May 2013 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Oliver Stone: Comandante (2003)

Oliver Stone takes a break from fiction to spend three days interviewing Fidel Castro as he goes about Cuba in Comandante.Poppa C is gonna make it all okKyle Commentary BannerComandante is wonderful propaganda, and I don't necessarily mean that in a negative way. Stone forecasts his film as such from the earliest frames as a sort of response to the anti-Castro propaganda of the U.S. during the Communist hysteria of the '50s and '60s. The title sequence of the movie takes this form, looking like something from a newsreel with pulpy typeface and crashing dramatic music as “Comandante” wipes boldly across the screen.

While we do get occasional glimpses of real propaganda films from the '60s scattered throughout, Stone's approach is a bit more subtle, preferring mostly recorded conversation to do the work of the movie. Make no mistake, this about as one-sided as it gets—aside from a few very gentle questions on controversial events or policies (none of which ever involve more pressing or detailed follow ups), Castro is essentially given the stage to appeal to the audience for the entire running time. As a complex and nuanced look at a major and divisive figure, the movie would fail miserably, but Stone's goal—in certain ways more interesting—is to simply let the man present himself without a critical lens (or at least to make it seem this way). I have no doubt that he wants to portray Castro in a surprising and positive light, and he's a good enough filmmaker that his efforts to deliberately play into Castro's own manipulation of the audience make for interesting meta-viewing.

There are times where Castro is not only very convincing, but also very likeable. He comes off as a soft, almost naïvely humble man whose genuine goal is moving his country forward. There are other times, mostly later in the film, where this carefully cultivated persona risks cracking as his answers to Stone's questions become more vague and politician-speak starts to slip in more heavily. As soon as he is presented with a question that may lead into darker territory, he amps up the “what, me?” gentleness and deflects.

The interesting thing about the film is more how Stone takes a man who was once considered a prominent threat to America and paints him in a light where this idea seems utterly ludicrous. Scenes like one where Castro opens a box he “used to carry a gun in” to find candy inside, which he offers to the crew, are as funny as they are manipulative — showing the man's ability to engage in a friendly way with the film crew, people they meet in the streets, etc. proves nothing under any critical scrutiny, but, well, dammit he seems like such a nice guy.

It also helps that Stone has a likeable and significant screen presence when we see him, because to some extent that makes the illusion that we're seeing the “real” Castro more believable. A transcript of the more politically focused conversations would read like a timid student interview for a college newspaper—but with the careful ordering of scenes, the way we're introduced to Castro not as a political figure but as a nice old man, and the way Stone plays with editing as a distraction during his answers, we're pushed to take everything as a casual conversation between friends, and all the more trustworthy.

None of this is in support or condemnation of Castro, because again, the movie isn't interested in providing a full or complex enough picture of the man to have an argument one way or the other. But in posing as an effort simply to give him a platform to present himself, it becomes an interesting document.


Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Lay the diary bareAndrew LIKE Banner Even though I've been a longtime defender of the Twilight film series (film being the important word) I approached Beautiful Creatures with intense trepidation.  We've been flooded with story after story of moody lovers constantly in fear of being wretched apart by mystical forces beyond their control.  But there was a weird energy about the trailer that I liked, a sense of humor that seemed warm, and a pair of genuinely likable leads.  That nervousness led to an unexpectedly great film, and one that boasts a number of surprisingly fun and effective twists.

I should move forward with a warning for you all.  Any film with a protagonist obsessed with either Kurt Vonnegut or Charles Bukowski rarely fails.  Toss in some of that luscious South Carolina landscape and so many actors hamming it up with accents from the same and I weaken further by charm.  Those of you immune or, worse, annoyed by any of those details may best seek entertainment elsewhere.

For me?  I was a pig in slop watching most of the film, and then quietly impressed that a film which started as a seemingly knock-off entertainment boasted a deeper side.


