A new film from Joel and Ethan Coen is always a big deal, and the marketing push for Hail, Caesar! juiced anticipation, at least among the cinephile community. A kidnapping comedy (whatever “comedy” means when the Coens are concerned) set in the studio-centric days of Old Hollywood starring George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and more seems like the perfect recipe for a great movie.
Think back to your favorite movie about the military. Unless that flick is 2006’s The Guardian (and it’s probably not because I don’t think The Guardian is anyone’s favorite anything) I’ll bet it has nothing to do with the United States Coast Guard. The Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines – they all feature prominently in heroic tales of action and suspense, but the Coast Guard has had no such luck. Until now. Disney and director Craig Gillespie bring the public the movie they’ve been clamoring for in the form of The Finest Hours – and the good news for me is that it’s actually pretty well done.
Remember when all anyone could talk about was Fifty Shades of Grey? Those were the four words on everyone’s lips, from office breakrooms to bookclubs to NASA Mission Control. This fan-fiction-adjacent story designed to give middle-aged housewives a bit of a sensual thrill became omni-present in the zeitgeist – and not just with those housewives. In fact, that ghettoization of the story’s appeal is pretty unfair, as I know at least one person who falls outside of that category who saw last year’s film version of the book. That person… is me. Sure, I saw it in the context of comedians making jokes over it, but still – I saw it. Parodic auteur Marlon Wayans (does that mean he’s an auteur of parodies or a parody of an auteur? Honestly, both are pretty accurate) and practically anonymous director Michael Tiddes have decided to strike while the iron is hot and take that movie down with their own version: Fifty Shades of Black. A year later. Are people still talking about Fifty Shades of Grey in your breakroom? Yeah, not in mine either.
I off-handedly mentioned all of the bad choices I’ve made recently the other day – well, I’ve made another one. Other critics (professional critics) have panned Dirty Grandpa: Glenn Kenny said the movie made him “[giggle]… for all of humanity,” Mike Ryan called it “the worst movie I’ve ever seen in a movie theater,” and Matt Singer wrote “I can’t believe how bad this movie is.” Despite the obviously negative message they hope to convey, these quotes only served to make me more curious about the picture – after all I watched and greatly enjoyed last year’s Zac Efron vehicle We Are Your Friends (and I won’t apologize for that), despite near-unanimous antipathy (it was self-aware and critical of the lifestyle it’s characters coveted). My embarrassment at asking for a ticket to Dirty Grandpa at the box office should have been an indicator though that I wasn’t in for a good time in any sense of the word.
This is the United States of America, and Hollywood has yet to meet a calamity that it isn’t willing to turn into a cash cow. So why would the 2012 Benghazi attack – during which local violent Libyan forces attacked two American compounds, resulting in deaths on both sides including that of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens – be any different? It wouldn’t, which is why the basic fact of the existence of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is not a shock. What is a bit of surprise, however, is the fact that Michael Bay was chosen as the steward best suited to deliver this story to the masses. The action auteur (I guess) isn’t exactly known for nuanced depictions of national distress; this is the man who brought Pearl Harbor to cinematic life. But why wait 60 years to tell such a story? Why even wait six? The story isn’t even close to being ripe, but Bay is going to tell it anyway. Maybe he’ll surprise us all.
Yeah, I know. You’re looking at the title of this review and you’re thinking to yourself, “why did he do it?” Why would I see Ride Along 2? Well there are a few reasons. One: I like seeing what I expect will be a bad movie every once in a while – keeps my opinions honest. Two: I was feeling really down on New Years Day and decided to watch a comedy to pick up my spirits. I chose the original Ride Along. I didn’t love it, but I had to see how the story continued. And three: I just wanted to see something this weekend (wait until you get a load of tomorrow’s review). So with those three incredibly valid explanations for my actions in mind, lets dig into Tim Story’s much anticipated sequel, shall we?
Hashtag Bowie Week continues unabated today with my thoughts on Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth, starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. I briefly considered taking a break last night to watch and review President Obama’s State of the Union address, before I realized that napping would be a more promising endeavor. I could think of no better future than the one in which I woke up from said slumber to a world of magical puppets and a freaky-deaky musician whose raw sexuality could not even be contained by what is ostensibly a family fantasy/adventure movie.
And lo – like a phoenix rising from the ashes that are the dismal remains of 2015, 365 Days of Reviews returns to the lives of the few who care (mostly me, my parents, and my co-worker Matt). I took a break from long form reviews last year, and I hold few warm feelings toward the year that my complacency wrought. So what better way to turn things around in 2016 than to go back to the well that kept me consistent and made most of my nights a living hell? I can’t guarantee we’ll get 365 brand new reviews out of 2016 (I just had the brilliant idea of syndicating some of my older reviews when necessary – are you all ready for reruns?), but Stevie needs a little structure in his life.
All the preamble aside, let’s dive into the first review of the year – a look back at last year’s best movies.
Pompeii doesn’t get mentioned once in this review – a tragedy
When I started this blog 363 days ago, my first post was my top ten movies of 2013. We’re at the end of another year, and I have seen more movies than ever before (according to my letterboxd summary I’ve watched over 1,000 hours of film – yikes!), so it’s about time for another roundup of the state of cinema.
There are few directors as prolific as one Mr. Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has become famous for his rapid shooting schedules, and his limited number of takes. It is difficult to say whether this is the best approach, as the method has already yielded the pretty lackluster Jersey Boys in 2014. But the good thing about Eastwood’s rapid filmmaking technique is that there is always another one around the corner. In this particular case, Eastwood’s end-of-year film is American Sniper, an adaptation of the memoir by the late Chris Kyle, the military man referred to in the title. Does American Sniper fare any better than the story of Frankie Valli and his crooning buddies?