Cinebites: #9

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.

Booksmart (2019)

Booksmart is the classic comedy movie where two nerds decide they’re going to attend at least one party before the end of the high school. The twist here is that it’s focused on two nerd girls. As a person who pretty much detests all the movies that even vaguely resemble this (Superbad is the “male” version of this movie if you wanna be crass, but I’m not a fan of their adult counterparts either like Bridesmaid and The Hangover), I actually found Booksmart to have a lot of charm to it. Some of the jokes land like thuds but it doesn’t dwell too long on any one thing so they’re mostly forgivable. It’s completely out of the realm of reality (including a doll-based sequence) and has what I would charitably call a Ferris Buller’s Day Off like slow down sequence that serves to both elevate the movie as much as much as it doesn’t seem necessary for the story. Not hitting any particular high notes but never hitting rock bottom its a large inoffensive (and in some ways sadly progressive) film.

Final Verdict: This movie was made by Millennials (for Millennials?) using Zoomers and there are so many “mistakes” in the film if its trying to market to Zoomers. There’s no reason the film couldn’t have just been set in 2008 with a few tweaks and wouldn’t have made more sense there. Booksmart seems like it would be aimed at 15 year olds but with an R rating and these weird off-base things it feels more like its for the nostalgic 20-25 year olds looking back at high school. That said, maybe it’s transcendent in some way that teens today would like. What I like about the film is the comradery between the two main characters, they’re goofy and unrealistic but the actors have great chemistry together and really sell their friendship. What I don’t like about this film is how outlandish it is though that’s part and parcel for the genre. This is a solid “yeah it’s alright” film.

Spiderman: Far From Home (2019)

In the follow up to the tightly themed and thoughtful Homecoming this is an absolute disappointment. Far From Home‘s sloppy script and odd character writing gets it into trouble more than once and its over reliance on CGI sequences to make the movie exciting (instead of raising stakes for the characters or giving characters real problems to challenge them) means that I came out the other side really disliking this movie. The movie seems like it’s investing in making sure that you know that Tony Stark is the cause of and solution to all of Peter Parker’s problems rather than having Peter have any of his own journeys or grow as a person. This movie hangs a lampshade on Avengers: Endgame which comes off pretty callous when the main character of this film just had to watch his mentor die – an emotional beat that is only touched on in the barest way possible. Sony has been a mixed bag for Spiderman and this lands in the middle of the pile. This has the finger prints of the MCU’s desire to move away from real emotions all over it.

Final Verdict: Jake Gyllenhaal is great in everything he touches. The best parts of the movie are him and Tom Holland just sitting around talking. The movie is actually almost worth those two scenes but sadly everyone else is let down by a really weak script and some jokey-jokes that don’t quite make sense for the plot or characters. This movie has been out for a while so you’ve seen it if you’re going to see it but like Thor and Thor: The Dark World, I think in the future this movie will become obsolete in the Marvel oeuvre when the (almost) inevitable next movie comes out and likely re-orients this corner of the universe.

Widows (2018)

What wasn’t this movie doing? This movie has about twelve plots all going at the same time which I suppose is why you see it being hailed as a “pulpy something-for-everyone crowd pleaser” but for me the sum of its parts added up to a big mess. The acting is easily the best part of the whole movie and is probably worth the admission price alone but sadly after coming out of this movie all I could was feel cold. I recounted the story to someone else and they starred at me and simply replied “if all that is in one movie, what is the movie about?” which is honestly the downfall of something like this. The movie isn’t really about anything because it can’t take more than two minutes to focus on any one character or story or idea. I personally didn’t find anything to write home about in the direction of the film either so I’ll leave this one in 2018.

Final Verdict: I have rarely left a film thinking about how many unnecessary scenes there are. Honestly there’s some unnecessary characters too since the first third of the movie focuses on themes and topics that don’t get a mention the rest of the run time. If you don’t mind a little ham-fist in your crime caper this isn’t going to bother you but if you’re looking for a movie with a cohesive story, or themes that focuses on the consequences of crime through the POV of women…well, despite the title, this movie is kind of a big miss.

The Vanishing (1988)

So sue me it took me about 15 years to finally get around to watching this after it was suggested to me. This film and Jacob’s Ladder are probably the fire starters for Silent Hill 2 (video game) and it’s probably impossible for me to divorce enjoying this film from knowing that fact. I think many people will find the film (especially in today’s media pattern of twist endings) “predictable” but the thing is the story is horrifying, tense, and strangely intriguing anyway. Today’s movies seem to rely on tricking the audience at the end of the film by delivering endings which make no sense instead The Vanishing ends pretty much exactly how I thought it would and it both so satisfying and so distressing that I thought about for a good two weeks afterwards.

Final Verdict: I really love the genre of psychological horror because of the way these types of movies get in your head. In a typical horror movie we could cover our eyes and shriek “don’t go in there” and when the camera moves inside it can resolve our fear. In this movie going in there or not going in there only resolves our understanding, it does nothing to abate the fear itself.

