The idea of a film festival that specializes in animated films is something I think a lot of people could get behind. It seems like more animation studios open up locally every day, and there’s certainly enough enthusiasts of the animated arts around that they alone should make the idea a no-brainer.

Though I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted to at Le Miaff, the Montreal International Animation Film Festival, what I saw both in terms of content and organization impressed me, and really the only major disappointment of the weekend was the number of empty seats I saw in screenings. It’s my hope that this will change in future years, and that Le Miaff will only grow in scale and attendance.

In the mean time, the fest’s second iteration showcased a lot of great films and shorts, so let’s take a look at what you missed.

Chaperone posterThe Chaperone

Like you see in a lot of other fests, feature screenings at MIAFF were often preceded by a short film, and one of the highlights both of the shorts selection and the fest as a whole was Fraser Munden and Neil Rathbone’s award-winning short The Chaperone.

The true story of a school dance that erupted into a full-on brawl, The Chaperone is one of those films for which the words “dizzying” and “kaleidoscope” can be aptly applied. To say nothing of “fun”, “awesome” and “kickass.” The short is a mixture of styles, telling the story of a violent confrontation between teachers and a gang of unruly bikers in rotoscope animation, live action, puppetry and even a little stop motion for flavor.

The film is in many ways a tribute to how much creativity, variety and flare you can cram into ten minutes or so, and there’s a pure joy for the medium on display that is honestly rare to see. A lot of the other shorts I saw were so dead-set on being thought-provoking and artful, The Chaperone‘s sense of joy and playfulness with not just storytelling but the very mediums it was working with was refreshing in the extreme. I spent the entire screening with a smile on my face and led the applause when it was over, that that really says it all.

108 Demon Kings

While most of the films at MIAFF were either dramatic or comedic in nature, 108 Demon Kings stood out as really the only action-adventure film, which is what drew me in. Don’t get me wrong, laughs and human drama are always good, but sometimes you just want to watch one dudes kicking each other in the head for an hour and a half.

In the tradition of classic Shaw Bros martial arts dramas, 108 Demon Kings is a kung-fu epic set in ancient China that tells the story of a plot to seize power, thwarted by a band of outlaws each sporting their own unique weapons and fighting styles. Plot wise, it delivers pretty much everything you’d want, action, comedy, and kung-fu treachery in generous proportions.

The problem, however, is the animation. 108 Demon Kings is a mix of 2D, 3D and live action, with environments mostly made up of cell-animated drawings, with characters brought to life by actors in full costume, with their heads and faces replaced with CGI animations. And. It’s. CREEPY.

There’s something deeply unnerving about a stylized CGI head on what is clearly a normal human body, in an uncanny valley kind of way. Oftentimes the movements of the actors will seem disconnected from what their faces are doing. Add in some not-amazing dubbing, and it often feels like the characters heads are on one page, their bodies on another, and their voices in another library two towns over. I don’t know why the creators of the film chose this particular style, but it drags the whole movie down and makes for an experience that was often more distracting and unsettling than it should have been.

Magic Train poster

Magic Train

Le Miaff’s programming schedule boasted films from all corners of the globe, with Joe Chang’s Magic Train coming out of China. The film is really a collection of shorts, told around a loose framing story of a young girl on a train bound for who-knows-where.

Like The Chaperone, Magic Train is an eclectic mix of styles and moods. One minute things can be cell-animated and deadly serious, the next it can be CGI and much more playful, and it’s really this variety that works best for Magic Train. It serves mostly as a showcase for the scope and variety of Chinese animation, that it isn’t really a genre in and of itself like anime, but rather that it can play to a whole score of different tempos and styles.

The downside to that is that not all of the shorts in the film are great, and there are definite high and low points. But then that’s usually the case in anthology films. But I’m pleased to say that Magic Train is contains more high than low, and will probably get you interested in Chinese animated films enough that you’ll start searching for more.

Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle

Very few film festivals go without at least one controversial entry, and Tarzoon is about intent on creating controversy as any film I’ve ever seen. A relic of 60s animation, Tarzoon is an early example of adult animation, though I’m not sure “adult” is the word I’d use for it. The film is in many ways one long, drawn out dick joke. Not even a joke, really, just a series of reminders that dicks are a thing that exist. The humor on display is about as low-brow as one can imagine, and absolutely not everyone’s cup of tea. Myself included, if we’re being honest.

I think Tarzoon functions best as a relic more than a film. It’s a record of the comedic stylings of 1960s France and Belgium, a kind of museum piece that demonstrates what low brow cartooning was before Mad Magazine and Family Guy. In that, it’s a success, and an interesting thing to see. But view at your own risk.

Whenever a new horror film comes out and starts garnering rave reviews from people in the know, my reaction is usually to have my eyebrow thrust skyward with the force of an Apollo rocket. I’m not generally a fan of modern horror movies, which is to say I hold them in the same regard as I do garden slugs or Jake Busey. And yet, people kept telling me I HAD to see It Follows, an indie horror film with a killer hook and great execution, that it would turn me around on modern horror movies and restore my faith.

It didn’t.

It isn’t bad, the hook is definitely killer and it has some interesting formal elements as well. But it’s also a bit muddled, tries to be retro and modern at the same time, and, for my money, doesn’t go deep enough with its central idea.

It followes posterThe hook is pretty simple: the monster is an STD. After a round of the old backseat boogaloo with her boyfriend, teenager Jay finds herself pursued by a mysterious entity that appears as normal people, sometimes people she knows, walking steadily towards her with a glassy stare. The entity can appear at any time and if it catches you, as the now ex-boyfriend tells her, it kills you. The only way to get rid of it is to sleep with someone else, passing it on to them.

As horror movie hooks go, it’s direct, simple, and clever. STD’s have always been sort of lurking in the subtext of a lot of horror movie monsters, and It Follows is one of the few I can think of to come out and take the sexual/disease element out of the shadows and make it part of the actual text of the film rather than subtext.

Similarly, the monster itself, if it can even be called that, is extremely simple. No fangs, no claws, no jumping out and going “arglebargle” (except for one scene), just someone that no one else can see walking towards you with a blank expression, carrying with them the subtle implication that if they catch you, that’s your ass. I tend to find stuff like that scarier than the usual jump scares, and indeed It Follows can be damn chilling at times.

The problems really are in the execution. The film seems to be sorta going for a retro vibe, very much in the vein of classic Wes Craven or John Carpenter. The film could – almost – be set in the 70s, everyone drives old cars and watches 40s sci-fi movies, at one point the characters go to a movie in this gorgeous old movie palace with a live organist, and modern conveniences like cell phones are almost totally absent. The soundtrack is even this actually really good synth affair.

The problem is that the 70s affectation feels sorta half-assed. In the face of all the retro-isms, this one character (a completely pointless one who could have been cut from the movie entirely at almost zero consequence) is always reading on this weird clamshell e-reader. The photography is also extremely crisp and modern looking, which often puts the look and sound of the film at odds. Whenever that retro soundtrack kicks in I thought to myself “Wow that sounds awesome. But it doesn’t fit what I’m looking at at all”. Perhaps had they gone full House of the Devil and made it look convincingly like a 70s horror movie, as well as sound like one, this discrepancy could have been avoided.

It Follows insertOn the subject of photography, the camera work is very deliberate, with a recurring motif of 360-degree pans, but I still can’t quite tell if they worked for me or not. On the one hand, it’s nice to see a film pay enough attention to its camera work to even have a motif; on the other hand, the recurring pans felt a bit over-used and heavy handed.

On the scripting side of things, It Follows often feels muddied and in need of some refining. There’s that aforementioned pointless character, and I got this nagging sense that the film never quite knew what it wanted to say on the heady issue it was engaging with.

It Follows had a really great opportunity to say something really important and profound about the way we deal with STD and STI sufferers as a society, and while it is true that the film can be seen as a statement about how we demonize them, I kept waiting for the film to go that extra allegorical step.

The movie also sorta betrays itself in certain ways, especially during one scene where the monster’s existence is made plain to Jay’s friends after it sneaks up behind her and grabs her hair (in a kind of lame looking effect) and throws the resident beta male out of the way. Admittedly the old ‘is she really just crazy’ shtick is a bit played out, but I think the film might have functioned better over all if it focused on Jay’s private battle instead of surrounding her with a Scooby Gang of friends, highlighting the stigma of isolation and shame that STD sufferers still face all too often.

So is It Follows everything it’s cracked up to be? Probably not. It wades half-heartedly into the retro aesthetic pool, but its unwillingness to go all the way makes things like the Casio soundtrack and 70s paraphernalia more distracting than enjoyable. Similarly it feels as though the film just doesn’t go deep enough with the STD allegory it seems to be trying to be, and as such feels more exploitative than profound. Not that there isn’t room for exploitation, but with the hype this film was garnering I was frankly expecting more.

Hype is probably this film’s worst enemy, really, and I think once the chorus of praise that currently surrounds It Follows dies down and people can just stumble upon it with no expectations of brilliance, it will be more able to make an impression on people.

It took me a while to warm up to the Fast and the Furious series, and even now I’m not sure why I’ve come to begrudgingly enjoy them, or at least some of them. I mean – they aren’t good. There are better car chase movies, better fight movies, better ensemble casts. And yet I went to the latest installment, Furious 7, on its first week in theaters. I’ve become a fan of the series, somehow. I’ve come to like some of the characters. I’ve learned to appreciate the ever-bigger car related action sequences. I’ve drank the Kool-Aid, basically, and this week I plunked myself down for another cup. And I enjoyed myself, if we’re being honest. But also if we’re being honest, Furious 7 is still only a decent action ride, bogged down by a trainwreck of a script and saved mostly by some great action sequences and fun performances. It isn’t the worst action film I’ve seen this year, nor is it the perfect-ten a lot of my peers are saying. It’s just a fun enough action movie with a lot of the same problems the series has always suffered from.

