Now in Theaters: March 2017

The Oscars may be over and the nominees are gradually retreating from your local multiplex, but there are still a surprisingly large number of good offerings playing in wide release right now (plus, of course, some crap). Here’s a rundown of some of your options this week.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

The original John Wick came out of nowhere and almost immediately placed itself among my favorite action movies to be released in the past decade, alongside the likes of DreddEdge of Tomorrow, both The Raid films and Mad Max: Fury Road. The action was kinetic and intense, the story was only as complicated as it had to be, the world-building was fascinating but stayed at the fringes and practically every frame looked like it could have been transposed from a graphic novel. John Wick came into the world confident and fully formed; while it may not have had a staggering theatrical run it gained new life upon its home release.

So how does Chapter 2 fare by comparison? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s bigger without necessarily being better. The scope has been greatly expanded as befits this film’s larger budget: there are more locations and characters, the body count is a lot higher, Laurence Fishburne shows up in a scenery-chewing bit part just because he can. The whole thing is still a ton of fun (and, correcting one of the few sins of the first film, doesn’t run out of steam at the end), but suffers a bit without being able to ride on the first film’s novelty.

One of the original John Wick‘s biggest strengths was its restraint in regards to telling its backstory: the depths of the Continental’s assassin underground was only hinted at, but viewers got the idea well enough. Appearing to lay the groundwork for a potential (and, given this picture’s box office performance, likely) Chapter 3, John Wick: Chapter 2 starts filling in gaps in the film world and, unlike the original, feels like it has some work to do. Also, event though I was not personally bothered it is worth observing that this franchise’s gun fetishism is starting to feel a little problematic.

It may suffer a bit given some consideration, but John Wick: Chapter 2 still plays well in the theater and, if you care about this sort of thing, absolutely deserves to be seen on the big screen. The bonkers gun-fu is still as fast and furious (and well-shot and -edited, too), and there are a few wildly creative action beats that merit the price of admission by themselves; if you liked the first John Wick there’s no reason not to show up for this one.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Expectations are a tricky thing, but I can’t think of any film that blew them away more in recent years than The LEGO Movie. What could have been merely a crass promotional vehicle for a system of interlocking plastic bricks (and Warner Bros.’ stable of intellectual properties) was instead a manic, joyous meta-commentary on creativity and conformity (and a bunch of other things) with a surprising breakout appearance by LEGO Batman (Will Arnett). Could this small but potent comedic force steer an entire movie?

The short answer is yes, with some caveats.

In The LEGO Movie, Batman’s role was mostly to serve as a character’s insecure jerk boyfriend, (sometimes literally) crashing into and commandeering every scene he was in. In his own film LEGO Batman is still an oblivious force of ego, but he’s also revealed to be crippled by his solitude and emotionally stunted. This film gets the character of Batman as well as well as any of its flesh-and-blood cinematic counterparts, and mines that for comedy in a fairly brilliant first act.

As things progress the film begins to lose the thread, or at least run on LEGO autopilot. Even if this is only the second LEGO-related theatrical release, the brand’s sense of humor has been established on TV and in video games for years. The LEGO Batman Movie at times seems confused as to whether it’s about LEGOs or Batman without successfully splitting the difference. The interlocking-brick-based jokes are sometimes funny, but they get in the way an otherwise perfectly good Batman movie instead of enhancing it (particularly towards the ending). Without The LEGO Movie‘s fairly nuanced additional meta layer, the physics jokes sometimes feel overbearing.

Relatively cerebral criticisms aside, The LEGO Batman Movie mostly works well, and is more successful than most of the “straight” Batman films. Every corner of the frame is constantly crammed with detail; the big screen is a more useful ally to this film than you might expect (the IMAX release would have been justified, if only it hadn’t been released the same week as John Wick: Chapter 2, denying the large format-ready actioner the platform). Worth a watch.

 

GET OUT

Get Out is this year’s compulsory horror movie. Every year, there’s usually one horror movie that breaks out of its genre bubble and demands attention from the mainstream (The WitchIt Follows and The Babadook immediately come to mind), and Get Out confidently steps into this slot with its quick and sparing wit, foreboding atmosphere and searing social commentary. The film was written and directed by Jordan Peele of Keye and Peele fame, and marks Peele’s directorial debut. If Get Out is any indication, the wildly swerving genre plays of the sketch show have honed Peele into an assured and versatile filmmaker, and if this is his first I can only imagine what will come next.

If you managed to avoid the super spoiler-y trailers, keep doing that as they give away pretty much everything. For purposes of our discussion, I’ll say the story revolves around a black man who goes with his white girlfriend to meet her parents at a ritzy backwoods estate. Get Out tackles issues of modern race relations in America with as much bluntness as any film I can remember, especially for a mainstream-ish genre film. This is probably the first horror movie specifically about microaggressions.

There are jolts and the whole thing is scary enough, but the film’s real selling point is its deft navigation of tones between horror and comedy. Get Out is cognizant of its place in genre, with its trappings and audience expectations. “Get out” isn’t just a line of dialogue from the film, it’s what audiences are expected to be yelling at the screen. The protagonist, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), isn’t stupid and doesn’t make typical horror movie Final Girl mistakes. Another black character, TSA agent and Chris’s friend (comedian Lil Rel Howery) plays an able audience surrogate who provides most of the film’s comic relief but, smartly, is not overutilized.

As a rule I don’t like horror movies, but I saw Get Out twice on its opening weekend and it only improved on the rewatch. This is different and better than your typical studio horror film, and demands to be seen.

LOGAN

This is the X-Men movie I’ve been waiting for.

The complaint I usually lodge against tentpole superhero movies is that they’re way too big and sprawling for their own good, and many of the better ones succeed in spite of their needlessly large stakes (i.e. the first Avengers); however, many get dragged down by the weight of their accumulated nonsense (I couldn’t tell you what happened in X-Men Apocalypse, I mostly recall a bunch of debris flying around and some yelling).

