Weekly Round-Up: May 01-07, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – Possibly the greatest superhero film ever made, this episode features the First Avenger under pressure from a staggering bureaucracy, as the threat of a mysterious figure looms closer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Carnival of Souls (1962) – Occasionally spooky mystery/horror about a young woman who apparently survives a car accident, then moves to Utah where she is pursued by, and drawn to, the undead. There were some interesting shots, but this mostly felt like typical “B” movie material to me. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Good Dinosaur (2015) – I love the most recent Pixar film, and got a ton out of the audio commentary by director Peter Sohn and other members of the creative team. Their discussion of how this film, with less dialogue, presented a greater “acting” challenge for the animators was particularly insightful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – This film clicked with me much better this time around, through its likable characters and now-iconic soundtrack. While this is certainly part of the MCU, it feels so accessible since it starts (mostly) from scratch with (mostly) new characters to the saga. RECOMMENDED.
  • Selena (1997) – Well-rounded, terrifically cinematic biopic of the late Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla. Jennifer Lopez shines in the title role in a deservedly star-making performance. RECOMMENDED.
  • Joy (2015) – This played even worse on home video than it did in the movie theaters. The sum of Joy‘s parts is significantly greater than the whole, which is a soppy convoluted mess. The scenes of Joy Magnano at QVC are still cinema magic, however. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Jungle Book (2016) – The latest Disney live-action film also improved for me upon a second viewing, with a greater appreciation for the adaptation of narrative elements from the animated classic into live-action. I’m still knocked out by the outstanding visual effects. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Revenant (2015) – The worthier winner among the Best Picture nominees, I was reminded how this film is true, challenging, innovative art. Tom Hardy almost steals the show as the monster Fitzgerald, but Leo’s performance acting mostly solo, and pretending to be brutally mauled by a bear, is nothing short of astonishing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

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Selena (1997)

Selena is Jennifer Lopez’s greatest contribution to mankind.

In a revelatory, and ultimately star-making performance, Miss Lopez brings to vivid life the life and times of the late Selena Quintanilla, Tejano star on the brink of crossover success. This was filmed during her early acting days and inspired her to pursue a musical career – the dance moves and (lip) singing aren’t J. Lo as we know her today, but J. Lo the actress. How she pulls off the passion, enthusiasm, and poise of an extremely talented performer, as a young actress and (at the time) non-performer, is a testament to the acting chops of Miss Lopez.

Even beyond the lead performance, Selena is a top-notch musical drama. The song sequences are shot masterfully, including a believable recreation of her massive concert in the Astrodome and playing a chaotic music festival in Mexico. These scenes boast dizzying camerawork and electrifying editing as good as anything in The Rose. (The songs themselves are excellent, too: my favorites are “Como la Flor” and “Amor Prohibido.”)

Life stories are not easy to aggregate into filmic experiences, but Selena chugs through the singer’s life in broad detail. It covers the better-known and essential events of her life, such as moving homes, key performances, and awards shows, while taking the time to dive deeper issues of sexism, racism, and acceptance. In one of the best non-musical scenes, Selena’s father laments to her and her brother that, as Americans of Mexican descent, in order to fit in with either culture “[they] have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”

Selena is the story of a young, supremely talented woman upon whom tragedy befell so early in life. This film is not only her story, but a broader collective of experiences and attitudes of an America not-too-long ago, where not enough has changed. It’s not hard to see why Selena was and is so special for so many people, an innovator in her own time and continuing to inspire today.

