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.
1 January 2016-24 February 2016
The Big Short
Hilarious. Weird, but hilarious. One of the most oddly aware of its cinematic, movie-ness and thus, non-narrative films I’ve seen in quite some time. It repeatedly drew attention to the fact that it was a film with sequences that took you out of the narrative flow (Ryan Gosling’s narration, celebrities explaining economic principles for dummies, characters correcting the inaccurate narratives put forward by the film, extended montages of music videos, news footage and other period material to date the film, etc. The cast is great and the tone does a nice shift from hilarious and giddy to somewhat horrified and intense. Also, incredibly informative.
An interesting concept that I think fell a little short of its potential and rushed to a resolution, skipping what I think would have been a more compelling film than the one that was made. Bradley Cooper’s engaging to watch and the ideas and stuff are cool, it just seemed a little flat.
Again, some really cool stuff here, but I think the film intentionally hides too much and feels a little too-serious. The action is super cool and it’s undeniably influential, coloring how action sequences are shot and thought about to this day, but it doesn’t quite resonate with me. I’m interested enough in the world that it built to watch the other two films to see where things go, so I definitely enjoyed it, I just wouldn’t put it on my favorite movie list.
The Matrix Reloaded
Similar to The Matrix.
I am deeply conflicted about this film. One on hand, it has absolutely stunning cinematography, a phenomenal cast with stellar performances, incredible use of sound and music, and is all around an immersive, exhausting experience. However, I just can’t like it. I’ll never see it again and was left feeling empty and not a productive sort of empty, just a void of deep, darkness, like my soul had been taken out of me. The movie felt soulless.
I surprisingly enjoyed this quite a bit. Yes, it is violent and profane and gratuitous, but there’s something engaging and fun at work. Perhaps because I’ve been studying Victorian pulp fiction (penny dreadfuls), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It also raised some compelling theological questions for me, that I think added to its appeal.
The Matrix Revolutions
Again, a similar feel to The Matrix, although at this point things are pretty sloppy and kind of all over the place. Some crazy action sequences, but that’s about all it’s got going for it.
A heavy, heavy film. Another that I likely won’t watch ever again, but this one I’m glad to have seen. The performances are fantastic and Jacob Tremblay should just win all the awards because he is absolutely incredible. Nicely constructed and told from his view, while still being accessible and not alienating.
Bridge of Spies
I liked this movie, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. The performances are good, the pacing is nice, music adds, but overall the film felt well-done, but like nothing special. Worth watching, but not really worth going out of your way to see it.
I am again conflicted. The film is fascinating and compelling in a lot of ways, but also deeply unsettling to the point that I can’t say that I liked it. I’m glad to have watched it, but the loneliness, isolation, and bleak cynicism running throughout the film were too much for me to fully embrace it. A really interesting film to think about, but not one that I would go out of my way to watch again.
Mad Max: Fury Road
My second viewing of this. Love it. Sure, the plot is pretty basic and nothing groundbreaking, but the performances are great and the action is phenomenal. The film is incredibly immersive, just lets you soak up the world that it creates, throwing you in headfirst without much exposition. I don’t think it’s the best film of the year, but I would be pleased for a lot of reasons if it won Best Picture.
A slow, methodical, calculating drama. The tension and romance sizzles beneath the surface for much of the film, playing to the realities of closeted homosexuals for the time (and to some extent today, depending on location). I was initially a little off-put by the distance and coldness, but think it is central to portraying the story that needed to be told. The way the film is made and the distance, the glances, all emphasize the hidden and secretive nature of the relationships and may be somewhat limiting to the emotional connections felt by the audience, but nonetheless essential to illustrating what was meant to be illustrated.
An absurd, absolutely delightful film. LOVED it. A movie about movies that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but explores some of the oddities of the film world and film’s place in our world. The performances are stellar and the film is packed with stars often in relatively minor roles, showing up for a scene or two. The film meanders and doesn’t neatly tie up all the loose ends, but still comes to a satisfying resolution. Also, some interesting ideas about religion and faith that I found quite poignant in the hilarity.
Wes Anderson’s first, and I think worst film. Entertaining, but not nearly as smooth or artfully crafted as the rest of his filmography. It’s fun to watch Owen and Luke Wilson interact and see them talking over one another. The film feels long and drawn out, which isn’t great and is particularly concerning since it’s only 90 minutes. Worth a watch for Wes Anderson and/or Owen Wilson diehards, but probably fine to skip if you don’t fall into either of those categories.
A violent, bloody, profanity filled film. Classic Tarantino. It was engaging, but not my favorite. I felt the profanity more than with Pulp Fiction and it just seemed like there was less of redeeming value here.
