Thursday, November 22, 2018

1060. Revenant

The Revenant
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Image result for revenant movie

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In honor of this holiday, I chose to review a movie that celebrates Native American culture...well, give me a break. There aren't a lot to choose from.

This movie tells the "true" story of Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who is mauled by a bear and abandoned by his companions. Leo is going to get his Oscar, dammit, even it means getting horizontal with the local wildlife.

I was a little worried about Leo during this performance, as I find him most appealing when he is speaking (which is why he will always be the perfect Romeo to me), but surprise, surprise, I didn't actually mind staring at mute Leo for hours. I did feel like everyone was taking the film a bit too seriously. After all, it was a survival/revenge story, not a biopic about a civil rights leader. Let's calm down a little bit, Inarritu. This did not need to be nearly three hours long. In fact, if it wasn't for Leo's and Hardy's star power, this movie would be rather forgettable.

If you are looking for a good wildlife/man vs. bear story (and who isn't?), I would definitely recommend The Edge over this. No one ever mentions that movie, but it is much more...subtle than this.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

DiCaprio actually ate a real raw slab of bison liver, as the one they gave him to use looked too fake.

Is it truly a Leo DiCaprio movie if he isn't haunted by images of his dead wife?

The real Hugh Glass didn't have a son or a wife. I guess we only like revenge stories when the guy is avenging his family, not himself. That would just be petty.

Friday, November 2, 2018

1059. The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

My best friend has been trying to get me to watch this movie for ages, but I have been putting it off. I am not entirely sure why she thought I would like this film so much, and I must remember to grill her about this later. Perhaps she just knows I like cats and was trying to torture me with some of the scenes in this movie. Either way, this was not a pleasurable experience.

Elisa Esposito was found abandoned as a child by the side of a river and is completely mute. She works as a janitor at a secret government facility. She is able to communicate with her two friends, her next door neighbor and her coworker, through sign language. I am not sure how she is able to sign fluently in ASL without having received any education. Surely she would be using house signs and probably not using the ASL sentence structure. Movies really cannot get Deaf culture right. Anyway, the laboratory receives a creature from the Amazon and they of course want to do experiments on it, torture it, and weaponize it. Sally and the creature start to get...frisky with each other.

So I will admit this is a beautifully shot movie, but beyond that, I didn't find anything unique about the characters, who were all rather paint-by-the-numbers good guys and bad guys, or the story, which was a hohum story about how Deaf people can only have true connections with fish. All right, obviously I realize that wasn't the message. But I just didn't find the romance particularly compelling or believable. Apparently her neighbor did, though, and wasn't mad that she flooded his bathroom or that her boyfriend ate his cat. But hey, I'm not a romantic.

Easily skippable and I hope something will break us free from this rut soon.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

The look of the creature took nine months to develop. See, mermaids are just like humans!

The creature's design was partly based on a matador.

Monday, October 8, 2018

1058. Le gamin au velo

Le gamin au velo
The Kid with a Bike
Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

I feared watching this film, mostly because its title conjured horrible memories of Bicycle Thieves that I long ago buried. Sure enough, this movie is just as sickeningly sentimental, but at least Bicycle Thieves had an adult actor who was up to bearing the brunt of the performance. All we got was Cyril.

Cyril's father has abandoned him, leaving him to live in children's care homes. He becomes obsessed with the idea of finding his father. During one of his father-seeking-related temper tantrums, he meets a nice woman who agrees to take him in on the weekends. He starts to fall in with a bad crowd (you can tell one of them is really bad because of his haircut).

To begin, Cyril is a pretty huge brat. Perhaps understandably so, but knowing why he is so obnoxious doesn't make him any easier to endure. I also found it a completely predictable story, with a rather vapid moral. Not to show off my superior intellect, but I even was able to divine the last shot of the movie just from the title. Please hold your applause until the end of this post.

In summary, a yawn. War Horse with a smaller budget. Skip.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The directors said this was their attempt at a fairy tale. Try, try again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

1057. Lady Bird

Lady Bird
Directed by Greta Gerwig

There is an extreme shortage of coming of age stories about women. I think the implication that in order for one to transform from a boy to a man, one needs to perform some seminal act of bravery or have some profound revelation. In order for a girl to become a woman, she needs a prom date and a boyfriend to be mean to her. Anyway, I think this film seeks to rectify the lack of representation, but takes some noticeable missteps along the way.

