The Dreamers (2003)
This is basically everything you would want it to be: beautiful university students in Paris drinking, smoking, fucking, and being obnoxiously pretentious about Film. Is there French twincest? Yep. Is there homoerotic subtext? Yep. Is there Eva Green doing both full frontal nudity and full mental breakdown? Is there ever.
Eva Green alternates between French and French-accented English in this and man, this is not in any way new information, but she is just so fucking charming, and she switches between playful and brooding so well. Also Anna Chancellor is cast as her mother in this, making her role in Penny Dreadful a sort of reprise; Chancellor maybe looks more like Eva Green’s mother than Eva Green’s actual actress mother, so it’s pretty much only surprising that they haven’t played mother and daughter in more things.
Sunshine on Leith (2013)
Apparently it’s possible to make a jukebox musical using only songs by The Proclaimers and not just have it be 100 minutes of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” although to be honest, I would watch the hell out of that. This is a cute but not super memorable movie starring some people whom one wants to see getting parts in bigger and/or better things (Antonia Thomas, Freya Mavor, and George MacKay) and a lot of Scottish accents, so eh, good enough.
It is kind of interesting to get a modern take on the “sailors on shore-leave” framing device for musicals—in this case, it’s recently discharged British Army servicemen returning from Afghanistan—since that was such a thing in the ’40s? ’50s? We’re thinking On the Town and Anchors Away. Maybe those are the only ones? (But it was certainly enough of a thing to be parodied in Hail Caesar!, so one assumes there were more.)
I wish this had either committed to being a story about actual characters or to just being a series of bits/sketches/extended riffs stitched together, because it certainly didn’t work for me as is, and the constant switches in tone made it difficult to appreciate in either sense. This is probably an issue with most of the Apatovian comedies—going from scenes where we’re supposed to view the characters as Real People and care about their emotional struggle or whatever to the banter-heavy scenes that don’t seem to be rooted in character at all and are just the comedians playing the characters doing bits. They’re often pretty funny scenes (although they tend to go on just a few lines past the point of funny and into the “okay, we get the joke” territory because Apatow and company are seemingly unwilling to edit out improv), but they also often undercut whatever dramatic purpose the movies are trying to accomplish elsewhere by taking away from the specificity of the characters–as in, they tend not to pass the “can you identify the character speaking by the written voice of the dialogue” test. Which is maybe fine if you just want to make your movie a pure joke vehicle, but that doesn’t seem to be what Trainwreck is aiming for, with the backstory about Amy’s parents’ divorce and how that affected her and her sister’s views on relationships and her dad’s death in the middle of the movie.The Brie Larson character in particular seems to have walked in from completely different genre, especially compared to, say, the Tilda Swinton or Ezra Miller characters.
You can have a story where the characters feel real and consistent and still make it funny—see, maybe, the ’90s Hugh Grant romcoms or even the Edgar Wright movies for something with more bits/comedic setpieces—but it seems like the big blockbuster comedies are moving away from that. It’s frustrating, but hopefully temporary.
Green Room (2016)
Interesting and non-standard, but not totally sure why it’s ending up as so many people’s favorite film of the year? Maybe those are the people who also super loved Alien and so just have super different priorities than I do. Suspense isn’t enough for me, I guess, even if it is very well done; I want to know more about who these characters are and what their relationships are to each other in normal life, and we—understandably—don’t really get an opportunity for that in these sorts of life-and-death situations, where most of the dialogue is just practical planning and/or freaking out because the situation is too time-sensitive and stressful for banter or romance or whatever. Certainly the punks vs skinheads conflict adds a cool aesthetic sensibility to the events, but I think I’d rather see a more slice-of-life type thing about the punk band on tour?
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
Pretty solid, and only 86 minutes which is a very reasonable length for a comedy (please take note, Judd Apatow). And I guess in light of my criticism of Trainwreck: this is a music mockumentary and so probably could have gotten away with just being a series of bits/sketches, but it still does successfully get the viewer (or at least, this viewer) invested in the relationship between the protagonist and his bandmates. I think this is because it still maintains the sort of dumb (in a good way) tone in the more emotional scenes, so that the characters’ interactions feel realistic and significant within the world of the movie; it would feel jarring and inconsistent if they were suddenly written as Real People in the Real World or even just characters in a drama for those scenes.
Also, The Lonely Island is great and they’d probably have to do something pretty fucking awful to deplete the stores of goodwill I have leftover from “Jizz in My Pants” and “Like a Boss.”
