Archive for April, 2017

Silence_(2016_film)Silence (2016)

Starring- Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Ciaran Hinds, Issey Ogata, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yoshi Oida, Yosuke Kubozuka

Director- Martin Scorsese

R- some disturbing violent content


A pair of Jesuit priests venture to Japan to learn the fate of their vaunted mentor, rumored to have apostatized under the weight of the country’s fierce persecution of Christians.

This life will test many of the things we believe most strongly, but at least it will never give us cause to doubt that Martin Scorsese is anything other than a living legend. Who, at the age of 74, is still making art as vital and challenging as they did in their heyday — especially when that heyday is a long list of some of the greatest movies of all time?

Silence, like just about every Scorsese film I’ve ever seen, sneaks up on you. It’s always engaging, and you leave certain that it was good. And immediately, your mind starts turning it over. What was good becomes great. What seemed at the time like insignificant moments become emotional lynchpins. The story begins to take shape. The loose, detached messaging tightens and deepens and soon becomes the cinematic equivalent of a doctoral thesis that somehow sweeps the human condition while narrowing the depicted experiences to specificity that approaches the obscure. You start talking to other people about it, and they share what they perceived; you put the pieces together. Before the day ends, you’re ready to call it a no-bones-about-it masterpiece.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to talk about this one. There’s so much to parse here, and for me, it ranges from the intellectual to the personal — Silence hit me where I live, and I’m still somewhat dumbstruck in its weight. It’s also incredibly complex, the year’s densest and most layered film by a considerable margin, and I’m skeptical of anyone who claims after only one viewing to have grasped it in its entirety. Certainly I haven’t.

So start here, an article in which the always-brilliant Film Crit Hulk breaks down not only Silence but a vast swath of Scorsese’s filmography in far more detail and depth than I could ever hope to achieve. His examination hits on what I consider to be the key secret to Scorsese’s greatness — not the only factor to be sure, since his work is genius in numerous respects, but the major quirk in his approach that makes him who he is. It’s his ability to make movies that truly live inside their characters, that confront their problems — and by extension, society’s problems — with thorough, unflinching honesty. It’s the fact, as that article states, that he’s one of the few filmmakers remaining who will challenge his audience — not simply relate ideas his audience will agree with and applaud in the hopes that they connect with those other people over there. We want movies to condemn what we perceive (rightly, in many cases) as immoral or foolish, and most filmmakers satisfy that impulse — and don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for that. But that isn’t Scorsese. In a Scorsese film, evil actions only meet evil consequences when reality is big enough to accommodate them. Sometimes, he gets to make a movie like Goodfellas, where the characters end up dead or forever under the oppressive thumb of witness protection. But sometimes, all he can make is The Wolf of Wall Street, in which Wall Street tycoon Jordan Belfort got away with everything and went on to instruct others on his unethical practices. Because, well, how many Wall Street execs are suffering these days? Even after everything they’ve done? In the end, all he could do was present the situation and turn it over to us to do something about it. Anything else would be dishonest.

For me, the real revelation in that article is Scorsese approaching the critique of an idea or lifestyle through the most extended form of empathy — making the best possible argument for the thing it’s dissecting, capturing it without judgment or condescension, making it as real to the audience as it is to the characters.

Here, he’s turned his lens, once again, on religion. Every time Scorsese talks about his Catholicism, it always seems to boil down to: “It’s complicated.” His relationship with faith is unusual, to say the least. Which makes him the perfect artist for the complex, conflicted take on religion presented in Silence. It’s a film about doubt, and quite fittingly, it always feels as though he’s not just trying to convince us, he’s trying to convince himself. Again — presenting the best possible argument for it, and then bringing it into conflict with harsh, unfeeling reality, where it still doesn’t appear to pass muster. So much of the movie feels like lived-in experience: not that Scorsese, or many of the people who will watch it, have been horribly persecuted for their faith but that the religious and formerly religious among us have all gone through seasons of doubt, where we began to question the foundation upon which we built our entire lives, where nothing makes sense and everything seems cold and empty and meaningless.

This is where it got personal for me. Scorsese captures so well what’s going on in his protagonist’s head, and all of it rang with eerily familiar truth — again, not in the specifics of horrible, violent religious persecution in 17th-century Japan, but in the way it affects this particular character’s worldview. I may be ill-equipped to assess quite a lot of what this movie does — maybe even what most movies do, to be honest — but I know doubt, and Scorsese has his finger on the pulse. He knows exactly the form doubt takes, particularly religious doubt, and the way it cycles through your mind and breaks you down, reshapes you. He sees the way it emerges as a whisper, a nagging sense that something is wrong and you might be part of it, persistent but easy to drive into the background and ignore. He shows how it intensifies, the anxiety that sets in, the fear, the regret. He shows the way it deconstructs every system of thought you’ve devised to prop up this particular belief, unraveling the threads that hold your very personhood together, robbing you of everything you were and everything you thought you were going to be. He knows the persistence of hope, as well as how that hope gradually becomes something darker and more terrorizing. At first, there’s faith enough to get through the day, but attack after attack after attack, whether internal or external, mental or physical, thins those barriers. Soon, that hope is something you force yourself to maintain, not something that comes naturally. Joy becomes its own kind of suffering — you latch onto every moment of strength, every successful demonstration of faith, every thought you have that draws you back to your starting point, every piece of evidence you believe you encounter. It builds you up to the top of the world, and you become certain you’ll stay there — but you come crashing down from it as soon as that certainty becomes desire and that desire becomes an impossible uphill climb. Your need to retain that soundness of spirit becomes the source of the attack itself — you’re unhappy because you’re unhappy, and trying to become happy only makes you unhappier because your persistent failure to accomplish that task drains your hopes, your sense that you’re strong enough to thrive in this world. And you just cycle through those ups and downs again and again and again until, at least, either doubt or faith claims you. Of course, you’re never the same person on the other side; you can only pretend to be as you continue to cling to the ghost of what you once were. One way or another, you’re picking up the pieces, trying to rebuild yourself from the ground up. You created yourself for the circumstances you believed existed; now that you know something else to be true, you’re no longer sure who you are. What happens from that point depends on where the process has taken you and how far you are from where you began. It’s easier for some people than it is for others.