Lady Bird is a senior at a Catholic high school in Sacramento. She hopes to attend college on the East Coast, but until then must contend with her world-weary mother. She joins the theater program with her best friend Julie and soon develops feelings for one of her costars. Basically, she is only slightly less angsty than Holden Caulfield.

I enjoyed this movie, though I can't honestly say that I found it relatable, probably due to the fact that I did not look like Saoirse Ronan in high school.  Ronan was definitely the best part of this film; she managed to stay likable in a deeply flawed way. I wish the director would have sidestepped some notable cliches, but I still enjoyed the rhythm of this movie. I would still say Boyhood is the superior film, but this definitely beats Moonlight.

I'm trying to think of other coming of age films about women and I'm only coming up Gigi and Clueless. Please tell me I am suffering from severe memory loss.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Gerwig's debut as a solo director.

The title character's name refers to the nursery rhyme, "ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire and your children all gone." Why are nursery rhymes so fucking creepy?

Friday, September 28, 2018

1056. Mother!

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

I should probably have saved this one for an October watch, since I usually like to stick to a Halloween theme. But this film is barely a horror movie, unless your definition of horror is to be absolutely disgusted. Which I guess is the definition for the weirdos who like movies like Saw....or Mother!

We are going for maximum pretentiousness here, therefore none of the characters have names, so I will refer to them by the actors' names. Jennifer Lawrence is really trying to make her house nice, but Javier Bardem, her temperamental writer husband, keeps allowing strange house guests to invade. Basically, it's a pretty heavy handed allegory for the story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and then suddenly Jesus Christ.

 As an English nerd, I am a huge fan of allegories. I really enjoyed parts of the interpretation, like the emphasis on God's vanity being a catalyst of destruction. But in order for an allegory to be truly enjoyable, the surface story needs to be grabbing in its own right. And frankly, I was very bored following Lawrence around and watching her ask rude people not to touch things. And what was Kristen Wiig doing in this movie?

Like I said, the movie is really disgusting at the end but hey, so is religious fanaticism. Everyone who says this film is a narcissistic, self indulgent mess would be correct. Still, a few nuggets of brilliance can be mined from this. And Javier Bardem is dreamy.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Received both boos and a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.

Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aronofsky started dating during production of this film. For someone who is seemingly determined to avoid cliches, he's guilty of a pretty big one here.

Jennifer Lawrence had her own tent during filming, complete with scented candles and a tv that played Keeping Up With the Kardashians on a loop. We have very different definitions of happy places.

Friday, September 14, 2018

1055. Black Panther

Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler

Lately whenever I tell someone that I don't like superhero movies (with a few notable exceptions of course), they will inevitably say that I should watch Black Panther, because listening to each other is an overrated pleasure. Anyway, when I saw that this was on Netflix Instant and on the List, I finally decided to give it a try.

Basically, the film follows T'Challa, the heir to the kingdom of Wakanda. Wakanda poses as a third world nation, but is actually incredibly sophisticated due to their large stock of vibranium. Vibranium absorbs energy or something. T'Challa is facing a challenger for the throne, who believes that Wakandan weapons should be distributed to oppressed black people around the world.

The cast of this film is absolutely amazing; Lupita Nyong'o is a powerhouse and Martin Freeman might be one of the most likable people on the planet. I think the best supervillains have plots that make the audience half want them to succeed, and that was definitely the case here. I also loved the relationship between T'Challa and his younger sister.

Like I said, though, superhero movies are never going to be my thing; I just can't seem to find car chases interesting. Sorry fanboys.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

None of the scenes were filmed in Africa.

References the kidnapped girls in Nigeria.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

1054. War Horse

War Horse
Directed by Steven Spielberg

I knew within two minutes of this film that I wasn't going to like it. Unfortunately for me, that meant another two hours and twenty-four minutes of sickening sentimentalism. This is not Jurassic Park Spielberg, this is ET Spielberg. Call me a romantic, but I much prefer the version that includes someone getting eaten by a dinosaur while on the toilet.

In 1912, a young boy named Albert raises a a young horse. His father Ted is forced to sell the horse to the army, which devastates Albert. Albert enlists in the army as soon as he can. I won't go into detail about what happens next, but if you're anything like me, you'll be saying "yes, get over it, it's a horse" at least fifteen times throughout the film.

