Continued from the previous post…below my thoughts on the films watched in June (with a bit of a delay)
Continued from the previous post…below my thoughts on the films watched in June (with a bit of a delay)
The year that is about to end was a year of change. On January the 1st, I found myself in a strange town, emotionally hurt and surrounded by people I did not want to be surrounded by. It was the least auspicious beginning to a year that I can remember.
Fortunately, life has a way of sneaking up on you, for good and bad, and less than two months later I welcomed a new person in my life that has made me rediscover love, and regain the hope that happiness is not only attainable, but that it has always been within my reach should I dare to make some changes.
It is absolutely incredible to me that we are already in November. It feels as if Summer lasted about a week, Spring no more than 2 days and that Winter was about a month ago.
Per usual, my blog has been more inactive than I would like it to be but after 2-3 years of keeping the same pace, it’s about time I come to accept the infrequency of my blogging.
I have managed to stay within an average of watching at least 10 new films per month, with the goal of hitting at least 120 new films seen in the calendar year (I don’t think I’ve seen more than 10 repeats)
In September I watched 13 films averaging an unusually high 3.5 out of 5 score product of 6 films that hit 4 or 4.5 out of 5. Also an unusually high number.
In October, however, things went back to normalcy. I watched 10 films averaging 3.15, with only two of these getting a 4 out of 5.
To keep the posts manageable, I will divide them into two parts. One dedicated to September, and the other to October. Below my short impressions of each:
GONE BABY GONE (2007) [ 3.5/5 ]
Gone Baby Gone felt like an extended episode of Law & Order featuring a great cast that includes the likes of Morgan Freeman and Casey Affleck.
Set in a gritty, dark and unwelcoming part of Boston, the film tells the story of a private investigator and his partner searching for a missing girl. The characters are, for the most part, excellently conceived, filled with complexity and contradictions.
The moral question at the heart of the movie, which is presented to us in the last act, is one that is difficult to answer, probably splitting audiences in half back when the film was released in 2007.
What doesn’t work as well are the ways in which the film reaches those moral dilemmas, often opting to grab audiences by the hand, and never fully trusting viewers to make their own connections.
Casey Affleck’s performance is especially engaging in a role that has some of the ticks but not quite the range of his well-deserved Oscar-winning turn in Manchester by the Sea.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) [ 3.5/5 ]
The latest reboot of King Kong is an attempt to bring the big ape to a new generation of filmgoers, giving audiences an origin story that, in all honesty, fails to live up to the long cultural significance of Kong in the big screen.
Aside from a particularly weak premise that sets the events of the film in motion, Kong is packed with well crafted and entertaining set pieces that keep the film from succumbing to its general lack of originality. John C. Reilly’s late cameo is one of the film’s pleasures and the only character I found myself rooting for.
THE PRESTIGE (2006) [ 4/5 ]
The Prestige was very much a precursor to Christopher Nolan’s amazing work in Inception. Like that film, The Prestige is built upon a story that is rich in complexity where every shot and every bit of dialogue serves the film’s ultimate reveal. As with the rest of Nolan’s impressive body of work, The Prestige hides its secrets by limiting our point of view. It works only by placing us in the thick of the story, while leaving a crucial perspective out until the end. As engaging and wildly unpredictably as the plot is, the invisible hand that moves all the gears and fits all the pieces into place seems a bit more conspicuous than usual.
Being so familiar with the director’s work was a bit of a detriment to the experience, expecting the perfectionism and directorial dexterity of Christopher Nolan to sweep us up at the end, cleverly tying in the film’s many loose pieces.
Having said this, The Prestige is one hell of a cinematic experience that is nearly as imaginative and deceptive as the director’s best work.
LEGEND (2015) [ 4/5 ]
A magnificent dual performance by the always surprising Tom Hardy headlines this wild gangster film set in midcentury London. The thespian plays Reggie and Ronnie Cray; one the suave and elegant empresario with a talent for boxing who desires love and success, and the other his psychologically disturbed bloodthirsty twin with a lust for sex, men and, of course, violence.
Most of what the film tries to say isn’t new or particularly inventive, but I did appreciate its take on the weight of family ties and how one rotten apple can sometimes bring a blossoming empire crashing down.
I also appreciated the film’s dark and twisted humor, its rich assortment of characters and the evil pleasure with which it tells what is a rather tragic tale.
One of the most underrated films of 2015.
A MONSTER CALLS (2016) [ 4.5/5 ]
Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ 250 Essential Films
A beautiful film that moved me to tears. A story about loss and grief that I found extremely poetic and engaging. Though it may turn off some people due to its fantastical elements, A Monster Calls is, by no means, a kids’ film; instead, it is a carefully crafted drama of great emotional resonance that uses fantasy to great effect. I shall be posting a full review in the coming days.
NEON DEMON (2016) [ 3/5 ]
A slow burning and stylish film from Scandinavian director Nicholas Winding Refn set against flashing cameras and the orange glow of the city of Angels.
