Weekly Round-Up: March 13-19, 2016

This past week took me forever to get through an audio commentary (aka non-chemical sleeping pills) but I got on a better roll afterwards:

  • The Graduate (1967) – This movie is still REQUIRED, but the audio commentary by director Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh isn’t. It felt like more of a conversation than actually discussing what was taking place onscreen, though I enjoyed learning about the editing/pacing decisions from Nichols.
  • Zootopia (2016) – Wonderful political allegory about prejudice and tolerance, disguised as a family film about talking animals. REQUIRED.
  • Iron Man 2 (2010) – Essentially, a rehash of Iron Man 1. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Brooklyn (2015) – My second time with this movie was even more emotional, from a greater understanding of the story and choices our heroine Eilis is facing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

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Weekly Round-Up: February 14-20, 2016

Still chugging along to catch up with Oscar nominees. A highlight of this week was the Countdown to Zootopia programming at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA. For the two weeks leading up to the release of Walt Disney Animation Studios’s newest film Zootopia, other contemporary Disney films will be shown accompanied by Q&A with cast & crew. Amazing opportunity not only to see some modern masterpieces back on the big screen, but to hear firsthand from the talent that helped bring us these contemporary classics!

This week, I saw:

  • Room (2015) – At its best, this dark drama is an emotional tour de force with exceptional film-making. At its worst, it’s another boring family drama. There is some terrific stuff in the middle, so I’d still call this RECOMMENDED even though it runs a bit dull.
  • Meet the Robinsons (2007) – While not the critical and financial powerhouse of other modern Disney fare like Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, this sleeper hit has deservedly grown a strong following. Equal parts screwball comedy, mystery, and sci-fi, this inspirational story follows a young scientist trying to find a home. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Kid (1921) – My favorite Chaplin film. The Tramp becomes a de facto guardian for a presumably orphan boy, and a father’s love is put to the test when the state begins to intervene. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Frozen (2013) – Another new Disney classic, a twisty and stunningly animated story about a young queen who flees her kingdom and her daring sister who tries to bring her back. I’m not the first person to say this, but “Let It Go” is one of the best musical numbers of any film, animated or live-action. REQUIRED.
  • V/H/S (2012) – My friend recommended this horror anthology film (available on Netflix!). The premise is a band of hoodlums find a house full of tapes containing disturbing footage, and the bulk of this film is the content of those tapes. Some stories are pretty interesting, others boring, but they are so action-focused there isn’t much room for logical character motivation. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Tangled (2010) – Yet another contemporary Disney masterpiece, this adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy tale brings to life the terrific male co-star Flynn Rider, who has emerged as one of my favorite Disney characters. Like “Let It Go” from Frozen, the “I See the Light” musical sequence is captivating. As Disney’s 50th animated film, it does feel like a perfect blend of classic Disney storytelling with lush computer animation. REQUIRED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: January 31 – February 06, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • Mildred Pierce (1945) – Another essential female-driven film noir, led by a career-driven Joan Crawford determined to win the love of her terrible daughter through financial success. In addition to the sheer quality of this movie, it’s also fun to watch as a time capsule of 1940s Los Angeles. REQUIRED.
  • Marty (1955) – Equal parts charming and frustratingly slow, this 1955 Best Picture winner never seems to reach its full potential. While there’s almost not enough story to fill its lean runtime, at its best, this comedy-drama about two middle-aged adults who struggle to find love is genuinely emotional and authentic. RECOMMENDED.
  • Annie Hall (1977) – I used to love this movie as a kid, but now I find Woody Allen’s angsty frustration less comical and more obnoxious. Diane Keaton is a delight to balance out the Allen side of the spectrum, and I appreciate its all-over-the-place structure, but this film didn’t work for me like it did 15 years ago. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Closely Watched Trains (1966) – A young man is determined to lose his virginity to a pretty colleague, all under the curtain of WWII-era Czechoslovakia. This offbeat film has an interesting feel, but ultimately didn’t click with me. I found the characters pretty distant and didn’t find the story elements particularly compelling. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Hail, Caesar! (2016) – A movie lover’s dream, this comedy-mystery from the Coen Brothers is a dazzling journey into the 1950s studio system with a delightful menagerie of “types.” The best discovery is the unknown (to me) actor Alden Ehrenreich, who seemed to me a mix of brooding James Dean with sympathetic Montgomery Clift, but Wikipedia says is a Kirby Grant type. But whether or not you can pin down specific people and places, Hail, Caesar! will be instantly familiar and more importantly, entertaining. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Easy A (2010) – Clever teen comedy about a virgin who builds herself a fake bad reputation. Emma Stone really holds her own in the film that (I believe) is her first starring role. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: January 10-16, 2016

Big week last week, between the Golden Globe awards and the Academy Award nominations announcement – awards season has officially begun and I’ve got my work cut out for me as far as seeing all the nominees!

