Cinebites: #8

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.

The Old Man and the Gun (2018)

This movie is as much the story of an old man who is a robber as it is an exclamation mark on the sentence that is Robert Redford’s career. This movie is about an escape artist and criminal who is now over 70 but still dedicated to the con and his craft as much as ever. He becomes entangled with a woman while he pulls off a new string of heists which endear the public to him. It’s just as charming as it sounds and Redford certainly wooed me over. This movie focuses on some of the interaction between the media image of the criminal and the police reaction to being outwitted by “old people” – both things being really delightful. There aren’t many scripts which center on people who are older than 40 or 50 in film (narratives containing older adults tend to be passing of the torch style stories) so it’s really refreshing to see a film that explores this topic, even just a little.

Final Verdict: This movie is based on a true story but loosely enough that the pace and tone are great (unlike real life) save for one sequence that I hate. I can forgive the movie for that because the rest of it is fantastic. If you’ve ever felt anxious about growing up / growing old this movie, like the TV show Golden Girls, reminds us that aging happens but the idea that old people are already “dead” in some way is a social construct. Redford is joined by a posse of other old folks who are robbers who are honestly all show stealers themselves and Sissy Spacek practically shines like a beacon of light opposite Redford. This movie probably isn’t going to change your life but it certainly changed my mind.

Destroyer (2018)

If you want to watch an actress evaporate into a role, you won’t be left wanting in Destroyer. It’s really amusing that if no one had told me this was Nicole Kidman, I literally never would have guessed it. Even more amusing, actress of many faces, Tatiana Maslany shows up about halfway through the film as well. The problem is really that this is a bad vehicle for them. It’s a car without a roof or tires or an engine. The movie never really gets going. I guessed the end of the film within ten minutes and then the rest of the ride was slow, strange, and the narrative structure was uneven. The movie weaves in and out of time but in such jagged ways that we never get a real set up – payoff structure. We have too much information too soon, the characters should have known things all along, and at the end we’re confronted with information we were told thirty minute prior like it’s all brand new. For an action movie this is somewhat forgivable if the action is good, but this is mainly a thriller and it breaks all narrative tension so often that I assumed it would invest in a better B-plot but instead we’re treated to long dreamlike sequences that are certainly interesting to look at, but paper thin despite everyone trying very hard.

Final Verdict: I suppose this movie wants to be a French 1970s crime thriller but I’m actually very unsure what the movie wanted me to feel, if anything at all. Part of the problem with the movie is that we’re never given a baseline so the movie is just a lot of noise. It’s too much when we’re already up to our necks in too much. I think we’re supposed to enjoy the tone and the feeling of the movie but since the narrative is bogged down in own weight, I didn’t really find myself enjoying anything but mindlessly cataloguing unimportant things. I think Searching is much better if you’re looking for a modern thriller that wants to play with structure, but check out The Prestige if you’re looking for style AND substance with multiple layers of plot and good acting.

The Master (2012)

I found myself kind of drifting into the narrative of this one. PT Anderson’s musing on not really but kind of Scientology take a front seat to some really wild character studies and some musings on love, loss, damage, and truth. The movie boasts really interesting cinematography shot on “old timey” cameras which was, in the end, the most interesting part for me. Easily my favorite thing in the entire movie was the fairly early in the movie set piece of the department store. The sets on this production are a wonder but I feel like the film is a little wasted on me because it’s so connected to cult and cult of personality, topics that I find generally disinteresting as a topic.

Final Verdict: A little overlong like every other one of his films but certainly on the better end of things. If you love strong themes, amazing acting, pitch perfect shots, and cults this is the movie for you. There are minute things to point out in this piece that ended up taking it down a bit but otherwise it’s just a good piece of cinema that doesn’t suit my personal taste.

The Fountain (2006)

At the 20 minute mark of this movie I had to pause because I was crying so hard I could no longer see the screen. So, that’s your warning. This is a movie that will, maybe, make you feel things. And if you’re a soft marshmallow like me you may actually cry through the entire film. This is probably the most transparent completely incomprehensible movie of our time. It can be read in a variety of ways but since it takes quite a lot of care in its repeating (that is all forms of repeating a movie could possibly have: images, lines, matched shots, effects, events, and even characters) it’s hard to miss what the movie is going for and yet, somehow, this movie eludes some people to a degree which makes them genuinely dislike it. It’s a film that’s much better experienced than dissected (though one can easily do either) but if you are expecting a tight narrative with snappy dialogue and fantastic action…well, this will not be for you.

