Friday, December 23, 2016

True and Fake and On the Take

For All Mankind (1989): directed by Al Reinert: Extraordinary documentary selects from 7 million feet of footage from the Apollo missions to create a composite journey to and from the Moon. Beautiful, haunting, and often very funny. Really a must-see for anyone who's interested in space exploration. Kudos to Al Reinert for discovering this footage and putting it together -- it was just sitting around in a NASA storage compartment for two decades! Highly recommended.

Doom (2005): based on the game from iD software; written by David Callaham and Wesley Strick; directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak; starring Karl Urban (John Grimm), Rosamund Pike (Sam Grimm), and Dwayne Johnson (Sarge): Joyless slog hamstrung by the fact that it adapts the joyless slog of a videogame that was the Doom reboot of the early oughts rather than the awesome original Doom with its colourful demons. 

This is basically a dumb, boring zombie movie that lifts large sections of its plot and backstory from John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars. Karl Urban, Dwayne Johnson, and Rosamund Pike are utterly wasted. Visual effects thrills are few and far between, as much of the movie takes place in the dark and the monsters aren't very interesting. Mancubus, come back! Not recommended.

The Wedding Singer (1998): written by Tim Herlihy; directed by Frank Coraci; starring Adam Sandler (Robbie Hart), Drew Barrymore (Julia Sullivan), Christine Taylor (Holly Sullivan), and Matthew Glave (Glenn Guglia): Adam Sandler at the height of his erratic powers, Drew Barrymore at the height of her pert cuteness. In terms of enjoyable movies, this was the moment of Peak Sandler: what came after would be increasingly dire and regrettable. Recommended.

Eddie the Eagle (2016): vaguely based on a true story; written by Simon Kelton and Sean Macaulay; starring Taron Egerton (Eddie Edwards), Hugh Jackman (Bronson Peary), and Christopher Walken (Warren Sharp): Feel-good movie very loosely based on English ski-jumper Eddie Edwards' improbable time at the Calgary Winter Games of 1988, when he jumped terribly while becoming a media sensation. Taron Egerton is charming as Edwards, while Hugh Jackman plays Edwards' (fictional) mentor as a slightly loopier Wolverine. Certainly an adequate time-filler when you need to turn your brain off for a couple of hours. Recommended.

Hail, Caesar! (2016): written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen; starring Josh Brolin (Eddie Mannix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (Laurence Laurentz), Scarlett Johansson (DeeAnna Moran), Tilda Swinton (Thora and Thessaly Thacker), Channing Tatum (Burt Gurney), and Jonah Hill (Joe Silverman): The Coens create something that's an odd combination of black comedy and nostalgic fun-fest, complete with big, Old Hollywood show-stopping dance and swim numbers. 

The movie makes a lot of sense if you view it as the warped Hollywood dream of protagonist Josh Brolin, who plays a 'fixer' for a fictional Hollywood studio during the 1950's. Part of the cue to seeing the movie as its own type of warped Hollywood version of reality is that the film takes its title from the film within the film, a big-budget slice of ham that looks an awful lot like Ben Hur

All the actors bring their A-games for the Coens. Brolin is terrific, Clooney is hilariously dumb and baffled, Channing Tatum dances, and Scarlett Johansson swims. Soon-to-be young Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich charms as a B-list cowboy star elevated to A-list, 'prestige picture' status. Look close for Christopher Lambert as a director and Frances McDormand as a chain-smoking film editor. One of a handful of 2016's cleverest, bleakest, most joyful movies. Highly recommended.

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