Early into Mood Indigo, the latest from writer/director Michel Gondry, I felt a unique, gnawing kind of dread. The film had barely gotten past the opening credits, and already Gondry was dispatching one kooky special effect after another, for seemingly no purpose other than to be cute. I thought, “Jesus, fuck me, the entire movie is probably full of this bullshit.” I was right. Mood Indigo is Gondry when he’s off the rails. He’s so in love with his fanciful style that he utterly ignores plot, character, and chemistry between his actors. It is aggressively twee, more so than any film released by Wes Anderson, to the point that it’s insufferable. The film is not a love story; it is an endurance test.
At this point, there are enough Marvel films so that they serve a quasi-Rorschach test of what we value in our summer blockbusters. Fans have their unique set of preferences, and the thoughtful ones will realize their preferences say something about them, instead of the other way around. For example, I loved Captain America: The First Avenger and didn’t care for its sequel, which means I generally prefer unique cinematography and emotional character movements over an attempt to shoehorn a classic genre (i.e. conspiracy thriller) into a superhero yarn. Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest from the comic book studio, has the good sense to step aside when it matters and let weirdo director James Gunn hold the reigns. Parts of it are too alike to other Marvel films, perhaps to a fault, but Guardians has a heart in a way that most superhero movies do not.
Woody Allen has put out at least one movie a year, every year, since 1982. He’s damn prolific, more than any other major filmmaker working today, but after Adam Sandler recently admitted his films are basically paid vacations, it’s plain to see the same is true for Allen. Several of his recent films take place in posh European cities (e.g. London, Rome, Barcelona, and Paris). He always finds an excuse for a scene where a jazz band gets together to perform his favorite type of music (Allen plays jazz clarinet). There’s nothing wrong with combining work and pleasure – some of the European-set Allen films are the best he’s done – but his formula is downright annoying where there is not enough material to sustain a sketch, let alone a feature film. Set primarily in the French Riviera, Magic in the Moonlight is Allen’s worst film since You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, one that confirms the ickiest part of his longtime obsessions.
When I was a teenager, my parents and teachers would routinely tell me that I was not living up to my potential. I stood there, receiving a lecture and trying not to roll my eyes, until something clicked and their advice was well-taken. I had forgotten about those earnest adults until I watched Boyhood, the most ambitious film to date from Richard Linklater. Its scope is unlike anything we’ve seen in the movies before, and the premise creates an opportunity to tell a familiar coming-of-age story in an organic, sensitive way. Linklater uses broad strokes, with plenty of pop culture references that shift from nostalgic to modern. The trouble is that sometimes the story and hero are too broad, as if Linklater worries a defined personality would ruin the film’s universal appeal.
Korengal doesn’t exactly pick up where the 2010 documentary Restrepo ended. Nominated for Best Documentary and co-directed by Sebastian Junger alongside Tim Hetherington,Restrepo was an attempt to show the apolitical realities of the modern soldier in Afghanistan. Since its release and success, Hetherington died while covering the Libyan civil war. Junger honors Hetherington by doggedly avoiding any attempt at narrative or action. He has deep sympathy for the soldiers where he’s embedded, and while Korengal doesn’t offer fresh insight, it’s an intermittently worthwhile reminder of why soldiers fight.
Lean and dark, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes somehow never forgets to have fun. Sure, there are heavy-handed moments about war, racism, and tolerance, but those have been hallmarks of the franchise ever since Charlton Heston cursed a damn dirty ape from inside a net. The script does not dawdle, the character motivations are clear, and director Matt Reeves can shoot the hell out of an action sequence. He has the patience to lay out post-apocalyptic geography, so there’s a mix of suspense and horror during the inevitable battle scene. Everyone is in top form, both in front and behind the camera, which makes me wonder why more blockbusters are not this competently-made.