Logan succeeds in part because it stays within a set of limits. It’s still a comic book movie so there are cybernetic limbs and mutant powers and clones and stuff, but Logan is grounded by a certain sense of reality and plausibility whose absence in the main X-Men films and most MCU films keeps their emotional currency at arms length. Running time notwithstanding, Logan is relatively compact in terms of its cast of characters, scale of action sequences and economy of storytelling. The film doesn’t waste moments, or overstuff them.

The fact that Logan is rated R is not immaterial. Blood and gore is of course not necessary for on-screen violence to be effective, but the visceral and grisly nature of Wolverine’s power set always felt a little neutered in a PG-13 setting (I mean, blades come out of the dude’s knuckles for chrissakes). Setting aside the home-release-only R-rated cut of The Wolverine, the level of violence exercised by the character feels thematically appropriate. To the film’s credit the violence is strong without being gratuitous or exploitative, ramping up considerably over the course of the runtime but not distracting from other important things going on.

For the first time in the franchise (and for Marvel-branded movies in general), this is a movie aimed squarely at smart adult audiences. If this is really how Hugh Jackman is going to hang up his claws, he’s gone out on the highest note possible.

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Best Picture Nominee Round-Up

Today is the big day! I’ll admit, with everything else going on in the world I haven’t been thinking about the Oscars that much either, but the ceremony is still happening and this year’s field is relatively strong. Most of these films are worth watching regardless of whether you’re a cinephile or not, and all have gotten an easy-to-find wide release at some point before the ceremony. Just in case you missed a few, here are my thoughts on the nine films nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture, arranged alphabetically:

ARRIVAL

It’s always nice to see a sci-fi movie make an appearance in the Best Picture race, and Arrival is no lightweight. Denis Villeneuve has, in a matter of a few short years, proven himself to be one of Hollywood’s most exciting up-and-coming filmmakers and one has to think that after the critical and commercial success of this film we’ll continue hearing from him for a long time.

Arrival is gorgeous, evocative, and tense; the Kubrick parallels are easy to draw but on their own don’t paint a complete picture. Some of Villeneuve’s projects in the past have appeared to prioritize visual panache over making a film that functions as well on all levels (*coughPRISONERScough*) and yet Arrival manages to hit a home run with source material that should have been unadaptable, Ted Chiang’s decidedly uncinematic short story “The Story of Your Life.” It tackles some heady sci-fi themes and expects the audience to keep up, and the film’s central themes of time and language bring a completely different reading to subsequent viewings; Arrival demands to be seen multiple times and rewards the effort. Unlikely to win the big prize, but easily among the best films of 2016 and one of my personal favorites.

FENCES

Fences is almost as literal as an act of cinematic adaptation can get: the only way the experience of watching Fences, the movie could be more like seeing a live production of Fences, the play is if it were filmed stage performance. As such, the film feels profoundly different in terms of pace and structure from pretty much anything else currently in theaters. Fences is not breaking new cinematic ground, but the directorial discipline and modesty exhibited from actor/filmmaker Denzel Washington may still be what really sets it apart.

Fences is as much an actor’s showcase as anything on this list. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis both turn in powerful performances that are serious prospects in their respective categories. It’s good that this kind of movie got an accessible wide release, but it’s worth noting that this is a pretty serious sit for a casual moviegoer.

HACKSAW RIDGE

Out of the entire field, Hacksaw Ridge felt the most like homework to me. If you’ve seen any of Mel Gibson’s other war movies, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re getting here: it’s made competently, is very complementary to a certain strain of American masculinity, and is tremendously violent. The film, based on the true story of a conscientious objector who served as a combat medic during WWII, hits on all the themes of valor and human goodness and American derring-do that you would expect. The whole thing is fine. Feels like a lot of the super-violent war movies we were getting around 2000 (Saving Private RyanWe Were Soldiers, etc). You already know if you like this sort of thing.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

I didn’t want to take this reading too far over the summer when Hell or High Water was released, but it’s now quite difficult not to view this film at least partly as a commentary on the state of American unrest in the build-up to the election. While it’s not explicitly labeled as such, this is as much a commentary on the desperation of Red America as anything else. The screenplay comes from rising talent Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), who has demonstrated his ability to, among many other things, successfully capture a sense of modern American masculinity without drowning in machismo or getting too sentimental.

Social commentary notwithstanding, Hell or High Water is an efficient, effective Western thriller that has the good sense to know its limits and smartly subvert expectations. All this, and Jeff Bridges steals every scene he’s in playing an over-the-hill Texas detective who might have more depth that it would initially seem. Hell or High Water is a sly, sneaky kind of great.

HIDDEN FIGURES

Hidden Figures may be as mainstream as it gets when it comes to its visual and storytelling aesthetics, but it deserves to be applauded for being wildly successful in what it sets out to do. You know where it’s going, you can practically see the plot strings being pulled, but the overall package is so strong and it gets so many little things right that it’s hard to resist applauding anyway.

We don’t get nearly enough prestige pictures like this that (current politics notwithstanding) really should appeal to the whole family: it’s rated PG and doesn’t really contain anything objectionable, but doesn’t shy away from the thorny racial politics that drive the story and, for the most part, doesn’t just give the white characters a pass. A culturally important film that comes at a crucial moment.

LA LA LAND

For me, La La Land might count as the year’s biggest disappointment. On paper, in its publicity, it looks great: a throwback Hollywood musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and directed by the exciting young talent Damien Chazelle, most notable responsible for the fantastic Whiplash, easily one of the best films of 2015. La La Land and Whiplash share plenty of stylistic DNA, but many of the similarities (especially in terms of cinematography) only highlight La La Land’s relative thematic bankruptcy.

La La Land is technically impressive and I would assume it’s coming from a genuine place, but I’ve seen the film twice and still don’t know what it’s trying to say in terms of its characters and their motivations. The ambiguity feels sloppy, not intentional. One gets a serious desperate-theater-student vibe from this production. It will be too bad if this film wins everything, but last year’s big win for Spotlight might have have served as an inoculation, giving the Academy a pass to go back to their usual practice of choosing something self-congratulatory.

