DVD Reviews Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Buster’s Mal Heart (2017)

A mountain man known as "Buster" lives off the empty homes of the rich in-between calls to anyone who will listen about the end of the world.  He wasn't always this way, and the man once known as Jonah had a life he cared for.  Sarah Adina Smith wrote the screenplay for and directs Buster's Mal Heart, and stars Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, and Kate Lyn Sheil.

Jonah - also known as "Buster" (Rami Malek) - doesn't have a bad heart, no matter what the title of Sarah Adina Smith's follow-up to The Midnight Swim (tied for best of 2015) might suggest.  At least he wasn't born with a bad heart.  Going to work by night, spending what little time he can spare during the day with his wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and daughter Roxy (Sukha Belle Potter), Jonah is making the best of a system designed to keep him running in place the rest of his life.

Buster's Mal Heart is a story of heartbreak, one that tells a story of bone-deep oppression and how the lie of the American dream pushes its citizens too far.  I could speculate on just what Jonah is pushed to do, but that would be demeaning to the conditions I see him working in on a night-to-night basis.  Dirty dishes, oblivious bosses, coworkers able to take advantage of his work ethic, a mother-in-law more interested in her granddaughter learning English than spending any time on Spanish.  These are the microaggressions that fill Jonah's existence, feeling like he only has his wife and child to live for, and slowly looking at the cracks of the ceiling keeping him down in the hopes he'll provide a life for them someday.


Ghost in the Shell (2017)

In the future, technology has advanced to the point where a human's consciousness can be transferred to an artificial shell.  Major Mira Killian, after suffering severe wounds in an attack, is transferred to a shell.  As she begins experiencing ghostly glitches, she begins to suspect all is not as it seems behind her existence.  Rupert Sanders directs Ghost in the Shell, with the screenplay written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger, and stars Scarlett Johansson.

As an opening admission, and one of Ghost in the Shell's least weighty problems, I damn near fell asleep watching it.  I'm not proud of these moments as I pride myself on getting through some of the most grueling endurance tests cinema has to offer.  What hampers Ghost in the Shell the most is a lack of cinematic texture.  The production feels like someone half-remembering different aspects of Blade Runner, the original animated Ghost in the Shell, and that Scarlett Johansson is the go-to United States actress for flippy action scenes.

Shame director Rupert Sanders couldn't even get the flippy bits to have much of an impact.  There's an illuminating side-by-side comparison of the water fight Major Killian (Johansson) has toward the middle of both the live-action version and the original animated.  A standard complaint about modern action movies is that they have too many cuts and that's certainly the case here with about 27 for the live-action and 18 for the animated.  That's not an automatic negative though, and what makes the live-action version so unfulfilling is the monotony of the construction.  There's never a moment Killian's target isn't overwhelmed by the city and his momentary feeling of safety is undercut by the long-shot preparing our eyes for something to emerge from the water.


Song to Song (2017)

Artists struggle to connect with each other as they wander in and out of the orbit of a predatory music executive.  Terrence Malick directs and wrote the screenplay for Song to Song, and stars Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, and Natalie Portman.

Watching Song to Song is like learning to fall in love all over again.  I wasn't a big fan of Tree of Life (which Danny reviewed years ago) and loathed To the Wonder, but I grew deep affection for Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups - a Wings of Desire for the alienated Los Angeles set.  Song to Song is the first Malick since The Thin Red Line that felt like it was speaking to me in a language of loneliness and confusion that still leaves room for hope and desire.

Some of the traditional Malick tropes are in full effect as a love quadrangle forms at the center of Song to Song.  Lovers whisper dialogue that's equal parts reassurance and lie.  Malick's camera drifts from scene to scene with little to ground my perception outside an object or color that bleeds from one shot to the next.  Yet, amid the whispers and floating, I noticed Malick's imagery is growing more complicated by each film.  It was easy to place visual signifiers into "earthen" or "heavenly" in the early stages of his post-millennium career and, while I don't view criticism to "solve" or catalogue visual impulses, I just didn't connect with his first steps back.


Power Rangers (2017)

In the Cenozoic era, dinosaurs ruled, and a team of aliens fails in their struggle to defeat the evil Rita.  Their leader, Zordon, sacrifices himself to dull Rita's power and places his own morphing abilities into stasis until the right warriors come along.  Now five teenagers with little but detention in common have inherited the power and responsibility to save their planet.  Dean Israelite directs Power Rangers, with the screenplay written by John Gatins, and stars RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, Becky G, and Ludi Lin.

Sections of Power Rangers are so bad I had to pause my rental out of frustration.  Screenwriter John Gatins writes Billy's (RJ Cycler) autism in a way that continues the cinematic trend of all characters "on the spectrum" having otherwordly knowledge or power.  The presentation of that autism isn't even consistent with Billy handling multiple social situations with the kind of charismatic slickness more akin to a classic Hollywood leading man.  Then there's the matter of Krispy Kreme, normally one of my favorite sources of sugary dough, pared down to a repetitive talking point with the characters seriously discussing how urgent it is they get to Krispy Kreme.

What follows is a "But" series so weighty it could send my keyboard straight to the core of our planet.

But, despite the inconsistent bordering on insensitive stereotyping of autism, despite the blatant corporatism of Krispy Kreme's involvement, despite characters repeating full names so many times the eventual Power Rangers drinking game is destined to kill someone...

I was sitting in awe at some of the scenes.  Here I am, at 33 with matching emotional and physical scars, feeling tears well up watching armored teenagers take a slow walk toward their destiny.  Director Dean Israelite damns cinematic continuity to the same magma grave as my keyboard in favor of hitting those soaring notes.  Bless him for doing so, because when the scattered qualities of Power Rangers comes together for a moment of optimistic triumph it's as deeply affecting as any of the serious dramas I've watched in 2017.  Getting me to feel the same hope and excitement I did as a kid once is hard enough, doing it multiple times in a film as deeply flawed as Power Rangers is a near miracle.


The Belko Experiment (2017)

The employees of Belko Industries are in for a rough day at the office.  Additional security shows up to turn away the local Colombians, a new employee has questions about why a tracking chip was planted in her skull, and a mysterious voice commands the employees to kill each other or more people will be killed in response.  With the office shuttered, the employees divide into camps figuring out how to survive, and bloodshed seems inevitable.  Greg McLean directs The Belko Experiment, with the screenplay written by James Gunn, and stars John Gallagher Jr. Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, and John C. McGinley.

My interest in The Belko Experiment peaked early.  Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) drives to work and is taken aback by the sight of several Colombian children playing innocently on the sidewalk while wearing skeleton masks.  The visuals slow as Mike's eyes narrow to focus on the children, hinting that whatever I'm about to learn about Mike will be tainted by this minor note of aggression to children who don't share his skin color.  I knew The Belko Experiment was going to feature tons of violence in the workplace so I settled in thinking this film may address the United States' exploitation of other countries in the guise of feel-good nonprofits.

Silly me.  The Belko Experiment is another in a sea of genre films where society is arranged to deprive white men of control and the only way to wrest it back is through violence.  I have no issues with the premise, Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin was fantastic in this regard, but Blue Ruin had awareness about the illusion of middle-class prosperity and the desperation of men trying to return to that stability.  The scenario for The Belko Experiment is contrived to the point of leaving its hapless participants with no option outside taking up arms and hacking up their coworkers.