Flash Reviews, Pt. 4

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. WARNING: Spoilers lie ahead, so just watch out. Not super detailed spoilers, since these are just snapshots, but the better you know my tastes, the more likely you’ll be to find something spoiled.

FILM

Jupiter Ascending

Wow. This was absolutely, positively, gloriously bad. SOOOOO bad. The plot is thrown together and seems spliced from prominent sci-fi tropes, with some of the most atrocious dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. “I love dogs,” and “Bees don’t lie” stand out. The special effects are great and it looks sleek, so that’s nice. Eddie Redmayne channels Voldemort for some evil whispering. Sean Bean doesn’t die. Channing Tatum’s part wolf/bird/elf? It’s absolutely ridiculous, but if you’re in the mood for a hilariously, gloriously bad movie—this is worth your time.

Big Eyes

Amy Adams is incredible. Christoph Waltz also does well, but just oozes creep (fitting for his character). The film is well put together and is remarkably normal for being directed by Tim Burton, aside from a couple of sequences in the middle. An empowering story, which also suggests that religion can provide strength to do the right thing (not a focal point of the story, but interesting). Also, Jason Schwartzman’s small role is delightful.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Awesome. Some fantastic Whedon wit on display with the dialogue and a decent amount of exploration of the relationships between the characters and the tensions that will come out in full force down the line (Civil War!!!). Acting is great. The film moved along at a breakneck pace, that could have been slowed down a bit for some more explanation of what was happening and more character development. There’s a great running gag about Captain America’s language and prudishness that helps show the relationships between the team members.

Sense & Sensibility

Despite some questionable casting choices (if you’re really aiming for fidelity to the text, which this adaptation generally seems to be), quite the solid film. The acting is excellent and features quite the fore-shadowing of who would have a role in the Harry Potter films to come. A thoroughly entertaining adaptation.

Erin Brockovich

Julia Roberts is outstanding, with excellent performances by Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart as well. Besides the solid acting, the film tells a powerful and inspirational story. Also, the music is fantastic.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Beautifully haunting is probably the best way to describe this. A dark, kind of creepy fairy tale. It maintains the magic of fairy tales and the sense of wonder and imagination that accompany them, which is quite the feat. The set design and level of detail is stunning. The sense of artistry pervades the film and it simply feels mesmerizing.

Wit

Emma Thompson again. This time as an English professor, who becomes a cancer patient. A deeply human film. Heart-wrenching and touching. Life and death, poetry (of John Donne nonetheless), purpose of life…all those little things are contemplated. It manages to convey the hardship and horror of those days going through countless treatments, while maintaining some of the humor that I would imagine would still be a part of life.

Raising Arizona

I’m not quite sure how to respond to this. Which seems to be a typical reaction to a Coen brothers’ film. I laughed quite a bit and enjoyed it, so there’s that. Nicholas Cage does quite well…I guess he can act. The plot is ludicrous, but that’s all a part of the fun. I’d recommend it, but be ready for some off-the-wall antics (and a Mad Max-inspired biker).

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

A delight. It’s been awhile since I watched something from this era and it took some adjusting to get back in the zone, but once I did, this was quite enjoyable. Leslie Howard is wonderful. A humorous, inspiring, entertaining romp.

Mad Max (1979)

Not bad. I was expecting something different than ultimately it was, but it was enjoyable. I have heard incredible things about Fury Road, but like to appreciate a film’s cinematic heritage before I watch it, so I’ve been meaning to watch this for awhile. Anyway, Mel Gibson provides a solid performance, the Toecutter kept reminding me of the Biker from Raising Arizona, and the score is an excellent complement. The film was a bit slow and didn’t really seem to do anything ground-breaking (although that’s viewing it some 36 years past its initial release, so perhaps it became so pervasive that I simply don’t know how much I owe to it). I think the sequel could do some interesting things with the character arc the way it leaves off at the end.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Solid. Definitely an improvement on the first film. Some great action/chase sequences.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

An enjoyable film. I really liked this one actually. The Hunger Games-esque society (that obviously pre-dates The Hunger Games) is intriguing. And I appreciated that there wasn’t a ton of time spent explaining why everything was the way it was. Just enough that you weren’t totally confused, but the back-story and nuances were left to be teased out by the viewer.