LION

Lion was not really on my radar when the Best Picture nominees were announced last month, and while I doubt it can make much of a dent in the actual ceremony I see no need to begrudge its presence, either. It’s more prickly and interesting than its source material and medium would initially suggest and, in a wise move for an international film with a Hollywood sheen, keeps its priorities on its main character rather than his surroundings and doesn’t get bound in feel-good schlock. Lion wants you to cry at the end, and you’ll probably at least sniffle a little, but the whole production has the decency to not be too cloying.

Based on the memoir by Saroo Brierly, Lion unfolds over two parts: the first follows a young Saroo as he is separated from his family and is eventually adopted by an Australian family, and his quest as a young adult to find his birthplace and family, armed with the internet and his limited childhood memories. The first half is especially powerful and viscerally transporting in its portrayal of the chaos of daily Indian life; the second half which spends much of its time with (Oscar-nominated) Dev Patel sequestered in cramped apartments with cell phones and laptop screens is a bit more functional.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

If you’re looking to be emotionally devastated, Manchester by the Sea is the best pick on this list for you. Kenneth Lonergan’s meditation on family and grieving is the sort of movie most people will only want to watch once (it’s hard not to find something in this film you can relate to), but its masterful performances and handle of tone make a potentially brutal viewing experience more than just watchable. The whole affair is almost uniformly somber and Casey Affleck is an expert brooder, but Manchester by the Sea is also surprisingly funny and is filled with wonderfully human moments.

This film will be historically notable for being the first Best Picture nominee released by a streaming service (Amazon), and if you have Prime it’s worth checking out when it eventually drops into the service. I’m also delighted to add Manchester by the Sea to the small pantheon of movies who really understand life in southern and coastal New England (other entrants include Spotlight and Mystic River).

MOONLIGHT

It’s a rare film whose greatness is so apparent it radiates off the screen. Moonlight was the film in 2016 that came closest to capturing that feeling. Moonlight‘s three acts follow a young black man living in Miami during three phases of his burgeoning adulthood: as a child, a teenager and a young man. The central character is played by three different actors who don’t bear a particularly striking physical resemblance, but stay consistent in the soul of their performances in a truly stunning way. Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris both turn in stellar Oscar-nominated performances that have a shot. Barry Jenkins also appears to be in direct contention with Damien Chazelle for Best Director.

This film falls into the slot occupied last year by Spotlight: the should-win. Since things went so well last year, I doubt we’ll be so lucky this year, too. Regardless, Moonlight should be seen no matter how many awards it wins tonight. It requires some active viewing and its gifts may not be completely apparent on a first viewing, but make no mistake: Moonlight is a great film, and the closest a film in this year’s Oscars comes to an all-time classic.

Every Movie I Saw in 2016, Annotated List

UPDATED 12/31/16

2016 may have been an armpit of a year, but at least I kept one of my resolutions: maintaining a film diary. Below is every movie I watched this year, with some thoughts. Mostly based off this year’s wide release calendar, there are several likely awards contenders I haven’t gotten to yet. 2016 theatrical releases are in bold.

*new release, streaming platform

JANUARY

01 – STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

04 – STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

07 – STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS – a tough sit. for like a week i thought i was going to be a completist and watch all of the clone wars, including the movie. this convinced me not to go down that path and instead i’ll now cherrypick episodes relevant to my interests (like the stuff with yoda’s vision quest, onderon, etc). maybe someday.

09 – KILL BILL: VOL. 1

10 – KILL BILL: VOL. 2 – i haven’t seen the super-duper four-hour mashed-together cut, but in my experience it’s just as interesting putting a little distance between watching the two films instead of a double feature. they really are very different, vol. 1 all blood and fury and mise-en-scene and vol. 2 being enough movie to make up for it.

11 – CAROL, THEY CAME TOGETHER – there’s a lot of things to love about CAROL, especially the glorious 16mm cinematography and one of the best scores of 2015.

17 – THE REVENANT – i lost sleep last year worrying about whether i liked BIRDMAN OR: THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE or not, and what kind of person that made me. well, not this year. fuck this movie.

20 – THE BIG SHORT

21 – BROOKLYN – i found this movie to be a delightful little surprise, and judging by their reactions the other two people in the theater did too.

28 – STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – ok, so maybe i should explain myself a little here. this movie was a big deal, and i am a star wars nerd. i made it my goal to see this movie in every format i could, and i managed to see it in 2d, 3d (w/ and w/o dolby atmos, w/ d-box), liemax (sorry, imax digital), and 70mm 2d imax dome. did not get to see this in a standard full-size imax theater, which i regret.

 

FEBRUARY

04- HAIL, CAESAR! – too bad this got passed by so quickly. as much as i love THE LADYKILLERS, this is a lot better.

07 – ANOMALISA

09 – LOVE, THE SIGNAL – william eubank double feature. i like this guy’s style and want to see what he’s up to next, even if neither of these films are actually all that successful. LOVE is very odd.

11 – DEADPOOL – i was a little disappointed in this.

15 – DEADPOOL – i went back to check and make sure i didn’t miss anything. maybe the gonzo subversive deconstructionist movie i really wanted was in there somewhere? not really.

22- THE WITCHTHE WITCH – i don’t know what it was (i don’t even like horror movies usually), but this movie fucking spoke to me. the whole thing is spectacularly disquieting and viciously confident, especially for a first-time filmmaker. maybe still my #1 film of the year?

 

MARCH

02 – GODS OF EGYPT – if you have hbo, you should go and watch like the first 10 minutes of this movie. insane and profoundly misguided on basically every level, but you have to give it points for managing to exist in spite of itself.

03 – ZOOTOPIA, BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN, TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE – commentary on modern american society triple feature.

08 – ZOOTOPIA – it’s no secret that the process of creating a modern disney animated movie is the polar opposite of what you’d call the standard auteur-based mode of filmmaking; every conceivable thing from the overall plot to the way an elephant’s tail, poking out from a little hole near the bottom of a modest floral-print dress, jiggles as the elephant shifts its weight from foot to foot, standing upright as an elephant is typically not wont to do, is taken into meticulous account. this relentless collective workshopping has the potential to snuff the soul out of a film, but in this case disney has wrought a near-immaculate construction that zips forward with tireless efficiency and bursts at the seams with catch-it-on-your-third-or-fourth-viewing-level detail.

