Category Archives: ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, James Gunn)

I’m going to start by saying some positive things about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It has fantastic CG. Wow is cinematographer Henry Braham truly inept at compositing it with live footage, but the CG is fantastic. Whether it’s the exploding spaceships or exploding planets or the genetically engineered, bipedal racoon, the CG is fantastic. It’s not exception with the other CG character, the micro-sized plant toddler or de-aging Kurt Russell, but, dang, is there some good CG. And James Gunn is usually good with the shot composition for it. So long as he’s in medium long shot or long shot and they shots don’t involve Chris Pratt. Especially not when they involve Pratt and Zoe Saldana. But otherwise, pretty good with the composition.

Other good things? Bradley Cooper’s great voicing the racoon. Yes, it’s a Gilbert Gottfried impression, but… given the amount of dialogue Cooper gets, he’s so much better at delivering than anyone else in the movie, he deserves a lot of credit. He’s got more vocal inflection in four words than Pratt manages in his entire performance. Saldana, well, like Dave Bautista, their lack of affect is part of their characters. There’s an excuse. Maybe not a good one, but there’s an excuse. And Bautista’s fine. He gives one of the film’s better performances. Though, technically, Saldana doesn’t even give one of it’s bad ones. Because she’s always opposite Pratt–who’s downright laughable when he’s got to pretend to emote–or Karen Gillan. Technically, Gillan has one of the film’s more thoughtful character arcs… unfortunately, she’s terrible.

And it’s not like Gunn (who also scripts) can make the family relationship between Saldana and Gillan work. The daughters of an intergalactic would-be despot who spent childhood trying to murder one another in combat for his amusement then reconciling as adults? Given Gunn rejects the idea of taking the setting seriously–you know, the Galaxy–and is downright hostile the idea of doing so (apparently no civilization in the known universe except Earth has come up with iPhones or similar personal technologies), he’s probably the right one to crack it. But he sure does better at it than Pratt finding out his deadbeat dad is Kurt Russell, who’s an interstellar being with the power to create life. Their relationship is a series of terrible scenes punctuated by Pratt’s terrible deliveries and emoting.

How Russell was able to keep a straight face through the film… well, professionalism. Pass it on.

I did not dedicate all the bad and stupid things in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to memory. I gave up somewhere before the first act finished, but a lot of the problem is Pratt. And Gunn. Both as a writer and director. As a director, Gunn could give a crap about performances. Everyone mugs through bad jokes. Or pop culture references. The pop culture references are concerning, not just because Gunn uses them instead of giving Pratt’s character any interiority, but also because they imply some really dumb things about the character. Pratt’s got an arc in Vol. 2. It’s one of the many concerning things about the film, if you give the film any thought, which Gunn doesn’t want you to do and you don’t want to do because it just reminds you of the very, very long two hours plus you’ve already put in.

Needless to say, Pratt’s “finding his father” arc–involving Russell and intergalactic mercenary Michael Rooker (who speaks entirely in B-movie colloquialisms even though he’s an alien)–is pretty weak. Rooker does better than the other two, but… only because he’s not godawful. Pratt’s bad, Russell’s not good, but the writing for both of them is lousy. Rooker’s got dumb dialogue, but Gunn definitely gives him the best male arc. Again, Rooker’s professional. It helps. A lot.

The chaste romance between Pratt and Saldana is terrible. It only gets one real big scene and it’s one of Pratt’s worst, which is something because it comes after his previous low of the “Dad? You wanna have a catch?” scene. There’s no floor to Pratt’s inability to essay, you know, sincerity in this film. He’s not good mugging through the jokes but at least then it’s only not funny, not a crime against filmed dramatics.

Other macro terrible things… oh. Yeah. Pom Klementieff as Russell’s empathic pet. She’s around to give Bautista someone to talk with for much of the second act and to engender suspicion regarding Russell’s true intentions. Gunn’s writing for her character is frankly hostile. He uses her as the butt of jokes, he emotionally manipulates her (usually only to objectify her–or not objectify her), and to act as… well, he needs someone to mock and particularly redeem. He makes fun of his brother (Sean Gunn plays Rooker’s sidekick) but eventually redeems the character. Klementieff’s treatment just gets worse as her character “development” progresses.

