t believe how important re-watching it was. It is easier to wrap your head around Inception on a first viewing than it is to wrap it around The Dark Knight Rises on the first bout. Every single line, for the first two thirds of the movie, are absolutely essential to what happens later on; everything that is said, is said for a reason and is setting up something to come later. It honestly can be a little exhausting at times. My girlfriend (yeah, I have a girlfriend AND write about Batman; we live in a paradoxical time), stopped the movie about 12 times to regroup and ask me what was going on and why people were saying what they were saying (does it count as mansplaining if she asked me to do it?).

Because of all this, the plot is obviously very convoluted, but damn if it doesn’t work so well. This movie is patient as hell. I’m sure the studio had issues with the fact that viewers don’t even see Batman in the suit until about 40 minutes into the story but the fact that Nolan fought for that, is a testament to his storytelling prowess. When Batman finally shows up on his motorcycle, flies his Bat-Airplane and beats the shit out of faceless goons with Catwoman, you can’t help but accept that it was all worth the wait.

What works so well about this movie is that we had not yet seen Batman be challenged physically. Batman Begins brought him face-to-face with fear. The Dark Knight introduced chaos that would test his morality. But The Dark Knight Rises makes him reconcile with the idea that there will always be someone out there who is stronger than him; someone who can break him. Bane is easily the best villain in this trilogy. Not only does he have the smarts to take down Gotham and Batman, but he also has the muscle to do it without breaking a sweat.

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This is a perfect opportunity to talk about the scene. You know the scene. Bruce prematurely goes into the sewers to stop Bane before his plan can progress any further. Bruce gave up being Batman for years but knowing that he never came across a thug he couldn’t pulverize, he figures Bane will be no different. When he challenges Bane, he comes to the unfortunate realization that Alfred tried to warn him of: Bane has the fiery, fighting passion that Bruce once had but has long since abandoned it.

What we are treated to is the best fight scene in cinema. I am not being hyperbolic. The whole thing is executed perfectly because it looks like it wasn’t planned. We are currently living in a world where fight scenes are so expertly choreographed that they end up looking more like a rehearsed dance routine, than a fight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s thrilling to watch Captain America take on The Winter Soldier on the streets of Washington, in a scene that stunt coordinators clearly spent weeks putting together, but Batman’s fight with Bane is something completely bulkier and somehow better. The fight is so effective because it’s honest about what it is: two muscle-headed guys slowly slugging their fists at each other. The sound effects in this scene are a bit over-the-top but that’s only to service how brutal this fight is supposed to be. Every punch, crack, tear and gasp can be heard.

Bruce does a great job of holding his own in the fight, which is another testament to Nolan; it would be less heartbreaking if Batman took on Bane and immediately got absolutely destroyed. The fact that Bruce can land so many brutal hits but somehow still end up on the ground, getting his face mashed in, makes us even more devastated. And because of this, it’s all the more satisfying at the end when Batman beats the shit out of Bane once he knows he has to break the mask first.

Many critics of this movie say that it gets too rushed in the final act and I suppose that might be valid but it’s also why I love it. The final 40 minutes of this movie are clunky, bombastic and all-out ridiculous and when I watched it, all I could think was, “finally…” Keep in mind, these are movies about a billionaire who nocturnally fights crime in a bat costume, so what works so well about this movie is that it actually leans in to the absurd, comic book-nature of it all. Yes, Batman is going to fight a giant man who can feel no pain, amidst an army of police officers going to war with prisoners and then he’s going to stop an atomic bomb from killing everyone… oh and by the way, he also has a flying Batmobile now. This is all objectively great and it all works. Not only does it work but it has emotional heft to it; the moment where Catwoman offers to help Bruce escape the city because he’s given Gotham everything he as to offer and Bruce responds, “Not everything; not yet,” still sends chills down my spine. The audience collectively has the same thought: Holy shit. Christopher Nolan is gonna crucify Batman for our sins.

The Dark Knight is definitely a tighter and more thoughtful movie, but it leaves me wanting more payoff. Batman kicking around the Joker a little bit at the end is not nearly as adrenaline-inducing as him punching Bane, square in the face, and saying “tell me where the trigger is… then… you have my permission to die.”

If The Dark Knight is a somewhat strong guy with perfectly sculpted abs, then The Dark Knight Rises is a dude who can deadlift a refrigerator but still has a 3.6 GPA.

