2017 Archives - Page 2 of 19 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
3May/180

Coco (2017)

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Miguel loves his family, and his family loves him, but Miguel isn't allowed to play or listen to music.  He hides himself to play guitar along with recordings of his hero, the deceased star Ernesto de la Cruz.  When he tries to obtain a guitar for a talent competition, Miguel is whisked away into the land of the dead where he may have to give up music to keep his life.  Lee Unkrich directs Coco, with the screenplay written by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich, and stars Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, and Benjamin Bratt.

Leave it to a "kids" animated film to create a vision of the afterlife more existentially terrifying than the prospect of oblivion.  In Coco, the afterlife is populated by the animated skeletal remains of those whose families and communities still remember them on the Day of the Dead.  That means inequality continues for the masses after we die, and the only thing keeping our sliver of ego intact is the living effort to remember the dead.  I'm sure this particular idea of ego continuance is reassuring to some folks, but I dunno how I'd feel about fading away as some rich jerk reigns supreme because a few thousand desperate folks went to the jerk's seminar.

Setting aside obvious questions - like why the dead can't celebrate each other since they're clearly fine creating huge arenas to house their now spirit-bound egos - Coco is pretty good.  It's not to the quality peak of WALL-E or Inside Out, but sits well above the increasingly tasteless "the Holocaust - but for toys!" approach of Toy Story 3.  The only thing to avoid, unless you really want to or have an undergraduate seminar paper to write, is the previously mentioned idea of the still class-structured afterlife (which, I promise, is the last time I'll point out as terrifying).  Otherwise, listen with your eyes and follow along with your ears, and you'll likely have a pleasant time.

30Apr/180

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

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Four high school students, brought together in detention, find a dusty old cartridge and unfamiliar video game system.  The cartridge is Jumanji, and is about to take them on a trip they couldn't anticipate.  Jake Kasdan directs Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, with the screenplay written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinkner, and stars Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Dwayne Johnson.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (just Welcome to the Jungle moving forward), for all its mediocrity as entertainment, at least serves as a valuable template for success.  It's not content to recreate the Joe Johnston's 1995 film Jumanji and serves as an example of how to take a concept in directions that are fun in theory.  Save one throwback at the beginning of Welcome to the Jungle, this Jumanji is its own beast.  Toss in some reliably entertaining character work from the likes of Jack Black, Karen Gillan, and Dwayne Johnson for near billion dollar success.

Truth be told, I was digging Welcome to the Jungle far more when the four characters destined to be replaced by superstars were existing in world outside Jumanji.  There's an uncertain edge to the teens' interactions with adults.  This results in great scenes where Martha (Morgan Turner) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) both use feminist talking points to try and get out of trouble to dubious effect with spectacular reaction shots of their adult conversation partners.  Whichever of Welcome to the Jungle's four screenwriters (Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinkner) is responsible for writing those moments should take a moment out of the day to pat themselves on the back.

13Apr/180

The Disaster Artist (2017)

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Before The Room became a midnight sensation, Greg Sestero was one of many in an acting class dreaming of "making it".  Not all paths to the top are filled with inspired success, and Greg's journey meets its maker in the form of the perpetually greasy, eternally enthusiastic, and ethnically questionable Tommy Wiseau.  James Franco directs The Disaster Artist, with the screenplay written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and stars Dave Franco and James Franco.

The first oddity of James Franco's The Disaster Artist comes right at the end.  In split-screen, we watch how James' recreation stacks up against the bizarre-to-the-point-of-untouchable moments in Tommy Wiseau's The Room.  The weirdness comes from James' technically accurate reflections, not perfectly accurate as the odd cadence of Wiseau's film can't be intentionally recreated.  What few synapses that had the urge to fire moved my fingers to write, "Why is this?" in my notes before realizing I had spent the better part of an hour and a half writing only one other note "Dave Franco's getting into this."

My lack of notes in preparation for writing this review of The Disaster Artist might strike some of you as inattention from my part but - let me assure you - aside from that one burst of passion from Dave there was not a single moment of note in The Disaster Artist.  I might be the perfectly wrong person for this film as I've seen The Room more than once (once was enough but friends gotta introduce it to friends and there I was) and read Greg Sestero's entertaining account of The Room's making.  The trick to enduring The Room more than once is not watching it and occupying yourself during the many go-nowhere moments until the staggeringly terrible bits come up.  Those moments ("You're tearing me apart", complimenting a dog, etc.) expose Wiseau's psyche so nakedly that we tend to gloss over how boring the rest of The Room is.

21Mar/180

Nioh (2017)

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Final Fantasy XV fans take note - Nioh was in development in some form or another since 2004 and managed to deliver a game that was not a rambling, incoherent, passive-aggressive nightmare to play.  The key words there are "to play", Nioh has its fair share of storytelling problems that stem from a lack of faith in the gameplay itself being good enough to tell a story.  I'd say that stems from its long development, but there are so many cutscene, character design, and environmental choices that culled from tighter games that add to Nioh's sometimes bloated feel instead of providing texture.

Nioh's biggest problem is there's too damn much going on and not enough narrative focus to make the storytelling worthwhile.  The beginning and ends of many levels feature cutscenes that recall the classic NES Ninja Gaiden.  But Nioh's cutscenes are bland affairs, filled with wide shots of hastily introduced characters muttering something about the historical conflict in Japan and treating the player-character - William - mostly as an afterthought.  Ninja Gaiden's cutscenes were economic perfection, using tight closeups of Ryu's face to highlight the intensity of his journey and adding a layer of surprise when unknown figures entered or exited the frame.  Cutscene Ryu is just as determined as his tightly controlled platforming presentation, but William's surgical caution and the player's necessary observation of enemy patterns in the game bear little resemblance to the mostly mute presence cutscene William projects.

While the cutscene storytelling is unengaging, the environmental storytelling is a dull hodgepodge of influences. The levels themselves are often well thought out, the highlight a battle through a labyrinthine ninja training facility that flips in on itself while William works his way to the pipe smoking toad in command.  Dark Souls comparisons are tired, yet Nioh earns a mild nod with the completely unnecessary shortcuts built into the maps.  There's not enough sprawl in the paths William can take to suggest a web of people in the background working together to make the land their own, like when the unexpected environmental loops become apparent in the Dark Souls games.  Worse, the disconnected feeling is amplified by a world map where menus upon menus for level selection remove even more focus from William's journey, a similar problem I had with the otherwise excellent God Hand.

9Mar/180

Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition (2017)

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Planescape: Torment (just P:T moving forward) was a "bucket list" videogame for me.  A former friend of mine introduced me to P:T back in 2003, a couple years after I got into other CRPG titles like Fallout and Baldur's Gate.  He handed the discs over with the promise that P:T was the greatest role-playing game of all time which, considering my love for the genre, placed some mighty expectations on it.

Playing P:T was, no joke, total agony.  The overwhelming grey, brown, and dingy oranges of the starting areas made it difficult to figure out where my characters were - a predicament not helped by primary PC The Nameless One's grey skin and first companion Morte being a tiny floating skull.  My mom used to warn me playing videogames for too long would give me a headache and that came to fruition squinting my way through P:T's awful aesthetic.  I tried playing P:T three more times before the Enhanced Edition came out, the second time with my then-friend guiding me to try and highlight the appeal, a third time after that, and a fourth several years later when P:T appeared on Good Old Games.