Monday, February 26, 2018

2017 in the Teens pt. 1

The Accountant - Gavin O'Connor - A bit torn on this one. Almost too dumb for words, but had some pretty respectable violent bits. Wasn't fun like John Wick or Baby Driver or Atomic Blonde, but the same level of unbelievability in main character's skill set, organization and focus... Superhero movies usually need to feel like superhero movies to work and this one doesn't (feel like a superhero movie or work), but there are sequences that do so it's not a complete waste.

Allied Robert Zemeckis - Must've been in just the right mood, 'cause I really enjoyed this romantic-suspense throwback vehicle. Sexy sometimes, effectively violent and suspenseful - why won't the world just let these beautiful people be happy together? I'm a sap.

American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson - Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski - As passively familiar as anybody who lived through the time period is with the story of O.J. Simpson's murder trial, this one was a hard sell for me. Yeah, I know what happened and why do I want to spend many hours watching people in wigs and 90s clothes remind me? But you guys all said it would be great and here's where I bow to your collective wisdom and admit that it was. Still took a couple episodes for me to feel like I needed to keep going, but kudos to the writers and the cast for dramatizing a familiar and tabloid-exploited story so effectively. Hell, based on the success of this season, I'll be tuning in to The Assassination of Gianni Versace - a story I know nothing about - automatically. A lot great work in the cast, but I'll call out Sarah Paulson and David Schwimmer in particular. Solid.

American Ultra - Nima Nourizadeh - Okay this stoner comedy/conspiracy action movie wasn't as bad as it looked, though it surely would've been better at both aspects had it been an Edgar Wright picture. Still, I'm not sure I want my chocolate and my peanut butter to mix often and I doubt I'll be revisiting... Instead, I'll just watch The Big Lebowski or The Bourne Identity again.

The Americans season 4 - Joseph Weisberg - I think FX is committed to giving us the full and righteous send-off the series deserves, but I'm still a little confused by how little I see it getting talked about. Damn good show whose far-fetched series finale we seem to be living out in real time.

Archer season 7 - Adam Reed - What a hilariously vulgar, strange trip it's been. So Glad for the excuse for the team to shuffle the deck a few times in these final seasons to try new angles on the golden formulas. I love this show.

The Assignment - Walter Hill - As all the elements are right there in the trailer I'm not going to feel guilty about spoilers here. Frank is a hitman who has killed many a man for money. One previous victim has a grieving sister who's also a wack-ass doctor who sets out for revenge on Frank. She kidnaps the killer and performs a forced sex-change operation on him, turning the macho killer into a butch bitch who comes back for her own revenge. That... that's a fucking great set up. Attach Walter Hill's name as writer and director, cast Michelle Rodiguez as Frank and strap on the popcorn trough... but what the hell went wrong? How does the legend of heightened genre film take a premise that pulpy and deliver a product so dull? Seems like half the film is Rodriguez keeping a video diary and the other half is Sigourney Weaver in a straight jacket talking to Tony Shaloub (did I mention it squanders a hell of a supporting cast too?). The action we get is pretty chintzy and jumbled and not over the top enough to forgive. The best scenes are between Rodriguez and Caitlin Gerard as a new potential love interest for Frank. They manage to produce a couple recognizable emotions, but they're not nearly enough to salvage this dud. Apparently there's now a comic book  version too and I have to believe it's better than the film on which it's based.

The Bad Batch Ana Lily Amirpour - Director Ana Lily Amirpour's debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was a fever dream feature length music video without a song (a genre I can certainly love - Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising or Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man qualify) - so I was interested in her next project, but still unprepared for how hard I'd fall for her post-apocalyptic cannibalism revenge western. Like its predecessor The Bad Batch is pure style, but it's also got unexpected moments of emotional resonance. Suki Waterhouse is an outland wanderer falling victim to, coming to the aid of or exploring the kingdoms erected by Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jayda Fink. Along the way our road warrior encounters more human detritus including Jim Carrey giving his best performance in many years. It's ugly, gorgeous, vulnerable, trippy and not a little badass.

Bad Santa 2 - Mark Waters - I love Bad Santa unreservedly. It is balm to my cracked and parched retail-veteran's soul. What could I possibly want from a sequel? There isn't anything new or fresh here. It takes the same strategy so many sequels take - same formula, same jokes, just bigger, grosser, blacker - and predictably yields diminishing returns. Which is to say I laughed less frequently, but still a lot more often than most comedies I watch. Liked it, didn't love it. Kathy Bates was admirably game to join the gang.

