Posts Tagged ‘movie reviews’

The_Great_Wall_(film)The Great Wall (2017)

Starring- Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Hanyu Zhang, Lu Han

Director- Zhang Yimou

PG-13- sequences of fantasy action violence


A traveling mercenary stumbles upon the Great Wall of China, only to find its armies locked in a battle against a horde of monstrous creatures, fighting not only for the future of their nation but that of the entire world.

Want to read the rest of this review? Head over to my new website. It’s about to become the permanent home for all things Writers Block Parade. The website you’re reading right now will be no more within just a few weeks.

Blame-Anime-Film-VisualBlame! (2017)
Starring- Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Sora Amamiya, Mamoru Miyano, Aya Suzaki, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Nanako Mori, Kazuhiro Yamaji
Director- Hiroyuki Seshita

Centuries after humanity’s mechanized society malfunctioned and turned on its creators, a group of people live in a village on a sub-level of the machines’ Endless City, eking out a meager existence while struggling to avoid the robotic Exterminators that hunt them. Everything changes when a group of foragers stumbles upon another survivor, a mysterious loner on a mission to bring the machines back under humanity’s control.

What, you thought you were going to read a review? Well, you aren’t — not here anyway. You’ll have to go to my new website for that. Because this one’s shutting down in a few short weeks! Ain’t I a stinker?

It also occurs to me that this will be a great way to find out who’s actually reading these reviews and who’s just liking them in the hopes that I’ll check out their sites…

Anyway, go over there and follow me! More of the same, hopefully in addition to some interesting new content, over at my new location! Thanks!

The_Founder_posterThe Founder (2016)

Starring- Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Justin Randell Brooke, Kate Kneeland, Patrick Wilson, Griff Furst, Wilbur Fitzgerald

Director- John Lee Hancock

PG-13- brief strong language


How Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) stole the idea for McDonald’s and built a fast food empire.

Remember David O. Russell’s Joy in 2015? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, The Founder has the same core problem: a nearly magical reverence for a silly product that walks the whole thing right up to the edge of self-parody and keeps it there. There’s a scene early on where Ray Kroc tours the McDonald brothers’ first restaurant and the movie shares in his awestruck wonder at the sight of garbage hamburgers being made very quickly, like we’re witnessing the Wright brothers’ first flight; from that moment on, I knew this movie and I were going to have problems. I was right, for the most part.

Though The Founder isn’t all that bad in most other respects; it just never overcomes its unstable mixture of original ideas that don’t quite work and its tendency toward convention. Believe it or not, there’s actually a halfway interesting story buried in here; I’m just not sure John Lee Hancock, traditionally a director of sweet, middle-of-the-road Oscar bait, the sort of movies your grandparents like, is the best fit for it. Of course, the mere act of tackling a true story with shades of The Social Network, mixed with the message of The Wolf of Wall Street, makes The Founder Hancock’s most interesting film in a while, maybe ever, but still not as interesting as it would be under the guidance of someone better able to capture the darkness and cynicism such a story requires.

If it has any kind of thesis, it’s that Ray Kroc was a complete bastard, and it goes quite a long way toward proving that point. The movie halfway functions as a two-hour Adam Ruins Everything on McDonald’s, except that everyone already knew McDonald’s was terrible; this will merely expand your understanding of its terribleness to include that Kroc stole a couple of small-town entrepreneurs’ idea out from under them, used legal loopholes to take near-complete control of a company of which they were part-owners, accumulated so much money that he knew he could ruin them if they rightfully sued him, eventually bought them out, denied them the annual royalties from the company they founded, made them legally incapable of putting their own name on future restaurants, and finally, because he was a bastard, opened a McDonald’s across the street from their local burger joint and put them out of business. The Founder isn’t quite trying to make you hate this guy; he is, after all, the protagonist, and the movie tries to get at some core part of his humanity. But it never makes him out to be misunderstood or wounded. He’s a fairly ordinary person at the start; the movie simply tracks the ways in which he increasingly gains access to the resources and power that enable him to become worse. And there is a story there — parts of this movie reminded me a bit of the Martin Scorsese tactic Film Crit Hulk talked about in that article I shared a few weeks ago, criticizing its subject by making the best possible argument for it and showing the ways in which it still falls short. What Silence was to religious faith, The Founder tries to be/accidentally is to capitalism, basically arguing that predation is inherent to the system, that every decision Kroc makes is the right one from a business standpoint, and that in order for the economy to work, someone has to screw over the McDonald brothers of the world. Capitalism is where the dreams of innocent guys who just want to make burgers goes to die, basically. And seeing that from Kroc’s perspective makes it a little more difficult to write him off as a horrible person. A little more. Because what he says and does makes sense and may even be necessary, so is his only crime that he enjoys it a little too much?