Scorsese walks that line so gracefully, and with the experience and insight that can only belong to someone who has lived through it. Silence understands that cycle, how it both breaks and makes you, and how it’s a constant roller coaster from peace to torment and back again. The movie shows it as the never-ending process it is — there are some things you will always wrestle with, and it will be painful. Not a one of us is ever done growing. People will search for a message in Silence and are unlikely to find it. I’m not sure there is one. I’m not sure there could be one in the first place. What is there to learn from something so all-encompassing and endless, something too complex to ever strip down to its components? Where could we find the neat bow to tie this up in? No, we can only draw conclusions on the individual level of the characters and ourselves, and even then, not so much conclusions as vague projections of where we are and where we’re going.

Silence is brutal and often painful. It’s the farthest thing from the feel-good movie of the year. It shouldn’t be. It’s not here as affirmation of its audience’s religious opinions. It’s the great uniter in that sense, and there’s something uplifting in the way both religious and secular communities have embraced it, at least tepidly. It’s a challenge to everyone, presenting nothing in quite the context either side of the religious divide would want. It finds good and bad in everything it depicts, and weaves them together to the point that one cannot truly be extricated from the other. It’s all a part of the tapestry of humanity’s ceaseless struggle to understand its place in the universe, to apply some meaning to the chaos we see all around us.

Silence wrecked me. It challenged me. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. It isn’t easy viewing, but it’s vital — and enriching, if for no other reason that it reminds us we’re not alone, that many of us have fought our way through the despair of doubt and uncertainty. It’s of excellent make besides — it’s one of the best-looking of Scorsese’s films, and maybe the best-looking period, and I will never properly understand how Andrew Garfield received an Academy Award nomination for Hacksaw Ridge in the same year he did this. It’s a shattering film, grimly beautiful, moving, complex, human, unforgettable. Silence is the real deal.




Anyway, I promised you an important announcement a while back, and now that it’s been several months and everyone’s forgotten, here it is.

All good things must come to an end, except for when they aren’t really ending, they’re just moving.

That’s right, folks — I have a new website! And as such, Writers Block Parade is, sadly, breathing its last. The reason is simple: As much as I love this site and what I’ve done here, and as fun as it is to get to tour my opinions throughout the years, it also isn’t the greatest representation of my work. Here’s what’s happened (and you could consider this another fun announcement, I guess): I finally cut the apron strings on my novel and am shopping it around with publishers and agents. I think a healthy online presence will be helpful in this regard. At the same time, if someone important is googling me, I’d like them to see fresh writing — not reviews I wrote when I was 17 years old that only I know were written back them. I want them to find only work that I 100 percent stand by. In other words…this place had to go.

But over at, I’ll be doing pretty much the same thing I’m doing here — just more explicitly structured as an author page. I’ve already moved a few 2017 reviews over there, and I plan to keep my nerdtastic rambles a-comin’ for the foreseeable future.

I’ve deeply appreciated the support of the handful of you who have been regular readers, and I hope you’ll stay on — please head over to the new site and follow me there!

As to the future of this site… I haven’t decided exactly when I’ll close it. I’ll finish out 2016 for sure. When I publish my Top 20 for 2016, we’re in the home stretch. After I publish that, I’ll start uploading exclusively to the new site. Sometime after that, I’ll shut this one down.

Thanks again for your readership and occasional comments, and I hope to see you over on the other site!

A_Monster_Calls_posterA Monster Calls (2016)

Starring- Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, James Melville, Geraldine Chaplin

Director- J.A. Bayona

PG-13- thematic content and some scary images


Twelve-year-old Connor (Lewis MacDougall), whose mother (Felicity Jones) has been diagnosed with cancer, suddenly finds himself the unwilling recipient of a series of visits from a giant monster (voice of Liam Neeson) only he can see.

Message from the front: I mounted a well-armed and strategically sound resistance to the heavy-handed sentimentality of what might as well have been called Obvious Metaphors: The Motion Picture, but while my emotional forces acquitted themselves quite well on the field of battle, I’m afraid I must report that I cried like an idiot.

