Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


February 17, 2015

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Rob's 2014 Catch-Up Part 1

Rob attempts to maintain credibility by binging everything he missed in 2014.

As evidenced in our year-end podcast, I haven't seen much of anything released in 2014. How dare I? Here's a few quick thoughts about what I watched to catch up:

1. They Came Together
What's most amazing about David Wain's satire of romantic comedy tropes is that it took this long to happen. They Came Together is worth the wait. Joel and Molly are your typical romantic comedy couple: Both unlucky at love, slaves to the tired "married to my job/afraid to take the next step" cliche. They're set up on a blind date. It doesn't go well. Then they reconnect in a used book store, where they realize they share some common interests ("Wait, you like fiction books too!?"). All seems well until, uh-oh, narrative obstacles. From there, things are delightfully predictable. Pay special attention to the supporting characters, including Wanda the Black Best Friend and the Basketball Team of Male Cliches. It's also nice that someone aside from Edgar Wright is still paying attention to the formal elements of comedy: There's a horrible 360 green screen shot, a fun use of the subliminal subtitles from Annie Hall, and just look at that awful poster. Excellent stuff.

2. The Raid 2

The Raid 2 is the most inventive, exciting, balls-out action film made in a long time. It's a towering achievement in action choreography, cinematography, and editing. It's not just a genre film, it's the genre film. (Hear our full review in Podcast Episode 15.)

3. American Sniper

Clint Eastwood has made some inspiring films. He's built sympathetic characters facing unendurable obstacles (Mystic River). He understands genre (Unforgiven). He's even dealt with his own feelings of obsolescence (Gran Torino). Well into his eighties, he's consistently demonstrated the kind of energy and idealism befitting a legend of his stature. He's an icon, and no one can take that from him. That being said, American Sniper is a lazy, listless, apathetic film. Mr. Eastwood seemed the perfect director to adapt Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's 2012 memoir, but surely there is more to the story than this. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller are wasted in scene after scene that accomplish exactly two narrative goals: Kyle is addicted to his job and his wife wants him home. If storytelling is a constant compounding of obstacles with which characters must deal, American Sniper wastes roughly two-thirds of its running time stacking the same two blocks on top of each other and watching them fall over again. Think Tommy Wiseau's The Room. It's nowhere near that level of incompetence, of course (Mr. Eastwood knows how to shoot a film), but when the final (inexcusable) narrative beat plays out on a closing title card, we have to wonder why we wasted so much time learning the same information over and over again. It's racist, sure. It's belligerent, yes. But so is Mr. Kyle (in the film, at least). That all fits. What offends me most about American Sniper is that it's a poor excuse for a film hiding behind the trappings of good old-fashioned Oscar bait. And no one seems to notice.

4. Whiplash

It's certainly not for everyone, but Damien Chazelle's Whiplash is a hell of a thing. A meditation on both the frustrating nature of creative genius and the relentless pursuit of unsavory goals, the film radiates defiant energy. The conduits, percussion student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and conductor/mentor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), don't like you. They don't need you. They're not interested in impressing you. They want to get it right. They want to be perfect. Neiman would be an admirable underdog if he wasn't such an insufferable prick. Fletcher would be an inspiring teacher if he wasn't barking at college students and throwing cymbals at their heads. Whiplash is the anti-Rudy, a sneer at the trite, formulaic, rags-to-riches bullshit we're used to. Its characters bleed and cry. They buck authority, convention, and good table manners. They keep pushing. It's marvelous. Watch it with headphones.

5. Boyhood

That Richard Linklater filmed Boyhood in brief segments over the course of twelve years is not surprising. He's made a career of films with inventive pacing and deeply personal messages.  He's crossed genre and stylistic barriers, running the gamut from bratty and edgy (A Scanner Darkly, Slacker) to conventional and safe (School of Rock). But somewhere in the third or fourth segment, the novelty of Boyhood starts to wear off. When a film chooses to follow the same characters through different period of their lives, we expect some thematic resonance. By the end of the film, we should understand why the director chose to show us these characters, specifically. The only compelling part of Boyhood is Patricia Arquette, whose character's closing "Is this really all there is?" breakdown would be profound if we hadn't wasted so much time marveling over a vapid and joyless lead character (the aforementioned Boy, Ellar Coltrane). Coltrane plays a character named Mason. Most masons build and craft things. This one smokes pot and takes pictures. Perhaps Motherhood, starring Patty Arquette, would have been more compelling.


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