You’re Watching the Wrong Movies on Airplanes

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A friend of mine recently told me that she loves movies but hates going to the movie theater (groan). When I asked how she stays up-to-date on the current state of cinema so well if she eschews the theater, I was expecting the normal answer of piracy but I was pretty shocked and disappointed to hear her response: she watches nearly all new movies on airplanes.

While I am a firm believer in the idea that every movie is meant to be viewed in a theater (yes, everything: comedies, action movies, thrillers, dramas, etc…), I understand that when a screen is shoved in your face for 6 hours as you fly back to New York from San Francisco, you’re probably going to watch a movie to kill some time. Action movies will look awful on a small screen and if there are any intense scenes involving airplanes, those will get cut, R-rated comedies are heavily edited for inappropriate content, and prestige dramas are also scrubbed clean of any Puritan social faux pas.

So, for the longest time, I always argued that you should watch something you’ve already seen and liked but haven’t watched in a while. Doing this means you won’t be too interrupted when the person next to you gets up and goes to the bathroom and then returns to their seat in 56 seconds*, if something is edited, it won’t really bother you because you know exactly what you missed, action scenes matter less because you’ve already seen them in all their theatrical glory before and those tense dramatic movies won’t have the tension cut in the middle of a pivotal scene by the pilot making an announcement about turbulence.

But last year I started doing something that I think might be even better than watching something I’ve already seen. I was on a flight to Puerto Rico, scrolling through the 80-something movies they had available and came across something that seemed interesting to me and I had an epiphany: you should always watch PG-13, 2000’s-era romantic comedies on airplanes. It was so simple yet so elusive. These are movies that I’ve never watched before and in any other situation would never willingly sit through, I don’t care if they get interrupted by announcements or other airplane-related distractions, the romantic scenes are so vanilla that there’s nothing to edit out, the comedy is tame enough to be left in and because humans are subconsciously more mentally vulnerable on airplanes, your emotions are more extreme, thus the lame jokes seem funnier and the final emotional payoff feels more satisfying than if you were watching the movie on TBS over the weekend.

My girlfriend (yeah, I know girls; no big deal) could not have been more perplexed as she saw me chuckling along with the predictably tame hijinks of “Bride Wars” on a flight last year and again this past weekend as I got visibly fired up watching Matthew McConaughey chase Kate Hudson to airport at the end of “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” All of a sudden when I had nothing else to do and my life rested in the hands of two pilots I couldn’t see, I became engrossed in the meaningless clichés and platitudes that the 2000’s-era romcoms championed themselves on. Suddenly, poor portrayals of “boys bein’ boys,” date nights gone wrong and sassy roommates seemed like pretty entertaining fare for a movie.

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A friend of mine told me he watched “Dunkirk” on a plane once and said he didn’t see the big deal about it. Maybe it just wasn’t his cup of tea; It’s entirely possible that he wouldn’t have seen the “big deal” about it even if he saw it on the big screen but he did himself and the movie a complete disservice when he decided to watch 2017’s largest cinematic spectacle on a 5-inch screen while someone next to him got up to take a crap every 35 minutes; not to mention a third of the film takes place in dogfighting airplanes, which is heavily edited for airplane viewing.

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Even something profoundly mediocre, like the recent Resse Witherspoon flop, “Home Again” kind of came around and worked for me in the final scenes while watching it in the sky. I don’t think I would even enjoy watching “Dunkirk” on a plane (mostly because I’d fear Tom Hardy would be seconds away from blowing me out of the sky); I had the choice to watch it just yesterday and I thought to myself, “no thanks.”

Don’t try to catch up on the movies everyone was talking about a few months ago on the plane. If you truly care to watch it, find a way to watch it at least on your TV at home. No one wants to hear your thoughts on your bastardized airplane viewings of “Call Me By Your Name” or “The Shape of Water.” But I will happily listen to your hot takes on your airplane viewing of “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

 

*(side note: when someone next to you goes to the bathroom and you pause the movie, should you even un-pause it while they’re gone? They’ll be back so quickly and then you have to re-pause the movie so they can sit down again. It hardly seems worth it but I do it every damn time.)

Why Are You So Mad That Star Wars is Changing?

