Hail, Joel Coen! Hail, Ethan Coen! Hail, the Coen brothers! Hail the Coen brothers not because their newest film, Hail, Caesar!, is a masterful work of art that captures the most illusive depths of the human experience. Hail the Coen brothers because they, unlike so many other directors, especially those who receive wide critical and cult acclaim, have the rare ability to change. Hail, Caesar! is not the brothers’ best work, though it is playful, funny, and wonderfully simple; what it offers is something far different from the cynicism of Inside Llewyn Davis or even the comical intensity of The Big Lebowski. This is what makes the Coen brothers great: their generosity. They constantly give us something fresh and new.
The Godfather Part III, X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3 — cinematic history is rife with gratuitous third installments that make viewers wish the filmmakers had simply stopped after the first two outings. Not surprisingly, when I walked into the theater to see Kung Fu Panda 3, it was not with the highest of expectations. I must confess, however, that by the end of the movie I was pleasantly surprised. While it may not quite live up to its illustrious predecessors, it’s certainly entertaining enough to merit a trip to the theater, and perhaps—dare I say it—even additional sequels.
Can an externally enforced definition of morality really lead to a lasting utopia? And is that truly the end goal? These are the questions that the new SyFy miniseries endeavors to explore in a thoughtfully updated adaptation of Arthur Clarke’s 1950s novel Childhood’s End. Although Clarke’s novel has been the target of film adaptation before (Stanley Kubrick was interested, but eventually settled with collaborating with Clarke on 2001: A Space Odyssey), this is the first time that we see it realized on the screen. The three-part novel now exists as three two-hour episodes – six hours of television that you won’t want to miss.
Generally, I title my reviews with what I think of as clever word play on the movie’s title: “The Distasteful Eight” or “Nothing Grows From The Martian Surface.” But in the case of Charlie Kaufman’s newest film, the delightful, stop-motion, animated Anomalisa, I can think of nothing more clever than the film’s own title, nor more succinct or revelatory. But I’ll try not to give much more away here; the reason will become apparent quickly.
At what point does violence in a movie become violence for its own sake? When does it become an ill-advised occasion to show off special effects, rather than a lens into the darkness of the characters’ souls and, by extension, humanity’s? I don’t think there are any definitive answers for these admittedly abstract questions; I think too much violence is something we recognize when we see it. I saw it in the first hour of The Hateful Eight, and that was the relatively tame part.
“God did not want us to play football,” says Bennet Omalu as played by Will Smith in the new film Concussion. The problem of concussions in American football clearly deserves more attention and this film about the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) aims to provide it. Although a forensic pathologist discovering brain damage in former football players doesn’t make for the most riveting plot, Concussion keeps the viewer engaged with this important issue through the telling of Dr. Omalu’s compelling life story.
The fact that this trailer is for the same comic franchise that brought us the horrendous Batman v. Superman trailer a few months ago is frankly astonishing. Seriously, Warner Brothers, pay attention. This is how you do a trailer. It beautifully establishes the tone of the film while not giving away much of the plot. Tone is especially important with a movie like Suicide Squad. After all, there are a lot of directions a movie about murderous maniacs saving the world could take. But based on the use of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (which is perfectly timed with the action on screen) and on the jokes interspersed throughout the trailer, it appears the film will have a Guardians-esque humorous quality but with a more gritty and intense bent, relatively similar to its comic book source material. As far as plot, the trailer really only tells us that a nebulous authority (maybe the government, maybe the police) puts together this team of homicidal and unlikely heroes to save society from some threat, possibly the Joker. Our glimpses of the Joker are tantalizingly brief. Jared Leto has pretty big shoes to fill — and not just because he’s playing a clown. Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the character is arguably the best portrayal, not just of the Joker, but of any superhero villain on the big screen (see the Buffer podcast tribute to the Joker by Kurt Thiemann). Since it’s unlikely Leto could live up to Ledger in a mere trailer, it’s for the best that we don’t see too much of him here. For those who have said DC is just trying to copy Marvel’s cinematic success but without putting in the work, this is the movie that could change your mind. Suicide Squad promises to be quite different from any of its predecessors in the superhero genre, primarily because it doesn’t have any heroes, at least not any good ones.
A movie with no heroes may save the DC cinematic universe.
Also check out Kurt’s podcast to learn more about Heath Ledger’s delightfully chaotic portrayal of the Joker.
What makes a film “Oscar bait”? At a time when transgenderism is a media buzzword and biographical films about unsung heroes are a cinema staple, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl seems to tick all the boxes. The story about 1920s Danish painters Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegenar (Alicia Vikander), the former of whom was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, seems tailored to be a critics’ favorite. Yet even as The Danish Girl presents itself as a serious film about serious themes, it has been dismissed as “awards bait” even before its release—good enough for the Academy, but not good enough to be great. Something, despite the big names and polished presentation, does not add up.
It feels like just yesterday when I first watched the “Girl on Fire,” Katniss Everdeen, arrive on a black, fearsome chariot, expressionless and, well, in flames. For three years, Jennifer Lawrence maintained this image, but even the most beautiful of fires must be extinguished. Among the ashes is the last installment of The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay Part 2, marking the curtain call for the dystopian world known as Panem. And I have to be honest: a tiny part of me is going to miss it . . . slightly.
A show whose politics are as progressive as Transparent always confronts the potential for indulgence. The showrunners’ own progressiveness can blind them. They can fall into a self-congratulatory hole, where once they dare to be politically savvy, don’t bother to dare anymore. But Transparent, whose subject matter really is as progressive as they come, never stops daring. Rather than offering flat characters solely defined by their marginalization, we are given real people who struggle with their identity and who, like all of us, often feel unfulfilled, question themselves, and fear the future.
2015 was truly a great year for television. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu released a slew of original programming, veteran series came to an end, and consistent fan favorites delivered exciting new seasons. Check out what the Buffer Editors loved to (perhaps binge) watch this past year.