Last week, I saw:

  • Descendants (2015) – Terrifically addictive Disney Channel Original Movie about the kids of Disney villains & heroes all going to high school together. RECOMMENDED.
  • 45 Years (2015) – Heartbreaking drama about an older couple dealing with the resurgence of the husband’s long-lost love in their lives. Delicately told and superbly acted. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Well-constructed action-adventure film brought down by an overly repetitive plot and weak script. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Eating Raoul (1982) – Wonderfully demented black comedy about a straight-edge couple who devise a plot to raise money for their dream restaurant by killing the swingers who torment them. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Mistress America (2015) – Disappointing comedy from the Frances Ha dream-team of Greta Gerwig & Noam Baumbach about the burgeoning friendship between a college freshman and her big stepsister-to-be. Intriguing premise is brought down by an unwatchable third act, with overacting galore and pacing that’s suited more for stage and less for film. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Tangled (2010) – One of my favorite contemporary animated films, this is a perfect pivot blend of traditional Disney storytelling and modern computer animation, with a terrific script and music to boot. REQUIRED.
  • Spotlight (2015) – I’m guessing the hype around this movie is more the importance of the subject matter and not for the, uh, film itself. Formulaic journalistic drama about Boston Globe reporters investigating the Catholic Church’s involvement in & implicit support of abuse cases. This operates in The Hills style of storytelling, where scenes transpire followed by a scene of people recapping what we just saw. NOT RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week? How do you feel about the Oscar noms?

Carlos (2010)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie like Carlos. It’s hard to imagine a film that has dived in so deeply, or addressed as broadly, the world of international terrorism, its leaders, and its martyrs. Director Olivier Assayas sweeps us so effortlessly across continents, times, and languages, the sheer feat of accomplishing a work of this magnitude is nothing short of astonishing.

Edgar Ramirez delivers a captivating, wholly convincing and compelling performance as Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, sometimes called “Carlos,” the Venezuelan terrorist who grew to fame and infamy in the 1970s and 80s. He electrifies the screen with a commanding power in what truly should have been a star-making performance. Like the film itself, he takes on various personae, countless fake identities, rolling non-native languages off his tongue with apparent ease.

As odd as this comparison may sound, I kept being reminded of Alan Parker’s Evita (admittedly, one of my favorite movies and certainly one of my favorite musicals). The theme of leveraging politics, or terror, into fame and infamy is a very interesting one. More so than EvitaCarlos exploits this to full affect, seamlessly weaving in real-world video reels and radio news updates, heightening both the credibility and ironic romanticizing of such terrible acts. (For the record, I do not think Carlos romanticizes terror in the least; rather, it is a creative choice to reflect one take on how Carlos the Jackal shaped his career for the press coverage. Whether that is true or not I cannot say, though it does make for interesting storytelling within the film.)

Carlos the movie is told rather unconventionally; it starts with a fairly linear narrative, with Carlos and his nuclear family entrenched in petty bougois politics. Just as he derails into organized intimidation, murder, and mass terror, as does the story, throttling us from the familiarity of home and stability to a dizzying array of new faces, locales, networks to navigate. Not only does this communicate the scope of influence and power Carlos accumulated, but also provides a chilling reminder of the omnipresence of evil and parties waiting to inflict terror upon their enemies.

Even beyond the rational, narrative means of storytelling, Carlos is a mass sensory overload. Exposing our gaze to the sun-washed deserts of the Middle East and the freezing winters of Europe, fueled by the pounding eclectic punk rock / New Wave soundtrack, the sheer power of the visual/audio cues is a force unto itself. Even when the story goes right over our heads, the film guts right to our hearts through its masterful design.

Granted, Carlos is a 5-hour movie, not without its share of violence, sex, and wholly disturbing content and characters. But it is a totally captivating, unapologetic dive into contemporary evil and what drives an individual to carry it out.

The Last Song (2010)

Let me preface this review by insisting that The Last Song is kind of trash. It is not your everyday studio film, but rather more closely resembling something from the same nest that Lifetime movies are hatched from. It’s perfect viewing for a lazy afternoon or a rainy day, but not your typical A-billing feature to impress your friends with.

The first half is actually laugh-out-loud bad. It follows a predictable narrative, two kids from a broken home leave their mother’s home to spend a summer with their father. The situations and dialogue feel weirdly familiar, probably because we’ve seen and heard them all before. The sullen, rebellious teen daughter sulks around and runs into the local hunk, who is of course shirtless. The father is clueless about how to raise kids and jokes about the “handbook” of paternity. The young son (who is a lousy actor, by the way) raises his eyebrows excitedly at everything, because I guess someone told him that’s how you act.

Halfway through, though, The Last Song unexpectedly yet satisfyingly switches gears. I don’t want to spoil much, but the movie shifts to a more realistic and tragic direction. We get some great moments between Miley Cyrus and Greg Kinnear, filled with sincerity that is lacking throughout the mostly over-the-top script.

At its heart, The Last Song could elevate from being an entertaining time-killer movie to being a pretty good or even very good one. It has an engaging enough story, but is weighed down by a terrible script and kind of lousy direction. The opening and closing credits look as though they were made using Windows Movie Maker, and the editing is often awkward and you constantly feel as if you are watching a movie – the illusion of reality very rarely fools the audience.

I would probably only recommend this movie to the most hardcore of Miley Cyrus fans, simply for fear that most viewers wouldn’t have the patience to sit through the disastrous first hour. For all prospective audience members, however, it is a movie worth sitting through, even if it takes a while to actually get good. The Last Song offers a surprisingly painful yet believable ending that makes up for the wannabe Lifetime flick that precedes it.