Yep, here we are. Day 490 of Some Stuff by Some Loser, Muddy Composition Edition.
ALERT ALERT ALERT - Unforgivable Instance of Film Malpractice, Worst of the 2000s Version
A Better Way to Die - Hoooooooo. Boyyyyyyyyy. The puns that rollick off of that title once you subject yourself to the sheer horror of actually sitting through it. "A better way to make movies?" "Diving head-first into a Slip-n-Slide made of razor blades and rubbing alcohol would be a better way to die than the boredom this inflicts?" I could keep going but you really should do yourself the terrible and terrifying disservice of watching this yourself so you know just how SHITTY this is. And the weirdest thing? There's this...hm, I don't know exactly what it is about it. I think it's like you can sense that it's almost pointing itself in the right direction at First Positions for a number of scenes, where it would still be B-movie crap but at least garden-variety crap, and then it falls prey to the old adage of "every plan goes out the window once it meets the enemy"...except the enemy in this case is the director, writer, and star of the film, one Scott Wiper (and clearly he hasn't been wiping well enough). Sure, some of the people involved (Lou Diamond Phillips, Natasha Henstridge) are people you associate with schlock, but Andre Braugher? Joey Pants?? How in the SHIT did Joe Pantoliano have a calendar year or so that saw him star in THE MATRIX, MEMENTO, and THIS?!?!?!? How? How did this get made??? Ugh.
We finally have another worthy contender for Worst Film Ever Made, alongside The Crow: Wicked Prayer and Seventh Son. This is a clear Mount Flushmore candidate. I think it keeps itself from being The Actual Worst for the simple fact that there is one legitimately zany shootout in the middle of the movie where it's quite obvious they are trying to play the chaos for laughs, and it does manage to be genuinely funny. So it has exactly one bright spot, which is one more than TC:WP. But GOD everything else about this is the dumbest garbage imaginable. I bet Natasha Henstridge had to have a Personal Splinter Removal Assistant spend a few hours on her after her love scene with wooden-ass Mr. Wiper. Find this on Kanopy, if you hate life and want to throw 100 minutes down the drain, never to return.
That'll Do, Pig
Maggie - I'm not sure why this has mediocre reviews on IMDb, except that, well, it is kind of mediocre, but I imagine it's largely because this is described like it's going to be a horror movie and it just isn't. It's got a few jump scares and obviously a zombie-adjacent movie has got a little element of creepiness to it, but this is a lot more meditative and considerably slower than maybe some people expected. But, as far as I'm concerned, that kinda works, because we've had enough zombie bullshit for several lifetimes already; it's nice to see someone do something a bit different with it. Abigail Breslin and Joely Richardson are pretty good in it, as are the True Detective Season 1 alum cops who try to make the best of a bad situation. Arnold is...well, he's there, he's not the worst, but you do wonder if someone else would have done something more interesting with the material. Viggo, maybe? It skirts around a lot of different possible outcomes, and just when you start asking yourself why things are going the way they're going, it leads you by the nose right to the ending you expect. But that's not really a bad thing; it's satisfying and well-done in its own way.
Still Alice - I'm both surprised and not surprised Julianne Moore won Best Actress for this; it's the kind of role that screams Oscar Bait, but I'm not sure it's her best or the best of 2014, either. But given who they nominated that year, I guess it was her time. There are two things about this I could have done without: Alec Baldwin, who is the worst fake scientist this side of Nicole Kidman (seriously dude, never play a scientist ever again); and the infomercial way that much of the film is presented. But most of the time is spent with Moore and Kristen Stewart, and they're a pretty good pair. You may like this a bit more than I did, but I found much of the first hour to be a bit mawkish, and it wasn't until the false finish that things get genuinely compelling, but then it's just over.
Unstoppable - This is to action movies what the premise of The Fault in Our Stars was to sadboi romantic movies: if you couldn't deliver on this layup, what's wrong with you? But, hey, I guess Tony Scott did. The weird thing about this is that, in some ways, it feels a great deal like his prior pile of shit in the Pelham remake, but that could be in part because they're both mostly on trains and have Denzel in them. Also, did Scott have some kind of weird fetish about blinky light board maps? What it doesn't have that dragged Pelham way the Hell down were all the unnecessary cuts and edits or Travolta's hammy-ass bullshit getting in the way. I found myself liking Chris Pine a lot here, but I realized there was a really simple reason for that: he's not actually expected to do any real acting at all, which, hey, maybe that's for the best. This has the good sense to not waste too much of our time on personal drama: it just keeps the focus where it belongs and takes you on the journey. Some of you like this better than I do, but I do have to say this meets the standard of "Tony Scott Had One Good Film Every Decade".
