2016 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Me Before You (2016)

Louisa Clark, newly unemployed, answers an ad requesting companionship for Will Traynor.  Will is bitter about life after an accident paralyzed most of his body from the chest down.  Through Lou's optimism, Will may find a new lease on life, or is set to leave on his own terms.  Thea Sharrock directs Me Before You, with the screenplay written by Jojo Moyes, and stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.

Me Before You has one thing going for it over the similarly awful The Theory of Everything.  Both share wheelchair-bound protagonists dealing with their differently-abled bodies in a white land of splendor and luxury.  At least Me Before You has the storytelling sense to make the romance between Lou (Emilia Clarke) and Will (Sam Claflin) a total fantasy complete with pristine photography.  Heck, Me Before You even has many scenes within a literal castle to really hammer home the fairytale vibe.

Aesthetics aside, Me Before You is reprehensible in its ethical stance that it's better to die as you wish than live in luxury with a wheelchair.  That's "the twist" and if any of you readers are upset at that then, well, you're reading the wrong reviewer.  There is no way to write about Me Before You without taking into consideration Will's suicide at the end, which puts the fairytale that comes before in a cruel light.  All the glitz, glamour, orchestral swelling, pop-laden, and clearly shot soft romance means little to the manipulative ass that is Will.


The Nice Guys (2016)

Jackson Healy is hired by a ragged college student who wants to get some men off her trail.  Holland March, aided by his daughter Holly, doesn't know he's on the girl's trail but is about to receive a painful introduction to Healy.  When the two hash things out, they realize their respective cases have larger implications and team up to figure out what the girl has to do with a rash of murders connected to porn and catalytic converters.  Shane Black directs The Nice Guys, with the screenplay written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi, and stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.

Shane Black's career is punctuated by intense violence and smartass quips.  I'm fine with well-deployed sarcasm but Black's writing roots the dialogue in character-based insecurities as much as he does being a smartass for his own sake.  Starting with Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005, the visuals started being in on the joke as well.  This led to the delightful for some, eye rollingly silly for me, image of Abraham Lincoln appearing at the end to congratulate the hero on surviving the movie.

Black dips back into the world of Presidential hallucinations as one of The Nice Guy's tedious dips into sarcastic visual humor involves a specter of Richard Nixon appearing to Holland March (Ryan Gosling).  You don't need to pay too much attention to the dialogue to remember that March was told a story by Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) about Nixon appearing to a dying motorist.  Problem is, the earlier Nixon story mostly serves as a setup for the Nixon hallucination, and does little for the relationship between March and Healy.


Warcraft (2016)

The wall between the world of orcs and the world of humans has been broken.  Sinister magics work in the background to ensure the blood is saturated with offerings from each race.  As war looms on the horizon, a small cadre of orcs and humans plot of a way to end the conflict before it escalates beyond their control.

"Why aren't there any good video game movies?"

I've heard some variation of the question ever since Super Mario Bros. made it to cinemas with a terribly intoxicated Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo in tow.  For my part, I'm actually entertained by the Super Mario Bros. movie and wish more artists would take creative liberty with the games they adopt to cinema.  Because the biggest problem with translating games to movies is the removal of player input, which tells as much of the story as any dialogue or graphics do.  What we're left with is the frequently terrible plots of video games, many times warmed over from cinema, and diluted once more back onto the big screen.

Warcraft is a useful case study in how the transition could be successful and is also held back by the debt video game stories have to older artistic forms.  Duncan Jones, a talented hand at direction behind the camera, treats the source material with as much respect as possible while still creating a coherent story.  Video games tend to prize complex lore more so than straightforward stories and Warcraft has legions of text boxes you can peruse to find out about the background of every character or event.  So Jones, who also cowrote the screenplay with Charles Leavitt, pares the lore down to the basic conflict.  There are orcs, there are humans, and they must go to war with one another.


Swiss Army Man (2016)

Hank is alone on an island and on the verge of suicide.  Right when it seems Hank is about to take the final plunge a corpse washes ashore.  As the corpse comes back to life Hank teaches what it means to live and how they might both find a way home.  Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan wrote the screenplay for and directed Swiss Army Man, and stars Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.

Sometimes I become so aware of the living trap that is my body I fall, punch the floor, and scream.  I have depression, anxiety, chronic kidney stones, migraines, and a whole list of other health issues that might serve as tools for the corpse at the center of Swiss Army Man.  There's pain, then there's confusion, then there's more pain, and it whirls together until I accept my existence as the bleak joke it is or have another fighting match with the floor.  Thanks to medication and years of therapy, my losing streak of fights with the floor have mostly come to an end, but learning to live with depression means living with the thought in the back of my mind that this mess of a body is no good to anyone so why should it mean anything to me.

I didn't expect much of anything from Swiss Army Man.  Decades of high-concept / low-payoff films have taught me finding ways of dealing with death, let alone something a difficult to live with as depression, leads to pathetic returns.  One of the most improbable movie franchises ever, Weekend at Bernie's, treated death like an easy joke to be ignored while cult classics like Heathers have lines like, "I love my dead gay son," to distance the characters from the reality of death while being a tad homophobic in the meantime.  Swiss Army Man succeeds where many fail because the joke isn't on the dead body, nor is it on the living, but finding a way to cope with the existence we all share and ends the same way.


Wiener-Dog (2016)

Passed from owner to owner, a dachshund bears witness to the troubles of connecting in a world that is advancing while people find ways to stay apart.  Todd Solondz wrote the screenplay for and directs Wiener-Dog, and stars an ensemble cast led by Ellen Burstyn, Danny DeVito, Greta Gerwig, and Julie Delpy.

This year I've lost two good friends, both to cancer, and both with social media pages that are still up for viewing.  Even if I wanted to get away to mourn on my own terms I run the risk of logging in with my social media platform and seeing someone post under the dead person's name.  With all these advances in technology we can preserve the memory of those who have died and refuse to let go.  Death awaits us all, so why do we need our technology to keep that which is no longer with us?  Fundamental human nature, I suppose, and with Todd Solondz's latest Wiener-Dog he comes closest to any other director to show what humanity we've lost in our progress.

There is cause for celebration in the four sections that form Wiener-Dog.  Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) would have succumbed to cancer in earlier decades but is now on the upswing.  So why don't his parents, played with pitch-perfect passive-aggression by Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts, celebrate the advancements that kept their child alive?  Because the struggle of life continues on whether Remi lived or died.  The fears Remi's parents refuse to give voice to in-between their bickering are reflected in the titular dog, bought by Remi's father as a way of easing his child back into the "real world."  When Wiener-Dog eats granola and begins the slow process of dying, it's hard not to think that his parents are imagining a world where their child was also able to go peaceably instead of having to create an environment where Remi can flourish.