11 – ZOOTOPIA

15 – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE – quite effective, and promising as a working example of how to make a quality product like this in the studio system for not a ton of money. a little chamber piece that almost convinces you it’s something bigger.

20 – SHAOLIN SOCCER

24 – 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA

25 – BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – everything that was not good about this movie compounded itself even further in SUICIDE SQUAD. dc needs to cut it with the macho bullshit and really examine why all of disney’s various franchises are not only printing money but inspiring devotion in snobs like me while dc is left trying to manhandle its way in while shouting nonsense and wondering why nobody wants to be its friend. dare i say, trumpist?

29 – ELECTION – every time i watch this, i always forget just how vicious it is. has also proved spookily relevant to our current political situation.

30 – BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – tried it again to make sure i didn’t miss something. nope, this movie is not good.

 

APRIL

06- HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS – awkward indie comedies about sad loners make me uncomfortable. sally field was great. i wanted to run away screaming.

07- HARDCORE HENRY – more interesting for what it symbolizes perhaps than what it is. it’s been a long time coming, but artifacts of video gaming are starting to imprint themselves in other forms of pop culture, in particular tv and movies. there hasn’t been a good movie based on a video game yet (maybe have j. c. chandor tackle half-life?), but there have been some interesting projects that have mined some tropes very familiar to video gamers. EDGE OF TOMORROW (or perhaps more relevant in this discussion, LIVE/DIE/REPEAT) replicates the experience of playing an action game probably more explicitly than any other movie, and to fantastic ends. WESTWORLD is largely a fetch quest, complete with npc’s. in terms of cinematic merit, HARDCORE HENRY sort of feels like a duke nukem 3d to WESTWORLD’s bioshock with crazy visual ideas up the wazoo but not much of a movie to hang them on.

08 – MIDNIGHT SPECIAL – bold in the ways it allows big things to go unexplained, and lets some of the most memorable moments also be the quietest ones. the kid telling joel edgerton to sit down is the best moment in any movie this year.

11 – MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

14 – THE JUNGLE BOOK – looks terrifically expensive, but that’s sort of the problem. more a fancy tech-demo than a movie and plods alog in jon favreau’s blithely auteur-ish way. in some ways i like the original better for not even attempting to hold itself together cohesively, this one has a fiery third act because i guess they felt they had to. there’s only one practical element in the film, the kid, and the digital rotoscoping (or whatever you call it) of the kid in with all the digital elements, the effect around which the entire film revolves- still looks like it’s in beta. sort of a waste. cool in imax, not much point watching it at home. i did like that all of the animals on the savannah were apparently jewish curmudgeons.

 

MAY

03 – EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!! – in retrospect relatively minor linklater, pleasant and fleeting and out of time in more ways than one.

04 – MINIONS

05 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – the perfect capstone to the mcu if you’ve been playing along, sort of impenetrable if this isn’t your type of party. i dug it quite a bit.

06 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

15- AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL

23 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

24 – THE NICE GUYS – a wonderful little caper that got lost in the shuffle. surprising amount of iron man 3 dna evident.

25 – NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING

27- X-MEN: APOCALYPSE – the x-men movies have always had a sort of plot-soup element to them that made it hard for me to get into, and this is the same. something about pyramids, and that thing at auschwitz, and wolverine shows up for 30 seconds, it’s all sort of foggy. truly comic book-y in its intense pathos and convulsive plot structure, but with nothing to ground it.

31 – AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD

 

JUNE

02 – A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

03 – THE LOBSTER – i’m still bitter at this movie for mining comedy from my personal wells of pain.

07 – POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING – i’ve been delighted to see this showing up on some end-of-year lists, this movie is occasionally really funny and is more knowing than it looks. very inside baseball.

11 – WARCRAFT – did well in china, so we’re probably getting more. cinematic mush.

14 – NOW YOU SEE ME 2 – a pointless sequel to a movie that was frivolous in the first place. daniel radcliffe shows up, though, and he’s good.

15 – SING STREET – a peppy little new film from the guy that brought you ONCE, pertaining to a genre of music i really don’t care about. perfectly good little quasi-musical that you’ll probably like more than me.

17 – FINDING DORY – competent fare from pixar that i liked while i was watching, but i just can’t get over how it treats poor gerald. kind of goes against the entire message of the movie, when you think about it. if disney cares so much about being inclusive, what about the geralds of the world? i’m getting ahead of my skis here.

21 – HOPSCOTCH – i go back to this one almost every year. an impish little espionage comedy with a globehopping walter matthau being lanky but still weirdly magnetic and causing trouble while sam waterston half-heartedly chases him around with kind of an ‘aw-shucks’ attitude. fun for the whole family, especially if you’re the youngest.

22 – WEINER – boy, this has managed to stay relevant. the laptop definitely makes a cameo. really though, this is one of the best movies of the year (documentary or not) and is a fascinating look not only at new york politics and a deeply flawed man but also the toxic and potentially self-destructive consequences of a particular strain of american masculinity. unexpectedly intimate portrait of an almost impossibly frustrating person.

23 – ZOOTOPIA

27 – INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE – brief flashes of brilliant ideas half-realized amid an otherwise powerfully smelly turd of a film. i want a spin-off that’s only about the african commandos.

29 – THE NEON DEMON – if you’re tuned into nicolas winding refn’s frequency, this will resonate very pleasurably. had me completely from the opening credits. the artifice is the whole point.

 

JULY

02 – SWISS ARMY MAN – the daniel radcliffe farting corpse movie is more than just the daniel  radcliffe farting corpse movie. does a pretty good job of walking the twee tightrope, and notable for its sheer nerve.

07 – THE NICE GUYS

09 – THE BFG – notable for spending most of its runtime building up to a very well-executed fart joke. is that enough? maybe if you have kids.

10 – JURASSIC PARK

11 – THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS – watchable knockoff of toy story, but as is typical of illumination, seems to exist more to market itself that actually make anyone happy.

14 – GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) – the story around this movie was a much bigger deal than the movie itself. surprisingly good imax version.

