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Category: Movies

Passengers (2016)

The Bible! Backwards! In Space!

Three quarters lukewarm water and one quarter a quite effective fish-out-of-water nightmare, Passengers suffers most from inconsequent Biblical allegory, and having its best quarter first. Not that it is an uncommon plague, excelling at the exposition of a high concept and being unable to convey it further than its inherent limitations, but this movie, through ingenious (not smart) use of multiple other sources, provides the viewer with one milquetoast experience which is as hard to hate as it is hard to like: the exact compendium of what Hollywood should send to space as a Rosetta stone, should it chose once more to elect Christian values over cinematography. Go figure what aliens will make of such a rewrite of the Scriptures.

So, do you remember the Fall from Eden, Adam being God’s masterpiece, until a woman, a tree and a snake precipitated the human race into sin, scourges and an endless life of misery? Good, thank you for that. Now project it backwards, starting from the Fall and rewinding to God’s green Earth, only adding space travel and romantic comedy in the mix? Here you are, watching Passengers.

So, Adam (Chris Pratt, vaguely attempting at emoting in at least in one and a half scene) and Eve (Jennifer Lawrence, for once in the Bible provided with a gorgeous wardrobe) live an idyllic life in an slightly dysfunctionning garden of Eden, namely the Avalon spaceship, en route for one of these terraformed colonies which increasingly appear as the only option out of our decaying world. Of course there is a tree, which you are left to chose is either the one of Knowledge of or Life, or both. Instructed as they are about previous mistakes, they do not procreate, in one of the most unwilling plot twists of recent blockbusters: no, they live a selfish life, contemplating the universe, eating gold class breakfast and having shared custody of the Snake, aka Arthur the Bartender. It’s kinda the Bible for the Z generation, the elected ones spending a life of leisure and boredom, not giving any thought about what will happen for generations to come.

The Snake (Michael Sheen on Mr Pistorius’ prosthetics and therefore by far the most interesting character onboard even though he’s ripped off straight, set including, from The Shining) is omiscient on cocktails and therefore in biblical allegory, so he knows when to step out of character, violate a couple of the laws of robotics and precipitate an extended romcom segment during which Adam and Eve falls in and out of love, including multiple wardrobe changes, happiness montages and a space dance straight out of Wall-E. Disaster ensues, but does it?

An extended action sequence includes Lawrence Fishburne for quota reasons, even though he has nothing to do there (which he does extensively, delivering a poor attempt at playing God, sorry “The Captain”). It’s not so much as the entire sequence is a crossover between Gravity and Prometheus, it’s… oh whatever. The ultimate “Open the door” suspense until next week, this action third act is clumsily edited, confusely dramatised and obfuscatingly directed. When is who emoting why, exactly?

Remains the first act, which, for ressembling the business class The Martian that it is, elicits more giggles that anything that follows. You know, at the beginning was the Word, then the Word became Flesh? Well, just imagine that in reverse and clutch your popcorn.

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Doctor Strange (2016)

Surrender, Steven !

For a Marvel joint, Doctor Strange is remarquably squeamish about tampering with the space-time continuum and the multiverse, even though the purpose of its script – and the function of its CGI – are precisely just that. Let’s just say that the Ancient One’s (SWINTON!, one of the two reasons to watch the film) terse warning that that shouldn’t be done comes a little late; I don’t know who’s planning the expansion of the Marvel Extended Universe but that particular Big Bang is a bit messy.

Three quarters ludicrous exposition and one quarter the expedited resolution of a dimensional clash threatening the very existence of the world, Doctor Strange is nevertheless quite enjoyable. Of course, the arc is the same as usual, a powerful character reduced to pulp by trauma only to become a god-like figure having to chose his of the Force, training scenes, time travel, cities folding on themselves, more training scenes, a mirror dimension, a cape, nefarious instoppable villains defeated by fisticuffs, and yet more training scenes. As usual, rooms full of priceless relics in glass boxes have been built for the express purpose to be shattered in said fisticuffs, the vilains of the piece takes order from un uber-vilain from outer space and time (Dormammu is coming and he’s ANGRY!). Also, one specific aspect of the movie kinda swallow all others, this time the polemic about casting Tilda Swinton as an originally Asian character. Which is, by the way, the wisest decision made here: just watch her graciously ackowledge that yes, this is good tea, and succumb to her sublime presence; she actually makes for a credible mentor/antagonist, as was the case in Constantine.

