Cinebites: #6

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.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

I have a weird relationship with this movie. As much as I really enjoyed it and it had some honest, biting moments there are a bunch of little things that kept the movie from really appealing to me. At the end of the day you have to just accept that the premise is about rich people doing rich people things and roll with that but I just get frustrated at the ridiculous displays of wealth and the family drama over prestige and name but like a regency film, it’s what I signed up for. I mean they put the name right on the tin. This movie got a few really good laughs out of me and its directed amazingly well, so much so I started to get frustrated because this exact type of snappy editing and direction was what I had really wanted from Ocean’s 8 [note: send Jon M Chu back in time to direct Ocean’s 8]. There’s a few missteps but this is certainly moving us forward in a genre that is usually way too bogged down by tropes to even make people feel a little joy so over I’m giving this near top marks for nailing all the elements and giving me a little something extra.

Final Verdict: Absolutely see this. Everyone is in this film and everyone is doing such a great job. Constance Wu carries a lot of the film but she’s played off of beautiful Henry Golding and Awkwafina of course who are both funny and effortlessly charming but the stand out for me was Michelle Yeoh who is playing a more complex version of a stock character than she has any right to. Absolute top notch filming, a tight script, and a genuinely moving overall piece lets this one sit very comfortably at the near top of the pile of love stories I’ve seen in a long while.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018)

Funny enough, I never read this novel but I adore House on Haunting Hill (the novel and the TV series) so we all have our blind spots. I wasn’t expecting terribly much going into this piece but I was pleasantly surprised. Tense, terse, well acted, extremely loving direction and shot composition and a brisk pace that just keeps adding layers to the story as time passes by. This piece has a real holistic feel about it where all of the pieces just add up to something really organic, feels like you could reach out and touch it. The script itself is just incredibly well paced and for a movie that relies on tension that’s an absolute win for the piece as a whole. While I had some minor quibbles with the handling of a few subjects in the film, overall I thought this was really good.

Final Verdict: I kind of wish I threw Crimson Peak down a dark hole and just watched this twice instead. For all the bang that visuals get in other movies, sometimes a little bit of understatement or misdirection by the camera, coloring, set, etc. is all you need to really ramp up the mood in a movie. This is a really lovely piece of cinema and if you like anything tangential to murder, tension, thrillers, or character studies you would probably find a lot of little moments in this movie to appreciate.

Disturbia (2007)

I like to joke that I got a “Shia Surprise” going into this film because I forgot that Shia LaBeouf was the main character but this film kind of surprised me all around because it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I guess I forgot what the movie was about and I was thinking it would be a Session 9 style piece but actually it was probably closer to Scream in tone. Despite not really wow-ing me in any particular way this was a pretty solid movie. The pace is a little slow to pick up and there are some questionable decisions in how things are presented but the dialogue is actually, weirdly, top notch. There’s a lot of “teen interaction” in this film and its some of the better teen dialogue I’ve heard in a long time which made me feel like it wasn’t a total loss. The end of the movie is…kind of a let down after a pretty interesting build up but the ride isn’t terrible.

Final Verdict: This is a twist on Rear Window and while there’s certainly plenty of changes made, it shares enough in common that I found myself longing for something better in this middling film. You could do much worse with a murder mystery thriller and the acting on LaBeouf’s part is actually really good but it can’t carry a lackluster secondary cast and it didn’t get me to suspend my disbelief for one moment. I never felt absorbed in the story, instead I felt like I was being hand fed breadcrumbs instead of inhabiting a world with characters so you may want to skip this one and head straight to The Conversation, Zodiac or even Momento if you want twists on this theme.

Trance (2013)

This movie wants to be deep and it just isn’t. I can see what the script writer might have thought they were doing and Danny Bolye certainly tries to direct the best movie he can out of a faux-smart story. Even with an incredible cast of actors it just never gets there. Clunky and awkward to the point of nonsense, this movie is more a series of incoherent thoughts than an actual movie. Even if we put aside the absolutely nonsensical “science”, even if we excuse everyone’s actions as some type of group hypnosis that makes people stupid there is never a moment where the movie gets anything across that couldn’t have been said or done better without so much fake subversion. Like Now You See Me, the movies best slight of hand is making you believe there might be something lurking under the hood if you just keep watching but instead, at the end, you’re left empty handed.

Final Verdict: The absolute stellar cast, the great direction of a handful of scenes, and the wildly interesting premise should have produced a hit but instead we got a sagging mess of a script, distinctly odd editing choices, and a nonsense plot which all produce more frustration than they solve. At the end of the movie I was left with about 1.5 scenes that I liked in the entire film which…is bad for a two hour movie. There are plenty of missteps in this film that make it frustrating to watch so skip this one entirely and watch Mr.Nobody or Primer if you need this itch scratched.

