Movie Watching (April 2015)

Continuing my cinematic journal of the movies I watch in a month, here is the next batch of my reviews.  (Rating system:  * to *****)

New (my first time watching)

Maleficent- Disney is on a conquest to create live-action films out of many of the past animated classics.  In “Maleficent”, a movie that seems made by a committee to engage every niche market of moviegoers, they rewrite the old tale of “Sleeping Beauty”.  Rather than focus on the original heroine, Princess Aurora, the film engages in a character study of the vengeful fairy antagonist (played by Angelina Jolie).  Say what one will about Jolie, she is awfully good here and the interplay between her and Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) is the strength of the film.  Unfortunately, there are too many Lord-of-the-Rings wannabe moments or blatant scenery rip offs from James Cameron’s “Avatar”.  There is a even a dragon.  All of this grows exhausting and the movie would have been a lot better if they focused more intently on the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora while scaling back the rest.  ** 1/2

A Most Violent Year- J.C. Chandor is one of the most exciting, young filmmakers doing work today.  I loved “Margin Call” and was mesmerized watching “All is Lost” (which I named as one of the best films of 2013).  Perhaps my expectations were preposterously high but I was disappointed in his most recent movie, “A Most Violent Year”.  It is well-made, the performances are dead on but my complaint is with the story.  I just don’t think there is enough there.  Abel Morales (Oscar Issac) is a business man running a heat oil company.  The setting of this picture is in New York City during a statistically high homicide crimewave in 1981.  The DA in NY City is threatening to indict Mr. Morales who pleads with his accountant wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain) to reveal any funny business with the books.  Abel Morales acts innocent but he may be convincing himself of his own good, hardworking, American dream achieving self against much counter evidence.  Hence a theme.  The story meanders and eventually arrives at a conclusion that seems like a forced emotional heft on the audience.  I just didn’t feel it.  ***

Dear White People- The feature film debut of Justin Simien is a pretty fearless look at the issues of race, power, and privilege as the story tracks four African-Americans navigating these issues at an Ivy League school.  The satire is razor sharp and will elicit uncomfortable laughs.  The climax of the movie involves a mostly white frat house throwing a black face party (which has happened in reality).  Simien is bold in comforting unsettling realities in “post-racial America”.  Not everything with the plot works, in my opinion, but this is still worth a watch. *** 1/2

Exodus: Gods and Kings- With Christian Bale as Moses and a star studded cast including Ben Kingsley (Nun), Sigourney Weaver (Tuya), Aaron Paul (Joshua), Joel Edgerton (Ramses), and John Turturro (Seti), one would not be remiss to have high expectations.  Hell, Ridley Scott was even in the director’s chair.  I have to say that I felt disappointed after watching the movie.  The film is a marvel to look at boasting incredible production design, special effects and cinematography.  At the center, the story (this ancient of accounts) rings hollow because the character development falls flat.  The plot does a little bit with the relationship between Moses and Ramses but not anywhere near enough to sustain.  Especially since God (or maybe a messenger) shows up to Moses as a child.  Upon the announcement that plagues are coming as a part of the plan to free the Israelites, Moses feels conflicted based upon his past with Ramses.  This is definitely a fascinating, extra-Biblical angle that would have been more powerful with more heft behind the story.  There is a wishful study of loyalty, power and rebellion potential in this film.  I just wish the work had more depth with its players.  **

Big Eyes- Focusing on the life of painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), director Tim Burton veers from familiar territory.  The result is a pretty good film surrounding Keane and her schmuck of a husband, Walter Keane (played by the great Christoph Waltz) who attempts to take credit for her paintings and becomes a celebrity while perpetuating this fraud.  The film provides a strong feminist message regarding how women’s voices can be suppressed and the accolades for their work can go to a man rather than to them.  Burton blows open the sexism of the 1950s and 1960s and how those issues still resonate today.  ***1/2

The Babadook- Horror genre is best when the connection is made between a potential boogeyman and a scary aspect of human existence.  “The Babadook” is an Australian horror film that effectively taps into that theory.  Amelie (Essie Davis) is struggling to adjust to life, even several years after her husband died in a violent car accident.  She is raising her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who begins to see a monster around the house.  This being seems to resemble “The Babadook” which is a character in a creepy, red children’s book that shows up at their house.  Audience will notice a rather brilliant point of view change about mid-way through the film.  The movie definitely starts from Amelie’s point of view and the erratic behavior of her son than shifts to Samuel’s point of view.  What exactly is the Babadook and what does the Babadook represent?  Not giving anyway away here but by the time one gets to the end of the film, the consistency of the theme and the writing toward that goal is admirable.  ****