I’m not sure whether A Monster Calls is actually a good movie or just a beneficiary of the kind of premise that crushes any heart that isn’t made of stone. Its overall effectiveness, in my case, is probably a combination of the two — the movie is okay, and its chosen subject is one of those things it’s difficult to remove yourself from, even when it isn’t sketched in all that much detail.

Mostly, the problem is that it’s a little too obvious, screaming thoroughly established themes to the heavens. The monster approaches Connor with a series of stories that he tells over the course of the film, and just about every one of them wraps up with a self-conscious: “GET IT? IT’S A METAPHOR!” The secret meaning behind each one is explained almost immediately, and you find yourself waiting for that inevitable climactic monologue in which the characters explain how all of the stories fit together and what Connor is Supposed to Learn.

The movie also tries to hold a few too many ideas in balance and doesn’t always focus on them in the way it needs to — it never really tells you exactly what’s going on with Connor until the climax, and rather than expanding your understanding of the story, it leaves you wishing that the movie had managed to tease it earlier (it isn’t a reveal or a plot twist, and I don’t think the movie is trying to hide it; it just fails to establish it noticeably). Sometimes, it hits a few potholes that grind its thematic arcs to a confusing halt (the monster’s third tale, in particular, has a nigh-incomprehensible effect on the plot in terms of characters and motivations). Happily, the movie isn’t openly slamming the readily available easy button whenever it starts to struggle narratively, but the lack of depth in the characters eventually leaves it in a place where “little kid with dying mother” is the only card it has to play.

But there’s a lot here that works. It tends to come in fits and starts rather than defining the whole film, but it’s just enough to captivate. A Monster Calls received largely positive reviews, but a lot of them stipulated that its tone is somewhat wobbly, which I find strange, because I think the movie’s tonal management is one of its strongest points. Yes, its tone stretches from here to infinity and back again, but that suits it perfectly — it’s about a child dealing with the dawning realization that his mother is dying and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. That’s a tense situation for which no one, much less a child, could ever be prepared, and the movie’s focus is almost exclusively devoted to the conflict in Connor — he doesn’t know what he wants, how to feel, what to think, what’s coming next, he doesn’t understand what’s happening to him, he wonders whether he’s doing it “right,” he isn’t even sure how to react to everyone else’s pity. His world is defined by instability, so it’s fitting that the tone should be so jarring and explosive. I wasn’t sure about the young star, Lewis MacDougall, for a while, but eventually, his performance made sense to me and became one of the movie’s most outstanding features — he plays Connor is withdrawn and anxious, his emotions checked by uncertainty and confusion, until everything bubbles over and he suddenly becomes volatile. It’s all over the map, and it should be — there’s no way to give shape to the thoughts and feelings of a child enduring tragedy well above his developmental level, so A Monster Calls makes that lack of form the form itself. It’s about the tortured thoughts that keep Connor up at night, the conflict between hope and despair that both props him up and tears him apart, the fears playing at the corners of his subconscious. The monster’s stories aren’t just about showing him how to deal with the situation but helping him figure out what the situation is in the first place. So the movie is fantastical but dark, even hellish in places — it twists you up inside, and that’s exactly what it should do.

The monster himself reflects this. The character is not only a tremendous effect (I’m told it was an animatronic in some shots, and that just boggles me) but a memorable presence overall. The movie keeps him just far enough outside the plot that he never registers as a character all his own, but since we only ever see him from Connor’s perspective, that’s as it should be. We don’t know what the monster is, where he came from, what he wants, we’re not even entirely sure he’s real — he needs that mystique to best reflect Connor’s own emotions. He’s fierce and standoffish, insistent, often terrifying, but also capable of gentleness, exuding the wisdom of centuries. He involves himself in Connor’s life without really involving himself in it — briefly crashing into it to impart a few brusquely delivered life lessons and then disappearing. His influence often makes the situation worse before it makes it better. Movies like these usually take a relatively straightforward approach to the fantastical metaphor character — they represent the ultimate good, kind and all-knowing. I like the chaos of this monster, that he can’t completely be trusted and all of his truths are complicated, difficult, and painful. Liam Neeson’s voice work is tremendous; he growls every line but projects it as emphatically as he can, completely overpowering every scene he’s in.

Naturally, then, A Monster’s Call is pretty good when it’s focused on the kid and the monster; it’s the stuff in the middle that succumbs to the more generic tropes of the “disease drama.” Felicity Jones is absolutely heartbreaking as Connor’s mother but gets little to work with beyond the surface pain of the situation in which she finds herself. There just isn’t a whole lot to the character. She has no shortage of Oscar reel moments here, but they never become anything whole — you leave the movie remembering individual scenes but not the character herself. There isn’t much to the relationship either, other than “a mother who loves her son, who loves her back”; the closest the movie gets to any kind of interesting detail is that Connor got his interest in art from her and she taught him everything he knows. Connor also spends time dealing with his attitude toward his cold, unapproachable grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and I spent the duration of the film waiting for the revelation that would allow him to understand her, connecting the relationship to the monster’s stories and putting a cap on the characters’ development; that revelation never came. The movie just arcs in the direction it feels as though it ought to and doesn’t justify it, doesn’t find the empathy needed to make it work.

