Sunday, November 6, 2016

2016 in film (Part VIII)

Another largely forgettable batch of movies with a few gems finding their way up to the top. Hopefully with November we'll see some more strong releases.

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10. Cafe Society
Directed by Woody Allen

Watching Jesse Eisenberg embarrass himself yet again with lousy impressions seems to be the trend this year, with him previously doing this in BvS: DoJ in the style of Heath Ledger's Joker, but now his lack of skills are being put on full display here as a bargain bin version of the Woody Allen character. Pair that with his total lack of chemistry with Kristen Stewart, and you've got yourself a surefire success, emulating everything that is vacant and soulless about Allen's lesser efforts. Maybe instead of cranking out garbage every single year over the past 45 years, he should try taking a break every now and then and make movies that are a little more worthwhile? Just a crazy thought, I know. Oh well, at least Corey Stoll was in this one, playing a character at least 10 times more interesting than the leads chosen here. Note to Allen: the lovable underdog character is only compelling and relatable when they're actually lovable, compelling, and relatable.

9. Born To Be Blue
Directed by Robert Budreau

Compared to Don Cheadle's lively and highly stylized work of fiction surrounding Miles Davis, this movie stands as a much more faithful biopic. Obviously. But as a piece of entertainment, there is nothing to be found here that couldn't be seen elsewhere. The acting is solid (with a criminally underused Stephen McHattie), the setting is passable, costumes music, blah blah blah. It's a safe movie that let me feeling totally uninterested and remarkably disengaged. If you want to watch a vibrant, charismatic, and shockingly raw take on an aging jazz legend, just pop in Miles Ahead. It is most certainly miles ahead of Born to be BLAH. Oh yeah, I burned them good.

8. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Directed by Tim Burton

I was drawn in my the first and second act of this movie, thinking to myself that maybe Burton has found a way to bridge the gap between his older films and what has become of his style as of late. But then the final act happened, and I would say the quality of the film, including effects, pacing, and continuity dropped so drastically, I have trouble even calling it a decent movie. I liked most of what I saw, but the unbearable laziness and lack of logic being implemented in the last 20 minutes or so take a lot away from the charm and set-up of an otherwise enjoyable story. I just might need to give up on Burton after all.

7. The Birth Of A Nation
Directed by Nate Parker

Trying to write or discuss this movie without taking Nate Parker's exploits into account is very difficult due to the highly publicized and generally negative impact he's left people with. But ignoring all of that, when you get down to it, this just isn't a very good movie. It's not bad, and there are plenty of positive elements at play here, but also it's obvious that he's not an experienced filmmaker, and the movie suffers for it. Instead of feeling as raw or emotional as something ike 12 Years A Slave, this movie feels like a Lifetime original, or something overly dramatic in the vein of The Help or The Color Purple. It's strange to me that they feel the need to explain to audiences that slavery was a bad thing. Anyone going to see this movie knows that already, and everyone else (those relatively few psychos out there), wouldn't e swayed by the film anyway. But I digress. I originally intended to write about 2000 words on this film, but my biggest takeaway here is just stunning mediocrity. But at least it has good visuals.

6. Morris From America
Directed by Chad Hartigan

Easily the second best coming of age movie of 2016 about a kid with one or more dead parent who thinks he's "gangster". Yeah, apparently that's a new trend for this year, and one that I find infinitely more interesting than that other 2016 trope of Jesse Eisenberg doing lousy impersonations of far superior screen talents. As for the movie itself, apart from the hip hop twist, this is a very typical coming of age comedy/drama. Craig Robinson's hilarious and emotional supporting performance is a definite highlight, but the rest of the movie is relatively bland and generic. For the coming of age genre 2016 has been an exceptional year, so you know you can do better than this (Dope, for example), but if you like your stories simple but with a good beat, this will satisfy that craving.

5. The Magnificent Seven
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

This was a fun movie. Nothing mindblowing, but you can't really expect anything but exactly what you're given here. It took some chances and wasn't entirely Hollywood at every turn, but neither was the source material, so I can't say I was too surprised. Still, I had a lot of fun with this movie, and some of the performances were entertaining. Not much else to be said about this one.

4. Mascots
Directed by Christopher Guest

High expectations going in to the release of this movie were slightly tempered by the mediocre response this film received prior to its Netflix debut, which ultimately helped me to balance out and not expect much going into this one. And the result wasn't as funny as Guest's previous mockumentaries, but still managed to keep me thoroughly entertained and in suspense during the final act. Definitely one of the more underrated comedies of the year, this movie only feels like it's missing out due to the absence of Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and a few other Guest regulars. No, this isn't some hidden masterpiece, but I found it funny and I'm sure I'll check it out again in the future, probably multiple times.

3. Tickled
Directed by David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

Looking for a lighthearted documentary surrounding a world tickling competition? Well look again, because this film does not deliver what you're searching for at all. I wasn't expecting anything this dark, but what I was given was one of the more uniquely disturbing documentaris I've seen in a while. It isn't that overarching kind of horror you will find in the Joshua Oppenheimer Indonesian docs, but more in the way that you can't escape from the dangers of the internet. It's a pretty unsettling film, and one I haven't been able to keep out of the back of my mind since I saw it over a month ago.

2. Hacksaw Ridge
Directed by Mel Gibson

Again we come across a movie that's difficult to discuss without first noting the director, Mel Gibson. Yep, that's who directed it. Moving on. Andrew Garfield is a good actor, and this is probably the best role of his career. Other cast members perform admirably, but it's Garfield's show and he makes the most of it. The battle scenes are bloody and relentlessly severe, working as a fine contrast for the mellow, soft-spoken temperament of the lead. While things do get a little preachy at times, I feel it's important to note the perspective of the film: the story is centered around an American christian pacifist, so having a religious spin, emphasizing the horrors of battle from a strictly American viewpoint is understandable. If you're expecting a less one-sided affair like Letters From Iwo Jima, look elsewhere. I would, redundantly, recommend Letters From Iwo Jima. But if you want an impressively constructed war film that doesn't shy away from grit and gore, this will be perfect for you.

1. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by Taika Waititi

After the resounding success of What We Do In The Shadows, suffice t to say expectations were high for Waititi's next film. And while this movie obviously could never surpass his previous effort, the result was one of the most charming movies of the year. This kind of feels like a Wes Anderson movie, blending serious consequences with cartoonish childishness, making the movie very much a New Zealander Moonrise Kingdom. But it has its own identity, and due to the incredible performances and brilliant comedic timing, manages to entertain the entire way through the movie. I can't see myself watching it very frequently, but I can easily see this making my top 25 of the year when I make that list in January.

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