Cinebites: #7

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.

Wind River (2017)

I was certainly not expecting much out of this movie, mostly because I’m an anti-fan of Jeremy Renner and think he cannot convey any human emotion with his face but surprisingly, the movie uses that to good effect. A smartly written script and the cold embrace of the location by the narrative round out what could have been a clumsy effort of a murder mystery into something a little bit better than its pieces. While the movie takes a little too much time to relish in its surroundings for my taste, it’s certainly not excessive. The acting is really good across the board and the things that kept me from enjoying this the movie mostly exist as meta-text so it’s a mixed bag depending what baggage you’re going to go into the movie with. I still found it worth my time even with my personal hesitations.

Final Verdict: I got this recommendation from the weirdest place and I’m unsure how or why that person saw this film so maybe this has a much broader appeal than I had originally assumed. The direction on this is a little clumsy for such a good script because it’s the scriptwriter, Taylor Sheridan’s first outing as director but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The bottom line is that this film has a good message but I don’t think it 100% delivers and the script is good enough to recommend it but Sheridan’s better outing (by a landslide) is Sicario, easily. I don’t know, still mulling this one over.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

I was hoping this would be a lot punchier than it actually was. In fact the movie was so bad I thought maybe we should turn it off until Sam Rockwell showed up (see also : Iron Man 2 or literally any movie Sam Rockwell appears in). It’s not to say this movie isn’t good, it’s got quite a few moments of brilliance in it but at the end of the day it’s about an event that isn’t very interesting and largely makes for some pretty boring re-telling. This movie has really high scores on Rotten Tomatoes but I found myself starting to check out a few times because while critics have decided this is a movie about “checkmate conversations” and “thoughtful duels”, a large portion of the movie is a build up to a simple moment and doesn’t really warrant any of the background information. Couple that with a bouncing camera that is trying to give you a “period feel” but mostly just makes me roll my eyes and you have a recipe for me not finding much of worth in this exercise.

Final Verdict: On some level I think this film might have been a way to make Nixon’s breakdown on film seem human (?) but actually, I don’t care. This ends up feeling like a badly cut reality show at some points. Most striking for me was the fact that there’s only one woman whom Frost meets on a plane at the start of the film and her job is floating in the background, bringing food to the men, and looking pretty. Upon a quick Google it turned out that while this woman had been dating Frost at the time, she was wealthy, connected, and social and they’d been dating for nearly three years instead of just the arm candy the movie reduces her to which is a weird detail to change and made me feel that they should have just omitted her from the film if they weren’t going to bother giving her anything to do. But this bring me to the fact that the movie takes all manners of liberty with the story which confuses me since they’re unnecessary for the outcome or theme. I can’t really recommend this despite the glowing reviews but it did remind me of Quiz Show, which I liked a lot.

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2010)

This is a weirdly charming little thing. I don’t know that I liked it all that much personally (I thought I would laugh more honestly) but it certainly would have its appeal to a certain audience and I can’t begrudge anyone for liking it. There are a lot of really over the top moments in this and either that’s going to play right into your taste or you’re going to be largely unaffected (like me) and I don’t know if it’s really possible to figure out which camp you belong in ahead of time. If you’re a fan of slasher films, camp films, hillbilly horror, or similar you will probably enjoy it.

Final Verdict: This and Cabin in the Woods both were filmed around the same time and then had delayed releases. I’m unsure why but I felt the need to tell you that. I’d take Cabin in the Woods over this movie any day but that’s not really fair, they’re trying to do two entirely different things and they’re both succeeding at them. For me, the main “problem” with this movie is that it takes itself so seriously as a parody that it has copy and pasted all of the things that make movies like this great…and also many of the things that make them awful. Unlike Cabin in the Woods or Shaun of the Dead or even Zombieland, Tucker and Dale isn’t looking to critique or examine the genre and movies it’s using for fuel and it ends up closer to Warm Bodies or Final Destination – something campy, and at times, good but with a lot of lumps and bumps along the way.

Julieta (2016)

Another of Almodóvar’s “cinema of women” movies, Julieta is a touching, strange, and often raw piece of cinema that kind of completely failed to connect with me. Without the visual flourish of Broken Embraces and without the dry humor of Volver, I found Julieta to be a mid-level stab at some of the themes in his other films that didn’t quite come together into a single image. I thought at first that it was simply my dislike of the non-linear form to tell a fairly linear story or maybe just my personal dislike of mother-daughter stories (which I will leave naked and unexamined here) but came to conclude that the problem is mostly that this just doesn’t work for me on any level. The cinematography is great, including two scenes I found too lovely for words, the acting to top notch, and the themes are punchy, but I just never connected with any of the characters and found the acting to be too restrained when I wanted it to spill over, too solid when I thought things should be going wild, and so on. Everything is so terse that I just never got invested.

