Sunday, June 28, 2015

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Cake - I really, really, really want Jennifer Aniston to give up on the movie star thing. Someone please give her another great television role! I appreciate that she tried to do something challenging, but when actresses "challenge" themselves by portraying "normal" people, it's a little demeaning (and narcissistic). Plus, it's even more annoying that even with no makeup, dirty hair, and scar across her face, she still manages to attract super hot guys (it's not like she has a winning personality, either. She is a miserable shrew of a person). The story is a little interesting, but I think it will be frustrating for people who suffer from chronic pain. They sort of take the "it's all in your head" route; which, in this case, it may be. She is suffering a much greater loss; using her physical pain as a way to punish herself, is a coping mechanism. That's all fine and dandy, and a story that will hit many people close to their heart. However, as someone who suffers from endless back pain (hit by a car when I was 10; fell off of an 8 ft ladder when I was 20), I can certainly attest that it's not "in my head". And to think that there are people who suffer from chronic pain, and don't even know why! That must be an even more frustrating experience. The other difference is that she is wealthy. They say that money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a maid to clean up after you, a beautiful pool that you can relax in, and, let's face it, better medical care (the only medical care I receive is a doctor prescribing me Oxycodone, even when I tell them that I don't want it). She has so much more than any "normal" person will ever have. I can feel sympathy for her - no-one should have to experience such a loss, but I certainly can't empathize with her. Wait...did I mix those up? I always forget sympathy vs empathy. Oh well, you know what I'm trying to say (all 10 of you). Also, Sam Worthington! Remember him, you guys?! I had so much hope for him, but he is just sooo boring.

2. Men, Women & Children - Oh Jason Reitman, what is happening??! This is his second inexcusably awful movie in a row (and I wasn't really a huge fan of Young Adult, either). I should clarify that this isn't nearly as bad as Labor Day, but it's still really disappointing. First, I hate when a movie has a voice-over to tell the audience what a character is feeling. That's like poor screenwriting 101 (coming from someone who just wrote "like" in a sentence). Second, I adore Jennifer Garner. It's really hard to take her seriously in this role, though, because her character is so utterly ridiculous. Third, I don't like the girl who plays Hannah. She was terrible in Rescue Me and Terri, and now this. Fourth, teens don't talk like this. Seriously. teens talk like this? Someone please tell me that teens don't talk like this! Fifth, OH MY GOD...teens don't remember 9/11. Thanks for making me feel old. Okay, those are all the reasons I didn't like it, but there is some good stuff. There is a nice debate about social media, and how much is too much for children to participate in it. There is a debate about over-protecting your children versus letting them experience life and learn from their mistakes. There is a depressing depiction of relationships and marriage, which still begs the question - why on Earth do people do that to themselves? I just wish these debates and depictions weren't so heavy-handed and extreme. It makes it hard to relate to, which seems like the opposite of its intent.

3. Chappie - Speaking of, this movie should win a medal for it. A lot of people/critics had harsh words for this movie, but I assumed that expectations were just too high for Blomkamp, and that Chappie could be nowhere as terrible as everyone made it seem. I was wrong. It's really terrible. That doesn't mean that I've lost hope in Blomkamp - I still see great things in his future. However, this movie will be a stain on his filmography. The best way to describe this movie is if you take the scene from Short Circuit 2, in which Number 5 hangs out with the Los Locos gang and then returns knowing gang chants, and made it into a 2 hour movie. It's cheesy, racist, and unoriginal. It's about several terrible people, doing really terrible things; there is literally no-one to root for, except maybe Dev Patel's character (that's a stretch, though). Plus, it's really stupid. Chappie can search the internet and learn anything instantly (humans can do that too, you know), yet he believes that stabbing someone just puts them to sleep. Um....ok. I'm done with you, Chappie.

4. Focus - If the two leads weren't Margot Robbie and Will Smith, this would have been painfully bad. The charisma of the leads save it from the disaster of a script. I honestly couldn't even explain the plot of the last 30 minutes of the movie (the race car con part). The twists and turns became hard to follow (or maybe just too boring to follow?). There is a great, tension-filled scene that involves betting at the Superbowl, but it drags on for what seems like an hour. Other than that, I have nothing else of interest to note, so I will just stress, again, how perfect Margot Robbie is. She is just mesmerizing; I couldn't take my eyes off of her. I can't wait for her to star in a movie in which her love interest isn't 20 years older than her (or maybe she doesn't even have a love interest! Okay, calm down, Michelle. One step at a time).

