War Machine (2017, David Michôd)

Oh no, Brad Pitt looks sad. I’m guessing all the fun light comedy from the first half turned sour when people started dying in whatever war this is. Then Rolling Stone writes a mean article about their squad, and smartass Topher Grace argues with another guy. Pitt, using a toned-down version of his Basterds accent, says goodbye to his men and flies off to be fired by the President over the article, according to a cheese voiceover, everything moving just as slow as it can. Nice closing-credits Blues Explosion song, tho. Netflix is now making their own prestige pics with major movie stars from the director of The Rover, but I still read reviews instead of just watching whatever they place in front of me, and the reviews said nah. Speaking of which…


Beasts of No Nation (2015, Cary Fukunaga)

UN blue-helmets disarm a large troop of child soldiers to slow doom-music. The rescued kids have trouble adjusting to the peaceful community, are tormented. These prestige pics, nothing really happens in the last ten minutes, it’s all boring epilogue. Time to switch to something more disreputable.


Clinical (2017, Alistair Legrand)

Another “netflix original,” this one a mystery/horror by Michel Legrand’s legrand-nephew. I don’t like to speculate on the first 90 minutes of these movies, but from the screens flying by as I fast-forwarded, it appears that 75% of this movie is conversations inside a house, then in the last quarter there’s some home invasion action. When I hit play, there’s a conversation in a house in the dark. Jane is being tormented by a disfigured, possibly incestuous torturer backstory-expositionist. Our lead kidnapped psychiatrist is Vinessa Shaw (lead prostitute of Eyes Wide Shut), who escapes and beats hell out of her captor (Kevin Rahm of the Lethal Weapon remake) then rips his face off. Between the psychiatry angle and the face removal, it looks like someone has been watching Silence of the Lambs.


Spectral (2016, Nic Mathieu)

Ah good, an action movie with a dingy blue-brown color palette for a change. Guns with thick cables attached making a whiny powering-up sound, it seems we are in sci-fi action territory… ah yup there are spectral aliens in clone-pods. This looks like a Starship Troopers sequel with ghosts. Pretty cool effects – a good guy set off a superbomb that accidentally freed all the spectres, then another guy pulled their power cord leaving them all suspended and slo-mo evaporating. “They’re not alive… they’re not dead.” Science-hating dude who I’m going to assume is Jimmy Dale of World War Z discovers some brain/nerve experiments controlling the spectres and murders them all. Writer George Nolfi directed The Adjustment Bureau and wrote Oceans Twelve.


Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)

Everyone in the city is frozen except Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch. BC flies into space, protecting himself from a galaxy-god in a time-loop with a magic shield – speaking of which, how come everyone on the internet is so conflicted about Patty Jenkins directing this week’s superhero movie when they gave this thing to the director of Hellraiser: Inferno? “Pain’s an old friend,” says a frankly unconvincing BC, trying to channel Hellraiser. He tricks the god into sparing Earth, then some underlit Infinity Stone sequel-setup mumbo, and I skipped to the awkward cutscene with Thor.


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny (2016, Yuen Woo-Ping)

Hero-style, it looks like a soldier did something great in order to get close enough to slay the king. Outside, all hell breaks loose, Michelle Yeoh and her team versus an army, with some really nice wall-stepping, float-jumping, sword-thwacking action. “Now you will join your beloved, Li Mu Bai” – this looks like a killer movie, but this rebels-vs-kingdom stuff seems out of charaacter with the romantic original. Also, like an idiot I changed the language to Chinese then changed it back when I realized the movie was shot in English. Anyway Donnie Yen defeats Lord Whoever, and our heroes return to the mountain Zhang Ziyi jumps from in the original.


Hyena Road (2015, Paul Gross)

How can I pass up the Canadian war movie that was the subject of Guy Maddin’s Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton? Looks like some shit is going down, and the Taliban is fighting back hard. Whoa, a soldier got his legs blown off then crawled away. Music and camerawork all seem like the usual mediocrity. Then the lead guy authorizes his men to blow him up in order to take out the bad guys, after some military types shout numbers and codes at each other very emotionally (“three! niner alpha!!”). In the end we see that the Canadians died for a noble cause, that the good guys are good indeed, and war is necessary. I failed to spot Maddin playing a dead body. Writer/director Gross was a lead actor in Slings & Arrows.


Special Correspondents (2016, Ricky Gervais)

Forgot about this until it showed up on a favorite critic’s “worst of the century” list. So it’s a fake-kidnapping-turned-real-kidnapping comedy-turned-drama, with Gervais and that Hulk guy Eric Bana. I think Gervais is on drugs, singlehandedly shoots his way out of Ecuador to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. Hey, it’s America Ferrera and Kevin Pollak, then the movie peters out. “This is like the end of a movie.” “A low-budget movie, maybe.” Remake of a French film with Omar Sy, which is hard to picture.


