Weekly Round-Up: July 10-16, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • Her (2013) – The instant the film ended, my friend asked, “And why isn’t this Criterion?” Her is nothing short of brilliant, exploring universal themes of relationships and connection set in the not-too-distant future. In a similar level to Inside OutHer is a profound and emotional statement on the human experience. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Le Amiche (1955) – I love movies about rich people, but I’m still brewing about how I feel on Le Amiche (I’m always iffy with Antonioni). Five girlfriends, including one newcomer, in postwar Turin share gossip and boyfriends. Each is well defined, and her intentions made clear to the audience. The story felt a little slow and directionless, but was also true to life…. yeah, still out on this one. TBD.
  • Ghostbusters (2016) – I almost liked this one. I really wanted to like it. Kristen Wiig is the standout comedy actress of our time, and the rest of the gang all has done solid work in the past. As the movie went on, certain elements just started chipping away at my overall enjoyment – lines would misfire, we’d revert back to lazy “jump” scares, and worst of all, cameos/throwback moments thrown in for… what exactly?  To elevate the quality of the film? (This Dorkly post on the continuity of ghosts didn’t help either.) NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Armageddon (1998) – This big-budget disaster movie is a bona fide disaster, with director Michael Bay either unaware or unwilling to bring it down. From the opening titles literally exploding to Liv Tyler & Ben Affleck embracing in a NASA rocketship, everything in Armageddon is laughable. I’m amazed this hasn’t become a camp classic a la Mommie Dearest or Valley of the Dolls, but we need to make that happen. NOT RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week? Am I wrong about the new Ghostbusters?

Weekly Round-Up: April 24-30, 2016

This felt like one of my bigger movie weeks in some time – last week, I saw:

  • That Thing You Do! (1996) – Entertaining kaleidoscope of the 1960s music scene, about the rise and fall of a one-hit wonder band. RECOMMENDED.
  • Carol (2015) – This is a tough one; I loved the production of Todd Haynes’s latest melodrama, from the exquisite costumes and perfect period sets to the passionate musical score and sensual camera work, but the story and script had me rolling my eyes. I have a very hard time believing anybody would want to have an affair with the lifeless character portrayed by Rooney Mara. Mostly well made, but ultimately this flick is NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Thor: The Dark World (2013) – I love the characters and world of Thor, but this sequel didn’t hold up as well as the original. There was plenty going on, it just wasn’t as engaging or interesting as I’d come to expect from the gang. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015) – I can’t get enough of these movies, but I can see why an outsider would think that they’re all the same. (They pretty much are, to be fair.) Still, there’s plenty of creepy moments and enrichment of the mythology that I’d nonetheless rate this one RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: April 16-22, 2016

  • Boyz n the Hood (1991) – Very impressive story about good kids growing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Authentic performances and dialogue elevate this film into true art. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Iron Man 3 (2013) – My favorite so far in the Iron Man saga, with our hero facing genuine PTSD after the nutso events of The Avengers. There was so much going on I had trouble following the story, but with so much happening I was still entertained. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see two weeks ago?

Weekly Round-Up: February 21-27, 2016

It’s almost time!

I didn’t see all the movies I wanted to see by Oscar night (tonight!) but I did a pretty decent job, rounding out the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay nominees this week.

I saw:

  • V/H/S/2 (2012) – I don’t know why I’m under the spell of these stupid movies. They’re pretty easy to watch, but this one is even worse than the first one. V/H/S/2 is more supernatural-focused, with ghosts and zombies and aliens rather than the human-based evil of the first one. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Bridge of Spies (2015) – For a movie about international intrigue and the exchange of Cold War spies, holy cow was this boring. The ultimate game of cinematic softball, as not once did this film have any sense of danger or uncertainty. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Martian (2015) – My last of this year’s Best Picture nominees. I didn’t like the book, and unfortunately the film adaptation kept the same douchey sense of humor and frustrating, disconnected storytelling. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Princess and the Frog (2009) – Magical hand-drawn animated musical about a young woman determined to fight for her dreams. This Disney film is strengthened by its solid soundtrack by Randy Newman and its memorable cast of characters. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Witch (2016) – Genuinely spooky tale of a New England family isolated from society and forced to defend themselves against nature, the elements, and ultimately each other. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Straight Outta Compton (2015) – Strong historical drama about the rise of west coast hip-hop, strengthened by electrifying musical performances. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

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 24-30, 2016

I’ve been making steady progress on this year’s Oscar nominees, and had an exciting week: I liked every movie I saw!

This week’s slate included:

  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – This essential classic about home and family gave us the standards “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and boasts gorgeous technicolor visuals. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Amy (2015) – Documentary looking back on the rise and fall of the jazz pop singer Amy Winehouse. While clocking in pretty long, I couldn’t help but be impressed at the quality and breadth of footage compiled for this film. RECOMMENDED.
  • Gilda (1946) – Still an excellent film noir, as mentioned last week. 🙂 I went through all the special features on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray, including the audio commentary by Richard Schickel. Commentary is good for repeat viewers, while the film is still REQUIRED.
  • The Revenant (2015) – Masterfully shot epic western about one man overcoming nature and the elements to seek revenge. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – First time watching the extended edition with audio commentary by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens. Really illuminating insights into the film’s production – I was particularly surprised by how much scenery was miniature models (rather than CGI). The audio commentary is best left for the most hardcore fans, but the film is absolutely REQUIRED.
  • Brooklyn (2015) – Very moving romantic drama about a young Irish woman who immigrates to the United States in the early 1950s and falls in love with an Italian. This film is an instant classic, driven by its believable script and endearing characters. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • The Conjuring (2013) – Smart paranormal horror film, with parallel stories between a family terrorized by demonic spirits and the investigators who help them. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: January 17-23, 2016

Oscar season is now in full swing, and I’m steadily working towards my goal of seeing all the Best Picture & Screenplay nominees by The Big Night. This week also saw the Blu-ray release of one of my most beloved classic films.

