Continuing on from yesterday, today I move into the films I rated ***. Since there are so many of them, I’m breaking this list into two articles. The second will go up tomorrow.
- Francofonia – 65
Alexander Sokurov meditates on the history of the Louvre, focusing on how its director during World War II, Jacques Jaujard, worked with his Nazi supervisor, Franz Wolff-Metternich, to keep the museum and its collection safe. There are also fantasy sequences involving Napoleon and Marianne, and scenes with Sokurov himself, muttering ruminations and talking with his collaborators. It sheds an interesting light on a bit of history I didn’t know much about, and there’s a diverting modicum of imagination on display. But as a whole it’s too obscure and meandering to be a real success in my book.
- The Birth of a Nation – 65
Nate Parker’s portrait of the Nat Turner was first enshrined as a vital story for our times, and then condemned for its creator’s past crimes, and subsequently met with mixed reviews and disappointing box-office. Setting aside present relevancy and past malfeasance, it’s not a very good film at all; it’s rather bad history (5 minutes’ research will tell you more than the entire film), and not especially good drama either, as the story is poorly structured and the characters are mostly ciphers. It does it have its effective moments, but this is not the film Turner deserves.
- Miles Ahead – 65
Don Cheadle, directing, co-writing, and starring as Miles Davis, foregoes the standard biopic model in favor of creating “a movie about this dude as a gangster“, a film Davis would have wanted to live, rather than merely a movie of his life. The results are frankly uneven; Cheadle’s commanding performance and the film’s ample energy are dissipated by an un-focused script and a predictable framing device involving yet another reporter-as-audience-surrogate (Ewan McGregor). Points, however, for the solid period detail, the presence of Emayatzy Corinealdi, and the wonderful song “Gone 2015”, still my favorite original song of the year.
- A Hologram for the King – 66
A Tom Hanks film which made a mere $4 million? It happened, and it’s his lowest-grossing vehicle in a full 30 years. It’s also a wildly uneven film, but it’s so offbeat I kind of enjoyed it. Hanks, as a struggling businessman in Saudi Arabia, gives a typically likable performance, although his character fucks up in rather face-palming ways (just set a damn alarm clock!). Better is Sarita Choudhury as the doctor he falls in love with (and has a surprisingly racy swimming sequence with). Tom Tykwer’s direction is initially too frantic, but settles down eventually.
- Jason Bourne – 67
Jason Bourne returns, with Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass, and a predictable, derivative script. Did you know he joined Treadstone to avenge his father’s murder? Did you care? Tommy Lee Jones is our new bureaucratic villain, and Alicia Vikander (whose accent work here is oddly off) is his new ally. Riz Ahmed is the social-media guru in bed with Jones who grows a troublesome conscience. The story is pretty damn rote, and Greengrass’ style is beginning to curdle into an affectation. But he can still stage a hell of an action scene, especially with the Las Vegas climax.
- Knight of Cups – 67
Terrence Malick’s latter-day prolificacy seems to be paying diminishing dividends. This portrait of a Hollywood player (Christian Bale) seeking greater fulfillment has its virtues: a powerful brief performance from Brian Dennehy as Bale’s father; some good Malickian philosophical dialogue; some lovely imagery courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki. But I grew pretty restless after a while, and Malick’s gradual progress towards total abstraction might be rewarding for him, but for me it was more self-indulgent than anything else. If it offered more food for thought, that might help, but even in that department it falls short of his standard.
- Rules Don’t Apply – 67
Warren Beatty returns, 18 years out of the director’s chair and 15 years absent from the screen, with a fantasia on Howard Hughes centering around a fictitious pair of young lovers (Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich). His own performance as Hughes is quite a lot of fun, and Collins (Globe-nominated) is legitimately charming, but the film as a whole feels severely recut; many members of the impressive cast barely get a look in, and the story is choppy to say the least. It’s not without its rewards, but you might end up wondering just what Beatty thought he was doing.
