Gus van Sant has never been a filmmaker with much to say. His impressionistic portraits of counter-culture and his formalistic experimentation, though they may possess artistic value, possess very little intellectual value; to say nothing of his sentimental Oscar bait. Or not, since this is precisely what The Sea of Trees amounts to; unlike the director, I have rather a lot to say. And little of it should indicate that this film possesses any value beyond satisfying one's curiosity. How could van Sant abandon his vibrant, valid, distinctive sensibilities and descend to the maudlin depths of Chris Sparling's vacuous, senseless screenplay? A surfeit of vetting ought to be instigated any time a filmmaker embarks upon smothering our cinema screens with so much sap - what does the film offer for our emotional investment? The Sea of Trees offers virtually nothing: tedious scenes of Matthew McConaughey and Watanabe Ken trudging through the forest for no deducible purpose, soapy flashbacks of McConaughey and Naomi Watts grinding through trite scenes of domestic disharmony, and so many blatant attempts to wring tears from our eyes you'd be tempted to gouge them out in contempt were those attempts not so unsuccessful. It then offers one twist on another, the first of which is so obvious you'll resent the film for thinking you so gullible, the second of which is so implausible that your resentment will be replaced by mirth and astonishment; the first time the film has elicited anything close to either response. Neither twist makes sense, complicating a simple story with unanswerable questions, rather than resolving plot holes and suggesting new perspectives. While sporadically touching, well-acted, and the beneficiary of some fine imagery, The Sea of Trees is also derivative and unwittingly racist. And in spelling every single thing out, it makes only one thing clear: it's the van Sant films where his characters have the most to say where he has the least.
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Tuesday, 30 August 2016
The things we do for love... Full disclosure: this will be the first film in over 1,000 reviews to date for this site that I saw for the sake of someone else. It served its purpose - Thomas was satisfied, but Patrick was not. I cannot outright pan a film that so successfully satisfies its target audience, that fulfils all of their legitimate requirements and expectations in both an artistic capacity and a narrative one. Nor can I do so for a film into which went an evidently enormous amount of effort. The detail in the animation is immense, with astounding composition and incredible, at times photoreal human animation in the lead character. But otherwise, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is a mostly tiresome film for those outside of the aforesaid target audience. My poor eyes and ears lack the capability to keep up with films like this, plotted and designed like video games (though I can't fault Kingsglaive for such a quality) - they don't know the details on which to focus, the content that's there for mere decoration and that that's there for material purpose. To my senses, it's all decoration, pretty pictures that aren't even especially pretty, an over-complicated plot that nevertheless leads to the same, predictable action sequences. Those sequences are shot through with vivacity, but often so much of it that they bludgeon the viewer into numbed indifference; their prevalence and repetitiveness make Kingsglaive a particularly exhausting, unrewarding experience. It's nothing more than an overwrought, elaborate trailer for arguably the biggest video game of all time, though insofar as that is all it aspired toward, its achievements are undeniable, its validity indubitable. But I didn't want to see it, and I want never to see anything like it again.
Andrew Ahn makes his feature directorial debut with Spa Night, a drama about a closeted Korean-American teen whose job at a Korean spa awakens his sexuality. It drew good reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it competed for the U.S. Dramatic prizes, and indeed won one: a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance for lead Joe Seo. Strand Releasing, which has a great history of releasing arthouse titles in the U.S., particularly LGBT+-themed ones, opened Spa Night on the 19th of August; we await further international attention for the film in the near future!
A most iconic, inimitable star of the screen has departed us. Gene Wilder, one of film's most talented comic actors and writers, died yesterday, the 29th of August 2016, at age 83, due to complications from Alzheimer's, a diagnosis which he had withheld from public knowledge. Initially a Broadway and TV actor, Wilder transitioned into film with a remarkable double debut in the late 1960s: first with a small role in Bonnie and Clyde, then an Oscar-nominated, duly infamous turn in Mel Brooks' The Producers. Brooks and Wilder would go on to collaborate again on comedy classics Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, the latter of which earned Wilder a second Oscar nomination, this time for writing. Arguably as well-known as this partnership was that of Wilder and Richard Pryor, on films such as Silver Streak and See No Evil, Hear No Evil. And who could forget his most beloved performance, as Willy Wonka in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Wilder not only acted and wrote, he has five directing credits to his name also, including The World's Greatest Lover and The Woman in Red. His acting career slowed in the '90s, having enjoyed great popularity and acclaim through the '70s and '80s, and by 2005 he had turned his attention to writing literature. Married four times, following the death of his third wife Gilda Radner, with whom he co-starred in three films, to ovarian cancer, he became an activist for cancer awareness. His only child was a stepdaughter, Katharine, from his marriage to Mary Joan Schutz. What a tragic loss, as ever it is to learn that a legend has passed.
