Flash Reviews, Pt. 3

Welcome to another installment of Flash Reviews, where I share brief snapshot reviews of the movies I’ve watched, books I’ve read and occasional other entertainment I’ve consumed since the last time I did this. Usually once every two months or so. Oh, and spoilers abound, so watch out. If it’s a crazy big twist I might not include it, but don’t count on it. 

March 1-April 26

FILM

Whiplash

A brutal, but brilliant film. My heart hasn’t raced that much during a movie since I saw Gravity. Yes, I know this is about a drummer, but it’s intense. So intense. The acting is incredible. The sound and filming is stunning. Wow. I was blown away. Not one for repeat viewing since I felt drained after. The language is brutal and abusive, just harsh. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller are phenomenal.

Election

One of the worst movies I have ever seen. Absolute garbage in close to every sense of the word. I should have turned it off, but I kept hoping it would get better. It didn’t.

Finding Vivian Maier

Fascinating. A documentary about Vivian Maier, a secret photographer. Interesting exploration at the relationship between art and artist and the role as outsiders that artists tend to play.

The King’s Speech

Inspiring. Humanizing. Another film filled with great performances. Collin Firth is excellent and Geoffrey Rush is not terrifying, but brilliant. May be a bit slow for some, but I loved it.

Garden State

This defied my expectations. I was anticipating something light and humorous, which was not what I got. It was good, but not a stand out film for me. Another entry in the emotional, coming-of-age drama world. Well done, but nothing really special. And that could be looking back on it after its influence has been felt and spread throughout everything.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Love this. I think the best way to describe Budapest is melancholic whimsy. The film is pervaded with a sense of loss (hence the melancholy), but maintains Wes Anderson’s characteristic sense of quirky whimsy. All of the acting is wonderful, the sets are absolutely gorgeous and the dialogue is top-notch. This may be my favorite Anderson film, wrestling with Fantastic Mr. Fox for the top spot.

Into the Woods

I really liked this (besides Little Red Riding Hood, who I wanted to stay dead…). From chatting with friends more familiar with the source musical, I think I would like that even better, but I loved the fairy tales combining together and the resulting havoc of trying to enforce fairy tale rules on a real life world. Some cool themes of family and choice.

Little Miss Sunshine

Great, hysterical film. The dysfunctional family was fantastic. Also, heart-warming. Definitely worth it. A little heavy, but not in an overbearing sort of way.

Slumdog Millionaire

Much heavier than I was anticipating. Well-done. Some out there moments, but it was put together well. The acting was great, the music was quite good (with one scene kinda sticking out, when they’re hustling the train). More intense and dark than I thought it was going to be.

The Usual Suspects

I really enjoyed this as well. I wasn’t really surprised by the ending, which was supposed to be super twisty, I guess. Although, that’s probably due to assuming what sort of role Kevin Spacey’s going to play. The acting was great. It wasn’t super fast-paced, but I enjoyed the slow-burn sort of aspect of it.

The Tempest (2010)

The cast here is unbelievable, but the movie was underwhelming. Helen Mirren is great, Alan Cumming is absent for most of the film, sadly, and the others don’t seem quite on top of their game. Also, Russell Brand is ludicrous and I can’t separate him from his characters. The music is bizarre and the filming is interesting, but seemed mostly style without substance. It felt a bit empty. Like no one really knew what they were saying, like a bad Shakespeare performance, when the lines are memorized, but have no feeling.

The Social Network

To be honest, I don’t love this movie. It’s well-done and the cinematography is fantastic, but it doesn’t tap into something larger. I’m not quite sure why. The acting is solid and it’s a smart, quick movie, but it just doesn’t resonate for me. Maybe because Zuckerberg is a pompous, ruthless dude.

Infernal Affairs

Great film. Full of twists and intrigue and double-agents. There were some awkward moments with the music choices and some of the more romantic scenes. The action scenes are solid, but it’s more than just shooting and explosions. A very tight film.

The Royal Tenenbaums

This was my second time watching Tenenbaums and I enjoyed it much more this time. Acting is top-notch, music is absolutely fantastic, dialogue is great, and Wes Anderson is the best. The family dynamic here is quite good and all the actors seem like they could legitimately be part of a dysfunctional family. Also, I want my tombstone to say, “Died tragically rescuing his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship.”