Weekly Round-Up: December 06-12, 2015

 

  • A Night to Remember (1958) – Considered by many to be the definitive Titanic movie, this drama tells the story of the ship’s fateful last hours from the perspectives of RMS officials and passengers of all classes. While visually impressive and there were several elements that clearly inspired James Cameron’s version, I found its narrative unfocused and couldn’t make an emotional connection. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Aparajito (1956) – This second film of the Apu Trilogy sees the Ray family relocated to urban Benares. Apu enters school and excels in his education, as his relationship with his mother grows in complexity. At once more joyful and more tragic than its predecessor Pather Panchali, I am very eager to see how Apu’s story concludes in the third and final film Apur Sansar. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Holiday Inn (1942) – Cute musical about a retired showman (Bing Crosby) who opens a Connecticut club open only 15 days a year – the holidays. Several memorable numbers (some for the wrong reasons) including the introduction of the classic “White Christmas” make this film RECOMMENDED.
  • Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997) – Offbeat comedy about two pals who pretend to be successful at their high school reunion. Driven by strong performances from the two leads (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) plus a dry sense of humor, it’s easy to see why this has become a cult classic. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Woman in Question (1950) – A sort of Laura meets Rashomon, this drama unfolds the mystery of a murdered fortune teller from multiple perspectives – both admirers and enemies. The keystone (the victim herself) is portrayed terrifically by Jean Kent, essentially playing multiple characters in the hyper-stylized flashbacks. Unfortunately, this movie loses steam about halfway through but the first half is wholly compelling. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: October 25-31, 2015

This “victory lap” of the final week before Halloween turned out pretty interesting. Typically I save the universally acclaimed masterpieces of horror (The ExorcistThe HauntingRosemary’s Baby to name a few) for this key period – due to unexpected time constraints plus wanting to just see more new movies, I ended up with a unique assortment. (Am I the only person who’s ever seen Haxan and Escape to Witch Mountain back-to-back?)

  • Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015) – This marks the sixth movie that follows the same infrastructure, but this saga can’t stop being entertaining, compelling, and remorselessly scary. In this (supposedly) final entry, once the terror starts going it doesn’t stop. Without spoiling too much, for a final film, it really does wrap up the mythology of the series and explain why these events transpire (even going back to the very first film). I know these movies don’t work for everybody, so I’d say RECOMMENDED to the casual viewer and REQUIRED for fans of the Paranormal Activity saga.
  • Alien: Resurrection (1997) – The premise of the fourth and (currently) final of the Ripley Alien films feels straight out of fanfiction (dead Ripley is cloned and is a super-Ripley, who maintains some but not all of her memories from the first three movies). Unfortunately the storyline feels like a rehash of what we’ve already seen, though there are new elements to broaden the complexity of the Alien species, and actually tie into Prometheus (the prequel most people are mixed on, but I personally love) pretty well. NOT RECOMMENDED unless you’re an Alien completist.
  • Mulholland Drive (2001) – Possibly my favorite movie of the 2000s, and certainly swirling in my list of top movies. David Lynch’s neo-noir thriller is both hauntingly familiar and wholly original. Even if the (incredibly rich) narrative doesn’t quite click upon first viewing, the emotional journey supercedes the logical one. This is the rare film that challenges your mind as much as it moves your heart. REQUIRED.
  • Häxan (1922) – This movie was only on my radar due to its inclusion in the Criterion Collection and on their list of “Scary Movies” (which the previous film is on, too). A very odd, silent, pseudo-documentary on witchcraft, sweeping across history recreating scenes of rituals, the Inquisition, even nuns gone wild. This is a movie where the sum of its parts feels greater than the whole, with specific vignettes & images standing out while the overall journey is less riveting. RECOMMENDED (for the film buff only).
  • Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) – This was actually my first time seeing Disney’s wacky 1970s sci-fi mystery. Two (very likable) kids with mysterious powers are pursued by Ray Milland and the lousy psychiatrist from Halloween, and many cool special effects ensue. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Others (2001) – Genuinely emotional horror film about one mother protecting her children from the new presence invading her home. This feels like the tragic ghost story film Guillermo del Toro keeps getting close to making, but The Others takes the cake. (Tidbit: I only saw this movie when it came out because, at the time, I had a crush on Nicole Kidman.) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – This masterpiece speaks for itself. Top-notch family entertainment in every way, boasting a wildly imaginative cast of characters, superb score by Danny Elfman, and wonderfully clever premise. Another landmark film in the era of the Disney Renaissance. REQUIRED.

What did you see last week to celebrate Halloween?