Final Verdict: If you like complex family stories which center around women, this is a great film and probably worth it. I actually really loved the ending of the film which…is a big deal. I love the beginning too, it was just the middle part where I ran into some trouble. The movie deals in a lot of tropes which, while used in novel ways, still ended up bothering me and I ended up kind of lukewarm on the entire movie because of it. While I think this is a good film on its own, probably you should watch Volver instead because it’s the strongest of Almodóvar’s films by far. This film, like many films, is just not for me.

Logan Lucky (2017)

This has a rating that is way too high on Rotten Tomatoes and it bothers me. This is a good film but it’s not a GREAT film, it never achieves greatness, but that’s okay. Scrappy like its characters this film reads like a mash up of Snatch and The Darjeeling Limited and that’s kind of novel. It centers on the type of people who don’t usually get the spotlight in movies, on themes that don’t usually get used, and on locations that get ignored for other places and those are some of the movies best strengths. Honestly there is something downright American in this movie that while I can’t really personally identify with, feels pretty authentic which is hard to do in this cynical post-modern blah blah. Why isn’t this a great movie then? It takes a few too many side trips and has a few too many self-indulgences for me. The narrative comes together very nicely at the end but there’s still quite a lot of extra pieces left on the table that I don’t think added to the story and that bothers me. I found this movie amusing but I also checked my watch twice while watching it and that’s not a great look for a “fast paced” heist movie.

Final Verdict: I think most people will really enjoy this film and if you like slightly eccentric characters its either going to work really well for you or you will just be wondering when these people are going to get to the fun part of the story. Maybe I was in a bad mood that day or not in a place to appreciate this but it just did not work for me. By the time the story was wrapping up, I was ready to check the eff out. I also didn’t realize it was Soderbergh and thought it was just someone copping his style which – I don’t know what you want to read into that or not. I think if you like heist movies, if you liked anything Soderbergh made, you’ll like this. I didn’t NOT like it, I just wanted to love it and I can’t imagine ever coming back for a second helping.

Immortals (2011)

I don’t know why I keep letting Tarsem Singh hurt me like this. Tarsem Singh is a director who is at his best when he is crafting a vague story. He is at his peak when conjuring elements from nightmares and dreams and bringing them alive in his hands (or, well, in his camera lens). That being said, Immortals tries desperately to be a playground for that but fails. Amazingly. The first two minutes of this movie are more interesting visually than probably 95% of anything I have ever seen. This does not help the movie. If anything, this only serves to make this movie more confusing as the story and script are so awful they take the source material (in this case a Disney-level understanding of Greek mythology) and try to flatten it into 300. If I listed all of the problems with this film I would literally be here all day but despite a STELLAR cast this movie is a non-starter and is to be avoided unless drinking.

Final Verdict: This movie brings up the most important question in the world: what level of hot is Henry Cavill? I mean, sure he’s an attractive man but not so attractive that I would give up future sight for him. Probably? Maybe? You’ll have to answer that question for yourself. In all seriousness this movie is likely better on mute as it is a visual feast from filming to editing to the sheer level of thoughtful set and costume design put into it, it’s such a shame that everything else about it is terrible. Watch Gladiator and read a wiki article about Greek mythology instead.

Searching (2018)

This was easily the most novel film I’ve seen this decade. The thing is that I knew the gimmick going in and the whole movie, instead of focusing all that much on the actual story I kept thinking, “is this working?” which is kind of a double edged sword. On the whole, the story does unfold fairly naturally despite a handful of bumps but I don’t think it can be repeated. Like “found footage” movies this is basically a one-trick pony gimmick that only works given very specific conditions and if someone tried to do this again it’d be an uphill battle not to repeat the same beats. All told, I actually really enjoyed Searching and the story was emotional and captivating even if it sometimes took a backseat to wondering how they’d get from one “scene” to the next. I think in a standard format this movie would have seemed flat and so the extra dimension was really a great decision and I look forward to movies really stretching their legs more into integration with social tech.

Final Verdict: If you like thrillers or mysteries with a twist you’ll probably really enjoy Searching. Stellar performances from John Cho and Michelle La push this one to really high heights. You’ll have to suspend a little disbelief at times but nothing that really gets in the way of the story or itself. What keeps this movie from greatness is that lingers on things a little bit too long in some scenes and awkwardly adds tension to scenes which could be resolved much sooner both problem seem to stem from needing to pad out the brisk 100 minute run time but since the package as a whole is great I am willing to overlook that.

