Big Bunch o’ Movies

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watching you...

watching you…

I have fallen far behind on movie reviews.  There are too many to catch up on, so I’m doing a post with a bunch of short reviews of all of them.

Veronica Mars (2014) – If you liked the TV show, you’ll probably like it.  It’s amusing in the same way that the show was, with a lot of inside jokes and references.  The main mystery isn’t very compelling, but that’s sort of how it was on the show too.  It was always more about Veronica getting the best of everybody who underestimates her.  7.4/10

The Lego Movie (2014) – Fun, but chaotic.  I didn’t always know what was going on, but when I did, it was pretty good.  7.1/10

Gravity (2013) – I’m sure seeing this on tv at home instead of in 3D in the theater hurt my enjoyment of it.  At home it was a little underwhelming.  Not just the visuals though, the plot too.  There are moments where I was on edge a little, and it was pretty to look at, but there was nothing about it that really grabbed me.  The last 10 minutes or so was the best, but that wasn’t quite enough.  6.0/10

Robot & Frank (2012) – Not a bad premise…some good performances…but ultimately it just drags along too slowly.  5.5/10

Bill Cunningham New York (2010) – This one was a pleasant surprise.  It’s a documentary about a guy who has been taking fashion photos on the streets of New York for a long long time.  He is an entertaining character.  8.2/10

City of God (2002) – This was a rough one.  Good, but tough to watch.  7.6/10

Frozen (2013) – I am now among those that have seen this movie.  That is to say, I am now at the risk – at all times – of having one of the songs from it stuck in my head for hours on end.  It’s a decent movie…has some funny moments…and a couple of the songs are catchy.  Oh, and the snowman that comes to life, Olaf, is the best part.  Still, the story isn’t all that interesting, and neither are most of the characters.  6.8/10

Sharknado (2013) – No. Just no.  1.2/10

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Another good one from Wes Anderson.  It doesn’t jump to the top of my favorites of his, but it’s enjoyable throughout most of it.  So many cameos!  7.8/10

112 Weddings (2014)

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Yep, I married a mix between Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms...

Yep, I married a mix between Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms…

This is a documentary by a filmmaker, Doug Block, who also films weddings on the side.  He has shot 112 weddings over the years, and now he has tracked down several of those couples to see where they are now, after 3 years…5 years…10 years…20 years.  It’s one of those concepts that’s so simple yet so fascinating because nobody has done it before, at least not to my knowledge.

How many times have you been at a wedding and thought to yourself, “I wonder how they’re going to turn out.  Can they make it last?”  Well, in the case of these marriages, wonder no more!  You get to see them on their wedding day, as happy as could be, and then immediately jump forward several years to see them now.  Some are happy, some are sad, and the others are somewhere in between.

I think maybe this should be required viewing for anybody who is married, might get married, or even just anybody who might commit themselves to another person for the rest of their lives in any way shape or form. Not to dissuade them from doing so – at least not in most cases – but to give them a more realistic look at what to expect so that they’re better prepared for what’s to come.  I know people are usually told that sort of thing before embarking on such an endeavor, but to see it on screen makes it seem different.  The stark contrast between the whirlwind of joy on the wedding day (or partnership ceremony day) and then the ho-hum of every day life (or the despair of divorce) can be startling, even to a person who might think, “nah, that couldn’t happen with OUR relationship.”

It’s not a masterpiece, and I’m sure some won’t find it nearly as interesting as I did, but I think there’s a lot of fascinating stuff here if you really give it a chance.

7.9/10

 

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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I got you this lamp...so you can better see how horrible I am...

I got you this lamp…so you can see better how horrible I am…

Definitely not the feel good movie of the year, but a movie that does manage to be enjoyable despite its really tough subject matter.  It’s beautiful to look at, has mostly good performances, and looks at a kind of slavery story we don’t always hear much about.

I guess the idea of being kidnapped from the north and being brought to the south to be sold into slavery isn’t any more or less cruel than any other pathway to slavery, but it certainly feels that way when you see it played out on screen.  I guess the main character, Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), being an educated black man in the north, has a sense that he is removed from the nightmare of slavery.  So when he wakes to find himself in chains, it’s not just shocking, but totally unfair.  Thus the mood is set for the rest of the film, where we the viewer constantly hope that his real identity will be discovered, and the illegality of his slavery will be revealed because it’s just not fair that HE would be a slave.  Which, of course, we realize is true for EVERYBODY who is a slave.

Some of what we see, we have seen many times before.  If it’s a movie about slavery, it’s going to have whipping, and cruelty, and the occasional sympathetic white person, but this movie does some of those same things in a way that makes it really hit home just how horrible and bleak it all was.  Plus it pulls out a few scenes that were certainly new to me.

