Heretofore unmentioned movie reviews

I forgot to post these movie reviews, which all ran in LGBT Weekly over the last few months.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Wonder WomanI was unable to see the mega-hyped, mega-budget Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice before other critics ran their reviews. And because many of the reviewers were so dismissive or so hyperbolic in their criticism, the news of the film’s opening was overshadowed by the blood sport of Internet overkill. The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern called it “underdeveloped, overlong and stupendously dispiriting” and NPR’s Chris Klimek described the film as “a ponderous, smothering, over-pixelated zeppelin crash of a movie scored by a choir that sounds like it’s being drowned in lava.” A meme of Ben Affleck’s dejected facial expression in response to hearing about the reviews was shared by millions of people who weirdly find glee in the sadness of others. I found it impossible to avoid knowing that a lot of people thought the movie was terrible. But when I did see it, I was perplexed. While BvS is certainly not a masterpiece of the genre – neither as morally complex and smart as The Dark Knight nor as fun and thrilling as The Avengers – it is hardly a “zeppelin crash.” It’s pretentious and bombastic and it rewrites the central ethos of its main characters in ways that are disconcerting for some longtime fans. But it’s not an ineptly made film. [Read the rest.]

Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is DorisAt various times in my life, I’ve frequented nightclubs: loud music, overpriced drinks, spinning lights, smoke machines and usually young people dancing in outfits chosen to attract the gaze and attention of other, hopefully very attractive dancers. Occasionally, people would stick out. A guy who arrived in loafers and Dockers, a bachelorette dancing in a white veil and an older person in what someone might call “age-inappropriate clothing.” There’d be that one woman over 60 in a miniskirt, a glittery wig, chunky earrings and an original Sex Pistols concert T-shirt. I always loved this woman, not just because it takes a lot of guts to go dancing in a club full of kids younger than her children (if she had any), but also because I knew she had a story, a good story. Hello, My Name is Doris is one such story. Starring a brilliant Sally Field and co-written and directed by Wet Hot American Summer’s Michael Showalter, the delightful Doris is both heartfelt and cringeworthy. [Read the rest.]

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Sword of DestinyCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of those movies that everyone likes. The seamless blend of ground-breaking martial arts action, two epic love stories, feminist character arcs, high art visuals, gorgeous music and the great director Ang Lee made the film beloved of everyone from teenage action fans to cineastes, men and women, boys and girls. More than once, I was told seeing it was like seeing Star Wars for the first time – revelatory. Even though the film is based on the fourth novel of The Crane-Iron pentology by Du Lu Wang, no one seriously suggested that Ang Lee make the prequels or a sequel. But the Weinstein Company is never one not to see branded opportunity, and 15 years later they decided to make a film based on the fifth of Wang’s books, Iron Knight, Silver Vase, and release it on Netflix and in theaters simultaneously. (Most theaters balked.) Despite hiring Woo-Ping Yuen to direct and convincing Michelle Yeoh to reprise her iconic role as Shu Lien, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is forgettable, mostly pleasing as a reminder of a much, much better movie. [Read the rest.]


Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reacts to Colossus’ (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) threats.

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reacts to Colossus’ (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) threats.

One of the problems with the takeover of popular culture by Marvel and DC superheroes is how seriously the stories take themselves, how easy the morality is and how family-friendly everything is. Monster-budget films likeThe Avengers and the upcoming Batman vs Superman, or network dramas like The Flash andAgents of SHIELD, aim to reach the broadest audience possible, which means no swearing, little irony and barely a hint of sex. (The Netflix shows Daredevil andJessica Jones are the exception, as they are niche shows.) Then there’sDeadpool, the raunchy, hyper and hilariously violent, anti-hero’s tale that exploded a dozen box office records last week. Based on one of the edgiest characters in the Marvel X-Men universe, the film both panders to the basest sensibilities of the young men who make up the lion’s share of comic book fans and mercilessly mocks superhero story conventions. [Read the rest.]

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!While I am a huge fan of the Coen brothers, I must acknowledge that they make some odd decisions that produce some ambiguous if not totally perplexing moments: The off-screen death of a major character in No Country for Old Men, the tornado that ends A Serious Man, the lack of any plot in Inside Llewyn Davis and pretty much all of The Big Lebowski. Usually, these weird scenes are aesthetically so interesting or so funny or, after some thought, thematically satisfying that the Coens get away with them, and they often end up being the most iconic parts of the films. But it doesn’t always work that way. Maybe I need a few months to think about Hail, Caesar! but right now, the over-stuffed incoherence and very odd political choices in the film don’t work. It’s rather unfortunate, too, because the Coens put together a fantastic cast and crafted a dozen or so near-genius scenes in Hail, Caesar! – including Channing Tatum in a nearly epic song-and-dance number – but it would have been nice to see they serve some purpose. [Read the rest.}

The Revenant

The RevenantA great deal has been written, said and tweeted regarding how, for the second year in a row, each one of the 20 actors nominated for an Academy Award this year are white. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Academy is 94 percent white, 2 percent African American and less than 2 percent Latino. The median age is 62, and only 14 percent of the membership is under 50. And 77 percent of members are men.

Even if Hollywood as a whole is supposedly very liberal, old white men are in general not likely to support people of color – in whatever venue, whether film awards or politics.

The Revenant, a ruthless and bombastic tale of revenge in the cold western American frontier, is the kind of movie many men like. The Academy nominated it for 12 Oscars, more than any other this year, and the film is currently holding an 8.3 rating on IMDb, ranking it as the 124th greatest movie of all time. About 80,000 of the IMDb votes came from men, and 13,000 from women. I don’t want to say that men like The Revenant so much because no woman speaks in it, but of the two female characters, neither have audible lines in their few minutes on screen. (One is murdered, the other is raped.) According to the site’s stats, the women who saw the film rated it nearly as high as men, but any film executive will tell you that fewer women are drawn to films so violent, so depleted of female voices or faces, and so focused on themes of classic male heroism. [Read the rest.]