It’s certainly a mixed bag. I spent significant portions of the movie loving it and significant portions being completely disinterested. But there’s something there, at its heart, that’s too compelling to pass up, a thematic cleverness that isn’t fully realized (and is couched in overly obvious storytelling) but draws you in anyway. I think I liked the experience of A Monster Calls more than I liked A Monster Calls, but I liked both anyway.

Bring tissues.

Sand_Castle-401145921-mmedSand Castle (2017)

Starring- Nicholas Hoult, Logan Marshall-Green, Henry Cavill, Tommy Flanagan, Glen Powell, Beau Knapp, Neil Brown Jr., Sam Spruell, Navid Negahban, Gonzalo Menendez, Ziad Abaza, Sammy Sheik

Director- Fernando Coimbra


Soldiers in 2003 Iraq travel to a remote village to restore water service that was destroyed by an American bomb and struggle with the “hearts and minds” part of the job.

I don’t know why everyone seems to be ignoring this movie. It might not be saying a whole lot, but Sand Castle is one of the better Netflix movies, and that’s coming from someone who hasn’t been moved by an Iraq War movie since…The Hurt Locker, maybe? The Iraq War genre feels like something society isn’t ready for yet; so far, it tends to lack the courage of similar movies made during, say, Vietnam, which had no reservations whatsoever in going full-throated political. Iraq War movies feel more tepid to me, like we’re far enough into the “it was a bad idea” part of the conflict that the politics can be there, acknowledged, but restrained so as not to offend anyone.

Sand Castle isn’t all that different — political, but not that political. Movies back in the proverbial good old days knew how to excoriate the politicians and not the soldiers, or at least were unafraid that people would interpret them that way; nowadays, they seem unable to separate the two. But Sand Castle is strong enough in other ways to make up for its lack of a distinct perspective.

Honestly, the long and short of it may simply be its authenticity — the reason for and the ultimate success of nearly the entire movie. In fairness, having never been to war, I’m not especially qualified to judge the reality of what I see in movies like Sand Castle. All I know is that it feels right — that these characters are strong, that their relationships are natural, that the actors’ performances click immediately. The platoon has its own dynamic, a brotherly camaraderie that’s lived-in, engaging, and often just plain fun to watch. Screenwriter Chris Roessner, I’m told, was a machine gunner in Iraq and based the script on his experiences. It shows — it’s all too specific to have been made up. His script isn’t perfect — it starts to unwind a little toward the end, when it begins to search for its ultimate purpose, and it never quite defines its protagonist’s role relative to the story or themes (i.e., the movie is following this particular character, but why, specifically, is it following this character?) — but it’s a solid debut. Keep an eye on this guy.

The direction fills in some of the emotional gaps. Fernando Coimbra is a new name to me — this appears to be only his second feature — but he acquits himself fairly well here. This, of course, is the part of the review where I wonder whether I’ve started subconsciously holding Netflix to a lower standard than other studios, because I find myself saying things like: “Sand Castle actually looks like a real movie shot for the big screen and contains moments of actual visual storytelling!” But Coimbra doesn’t just hit adequacy; he works very well around the film’s limitations. Like most Netflix acquisitions, it seems unlikely that all that much money was spent making this movie; unlike them, however, Coimbra knows how to strip down a scene without making it look stagey. He takes you into a battle scene and finds organic reasons to isolate characters in limited scenarios that don’t require hundreds of millions to shoot. The fact that the camera stays in one place, rarely showing you what the soldiers are shooting at, feels like an artistic rather than budgetary decision; he locks you into the main characters’ perspectives and uses the claustrophobic atmosphere to make it seem like danger is closing in from all directions.

Sand Castle isn’t great, and I doubt I’ll watch it again. Obviously, I don’t have all that much to say about it. But it’s still well-made and deserving of attention that has eluded it thus far. Let’s reward this one instead of Sandy Wexler, perhaps. It’s worth watching, and hopefully heralds better things to come.

ac957a1dbe0cbcdb8ca2238e9d18b57828559e1bTramps (2017)

Starring- Callum Turner, Grace Van Patten, Michal Vondel, Mike Birbiglia, Margaret Colin, Louis Cancelmi

Director- Adam Leon


Danny (Callum Turner) is trying to stay out of trouble when his older brother coopts him for a shady deal. Ellie (Grace Van Patten) is just trying to get out of a bad situation. They’re strangers until they end up working the same job — the simple delivery of a mysterious briefcase. But Danny accidentally gives it to the wrong person, sending the pair on a desperate run to get it back before their bosses decide they want blood.

I finished Tramps feeling somewhat underwhelmed by it, but in retrospect, I’m developing a weird sort of respect for it. We sometimes underrate the value of a movie that’s just enjoyable — short, breezy, low-stakes, feel-good cinema. Tramps didn’t blow my mind, and I suspect the same will be true for most people, but you know what? It gave me eighty perfectly pleasant minutes today, and I’m grateful for that. It’s exactly the sort of lighthearted escapism I needed.