It’s truly astounding Bautista is able to rise above the material in his scenes with her, since he’s usually the one crapping all over her. The joke is, she doesn’t know better because Russell’s keeping as a combination of pet and slave. It’s fine. He’s got cool hair. Though, maybe in one of the most telling plot holes, Russell has absolutely no interaction with Klementieff after their introduction. Her name might as well be Malcolm Crowe as far as Russell’s concerned… though, wait, Russell doesn’t really interact with anyone except Pratt–maybe he wasn’t available for filming. On one hand, it’s narratively nonsensical, on the other, it saves from (different) bad scenes.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is ostentatious, self-congratulatory dreck. It’s impressively executed on its scale in terms of set pieces. The editing of them is bad. Gunn and editors Fred Raskin and Craig Wood choke through every single action sequence in the film, whether it’s a space battle or fist fight. There’s a lot of emphasis on the soundtrack, which has some great songs, terribly set to scene. Of course, Tyler Bates’s score–with a couple actual good tracks–is lousy too. It’s a lose-lose. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lose-lose.

Even when the third act is so impressively executed (though not in terms of dramatic tension); there’s a lot going on, some of it dumb, sure, but still a lot and Gunn is able to play it through. Shame none of the acting is good, outside maybe Rooker. Cooper’s “arc” doesn’t amount to much in the end, other than him still giving a better performance with his voice than anyone else in the movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is hostile to even momentary thoughtfulness, critical thinking, or–god forbid–actually being able to contextualize what the pop culture references would actually mean… It’s not even tripe. Regardless of the technical compentence of the third act (I mean, where was it in the first). It’s not fluff. It’s not popcorn. It’s a $200 million rubber dog poop gag.

With bad cinematography and terrible acting. Like. The most interesting question the film raises is how did they get the tears in Pratt’s emotion-free eyes? Visine or CG?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Gunn; screenplay by Gunn, based on the comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; director of photography, Henry Braham; edited by Fred Raskin and Craig Wood; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Michael Rooker (Yondu), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Sean Gunn (Kraglin), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Elizabeth Debicki (Ayesha), Chris Sullivan (Taserface), and Kurt Russell (Ego).


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A Quiet Place (2018, John Krasinski)

It’d be nice if A Quiet Place were exasperating. If, after seventy or eighty minutes of building tension, the finale somehow disappointed. It doesn’t. It’s not exactly predictable, but by the time it arrives, it’s been obvious for a while the movie’s not really going anywhere. The film’s split into three days. The first day is the prologue, about four months into some kind of invasion of Earth by giant monsters. Not like Godzilla giant monsters, but like fifteen foot tall giant monsters. Who apparently eat people? Doesn’t matter. They can’t see. They hunt by hearing. They kind of look like giant walking bats but without wings and Alien heads. The prologue introduces the film’s big device–no talking, no noise. The cast moves through the world, desperately trying not to make any noise. They’ve got to get some medicine for a sick child.

There’s dad John Krasinski, mom Emily Blunt, daughter Millicent Simmonds (who’s deaf), older son (Noah Jupe)–he’s the sick one, and younger son Cade Woodward. The prologue serves to showcase how important it is the be quiet and to give the characters some angst for later.

Fast forward sixteen months and the family is living in a farmhouse. There’s a new baby on the way, because even though Krasinski is dutifully trying to communicate via shortwave and he’s got the farm wired with closed circuit monitors and he’s working on a hearing device for Simmonds (teaching himself engineering), it apparently never occurred to him to rubberband his gonads. No worries though, because while Krasinski is working on his electronics stuff, Blunt’s making a covered baby crib complete with an oxygen tank for when the little tyke arrives, which is weeks off.

After that catchup with the family, the film cuts to another day. The cuts to days all have title cards giving the day. Except it’s just the next day. Most of the movie takes place on this third day, the day after the second day, when it becomes clear most of the time since the prologue hasn’t been making sure they’re prepared. Not for the baby, not for the monsters. As the film progresses, it just becomes more and more obvious–even though Krasinski is supposedly super-prepared, he’s really not. Sure, Woodward’s like three or something, but Jupe and Simmonds are tweens. And Krasinski has never come up with a plan for if they’re separated on the property?

