It bothers me that people complain about superhero movies, or fret over the notion that the admittedly-a-bit-much library of titles coming out over the rest of the decade will somehow destroy the real movies, the artistic merit crowd, the art house geniuses who have now art house to turn to.
This is an old fear. I have never really understood it. We are talking about an industry that exists for no other reason than to make money. That’s it. That’s the whole point. All industry naturally is, but movies feel more aggressive in their appeals for some reason. The film industry is vicious in their unrelenting desire to get as much money from consumers as humanly possible. Again, nothing revolutionary about that, but there is something particularly strange about this particular field. I think it’s because of the relationship commerce must have with art.
Until we can perfect the notion of a 3D experience that is truly, definitively immersive on every possible level, movies are going to need artists. They are going to need writers, directors, costume designers, and all the rest. This doesn’t stop the mainstream film business from continuing to look and then look again for the best way to make frightening oceans worth of sweaty money, but that pursuit has to constantly seek out and appeal to artists to create the material to build that ocean. This has been the case for most of the history of film. It was true when Star Wars changed the movie industry forever. Go back further than that, and it was true when desperate studios let people like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola through the front door. Jump forward a couple of decades, and it was true when some psychopathic nerd named Quentin Tarantino made a movie about lowlifes being shitty to waitresses.
The list above can go on, but it doesn’t need to. The companies and people that bankroll, market, and release the vast majority of films that come out in the United States and overseas do not give a good goddamn about the greater good of open, captivating artistic expression. If they can make money from completely unique visionaries and their cinematic creations, fantastic, but that’s just a nice coincidence that ends with everyone being happy. It is most certainly not essential to the ageless, constant process of making money. There are movies that get made that are more geared towards winning awards than making a money, but even these films are still expected to perform.
All of this information is true, yet art continues to endure in cinema. Fantastic, talented, famished artists are still making movies of remarkable originality. These movies have managed to be made and released throughout the industry’s endless march towards profits. This is something that is never going to change. Imagining that it will is naïve, and insulting to the people who will never stop trying to prove that the range of ways in which filmmakers can express themselves has yet to be exhausted. They’re right to do this, because it hasn’t.
And don’t be such a snob about superhero movies. Are there too many coming out? I can get behind that thought. There are quite a few coming out that I just can’t be compelled to give a shit about. Yet I can’t deny the fact that the best examples of this genre prove the idea that it is still within the realm of possibility to create blockbusters that actually have some merit of intelligence and sincerity going for them, to say nothing of their cleverness in the many forms they have taken. The genre may or may not go bust, but for now, there are some really good movies being made. Enjoy them. Don’t worry about the other types of artists working within the medium. They don’t need your whining. They need you to pay attention when they have something to say. More of them are talking than you probably suspect.
Inside Out (2015): A+
One of these days, Pixar will run out of weird things to give human emotions to. Hopefully, that day won’t come for several decades. Their latest film is by far their best release this decade, combining an enormously intelligent, soulful story with brilliant visual, and what is quite possibly their best voice cast since Toy Story. In telling a fascinating, kind story of a young girl’s personified emotions attempting to navigate her through the emotional difficulties of moving to a new city, Inside Out offers a glimpse into a compelling, singular world.
The movie primarily focuses on the emotions of the girl (with Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, and Richard Kind being particularly exceptional), but we get to visit other minds, as well. The movie naturally gets a lot of straightforward humor out of the notion that each of us comes with a team of professional emotions. It also creates a number of suggestions, such as how disease might impact the mind, or what in the hell the cat is thinking (in what is easily the funniest scene in the movie). Inside Out deserves praise for finding humor and wisdom in a difficult subject, and for creating a movie whose appeal is pretty much universal.