Tamara Drewe (2010)
This is the film adaptation of a comic strip that was itself a modern reworking of Far from the Madding Crowd, and I probably got most of the references to the novel from having seen the 2015 film adaptation of it, but I should maybe actually read Far from the Madding Crowd, shouldn’t I? I am pretty pro modern retellings of classic literature and Dominic Cooper being in things, so yes to this on those fronts, certainly. Turning the sexy swordplay scene into a sexy drumming scene seemed like a particularly clever modern update.
Not totally sure what was gained from the subplot with the teenaged girls (maybe that’s something from the novel that was not included in the 2015 movie?) other than having them serve as super obnoxious Rube Goldberg machines to set certain plots in motion. But in any case, all of their scenes were pretty cringe-inducing; I think I probably have a pretty low tolerance for watching mean-spirited pranks, and it’s not coming from a place of personal trauma, but they’re still just hard to watch for whatever reason.
Also, in general, there was just a bit too much farce for my taste.
Once again, Eva Green gets to alternate between being super charismatic and uncomfortably disturbed as a popular teacher at an all-girls boarding school who ~is not what she appears to be~. I don’t know, kind of like a combination of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Stoker.
High Fidelity (2000)
Sure, I guess; I basically like the setting and storytelling device used in this, although ugh, music snobs. John Cusack’s character isn’t meant to be likable, obviously, but oh god, his use of the term “girls” to refer to adult women (and the entire mindset that goes along with that) irks so much. I mean, it’s definitely very illustrative and effective writing for the character, but I guess it’s harder to view within the context of the movie just because I’ve seen so many comments over the years from people who found this movie and that character extremely relatable and I also know all about relating to a character in a piece of media while perhaps ignoring the author’s indictment of that character in the same piece of media.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Not much to say about this that hasn’t already been said at this point, I think: I def cried at multiple points, the Beastie Boys scene was super effective, and basically all of the banter was glorious in its specificity to the personalities and established relationships between the characters involved. The Bones and Spock pairing was probably the most obviously delightful, but man, Jaylah was great and I don’t know, it’s kind of cool and refreshing to have Kirk see himself in her without, you know, seeing himself in her.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Nope. It’s two hours long and just not super engaging and man, between this and Moulin Rouge!, I think I’m automatically put off by that sort of aesthetic—what would you call it? The whole sort of garish panto thing?—so the movie itself would have to be really great on all other fronts for me to overcome that, and well, neither of these movies are, I think.
The Guard (2011)
I mean, already we have Brendan Gleeson + Don Cheadle + rural Ireland = comedy gold, probably, but add in hitmen discussing philosophy and the McDonagh writer/driector credit, and, well, YES. On the basis of this and Calvary vs. Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges, John Michael McDonagh is still probably the lesser McDonagh to me, but that says more about how fucking amazing the latter two movies are than it does about him, because The Guard and Calvary are also just, like, pretty fucking great and I’ve been desperately searching for more release date information on War on Everyone because it is super unclear what’s happening there (it’s already been reviewed in Variety and Vanity Fair, but the UK release date is in October and the US release date is…god, maybe 2017.)
The Bronze (2016)
Nope. Unfortunately, it looks like the critics and popular consensus were basically right about this. The main character is super unlikable in a way that’s more irritating and unpleasant than funny, and it’s hard to get past that; it’s not enough to rely on the “novelty” of a petite, wholesome-looking blonde woman swearing a lot in an exaggerated Midwestern accent. Melissa Rauch, the writer and star, makes a good (and obvious) point about this in an interview:
“There are so many examples of male anti-heroes throughout film,” [Rauch] continued, “and there’s not that many women, because there’s this pressure on women onscreen to be likable. And there’s a pressure in life to be likable! This character has been told to act a certain way and be a perfect, likable role, but now that she’s been cut off from that because of her injury, this is her emancipation. She’s gonna rebel against that and eat whatever the hell she wants and say whatever she wants to say.”
But I don’t think this is jut internalized misogyny on my part; I think it’s just not having quite the same comic sensibilities. I love It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and its “unlikable” characters, but I couldn’t bear to watch more than the pilot of The Office (either version) because the Ricky Gervais/Steve Carell character was so “unlikable,” and I don’t know if I can ultimately explain it beyond the former being unlikable in a funny (to me) way and the latter being unlikable in an unfunny (to me) way. So yeah, I hope The Bronze is funny to someone because I do think it’s ultimately good for feminism to have the sort of comedy where the female lead has free reign to be a total asshole; I would just rather see, say, Chloe from Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23′s brand of assholery.
Obligatory “but the gymnastic sex scene was a brilliant and hilarious bit of physical comedy,” which, yeah, sure. And Sebastian Stan does a great comedy asshole, at least based on this and that one GIF from Hot Tub Time Machine that got around a lot when CA:WS came out. (And, um, The Covenant.)