It’s more thought-provoking than your average Hancock movie, and I appreciate it in that sense. I just think it, like the McDonald brothers, doesn’t know exactly what it has on its hands — how close it is, how fascinating this story could be, how unique and memorable. Compared to other “bad guy gets everything he wants, dies happy” movies, like The Wolf of Wall Street, it doesn’t involve its audience as well, doesn’t implicate viewers as the ones who necessitate, enable, and ultimately justify the behavior of those who exploit us to wealth and power. There’s no challenge here, not even one that goes inward, targeting Kroc himself — as a character study, it never gets to the root of what makes him the man he is; it never invites us to relate to specific flaws he has that turn him toward a dark path. He’s a ruthless businessman who becomes even more ruthless, and the movie fails to establish why that should be important to us.

Other than that, it’s a fairly typical biopic, one that covers the basics without communicating their significance. There’s the main character, and then there’s a bevy of historical figures included because they were there when it happened but not given much weight as a part of the story being told. Laura Dern’s part (Kroc’s first wife) is like a case study in female representation in media; not for one single, solitary second of this movie’s run-time does she get to do anything other than look sad because her husband is not paying attention to her.

All in all, The Founder lands in that unfortunate ground where it’s more than I expected and less than it should be — it resolves one’s doubts quickly enough to disappoint you when it doesn’t do much more than that. I GUESS IT’S KIND OF LIKE WHEN YOU GO TO MCDONALD’S BECAUSE YOU’RE REALLY HUNGRY AND IT TASTES GOOD BUT THEN YOU START TO FEEL LIKE IT WAS A BAD IDEA okay I’ll stop now.

REMINDER: Don’t worry; I didn’t forget! Here’s the more formal announcement — The Founder officially wraps up 2016 for me. I still want to see Asghar Farhadi’s latest, but Netflix doesn’t even have a date on that yet, so it isn’t worth holding out until then. That means Writers Block Parade has one more 2016 post — the Top 20 — forthcoming. After that, I’m shutting it down. I still can’t say when that will be. I want to re-watch the 2016 movies to which I have access to finalize it. I’d say the Top 20 is up by mid-June at the latest. I am prepared to announce this much — the site will be shut down a week after I publish that post. I’m moving to Follow me there for continued musings. Thank you!

The_official_poster_for_the_film_Hidden_Figures,_2016Hidden Figures (2016)

Starring- Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell

Director- Theodore Melfi

PG- thematic elements and some language


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The story of three black women whose efforts were critical to John Glenn’s successful orbit of Earth during the Space Race.

Exactly what I expected it to be, but in a good way. There’s value in simple, uplifting, unchallenging stories of human triumph. Hidden Figures just looked like a nice movie, and it is indeed very nice — very sweet, charming and lightweight. Not great, not particularly memorable, certainly not the confrontational civil rights film this generation needs, but even so, perhaps the spot of hope it needs.

The secondary nature of the racism and sexism touched upon here actually gives Hidden Figures a little room to breathe, to be something other than the stereotypical social issues Oscar drama that repurposes historical oppression for entertaining sentimentality and reassurance that all of this is totally over and we don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s okay that the movie isn’t all that in-your-face because it isn’t really about those things.

It truly is just an honorific for these three women, a celebration of who they were and what they accomplished, an attempt to take these people who were crucial to a major chapter of American history and bring them out of the shadows. Of course it acknowledges the facts of the culture and society they lived in; it has to. But it doesn’t define them by those things — these women are remarkable not because they experienced bigotry, and they’re aren’t even remarkable because they thrived in spite of it; they’re remarkable because they just are. They were brilliant, they put in the work, they fought for what they believed in, they stayed the course, and they made material contributions to humanity’s future without expectation of reward. The movie is about them, and that’s why it succeeds — it gets to the core of who they were and why they ought to be national heroes and doesn’t distract itself. It portrays them as something more than victims awaiting rescue at the hands of compassionate and righteous white people. It isn’t fixated on the novelty of “look — a black person who succeeded, or a woman who succeeded!” It only cares about these characters as people, and despite its saccharine nature, there’s something admirable about that. The film’s joy is infectious, the sense it carries that the filmmakers discovered this neat little story buried beneath the wide sweep of history and just wanted to share it with the world. It’s unpretentious in the best possible way.

