DVD Reviews Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
18May/182

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

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A shade over ten years ago, the most I would have had to say about Michael Mann's films is, "Collateral was cool."  An accurate statement?  Sure, but one that I now feel does disservice to the rich texture of his films.  This didn't come about quickly as Manhunter, Heat, Miami Vice, and all his other films - except The Last of the Mohicans which remained unseen - went into and out of my brain leaving so little impression that I could only recall Manhunter as that absurd film with the weird "In A Gadda Da Vida" rampage.

Enter Blackhat, the 2015 thriller so poorly received it barely made 25% of its budget back with the critical reception about as frosty.  I saw, then felt, something special in Blackhat.  The oily textures and synesthetic gunfights made a deep impression on my skin as I watched Chris Hemsworth's Nicholas Hathaway (no relation to myself) find his way through the conspiratorial darkness.  I was so impressed a nagging doubt entered and would not leave my mind resulting in a question - have I been wrong about Mann this whole time?

Yes, I was wrong.  Manhunter chilled me my second time through, the maze of concrete corridors and pillars that were supposed to lead Will away from the monstrous Hannibal only lead to panic, and the "In A Gadda Da Vida" sequence an expulsion of tragic violence birthed from abuse and let loose by a sadist.  Even Miami Vice, which had editing so confusing it was easy for me to think that Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell were enjoying a shower together, improved considerably.  I saw men trying desperately to make sense of their immediate surroundings, grabbing what facile pleasures they can from touch, and getting into firefights as uncertain as the conspiracy surrounding them.

CollateralCollateral's still cool, and I look forward to my rewatch of that so I can hopefully drag myself out of that shallow (if fun and accurate) opinion.

This left one glaring spot in my evaluation of Mann's films, The Last of the Mohicans, a film I was terrified was going to yield space to the mystic/noble savage trope recently deployed in The Revenant.  One scene and line of dialogue from Chingachgook (Russell Means) worried me, but quickly gave way to a grounded sense of his faith that's no different than my mother saying a quick prayer before eating any meal.  Chingachgook has the first and last lines of dialogue in The Last of the Mohicans, and the true heartbreak in-between lies not with poster star Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) or his love Cora (Madeleine Stowe).  They get the big lines and most overtly dramatic moments, but they're speaking for the ones who choose not to - whose passion and connection plays in the power of the greatest silent films.

I speak of Uncas (Eric Schweig) and Alice (Jodhi May).  Their romance, expressed through tender touch and reassuring glances, is what gives The Last of the Mohicans its transcendental quality.  Hawkeye and Cora's romance makes for a fine bit of passion, but Uncas and Alice's wordless connection is where the magic lay.  I'm not going to be doing a typical review for this because my relationship with Mann's films has changed so much that watching The Last of the Mohicans is the closest I've had to a pure spiritual experience since Upstream Color.

To that end, here is the story of Chingachgook's love for Uncas, who loves and is loved by Alice, and how Mann avoids tropes of the mystic/noble savage to ground their romance in bravery and tragedy.  It's a romance, not just of the man/woman variety, but in a father's love for his son and son's love for his father.

Let's begin.

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.

20Apr/180

Proud Mary (2018)

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Mary's been working for, and finding love in, one of Boston's most powerful crime families.  Danny was orphaned by Mary after she kills his father during a routine assassination.  Some time later their paths cross with Mary hoping to break the cycle of violence and take Danny with her.  Babak Najafi directs Proud Mary, with the screenplay written by John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, and Steve Antin, and stars Taraji P. Henson.

Taraji P. Henson has a spot on my personal list of performers who make everything better by simply appearing in their product.  From the big to small screen - Henson has squared off with the likes of Terrence Howard, William Shatner, and Janelle Monáe, stolen the spotlight from them, and made whatever product she's in feel more unpredictable because of her presence.  The only other performer I can say that about is Eva Greene, and should the two cross paths in a film somewhere down the line I may rip myself apart like a '90s superhero.

A star of her caliber should not have been forced to carry the entire promotional work of Proud Mary on her own and that's essentially what happened earlier this year.  Now that I've seen Proud Mary, I understand why but not to distributor Paramount's benefit.  Proud Mary isn't the slam-bang action film the trailer might have made it out to be.  Instead, Proud Mary is something weirder and more entertaining with Henson's unpredictable performance as Mary spreading to the rest of the cast, resulting in a once charming then menacing turn from Danny Glover and others.

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.