My 10 Favorite Movies of 2012

I saw about 75 movies in 2012, and while I saw a couple dozen that I liked a great deal, very few movies about LGBT people or queer themes were given a wide release. And that is disappointing in general, but particularly for a critic writing for a paper called San Diego LGBT Weekly. This year, the many of the “serious” movies were less concerned with identity, sexual or otherwise, than they were with history, power, revenge, and the human costs of both well-meaning and ill-advised idealism. At the heart of Lincoln is the decision to prolong the relentlessly bloody Civil War in order to pass the 13th Amendment, and Zero Dark Thirty, the best movie officially released in 2012 (which opens in San Diego on January 11), is a disturbingly amoral depiction of the search and annihilation of Osama Bin Laden. Even the best Hollywood films intent of money making were darkly cynical; The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall were exhilarating, but downers. (The Avengers and Pitch Perfect were exceptions, pretty good movies that didn’t reflect the world’s ennui.) And this means that some movies were finely, even brilliantly, crafted, but I didn’t enjoy watching them. What follows are not the 10 best movies of 2012, but rather my 10 favorite movies of 2012.

10. Hitchcock. Most assuredly, this movie is not a realistic depiction of actual events, but Anthony Hopkins does a hilarious and often poignant impersonation of the director and Helen Mirren, as his sarcastic and long-suffering wife, is subtle, arch, and sympathetic.

9. Magic Mike. Unfairly maligned for its subject matter – it’s about male strippers in Florida, after all – Magic Mike was still a Steven Soderbergh film: per usual, it was beautifully shot, tautly edited, and perfectly cast, particularly with Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum.

8. Bernie. A picturesque small town, a weird murder, bizarre and hilarious supporting characters, and a protagonist who is as gay as he is loved by the town’s little old ladies. It’s my favorite Richard Linklater film, and it is without a doubt the performance of Jack Black’s career.

7. Cabin in the Woods. Co-written by the great Joss Whedon, the film is scary, gory, and thrilling, as all horror movies should be, but it’s also ingeniously, surprisingly plotted and catch-your-breath funny.

6. Les Miserables. Russell Crowe is miscast and it’s too long, but Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, and especially Anne Hathaway make Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the great Broadway musical about love, pain, and grace in 19th century France a deeply emotional experience.

5. How to Survive a Plague. This documentary about ACT-UP and its off-shoot the Treatment Action Group features incredible found footage, insightful interviews, and a narrative that is moving, essential, and instructive.

4. Moonrise Kingdom. It’s ultimately a movie about a boy who runs away from camp to hang out with his girlfriend, but it is also a tone poem about childhood, parenting, wonder, and love. Some scenes are so beautiful they should be hung on the walls of a museum. Wes Anderson’s direction of his and Roman Coppola’s ingenious, intricately plotted script is a marvel.

3. Silver Linings Playbook. Again, David O. Russell has taken a standard genre structure – this time, the romantic comedy – and lifted it to high art with beautifully written, deeply nuanced characters and actors directed to their greatest performances. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are damaged and troubled, and watching them fall in love is redemption as entertainment.

2. The Master. Using the relationship between two men – Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a restless, somewhat disturbed, somewhat animalistic drifter, and Lancaster Doss (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a charismatic, charming, and narcissistic metaphysicist — writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson explores what it means to be human, what it means to have control, and what it means to relate to other people. The resulting film is weird, disturbing, fascinating, entertaining, and profound.

1. Argo. Ben Affleck’s film about the insane plan the CIA devised (“This is the best bad idea we have”) to rescue six American embassy workers from Iran in 1980 is thrilling, funny, and nearly flawless. The merging of a satirical comedy about Hollywood, the paranoid suspense in Iran, and the wonkish, but often very funny drama of Washington, D.C. is seamlessly handled in Chris Terrio’s masterful script and Affleck’s direction of himself, his all-star cast, and the complex action sequences.

Honorably Mentioned: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Sessions, Pitch Perfect, Brave, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, The Avengers, The Intouchables

Note: I’ve left Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained off of both lists because while they are great works of art, they are so morally and politically upsetting that I almost wish I had never seen them.

Hobbits, Slaves, and the French

hobbit-bilbo630-jpg_045907There are way too many movies released in December. Luckily, most of them are the good ones up for awards consideration.

Last week, the San Diego Film Critics Society, of which I am a member, chose Argo as the best film of the year. It also won best director (Ben Affleck), best adapted screenplay (Chris Terrio), and best editing (William Goldenberg).

While that movie was released more than two months ago, many of the movies that we nominated for multiple awards were released in the last few weeks or haven’t even been released yet. So, I have been to a lot of review screenings and watched a lot of special “For your consideration” DVDs. I have seen some amazing films. But it’s frustrating that so many of the good ones all arrive at the same time. It’s hard to see all of them and give them their due. And it’s why I’m reviewing three new movies this week instead of just one. Continue…

Argo see it!

My current prediction is that Argo will win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The thing about making movies based on true stories is that it’s hard to keep them suspenseful. This is especially so when the story is so famous, and everything but the smaller details are rather well known.

Ben Affleck’s fantastic new film Argo is based on such an event: The Iran hostage crisis from 1979 to 1981, in which 52 employees of the American embassy in Iran were held captive after the United States government foolishly gave asylum to the country’s loathsome, brutal king. Argofocuses on the six employees who escaped, hid at the Canadian ambassador’s house, and were smuggled home to safety and a massive hero’s welcome. Continue…