Cinebites: #3

Welcome to my mini movie review series. I watch a lot of movies and I thought it’d be fun to share a few thoughts on some of the things I’ve watched.

These are all SPOILER FREE reviews so you can enjoy these films at your leisure.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

I think this was pitched to me as “John Wick but it’s a lady.” Not only is that cruel shade on some level its also just…factually incorrect. Never mind that Theron does her own stunts like Reeves in John Wick, never mind its literally directed by David Leitch, director of John Wick. Hand wave all that away because this movie is a James Bond movie. John Wick is about paring down everything to its simplest thrill of style and a pace that is unforgivably action oriented while subverting tropes (watch this video if you don’t believe me). However Atomic Blonde seems to want desperately to be a James Bond film instead: chock to the gullet with tropes, a plot so thick and confusing it doesn’t know if its coming or going, characters who chew up every inch of the scenery, music cues that make no sense, and action that is cut with pace killing stops so we can have exposition. It is clunky and it keeps the film from being anywhere near the tight, driven John Wick franchise despite Theron doing her best.

My real complaint about this movie is that even if the plot was bad, it could have still been a good movie but instead the script is an actual nightmare of terrible and confusing dialogue. Its cardinal sin for me is that it takes the single greatest modern set piece for spy thrillers and wastes it. This movie is uninterested or unaware of how themes might work in a movie. In a better world, I rewind time and rewrite this movie so that the dissolution of trust between spying agencies is a parallel to the Berlin wall coming down. Instead this movie just uses the Berlin Wall as an excuse to play not one but THREE renditions of “99 Luftballoons” and to show us clips from (I am not even kidding) MTV News which frustrated me so much I turned into a puddle of screaming.

Final Verdict: If you can turn your brain off, this is a fine movie. If you don’t “hear” music in movies, this is a fine movie. If you wanna see Theron in knickers, this is a fine movie. If you love James Bond, even at its campy strangest, this is a fine movie. If you don’t understand the geopolitical strife and impact surrounding the Berlin Wall, this is a fine movie. Individual sequences in this movie are good but the whole is a disaster as far as I’m concerned and you’d be better off watching John Wick. If you want interesting action without being lost about the plot and themes of a movie, try Upgrade instead.

Belle (2003)

Belle is very good. It’s a nice blend of period piece, romantic drama, and socially conscious film. It’s led by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle, written by Misan Sagay, and directed by Amma Asante who bring the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle to life in such a dear way. I actually really enjoyed this piece from start to finish and if you even vaguely have an interest in period pieces or British history or honestly, British law, this is a great watch but there is a certain caution to the piece. A certain extremely British restraint that kept it from really leaping out and taking me by storm.

Final Verdict: If anything, this movie left me wanting MORE. Which I suppose in a world of romantic movies which end with me asking WHY, “more” seems like a good feeling to leave me with. There’s not much to say because the movie is very commercial in a way that informs but never challenges. As a person who already knew this story (and the story of the legal battle presented in the film) this was a little humdrum in terms of plot though the costuming, filming, and performance made it worthwhile to watch anyway. If you don’t know the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, I’d definitely recommend this movie! And then I have some books for you too!

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

I’ve thought about this movie at least one a day every day since I’ve watched it. A deeply moving and strangely topical piece about a struggling folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village trying to make a name for himself. The piece is as much about grief or loss as it is about authenticity and reality. About struggling and about being ones own struggle. This film struck me to the core in a way that other Cohen Brothers pieces just never reached. It’s no surprise that the odyssey (and Odyssey) of O Brother Where Art Thou might be both the most bombastic and easily digestible of their films for the mainstream audience but Inside Llewyn Davis was a much more identifiable odyssey for me.

This film hits on so many deeply personal things that it makes me wonder why other people, sans some of those experiences, might also enjoy it but the universality of themes and experiences (even in their infinite differences) remind me how interconnected we are. This film is not a joy to watch but a joy to experience, if that makes any sense, and it’s a movie I will absolutely be re-watching in the future.

Final Verdict: This movie made almost no money and received almost no attention [though what attention it did was positive], which is some way, deeply ironic to the film itself. I don’t know if this is the right film for anyone else, but it was just the right film for me.