Doctor Strange‘s other saving grace is great production design (apart from this Dormammu guy, who looks like the writers described it as “generic evil CGI entity). Sets and costumes look great – and expensive, magic is not too shabby either. Casting is prestige Hollywood all over. Oh, right, casting, so easily outshone by Miss Swinton that it’s like she’s actually able to manipulate screen time.

Benedict Cumberbatch keeps on auditioning for the Bond role, driving a sports car over the speed limit in a tuxedo, which owns him the stupidest accident ot recent memory (a neuro-surgeon checking CAT-scans while driving at night, really?) and equipped with a rotating display for his collection of super expensive wrist watches. Forget about his smug attitude and God complex, the rotating wristwatch display says all about what a self-imbued, callous moron Steven Strange is: definitely, the new James Bond will be a throwback to the Roger Moore era. His love interest is played by Rachael McAdams, which has the virtue of answering the question what she has done lately, not that it was a very interesting one. Madds Mikkelsen plays Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner with his customary inexpressiveness, with the help of “Strong Zealot”, “Tall Zealot”, “Blonde Zealot” (one can’t help loving that one) and lots of glitter. Chiwetel Ejiofor looks gloomy about having to feature in the sequel, and Benedict Wong plays Wong, because the writers couldn’t come up with a better Chinese name.

The final showdown is rather good for once; the vilains stop their annoying antics and get their comeuppance like nothing had happened. Comedy scenes rub shoulders incomfortably with lines like “Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr Strange?”, an instant contender for 2016’s worst dialogue. The nature of reality is once more questioned, only to be swiftly put aside as a perfunctory plot point. After the movie ends, all sorts of questions remain unanswered, the least of which not being how The Ancient One built three sanctums (Suspiria, anyone?) in New York, London and Hong Kong,& centuries before these cities even exist. All in all though, a decent entry in the Marvel canon.

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

You’re In The Army Now… Again!

A big fat neutered cat of an action movie, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (henceforth: JR2) has Tom Cruise, probably unaware the title tells him never to, well, going back to the army to clear up the name of a girl he thought at some point of their telephone exchange would be worthy of a diner invitation. Yes, that’s quite about it. Of course, there is something fishy in Afghanistan, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb, weapon smuggling, etc. and Mr Cruise can practice his favourite hobbies: climbing stuff and chasing cars. Cats and dogs, all wrapped in that tiny bundle of joy.

If a movie is only as good as its villain, one will let you choose between the professional assassin appearing or vanishing at will, the old guy with the earpiece, and a French. If you need some time to think, please absorb a few fun facts along the way:

– It is extremely easy to escape from a military prison.
– A driver can be put in charge of the freshly proven ineffectual prison security without anyone noticing.
– A trained soldier armed with a meat cleaver will cower in fear of bullets shot in another direction.
– Annoying teenagers are punished by imprisonement in a very expensive art school.
– Twin beds are deterrent to sexuality.
– Afghanistan is sepia.

Everything is played by the book and it’s a very boring one. The only redeeming feature of JR2 is that Cobie Smulders (Robin Scherbatsky in the vastly overrated How I Met Your Mother) is a trooper when it comes to kick ass. Tom Cruise has obvious chemistry with her and he’s very good in a couple of mute scenes. But please, Tom, never go back there.

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The Innocents (2016)

12 Minutes A Slave

With a subject deep rooted in the criminal slavery past of Argentinians latifundias (ranches), The Innocents is a bleaker, terser, better Crimson Peak, not that it required a masterpiece to top that particular movie anyway. As a Southern gothic it has all the trimmings and then some: a plantation dominated by a crual master and his pious wife, crually abused slaves, a concupiscent priest, whipping, forced abortion, a witch trial, a curse and the flames of hell, the works. It even starts when Inception ended, which is quite something for a period drama.