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

This movie gave me a panic attack.

I don’t say this to scare you or even really to warn you, I say it because I watch many films which are unflinching in their depiction of violence, of abuse, of suicide and other heavy topics and generally while they make me feel certain things or certain ways, I almost never react bodily to them. This movie is fine. The story line is basic, the camera work is interesting but never enough to keep me wholly focused on it, the acting is good, the script is minimal but punchy and I thought the work as a whole was good. In fact, at first I didn’t think very much of this film but like the protagonist it has haunted me, it has loomed in my thoughts. Does this make the film better than I originally thought? I’m not sure. It lingers with me though. Most of the movie I sat there, waiting for it to hit me but it never did. Only hours later did I find myself thinking of scenes and noises in this movie. And even if I didn’t love it, it stayed with me like few things do.

Final Verdict: Despite the film being pretty good, I reacted so “poorly” to this film I hesitate to suggest it to anyone. The themes in this movie weren’t the problem or even the beautiful scenes in the film (those are all great). This film is unflinching in its violence but that’s pretty typical, what are really devastating are the quiet scenes. The moments between the action hurt the most. It’s not even a type of tension, I hesitate to call it that, but more that the quiet gives you too much space to think and dive too deep. I don’t usually issue trigger warning for movies but if you have suicidal ideation, if you experienced abuse, especially physical abuse, or if you have hyper vigilance the movie depicts all of these in ways I found exceptionally triggering. I consider myself generally immune to most things. I watch plenty of media surrounding suicide and do not usually find myself flinching the way this movie caused me to so take care of yourself if you think about watching it.

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

I don’t usually complain about the length of movies but this movie is about 40 minutes too long. Worse, this movie is too long because it thinks it’s the best movie on Earth but instead it is a pretentious piece with nothing to say. There are some good bones in this adventure-mystery dive into the life of a pathetic millennial in LA but at the end of the day I think this film says more about the filmmaker than anything else. Often putting the (bare bones) plot on pause to muse about “society” this film reeks of everything I don’t like about people. There are a lot of problems with this movie as a meta-text as well that I just don’t have time to get into right now. There are some charming elements buried in here, especially the soundtrack (a pastiche of the noir films the main character loves), plenty of interesting camera work, but a handful of thoughtful things cannot save you from a two hour slog through this sad mans world.

Final Verdict: You ever write a novel when you really should have written a poem? That’s what this movie feels like. Dragging under its own weight the film is completely smothered in what it thinks it is but isn’t. It seeks to present LA as a character and the mystery that consumes our protagonist should be a mind bending puzzle we want to explore but instead I found myself wishing for his untimely death. Unpleasant and confusing, this movie felt like a reverse Sunshine on the Spotless Mind, pieces got further away from fitting as the mystery unraveled and it left me rolling my eyes at the end. Skip this, head straight to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Mulholland Drive, and It Follows instead.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

I don’t think anyone can do a better job at summing up how frustrating this film is better than Roger Ebert himself who gave it 2 out of 4 stars for being maddeningly good and frustratingly bad at the same time. Visually, conceptually, this is a great film but the problems start nearly immediately because we’re introduced to characters and situations and dialogue that is so overwrought that it becomes taxing. The entire film I was waiting for something deep and interesting and instead I was treated to a 7 minute montage of middle America in the 50s which had seemingly no point other than it was visually interesting. And that’s the movie. There is nothing here to dig into, it’s satire so weak and toothless it undermines itself several times over. The ending is probably the most bland and disappointing I’ve seen in years and the setting is as mixed up as the script. The visual setting and vocal work evokes 1930’s Chicago while being set in late 1950’s New York which makes me think the screenwriter and the director were working on two completely different films. There’s nothing I liked in this as a movie itself. The acting doesn’t work for me, the script is a mess, the story is frankly stupid. I kept almost turning the movie off except…the visuals, the costumes, the set design are all wildly interesting and the camera zooms around playfully with interesting angles, light, and textures. I’m not sure what to make of this movie at the end of the day but it certainly exists.

Final Verdict: I would have liked this film better on mute. There’s a part of me that thinks I’m reacting too harshly to this film but the problem is that the film seems to desperately want to be Brazil but it has all the interest in its subject matter that a baby would have in astrophysics. The film takes all of its cues from other films without the need to figure out why those pieces might have existed. There’s a cool and interesting mail room sequence towards the start of the film but despite the detailed visuals it never plays into anything, it doesn’t comment on anything, it’s not used to any end except to set up the MacGuffin- the scene runs nearly 5 full minutes though, why eat up all the screen time? If you just can’t get enough visual eye candy, this movie isn’t a total bust but you’d probably be better off just watching Brazil or Sorry to Bother You if you’re looking for surreal satire with meaning. If you want surrealism with varying themes Swiss Army Man, The Double, Dave Made a Maze, and The Science of Sleep might be better for you.

