**/**** Image A Sound A Extras C starring Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana De Armas, Bradley Cooper screenplay by Stephen Chin and Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic, based on the ROLLING STONE article "Arms and the Dudes" by Guy Lawson directed by Todd Phillips
by Walter Chaw Like The Big Short before it, Todd Phillips's War Dogs is a breezy, loose, "for dummies" gloss on recent history that says for all the things you thought were going to hell in the world, you don't know the fucking half of it, buddy. It details how W.'s administration, after being accused of cronyism in making Dick Cheney's Haliburton wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of wealth with the gift of bid-free defense contracts, opened the floodgates by essentially giving every unscrupulous asshole on the planet the opportunity to bid on defense contracts. In that pursuit, our government set up an "eBay" list where major arms dealers could pick off the larger contracts, and dilettantes and arms "day-traders" could, from the comfort of their basements, sell the United States military a few thousand handguns. War Dogs adapts a magazine article about two assholes in particular, David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who made a fortune, then made a terrible mistake when they decided to traffic a hundred million rounds of defective Chinese AK-47 ammo by disguising it as Albanian stock. Actually, their mistake is that Efraim is a psychotic loser so pathological in his incompetence that even the U.S. government had no choice but to do something about it. It's a level of obviousness matched by the film in moments like one in the middle of the game where Efraim screams "fuck the American taxpayer!" OK, yes, we get it.
*/**** starring Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening screenplay by Warren Beatty directed by Warren Beatty
by Walter Chaw The title refers to Howard Hughes, I think, and becomes a song its ingénue sings a couple of times over the course of the film. Moreover, it refers to Warren Beatty at this point in an extraordinary career that began in the New American Cinema and that wave of Method actors filling in the spaces left behind by the Golden Age. He was impossibly beautiful, and played against it whenever he could. He was whip-smart. Unabashedly political. Unapologetically a legendary philanderer who made perhaps his greatest single impression on my generation with a surprise cameo in then-girlfriend Madonna's documentary monument to herself, Truth or Dare. Any investigation, though, finds that Beatty is a definitive voice of a definitive moment in the cinematic history of the United States. It's been fifteen years since his last film as an actor, twenty as a director. In the meantime: rumours and speculation about this long-gestating production--his dream project, the culmination of a storied career behind and in front of the camera. And now here it is, Rules Don't Apply, and it's exceedingly uncomfortable, a film that leaves Beatty, acting here as co-star, director, producer, and credited screenwriter, exceptionally vulnerable. As capstones go, it's an interesting one.
**/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Chris Makepeace, Sandy Baron, Robert Rusler, Grace Jones screenplay by Richard Wenk directed by Richard Wenk
by Bryant Frazer In concept a little bit After Hours and a little bit An American Werewolf in London, Vamp attempts to transplant some New York cool into a story set in the L.A. underground, where a downtown strip club is staffed by lithesome vampires who prey on losers and outsiders yearning for companionship in the lonesome city. Vamp isn't scary, though it's fairly stylish, thanks in large part to Grace Jones, who flew into Hollywood with an entourage (including artists Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Richard Bernstein) to play Katrina, an exotic dancer with an appetite for flesh. While the film is pleasantly weird whenever she's on screen, that's not much of the time. The bulk of it is a laid-back assemblage of moderately clever ideas--a bunch of clockwork gears that never mesh into anything much.