The action starts almost immediately after the finale of Furious 6, with Deckard Shaw, the brother of Furious 6 baddie Owen Shaw, vowing revenge on Dom Torreto’s crew for putting his baby bro in traction. After FINALLY catching the timeline up with Tokyo Drift, killing series regular Han, Deckard sets his sights on the rest of the crew.

Furious 7 posterBut then Kurt Russel’s mystery G-Man, Mr. Nobody, shows up with an entirely different plot in tow and tasks Dom and the gang with retrieving a computer program called God’s Eye. The hacker then can control it, with the idea that Dom takes it out of the hands of some baddies and then uses it to track down Deckard.

So for reasons that should be obvious, Furious 7 clearly went through a whole whack of what we can only assume were major script revisions partway through shooting. While the reasons were entirely understandable, the result is still a goddamn terrible script. What starts off as a basic Dom vs. baddie with a revenge motive kinda deal suddenly morphs into this entirely different storyline when Russel’s character literally drops into the movie with a whole new plotline that feels like it was probably taken from a spec script for Furious 8. From then on, the whole middle of the thing feels like watching two plotlines wrestle, as Dom & co. track down the God’s Eye program, with Shaw occasionally just popping up to go “Oi! I’m in this movie, too, you forget about me?” It’s this ugly, shambling Frankenstein monster of a plot where motivations can change from scene to scene and we’re never quite sure what everyone’s endgoal is.

One minute Michelle Rodriguez’s character is giving this big impassioned speech and, by all appearances, walking out of the movie to “go find herself,” then she just shows up again three scenes later like nothing happened. One minute Dom’s only goal is to protect his family and the next he’s off on some completely unrelated fetch-quest that came right the heck outta nowhere. It’s all over the damn place, and while I’m sure the scriptwriters did the best they could with the bad situation they were put in, the long and short of it is that the script feels like several different story ideas stitched together, and badly.

To the film’s credit though, it does still do a remarkably good job balancing the ever-expanding cast of characters, and everyone gets at least one scene to add to their sizzle reel. Ronda Roussey gets a decent fight in, The Rock gets some fantastic scenes and one liners, adding to the demand that his character just get his own damn movie already, and Tony Jaa’s character… Actually, sorry can I take a moment aside for a second?

Furious 7 tony


How the bloody hell did it take TWELVE YEARS for Tony Jaa to show up as the designated martial-arts henchman in an American action movie? Or in an American action movie in ANY capacity? Did he just not want to do any before? Because seriously, when the movie lets him do his thing, he kicks a lot of ass, and if this is the start of him finally getting more roles and recognition here in the west, I am all the way aboard.

Ok, anyway, back to the review proper.

The one sad exception to the decent handling of the characters is Lucas Black’s cameo as his character from Tokyo Drift, which is noteworthy mostly for how he literally ages ten years in between shots. It’s too bad, I kinda like the dude for some reason and I hope the reports of him getting a bigger role in future installments prove to be true.

Another thing a lot of people have been remarking about is how respectful and mature the film is about the departure of Paul Walker from the series and addressing the specter of his death that hangs over virtually every frame of the film. Without spoiling anything, it’s all pretty true. Walker’s departure from the franchise is done about as respectfully as you can imagine, and his send-off is, if nothing else, extremely earnest, heartfelt and well-handled.

Furious 7 rock

Furious 7 delivers what we’ve come to expect from a Fast and the Furious movie at this point: car stunts and chases galore, most of them done in practical effects and a soundtrack that punishes speaker system with a cacophony of explosions and engine revs like Christian Grey for electronics equipment. There’s extended montages of scantily clad bodies in exotic locales, delivered with the furious editing of a rap video, and at least 10 per cent of the shots in the film start on some anonymous woman’s ass as she goes about her business. You get what you were expecting, in other words.

However, we need to be honest with ourselves that it still isn’t great. The script is a nightmare – a nightmare with an understandable origin, but a nightmare nonetheless. The stunt sequences rank as some of the best in the series, however, and a lot of the stuff at the periphery is a lot of fun. However, Furious 7 still comes across as a bit of a mess structurally, just a mess with some genuinely fun stuff haphazardly nailed to it.

Roundabouts six months ago, a friend and I set out to see Luc Besson’s Lucy during its theatrical run. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and were chatting so merrily that we accidentally went to the wrong theatre.

When we found out our mistake, we shrugged it off and decided to sit through Woody Allen’s empty confectionery Magic in the Moonlight instead. The less said about that one, the better.

For a long time after, I didn’t have much interest in going back and giving Lucy a watch, under the sneaking suspicion that that anecdote would prove to be more interesting than the movie itself. But after hearing that it wasn’t actually that bad, I decided to take a look.

Surprisingly, Lucy did turn out to be more interesting than the story behind that mishap. The problem is that while Lucy is definitely interesting, it’s mostly interesting for how it fails.

Scarlett Johansson stars as the titular Lucy, a woman who receives superpowers after the bag of drugs smuggled in her abdomen ruptures. Yes, Lucy is perhaps the first movie in history about how drug smuggling leads to God-like power and the reshaping of human knowledge. I guess we really are running out of ways to give people superpowers, but turning Maria Full of Grace into a sci-fi action thriller seems like an odd way to go.

Lucy posterAfter being forced to smuggle a bag of a new designer drug, the bag leaks massive amounts of the drug into Lucy’s body, causing her to unlock previously unused portions of her brain, first turning her into a hyper-intelligent killing machine with perfect control of her own body, and eventually into a powerful psychokinetic who can do basically whatever the script calls for. So it starts out as La Femme Nikita and ends up as Akira.

Even in a genre movie landscape where Marvel movies regularly bend the laws of plausibility and physics over a chair and go to town like it’s the last day of spring break, Lucy feels like an anachronism in just how much it’s built on science so soft you could melt it on a broken radiator.

Like that Bradley Cooper thing from a few years back, Lucy is built around the whole “humans only use ten percent of their brain” thing, and while I’m usually perfectly fine accepting whatever made-up pseudo-science a genre movie can throw at me…..come on, really? We’ve known that that’s patently untrue for like a million years. But Besson and Morgan Freeman’s scientist character both seem perfectly fine believing that a human with just ten more percent of their brainpower can control radio waves or go into peoples’ memories, or change their hair color by sheer force of will.

Even for someone as indifferent to realism in movies as me, Lucy spends most of its run time straining my suspension of disbelief like my belt at a buffet. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a problem if Lucy didn’t seem to be trying to present itself as the next hard science genre odyssey, the next Interstellar but with more gunplay and Yakuza thugs.

It seems so convinced of itself, and while usually a movie playing the completely ridiculous with conviction is something I can get behind, in this case I was distracted by the sound of Neil Degrasse-Tyson having a breakdown just off screen.

And to add further problems, when Lucy essentially enters God-Mode in the second half or so, unlocking powers of telekinesis, omniscience and even bloody time travel, the movie seems to have no clue what to do with all the big ideas that it just dumped all over the table.

A new character is brought in to hang around Lucy for no reason that ever seems properly explained, solely because we need someone to be endangered now that Lucy can dispatch any threat with a flick of the wrist and we need a way to generate tension.

Lucy insert

The finale is meant to be some kind of epic, transcendental revelation about the nature of reality, the universe and everything, but it all feels like half-baked nonsense passed off as profound insight. Something about time being the only unit of measurement and one plus one not being two and a USB stick made out of stars.

And the thing that kinda bugs me more than anything else is that when Lucy isn’t trying to be so damn smart textually, it’s actually pretty damn fun formally at times. An early sequence actually uses symbolic editing, where non-contextual images are intercut with the action to create a kind of visual metaphor.

When bad guys are closing in on Lucy pre-transformation, Besson will cut to footage from a nature show of cheetahs stalking a gazelle. That’s interesting! That’s using editing techniques in ways that most mainstream blockbusters don’t, that’s using a different kind of toolset than we’re used to seeing!

Sure it may be a bit obvious, but it’s something new. Once in a while, Lucy will break out little formal touches like that that at least feel like someone was trying to bring something new to the table.

In a better movie, with a better script, little touches like that would have gone a long way, but in this case they just feel frustrating because they get swallowed up by a mediocre script bogged down by pretension and big ideas it has no idea how to handle or communicate properly.

Even though Lucy is, at the end of the day, something of a mess, I can’t fault it at least for being ambitious. I mean how many action thrillers from recent memory can you name that end up with the hero uncovering the secrets of the universe and becoming some kind of leggy super-diety?

And maybe with a better script, Lucy could have been something. But alas, all we’re left with is a confused jumble of ideas and action-set pieces occasionally lived up by some formal charm or decent effects work.

For a long time I believed, elitist scum that I was, that there are really two kinds of Ghibli movies: the ones Miyazaki himself did, and everything else. But really, I was wrong. There’s the ones Miyazaki did, the Isao Takahata ones, and everything else.

Takahata’s Ghibli movies aren’t really like any other Ghibli films, or any other anime movies in general. They have their own pace, their own mood, their own way of doing things. They’re almost uniformly not the kind of movies I’d recommend for kids, and not just because they’ve been known to involve the firebombing of Kobe and magical animal scrotums.

