Remember how Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a James Franco-laden disaster with John Lithgow wandering around forgetting everything and apes rampaged over the Golden Gate bridge being attacked by police helicopters? How far we’ve come. This Planet of the Apes reboot may be one of the most artistically successful reboots of a beloved franchise in the history of Hollywood, and it is almost entirely on the strength of the final two films – first with 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now with War for the Planet of the Apes.
In La La Land, the musical genre is simultaneously presented with a vibrant contemporaneity and a celebratory nostalgia for classic Hollywood. Around this structure, the film espouses timeless themes of self-doubt, settling and compromise, and the drive to follow one’s dreams – especially in the context of artistry. There are two great performances at the core of the film, Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, multiple spectacular song-and-dance numbers, and a hyper-stylized aesthetic that blends reality and fantasy to perfection. Together, these elements make La La Land a wonderful marriage of plot, style, and theme, and one of the best films of the year (and best film musicals of recent memory).
Like many of the wondrous animals that inhabit its world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an amalgamation. Except, unlike the hippogriff, which capitalizes on the strengths of both the eagle and the horse, David Yates’s film compromises the adventures of Newt Scamander with a plodding police procedural. The result is less like the streamlined elegance of the hippogriff, and more like whatever happened to Jeff Goldblum at the very end of The Fly. Every time Newt and his compatriots are on screen, the film is an absolute delight that reminds us why we fell in love with the wizarding world in the first place. And every time they’re not, we’re reminded that David Yates is responsible for two of the three worst Harry Potter films to date. Fantastic Beasts ends up somewhere in the middle, with no time-turner available to right the wrong and spare the life of this innocent little hippogriff.
Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest film, The Neon Demon, is a parable about the allure and danger of beauty. The film examines the dog-eat-dog nature of the modeling industry and displays the depravity that the pursuit of beauty encourages. Using the standard “fresh face in the Big City” story as a jumping off point, Refn also invokes some interesting naiveté and maturation-based themes by focusing on the character 16-year old Jesse (Elle Fanning). Sexuality exists in this film, but is mostly depraved, violent, and feminine. The infamous and ethereal “It Factor” is touched upon as well, as well as the artifice of beauty, and how it is instantly noticeable. Though very much an “art house” film, Refn weaves a disturbing and edgy story in between his bizarre non-narrative light shows. I would not fault viewers who balk at this method of storytelling, but the film is sufficiently interesting from a cinematic standpoint to at least generate some great discussion.
“The quality of any creative endeavor tends to approach the level of taste of whoever is in charge.”
Ask fans of horror films how they feel about the current state of the genre, and you’re almost guaranteed to get a bunch of different answers. One group will point to the recent string of powerful Indie horror movies that have been released and conclude that it has never been a better time to get scared at the movie theatre, especially with the recent release of The VVitch. Another group may point to the existence of middling Hollywood horror with generic names like The Boy or The Forest and say that there is little of value out there from the big studios. You may even get some incredibly frustrated people who are fed up with manipulative garbage leaning on jump-scares and thin concepts (Ouija, anyone?). So, what the hell is happening out there? This fragmentation is the result of particular market forces which have dictated that films in the horror genre do not need to be of good quality to be wildly successful. As a result, the impetus towards quality comes from the aesthetic pride of the creators. Lacking that, studios are completely comfortable with churning out garbage for financial gain. Continue reading “Horror by the Numbers”
A few months ago, I wanted to write a news piece about some casting announcements for the new film Trumbo, but I held off. Now, the first trailer for the McCarthy-era film about the blacklisting of the titanic Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston) has been released, and it looks like we’ve got one of our first serious Oscar contenders. Have a look: