Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Hell or High Water - I like this movie, however, I watched it about 5 weeks ago (I'm really behind in my blogging) and I barely remember anything about it. So, that's not a very good sign. The only thing that really stuck with me is Chris Pine's performance. It's not spectacular or anything, but I think he is currently showcasing that he is a much stronger actor than everyone initially gave him credit for. I can refer to my notes for the rest of my thoughts. Apparently, I found the story cliche (bank robbers fighting for a "good cause" and a cop ready to retire), but it was told well. The whole "we're stealing from the banks because they are evil" is good in theory, but realistically they are putting a lot of lives in danger; especially since it's "Open Carry" territory. Ben Foster is always wonderful, but a little too over-the-top here. I like the girl from Legion - she plays a completely different character here, very meek and quiet, and she nails it. I love the last hour of the movie, and especially how it ended. Oh, that's right! Now I remember, the ending is actually fantastic - not expected at all.

2. Get Out - *spoilers ahead* I was completely skeptical about the praise for this movie, especially considering it's in the horror genre, and I rarely agree with critics on great horror films (I'm sorry, but The VVitch is boring as fuck, and It Follows is overrated, but has its moments. I did enjoy The Babadook, though). I'm happy to say that this movie lives up to the hype. The first 45 minutes, not so much, but then it gets good, and then it gets great, and then when it's over, I analyzed it as a whole, and it's fucking genius. The horror genre is often a strange dichotomy for women's issues - they often highlight sexism by showcasing sexism. It's revolutionary to use the genre in the same way, but for racism. And, while there are some brilliantly subtle moments, overall the movie is very "in your face" which is needed. The way he reacts so calmly when the cop is asking for his ID, because he's used to it, is the same way I react when a strange man (usually older, ALWAYS white) puts his hand on my waist or my shoulder, or touches my hair; It's just a part of life and it fucking sucks but it's exhausting to keep fighting it. The use of "the sunken place" to emphasize this paralyzation is just stunning. The more subtle metaphors with the silver spoon, and the picking cotton were just subtle enough to be really effective. The only real issue I have with the movie is that mind control is dumb - and not realistic, but it's done really well here - so I can forgive it. I don't really think it's very surprising, either - OF COURSE she's in on it. Allison Williams is surprisingly great (I only know of her from Girls, and that show is fucking terrible). She goes from sweet-girl-next-door to creepy-as-fuck within seconds. Daniel Kaluuya (Posh Kenneth from Skins! I KNEW I recognized him!) carries the movie even with such a strong supporting cast (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford!). Also, it's much funnier than I was expecting it to be.

3. Life - It's hard to treat this movie fairly, when it was clearly set up for severe criticism and comparisons to previous "trapped on a spaceship with an alien" movies. It's not even in the same category as many that came before it in terms of story and intensity. However, it's not a bad movie. There is some good to it - particularly the diversity in the cast, and the way it shatters the cliched/expected outcomes for these characters (*spoiler* the black guy doesn't die first!). Also, the ending is fucking aces. I don't know how they pulled it off without it being expected, but after the reveal happened I screamed out "OF COURSE! HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT COMING?!". It's so good that it makes the whole movie memorable. Jake Gyllenhaal shines, as usual, and seems to do much more with the material than the other actors. I like everyone else, but their personalities are basically interchangeable.

4. Split - If you want to see the best performance of 2017, look no further than James McAvoy's portrayal of Dennis, Kevin, Patricia, The Beast, Hedwig...the list goes on. The transition into these characters is a masterclass lesson in acting. It's nothing short of spectacular. Anya Taylor-Joy is also really, really strong (and while I didn't like The VVitch, I thought she was incredible in it). By now, everyone should know the "twist" of the movie. If you don't, then stop reading. I read of the twist before I watched the film, and I don't think it effected my enjoyment of it at all. I would argue that it's not really a twist, anyway, it's just a connecting narrative - to one of the better Shyamalan films, Unbreakable. I wasn't that keen on Unbreakable when it first came out - I liked it, but after a second watch, I liked it more. I still don't think it's as great of a movie that some seem to think, but it could be very interesting as an extended universe. While I like this movie, there is a glaringly problematic storyline involving abuse. I don't *think* the intentions behind the movie were meant to be as offensive as they are - in fact, I think the creators believed it was a supportive message. The climax of the movie revolves around the idea that "the broken are the more evolved". It promotes the idea that survivors/victims are inherently stronger, as if being abused has a positive effect. Also, while the main character in this movie does utilize the skills she used from being abused as a child to survive another harrowing act, it doesn't define her as a person. Again, I don't think any of this was intentional. They were just utilizing a popular theory - "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger", but when it applies to child abuse, it becomes a little more complicated than that, and some sensitivity should have been included.