By the same coin, I think his films are the most likely of Ghibli’s repertoire to have trouble connecting with North American audiences. His latest film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, might just be the best example of this yet, a breathtakingly beautiful movie, but one I can’t shake the feeling won’t quite work for a lot of people.

After a bamboo cutter finds a tiny woman in a bamboo stalk not far from his home, he takes her home and presents the “princess” he has found to his wife. Shortly thereafter, the princess transforms into an infant child that the couple resolve to raise on their own.

Later on, the bamboo cutter finds gold and silks inside bamboo stalks in the same grove he found the girl, and decides that heaven is telling him that the girl must be raised as a true princess in a resplendent home in the city. He takes the girl and his family to Tokyo and she is trained as a lady and finds herself faced with suitors and increasing pressure from her father to enter high society, whether she wishes to or not (she doesn’t).

Princess Kaguya posterThe thing that will strike you about Princess Kaguya right from the start is that it’s just darn pretty. If this movie were the daughter of a wealthy businessman in The Stars My Destination, it would be shut in a windowless room in an undisclosed location for most of its life (shout out to my classic sci-fi peeps).

I’m not sure what you’d call the art style, somewhere between impressionistic and minimalist, modeled after emakimino, Japanese scroll stories and sort of a precursor to comics in a Scott McCloud kind of way. The extreme background will often be a blank white, figures will be minimally detailed, and the whole thing has this extremely hand drawn kind of look to it.

It’s incredibly striking, and a definite deviation from what Ghibli fans would recognize as their usual style. Like the narrative itself, it’s simple, effective, and beautiful in a disarming sort of way.

Speaking of the narrative, we’re in full-on fable/fairy tale mode here, which is where that disarming aspect comes in, and where I start to feel that some people may not be totally able to connect with the film. See, this is old-school fairy tale storytelling here. Characters will develop previously unmentioned superpowers like they were pre-crisis Superman, and the ending….well, I won’t spoil things, but odds are it won’t be the ending you expect, or the one you want.

Overall, it’s pretty melancholic as films go, slow paced and lyrical. Which isn’t a bad thing, by all means. If you can move to this film’s rhythm, it’ll take you on a hell of a dance. But I get the sense a lot of people won’t quite be able to match the tempo, and will end up sitting on the sidelines sipping punch with the chaperones.

For one thing, as I mentioned before, I wouldn’t really recommend it for kids. At least not most kids. If you’ve got an exceptionally patient, attentive, open-minded eight-to-ten year old, they’ll probably be able to watch it without falling asleep or fidgeting the whole time. Which again, is NOT a knock against the film, but against the attention span of the youth these days.

Princess Kaguya insert

But I think a lot of grownups are going to have trouble connecting with Princess Kaguya as well, and that’s not because of any fault of them or the film. I think North American audiences have a certain set of ingrained expectations about how fairy tales are supposed to feel and play out, blame Walt Disney if you must, but really it goes further back than that.

They expect clearer resolution, they expect clear cut heroes and villains, and especially these days, they expect it to move faster. Look, I don’t want to say that it’s “too foreign,” but let me put it this way: this definitely is a fable from a different culture, one with a different set of rules than what you’re going to expect coming at it from a North American perspective.

It’s gonna take turns that seem to abrupt to you, throw you sudden curve balls that dial up the culture shock and make it a bit hard to fully connect to the thing. I wouldn’t call it alienating, but I think it’s gonna throw people who aren’t as immersed in Japanese cultural norms when it comes to storytelling in myth and fable for a bit of a loop.

Even more so than Takahata’s other works, I think that The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a film I’d recommend more for anime and foreign cinema buffs than the kinds of people I usually direct towards Ghibli films, that being people looking for something to watch with their kids that’s a shade deeper than Disney or Dreamworks fare. And I wanna say for the umpteenth time that that isn’t a mark against the film, I just think it’s playing to a more specific audience than other Ghibli movies.

And that’s ok, we need more movies like that, broad appeal gets dull after a while. Just be forewarned that you’re getting into something a little different.

If you’re firmly a part of this film’s ideal audience, you’re in for a breathtakingly beautiful film. But sort of like Jim Jarmusch or Wes Anderson, I can appreciate that some people might just not be of the right mindset to appreciate what this film has to offer, not because something’s wrong with them, more because they’re walking to a different beat. If it were live action, it would be a Criterion Collection movie, and if you know what that means, there ya go.

I have a feeling that by starting his career on District 9, Neill Blomkamp may have done himself, and the rest of us for that matter, a bit of a disservice. After coming out of the gate with one of the most original, inventive, thoughtful, and just all-around good sci-fi films of the decade, Blompkamp followed up with Elysium. Elysium sucked. Mostly because it just wasn’t District 9. Where District 9 felt fresh and new, with a nuanced perspective and an interesting lead, Elysium felt like a collection of broad clichés, posing as an allegory for the wealth gap built around a shockingly generic turn by Matt Damon. The hope was that Elysium was a misstep, a slight stumble in what would otherwise be a great career for Blomkamp, and that he’d be back up to old form soon.

But now, with his new film Chappie receiving a critical paddling virtually across the board, we may have to accept a very uncomfortable truth: that Blomkamp was never the director we really wanted him to be, the golden boy who would deliver us a bright new future of intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi that also kicked ass, finally cementing the idea that fun and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive when it comes to sci-fi blockbusters. Because as you may have heard, Chappie isn’t great. Just like Elysium, it strings together a collection of shallow observations and allegories with a fairly dull collection of performances, with the mechanical designs and effects being the only thing worth remarking on.

chappie-posterA few years into the future, a brand-spanking new robotic police force is rolled out onto the streets of Joburg, bringing down crime rates and bringing up “cliched monotone robot voice” rates. The creator of the robots, played by Dev Patel, isn’t satisfied however, and imbues a busted robot with true AI, creating a thinking, feeling robot named Chappie. Of course, this all happens at the same time as Patel being kidnapped by a trio of criminals played by South African rave rappers Die Antwoord, whose influence throws Chappie’s future into question. While all this is happening, Hugh Jackman lurks around in the shadows, plotting Chappie’s downfall.

Given the film’s pedigree, I went in expecting Chappie to at least offer something approximating a discussion on the dangers, ethical and otherwise, of creating a truly sentient AI. But then again, I could walk into a Burger King expecting haute quisine, too. The problem is that all the elements are totally there for Chappie to actually be the nuanced look at a loaded topic I want it to be. Prince Zuko is totally set up to be the idealistic dreamer who creates something without fully considering the consequences of ethical ramifications of his actions. He even panics, and tries to control Chappie when the reality of what he’s done dawns on him. But at no point does he acknowledge that he may have acted in haste, that maybe he should have slept on it, or written a pros and cons list for bringing about the greatest technological achievement since the invention of the wheel.

By the same coin, Wolverine could totally have had legitimate fears and concerns over Chappie’s creation, because after all the prospect of an AI a billion times more intelligent than a human and capable of unraveling fundamental secrets of life with a stack of Playstations is pretty goddamn scary. But the only reason he hates Chappie, and all of Slumdog’s robots is that their development cuts into the funding of his own robot, an ED-209 ripoff controlled by VR. He never has a legitimate or understandable viewpoint, he’s just some mean Australian dude who got screwed out of some money.

No real questions are raised, no issues are addressed or ethical quandaries grappled with, just another noble, lovable robot messiah who faces down two-dimensional evil with catchphrases and childlike naivete.

Chappie insert

Maybe I wouldn’t be so cynical about Chappie, if it weren’t also littered almost as much Sony product placement as The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I mean, thank GOD Chappie had the amazing processing power of the Playstation 4 and the intuitively designed Sony Vaio laptop to help him discover the secrets of consciousness. Without these fine products, that evil, multinational mega-corp would have won out over individuality and free thought! Thankfully, Chappie doesn’t lean too hard on any kind of anti-corporate message, otherwise the product placement would have made the whole thing feel more disingenuous than my OKCupid profile.

But on the topic of commercial products dropped into the movie for no real reason… Why is Die Antwoord in this movie? I mean, really. They even go by their stage names, and are basically just playing versions of, what I assume, are already their Joburg gangster personas, and given the fact that they also provide a healthy chunk of the soundtrack, Chappie often ends up feeling like one of those high-concept music video movie album things, like Interstella 5555 something Kanye West would do.

As an action movie, it works well enough. Guns get shot in slow-motion, things explode, but the thing is that Blomkamp has set me up to ask that his movies be more than just action fests. District 9 had ideas, it had allegories, it had interesting and nuanced characters, it addressed the social ramifications of its central idea. Chappie never dares to go as deep, content to wade in the ideological kiddie pool. It even has the gaul to make motions toward some kind of religious allegory, carefully positioning Chappie and Sonny Kapoor into theological positions, with Chappie pointedly asking his creator why he was put in a body that will soon break down and die. But the problem is they never go anywhere with it, they never take it anyplace interesting.

“See, see!?” says the film, “The troubled relationship between Chappie and his creator is just like the theological questions grappled with by people of faith!” “Well great, movie”, says the audience, “Where you gonna take this next then?” At which point the film gives a panicked stare and goes “Oooh look Chappie’s got a rubber chicken isn’t it cute?!”