Its greatest successes are in its characters and cast — fitting, given that they’re the point of this exercise. Movies like this tend to be a little austere and thus to lose their humanity amidst their need to say something Very Serious, so I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed and connected with these characters. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Goble Johnson as the no-joke genius of the group, a quietly brilliant woman who tends to avoid confrontation and not rock the board, who forgoes much of what she wants in life because she lacks the assertiveness to make it happen. She acts as the film’s emotional anchor — her calm is our calm, and when she gets excited, we know it’s serious.

Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer does her usual thing, which I could watch all day. In her hands, Dorothy Vaughn is the member of the trio you don’t mess with, the one who commits to whatever she has to do to survive and thrive, who works and studies so hard that she’ll secretly take over the entire operation before you even realize it’s happened. She’s the one who puts in the time and takes away any excuse her superiors might have for favoring others over her. She also knows how to deal wisely with the various power structures in her path; she knows when to keep her head down and when to declare that the buck stops here.

It’s Janelle Monae, as Mary Jackson, who makes the biggest impression. Mary is the one who makes sure Katherine and Dorothy are still enjoying life a little on the side. She’s sharp-witted and quick with a sarcastic remark; she isn’t shy and is impossible to embarrass. She’s also a fighter, more reckless than Dorothy, but someone needs to be. It isn’t a matter of picking battles; where injustice exists, she’ll arm up and charge into battle. When she wants something, she won’t stop until she has it. Monae ultimately steals just about every scene she’s in; she’s the funniest and most charismatic character by far, and a major high point of the film as a whole.

(And, of course, there’s plenty of solid work from the able supporting cast — whether that’s Kevin Costner’s ability to take charge of a room, Jim Parsons transitioning decently into more serious work, and Mahershala Ali continuing his need to give his agent a big, big raise.)

The script itself is in need of a bit more work. In functioning primarily as a list of its characters’ accomplishments, it occasionally starts to feel more like a series of incidents than a story. It also contends somewhat awkwardly with its biggest inherent challenge — people don’t understand math, so a story centered on data and equations has its work cut out for it setting the stakes and making sure viewers feel the progression of events. Mostly, Hidden Figures ignores the math, so audiences’ understanding of what’s going on is mainly restricted to “it’s very important, just trust us.” Fortunately, its focus is almost entirely on its characters, and its big, sappy heart is tough to resist.

It’s all a bit fluffy, but there’s a place for undemanding, feel-good historical dramas in the current climate. There probably isn’t a future classic anywhere in here, but it’s a great time in the present, certainly must-see family viewing, especially for those with little girls. All it is, in the end, is a story I’m glad I know now. That’s more than sufficient.

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Starring- Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn

Director- James Gunn

PG-13- sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content


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The Guardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) — face a new set of challenges when Quill bumps into Ego (Kurt Russell), a celestial being who also happens to be the father he never knew.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will not win any new converts, and for once, I mean that in the best possible way — if you thought the first one was too weird, too trippy, too silly, just wait until you get a load of this. Only when a director has earned significant clout — or a franchise has a big enough built-in fanbase to guarantee profits no matter what — does a massive-budget blockbuster go this far off its rocker. Guardians 2 is the most delightfully insane blockbuster this side of Mad Max: Fury Road, and while it isn’t operating anywhere near that level of craftsmanship, God help me, I loved it.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite tentpole films of the last several years; it’s exactly what I want out of my effects-driven junk food. By comparison, Guardians 2 is less consistent in its execution but also considerably more ambitious, so as far as I’m concerned, it evens out. The first movie is fairly straightforward; it exists in the same gleeful, boyish headspace throughout most of its runtime and mostly paints inside the lines, just with uncommon vibrancy. If it was a sci-fi action movie with a lot of comedy, Guardians 2 is a comedy with a lot of sci-fi action — except for when it gets weirdly emotional.

