Friday, June 30, 2017

Best Films of 2016 ***Updated***

Here is my updated Best of 2016 list. I don't think my updated list has ever changed *this* much in the span of 6 months - a total of 7 new movies added (and therefore 7 movies dropped - but that doesn't mean I love them any less!).

1. Train to Busan
2. La La Land 
3. 10 Cloverfield Lane
4. Captain Fantastic
5. Arrival
6. Manchester by the Sea
7. Nocturnal Animals
8. The Handmaiden
9. Hacksaw Ridge
10. Deadpool 

Unfortunately, I was still not able to see everything I wanted to see before updating my list - I still need to see Hidden Figures, Loving, and The Edge of 17, but I think this is a pretty solid list representing the best of last year!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Kill Your Friends - This is a terrible movie. Just terrible. The best way to describe it is as a wannabe American Psycho mixed with Filth, except with awful acting and a really dumb plot. There is a scene in which the main character violently kills someone accompanied by the song "Smack My Bitch Up". That's how obvious and cliche this movie is. It's about A&R execs at a major record company in the late 90s (which is relevant because that's when record companies were relevant), and they are all very evil people. I interned at 2 major record companies about 5 years after this movie takes place, and I can say from personal experience that people working in the music industry (even on the corporate side) are not this menacing at all - especially in the A&R department. These people tend to LOVE music, and have a passion for discovering talent. Yes, they also party a lot (it's part of the job), but the way this movie represents this whole process is very disturbing. I realize that it's not supposed to be realistic and that it's "just a movie", but I can't help but call bullshit. The audience is obviously not supposed to like the main character - he says things like "I have zero interest in her sexually, so she doesn't exist" about a female co-worker and, oh yeah, murders people. But you're not supposed to like the main characters from American Psycho or Filth, and yet through the writing and acting, I was able to still enjoy watching these terrible, evil people. With this film, I cringed every time Nicholas Hoult spoke and I just wanted to whole thing to end as quickly as possible. Plus, it has James Corden in it, so...I mean, that says it all really.

2. The Infiltrator - Nothing memorable or special, but a solid 3 star movie. Great performances by Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, and a stand-out performance from Diane Kruger. Perhaps my opinion of this movie is marred by the existence of the Netflix show Narcos because it's basically the same story but not done nearly as well - although it's actually 2 different true stories told during the same time period. This is interesting to think about, because there were so many different operations going on to take down Escobar, and many of them ended up impeding each other. Too many cooks in the kitchen, as they say. Anyway, this movie had several editing issues, and a ton of plot discrepancies, but the biggest issue I have with it is the nagging, bitchy, jealous wife character. It's never a good sign when you root for an innocent character to be murdered by a drug lord. I guess there really is nothing left to say, except, maybe watch Narcos? I was dragged into a Narcos binge for days and it is totally worth it. I can't wait to see where the story goes after the last finale, because it changes the whole course of the show (which is genius).

3. 20th Century Women - Hmmmm....I heard very good things about this movie, so expectations were quite high. I didn't love it, though. In fact, it was exactly what I feared - a movie about entitled white women, who think the world revolves around them. Which is odd, because the movie is supposed to be about how these women come together to help raise a teenage boy to be respectful of women, to communicate his feelings, and to question societal and social expectations (in other words, be a decent human being). I liked the idea that a young male brain can benefit from female interactions and role models, instead of the typical story of a single mom trying to find a "father figure" for her son. However, I don't think gender is really that important in raising children. I feel like this movie was very subtly shunning masculinity, and that is problematic for me. There is a difference between being "masculine" and displaying "toxic masculinity". There is nothing wrong with being masculine, just as there is nothing wrong with being feminine. I also think it's a little idealistic to think that just because this boy is surrounded by complicated women that he will automatically be empathetic to the female story. Aside from that, I did really like the female stories - Elle Fanning is just more and more spectacular with every movie she does. This is no exception. And I even liked Greta Gerwig (playing the exact same role that she always plays, but boy does she do it well). Of course, Annette Bening is wonderful. I think the poster really has the best way to describe the movie - "A rushing river of gorgeous moments". That is definitely true. The moment when her son declares "I am not all men. I'm just me", and she replies "well yes, and no", is just perfect. The menstruation scene is just glorious, as well. So, there is a lot of good in this movie. Maybe after analyzing it more, I might find even more beauty in it, because just writing this short paragraph about it actually made me appreciate it more. Hmmm...we shall see.

