It’s kind of a strange thing to write about ‘The Interview’ now, right? Its place in culture will always be defined by the Sony hacks that preceded the movie’s release. Is any other film defined so sharply by events that were out of that movie’s control?
Chris Rock has made movies before, but ‘Top Five’ is the first great “Chris Rock movie,” the one that feels like the product of the best and most important stand-up comic of his generation. ‘Top Five’ is infused from top to bottom with Rock’s voice, his humor, and also his love of movies. Rock, a self-avowed cinephile, has borrowed liberally from some of his favorite films (including Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunset,’ Preston Sturges’ ‘Sullivans Travels,’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Stardust Memories’) in creating the story of a disillusioned stand-up comic turned sellout movie star on the cusp of becoming a “serious” actor. The way Rock digests his inspirations, filters them through his own unique perspective, and spits them back out on the screen as something wholly his own recalls the way Quentin Tarantino turns exploitation obscurities into prestigious arthouse fare.
It’s a weird thing, I can already tell that ‘Inherent Vice’ will grow on me after time. I can already tell I like it better as I type this than I did while watching it. People will compare ‘Inherent Vice’ to the Coen brothers’ 1998 movie ‘The Big Lebowski’ and that’s totally fair because I’m going to do just that right now. Both films feature protagonists – with an affinity for marijuana use – who experience a remarkable adventure while searching for something that doesn’t matter. Sixteen years later, Mickey Woolfman means about as much as the money for a urine-soaked rug. It matters to the character but it never really matters much to us and, in both of these cases, we wind up being right.
Having gone on an unexpected journey and endured the desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson’s bloated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ finally comes to ‘The Battle of the Five Armies,’ which is less of a climax to this trilogy than a distended epilogue. After spending two movies and 330 minutes building up the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) as the ultimate antagonist, he’s eliminated from the story completely in the first ten minutes. He’s literally gone before the title appears onscreen.
You could comfortably bake several loaves of bread—plus a cake or two—in the time it takes to get through ‘Exodus.’ This film does run an hour shorter than Cecil B. DeMille’s famous version of ‘The Ten Commandments’ from 1956, but at times it feels just as long; maybe longer.
Maybe not every story about the sheer determination of the human spirit over impossible odds needs to be a movie. This was my thought while watching Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken,’ the true story of Louis Zamperini (played by rising star Jack O’Connell), a World War II hero who is brutally beaten to within an inch of his life in a Japanese prisoner of war camp so many times that I lost count. The real life story is inspiring—and it truly is remarkable that he survived—but to watch it play out in front of your eyes over and over and over again almost feels sadistic. It gets to the point that every time we see O’Connell on screen, we automatically think, “I bet this poor man is going to get beaten again, isn’t he?” And we are always right.
Memories are so sensual. The right song will bring you back to the first place you ever heard it; a particular blend of smells will put you back in your grandmother’s kitchen (toasted bialys with cream cheese do it for me every time). ‘Wild’ communicates this idea better than almost any movie I can think of. As Cheryl Strayed hikes the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada alone, sounds and sights she encounters on her physical journey send her—and the audience—on a psychological journey into her past, to learn exactly why she decided to embark on such a crazy and potentially dangerous expedition. Strayed hikes the PCT with a comically large backpack—“The Monster,” as a few of her fellow travelers dub it—but it’s clear that the heaviest baggage she carries is the emotional kind.
World War II involved more than two dozen countries spread across six continents and tens of millions of soldiers. But according to ‘The Imitation Game’ the entire conflict hinged on the actions of half a dozen crossword puzzle enthusiasts in a couple of huts in the South of England. It was there that a team of cryptographers created a revolutionary machine that could decode Nazi messages and turned the tide of the war for the Allies. Their leader was Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mathematician who was rude, disrespectful, and socially awkward in the extreme—and also one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. ‘The Imitation Game’ considers his life: His great achievements, his most-closely hidden secrets, and the ways in which the latter may have helped inspire the former.
Some ideas just aren’t cut out for sequels. ‘The Hangover’ was ingenious and hilarious—for one movie. But another ‘Hangover’? With the same guys? That doesn’t make a ton of sense. ‘The Blue Lagoon’ was striking and exotic. But a ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’? More castaways? On the exact same deserted island? Sorry, no thanks. To the list of concepts that could not support a sequel but got one anyway, we can now add ‘Horrible Bosses 2,’ a flimsy retread of the 2011 comedy that had barely enough material to fill one film.
‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1’ is a movie comprised almost entirely of deleted scenes. As it says right in the title, this isn’t the final chapter of ‘The Hunger Games’ series; it’s just the first half of the final chapter, and that’s exactly what it feels like. It’s table setting for a meal that won’t be served until next November. ‘Mockingjay - Part 1’ is good-looking, well-acted, and utterly inessential.