That’s the contradiction it invokes — it’s somehow both a lighter and darker version of its predecessor. It just depends on the scene. And despite running that far up and down the spectrum, it’s strangely graceful — it has room for the larger-than-life humor and the considerably more grounded drama.

Anyone worried that Marvel would moderate the tone somewhat now that Guardians of the Galaxy is one of its flagship film series (I would love to travel back in time a decade and a half and tell a comic book nerd that) will be relieved within the first five minutes — one of the most purely enjoyable opening sequences in recent memory, in which the Guardians battle a giant monster entirely in the background while Baby Groot dances to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” If anything, Guardians 2 has doubled down on the original’s excesses — this is not, for the most part, a movie that takes itself at all seriously. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon of a motion picture, filled with slapstick, bumbling villains, and catastrophic antiheroes who still haven’t gotten far beyond the emotional maturity level of a thirteen-year-old.

Its strength, as with the original, is in its characters. The secret to these movies’ success — quite a lot of Marvel movies, actually — is that James Gunn understands these characters and knows exactly how to play them off one another, and how to to inflict them upon an unsuspecting galaxy. Their interactions are hilarious but also feel true on some level; they have a very specific relationship that makes it easy for the script to establish and develop their dysfunctional personalities. This entry also makes it clear that Gunn knows how to introduce new characters into that dynamic — I’m very excited to see what future entries do with the new Guardian, Mantis (Pom Klementieff). She’s an isolated being who’s never really socialized outside of Ego, and she also has empathic abilities, so the Guardians are essentially teaching her how people interact and introducing her to the concept of emotions, which…yeah, goes about as well as you’d expect (they can basically say or do whatever they want to her and then just tell her everyone acts like this, and they take full advantage of that). She’s funny here, and I suspect she’ll be a scene-stealer in future sequels, once the Guardians’ backwards behavior and broken logic are the entire foundation of her personality.

The returning characters are the same greatness, but expanded upon. I think Chris Pratt has the same problem I increasingly believe Ryan Gosling has — he keeps getting cast as a leading man, but he’s at his best when his character is at least kind of a loser. Star-Lord is the perfect middle ground — competent in action, but nowhere near as cool as he thinks he is, and his interactions with Ego really bring out the character’s endearing dorkiness. Gamora still functions more or less as the straight-man, the only member of the crew getting frustrated with everyone else’s antics, but her kind-of-sort-of-not-really thing with Quill and the narrative choices the movie makes give her life outside of her comedic function, which was somewhat missing from the original. Rocket is still mean and fragile, a volatile combination that makes for great comedy and occasionally great drama. Baby Groot is just as spacey and weird as the original, combined with a newfound inability to understand what anyone is telling him (Drax perhaps summarizes it best when he calls him “smaller, dumber Groot”). And much as there are those who dance and those who don’t, there are two types of people in this world: those who recognize that Drax the Destroyer is the greatest fictional character of all time, and those who are incorrect. Reason No. 82 of roughly four million why I am not in charge of the Motion Picture Academy is that I would probably try to give former professional wrestler Dave Bautista an Oscar for what Drax does to my funny bone. Even his first line in the movie had me in stitches. His blunt honesty is so undiscerning, he’s impossible to embarrass, and he suffers from one of the most specific cases of dumb-smart I’ve seen in a character like this. Seriously, how often is the muscle the funniest character in the movie?

I’m even more impressed with the way the movie takes Yondu (Michael Rooker), a mostly unmemorable supporting character the first time around, and not only foregrounds and deepens him but hangs a significant portion of its emotional weight on his shoulders — and actually pulls it off.

Also — and you’d better buckle in for this one — a Marvel movie with a functional, interesting villain, who has a compelling connection with the heroes and is capable of meaningfully tempting them toward the darkness! I was starting to think there was a law against that. Anyway, the less said about that, the better; it’s best left a surprise.

In short, the cast once again perfectly matches the anarchic fun that comprises the majority of Guardians 2 — it’s fast-paced, hilarious, playful, and visually the best-looking Marvel movie to date (that may sound like faint praise given the wonky direction that has defined a bit too much of the MCU, but Guardians 2 is good-looking by the standards of movies in general, the neon colors of the 70s splashed across the canvas of a modern sci-fi flick).