4. Don't Breathe - I'm actually a bit shocked at how much I disliked this movie. It's not a bad movie, at all - decent acting, interesting plot, strong pace and editing. But it's just so unlikable. This is the only type of horror movie that I usually connect with (anything that seems realistic - and psychopathic murderers are extremely realistic). It reminded me a lot of Hush, and similarly just like I felt with The Infiltrator and Narcos, Hush did it MUCH better, so I have no choice to be disappointed. So first, let's talk about the good stuff. Jane Levy is perfect. I need her to explode into stardom, like, yesterday. The kid from 13 Reasons Why (too lazy to look up his name), is really good too, as the "voice of reason" character (even though he turns out to be just as dumb as the rest of them). There are also some really cool circular tracking shots. That's all I got, because even though it has a strong premise, the actual plot is dumb as fuck. Let me break it down: *spoilers ahead obviously* These 3 teenagers (?) decide to break into the house of a man who received a large settlement due to the death of his daughter. They decide he *must* have this money in his house...just because (?). He's also blind. So, these 3 people are the worst that humanity has to offer (they are willing to steal from an old blind man who lost a child). They've broken into homes before bc the "good guy" (?) has a connection to an alarm company -- so they use that to their advantage bc they can just walk out through the front door without any signs of a break-in. However, for this, they break a window (so...obvious break-in) but the guy who is blind, and has other heightened senses doesn't hear a window break (?). He does eventually wake up, realizing that there are people in his house, chaos ensues - along with several gunshots that no one in the neighborhood hears (?). Then, the kids discover *Major spoiler ahead, in case you are still reading and you shouldn't be* that this man has a woman locked in his basement, and that woman is the one responsible for killing his daughter (accidentally). His intent was to get her pregnant, have a new child, and then let her go (?). They obviously had to make him a bad guy too, because otherwise we would root for him to kill the other 3 awful people. Then, the "final girl" gets away, and then gets captured, then gets away, lather, rinse, repeat another 4 times, until she finally does "get away", only to learn that this guy is being seen as a hero for killing 2 intruders into his home. Because apparently he was able to clean up all the blood, the broken ceiling glass, his entire torture chamber in the basement, etc., within 5 minutes of police arriving - all while being BLIND (?). How fucking stupid.

5. Masterminds - Predictably dumb, but also kind of interesting that it's based on a true story. I'm fascinated by people who commit crimes in such a dumb way, and actually believe that they will get away with it. I mean, this guy robbed an armored car company but didn't destroy one of the main cameras! LOL. It's also really dumb that the "masterminds" stayed in the area, and spent all of the money so extravagantly. If I were to illegally obtain money, I would move somewhere off the grid for at least a few years. Also, I realize how jaded I am by living in NJ when 17 million doesn't even seem like that much money. I instantly questioned their lifestyle, but then reminded myself that it took place down south. That mansion alone would cost at least 10 million up here. It could have actually been a good movie, if the characters felt more real. Instead, Zach Galifianakis did his weird dude act, and Kristin Wiig did a mild version of one of her SNL characters. So it's a bit odd that a movie about real people felt really fake. Oh, and it wasn't funny. At all.

Friday, June 16, 2017

3 Thoughts on Wonder Woman

1. The movie - Overall, I loved this movie. I was very skeptical going in. I found the trailers very dull, and Wonder Woman's appearance in Batman v Superman was really unnecessary. My skepticism had nothing to do with the DCU, though, - I liked both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman (and I like Marvel movies, too! Crazy, I know.). Patty Jenkins did an amazing job creating a film that was an origin story for Wonder Woman, but it didn't feel as formulaic as previous "origin stories" for other characters. It had humor, a sense of wonder and hopefulness, and two very memorable battle scenes (the one on the island of Themyscira and the now famous "No Man's Land" scene). Is it the greatest movie ever, as some are claiming? Well, no, that's a ridiculous claim. Does it have problems? Well, sure, I have eyes, I can see how terrible the third act battle scene looked. It also drives me insane when people from foreign countries speak English with their accent instead of being subtitled (one of my biggest pet peeves in movies). But I enjoyed every second of it, and I came out of the theater grinning from ear to ear. That's what matters to me.

2. The woman - When I picture Wonder Woman, outside of Lynda Carter, the woman I picture is Gal Gadot. When they made the cast announcement, I, like many, did not know who she was. I googled her image, and thought, "Yup, that IS Wonder Woman". She is perfect. She is able to display innocence and naivete without seeming dumb (I think that's hard to do well), but also, obviously, has this immense amount of strength and power that is necessary for the role. Probably my favorite casting of a modern superhero role - it's right up there with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and Christian Bale as Batman (and yes, those are the only three that I would say are iconic - everyone else is replaceable. Fight me.). She had a great supporting cast, as well. Chris Pine has never been better.