What happened, man? What happened to that horizon we were promised in 2009, of awesome sci-fi movies with intelligence and wicked cool action? What happened to the guy who was gonna deliver us from Avatar, and Michael Bay’s Transformers? Did we just put District 9 and Blomkamp on a pedestal they weren’t ready for? Would we be kinder to Chappie and even Elysium if they weren’t standing in the shadow of their predecessor? Maybe on all counts. But whatever the case may be, Chappie still doesn’t amount to a very good movie. As more than a couple of critics have suggested, just watch Short Circuit and the Robocop remake back to back and save yourself the let-down.

I’ve probably lamented before that we live in a film culture (and really, a culture in general) where novelty is a commodity. We crave new ideas, new takes, seek out new angles like a geometry professor who wants to be famous, but realized too late that he picked the wrong field for that.

This is why when someone like me hears the phrase “Iranian vampire movie,” we make that little interested noise that normal people make when they hear “free booze” or “willing sexual partner.” And make no mistake, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is interesting, not really because it’s the first vampire movie to come out of Iran, but because it is in layman’s terms “holy moly hot dippity damn where have you been all my life GOOD.”

Sheila Vand stars as a mysterious unnamed vampire stalking the streets of an Iranian city who crosses paths with Arash, a wayward kid with a junkie dad and a penchant for dressing like James Dean. Really, it goes where you would expect, the two fall in love (or something approximating love) while Arash’s life crumbles, in part due to the girl herself. Really, the love story aspect of the thing is secondary to the interwoven arcs of Arash, the girl, and several other assorted lost souls.

So right off the bat, Girl Walks Home is pretty. This isn’t director Ana Lily Amirpour’s first rodeo, but it is her first feature, and damn can this woman shoot a scene. The camera glides around in smooth, beautiful long takes, never obtrusive but never idle.

The lighting, oh dear sweet lord, the lighting. The film is a symphony of light and shadow, with some achingly beautiful shots lit with such flair and precision that the shadows are basically a character in their own right.

It reminds me a lot of early Jarmusch, around the era of Stranger than Paradise or Down by Law, and not just because of the sexy black and white. There’s a poetry to the imagery in this film, this delicious quality that results in virtually every frame being a work of art in itself, and people are probably gonna be dissecting it for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tony Zhou were doing an Every Frame a Painting video on it in the near future, and he’s gonna have a lot to work with.

The cast is technically an ensemble, but really this is Sheila Vand’s show, and she owns every second of it. I don’t think I’ve seen another actor in recent memory who has such a flair for subtlety of expression. With just the oval of her face and the barest of eye, brow and mouth movements she can move from predatory hunger, sorrow, malevolence, and ecstasy.

She’s at once beguiling and alien, an outsider looking in. It’s a masterful performance, in every sense. The other actors all do terrific jobs, but the whole thing really hinged on Vand’s performance, and thankfully she blows it out of the water.

Another thing that reminded me of Jarmush is how important music is to the film. A Girl Walks Home has already gotten a lot of attention for its music, and deservedly so. The score is this wonderful fusion of gothic, spaghetti western and pop/rock.

A lot like the camera work, it’s flexible, soaring when it needs to into Morricone inspired horns and choirs, and other times mellowing out into thumping minimalist beats. And for all that variety, it always works. It never feels out of place or ill-fitting.

The hype around the film has really come from its cultural roots. People don’t bring this movie up as a cool vampire movie, but rather a cool Iranian vampire movie. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. But one of the things I like most is that the film itself doesn’t fully take part in this.

While the film wouldn’t function nearly as well if it were completely taken out of its cultural context, it doesn’t trade on its cultural origins. It doesn’t bank on exoticism, which would have easily led to it feeling exploitative or tacky.

It’s an Iranian film, yes, but it’s more concerned with being a horror film, a film about fathers and sons, about culture, about youth, about love. The film gained hype for being Iranian, but when you really watch it you realize that the novelty of its origins aren’t something the film is at all interested in capitalizing in.

And really, it’s deeply unfair to qualify this as an Iranian vampire movie. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a vampire movie, a fantastic one, one that is also Iranian.

Would the film function as well were it set somewhere else? No, probably not. There’s doubtlessly scads of subtext and allegory packed into this thing that I didn’t pick up on. But it functions magnificently whether you pick up on that or not.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is playing at Cinema du Parc right now as of the time of this posting. If you’re a film buff, regardless of whether or not horror or genre films are your bag, you need to go and see this. This is fantastic, beautifully executed film making, rich with meaning and achingly, magnificently cool.

Oh goody-goddamn-gumdrops, another time travel movie. You know, I’m starting to feel like time travel is the zombies of science fiction. We’ve seen it so often and in so many flavors, that even the possibility of a new, novel approach is getting slim enough that you could classify it as two-dimensional. We’ve traveled through time with ridiculous 80s cars that no one bought; we’ve done it with large blue boxes that Americans keep calling a phone booth; and we’ve even done it with small pools of hot water that can make grown men sit uncomfortably close to each other whilst semi-naked. So what then does Predestination, the time travel thriller from the Spierig have to offer? Well, it’ll probably make you feel very smart. But the problem is, it does so by treating you like you’re very dumb.

PREDESTINATION_27X40_R3MECH.inddEthan Hawke stars as an agent of a mysterious agency tasked with using time travel to do… Er, something. They never really spell it out, but the implication is that they go around Quantum Leap style, setting right what once was wrong, preventing disasters and such. After a horrible accident in which his face is burned and completely reconstructed, he travels back to the 1970s to listen to some random fella tell his sob story about how he was born a woman, but had to receive a forced sex change after a problematic birth – the result of a relationship with a mysterious stranger who promptly vanished, taking the baby along with him. And right now, you’ve probably already figured out one of the many shocking twists that Predestination has primed to throw at you, or are at the very least thinking along the right lines.

You see, Predestination has some twists. Some slightly silly, basically nonsensical, twists that will make your head hurt if you think too hard about them, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that by the time the movie finally pulls back the curtain with a look of triumph on its face, you’ve already figured out what’s behind the curtain and have to politely feign surprise. Predestination, you see, just isn’t very good at being subtle about where this is all heading, dropping enough clues and hints that all the pieces should really have fallen into place for you by about half an hour in. And I don’t think this is me being “too smart” for this movie, the problem is that Predestination doesn’t think I’m smart enough for ~it~. No really, movie, you’re telling me that there’s a connection between the abundance of mysterious men whose face we conspicuously never see? And the fact that Ethan Hawke’s face gets burned at the beginning of the film, that’s somehow relevant too? Well imagine my shock! I mean, it isn’t like you telegraphed every hit like a bad boxer.

I think part of the problem is that Predestination needed to be way more structurally ambitious than it actually ended up being. Most of the first 40 minutes are basically this big infodump as Sarah Snook’s character narrates her entire life story to Ethan Hawke, and the problem with narration in film is that if you overdo it, which Predestination does, it just feels lazy and boring. Film is a visual medium, built on the idea of telling a story with imagery, editing, mise-en-scene. Throw this much narration in, and it basically becomes an audiobook with some images that you can Predestination ethan hawkechoose to look at, if you feel like it. And why not mix up the order a bit, feed us new pieces of information about Snook’s characters backstory as we need them by cutting back and forth between her past and her present? If the first half of your movie is one big extended sequence of blandly delivered exposition, that’s a pretty major problem. I’m not asking for Last Year at Marienbad, here, but the whole idea could have worked so much better if you told the story differently. Storytelling, like a good joke, is all in the delivery, and as far as deliveries go, Predestination is like getting the wrong pizza three hours late and upside down in the box.

And really – if we’re being honest – even if the basic idea behind the film were executed more skillfully and actually came as a surprise… It’s still kinda silly. Kinda – really – silly. Yes, I know, it’s based on a Robert Heinlein novel and Robert Heinlein was a pretty good writer, but this is basically the plot of an episode of Futurama, only sillier than the actual episode and played totally straight. And there’s totally a way to make really silly premises work, and sometimes a premise can be so silly that I can get on board and respect it for trying to pull it off… But this isn’t it.

I’m sure that one day the Spierig brothers will live up to their promise of being adventurous, risk-taking genre film makers who come up with neat ideas for movies and manage to pull them off. But a lot like their previous effort, Daybreakers, Predestination is just a flawed, badly executed movie with an admittedly original idea at its core, but not one the film can actually make work as the driving force for a narrative. Better executed, with more ambition and respect for its audience to get experimental in terms of structure and not constantly telegraph every twist, this could have been an all right, if silly little genre film. As it is, it just feel like an example of how not to do a film like this.

Ok, that’s it, we need a name for this. The practice of consciously rejecting the previous trend of gritty realism in genre films, in favor of a more old-school, colorful sense of fun has become so commonplace that I think it’s time we just acknowledged it as a cultural trend on its own – and we need something to call it. Post-Nolanism? Anti-Grit? Post-Grit? Post-Grit – Post-Grit! Ok, I like that. And if anything’s bloody post-grit, it’s Kingsman, the new spy film that might as well be subtitled I Don’t Care for Those New Bond Films. Or maybe Nudge-Nudge, Wink Wink for how crammed it is with post-modern references to the well-worn tropes of classic spy movies. It’s pretty damn hard to look at Kingsman and not see it as about as reactionary a film as possible: an unapologetic love letter to the camp and zaniness of the Bond movies of yesteryear, embracing all the gadgets, doomsday plots and tongue-in-cheek humor that modern Bond movies have cast off with the coming of Daniel Craig. Of course, this is also a Matthew Vaughn movie based on a Mark Millar comic, so it’s a tribute to classic Bond mixed liberally with cussing, violence, and a sense of the gleefully juvenile. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Kingsman isn’t a classy movie – you basically have to accept that going in. There are exploding heads, people getting cut in half by weaponized prostheses, and if you can stay till the end, there’s even some butt stuff. But if you’re cool with that, if that’s your thing, it’s about as fun a time at the movies as you can hope for.

