Flash Reviews, Pt. 11: June Remembered

 

1 June 2016-30 June 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, 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 (book choice is irrelevant this month). So here goes, in no particular order.

 Trumbo

Barton Fink

The Cabin in the Woods

Genius

Dear Jack

FILM

Insomnia

This finished up Christopher Nolan’s filmography for me. It was solid. Al Pacino and Robin Williams are both stellar and Hillary Swank does a great job. I’m curious how it compares with the original film that it’s based on, but I would recommend this one. A twisty and turny thriller. Solid.

Saving Private Ryan

A powerful film. Brutal and difficult to watch—especially the opening sequence, but I think, a well-done and hopeful film. Another Spielberg win. There’s something deeply human about the portrayal of war here, that seems to capture the brutality, but also the hope and endurance of the human spirit.

Taxi Driver

I honestly am baffled by the critical acclaim this has. De Niro’s performance is outstanding, without a doubt, but the film itself seems meandering and lost (some of that may be expectations based on the synopsis on the DVD that didn’t seem to really match what I watched). It seemed to be confused and odd and gratuitous and revel in its unseemly character, just for the sake of reveling in it. I may have missed something, but as is, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

Barton Fink

I thoroughly enjoyed Barton Fink. Satirical, but with a heart. The film pokes fun mercilessly at the film industry, with some wonderful moments and irony (as the satirical pretentious art film mocking the whole enterprise of pretentious art films won perhaps the prize for pretentious art films—the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival). This is the satire of the industry that Birdman wished it was desperately, but was far too in love with itself to become. An interesting companion to the Coens’ latest Hail, Caesar!, which I highly, highly recommend.

The Mask You Live In

A documentary about masculinity that caused me to re-evaluate most of my life, particularly my childhood and adolescence. I knew much of the material on some level, but it was valuable and insightful to see it all presented together in a unified presentation. Definitely worth watching for anyone interested in some of the harms to men and boys from our broad culture ideas of masculinity.

Shakespeare in Love

A charming film that does interesting things with the fragments of history we know for Shakespeare. The performances are solid, with a surprising turn against type from Colin Firth and some other random appearances (Ben Affleck, I’m looking at you). Interesting take on “writing” particularly if viewed in conversation with Barton Fink, as well as some musings on the nature of love that are worth pondering.

Django Unchained

I did not enjoy this. I mean, there were parts I did and things that the immature, thirteen-year-old inside me thought were cool, but I think Tarantino here begins to care far more about playing with gore and violence than using it for narrative purposes. Where Inglorious Basterds made productive use of its revisionist history, this felt insensitive to the actual pain and suffering of slavery, seeming to revel as much in portraying that violence as Django’s vengeance against the slavers. The mix of comedy and drama here seemed to me to not quite work out (the KKK mask scene felt like an SNL sketch), again serving to trivialize the subject matter (not to mention that Django is not representative of all slaves, but is repeatedly identified as exceptional, 1 in 10,000 as he says), somewhat implicitly endorsing Candy’s reprehensible ideology of blacks being inherently submissive and weak.

The Nice Guys

A goofy, 70s riffing delight. Not for young audiences. Both Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe are stellar and they seem to be having a blast along with everyone else. A good time.

Sunset Blvd.

Holds up fairly well. Some odd narrative framing, but the performances are solid and the narrative is engaging. A fascinating look at the lure of power and Hollywood.

Ali

Insightful and not the most flattering of portraits. The film was less inspiring than I had anticipated from the genre partially because of its fairly objective and full portrait of Muhammad Ali. The cast is phenomenal and the film has a steady pace for its lengthy running time.

The Hudsucker Proxy

Seems out of place in the Coen’s filmography that I’ve seen thus far—somewhat cartoonish and caricatured, though deliberate and still highly stylized with dark humor throughout, which feels somewhat more off-putting given the childish and more innocent trappings. There are brilliant moments and I enjoyed the film, but the end threw me for a loop (ha!) and it didn’t quite reach the greatness of some of their other efforts.

Dear Jack

Wow. A powerful film that used music well to make its point. Tells the story of Andrew McMahon, lead singer, pianist, and songwriter for Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin, and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, and his struggle with leukemia. An intimate portrait of that suffering and the motivation to carry on. Loving the music definitely helped, but I think, a powerful (and short) documentary.

A Fistful of Dollars

I can see the influence and appeal of this, but wasn’t quite in the mood and my viewing experience was less than ideal (fractured and on my laptop, mostly in a hotel room), so I’d like to revisit it in the future and watch the series together to more fully appreciate it. Not super my cup of tea.

Love Actually

Now, this is quite the divisive film, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s just something endearing in the appeal for more romance. The film is clever and delightful and has a similar vibe to About Time in goodness, though it seems to lean a bit more into poking fun at various ideas of love, while refusing to take itself too seriously, which differentiates it from About Time’s sincere, pure goodness. The cast is great and wonderful to see all together. So stereotypically British. It felt almost like a Hot Fuzz for romantic comedies.

American Beauty

I wasn’t as stunned by this as many other people seem to be. Perhaps because the music kept reminding me of Finding Nemo (both are scored by Thomas Newman). The film is well-done and the acting all around is top-notch. I think the film serves as a fascinating complement (and foil) to Fight Club, released the same year and dealing with a lot of the same corporate America angst (also some narrative similarities to Sunset Blvd, at least in the framing of the narrative). Some of the events towards the end of the film were surprising and I’m not quite sure what they suggest about the characters involved, leaving me somewhat puzzled and unsettled. Something about the presentation and themes of the film felt juvenile to me, though I can’t quite place what exactly it was.