I have never really liked horse stories, with The Horse and His Boy coming in dead last in my ranking of the Narnia books. I have only gone horseback riding once, where my coolness was somewhat undercut by the fact that I had to use a child's saddle due to my size (Lil Dudez was the brand name). In any case, if I did have a horse, his name would be Shadowfax or Epona. If you understood either of those references, we can be best friends.

Ahem. Back to the movie. What a total sapfest. I know it's a family film, but even family films shouldn't be as predictable as this movie was. Skip.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Only three shots in the movie contained any special effects.

Joey was played by 14 different horses.

Monday, August 27, 2018

1053. The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

How do you even begin to review a documentary like this? I don't know if I have ever seen anything so perverse committed to film and I really hope I never will again.

Basically, the director asked former death squad leaders to reenact the mass killings they perpetrated in whatever manner they want. They do this in the style of Hollywood gangster movies, musical numbers, and one bizarre scene that looked like an outtake of Flaming Creatures. The film is intercut with some interviews and other footage of Anwar Congo his life.

What a surreal experience, watching these men together. They discussed their killings like they were old friends from high school, reliving their glory days as football stars. They argued over whether one looked good in red or not. Like most people watching, I spent the whole viewing time searching for signs of remorse and never really got any.  There were glimpses, here and there, but were they genuine? It's hard to say. But it's a noble goal to humanize killers. Not for their sake, but for ours. We need to know how easy it is to justify violence and slip into the roles of monsters.

Anyway, that was very upsetting and I have to go talk to some ice cream about this.

RATING: Seems pretty inappropriate in this case. Let's just say it's worth seeing.

Interesting Facts:

49 members of the crew were credited as anonymous, as they feared revenge from death squad killers.

Monday, August 6, 2018

1052. Moonlight

Directed by Barry Jenkins

I finally got around to watching this Best Picture winner. I couldn't resist making heavy comparisons throughout the film with Boyhood, another Bildungsroman, and there's no doubt in my mind: Boyhood is better. I still enjoyed this though, and at least it offered us an embarrassing Oscar blunder.

Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a quiet, withdrawn boy who is being "raised" by his crack-addicted mother. Chiron is constantly bullied at school but forms a special bond with drug dealer Juan and his girlfriend Teresa. He also befriends Kevin and quickly develops his first crush.

As always, I'll start with what I liked about this before I settle into my crankiness. All of the performances were wonderful and one moment of Paula's (Chiron's mother) anger actually gave me chills. Some of the images were also hauntingly beautiful. I particularly loved the moment when Chiron smooths the sand after having his first sexual experience. It reminded me of similar moment in Remembrance of Things Past between Gilberte and Marcel. Although, you know, slightly less gross.

And now, to carping. I felt like I never fully got a grasp of Chiron's character. Of course, Chiron was so reticent that he couldn't really bond with anyone, let alone the viewer. Still, that bond is needed, at least for me, to really enjoy a coming of age story. I wish the director had allowed us to see some of Chiron's everyday moments (that didn't involve being terrorized by assholes), as Linklater had in Boyhood. I clicked with Holden Caulfeld not because of his experiences, but because he hated how dirty Stradlater's razors were. I wanted to share more ordinary moments with Chiron, although perhaps the tragedy is he never got any.

It is, of course, also significant that this has an all-black cast and is an LGBT film. It is nice to know that in this era of Marvel mania, movies like this can still exist.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The three actors who played Chiron never met. This really doesn't make sense to me. Wouldn't that have helped adult Chiron understand his character better?

Naomie Harris shot her scenes in three days.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

1051. Under the Shadow

Under the Shadow
Directed by Babak Anvari

As a huge horror fan, I am surprised it took me so long to get to this one on the List. I have long been a champion of this genre because I believe it is capable of saying great things. That being said, I recognize that the vast majority of scary movies are an utter crapfest. This was somewhere in between.

The film takes places in 1980s Tehran. Shideh is barred from medical school for being involved in leftist political groups. She resents her husband, Iraj, for being able to practice medicine and even more so when he is called by the government to a wartorn area. She is left to take care of their daughter Dorsa, who is obnoxiously attached to her doll Kimia. Shideh insists on staying in her apartment, despite her husband's warnings that their area of town is going to be attacked. Strange things begin to take place and a neighbor is convinced that Shideh and Dorsa are being harrassed by the djinn.