5. Miss Julie - I've read this play dozens of times (Drama Studies major), and it is, to put it politely, not one of my favorites. While we can credit Strindberg (among others) for the naturalist movement in theater, a movement that focuses on character development over plot, I find his work extremely dull. Ironically, I enjoy present day stories that focus on character over plot, so I obviously appreciate his innovation, but I can still hate his work. Of course, his unwavering and outspoken stance against feminism *could* be muddling my judgement, but whatever. The play is largely about class warfare (and of course, catty women treating each other like shit), with heavy dialogue (and what we now refer to as "slut-shaming"), with limited production value and set design. The only reason I would sit through this story again, is for Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell. While Colin isn't at his best here (perhaps the misogynistic dialogue was too much for him to stomach), Chastain is a freakin' queen. *That* scene is breathtakingly beautiful and she nails it beyond perfection. Probably the only reason to watch this movie.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. The Gambler - I usually take a few notes while I watch movies at home, so that I remember things that I want to say. The notes that I jotted down for this movie are as follows: "Blackjack is boring" "Mark Wahlberg looks old" & "When will it end?". That pretty much sums up the entire movie. I am a big fan of casino gambling (I've paid many months of rent that way), but Blackjack is my least favorite card game. I hate that you have to follow the rules, otherwise people at the table get pissed off, and I hate that you only win double your money, so you either have to sit there for hours to make anything or you have to bet big bucks. I like poker. It gives me more of a rush and if you hit the big hands its odds are 30 to 40 times your bet (I hit big hands quite a lot - lucky in cards, unlucky in love, as they say). I'm also a bit psychic when it comes to cards (you don't have to believe me, I certainly wouldn't), but I *know* when I'm going to hit a big hand and when I'm not, so it's easier for me to walk away. Once I was sitting at a table and two guys sat down and they said how they've never seen anyone get a straight flush, so I said "oh, I'm going to get one in a few hands, so just stay here for a few minutes". Three hands later, straight flush. THEN, I said to the dealer. "Deal me these same cards again", and the very next hand I got the same exact straight flush. I'm pretty sure everyone thought I was a witch - they sent the big bosses down to check the table and count all the decks. The only way I could explain it is that I *knew* it was going to happen. The only time I get caught up in the game and end up losing is when I'm with other people who want to keep playing, because if I'm sitting there, I'm going to keep throwing money down, even if I know I'm not going to win. Anyway, this rant is far more interesting than the movie. I promise.

2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - What a beautiful movie. I've had a few people recommend this to me, but I've been so disappointed with movies lately, that I really didn't trust that I would like it. I loved it. It's just so gorgeous and strange and wonderful. It's a bit like Under the Skin, with a female predator hunting unwitting men (Under the Skin still remains my favorite movie from last year). The music is this hybrid mix of a classic Western film soundtrack, new wave techno and Iranian rock, and it's glorious. I've always been a big fan of vampire tales, but it's hard to keep something like that fresh and new, so I really appreciate the way this story is told. It's frightening, but it's quiet and moody instead of jump scares. The last scene is so perfect that it will go down as one of my favorite scenes in the history of movies, ever. Of course, it features a cat, so I'm a bit biased, but I could stare at that image all day. I wish it was an official poster image, because I would totally buy that.

