I’ve gotten myself back on track for July, although it was tough. Maybe I need to take a sabbatical–but I’m afraid if I did that, it’d be too hard to get myself back on track. Oh well.
At least August looks like it will be a good month. I’d like to resume Hannibal starting next week, but I may wait on that, because a lot of interesting-looking recent stuff has made its way to Netflix, like Creep and a couple of other things I’ve been looking forward to. So I may put Lecter on hold.
This month’s content
Reviews of current or recent releases
For Cinema Axis
- Mad, Bad, and Downright Strange Showcase #21: “Under the Radar Movie Draft”
- LAMBCast #279: “LAMBpardy!”
* * *
Other movies I watched this month include…
Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow, 2015)
Action-adventure stories live and die on the strength of their characters, and the problem with Jurrasic World is that, with a couple of exceptions, it doesn’t really have any. It has lots of CGI, death and destruction, general mayhem, Chris Pratt antics, and weirdly obvious Jimmy Buffett product-placement. But at the end of the day, the dinosaurs have more personality than the characters do, despite the filmmakers’ insistence on shoehorning in a Romancing the Stone-style romance between Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who have more chemistry with the dinos than they do with each other.
I’d be able to forgive it if the plot wasn’t so damned typical, like the screenwriters developed it from a treatment that was really a How to Write a Summer Action Blockbuster Mad Lib. The sneering villain, the tearjerking, heartstring-pulling subplots, the empty platitudes about the hubris of humankind towards the natural world…all present and correct. The cast (with the exceptions of Irrfan Khan and Jake Johnson) don’t bother to hide how little engagement they have with the material, even Vincent D’Onofrio. Especially D’Onofrio.
In its defense, there are two or three genuinely affecting scenes, the CGI was top-notch, and the raptors were adorable. They were like little lizard-kittens, albeit ones that could rip your face off.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Francis Lawrence, 2014)
I haven’t read the Hunger Games books, but it looks like the stewards of the franchise decided to break up Mockingjay so that all the talky bits are in Part 1 and all the actual Hunger Games bits are in Part 2.
This works to Part 1’s advantage, as it gives the screenwriters space to explore a lot of the underlying themes and commentary of the source material (or, more appropriately, that I assume the source material includes): stuff about the use of the media and the effect of spin-doctoring, and how Katniss isn’t comfortable as the face of a revolution. None of this is actually news to the audience, but at least everyone involved have figured out an entertaining way of saying it, something that applies to the franchise as a whole. Plus, I liked the cynical attitude the film takes toward Coin and Heavensbee: one gets the feeling that they’re not too different from Snow.
This does leave me with the sinking suspicion that Part 2 will consist of one two-and-a-half-hour-long Hunger Game; I’ve generally found that franchises’ big repeating set pieces produce diminishing returns movie to movie, at least to me. (For example, with the middle Harry Potters–I got as far as Goblet, and that one only because David Tennant was in it–whenever the Quiddich match came up I knew I could safely go out for a bathroom break and a concession raid without missing much.) But that’s the way it goes, I guess.
Black or White (Mike Binder, 2015)
The thing that surprised me about this one is not that it was better than I thought it would be, but that it had the potential to not only be better than I thought it would be but a lot better than I thought it would be. I thought that it would end up being a story about white privilege versus earthy black stereotypes, and it essentially is. But it tries so hard not to be; you can sense writer/director Mike Binder struggling against his natural urge to white mansplain things, and failing. I get that. Sociocultural programming is a hard thing to overcome.
Also, a very compelling premise, about a little girl used as a pawn between two people too fucked up to raise her, lives at the core of the story. Unfortunately, the filmmakers aren’t interested in following that story, probably because it’s too dark. Instead, Black or White turns into a Lifetime movie in its final act, with the inevitable and obligatory redemption and reconciliation that implies. Black or White becomes Black and White and Binder pats himself on the back, congratulating himself for being so progressive and liberal.
Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor, 2015)
The Terminator franchise is one of the odder ones, at least in my eyes–I would think that one could only explore a couple of iterations of the “going back to the past to change the future” premise before the well runs dry. But this one has Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) in it, and in any case my dad wanted to see it, so it becomes the first Terminator movie I’ve actually seen since T2.
Like Jurassic World, the characters in Terminator Genisys are less interesting than the dinosaurs…the catch, of course, being that there aren’t actually any dinosaurs in Genisys (jokes about Ah-nuld notwithstanding). The big problem, for me, is that none of the actors seem to actually embody their characters. Clarke’s casting is the best example of this. On paper, she’s perfect for the role of Sarah Connor, as she perfectly balances vulnerability and badassness on GoT. But here, nobody actually seems to know what a Strong Female Lead is and how to give Clarke one to play, so I just spent the film thinking, “You’re not Linda Hamilton!”
Ditto for Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese; plus, the filmmakers don’t seem to understand what made Michael Biehn so iconic in the role to begin with. Biehn is rugged and handsome, yes, but he also has an everyman quality that Courtney, a generic action star, just doesn’t have. As for Jason Clarke’s John Connor, I cannot imagine a more generic actor in a more generic role.
That being said, Genisys does have some sincerely funny bits, mostly from Schwartzenegger (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: he’s a gifted comic actor when allowed to be) and J.K. Simmons. But overall, this one belongs in the “why bother?” pile along with other unnecessary sequels.
Plus, the effects shots of Young Ah-Nuld are terrible. He looks like a video game character.