Good Will Hunting

Excellent film. Acting is fantastic and the story is touching. The scene when Ben Affleck’s character tells Matt Damon that he needs to do something with his life for him, not for himself, but for him—so good. I teared up. A great story that’s motivational and not cheesily so.

Fargo

I enjoyed this. It was bizarre—like It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World bizarre. But with more death. So, right up my alley. Thoroughly entertaining and they play everything so straight, that it’s absolutely hilarious. There was some excessive sex and it was a bit bloody. But overall, I enjoyed it.

Unbreakable

This was interesting. Solid performances and a cool twist on superheroes (sidenote: the filming of Bruce Willis’ powers is similar to how they shoot Daredevil’s powers in the Netflix series). Samuel L. Jackson is excellent and way over-the-top. The movie is steeped in comics and flaunts its comic book-y status, which as a lover of superheroes, I appreciated. The typical M. Night twist wasn’t that surprising and the ending dragged on too long, it should have cut to the credits as Bruce Willis walked out of Jackson’s shop. But, overall, I liked it. It was something different and I appreciated that.

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Joss Whedon is incredible. Love basically everything he touches. His version of Much Ado is no exception. I also am a fan of Shakespeare adaptations placed in modern-day, but maintaining the Shakespearean dialogue (the hated Romeo + Juliet included. It’s so great. Hyperstylized? You bet. Ridiculously over-the-top? Definitely.). While some of the performances are a little weaker than I would like (Benedict isn’t awful, but he doesn’t stand out), overall it functions quite well as an adaptation. Nathan Fillion was born to play Dogberry. Top notch. Also, the jazzy music is fantastic.

Gladiator

Wow. I’ve kind of avoided watching this for awhile because it seemed a bit counter-productive to make a film that was anti-violence as spectacle featuring loads of violence as spectacle. Yet, I think that was an oversimplification on my part. I was surprisingly moved by the movie, which I was not anticipating. Russell Crowe delivers a stand-out performance, as do Joaquin Phoenix and Connie Nielsen. Yes, it is violent and some of the violence may not serve an end ultimately, but I think it helps illustrate a point for the most part.

Rushmore

Loved this. As this list shows, I love Wes Anderson. Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray make a fantastic pairing. The music? Top notch. The super-serious, adult-like children are here and it’s hilarious. SOOO good.

Yellow Submarine

A trippy, fantastic film. A giant, animated The Beatles’ music video, featuring some of my favorite songs—“Eleanor Rigby”, “Yellow Submarine,” “Nowhere Man,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and the glorious “All You Need is Love.” Not everyone will love this. Actually, very few people will. But, the more you love The Beatles, the more likely you will be to like the film.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Baz Luhrman’s style is quite fitting for Gatsby. The music choice upset purists, but I think effectively conveys the emotion of the time in a way that would be lost if they had used 20s period music. It may take a bit of getting used to, since Luhrman’s style is so unique, but I think it fits quite well. The acting is great and everyone fits their roles remarkably well (even Tobey Maguire, who everybody hates). The song choice is brilliant—“Love is Blindness” and “Young and Beautiful” in particular.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

I really wanted to love this movie, but I couldn’t. It was a bit meandering, even for Wes. The second half was fantastic, but the build-up was slow. Perhaps I’d like it better on a re-watch, since I think most of Anderson’s films improve upon a second or third viewing. Bill Murray seems to be a better fit as a secondary character in the Wes Anderson movie-verse.

 

TELEVISION

House of Cards

I was a bit disappointed with Season 3. It just seemed a bit like Frank had nowhere to go. There are some brilliant moments and the episodes with Petrov are pretty great. However, the ending is brilliant. I am super excited for Season 4—there are great things ahead for the show.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So, I just finished Season 4. The show is great. Campy? Yes. Cheesy? Oh yeah. Witty? You bet. Sometimes surprisingly deep philosophical explorations of good and evil? Yeah. The characters are human and so great—Giles is my idol. Spike is fantastic. Buffy is incredible. Faith is great. Willow’s a hero. Oz is excellent. And Xander is…comic relief? The show’s a bit dark (it’s about slaying vampires and the forces of Hell, so…yeah. And it deals with more adult themes as the characters age (fittingly, so young people, beware).

Agent Carter

This has only been on for a short season (and may get cancelled, but let’s hope not), but it was fantastic. Haley Atwell is delightful as Peggy Carter. She’s an awesome feminine heroine who still kicks butt, but doesn’t become basically a man in the process. So great. The retro style works well for the somewhat campy, radio-show vibe that it has going on.