I’m trying not to give the movie away but if you wonder if you should watch this film or not, just know that the American remake changed the ending. That should give you an answer.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

I love gun foo but I’m starting to think this franchise was a mistake. Sliding into its third iteration John Wick is still, at heart, the same thing: a thin veneer of story with some wild stunt action, and gun work. The thing is that really isn’t enough for me and the veneer of story is starting to go on long enough that it is making some lore missteps / questionable character choices since none of this was plotted out. While John Wick 3 contains some really great action scenes the story is so bad that I spent a lot of movie groaning. I don’t actually know if or how they can solve these problems but hiring someone to do a real story treatment or possibly moving the story in a different direction would be good because now we’re in the same well three times and it’s run pretty dry…

Final Verdict: The first third of the movie contains fantastic cinematography, the best scene in the movie, and the only part of the story that makes sense so you could probably watch that and then fast forward through the rest of the movie but honestly it’s a popcorn flick. This is a fairly good “turn your brain off” movie but because I just can’t seem to successfully do that this movie out stayed its welcome for me. Also stop making John Wick take on 40 nameless goons at once, he’s John Wick not Serious Sam.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

This is a biographical film based on the memoir of a former biographer, Lee Israel. This movie is a ride and its such a wonderfully strange and enveloping tale. Most biographic pictures seek to tell us the full picture of an artist or a person from birth to death but Can You Ever Forgive Me drops us at the only part of the story we need to understand Lee and let’s Melissa McCarthy’s stellar acting and a subtle script guide us to fill in the blanks ourselves. As a movie that doesn’t exactly deal with the forgiveness its title might suggest, it instead doles out the small, unforgivable risks and mistakes we make out of need, sadness, and loneliness. The characters at the center of this storm are as unlikable as they are relatable as they are a prism between people we know and people we hope we aren’t like.

Final Verdict: I weirdly adored this movie. On paper this kind of reads like Oscar bait for McCarthy but in practice this story is so much more nuanced and realistic than anything that the Academy can openly like (it was nominated but won none of its three categories). I love how this movie deals with redemption and friendship and not just loneliness, but the types of isolation that loneliness can breed. I really loved the quiet contemplative camera which never seems to intrude on the story but sits just outside as if calmly explaining the story to us. The irony naturally inherent in this movie is another delicious layer to it but you’ll have to watch to film to fully experience that as well (which I recommend you do!).

Hercules (1983)

Probably piggy backing off the success of Conan the Barbarian, Hercules is a 1983 film that looks like it was filmed in 1963. This movie is bafflingly bad and replete with dialogue that will make you roll on the floor laughing from nearly the first line to the last. I can’t actually review this film in any meaningful way. If you wanted Hercules to vaguely be Flash Gordon, this film is going to be the right one for you. There are certainly worse movies out there in the world, at least one this one you probably don’t have to bother to take a critical lens to.

Final Verdict: Watch this movie either with a handful of people who love to hate things OR while drunk OR both. This movie cannot be taken seriously but it can be enjoyed. It might make you crack out into a smile against your will which is honestly not the worst thing that will ever happened. This movie has none of the seriousness the recent Hercules movie heaps on itself which is a blessing because there is nothing serious about this.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

I don’t know if this movie should have been so long because its tension is always at peak and it’s hard to hold your breath for two hours. The story that spawned this movie is almost even weirder than the way its portrayed in the movie. It’s unfortunate that the movie was made in the 70’s and doesn’t quite take time to explore the characters (and instead deals mostly in tropes) but that’s probably the only real downside. This film is easily one of Pacino’s best and the energy his character displays is so raw and lifelike while also being wild and manic. Pacino perfectly capture the feeling of being an animal who is trapped not just in his current situation, but also by society. Touching on the tensions of a post-Stonewall New York, where class, sexuality, and the establishment all bump heads are what make this such a wonderful slice of its time. While you could easily rework this to be a modern story, one wonders if something wouldn’t be lost taking it out of its time period.

Final Verdict: I actually really liked this and the filming is top notch. Coupled with Al Pacino’s completely unforgettable performance it is pretty odd I had never heard of this film until a few months ago. This is worth a watch if you’re into human drama and suspense though I can imagine the average person being more than a little bored when the film drags a little towards the middle. All in all this is a great film that is worth going back to see.

Dave Made a Maze (2017)

I didn’t walk into this film with any expectations and I was still pretty disappointed. The writing on this film is all over the place, the acting is a pretty mixed bag also (aside from the leads who are doing a decent job with weak material) and this movie never really comes together in its concerns about creativity and depression. Many more works have spilled much better ink to get down into the bottom of that idea but Dave Made a Maze has one cool idea and it absolutely nails it. You see, the maze that Dave made is cardboard, magical, and fills up the entire set. Characters enter the maze and go on a mission through dozens of intricately crafted sets of cardboard madness. Other than that conceit the film does a middling job of being a movie and wears out its welcome pretty quickly but its worth fast forwarding through just to appreciate the sets and “costumes” in general.

Final Verdict: This film absolutely sags under the weight of a misfiring premise and a piss poor script. It’s entire value (and probably budget) is sunk into the visual effects and while they’re genuinely mind blowing at times I found myself mentally checking out of this brisk little jaunt of a film several times. The visuals suggest a low budget Eternal Sunshine but sadly this quirky indie doesn’t have the characters or emotional weight to back it up and will live on only as a largely forgotten novelty.

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Maybe don’t try to watch this movie while you eat dinner. A shockingly charming movie that is equal parts strange and heart-felt. This movie is so much more than I thought it would be. Starring two top notch actors who play off each other really it’s probably one of my favorite surprises of 2019. I thought this would just be a kitschy, gimmick-filled comedy but at the end the themes all came together and I was left was a surprisingly interesting meditation of the human experience. The movie can drag at times if you’re not totally invested but other than a few uncomfortable moments, the film felt strangely real as all good surrealism should.

Final Verdict: Loving, lonely, and sometimes gross too if you can deal with farts, body humor, farts, and also more gross body things you should absolutely go back and watch this movie that seems to have gotten swept away among loftier movies out of A24. An odyssey and personal exploration that slowly lifts back layers to reveal the truth that the human experience is kind of a mess. Two thumbs up.

That’s all for this time! Since I’m basically all caught up on my watch list now I am both accepting suggestions for movies I might like and also I might make the next Cinebites entry with only 5 movies so that there isn’t such a long lag between entries but we’ll see.

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