A few of the accents could have been better, and Brad Pitt’s character (or maybe just his appearance) felt forced, but overall the acting was top notch.  And hey, good to see Paul Dano step outside of the box and play a character unlike anything I’ve seen him play!

Overall, I guess you could call this a must-see, even if just to remind yourself of how bad things can be, and how crazy it is that people are capable of such horrors.  Seriously, this stuff happened.  Not that long ago. Ugh.

8.0/10

Her (2013)

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like it?  no...i LOVE your creepy mustache.

like it? no…i LOVE your creepy mustache.

If you’re like me, and there was ever a time that you had strong feelings for somebody you only knew through your computer, then you’ll probably relate to this movie.  Especially if it was back in the earlier days of the internet when all you had were a couple pictures, text via instant messenger, and, if you’re lucky, a voice on the telephone.  It was the voice on the phone that made it all the more real.  And in Her, a voice is all Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) needs to fall in love.

Can you really know somebody with just a voice?  Is being in someone’s physical presence necessary for a relationship?  Do you ever really know them, or are you just filling in the missing gaps with everything it takes to make them perfect?

I really enjoyed this movie.  It’s not perfect, but it seems very real…very possible.  We already live in a world where people walk in groups but don’t speak to each other.  All focused on their phones instead.  There’s a scene in Her where Theodore is walking through a crowd of people, all the while talking to his new operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) via a small earpiece.  You’d think he’d stand out as a crazy person, seemingly talking to nobody, but he doesn’t because just about every other person is doing the same thing.  A cacophony of conversations, none of which are directed at each other.  This movie is set in the near future, but that future might turn into the present sooner than we think.

Is that a bad thing?  Sure, Theodore has problems with relationships, but so have people for a lot longer time than computer technology has been around.  Overall, he’s a nice, reasonably normal guy, despite being called creepy by a blind date in the one scene in the movie that didn’t work so well to me.  But later, he and his new artificially intelligent operating system girlfriend go on a double date with a human-human couple, and they don’t think it’s weird at all.  In fact, most people don’t seem to have a problem with it.  Are we destined for a world where we reach a sort of pinnacle of self-centeredness, where we are in relationships with people who don’t actually exist, thus we’re essentially dating ourselves?  I mean, that’s certainly what’s going on in the awkward sex scene…

I thought Spike Jonze came up a bit short in the emotional department when he made Where the Wild Things Are.  Not the case here.  Maybe it’s due to my aforementioned experience in the internet romance world from many years ago, but I felt much more of a connection to the characters and their emotions in Her.  Phoenix does a great job, as does Amy Adams as Theodore’s mousy friend who is having her own relationship problems.  I wasn’t crazy about Johansson’s voice as Samantha, the operating system, but I got used to it.  The music is good, the cinematography is lovely, and Jonze does a nice job of creating a world that seems overly clean/sterile/pristine perhaps due to the lack of human interaction.

At first the plot about the operating systems getting so smart that they feel the need to move on to more important things than serving humans seemed unnecessary, but eventually I saw that as brilliant too.  I mean, if we’ve become so bored with actually talking to each other, there’s no reason to think the super-intelligent computers won’t get bored with us too.

8.3/10

Godzilla (2014)

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Drink me in, folks...

Drink me in, folks…

Liked it a lot, didn’t love it.  That’s the short version.

Of course, just liking it means it was so much better than the 1998 Godzilla.  I mean…SO much better.  The best parts definitely deliver the goods.

The positives:

  • Good story setup –  Ancient monsters are disturbed and go looking for radiation to feed on.  They grow big and destroy stuff.  Godzilla, in an almost mythological, Godly role, emerges to kill monsters and bring balance to the world.
  • The effects – Not too shabby.  Awesome at times.  Plus, you can actually see what’s going on in the monster battles.  It’s not a bunch of fast cutting to crazy angles that just confuses the audience and gives them a headache.
  • Serious tone – There aren’t many (or any, really) silly nods to the audience, inside jokes, childish stabs at humor, etc.  This isn’t like most blockbuster movies.  It actually takes the destruction of cities and rising death toll seriously, even if it involves giant monsters.
  • Some genuine emotional content at times, particularly the opening sequence.  Nice job, Bryan Cranston.

The negatives:

  • The best character isn’t in the movie very much.  The other characters are pretty dull.
  • Takes too long to get to Godzilla and the monster fighting. I don’t mind character development and a slower pacing, but only if it’s worth it.  In this case, as noted above, the characters don’t really build much.  I don’t even remember anybody’s name.  Pacific Rim was idiotic, but at least it knew what the audience came to see and had a robot/monster fight in the first 5 minutes.
  • Too many typical scenes of the military planning offensives, characters hoping to be reunited, then characters being reunited.  Very predictable stuff for the most part.