Final Verdict: If you like to feel a feeling, you may like The Fountain. I didn’t actually particularly care for this movie. It is both a movie that is better than average (ideas, themes, concepts, visual, score) but also worse than average (acting, script, pacing). The movie is very uneven and has some moments of tension which do not resolve, it probably could have used a tighter edit and some re-shoots for certain scenes but it’s not bad and what it is trying to do is probably more important than what it doesn’t do. I liked this movie and think it about it much more that I thought I would so there is some unnamed quality to it, which I think might be true of most of Aronofsky’s films.

Roma (2018)

I cried during this movie too. Cuarón knows exactly how to set up a shot. He sets up a shot, he draws us through all the emotions, all the feelings, all the pieces of it and then he does that for another two hours. There is a scene in this movie where everyone is at a party and I have never been to a party just like that and yet, I felt it instantly as if I were there. As if I had always and only attended that party. Every scene feels more like I’m being drafted back into the past, brought carefully to the edges of someone else’s life and left as a spectator and that’s something very special in a movie.

Final Verdict: All that being said, I actually do not like the story in this movie all that much. The acting and music and images all line up to tell a story but I kind of felt quite cold to the whole experience once it was over. The story was narrow enough that I actually find myself just resolving my feelings on everything in it and kind of quietly forgetting the movie within a week which felt odd since it had many touching scenes and felt like a personal story. There is no denying the masterpiece of this and I would recommend anyone with a Netflix account take the time to sit down and watch it because it’s a fantastic piece of film but I’m not sure if this one will last the test of time.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

In 2007 I saw No Country For Old Men instead of this. I feel exceptionally justified in this now that I have seen both. I think Mr. Anderson and I have fundamentally different taste. This was the last film of his I hadn’t seen and while I’ve liked all of his films, I never love them. This film has basically the perfect opening 20 minutes and then, immediately starts to lose points in my book. The cinematography in this is breath taking, the acting is amazing, the perfect juxtaposition between characters leads to all the right beats but I do not like the subject matter and the movie doesn’t really work to make me like anything so I started emotionally checking out a little too early. This is often cited as one of the best films on the 21st century so far and it absolutely deserves that title for a variety of reason and one of them is that the arguments and themes of this movie set a decade ago mirror the ones going on right now (plus, you know, all the other amazing attributes of this film) and really, I just find that hard to enjoy on some level.

Final Verdict: If you missed this movie and you’re a movie person you were likely avoiding it because of the subject matter and you should absolutely watch it. It is (like all PT Anderson films) about 20 minutes too long but it can be forgiven as honestly, it is very well shot.

Detective Pikachu (2019)

That’s gonna be a “no” from me dawg. As one of the best reviews I’ve ever seen of this movie states, the best parts of the movie are just seeing the Pokemon themselves on the screen. In any scene where there are no Pokemon, it is not good. While the movie contains many wonderful CG moments and tries hard to make a semi-coherent narrative of 20+ years of video games it can’t get it together and it plays fast and loose with stereotypes, genre confusion, and incoherent direction. This movie had no idea what it wanted to be and that’s obvious in the narrative of course but it’s even more apparent in the acting. Many of the talented cast flip between emotions like they’re playing russian roulette on a rollercoaster. This movie also didn’t seem childish enough to be fodder for the countless rewatch hours of children but nowhere near mature enough for adults to dig into either. I’m honestly unsure what age would be the right age for a movie like this?

Final Verdict: This is perfectly fine to park yourself in front of and zone out for 90 minutes. Some scenes made me happy just because I like Pokemon as a vague thing. If you’re not attached to Pokemon, the franchise, absolutely pass. All in all though because the story left me cold and frankly, at many points, annoyed, I’d rather just watch a long play of Pokemon Snap. Because if we’re very honest with ourselves that’s exactly what the movie is anyway.