15 – GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) – i didn’t grow up with this movie, which makes its unabashed consumerism, iffy gender politics and plot holes harder to look past.

23 – STAR TREK BEYOND – many of this year’s blockbusters were watchable and pleasant but somewhat unmemorable, and this film may be the best example of this. proves the franchise can manage just fine without all the j.j. abrams whooshiness.

29 – JASON BOURNE – bourne-lite. passed the time, but really why did they bother.

30 – IN THE LOOP – searing satire of bush-era foreign policy, sort of british veep. dense, wicked and thoroughly rewarding if you put in the effort. they’re probably speaking english, but best turn the subtitles on for this one anyway.

 

AUGUST

04- SUICIDE SQUAD – not good. this scream of being released purely because it was on the schedule. dour, doesn’t earn any of its character moments, tacky overuse of basic pop songs, cobbled together haphazardly. sometimes just showing up to work isn’t enough.

06 – THE LITTLE PRINCE* – originally slated for a theatrical release before being scooped up by netflix, this great little family movie cleverly sidesteps a straightforward adaptation of the book and instead uses it as a framing device to tell a somewhat more modern story. it couldn’t be easier to watch this film, you really have no excuse.

11 – SAUSAGE PARTY – we now live in a world where under the right circumstances some truly wild stuff can end up in wide release. that the two romantic leads are a hot dog and a bun tells you a lot. the bun’s character design tells you the rest. the future of stoner comedy?

13 – HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

14 – PETE’S DRAGON – lovely little modern american pastoral that also happens to be a remake of an obscure disney movie whose only notoriety came from a parade float.

18 – KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

20 – HELL OR HIGH WATER, THE LICKERISH QUARTET

30 – THE JUNGLE BOOKCAFE SOCIETY – this year’s woody allen effort is skippable.

 

SEPTEMBER

10 – DON’T THINK TWICE

11 – SULLY – i feel like they keep letting clint eastwood make movies mostly because he comes in on-time and under-budget. this story was not begging to become a film, and it’s telling how much it has to stretch just to reach 90 minutes. it still holds itself together in my memory based on some very effective individual beats, but at times this doesn’t feel like a real movie.

18 – DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB – given the circumstances, more terrifying than ever.

19 – SNOWDEN 

23 – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) – an antoine fuqua joint that didn’t have me retching halfway through, so that’s something. benefits from the automatic sideways novelty that comes with being a modern western. chris pratt is miscast.

25 – NINE LIVES – by all appearances, a straight-up paycheck movie for those involved. little to no cinematic merit, even for cat people. veers wildly back and forth between more pedestrian blandness and some truly appalling decision-making both in front of and behind the camera. i thought for maybe a second i did, but i do not want to see a cg cat get black-out shit-faced. made for a weird night at the dollar theater.

 

OCTOBER

05 – STORKS – we’ve quietly entered an exciting new time for mainstream animation, with several studios all sort of fashioning their own distinctive (or not-so-distinctive) takes on the form. the most apt adjective to describe the work fromthe relative upstart warner animation group (WAG) would seem to be “manic,” as evidenced by this one and THE LEGO MOVIE.  “wolves! form wolf submarine!”

08 – THE BIRTH OF A NATION – this movie’s ‘fuck-you’ attitude isn’t necessarily its downfall, but it makes its plethora of sins less forgivable. angry and sloppy, aimlessly confrontational. not a strong enough movie to shoulder its agressive racial politics.

13 – VOYAGE OF TIME: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE – terrence malick makes an imax short, what’s not to like?

23 – THE ACCOUNTANT – i was willing to give this movie’s admittedly shaky premise (autistic assassin!) a shot, but was not really rewarded. this movie is a nothing burger. not aggressively bad enough to distinguish itself either.

25 – STORKS

28 – INFERNO – it stuns me that not only was this movie released released in its current state, but in imax to boot. there was no reason for this film to be this inept, considering who was involved. this movie actually ends with a bunch of people splashing around in waist-deep water fighting over a box. it’s as sad as you’re picturing.

30 – MICHAEL MOORE IN TRUMPLAND – it’s gonna hurt to go back and watch this in a few years, watching michael moore try (and apparently fail) to get a roomful of trump supporters in michigan to do the right thing.

 

NOVEMBER

02 – MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN – watchable but way too busy, predictably. and who is this for, exactly?

04 – DOCTOR STRANGE – all of this film’s novel ideas are visual, but you can only expect a marvel movie to break so many molds at once. thoroughly fun, and a nice little break from what the avengers are up to.

10 – ARRIVAL – one of the best movies of the year, a must-watch if you’re even marginally interested in hard sci-fi. great work from amy adams, probably this year’s most arresting score and filled with fascinating concepts about time and language, as well as an examination of human behavior when confronted with the unknown. denis villeneuve has become a filmmaker it’s important to keep an eye on. demands a rewatch.

13 – ARRIVAL, DOCTOR STRANGE

20 – QUEEN OF KATWE – is anyone else making this type of movie but disney right now? great little family movie about an underprivileged but ferocious ugandan girl who kicks everyone’s ass at chess. a refreshingly uncynical little project that disney gets a lot of props for greenlighting.

22 – MOANA – i liked it, but apparently not as much as everyone else. felt a little sparse maybe? i don’t examine my feelings too much when i’m not in love with a musical. plus there’s something i’ve always found annoyingly precious about lin manuel miranda’s songwriting.

 

DECEMBER

01 – ARRIVAL

09 – SPIRITED AWAY

11 – MOONLIGHT – i need to see this one again. i spent much of this film feeling like i was watching something great that was just beyond my grasp.

15 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

16 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

18 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY – you can probably tell i liked it. this one is more prickly and interesting than i thought it would be. coming at it from the angle of a star wars nerd, it has everything i thought i would never see in a star wars movie, in a star wars movie. you can argue that it breezes through some iffy plotting mostly on momentum, but seeing things like an x-wing crashing into a shield or a star destroyer decapitating another star destroyer or darth vader slaughtering a room full of redshirts make up for pretty much any faults this movie otherwise might have. it might still be a little too early for me to be objective about this film, but it’s hard to deny that ROGUE ONE is very successful in what it sets out to do.

