Friday, February 13, 2015


For a few years in the late 80's and 90's, one of the hottest names in science fiction blockbusters was an eccentric Dutchman named Paul Verhoven (Robocop, Total Recall). Part of the director's appeal - apart from a contagious enthusiasm for splatterific violence - was the way the films balanced wild appeasement of the id while also being a lot smarter than they let on. The mix of genre-savvy idea-driven film-making and biting satire were sometimes so skillfully folded into his movies that some missed the joke entirely (see: the initial reactions to Starship Troopers).

The reason I bring this up in relation to a spy movie from a different director? Because, in short, Matthew Vaughn is playing the exact same sort of game. And doing a damn good job of it too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Films That Salvaged 2014

This year was a pretty terrible. I mean that in general (lots of nasty stuff souring my favorite hobbies, like GamerGate and the death of some childhood movie icons, not to mention awful, toxic, racist stuff in our legal/law enforcement systems), as well as some personal stuff that hit me hard. But when asked, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the theater?" I at least have a few answers.

Because 2014 was a really really good year for movies. The financial headlines will make hay about how box office was down significantly from the last couple of years, but across the board - from big studio films to smaller dramas and quirky genre movies - this was a great time at the cinema. Considering the total ****-show that this year was, I'll take what bright spots I can find.

So here are the Films That Salvaged 2014 for me - as well as what was awful, what was surprising, and what was just plain awesome.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Eleven years ago to the day, a minor miracle happened. With the release of The Return of the King, Peter Jackson not only finished an ambitious film trilogy (filmed as a single project over more than a year of shooting), but managed the double-tap of a worthy adaptation of fantasy literature AND a genuinely great cap to a film series. And as trilogies like The Godfather can attest, sticking the landing can be a hell of a thing.

I bring this up in relation to the third and final film based on the Lord of the Rings prelude The Hobbit because. . . well frankly, The Battle of the Five Armies relishes referencing its own bigger, better siblings at every opportunity.

As to whether Jackson managed to stick the landing again? Short answer: sort of.

Friday, November 7, 2014

BIG HERO 6 - How to Train Your Robot

The best superhero stories are, in actuality, about internal conflicts. In spite of the razzle-dazzle of super powers, strange creatures, other-worldly invasions, and science fiction marvels, the action in these tales is best used to mirror and drive the inner struggles of the protagonist. Whether it's Spider-man's struggle with responsibility and guilt, the X-men's bid for acceptance from society at large because they have trouble enough accepting themselves, or Mr. Incredible's mid-life crisis, that's what these movies are really about, even when it looks like a guy in a mask fighting a villain on a bridge.

Big Hero 6 understands this, and while its surface is a basic superhero team yarn celebrating science and the power of friendship, it's actually about a boy's struggle against grief and helpless rage.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

JOHN WICK - Stylish Minimalism

It can be easy to forget, in this modern age of clashing CGI armies, zooming spaceships and high-flying superheroes, that at one point in history, the biggest action thrill in cinema was watching a guy with a gun and a damn good reason to use it.

John Wick is a reminder of precisely why that simple premise used to be - and in fact still is - so viscerally compelling.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

THE BOOK OF LIFE - Amor de los Muertos

Many great movies are meticulous, laser-focused affairs, films that have a mission statement that they zero in on early and hew to from the first frame to the last, using every facet of the script, visuals and performances to reinforce this single imparted truth. This can be especially helpful with family films meant for a wide child audience, allowing a movie to be accessible and stimulating to a young audience in a "digestible" manner.

And when properly executed, it works like gangbusters. The environmentalism of Miyazaki, the self-actualization of Brad Bird, the praises of true love through acceptance in Frozen or Beauty & the Beast, or the message of friendship until the end of the Toy Story films - the results speak for themselves.

But rules are made to be broken. The Book of Life takes a different approach. And while the result isn't the sort of richly-crafted masterpiece of message, tone, and perfect plotting seen in these previously-mentioned cinematic titans, it creates a beautifully unwieldy magic all its own.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

THE BOXTROLLS - Beautifully Bizarre

I'm not entirely sure who The Boxtrolls is "for" (other than me) in the sense of target demographic or potential audience. It's a stop-motion animated film, hardly an historically record-breaker at the box office, and Laika (the studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman) hasn't bucked this trend. And while it's been marketed as a family film, its tone and sensibilities have more in common with PG-rated "kids" films of the 80's than more modern fare, the kind like Ghostbusters or Gremlins that have just as much material for the adults that will fly far enough over the heads of kid audiences that it's still "safe" for them. Barely.

But I'm pretty ecstatic that it exists at all, regardless of why.