Dark Skies (2013)

Brought to you from the Producer of Paranormal ActivityAndrew DISLIKE BannerThere is not a single shred of originality in Dark Skies sleek, blackened shell.  It's not an automatic negative of this film, or any other really, but when the advertising proudly displays the producer over any of the other creative talent I get suspicious, even when that same producer funded Insidious and Paranomal ActivityInsidious was one of the best horror films in recent years and I know that the PA series has its fans (I'm definitely not one).

This film is a humorless dirge spliced together from the DNA of those and many other films.  It's the kind of story caked in darkness not for any thematic effect, but because it's the easiest way to get something to make its characters pop out into the night.  Any confidence I developed in director Scott Stewart's control of the tone of his film disappeared with some hilariously overwrought shots.

Picture an idyllic neighborhood and the camera centers on a "For Sale" sign in someone's front yard.  This, on its own, is notable enough to queue the loud ominous groan on the soundtrack.  The horror moves on to the next shot, an old woman watching television which is an event so terrifying the wail comes roaring back.  Finally the most terrifying shot of all, children playing in a swimming pool, an image so loaded in horrific potential the moan of the music overwhelms the scene yet again.  These are not images worthy of the death that pervades the soundtrack, and little that follows will prove worthy of the same.


For the week of 5/28/2013 on Can’t Stop the Movies!

I hope you are all having a happy and safe Memorial Day everyone!

On Tuesday, Jeff and Andrew discuss the merits of MLB Productions versus NBA in the pretty good 30 for 30 doc Once Brothers.

This week is a dumping ground of straight-to-DVD and limited-run titles with few exception.  Andrew will be reviewing Dark Skies for Wednesday and doubling-back to take a look at Beautiful Creatures on Thursday.

Oliver Stone dips his cinematic hand in the well of documentaries for the first time this week.  Look for Andrew and Kyle's look at Comandante on Friday.

M. Night Shyamalan returns to theaters after the Last Airbender debacle with the Smith family in After Earth and magic trickery takes center stage in the flashy Now You See Me.

With Fedora in the can there is only one more Billy Wilder film for Danny and Ryan to peruse.  Catch up with the rest of the Billy Wilder films in their retrospective before the series finally concludes.


Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

We're a full service Fast and Furious review crew here at Can't Stop the Movies.  Ryan and his friend Ben watched the first four films (Part I and Part II) in preparation for Ryan watching and reviewing Fast Five.Anyone who remembers when this series was about illegal street racingAndrew LIKE BannerThe Fast and Furious franchise has undergone some curious naming changes over the years.  First it was The Fast and the Furious, then 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, and so on.  It's easy to make jokes at the expense of a franchise as meaty as this one that they just kept forgetting what their films were called but that would overlook that this franchise has managed to keep itself fresh for over twelve years now.  The name change just reflects that, with each film, the creative team has tried to do something a little different.

For a lot of this we have to thank director Justin Lin.  Who else would have thought to go from mixing Lost In Translation and Mario Kart for the third film to a grittier revenge film for the fourth?  Now in the sixth film Lin lets the characters we've spent years watching play off each other in a surprising bit of sentiment.  Sure, this is the kind of sentiment that comes with repeated scene of humans turned into projectiles, giant Erector set ramp cars with jet engines attached, and Dwayne Johnson once again lighting up the screen with that wonderful smile of his.  It's sentiment, Fast & Furious styled, with Lin closing out his neck of the franchise on the highest note possible.

Fast & Furious 6 picks up shortly after the Rio heist that concluded Fast Five with everyone in reasonably comfortable retirement.  Dominic (Vin Diesel) is shacked up on some seaside property with the added benefit of being immune from extradition.  His sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and old friend Brian (Paul Walker) are expecting their first child.  Worldwide the rest of the crew is either taking it easy or continuing on their lives.  Luke Hobbs (Johnson) interrupts their retirement to help catch a similar crew of international thieves led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and, unusually, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) - who seems to have recovered nicely from that bullet to the head she took in the fourth film.