Terminator Genisys (2015): C+
Good luck trying to make sense of it all. Even so, in spite of the movie’s baffling attempts at rebooting the franchise, Terminator Genisys succeeds where the last two films failed. While no one is going to pretend that this film is as good as Terminator 2, it does have an ample amount of style, humor, and action going for it. As a matter of fact, this may well be the most light-hearted film in the franchise to date. A lot of credit for that sense of fun should go to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who seems to be having a genuinely good time with the series that essentially made him a Governor. Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese as dismal and uninteresting, as Jai Courtney tends to be, but you’ll be too busy digging Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor to care. You’re certainly going to wonder how J.K. Simmons can steal any scene he’s in, and you’ll probably have some fairly strong feelings on Jason Clarke as John Connor, depending on how invested you are in the franchise.
At the end of the day, Genisys plays it safe, and endeavors to deliver the crowd-pleaser everyone was hoping for. Again, it’s far from perfect, but it’s a good time.
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014): B-
If you’re a dedicated Orson Welles fan, Magician will not offer much. It will simply serve as a nice collection of clips, interviews, and recollections of one of the most important filmmakers in history. Wondering what all the fuss has been about may compel you to check this out, but keep in mind you’re getting a fairly standard documentary. You will definitely have a clearer idea of why some people truly worship the man who lived and sacrificed for his art, even as he became a heavyweight punchline in some circles. The insights from biographer and actor Simon Callow are easily amongst the best of those who were interviewed. The documentary is worth a look, but it’s nothing essential at the end of the day. Consider supplementing it with Citizen Kane, The Lady from Shanghai, or F for Fake (easily my personal favorite).
Wrinkles (2014): A-
Looking for an animated film that wasn’t released by Pixar or DreamWorks? Wrinkles is just waiting to be discovered. A sobering, deeply humane look at Alzheimer’s, friendship, and the suffocating routine that awaits those who are no longer allowed to maintain control of their lives, Wrinkles also manages to find humor in its depiction of suffering. A lot of the movie’s emotional punches are thrown by its exceptional voice cast, including Martin Sheen and the late, great George Coe. These are actors who give us distinctive, unshakable emotional connections to their characters. The main success of this adaptation of a comic book by Paco Roca is in how it feels as real as anything on the live-action side of things, while also portraying a fantastic, singular animation style. Interestingly enough, although the movie is very obviously a drama, I’m willing to bet that when you get to the end, you won’t be sad. Even if this movie, as many great films are capable of achieving, sends you to a deeply personal place.
Mortdecai (2015): F-
Hopefully, Mortdecai will not live a long life as the single worst movie I have ever seen. Even so, it’s very difficult to imagine being more offended by the shapeless ineptitude of a motion picture, than I am still offended by the mere notion that Mortdecai exists at all. On paper, it seems like something that at least had the potential to be entertaining. Hardly remarkable, but I didn’t expect to end a movie experience with a very potent desire to murder Johnny Depp and director David Koepp with my bare hands. Koepp is an excellent screenwriter, and I hope I’m not the only one who remembers the good work he and Depp did with Secret Window a few years ago. How things could go so horribly fucking crackers here is beyond me. There is something sinister about how shitty everything in this movie is. You almost feel as though the movie contains some kind of spirit force that is plotting to destroy you across this movie’s wretched empire of boring action sequences, dismal performances (as I look into the dreamy eyes of Johnny, I saw no light, no love, no laughter), and comedy that is so unfunny, it almost feels like some kind of insane, fucked up social experiment. How much can you take? How many stupid Johnny Depp voices are too many? These questions haunt me still.
There is a plot to Mortdecai. I just don’t feel like explaining it to you. I already drink too much, and I suspect that relieving the story of an art smuggler’s misadventures with his idiot wife and a whole gang of useless, spectacularly unlikable characters will send me on a bender that I may not recover from. Mortdecai makes you want to make bad decision. You manage to sit through a film that I am willing to liken to childbirth, and then you read about how this movie cost sixty-million dollars. At that point, you just want the hurting to stop. You pray for tears, for some sort of cathartic release, but nothing ever comes. All you have is this feeling in your body of your vital organs trying to turn themselves into liquid shit, because anything, anything is better than the sight of Johnny Depp and that horrible fucking mustache. Do not let your curiosity get the better of you. Live in a world where the sunshine still bathes your face in warmth and boundless love. Mortdecai is darkness. It is the eater of worlds.