First Reformed (2017)

Out of all the movies on this list, I have been recommended this one the most. There is something to be said about this movie and I’m not sure I am the person to say it. This is a bleak movie about bleak things presented in bleak terms. It is very moving and very sad and also, deeply confusing to me as a person who has some trouble grappling with other peoples faith. The movie actually gets to the heart of some the arguments I wish I could be making and having with people of faith on a variety of topics (there is only really one topic confronted by the movie but it also reflects real world themes that stretch beyond it). This is a really interesting piece that looks at faith as a personal guide coming to odds with faith as we have to practice it in a world built of systems we do not control and honestly, I can’t think of any film that does that with any of the grace this does.

Final Verdict: If only I could cut some of the “B-plot” out of this piece I would give it a much more enthusiastic recommendation. Unfortunately there’s a secondary plot that made me enjoy the movie about 20% less. I’d still recommend this to people, it’s an extremely meticulous piece of film that has really thoughtful themes and intersections with the real world, but at the same time it is not the best movie of the year and I’m unsure why people thought I was uniquely suited to enjoy this?

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

It’s a bottle episode! I wanted to love this so much but by the time we hit the second act I knew it was all going to be for naught. The story is fine, the characters are fine, the visuals are too dead on to be actually interesting. This is a film that doesn’t understand why music is effective in a film at all. It throws dozens of songs at you, each one more on the nose than the last leading to quickly diminishing effects (which is a metaphor for this entire movie). The films best and most thought out scene is one of the shortest while the film contains several flashback scenes which do not, in any particular way, contribute to the narrative OR the characters. In the end I found this a mostly pleasant film while watching it but the problems started adding up extremely quickly when I thought it for a few extra minutes making it slowly sour over time. I almost wished I’d just heard other people tell me about the film instead.

Also this has one of the sloppiest resolutions of a film I’ve seen in a while and considering we spend nearly two hours on the way there, it feels downright telegraphed to the point of regression. (Just like the visuals which at first make you excited with their telegraphing but eventually dissolve into the visual equivalent of putting an arrow over things you should be paying attention to which is detracting at best.)

Final Verdict: I would skip this movie. Transparent themes, plot contrivances, extremely on the nose visuals, overlong scenes which do not service anything, and a few dropped plots lines make this movie mediocre enough that any particular merit it had gets wasted away for me. It’s not a bad movie, it’s an okay movie. It’s a “don’t spend YOUR money” movie. With so many wonderful things in this world I don’t see why this would really be worth two hours of your time when you can google “Chris Hemsworth dancing” and get a similar effect.

True Grit (2010)

I know I don’t like Westerns generally but I like most of the Coen brothers films, I assumed this one would at least do something for me. There’s a part of me that absolutely wanted to like this film and another part of me that almost turned it off twice. It’s your usual “track down a bandit and bring him to justice” premise and it plays this completely straight. No deconstructionist themes, no narrative contrivances, a few silly characters but these aren’t Wes Anderson characters, they’re humans who act human. The story is good, the action is good, the characters are interesting, its shot fairly well, and I hated this movie. I want to chalk it up to being some type of Western hater but really it was the fact that it felt unnecessary. The movie didn’t really DO anything for me. It passed time. I haven’t spent more than five minutes thinking of this movie since it ended which is a black mark in my book.

Final Verdict: I can’t even be mad, this movie is probably better shot, composed, acted, and structured than most movies that came out this year but it just felt hollow. It’s probably no surprise that after True Grit the Coen’s took a meandering three years to make Inside Llewyn Davis which is the absolute polar opposite of this film. This movie is the least well shot of the Coen’s oeuvre, its action and aesthetic are fine but not novel, everything in this movie is a solid passing grade but it never gets over the hurdle because it doesn’t have much to say. Honestly go back and watch No Country for Old Men instead. Also this is going to sound absolutely wild but something about this film made me think of City Slickers SO MUCH and I cannot get the association out of my head.

See you again soon (hopefully in 4-6 weeks) when I have more movies that I feel like telling you about.

**Sorry there was such a long time between these but I watched about 6-7 other movies and I just didn’t feel compelled to review them. So, I hear you ask, does that mean I have standards? Not really.

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