Friday, December 23, 2016

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. The Finest Hours - What an oddly forgettable movie. It kind of baffles my mind because it has a great cast, a suspenseful and incredible "based on a true" story, and satisfying CGI storm sequences. Yet, somehow, it's just not registered in my brain at all. I read a few quick review quips on Rotten Tomatoes, and two things stick out - one critic (Katie Walsh of Tribune News Service) absolutely nails the feeling of the movie - and that is that it feels like a "parody of a prestige film" comparing it to the fake Oscar trailers in Tropic Thunder. LOL. Yes, that is exactly what this film feels like. Another critic (Robert Denerstein of Movie Habit) describes it as "an acceptable--if not great--piece of January entertainment". This is an odd statement, but I think it's widely known that movies released in January aren't held to the same standards as those released towards the end of the year (i.e Oscar season). So basically, it feels like a movie that was intended for the Oscars, but they realized that it's not nearly good enough. I remember seeing so many trailers, and tv spots for this so I think they were trying to milk it as much as they could, but then when it was released I literally heard nothing about it. ZILCH. I think the only think I will really remember about this movie is that in a group of really strong male actors (Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Chris Pine, the guy from that tv show Dirt), a woman stole the whole damn thing - Holliday Grainger is a star. I expect to see a lot more of her in the next few years. She reminds me a lot of Gretchen Mol. And I LOVE Gretchen Mol.

2. Sausage Party - I was actually looking forward to this movie - I thought it was going to be hilarious. I've heard the most mixed reviews of any movie this year - some calling it the "funniest movie I've seen this year", to others calling it the "worst movie I've ever seen".  Unfortunately, I agree more with the latter. It's really, really, really stupid. Like, one of the worst movies of the year stupid (nothing will beat Dog Eat Dog). First, it's not funny. I don't think I laughed once (and I usually like Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg written comedies - Superbad is one of my favorite movies EVER). Second, if you are going to make that many Jewish jokes, please, at least make a few of them funny. I'm not super-sensitive to politically incorrect comedy, but it was just non-stop - and ultimately, as someone who is half-Jewish, I found myself really annoyed by the trivialization of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Like I said, if it was at least funny, I probably wouldn't have been so annoyed. Instead it was repetitive, and stupid. Also, Ed Norton's Woody Allen impression is baffling. Like, WHHHYYYY did this even happen? The whole movie is just over-cooked and ridiculous. I hated every second of it.

3. Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping - Now THIS is a funny (albeit stupid) movie. I laughed out loud SEVERAL times, and that's all I ask for with movies like this. I fully admit that I adored the late 90s burst of pop music - *NSYNC was my jam. I was in love with Justin Timberlake (still am a little bit). And it's because of this, that I don't come down too hard on Justin Bieber/One Direction fans (I don't get "him" or "them", but I get "it"). Anyway, this movie gave me that pop group nostalgia - although I think this boyband phenomenon is still happening, I'm just too old to know who any of them are anymore. This movie is the perfect parody of how ridiculous it all is. I also admit, I don't really get The Lonely Island or Andy Samberg (although he is great on Brooklyn 99). The only funny thing they did was "Dick in a Box" (and that was more bc of Justin, really). But this is funny. The song about being "not gay" - HILARIOUS. The cameos are insane - there is one every other minute (for real). Questlove is my favorite (always and forever), although Justin was funny too (but expected). Chelsea Peretti and Will Arnett killed it as the TMZ "journalists" - I can't. I almost died laughing. My favorite line is "the only time I remember being that sad is when they killed Josh Charles on The Good Wife" LOL and also AWWWWWW now I'm sad. (sidenote - I've never really talked about The Good Wife on here because I was never caught up on the show, but when that episode aired, my mom called me screaming "he's dead! he's dead!" and I honestly though a family member had died. I've never heard her so upset. After I finally watched it, I totally get it. Probably one of the saddest deaths in television history). Anyway, I enjoyed this movie even though it's dumb - they got it right, while Sausage Party just got it all so very wrong.

4. Cafe Society - I expected this to be low-bar Woody Allen (like his last two movies - Magic in the Moonlight and Irrational Man). It's not - it's a little bit better (medium-bar Woody Allen, if you will). I don't think a more perfect person could have been cast as a "Woody Allen" type character than Jesse Eisenberg (and if anyone does an Allen biopic, I hope they realize he is the ONLY choice for the role). Also, has Parker Posey been in a Woody Allen movie before?? Because she fits his material oh so perfectly. I'm not too keen on the rest of the cast - Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart felt really out of place - the dialogue just doesn't suit them at all. As I've stated before, I adore Blake Lively (and she's never been more gorgeous), but even she was a little muted in this role. However, I like the story - even if it's a bit predictable, it's still told well. The love triangle aspect is the least interesting part, but I liked Stewart's character - her motivations/intentions are confusing and muddled, but I felt like it was fairly realistic. I also enjoyed the overall look and nostalgia of the movie, the wardrobe design is perfect, and the sentiment is sweet and satisfying.