Good Time (2017)

I was absolutely unprepared for this film to knock me right out of my socks. This is probably one of the most tense and interesting films I have watched this year. Shot in a semi-documentary style with lighting that makes every sense ooze with texture this is the story of love and mistakes. Robert Patterson is the MVP actor of the movie but all the pieces in this film fit together in such a satisfying way that he couldn’t have pulled it off without them. The film is bleak and touching in equal measure. I actually found one of the most scathing criticisms for the film as its biggest strength: it’s a film about people in crisis seen through the eyes of other people in crisis. That’s either going to appeal to you on some level or it isn’t. The character Patterson plays is one I know very well and it shocked me to see such an honest reflection of a path their life may have taken.

Final Verdict: I don’t think this is going to be the movie for everyone but at the end of the day it was the understanding I felt for the main characters predicament that made me love this movie so deeply. I could easily see people watching this and finding the characters unpalatable, bland, unsympathetic, or stupid but my hope would be that the film does enough to let others connect with how difficult some situations are and what those situations might drive you to do. The movie hit me right in my heart and I can’t say that of most films.

The Martian (2015)

Welp, I hated this movie. I won’t make you wait for that, you deserve better. This movie is too long, too shallow, and too pat for me to like it. I don’t like the themes, I don’t like the conclusion, and I don’t like that I solved the problem before the people in the movie did. What I do like is that this movie is Harry Potter. This movie is Star Trek. This movie is going to inspire kids to think that science is cool and knowledge is cool, and those kids are going to grow up with the message that they can do great things. That’s wonderful. I just hated sitting through two hours of Matt Damon almost trying to feel a feeling but failing.

On some level, this movie obviously is for people who are not me. People liked the movie a great deal. The characters are all so empty that Matt Damon spends a great portion of the movie making fun of his teammates for having hobbies and interests…when he clearly has none of his own. There’s quite a lot of “characters” shown because it takes a village but the film spends most of its time having them dole out science slowly (most of which is, kudos, accurate). I know how most or all of these scientific principals work and so the movie was like sitting through someone mansplain chemical reactions to me. For an 11 year old in the audience this will be thrilling and make them curious about life, for me, not so much.

Final Verdict: If you didn’t run out to the theater to see this movie, you can safely skip it. This high adventure in space felt more like science Cast Away if I’m being nice or “Matt Damon proves he can act” if I’m being mean. A feat I do not believe it accomplishes as I spent most of the movie wondering why Damon’s character seemed to have no personality save being slightly agitated by the things his coworkers liked. We never see Damon’s family, personal affects, or even what he really wants. His motivations and desire are all a blank slate for the audience to project on him and it left me feeling bland and unsatisfied.

I will say one thing: this movie specifically pissed me off because even in the flippin’ space future hating disco (which happened FORTY YEARS AGO from today, and probably closer to 60+ in the movie) is still a thing???? Give it a break.

Anyway I can’t recommend anything else because you’re not 10 and looking to be inspired but I can’t be that mad, Stargate and Star Trek inspired me as a young child and they’re a mixed bag too.

At Eternity’s Gate (2018)

We live in a world where Van Gogh is a celebrated man. One of the most celebrated men actually. I can name several films off the top of my head dedicated to him but of course, that wasn’t the world Van Gogh himself lived in as everyone is quick to point out. And what a tragedy that is. And it is. I’m not saying it isn’t. People should be loved and appreciated while they are alive even if they’re not “the world’s greatest painter.” Anyway this movie was fine. It has a few really interesting moments and the camera work is certainly as lively and interesting as the subject but I just couldn’t really get behind it. There are long wistful pauses and interesting character choices and the script is fine but at the end of the day I didn’t experience something new or interesting. This was fine. This had fine ideas but it just wasn’t for me.

Final Verdict: If you want to feel sad and dreamy you could probably do a lot worse than this. It’s incredibly well acted, well shot, well costumed, etc. It has all the hallmarks one would want in a great movie but somewhere I felt like I got lost. I wasn’t on a journey to find out what happened to Van Gogh and I wasn’t invested in any of the characters so I just started to drift and let the images take me away. And that’s fine but it doesn’t exactly make for the most compelling movie so I probably wouldn’t recommend this to most people. If you want to feel a little dreamy thinking about Van Gogh try Loving Vincent instead. If you want to feel feelings about art and artists, try Basquiat.

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

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