Some of it borders on the ludicrous : the camera climbs a lot of trees while a swing is used as a metaphor of freedom; a super duper one-eyed magical black woman delivers a child assisted by ghosts and dialogue goes “Have you seen my scapulary?”, but somehow these distractions do not manage to send the whole thing in camp territory, the reason being that the good offsets the bad.

Starting with a flashback during which a teenage slave boy lives and dies for 12 minutes in order to set the plot in motion, The Innocents is good at pointing how organised religion always found a way to remain in control until very recently, especially at the expense of more ancestral, paganistic antagonists. It is also good at positing the youngest son and his pregnant wife as the two titular innocents, both wearing green, on the mostly red backdrop of the plantation and its master, while what’s left of the servants wears neutral black and white. The filming includes some nice cuts and a keen eye for group scenes, two of them, the hanging and the end of the trial, have Fordian scope in their precise dramaturgy.

The performance of Logo Cruz as the agressive hobbit of a libidinous father is to be commended. There is so much hate bottled up in this tiny dictator that it’s seething through forced smiles and verbal abuse. He never loses an opportunity to diminish his son, because he has a limp, because he lives in the city, because he needs money to become an entrepreneur… chiefly, though, because he was born to live when his eldest died. Of course he tries to seduce Mercedes, his daughter in law, but it’s too late, as the wheels of a long held revenge has been set in motion so long ago.

The Innocents is an unforgiving movie and it ends on very dark notes, immersed as it is in racial issues, abuse and guilt. If a bit over the top at times, it knows what it has to say and the message, albeit not original in the slightest, is aptly delivered and generate some good scenes. You could chose far worse things to watch, should you feel in a gothic mood.

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Morgan (2016)

We Have To Talk About Morgan

Morgan has the lofty ambition to mix the Frankenstein myth, corporate evil and love against all odds and therefore fails at all three. It takes some specific talent, one guesses, to fail at the third, but to be fair, the context of genetically engineered pedo-lesbian maternity contest has its hurdles. Poor Morgan (Anna Taylor-Jones, from The Witch, here given nothing much to do but looking hostile) looks like 15 but is a 5 year old artificial creation referred as “IT” by souless government drones, and everything goes wrong from there. Nothing like a bad use or pronouns to trigger disaster, see.

A compendium of annoying actors (Rose Leslie, anyone?) bickering on elegiac music, Morgan doesn’t bring anything to the experiment-going-haywire subgenre, even though it ticks most available boxes, from car chase to communion with nature, from return to the womb to a Terminator on hot pursuit (here played with rigid inflexibility by the unsufferable Kate Mara). Absurd editing pays its dues to absurd screenwriting, except in the Paul Giamatti death scene, but Mr Giamatti is better off dead in any role anyway.

“Just be yourself”, he tells IT at some point. As a psychiatrist, he might want to sort out his grammar first, but in a dialogue itself checking all possible boxes (“Open the door!”, what else?), it’s hardly salient. Also, it was one’s shock to realise that Michelle Yeoh had a hard time affecting a Mandarin accent, but it’s Michelle Yeoh so all is forgiven.

No, the only good thing about Morgan is IT feeling sad about Dr Kathy Grieff (sigh…). Not because she enucleated said doctor in the opening scene, mind you, but because she’s played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who’s a fearless actor. She was the only American actress to accept the titular role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle when production was due in the United States and in a sense, she’s the American Huppert, only her career has been constricted by the puritanism and cowardice of the Hollywood system instead or blooming at the international level.

She’s by far the best element of the movie and she’s missing an eye, a trait shared with the director, the editor, the set designer and everyone else involved in that production, especially the one who came up with the idea of a finale mixing Ophelia and Friday the 13th. Long lives Jennifer Jason Leigh!