I love this movie. This was my second time through and I was hoping it would hold up as well as I remembered, since I think Nolan’s films have a tendency to ‘wow’ at first, but disappoint upon rewatching (*cough* Inception *cough*). The construction is a little mind-bendy, but works to weave the mystery and unfold masterfully. Christopher Nolan is insistent that the film contains all the answers to the questions it raises if you watch closely enough and it seems to be remarkably consistent and create a fascinating puzzle to be unraveled. Guy Pearce is incredible and the supporting cast is excellent as well. Watch it.
Welcome to Me
I don’t really know what to do with this. It’s funny, quite funny, for most of the film, but then turns pretty emotional and heavy (although the heavy-emotional strands are evident early on and present throughout the film). I enjoyed it, but there was some somewhat gratuitous feeling sex and some other stuff that just made it something I probably won’t rewatch or tell other people to see.
Note: I volunteered at the Sundance Film Festival this year and so, saw 6 films during my time there (before it all came crashing down with my totaled car). A decent number of the films I saw were already picked up by distributors, so they should be available at some point in the near-ish future.
New Frontier Shorts: Voyagers, Abendland (Hours, Years, Aeons), and Swimming in Your Skin Again
These were weird. Each short was 20-30 minutes and the “New Frontier” section of the festival is for innovative approaches to film-making, which fosters some degree of weirdness. Voyagers was fascinating and talked about the Voyager satellites, using some ‘sound’ that was recorded by them and transformed into the sound played during the film. The next was long and dreadful. It may have been cool if it was like 5 minutes, but it just kept going and going. The animation was fascinating. The third short was quite odd and had a funky narrative thread with reincarnation or some other relatively unexplained transitions between bodies and locations. It was interesting and did some cool stuff, but not really my scene.
A really funny, really sad film. Follows a gay guy, who returns home to be with his mom, who has cancer. The film had some stellar performances and felt real, in the sense that life is usually not one, flat, emotional state, but a mix of humor and sadness, even in moments of tragedy and pain.
This was hilarious and super clever. Just absolutely loved it. A found-footage film that follows a CIA team sent to infiltrate NASA and help solve problems with the moon-landing. In the film, they pose as a documentary film crew working on a doc about the Apollo missions, which they actually did in reality to get inside NASA to film all of the scenes they filmed that way. The film is almost entirely improvised and is just a blast. Super fun.
The Free World
An interesting and kind of dark film about guilt and innocence and how our environment helps shape us. Also, some thoughts on freedom and what that means and who is deserving of it and how we can get it.
A similar overall feel to Other People, with the mix of humor and sadness. John Krasinski stars, with Anna Kendrick. An entertaining, heartwarming film. Not anything particularly special, but well done and worth watching.
The Lovers and the Despot
A documentary about two South Korean film makers that are kidnapped by the North Korean government and recruited by Kim Jong Il to make propaganda films for North Korea. It does a nice job of telling the story and exploring what happened and some of the implications. Fascinating.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
As something of a budding Holmes scholar, I figured I should probably read this. It was solid. Great pacing, nice twists, and somewhat terrifying (although not nearly as much as it was when I tried to read it as a ten-year old boy and had nightmares). Definitely one of the better entries in the Holmes canon.
The Graveyard Book
Great. Really loved this. Neil Gaiman’s imagination is wonderful and the world he creates is rich and detailed and just absolutely lovely. I’m excited to read more of his work.
The Magic Barrel
A collection of wonderful short stories. Most are somewhat tragic and are filled with characters that are deeply human in their flawed nature that too-frequently reflects something I see in myself.
There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories
I really enjoyed these stories. They were somewhat dark and unhappy and miserable, but felt real at least in part I think due to my time in Lithuania, where I think I met many of these characters. There’s an element of surrender to circumstance, of acceptance of the grim realities that I think is tragic and beautiful and powerful.
BONUS: OSCAR THOUGHTS
The Oscars are on Sunday. I’ve seen 7/8 Best Picture nominees (just need Brooklyn, which I may see this week, if all goes well). I want Spotlight to take the top spot, but would be fine with any of the nominees besides The Revenant taking it. I’d love to see George Miller get Best Director and am conflicted about most of the acting races. The whole cast of Spotlight should get an award, but most of them weren’t even nominated. I hope Leo finally wins Best Actor and think most of the Supporting Actor Nominees are deserving, but want Mark Ruffalo to take it. Best Supporting Actress is a tough call between Rachel McAdams and Rooney Mara (who really should be in the Best Actress category). I think Best Actress will (and should) go to Brie Larson for Room (although I still haven’t seen a handful of the films nominated here, so we’ll see). So, we’ll see what happens.