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

Elvis & Nixon (2016)

In 1970, Elvis got bored of his wife and father complaining about how much money he was spending, so he decided to go to Washington D.C. to get a Federal Narcotics badge.  Nixon, struggling to connect with the American youth, trusts his aides that this is an okay idea.  Liza Johnson directs Elvis & Nixon, with the screenplay written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes, and stars Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey.

In addition to providing whichever partisan slant you subscribe to, the major news networks provide the exciting alternative to actual governance.  Watch a few hours of C-SPAN and you'll see that the day-to-day actions of running the government boil down to a lot of bookkeeping.  That's not a bad thing, and while the fistfights in other governments might be good for intrigue they're bad for healthy functioning.  Keeping this in mind, Elvis & Nixon is more accurate to how the government really works than any number of political dramas.

I can't say I was expecting Elvis & Nixon to be so dry I felt the need for an IV drip at one point.  But I can't say it was very entertaining either.  Big surprise all things considered as Michael Shannon, playing the "king of rock and roll", and Kevin Spacey, getting to play the President whose scheming is surely felt in House of Cards, are both actors who often swing for the fences.  The shock relative to Elvis & Nixon is they both play their roles relatively straight and there's little wiggle room to ham it up.


Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

College officially starts in three days - just enough time for the baseball team to get comfortable with the freshman, hook up at parties, imbibe some chemicals, and share a little philosophy.  Richard Linklater wrote the screenplay for and directs Everybody Wants Some!!, and stars an ensemble cast led by Blake Jenner and Glen Powell.

When Matthew McConaughey's David Wooderson rolled into Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, he condensed all the pleasures and problems with Linklater's writing by uttering, “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”  The trick to that line, and how similar Linklater dialogue worked in the interim, is that the speaker is pathetic.  Other boys in the same scene take turns joking around with him, but when he utters the line they all have to avert their gaze and in low volume tell him he's going to jail some day.  Fun is fun until the reality of fun is checking out girls barely half his age.

Cut to twenty-three years later and Linklater has continued making great filmsEverybody Wants Some!! (Everybody moving forward) is not one of them, though not without its charm.  Unfortunately, the charm is attached to a mob of college men who took the lessons of David Wooderson to heart.  They're all bravado to the point of transparent cockiness, many sporting mustaches to varying degrees of success, and chase dream women who want to have sex with them as much as the men want to have sex with the women.  Everybody is the dream Wooderson has when he goes home alone and I spent most of the movie wondering if anyone would wake up.


La La Land (2016)

Sebastian wants to save jazz, plays in bars whose owners don't understand him, and scrapes by in the hopes of opening his own club.  Mia is tired of working as a barista for the stars, she wants her own fame, and auditions constantly to be "discovered."  The world provides music for them both as they sing their way into the future.  Damien Chazelle directs and wrote the screenplay for La La Land, which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

At the end of my review for Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, I wrote, "...Chazelle may have set an impossible bar for him to clear with his next film."  Now, after a scant few hours have passed since I finished La La Land and none of the songs in this musical have stuck with me, I feel comfortable in saying Chazelle hit the bar.

La La Land consists of equal parts technical delight and insufferable self-centered characters with no grasp of history.  There are many joys in the former but it's the latter I'm more concerned with.  Two key shots, over almost as soon as they began, provide context for the distasteful parts of La La Land.  In the first, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is on a night-time stroll singing to himself when he comes across a black woman dancing with a black man.  Sebastian interjects himself into their dance, no apology, just takes over while the man looks understandably annoyed at this punk coming in where he wasn't invited.

The second is more subtle.  Sebastian is finally getting into his "groove" playing jazz piano in a club with a proper ensemble.  The spotlight stays right on Sebastian as the camera gently whirls around the stage.  All the other player's are black, their faces obscured by the darkness, and when seen in the background their faces are blurred to cloak their identity.  For a guy who thinks jazz needs to be "saved", Sebastian is a selfish brat who has problems sharing the spotlight in an ensemble.  I may be assuming a bit too much here, but having trust in and sharing the spotlight with performers in a jazz ensemble is part of the point of jazz.


Fences (2016)

Troy Maxson fights for control of his life.  After failing to make it in baseball, he cheerily works his job as a garbageman, chastises his sons for their life goals, and wants his wife Rose to show love in a way that keeps him satisfied.  Troy's need for control leads him down a path that will separate him from his family, and leave the question of what in this world will really make him happy.  Denzel Washington directs Fences, with the screenplay written by August Wilson, and stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

Denzel Washington has directed only three feature films since the turn of the millennium.  Stylistically speaking, Washington's movies share more in common with Kevin Smith than they do Spike Lee.  With Antwone Fisher, The Great Debaters, and now Fences, Washington seems content sitting the camera down and letting the performers do their thing with carefully doled out dialogue.  Both Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters had a freshness to them in seeing black masculinity empathetically deconstructed in working-class and university-level environments.

Fences has Washington return to the poisons of working-class black masculinity and not a lick of it is cinematically fresh.  This isn't an automatic down point because Washington's plain style didn't make Antwone Fisher or The Great Debaters visually rich.  But with those two films, Washington had screenplays based on a book and an article to work with, which allowed some room for visuals thanks to the descriptions from the source material.  With Fences, Washington works with one of the trickiest cinematic landmines - the stage play turned into cinema.


Ratchet and Clank (2016)

Two souls in a big universe are about to collide with capitalist evil.  Ratchet, lombax mechanic extraordinaire, and Clank, a diminutive robot, may be the only hope against continued planetary annihilation.  Kevin Munroe directs Ratchet and Clank, with the screenplay written by Kevin Munroe, T.J. Fixman, and Gerry Swallow, and stars James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, and Jim Ward.

Does anyone else out there feel a bit of remorse that the bizarre video game to movie adaptations of the early '90s faded out?  Regardless of their quality, and we can definitely have a big debate on that, they were their own beasts.  Super Mario Bros. turned a platformer into a sci-fi universe with giant sentient fungus, an enraged Dennis Hopper, and red leather clad women going by the name Big Bertha.  I don't care if an adaptation is faithful to the source material or not.  All I really care about is being entertained or, barring that, seeing something interesting.

Ratchet and Clank earns high marks with respect to faithfulness of the source material.  They're some of my favorite video games, with Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal spinning in my PS2 to the point I could reproduce Armin Shimerman's cries of, "LAWRENCE," upon request.  But the Ratchet and Clank games weren't sparkling with creativity when it came to the world, just the oddball characters and their equally strange weapon sets.  You see one bustling metropolis world with flying cars, you see them all, and it's up to the gameplay to keep your interest from there.