But then, in the last half hour or so, Guardians 2 suddenly gets very emotional…and I’m not sure how, but it actually kind of works? More than “kind of,” actually — it’s some of the strongest stuff in either of these movies. The first movie, in keeping things simple, made the characters’ personal baggage secondary; it wasn’t about broken people fixing themselves so much as finding a home with each other. Guardians 2 actually forces its heroes to confront their flaws, and does so in a surprisingly organic and effective way. Of the bunch, only Quill’s abandonment issues resolve themselves in a way that feels trite, or at least generic. Meanwhile, Yondu wrestles with his legacy — the person he’s been, what he wants to be, the things he regrets about the way he raised Quill as well as the things he cherishes. He and Rocket (who I will remind you, once again, is a talking raccoon) find a strange sort of brotherhood in this regard, both of them deliberately driving people away because of how they were hurt and exploited in the past. Gamora and her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), a minor villain from the first movie, are thrust back together and act out a surprisingly nuanced story of siblings dealing with the long-term effects of their abusive parents and how that mistreatment affected the way they see each other, one child having been the less-abused “favorite.” And the movie allows the over-the-top comedy to play a part in this, which makes the shift feel less jarring — Drax’s exuberance only highlights the moments when something triggers a memory of his family and the light suddenly drains from his face. After the first movie, you’d be forgiven for going into this unprepared for these characters to make you cry, but consider yourself warned that they very well might — and you’ll probably be surprised which ones, too.

There’s a critical problem, though — the reason Vol. 2 is a bit more uneven than the first — and you can easily identify it with a close study of the above plot description: There kind of isn’t one. Guardians 2 is a movie that needs its third-act reveal in order to give it something to be about; prior to that, it just wanders. It makes the mistake of separating the Guardians, for one thing, and then otherwise either avoids intensive conflict or invents uninteresting conflict to keep from becoming an extra-weird relationship drama. So, Star-Lord is hanging out with his father and occasionally having tense exchanges with Gamora as they figure out what their relationship is; Drax and Mantis are on the same planet but off to themselves, doing their own thing; Rocket, Groot, and Yondu are halfway across the galaxy dealing with Yondu’s mutinous crew; and there’s an alien race pursuing everyone. There are essentially two plots here: the opening half-hour, which moves the characters to Ego’s planet, and then the third-act reveal, which sets the climax in motion. Both are excellent, but that makes the middle third’s slack quality even more noticeable. There’s fun to be had, of course, because the characters are enjoyable and the movie never runs out of absurd things to show you, but it isn’t going anywhere or building to much of anything, and the secondary villains aren’t particularly threatening and don’t really matter to begin with. The movie enters a bit of a lull until it shifts gears for the final reel. It’s rarely boring, but there could definitely be more to it.

Even so, the movie’s uniqueness and — yes — intelligence more than make up for it. Most of the time, it’s a fantastic ride, and when it’s through with that, it’s surprisingly engaging. Guardians 2 doesn’t want you to know how smart it is, but it is, in fact, very smart. And fun, and funny, and well-acted, and it has that “heart” we always seem to be looking for in our action comedies. Not quite a sequel better than the original, but still, in a lot of ways, how sequels should be done.

The_Girl_with_All_the_Gifts_posterThe Girl with All the Gifts (2017)

Starring- Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua, Anamaria Marinca, Dominique Tipper, Fisayo Akinade, Anthony Welsh

Director- Colm McCarthy

R- disturbing violence/bloody images, and language


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In search for a cure for the plague of the undead that decimated humanity, scientists in a military installation study infected children who have nevertheless retained their ability to feel and reason — despite their no-less ravenous hunger for human flesh. When the undead overrun the facility, one of the children, a particularly bright girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), finds herself on the run with a group including her kindly teacher, the chief scientist, and a handful of soldiers.

The Girl with All the Gifts isn’t quite the kick in the pants the by-now thoroughly stale zombie genre needs, but it’s good enough to serve as a reminder why such stories are, much like their monsters, doggedly clinging to life.

That’s because its strength and its weakness are one and the same. It both transcends and succumbs to its formula, just in different respects. It has just enough flashes of inspiration to begin justifying its existence, but not quite enough to completely overpower one’s zombie fatigue.