Mad Max Fury Road

Wow. The visuals were stunning. The color saturation used for the contrasting night and day shots was beautiful. The final chase sequence was manic and fantastic. Charlize Theron stole the show, with a solid performance by Tom Hardy as Max. Again, the film largely left the world unexplained, not in a “I have no idea what’s going on sort of way,” but in a “I’m not going to explain every facet of this futuristic dystopia to you” way. There were a few awkward moments of exposition resulting in less than stellar dialogue, but that’s to be expected I suppose. For the most part the reliance on practical effects was noticeable, with a few odd CGI-heavy moments.

Mr. Nobody

I really liked this. Fascinating. It just set my mind a whirring. Partially since I’m reading The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August right now, which is similar in structure. The film’s kinda all over the place, which I appreciated because it’s still handled well. It’s a beautiful jumble. The performances are pretty great throughout. I really liked Jared Leto (despite the criticism that he received). His understated, yet emotional, performance really resonated with me. The movie’s weird. And definitely not for everyone. It’s like a mixture of Cloud Atlas, The Fountain, Tree of Life, and Memento. Ish. I’m torn on the final twist and will probably need a second viewing to really make a final opinion.

Mr. Holmes

Eh. Ian McKellan was fantastic. No real surprise there. But the story itself was a bit weak (it’s based on a book about an old, retired Sherlock Holmes—basically published Holmes fan-fiction). Also, it didn’t really feel like Holmes. There were interesting things that they did with the character’s development and it was fascinating to watch, as a minor, budding Holmes scholar and student of adaptation theory. The music was great. The film was entertaining, but the supporting performances are just passable. Also, all the stuff with bees was tainted by Jupiter Ascending.

 

BOOKS

Lips Touch: Three Times

Some interesting stuff in here. It’s a pretty quick read and might be odd for some since it’s really three loosely related stories in theme brought together. The first is essentially a prose version of Rossetti’s Goblin Market, the second seems to be based on Indian mythology, and I’m not sure if there is a source for the third story. I enjoyed the second and third stories more, and really loved the world building that went on in the third story. I would read an entire trilogy based on the Druj and their history or re-discovery of their origins.

The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth

Interesting, but kinda meh. A fairly lightweight biography of Dorothy Wordsworth. Her life and story is interesting material, but this bio doesn’t really do it justice and seems overly concerned with exploring the possible incestual relationship between Dorothy and William, which is a drag.

The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals

Fascinating. Sometimes dull. But as a quick read, skimming through, rather nice. Interesting to see the bits and pieces that resurface in William’s poetry. Also, cool to have a log of sorts of life at Dove Cottage for those few years.

William Wordsworth: A Life, by Stephen Gill

Possibly the best biography that I’ve ever read (next to Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman). Gill is a master. The book’s dense and can be slow-going because there’s so much information packed into each page, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. I mean, I needed to stop to process everything I’d been reading, but it wasn’t like trying to wade through some theoretical text. The blending of literary criticism and analysis of Wordsworth’s poetry with biographical information and insight is marvelous.

Station Eleven

I loved this. I read it on the train to and from Liverpool and it was the first time in a long time that I couldn’t put a book down and finished it in a day, purely from the pleasure of reading it. The mixture of comic book, Shakespeare, dystopian, and pop culture bits was awesome. I wanted to read it again as soon as I finished. Delightful. Tragic. Haunting. But wonderful.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater

As someone interested in nineteenth century British literature this was quite interesting. Opium was a huge deal, and De Quincey’s book has defined the rhetoric of drug addiction and political chatter about it since it’s release, which is intriguing. De Quincey can be a bit irritating as an author, with his pompous perspective of himself, but the influence of the text and the insight it provides into Britain at the time. It is very short as well, which is a plus.

Past Installments here: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

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