Ondine - I didn't really know what I was getting myself into with this until I saw Neil Jordan's name, and then it became kind of exactly what you'd expect him to do, which is nice enough. No matter how absurd or fantastical or impossible the situation his characters find themselves in (and they would get even more fantastical in Byzantium, I suppose), their response to the problem is always so practical: "Well, now what do I do about it, even if this is crazy?" Eventually, this unwinds and turns out not to be crazy at all, but the getting there is decent enough (except for the climax, which is really, really badly shot and just looks like garbage - a rare misstep for Jordan). Colin Farrell is his usual steady self, but the real show stealer is Alison Berry, who plays his daughter. Hardly one of his best movies, but if you like Neil Jordan, you should probably like this.
Love Story - Oof. Talk about your alleged classics that aged poorly. 1970 must have been a shit year for movies if this got nominated for Best Picture. It's just...OK. I think the biggest issue is Ryan O'Neal, who is basically awful and not believable or likable in any meaningful way; even his rebelliousness towards his father comes off as him being a massive prick, since Ray Milland plays his role with a lot of sympathy and reservation, such that you can't really feel like he's such a bad guy other than being wealthy. Ali MacGraw is OK, I guess, but the only character I actually bought as real and genuine on any level was John Marley as her father - once again, an older actor doing more with looks and body language and what they're not saying, rather than getting the "meaty" bits from this script. And said script probably seemed a lot punchier back then but now seems melodramatic when it's not being mean-spirited. Kind of strange to think Arthur Hiller directed this. I think I'll take the Douglas Sirk variety of melodrama over this, thanks.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - I feel like I've been grading Marvel movies on a curve, and this finally pointed that out for me. Aside from Logan, Infinity War, and Into the Spider-Verse, I'm not sure anything associated with Marvel has been capital-G "Great", though the first Black Panther would have been close if not for that awful "sneak into the lab" sequence followed by a third act that was half-"typical Marvel bullshit". They've done a lot of good stuff - and sometimes this is really good! - but I'm wondering if these films wouldn't be so much better off if they didn't have to think about how they rope into some other, larger setting. This very well could have been two separate movies: a 2-hour smash-up with all the action bits, and a 90-minute movie that focused on the character development that had to arise from Boseman's untimely passing. And that this jams all those pieces together ends up doing a disservice to both, because it gets to be a bit unbelievable that Shuri wouldn't well and truly just break altogether, and so the ending is...eh. Lots of you have had issues with some particular details; I have those, plus her remarkable ability to solve her mental state and make a cool-headed decision in a whopping 25 seconds.
But my biggest problem with this movie (thus the mention in the header) is how *UGLY* it is, especially in the first half. You can't. See. Shit. And that isn't limited to the underwater stuff where you'd sort of expect that (though Aquaman and James Wan would argue that isn't the least bit necessary). It's just really, REALLY awful lighting and editing and cinematography, and I'm surprised Ryan Coogler let this get released in this kind of shape. It just makes you wonder how necessary all the goddamned CGI truly is, and if some of these bean counters and knob pullers at Disney couldn't try to yank their heads out of their asses and their stock dividends long enough to make a FILM that actually holds up AS A FILM. I think if it weren't for the acting, particularly Winston Duke and particularly particularly Angela Bassett, I might not have liked this at all.
But, as I said, it made me rethink a lot of other Marvel stuff, since this is frankly the best movie they did in this "phase", even though I suppose I said at the time that some of the others were better. They weren't and aren't and consider them all retroactively downgraded. This had bigger ideas, bigger goals, more emotional breadth and depth, more to think about, but DAMN does it ever spend a lot of runtime shooting itself in the foot.
Why They Make 'Em, Why We Watch 'Em
Cleo from 5 to 7 - Why not just jump right in the deep end with Agnes Varda, right? The absolutely stupid intro aside, good GOD does this movie just work. I found myself thinking pretty early on, "Wow, this is really Male Gaze-y", and I had to look it up to realize that phrase wasn't even coined for another TEN YEARS after this came out, and Varda had already given us a near perfect example of it to study. The camera work is wonderful; the reflections and movement and dissociative elements are always wonderfully in service to actually putting us where we're supposed to be, helping us understand. The musical section is crazy with how it's light and zany one minute and explosive and funereal the next, how often Cleo refuses to speak her mind and then does just that even though she's the only one who knows it. And as much as film history is littered with "love letters" to certain times and places, this feels like one of the best examples where the showcase feels earned: I think that's thanks in no small part to the bits that aren't nice at all, like the news radio reporting in the taxi. That one scene probably did more to help me understand France in the 60s than every other film I've ever watched from the period. There's just no wasted anything with this: not the acting, not the script, certainly not the cinematography. And whoever handled the restoration from 10 years ago really outdid themselves. It looks amazing. I always told myself I didn't like French New Wave, but I guess I just didn't like what I'd seen, because THIS is the stuff.