2016 has been a very good year for movies and there are many ones that I have liked a whole bunch, but the past few weeks have been a real mixed bag for me. I was happy that Martin Scorsese's Silence (which I just reviewed earlier today) lived up to my expectations because a lot of what I've seen as of late has not. And now, upon the back of that dire warning, I give you some miniature reviews for five movies I have recently seen.
Lion -- The exception to my bitchy mood to come - Lion is a terrific happy-tear-jerker; it made me think of The Color Purple more than once, which is a high praise indeed. As good as Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are in the movie (and they're both very fine) the real star of the movie, strangely, is the editing - I don't usually pay editing a ton of mind the first time through watching a film but the way Lion lays out and maps its somewhat inevitable story is surprising and turns what might've been a formulaic weepie into a real treat. Makes ye old adage about the journey being the destination feel like a great big brand new fresh thought you just had.
Allied -- I wish I had been watching this movie drunk with a bunch of drunk and similar-minded friends because it is caterwauling out to be viewed as High Camp. The second that Marion Cotillard showed up to the shooting range in her best "Joan Crawford Shooting Range Outfit, by Adrian" I felt it coming and the movie bucks and swerves across the line several times - if only I'd had that crowd to cheer it on through its more tediously serious-minded moments. I mean within the span of a couple of scenes Brad & Marion fuck a sand-storm into existence, and then she gives birth to the London Blitz. It's terrible star-fucker movie-making at the lowest register of the highest caliber in the best old-fashioned kind of way.
Hell or High Water -- There are a couple of movies getting praise this Awards Season that I am not getting the affection for and this is definitely one of them (another is Jim Jamusch's Paterson, but I don't usually "get" Jarmusch). I tweeted out a snide comment about how this is the "male version of Thelma and Louise" we've always needed, thinking the sarcasm spoke for itself, but then the official Twitter account for the movie liked my tweet and I feel less sure that read clearly so let me say it clearly - there is nothing going on here that I haven't seen in a thousand movies at this point. I like all of these actors but this is like the adult coloring book version of a Coens movie.
Fences -- Viola Davis is going to finally going to win an Oscar for this movie and she is genuine and spectacular in it, so that's terrific. But I found the experience of sitting through this movie somewhat excruciating - it feels claustrophobic and airless instead of intimate, and every turn of the plot I saw coming from a mile back and yet it still felt as if it took every single thing an extra twenty minutes to get there. When the movie version of Sweeney Todd came out it was my first exposure to Sondheim and I horrified some theater-lovers by speaking out loud that I just did not "get" Sondheim (PS I still don't); well this here was my first exposure to August Wilson and I have to admit I am feeling that same blasphemous feeling again. It's a shame that these lackluster film adaptations are poisoning some of theater's "great" works but Fences just did not speak to me - its language and ideas feel dusty, its emotions rote. Viola sells her scenes because she's Viola fucking Davis and that's what she does, but I still couldn't wait for this thing to end. (And as if to stick in the knife I don't know that I have hated a movie ending more this year than this one's.)
La La Land -- Don't get me wrong, when La La Land flies it flies - Damien Chazelle obviously committed The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to memory both backwards and forwards before embarking on this quest, and he took some very good lessons from that classic. (The color, oh god the glorious color.) But like Fences it also often mistakes claustrophobia for intimacy - save that Apple commercial opening song it's weirdly closed-off feeling; just a couple days after seeing it I can hardly remember anybody but Gosling & Stone even having a speaking role? On the one hand sure, it's a romance between those two, their love is meant to swallow the world with song and dance. It gets many of those moments right. (The best scenes are the ones at the Observatory and Emma's audition song.) But there's some spark of life, something new to say, that's just absent a lot of the time.