Flash Reviews, Pt. 7

 

21 Nov. 2015-1 Jan. 2016

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

Inside Out

Honestly, I didn’t love this. That may have been because I missed the intro as I was watching with young cousins and eating pizza, so there was a lot of noise that doesn’t frequently accompany the films that I watch. The idea at the core is fascinating. And the performances are solid, but I just didn’t have a strong emotional response, which seems to definitely place me in the minority.

Max

Stumbled into watching this at my grandma’s. Never would have picked to watch it on my own and probably won’t ever watch it again. Thoroughly unremarkable.

Moulin Rouge!

A fascinating film. Weird, but I liked it. Ewan McGregor is stellar as is Nicole Kidman. The use of music is phenomenal and definitely plays up the theatricality of the film. Perhaps the most extravagant and over-the-top of Baz Luhrman’s films, but I think in a way that ultimately pays off. The frame story and layers of stories within stories is intriguing and ripe for some critical-literary sort of analysis.

Unitards

A kinda dumb, but entertaining film. Genuine and silly and goofy, but with a good heart at the center.

Spotlight

Wow. A phenomenal film. Understated, but so so so good. All of the acting is incredible. Not to mention some powerful ideas about faith and doubt, authority, journalistic integrity, how to present and deal with complex/difficult issues, etc. See this. The best journalist film I’ve seen since All the President’s Men.

The Darjeeling Limited

In the lower tiers of Wes Anderson for me (which still makes it highly enjoyable and above many other films). There are some absolutely wonderful moments and truly touching ideas about family and forgiveness and grief. The music is fantastic and the design present in the film is of course beautiful and breathtaking.

Letters to Father Jacob

A simple, stripped down story of faith and forgiveness. Powerful. One of the best clearly religious films that I’ve seen.

When Marnie was There

Ummm…I didn’t love this. It wasn’t bad, just not really me. It was kind of odd (like most Japanese animated films that I’ve seen), but seemed much more grounded in reality than most of those with some exceptions. What/Who Marnie is/was was not clearly explained, in terms of whether she was a ghost, hallucination, memory, imaginary friend, etc.(yes, I know that Marnie is her grandmother, but the figure that she interacts with throughout the film—what exactly is happening there?). I think some more clarity on that earlier in the film would increase the power of the narrative.

The Phantom Menace

Not nearly as bad as I remembered. Yes, it’s kind of clunky at times and Jar Jar Binks is so irritating and childish, but there’s a lot of cool stuff going on here. AND the “Duel of the Fates” between Qui Gon Jinn, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul is one of the greatest lightsaber battles (probably second only to the Obi-Ani duel in III) in all of Star Wars. Sure, some of the trade dispute stuff seems stupid, but it is actually a pretty genius move on Palpatine’s part (does it make for a compelling film? Eh, maybe not, but it’s not a terrible idea in theory).

Attack of the Clones

Rubbish. So painful with some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard and least convincing performances (Hayden and Natalie, I’m looking at you). I’d tried to say that the film was redeemed somewhat by the action, but even that for the most part is lackluster. The chase sequence through Coruscant is pretty sweet and the mystery, clone, Kamino sub-plot is pretty solid because Ewan McGregor is far and away the best thing about this movie.

Revenge of the Sith

I enjoy this film and think it has a lot going for it, but I prefer the vibe of the original trilogy. I don’t know, maybe it’s nostalgia, but there’s just something different here. It does a really good job at setting up IV (with the exception of the incredibly frustrating Yoda vs Palpatine battle), particularly with the Obi-Ani battle on Mustafar. The emotion and intensity is incredible.

A New Hope

Wow. Wonderful. Funny, cheesy, but with remarkably solid action for being released in 1977. Luke, Han, and Leia are the perfect group of young, scrappy heroes. John Williams’ score is iconic. My second favorite of the Star Wars films.

Empire Strikes Back

Fantastic. The best cinematography of the original trilogy and a solid film all around. Lots of cool stuff: Hoth, Cloud City, Dagobah, Yoda, Han in carbonite (and the classic “I know” line), Luke and Vader’s showdown (which is surprisingly intense given what they had to work with technology wise). Building on all the great stuff that IV had going on to make an even better film.

Return of the Jedi

So things get admittedly silly and convoluted here, but there seems to me to still be more heart than the prequels. Perfect? No. Entertaining? Assuredly.

The Force Awakens

The most hyped film in a LONG time. And one of the most thoroughly entertaining films I’ve seen in years. Loved it. I think it ranks third in my overall scheme. The acting and characters at the core of the film are probably the best in any Star Wars film ever. Also, I loved the visuals of the film—the wreckage of ships on Jakku, that shot of the tie fighters against the sun set, the Millennium Falcon flying when Rey and Finn are escaping, the blasts from the Starkiller Base while Kylo looks out from the bridge, etc. I should have a longer review up soon(ish).