In some areas, it blazes new trails; in others, it does the same old thing. There’s enough life in the former and enough functionality in the latter that the movie comes through pretty well in the end.

The premise is certainly unique. There are so many zombie movies out there that I’m sure “thinking zombies” have been done before (don’t some of the later George Romero movies start to play with that idea? I’ve only ever seen Night of the Living Dead); regardless, it hasn’t been done recently, or to death, and there’s no definitive film built on that idea. So The Girl with All the Gifts gets a lot of mileage out of the concept of the tormented flesh-eating monster, a thinking, feeling being who just happens to suffer from an insatiable urge to eat the living. It’s partially a “zombies as the Incredible Hulk” story, centered on a fundamentally human character with an uncontrollable beast living inside of her. The movie also clears space to cast doubt around its protagonist, forcing you to question whether her humanity is genuine or, as the scientists posit, learned behavior serving as nothing more than a means to a bloody end. (Although this is a double-edged sword, and the movie probably waits too long to definitively confirm this — at a certain point, you just need to understand the protagonist).

The premise also triggers a moral dilemma that powers the drama — there are now, in essence, two species competing for space on the planet, human beings and these infected children, and their survival is increasingly becoming a zero-sum game. The experiments through which scientists are slowly synthesizing a cure result in the subject’s death. Melanie has a foot in both camps, an affinity for humanity centered on her sympathetic teacher and the universal, ingrained need to survive — and thus, a choice to make. And I’m glad that the movie eventually forces its characters to play their hand and offers no easy way out of this scenario.

That said, most of its story ends up being standard zombie horror fare — eventually, the characters are stranded outside the safety of their walls, and we follow a small group of them as they move from Point A to Point B and the undead gradually thin their numbers. There are spurts of originality here and there, trying to reshape the plot into something more novel, but the movie never quite figures out what it wants to do.

The characters follow suit: Some of them are interesting, and some of them are types. Unfortunately, there are more of the latter than the former. You have the major sympathetic characters who will probably survive the movie, the minor sympathetic characters who are slated for death in order to set the stakes, and the unsympathetic characters bound for a bit of poetic justice. The movie places some of them in an interesting context: Glenn Close’s morally questionable scientist is the same as every other morally questionable scientist who’s ever been in a movie like this, but at least her reasoning is explored to the point of being sympathetic. The survival of humanity does kind of depend on what she’s doing; the movie isn’t afraid to ask questions about what is and isn’t off-limits in the name of preserving our species. It would be even more interesting if the script had any interesting counterpoints to her arguments; her chief opposition, Melanie’s teacher, is just generically good and kind and sweet and wonderful and not well-positioned to challenge her.

Other than them, the supporting cast is mostly fodder, standing around and waiting to die. The notable exception, and the overall MVP of the film, is Paddy Considine, who, as the officer in charge of the military installation, makes the film’s most readily stereotypical character its most dynamic and interesting. It isn’t his work alone; the script has a lot of excellent ideas for the character. He’s initially presented as you’d expect: the hard-edged army guy who will do what it takes to protect his own, as well as humanity’s future; will sacrifice anyone he feels he has to in pursuit of that goal; hates the outsider protagonist for what she is; and is fated for final villain status and a bloody death at the hands of the zombies while the heroes struggle to enact a more humane solution. But this movie has the gall to actually attempt to make this character sympathetic, and the result ends up being its heart and soul. Actually, most of this movie’s arc is centered on him; it tries to invest in Melanie to the best of its ability, but by the time it decides exactly how human she is, there isn’t much room to establish the necessary character psychology. Considine’s character starts out a stereotype and then slowly peels back layers — and also changes. Prolonged exposure to Melanie challenges his perception of her as essentially being an animal that fakes humanity very well; eventually, a strange sort of rapport forms between the two, one that’s rich with condescension and mistrust but grounded in a mutual respect for one another’s dignity. In a weird way, he becomes the movie’s most relatable character, and the one through which its questions about what makes us human are most clearly expressed.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that the girl has some gifts but not quite all of them, and I’m okay with that. I’ll show myself out now.

Handsome_A_Netflix_Mystery_Movie_posterHandsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (2017)

Starring- Jeff Garlin, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Sedaris, Leah Remini, Christine Woods, Steven Weber, J.J. Totah, Ava Acres, Timm Sharp

Director- Jeff Garlin


REMINDER: This website is moving and will be shut down in the near future! You can now find me at Please follow me there for continued updates. Thank you!