The film gets away with not having much exposition–the family talks, with rare exception, entirely in American Sign Language (presumably they know it because of Simmonds) and rarely does it give the actors much emoting to do while signing. Outside Simmonds. It’s unfortunate because when Krasinski and Blunt have their first talk, it’s some really trite parenting responsibility nonsense. A Quiet Place has all the depth of a Disney TV movie as far as adult characterization, but without any of the charm. Oddly, the kids are fantastic. Simmonds has to do a bunch on her own, she’s great. Jupe’s the oldest male so he’s got to learn how to be a man in this new world and he’s terrified. He’s great. Simmonds and Jupe together (when they’re in trouble because Krasinski never came up with a plan for them getting across their farm to their house) are truly amazing. And a lot of it is how Krasinski, as director, works with the actors.

It’s kind of inexplicable why he doesn’t apply the same rigor to he and Blunt’s performances.

The script wants to get away with not having any exposition, which is fine. It kind of makes things more horrifying, but not really. The quiet device is about all A Quiet Place has got going for it; the monsters are nowhere near as terrifying as when the family gets into trouble because, usually, they’re exceptionally careless and unprepared for any common life occurrences. Contrivances are forecast–Krasinski’s not a subtle director, which is fine, he’s not trying to be subtle (Quiet Place is most effective in how it works as visual exposition, since no one’s talking the audience has to be able to understand what they’re seeing)–but also cheap. Lots of cheap contrivance. A Quiet Place is a comedy of errors; or a tragedy of them.

Good photography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Not bad but not special editing from Christopher Tellefsen. Marco Beltrami’s score is spare and only used–albeit effectively–for the film’s cheapest emotional moments.

Acting wise… Simmonds and Jupe impress. No one else does. Krasinski’s good with the kids. Blunt’s not bad with them but she’s not good with them either. Because of the short present action, she barely gets anything to do with Simmonds and her one big scene with Jupe is overcooked. Not even trying to establish the adults until an hour into the movie hurts; for some reason Krasinski thinks he can get away with them sharing headphones and slow dancing but… no. Especially not since their sole motivation is protecting their kids.

A Quiet Place is strongest in the first act. It declines from there. The film’s at its weakest point as it goes into the third act (at least its weakest point so far). It’s completely lost momentum, splitting between Blunt home alone and the rest of the family off in the world. And then it just keeps slipping.

By the end, A Quiet Place isn’t disappointing, just annoying. The quiet thing works in a horror movie. Who knew. Outside Simmonds and Jupe, there’s nothing to it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Krasinskip; written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and Krasinski; based on a story by Woods and Beck; director of photography, Charlotte Bruus Christensen; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; produced by Michael Bay, Andrew Form, and Brad Fuller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Emily Blunt (Mother), John Krasinski (Father), Millicent Simmonds (Daughter), Noah Jupe (Older son), and Cade Woodward (Younger son).


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Fun Mom Dinner (2017, Alethea Jones)

The best thing about Fun Mom Dinner is the soundtrack. It’s all mainstream early-to-mid eighties hits–some Cars, 99 Luftballons, the song from the end of Sixteen Candles because a Jack Ryan crush is a major plot point (which is a little weird since it’s lead Katie Aselton was six when Sixteen Candles came out and she formed that crush). Sadly Jack Ryan doesn’t appear in the movie. Instead it’s Adam Levine semi-standing in as the object of her infidelity fantasy. Fun Mom doesn’t have a lot of great writing, but it’s never godawful. It’s trite and benign, but it’s not godawful. So Levine’s laughably godawful performance is all his own. Especially since it’s things like… he can’t pretend to listen to people.

Aselton is one of the four not really fun moms out at the Fun Mom Dinner. She ends up being the lead because maybe she’s going to cheat on not good parenting partner and perpetually stressed out husband Adam Scott with Levine. Also because she brings the moms together. She’s friends with Toni Collette, who seems like she’s going to be the lead at the beginning; she’s the disaffected pot-smoking mom. Only it turns out the script’s got nothing for her to do after she buries the hatchet with other fun mom Bridget Everett in their third scene together. Before the end of the third act. There’s some more character development for Collette after that point, but it’s when her husband (Ron Huebel) talks to Scott about it. Huebel and Scott are taking care of their kids while the moms are out having fun.

