Monthly Archives: April 2016

Selma Review

I cannot relieve that I’m reviewing this movie right now.  I just don’t feel qualified to comment on it.  Since I still review most of the films I watch, if only so I can keep practicing my writing and keep fine-tuning my cinematic eye, I still feel uncomfortable expressing my opinions about it.  I’m no historian, and the vast majority of history that I do know pertains to talking socks, so I cannot review this as an informed critic.  Consequently, I will have to talk about this from the perspective of what I do know – how the movie made me feel.

This was shown as a part of one of my classes at the university where I’m currently studying film, and I’m very glad that it was.  It’s one of the most interesting and enjoyable films that’s been shown in the class thus far, if only because it does a good job at telling a good story.  Generally, this isn’t exactly the breed of movie I go for – the pseudo-realistic lighting and colors, the strict basis in history, the focus on oppression, revolution, and inspiration – it doesn’t tickle my fancy the way that surrealistic fantasy does.  However, I was moved in all the ways I should have been moved, I felt good and bad at the appropriate times, and I’d like to think I may have gained some insight and perspective on both the man and the event.  (Most importantly, the use of “The Banana Boat Song” was perfect.)  This film was fascinating and enjoyable, and I think that, for now, is all I really need to know in order to give it a thumbs-up.

107 Selma

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Review

Given my immense appreciation for comedy, I cannot help but appreciate an ode to comedy.  Comedy can be such a powerful force for good, making the burdens of life more bearable, and bringing important issues to light in a way that people can easily handle.  The beauty of comedy is that, even at its filthiest, it is a pure art form, in the sense it exists simply to bring about happiness.  When one considers the element of challenge in justifying the emotional investment required for film with the emotional reservation required for comedy (all on the part of the spectator, that is), it borders on miraculous when a good comedy film is released.  This is why I consider comedies to be one of the greatest cinematic achievements, if not the very greatest, known to date.

. . . And I guess this one’s okay.

By gosh, does it drag on.  I wouldn’t mind the run-time if I could enjoy any of the characters, but what the film lacks is a group of characters (even if it’s a very small group) that’s mixed in with these annoying, stubborn, loud, rotten, mercenaries.  Give me a Ferris Bueller or an Alvy Singer who will look me right in the eye and guide me through the insanity – this way the chaos becomes something to bond over with the movie as opposed to something that isolates me.  In spite of the presence of many great actors I usually enjoy (Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Jonathan Winters, etc.), the closest that the movie came to having a character I enjoyed was the police chief.  His life was so miserable that I was quite depressed during the scenes in which I had to hear his wife and daughter on the phone, so the part of the movie I found most uplifting was when it looked like he was going to get a new life.  That would have made the whole movie worth all the trouble.

I really do have several big problems with this movie, although I can’t quite call it a bad film.  Yes, I am bothered by how they wasted some great comedians (by using Stan Freberg, known for songs and voices, as a non-speaking background role).  I’m bothered by the needless subplots that focus on characters who don’t matter to me.  I’m bothered by how little I laughed during the movie, and by how few times they wrote halfway decent roles for women or those in minorities.  It bothers me that the screenwriters somehow, almost unfathomably, managed to make me dislike the characters to the point that I didn’t want to watch them, but still sympathize with them to the point that I felt bad when things went wrong for them.  There is much to dislike in this movie.  However, as much as I’m tempted to give it a relatively low rating, I’ll go easy on it.  Why?  Because by the end of the film, one thing is made very clear – laughter is one of the most important, magical, and precious things we have in this life, and this movie won’t let us forget that.

106 It's a Mad, Mad,... World

Duck, You Sucker! Review

Painfully slow and dreadfully boring, the basis of this spaghetti western is an odd mistake – so it’s no surprise that the whole movie feels like one.  The director of this picture, an Italian by the name of Sergio Leone who’s apparently rather well-known in some circles, was under the impression that “duck, you sucker!” was a very common phrase among Americans.  The entire film feels like it’s been made with this kind of mentality – someone who thinks he knows what he’s doing, but is actually getting rather absurd.  The main characters are not likable, in spite of a good performance by James Coburn, and the story is entirely lacking in substance.  The movie slows down some scenes to the point of absurdity, and the ending isn’t worth the wait.  The one upside is the decent soundtrack, but apart from that, it’s a needless experience that I could have (and should have) gone my whole life without.