L.A. detective Gene Handsome (Jeff Garlin) investigates the gruesome murder of his neighbor’s babysitter.

Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie continues the trend of Netflix originals that are too messy to love but too strange to immediately dismiss — they’re always out of focus, throwing their bizarre plots and off-kilter tone at you one scene after another until there’s so much to pick apart that it takes days to—hey, wait a minute, this is the introduction I wrote for Small Crimes, what the heck?

Yeah, this is definitely the weirdest of the consistent threads I see in Netflix’s current slate of originals. Their distribution model seems to have made them a haven for artists to cut loose with their most bizarre ideas and release them completely untouched. Part of me kind of appreciates that; it’s resulted in a number of movies that are just about unprecedented (for the life of me, I still have no idea if I liked Girlfriend’s Day, but it was the only film of its kind that will ever exist). Part of me is still unconvinced, because I’m not sure that any of these movies have ever been good — sometimes likable, yes, but all over the place. At some point, there needs to be a filter somewhere, someone discerning enough to give shape to these uneven projects. I’m also starting to wonder if Netflix’s strategy is taking the stakes out of it a little bit — with any other distributor, most of these movies would be a gigantic risk, but here, they’re not. As such, filmmakers get to realize their vision, but it doesn’t always feel like the necessary heart and devotion went into it. The movies are just a little too leisurely.

I think that’s my main problem with Handsome. Some parts of it work, a lot of parts of it are interesting, but it too often feels like a bunch of friends were like, “Hey, let’s turn on a camera and film ourselves doing funny things! Won’t that be fun?” I’m not saying those involved in this production were cynical or unexcited about what they were doing; the movie just lacks the “labor” part of the “labor of love,” seeming entitled to its own existence and like it doesn’t have to struggle, to justify itself, to establish a sense of purpose. It’s all too relaxed and comfortable, despite its eccentricity.

Said eccentricity has been enough to rescue some of these Netflix originals; they’re just too interesting to throw aside, even if they don’t work. Unfortunately, I don’t think Handsome’s specific variety of strangeness is compelling enough to smooth over its flaws.

It isn’t bad. It’s hit or miss. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; in the end, it’s weighted just barely too heavily in the latter direction for my taste. Its sense of humor is very particular, but it definitely got some laughs out of me, mostly through the performances. It features what I can only describe as “artfully bad” acting, comedians and other funny people pretending to be hard-edged film noir character and playing everything with an exaggerated posture that smacks of community theatre — but in a loving, well-balanced sort of way. The writing is funny on occasion, but it’s the actors who sell it.

Otherwise, the script isn’t quite as sharp as it needs to be. It isn’t really a parody so much as “film noir except funny,” and that lack of direction leaves the comedy hanging. It isn’t always sure what’s funny about a scene, so instead, it plays things straight and awkwardly shoehorns comedy into it wherever it can. It’s trying a little too hard, straining to make jokes out of nothing and fit them into the rhythm of a given scene or stretching good one-scene bits into ill-advised running gags (“characters talking about something serious lapse into talking about something stupid and oddly specific before returning to the main point” is cute at first, but the tenth or eleventh time, it just feels like an obstacle to the plot”). I’m not sure why certain characters or scenes are in the movie. Some are introduced and then disappear, others stick around but with no clear purpose. The movie is always making decisions I don’t understand. Even the opening scene confuses me — literally the first line of dialogue in the movie tells you in no uncertain terms who the killer is, immediately resolving the central plot. And it isn’t pulling a Memento, where it shows you the ending first and then slowly changes the context over the course of the film until you see it in a completely different light. No, Handsome ends more or less how you expect. So what’s going on with the opening? It robs the movie of its most interesting plot device and makes every scene feel like wheel-spinning. Is it a joke? What’s funny about it?

It’s a bit of a step backward in the end. Netflix has been getting a little more cinematic as time goes on, but Handsome is another production that feels like it belongs on television. As stated, it’s far from the worst thing ever, and I can imagine someone enjoying it — it’s funny often enough that even I didn’t hate the time I spent watching it. But it’s still too underwhelming to recommend.