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Genius (2016)

You Can Leave Your Hat On

As fake as a true story can be rendered through awkward writing and ill-advised directing choices, Genius is a movie about language and writing. It deals like difficult subjects like the nature of art, the mysteries of inspiration and what it is like to live a literary life; quite unsuprisingly, it’s rather stiff and academic. It’s based on the relationship between Thomas Wolfe, the titular genius writer (Jude Law, somewhere between excessively Method and high camp) and his lifetime publisher Max Perkins at Scribner’s & Sons (Colin Firth, typecast in yet another majestic biopic). The publisher, who discovered Fitzgerald and Hemingway, helps the writer to spruce up his diluvial prose (one of his manuscript, apparently half writen on the top of a fridge, is 5000 pages long) and the writer helps the publisher loosening his tie and therefore live a little.

Both men have a pivotal woman in their life, Perkins a wife (Laura Kinney, good as usual) with whom he had many daughters, and Wolfe a mistress who left her stiffling marriage for him (Nicole Kidman, great in a scene which should never had been writen in the movie at all). The women lose patience while the men exchange the literary equivalent of sextos across a long period of time, so the men lose the women. They both know their Shakespeare, see, but neither of them has the singlest clue about relationships. It’s a passion of the mind, which leaves everyone involved embittered.

And so it goes as these things go, with lengths of cryptic voiceover quoting Wolfe’s novels, tongue-in-cheek cultural exchanges and meaningful silences. Colin Firth, flegmatic to the point of flatlining, never takes off his thinking hat to make sure the message he’s an intellectual comes across; Jude Law rampages through dialogues as long as his books and diverse states of agressive or ecstatic inebriation. Some namedropping cameos pop up to enliven what would have been better, should it have been a play. Guy Pearce makes a good Fitzgerald; the Hemingway scene is straight out of Midnight in Paris except it’s noon in California.

There is an inexplicably long scene in a jazz club, the mandatory setting for a breakup artist to nourish his inspiration and for a businessman to start tapping his foot, which is neither revealing about the characters or even interesting. There is a very good one during which one can understand what the job of a publisher is, editing a love scene to its bare minimum without ruining the author’s purpose (“He falls in love and his mind go to submarine life?” being the best dialogue by far, together with Wolfe recriminating that if Perkins had edited Tolstoi, his masterpiece would have been titled “War and Nothing”).

Good looking in its period details, Genius has failed at providing Oscar nominations for its two male leads. If only the writer had a publisher as good as Perkins, it might have ended otherwise. Eminently avoidable.

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Capsule Review: Max Steel (2016)

D*ck Bigt**l

All sound effects and nearly no image, Max Steel is trash, betraying its nature by many cuts on idle hands. If you are really bored or not willing to be challenged in any way, this is one for you. Extremely blue and therefore extremely dated, it features poor Maria Bello and that’s quite about it, because catching Andy Garcia in his seemingly endless downward spiral is just embarassing. Really, it’s like a p*rn flick including its title, all promises and no delivery: Max discovers the power of his right hand and, being American, feels confused about it. The thing takes place near a nuclear facility, like The Simpsons, but don’t expect any laughs or, more reassuringly, any sequel. Max Steel is right about one thing, which is that one’s joystick is one’s best friend, but this artefact sheds a cruel light on what corporate Hollywood thinks we wanna see: parallel editing like two trucks hitting headfront, and onanism.

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Keeping Up With The Joneses (2016)

Waiting For Gadot

Although not a good movie by all means, this one has some redeeming features, and the merit of demonstrating that if there is no film to benefit from the presence of Isla Fisher or Zach Galifianakis, there is no material not elevated by Gal Gadot (waiting for a better role) or Jon Hamm; not that they are required to crank up their acting chops in this, her playing a cold bitch and him an efficient fraud. A transparent cover of Mr & Mrs Smith seen from the point of view of their suburban neighbours, KUWTJ (a stupid title anchoring it in instantly dated 2010s) also gives the farce treatment to The Americans, meaning it’s one more entry in the endless list of movies attempting to mix action and comedy to no avail, a soundtrack seemingly uplifted from a Louis de Funès movie not helping the case. John Hamm does his American James Bond, meaning with a wife and a pretend baby; fortunately, not too shabby action scenes and some lines coming out of the blue rather than from the disposable one-liner bin make it a passable viewing for the festive time of the year.