Daredevil

Wow. I am impressed with Daredevil. Ben Affleck’s Daredevil is mediocre and I haven’t really had that much interest in the character, but the show was great. The format worked really well for the source material and Fisk as the villain was immensely more entertaining and fleshed out than the vast majority of Marvel film villains. I loved the double, lawyer by day-crime fighter by night feel that the early episodes had, but that got a bit lost later on, maybe they can bring it back in season 2. Anyway, Fisk was a bit off for me and I didn’t find him quite as compelling as most (Wesley on the other hand…). The show is gritty and dark and bloody, but good.

 

BOOKS

Lady Audley’s Secret

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a great read. Ridiculous, cliché-filled, predictable, dare I say it—sensational (it’s a prime example of Victorian sensation fiction). Not a traditional mystery, since you figure that out early on, but mystery-esque.

Manifesto for Philosophy

To be honest, most of this went right over my head. Some interesting ideas, but I didn’t get a lot out of it.

After Finitude

Basically the same as above. I got the big picture idea of speculative realism and think there are some interesting implications for that sort of approach, but I read it in an airport while my flight was delayed for hours, so I was more than a little distracted.

The Merchant of Venice

I have a deeply conflicted response to this play. Some of it is funny, but that humor is often juxtaposed against terrible, terrible racist things in a way that seems intended to suggest the racism is funny as well. The endings particularly left me feeling deeply unsettled. Shylock is left with nothing, arguably a fate worse than death. Stripped of his home, wealth, and religion. Then everybody else ends up happily ever after in traditional Shakespearean comedic fashion. It feels so wrong. I haven’t been that bothered by something for a long time and I still haven’t been able to feel settled. If you have any insight please share.

The Tempest

I love the ending of this play, with Prospero bringing the audience into the performance. Super cool. But besides that, the play seemed to lack a strong antagonist. It didn’t have a delicious villain and that made it fall a little flat for me. It seemed to lack a strong conflict that needed to be resolved and maybe this was because Prospero is all-powerful, so it doesn’t really seem like anything challenges him.

Treasure Island

A great book and a great story. Long John Silver is excellent. Jim may be a bit unreliable as a narrator and somewhat irritating. Also, the lack of musical numbers makes it a little less great than the Muppet Treasure Island, but it’s still pretty good.

Three Men in a Boat

This book is hilarious. Pointless, but hilarious. Also, anyone that’s ever gone on a trip can relate to at least some of the events. Thoroughly enjoyed this and all of its delightful tangents.

No Country for Old Men

Quite good. A fairly quick read. Some disturbing material, but the detail is sparse enough that you probably won’t be scared forever. I think I like The Road better, but this is still quite good.

Mama Day

I wish I could have read this slower to fully enjoy the storytelling, but I had to plow through for class—alas. Enjoyable and a fascinating way of meshing various Shakespearean elements into something quite different. It was somewhat reminiscent of Beloved, although it just kind of feels the same—magic realism, slavery remnants, that sort of thing.

My Brilliant Career

Ugh. I thought I was going to love this based on the chapter titles (which are quite funny), but the more I read, the more I disliked the protagonist. She was just straight-up awful.

Peter Pan

A delight to read. Weird, but delightful. The narrator is hilarious. Also, Captain Hook is superb—menacing because he’s classy and waxes poetic (I guess I have a thing for pirates. Maybe it’s because I think of Dustin Hoffman in Hook and who doesn’t want to be him?). Great for everyone.

 

TRAILERS

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

I am incredibly excited for this. The more I see, the more difficult it is for me to temper my expectations. I’m not a die-hard J.J. fan, but this looks like it’s bringing together all of the things that he does well. The Han and Chewie moment at the end? Beautiful. The reliance on real effects shows—it looks like Star Wars. Soooo pumped for this.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Coolest moment of the trailer? The Superman statue with “False God” spray-painted on the chest. The premise of the world turning against Superman is cool (probably mostly since I dislike Superman), but I’m still worried about how Batman fits into the narrative (also Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Lex Luthor, and probably Cyborg…however briefly). The metal batsuit looks ridiculous and his voice is laughable. I’ve watched the trailer a handful of times and each time it looks worse and worse. That’s a bad sign.

 

Past Installments here: Part One, Part Two.

 

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