Moms deserve better. Practise what you preach, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, because the preaching is pretty good, but the practice is the very worst thing in Bad Moms. No rly, you were letting yourselves in for it with that title. Only the happiest of coincidences, a fateful alignment of the perfect coalescence of geniuses can produce a great work of art through mere circumstance and will; everything else takes effort. There's method to it, and this appears to be what Bad Moms misses. It follows various similar templates of how to craft a comedy, including adhering to several horribly unadvisable traits and tropes. Remember when all American studio comedies came drenched in incessant, syrupy scores? And I'm sure you're familiar with sitcom staging, wherein all of the action is confined to a specific space to make the direction smoother and simpler? And what of the cliche of casting characters as simple stooges, rarely seen in their own frame never mind granted their own personality, for the sole purposes of plot progression and fleeting comic relief? It's been some time since I've had the displeasure of witnessing such amateurishness in comedy filmmaking, but Lucas and Moore seem to be doing their best to resurrect it. I'll pass on Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell, but then I get to talents like Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo (honestly, though, Annie Mumolo!) and I can only despair at the dreck they're forced to regurgitate for the audience's apathy here. Their diligence and dedication produce the guts of what good Bad Moms has to offer, and they deserve better too. So do the rest of us.
Todd Phillips astutely acknowledges the tonal ambiguity in his source story in War Dogs, habituated adjacent to the absurdity that was surely what attracted this established comedy director to this tallest, yet truest, of tales. And then he barges in, as winningly brash and unsubtle as ever, although with much of the winningness negated by the sheer inappropriateness of this approach with this material. War Dogs is outrageous - we get that. War Dogs is funny - when it's not trying (not hard enough) to be dramatic, and when it's not trying and failing to be funny, then yes, it is actually funny, and we may indeed have Phillips to credit for that. But that's all rather by the by; what this film needs is a steady, measured guiding hand through its incredible (almost literally) real-life plot, writing and direction that both acknowledge the tonal ambiguity herein and know how to wield it. Phillips simply tacks his brutish, bro-ish style on and runs with it, resulting in a film that only occasionally matches content and treatment. It's all very well when Phillips finds the right opportunity to inject some humour into the story - not so well when he finds the wrong opportunity, though. And when it calls for a more intelligent, sensitive touch, he's at a total loss, simply draining the film of energy rather than devising a new strategy for approaching serious-minded material. Which isn't to comment that the film is drained of all interest, though - even in the least competent hands, War Dogs remains an inherently great story. A shame, though, that Hollywood's idea of a great story is once again one that revolves around the heterosexual white man's sense of entitlement and feeling of rejection from a society he once thought, and still thinks, belongs to him. Apparently, these dogs still haven't had their day.
Monday, 29 August 2016
As Studio Ghibli wraps up production, how promising to see Japanese animation continuing to filter through to an international audience. Hara Keiichi's Miss Hokusai is well over a year old by now, but will only reach US cinemas on the 14th of October this year. The lovely trailer, with English subtitles, is above. It's being distributed by GKids in the States; we can always rely on GKids to bring American audiences quality animated fare.
Sunday, 28 August 2016
Today, Satan, today. The trailer for Hurricane Bianca is here! The comedy event of the year (which, lbr, stands a very strong chance of failing to be even the comedy event of the day) doesn't have a release date yet, doesn't have any reviews yet, but does have a trailer! RuPaul's Drag Race Season 6 winner Bianca del Rio storms onto screens with this camp classic in the making; check out the first trailer for the film right here.
Todd Solondz's compassionate misanthropy takes on its cheeriest character yet in Wiener-Dog. Less wilfully abrasive than his most famous films, the film's relative palatability represents not a regression but an expansion for Solondz, a successful experiment in applying his trademark concerns to a more commercial product. Yet by now, what is communicated through those concerns bears less power than it once did; is it that we've heard it all before, or that Solondz has said it all better before? Better for us is to sit back and enjoy a thoroughly well-made comedy. Whether bleak or broad, the humour of Wiener-Dog is its strongest asset, both complementing the film's social commentary and distracting away from it. Comedy needs no context - not that it can't benefit from it, however - and the effect of such juvenile indulgences as a dog called 'Doody' or an otherwise-pointless intermission is to win one over. It's also fabulously made - never say Solondz is just a provocateur, since he's an excellent director of actors, and his shot compositions are superb, aided enormously by Edward Lachman's reliably fine cinematography. These quirky qualities might have been enough for Wiener-Dog, but it's loaded with more, in the form of an insistent desire to say something, to mean something more than just a silly film about a dog that looks like a sausage. Solondz's thematic ideas are thought through and developed with care, and his delivery of them - at once unsubtle and entirely vague - is as expressive in its bluntness as it is in the content which that bluntness seeks to conceal. But the silliness of the film itself and the seriousness of its intentions only mitigate each other's impact, exposing the little flaws scattered throughout. A successful experiment, but only just.
Saturday, 27 August 2016
You did not know how much you wanted to see Lion, unless you've seen Top of the Lake on TV. Garth Davis directed the shit out of his episodes of Jane Campion's marvellous first season of the mini-series, and no doubt he's brought that same strong dramatic sensibility to this film, which The Weinstein Company is priming as their top pick for awards season. It shows at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, before opening in the US on the 25th of November. Check out the first trailer, with Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman, above.