Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE MUMMY (2017)

This one hurt.

It hurt because it was clearly the product of people who knew what the hell they were doing. Everything that happens in THE MUMMY happens for a reason, and the story is solid. You have a good script (by Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp, among others) that is logical when it needs to be (triangulating the hero's fate along the axes of a love triangle, between two poles) with flourishes winningly insane enough that you just go with them (Doctor Jekyll is a) alive in 2017, b) chasing monsters, and c) played by Russell Crowe). So many people showed up ready to play in this thing, including Sofia Boutella in the gender-swapped title role.

BUT GOD DAMMIT. The game cast doesn't feel like it had a chance to let loose, to explore the emotional life and conflicts that are right there in the material. Director Alex Kurtzman brings in the action and the spectacle, but does nothing to cultivate the emotional lives of the characters. The problem may simply be with his leading man, who has been better managed in the past: Tom Cruise here is required to be roguish, clever, conflicted, and ultimately full-hearted, and though he speaks the lines that indicate all of this, he doesn't seem to believe any of them. For a man ultimately torn between the otherworldly realms inhabited by Boutella and the more earthy and human love of archaeologist Annabelle Wallis, Cruise has no real chemistry with either. (Even Jake Johnson, cast in a funny wiseass role he could play in his sleep, seems, oddly, to be sleepwalking through the movie.) And the moments that should transcend and take the characters beyond themselves simply (though clearly) register as beats, without ever taking us beyond ourselves.

In the end one isn't bored by it, but that's hardly enough to kick off a franchise, is it? At first blush I mused that all of the movie's problems would be solved had Cruise and Crowe simply switched roles: as overvalued as THE NICE GUYS was, it did remind us that Crowe still possessed reservoirs of charm, action chops, and a sense of humor that would have lent themselves to THE MUMMY's roguish lead; and given the rumors that handily explain why Cruise's chemistry with his female co-stars is so flat, one salivates thinking of the subtexts he'd bring to Jekyll and Hyde. And one is depressed further to think that without Cruise in the lead, this movie doesn't get made. That a great movie that would have kicked off a franchise with grace, smarts, and style is right there in plain sight yet beyond its makers' grasp is a huge disappointment. To your proprietor, an engaged cinephile looking for anything in 21st century Universal Horror to believe in, such a missed opportunity is frustrating and painful.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

that fucking trailer

< 60-second-HATE >

So the latest salvo in the ongoing onslaught of DC's superhero movies got fired this weekend, and if the fans can have their say so can I. Yes, it's cool that we've got some parademons in there, and the Mother Box, and they actually made Cyborg look like an interesting character, and Momoa looks hot, and yeah yeah yeah

But we're subjected to the same on-the-nose needle drops on the soundtrack, the same listless looking action, the same drabid-awful-looking dull bluish gray color on everything when this thing, given the revitalizing focus on team-based action, should be exploding across the spectrum.

And I was ready to just write this off as another superhero movie that simply held nothing for me until we got to this choice bit of dialogue.

AQUAMAN: So what's your superpower?
BATMAN: I'm rich.


This is the trademark tone-deafness of auteur Zack Snyder creeping in. This is this franchise's ongoing cordial dialogue with, and reinforcement of, the absolute worst in the American status quo. This is Batman-as-Donald-Trump, and we're supposed to cheer this bullshit. This is an absence of understanding that Batman holds his own among magicians, among aliens, among gods not through the pricetag on his toys through sheer force of will. The corrected dialogue follows:

AQUAMAN: So what's your superpower?

That's it. That's the fucking line. That line became a meme for a reason. That's all the goddamn Batman ever has to say to justify his presence to anybody. But the cheap laugh (if that) provoked by "I'm rich" is a tacit understanding that money = power, that the money spent on this thing is what makes it great.

And I'm tired of that shit.

So in closing, and this is the last I'll say about this: Fuck this movie. Fuck Zack Snyder. Fuck DC "Entertainment". Fuck superhero movies in general. And while we're at it, fuck you.

< /60-second-HATE >

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

a quiet House in a besieged world

Yes indeed, it has been ages since any light shone forth from the House of Sparrows. With your proprietor happily working in service one of the best film video programs in the country, and trying to roll amid any one of a number of other preoccupations flying around his head, updates have been scarce.

And I'm not the only writer struggling with the notion that there's much going on in the world that deserves a lot more attention and action than one would give an unvisited fantasy film blog. Happily my office is a place that encourages political action and ongoing check-ins, but it's still alarming to wake up to both the latest barrage of horrible executive orders and the accompanying apocalyptic narrative. And also the ongoing inference that the shit that you're taking action against was only a distraction from the REAL shit going down, which only exacerbates the ongoing numbness.

I do take comfort in the ongoing work of my fellow culture workers, be they on behalf of the arthouse or the grindhouse. And I'm grateful to those who simply keep showing up and bearing witness. When culture is under fire, simply showing up to share at places that preserve and exhibit culture is a political act, and an activist one. There is great power in simply coming together, sharing stories, and drawing strength from the context they bring to our lives, and that's as true of schlocky fantasy as of political documentaries. Showing up for culture absolutely matters, still.

And if you can find that elusive harmony of pen and sword, it's a sweet spot. Indeed, if you can make it to the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco on February 15, you get to see your proprietor in an away game performance, introducing Jim Jarmusch's drone metal political fantasy The Limits of Control. I'm grateful that Mike Keegan booked one of my favorite films of the last ten years, and is letting me intro it and give it appropriate context for this moment. I hope your mission will at least bring you by, to share this story in the dark, to challenge the notion that life is nothing but a handful of dirt.

And right now your proprietor's going to call the office of his congressperson, make a quick dinner, and head out into the night. See you in the dark.