It’s nowhere near as dark as a brief plot summary would suggest. It resists the sort of poverty tourism that would bog down similar films, and the crime thriller half of it is more a unique twist on the boy-meets-girl movie than an end in itself. It creates a reason for the main characters to meet and presents them with a conflict they must resolve together and otherwise isn’t given all that much weight. Really, Tramps isn’t a thriller at all — it isn’t all that tense, there’s no violence, and only the bare minimum physical threat ever registers with the characters, existing mainly in the form of the distant sense of what might happen if they fail to retrieve the briefcase for their bosses.

And even that isn’t really the point of the movie, just an excuse for the leads to be together. The central conflict gives the movie structure but is secondary at best on an emotional level. The movie bets that audiences will be okay spending a little time with some characters they like and sharing in their romantic fantasies. It bets correctly, for the most part. It keeps the stakes low, proceeds largely unencumbered by conflict, and simply uses the fact that our boy and girl, in this case, are criminals as a tool to color it in a little. The way the central conflict resolves itself is almost anticlimactic, but the movie plays it with knowing humor and a reminder that it was never the point.

The extent to which the movie softens all of its blows would bother me under most circumstances, but not here. It’s fundamentally a fairytale, just one that’s borrowing the trappings of the real world. It’s not meant to be realistic, it’s not meant to examine much of anything, it’s just reveling in young love and enjoying a modest, ordinary sort of adventure. It’s a brisk watch, but it also feels like it’s taking its time, just going with the flow, taking in the sunlight that fills every frame or relaxing in travel montages set to a soundtrack of folk/country. It has a solid storytelling sensibility that keeps everything in check but never feels showy or desperate to impress — it’s willing to allow interesting details to be just that, and to feed into the easygoing chemistry between the two leads.

It’s sweet, it’s likable, it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s far from great, but it almost doesn’t mean to be. It won’t last, but its fleeting nature only adds to, rather than subtracts from, its strange magic. It’s a good time. I can’t be angry about that.

Assassin's_Creed_film_posterAssassin’s Creed (2016)

Starring- Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Denis Menochet, Ariane Labed

Director- Justin Kurzel

PG-13- intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language


Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is surprised when he wakes up after being executed for murder, finding himself in the care of a secret scientific organization. It turns out he’s the only living descendant of the assassin Aguilar, the last known person to possess the Apple of Eden, an artifact said to have the power to end war and violence. By entering a machine called the Animus, Callum is able to relive Aguilar’s memories. In exchange for his freedom and a fresh start, he agrees to travel back to fifteenth century Spain and learn exactly what Aguilar did with the Apple of Eden — and why.

The best part of my week so far was when Assassin’s Creed ended half an hour earlier than the Netflix jacket incorrectly said it would.

Assassin’s Creed isn’t just the latest high-profile video game movie to let down the hopes we put on its shoulders, it’s possibly the best evidence that maybe this genre can’t work, at least, not in the way it’s been adapted to date.

“Adapted” is the critical word here, and mostly where Assassin’s Creed goes wrong, despite its high-profile cast and director and big budget. We place too much value on the faithfulness of an adaptation from book/TV show/video game/whatever to its source material, ignoring that the word “adaptation” literally means changing to fit new circumstances. Various artistic media don’t exist arbitrarily; they tell stories in different ways. When one crosses over to another, it cannot, by definition, recreate the experience; it must reshape it into something new.

The weird thing is that Assassin’s Creed appears to understand this to some extent. A quick perusal of the first game’s plot on Wikipedia shows that the movie has adapted it extremely loosely, with new characters and circumstances. Only the broadest possible outline is in any way similar. But most of those changes are arbitrary in the end, because inexplicably, the movie still binds itself to a plot structure much like that of a video game. The changes replace elements of the game’s story without streamlining them to better fit a movie.

I’m not quite the best person to judge the specifics of an adaptation of Assassin’s Creed, though I’m slightly better suited than with past video game movies I’ve reviewed. I’ve never played any of these games, but as a teenager, I watched one of my brothers play them in bits and pieces, enough that I have a basic sense of how they work, albeit little else.

The movie borrows the games’ framing device — your character lives in the present day, and most of the gameplay takes place in memories of various historical eras where you get to screw around and murder folks. Even though, from the protagonist’s perspective, none of what’s happening is technically “real,” the player ultimately determines what happens in any given sequence, which keeps the experience appropriately immersive.

With a movie, all you have is the characters’ perspectives — you aren’t directly involved, and therefore arrive at emotional investment vicariously, through the characters. So stop me when you see the obvious problem here — Assassin’s Creed consists mainly of prolonged action sequences in which negative progress is made; the protagonist is, by nature of the premise, totally unable to affect the outcome in any way; every scene is a foregone conclusion; and none of it is literally happening to the protagonist. What goes on in the Animus is completely irrelevant. You’re essentially spending over an hour watching a movie where the main character plays an impressive virtual reality video game that has no stakes and barely matters to the plot. He’s just sitting in Aguilar’s mind as an observer until his ancestor walks him to the Apple of Eden. There’s no particular skill to be mastered or lesson to be learned; any old idiot descended from an assassin would connect to the Animus and do exactly as well. Simply put, there’s no reason whatsoever to care about most of this movie.