20 – ASSASSIN’S CREED – i’m not opposed to the idea of making movies out of video games, but this won’t be the first good one. i was hoping the levels of sheer insanity and my near-constant boner for michael fassbender would be enough to pull this one through, but alas. as someone who played an hour of assassin’s creed 2 one time i think five years ago, i had absolutely no clue what was going on. why is everyone jumping off buildings all the time? apparently in the game you land in bales of hay? that’s not what happens in the movie. admirable for its bizarre commitment to an unfilmable premise, but not enough to save it.

22 – PASSENGERS – the underlying moral conflict of this movie was kept out of the marketing, probably wisely. i have no objection to a film hanging its hat on a morally dubious premise, but why this supposedly mainstream sci-fi blockbuster? i was cringing in discomfort for much of this film.

25 – LA LA LAND – i’ve been jonesing for this all year and maybe that was the problem: i don’t know exactly what i wanted out of this movie, but it was not what i got. i like musicals very selectively but i like damien chazelle so i went in with an open mind. what i got was the thing i privately dreaded most: a BIRDMAN-like self-reflexive artifice most concerned with its own greatness. halfway-deconstructing the golden-age hollywood musical template into something simultaneously more and less. very smart kids playing with things they don’t fully understand. the whole affair is a little off. emma stone is typically enigmatic while ryan gosling makes it transparently clear that he practiced, a lot. overall, i was never quite sure what this movie wanted to be.

28 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

30 – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – this is a fantastic family drama, but so overwhelmingly tragic that i think it could be a potentially tough sell. realistic, humanistic, pleasantly shaggy around the edges. one of the year’s best. also, i’m a sucker for pretty much any movie that gets new england right (see: SPOTLIGHT).

Now in Theaters: July 2016

Summer of 2016 has made for a spotty summer movie season, with some fascinating indies and documentaries balanced out by a lot of blockbuster trash.

THE LOBSTER

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I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a screening feeling as terrible as I did after seeing The Lobster. This brutal satire about relationships and modern dating hit very close to home for me in a way I’m not going to dwell on in a film blog, but makes this film extremely difficult for me to review. Intellectually, I understand the film is well-made and well acted, and darkly funny in a way that should have spoken directly to my sensibilities, but I spent the whole time convincing myself not to walk out. Never has a film felt like it was designed so specifically to hurt me, and weeks later I still find myself feeling somewhat resentful towards it. Maybe I can’t take a joke.

That’s not to say The Lobster isn’t a good and competently-made movie, because it is (and one of the best-reviewed of the year, to boot). The cinematography is stark and striking, the pacing is spot-on, and there are great performances all around (Colin Farrell is as good as I’ve ever seen him). I’m not seeing this a lot in the broader conversation, but watching the film struck me as a tense experience with a constant threat of danger, especially in the back half. This is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s English-language debut, previously he was best known for Dogtooth, another transcendentally uncomfortable film.

I’ll make the same recommendation for The Neon Demon and Swiss Army Man, go into this one blind and don’t watch the trailer. This is such a specific film a trailer can’t really do it justice, and it goes into some interesting and unexpected territory in its second half. The basic premise of the film has Colin Farrell arriving at a resort during an unspecified time in the future, and guests at the resort have forty-five days to find a romantic partner before they’re turned into an animal of their choosing. Terrifying stuff.

 

NOW YOU SEE ME 2

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I reluctantly gave the first Now You See Me the benefit of the doubt, but the sequel retroactively makes the original worse by amplifying all its problems. NYSM2‘s structure hews very close to its predecessor to diminishing effects; for a sequel to an already near-pointless film it does little to shake up the game. The Now You See Me franchise is filled with contradictions, they’re loaded with heavy hitting casts (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, Woddy Harrelson, Daniel Radcliffe, etc) that have hideous material to work with, and for ostensibly being about stage magic there’s an awful lot of unconvincing CG. After the half-baked twists in the original, there’s nothing Now You See Me 2 can do that would actually be surprising, so for all the propulsive music and swishy editing the film is incapable of generating any genuine excitement.

As is the case with many weird projects nowadays, the film’s one saving grace is Daniel Radcliffe. He’s clearly having fun playing a wacky villain and gives the film a boost as it flags, but everybody else is just there for the paycheck. Even Woody Harrelson both reprising his character from the first film and playing something of an evil twin is barely worth a mention. Lizzy Caplan fills the token female slot occupied by Isla Fisher in the first outing with similarly underwhelming results. Come to think of it, I can’t think of any reason for you to pay money to see this.

WEINER

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I’m a huge political junkie so was probably more predisposed than the average person to like it, but nonetheless I found Weiner to be absolutely riveting and one of the best films of the year. This documentary follows controversial former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner during the entirety of his 2013 run for New York City mayor,  during which the embattled politician’s sexting scandal kept getting worse and worse. Never have I seen a film that had so much access to a political figure (though keeping with the subject of documentaries about failed political campaigns, I’ll take this opportunity to recommend Mitt on Netflix).

The film shoots straight and doesn’t really pick sides, Anthony Weiner is a breathtakingly problematic individual regardless of his political affiliation and his wounds are self-inflicted. He struggles, he falls, he keeps making horrendous mistakes, completely incapable of not shooting himself in the foot whenever the opportunity presents itself. It seems like the crew must have followed Weiner around almost 24/7, because the amount of raw, honest and sometimes heartbreaking footage is astonishing.

If you’re a politico like me, reason enough to see Weiner is Huma Abedin. Even thought she isn’t interviewed and rarely engages the cameras, the documentary provides what will probably be the clearest portrait of Hillary Clinton’s guarded right-hand woman and Anthony Weiner’s wife. Watching Abedin’s face over the course of the film as the situation keeps getting worse and she struggles to continue supporting her asshat of a husband is both fascinating and devastating to behold. A must watch.