**½/**** screenplay by Jared Bush directed by Ron Clements & John Musker (co-directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams)
by Walter Chaw Arguably, the only place it really matters in terms of the diversity tango in Disney's new animated musical Moana is in the songwriting and voice-acting, and so although there are only white people directing (four credited directors) and writing (eight credited scenarists), find Opetaia Foa'i and Lin-Manuel Miranda behind the music and Dwayne Johnson and Auli'i Cravalho behind the Pacific Islander characters. This is progress. Also progress is what seems, to this non-Polynesian, like a real effort to not appropriate a culture so much as represent its mythology, tied as it must be to a narrative about a young woman, Moana (Cravalho), a stout Disney heroine of that certain mold for whom adventure calls, declaring her independence from the patriarchy. We've seen her before, is what I'm saying, but she's neither sexualized nor given an aspirational mate/therapeutic marriage. Progress. I'll take it. There's even a moment where demigod Maui (Johnson) makes a crack about Moana being in the Disney canon. Progress? Self-awareness, at least. I'll take that, too. What's unfortunate is that for everything that's very good about the film, there's something very familiar. The argument should probably be made that familiarity is the sugar that helps the medicine of its progressive elements go down. It worked for The Force Awakens.
****/**** BD - Image A Sound A+ Extras B+ DVD - Image A+ Sound A+ Extras C+ starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
by Walter Chaw Indicated by spacious compositions and a bracing unpredictability, Paul Thomas Anderson's romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love is a marriage, if you will, between Claire Denis's audacious Trouble Every Day and Steven Shainberg's sadomasochism fairytale Secretary. Here's a trio of films that announce 2002 as a year perhaps best defined by its aggressively non-traditional, hopelessly romantic love stories (toss Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven, Cronenberg's Spider, and Roger Avary's The Rules of Attraction into that mix).
**/**** starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell written by J.K. Rowling directed by David Yates
by Walter Chaw J.K. Rowling is more plotter than writer or editor, more rambling fantasist than disciplined storyteller--explanation there as to why her Harry Potter novels aren't classics so much as very popular stories for children. This also explains why Rowling flinched at the prospect of Harry martyring himself at the end, something the entire series leads up to. Rowling betrays, too, heroine Hermione, the logical successor to Dumbledore's seat, not wife to Harry's drippy buddy. She didn't have the heart, she says, to do the things she should have done, and so produced books you'll grow out of. And quickly. The film adaptations (like Beethoven's Symphonies, only the odd ones are good, and you should skip the first) are uneven largely because they're best when the folks doing the adapting take Rowling's ideas and craft narratives and narrative subtext from/for them--and worst when they try to pack in all those volumes of blandly discursive blather to please a massive fanbase. Asking Rowling herself to write the screenplay for David Yates's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (hereafter Fantastic Beasts), then, has yielded exactly the expected result: the film is bloated, boring at times, rambling most others; and it's rich with genuine ideas and an honest-to-goodness progressive heartbeat. It's topical, boasts of an extremely able cast it squanders mostly, and acts as a glossy coat sheening over the "real" story, pulsing but drowned, at its centre.
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras A- screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse directed by Andrew Stanton (co-directed by Angus MacLane)
by Walter Chaw Credit is due Pixar and writer-director Andrew Stanton (co-directing here with Angus MacLane) for wanting to right what I don't know anybody really perceived as a wrong. I remember thinking when I first saw Finding Nemo that Dory's inability to retain short-term memories was a product of her species. In the new Finding Dory, it's revealed to indeed be a mental disability, one that her parents (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) worry over a great deal in a series of flashbacks. They create coping mechanisms for their daughter. They devise a literal shell game so that when Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) inevitably gets lost, she can find her way back home. It's an interesting tactic to take, this mild scolding that what was funny at first is in fact a debilitating, dangerous disorder. And a good portion of the film looks for ways to valorize Dory's condition, to avoid making her the butt of jokes or an object of pity. For the most part, it does this by surrounding her with characters who also have a disability: Hank (Ed O'Neill), an octopus that's lost an arm ("Septipus!" says Dory, "I can't remember, but I can count!"); and Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a hopelessly myopic whale shark. Lest we forget, Nemo (Hayden Rolence, taking over from Alexander Gould) has a deformed fin, something he flaps at dad Marlin (Albert Brooks) after Marlin says something disparaging about Dory's memory issue.