I’m not saying this sort of premise is unworkable. The fact that the Animus is physically unreal to the characters does not rule out its emotional reality. The movie could develop what happens inside these memories, give the characters connections to people who are long dead and causes that are long lost, blur the line between memory and waking life. It could focus on what Callum learns in the Animus and how that affects the time he spends outside of it.

But instead, it adopts the familiar structure of your average video game — a plot that exists mainly as a thread moving players from one mission to the next rather than as its own entity. That often works within the storytelling needs of a video game (when the story is a point of focus for the game in question) — you have the gameplay, yes, but within that gameplay are opportunities to pick up narrative and character details here and there, some buried as rewards for the most thorough players and others more obvious. You have freedom to explore the world and discover new characters and plot details. A movie can’t do that — it’s focused, and we will see only what it chooses to show us.

Assassin’s Creed chooses to show us meaningless action sequences barely held together by a handful of largely expository segments in the “real” world. When Callum is in the Animus, it is only to participate in large-scale (and sometimes, admittedly, well-staged) action sequences; no one he meets matters, and he doesn’t form any emotional connection to what he sees there. He just goes in, fights for a bit, leaves, convinces a supporting character to give up more information about the reason he’s here, and repeats from step one. The movie doesn’t even use Aguilar’s memories in an instructive sort of way, slowly piecing together the mystery of the artifact — the action sequences exist solely for their own sake, on and on and on and on until the movie reaches the point in it run-time when the Apple of Eden needs to show up in one of them.

Again, my memory of the game is pretty loose, but I recall it maintained a certain mystique — you learned things as you played through it, you slowly figured out the larger significance of what you’re doing, you learned more about the motivations of the people you’re working for. The game was going somewhere, building up to something that made you want to keep playing so you could find out what it was. The movie just lays all its cards on the table from the word go. It isn’t a spoiler to say that the scientists who saved Callum from execution are members of the Knights Templar, sworn enemy of the assassins, and planning to use the artifact to erase free will and, thus, violence. You learn that within fifteen minutes of meeting them. The even stranger thing is that Callum is distantly aware of this as well, so the movie can’t even play that conflict for tension. All Callum does is decide which side he wants to be on. And there’s a movie in that, too, but again — he spends nearly the full run-time learning nothing and being given no reason to evolve as a person (not that the movie establishes him in any further detail than “generically angry and aggressive 90s-style antihero”). The movie has to summon an almost literal deus ex machina in order to force any kind of revelation on him.

So when it gets to the third act and the movie finally reaches the point where characters are involved in events that actually matter and can be changed, you still have no real reason to care about what’s going on. None of these people seem real, and their conflicts and causes become increasingly vague as the movie starts playing musical chairs with its motivations (one character appears to change sides twice in the space of literally about five minutes of run-time). And after all the overlong, irrelevant action sequences, the real-world climax, which is actually important in a narrative sense, is over in a flash, like the movie ran out of money or something.

Everything about Assassin’s Creed is calculated very strangely; I liked next to none of the choices made by its script. While it’s occasionally very good-looking (like I said, the action sequences are occasionally impressive, though Justin Kurzel is probably attacking them a little too fiercely, with such quick camera movement and editing that it gets easy to lose track of the characters amidst the chaos), its script forces me to settle for the ultimate critical cliche: It is, quite literally, a video game you can’t play.

Sandy_WexlerSandy Wexler (2017)

Starring- Adam Sandler, Jennifer Hudson, Kevin James, Terry Crews, Rob Schneider, Colin Quinn, Nick Swardson, Lamorne Morris

Director- Steven Brill


Hey, everyone, it’s me, your Sworn Knight of Reviewing Netflix Original Movies, back for another round! So, I got through The Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over and wrote some proper reviews for them and boy am I just done. Netflix is threatening me with, if my current count is correct, eight additional Adam Sandler movies, and I just can’t be alone in a room with nothing to occupy my mind other than Adam Sandler that many times or I’m going to end up institutionalized. This man surpassed Michael Bay as the darkest force in Hollywood a really long time ago. So screw it, we’re doing this live; anything more would be wasting too much precious thought. I might as well get ahead of the game and announce that henceforth, every Netflix Adam Sandler movie shall be reviewed in this manner, because I’m tired of declaring movies hot garbage and then trying to find an intelligent way of explaining why they are hot garbage (I’ll probably make an exception for the movie Noah Baumbach has inexplicably decided to do with him). I’m pretty sure these movies are written more or less stream of consciousness; they might as well be reviewed in the same way. You might not be in for an intelligent critique, but you may very well get an intensive character study of yours truly.

All right. It’s 7 p.m. I’m ready for this. Deep breaths. Let’s go.

7:02: Wait, this movie is over TWO HOURS LONG? I may have made a mistake.

7:05: Oh. This is the voice he’s going to do. I’m going to listen to this for two hours. Hoo boy.

7:10: So far, this movie’s only real joke is that Adam Sandler has an annoying voice and an even worse laugh. No one is saying or doing anything funny. Well, I mean, it’s an Adam Sandler movie, so I’m not expecting that anyone will, but still. I’m expecting them to at least say or do something they think is funny. They seem to think the voice is a sufficient substitute for humor. It is not.