- Trolls – 68
What more can be said about this film beyond describing the moment when one character, confronted by the villain, shits three cupcakes, which another character sweetly offers to the villain as a diversion? I wasn’t part of the target audience, and frankly, if you’re looking for a movie to take a young child to, you could do a lot worse. But let’s be honest, you could do better as well. There aren’t many surprises here, and there’s a bit of backstory for one character which actively irritated me; can’t a sullen loner just be a sullen loner by nature?
- X-Men: Apocalypse – 68
This hasn’t stuck around in my memory all that much, but given the fairly weak reception it met with, and my lack of overt enthusiasm for the franchise, I was reasonably pleased with it. To be sure, it’s got problems; one tragic moment in particular was so heavy-handed it almost felt like parody. As Apocalypse, Oscar Isaac is buried in makeup and given little to really do. And the finale is an incoherent shit-show. But it’s watchable for the most part, and as in the overrated Days of Future Past, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver steals the show.
- The Magnificent Seven – 68
I’ll give this some credit: it does kill off four of the seven, in keeping with the precedent set by the original and Kurosawa’s ur-original. And Vincent D’Onofrio is delightful as a semi-feral gunslinger. But as a whole, it’s lacking in personality or a real reason for being. The cast is solid and the action scenes are well done, but it’s altogether too heavy and grim; Peter Sarsgaard’s villain is more evil than interesting. Oh, and we learn that he and one of the Seven have met before. Because that was fucking necessary. And that final monologue is just dreadful.
- Michael Moore in TrumpLand – 69
In the wake of the election, I’m not sure what to say about this. It’s Michael Moore doing, essentially, a stand-up routine (which he performed at a theater in a conservative Ohio town) about why you should vote for Hillary. It didn’t work. It’s amusing enough if you like Moore, and if the format isn’t really the best vehicle for his views, at 73 minutes it’s an easy watch. The final bit doesn’t really land and goes on rather too long, however.
- The Girl on the Train – 69
This needed a thriller director to make it work. It needed a David Fincher. It got Tate Taylor. Taylor’s a good director of actors, and his under-seen Get on Up showed a bit of stylistic range, but he just doesn’t have what it takes to make this material click. It’s a dense story of betrayals and secrets and trauma, but in Taylor’s hands it’s mushy rather than taut. The acting is solid, however, and Emily Blunt’s portrayal of a severe alcoholic trying to comprehend the web of conspiracy she finds herself in is galvanizing to watch.
- Men & Chicken – 70
An odd little Danish comedy about two brothers (Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik) who discover they were adopted and go to track down their father, a genetics researcher, on the island of Ork. There they meet their strange half-siblings, and eventually uncover the truth about all of them. If nothing else, it would merit my appreciation for the subtle but imaginative makeup and the wonderful set of the ruined family home. It manages to be reasonably funny on top of that, although the overall tone is unnecessarily mean-spirited. You probably know if this is your cup of tea.
- Hail, Caesar! – 72*
That trailer was kind of bullshit, wasn’t it? It certainly made the film seem a damn sight more cohesive than it actually was. Being a Coen Brothers film, it’s got good things in it, especially the “No Dames!” musical number, Roger Deakins’ cinematography, and the lush recreation of 50s Hollywood. But it adds up to nothing, and where Burn After Reading made its lack of consequence part of the point, here it seems like there wasn’t any point to begin with. It’s sloppily plotted, doesn’t do enough with its impressive cast, and all in all stands as a disappointment.
UPDATE 2/15/17: Upon rewatching the film, I’ve decided to bump my score from 70 to 72. It’s still a flawed film, but going back to it I enjoyed it more and saw its virtues – especially the Coens’ characteristic cleverness – more clearly.
- Independence Day: Resurgence – 71
Maybe it’s just because I’ve seen the original so many times (it’s probably in my top 5 most-watched films). Maybe I was just in the right mood. But honestly, I enjoyed this a lot more than most people seemed to. Sure, it’s got a lot of dumb moments, and yes, it lacks the same personality and event-film gravitas of the original. (Such spectacles are now a dime a dozen.) But it gives us ample amounts of Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner, and proves amply entertaining throughout, right down to Spiner’s great final line:
“We are going to kick some serious alien ass!”
Can’t think of any better note to end on.