Everett’s kids and husband don’t matter. They don’t show up after a brief opening introduction. And the four fun mom, Molly Shannon, is in a similar situation. Only she’s divorced so the film isn’t ignoring her husband, just her kid. Or kids. They make so little impression it’s hard to remember how many Shannon or Everett have. And Shannon does get a romantic flirtation subplot with Paul Rust, which could have been cute. It’s proto-cute.

For not getting any story to herself, Everett still is the backbone of Fun Mom Dinner. She has enough energy to make moments connect, even if they don’t always work. Shannon’s character is written too slight; her performance isn’t too slight, the writing is too slight. Collette just loses anything to do except procure pot for the outing or encourage smoking pot and drinking. Aselton’s got the one-two punch of a slightly written character–really, Julie Rudd’s script has the depth of a television commercial–and a too slight performance. Aselton’s never believable. The movie’s never believable, but you can pretend with Everett, Collette, and Shannon. With Aselton. No.

Fun Mom Dinner is not some raunchy, raucous affair. If it weren’t for the moms toking some reefer and dropping f-bombs, it’ll be PG. Aselton’s threatened dalliance with Levine isn’t just bad because Levine’s awful or Asleton’s writing and acting is thin, it’s because director Jones doesn’t do dramatic tension. Not even when it seems like Everett is going to throttle Collette for being such a nasty elitist. Oh, right. It’s never explained why Collette’s such an elitist since she’s married to super-nice, super-supportive doofus Huebel.

Clearly there’s not much budget. When the moms are roaming the streets, the streets are empty. When they’re in restaurants or bars, the shots are very careful not to include too many other people. If Jones weren’t shooting it in Panavision and filling the wide frame with nothing, the movie might not seem so visibly sparse. Sean McElwee’s photography isn’t bad. It’s not great, but it’s thoroughly competent. He’d have been able to shoot the frame more concise.

Jon Corn’s editing is terrible, however; he’s worst with Levine, which is kind of hilarious. Not really. It’s just unfortunate, like everything with Aselton once she becomes the de facto lead.

Fun Mom Dinner is also really short. Eighty-one minutes. And full of filler. Karaoke filler. The movie’s target audience is moms neglected by spouses who daydream about smoking pot and singing Karaoke. Hopefully. Because otherwise it doesn’t even have an intended audience. Otherwise it’s just an exercise is fodder.

Actually the Karaoke deserved more screen time. Everett and Collette can sing. Embracing it–though Everett gets two singing scenes–would’ve helped. It would’ve had to help at least a little.

There’s an extended cameo with Paul Rudd and David Wain as a pair of pot shop owners who avoid any contact with their wives. As much as possible anyway. Like so much else in the film, no one does anything with it except the actors. The actors make it work. Sort of. They keep Fun Mom from being overrun by its own disposability. They don’t make it respectable, but they keep it from being miserable.

Except Levine. And Aselton when she’s with him.

Fun Mom Dinner isn’t terrible enough to be a curiosity. It’s inoffensively pointless.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alethea Jones; written by Julie Rudd; director of photography, Sean McElwee; edited by Jon Corn; music by Julian Wass; production designer, Tracy Dishman; produced by Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, and Naomi Scott; released by Momentum Pictures.

Starring Katie Aselton (Emily), Toni Collette (Kate), Bridget Everett (Melanie), Molly Shannon (Jamie), Adam Scott (Tom), Rob Huebel (Andrew), David Wain (Wayne), Paul Rudd (Brady), Paul Rust (Barry), and Adam Levine (Luke).


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The Sound Barrier (1952, David Lean)

There’s a lot to The Sound Barrier. Outside the truly magnificent aerial photography, not much of it has to do with the film itself. Other than director Lean and writer Terence Rattigan rewriting actual history to make it so a private British aircraft company “broke” the sound barrier some five years after Chuck Yeager did it for the United States Air Force. And Rattigan and Lean didn’t keep it technically accurate? I guess… anglo-pride or something.