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Capsule Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Beyond Stupidity

Deeply philosophical in a Hallmark kind of way and therefore relying on stuff like “Fear of death is what keeps us alive”, coincidence and ludicrousness, not forgetting the “one last mission” syndrom, Star Trek Beyond is based on the timeless question “Where’s the switch?”, in this case the one for a doomsday machine which is a blender. Expect choir music, fisticuffs and attempts at relationships. Get what you didn’t expect: an hologramic albino grunting like a female tenis player, a melted candle girl and a complete waste of Idriss Elba. Obviously Dads are dead, alien architecture is totally inadapted to their planet’s topology, all aliens breathe the same atmosphere and there is an old Starfleet ship at hand once Captain Kirk had a change of pajamas. Simon Pegg’s venture into screenwriting the legend fells flat on his face and lays there, inert, for ages. Oh, Kirk it out already.

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The Accountant (2016)

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Never Mind The Pollock

They say there are two sure things in life: death and taxes. Well, add to that terrible movies starring Ben Affleck. When he’s not multi-hyphenate and playing in movies he wrote/directed, the man’s filmography is a dumpster. Please consider the latest exhibit for now, a movie with a title so dull Bill Dubuque, the writer, felt compelled to overcompensate its lack of appeal with such a saturation of content that the result feels like a game of checking Hollywood boxes. Shall we?

1. Asperger genius hero, check. Benaffleck is such a wizz kid that he does puzzles face down in completely useless flashbacks and has an eidetic memory for numbers so he becomes a forensic accounting consultant, able to track the one inconsistant line in 15 years of fiscal declarations, providing you let him write on the doors and windows. Also, he has Asperger because he finds his Pollock so soothing he hung it on the ceiling of his secret trailer. Also, he’s a genius because he listens to the Bach cello suites. Also, he’s a sniper and a ninja. Also he has no sex life. Genius.

2. Dysfunctional family, check. You would think that after an Asperger kid or two, an average American couple would stop procreating, but no, this one give birth to a contract killer as the cherry on the cake. This, at least, allows the movie to end up on a bad bromance instead of a happy family reunion. John Bernthal plays a convincing thug, in turns threatening and childish. He’s, let’s face it, much better than Benaffleck, who robotically goes through the moves like he’s holding a fart. “Heavy sigh”, as would say the mysterious female voice on the phone Benaffleck keeps calling. Let’s call her Siri not to spoil the ending.

3. Violence but no sex, check. Benaffleck, for all his big guns and pairs of grenades, doesn’t have genitalia, so cue in mousy Anna Kendrick, typecast, playing, yes, a kooky accountant who first got a whif of the fishy play supposed to propel the inexistant plot. She’s Plain Jane, talking about her prom dress when he brings her in a hotel suite and she gets all titillated, or counter-asking “Tell me it’s not an original Pollock?” when she invades his privacy, overlooking the Renoir as if was a Pirelli calendar. Also, everyone knows everyone else in the fiscal business, proof is there is another woman in hot pursuit of Benaffleck, but didn’t we all know about that already?

4. Vicious villain in power, check. The problem with casting John Lithgow is, there is no big suspense about who’s the rotten apple in the fruit cart. So the movie can hilariously attempt at A Beautiful Mind in the company conference room, bring out the big guns with Jeffrey Tambor in an orange jumpsuit or, even better, JK Simmons uttering the best line of the movie, “I was old ten years ago” (which he could print on his business card as an abstract of his resumé), well, the villain is still John Lithgow. Who got shot in the face for interrupting the bromance between Benaffleck and his younger brother. Take that, evil John Lithgow!

Full to the brim with gratuitous violence and heralding a multiple Oscar winner sex symbol as the anal retentive hero who never gets laid, The Accountant is Hollywood at its best/worst. Ladies and gentlemen, we just got our new Clint Eastwood, may he live long and direct.

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