Cinebites: #4

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.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)

So I guess I was kind of expecting a little more Wonder Woman but what I got was a really great dose of speculative fiction blending almost seamlessly into a tale of flipping social mores to create something wonderful. Stories like this about relationships between more than two people have never been popular narratives in media, the list of films about poly relationships usually includes bigamists or sad tales where the wife needs to be replaced so it’s interesting to see the relationships in this movie are more on equal footing. The movie works really well to set the stage of how the inspirations for the Wonder Woman comic might have come about but it never achieves the same level of greatness that the comic left behind since its gets a little mired down in overplaying its hand. Some of that is in the weird uneven set up that doesn’t come to much of anything but the dialogue is really tight and the acting is great which means overall I really liked this piece. It has some stand out shots, great character work, and its at least a close enough to a version of real that it feels emotional but not cheap or exploitative at any point.

Final Verdict: This was a surprisingly good movie just don’t go into this movie expecting to learn anything about comics you don’t already know. I’m coming up empty handed trying to think of a movie involving a poly relationship that handles it with anywhere near the grace as this one. While little things detract from the effort as a whole it’s certainly worth your time. If you have the time, follow this up with Sense8 for more beautiful multi-person relationship goodness.

Crimson Peak (2015)

Doug Jones is the hardest working man in 10-40 pounds of prosthetics. This movie takes nearly an hour to reach the part of the movie I really wanted to see and then quickly does not pay off. This movie feels like it rides the line between serious and camp from start to end, which only Tom Hiddleston is actually able to do – the other actors all bonk into dialogue and tone like they’re walking around in the dark. The visuals (and trust me, there are plenty of visuals and visual metaphors) in this film are as always, stunning, but I just couldn’t appreciate what ended up being a frankly ham-fisted tale that felt like it droned on and forgot to have a point. When I read reviews for this plenty of people said this was a scary movie for them and I have to wonder which part since it was so underdeveloped for me on both visual scares and narrative tension. I had the story mapped out nearly 20 minutes in and then had to sit still waiting for something to grab onto for another hour after that.

Final Verdict: I’m on the fence. Never quite a horror film or a period piece this film floats between ideas without landing on anything solid enough for me to have strong feelings. This is one of those movies that felt like it was setting up something that just never paid off but on the other hand, the visuals are stunning and will stick with you. If you’ve seen and enjoyed some of del Toro’s other works, this is probably okay to skip since its themes and characters aren’t engaging but if you had some trouble chewing through his other movies this might be a better fit for you.

Upgrade (2018)

I wasn’t expecting much of Upgrade despite the fact I wanted to see this movie since its trailer dropped in mid-2018. This film finds the perfect balance between sci-fi, action, and satire with its small scale story and brutal themes turning it into a wild, fun, inventive, and interesting ride. And here’s the funny thing, because this movie cost only 3 million dollars to make it falls in a reverse Hollywood situation: it under promises and over delivers. Because not every scene can be shot with action and explosions there’s a real tension developed through dialogue, through quiet scenes, through sequences which take us deeper into the world. But make no mistakes, this is a movie about a man who becomes a cyborg and then ends up in a bunch of brutal fights. Filmed with amazing technical chops and sequences that feel free floating and wild, it’s worth your time for the visuals alone. Most of the dialogue is sharp and interesting though it can veer into campy at times you can count on the surprisingly strong performances of the actors to reign it back in. The lighting in this movie is of particular note and they did a wonderful job with limited settings. If anything the worst part of the film is the desire to lean into Hollywood tropes including a fairly lackluster car chase at one point which the film sorely did not need since its strength is the fact that it doesn’t need to explode things to get your attention when it already has it.

Final Verdict: If you liked any sci-fi action movie in the last two decades you owe it to yourself to watch Upgrade. While Upgrade does not 100% nail all of its themes and satires it gets close enough to be satisfying and fun to think and talk about. Its shot in a way that is both innovative and easy for human eyes to follow with really smart, sharp editing that enhances the story. I ended up feeling for the main character despite himself and this has an ending that feels fitting and appropriate. There are a lot of little things to love about this film and I see myself rewatching it in the future. Suggestions for follow up movies: Dark City, Edge of Tomorrow, Snowpiecer, and Starship Troopers.

(Also this movie is a great reminder that smaller studios and productions exist and are doing great work! You just haven’t heard of them! Except you probably have because Blumhouse Productions produced such no name films as The Purge and Get Out).