Apologies for the radio silence this week. Honestly? No will. We have plenty of stuff on the horizon, though, and in the meantime here are links to our festival reviews of Arrival and Elle, which open in theatres today.
***/**** starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn screenplay by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight directed by Mel Gibson
by Walter Chaw Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson are our two most prominent plainly and explicitly Catholic directors. Because Scorsese is the kind of Catholic he is, his films are about questioning faith. Because Mel Gibson is insane, his films aren't. As a result of that, and somewhat unexpectedly, Gibson is the single best case for the auteur theory working in the United States. As the originator and chief benefactor of The Passion of the Christ (the best and worst film of 2004), he can officially make whatever movie he wants, and with Hacksaw Ridge (and Apocalypto before that) he's gone ahead and done just that. Mel Gibson is the single best case for a lot of things. In Hacksaw Ridge, he tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a troubled, severely-abused young Virginian who enlists in WWII as a conscientious objector, refusing to touch a gun, dedicating himself to saving folks as a combat medic. It's essentially a superhero origin story opening the same weekend as another (Dr. Strange)--both films dealing with faith and the consequences of betraying said faith. In Dr. Strange, directed by openly Christian Scott Derrickson, bargaining with morality results in dreadful and unforeseen consequences. In Hacksaw Ridge, because Gibson's religious fervour burns so bright and erratic, all such niceties and ambiguity burn away in allegorical hellfire and literal rains of blood. He's long threatened a sequel to Passion. Here, he's delivered one.
***/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras C starring Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, based on the "Tarzan" stories created by Edgar Rice Burroughs directed by David Yates
by Walter Chaw David Yates's The Legend of Tarzan is at once a long-overdue, if massively-fictionalized, biopic of George Washington Williams's time in the Congo observing colonial Belgium's abuses of the rubber, ivory, and diamond trades; and it's an adaptation, nay, updating of Edgar Rice Burroughs's first five Tarzan books, with heavy creative license taken but the spirit kept largely intact. Although it's more successful as the latter than as the former, both endeavours are carried through with seriousness and intelligence. It's not a perfect film: the editing is terrible, particularly during the action sequences, suggesting this was probably a longer movie truncated out of fear of diluting the "good" bits. I also don't love the washed-out colour palette that paints everything in a blue gloom--at least not as much as Yates seems to, between this and the last four Harry Potter films. And it bears mentioning that Samuel L. Jackson isn't really an actor anymore and that Margot Robbie arguably never has been. Yeah, The Legend of Tarzan is hard to defend objectively. It does, however, understand the appeal of the Tarzan mythos, answering in grand moments why it is that he's found his way into over 200 motion pictures and dozens more serials and television series (live-action and animated). I should disclaim, too, that I read (re-read, in some cases) all 24 original Burroughs Tarzan novels in the weeks leading up to the picture's release. In other words, I'm a big, giant pulp nerd.
**/**** Image B Sound A- Extras B+ starring Rick Burks, Carl Crew, Roger Dauer, LaNette La France written by Michael Sonye directed by Jackie Kong
by Bryant Frazer So bad it's good? I wouldn't go that far. But Blood Diner is definitely something--a no-frills pastiche of 1950s disembodied-brain sci-fi potboiler, 1960s Herschell Gordon Lewis splatter movie, 1970s cannibal-cuisine flick, and early-1980s buddy-cop movie. I'm tempted to say it stitches together a Frankenstein's patchwork of genre movies because it has no vision of its own, but that's too glib. If nothing else, 20-something Asian-American director Jackie Kong (Night Patrol) loves L.A.: she wrapped all of those genre influences around a love letter to the city's underground music scene circa 1987, casting punk rockers and rockabilly singers as extras, bit players, and movie stars in a story about a pair of pretty-boy sibling serial killers who run a popular foodie destination on Hollywood Boulevard where the vegetarian dishes are, unbeknownst to patrons, boosted by the presence of human flesh in the recipe.