Flash Reviews, Pt. 1

So, in keeping with my resolution, here’s my first review post of the year. I’ve seen a lot of films over the past few months that I have a lot of thoughts about, but since it seems to be getting farther and farther from when I saw them and I haven’t written anything, I decided to post a bunch of “flash reviews.” Rather than go in depth, I’ll just give my brief spiel about each movie or book and maybe in the future I’ll post more extensive thoughts. Anyway, here goes.

Oh, and spoilers abound—consider yourself warned.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One

I was severely disappointed with this movie. I enjoyed the books and the first two films and had decent expectations for this one. I was skeptical about the decision to split the film into two and rightly so. The film dragged, the acting was sub-par (Jennifer Lawrence excluded, who was on point as usual) and some weird tonal issues—I found myself laughing out loud at points that should have been serious (the chink of ‘join the fight,’ the musical-esque singing of the ‘hangman’s song’ before blowing the bridge). Some of this may have been due to a poor theater environment, with an incredibly irritating crowd. There were a couple of truly moving moments (Katniss visiting the hospital and District 12) that give some redemption to the film. The themes are worth exploring and the film sets up some powerful ideas for the final installment.

Interstellar

I was impressed with Interstellar. I enjoy Nolan’s films, but feel like they’re usually praised more than they deserve. The acting overall was quite good and the music was incredible. The film seemed to function almost like three separate, but intertwined vignettes, that each had a distinct tonal and aesthetic quality. I had some quibbles with the film (surprise!). Anne Hathaway’s character was a bit underdeveloped, Matt Damon was…odd and Matthew McConaughey should have died. The philosophical ideas were played with and left unanswered, which irritated some, but I found rather effective (I tend to like questions more than answers anyway). The film hit a high-point emotionally in about the middle and then lost some of the human connection after that. Definitely worth seeing and pondering.

Selma

Wow. Beautiful film. Some disturbing and realistic images depicting the racial violence that took place not long ago. I was reminded throughout of the legacy of violence that remains with us and manifests itself all too frequently. The acting is top-notch and the music is used to great effect. The opening sequence shocked me more than anything I’ve seen for a long time—a brutal reminder of the innocent lives that are lost to senseless hatred. Lots to think about.

Cloud Atlas (film)

A fascinating film. Reminiscent in a lot of ways of The Fountain (which I think plays with some of the same ideas in a more nuanced and thought-provoking way). The acting is well-done for the most part, although the continued use of the same actors is a bit odd in some parts. The film is without a doubt a great spectacle. Yet, it felt kind of cold. In the sense that I didn’t really feel an emotional connection to any of the myriad of characters. I’m still not quite sure why. It may have something to do with the reincarnation overtones that take away from the desire to form an attachment to any single character. Decent film. The book is better, as the film almost necessarily simplifies the concerns of the text.

Cloud Atlas (book)

The book was quite good. Beautiful prose, and the skill that David Mitchell shows in writing in six distinct styles is unbelievable. The book plays with the ideas of narrative and the connections that we all have across space and time. Some great quotes, “A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.” And this beautiful way of looking at life, “’only as you gasp ypur dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!’ Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

The Adjustment Bureau

I quite enjoyed this. The film has some intriguing theological ideas and is quite well-crafted. Acting is solid and the premise is fascinating. A nice mix of a science-fiction plot, with some romance at the center. Matt Damon does well, as does Emily Blunt. Some oddities and weirdness and the twist at the end wasn’t that surprising, but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the film.

A Knight’s Tale

An older film that does some surprisingly clever things. The incorporation of Chaucer (Paul Bettany is delightful), including references to the Summoner and Pardoner and their roles in the Canterbury Tales, are particularly interesting. The use of music is odd, a mixture of 70’s/80’s arena rock with the medieval setting, although it works to good effect in a few sequences (the intro scene with “We Will Rock You” is fantastic, while the dance scene with David Bowie is bizarre, although that’s not purely the music’s fault, it’s weird for all sorts of reasons). The film is predictable and doesn’t really stray from the typical hero’s journey, although it accomplishes that quite well. Jocelyn is an interesting character and her interactions with Will are odd. Jocelyn does some cool, ‘girl-power’ sort of stuff, but at the same time is often reduced to stereotypes. Anyway, an entertaining film.

Blackfish

A pointed documentary. Clearly has an agenda, but well-done. I already had some anti-zoo leanings before watching and the film only strengthened those. It raises some interesting questions about the ethics of keeping and domesticating animals and the conditions that surround them. The film has an interesting mix of interviews, old Sea World commercials, news footage and some other elements. It jumps around a bit in time, which makes it a bit confusing, largely meant to build suspense, but was probably unnecessary.

Big Hero 6

Solid movie. It was more emotional and adult than I anticipated and quite clever (the post-credits Stan Lee sequence is phenomenal). A good mix of people, strong male and female characters, positive messages about teamwork and not avoiding hard questions about loss and power—nice work all around.

The Giver

The first half of the film is great and decently follows the book. Jeff Bridges is fantastic. The use of black and white early on is good. Also, the Giver’s house is awesome and basically has everything I want—a beautiful library, a spiral staircase, a piano, even a beautiful view. Unfortunately, the film devolves into a teen-romance and typical dystopian sort of action. The ending sequence is ridiculous and totally out of place with the tone of the text and the early scenes of the film. The film had promise, but ultimately disappointed.

The Monuments Men

This was much better than critics gave it credit for. Quite entertaining, although the tone was all over the place, bouncing from war-drama to buddy comedy. The dialogue was less than stellar and had some severely cheesy moments. However, the film had an intriguing subject matter and some beautiful sequences. It wasn’t overly special, but good.

The Wind in the Willows (book)

I just read this for class—delightful. Not really a children’s book, but delightful nonetheless. There are some weird animal relations, as most of the main animals are quite anthropomorphic, but there are some instances where they are not. The novel explores ideas about home and what it means to be ‘English’ at a time that that was in question. The asides from the author are hilarious, if not always accurate. Definitely would recommend this (would be fascinating to consider in relation to Fantastic Mr. Fox).

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