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - So, earlier this year (or maybe it was the end of last year? My memory is broken), I FINALLY watched the original Star Wars trilogy. FOR THE FIRST TIME. Yes, yes, I is that even possible (especially as a child of the '80s)??? I can't give you a satisfying answer, other than I never really had anyone introduce movies to me - no one in my family was really into movies (aside from my paternal grandfather who exclusively watched old Westerns and The Twilight Zone), so I had to seek everything out on my own. And Star Wars was never at the top of the list. I tried watching Episode IV a few years back and I fell asleep (I WAS TIRED!). So I designated a full day to watch them, and I am happy to say that I really enjoyed them. I wouldn't exactly call myself a full-fledged Star Wars fan, but I get the obsession. I was going to designate another day to watch the prequels (even though I've heard mostly poor things about them) before watching The Force Awakens, but I haven't gotten around to it yet and since it wasn't really necessary I decided to watch this now. I really liked it. The cast is fantastic. Although Daisy Ridley is practically Keira Knightley's twin so much so that it distracted me greatly. John Boyega is wonderful. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson still bore me, but they were ok in this. Adam Driver is probably my favorite among the cast (which is SHOCKING for me, because I find him horrid in most things). BB-8 is wonderful, and adorable, and I WANT ONE. The original cast inclusions were done really well (even Harrison Ford, UGH). Overall, I had fun with it and I'm excited to see the next part of the story - I *may* even see it on the big screen!

Monday, December 19, 2016

3 Thoughts on Office Christmas Party

1. The cast - Holy Hell, what a group of funny people - and they are all perfectly cast. Jason Bateman as the straight, boring dude; Jennifer Aniston as the uber elitist bitch; T.J. Miller as the lovable fuck-up; Olivia Munn as her Newsroom character (just swap genius economist with genius coder); and Kate McKinnon as the weirdo HR lady. It's all perfect. There's also plenty of smaller roles as well - like Jillian Bell as a pimp (LOL) and Rob Corddry as literally every character he always plays (still LOL). Overall, they all work really well together, have impeccable comedic timing, and all steal the spotlight at some point in the movie - I would argue that Munn is the highlight performance (dry, subtle wit will always win for me), but I think most would argue that it's McKinnon. However, just like she did in the new Ghostbusters, she over-sells her character. It's like she's still performing on SNL - instead of becoming a character, she just is a character (does that make sense?....she just doesn't feel like a "real" person to me). She's still hilarious, but I just don't like her style of acting.

2. The ridiculousness - Holy Hell, what a ridiculous plot - it's funny, but sooo ridiculous. In order to keep their company, they need to get this super important guy (another sterling performance from Courtney B. Vance) to sign on with their firm (which does Internet stuff?? I guess?) so they decide to throw a massive (i.e expensive) Holiday party to show him how fun they are as a company. Because that's what people with millions of dollars care about - fun. Like I said, sooo ridiculous. However, it never quite crosses the line that I think it wants to cross, instead it's rather pg rated (aside from the eggnog fountain. And the orgies.). It's not as wild as The Hangover, Project X, etc. However, they stuck with the plot, had some sweet moments, a satisfying conclusion and some great one-liners. I would call that a success!

3. That one line... - Holy Hell, what a funny line - I can forgive this movie for any faults simply because it had this one line that I will remember for all eternity and quote on a consistent basis. A line that made me laugh so hard that I had to force myself to stop thinking about it in order to pay attention to the movie. And that line is "this isn't my first rodeo" (with rodeo pronounced like "Rodeo Drive"). It's not even that funny, but it's the fact that he says it in such a matter-of-fact manner, and that no-one corrects him, that made me laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3 Thoughts on Nocturnal Animals

