Andrew, Author at Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Great Wall (2017)

Commander Lin Mae prepares her forces as part of The Nameless Order to repel a monstrous threat which emerges every sixty years.  Another alien threat, led by the mercenary William Garin, raises suspicions about his motivations while retaining respect for his fighting skills.  Lin Mae must stay wary of William and ready her troops for battle if her Chinese countrymen are to remain safe.  Zhang Yimou directs The Great Wall, with the screenplay written by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy, and stars Jing Tian, Matt Damon, and Pedro Pascal.

I'm disappointed that a movie as accomplished and quietly nuanced as The Great Wall has devolved into internet shouting matches over the presence of Matt Damon.  To make my feelings clear upfront - Damon, as mercenary William Garin, is unquestionably the worst aspect of The Great Wall.  His accent appears and disappears with unusual frequency for a performer as talented as Damon, with him doing a subpar gravely Liam Neeson-esque Irish tone at times and a generic Midwestern United States flat affectation at others.  Most unusually, he's not as precise and intriguing in the fights that he honed to near perfection with director Paul Greengrass in the Bourne movies.  Damon's tasked with a character whose conflict is more internal than external, and director Zhang Yimou's formal qualities don't create a situation where Damon is able to play to his strengths.

Focusing on Damon, as the conversation at-large has chosen to do, does a disservice to the tightly crafted action in The Great Wall.  This "East meets West" epic is heavy on the integrity of the former while calling into question the integrity of the latter.  This is Yimou's finest film since House of Flying Daggers, suffering neither from the bloat of Curse of the Golden Flower nor the self-conscious "prestige" aspects of The Flowers of War.  Yimou crafts another large-scale epic with personal philosophical stakes, characters making decisions that test their ethical codes, and battles that are as visceral as they are contemplative.


A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Lockhart is taking the long route to the same sickness that led his father to suicide.  After the board leading his company threatens to punish his work, he is given the task to retrieve a man they may be able to pin their crimes on.  Shortly after arriving at the mysterious wellness asylum, Lockhart finds that the "cure" might not be what it seems.  Gore Verbinski directs A Cure for Wellness, with the screenplay written by Justin Haythe, and stars Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs.

For a fun writing experiment, sit down after watching A Cure for Wellness (simply Wellness moving on) and write what you think the tone is.  What happens is straightforward as Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) deals with dueling worlds of corporate takeovers and sinister asylums.  Gore Verbinski's tone, and the associated visual language, is all over the damn map in comparison.  There's bits of creature feature, shadowy espionage, body horror, and pulp that would have made Samuel Fuller proud.

That's just for starters, and it's no wonder Wellness bombed so thoroughly when released earlier this year.  Things are tough now and we're seeing the worst of humanity paraded about in our leadership.  Asking audiences to sit through two and a half hours of near unrelenting torment is a tall order, and I'd be lying if I said Wellness succeeded at the intense mishmash of genre influences Verbinski takes mighty aim at.  I'd also be lying to myself if I said I didn't enjoy Wellness in the same sense that my skin feels refreshed in the sun after removing a bandage that's been welded to my body for far too long.


Oxenfree (2016)

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It wasn't until yesterday I realized I've developed an affinity for media centering around alienated young women dealing with some vague apocalyptic threat.  In movies there was Before I Fall, The Edge of Seventeen, in music I had Grimes, and in video games Life is Strange and, now, Oxenfree.  While varying in tone and presentation, to say nothing of being in different mediums, there's a liberating feeling throughout all these pieces of art.  Life is open to possibilities in a way media centering around men feels like it's on rails.

Oxenfree isn't as world-weary as any of those other artistic endeavors to its benefit and detriment.  It's nice exploring the world with Alex (Erin Yvette) and directing her conversations like a water spigot where I choose who gets told what as time marches on.  At the same time, Alex and her friends are on an island haunted by the spirits of an United States submarine sunk by American firepower, and by the time Ren (Aaron Kuban) and Jonas (Gavin Hammon) make the same joke about military figure "Dick Harden" I was wondering if any of them were aware the danger they were in.  There's a disconnect between the increasingly grave threats of the spirits compared to the joking tone the cast continues to use throughout Oxenfree.

Whatever reservations I have about Alex and co. treating the situation lightly are moved aside ever so slightly for a remarkable dialogue system.  Alex is free to select conversation topics as they slowly fade from view while walking around the environment may trigger other options to bring up.  No conversation flows with ease, characters talk over each other while Alex's interjections are just as likely to be ignored as they are to silence, and there's nothing stopping those characters from picking up their previous train of thought if interrupted.  This is the primary source for that feeling of spontaneity I felt in Life is Strange and so on, it also means that what the player puts into the game is likely what they'll get out of it.  Granted, that may be true of most art, but consistently engaging with background observations or taking the dead-end paths reveals more information that gives context to the characters' emotional state.


Before I Fall (2017)

Sam is ready for the night of her life.  She wants to lose her virginity to her boyfriend Rob, her best friends give her advice on how to do so, and they all meet to party a bit before Sam takes her leap.  But a fight during the party and accident afterward leave Sam without the experience she wanted, and trapped in a day that has no tomorrow.  Ry Russo-Young directs Before I Fall, with the screenplay written by Maria Maggenti, and stars Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, and Medalion Rahimi.

I wanted Before I Fall to nestle in my mind and heart for a bit before writing about it.  Usually I'll start my review barely an hour after I finish a movie but something inside me said I needed to wait on this one.  Now it's about two days later, with a lot happening in that time, and Before I Fall has created a space of warm reflection inside me.  I'm sure there's something I could critique here, but the growing sense of fellow-feeling in Before I Fall snuffs the nags in the corners of my mind before they have a chance to grow.

Before I Fall is a dark movie whose motives aren't immediately clear.  If you take a shallow glance over the cast and setting it seems to be a story of privilege.  Sam (Zoey Deutch) lives in a big house, dates the popular Rob (Kian Lawley), goes to a great school, and jets around in her best friend Lindsay's (Halston Sage) car.  The first thirty minutes or so of Before I Fall encourages a sort of passive viewing, reinforced by the cinematography heavy in shadows and darker shades of vibrant colors.  I saw privilege, but I felt weight, and when Samantha gets into her first accident the full weight of Before I Fall began to work its magic.


John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

The world John Wick wants to abandon has no interest in respecting his wishes.  When an old peer comes to claim John's skills due to a debt John owes, he returns to the tightly controlled economy of assassination not suspecting the treachery which lies in wait.  Chad Stahelski directs John Wick: Chapter 2, with the screenplay written by Derek Kolstad, and stars Keanu Reeves.

Start with the currency.  What token does one character want, what does the token stand for, and what will forces in opposition to that character do to obtain it?  With John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chapter 2 moving forward), director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad pull the curtain back on an economy based on currency that would please Charon.  Hard disks, markers of death, may be exchanged for tools of death, armor against death, or put forward as a reward for the death of another.  This is why the Continental master Winston (Ian McShane) insists no blood be spilled on his grounds.  In order for the system to remain solid, no one can indulge in the blood high of their own supply.

So begins a meditation on the result of an economy of violence in Chapter 2.  That initially seems at odds with the self-aware projection of Buster Keaton onto the bare exterior of a building.  This seems to be Stahelski's way of poking the audience in the ribs, explaining the violence to follow should be taken as a joke.  There's little funny about Chapter 2, and it's owed in part to the less explored aspects of Buster Keaton's work.  Buster Keaton was a fearless and genius physical performer, that much is true, but his work is steeped in the melancholy of yearning for a goal that is perpetually in view and just out of reach.