I like the direction Gareth Edwards had this movie going in.  It is definitely not stupid and obnoxious.  That’s a welcome switch.  I just wish he would have (or maybe could have – it’s only his first major movie after all, i’m not sure how much control he really had) made it even a bit darker and less predictable, especially at the character level.  Speaking of characters, I’ll say again, Bryan Cranston is great, and boy would I have liked to see more of him in this.  I guess Aaron Taylor-Johnson is convincing in the physical aspects of the lead role (I mean, he was Kick-Ass after all), but he’s not given much to do beyond that.

So yeah, cool fights, but not enough of them, and not early enough in the movie.  Still, worth watching, especially if you’re still trying to get the bad taste of Godzilla 1998 out of your mouth.

7.6/10

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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I am happy...may cat and I are happy...so happy...

I am happy…my cat and I are happy…so happy…

Well, when I last experienced the Coen brothers, it was with 2009’s A Serious Man.  I did not enjoy that movie very much.  It was depressing, hard to follow, and not particularly funny.  At least, not to me.

So, this movie was bound to at least be better than that one, and it was.  But, it still suffered from some of the same issues I had with A Serious Man.  I guess the groove the brothers are in right just isn’t my groove. There’s no real plot or story line to follow.  It’s just the miserable life and circumstances of one man.  I like to think that the very end offers up some hope for Llewyn’s music to gain some popularity, but I’m really not sure.

What I am sure of is that the performance from Oscar Isaac is good, as is that of pretty much everybody in the movie, particularly Carey Mulligan.  Oh, and seeing Justin Timberlake as a 60s folk singer is pretty much worth the price of admission.  I also laughed a lot more during this movie than A Serious Man, so it earns some points in that department too.

I just wish there was a bit more of a story to follow.  I don’t always need a concrete story, but in this case, I wanted some sort of motivation to cling to.

At least, I THINK that was my main problem with it.  Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just not that great.  Maybe dismal doesn’t make for a great movie.  It makes for some good music on the soundtrack, but when it’s the main theme in a movie, it just kind of wears me down.

I guess I liked the light-hearted Coens better.  Though, I did enjoy Barton Fink, so…I’m confused by my tastes.  Oh well…

6.4/10

Pacific Rim (2013)

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okay, this new iron man suit is pretty frickin' sweet...

okay, this new iron man suit is pretty frickin’ sweet…

Well, at least it’s better than Transformers.

This movie isn’t hateful.  It doesn’t make me mad watching it like some other big budget explosion-fests, but it does frustrate me.  Why?  Because it’s the kind of movie that could be so much more.  I watch it and realize that, with a few changes, it could satisfy the inner child in me that wants to see people in giant robot suits fighting huge alien monsters, as well as the adult part of me that would enjoy an interesting story as well. Something with well-developed characters, a plot with a few unexpected twists, and maybe even a story line that challenges me in some way.  The only challenge in this movie is trying to name all of the movies that it reminds you of.  There were many for me – Independence Day, Transformers, the 1998 Godzilla movie, and of course, Robot Jox.

That is not an impressive list of movies to borrow from, and while Pacific Rim thankfully isn’t overloaded with as many comedy relief attempts as most other big budget blockbusters, it still falls into the same bad habits as most of those movies.  Seriously, is it too much to ask to do something unpredictable?  Not one single thing happened in this movie that was unexpected.  And I do mean not ONE THING.  It is movie-making autopilot of the worst kind.  But hey, as long as it looks cool, right?

Well, about that…

While admittedly these robot/monster fights are less muddled and headache-inducing than the fight sequences in Transformers, they still occur almost exclusively either at night, in the ocean, in the rain, or all of the above.  A few daylight fights would have been nice.

I could go on a long rant about logic problems and various other issues, but CinemaSins and Screen Junkies already did a nice job with that.  (Big time spoilers in both those videos!)

In the end, this is actually an okay movie if you’re looking for totally mindless entertainment.  Like I said, it doesn’t make me angry watching it like Transformers and some other movies.  It’s stupid and could have been SO much better, but it is what it is.

5.5/10

Fin (2012)

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...and I feel fin...

…and I feel fin…

And by Fin, they mean THE END.

The end of what, you may ask.  Well, the end of everything it seems.  A group of old friends have reassembled at a mountain cabin that they spent a lot of time at in their younger days, and the first sign that something is amiss is that Felix (Daniel Grao) notices that the star Sirius, the brightest in the night sky, is missing.  Shortly after that, there’s a strange flash, accompanied by a loud rumble, then the sky takes on an eerie glow. Everything electronic is knocked out, including transportation.  The group is stranded, and when they wake up in the morning, one of them has vanished.

