2016 Updates

2016 in Review: March – June

Classic film festivals, resurged independence days, teenage mutant ninja turtles, nice guys, action on TV, and more.

10 Films You Can’t Miss at Cinefamily’s Month-Long Homage to ’80s Indie Cinema

“Underground is one of the most exciting pieces of repertory cinema programming to hit L.A. this year. The ’80s saw a boom in indie filmmaking in America, and Cinefamily’s event draws selections across a broad range of genres, directors, and popularity. Well-known works like Errol Morris’ seminal The Thin Blue Line, Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, and the Coen brothers’ debut Blood Simple stand alongside much more obscure picks. Several of the screenings will be accompanied by discussions with the films’ directors or other figures (think John Pierson, author of Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, a guide to the decade’s films).”

Review: London Has Fallen

“The most notable thing I can remember about Olympus Has Fallen is how it establishes that the White House windows have been primed to explode if anyone tries to break through them, but then utterly neglects to toss any bad guys through any windows. This is a capital offense for any action movie. Astonishingly, the new sequel, London Has Fallen, tries even less, and on every conceivable level. Its running time is shorter. The special effects are worse than I thought modern studio filmmaking allowed for. Actors such as Robert Forster and Melissa Leo reprise their roles from the first film with maybe half-a-dozen lines apiece. Were it not for the presence of said actors, this could easily pass for a DTV spin-off.”

Review: Eye in the Sky

Having ironed away all the wrinkles of unpredictable circumstance, the movie poses a question that is in fact as absurd as any scenario posed by a philosophical essay — but at least those can wave away their ridiculousness because they simply want you to think. Despite its anachronistic tech, Eye in the Sky is laden with contemporary references. It opens with a reminder of the 2013 Nairobi mall attack, and the leader of the terrorists is an obvious analogue of Samantha Lewthwaite. The film insists upon its own relevance, but has none.”

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

“But this film’s true center is Goodman as the physical embodiment of modern conservative paranoia. Howard is a monster more terrifying than the one from Cloverfield, and, within the cramped confines of the bunker, he certainly looms as large as one. The soundscape escalates his every stomp into a boom, every opening or closing of a heavy metal door into a CRASH as jarring as a crumbling building. The frame tracks and cuts itself to accentuate the momentum of his movements, presenting him as a barreling juggernaut — the boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark constantly looming over his prisoners. 10 Cloverfield Lane wrings most of its suspense and a surprising amount of humor out of Goodman’s unpredictability. Within Howard is an unnerving mix of controllingness, loneliness, ingenuity, coldness, pragmatism, and surprisingly good humor, and Goodman’s mask-swapping act is fantastic. There’s a believable human core to him which does not diminish his villainy in the slightest. He’s like the unholy baby of Annie Wilkes, Dick Cheney, and everyone to ever appear on Doomsday Preppers.”

Review: Krisha

“But though writer-director-editor Trey Edward Shults hardly turns the dark family drama genre on its head, Krisha compensates with exceptional acting and an infectious atmosphere of dread. If the bare bones of cliché are there simply so that artists can pack on their own meat, then Krisha Fairchild surely makes the most of the provided opportunity. Though I increasingly grow perturbed over “raw” performance in modern film that is maybe / sort of just misery porn, her three-legged-dog embodiment of Krisha’s mounting desperation is undeniably riveting. She attempts to tamp down her neuroses the same way she keeps her medications in a lockbox, but her every attempt to reach out to estranged siblings and in-laws and such is hobbled by the fear (or maybe resigned knowledge) that she will be rebuffed.”

Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

“The weird thing is that, though written by the Greek-descended Vardalos, most of the aspects of Greek identity on display in the movie are so broad that it feels like anyone could have put this script together, and mostly based on the stereotypes the first film introduced to pop culture. It’s like a Mad Libs with half the blanks filled with “OPA!” This, along with retreads of running jokes from the original, constitute most of the movie’s humor.”