3. Unbroken - This story is such an unbelievable, true story of survival; the perfect story to be adapted into an epic movie. Angelina Jolie did a respectable job with In the Land of Blood and Honey, so I was rooting for her on this one. Unfortunately, I found the movie quite dull. It focuses on events over people and that is a big mistake. You know you failed as a filmmaker, if the end credits that conclude the story, are stronger than the entire movie before it. Seriously, I bawled like a baby at the image of him running with the Olympic 80 years old. In the final seconds of the movie, the audience is suddenly made aware that it's a story of forgiveness, when that's what the entire focus of the movie should have been on. Even the poster quotes "Survival, Resilience, Redemption", when it should really be "Survival, Resilience, Forgiveness"(what exactly is he seeking redemption from?). Anyway, while watching this movie, I thought a lot about my grandfather because I always found his WWII history completely unbelievable, and it was something he never talked about, so everything I heard was hearsay. The only concrete information that I know about him is that he was born in Germany, but adopted by a Jewish American family when he was a child, he married a Jewish woman, was in the Marines, and he had numbers tattooed on his forearm. When I was really little, I asked him about these numbers and he said it was "because I love your grandmother" (you can imagine my horror, when I learned what the numbers actually were). My grandfather was a quiet man, who woke up early every morning, socialized for an hour with his coffee club, then watched old Western movies for the entire day and then went to sleep (Pretty much my role model in life). I thought he suffered from PTSD because of being held in a concentration camp, but then to my surprise, I found out he suffered from PTSD for a completely other reason. Apparently, he was stationed in Pearl Harbor, but was away the week of the attacks and all of his friends were killed. I found this out after watching Pearl Harbor with my grandmother in the theater because she cried through the whole thing. I questioned it and she explained that my grandfather changed forever because of that day. "But he was held in a concentration camp?!" I exclaimed. "Oh, that didn't really bother him that much.", she responded. UM WHAT?! How crazy is that? Well, I am on an epic sidetrack now, but my point is that WWII soldiers have some crazy, unbelievable stories. The one from Unbroken is rightfully fascinating, but Jolie didn't give the material the emotion that it needed. Also, I LOVE Jack O'Connell. I heard his name over, and over again about being the "next big thing" and I didn't even realize that this was Cook from Skins!! Mind = blown.

4. St. Vincent - I honestly did not expect this movie to be good, at all. I love when a movie surprises me and surpasses my expectations. I really liked it. It won't make my top 10 of last year, but it just might make my top 20. The reason I didn't think much of this movie, is because it's a theme that's been done before - bullied kid bonds with an eccentric adult, blah, blah, blah. Plus, Bill Murray kind of makes me sad now. His curmudgeon shtick is overdone and deeeeepressing. However, there are some moments of lightness and kindness that really help develop this character into a complicated, realistic and lovable person. I'm surprised that he was overlooked during awards season, because it's one of his best performances. Naomi Watts delivers an awesome performance as well, as a pregnant, Russian, stripper. I don't like Melissa McCarthy in serious roles; I'm not convinced she's a great actress (but I do think she can be funny). She does a decent job here, but is the weak link of the movie. I really wasn't expecting to connect with this movie, but I connected to it several times - the kid being raised by a single mom, his wife suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, the end revelation about him being a war hero - it all just hit me really hard and I even shed a few tears.

5. Paddington - Super cute movie, but all of the rave reviews are a little bit ridiculous. It's a good kids movie that adults can enjoy, but it's not like I would ever watch it again. I don't really know much about Paddington Bear, it's not something I enjoyed as a kid. I do remember the Friends episode where they dress Ben in the Paddington rain coat and hat to cover his bump ("Monica bang"), but that's the extent of my knowledge. I did enjoy when the first promo images were released and they (the internet) tampered with it to make it look like this: . I almost died laughing. Luckily, he's so much cuter in motion than in the production stills. Nicole Kidman is the perfect "bad guy", and even though the whole thing was super predictable, I enjoyed watching her revel in her role. Again, I had fun watching this movie, but that's all there really is to say about it. On a related note, Chloe (my cat), sat and watched the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