105 Duck, You Sucker

Allegiant Review

Um . . . okay.

There’s a part of me that wants to say Veronica Roth painted herself into a corner with Insurgent by pushing the story outside of the place that made it almost unique, so I want to go easy on the movie.  However, she really opened the door to speculation and imagination, because just about anything could have been beyond the wall, which makes me wonder why this part of the story wasn’t more intriguing and satisfying.  I have so little to say about the movie because it made me feel so little.  I think I’m experiencing from this movie what most “professional” critics experienced while watching the first two films in the series – a painful lack of inspired substance.

I do think there is enough cleverness and creativity in the world-building at play in this story for it to be a sufficient spectacle, and I also think that it did a good job at making me curious about what was to come.  I suppose when this is added to the simple pleasure of spending more time with already familiar characters, it really can be a pleasant film to watch, which is why I did not have a bad time seeing it.  In the future, however, I should hope that a movie with this large of a budget will do the work it takes to “wow” me.

104 Allegiant

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

Hi.  I’m J. D. Hansel.

Not the usual J. D. Hansel though – that is to say, not the J. D. who’s already seen the movie that he’s trying to review, and has had time to form an opinion about it.  I’m J. D. in the middle of watching the movie.  I am one hour, six minutes, and 39 seconds into The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and at this time I cannot say with certainty that I’ll be able to finish the film, because the protagonist has just been dared to do the unthinkable.  While I do not wish to give it away, I need to make one thing clear – this is my worst nightmare.  This movie is terribly horrific because it’s filled with my biggest social fears.  I don’t feel safe while watching this film.

I haven’t been this uncomfortable in ages.  What started as a seemingly innocent comedy has had me sweating in a cold room, and biting my fist to keep from yelling.  I had to stop the movie because I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I’ve gone to do some chores, and I’ve gone for a walk, but PowerDVD is still sitting in my taskbar, eager to move on, and I still can’t muster up the courage to see what’s going to happen next.  I even had to get the DVD case out of my sight, because just thinking about the film makes me shaky, queasy, and rather dehydrated.  I’m trying to stall by getting other things done, so I’m in the middle of typing up an email to a Muppeteer I admire at the moment, because even that doesn’t make me quite as anxious as what I think I’m about to see if I play the movie for just ten more seconds.  I might try to go play a video game to take my mind off of it, or perhaps I’ll do some packing to move back into my college dorm after spring break, but I still don’t know if I’ll be able to finish this nightmare.

It’s me again – the “normal” J. D. Hansel, under the influence of hindsight bias and time to overthink things, as usual.  I’m glad that I’m back, because looking back on this film (which I watched almost a month ago), I can appreciate it more now than I could at the time when I was watching it.  My problem, naturally, is that I cannot decide which opinion is more “true” or “pure” – the opinion formed while experiencing the film, or the opinion formed a little bit afterward while looking back at the whole.  For this particular movie, I think that the answer is the former.  Why?  Because, I just now took a look at this movie’s trailer (as I often do to refresh my memory), and immediately my senses have returned to the state depicted in this video:

So, in order to recover a little bit, pardon me for a moment while I bang my fists on the keyboard and scream at the ceiling.  SZAD.s.kaskssklksalaSZKLJsklkuhdkwkwqp’;wsikjnd9jhergpeehuefwmgwr,’l;wersdffeuhgdefrnklj4wert3pmoljmqhudf7yhegkmrergmk;vbdfidvbfzusdwf’l,ERT./dvslop;sdf.,lerg ,gert

In summery, this is one of the most important, absurd, genuine, horrible, amazing, beautiful, creative, bizarre, genius, unethical, idiotic, awesome, frustrating, glorious, deceitful, outstanding, terrifying, enlightening, enraging, cliche, original, heartfelt, heartbreaking, game-changing, life-changing, and stupefying works of art in the entire timeline of the galaxy.  My inability to process such a thing fills me with unspeakable frustration.  This is one of those rare films that will haunt me until I die.  I know this is rather late in the article to present a thesis statement, but I suspect this aggravation is mostly due to the fact that it should just be a stupid, meaningless, unoriginal teen dramedy, but instead, it uses the deepest fears that were meant to be left unspoken to an extent that Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, and the original Snuffleupagus puppet combined could never parallel.