Zootopia (2016, Disney)

We watched the first 15 of this once and it was insufferable so we quit, then it won an oscar. So let’s check out the last 15 – maybe that’s where all the better-than-Kubo stuff is hiding. Good bootleg-Disney-movies joke… then we’re in a meth lab on a train, odd. “Doug is the opposite of friendly… he’s UNfriendly.” Uh oh, the sheep mayor is the bad guy, with a speech about teaming up to defeat the predators, which doesn’t sound so bad really, then she turns our fox hero evil with drugs, sort of, then a final speech about how we have to understand each other and improve the world. I forget that award voters translate “best animated film” into “cutest message-movie for kids”.

I missed the evening show of Manchester by the Sea because I misremembered the start time and got caught up watching Black Mirror episodes. But I still wanted to get bummed out watching a long Casey Affleck movie, so fortunately I had The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford handy. I don’t remember Casey from the Oceans trilogy or Interstellar, so this served as a reintroduction before Manchester, and both turned out to be stunner movies with great lead performances. If anyone is working on a Timothy Carey biopic, I nominate Casey as lead.

I’ve seen this story before, in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James, in which The Coward Robert Ford shoots his hero/boss Jesse in the back, then lives the rest of his short life as a famous outlaw-killer, reenacting his crime onstage. This movie fleshes out the gang much more, showing a Robert as a starstruck, excitable kid, the runt of the Fords, and Jesse as paranoid and dangerous.

After one last train robbery, the gang lays low. Jesse has a family with wife Mary-Louise Parker, lives in a forest house near Kansas City under a fake name, never got caught. Ol’ Frank James (Sam Shepard) and Charley (Sam Rockwell) make the weasely, weak-sounding Robert feel bad about his Jesse James hero-worship, but Jesse recruits Robert when the rest of his gang starts falling away and he gets nervous that someone will sell him out for reward money, visits old friend Garret Dillahunt and kills him. Meanwhile, Paul Schneider and Jeremy Renner are none too bright, compete for the attention of a teen girl, eventually have a huge falling out and Bob kills Renner and calls the cops on Schneider. Late appearance by James Carville as the governor, Nick Cave as a troubadour and Zooey “She” Deschanel.

Casey and Carville have a psychic battle:

Dominik and DP Roger Deakins don’t overdo the stylistic quirks, allowing the story and actors to do their thing against gorgeous landscapes, but the movie’s got its share of flair – shots with edges blurred like old-timey photographs, an occasional omniscient narrator.

Casey of the Clouds:

A. Cook:

On one side it mythologizes the transitionary period of American history via the fable-building narration and dreamy photography, and on the other it slowly and methodically demystifies the characters that populate it and the falsehood of celebrity. It is this contradiction that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film and mirrors the inner-conflict of Robert Ford and his complex relationship with Jesse James.

“Seeds are gonna be the new currency.”

Another Brad Pitt movie explaining the math and business behind the scenes of things, so soon after Moneyball. This one follows separate groups of financial people who realize the banking system is ultimately built on bad loans, so they bet money on its collapse. Along the way, financial concepts are explained to the audience via Anthony Bourdain metaphors and Margot Robbie monologues (and the Polyphonic Spree appears for some reason). And we watch some of the world’s most charismatic male actors not trying to keep the global market from collapsing – that’s not their job – but hoping to profit from its destruction.

Pitt plays a light Ron Swanson type guiding young John Magaro and Finn Wittrock. Steve Carell plays some asshole, Ryan Gosling plays a smooth-talking dude, and Christian Bale gets to be the hard drummin’ socially awkward numbers guy who figures the whole thing out.

“America’s not a country. It’s just a business.”

First movie I watched post-election. I only picked it because I liked Dominik’s Nick Cave movie this year and was looking for something that wouldn’t require much emotional energy on my part, so a Brad Pitt hit-man flick seemed to fit the bill. Turned out to be the ideal pick for my mood, full of perfectly cynical characters, using Obama’s hope-filled election speeches as ironic counterpoint.

Affleck ally Scoot McNairy and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn (Slow West) are hired by Sopranos regular Vincent Curatola to rob a card game run by Ray Liotta, assuming that Liotta will be blamed since he has admitted to robbing the game himself in the past. During the ensuing period of gangster and gambler mistrust, Richard Jenkins hires outsiders Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini to come down to New Orleans and kill whoever robbed the game (and kill Liotta too, just in case).