3 Thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron

*contains spoilers*
1. Pandering to the audience - To put it bluntly, I didn't like this movie. I didn't necessarily hate it, but I found the whole thing to be a gigantic mess of a movie. The plot is uneven and overwhelming. The dialogue is so focused on snappy one-liners that I felt like the characters were just talking at each other instead of having a conversation. I laughed once. ONCE. In a 2 hour and 20 minute movie filled with dialogue that was definitely supposed to be funny. But, the thing that really bothered me was that it felt like it was a reflection of every complaint that "fans" have made since the first one. The biggest, most in-your-face, annoyance is the "human life as collateral damage" argument. As opposed to another big superhero (ahem), the Avengers painstakingly save EVERY SINGLE HUMAN LIFE and they need to show you EVERY SINGLE SECOND of it. Um...that's great guys (and gal), good for you, now get the fuck on with the plot. Also, are we supposed to actually believe that everyone survived all of that destruction in the third act? Like, really? To imply that saving one life is more important than saving thousands just sounds a bit ridiculous to me. Another critique of superhero movies is that the hero always saves the day and that the main characters always live (and even some supporting characters, as well....*ahem* Coulson), so it's all a bit predictable, really. The months leading up to the release, several movie websites hinted at a big "death" in this sequel. I have to say that they did a great job at keeping who it was under-wraps. I thought for sure it was Hawkeye. Even after release, people vaguely hinted at his demise. The whole movie is set up that way. First, they made him important (he was pretty non-existent in the first one, even though he was my favorite). Second, they gave him a family. Third, he risks his life to save a little boy and BAM! SHOTS FIRED! And then, WHAT?! All of that build-up and he doesn't fucking die?!. It's not like I wanted him to die, or anything, but still...don't pretend like you're going to kill of a main character, to show how high the stakes are, only to kill off the guy that nobody cares about.

2. My preconceived notions - There are certain aspects of the movie that I thought I was going to be aggravated by, but to my surprise, those are not the worst parts of the movie. The first is Black Widow and her storyline. It's not a secret that I rarely like Scarlett Johansson's acting. I certainly didn't like it in the first Avengers, and I thought Black Widow was the weak link of that film. I read that Black Widow was going to be featured more, and that she would have a romantic relationship with Hulk, and it literally made my stomach groan. In the first movie, their scene together was horribly written. It felt like a PSA on domestic abuse. When all of the complaints of anti-feminism and Joss Whedon's apparent misogyny started to trend online, I assumed that this whole "don't make him angry"/ "It's not his fault if he hurts you" domestic abuse justification garbage would continue (and that's why people got mad). I never read any of the articles because I didn't want spoilers to be revealed, but I was skeptical (because Whedon is definitely not a misogynist). After watching the movie, all I have to say is "what the fuck?". Why are people upset? I kinda like her now, and I actually really like how they handled the "relationship". Sure, there are some red flags - she's inevitably the "damsel in distress", and she compares the fact that she can't conceive children to that of a literal monster (um...not okay). However, I think they did a great job at showing that one can be feminine and still be a strong, powerful figure. It's often seen as a weakness among female action characters to show emotion, compassion, and warmth. In other words, traits that have feminine connotations are supposedly "anti-feminist" - in order to have a strong female character, they have to act like men. And really, that's where the problem lies. I could go on and on about this subject, but I'll just say that I think it's refreshing to have a strong female character who isn't cold and dead inside (and this is coming from someone who is often referred to as "cold and dead inside" and I usually appreciate female characters that aren't feminine like Maya from Zero Dark Thirty.). I don't really think the whole relationship part is necessary to this kind of movie (and it was cheesy as Hell), but  there wasn't anything misogynistic about it, aside from a throw away line about Black Widow dating a lot. It's called a JOKE. The second assumption I had about the movie was that Aaron Johnson was going to ruin the whole goddamn thing. He's such a terrible actor. Luckily, I found him to be inconsequential to the movie. He doesn't really leave a good or bad impression, even though he plays a pretty important role. I am a little confused by his character, though. Not knowing anything about comics, puts me at an obvious disadvantage. In the X-Men universe, it's implied that Quicksilver is Magneto's son and he's American. So, why in this is he an Eastern European, orphaned, twin? It's not like that's a minor difference. It doesn't make a bit of sense.

3. The future - So, what's next? In the end, we are left with a bunch of new, not so interesting Avengers that I am terribly bored with already. I didn't really agree with the whole "superhero fatigue" that people are complaining about, but this movie was just exhausting. I actually have no interest in watching any of these characters anymore. Yet, the release date for superhero movies is relentless for the next few years. I felt like the whole point of this movie was to set up Captain America: Civil War, instead of focusing on its own point. So, if Civil War is going to focus on the Avengers fighting each other, does that mean that the next Avengers movie is going to be focused on the new Avengers? Because, no thanks. Scarlet Witch is ok, but only because Elizabeth Olsen is awesome. Ditto for Falcon. The characters, though, feel second-rate.