Now You See Me (2013)

The absolute best part of this movie is that one of its scenes is filmed at 5 Pointz. 5 Pointz was an amazing defunct factory which became a premier art/mural space in Long Island City, you can tell by my usage of conjugation that space no longer exists. Like all beautiful things it was demolished to make way for an apartment complex which took a beautiful piece of art and turned it into the same every day garbage that everything else is made of.

I am telling you about this piece of art in lieu of talking about this movie because Now You See Me is a not a piece of art. Now You See Me is the apartment building put in place of something collaborative, unique, and ancient. Now You See Me is an utterly annoying, nearly unwatchable, exhausting trope factory of the same miserable dreck as everything else. It’s filmed decently and the acting is fine but the script and story are so rote that I started checking out mid-film. The film is so lazy it drops plot points like its a day job and the twist at the end is the first thing I predicted leaving lax dialogue and cardboard cutout characters who act like stereotypes to try and fill the remaining screen time.

Final Verdict: Skip it. This movie is so transparent and by the numbers you will likely have a hard time finding anything in it to point at to say it was terrible OR great. Go watch Ocean’s 11 for this movie but you kind of like the characters or even better you could watch The Prestige if you wanted magicians and a good movie at the same time.

Teen Titans Go to the Movies (2018)

I don’t know that I have much to say about this. I watched this one morning with the light streaming cheerfully into the kitchen and I thought “yeah this is adorable but also, I still don’t really care”. One of those movies that is well constructed and has some really nice moments but since there’s very little going on under the surface (certainly more than most kids movies thankfully) it didn’t seem to “wow” me as much as it did critics and audiences. I’ve always really been a fan of the Teen Titans comics and the two cartoon shows have strayed so far from that I consider them their own flavors but they’re not flavors I really care for. Like a pair of soft shoes though, they’re dependable.

Final Verdict: This rides the line of “something for everyone” so hard that I actually found myself with very little that I loved and very little that I hated. I do have to say that taking pot shots at Green Lantern is one of my least favorite things on Earth so that’s in the “con” list. This is a pretty easy watch and if you have young kids who even vaguely like superheros this is definitely going to be a crowd pleaser, but for adults who aren’t huge fans of the TV show you won’t be missing anything if you skip this. Go watch Wreck It Ralph or Kubo and the Two Strings if you want to feel a feeling. If you want a kid movie with laughs, you could do worse than Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

This wasted 180 minutes of my life that I want back. I don’t even know if this movie is trying to be a satire or not which makes it, ostensibly, not a satire. This movie has the appeal of being extremely well shot debauchery and while that has its place, in this movie its just not really used to any effect. Somewhere along the fourth or fifth exhaustively well shot party scene I found myself thinking “am I supposed to enjoy this?” At first I thought maybe the exhaustion of the parties and the boobs and the sex and drugs would become the point of the movie but instead we full steam ahead and the movie continues to make it all look sexy and glamorous even to the bitter end. This movie is supposed to be funny but instead kind of lands lukewarm since all the jokes are punching down (or the jokes are literal dick jokes, do you like dick jokes? Are you stuck at age 15 where a dick joke is the height of humor? This movie was made for you!). Watching a bunch of rich men abuse each other, women, drugs, and the poor in this year of 2019 isn’t appealing and the characters seem lifeless in that they seek nothing other than hollow riches. This wouldn’t normally be a problem except the film doesn’t seem interested in commenting on it, instead constantly focusing on how fun and lively and wonderful it all is. How great life would be if you were just rich. Which is…a weird moral theme to choose when you’re trying to say your main character is a horrible person.

The movie also takes PAIN STAKING lengths to make you feel like an idiot by not explaining simple concepts about the stock market to you because it chooses to assume “you don’t care.” This is a movie for people who want to check out of being accountable for people who are more than happy to be told its not their responsibility to worry about it. This movie is either a brilliant meta text (it isn’t) or it just happened to be financed by a rich man doing the similar shit as the main character in the movie who wanted the movie to be about how cool he was by proxy (it is).