7:10: Kevin James. Drink! (Actually, for medical reasons, I have to insist that you don’t.)

7:15: Well, we’re at the fifteen-minute mark, and I am fully done with this voice. All I hear is a prolonged nasal whine that I can pick words out of when I pay close attention, but my ears hurt even more whenever I try to.

7:18: Only in an Adam Sandler movie is “your voice is so beautiful it sounds like a bird and an angel had a baby” a joke so clever it needs to be repeated.

7:22: Really, I can only understand maybe half of what Adam Sandler is saying.

7:23: I guess I’m distantly impressed that someone mistook Sandy for gay and the movie didn’t immediately descend into the usual five minutes of gay panic. I’m taking what I can get here, guys. Thumbs up for you, movie. You get a cookie.

7:25: A Hammertime joke. That’s…topical.


7:28: They repeated the bird/angel joke again, which makes me think this is literally the only cleverness-adjacent line in this entire movie.

7:29: Adam Sandler Bumps Into Random People and Says Nothing Funny in an Annoying Voice: The Motion Picture.

7:31: Is this movie about anything? Or are we just going to watch variations of the same scene over and over again for two hours, or until spinal fluid starts leaking out of my ears, whichever comes first (smart money is on the latter)?

7:33: I’m not sure this movie has enough supporting characters for me to keep track of yet. I think it needs at least seventeen more. Get on that, movie.

7:37: Listening to Jennifer Hudson sing in between bouts of Adam Sandler honking is giving my ears whiplash.

7:38: That moment when two actors improvise, don’t successfully find a joke, and then mutually agree to just give it a rest and the whole ordeal makes the cut anyway.

7:39: Adam Sandler movies never met a joke they didn’t want to do at least a thousand times. It’s not like comedy is built on the element of surprise or something.

7:40: Oh, hey, I said that just in time for the fourth appearance of the bird/angel joke. The Lord giveth.


7:45: This joke too is worth doing twice. Never let a joke go to waste, that’s what I always say. They’re a finite resource.

7:52: I know we’re probably supposed to think that girl telling Sandy to enunciate was a jerk, but all I’m feeling at the moment is profound gratitude.

7:55: The dumb voice is the only joke. Adam Sandler is just saying random nonsense in a weird voice until he runs out of random nonsense to say.


8:00: I love listening to these characters talk about nothing. Their personalities are so deep and their perspectives so interesting. Even Richard Linklater would—ack! *suffocates on own vomit*

8:03: Generously, I recognize maybe half of the celebrities in the interview segments.

8:04: All of my nightmares tonight are going to be about Adam Sandler yelling at me.

8:10: We should listen to all of the characters saying that Adam Sandler shouldn’t be in the movie anymore. It would be an excellent directorial decision.

8:11: This is only occurring to me now, but why did Jennifer Hudson call Adam Sandler to come to her house because she thinks someone is stalking her when there was already someone there?

8:12: I feel like we’re entering the third-act dark night of the soul here, but there’s an hour of movie left. I trust that the writers of this Adam Sandler movie understand narrative structure well enough to know what they’re doing here. The last hour of this movie will not be boring and repetitive. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…

8:20: help me

8:22: nothing makes sense

8:24: I think Terry Crews is a charismatic guy and I’m just waiting for him to be in something that isn’t garbage so I can know for sure.

8:25: I’m starting to think this movie was made to subconsciously train assassins. If you put a gun in my hand and played a recording of Sandy Wexler’s laugh, I’d fire at whatever was in front of me and forget about it immediately. The guys in The Manchurian Candidate had to be forced to play solitaire in order to trigger their brainwashing. This is much more efficient.

8:29: This movie is actually about Jennifer Hudson, except most of her storyline happens entirely off-screen while we listen to Adam Sandler doing an impression of a duck.

8:33: I’m starting to understand the mindsets of men who put on one of those childbirth simulators on a dare. I have no one but myself to blame for this.

8:35. How much money do you think Terry Crews asked for in order to head butt an obese, half-naked dude’s jiggling, be-thonged rear end?

8:36: Okay but seriously when does this start to have a plot?

8:42: There’s still half an hour left. I feel like I’ve been watching this for four hours.

8:43: Adam Sandler is GOOD AT SEX did everyone get that? GOOD AT SEX.

8:44: Wow, the movie’s tone went from zero to sixty pretty quick there. Less than a minute ago, Sandy was in true love; now, he’s heartbroken and rejected. Yeah, I don’t know why we’d use time to develop important emotions when there’s all this NOTHING we can spend two hours on.

8:48: I’m running out of thoughts that aren’t profane.

8:52: Now I’m just running out of thoughts period.

8:53: Jennifer Hudson is in the movie again. It’s been a bit. How has her off-screen story advanced while we’ve been watching Sandy Wexler have no interesting experiences whatsoever, I wonder?

8:55: Ah, getting married. She’s met, fallen in love with, and gotten engaged to somebody we haven’t been introduced to. Some of that might have been interesting/emotional. I mean, probably not, but it’s something.

8:56: It’s been brought to my attention that Jennifer Hudson last appeared in this movie ten minutes ago. It feels like much longer than that. Hours longer. HOURS.


