Friday, July 29, 2016

Jason Bourne, Star Trek Beyond, Bad Moms, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, Summertime, Phantom Boy, Under the Sun

Jason Bourne

Star Trek Beyond

Bad Moms

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Summertime (La Belle Saison)
Phantom Boy

Under the Sun

A lot to get to in a mixed week at the movies, so just a little analysis of each:

It's not ideal for a movie to be named after one of its characters when two others are vastly more interesting. Such is the fate of the new "Jason Bourne," with Matt Damon back as the titular government engineered super-agent. Tommy Lee Jones as the double-crossing CIA director Robert Dewey and especially Alicia Vikander as his conflicted deputy Heather Lee - herself quite capable of one-upmanship - both have more to offer in terms of storytelling intrigue, even if Jones could play a Dick Tracy villain without need for makeup nowadays. Frankly, Bourne's backstory - which he finally figures out, though we long since have - is a pretty slender thread upon which to hang a movie, let alone a franchise. Director Paul Greengrass mostly offers chase after chase after chase, a surprising amount of implausibility, and herky-jerky camerawork that may send a few queasy viewers to the rails.

A "lower" two stars for the new installment "Star Trek Beyond," which plops us unceremoniously in the middle of an intergalactic combat that feels especially perfunctory and devoid of larger meaning. Only the camaraderie of the crew - and in particular Zachary Quinto's Spock and Karl Urban's Bones - provides us with levity and a narrow emotional way in.

The first ten minutes of "Bad Moms" are as unpromising as any of the movie year. Then Kathryn Hahn walks into the movie and walks away with it, affirming her status as one of those performers whose mere presence significantly enhances any picture they grace. Her wild-child character doesn't require flexing the acting muscles she showed off in "Afternoon Delight" (which I sagely pegged for my 2013 top ten list at before director Jill Soloway hit big with "Transparent"), but she bears the burden of taking a big pile of Movieland Bullshit and elevating it to a level of hilarity. Thanks to her, we are able to notice that Mila Kunis makes a likable lead and Kristen Bell is actually kinda funny and so are Christina Applegate and Annie Mumolo, and the fifteen years since "Crazy/Beautiful" have served hunky Jay Hernandez well indeed. If you go - or catch it on a home platform - be sure to stay for the sweet interviews with the cast and their real life mothers.

I'm all for movies that celebrate women of a certain age, and female friendship, and not defining oneself by reference to a traditional heterosexual relationship. But there's nothing the least bit celebratory about the impossibly unfunny "Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie," which in Jennifer Saunders' Edina and Joanna Lumley's Patsy shows us two helpless hot messes for whom we can feel only sadness and pity. There is exactly one good line and one terrific sight gag. Other than that, the stars aren't funny, the supporting cast is aggressively unfunny, and the procession of fashion-celeb cameos doesn't even attempt to be funny. This is the kind of movie you watch with your mouth wide open, not believing what you're seeing or that anyone anywhere thought it could be passed off as first-run entertainment.

Two from the arthouse: France's "Summertime" ("La Belle Saison") stars Izïa Higelin as Delphine, the lesbian daughter of farmers in Limousin who moves to Paris for college in 1971, and Cécile de France (superb in the Dardenne brothers' 2011 "The Kid with a Bike") as Carole, the feminist group leader who, though engaged to a man, finds herself drawn to Delphine. Catherine Corsini's film is visually sumptuous (the French countryside always is) with some moments of raw emotional truth and power, but its relatively simple staying closeted vs. coming out themes feel a step behind the times in 2016, and Carole and Delphine break up and reconcile perhaps once too often. Also from France: Alain Gagnol's and Jean-Loup Felicoli's (now there's a Gallic name) animated "Phantom Boy," about a hospitalized and wheelchair-bound boy named Leo who, in his dreams, flies through New York, invisible to others, and gets himself enmeshed in a gangster's plot to hijack the city's power supply. There are some highly pleasing visuals, but a multiplex movie's worth of plot renders it repetitive even at 84 minutes.

The pick of the week is Vitaliy Manskiy's all-access North Korea documentary "Under the Sun." The government responded to Manskiy's film proposal by providing the script and subject for what they intended as a favorable portrait of 8-year-old Zin-mi and her parents as they prepare for her induction into the "Korean Children's Union" on the "Day of the Shining Star" (Kim Jong-il's birthday). But Manskiy et al. kept rolling as the government handlers demanded scenes be re-shot with more patriotism, more applause, more plastered-on smiles. What emerges is a picture of indoctrination from birth to death and from morning to night. At school, Zin-mi and her classmates learn absurd historical stories about the ruling family dynasty and recite praiseful poems and anti-American invective ad infinitum. At home, they eat under portraits of Kim Jong-un and Kim Il-sung. This is what happens when a policy of equal outcomes inevitably morphs into totalitarianism, and it is heartbreaking. In the perfectly chosen final scene, Zin-mi begins to cry. Her teacher tells her to wipe her tears and think of something good. "I don't know what," Zin-mi replies, before reciting yet again her vow of eternal fidelity to the "respected generalissimo."

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