Kingsman posterTaron Egerton stars as Eggsy, a teenager who finds out that his long dead father was a member of Kingsman (not “the kingsmen” as 90% of the audience are likely to mislabel both the organization and the movie), a secret agency dedicated to preserving peace through all manner of spy shenanigans. He learns this through Colin Firth’s Galahad, a seasoned Kingsman agent who takes Eggsy under his wing, and begins training him as a spy and a gentleman, a difficult task since Eggsy’s vocabulary contains more than the allotted number of apostrophes, ‘iff you ‘atch my drift, ‘innit guv’. While all this is happening, Sam Jackson’s Valentine, a wealthy philanthropist, sets in motion a plan to avert climate change that naturally involves killing a very large number of people, and only Eggsy Kingsman can stop him.

As I mentioned before, Kingsman is both a loving tribute to spy films of old and an extended post-modern riff on the tropes of those same spy films. At times, the latter can get a bit tiresome. Oh yeah, it’s fun when the characters talk about how modern spy movies aren’t their cup of tea, and crack jokes about how “this is the part where the badguy tells the hero his plan before dropping him into an elaborate death trap” but after a while the nudge-nudge in-jokes can wear a tad thin. There’s also kind of a sense that the movie is trying to have its cake and eat it to, cracking jokes and post-modernly subverting the tropes of old spy movies, while at the same time embracing them with all the gusto and fury of impassioned lovers at the airport after a long absence. But I think what’s really going on is that Kingsman isn’t subverting these tropes out of a sense of early 2000s cynicism, but out of a genuine love and affection for the material, warts and all. It’s like a Terry Pratchett novel or something, wryly pointing out just how silly all this is and how easy it is to subvert the tropes for comedic effect, but then turning around and going “all the same, as long as we’re here, let’s have fun with it, shall we?”

And fun it most certainly is. Especially when the third act arrives and everything shifts into high gear, it feels like Vaughn really lets his hair down and goes into full-on kid in a sandbox mode, indulging every creative impulse no Kingsman sammatter how juvenile or anarchic. Things get pretty damn ridiculous, and everyone is clearly having enough of a good time with it that it’s hard to resist spending the last half hour or so with a big ‘ole smile plastered across your face. Which isn’t to say the first two thirds of it aren’t fun, either. The action scenes are this hyper kinetic blend of sped-up motion, slow mo, quick little digital zooms a-la Snowpiercer, and enough shaky-cam that it doesn’t become a bother, and all of them fun and inventively choreographed.

The cast are all clearly having a ball, and Taron Egerton manages to have enough charisma as a leading man that it isn’t hard to see why Disney allegedly approached him about playing a young Han Solo. Sam Jackson clearly enjoys playing a villain enough that I won’t be surprised when if we start seeing him in more villain roles in the future, and Colin Firth is great, but really that’s to be expected. Even Mark Hamill has a small role, and while he doesn’t exactly steal the show, he’s good enough to make up for the preposterously bad turn he gave in Sushi Girl. If there’s any one weak link, it’s Sophie Cookson as Roxy, one of Eggsy’s fellow spies-in-training. She isn’t bad, but as far as being multi-dimensional goes, she isn’t exactly The Crisis on Infinite Earths. She’s basically an afterthought in the long run, and you can feel the script straining to give her something interesting to do in that bombastic third act before more or less forgetting about her. Hopefully she gets an expanded role in the inevitable sequel, since Cookson does seem to be trying and frankly deserves more than the paper-thin material she’s given.

And really there isn’t much else to say about Kingsman. It’s just fun. It’s a rollicking, often juvenile, occasionally clunky but never in a deal breaking way, fun as heck day at the movies and we don’t have enough of those outside of summer movie season, and even then ones with actual charm and wit are depressingly few and far between. It may overdo it on the meta jokes but if you’re in the right mindset you’re basically guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face.

American genre movies are only just starting to get out of this really awful, awkward, and generally un-fun period of being sort of embarrassed at themselves. For the longest time there was this almost palpable terror in sci-fi, and to a lesser extent in horror films, of being perceived as being silly or immature. So wherever possible, fantastic or “out there” elements were marginalized as much as possible. This is why we ended up getting a Godzilla movie with barely any Godzilla in it, why genre movies with diverse color palettes are noteworthy, and why Man of Steel tried to distance itself so much from the perception of Superman as a big cheesy boy-scout that it turned him into a big mopey bore. There was, and to a good extent still is, this desperate need for some kind of cultural legitimacy, the only road to which is apparently to downplay anything too fantastical. Hey, did you know that that new Fantastic Four movie has people with superpowers in it? It’s true, freeze frame some parts of the trailer and you can aaaalmost see it.

Jupiter Ascending posterNow, finally, we’re getting out of this phase and genre movies are coming out of the closet again. They’re allowing themselves to be silly, to have fun, to wallow in larger-than-life sci-fi shenanigans and making few to zero apologies for it. This is what I was hoping for when I went in to see Jupiter Ascending: a totally unapologetic sci-fi romp, completely unashamed at its silly premise, and even sillier characters, concepts, world and lore and just going whole hog with it. And thankfully, that’s what I got. I just wish I could have gotten a good movie, too.

Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones, a cleaning lady who finds out that she’s the reincarnation of the queen of a family of alien royalty that own the planet Earth, and in fact are the ones who seeded it with human life. After being whisked away to space by an ex-soldier named Caine, played by Channing Tatum, Jupiter has to contend with the sons of her previous incarnation, who want the Earth for their own nefarious purposes.

Ok, so remember when I said that Jupiter Ascending was totally unapologetic about just how silly it is? Well, here’s the thing. You don’t know silly. You have no idea. Not unless you’ve seen Jupiter Ascending. The royal family Jupiter becomes a part of? Space vampires. Oh yeah, and they’re totally referred to as space vampires on at least one occasion. Space vampires who have in their employ gray aliens like you see in tabloids or X-Files re-runs and big fuck-off lizard people who I’m pretty sure are meant to be descended from freakin’ dinosaurs. There’s a fight scene in a corn field in front of Sean Bean’s house that totally leaves behind a crop circle. The protagonists realize that Mila Kunis is queen of the space vampires because bees really like her, and “bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.” Exact quote. There’s an elephant man. Not like an “I am not an animal!” elephant man, I mean like a man with a trunk, tusks, flappy ears, the whole nine. Someone sat down and said “Ok, let’s design an elephant man that cannot identified as anything BUT an elephant man, an elephant man that embodies in all aspects the very phrase ‘elephant man.'”

Look! Look! See? ELEPHANT MAN!

This movie is BONKERS. It’s so totally out to lunch that it makes Guardians of the Galaxy look subdued and sensible. And not once, not on one occasion does the film feel self-conscious about itself. Jupiter Ascending is like the guy you see walking down St. Catherine with fluorescent pink dreadlocks and a civil war cavalryman’s coat. It’s utterly unashamed and proud at how completely goddamn nuts it is. It’s Portland: The Movie. And for that? I respect the hell out of it. This movie has a confidence that I could never hope to match. But the problem is… It also kinda sucks.

The story is this over-written, nebulous mess saddled with so much lore and backstory that we spend practically the first half in full exposition mode, and it’s constantly moving from one endgoal to another. One minute Chan McTates has to save Jupiter from marrying one evil dude, the next it’s a mad race to stop an entirely other evil dude from killing Jupiter’s family so he can get her to give him the Earth. There’s this weird, almost Hitchhiker’s Guide-esque sequence where Jupiter has to navigate the alien bureaucratic system so she can properly take her place as reincarnated space vampire queen, and for a couple of minutes the film has a totally different tone from everything that came before or after. There’s too many villains, too many concepts thrown at us one after the other, it’s just a big unmanageable mess.

The action scenes usually wind up being more boring than exciting, with over-designed spaceships zipping around weightlessly while making unimpressive laser noises, the 3D and needlessly busy design aesthetics reducing everything to a blurry haze of CGI. If you have a chance, don’t see it in 3D, because when the 3D isn’t making the action scenes unintelligible it’s making a lot of the greenscreen effects look impressively terrible.

The acting is equal parts dull and over-the-top, with Tatum just seeming bored half the time, and Eddie Redmayne delivering most of his lines in what he probably thought was a Voldemort-esque rasp but then occasionally shrieking something out like he just realized he left the space-oven on.

“Bees don’t lie” Again, actual dialogue

If there’s one thing I did kind of like, it was how Kunis actually plays the active role in her romance with Tatum’s half-human, half-wolf commando. Oh right yeah, Tatum is part wolf – did I mention that this movie is nuts? She’s actually the one who makes her intentions known first and flirts awkwardly, while Tatum stands there dreaming about playing Gambit from X-Men someday. And you don’t see that often in genre movies, so that’s something at least. But then it basically gets undone when Tatum has to save her from some new peril at least twice per act if not more.

It’s just not at all good – a clunky, over-written, over-designed, poorly structured collection of ideas and set-pieces. It’s at times tone-deaf and at other times boring. And yet I still respect it. I admire Jupiter Ascending for how balls-out crazy it is, how unabashed it is about being a fever dream of space vampires, friendly bees and that goddamn, beautiful elephant man. It’s honest with itself, it’s proud of itself, and for genre movies that’s still somewhat rare, especially on this scale. And I would take a big, ugly mess of a movie that’s proud of itself over one that puts on airs, and tries to make you think you’re watching something much less ridiculous than you actually are by not letting anyone just call it the goddamn Batmobile.