I'm not a parent, so I am going to try not to judge Shideh too hard. Suffice to say, she certainly wasn't my favorite horror movie mom (that title will always go to Lynn Sear from The Sixth Sense). This was a rather formulaic horror movie, with the one unique element being the setting. However, it really didn't contribute to the plot as much as I hoped. Although in my opinion, living in Iran as a woman is a horror movie in itself.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Shot in Jordan.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

1050. Boyhood

Directed by Richard Linklater

I am once more stuck in bed recovering from yet another surgery/biopsy. Oh well, it gives me a chance to catch up on movies. I put on Boyhood thinking it would at least help me sleep. To my surprise, I ended up loving it.

Boyhood follows the life of Mason and his sister Samantha from the age of around seven to his graduation from high school. Mason's parents Olivia and Mason Sr. are divorced. Olivia attempts to fill the void by giving her children a stepfather (which in movie language roughly translates to alcoholic rapist monster) while Mason Sr. lives a bohemian, less responsible life.

This was a bizarre experience for me. Mason Jr. is only a little bit younger than me, so our childhoods were marked by many of the same staples. I too intended Harry Potter release parties, had a Gameboy SP (although mine was red), and lived through those horrible High School Musical days. It was odd seeing my childhood play out on screen; I guess that is the first sign of getting old.

Anyway, I thought the concept for this movie was brilliant. Still, I am not sure it would have been quite as interesting to me if I didn't share my "girlhood" years with the main character. It had slow pacing and not much happened. On the other hand, the acting was incredible, and I still think it is worth a try.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Ellar Coltrone was seven when filming began and nineteen when it finished.

Mason is only absent in two scenes.

Favorite 2014 film of Barack Obama's.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

1049. Lincoln

Directed by Steven Spielberg

I was in a Steven Spielberg mood after checking out Ready Player One last week (don't judge; the book was fun). Anyway, despite my aversion to Daniel Day-Lewis, this was...decent.

The film only focuses on the last four months of Lincoln's life, zeroing in on his efforts to have the Thirteenth Amendment passed by the House of Representatives. So most of the film consists of old white guys with odd hairstyles yelling at each other. Ah, how politics have evolved.

Why were there so few exterior shots in this film? I began to feel claustrophobic, which might be the point? I am not sure why it would be the point, but I'll allow Spielberg the benefit of the doubt (I owe him that much). This is a dark and dreary movie and I was slightly disappointed by the aesthetics of it.

That being said, I did think the way they presented Lincoln was interesting. It was almost like he was a Christ figure, speaking in parables and becoming a martyr. We are in the age of disillusionment, and it's nice to still have some genuinely good guys to look up to. Of course, watching Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis ACT for two and a half hours became somewhat tiresome, but overall it was worth the watch.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Abraham Lincoln created the Secret Service on the day of his assassination.

During filming, the call sheet said "Abraham Lincoln" rather than Daniel Day-Lewis. Give me a break.

Monday, March 19, 2018

1048. Children of Men

Children of Men
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

I thought we would continue with our trend of apocalyptic films with Children of Men, which offers a much drearier, but much better take on the decline of humanity than Mad Max. Also I have a crush on Julianne Moore, so we need to talk about her as much as possible.

It's 2027 and society is crumbling due to an infertility crisis. Since the UK is one of the few still functioning nations, they are being flooded by refugees seeking asylum from other war torn nations. Theo is a civil servant who is enlisted by his ex wife Julian to acquire papers for Kee, a young refugee.

It's actually odd how similar this film is to Mad Max. Both movies deify the pregnant female and have a hardened, sexy male lead who is desperately trying to defend her/them. Of course, I much prefer this film. Cuaron does so many interesting things with this story and I am now slightly embarrassed I only know him from Harry Potter. For example, never showing Theo touch a gun. Subtle, but says volumes about Theo's character.

The aesthetic was also very cool. London didn't even look that different than it does now, just slightly gloomier so the story was all the more chilling. With male sperm counts on the decline, perhaps this is our future! If it means following the leadership of Julianne Moore, I'm not too fussed.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

In the novel the infertility crisis is caused by the men, but in the movie, the women are infertile. Sure, throw us under the bus, Cuaron.

Almost every shot has an animal.