It’s usually not a visually dynamic movie, just excellent actors having serious conversations, but whenever Dominik gets a chance, he throws in an amazing setpiece – entracingly chopping editing in the opening titles segment, a freaked-out heroin scene, and Liotta getting shot in extreme slow-motion. Reminds of the Nick Cave movie, which mostly looks like a realist behind-the-scenes interview doc, but every once in a while the camera escapes through a knothole and into outer space. Based on a novel by The Friends of Eddie Coyle writer, and shot by Greig Fraser (Spider, Bright Star, the next Star Wars movie).

A baseball movie perversely set in quiet, underlit offices and locker rooms (Mom: “Can you make the TV brighter?”). 2002 Oakland A’s manager Brad Pitt becomes impressed with nerdy Jonah Hill’s stats theories, hires him to create a low-budget team of effective/undervalued players. Strange idea for an underdog sports movie, because their ideas don’t actually work. Pitt can’t get coach Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the roster that Hill intended to maximize wins, so Pitt trades away Hoffman’s favorite players to force the issue… and they set a league winning streak and make the postseason, but the year still ends disappointingly. Meanwhile we get backstory of Pitt’s unimpressive early career as a player and his current home life (ex-wife Robin Wright and a daughter he’ll be able to see less often if he takes a different job) and a side plot with no payoff feat. Chris Pratt as a washed-up catcher turned fledgeling first baseman. But it’s got appealing actors and an Aaron Sorkin script, so it’s mostly a good time (memorable scene: Jonah Hill having to inform a player twice his size that he’s been traded) – and it made me care enough about Pitt’s Billy Beane to look up the real guy (still with the A’s through 2019).

Pitt makes most key decisions while driving:

Film Quarterly wrote a joint article about this and Margin Call, which made me realize that these two Autumn 2011-opening financial films with rhyming titles are the reason I still get Bennett Miller and JC Chandor confused.

Better than I’d heard. From one deliciously tense action scene to the next, it’s a million times more fun than Contagion.

I recognized Davis Morse playing an inspirational madman and Peter Capaldi as a world health organization doctor (get it? WHO Doctor?). Pitt’s wife Mireille Enos stars on TV’s The Killing Remake and I think Daniella Kertesz played the short-haired Israeli soldier whose zombie-bitten hand Pitt severs. Between Stranger Than Fiction and this, Forster made Machine Gun Preacher (tough white guy saves African child soldiers), The Kite Runner and a James Bond flick. Supposedly based on the Max Brooks book, but I hear it’s not really. Credited writers include Matt “Lions For Lambs” Carnahan, J. “Changeling” Straczynski, Damon “Prometheus” Lindelof and Drew “Cabin in the Woods” Goddard. That’s a lot of writers for a special-effects movie.

Finally, justice for Chiwetel. McQueen’s follow-up to Shame, which I skipped. I was bracing for a no-holds-barred art film, but it’s closer to a typical Hollywood drama than Hunger was, based on the real guy’s memoir and adapted by John Ridley (Three Kings, Red Tails).

Chiwetel is kidnapped by circus tricksters and sold to Django Unchained vet Chris Berry, who immediately kills fellow slave Omar and throws him overboard. Chiwetel is auctioned by Paul Giamatti to relatively-decent Benedict Cumberbatch, but pisses off watcher Paul Dano and so is sent to Fassbender’s place. Fass is fucking female slave Lupita Nyong’o and Fass’s wife Sarah Paulson knows it – guess which of those three will get the shit end of the stick (or the whip). Chiwetel seeks help from Garret Dillahunt, who sells him out, finally gets it from forward-thinking Canadian Brad Pitt.

Amazing story, certainly a well-made and well-acted movie, but the closing titles leave things depressingly unresolved and one yearns for some Django-style payback. IMDB lists the previous adaptation, starring Avery Brooks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame, as a comedy/drama!

This completely lived up to expectations. I’ve been a big Malick fan since The Thin Red Line, and this movie showed plenty of his current style (whispered voiceovers about pained relationships as the camera pans up through the trees) while forging a whole new one, had the boldness to turn a man’s memories and inner life into a visual montage of the history of the planet Earth. It shows small moments, real and imagined, and becomes almost completely untethered to plot. It’s almost unbelievably gorgeous in the way it looks and moves through time. But all this is what I expected, from reading vague reports of the film’s genesis as Malick’s intended follow-up to Days of Heaven, to its winning the top prize at Cannes last month, to the rapturous critical acclaim it’s been receiving upon release. I expected the best, most ambitious movie of the year, by a long shot, and that’s pretty much what I got, so I’m gonna have to process it for a while.