Since it seems impossible for me to figure out how many stars I ought to give this film, I’ll have to try to focus on some aspects other than the horror.  The author of the book, Stephen Lucifer Chbosky, directed this film, and this has both good and bad effects on the movie.  The good effect, of course, is that he knows how to tell the story, since it’s his story, and I firmly believe that the writing and directing of a film are generally best done by the same person.  This film serves as evidence for this theory of mine, because much of the story is expressed excellently in ways that any other director would probably not try.  Not to mention, one scene uses music even more powerfully than the average musical film in the scene featuring “Come on Eileen” – and this kind of perfection is what cinema was meant to be.  However, since his background is in writing more than directing, and since he had not yet directed a film on this scale, some of his work is technically lacking.  I’m specifically thinking of the scene towards the beginning in the bleachers (when Sam is introduced), because the editing is so unprofessional and awkward that I laughed so hard that I fell on the ground.

Still, it is the characters and conflicts that make a movie more interesting than the technical side of things, so these are what I’ll prioritize.  The characters are largely likable when they’re supposed to be, and Charlie is as relatable as the author intended.  Each of the actors performed completely believably, although frequently I found I couldn’t quite believe Watson’s American accent – not that I could have done a better English accent, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain.  The characters and conflict had all been done in such a way that I couldn’t help but get really invested in the story, but I think this leads to my problem with the film.

One of the greatest sensations I have experienced is when I watch a movie or television program that uses the social anxiety of the audience to make a scene that is both terrifying and hilarious at the same time.  The awkwardness of the situations towards the end of Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam and the Next Gen. episode “Hollow Pursuits” can generate two very different emotional responses at the same time, one of which has me peeking through my fingers, and the other has me rolling with laughter.  What must be kept in mind is that this only works if the balance is kept just right, with the laughter serving as a spoon full of sugar.  In this film, it’s clear that the balance is off – I couldn’t laugh when I wanted to laugh because I felt far too uncomfortable; frankly, I felt violated.

I felt as though the movie had struck me right in the heart, and used my fears to destroy me.  Even now, over a month after I watched the movie, the anxiety it induced is still too strong to be considered wholly ethical.  Oddly, however, my problem with the film is not so much its attack on the audience, but the way it tries to make everything better with the ending.  The ending is when the movie tries to seem caring for its audience by putting a little Hello Kitty Band-Aid on the bloody slash it slit.  The happy ending is highly inappropriate, and is even deceitful, since the only friends he made in school (aside from the teacher) are only seen on occasion when they come to visit, meaning our protagonist logically should feel lonely and miserable during 90% of the school year.  The worst part is that it’s in the guise of a very cliche young adult novel dramedy, making it the kind of movie that’s not supposed to be a masterpiece, which just adds to the disrespect I feel the film is showing me.  If the movie is going to injure me this badly, it needs to finish me off, to put me out of my misery by making a depressing ending that will make the horrors I experienced worth something.  I’ve often considered how fun it would be for me to make the most depressing film of all time, so it could be used as a tool to show what it’s like to have depression, but to do that I would have the decency to go all the way and end the film with a thought that will make the viewers wish they were dead – with none of Chbosky’s false hope for consolation.

While I am exceedingly tempted to give this movie four and a half stars (part of me even demands five) for being so powerful, impacting, and unbelievably moving, I’m afraid that I must give this a low, low, low rating for its cruel abuse of the medium of cinema.  However, I must recommend it to everyone, and even tout it as a great achievement of cinema, because it’s a more elegant and beautiful abuse than I could have ever imagined.

103 The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Deadpool Review

This is, first and foremost, a comic book movie.  I would not consider this to be a farcical comedy film that simply borrows elements from superhero stories, or that parodies comic books in the way that Holy Musical B@man does.  This is a comic book movie that borrows from the farcical comedy.  When looked at this way, it is a unique and very admirable film, which may even be ahead of its time.