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This isn’t something I really thought I would or even want to write about but in the wake of recent events, it seems like the right time to do it. When it comes to Star Wars movies, I’m completely indifferent. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about them in any direction. Having said that, being indifferent to Star Wars somehow makes me a “hater” because of how much its rabid fanbase comparatively loves it. To me they always seemed like okay movies; I saw them when I was a kid but didn’t connect with them all that much, so I don’t have this burning nostalgia for them in my heart that others who really grew up on them do. I thought lightsaber battles were cool but that was about the extent of it.

Star Wars rarely seems to break into the realm of legitimately “good” movies. What works for Star Wars is that it is incredibly imaginative and because of that, they have a giant impression on children, who (and I know this hurts, fanboys) are the target audience for these movies. Yes. Star Wars, at its core, is a movie for kids, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The reason fanboys get so angry about Star Wars is their refusal to accept that. They enjoyed it when they were kids but they are not kids anymore, so when this franchise deviates from the established formula that they are nostalgically comfortable with, they throw a fit.

This isn’t all Star Wars fans. I am sure the vast majority of them are well-adjusted adults who have no problem with the franchise changing beyond Luke fighting Darth Vader. The problem is, well-adjusted people don’t make the news. No one wants to hear about people who politely enjoy things. Unfortunately, a loud minority of racists and misogynists are going to make the news every time, no questions asked. These are the folks that don’t want change. Change is different. Change is scary. Change is hard to embrace. It’s much easier to eat at McDonald’s every night because you know what you’re getting and that’s the same mentality that has driven these Star Wars fans insane; it’s as if McDonald’s changed their menu and that is unacceptable to them. So they have decided to viciously attack something they claim they love very dearly.

Just take a look at what has happened only in the last few months: Kelly Marie Tran (who was wonderful to watch in The Last Jedi) had to leave Instagram due to awful vitriol from “fans” of Star Wars, director, Rian Johnson has received numerous death threats for making The Last Jedi not fit smoothly with what is expected, no demanded, by the “fans” in a Star Wars movie and now there is a boycott of Solo, the newest movie, because these “fans” hate Kathleen Kennedy for trying to tell new stories within this universe. The message is clear and I’ve said this loooooooong before all of this ridiculous backlash took place: these fans do not actually want “new” Star Wars movies, they just want the same ones over and over again with a slightly new coat of paint to keep it a little fresh. They want it the way it was when they were kids; if it isn’t exactly like that, then it is not Star Wars.

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It’s mind-bending to think about. You have an imaginative franchise that takes place across a vast galaxy of planets and all you want to do is keep going back to Tatooine and the Death Star?? It wasn’t interesting at all to see an old and bitter Luke Skywalker? You just wanted him to come and save the day, yet again? How is that interesting at all? You had three whole movies of that exact thing already.

A friend once said to me, “but that’s not who Luke Skywalker is; he would never act like that.” Why not? He’s fucking made up. They can make him do whatever he wants. It’s not like they completely bastardized him; he didn’t grow a tail and breathe fire… a bad thing happened to him and they explained why that made him bitter. What’s the disconnect? You are absolutely allowed to not like it; you can even hate it, but you cross a line and make a complete fool of yourself when you threaten to assault anyone who was involved in making that creative choice.

You don’t own Star Wars. Nobody does (well, Disney does). Toxic fandom is nothing new. These are the same kinds of people that sent Damon Lindelof death threats because they didn’t like the finale to Lost. I get it, you love these properties and franchises and you get nervous about them being tampered with; you have an idea in your head of how they should play out and you get angry when it doesn’t go that way. But don’t you want to be surprised? Don’t you want to say, “wow, I never saw that coming!” If you perfectly guessed how an entire movie or TV show will play out, aren’t you upset that you knew the whole thing before it even started? You should want to be surprised. You should want to see new faces and new situations. I know you like The Force Awakens because it rehashed all the Star Wars tropes you already loved but do you really want to keep seeing the exact same movie over and over and over and over again for the next 50 years?

Kubo and the Two Strings is the Kind of Movie We Need More of

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Kubo and the Two Strings has a lot going for it: breathtaking visuals, an easy-to-follow story, a lovable underdog hero and a stacked voice cast. But before I even saw it, I knew it would flop at the box office. I think there’s something about Laika’s animation style that doesn’t sit right with the general public. Audiences are used to the squeaky-clean stylings of Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar. Laika’s animation is not only stop-motion (which could turn off some viewers) but it also just looks a little grimier, but that works in its favor, especially for creepy fare such as Coraline or The Boxtrolls, but somehow in Kubo, that grime brings out a natural beauty in the production design.