WARCRAFT

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In a summer littered with stinkers, this may be the worst. I fully acknowledge my lack of Warcraft cred, I was a StarCraft guy as a kid and I have no interest in WoW. Would it have helped if I knew the difference between bright-green orcs and grey-green orcs? I highly doubt it. It’s two hours of generic fantasy nonsense, with broad-stroke characters and settings that made perfect sense in a DOS game from the early nineties, but look like a joke in front of today’s sophisticated audiences. I laughed a few times at some particularly horrific bits of dialogue and couldn’t help but chuckle at the sheer absurdity of it all, but this barely even qualifies as a movie. Things happen because plot and the characters are generic fantasy archetypes at best.

I’ve read that a novel facial motion-capture system was developed for this film, and indeed some of the close-ups work on the orcs, especially in the first act, don’t look that bad. Besides some scattered good work though, the visuals in this movie look atrocious. Bright blue and green blasts of magical energy look good in a video game and help you tell units apart, but on a giant movie screen there’s no need for it. The action is your basic PG-13 hacking and slashing, though I continue to be shocked at how much blood can pass under the R-rating limbo stick as long as it isn’t human blood. There are some cute nods to the gaming crowd (in one scene, the action even goes faux-isometric), but less than you’d expect or hope for. There was no reason for the movie to not include an orc yelling “what?”

It completely tanked at the U.S. box office, but WarCraft is nonetheless the highest-grossing movie based on a video game due to its runaway success in China. I know the big studios have to make money any way they can, but a lot of the blockbusters that are designed to do well in Asia are trope-filled, obvious and filled with clunky exposition (think Transformers: Age of Extinction and Independence Day: Resurgence) and this picture fits the made-for-China mold as well as anything. This is one where if you liked it, I won’t be able to convince you otherwise but by the rest of us it’s been rightfully ignored.

 

 

Relax, FINDING DORY is good

There are fewer scarier possibilities for today’s modern moviegoer than a Pixar sequel. I personally cope with this by tempering my excitement for new Pixar fare in a way I didn’t used to, and emotionally holding out as long as I can to see if the films can win me over (Inside Out did, The Good Dinosaur did not). Is it fair to hold every new movie from the studio up to the “Pixar standard?” That’s a big question, but thankfully we can table that discussion for another day because Finding Dory both manages to justify its existence as a sequel to one of the most-loved family films of the ‘aughts and a comfortable addition to the Pixar canon.

Finding Dory feels retroactively necessary to the first film in a way few sequels do, primarily by taking the title to heart and giving Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, returning to the role that pushed her back into the mainstream over a decade ago) new dimensions that were only hinted at in Nemo. Her short-term memory loss is taken seriously as a disability instead of a cute narrative device, and the consequences of her mental handicap are brought into an uncomfortable new light. The sadness in her parents’ eyes as they try to teach a young (and dangerously cute) Dory how to survive is an unforgettable beat.

Dory’s search for her parents (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) provides the narrative thrust for the story, and their clear love for their daughter (expressed through extensive and meticulously-constructed flashbacks) and how that manifests is the most touching take-away from the film. The movie doesn’t venture into the same three-hankie territory as Up or Toy Story 3, but in some ways that’s a relief. There are a few big emotional moments that land well, but the film wisely doesn’t dwell on them for too long.

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The film struggles for the first half hour as it covers familiar territory (there’s an action beat designed to mirror the shark scene from the first film that doesn’t feel essential), and straightens out and takes off like a rocket once it sidelines Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence, taking over for Alexander Gould). Dory’s new foil is Hank the octopus (Ed O’Neill) who provides some comic edge and visual dynamism that help the film tremendously. Hope you like tentacles. There are interesting hints in the script that Hank has had a rough go of it, but they’re mostly subtextual touches for those who are paying attention.

Like the best Pixar films, Finding Dory is both consistently and unexpectedly funny. Pixar films are workshopped and tweaked within an inch of their lives, and while this vetting process may take away a sense of individual authorship, it means few jokes are duds. The few obvious pop culture references (some obvious but very funny references to Inception and Alien come to mind) work and won’t date the film but most of the biggest laughs come from well-constructed character moments. Also, make sure you stay through the credits.

It’s not top-tier Pixar (neither, arguably, is Finding Nemo), but it’s a very worthwhile addition to the studio’s stable and justifies its existence in a way that’s unexpected and heartening. Unlike the lesser Pixar sequels (ahem, Cars 2 and Monsters University) Dory succeeds by staying true to its source material and expanding on it meaningfully, as opposed to trying to switch genres or get too clever. You’re going to see Finding Dory no matter what, but rest assured, it’s worth it.

Now Streaming: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

In an effort to be slightly more relevant to my friends who don’t go out to the multiplex all the time, I present Now Streaming. This series will feature interesting films that are accessible to pretty much everyone from home (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now/Go)Our subject today, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, is currently available on Netflix.

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In an early scene from A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, the final film in Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson’s loose trilogy about the human condition, an aging, pasty-looking man struggles to uncork a bottle of wine while his wife sings to herself and prepares dinner in the next room. After a half-dozen or so increasingly desperate pulls at the cork, the man appears to suffer a heart attack and collapses on the floor, his wife oblivious to his struggle. The scene cuts.

Following that, we see a mother on her deathbed surrounded by her adult children. One of them is late, and is appalled to see she clutches a bag filled with her expensive jewelry which she intends to take with her to the afterlife. He vainly attempts to wrestle the bag from her while she screams in protesting, berating her in the film’s native Swedish, “that’s not how it works!”

In the next scene, crew members of a ferry hunch over the body of a man who died just after he paid for his beer and sandwich. The crew is left with a dilemma: what to do with the food that’s already been purchased? After a pause, a bystander offers to take the beer, with a noncommittal shrug.

These three “meetings with death” come close to the beginning of the film and give a good idea of what’s in store: Andersson’s deep-focus, perpetually-static camera gazing upon tragicomic dioramas conveying the merciless bleakness of human existence. As with the other films ‘s Andersson’s Living trilogy, Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living, every shot is static and in deep focus, allowing the viewer ample time to take in the meticulously composed mise-en-scene of each frame. Almost any still in the movie would be suitable for framing.