3. The impact - I don't think that men get it. Even the ones that say they do, don't. And really, how could they? Yes, I can think of several iconic female roles on the big screen - of women that were strong and powerful - like Ripley, Sarah Conner, and Lara Croft. Although, I think the small screen was even stronger for women - Buffy, Sydney Bristow, and of course, Wonder Woman. And personally, I looked up to women who were a bit more "real" like Ellie Sattler, Chris Parker (from Adventures in Babysitting, DUH), and Annie (from Speed, DUH). But, the point is that we, as women, had maybe one or two dozen female characters that we truly admire and see ourselves in, while men had literally hundreds. Things have been changing very slowly over the past few years, but with Wonder Woman, it's like this huge sigh of relief - like, there is finally a movie that is going to change the course of film history for women. It's such a wonderful, emotional thing to think about - little girls growing up now have this character - a female character who is sensitive, inquisitive, intelligent, independent, funny, and fierce. A female character who stands up for herself and will fight for what she believes is right. But more importantly, a movie was made about this character that is universally loved and made a shitload of money. FUCKING FINALLY.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. The Purge: Election Year - Enjoyed the first one, the second one was actually pretty good, but this one is just terrible. The first one had a shitload of problems, but the second one fixed a lot of them. Yet, the second one didn't explore the story enough, so I was hoping that the third one would have learned from both previous films and would give us a solid story - and a satisfying trilogy of films. It doesn't. At all. This one takes place during a big election (how fitting) and it makes the same mistake as the first - which is - WHY wouldn't this politician take the ultimate precaution and lock herself in a panic room? Like, why rely on this huge group to "protect" you, when it's already been made clear that you can't trust anyone during The Purge? And why would this guy have a plan in place to escape if things went bad, but not a place to actually escape to? Also, it doesn't make sense that The Purge is used as a way to save government money. Since it's a government funded event, wouldn't it cost them money to clean up the country afterwards? They show these big dump trucks that are cleaning up dead bodies, and just think of all of the fire damage!!! Are we supposed to assume that everyone has "purge" insurance? I'm pretty sure that would just make everyone broke. And, one last thing that bothered me (out of about a dozen), why not just throw a mask on and carry a flamethrower through the streets? Everyone participating in "purging" would just assume that you are "one of them" and leave you alone. Anyway, even on a basic level of a horror movie, I didn't find any enjoyment out of it. There were no intense scenes or moments, no surprise kills, no jump-scares, nothing memorable at all.

2. The Birth of a Nation - I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about the controversy surrounding this movie. On one hand, I feel like it's necessary to separate the art from the artist, and it's hard to know "the truth". If we protested against every actor/director based on accusations or even in some cases proven criminal acts, we would have to avoid every movie starring Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, Johnny Depp, Christian Slater, or directed by Woody Allen, Bryan Singer, Roman Polanski, I could literally go on and on, but I think you get my point. The common trait among these men....yup, all white. So, yes, I do think that race had a large influence as to why people turned on this film so quickly. The buzz for this movie was incredibly high until the Nate Parker story surfaced, and it all came crashing down. It was going to be an Oscar contender, among the best of the year, instead it was quietly released into mostly independent theaters and never spoken of again. On the other hand, I'm so fucking sick of men not only getting away with raping and abusing women, but are then also allowed to continue to make millions of dollars and becoming more and more powerful. It's disgusting. So, I watched this movie with a lot of preconceived hatred in my heart for the world that we live in. Of course, the subject-matter of the movie only solidified this hatred. There are a lot of wonderful aspects to the film, in particular, the acting. Aja Naomi King is astonishing. I've only seen her in How to Get Away with Murder, in which she is also very good, but it's not a particularly hard role to play. But this performance I really hope she starts getting lead roles very soon. Armie Hammer is also really good (possibly his strongest performance ever), and I was relieved that his character did not turn into a "white savior" character. The end of the film is filled with some harrowing images that will crush your soul (if you're human). There are a lot of things that I feel this film misses the mark on, though - and not surprisingly, one of them is the representation of women. I realize that it's not a female story, but maybe it should be? Or maybe, they should have been given more dimensions other than being victims of rape and a catalyst for male revenge? I appreciate that the rape isn't shown onscreen (very smart), but I'm just exhausted by this representation. I looked up a few things about this real-life rebellion, and it seems the revolt happened because of Nat Turner's deeper involvement in religion and interpreting scripture; not because of the raping of female slaves (although, this was common practice). It would have been a stronger story to show the women as part of this rebellion instead of silent victims. Overall, I think a lot of the story is over-simplified, and even without the controversy, I don't think it was one of last year's best.

