Flash Reviews, Pt. 10: Early Summer Edition

21 April 2016-31 May 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.

TOP PICKS

Since these will be installments of my intensive summer media consumption (a movie a day going on 45 straight days and a goal to read 6000 pages), with overwhelming amounts of films and a decent amount of books, consumed, I figured I’d pick out my Top 5 or so movies and my top book. So here goes, in no particular order.

BOOK

Bring Up the Bodies 

FILMS

Miller’s Crossing 

Schindler’s List

Captain America: Civil War

Alien

Creed

Apocalypse Now

Inglorious Basterds 

 

FILM

40 Films

The Jungle Book (2016)

Entertaining. Bill Murray is the highlight. Christopher Walken is Christopher Walken (with a hilarious cowbell gag), but an awkward semi-musical number. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is quite impressive, particularly for a child. Idris Elba was hit and miss for me. Scarlett Johansson as Kaa was an interesting choice that didn’t resonate with others, but I think the otherworldly qualities of her voice worked well for the hypnotic effect the film was working to produce.

Atonement

First and foremost a beautiful film. Gorgeous cinematography and music that integrates the type-writer sound and motif excellently. The “film” elements do a fantastic job at capturing the beauty of Ian McEwan’s prose and conveying that through film (since narration laid over the top likely would not function as effectively). The acting is great from a young Saoirse Ronan as well as Kiera Knightley, James McAvoy, and a small, but creepy turn by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Inside Man

An interesting film. I was somewhat baffled for much of it. I think it pulls together in some interesting and solid ways. The acting is solid. The music is…odd. There are also some slightly unconventional narrative choices. There was an oddness about the film that I can’t quite place, it’s not supremely out there, but just off enough to feel sort of out of place.

The Shawshank Redemption

This movie has been on my list for as long as I can remember and now I’ve finally seen it. It was quite good. Solid film. There’s some weird/negative homosexuality stuff that didn’t sit well. The overall message of the film though was lovely. Powerful ideas on hope that I found applicable to faith journeys in particular.

Looper

I really really liked this movie. Sure, it’s kinda messy and there’s some oddities in the plot, but I really like the narrow focus and use of time travel throughout the film. They do some super cool stuff with it and the end is surprising and leaves room for some fun speculation. Violent and on the bloody/gory side of things on occasion, but fascinating.

He Named Her Malala

A powerful story of what one person can do. The structure of the doc is a little funky and I didn’t love it from a film-making perspective, but I’m not a huge fan of documentaries in general.

In Bruges

A weird film. Funny, but also just awful in a lot of ways. Also spurts of violence that are pretty gruesome. Not my favorite.

Eddie the Eagle

A fun and inspirational sports movie. Performances do what they need to. The music has an excellent 80s, synth, Chariots of Fire vibe that is delightful. I liked the idea that life is about “the struggle” rather than “triumph,” building on a quote from the founder (restorer?) of the Olympics in the 20s.

Jackie Brown

I enjoyed this quite a bit. Much less violent than Tarantino’s other films I’ve seen. Some humor, compelling twists and turns, and even a fairly insightful line or two. Not a fantastic or incredible film, but an entertaining one that I’d watch again.

Chef

A lovely film. Heartwarming story of connection between father and son (and family generally). Also, about the power of food to bring us together and heal rifts. Not to mention look absolutely incredible and cause your mouth to water and your stomach to growl.

Alien

Woah. Finally watched this and it was fantastic. Tense and somewhat claustrophobic. An imaginative vision of space and the future that seems to have influenced loads of stuff that followed. Solid performances and great music as well as use of sound (or silence as the case may be) generally throughout the film.

The Terminator

Engaging and enjoyable, but for me, didn’t seem particularly remarkable.

Gangs of New York

Wow. Lots of moral complexities at work here and some great acting from Leonardo di Caprio, Cameron Diaz, and of course Daniel Day-Lewis. Intense and complex relationships.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The film version of what became one of the greatest television shows of all-time—without any of the cast from the TV show. Written by Joss Whedon, but lowered from the greatness it would find years later when he had more creative control. An interesting insight into the creative process and the development of ideas that is usually hidden from the public.

Captain America: Civil War

This improved for me on the second viewing (as I relinquished some of my expectations that I was trying to force onto it). A somewhat surprisingly emotional and intelligent film for a blockbuster with the high-quality action that was in it. The massive cast is balanced wonderfully, with some solid additions and stellar characterization of returning characters. Not quite as well-crafted as The Winter Soldier, but enormously entertaining.

Following

Quite the twisty film for its length. There’s a haunting quality about it as the twists unfold. The non-linear narrative is interesting, yet seemed to distract more than add to the story, for me. Some quite interesting stuff in it.

Ex Machina

A very well-done film that plays with genre conventions is productive and interesting ways. Fairly minimalist in terms of set pieces and the cast, but the performances are solid enough that it works (Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikandeer, and Oscar Isaac are all excellent). Some complex themes and ideas at play and explored in a thought-provoking way. The music is used to great effect throughout and the cinematography was solid.

Galaxy Quest

A delightful goofball of a film. The more you know about 60s/70s sci-fi tv and film, the funnier this’ll be.

Risen

Not bad. Decent performances from Joseph Fiennes (Clavius) and Tom Felton (whose character is named Lucius. Seriously. Lucius.). I appreciated the film’s portrayal of Jesus—he looked far closer to what approximations of the appearance of a historical Jesus suggest he would and there was a quiet and warm confidence about him that I found insightful. The final conversation between Christ and Clavius was touching and resonated with some of my faith experiences, where answers were far less important than striving to live and spread goodness.

Se7en

Unsettling. A heavily atmospheric film. There are great character moments between Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, but overall, everything seems designed to service the aesthetic of the film, rather than the narrative. Some disturbing images and some thought-provoking touches.

Heat

A superbly solid heist film. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino give stand-out performances. Not anything remarkable, except that it didn’t feel slow for any of it’s nearly three-hour runtime. Well-done.

Blood Simple

A tightly constructed thriller, peppered with Coen Brothers’ typical humor. Highly enjoyable. Everything is wound together in a web of misinformation leading to inevitable disaster.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

I liked this a lot. A French film that for the first half seems like a somewhat odd romantic comedy, before switching perspective and flipping everything on its head in a frightening, but absolutely stellar way. Top notch.

Macbeth (2015)

An immensely atmospheric film—oppressive and brooding in its grim, tragic bleakness, pushing forward to an unavoidable conclusion. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are both absolutely incredible in their roles. The lighting and cinematography work with the music to create the mood and there are some stunning visuals that could be framed and used as pictures—the film could make beautiful stills.

Donnie Darko (The Director’s Cut)

A highly ambitious film that was spinning a few too many plates by the end. There’s a lot to like here (Jake Gyllenhaal is phenomenal—sympathetic, terrifying, funny, deeply hurt), but things seemed to get a bit too out of control. There was just too much going on to be woven together. It was like the dark, twisted cousin of a John Hughes film that desperately wanted to be far more. Shot for the moon and landed somewhere slightly below the stars, I think. The use of “Mad World” during the final sequence is haunting and genius.

Clueless

Delightful. Nineties nostalgia at its best, lightly masking an Austen novel at the heart. Simple, straightforward and enjoyable.

Inglorious Basterds

I enjoyed this immensely. The performances were delightful—over-the-top, bordering on caricatures, but that was part of the point—Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, and Melanie Laurent. Yes it was immensely violent and bloody and not to everyone’s taste, but I thought it was quite funny and a fascinating work of revisionist history.

The Babadook

I was terrified. I’m not really into scary films, but had heard so many good things about this one that I felt obligated to watch it. There’s a lot of interesting elements that could bear analysis, but I probably won’t return for repeat viewings to perform said analysis.

Raising Arizona

A madcap, absurd and hilarious film. Nic Cage and Holly Hunter star as a criminal and retired cop that want children, but can’t have any, so they kidnap a baby after which hijinks ensue, including some Mad Max-inspired vibes. All over the place, but quite entertaining.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

A mindbending film. Fascinating with stellar performances all around. Lots of good work here and stuff to think about, but definitely unconventional.

Apocalypse Now

A war film that I actually liked. An absolutely stunning work—the performances, the music, the cinematography, the utterly oppressive nature of the film. There’s a lot of iconic stuff here that I recognized from its presence throughout popular culture. Martin Sheen is phenomenal. Perhaps I enjoyed it for its literary roots in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Captures what I imagine Vietnam in particular and war more generally is like. Seems to resonate with the much more recent film The Hurt Locker in some interesting ways.

Goodfellas

A solid gangster film. Clearly owes a great debt to The Godfather films, but I think is more entertaining than they are (I know, blasphemy).

Schindler’s List

A stunning, breathtaking, heart-wrenching film that everyone should watch. I’ve heard about this for my entire life and it surpassed the emotional impact I thought it would have. Not an easy film to watch (as a film about the Holocaust, that’s not surprising). A powerful story of the good individuals can do, while still being wracked with guilt for not doing more, as Schindler is in perhaps the most powerful scene of the film towards the end, where he breaks down and collapses in front of the Jews he has saved.