Like his film Drive, Refn spends most of the film’s running time enamored by the facile beauty of its movie star: Elle Faning, who plays a character both exasperating and relatable, humble at first sight but fundamentally narcissistic. She is treated both as the muse in distress hunted by jealous competition, and also as a sort of virus that has arrived to disrupt the natural order. Such dichotomy is at the heart of the film and it is ultimately what I found most interesting about it.
Sadly, the film lacks momentum, getting lost in its parsimony, with a script filled with holes that do nothing but serve Winding Refn’s brand of filmmaking which can often overwhelm the storytelling.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) [ 3/5 ]
A biopic on the rise and fall of rap supergroup NWA that is entertaining without being particularly nuanced or thought-provoking.
Part of the problem lies on a script that is too heavily focused on the highlights of the lives that made NWA a reality. As a result, the film feels more like a made for tv 2-hour special, rather than an engaging study on the group members and what made them such a potent artistic force.
Straight Outta Compton also feels like a film that was tinkered and edited in post-production to take away the focus from weaker actors: O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Corey Hawkins, playing Ice Cube and Dr. Dre respectively; and give the spotlight to the always great Paul Giamatti, playing the sleazy and conniving manager, and actor Jason Mitchell, playing the late rapper Eazy-E with surprising emotional conviction.
DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) [ 3.5/5 ]
Spike Lee has always been one of those directors whose persona has loomed large in my decision to approach his work trepidatiously. His oeuvre is one that I have only recently began to dip my toes in, first with Chi-Raq, and now with what many critics call his masterpiece: Do The Right Thing.
In defense of the modest 3.5/5 score I give the film, I found that Lee’s work in this predominantly African American treatise may be one of those that, in order to be appreciated, both time and successive viewings may be required.
While his most recent work in Chi-Raq is one that attempts to tackle many large subjects through a tight and clear story; Do The Right Thing is the kind of large, expansive, complex and theatrical exposition about racial relations in the United States that I found to be more relevant as a historical document rather than as an artistic piece. My problem with it is that I simply could not make the transition from the almost whimsical African American micro-universe that Spike Lee had created in almost 90 minutes of film to the very violent and tragic last act. It was an abrupt and hard transition that I simply could not get on board with, despite appreciating the boldness behind the choice.
In addition, I found it unfortunate that Spike Lee made the decision to also take on the lead role, often looking flat opposite an excellent cast of actors.
MOTHER! (2017) [ 4/5 ]
A film so intense that I left the theater feeling exhausted. In the days that followed my trip to the theater, my esteem and appreciation for Darren Aronofski’s latest piece grew, and could easily become a favorite in the years to come.
If you’re so inclined, you can find my full review of the film here
TOWER [ 4/5 ] (2016)
I was introduced to this very good documentary courtesy of the best podcast on film out there: filmspotting.net
The film is one that deals with a very current subject, mass shootings, but it does so by focusing on the victims, both dead and alive, of a single tragic episode without precedent that occurred at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.
The documentary, directed by Keith Maitland, is as nuanced an exposition of the horror of such an experience as you’re likely to find. It’s both affecting and engaging, creatively crafted using a style of animation that is both painterly and evocative, capturing the emotional drama, while softening the horrific violence.
A must-watch for cinephiles aspiring to make documentaries on tough and difficult subjects with tact and attention to detail.
THE BIG SICK (2017) [ 4/5 ]
Based on the real circumstances that surrounded the relationship of writers Kumail Nunjiani and Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is a breath of fresh air in the romantic comedy genre.
Apart from being genuinely funny from beginning to end, the film was surprisingly touching, giving each one of its characters tangible and credible personalities, with only the occasionally cheesy one-liner.
It helps that the relationship at its center worked, and both Kumail and Zoe Kazan deliver crafty performances that are witty and surprisingly nuanced.
The Big Sick is clearly a labor of love inspired by love. One of the best films of 2017.
THE DEAD ZONE (1983) [ 2.5/5 ]
One of the biggest disappointments of late. The Dead Zone is one of those cult films that has survived the passage of time based solely on the curiosity of cinephiles willing to invest a couple of hours to explore the odd pairing of director David Cronenberg and a rare lead performance by Christopher Walken.
The actor plays Johnny Smith who, after a 5-year coma, wakes up to find his fiancé has moved on, his job is gone and, more importantly, that he has psychic powers he must suddenly contend with.
Even when there is something of merit to be found in the film’s interesting explorations of the psychological ramifications of wielding such power, Cronenberg’s execution is terribly uneven.
The dramatic scenes feel staged, the performances unnecessarily heightened, the camerawork is sloppy and the major set pieces anticlimactic.
SNATCHED (2017) [ 2.5/5 ]
After the success and unexpected quality of Amy Schumer’s first starring role in a feature film in 2012’s Trainwreck, I half-expected the stand-up comedian to follow it with something catastrophically bad (in what the industry commonly calls the sophomore slump).
What is surprising about this mind-numbing slapstick comedy is that there is enough comedic chemistry between Goldie Hawn and Schumer as mother and daughter to make the film bearable.
Having said that, I still wish Schumer and Hawn could have done something a lot more worthwhile.