5. T2: Trainspotting - Sequels to movies that are 20 years old are never a good idea. This is the exception. Honestly, I don't remember much from the first one (because it's been 20 YEARS!), but it is the movie that I fell in love with both Jonny Lee Miller and Kelly Macdonald, and of course the "Choose Life" speech lives on forever in my brain. I actually thought that Kelly wasn't in it (why would she be, really.) since she wasn't on the poster, but they did a good job bringing her character back for a quick scene. This sequel is everything I wanted it to be, a continued story for these lively characters, great writing, superb dialogue, fantastic soundtrack, and an updated "Choose Life" speech that almost brought tears to my eyes. It's just perfect; so perfect that I have nothing else to say - just read it and see for yourself:

'Choose life'. 'Choose life' was a well meaning slogan from a 1980's anti-drug campaign and we used to add things to it, so I might say for example, choose... designer lingerie, in the vain hope of kicking some life back into a dead relationship. Choose handbags, choose high-heeled shoes, cashmere and silk, to make yourself feel what passes for happy. Choose an iPhone made in China by a woman who jumped out of a window and stick it in the pocket of your jacket fresh from a South-Asian Firetrap. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and a thousand others ways to spew your bile across people you've never met. Choose updating your profile, tell the world what you had for breakfast and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, desperate to believe that you don't look as bad as they do. Choose live-blogging, from your first wank 'til your last breath; human interaction reduced to nothing more than data. Choose ten things you never knew about celebrities who've had surgery. Choose screaming about abortion. Choose rape jokes, slut-shaming, revenge porn and an endless tide of depressing misogyny. Choose 9/11 never happened, and if it did, it was the Jews. Choose a zero-hour contract and a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and maybe tell yourself that it's better that they never happened. And then sit back and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody's fucking kitchen. Choose unfulfilled promise and wishing you'd done it all differently. Choose never learning from your own mistakes. Choose watching history repeat itself. Choose the slow reconciliation towards what you can get, rather than what you always hoped for. Settle for less and keep a brave face on it. Choose disappointment and choose losing the ones you love, then as they fall from view, a piece of you dies with them until you can see that one day in the future, piece by piece, they will all be gone and there'll be nothing left of you to call alive or dead. Choose your future, Veronika. Choose life.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Emmy Nominations: The Good, The Bad, and The Snubbed

The Good: 

-Honestly, it's ALL good. Television is great. I love it all. Better Call Saul, Westworld, Veep, Stranger Things, Atlanta, Feud, Black Mirror, Master of None. The list just continues to grow.

-While The Americans slipped this past season (it went from my favorite Drama on television to not even in my Top 10), Keri Russell is still incredible.

-This is Us getting nominated makes up slightly for the years of Parenthood snubs. Sterling K. Brown is fantastic, but it's a supporting performance (as is Milo Ventimiglia who should not have been nominated at all). Why is Crissy Metz in the supporting category, while the males are for lead? It doesn't make any sense. Although, it was smart on Metz's behalf, because she could not compete against the female lead competition.

-How great would it be for Donald Glover to win Actor, Writer, and Director for Atlanta? I would love that so much. Although, Aziz Ansari definitely deserves the Writing win for Master of None because the second season is pure joy.

The Bad: 

-This was easily the worst season of House of Cards. The only nomination that I'm sort of ok with is Robin Wright

-Stranger Things is great, but a nomination for Barb? A character that is only remembered because of an Internet meme? Oh, do fuck off.