Since last year, one of the biggest questions circulating in entertainment news (or at the very least, the entertainment news I care about enough to follow) has been: “What’s to become of that there Spider-Man?” Since The Amazing Spider-Man 2 underperformed at the box office and with the critics (both for good reasons), rumors have been circulating of talks between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios about everyone’s favorite wall-crawler returning home to Marvel to join in on all the lucrative, high-quality movie making. Well, this week, those rumors were finally put to rest when it was announced that Spider-Man would finally be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I think I speak for everyone when I say: YES! YES! YES! OH THANK YOU, LORDY LORD YES!


Spidey insert
Spidey, hopeful about the future.

But then again, not everyone is quite as plugged in to the whole comic-book-turned-movie news thing as I am – a fact that became apparent when, upon hearing the news and excitedly messaging a friend out of the need for someone to vent my joy at, I was met by a blankness that could probably only be matched by myself if someone tried to talk to me about… Well, y’know, something that actually matters. So for those not in the know, this week on FFR, I’ll take you through what’s happened, what it means and how I feel about it.

Spider-Man is joining the MCU…..but quite leaving Sony

Since before the first Sam Raimi movie, the screen rights to Spider-Man have been held by Sony Pictures, meaning that Spider-Man could only appear in films produced by Sony. This meant that all that wonderful Marvel Studios fun, where characters can appear in each other’s movies, take part in team-ups, etc., was something that Spidey couldn’t really join in on. Until now. Spidey is set to appear in an upcoming Marvel Studios film, most likely Captain America: Civil War – unless Marvel jumps right the hell in, throws a Spidey suit on a stuntman and does a last minute re-shoot for the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, so they can throw him in a post-credits scene. But don’t hold your breath on that one. Spidey is then set to make his proper MCU debut in 2017 in a brand new film that seriously – seriously – better not suck.

Spider and Avengers
The movie of this may now become reality.


The hope everyone had was that the Spidey film rights would get sold back to Marvel, wresting him away from mean old Sony, but that isn’t the case. Sony still owns the film rights, but is sharing our friendly neighbourhood superhero with Marvel. The new film in 2017 will still be a Sony movie, but with Marvel Studios president Kevin Fiege producing, to make sure Sony doesn’t go all… Well, go all Sony. Avi Arad, the producer of every previous Spider-Man movie and the man many blame for the woeful state of Spider-Man films today, will be given a meaningless Executive Producer credit, and barred from providing any creative input.

While none of this guarantees that the next film will be great, it’s essentially taken the franchise out of the hands that put it in the shape it’s in today and ensured that we have a much better chance of getting something that won’t make me want to pour acid in my face.

Andrew Garfield’s day as Spider-Man is done

This was basically a foregone conclusion even before all this news, since Garfield had apparently been looking to get out of his contract since before ASM2, and rumors indicated that Sony was looking to find a new face for the franchise. Word is that Sony and Marvel are already staring the casting process up, with Logan Lerman and Dylan O’Brien being the frontrunners. There was a lot of hope that Miles Morales, the alternate universe Spider-Man of mixed race (African-American/Latino) heritage would be the MCU Spider-Man, but sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case. While I never hated Garfield as Spider-Man, I can’t say I’m sad to see him go, and can understand the need to start with some new blood.

Sinister six insert

Drew Goddard’s Sinister Six movie is apparently still happening, just maybe not for a while

One of the many, many problems that plagued ASM2 was that a disproportionate chunk of it was dedicated to setting up The Sinister Six, a spinoff movie which would see Spider-Man’s greatest villains team up to do something or other. The only thing we’ve really known about the movie since it was announced was that Drew Goddard, the director and co-writer of Cabin in the Woods, would be in the director’s chair and writing the script. With Spidey joining the MCU, the future of the project seems like it should be in doubt, but Sony have gone on record saying that it’s still happening.

And honestly, I’m glad. Spidey finally getting to come out and play with his Marvel buddies is fantastic news, but it would have been a shame if it had come at the cost of a potentially good flick, and I think Drew Goddard could really give us one. If Marvel and Sony wanted to be total badasses, they’d offer Goddard the job of directing the 2017 movie, maybe even using the script Goddard wrote as a starting off point.

The Marvel movie schedule will change to accommodate the new Spider-Man film

Pretty much immediately, Marvel released the new schedule for their next few years worth of content, adjusted for the new Spidey movie. The new movie will take the spot previously held by Thor: Ragnarok, releasing on July 28th, 2017. Everything after that, with the exception of both halves of Avengers: Infinity War has been pushed back slightly. The only major change is that The Inhumans, which was previously slated for release in November of 2018 to July of 2019.

Given that right now you’re probably asking “Who the Hell are The Inhumans”, this probably isn’t gonna affect much, and I can’t say it’s a great loss. Look, I’m sure Marvel has some very cool plans for the characters, I mean hey they live on the dark side of the moon and have a giant teleporting bulldog, but I’d just as well wait for that if it means getting a potentially decent Spider-Man movie that much sooner.

Info from Variety, Screenrant and Marvel.

It is, in the parlance of our time, cold as butts. The wind howls like a Sony investor going over his quarterly reports; the snow is piled high as unsold copies of The Remaining; and the Frost Trolls have set up camp on Crescent, cutting off access to most of our best shitty university bars. Summer seems like a far-off hope, ever out of reach. But it’s coming, my friends, and all of its beautiful, banal, and soulless entertainment is coming with it – and the Super Bowl is here to remind us of that. More than ever before, the Super Bowl is less about any actual sports, than it is about the glittering monument to commercialism that we’ve built around it, a golden cow to for that is shallow and good. As much as the San Diego Comic-Con, the Big Game is where the upcoming summer’s most anticipated hype machines come to strut their stuff in special Superbowl ads, and this year we’ve had some doozies. So, as I like to do when it gets cold and Oscar movies dominate screens, I’m taking this week to look ahead at the delicious pablum Hollywood is already prepping to shovel into our grateful mouths by looking at the sneak peeks we’ve been given of said pablum, this time focusing on what we saw during this year’s Super Bowl.

Jurassic World posterJurassic World

I don’t know what it is that has me so fascinated by Jurassic World and everything about it. Maybe it’s the impression that the film is combating the very real concern that dinosaur movies just don’t interest people anymore by jumping the shark so hard, that the shark overcomes its biological limitations and starts a slow clap.

The Super Bowl trailer for Jurassic World, sadly, doesn’t offer us much in the way of new indications of how batshit insane this movie might just be if we all pray hard enough. We get the revelation that the new dinosaur (which is being hyped up so damn hard that there’s no way it will live up to expectations, unless it has live bears for teeth and a chainsaw penis like that one scene in Robot Jox) and a brief shot of someone shooting at the thing with a light machine gun from a helicopter – a scene which had better goddamn have Long Tall Sally playing in the background. Jurassic World‘s big game ad doesn’t really get me more excited for the movie, but at this point that would be impossible – short of saying that Jesse Ventura’s manning that MG.

Furious 7

The Fast and the Furious franchise has never really appealed to me – looking like nothing more than a collection of over-shot car chases, and a collection of grown-up fratboys droning on endlessly about family, honour, and large pieces of machinery that don’t even turn into robots. However, the Super Bowl ad for Furious 7 piqued my interest when it climaxed (very appropriate word) on a shot where series protagonist Vin Diesel jumps a car from one Dubai skyscraper to another, while being shot at by Jason Statham. OK, you got me, I’ll watch your dumb car movie. You’ve clearly become so far-removed from the Point Break remake the series started out as, that you could have it turn out to be a Wacky Races reboot at this point, and I wouldn’t blink an eye. You have succeeded, the sheer ridiculousness of your trailer’s money shot has impressed even me.

Seventh SonSeventh Son poster

Remember seeing ads for this thing like, over a year ago and thinking it looked like the biggest turd ever, only to have it never show up in theaters? Well, it still hasn’t hit yet and here’s why. Seventh Son was shot around two years ago by Russian director Sergei Bodorov, based on a book with a racist name I’d never heard of. After being delayed several times, the film was pushed back even further when its parents, Warner Bros and Legendary Studios, split ways and the release of the film was taken over by Universal, who moved the film’s release date to compete with Warner’s Jupiter Ascending.

I almost feel bad for this movie, it’s like the kid that gets screwed over by a nasty divorce – the subject of a custody battle where no one asks what he wants – and he winds up being used as a weapon by parents looking to stick it to each other. I’m gonna go see it, partially because it looks like a ridiculous farce full of dragons, monsters, Kit Harrington and for some reason a Hindu deity, but partially out of that sympathy for a film that got screwed over by industry politics. The Super Bowl ad doesn’t do much to make the film look like it’ll be an enjoyable experience, but after everything this film’s been through, I don’t care. I want to give it a hug and take it out for a cup of coacoa to get its mind off things.

Tomorrowland posterTomorrowland

Tomorrowland’s football ad is Geneviève Bujold’s character in the 1984 movie Choose Me. Even though she’s got Lesly Ann Warren on one side and Rae Dong Chong on the other, you find yourself drawn back to Bujold because of how subdued she is, how much she holds back. Tomorrowland is the same way, standing apart in a pack of ads built on throwing excess and style in your face, keeping you interested by only tantalizing you with glimpses of what it has to offer. Maybe there’s some fantastic cityscapes in there, maybe some steampunk contraptions of gears and levers, maybe even Gary Chalk will be involved tangentially (though he probably won’t say “maximize” at any point, and ye Gods with the obscure references right now).