3. Jackie - Honestly, I am severely disappointed. While I was unsure of the movie, I thought that Natalie Portman was going to blow me away. And while she is really, really good - it's not spectacular, or even among her best work. It's certainly not the best of last year (that would be Soo-an Kim from Train to Busan, followed closely by Jessica Chastain for Miss Sloane). Jackie O has this really distinct accent that is definitely hard to repeat without sounding like a bad impression - and Portman definitely gets it right, I was worried that it was going to be more like Michelle Williams trying to portray Marilyn Monroe (I know, I'm the only one who hated this performance). However, just because she gets the accent right, doesn't mean the whole performance is noteworthy. I don't think I'll remember it at all a few years from now. I was also expecting to be impressed by Mica Levi's score (because Under the Skin's score is unforgettable), but I found the score to be incredibly distracting and it didn't fit the tone of the film at all. As for the rest of the movie, it's really quite boring. The editing is purposefully choppy, the story offers nothing new, and it focuses on these "grand" moments that just scream Oscar-bait, and it's really unsubtle. I was actually really happy that they didn't show the assassination, instead they focused on the aftermath...but then they did, and it ruined the only thing I liked about the story.

4. Lion - There is a lot I like about this movie. The story is incredible, and as devastating as it is, it's probably a relatively common tale (which is confirmed in the end - the credits state that 80,000 children in India go missing every year. I repeat, 80,000. Just let that sink in.). Having just visited India a few months ago, I can completely understand how this is so common. It's a very overwhelming place - the best way to describe it is "sensory overload". And if the train stations are anything like the airports, then yeah, children can disappear very easily. Personal space does not exist, lines do not exist, politeness does not exist. However, this story becomes incredible because this little missing boy finds his family after 25 years (sorry, is that a spoiler? I mean, he obviously finds them, otherwise a movie would never have been made about him...). He uses Google Earth to locate his small town, which is really fascinating. I love that technology is shown as something great (as opposed to most movies - technology = scary!). I think Dev Patel was great, but that little boy (Sunny Pawar) definitely stole the movie. People seem to be loving Nicole Kidman nowadays, and she seems to be EVERYWHERE right now, but I've always been a fan. I'm hoping she just continues to take challenging roles and not ones like Bewitched. She always comes off as a little bit cold to me, but for the most part, that works for the roles that she plays. This role required a warmth and a hopefulness, and she far succeeded the challenge. I think that there is a GREAT movie within this story, but I'm not sure this movie really explores it enough - and therefore, I don't think it's an Oscar-nomination worthy film. I wish they explored more of the brother's story, and how difficult it was for his parents to handle the extreme differences in their personalities/experiences. I think it would have been stronger to focus on his family than his girlfriend. I found Rooney Mara dull in the role, but I also just found her whole character unnecessary plot-wise. It's weird that she's even featured on some of the poster designs considering how inconsequential her character is. I get that the intent was to show how his experience has made him closed off, and how his obsession with finding his real family had taken over his life, but that could have been shown with his interactions with his family. Anyway, I liked the movie a lot, but I think it could have been better.

5. John Wick: Chapter 2 - Very satisfying sequel. I was very nervous considering that the whole reason the first one worked so well is because it was about getting revenge for the murdering of a dog. I mean, they can't just murder another one of his dogs - that would be dumb. They did find a satisfying reason for the story to continue, though. For an action flick like this, there are a surprising amount of layers and interesting characters. I would love for a spin-off for several different characters. Winston or Bowery King would be the most obvious, but I would even enjoy prequels for some of the characters that died, or even some of the smaller characters like Charon. Really, an entire universe exists in this story and it is all so fascinating. The action sequences are obviously perfect, just like the first one. There were only 2 scenes that bothered me - the one that took place in the fun-house mirror museum. It was just so stupid, and reminded me of a bad horror movie. The other one took place in the super white transit station because I thought it was really terrible to pretend like such a clean place exists in NYC, but then I felt really stupid after I looked it up and found out that it is actually the new Oculus station at the new World Trade Center. I obviously have yet to visit, but it is sublime looking. It's only a few years old so just give it time for NYC to dirty it up.