Love, Simon (2018)

I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda shortly after it was published in 2015 and I thought that maybe the movie wouldn’t be able to capture that soft spirit but I think it did, and then some. This movie made me laugh and cry and I absolutely adore it. The book is certainly a much more holistic view of the situation but the movie just got to me. I don’t usually like movies like this (a little sweeter and cuter than average) but the acting and the direction and the earnest feelings swirling around this film managed to hit on something inside of me that lives under my cold dead heart. I’m not sure this film will endure the test of time because it seems to specific to “today” but it just fills such a perfect niche it’s hard to be mad at it.

Final Verdict: If you have tweens or teens, this is a great film for them or to watch with them. Comedic, romantic, hopeful, and fulfilling teen cinema could do so much than this film. The dialogue, direction, and acting are also about five steps above your average Disney flick. I think adults might be disappointed by a lack of complexity but there’s still plenty of solidly fun and interesting things to hold your attention. Good to watch on a day when you feel like the whole world has gone to shit.

Into the Woods (2014)

Based on the stage musical featuring music by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, I would describe Into the Woods as a “soup of fairy tales.” But who cares about the plot! No one! It’s a musical! To be fair, I don’t care about the music either and I have a hard time remembering any of the songs. What this movie does best is cast the right people for the right roles. This movie had me rolling on the floor laughing and absolutely on edge waiting for the next wild thing to show up. Every song is shot in this film wrap around dramatic form where they let the music swell and the actors chew on every piece of available scenery to wring excitement and fun from what would have normally been a very annoying movie.

While I usually would thumb my nose at a movie like this with its trash plot, trash themes, and weirdly disjointed structure that serves nothing except to lead us into the next song, the truth is that for a musical : that works. In the likes of The Music Man or Bye Bye Birdie there’s just something fun and magical about the world (aside from the magic). It makes you want to get up and sing and dance and when was the last time you just had fun?

Final Verdict: Please let Meryl Streep do whatever she wants. She is clearly having the best time of her life. Watching her in this movie feels like watching Hugh Jackman return to theater after we forced him to play Wolverine for 300 years. The movie sags considerably in its final act but the whole ride was worth it. I’ve seen the original stage show and it wasn’t anywhere near as enchanting as this movie plus you couldn’t fast forward through the slow parts if you see it live. Want a tighter musical made into movie? Try Cabaret. Want to watch someone chew through the scenes like their life depended on it? Try Funny Girl. This is somewhere in the middle of that.

Nightcrawler (2014)

I have questions. I recently ended up watching several movies about characters I would describe as people who have little to no conscience and in each of these movies I was left with the question, “who would ever listen to this person?” I realize in the world we inhabit that seems like a ridiculous question but it still remains for me. Just out of reach. If you’re wondering, Nightcrawler did not solve this conundrum for me but keeping that in mind only made it more interesting to watch people assume that they could turn the tables on someone who clearly lacked the necessary pause internally to feel guilt. Nightcrawler is a wild, inventive, captivating piece of media that left me absolutely interested and strangely impressed by the performance and the tight script.

My only problem is a weird one, the movie is based around filmed footage but never takes full advantage of the fact that the footage could be presented in anything other than a mostly straight forward manner. Maybe I’ve watch too many horror movies that use footage in innovative ways (Cam / Ringu / Cloverfield) that it just feels like a missed opportunity to build even more tension. Even cutting through a TV into live footage would have really enhanced the drama but it just. never. happens.

Final Verdict: This movie is really great except first time director Dan Gilroy is nowhere near as slick with the moving image as someone with a few films under their belt and that’s a shame, luckily the performances and the shots that do hit are all amazing. The movie is an almost perfectly satisfying film that gets about 95% of the way into the subject its exploring and wants you to do the rest of the digging. There are several stand out moments in this film in both composition and acting that will stick with you for a while so if you missed this because it sounded “pretentious” it might be worth a second look.