Final Verdict: This movie exhausted me. If you’re looking for a critique of someone vile you won’t find it here. If you’re looking for a critique of the system, you won’t find that here. If you’re looking for a character study, you won’t even find that in this movie. If you want two and half hours of rampant sex and drugs shot well and then 30 minutes where reality sets in but also its meaningless because nothing has changed, this is it. This is your movie. I have no problems with sex, drugs, or non-satire pieces but this is frankly vapid. I felt like every person who recommended this to me did so just to waste my time. Learning about this mans life was annoying and useless. If you want to rail against the system watch Sorry to Bother You, if you want parties but actually they have some narrative meaning Great Gatsby, and if you want a character piece about a rich person(s) try Grey Gardens. And for the love of god, let Margot Robbie have more than four lines of dialogue!

Annihilation (2018)

I’ve never read the book this movie is based on and by the feedback of those who have, I wouldn’t bother as they’re two entirely different things. Annihilation is a great movie though. Annihilation didn’t hit big when it came out because of several reasons: it’s a sci fi movie, it’s a nearly all women cast, and the movie was only released when Netflix bought the rights because the original studio wanted to change the movie ending drastically when audiences “didn’t get it.”

This is not a particularly challenging movie though, it’s just not a really conventional one. There is a story to follow but there are also a lot of themes being explored inside of this one tiny movie. There is a lot of movie in a movie that gives you both a good overarching narrative and also has themes which penetrate down into the core of shared experiences between humans but much like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, this is apparently not what people want from movies. But I love it.

Final Verdict: I know I worked it up as mysterious but this is not an art house film, it isn’t anywhere near as obtuse as that but its certainly not a film with a “solution” and if you’re a person who wants a movie that is like a puzzle you can solve, you’re not going to have a good time with this one. Annihilation is wonderful acted, beautifully shot, and incredibly moving if you give it a little space and time in your mind to percolate. I think this is a movie that passed by a lot of people when it came out and its certainly worth going back for. If you liked this film try Ex Machina, Hereditary, and Sunshine too.

One Cut of the Dead (2017)

Do not look up anything about this movie before you watch this movie! It’ll still be great if you do (I promise) but it’s so much better if you are surprised by it. This is a quirky little “single take” movie that has zombies and so many laughs. This is probably the freshest and most interesting take in the zombie genre (the zombre if you will) in ages. Blending genres and film making styles this movie conquers an impossible feat of making me actually like a film in a genre I had considered all but dead (that’s it, that’s my one pun for this entire review post).

Final Verdict: Please watch this film! It had a very limited release and can be a little difficult to get ahold of but the UK Blu-ray is region free which makes it a little easier. I think it’s available on some streaming services as well? This is basically the polar opposite of big, clunky failures like World War Z or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as it was made for merely $30k – it’s basically a bucket of cold water after a decade of desert of zombie films.

Drive (2011)

I wanted to love this film so much. It’s beautifully shot and Ryan Gosling is a robot so he does such a good job as the main character but I just couldn’t seem to connect with anything in this film. Reading reviews after I watched it made me feel so confused about who I am as a human because I just didn’t feel or see any of the things anyone else was responding to in this film and frankly, the things other people liked about the film made me feel strangely alienated. There are so really interesting shots in this movie, the story is fine, and the themes inside the movie are solid but at the end of the day it left me feeling cold. I wanted something more than what I got though maybe that is purpose of the movie?

Final Verdict: This is so well rated and I read so many extremely positive critical reviews of it that I think it just wasn’t for me. I would probably still suggest this movie to anyone who liked The Driver or Collateral. I feel like Dredd and Escape from New York have a very similar energy to this film but I actually really enjoy both of those so maybe try those if you’re not sure you want to take the plunge with Drive.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

I absolutely adored this movie. I don’t like to describe things as “off beat” but that’s basically exactly what this movie is. A vampire movie that is devoid of scares or nearly anything you would list as necessary for a vampire movie. The acting in this movie is absolutely top notch, even if I didn’t like the story (and I love the story) I’d be able to recommend this on the over the top and yet somehow perfectly on pitch performances from Swinton and Hiddleston alone. Effortlessly thoughtful, beautifully shot with these wide roving scenes that make you feel as timeless and lost as our protagonists, and such a unique take on the daunting subject of eternity treated with absolute care. This film made me feel all sorts of feelings and I wish more people had seen it.

Final Verdict: This is a weirdly beautiful film. I suppose at the end of the day you could say that it’s a “love story with vampires” but I think it’s actually more that it’s a “vampire story about love.” It rolls out really slowly though so if you don’t have patience I might give this is a pass but if you can wait for the whole show to get moving, this is a really rewarding piece.

That’s all for this installment, see you next time with ten more movies!

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