The plot is incredibly straightforward and basically plays out like a video game. Kubo must journey to find a magical sword, breastplate and helmet, each one guarded by some sort of “boss” he needs to defeat or outsmart to ultimately take down his grandfather, the Moon King, in the final battle. If Kubo is defeated, the Moon King will take Kubo’s eye (he already took one at Kubo’s birth) and become immortal. Along the way, Kubo will be joined by his two sidekicks, Monkey and Beetle, and will also have to battle with the Moon King’s two henchmen at various points in his quest. There’s not much more to it than that; it isn’t all that different from a Legend of Zelda video game structure.

A straightforward story can be great though; of course it can be immensely satisfying when something complicated, like Inception, comes together in a grand finale, but not every movie needs to shoot for that. Kubo is content to tell Japanese folklore in the exact manner it needs. If anything, I would have loved for the quest to go on even longer. Show me a few more boss battles and adventures. It feels like as soon as the three main characters start to click, we enter the climax and have to start saying goodbye.

Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey are both great in their roles as the antithesis of one another’s personality. It’s really fun to hear McConaughey play a goofier role than we’ve seen from him in the last few years; it took me a while to remember that he has good comedic timing. How could he not after a string of rom-coms in the mid-2000’s? (Spoilers) He is so effective as a man-turned-beetle that the moment his character finally remembers who he once was, right before he bites the dust, is a genuinely touching bit and works infinitely better than any of the ham-fisted, tear-bait nonsense from Inside Out (go ahead, disagree. You’re wrong).

There are a few standout scenes, from a visual standpoint, that come to most people’s minds when reflecting on the movie: the giant skeleton battle is pretty thrilling and the final sequence where Kubo takes on the Moon King alone is a dazzling spectacle but the grandest of all is the series of events on the water. The animation of Kubo crafting a large ship out of leaves using his strings (I forgot to mention, Kubo has magic strings that can manipulate small objects) is a marvel and then it leads right into one of the film’s most expertly choreographed combat scenes between Monkey and the Moon King’s evil twin daughters as Kubo’s ship collapses. It’s incredible to watch and remember that it’s all stop-motion. Perhaps the most chilling of all during this sequence is while the battle above the water rages, Kubo must steal the magic breastplate from a giant sea monster with hundreds of giant eyes that attempt to hypnotize him until he drowns. This sceneis legitimately chilling to watch as Kubo goes lower and lower into the ocean and the number of eyeballs on him multiplies. The movie never quite recaptures the sheer magnitude of spectacle from those scenes but they alone are worth watching it for.

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Some controversy about the whitewashing of the cast erupted as the movie was released and I think those concerns are legitimate, considering this is a classic piece of Japanese folklore but I applaud director, Travis Knight, and the whole Laika team for handling the material with so much affection. At the very least, the movie we are presented with is a great watch and comes from a place of earnestness, even though this may not have been a story for white folks to tell.

Stop-motion animation doesn’t really exist in any mainstream kind of way anymore. This year alone, we saw Early Man flop at the box office and Isle of Dogs, while a wonderful movie, isn’t something built for mainstream audiences. It would have been great for Kubo and the Two Strings to take off at the box office and show people that great animated movies don’t have to come from Disney or Dreamworks. They don’t have to pander but can challenge. Travis Knight and his team have moved on from animation (at least for now) to helm the Transformer’s spin-off, Bumblebee. While this is a bummer for the future of stop-motion, it may be a glimmer of hope for the Transformers franchise… but that’s not exactly what I’m interested in from such a unique voicein filmmaking right now.

Primal Fear – Can a Movie So Stuck in the 90’s be Enjoyed Today?

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High school is a pretty good time to start watching Edward Norton’s hot streak of movies from the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s. They’re often very serious and not all that subtle. That’s a perfect combination for a high school-aged kid; you get to watch adult movies that deal with mature themes that don’t run too deep so that you don’t miss any real subtext. Norton hit the apex of this with Fight Club: the ultimate high school movie. It has big performances, enough pseudo-intellectualism to kill a liberal arts student and a crazy fucking twist. Even at age 16, I was able to look at Fight Club and think to myself, “Nah. This is a piece of shit.”