Hook

One of my favorite movies as a kid and still to this day. The performances are fantastic—Robin Williams, Bob Hoskins, and of course, the master Dustin Hoffman, who I still want to be like as Captain Hook. John Williams gives another fantastic score. Solid themes of family and maintaining childlike wonder, while growing up.

Miracle on 34th Street

I have a vague memory of watching this when I was super young, but don’t think I’ve seen it since then. It was hilarious. The facial expressions exchanged throughout the trial are gold. GOLD. A wonderful Christmas film.

Wreck-It Ralph

I haven’t seen this since it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it this time. Interesting ideas about fate and how much control we have over out lives. Not to mention a lot of clever gaming jokes and references. Solid.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Hands-down the greatest Christmas movie of all time. A Christmas Carol plus the Muppets plus Michael Caine plus meta-literary commentary plus delightful musical numbers. How could it not be absolutely fantastic? We watch this one every Christmas as a family, a tradition I hope to continue when I have reason to create my own Christmas traditions.

Flash Gordon

A gloriously terrible film. So so bad it’s good. A true B-movie treasure. Perhaps made more great by Ming the Merciless’ role in Star Wars VII…

Once I was a Beehive

When I saw the trailer for this, I was horrified and had absolutely no desire to see it, was going to go out of my way to avoid it, in fact. However, I started to hear really good things from people that I didn’t think would say such things, so eventually I gave it a shot and it is quite good. Heartwarming and all about the goodness of Mormons, as people.

Maleficent

Some interesting stuff here, but it all seemed to kinda fall apart for me after the half-way point. It just seemed less compelling and interesting than it could have been.

RoboCop (2014)

Better than I was anticipating. I haven’t seen the original, so I can’t compare, but this was a pretty smart film, engaging with some interesting ideas. I think it lost sight of some of the ambition in favor of cool action, but still, a better than average action flick.

The Good Dinosaur

Definitely more geared at children than most of Pixar’s efforts, but I think that helped imbue the film with a sincerity that is sometimes missing from other efforts. There were no winking at the audience jokes, it just told it’s story, sticking with what was going on. The animation was gorgeous. The creativity of Pixar was clearly evident in the choice to put the dinosaurs in a western-frontier-cowboy sort of world, that threw me for a bit, but I think was a really interesting choice. Also, it allowed Sam Elliot to be a ranching t-rex, and to say “If you’re not afraid of a croc biting you on the mouth, you’re not alive.” And that’s worth something.

 

TELEVISION

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Incredible. Joss Whedon at his best. SOOOO GOOD. I think I started Buffy in 2014, but watched the majority and finished it in 2015. The perfect example of the greatness that genre fiction (in this case television) can achieve. Is it somewhat campy? Yes. Do some of the make-up and monster effects leave something to be desired? Sure. But it deals with a breadth of real issues in more powerful ways than probably any other TV show and most films that I’ve seen. The characters are deep and complex and go through surprising transformations over the course of the series. And, it has its own academic journal: Slayage, if that’s not enough to pull you in, I don’t know what is.

Oh, there’s a joyous musical episode that is perhaps the greatest 44 minutes of television ever created.

Sherlock and the Abominable Bride

I loved the first half of the special—the literariness was delightful. So clever. The twist was interesting, but I think it got a little tangled in its own twistiness. Not to the point of being awful, but enough to make it a little sloppy. Also, some interesting (read: problematic and concerning) portrayals of suffragettes.

 

BOOKS

By the Hand of Mormon

After plodding through this book, reading bits and pieces over the course of years (not that it’s long, I just only read on Sundays and usually got distracted with other things, so didn’t really actively read), I finally finished. Fascinating. Some really interesting stuff. Love me some Givens.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I read the entire Series over the break and loved it all. So funny and clever. A brilliant way to introduce new vocabulary to kids (the first few feel a little more childish than the majority of series, probably shifting at The Miserable Mill or The Austere Academy towards a more sophisticated tone). Some readers were frustrated with the lack of resolution in The End, but I don’t think there was any other way to end it that remained true to the tone of the series. The books are really really smart and the meta-fictional and post-modern qualities are absolutely delightful.

A Christmas Carol

A beautiful book. I’ve read it every Christmas since I was 16 or so and thoroughly enjoy it. Dickens is great and the book is a powerful story of redemption and change.

Mr. Darcy’s A Night Before Christmas

A cutesy little re-telling of the Night Before Christmas. Enjoyable for Austenites (although probably frustrating given the odd timeline that it seems to create).

 

 

Past Installments here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six.

 

 

 

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