Logan’s Run, Run, Run

Pursuit – run-in, pursuit – run-in, pursuit – really big run-in, end of movie.  This basic, worn out, unengaging and paper-thin plot structure is the bane of many superhero and “action” films, and to some degree explains the disparity between the Tomatometer and my score on a movie like Logan.  Almost makes you wonder if all these other critics are so dim as to not recognize the formula, or somehow think it novel.

I liked the feisty girl, and the performances in general were OK.  I’m a bit of Hugh Jackman fan — from Les Miz at least.  Add in a little fun to get yield 4/10.

Comparison Notes: the much better Mad Max film from a couple years back

Film Brief: Deepwater Horizon

Like Everest, Deepwater Horizon fails at the most most crucial point.  But at least Everest was an engaging picture.  I still don’t know what or how the explosion(s) occurred, and I don’t want to reverse-figure out the movie on Wikipedia.  A good documentary on the subject would have been infinitely better — so I guess I’ll wait for that on PBS.  I did like the parts that weren’t just a bunch of banging, and John Malkovich was perfection.  4/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): Captain Phillips, Sully, Gravity, Everest

Film Brief: Suicide Squad

suicide-squad-posterSuicide Squad is the most hyped movie of the year by far, so despite the poor reviews I took it as my duty to go see it. Plus, it looked kinda fun.

The funny thing is that although it was terrible, it wasn’t worse than any other latter-era superhero / comic-based movie.  Which is to say critics can’t find the line between good and bad action flicks.  2/10

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For a real female superhero movie, I suggest La Femme Nikita.  And for a real evil-doer movie, Dead Calm.

The Nice Guys Finish First

Scott Tobias, NPR, mostly gets it:

With The Nice Guys, his wildly entertaining new detective comedy, Black visits the smog-choked, libertine Los Angeles of the mid- to late 1970s, a few years and a few miles removed from private eyes like Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye or Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice. Only, The Nice Guys doesn’t linger in the haze. It has the byzantine plot of an LA noir, but races through it with the breathless energy of Black’s other work. From a simple missing-person case, the film opens up a full-to-bursting array of running jokes, ornate action set pieces, municipal schemes, and twists large and small. The only trouble is keeping up with it.

A few critics speak to a confusing or multi-layered plot, but I’m not sure what they’re talking about.  I found the story quite straightforward, even simple —  if not especially robust.  But the film does move along well, with lots of fun scenes The Nice Guys - text blockmoving quickly from one to the next.  “Wildly entertaining” is overselling it a bit, however.  Toward the end, The Nice Guys devolves into a sort of fermented corn-and-cheese mixture: the “ornate action set piece” finale I found trite, an obvious take-off on the much better opening sequence of the second Indiana Jones picture.

With its several significant flaws, The Nice Guys nonetheless has more in its favor than against it.  It’s mostly a lot of fun.  The squandered opportunities which yielded American Hustle and Inherent Vice were making me think that no-one could produce a decent ’70s-set movie in this vein, but The Nice Guys comes out on top of this heap.  On the low end of 7/10.

Comparison Notes (all recommended, and more accurately “wildly entertaining”): Chinatown, Catch Me If You Can, Trainspotting, Hail, Caesar!

MI No Likee [u]

I wanted to like Mission: Impossible V, I really did.  I’ve been a long time fan of Tom Cruise, and feel he got a bum rap.  Yes, he’s a Scientologist.  What can I say, it’s a Hollywood cult that works for some actors, John Travolta being the other big example.  As long as you’re not obnoxious — or dangerous — with your cult, what do I care?  You want to believe that aliens rule the world, more power to you.

And he had a couple rants, like the one about psychologists — where he wasn’t completely wrong.  And he jumped on Oprah’s couch.  So what.  Compared to what a lot of big stars do, that’s nothing.  It does not negate his excellent performances in Born on the Fourth of July, Eyes Wide Shut, A Few Good Men, and The Firm, nor does the public now feel repulsed by early favorites Risky Business or Top Gun.

But people just can’t forgive couch-jumping.  I was dismayed that last year’s superb sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow didn’t do better at the box office, so when MI V came out and received universal praise, I was pulling for it.  When the widely panned Fantastic Four was released on MI V’s second weekend, I was rooting for MI V to come out on top — and it barely did.  I figured reviews and word of mouth had won — this one time at least — over marketing.  It was almost as good as the Yankees losing.

Then I had the sad misfortune to watch the movie.

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MI V - text blockA Most Wanted Man, for its myriad of issues, struck a sober tone, one of melancholy; an atmosphere which allows one to believe, and thereby be absorbed, into the story — if only it hadn’t been so mangled.  MI V doesn’t go that route, rather choosing a James Bond tack.  A tack which often worked for 007, but sure doesn’t here.

MI V fails because the silly approach undermines the movie’s attempts to present a serious, or at least exciting, spy thriller.  When Tom Cruise is delivering nominally serious lines, I felt completely numb to them — indeed I had a hard time believing anything other than the comic relief.

Mission Impossible 5 - poster medIf you can’t be deft enough to skirt your spy flick between sober and comic — in other words, if you can’t find that Bond film balance, then choose one side or the other.  Go the way of A Most Wanted Man, or for a more fun but still serious approach, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Decide you’re an exciting thriller.  Or decide you’re a comedy, like Spy.  Though Spy sets out no more than to make you laugh, the dramatic storyline works a helluva lot better than MI V — or Skyfall, for that matter.

So all this makes MI V an incredible bore; if I didn’t have a blog I would almost have walked out.  I mean Mr. Holmess bees generated unencumbered enthrallment compared to this clunker.  An abundance of blatant ripoff Microsoft product placement didn’t help.  On the positive side: a night at the opera, one good vinyl self-destruct scene, two good action sequences, a small handful of “cute” moments, and cool beginning and ending credits.  3/10

UPDATE: Now 4/10

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Mad Max: Fury Road bears little resemblance to the rough-hewn postmodern indie western introduced in 1979.  The charm of those indie elements is gone, in a way not dissimilar to the progression of the original Star Wars to the more polished versions that arrived later.  Mad Max 2015 is a mostly non-stop bundle of energy, frenetic, entertaining, and, at the end, utterly transient.

Mad Max did not impress me as much as the critics, but I liked it.  It’s straight and to the point, an overt escape film with nothing to complicate matters.  6/10

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FX:  The Verge ran an article showing frames before and after special effects were applied.  The Verge article links to a much more extensive one at fxguide.com, for those interested.  Be aware of possible spoilers.

Mad Max - fx screenshot from The Verge