A Quiet Passion (2016)

I like to believe I might have thought this movie was great if I’d seen it in 2016. Unfortunately it’s 2019 and this is easily my least favorite movie out of this set of 10. I almost shut this movie off three times because I found it so frustrating. It tells the life of Emily Dickinson, who if you are unaware, led the world’s least interesting life. Not only did I find the script to be cloying but the way lines are delivered was particularly grating to me. Everyone fake smiles through the entire movie and I know it’s just me (the movie has perfectly good reviews and people loved it when it released and called it a “work of art”) but I couldn’t stand anything about this. I couldn’t stand the linear but disjointed scenes, the stuffy high society, the push and pull of class protocol, the weirdly empty feeling rooms and scenes, and least of all the voice over of Dickinson’s poems which are unrelated to the life she led or the scenes we see play out. I’m not sure if this all was supposed to spur me to think deep thoughts but it mostly made me want to slowly back out of the room and erase the memory of the whole work.

Final Verdict: Certainly a unique take on the bio-pic but without anything substantial to really see about Dickinson or her work it feels as disjointed and stunted as the scenes. I assume I would have been more open to this before seeing The Favourite (which isn’t fair, comparing a bio-pic to largely a work of fiction with some basis of fact is not a fair comparison). I think, in general, doing a movie that 1:1 follows a person life is always going to be something I don’t care for. I’d much rather watch Kill Your Darlings and then look up the real events than end up stuck watching Ray and have to suffer movies either uninterested in their subject or baffling and slavishly chained to it. Leave this stuff for documentaries so there’s less room for confusion about a subject’s motives if you’re going to give me a timeline of life events. Saying that, this movie received critical and audience acclaim so maybe I am just missing something.

Chaplin (1992)

I swear I did not mean to watch this and the Emily Dickinson movie back to back. That being said, Chaplin is an annoying paint by numbers bio-pic which follows Charlie Chaplin’s life from birth to death and it is on over long affair including about 20 minutes of Chaplin’s childhood which don’t really color the rest of the movie. Slap on top of that an imaginary character for old!Chaplin to tell his life story to and end credits which give us updates on the 200 people who appeared during his life and you have the perfect formula for a middling movie. Well acted, interestingly shot, and occasionally interjecting some nuance into Chaplin’s world this movie doesn’t want to make too strong a statement about any particular thing including letting Chaplin’s affinity for underage women pass with just one remark. It doesn’t do much better with his draining work ethic, his difficulty integrating into a changing society, his possible ties to communism, his outspoken attitude against fascism, or even his eventual deportation from the US. They’re all there, it’s true but they’re alongside the 500 other things that happened in his life so there’s just no time to focus on any of these in depth making the movie shallow and forgettable.

Final Verdict: Despite Downy’s uncanny likeness and the fun filming styles which mimic and play off the original Chaplin films, this film is flabby. Overlong, under served, and largely just recounting something you could probably read for yourself in Chaplin’s own memoir with more nuance it’s really unclear why anyone would have decided to make this movie. Skip this one and if you need to absolutely see a biopic today check out Milk instead. Otherwise skip directly to watch a Chaplin film, I particularly like City Lights.

High Rise (2015)

I’m going to save you two hours: read the original book and google “tom hiddleston naked high rise” – you’re welcome.

Director Ben Wheatley gives, at times, a feast for the eyes but the script and the story cannot keep up. There are a handful of scenes in this movie and one song which made the entire thing worth watching for me but there are an awful lot of allusions to the book without the movie actually explaining anything to the point that I don’t actually think the movie makes any sense UNLESS you’ve read the book. The movie is assuming you’ve come into this with some secret knowledge because every time I tried to explain the plot of the movie people would stop and ask me how I knew that. And the answer was always : It was in the book.

But this is not the book, in fact there are many key changes made to the movie which differ from the book but actually do not work at all. This seems to go along with the fact that I’ve read a few interviews that seem to indicate that this movie is an “updated” version of the book with future understanding of the events (despite taking place in 1970 still) or at least the events from the perspective of the aftermath but that only makes a very difficult and carefully balanced story turn devolve quickly into nonsense. In the book there is a slow build and once things start to change it feels like a natural progression and the only “reasonable” action. In the movie it’s literally over the course of 30 seconds that everything changes and without almost any preamble. The most pressing and obvious question isn’t addressed and leaves the film without a central theme and even muddier meaning. It’s not a book full of likeable characters and the movie doesn’t flinch away from that but it also doesn’t give us a reason to be interested in their going-ons. If you want to give it the benefit of the doubt, the movie is undermined by an abundance of subtly, but if you want my honest opinion, I think they didn’t really understand the source material.

Final Verdict: I couldn’t help but think about one of the first independent films I ever saw that made a big impression on me while watching this movie. I haven’t seen it since 2003 but the movie was called Waydowntown and I remember really loving it at the time. That movie also takes place in a singular building and has tensions slowly ratcheting up over the course of it. I’d suggest watching that instead as High Rise sags under its own weight and is possibly nonsense. I can’t un-read the book but considering every single vaguely positive review I found mentioned how much the author liked the book it left me suspicious about how much this story translated to the screen, if at all. If nothing else, I saw Hiddleston’s butt a lot.

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

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