Jack and his brothers live in a quiet Texas town with proud, hardass father Brad Pitt (representing Nature in the film’s mythology) and pure, uncritical mother Jessica Chastain (representing Grace), both of them loving in their own way. Years later, Jack is Sean Penn working at a giant, modern architecture firm, looking world-weary. He chats with dad on the phone (we don’t get to see Brad pull out the Ben Buttons old-age makeup), but Katy guesses that mom has died, maybe recently. Oh, also there’s the history of the universe and of life on earth, with CG dinosaurs. The movie scatters its narrative for so long, it’s like a two-hour trailer for a life-length feature (or perhaps just the rumored six-hour cut). It’s like nothing else, ever, not 2001: A Space Odyssey or Malick’s earlier movies or anything else it’s being compared to.

Production design by “man in the planet” Jack Fisk (all five Malick features, four by Lynch plus There Will Be Blood and Phantom of the Paradise), shot by Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World, Sleepy Hollow, all the Alfonso Cuarón movies), music (very good, sometimes too large and overpowering) by Alexandre Desplat (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Birth) and edited by a bunch of guys (including, counterintuitively, Jarmusch’s buddy Jay Rabinowitz).

It’s not hard to find people walking about Tree of Life, but it’s surprisingly hard to find film critics as unhesitatingly impressed by it as I was. Suppose they’re doing their job, hesitating to fully recommend the most narratively unhinged major film of the year. I haven’t been recommending it around much myself. P. Bradshaw in The Guardian calls it “a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy.” The movie has no built-in defense against people who snicker at the cartoon dinosaurs and the whispered voiceovers and the biblical metaphors. It takes itself very seriously and demands that you do the same, or the whole thing could fall apart.

I’m not sure that I buy Tarantino films as thrice-a-decade Big Movie Events. If guy’s gonna make his fun genre flicks, I wish he’d make them more often. The movies he is emulating didn’t take this long to shoot. I’ve been seeing (and trying not to read) reports on this for years now, while I only heard of District 9 last week and I liked ’em both just as much.

One would think the movie follows the Basterds as they rampage through France and Germany killing nazis, but one would be wrong. Starts with a 20-some-minute scene of nazi Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz won best actor at Cannes – nobody can shut up about him) grilling French farmer Denis Menochet about the Jews he is hiding, in Landa’s patient, wordy (duh), polite, milk-drinking manner. The murdered Jewish family’s daughter Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent of Indigènes, who will never have a better role) survives (an image reminiscent of the last-girl-standing final scenes of exploitation horror flicks) and three years later is running a movie theater she inherited from Maggie Cheung (in deleted scenes, which will hopefully surface). At that time, hero sniper Daniel Brühl (star of Goodbye Lenin and Salvador) is hot for her, arranges to hold the premiere of his new propaganda film at her theater. When she hears the entire nazi high command is attending, she plots to destroy the theater with them inside.

So what about the basterds? Well, they’ve got a plot of their own to show up at the film premiere, with the help of movie star Diane Kruger (star of Joyeux Noël), threatened when she is injured in a firefight at a group meeting place (which claims the life of my favorite basterd, Hunger star Michael Fassbender). QT allows a single scene of their nazi-scalping terror campaign (starring bat-man Eli Roth) to stand alone – the vast bulk of the movie is introduction then the week or two leading up to the film premiere.

The movie makes light of death and torture, essentially coming off as a comedy (Brad Pitt’s hilariously fake accent helps that assessment). RW Knight: “Overriding Tarantino’s gratuitous gore instincts is his allegiance to the power of the cinema, which he makes material (literal) here in the form of a combustible nitrate collection.” Surely there are tons of movie references, for once actually talked-about and plot-relevant (Goebbels, Emil Jannings, Leni Riefenstahl) instead of appearing as influences and references in Kill Bill and Jackie Brown (Death Proof had plenty of movie talk, too).

DCairns:

“It’s a film about cinema,” said Joe Dante, who was quite enthusiastic. Perhaps not a war film at all. Or a film about the victory of movies over war, somehow. Certainly, that’s literally what happens in the climax, which contains, all too briefly, the most beautiful image Tarantino has ever conceived or executed.

I have to say I didn’t take it as seriously as some, enjoying the hell out of the sight of Eli Roth machine-gunning Hitler’s lifeless body into the ground moments after the above-mentioned beautiful image (already-dead Shoshanna’s filmed face projected ghostlike on the smoke rising from the burning film stock). And the unusual structure, tense dialogue and Film Comment article’s about Tarantino’s references to American Indian massacres and other carefully thought-out pieces of writing make me think it could be worth taking more seriously. But if I take it seriously, I’ll have to consider the following.

DCairns again: “Inglourious Basterds in a way is about stealing back pleasure from horrible facts, the revenge of cinema upon tragic events, but as interesting as that is in the abstract, it doesn’t strike me as a healthy response. And the gloating nastiness is much closer to Nazism than it is to the spirit of resistance.”