Belko Experiment Greg McLean - The employees of an American corporation are locked inside their Bogota headquarters and commanded via intercom to begin murdering each other or be killed themselves. A social experiment as the basis of a film neither as satirically sharp as The Purge series, nor as bleakly hilarious as Duane Swierczynski'Severance Package, but still a worthwhile exercise in bloodletting.

Better Call Saul season 2 - Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould  - What an amazing job this show has done of re-framing the Saul Goodman character from Breaking BadCould Vince Gilligan and company turn him into an even bigger tragic figure than Walter White? Might they even pull it off whilst maintaining a tonally compelling mix of humor and pathos? Will it eclipse its origin? All possible.

Bloodline season 2 -  Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman - The Rayburn family continue to dig themselves deeper rather than out of the shit and we alternately root for and against their struggle to remain wealthy and socially well regarded. Black sheep Danny continues to be a presence both in flashbacks and imaginary exchanges, but maybe the lessons for the future should just be along the lines of - don't kill off the most interesting character early on.
BMF: Rise and Fall of a Hip-Hop Drug Empire - Don Sikorski - Interesting documentary about the Black Mafia Family's simultaneous rise in the worlds of music and crime and the symbiotic relationship both identities had. Familiar trajectories from countless fictions played out for reals.

Bridge of Spies Steven Spielberg - Attracted to this one because of the Coens' work on the script and happy to announce I enjoyed the whole affair more than I expected to. Those Coen flavors and touches bleed through nicely a handful of times. Mostly though, it's just a sturdily constructed picture.

Bright David Ayer - I'm pretty certain there was a brief moment in my life that I'd have been pretty stoked for this film. A hard-R, big budget treatment of fairy tale street crime, but that time is long past. Not to say I don't ever get down with fantasy crime mash ups- I enjoy books by Chris Holm, Stephen Blackmoore, Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski etc., but... I dunno, I can't really imagine it being better-executed, so I'm just gonna have to go with I don't want a movie like this. Three pictures in a row for Ayer straying from his straight up street crime film maker calling and he hasn't yet made the really great picture I think he's capable of. Back to basics please, sir.

Brighton Rock -Rowan Joffe - Another take on the novel by Graham Greene with no standout changes - it's a remake I'm fine with if it exposes a new audience to the story - 'cause shit... it's a good one. A Brighton tough sees an opportunity to distinguish himself and rise in amongst the gangster circles he runs in and takes it. As means toward his ends he pretends to fall in love with a waitress who may or may not be able to finger his gang for a murder. The relationship that progresses toward marriage is two-sided, but not shared as she feels swept off her feet and he a seething contempt and resentment - the affair ends in a fashion that satisfies both parties in the most Greene-esque fashion.

Chance season 1 - Alexandra Cunningham, Kem Nunn - I'm up to try anything based on Kem Nunn source material and got through the first season of Chance in a quick. Not really sure how it's going to hold up as a continuing series - I hope it resists getting deep into melodrama and instead really lets Ethan Suplee off the chain for some full-dark violence. Maybe that's just me. Holy crap though, what a great character.

The Dinner - Oren Moverman - Fucking loved Moverman's James Ellroy scripted Rampart, and mostly dig the cast in this one, but holy crap what a waste. Just a drag and a drip of information and endless bummer of an experience. Dull. Drab. Downbeat. Decent turn by Richard Gere who I can't seem to figure how he has such a string of films I really like (and like him in), but never think of him as one of my favorite performers. Too good a performance from Steve Coogan who is too unpleasant to want to spend a second more of onscreen time with. Laura Linney('s character) is just irritating, Rebecca Hall and Chloe Sevigny are wasted.

The Dog - Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren - Pervert, activist, serial-husband, bank robber John Wojtowicz was immortalized in Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, but he's got at least as much on screen charisma as Al Pacino playing a more sympathetic version of himself. This documentary lets the man tell his own story that includes plenty of material on both ends of his disastrous attempt to raise money for his wife's sex change.

Dope - Rick Famuyiwa - Man, I wanted to like this one a lot, but couldn't help feeling this one wanted me to like it a lot a lot more than I wanted to. Kudos for a drug/crime drama/comedy that isn't super dark and depressing, that portrays people of color in positive lights and avoids the stereotypes that make the average urban street flick seem rote and bland, but I kinda felt like the pitch for this one must have been something along the lines of 'black people that white people will like' - going for positive, but instead came across as toothless. Despite the likable cast and upbeat rhythms, I resisted every telegraphed ploy for my affections. I think this must be how some of you feel about Wes Anderson movies. I dunno, maybe I'll revisit it in a few years and feel differently.

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