Review: Demolition

“And yet, and yet, there’s still an art to creating insensate onscreen behavior that, well, makes sense. I’d even suggest that conveying authentic irrationality separates the filmmaking women from the girls. If one can’t pull it off, then a movie seems like nothing but a string of incidences justified by, “Well, I thought it would be vivid if …” This is a good deal of both indie and faux-indie film, and Demolition might just be this year’s poster child for disaffected faux-indie insincerity.”

Review: The Boss

“It probably would have been best for The Boss to embrace a cartoonish carnival mishmash of ripped-from-the-headlines stuff and pure silliness. After all, the film peaks whenever it commits to Girl Scout street fights, or rooftop katana duels between McCarthy and Peter Dinklage (whose samurai-wannabe effete belongs in a better movie), or McCarthy indulging her forte of unleashing devastating barrages of creative insults. Capable ludicrousness certainly distracts from the shocking technical ineptitude on display. Even for a contemporary comedy — films assembled out of disparate “throw it in” bits in the editing room — it’s sloppy, even seeming unfinished. Spaces which seem meant for reaction beats are glossed over. Characters refer to things that never happened — Michelle scolds a preteen bully for her treatment of Claire’s daughter, except said treatment is missing, so she’s calling the kid “him,” among other things, for no reason. That The Boss forgets to make its minor villains actually villainous is a good example of its general half-assery.”

Interview on the TCM Film Festival

“You might look at picks like The King and I and It’s a Wonderful Life and think, ‘Big deal, people have seen that.’ Truthfully, when was the last time most people saw It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen? Probably very few have had that opportunity. The biggest thing about the festival for us is bringing together that community of movie lovers to enjoy these films together.”

Review: High-Rise

“Reiterating the novel’s critique of 70s consumerist culture is somewhat hollow, as it misses out on what an adaptation updated for today could have brought to the table. What is the point, for instance, of persisting in probing the swinging lifestyle? Not only does that hold little contemporary relevance, but it wasn’t even much of a factor in the book. High-Rise seems more in love with demolishing a modern, semi-mythical vision of the 70s than a serious application of Ballard’s actual ideas.”

Banshee has the best fight scenes on TV

“Currently in its fourth (and final) season, Banshee has enjoyed supportive critical attention and a devoted fan base since it debuted in early 2013, but it’s remained sadly bereft of mainstream attention. The series is a pure pulp amalgam of They Live, the films of John Woo, half the Vertigo comics library, and every direct-to-home-video action flick ever.”

On Horace and Pete

“No one can take a break from all their worries here. Horace and Pete turns the friendly neighborhood bar, the spot where TV says you can call “base” in the hellish tag of everyday life, into the crucible of its inhabitants’ suffering. In the case of the proprietors, it’s a large cause of everyday suffering. The bar is 100 years old and the final bulwark against gentrification in its Brooklyn neighborhood. But its status as a local institution is a straightjacket, not an asset.”

Review: The Nice Guys

“Black’s signature mishmash of old-timey detective novel tradition, Gen-X glibness, affection for harried macho bonding, undercurrent of a social conscience, is joined here by something of a nod to the power of cinema. The Atlanta not-LA of The Nice Guys is a funhouse mirror reflecting the real world (past and present), Hollywood history (simultaneously its real history, its projection of its history, and the outside world’s perception of both), and cinema’s history as it relates to them. March and Healy delve into the world of porn — LA’s underbelly, which is actually above it, since it’s headquartered in the mansions among the hills. There’s nothing to distinguish a porn party from a regular Hollywood party, except maybe what the actresses are showing off on the projectors. Dialogue explicitly tackles how movies can smuggle greater ideas to the masses, though they usually have to concede some integrity for the sake of marketability. A porno with a plot is simultaneously the film’s MacGuffin and its loving metaphor for what, if anything, the film business is worth. Which might not be much (the opening shot is from behind the decayed Hollywood Sign), but the movie can’t fault filmmakers for trying their best — especially if they non-figuratively die for their art.”

Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

“Then again, we seem meant not to merely take these characters as these films present them, but to watch with their full cultural weight on our minds. Had the first Alice film come out a few years later, in the midst of Disney’s weird trend of remaking all of its animated hits as live-action features, there surely would have been directives from the higher-ups that everything be designed to be reminiscent of the look of the studio’s 1951 cartoon. Although that might have been preferable to the half-assed quirks each actor brings to their characters. Hathaway can’t even be bothered to flutter her arms with vigor, and Depp … you know what Depp does at this point. It boggles the mind that every major actor from the first film returned for this one except Crispin Glover. How did he pull that off? I mean, not even Alan Rickman escaped, and he DIED.”

Kartemquin Films at 50

“There’s a tremendous value in recording society and looking at political struggles, what’s going on in a family, people at work, how education takes place—all these subjects that we were dealing with. We’re not claiming to be objective; we understand that every time you point the camera one way or another, or make an edit, you’re making a statement. The idea would be that people are looking at this film and may see things that we never saw in what we captured. It’s far less mediated than writing an article or something like that.”

Review: The Witness

“Though the doc can’t claim to be the first to report any of these things, it has other merits. It’s touching to watch Bill learn more about his sister as a human being rather than a headline. He speaks to her old friends and learns a few things The Times notably ignored, like how Kitty worked in a bar and was gay. And the long view the film is able to take of grief and its seeming permanence is sometimes harrowing. Bill, who lost his legs fighting in Vietnam, directly attributes his decision to enlist to a desire to not be like the alleged bystanders at his sister’s death. This raises the most troubling question of all, though the doc doesn’t ask it directly. Is Bill correct in this reflection, or is he in retrospect trying to make sense of an action that he might otherwise not be able to properly articulate? This movie is full of varied, contradicting stories people have told themselves and others in relation to a single event. Their versions are often tailored to make themselves look good, to confirm their worldview, or both. The facts are basically beside the point. Bill linking (blaming?) things that have gone wrong in his life to Kitty presents a clear cause and effect makes pleasing narrative sense in fiction. But real life is rarely so clean.”

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles originated in 1984 as a self-published comic book by two guys in New Hampshire, intended as a one-off parody of Cerebus, New Mutants, and the work of Frank Miller. More than 30 years on, there have been multiple comic series, four TV show adaptations, numerous video games, countless toys, and now six movies. It’s a bona-fide cultural phenomenon. And yet all you have to do is recite the name to remind yourself that it was all intended as a joke. Nostalgia is a helluva thing.”

Review: The Conjuring 2

“Constructing cinematic haunted house rides is old hat by now for director James Wan, but while The Conjuring 2 smoothly goes through the motions of setup, building anticipation, and payoff in myriad ways, the slickness of the production interferes with any proper sense of dread. The audience is made all but omniscient and omnipresent, as the camera glides through walls and windows to show us what’s happening all over the Hodgson house. The point of view switches freely between the hapless protagonists and the demon, slasher-style. And it’s less a vehicle for dramatic irony or tension than it is the movie simply doing whatever it feels like at any given time. For me, this is anathema to immersive horror atmosphere. I won’t say, “Well this movie DIDN’T SCARE ME, NUH-UH,” because any critic who does so is being a dullard who misses the real point of horror, but I was terrifically bored through most of The Conjuring 2.”

Review: Independence Day: Resurgence

Twenty years after Independence Day ramped up cinema’s obsession with mass destruction, its sequel ricochets between repetition and semi-clever subversion. London, flattened in the first film but apparently rebuilt precisely as it was before, is fried again, the Burj Khalifa torn from Dubai by the gravity of a continent-sized alien spaceship and knifing right through the Eye. But, at the same time, said spaceship stops juuuuust short of smushing the White House this time around. When Earth’s hapless defenders attempt the same tricks to beat the aliens as before, they’re outmaneuvered. In too many ways, though, Independence Day: Resurgence takes the Force Awakens approach and remakes the original BUT BIGGER more than it does its own thing.

By Dan Schindel

Born and raised in Maryland and currently based in New York, Dan Schindel is an associate editor at Hyperallergic, freelance culture writer, and available for any copy-editing/proofreading needs you may have. This website was originally a blog called Days of Docs, and chronicled his attempt to watch and review a documentary every single day for a whole year. He was mostly successful at this, and now he knows everything. He puts this knowledge to use by writing about movies, TV, games, books, comics, art, and more.