Tab Hunter Confidential (2015) – It’s a little odd to do a documentary about someone who doesn’t want to talk about their personal life. That’s what we’re all here for. Although Tab Hunter Confidential touches on his personal relationships, it always stops short of telling us anything we didn’t already know. Tab Hunter is a very private person, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t make for a compelling story if every time something interesting happens, it amounts to “Yes, I spent a great deal of time with Tony Perkins for a while” and moving on to the next anecdote. I don’t want lurid details or graphic images of them together, but give us something we can’t just read on his Wikipedia page.
The fact that he struggled with his sexuality and public image is surely a big deal for him, but it’s a story that’s been lived and told and retold a thousand times over every year. We need something that makes this story uniquely the Tab Hunter story, and the fact that he loves his mother and horses doesn’t quite cut it.
Spy (2015) – It’s marvelous that a movie can be made starring a woman hired for her comedic talents, with secondary and even tertiary characters also cast as women. Although there is a plot centered on a romantic interest, it never really becomes a movie about women’s interactions with men. It would be great if there were enough movies like this that it was no longer notable when a movie comes along that treats women as capable human beings, but here we are.
The politics of the representation of women aside, Spy is great. Director Paul Feig said in the Q&A afterwards that he builds his comedies the way he used to build his standup routines, by testing the jokes in front of audiences to see what works and what doesn’t. In the end, we have a finely tuned comedy with characters you can actually care about, and action sequences that are actually thrilling. The fight in the kitchen is my new favorite fight scene in any movie.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Is it just me, or do a lot of movies these days, especially installments of long-running franchises, seem to have a common theme of death, decay, inevitability, and entropy? I blame the Baby Boomers for this turn in the greater culture to a morbid fascination with death. There have been similarly death-obsessed times in history, usually when there were horrible, deadly diseases running rampant, and all a person could do was hope they didn’t catch whatever makes you bleed out your eyes like that. Nowadays, the disease running rampant is being-born-in-the-forties, and the people who have been the center of the western world for the last seventy years or so are facing their mortality. I don’t mind a good story about death, and a little navel gazing is fine, but do we all have to gaze at their navels all together? Aren’t there nicer-looking navels out there? By the way, happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
I was talking about a movie at some point here, wasn’t I? In Age of Ultron, we have more of the meticulously crafted media juggernaut that is the Marvel cinematic universe. I have no complaints, which I guess is all they can ask of me in a superhero movie. Joss Whedon plays his usual tricks; sorry to spoil it, but someone will die suddenly, and it will provide another character with all the Whedonesque grief they need to develop as a character and rip some bad guys to pieces in a torrent of tears.
Still doing my best not to spoil things too much, but the character who gets Joss’ed off (I’m not committed to that phrase, but if it catches on, remember I coined it) gets surprisingly little screen time or dialogue leading up to their untimely Jossing (with or without the apostrophe? It’s a neologism in progress). That part is not Joss Whedon’s finest work, he usually makes us feel things about the people he brutally Josses, but the sacrificial lamb may need to be kept out of the way until their time comes. After all, there’s not quite two and a half hours to give roughly six thousand superheroes their fully-developed story arcs.
Dark Dungeons (2014) – Every once in a while, Kickstarter brings us something worthwhile (shut up, Zach Braff, nobody likes you), and while I would never have thought of adapting Jack Chick’s deluded ramblings into a movie, I’m glad someone did.
I remember being promised that this was not a spoof, but a direct adaptation of the original story; after all, they had to get permission from the very earnest Jack Chick himself. This being a movie, however, and not a five-minute short (40 minutes, by AMPAAS standards, is just barely feature-length), some additional scenes and dialogue had to be written. Much of that additional material is obviously written by gamer nerds who have been to the internet within the last twenty years. There are many tongue-in-cheek references to insider nerd culture shuffled into the earnest and straight-faced story (a reference to the gazebo pops up, and the direct Satanic references are represented instead by Cthulu, who could not be a more tired reference at this point), but where the movie is at its best is when they are directly and literally reading Jack Chick’s own, original words or recreating panels from the comic, if even for a moment.
The fun of Chick Tracts is that they are completely out-of-touch and obviously misinformed, but absolutely deadly serious. The occasional breaks to throw the audience a wink and a nod are not helping.