Since February, I’ve reviewed a bunch of movies. Here are some highlights, in case you missed what I do over at San Diego LGBT Weekly.
Cinderella, one of the most indelible of Western fairy tales, has been reinterpreted countless times since it first appeared in print in the 17th century; but mostly the story stays true to its origins: a wealthy girl is turned into a servant by a horrible stepmother and a fairy godmother helps the girl win the heart and hand of a charming prince. The animated Disney version released in 1950 is the most famous, and its story structure, characters and lyrics from its songs are so iconic that most people cannot think of Cinderella without thinking of Gus the mouse, the wicked stepsisters Drisella and Anastasia, and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” While Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was wildly reimagined into the commercially successful but artistically and thematically messy Maleficent, with Disney’s massively budgeted live action version of Cinderella, they didn’t stray more than a few inches from the source material. And the result is an instant classic. [More]
People laughed during the preview screening of Get Hard. This is what bothered me most about the comedy featuring Will Ferrell as a clueless finance executive who hires a much more clueful Kevin Hart to prepare him for 10 years in prison. More than how terribly made it is, how pathetic and offensive its humor is, how simply dumb it is, what irks me most about Get Hard is that people liked it. And more than whether or not the people in Hollywood are gay, straight, black, white, conservative or progressive, Get Hard’s tickets sales are what will ensure that Hollywood continues to make movies likeGet Hard, movies that, yes, are inept, but are also, and more importantly, bad for our culture. [More]
I now live five blocks from the giant blue Scientology building in Hollywood, and I often catch a bus at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, where young Scientologists, wearing blue blazers and solicitous smiles pass out proselytizing leaflets proclaiming, as all religions do, that they have the true answers to enlightenment. I avoid them. This is unfair and, honestly, bigoted, because the vast majority of Scientologists are good people looking for answers to life’s problems; they are not among the members of the Church hierarchy who, according to critics, operate like an organized criminal syndicate that happens to also be a cult. But you never know who among the foot soldiers is actually, well, a soldier who might eventually con me, stalk me, or keep me prisoner in a desert compound. As someone who has spent his life looking for answers to deep emotional questions, I have great empathy for people doing the same thing. But after watching Going Clear, Alex Gibney’s extraordinary and damning documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name, I worry for these young Scientologists and what might happen to them. [More]
Maybe it’s because I’m about the same age at the characters Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play in While We’re Young that I so identified with them, their ennui about aging and their adulation of a much younger, fresh and earnest couple played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) have reached their early middle age and discovered that they have not become the people they’d planned to become. They seem comfortable – he teaches documentary filmmaking and she produces the movies of her famous father and they have a nice apartment somewhere in New York City – but Josh, especially, is not the successful, lauded documentarian he wanted to be, and they do not have children. At the beginning of the film, they talk about how great it is that they’re free to do whatever they want because they’re not tied down, that they don’t need kids to be fulfilled. But when they meet Jamie (Driver, playing a version of Adam from Girls) and Darby (Seyfried, adorable but underused), Josh suddenly, Cornelia more slowly, realizes that they are somewhat unfulfilled. [More]
Hollywood is enthralled with big budget science fiction and fantasy films, particularly those starring superheroes, but despite their technological sophistication few of them do much more than please the eyes and leave you a little hard of hearing. Too much of a good thing is not good. These films have also brought along with them a renaissance of “hard” sci-fi, speculative fiction that makes you think more than it makes you drop your jaw in awe of the special effects. In the last few years, brainy big budget films like Inception, Interstellar, and District 9 have joined the exquisite, modestly budgeted Her and Under the Skin. Belonging to the latter category is Alex Garland’s fantastic Ex Machina, a gorgeous psychological thriller about artificial intelligence, arrogance, and, deliberately or not, misogyny. [More]
Before I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, I spent a weekend watching George Miller’s three previous films about Max Rockatansky, all of which were filmed more than thirty years ago and starred Mel Gibson in the role that made him a superstar. I’d never seen them, and it hadn’t occurred to me to do so until now. This is a little odd, considering my taste in movies, but it happened. I watched them in order, first Mad Max (1979), then Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981), then Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). All of them feature Max (Gibson), a stoic hero who tries to avoid a conflict between good and evil around him but then becomes its hero; the films are progressively more expensive and more explosive.
The first film, a low budget Australian surprise that for many years was the most profitable film in history, is an exploitation film; a hyper-violent revenge fantasy about a nearly lawless near future that happens to be directed by an auteur. It’s stunning and unnerving and brilliant. The second is a Hollywood-budgeted post-apocalyptic spectacle so stylistically influential that we cannot imagine dystopian depictions without the mutant vehicles, steampunk machinery, the clothing made of leather and feathers. The third is more of campfest, with Tina Turner as an evil queen and an army of abandoned children that make the film more family friendly. It was the only one of the films not rated R, and that was clearly a deliberate attempt to bring in more money.
Decades later, after Miller made Babe and won an Oscar for Happy Feet, he’s returned to Max, recast him with the wonderfully intense Tom Hardy, and paired him with an astonishing Charlize Theron, and made a film as surprising as Mad Max was. It’s the best action film in years. I haven’t seen a movie so jaw-dropping, so bold and ambitious and thrilling, since The Matrix 16 years ago. And by jaw-dropping, I mean my jaw actually dropped as I leaned forward in my seat in giddy awe. [More]
Melissa McCarthy’s patented under-her-breath dirty jokes work extremely well in Spy, partly because we’re led to believe that she is a schlubby cat lady, so the jokes are a surprise, and partly because they are very, very funny (but unprintable in this publication). Susan is endearing and sympathetic because she looks and acts a lot more like a typical American woman than absurdly skinny Rose Byrne does. Her quest to become a superspy is all the more fun because it is seemingly impossible for a woman who everyone assumes is uncoordinated and weak. But she’s actually not what we assume; she’s almost superheroic in her abilities. [More]
I also reviewed The Last Five Years, Focus, Chappie, Insurgent, The Water Diviner, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, The D Train, Pitch Perfect 2, Tomorrowland, San Andreas, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.