They work through personal issues, as well as the issue of what the heck is going on, as they trek across barren lands in search of any other humans.  Of course, there’s also the minor issue of which one is going to vanish next.

I think I need to just go ahead and accept that most low-budget sci-fi/supernatural movies are going to have ambiguous endings.  Closure is not a cornerstone of indie film-making.  Actually, I’m not even sure this is an Indie movie.  Maybe this is mainstream in Spain, where it is made, but it has that low-budget feel of American independent film.  It’s character driven, with minimal special effects.

I like the core mystery of it all, and how it’s sort of a picture of life sped up.  You never know when somebody is just going to…not be here anymore.  The characters are okay, but there was maybe a little too much anger and drama between all these folks who are supposed to have been so close for so long.  Maybe that was the point?  That they’ve grown apart so much that they just yell at each other now, but it didn’t make for an overly pleasant experience at times. Gotta say, though, the atmosphere and the impending doom of the inevitable end kept me interested until the foggy (literally) finale, and even though exactly what was going on wasn’t necessarily need-to-know information, I suppose it’s a sign of a fairly well made movie that I really wanted to know.

7.2/10

Ruby Sparks (2012)

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is somebody over there trying to be quirkier than me!!??

is somebody over there trying to be quirkier than me!!??

Ah, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  Whether it’s Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Kate Winslet, or…Zooey Deschanel, it’s a character that has become all too familiar in movies – particularly indie movies – in the past decade or so.  A quirky, unpredictable girl who brings the male protagonist to life and turns his life into a constant adventure.

In this case, it’s Zoe Kazan as Ruby Sparks, who is, quite literally, the dream girl of writer Calvin (Paul Dano).  He dreams about her, then begins writing a book about her.  Then, to his understandable surprise, one day Ruby materializes in Calvin’s kitchen, seemingly unaware that she had no existence before he dreamed her up.  At first all is wonderful and happy for the two (once Calvin comes to grips with this odd occurrence), but eventually Ruby gets bored existing for the sole purpose of making Calvin’s life better.  She’s unhappy.  So, Calvin writes more in his book, this time making her happy all the time.  Her constant joy grows tiresome, so he must write her differently.  Needless to say, these rewrites go on for a while as Calvin tries to achieve the perfect balance in Ruby.

This movie, written by star Zoe Kazan herself, takes the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and reveals why this male fantasy puts so much pressure on the girl in question.  At one point Ruby says something to Calvin about him not having any friends.  He says, “I have you. I don’t need anyone else.”  To which she responds, “that’s a lot of pressure.”  This MPDG concept puts all the onus on the girl to make a relationship exciting, with the guy just going along for the ride.  All he has to do is accept her for who she is.  “I love your mess,” Calvin says at one point.

This whole idea was explored to a similar extent in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  That’s another character, Joel, who simply wants to go along for the ride with Clementine, and she lets him tag along because he’s nice and accepts her manic ways.  Though, only for a while, until she gets bored with his lack of emotional intimacy.

The performances are all good enough, including smaller roles featuring Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas, and Elliott Gould.  Though, I feel like the concept/story succeeds more entirely than the execution of it.  It drags a little at times, and that ending wasn’t so hot…

7.8/10

Sound of My Voice (2011)

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hey, four-eyes, how's the film coming along?

hey, four-eyes, how’s the film coming along?

Well this was something sorta different.

This is a little movie about a documentary filmmaker, Peter (Christopher Denham), and his girlfriend, Lorna (Nicole Vicius), infiltrating a small cult in order to get the scoop on what’s going on there.  The group is led by Maggie (Brit Marling), a woman who claims she has traveled back in time, bringing with her tales of a horrible civil war.  Posing as members of the group causes a strain on Peter and Lorna’s relationship as one of them starts to wonder if Maggie could be on the level.

This is not a thrill-a-minute type of movie.  Most of it takes place in the small basement of an average American house.  There is a lot of dialogue, but it is also a very quiet movie.  That’s not to say there aren’t some tense and mysterious moments, as Peter and Lorna are at risk of being revealed as impostors at any moment.  The drama is a little Hitchcockian in that regard, which I like.

The performances are mostly good, especially Brit Marling as Maggie.  She has a little bit of a creepy, other-worldly vibe going, but she can also seem very down to earth, which is exactly what this kind of leader should exude.

This one seems just a couple steps away from being pretty great, but as is, I’d call it good for sure, and worth a watch if you like interesting indie movies.

7.5/10

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