Megamind (2010)

One day I’m going to stop trusting people when they say “it’s a kids movie but it’s actually really deep!” Megamind is a kids movie that is entirely watchable for adults. Megamind has two or three good lines and a semi-cohesive theme. Megamind is a middle of the road film that falls into every pit fall the modern children’s movie seems to get tripped up on: highly time specific pop references which fall out of favor within a year, voice acting by people who are famous but have absolutely no business being on the other end of a mic, sexual innuendo for bored adults, nonsense 11th hour buttpull endings, predictable plots, telling you the ending of the story at the beginning, and the worst offender of all: music adults will recognize but has nothing to do with the plot making it GRATING to me. It’s a vapid sent up of the superhero genre that undermines its own themes on top of that. It’s really just not great.

Final Verdict: I almost turned this off several times but people told me the big reveal at the 3/4 mark would make me happy. It did not. If you are an adult and want to make fun of the superhero genre you could do worse than looking back to Mystery Men, if you like humor and superheros in a loving sent up of animation, try Spiderverse instead.

The Neon Demon (2016)

I already had a love / hate relationship with director Nicolas Winding Refn after watching Drive. I don’t “get” him. He makes really interesting and intricate visual set ups and they’re all in service of…nothing. This movie has a terrible plot, awful themes, and calling it intellectually void is flattering. It’s intellectually insulting is what it is. The entire movie walks on a tightrope so thin that it snaps well before the end of the first act. It can’t really put its money where its mouth is and becomes little more than a Sucker Punch style send up of interesting images wrapped around the absolutely least interesting moral re-telling of “modeling is awful”.

Final Verdict: This movie is probably best seen on fast forward, slowing down only to appreciate the images that catch your eye. This movie, on the whole, is worse than other visual feasts because the images in it don’t even feel particularly original. Everything seems stylized as if it were something I’ve seen before. Unlike Drive, where Refn seemed to have a hold on what feeling he wanted to give the audience, Neon Demon careens wildly from style to style frantically hoping it’ll make you feel a feeling in place of trying to construct a movie. If you need weird eye candy, you’d be better off watching Speed Racer at this point honestly. If you want eye candy with meaning and gravitas try The Fall.

The Little Hours (2017)

This is a weird little film that passed most people by. It’s so strange and quirky and honestly laugh out ridiculous that I’m not sure why people didn’t latch on to it other than it stars a lot of women and its humor is rooted in female sexuality. And I judge people for not enjoying that.

The movie is pretty uneven and while there’s enough laughs to make it worthwhile it does kind of depend on how much you really enjoy the goofiness of the situation. It reminds me of a sub-sub plot in a Shakespeare play. Not quite enough to carry an entire movie by itself but just enough that I didn’t feel like it was entirely time wasted.

Final Verdict: Absolutely worth it to watch half a dozen women yell at Dave Franco for an hour. There are a handful of stand out moments in this film that I still delight in but it’s hard to recommend this film because it doesn’t quite hold up for its entire run time. I’m not sure what I would recommend in its place as this piece is so unique in tone and tenor. If you like Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, and Molly Shannon it’s worth a watch. If you find them unfunny: seek other forms of entertainment.

Tron: Legacy (2010)

I tried so hard to like this film. After it ended I sat there for a good 10 minutes trying to find something about the film that I liked. I was unsuccessful. I have no particular feelings about the first Tron film and I’ve never been a fan of this style of storytelling but this film rubbed me all the wrong way. It does, in fact, feel like a bad 80s movie which is one point in its favor since its riding on the coat tails of what people often think of as one of the most influential and quintessential 80s movies. At the end of the day, this movie has basic narrative problems that not even our future tech could overcome.

The original Tron was a visual spectacle for the eyes but in this new age where visuals spectacle seems commonplace, the bones of the story start to show and it turns out that they are misshapen and about to fall down. The acting all seems largely phoned in, the script is a nightmare, and the characters are all cardboard. The music is fine but its nothing to actually phone home about (I know I can hear you gasping in shock from here but it’s Daft Punk with most of the edges shaved off and some of the arrangements of the OST are rearranged in the movie which does not do them any favors).

Final Verdict: Since its been 9 years and there’s radio silence on trying to make a third Tron movie its pretty much certain that Legacy didn’t spark anything for anyone else either. This is better off forgotten and unless you’re in the 80’s, you can probably pass up the original as well. Harsh, I know.

That’s all for now, see you next time with 10 more movies!

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