If you want the gravy…

…You've got to get the biscuits!


ANT-MAN (***½) and FANTASTIC FOUR (***): A Tale of Two Shadows in One Review

"It will have mediocrity, they say. Mediocrity will have mediocrity."

“It will have mediocrity, they say. Mediocrity will have mediocrity.”

Studio interference has plagued the cinema since its earliest days. From MGM chopping Greed down to a fraction of its original length, to RKO mutilating The Magnificent Ambersons, to Harvey Weinstein’s re-editing antics (which Snowpiercer avoided at the cost of anything like a proper release), many films have been tweaked, meddled, and monkeyed with. Such is the case with Fantastic Four, whose own director bitterly claimed that the film being shown in theaters was a different–and inferior–film than the one he made.

But that’s when damage is done to a finished film. Other times, a film is compromised before it’s even shot–like Ant-Man, which lost its original director just before it was to begin filming. When the finished film managed not to be a disaster, it got surprisingly solid reviews and made decent (if not impressive) money. Fantastic Four, however, was shredded by critics and made less money than almost any superhero film since Iron Man kicked off the current wave of comic-book cinema.

For me, if Ant-Man isn’t quite as good as many have made it out to be, then Fantastic Four isn’t quite as bad. The former is far from a bad film and the latter far from a good one, but I’m most interested in examining them through the prism of the compromises made to get them onto the screen.

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INSIDE OUT Review – ****½

"Congratulations, San Francisco, you've ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians...and now YOU!"

“Congratulations, San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians…and now YOU!”

As of this writing, Inside Out and Jurassic World have been duking it out for three weekends, and Inside Out finally seems to have topped Jurassic World this past weekend, robbing it of the title of the highest-grossing film never to win a weekend. Not that it matters; Inside Out will be hugely profitable and has earned Pixar its best reviews since Toy Story 3.

And yet, were it not for the disappointment of the intervening three films (though I think Brave is severely underrated), I think Inside Out‘s reviews would be a shade less rapturous. It’s a delightful film, of course, with an incredibly fertile premise, wonderful animation, incredible voice acting, and a healthy mixture of laughter and tears. But for my money, it falls just a little short of Pixar’s old heights.

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LOVE & MERCY Review – ****½

One of the better posters of the year so far. And one of the better films. (Source)

One of the better posters of the year so far. And one of the better films. (Source)

So I’m back home and back reviewing movies, and I’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do. There are a number of reviews I’d like to get out in the next two weeks, and originally this was to be part of a triple review with Tomorrowland and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. But this film is good enough to have its own article, and indeed, it’s one of the nicest surprises of the first half of 2015: a musical biopic that just might stand on its own cinematic legs in the years to come. As with many such films, it highlights a superior lead performance(s), but Love & Mercy has more to it than that. It’s a hell of a film in a lot of ways, and even if it probably won’t make a tenth of what Jurassic World made in its first weekend, it’s by far the better film.

See it before it’s gone.

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One hell of a motley crew.

One hell of a motley crew.

Dear God. I have never been this far behind. This is just like college.

Basically, I had an assload of reviews that I was way overdue on. I saw five movies this past weekend (it would’ve been six, but I decided Laggies could wait), and that when I had five other reviews waiting in the wings. It’s absurd. I don’t know how it’s gotten to this point. I’d assume being swamped with awards-season shit is a big part of it, but…

Way back in July, I posted my first article about starting to get burned out and needing to take some time off. I’ve never totally bounced back from that point. For every high point like my Interstellar review, there’ve been many times when I find myself not wanting to write or not really having enough to say. And the truth is, I could scrap the whole thing and the only fallout would be disappointment. But I don’t want to do that.

I’m going to have to work on a few things going forward. A greater sense of self-discipline (which has never been my strong suit), and, I think, a judicious application of the “work smarter, not harder” principle. Saving the long essays for the films that merit them. And when a film doesn’t inspire lengthy commentary, keep it concise. But keep it truthful. I feel I owe you that much for your time.

(UPDATE 12/25: All reviews marked with an asterisk are complete. Other reviews will be added one by one.)

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"Family is a cruel joke"--but sometimes, family is precisely what you need. ()

“Family is a cruel joke”–but sometimes, family is precisely what you need. (Source)

The Skeleton Twins is the kind of film which suffers because I cannot totally judge it in a vacuum. On its own, it would still be a flawed film, but in the greater context of modern cinema, it stands as yet another indie comedy-drama about dysfunctional middle-class characters, played by hitherto largely comedic actors, who go through their quotidian crises before something like a happy ending. Here, though, the dysfunctions are poorly explored, the crises seem contrived, and the sort-of-happy ending leaves more than a few story threads dangling. The acting (and, to my surprise, the direction) is good enough to make it a *** film, but the script lets it down.

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