10 Things I Hate About You

Hilarious and far more intelligent than I was anticipating. Some more 90s nostalgia, in a similar vein as Clueless. Also fascinating to watch Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and loads of others you’ll recognize in their youth.

Fight Club

An incredibly well-done film. Some intriguing thematic elements at work throughout the film (that reminded me of Infinite Jest), though I ultimately found the morality of the film troubling and overall message a bit nihilistic and bleak for me, so while I enjoyed certain elements and identified with some of the rejection of consumer culture and capitalism, the violent and bleak undertones prevent me from truly embracing the film.

Miller’s Crossing

Absolutely wonderful. The gangster film I’d been waiting for (“an extraordinary meta gangster film” in the words of The Atlantic). By the Coen Brothers, who I tend to enjoy, and immaculately crafted (too immaculately for the tastes of some). Gorgeously shot, with some fine musical work by Carter Burwell. Absurd and filled with double and triple crossing in a labyrinthine plot. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Creed

A surprisingly good and moving (in that manipulative-ish way sports films can be moving) film. Sylvester Stallone is great and Michael B. Jordan is fantastic. Callbacks to the original Rocky film and returning to some of the beats that made that film a classic (and Best Picture winner…). Solid.

Fruitvale Station

Heavy and tragic. Michael B. Jordan is incredible here as is the supporting cast. Not a happy film, though there are lots of touching moments throughout. A worthwhile one though.

X-Men: Apocalypse

Much better than I was expecting, also known as pretty good. Nothing spectacular, but some solid action and interesting character touches. The relationship between Charles and Erik (Prof. X and Magneto) is the emotional core, but I think got short-changed here, which is too bad, since James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender deliver the best performances of the film. Oscar Isaac is sadly underwhelming as Apocalypse, partially because motivations are fuzzy and the character isn’t really given anything compelling to do or reasons to do it. Least favorite of the new trilogy, easily (though they seem to show some self-awareness of this with a quip about Return of the Jedi “At least we can agree that the third one is always the worst,” so that’s good), but far and away better than The Last Stand. If you like the X-Men worth a watch, if not, don’t start here.

 

BOOKS

2230/6000 pages

Saturday

Beautifully written. I love Atonement, so I was anticipating more beautiful prose and found it. The story is focused on the events of a single day (with some flexibility as that “day” begins and ends) and is masterfully told. Highlights the often unacknowledged beauty of the everyday.

Arcadia

Hilarious. I was laughing out loud as I read by myself. The stage directions enhance the absurdity. Fascinating thoughts on meaning and the purpose of life. Great interactions between the characters.

Grace is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Short and powerful. Beautiful thoughts on grace and how we all need it.

Fortunately, the Milk…

A glorified illustrated children’s book. Delightful, just different than I had anticipated. Quite amusing.

Manalive

An odd book, but in a good way. A mystery of sorts by G.K. Chesterton that is rather delightfully absurd and perhaps profound. Similar in some respects to The Man Who Was Thursday, if not quite as brilliant.

Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

A very useful book. It wasn’t easy to read straight-through, since it’s a collection of essays/articles/poems and other short works, rather than a narrative. However, that structure gives the book a lovely, multi-faceted perspective, like a chorus of varied voices. It also makes it incredibly valuable as a reference for the future.

Infinite Jest

Without a doubt a challenging book; in some ways a richly rewarding book. Arguably the first great Internet novel. Without question linguistically audacious and perhaps genius. There are moments of profundity and scenes that genuinely moved me. However, the book seemed to fall prey to its inventiveness and defied convention for the sake of defying convention and at the expense of narrative. I pitied the characters more than empathized with them; almost viewing them with an uncomfortable voyeuristic distance instead of truly inhabiting them. Slightly altering a quotation from the book itself about a fictional piece of entertainment I think is a fitting send off: “As I see it, even though the [book]’s end has both characters emoting out of every pore, [Infinite Jest]’s essential project remains abstract and self-reflexive; we end up feeling and thinking not about the characters but about the [book] itself.”

Literary Advertising and the Shaping of British Romanticism

A fascinating book. A scholarly account by Nick Mason (one of my favorite BYU professors) about how the advertising industry (particularly in regards to literature) developed in tandem with British Romanticism. A delightful read for those with interests in advertising, literature, literary history, consumer culture, and British Romanticism.

Bring Up the Bodies

Fantastic. I loved Wolf Hall and this was just as good, if not better. Some of the pronoun confusion that I felt during Wolf Hall was addressed here, with clarifying comments, that made it clear who was being referenced. Lots of courtly intrigue and machinations and revenge and drama. The prose is crisp and immersive. Loved it.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Flash Reviews, Pt. 10: Early Summer Edition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s