-People being angry for Modern Family nominations: You can fuck off, too. I'm glad the Emmys have continued to nominate this show even in the face of criticism. It's still one of the funniest shows on television - and it still feels fresh. That's hard to do after so many years in this television climate.

-I know it's a weird thing to complain about, but there is simply too much television! It's impossible to keep up. I haven't seen The Handmaid's Tale, The Leftovers, Big Little Lies, The Crown, Transparent, or The Night of. I need them to just stop making new television for like 3 months so I can catch up with everything.

The Snubbed:

-The biggest snub of the year is easily Michael McKean, who probably should have won the category. I adore Jonathan Banks (Mike has always been a favorite character of mine), but McKean owned this season of Better Call Saul.

-I haven't seen The Leftovers yet (I KNOW), but I trust the majority - and everyone seems to be saying that this was the best television had to offer this year (which is a huge statement)

-Nothing for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, really? Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, and Chelsea Peretti are a given. My comedy category always seems to defer from awards shows (mine would be: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Better Things, Mom, Master of None, Atlanta, Modern Family, and Speechless, and Veep. Yes, I know that's 8. I don't care!).

-I'm surprisingly ok with Mr. Robot getting snubbed - I don't even remember the second season at all

3 Thoughts on Baby Driver

1. The technique - This seems to be a film that is universally loved, although I have seen a few people claiming it doesn't live up to the hype. But I think everyone can agree that technically, it's brilliant. Like, a stunning piece of film-making. Most are talking about the practical effects used for the car chases (which is why it seemed so real, as opposed to the Fast & Furious franchise) and/or the use of musical cues for action sequences and editing scenes. But, I for one, am obsessed with a well done long tracking shot, and this film has several. One even competes with Shame, as it has Baby walking through NYC, and I just smiled for its entirety. This scene alone won me over. The rest of the movie is filled with spectacular car chase scenes, beautifully quiet character-driven moments, and downright genius musical cues. To set the pace of a film along with music - and not in a soundtrack way because the music is an integral part of the story, is probably the most creative thing I've seen done in a film in years. It will be hard to top this as my favorite movie of the year.

2. The cast - Another thing that won me over is the cast. I was a big fan of Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars. He displayed the perfect amount of positivity and vulnerability, and it literally broke my heart. However, I kind of assumed that I liked him just because I connected with that movie so much (I *still* use the "great and terrible 10" as a guide for painful experiences). I didn't actually believe that Ansel was ready for a lead role. I think I described him as "dopey" back then, and my description still stands. Yet, he absolutely killed it in this role. Jon Hamm was unexpectedly really fun, while Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey played more expected roles (still fun to watch). I was on the fence about Lily James (she was boring as Cinderella but great in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), but damn if she wasn't trying to perfect a modern day version of Alabama Whitman, she did it anyway (more on this later). And to round out the cast, Eiza Gonzalez is stunning (from the series of From Dusk Till Dawn, I knew I recognized her!!). All actors displayed the perfect amount of grit and cheesiness. And it was all extremely fun to watch.

3. The influences - I think everyone's initial reaction is to compare it to Drive. But it turns out, it's nothing like it at all. In fact, remember how upset everyone was initially about how misleading the Drive trailer was? Well, this is the movie that I think everyone was expecting Drive to be. It's fast, thrilling, non-organic, and the complete opposite of Drive in every way. The only real connection is that it's about a driver who doesn't talk much. For me, this film had more of a retro True Romance vibe to it. I've seen a few other reviewers describing it that way, as well. Sure, it has many other influences (Heat, Reservoir Dogs, The Driver), but the overlying plot point is the romance - and it is pure Clarence and Alabama love. I've also seen many (female) critics take issue with this love, and this female character (OH HEAVEN FORBID IT DOESN'T PASS THE ARCHAIC BECHDEL TEST), but the movie is not about her. She's not part of the group - her existence in the plot is to give Baby a reason to get out; to survive. Every character is an archetype, so it's not problematic that she is too. Honestly, a multi-dimensional female character would have felt out of place in this film - none of the characters, with the exception of Baby, were given layers.