No matter how some of his movies turned out, Norton is an undeniably magnetic performer. He can play intensity with ease, as many dramatic actors can, but also slip into softer characters with just as much success (something over-acclaimed actors like Leonardo Dicaprio and Jack Nicholson are genuinely terrible at). The movie that allows Norton to flex both of those muscles is his big screen (and Academy Award nominated) debut in 1996’s Primal Fear.

Norton plays Aaron Stampler, an altar boy accused of murdering an Arch Bishop in Chicago. Richard Gere plays the lead character, Aaron’s lawyer, and honestly gives what should be hailed as one of his career’s best performances, but gets overshadowed by Norton’s meatier supporting performance (ain’t it always that way?). What we get, is a relatively standard courtroom thriller with just enough twists and turns in its pocket to keep you interested, buoyed by powerhouse performances.

What struck me as I re-watched it for the first time in at least 5 years is just how 90’s it is. Yes, there are the shaggy haircuts, parted down the middle, the goofy-looking suits and actors like Maura Tierney (who isn’t given enough to do) and Laura Linney (who should have rocketed to fame after this) to remind us that this movie was made right in the thick of the 90’s but there are also some indescribable features that place us in that decade. Maybe it’s the music cues, maybe it’s just the general swagger people held back then, I’m not sure, but if you showed this movie to someone without any prior knowledge, it’s likely they’d guess it was made somewhere between 1994 and 1998.

So, does it hold up, despite being undeniably 90’s? To be honest, I’m never quite sure what “holding up” means. Yes, there is the direct interpretation of, “is it still a good movie, all these years later,” but everyone seems to have their own take on what it means. It’s definitely dated but I also think it still works. The performances aren’t any less captivating today and the story structure still works well enough. So, if that’s the case, what would have to happen for a movie not to “hold up?” Short of new social and societal revelations, I see no reason why a movie should work in one decade and crumble in another.

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Primal Fear’s biggest asset is its performances and characters. Gere’s Martin Vail actually has layers that go beyond the normal “hot shot lawyer” archetype, not many layers… but layers nonetheless. Even the supporting players, like Andre Braugher have backstory that doesn’t smack you in the face. For a blunt courtroom drama about a sociopathic murderer, there is a fair amount of restraint at play.

Of course, Norton runs away with the movie, thanks to his character’s mid-story revelation of multiple personality disorder, but the snappy dialogue between the rest of the characters keeps you watching almost as much. There’s a certain composure these actors hold, that keep them from getting bogged down by some of the cheesier lines they’re forced to spit. And the quippy banter? As always, when quippy banter is done right, it’s nothing short of delightful.

Tommy: That’s the worst bullshit story I’ve heard in my entire life.

Martin: Now it’s our bullshit story.

I was talking about this movie with a friend once who said it was the perfect kind of movie to remake in the modern era. At first, I was intrigued by the idea, maybe giving it a new coat of paint could revitalize it for a new generation. Throw Bradley Cooper into Gere’s role, stick Scarlett Johansson in Laura Linney’s place and find a fiery new talent for Norton’s role… why not? But then I firmly stood against the notion. Beyond the fact that studios don’t make movies for $30 million anymore, this movie can’t be remade now because it would be trash. It should have been trash in the 90’s but it isn’t. Thanks to the right talent all coming together, the material is elevated to something much better than it had any right to be. Leave it alone. Don’t touch it. Look what happened to Total Recall, another clinically 90’s movie. When they tried to update it for the modern era with new actors, all of a sudden it became clear that it was the talent involved that made that cheesy movie work, not the convoluted story.

After watching it again, it became clear to me that Primal Fear doesn’t really have anything to say. It boils down to being an entertaining-as-hell film adaptation of a murder mystery novel you would probably see sitting on your grandma’s coffee table, with a menacing ending that I legitimately never saw coming (at age 16, at least). To me, that’s fine. Maybe not every movie has to be a musing on what it means to be human or what makes someone crazy (maybe we’re the crazy ones!!). Some movies can just be about a killer in a courtroom. Nothing wrong with that.