Some of these sequences are more connected than others, over the course of the film certain characters reappear multiple times (about a quarter of the scenes focus on a pair of miserable novelty-item salesmen, nobody wants to buy fake vampire teeth) and some running gags show up consistently. Several key lines of dialogue appear in different contexts (many characters participate in identical one-sided phone conversations, telling whoever is one the other end of the line, “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine,” though clearly none are happy).

In the film’s final twenty minutes or so, the film takes a turn towards physical violence, and the necessity of this shift is debatable. Let’s be real though, you’re going to be watching this on Netflix and if you’ve already made it 85 minutes in, you’re committed. I laughed more during this film than I do for most things, and I’m not really sure what that says about me. If you’re feeling adventurous and have a little bit of patience, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is fascinating and absolutely worth a watch.

Now in Theaters: May/June 2016

We’re in the peak of the summer movie season, and the results are mixed. Let’s examine:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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I’m calling it now, this is going to go down as an important movie. Captain America: Civil War represents the full potential of Marvel’s brand of serialized filmmaking. It took Marvel Studios almost a decade of careful planning and patience that their distinguished competition seems to lack to arrive at a film that could not have existed until now. Marvel could slam-dunk this due primarily to the strength of their brand, their audience was already fully on-board before even buying their tickets.

Civil War blasts out of the gate so assuredly, it doesn’t even bother with opening credits. Besides the Marvel after the cold open, there are no title cards or credits of any kind, even for the title  of the film. Instead of sitting politely in the corner of the frame like they would in any other blockbuster, location cards blare in massive white block letters that fill the entire screen. Characters are referred to by their first names almost exclusively, even if we haven’t seen them in a while (he’s Clint, no need to call him Hawkeye). The film also unafraid to put characters we like in a morally ambiguous situation in which nobody is fully right.

Civil War is an interesting adaptation of tricky source material. Some of the biggest moments in the comic arc simply can’t happen in the current state of the MCU (Spider-Man unmasking himself, a bunch of X-Men and Fantastic Four stuff), and personally I wasn’t in thrall of the comics anyway. The film retains some of the bigger things from the comics (the Superhero Registration Act becomes the Sokovia Accords, the Raft goes from being trans-dimensional space prison to sea prison), but instead performs the tricky high-wire act of being both a second sequel in the Captain America series and an Avengers-level cinematic event.

Civil War is big, and plenty of stuff blows up, but the story unspools itself in a  manner that deliberately deconstructs the structure of typical superhero fare. The movie builds in the scope of its action and ensemble of characters until it reaches the masterful and thoroughly cathartic airport sequence, then pares itself back down until only three characters remain to duke it out by the end of the third act. An even dozen heroes (all of whom we actually know) come to blows in the best action sequence in any superhero film ever, but we never forget this is a Captain America movie first.

Civil War is still a Marvel Studios joint, and the genre still has its limitations. The musical score is useless. Besides some second-unit work from the guys that shot the Raid films and some interesting decisions in the final fight, much of the cinematography would blend in with any other Marvel movie. This is all par for the course, though, and doesn’t detract from this film’s set of mammoth accomplishments. Civil War is an absolute tour de force. Go see it again.

 

NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING

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This one was a pleasant surprise. Neighbors 2 is not tremendously substantive, but it’s smarter than you would think and takes a bemused but thoughtful look at our modern expectations of feminism. The films mirrors the structure of the first Neighbors‘s battle between adjacent lots (same houses, too), but instead of just settling entirely for gross embarrassment comedy acts as an exploration of gender dynamics. The word ‘sexism’ is bandied around a lot and examined in multiple contexts. It also goes out of its way to normalize gay relationships in a way that’s a little heavy-handed but nonetheless appreciated.

Neighbors 2 is a lot of fun, and doesn’t waste time getting too dark. In its own quietly amusing way, it sets up some situations that could be escalated to disastrous levels, but never do. It moves right along and while some of the gross-out stuff isn’t very helpful, it doesn’t get bogged down in endless riffing and remains almost entirely affable and well-meaning. Even Rose Byrne tones it down a little bit. I also continue to find myself surprised by how much I consistently like Zac Efron. I laughed maybe half a dozen times, which is pretty good for me. It’s not essential, but definitely worth a rent when it shows up at your corner Redbox in a few months.

 

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

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I don’t know what it is, but I can’t bring myself to care about the X-Men. I didn’t watch them on TV growing up, and the first X-Men movie I saw in theaters was Days of Future Past. For whatever reason I never connected with the property, and unfortunately Apocalypse did nothing to change that.

X-Men: Apocalypse is by no means a terrible movie, but it has the grave misfortune of being released on the heels of the titanic critical and commercial successes of Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War, both of which make this movie look antiquated by comparison. Every silly superhero trope that Civil War attempts to deconstruct or Deadpool skewers, Apocalypse barrels into with a grimace and energy beam blast. An awful lot of stuff, especially in the first act, happens because, plot. We now live in a post-Civil War world where just seeing everyone together looking like we expect them to isn’t enough anymore.

With a title like Apocalypse, the movie pigeonholed itself before the script got its first scene heading. As you’d expect, the “stakes” are world-ending, but for all the buildings crumbling and metal particles flying around, I didn’t get a feeling of massive scale like I expected. This is probably due in part to some unfortunately shoddy CG work that disassociates the massive destruction from the spaces the characters inhabit. The film also shoehorns in a few scenes of destruction in places that have no relation to the plot. The action’s climax is staged amid boring piles of rubble.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have much familiarity with the property outside of the films, but I thought there was a lot of stuff in this movie that wasn’t particularly helpful. Like Days of Future Past there’s a flashy Quicksilver sequence that stops the narrative cold for several minutes, but there’s less novelty value this time around. (minor spoiler ahead!) Following the Quicksilver sequence, there’s a lengthy detour that exists just to put Wolverine on-screen for a few minutes, after which he literally scurries away to get back to his own movies. In terms of character motivations, everything to do with the titular villain and his posse is a little too far on the side of implausible. We don’t really need yet another Magneto redemption arc, as serviceable as this one is. It’s all a little too much.

If you’re already in the bag for this movie, there’s plenty of stuff you’ll like. I’m just not sure what the point of the whole thing is.