So the gross historical inaccuracies aside, Sound Barrier adds up to being about why toxic masculinity is wonderful and women–like de facto lead Ann Todd–are silly for doubting men in their heartless pursuits. See, Todd’s dad is the owner of the private aircraft company–Ralph Richardson in a performance far better than the film needs or deserves–and he’s willing to sacrifice anyone to break that sound barrier.

Five years after it actually happened. But whatever.

I mean, even if the film’s set in 1947 or whatever–one of the events portrayed happened in 1946–it should’ve been technically accurate. Lean goes out of his way to use that amazing aerial photography of the test flights and so on, why not have an accurate script. But there’s also the problem of John Justin, who’s got kids presumably born after the war ended and they’re not three or four.

The film starts during the war–another weird thing about Sound Barrier is how assured everyone is the war’s end is imminent even when, you know, it’s not–with Todd marrying flier Nigel Patrick. Patrick and Justin are pals. Todd brings Patrick home to meet dad Richardson and brother Denholm Elliot. Elliot’s the best thing in the movie, though Justin’s all right too. Rattigan and Lean don’t have much use for Elliot, however, because he’s not the real man flier Richardson wants him to be. Thank goodness Todd married one in Patrick.

After the war, Patrick starts test piloting jets for Richardson. They’re going to break that sound barrier, even though the whole thing traumatizes Todd. She goes off to the movies during his flights so she doesn’t have to hear it. She’s just a silly woman, however. Patrick tells her so, Richardson tells her so, and by the end of the movie, The Sound Barrier tells her so.

The film’s a melodrama without much in the way of melodramatics. Todd’s performance is flat, ditto Patrick’s. Patrick at least seems like he should be superficial and (not maliciously) insensitive, but Todd is ostensibly the heart of the film. Not so, because she’s not a man. And only men, it turns out, can really experience things. Women are too busy worrying about winter coats and trying to one up the Joneses. Dinah Sheridan, as Justin’s wife, has the entirely thankless role of exemplifying how Todd’s worry-warting is so dumb.

And even though Richardson is awesome, he’s utterly devoid of any humanity. The film revels in it.

There’s no tension, there’s no suspense (the ending is forecast from literally the first scene), there’s no romance. Todd and Patrick do manage to have some chemistry, but it’s only because they’re being held prisoner by controlling Richardson. Silly Patrick even thinks Todd might be right about Richardson being bad news. Thank goodness he comes around; so the film’s not just great fodder for toxic masculinity discussions, there’s also the exceptional patriarchal bent.

Lean’s direction is competent. Rattigan’s script is exceptionally boring. Maybe at the time, if you were a British moviegoer who really hated Americans and willfully ignored recent history, you could get jingoistic about it. But not really, because it’s not about British ingenuity or anything, it’s about Richardson being awesome because he’s a bastard and Todd better come around to realizing it and embracing it. It’s about Todd realizing she’s a silly woman who just needs to listen to the man. It’s all very yucky.

Great photography from Jack Hildyard.

The Sound Barrier is never good. It’s never compelling. It’s absurdly lacking in any kind of insight, whether into its paper thin characters or its made up flight science. It’s not even interested in technical minutiae, which–for a while–seemed like it would be. But it’s never anywhere near as bad as the third act turns out to be. Maybe having a full stop false ending in the second act hurt. It doesn’t matter. The third act and then the finale crash harder than the jet planes do and they make these huge holes in the ground.

Not even plane designer Joseph Tomelty, who’s lovable from five minutes in, can survive that last act.

The Sound Barrier’s bunk.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by David Lean; written by Terence Rattigan; director of photography, Jack Hildyard; edited by Geoffrey Foot; music by Malcolm Arnold; released by British Lion Film Corporation.

Starring Ann Todd (Susan), Nigel Patrick (Tony), Ralph Richardson (J.R.), John Justin (Philip), Denholm Elliott (Chris), Dinah Sheridan (Jess), and Joseph Tomelty (Will).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE DAVID LEAN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MADDY OF MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS.


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