Everybody Wants Some!! One of the Most Charmingly Annoying Movies I’ve Ever Loved

Everybody Wants Some - Movie Trailer Review - Visit MovieholicHub.com

This one is just a plain ol’ gem. While it essentially exists as a middle-aged man looking back on his college years and only remembering the best parts, it is pretty damn fun to watch. It took me a few viewings (I’ve gone through this movie more times than I should) to understand that these characters aren’t really supposed to be that lovable… most of them are entitled assholes who you probably met and hated in college. Having said that, it would be hard to find a movie where the cast has better chemistry than this one; they obviously love spending time with each other and it shows. Even if you find EWS exhausting at the beginning, what with its absurd fetishization of college life, the swagger and charm of its cast will wear you down.

Hollywood has been hyping up college to kids for decades and while this movie does its fair share to pile on to that, it approaches the subject matter with a little more delicate nuance. The characters love to drink and get girls but honestly, it’s entirely possible that, that was Richard Linklater’s college experience in the early 80’s.

The obvious standout here is Glenn Powell as Finn, the charming, pseudo-intellectual you definitely met five times in college. He’s the character you most want to be and also the one you’d probably want to tell to shut up after he rambles about his theories on Dante for ten minutes. The obvious weak point is Blake Jenner as Jake, the lead character, which seems to be a recurring issue in Linklater’s movies recently: Ellar Coltrane started out pretty charmless and eventually became insufferable in “Boyhood,” and here, Jenner is pretty monochrome from start to finish, and not even in a way where he grounds the rest of the wackier characters in reality… he just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the actors. Put Wyatt Russell in his role, or at least someone that I believe A) has played baseball once in their life and B) acted in something other than Glee.

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Linklater, as he has done many times in his career, seems to be out to prove that “plot” is overrated and he’s right to think so. There’s no overarching goal these characters have, they’re just having as much fun as possible during those glorious few days when you show up to college but classes haven’t started yet. He proves that if you create a cast of characters that feel real and put them in a fully-realized setting, you can get away with just letting them exist, in fact, you probably should. There doesn’t need to be a ham-fisted plot about them earning enough money to save the team or having to win the big game so they can go to the playoffs, they can just exist without the need for some climactic payoff.

Much like my real days in college, hoping that classes wouldn’t actually begin and I could just hang out with my friends all day, every day; I spent this whole movie, dreading the idea that it would eventually end and that the characters would have to go to class and I’d have to leave the theater. In a theatrical landscape where many movies are overlong and overstuffed with lore and in-references, I find myself playing “fantasy film editor” and trying to figure out which scenes could be cut or trimmed so I’m not in the seat for way over two hours but here, I was bummed out by the constant reminder that the characters’ long weekend was rapidly coming to a close.

I would be totally game for Linklater to make direct sequels to this movie on a regular basis because I know it wouldn’t grow tiring. What works about the movie isn’t some clever storyline or hook that can be ruined with a continuation. What works is the comradery and that will never get old. Show me more weekends of these guys; show me what else they do! The parts that work best are not the slightly toxic party/girl chasing scenes, but the scenes of them day drinking on a Saturday afternoon. They feel authentic. The scenes of the WILD AND CRAZY parties sometimes feel not too far off from an American Pie movie, and only the charm of the cast brings them back to reality, especially when it borders the line of parody: “let’s get these girls to mud wrestle!!,” and “theater kids are so weird!”

It would be totally reasonable for someone to find this movie and its characters completely insufferable, but I would argue that most college students are pretty insufferable, no matter what their personality is. I would understand if someone had a hard time watching these entitled douchebags get whatever they want, especially in the semi-forced subplot of Jake meeting his first love in the thoughtful, legitimately interesting and intelligent Beverly (Zoey Deutch) despite the fact that there is literally nothing interesting about him.

EWS is far from indicative of what the real college experience is and one could argue that it inflates male egos quite a bit, but you can’t take away the fact that this movie, at its core, clicks into what a bunch of guys hanging out is really like sometimes and as a guy who has spent a lot of time hanging out… it was fascinating to see it portrayed so accurately.

Overlooked Gems from the Last Few Years (Part 2)

As I did before, I just want to give some quick shout-outs to some movies that came and went, without much recognition, that deserved a little more attention. They could be great movies or just ones that have more to chew on than the world realized at the time.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot

From the directors of Crazy, Stupid Love, writer Robert Carlock (showrunner of 30 Rock), and starring Tina Fey, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is an unexpectedly tense movie that was sold as something else. Understandably, the studio didn’t know how to market this movie; with such a high caliber, comedy background, it seemed to make sense to advertise it as a goofy satire of the war against terrorism in the Middle East. Yes, there are plenty of comedic flares to this movie but it certainly isn’t a comedy.