8:58: “So, okay, Weird Al is going to be in our movie, in a scene that is serious, and we won’t give him a single funny thing to do. Wait, where are you going? What? No, no, no, wait — it’ll be funny, because people know who Weird Al is, and seeing people you know is always hilarious! Hey, who turned off the lights?”

9:01: Oh, look, here’s Rob “Democrats Are the Real Racists” Schneider in brownface playing a lecherous Middle Eastern man. Give me a minute, let me check my calendar, oh, wait, it appears to be…yes, yes indeed, 2017! It is, in fact, 2017. Not that this is new; I think black may be the only race Schneider hasn’t played. I just don’t know why no one has vetoed this yet.

9:04: So, apparently, this movie has been about Sandy’s compulsive lying this entire time. That mostly just seemed like a dumb running gag and wasn’t referenced in a dramatic sense until five minutes ago. But I guess that’s our message here.

9:05: And now Jennifer Hudson is going to marry Sandy, so that scene where she said she was engaged to someone else had no purpose whatsoever and wasn’t even milked for drama. Stuff just happens in this movie. No rhyme or reason.

9:08: We’re close enough to the ending that every additional minute feels like a crime against humanity.

9:09: Especially since Adam Sandler is singing in that voice now. Jennifer Hudson is right there, guys. Just standing there.

9:10: I love the continued belief of Adam Sandler movies that anyone knows who Pauly Shore is anymore.

9:11: I hate this. I hate all of this. It is going to take a whole lot of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymores to earn my forgiveness for this, Netflix.

9:12: I’m done with this. With everything. I quit life.

Eight more of these. Eight.

Paterson_(film)Paterson (2016)

Starring- Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, William Jackson Harper, Chasten Harmon, Barry Shabaka Henley, Rizwan Manji, Masatoshi Nagase

Director- Jim Jarmusch

R- some language


A week in the life of New Jersey bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver) and his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani).

Writing about Paterson intimidates me. It’s a movie about poetry that is itself much like poetry. It resists dissection or explanation. Its command over me was such that it felt like a confident challenge — “I dare you to even try.” Usually, a short review indicates that I just didn’t have much to say about the movie in question, which in turn tends to indicate that the movie in question is mediocre. That couldn’t be further from the truth in the case of Paterson. The problem isn’t that I have too little to say; it’s that I barely know where to start. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand it (though its depth and attention to detail make it nearly impossible to experience it fully in only one viewing) but that I understood it in this incredibly spiritual sense that I don’t know how to put into words. The problem isn’t that the movie has no meaning but that it has so much meaning, constantly shifting and deepening and remaining subject to its viewers’ personal interpretations. I could go through every scene and opine at length about each one, resulting in a short book that only ever flirts with having a larger point. Whenever I get close to some sort of thesis regarding Paterson, I find myself at a loss to explain its quiet, unconventional beauty. It’d almost be more appropriate to respond to it with a song or a painting than to put it under a spotlight and try to strip it down to its functional parts.

It isn’t a question of whether it “works.” It does, and it doesn’t. It isn’t communicating in those channels. It isn’t a movie you watch so much as live in and filter through your own experiences. It’s a slice of life drama about everyday, average people in an everyday, average world — even more so than the other films I’d describe similarly. Usually, such movies, grounded as they are, at least focus on their characters during a particularly memorable time in their lives. Paterson just picks any old week, and only in the final reel does it reach a point where characters are having experiences they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. Even then, it’s nothing all that extraordinary.

Explaining its effect, then, its beauty and the strange but comforting spell it cast over me for two hours, proves difficult. It isn’t a film of form and function; it’s made of more ethereal stuff than that. Fortunately, I love a film that forces me to deliberately seek out other perspectives, and it was the words of poets, people like the movie’s eponymous protagonist, who best helped me to understand the sway it held over me. I can’t critique poetry. I know very little about it. I only know when it moves me and when it doesn’t. Paterson is like that. It isn’t storytelling or theme; it’s visual poetry. It’s like a song that proceeds from verse to chorus to verse and back again — it sinks into the familiar and ritual structure of its characters’ lives and continually finds new ways to color in those boxes. It follows them into the small moments that define any given day, finding joy in silence or the conversation of strangers, wandering in and out of conflicts of others that don’t concern you and will always remain a question mark in your head. It’s about the people with whom you share some sort of important moment and then never see again. It posits the bus driver as a kind of bridge between worlds, someone who connects all the people of the city, who knows them, if only for a moment, who hears what they say and interprets what they do and then carries them around; Paterson, as a poet, then retreats into solitude and makes magic of it.

The film as a whole does something similar with the rigors of everyday living, committing them to a canvas of emotion, framing the different elements against one another so that they develop their own meter and verse, showing how beauty pokes its head into the mundane, finding commonality in people that binds us through our chaos and complexity. Sometimes, it sees darkness on the horizon, but it faces it with its chin up. It says much when it’s silent, and volumes when it isn’t.

What is it, why is it, how is it, how do the parts connect and make it work? It’s irrelevant, and almost reductive. Paterson defies that sort of analysis and in so doing stands entirely alone in the cinematic landscape of 2016. Cast yourself aside and dive in.