But none of the advertising has been really about throwing that in our face in the same way as these other Super Bowl ads, and there’s something I can’t help but respect about that. It’s playing things close to the vest in a system built more than ever on excess, and because of that I find myself more curious about it than most other movies slated for this summer. I know what I’ll be getting with Jurassic World, but Tomorrowland is a mystery, and I love a mystery as much as I love dropping references that most FTB readers probably won’t get. Dropping them like the Goldion Hammer on a zonder’s face. Hikari ni nare, mother fucker.

In this, the year of our lord two thousand and fifteen, I’ve already seen my fair share of good movies. But I hadn’t seen a great one, one that left me trembling and speechless, one which totally reaffirmed my faith in this kooky thing we call cinema.

You’ll notice that I used “hadn’t” indicating past-tense, because barely a month in to the year, that’s changed. Fury, the World War 2 tank action flick starring Brad Pitt and Shia the Beef and directed by David Ayer, is indeed great. Both as an action film and a drama, Fury soars, impressing with both its beautifully filmed and edited action sequences and powerful acting and dramatic moments. Fury, in a lot of ways, spends most of its two-hours-and-change runtime rejecting things, from the way war movies are so often filmed these days to the sentimentality still seen in World War 2 films to this day.

Fury posterFury follows the crew of a World War 2 tank in the European theater during the last years of the war. Brad Pitt plays the commander, Don “Wardaddy” Collier, with the usual war flick crew of the quiet religious guy (The Beef), the at-least-partly psycopathic redneck (Jon Berntal),the smart mouth (Michael Pena) and the wide-eyed new recruit who spends the film getting his innocence and naivete beaten out of him like Amuro freakin’ Ray (Logan Lerman). The film consists of a series of episodes as the crew participate in the slow march across Germany, slowly liberating one town after another.

Given Ayer’s previous work in End of Watch, a gritty quasi-found-footage cop drama, I had an idea of what to expect going in to Fury, which was basically the same set of aesthetics that have been par for the course for WW2 movies since the first scene of Saving Private Ryan. Faded brown and gray color palette, heavy grain in the image, tons of hand-camera work, you know the look I mean. But imagine my surprise when I got basically the exact opposite. Fury‘s visuals are crisp and clean, with a varied (but not overtly so) range of color and a camera that remains active but never too active.

Ayer clearly knows that filming tank battles is a very different thing than filming infantry battles, and that the hand-held, shaky style just wouldn’t work in a style of combat more about strategy and tactics than frantic encounters between soldiers on a battlefield. The tank battle scenes are magnificently filmed, rejecting the idea that the best way to film a battle is to simulate the feeling of actually being in one. The camera always manages to be just the right distance from the action, still maintaining a sense of urgency and drama without assaulting the viewer with sound and…well, fury.

Fury‘s tank battles expertly keep the viewer in the moment while never overwhelming them. And during the non-battle scenes, Ayer demonstrates a great eye for striking shots and compositions, beginning and ending the film on two breathtakingly beautiful shots. The only knock against the visuals is that the tracer rounds used by both sides look a bit too laser-y, and the fact that the Americans and Nazis apparently color-coded green and red tracer rounds had some scenes looking like the ultra-gritty G.I Joe movie we never got. Or hey, maybe World War 2 actually looked like that, I wasn’t there.

Fury the Beef

Fury has been decisive, and it isn’t hard to see why. The film doesn’t shy away from showing some of the less heroic side of American soldiers during the war, including the use of White Phosphorous rounds, the execution of prisoners and the brutality with which new recruits were “broken in.”

But Fury doesn’t portray its protagonists and sadists and psychopaths barely removed from their cartoonishly evil enemies (like some other Brad Pitt-helmed war films….), instead treading a careful line between portraying the camaraderie and ultimate nobility of some men in the conflict, while never shying away from the fact that others just really enjoyed killing people. And in between the two, innocence usually winds up getting crushed like a flower under the treads of the tank that houses our protagonists.

In films set during other, more recent conflicts, this kind of moral ambiguity has come to be expected. You don’t watch a Vietnam movie for heroism, most of the time. World War 2, for a lot of Americans, is different, the last time true good clashed with true evil.

Fury has what some would call the gall and others would call the balls to shine a light on that supposed true good, portraying the capital-G Greatest generation in a less than flattering light. In today’s climate of patriotic chest-thumping, that takes guts in my book.

But what’s important is that Fury isn’t shining a light on these men and their less-than-honorable deeds to vilify them, but war itself. War has made these men what they are, because that’s the only way they’ve been able to survive, and the only way they believe their new recruit will survive is to become as batshit war-crazy as they are.

I won’t tell you if it works or not, but watching it happen is at times more gut-wrenching than any of the battle scenes, and the dangling question mark at the end of Fury‘s question of “is it worth it?” is the most lethal bullet in Ayer’s chamber.

I’m generally of the opinion that awards shows and film awards are ten pounds of pointlessness in a five pound bag, but once in a blue moon a film being nominated will cause me to reevaluate my interest in it. Such was the case when it was announced that Paddington, the live action film adapted from the beloved children’s book series, had been nominated for two British Institute of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards. “Paddington?” thought I, my incredulity as thick as expired mayonnaise. “The one with the creepy bear and the teaser focused mostly on scatological humor, the one thing guaranteed to make me lose interest in a movie? Pull the other one!”

And yet, it was true. Paddington picked up two BAFTA nods, for best British film and best adapted screenplay, on top of glowing reviews across the board. Maybe I shouldn’t brush the film off as I had intended to. And having done so, I think I should thank the BAFTAs for convincing me to give Paddington a try. It may not be the best kids movie ever – and in the broad sense it is fairly standard. But when you start looking closer at the connective tissue within the hum-drum plot structure, you’ll find a lot of charm and wit.

Paddington posterLooking at it in the broad sense, Paddington is about as straightforward an adaptation of the original stories as possible. The titular bear is part one of a rare species that was taught English and the joys of mass marmalade (and presumably insulin) consumption by an English explorer. When an earthquake leaves young Paddington as one of the last of his kind, he follows the explorer’s advice and sets off for London, eventually falling in with a lovably dysfunctional family while drawing the attention of a villainous museum curator/taxidermist who wants to stuff Paddington to add to her collection. The story hits all the bases and embraces all the tropes you’d expect. Dad is a chronic worrywart, morally opposed to fun, who raises some (very real and legitimate) concerns about keeping the accident prone bear around, free to endanger his kids and lower his property values. Mum is a free spirit who just wants to help Paddington and help her husband be less of a tool and raise her children, who fall into the “embarrassed teenage girl” and “over-active younger boy” categories as neatly as pieces in a Perfection game. Of course, there are hijinks galore, a downturn in the second act when it seems all hope is lost, all culminating in a madcap rescue in the third act.

The “bones” of Paddington – the basic plot and story structure – are rigidly formulaic, as stayed and unchanged as they were in Stuart Little, Harry and the Hendersons, and every other ‘nuclear-family-takes-in-magical-stranger’ movie. But where things come alive for Paddington is in everything in between the court-mandated story beats. When the script is free to just have fun, the writing reveals itself to be clever enough that the adults will probably be chuckling more than the kids. There’s a lot of great wordplay, a killer cutaway gag, and this fun little Shakespeare joke that 95% of the North American audience is basically guaranteed not to get. If not for that damn earwax/toilet scene from the trailer, I’d almost call it classy or highbrow.

Paddington insert

There’s also a ton of visual style as well, and I get the sense that the director (or at least the production designer) is a Wes Anderson fan. A lot of the sets and locales have a very bright and colorful dollhouse quality, similar to Anderson’s style, but without that sense that you wouldn’t be allowed to touch anything if you were to walk around in it, if that makes any sense. There’s this one recurring scene that’s ripped straight out of Moonrise Kingdom, where the camera makes a series of pans around a cut-away set, although in Paddington‘s case there’s more image manipulation at play than when Anderson did it.

The cast is a good ensemble of British heavyweights, including Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, a brief voice cameo by Michael Gambon and Peter Capaldi, and they all do fine in what are basically stock roles. The only one who doesn’t seem to be pulling her weight is Nicole Kidman as the villain, in a performance so phoned in that I was asked if I would accept the charges before her first scene. She’s really just playing Cruella de Ville with a less obvious wig and a slightly more interesting motivation, and you can tell that she’s fairly bored with the part. Considering that Ben Wishaw was basically brought in to voice Paddington at the last minute after the departure of Colin Firth, he plays the roll well, getting across the wide-eyed innocent quality that was needed.

If you go on to Paddington‘s IMDB page, you’ll notice it has three writers. One, also the director, Paul King, is credited as having written the film, while the other two are credited as writing the ‘screen story.’ I think that’s really where Paddington‘s only real fault lies. It feels like a movie that was mapped out as a broad, paint-by-numbers family adventure, but then given a much more interesting and talented writer to actually fill in the blanks. There are scenes, lines of dialogue, and gags that are great. But when you look at what they all add up to, it’s only good. It’s a road well traveled with beautiful and interesting scenery. I can’t help but wonder what we would have gotten had King been given full freedom with the story and been allowed to craft a better narrative to hang his jokes on. Maybe if we get a sequel, he’ll get that chance. In the mean time, Paddington is still a great family movie with plenty for everyone to enjoy. Just don’t expect it to be the next Lego Movie.

