Sunday, March 20, 2016

March palette cleansers

New releases will be low on my list of priorities for the next few weeks, but anything I do happen to see in the 'Oscar off-season' (three so far) I'll mention here.

2016 predictions coming later this spring.

Hail, Caesar! plays as much as a religious experience as a nostalgia trip for old Hollywood. Even at their silliest, the Coens provoke enough thoughts to make any of their efforts worth one's time, as we watch harried studio fixer Eddie Mannix searching for God in a godless profession. While I can't really fault the Coens for a lack of uproarious laughs (they've always been stronger humourists than comedians in my view), I do find myself wishing this particular collection of vignettes had come together more holistically. As it is, it's an admirable misfire that's best remembered for its standalone moments of brilliance, namely a script meeting with four religious leaders, Channing Tatum's “No Dames” tap dance number, and nearly every scene with show-stealer Alden Ehrenreich.

I wouldn't say I loved the The Witch, Robert Eggers' much lauded indie horror about Puritan settlers beset by unnatural providence, but there's much to admire about its bone-chilling construction of paranoia. Eggers is clearly a talent to watch, milking increasingly distressed performances from his tight-knit cast and skillfully planting seeds of dread with the most minimal of images. The payoff is a touch underwhelming, but so long as you're not expecting a commercial horror, you should find -- despite the complaints of multiplex philistines – it is well worth your dollar.

The latest animated hit from the House of Mouse is a movie of many charms. Granted, the story and flow could have used some more work, its narrative formula feeling conspicuously compartmentalized as it hops predictably from Key Scene #1 to Key Scene #2 and so forth. But the world building is rich (wish they had spent even more time exploring those areas, actually), the animation is superb, and the script is chock-a-city-block full of droll visual and verbal gags. Above all, Zootopia is a message movie that succeeds in spite of being a message movie. It's all in the packaging, hitting the sweet spot between sincerity and satire, allowing the writing team to explore numerous themes (racial profiling, politics of fear, the unintended power of language, etc.) without sermonizing or trivializing those themes.

The third in John Carney's unofficial 'charming stealth musical' trilogy may lose the ragged soul Once and Begin Again, but it gains something in a more polished screenplay (his finest yet) and a healthy dose of hopeless romanticism. It's impossible NOT to adore this tale of hopeless youths learning to drown out the noise of their shit lives with creativity, brotherhood, and alt-rock. The largely unknown Irish cast works wonders at spinning the strain of socioeconomic depression into comedy gold, and the songs by Carney and Gary Clark are like manna from heaven for eighties nostalgists.

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