1. Tom Ford's aesthetic - Tom Ford is obviously known for his sleek, sophisticated fashion designs - and more specifically, he made people take interest in men's suiting (the most boring item in all of fashion). However, he made a stunning first feature film with A Single Man. Released 7 years ago, I described it as "stylish, tailored, and timeless" and even though I've only seen it once, I am pretty sure it would make the cut if I created a best films of the last decade list. I eagerly awaited his next feature, and literally squealed out loud when I read about Nocturnal Animals earlier this year. While I don't love this film as much, it's still fucking beautiful. There is something so elegant about it, yet it's designed to make the audience uncomfortable. There is something so fascinating about a fashion designer making a film about materialism and consumerism; its irony and introspection is where the real genius lies. Which is why I don't think the mass audience is going to necessarily "get" it. That sounds extremely condescending, I know, but I saw this movie with my mother - someone who has a very basic knowledge of film, and an extremely limited knowledge of fashion. She has no idea who Tom Ford is, so the intimacy of the movie was lost on her (she still liked the movie, until the end because she was expecting a twist - because that's the kind of movies that she watches). It doesn't mean she didn't understand the different depths of the movie, but I don't think she appreciated it as much as I did. While it's inevitable to compare this to A Single Man, and in that respect, I would consider it a disappointment, Ford still made another beautiful movie that is my second favorite film of the year (10 Cloverfield Lane is still my favorite - the only film I see beating it is possibly La La Land).

2. The story within the story - I think the reason this movie worked so well is because of the novel within the story. It's set up from the very beginning to be a fictional tale - obviously the film itself is fictional, but I think it's always expected of the audience to comprehend the story as "the truth" unless we are told otherwise - and that is what this film does. It made me less likely to question motives because it's just "a story". And a downright disturbing story. While Adams' character reads this novel, she imagines it and the audience sees her visualization of this story. It's interesting because we only see her interpretation of the story which she imagines is being told about her own person, but what if that wasn't the intention? What if it was just a really disturbing story about a family on a road trip from Hell? This interpretation only intensifies her own narcissism in a really brilliant way. It also intensifies her regret of choosing a wealthy (miserable) life over love; it asks the question of whether she should be punished for this decision. Adams does a beautiful job of internalizing her regret, but it's really the actors in "the story" that shine - Gyllenhaal is brilliant as expected (and somehow gives my two favorite male performances on the year with this and Demolition), but fucking Aaron Taylor-Johnson BLEW MY MIND. I've never given him any credit for his acting abilities because he's been mediocre in everything. When he first appeared on screen, I even sighed out of utter disappointment, but he played the "bad guy" with such a fucking creepy, weird, and unpredictable ease - it's a performance that will be in my mind for a long time. Michael Shannon also delivers another quiet, inevitably under-appreciated role.

3. The climax - The story within the story is intense, disturbing, and keeps the audience in suspense. It contrasts beautifully with the pretentious, sterile, and ultimately dull life that our protagonist is living. The mixture of these two stories start to intertwine and overlap, and it's a bit expected for it to boil over and explode. Instead, it ends quietly and a bit unresolved. It's left up to interpretation as to what it all means, which I think will leave some feeling unfulfilled, but for me, I love how unexpected it was. The beauty lies in the build-up and not the climax, and if you think of the rhythm of the story as a metaphor for sex, then the last scene becomes even more stunning. I'm not sure if that's the intention - but I think we (the audience) are meant to feel unfulfilled and unsatisfied.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Nerve - Surprisingly, this was a much better film than what was advertised. It seemed like it had a very Millennial "too cool" attitude to it, but instead it was more like an episode of Black Mirror (not nearly as good, of course). I really like the concept of having social media produce a visible effect on society, and specifically our youth. Having your every moment documented via pictures, videos, tweets, etc., HAS to change the way you live your life. I've always been a bit weary of social media - I stick to twitter, and I don't even communicate with anyone I know in real life. It's mostly just film buffs discussing the latest releases (and the nice ones, not the assholes with film superiority complexes). This movie takes the whole social media frenzy to a higher degree, with a website that offers a high stakes "dare" type game in which one is given a dare, which they must complete (and film) in order to win money - they don't win the money until they complete each dare, and with each increasingly more dangerous dare, the amount of money becomes more enticing. It's fascinating to see what people will do for money, but I think this movie exaggerates this to a ridiculous degree. It works though, because it held my interest. Dave Franco is excellent (as usual), and I adore the kid from Parenthood (I have no idea what his name is, but he's so adorable). Also, I was really excited to see Soso from Orange is the New Black because she's a great actress, but then I SCREAMED OUT LOUD when Poussey shows up too. How wonderful to have then in the same movie (and heartbreaking....UGH...). I'm not the biggest fan of Emma Roberts. I used to like her, and I want to still like her, but she's so awful on Scream Queens that it kind of ruins her whole persona. She just annoys me now. I definitely don't think she's ready for a starring role like this. Overall, though, I enjoyed this movie up until the ending - which was clearly trying to tidy up everything, but it's just so dumb.