Michael Caine based his performance off of John Lennon.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

1047. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by George Miller

So this is another film I've been avoiding for quite some time. For one thing, I wasn't impressed by the original Mad Max and wasn't interested in watching an updated version with a creepy Dune aesthetic. It seemed like it was going to be hypermasculine garbage and I get enough of that in real life.

After a nuclear holocaust, the world is a desert wasteland run by Immortan Joe, a war lord who has multiple wives and an army of skinheads at his command. Max Rockatansky is captured and used as a blood bag for one of Joe's war boys. Gross. Anyway, Imperator Furiosa, one of Joe's lieutenants is sent on a mission to get gasoline. Unbeknownst to Joe, Furiosa has smuggled five of his wives out of the citadel and is taking them to the "Green Place" that she remembers from her childhood. Joe leads his entire army to chase them.

Car chases, minimum dialogue, and an insane amount of jump cuts...I knew right off the bat that this movie wasn't for me. I was actually surprised by the message of the movie; how it presented femininity as the antidote to toxic masculinity. Men destroy earth, women save it. It wasn't the most subtle or sophisticated message, but that's never really what the Mad Max series was aiming for.

Overall, not my cup of tea, but I didn't spit it out. Like I do with normal tea (sorry all my British readers).

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

George Miller and Charlize Theron reportedly did not get along with Tom Hardy during filming.

Body count of 110.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

1046. Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive
Directed by David Lynch

I really hate David Lynch's movies, but through a series of unfortunate circumstances, I have been forced to watch Eraserhead, Elephant Man (okay, that one wasn't so bad), Blue Velvet, that ridiculous Rabbit series, and now this. Professors just love screening Lynch movies, and it my desperate attempt to finally finishing my writing degree, certain sacrifices must be made. Recently, one of my professors showed Mulholland Drive, a movie I have been avoiding for many moons.

Okay, plot summary time. Let's see...Betty is an aspiring actress who might be capable of making Sandra Dee wretch. She moves into her aunt's apartment in Hollywood, but discovers that someone else is already there: a voluptuous brunette who can't remember what her name is. Betty resolves to help her, but it soon becomes clear it's a toss up who needs a trip to hospital more. Justin Theroux flits around in the background, playing an arrogant director who is being pressured by some kind of mafia to cast Camilla Rhodes into his movie. And um...some other weird stuff happens.

Well, you all probably know how I feel about movies like this. I think it is much more difficult and admirable to create an original plot with a cohesive narrative than it is create nonsensical sequences with an absurd amount of loose ends. I also think that when the best explanation for a movie's plot is "it was all a dream," it means that the screenwriter took an easy way out. Now that being said, I think Lynch does delve a bit deeper than that. If we do interpret this as a dream, the presentation was much more Freudian than writers' typical presentation of the subconscious, with its blatant symbolism that is barely open to interpretation. This was much realer, and therefore more confusing.

I should probably also mention the lesbian relationship depicted here. On the one hand, LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood has always been poor, so maybe he should get some credit for featuring one. On the other hand, did anyone else feel like maybe David Lynch just wanted to watch these hot women simulate sex? Considering the perv level in Hollywood, I wouldn't be surprised.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Was originally conceived as a spinoff of Twin Peaks.

The Cowboy had no eyebrows to make him creepier.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

1045. The Prestige

The Prestige
Directed by Christopher Nolan

This might be a somewhat unsatisfactory review, as it is difficult to divulge any plot information without spoiling the "prestige." Instead, I guess I will have to focus on how great Hugh Jackman looks in a top hat. I suppose that's why he is the star of The Greatest Showman. Here's hoping that never makes it on the List. I don't think I can stomach watching Zac Efron find the beauty within himself. Anyway...onto the film at hand.

Basically, two magicians compete against each other in a deadly contest for the title of "Greatest Illusionist" in the world. Con-currently (Get it? GET IT?), Edison and Tesla are engaged in a battle of their own as they introduce competing electric power transmissions.

Well, there is no denying that this film is extremely well cast; any movie that starts with Michael Caine explaining something instantly has my attention. I was less impressed with the David Bowie performance, although to be honest, I probably wouldn't be pleased with anyone playing my boy Tesla. He was such a character that no one could live up to him in my eyes.

Overall, a fairly entertaining movie with some good (if somewhat implausible) twists.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The word "prestige" comes from the Latin "praestigium," meaning "illusion."

Was Christopher Nolan's lowest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes, until it was replaced with Interstellar in 2014.