WTF is far more of a tense meditation on how journalists cope with the stress of living in a war-zone for the once in a lifetime opportunity to make a name for themselves (I majored in journalism in college and jumped ship at the last second… you spend your entire career trying to establish yourself in an overcrowded, dying medium; I totally get why a journalist would take this opportunity). Tina Fey gives far and away her best film performance here and that is obviously aided by the script from her longtime collaborator, Carlock, who knows exactly what her strengths are. The movie is a little wobbly and probably could have used a little more time in the oven but if you were turned off but the goofy trailers, try giving it a shot, you will likely be surprised by the final product.

Midnight Special

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Following up 2013’s nearly-perfect, Mud, would be an impossible task for director Jeff Nichols… and it was. Nichols came back in 2016 with two films: Midnight Special and Loving. Both deserve a larger conversation than they were given at their time of release, even though neither of them quite live up the powerhouse film that Mud was.

Midnight Special paints a very tense and mysterious picture for the viewer and is a promising look at what Nichols can do with an expanded budget (mind you, it only cost $18 million, but that’s the biggest budget he’s ever worked with). It feeds you lots of breadcrumbs and gives you half ideas that you expect to pay off later. Without spoiling anything, it doesn’t quite pay off in the satisfactory manner that we have become accustomed to. I applaud Nichols for giving us as little exposition as possible; he trusts that the viewer is intelligent enough to piece things together or at least get a general concept of what’s going on. Because of this, we don’t have to deal with too much awkward dialogue where characters state things that all the other characters already know, just to fill us in.

Michael Shannon works well with Nichols, as always, and does a great job as the rock of the movie, portraying Roy Tomlin, the weary father of a boy with vaguely-defined supernatural abilities. Joel Edgerton (who seems to be working as often as James Franco these days) is a solid addition to the cast as the muscle of the getaway operation. For most of the movie, we’re served a long-term chase where we learn bits and pieces of what this mysterious boy is capable of. He can mentally tune into the radio, he can hypnotize people with his eyes, although we are never quite sure what this does, and in one scene, he is able to telepathically pull a satellite from space and crash it down to earth (we never see him use any abilities this powerful again in the film which is strange because if he has that kind of power, he could probably use it to take down some faceless henchmen with ease). Overall, we are treated to a kind of movie that we rarely ever see: fully realized to the creator but almost intentionally hidden from the audience to create an air of mystique.

Again, it does not provide the most satisfying conclusion in the world but damn is it creative. This is one you can definitely revisit on multiple occasions to find new hidden secrets.

Loving

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If Midnight Special is Nichols at his most mysterious (and he’s been plenty mysterious in the past), Loving is him at his most straightforward. It’s unfortunate that I have to admit this but I didn’t know anything about this story before I saw this movie and I honestly cannot believe this story, about how an interracial married couple, was breaking the law, simply by being married, isn’t something more people talk about.

This could, perhaps, be called Nichols’ attempt at Oscar glory but I don’t think it comes off that way. In the end, the film received a Best Actress nomination for Ruth Negga (who is undeniably great), but it really doesn’t play as Oscar-bait. Don’t get me wrong, the elements are all there but Nichols never goes for the sweeping “Oscar Moments.” He simply tells the story; he lets the material speak for itself and it’s an honorable notion, even if it did leave this film as an afterthought to most people.

The performances between Negga and Joel Edgerton as the titular Loving family are pitch perfect. They don’t seem like two people whose personalities would click, what with Mildred (Negga) being so soft and warm while Richard (Edgerton) is the epitome of a gruff, “rough around the edges” kind of guy but ultimately just wants to do right by his wife and kids.

What speaks volumes about this movie is how well it all works without it trying to entertain. It also doesn’t go bleak; it gets depressing and at time feels hopeless but (at the risk of sounding too cliché for my own good) there is a pervading sense of love throughout that really holds it all together. The moment where Loving’s attorney, Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) asks “Is there anything you’d like me to say to the supreme court justices of the United States?” and Richard responds, simply “Yeah. Tell the judge I love my wife.” Is a chillingly beautiful moment that reminds us of the importance of this movie better than almost anything that was rewarded at the Academy Awards that year.