Last week, I saw:

  • Sunset Boulevard (1950) – The inimitable classic Hollywood nightmare about fame, redemption, and resignation. There’s a reason this appears on everybody’s list of best movies. REQUIRED.
  • The Big Short (2015) – Amateurish farce satirizing the evil banks who started the financial crisis and the good people who whine about it. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) – Thoughtful drama about a divorcing couple battling out custody for their son. Starts out very by-the-books and turns very compelling for its second half. RECOMMENDED.
  • Ex Machina (2015) – Sci-fi meets film noir in this spellbinding thriller. Once this triangle of power between a tech genius, his employee, and his Artificial Intelligence creation gets going, it never stops – fueled by a wicked script. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Joy (2015) – Not David O. Russell & Jennifer Lawrence’s best work, but an interesting and at times, very entertaining business drama about the life and struggles of Joy Mangano and the Miracle Mop. RECOMMENDED.
  • Gilda (1946) – Remarkably rich tale of a demented love triangle between two former flames and a Nazi, set in postwar Buenos Aires. Equal parts film noir and “woman’s picture,” not to mention one of the strongest films of the 1940s. REQUIRED.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – Oscar Isaac gives a knockout performance as a struggling folk musician: a victim of circumstance, the music industry, and mostly himself. Terrific soundtrack to boot! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

My experience watching the Coen Brothers’ musical Inside Llewyn Davis ranged from sheer magic to frustrating bleakness and back again. Its circular nature makes me curious to revisit, though my initial viewing left me less floored than I had been about halfway through.

The first half, the film’s strongest act, is a masterful recreation of the folk scene of 1960s New York. Beautifully shot imagery, of muted colors and deep shadows, paired with very strong music, evoke a time and place many of us will only dream of. Of course the reality of the situation, particularly that of struggling guitarist Llewyn Davis, is anything but a dream, as he crashes couch to couch, heckles other folk performers, and gets girls into jams.

Not that Inside Llewyn Davis is some romanticized take on this era; the East Side was undoubtedly full of Llewyn Davises, doing their rounds in artistic circles for a shot at a hit and finally striking it big. But seeing Llewyn in his element, facing the struggles that surely rings true for others in that time, is where this film really hits its stride.

Where it falls off is through a very long detour to Chicago and back; while plot elements are revealed, Llewyn doesn’t seem to evolve much from this experience, making the 20-30 minute stretch of the movie seem less than necessary. Particularly as he returns to New York, finding himself back in the same situations as where he started, his character arc isn’t quite as satisfying as perhaps intended.

I could be completely off – the point may be that Llewyn is so numb to the rejection and failure, he’s past the point of epiphany and growth, and the narrative succeeds in this plateau of maturity. From my perspective however, the film did not seem to go much of anywhere.

Not that it really needed to, either; the setting and exposition were constructed beautifully. I liked the vision of 1960s New York and wanted to see that better established. From the initial glimpses into the folk subculture, I began to expect an alternate version of Robert Altman’s Nashville but about another time and place in American music (which would be terrific – I’d want to see that movie).

It also must be said that Oscar Isaac’s performance as the titular Llewyn Davis is remarkable. I hadn’t seen him in anything playing more than a small supporting role, so to set him center stage, and have him sing, showcases his abilities wonderfully. From this movie alone, he is absolutely a talent to keep an eye out for.

There’s a lot to like about Inside Llewyn Davis; despite its murky middle, the story is bookended by a strong, fully believable view of 1960s New York, supported by a solid, starmaking performance by Mr. Isaac.

The Canyons (2013)

There is a kind of glorious trash to The Canyons. This soapy Hollywood drama/thriller feels like a cross between The Hills and a slasher movie, with attractive twentysomethings having a drink in one scene and murdering ex-lovers the next. It’s mostly lurid and often laughable, but undeniably hypnotic in its power.

Much of this power, admittedly, comes from the casting of Lindsay Lohan as the lead. Her on-screen presence instantly brings out a variety of reactions, whether pity, disgust, or empathy, but we enter into this film immediately cued that her character has come from a troubled past.

The real eye-opener, though, is her sorta-boyfriend played by James Deen, apparently a former porn star, who takes strong command of each scene and plays a cold, bitter lover very well given the source material.

What’s a real shame is that the script, or perhaps the film in general, is not worthy of some of the talent involved. There’s some real potential, with the meta qualities of the off-the-rails Lohan trapped in a Hollywood nightmare, and a pulpy script that sweeps us across the Los Angeles cityscape in a confusing, yet cohesive, flurry of locales and one-off exchanges.

Not everything quite makes sense, and it’s difficult to understand some of the characters’ motivations… particularly what drives them to murder. By this point in the film though, so much inexplicable phenomena has taken place that you almost come to expect unfounded chaos.

It’s no gripping pulp thriller like Spring Breakers or a Hollywood tragedy like Mulholland Drive, but The Canyons makes an earnest, though unfulfilled, effort to breathe some new life into the young Hollywood genre.