Mother! is a long nightmare filled with paranoia, jealousy, anger and lovelessness. It is, as anticipated by film festival goers, a divisive film. While audiences have given it on average an F according to Cinemascore, critics have been a bit more receptive to Aronofsky’s latest cinematic experiment.
The film’s detractors speak about its overindulgence, lack of restrain and penchant for melodrama. While the film’s admirers will point to its value as a deeply metaphorical cinematic statement that commits to large and small ideas alike.
My feelings about the film, almost a week after I first watched it, are still wavering somewhat, not knowing if I fall in with those who already awash the film with praise, or those that appreciate its ambition and vision while questioning its choices.
By no means a perfect or pretty film, one thing that cannot be said about Mother! is that it is boring or unimaginative.
Like much of Aronofsky’s work before, Mother! is the kind of film that, instead of escapism, offers no respite and no time to catch our collective breath. It is a film that finds its emotional center in unrequited love, but that eventually reveals itself to be about many more things. Mother! is the kind of experimental cinema that escapes categorization. It is scary, exhilarating, melodramatic, satirical and occasionally funny. It is also Hitchcockian in the sense that it loves to manipulate and tease the audience, hinting at possible resolutions that are nothing more than cinematic instruments of deception that rely on horror lore to deceive us.
At the center of the film are Javier Bardem and the much younger Jennifer Lawrence (a detail that does not escape Aronofsky). We begin the film with a woman burning, her flesh consumed by fire. Moments later, Bardem who plays “Him” (per the film’s end credits), picks up what appears to be a crystal from the ashes. As he places it on a kind of altar, the house around him begins to set itself anew, replacing the burned wood for painted walls and beautiful woodwork. As the renewal gets to a bed, a woman, Jennifer Lawrence, rolls toward the camera and away from the sheets.
At first, we presume the sequence is nothing else that the passage of time and that the woman burning in the fire was perhaps a previous partner, but soon enough, the movie goes back to that rock, which Bardem’s “Him”, an acclaimed poet, zealously protects as he struggles to find a way out from writer’s block. While he struggles to find inspiration, his companion labors to bring the house they both share to its former glory. Lawrence’s performance for most of the film’s running time is physical, walking around the house, washing dishes, cleaning, priming and painting. When we meet them, there are only passing conversations between the two. He is too consumed by his work, while she fulfills the role of a housewife fighting to keep the relationship alive.
One of the interesting things about Mother! is that Aronofsky ultimately uses these characters to build a story that points to larger ideas. There is, for instance, something to be said about the relationship between a great artist and his muse that perhaps echoes Aronofsky’s own personal experiences (the director divorced his actress wife Rachel Weisz in 2010 after nine years of marriage). It also becomes increasingly obvious that, among other things, the film is imbued with biblical parallelisms, which is an aspect of the film that may be entirely lost on those with a limited knowledge of theology.
Beyond the metaphors tucked in between the lines, what I found most interesting was Aronofsky’s direction. It is frenetic, claustrophobic and, at times, disorienting, staying very close to its characters, following Jennifer Lawrence through nearly every bit of film. As told by Aronofsky himself in recent interviews, the script and context for Mother! poured out of him all at once, over the course of a few days at a frustrating and angry time in his life. Unsurprisingly, the anger he felt when writing, translated not only to a story that revels in paranoia and a sense of helplessness, but also to the way the film is shot. It is filmmaking of the highest caliber, adding to the story and giving it some resonance, rather than hampering it or distracting us.
As I said at the beginning, Mother! is by no means a perfect specimen. It has the feel and the quality of an cinematic experiment, rather than that of a carefully calibrated and finished product. Like the house it confines us too, it has a kind of rawness that is not bulletproof when analyzed and dissected. More than a perfectly realized story, Mother! is about the larger statement and about the feelings it manages to bring to the fore.
Did it need to make all of the weird choices it did? Maybe it did not. On the one hand, it is prone to exaggerate, always opting for larger, louder and more shocking, making it one of the least accessible films you’ll see this year. On the other, it is a deeply personal endeavor that is consistent when seen as a larger whole or as part of a larger body of work.
This is Aronofsky near his very best.
Rating: 4 out of 5
How quickly do months fly by when you are busy. It seems like only a week ago I posted my last review. As quickly as my newfound motivation to blog a bit more came to me on January 1st, as quickly it evaporated not from a lack of desire, but from a lack of energy.
With a bit of a delay, I share with you my brief thoughts on the films I had the chance to watch in the last month of 2015 and the first of 2016. A total of 21 films were watched, 12 in December and 9 in January. The average rating was a very good 3.35 out of 5. The following are ordered in the way they were seen:
There comes a time in everyone’s life where the sun, the beach, and enjoying the outdoors takes precedent whenever one feels they have an hour or two to spare. Such has been the case for me over the last few months, even if Chicago, and its often unmerciful weather, has attempted to hijack a weekend or two with its northerly wintry winds and stray summer showers. For these reasons, and maybe a couple of others I will not get into right now, I have abandoned my blog yet again.
It’s been just over a month since my last post on this blog of mine. Though my attempt was to continue to keep it flowing with new reviews and monthly round-ups, there was this mammoth-size event looming on the horizon: the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.