I will address the issue that so many have had with this picture, which is its offensive nature.  It is deliberately as inappropriate for children as possible, and many consider it terribly “dirty” or immoral.  With as much as I may have been disgusted at times by some of the bloody and/or horrific images used, I do wish to respond to the complaints that it went too far with two main thoughts to consider.  The first of these points looks at it as comedy.  I very much appreciate Groucho Marx’s criticism of dirty comedy, but I do think that even the filthiest comedy can very good comedy – perhaps even intellectual comedy – if it is cleverly and creatively crafted (and I think even Groucho got a little risque on occasion).  In this movie, clearly the writers did put thought and care into the dirty comedy, and most importantly, they used it to ruin, taint, or disgrace the comic book movie, which is exactly the kind of thing that comedy should do.  My second point is that the reason why the film had to be this way is to make Deadpool a unique character.  He seems to me to be completely separate from both the usual kind of Marvel hero, and the kind of hero that appears in comedy projects based on more official heroes.

Not every little bit of the film is perfect, and far better critics than I have already done a fine job at expressing why/how this is, so I will not waste my time with it.  What I will say is that I am pleased that this year has introduced something new and original to cinema, which I think has the potential to make the movies a lot more fun.

102 Deadpool

The Peanuts Movie Review

I am fairly certain that, in the world of comedy (if not the world in general), it is a sin for me to say that I have never been much of a Peanuts fan.  That’s not to say that I didn’t like the works of the Peanuts characters – I do enjoy their most famous Christmas special, among other staples of Schulz’ work – but I simply wasn’t exposed to them early enough in life to appreciate them the way so many others do.  The Peanuts specials and comics have a kind of humor that is generally rather slow and deliberately underwhelming, as it focuses on a mumbling failure who tends to dread living.  I certainly do identify with this kind of character, and I greatly appreciate Schulz’s approach to writing for the character, which is summed up in this simple, classic quote of his: “Most of us are much more acquainted with losing than winning.”  With this in mind, I can’t help but look at the 2015 Peanuts film as a perfect example of both what it is I love about the Peanuts, and what it is that I just don’t know how to appreciate.

Right from the start, this film was full of surprises.  The trailer alone stunned me with the distinction of its animation style, as it is probably the best use of CG animation I have seen since at least Inside Out, if not The Lego Movie.  Because of the purity of the style, the film had earned my respect before I had even seen it, but then again, I was unsure as to whether or not it would be worth seeing.  I am now glad that I did choose to see the film, because if I thought that the animation style was surprising, I was quite shocked to see how much I enjoyed the humor.  No Peanuts production or comic had ever made me laugh so hard, and I think this is largely due to the way most of the jokes relied on the animation style.  By doing this as a CG film rather than 2-D, this movie ensures that it does not appear to be a continuation of the old Peanuts specials, but rather an homage to the comedy and animation of older cartoons, making for an experience that’s easy to enjoy.  However, both the laughs and the surprises grew fewer and fewer as the movie progressed, and I was bothered to find myself losing interest.

This is the problem.  I eventually found myself playing a video game on the Wii U while the film was still on, because there was so little need to pay attention during most of the movie.  The plot was predictable enough, so I didn’t really need to keep a close eye out for much, and the overall storytelling approach didn’t interest me much at all.  Half of the movie seems to be spent on an irrelevant B-story taking place in Snoopy’s daydreams of chasing the Red Baron, which might have been worth including had they used the classic song, but even the superb sight gags towards the end of his fantasy aren’t quite enough of a pay-off to make it worth my time.  The main story, obviously focused on Charlie Brown, was cute and relatable, but was still a little lacking in substance, and could have been over with much quicker.  The ‘A’ story could have been a ‘B’ or ‘C’ story, and the Snoopy bits could have been two or three very brief scenes, which would have left room for a stronger ‘A’ story.

All that being said, this is a good movie.  It’s fun, clean, and has both the frustration with life and the delightful purity required to make it feel like a classic Peanuts production.  Getting a G-rated movie in 2015 was already miraculous, but it’s even more satisfying to find that it’s a good movie that adults can enjoy just as much (or maybe more) than children.  It has a lot of charm and heart, which are very hard to generate without being sappy, but this movie does the job just fine.  Forgive me for ending on such a cliché, low-hanging joke, but I can’t resist: “You’re a good movie, Charlie Brown.”

101 The Peanuts Movie