Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rules Don't Apply ** (2016)

Warren Beatty's return to the big screen stops and starts up until the very last reel.  Rules Don't Apply is never boring, but never takes off either.  Well paced scenes are followed by short confusing ones.  Set in the early 1960s, Beatty stars as the legendary aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, who was also famous for being a recluse and has been the subject of several movies.  So, do we really need another film about Howard Hughes?  Especially after Martin Scorsese's 2004 epic The Aviator did such a fantastic job with Hughes as played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Beatty even retreads some of the scenes from Scorsese's picture, such as the Spruce Goose flight and Hughes's well documented OCD tendencies. 

The "main" plot follows aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and Hughes's driver Frank Forbes played by Alden Ehrenreich  Their on and off again romance centers around their views on religion, although the religion angle oddly disappears after the story takes an unfortunate turn. 

Rules Don't Apply revels too much in nostalgia, evidence being the generic soundtrack of rock standards heard in countless other movies.  

Beatty's still got it and manages to make the film hum along, yet those moments are fleeting.  He's the last of a generation of actor/directors who shaped American cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, yet most moviegoers probably have no idea and don't care. 

Rules Don't Apply feels like that last trip in your old beat up car before you retire it. Bittersweet. I hope Beatty takes on some more acting roles to introduce him to a new generation, with the right script and subject he could reach a younger audience. 

Hacksaw Ridge *** (2016)

Mel Gibson's new film Hacksaw Ridge never shrinks from the horrors of war nor does it necessarily condemn war itself.  The film stars Andrew Garfield, in perhaps his best acting to date, as the real life pacifist/hero Desmond T. Doss who saved the lives of 75 men at the Battle of Okinawa. The first hour of the film explores Desmond's life before the war in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia.  His alcoholic father played Hugo Weaving is haunted by memories of the First World War and urges Desmond not to enlist. These early scenes are reminiscent of the 1941 film Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper, a Tennessee pacifist who won the Medal of Honor for his heroics on the Western Front.  Desmond eventually enlists as a medic with the intention of saving lives instead of taking them. At first other members of Desmond's unit resent him for being a conscientious objector, specifically his refusal to carry a gun. Vince Vaughn does fine work as the drill instructor(another war movie cliche) who comes to respect Desmond.  Once the film gets to Okinawa, the battle sequences are intense and graphic, recalling Saving Private Ryan.  Desmond's heroics are juxtaposed with Gibson's penchant for filming brutality, even including a few references to his controversial film The Passion of the Christ.  While some of the conventions of the war film are unavoidable, Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful piece of cinema about standing by your principles in face of incredible peer pressure and moral chaos.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Doctor Strange ** (2016)

In the latest from the Marvel Factory we are introduced to the mysterious Doctor Strange. Played ably by Benedict Cumberbatch, the first half of the film is engaging. Cumberbatch does a great job with the origins story, playing a brilliant neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident and then searches the ends of the earth for a cure.  One of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's creations from the 1960s, the character was a unique fixture in the Marvel Universe, one who used magic and sorcery to protect Earth from mystical threats.  Being a Marvel film, the second half collapses into a pointless CGI extravaganza. That's not to say all the visuals were boring, there's a colorful journey into another dimension that channels the star chamber of 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the 14th Marvel movie, the question is raised: Can the cinematic experience replicate that of the comic book? I suppose so, but the recent slate of these movies offer little but diminishing returns. As mere escapism, Dr. Strange will suffice.