Once in a while, with about the same regularity as new Blizzard games, Netflix comes through. After randomly hearing about an indie sci-fi/horror called Beyond the Black Rainbow and seeing some screenshots full of funky lighting and retro-80s futurism, my interest was piqued and I resolved to be all over this shit like stink on a dead monkey. But imagine my surprise when it turned out that I “wouldn’t” have to risk the wrath of Canada’s new policy of toothless finger-wagging at pirates to see it, because Netflix Canada for once had exactly what I was looking for, WHEN I was looking for it. It’s just a shame that this momentous occasion left me with an only somewhat satisfying movie, a film that starts off as a beautifully shot, stylistically rich sci-fi head-scratcher, but ends up with a disappointing let-down of a climax.

Black Rainbow posterThe film centers on Elena, a near-comatose young girl with psychic powers being kept in a secret facility seemingly built as part of some kind of New Age cult started by Elena’s father. Elena’s only real contact is with Barry Nyle, a cult member and Elena’s therapist, who spends most of their scenes together perving on her something fierce. Over the course of the film, we learn more about Barry and Elena’s pasts, or at least are given some hints at them, as Barry slowly goes insane and Elena slowly comes out of her shell.

Beyond the Black Rainbow does something I always respect in a movie, which is, essentially, dropping us into the plot with almost nothing in the way of exposition or set-up, and demanding that the audience think about what they’re seeing and suss out what’s going on and who everyone is. A lot like Drug War or Upstream Color, Black Rainbow really refuses to hold the audience’s hand, which, if we’re being honest, can be a sign of either respect for the audience, or a sign that the film deems itself too good to explain itself – see also Love. Black Rainbow for the most part seems to fall in the good part of the spectrum, and I never quite got the sense that the movie was being obtuse for the sake of being obtuse, though it comes close here and there. But make no mistake, you’re gonna have to figure some stuff out on your own.

Black Rainbow‘s strongest asset is by far its visuals, which bask in 80s nostalgia, but not in a Manborg, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon way. Instead it’s as if it’s trying to come off like some artsy 80s sci-fi experiment that time forgot. The art design is all beautifully realized retro-futurism, all cold blank surfaces and Daft Punk looking robots. The lighting drenches the actors in seas of color, ominous reds and washed-out blues, making it feel almost like some especially funky Italian number at times. If there’s one thing that really breaks the retro aesthetic of the film it’s that underneath all that grain it’s still quite clear that it was shot in HD, which can give the intense grain that tacked-on feeling of an Instagram filter at times, with all the detail clashing with the attempt at aging the look of the film.

All the actors perform well, with Michael Rogers as Barry getting just the right mix of creepy and intruiging, making for one of those rare villains that you want to learn more about at the same time that you want to slap a restraining order on the creepy bastard. Eva Bourne is understated as strong as Elena, getting across her character’s confusion and terror at… well, basically everything, despite having maybe five lines max in the whole movie.

Black Rainbow Domo Arigato


But then the ending comes along. Oh, the fucking ending of this movie, Jesus tapdancing Christ, the ending. I’m not gonna spoil it, but at around the 90 minute mark, those stylistic elements that served as the ace in the hole for the movie drop away and the plot takes a severe left turn, briefly becoming some kind of weird slasher movie for one scene before concluding on the most ridiculously anticlimactic note I could imagine. I don’t think I ever thought I’d see the final confrontation of a film play out so incredibly mundanely, and while I wasn’t expecting some huge Dark City style psychic battle, but I sure as shit wasn’t expecting… that. Surely the film’s writer/director, Panos Cosmatos knew that the ending would leave most audiences wanting, but if there’s some profundity or meaning in it, I really don’t see it. For my part, all it does is leave the movie with a really, really good first 90 minutes, and an ending so brutally anticlimactic that it almost cancels out my enjoyment of the rest of the thing. Maybe it was thought that no ending could possibly live up to the atmosphere, style and buildup of everything that came before, so the idea was to just commit to ending things by basically trolling the audience. If that’s the case, I can almost respect the film for its massive cajones, though I wish that what was otherwise a seriously good movie didn’t have to get thrown under the bus in the process.

If you were to find a suitable enough spot to suddenly cut to black around 90 minutes into Beyond the Black Rainbow, ending on an ambiguous note rather than a bafflingly dull one, this might be one of the more interesting indie genre movies to come out in recent memory. But whether or not it’s intentional, the anticlimactic finale mostly succeeds in dragging down the film as a whole, ending on a sour, disappointing note, and it’s that note that will stick in my memory the strongest when I think back on the film.

By now most of my peers have already posted their favorite movies of 2014 lists, and if you ask me they jumped the gun. You don’t declare your top movies of the year till the year’s done, just like you don’t say it was the best sex of your life until you’ve pulled out, flushed the condom and cried for a little bit.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Even though there were a fair number of stinkers, this was actually a damn solid year for movies, and here are the ones I deem to be the best.

Honorable Mentions: Under the Skin, John Wick, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Raid 2

10: Birdman

A lot of people this year LOVED Birdman, and deservedly so. Awesome performances, great soundtrack, noteworthy formal achievements? Formula for a critical darling right there. For my part, I wasn’t quite as taken with Birdman as some of my peers, but that this isn’t a pretty rad film is something I just can’t bring myself to deny.

Edge of Tomorrow poster9: Edge of Tomorrow/Live, Die Repeat

I love surprises, and for myself and a lot of people, Edge of Tomorrow (partially re-titled Live, Die, Repeat on the home release) was the biggest surprise of the year. Tom Cruise in a mech suit fighting aliens while re-enacting Groundhog Day? What the hell right does that have to not be a steaming pile of failure? And yet, it turned out to be one of the more clever, interesting genre blockbusters this year. Wouldn’t have called that.

8: Blue Ruin

Bleak, bloody, brutal, these are just some of the words that start with B that you can use to describe the revenge flick Blue Ruin, besides brilliant. In a year with at least a few truly excellent revenge thrillers, Blue Ruin stood out with its oppressive atmosphere, beautiful and interesting cinematography and lovably out-of-his element hero. And his killer “I give up” beard.

7: Gone Girl

Once in a while, a movie comes along that takes you in its grip like a passionate lover and doesn’t let go until it drops you, sweaty and drained, on the moldy carpet. This year, Gone Girl is that movie, an almost impossibly twisting ride of a movie that keeps you guessing where the hell it’ll go next, and how straight-facedly it can play what is honestly a pretty damn bonkers plot.

6: The Lego MovieLego Movie poster

But you wanna talk surprises? How about a movie based around building blocks turning out to be one of the most clever, heartwarming, beautifully animated and flat-out funny movies of the year? I wouldn’t have called that one either. Even though this year had a lot of lame, cash-in movies made from unlikely sources (Oija? For real?) The Lego Movie is the rare proof that movies based on toylines don’t have to suck. Just like 95% of the time.

5: In Order of Disappearance

Black comedies will always hold a special place in my heart, and In Order of Disappearance is the blackest comedy I’ve seen in a long time. You haven’t seen morbidly funny until you’ve seen a group of solemn-faced mob guys slowly ride a truck’s loading elevator while carrying a coffin, or seen a stray hang glider meet the business end of a snow blower. You can’t write that kinda stuff. Well, you can I guess.

4: Jodorowsky’s Dune

Documentaries about movies are always a hit with me, and Jodorowsky’s Dune might just be one of the best ones ever. Not just because the story behind Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt at filming a batshit bonkers adaptation of Dune is seriously fascinating, but because it’s presented with charm, style and wit.

Only Lovers poster3: Only Lovers Left Alive

Vampire movies have come back from the brink of Twilight induced death, and Only Lovers Left Alive is proof. I don’t often describe movies as sexy that often, but Only Lovers Left Alive is about as dead sexy as movies get these days, smooth and intoxicating and hypnotic. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston both vanish into their roles, and under Jarmusch’s direction deliver a film as smooth and satisfying as a fine wine.

2: The Grand Budapest Hotel

It wasn’t at all surprising that Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was offbeat, charming, fun, beautifully and ornately constructed, filled to the brim with quirky performances and an all around enchanting experience. But what did take me by surprise, and what secured its spot at number two, was the uncharacteristically melancholy note that made Grand Budapest more than just a sweet, beautiful confectionery, but a richer and fuller experience than I anticipated. I think it’s this newfound hybridity, this mix of Anderson’s usual charm with a dash of seriousness that made it one of the most satisfying film experiences I’ve had all year.

Cap 2 posterGuardians poster1: TIE! Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy

After the blu-rays came out and I had a chance to watch them both again, I agonized over which of Marvel’s 2014 films I loved more. Sleepless nights were had, and not just because I sleep in till noon some times. Guardians appeals to my sensibilities so directly it often feels like the film was written for me. It embraces everything kooky and “out there” that other comic movies will avoid, but does so without skimping on heart and soul. Winter Soldier, on the other hand, takes the idea of doing a slightly more down to earth, serious superhero movie and nails it harder than I would have admitted possible, and every time I re-watch it I’m dumbstruck at how beautifully constructed, how clever, how downright kick-ass of a film it is. Guardians appeals to me on a personal level, presenting the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to see but no one’s been crazy enough to make. But at the same time, it has flaws and I can’t help but notice them every time I see it. Winter Soldier is an almost flawlessly made action/thriller/adventure movie, but one that plays less to my own sensibilities.

So which do I pick? The one that I love with my heart, or my head? Now I know how Archie feels. Well, like that fictional readheaded everyman, my only answer is to dither indecisively between the two, and pray that someday they legalize bigamy.