Office Space

One of those films that has become so present in culture that things just make a little more sense after you’ve seen it. Also interesting to compare to Fight Club and American Beauty, two other 1999 films that seem to be playing with similar themes, though in drastically different ways. I think the least compelling of the three. Amusing and harmless, but ultimately somewhat underwhelming.

Trumbo

I LOVED this. It was a lot of fun and had a solid message of inclusion and tolerance and different ways of fighting against oppression. The acting is great and I laughed long, and loud and clear. It appears that I generally love movies about movies.

The Lobster

A blistering, striking film. Bizarre, but worthwhile. It’s like someone took my nightmarish, twisted versions of a singles ward from the deepest, darkest corners of my mind and created a dystopian, bleak but wickedly dark humored film. Insightful to the state of relationships today, as well as more broad insights into the function of societal pressures.

The Words

(Disclaimer: I was incredibly tired and not in the best state to be watching a movie as I watched this, so I may rewatch this at some point for a more accurate opinion.) I was intrigued by the idea, but it seemed remarkably meandering. I wasn’t really impressed, so probably won’t rewatch any time soon, but might at some point.

The English Patient

My response to this is similar to Shawshank. There was a lot of things worth merit here—the acting in particular was solid overall, but it didn’t really resonate with me. The structure of the narrative seemed gimmicky and like it didn’t really serve the story and development of the characters. For me, it was somewhat underwhelming.

Philomena

A delightful film about personal relationships with a powerful message of forgiveness at the end. Judi Dench is supreme and Steve Coogan is wonderful. Heartily recommend this one.

The End of the Tour

A narrowly focused film examining a few shared days between David Foster Wallace (author) and David Lipsky (journalist for Rolling Stone). The film is well-acted and explores some of the complexities of authenticity and sincerity and building relationships in a way that I found particularly insightful. Interesting for literary folks and to a lesser-extent people that like journalism films.

The Cabin in the Woods

I loved this one. Hysterical and had you on the edge of your seat. I’m not a fan of horror films, but I adore Joss Whedon, so I gave this a shot and was so, so, so pleasantly surprised. Could easily become a Halloween tradition to watch. Lots of blood and death, as well as some nudity and language, so not for everyone. Also seemed to critique some of the more problematic aspects of the horror-genre, which is always fun to see. Fran Kranz steals the show.

Now You See Me 2: The Second Act

An entertaining movie experience. Silly? Sure. Semi-pointless? You bet. Goofy, engaging spectacle? Yeah. I think the twist of this film works far better than in the first and provides a more satisfying emotional core to the story. Also, the market-Mark Ruffalo-magic-fight sequence is stellar.

Fargo

I’d seen this once before and still enjoyed it. The humor is pretty dark and the film is on the bloody side, but it’s hilarious. The acting is stellar and the writing is so so so good.

The Last Temptation of Christ

I should probably watch this again at some point to fully appreciate it, but after the first 20-30 minutes I wasn’t digging it (I think at least partially because it was difficult for me to think of Willem Dafoe as Jesus), so I got distracted and sorta paid attention for much of the middle, but came back in towards the end (the betrayal and crucifixion, etc.) and the last 30-45 minutes were pretty moving and provided some interesting food for thought.

The World’s End

I think my last favorite of the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy, though still wonderfully British and enjoyable and the craziness that ensues is so great. Worthwhile thoughts on relationships, friendship and connection, in the midst of what seems to be a largely crass, meaningless, violent, drunken mess of a film.

Genius

Surprisingly moving. The film follows the relationship of author Thomas Wolfe and editor Maxwell Perkins (famous for editing Hemingway and Fitzgerald) and is beautifully bookish. The costumes and design for the film are stellar, the performances are solid (Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, and Guy Pierce). Lots of fun to be had if you’re aware of the period somewhat and a literary kinda person. Definitely worth watching.

Hellboy

An unusual, visually striking film. Quite funny. Del Toro’s love for horror and monsters and creating worlds is present here in the extreme. Ron Perlman and his relationships with the other characters add a surprising sense of heart and emotion to the film. The ending felt a bit underwhelming? Dissatisfying? Unimaginative compared to the rest of the film? I’m not quite sure what. Though overall, a solid action/superhero film.

Suffragette

A challenging film in its depiction of historical injustices (with remnants of the mindset still with us today), but one worth watching and engaging with. The acting is solid and the casting is stellar (Ben Wimshaw brings sympathy to a role that doesn’t deserve much, not to mention the stand out performances from Carey Mulligan, a surprisingly restrained Helena Bonham Carter, glorified cameo from Meryl Streep, and Anne-Marie Duff). The film felt less triumphant than I was expecting, but in a way that I think emphasizes the nature of the cause and the work that still needs to be done.

 

BOOKS

Redgauntlet

Not an easy book to read, but worthwhile. The first Walter Scott novel I’ve read and one that plays with historicity as well as the development of the novel in some interesting ways. It kind of fizzles at the end (which works thematically, but is somewhat disappointing narratively) and has a frustratingly slow start.

 

[Note: I initially intended to have finished Bleak House and A Short Stay in Hell by now, but due to unforeseen events reworked my reading schedule, so I’m over halfway through Bleak House at the moment, which means next month will have a larger share of books than this one. But, such is life.]

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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