2. Swiss Army Man - Aw man, I really wanted to like this movie. I thought for sure that I would simply because every review that I read used words like "imaginative", "clever", "absurd". Also known as "the farting corpse movie" which is hilariously accurate - and really, it's not much more than that. I think it tries really hard to accomplish more - like tackling loneliness, depression, male friendship, etc., but really, it's about a guy who is a creepy fucking stalker and the audience is made to empathize with him (at least until we realize that he is a creepy fucking STALKER). The whole farce is actually really annoying and made me pretty angry. I think I'm so disappointed because I used to work with two of the producers, and I really love the choices and risks that they have been taking lately. And also, because this could have been a great story - first, make it a stage play, and second, make it about isolation, masculinity, survival, literally anything other than a story about a guy who takes pictures of a woman that he doesn't know without her permission. Literally ANYTHING ELSE. Sure, Paul Dano does a great job, and Daniel Radcliffe is doing a wonderful job of washing away his Harry Potter character, but overall, this movie kind of sucks.

3. Dog Eat Dog - Oh my goodness, what a terrible movie. Worst movie of the year - and the competition isn't even close. I'm usually always game for an insanely stupid Nicholas Cage movie, even though no-one can ever convince me that he is worthy of his cult-like status. This movie is among his very worst. It's poorly acted (Willem Dafoe at peak Willem Dafoe), poorly edited, and half of the story is left completely unresolved. The most laughable part, though, is Cage comparing himself to Carey Grant (and even trying to imitate him...LOL). I can't even write anything else about this movie because I'm trying to block it from my memory. The best thing I can say about it is that hopefully it's forgettable.

4. Bad Moms - The trailer for this looked a bit weak - a mixture of The Hangover and Project X but without the humor. I'm happy that I was completely wrong about it. It's actually really funny, sweet, and heartfelt while also breaking into unconventional domestic territory. There's been comedy, criticism, and opposition to the "soccer mom" - but I can't think of any other comedy that tears it all down in such a positive way. While it's about motherhood, it's more about how women judge other women (a debilitating action in our society - an act that hurts feminism just as much as any other oppressing action). The pressure for women to be "perfect" specifically in how they care for their children is very real, and as this movie points out, it's not exactly good for the mental health of the next generation. There is this over-coddling that's happening and Mila's character just stops and says "enough is enough" - there is a specific scene in which she tells her perfectly old enough children to make their own breakfast and it gave me a big sigh of relief. I can't imagine being a mom; it seems like the most difficult job in the world, but I also think it's about time parents stopped babying their children. Maybe it's because my mom was very much a "hands-off" parent. She didn't drive me to school (it's called a bus), or go to PTA meetings or bake things for the school bake sale (I don't even think those things really exist), but she did raise a very independent, competent, and confident individual. While I enjoyed this movie, and laughed quite a few times, there are a few things that bothered me - like how she's only 32 years old and has her shit together - gigantic house, super trendy job, etc. Even her breakdown about not being a perfect mom comes off a bit false simply because they LIVE IN A GIGANTIC HOUSE AND SHE HAS A SUPER TRENDY JOB, and oh yeah...she's one of the most beautiful women on the planet. This brings me to my next critical point - It's super depressing to watch a movie in which someone cheats on Mila Kunis. That's either extremely unrealistic, or there is NO HOPE for any of us normal looking women. There are also many really successful moments - Christina Applegate listening to "I Wanna Know What Love Is" - "my DVR stopped recording Castle!", the dog in the bike helmet, "Kent and I have sex every Friday night after Blue Bloods. All of these moments made me laugh out loud. The good definitely outweigh the bad, and overall I think it's a very successful comedy, and definitely my favorite comedy of the year (so far). P.s. How hot is Jay Hernandez?!? Super hot. Oh and P.s.s How adorable were the mother/daughter interactions during the credits? Super adorable.

5. The Invitation - I watched this movie without really knowing much about it. I saw a few people give it high ratings and included it in their top movies of the year (although it is a 2015 release...), plus it has Logan Marshall-Green. He will always be Trey Atwood to me (or according to others, a Tom Hardy lookalike, which is also acceptable). This movie is very weird. Much weirder than I was expecting. Also, a little boring. I like slow-burn, if it's done well, but I felt like this lacked the intensity and depth that slow-burn stories need to have in order to succeed. I don't really understand why the cult showed the group a video of someone dying?? That's not exactly the best way to convince others to join your mission...right? And wouldn't your natural reaction be to leave? I guess I just don't get it. Cult stories can be fascinating (Sound of my Voice comes to mind), but this one failed at convincing me anyone would be this stupid and/or obvious. It lacked motivation from every character angle. The acting was pretty solid though, so that's something. I guess.