Cooties (2014) Written by Ian Brennan, Leigh Whannell, and Josh C. Waller Directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
Genre movies can have problems. When a filmmaker loves a genre so much, and they make a film under that umbrella, they often become derivative without bringing anything new to the table. No kind of film is guilty of this more, in my opinion than zombie movies. American zombie movies look to Night of the Living Dead and now in the 21st century, 28 Days Later, and just mimic what they see there. Each film has some sort of unique hook but inevitably breaks down into predictable pablum that we’ve seen playing out dozens of times before. Cooties starts with promise but does down that same disappointing path.
Please, Kill Mr. Kinski (1999) Written & Directed by David Schmoeller
In 1986, director David Schmoeller worked with notorious actor Klaus Kinski on the set of his film Crawlspace. As expected, Kinski was a nightmare to direct and continuously tried to find ways to throw a wrench in the production. It became especially terrible when Kinksi learned that Schmoeller went to the producers to get the actor thrown off the picture. This is a short essay film, a docu-comedy, sort of like a story Kevin Smith tells in his live shows. I haven’t seen Herzog’s My Best Fiend yet, but I suspect it covers the same territory with more depth.
He Took His Skin Off For Me (2014) Written by Maria Hummer and Ben Ashton Directed by Ben Ashton
He Took His Skin Off For Me walks that line between grotesque and beautiful, a contemporary fairy tale with relationship dysfunctions working underneath. The story is told entirely in voice-over from the unnamed female protagonist. She explains that she asked her male partner to take his skin off for her, a move that is never questioned and makes sense in the magical realist logic of the narrative. He does so but immediately encounters problems. There are bloodstains everywhere, sanguine footprints and crimson smears on the floors and furniture. His job is public-facing, and he tells her clients are pulling their business because of their discomfort with the man’s appearance. The woman tries to look on the bright side of all these setbacks, but her partner is withdrawing. During a dinner party, he answers in monosyllabic single word responses, a behavior that is very unlike him.
Big Hero 6 (Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams) From my review: Every element of Big Hero 6 feels like a classic Marvel comic. The teenage hero struck by tragedy, using his own wits and intelligence to build what he needs to make things right. A powerful masked villain with personal ties to the hero. Like Brad Bird, the creators of this film understand those fundamental principles of what makes superhero media appealing to kids. One place where Marvel has been lacking was in the musical score of their movies. Big Hero 6 has a beautifully triumphant and classical superhero sound, big heroic themes to highlight Hiro & company swinging into action and sweeping notes to underscore the tragedy. There are genuinely touching moments in the story, and this is not an animated film where everything gets tied up nicely with everyone turning out safe. People die in this story, and the villain is more complicated than the audience will initially realize. Much like the comic books that inspired this movie, the creators respect the intelligence of children and know that, with a well-written script and strong creative choices, a “kids’ film” can be something powerful.
Big Hero 6 (2014) Written by Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Gerson Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams
In 2004, Pixar released The Incredibles, a superhero film ahead of the curve with Iron Man and the MCU not launching until four years later. My first thoughts after the end credits rolled were that Brad Bird and company had succeeded in making the best Fantastic Four film, which would be proven correct when Fox released the groaningly terrible FF live-action movie in 2005. Bird understood the core essence of these characters and about the fundamentals of what drives kids of all ages to lose themselves in an afternoon of comic book reading.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth Directed by Doug Liman
Groundhog Day didn’t invent the “living the same day over and over” trope, but it sure made the thing popular and part of the larger cultural conversation. Edge of Tomorrow takes this idea and overlays it onto a science fiction action film playing the concept for thrills over laughs, though it does have moments of humor. Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage who is involved in the global effort to push back an alien invasion. Cage is part of media relations and uses his position to avoid combat on the front until the general overseeing the upcoming assault has him shipped off to fight alongside a unit. Cage gets dropped into the D-Day style assault on the northern French coast and is blasted with an unknown energy source before dying. He immediately wakes up 24 hours earlier and lives through the same day, again and again, eventually meeting war hero Rita Vrataski, who knows Cage’s condition all too well.
Phoenix (2014) Written Christian Petzold & Harun Farocki Directed by Christian Petzold
The post-World War II period in Germany has proven to, when used as a setting, provide some of the most atmospheric and rich stories in cinema. You have this sliver of time after the defeat of the Nazis and before the nation was cleaved in half by the Cold War where society was attempting to redefine its identity in the wake of cultural horrors. There were survivors of the Holocaust re-entering Berlin, some with a desire to move past what that had experienced and others never forgetting which of their neighbors betrayed their trust. This is the landscape of mature, nuanced thrillers where each interaction can be dealt with a delicate touch, and shocking reveals are as gentle as a feather yet devastate people to their cores.
Frank (2014) Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
When given an actor like Michael Fassbender, a man with a handsome leading actor face and square jaw, the last thing you would think to do is put him under a paper mache head for ¾ of your movie. In doing this though the filmmakers give Fassbender some freedoms he might not be afforded in more traditional roles in films that call on him to be a smoldering lover or a dashing hero. The character of Frank is a cipher, created by comedian and musician Chris Sievey. Sievey used Frank as a way to express the strangeness and absurdity he might have felt too nervous about showcasing with his face revealed. The film Frank, very different from the real world Frank, is a mentally ill man who is unable to see himself as a valuable person and hides in this mask, which he sees as the ideal form of a face.
‘71 (2014) Written by Gregory Burke Directed by Yann Demange
In 1971, Northern Ireland was facing the height of the Troubles, a period where the people of that portion of the United Kingdom were in an all-out war with each other. These conflicts were based primarily on the divide between Catholic and Protestant but were based more on those who were loyal to the British throne and those who sought independence from the kingdom. The film ‘71 follows recruit Gary Hook who is thrown into the chaos of Northern Ireland with little understanding of the factions and nuance of relationships. He’s just there to do a job, supporting local police as they do residence searches for weapons caches. Things turn south quickly, and Gary finds himself trapped and wounded on the streets of Belfast. He’ll spend a night of terror, unsure of whom to trust and testing his mettle to survive.
Mr. Turner (2014) Written & Directed by Mike Leigh
I loved Mr. Turner! We’re in an age of the most cookie cutter formulaic biopic. Look at films like Bohemian Rhapsody, which follows a rigorous plot structure that doesn’t provide insight into its central figure. It’s not a new problem; it’s just so prevalent. Mr. Turner has no interest in exploring the early years of the English painter J.M.W. Turner, there’s no scene which shows him picking up a paintbrush for the first time as if guided by a divine hand. When we meet the main character, he’s in the last 25 years of his life, past a broken marriage where he doesn’t claim his two daughters, and whose only human connections are with his manager/father and an occasional tryst with his psoriasis riddled maid Hannah. This is not a pretty story but an honest one.