Into the Woods- Probably biased against this one as I’m not the biggest fan of musicals.  There certainly are exceptions.  Director Rob Marshall, who adapts “Into the Woods” from the famous stage show, tries to go a different direction with the genre.  There are familiar fairy tale characters:  Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel who join with a baker and his wife to venture into the woods for varying reasons.  There is a witch, brilliantly played (as always) by Meryl Streep.  Good and evil are questioned and made more complicated than the average musical.  The film does feel like it goes on an awfully long time.  I couldn’t get into the movie and maybe that is just me.  ** 1/2

Unbroken- The real life story of Louis Zamperini is given the big screen treatment by director Angelina Jolie and man, did this ever make me want to read the book (in a good way).  Jolie’s film is a gripping and compelling tale of survival against insurmountable odds.  If the audience did not know this was a true story (based on the Laura Hillenbrand biography), we all would probably have a very hard time believing the plot.  The film opens with a thrilling World War II aerial battle and follows Zamperini (solid performance from Jack O’Connell) as a plane crash strands him out to sea for 47 days with fellow soldiers.  Eventually, the Japanese find them and they are interrogated, tortured and held in prison camps until the end of the war.  Jolie doesn’t sensationalize much of what happens but rather shows us, through impeccable cinematography, the journey of Zamperini from a troubled youth and Olympic champion venturing through the hellish course of war.  Zamperini with his fierce desire to survive finds Christian faith and hope along the way.  Great film.  ****1/2

Rewatched Movies

Bottle Rocket- Wes Anderson’s beloved first, feature length film is still funny in the director’s offbeat style.  He didn’t yet have his specific art décor look that would come with his subsequent films.  “Bottle Rocket” is a quirky comedy following the Wilson brothers (Luke and Owen) here playing pathetic, wannabe criminals: Anthony Adams and Dignan.  They pull off a heist at a bookstore (!) for cash and settle in at an out of the way motel where Anthony starts to fall in mad love with a cleaning maid.  If criminals can be “innocent”, only director Anderson can pull of that high wire act of joining those two concepts together and making the audience believe.  ****

(500) days of Summer- Michelle had never seen this film before we decided to watch it on a random week night.  Prior to starting the film, I mentioned to Michelle about how I wish the genre of rom-coms would be as original, and quirky, as this movie.  Neither of us are big fans of the average romantic-comedy.  Director Marc Webb’s romantic comedy is done right.  However, I guess you can debate about whether this is a rom-com because from the beginning of the movie, the audience is told that this is not a love story.  Instead, we see the highs, lows and eventual break-up of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) through the experiences of their ill-fated relationship.  Levitt and Deschanel are perfect in their roles. The scenes of the relationship are presented out of order and this does seem sort of gimmick-y.  Overall, this is a fun and thought-provoking film.  ****

The Client- Opening on my biases, I enjoy many of the John Grisham movies adapted from his books.  “The Firm”, “The Pelican Brief”, “A Time to Kill”- they certainly all have their flaws but I can find good moments and entertainment value in all of them.  “The Client” is no different.  A young boy, Mark Sway (a brilliant Brad Renfro in his debut role), and his younger brother, Ricky Sway (David Speck), happen upon a mob lawyer-Jerome “Romey” Clifford (Walter Olkewicz)- driving into a wooded area to commit suicide.  Ricky ends up in the car with Romey who imparts to him where the body of a senator, killed by Barry “The Blade” Muldano (Anthony LaPaglia), is buried.  With his new information, Sway has the police, the mob, and an ascending politician- the Reverend Roy Foltrigg (Tommy Lee Jones) all after him.  He seeks pro bono legal help from attorney Reggie Love (Susan Sarandon).  The strength of the film is the acting.  Where the screenplay lacks, the performances of Sarandon and Jones and Renfro (and especially their exchanges) more than elevate the material.  The third act of the movie is a mess of unlikely coincidences and ridiculous situations.  A lot of this can be blamed on Joel Schumacher as director (who is a hack).  Still, there is some fun to be had.  ***

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About dangeroushope

Striving to follow Christ, love people and learn more about the world.
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One Response to Movie Watching (April 2015)

  1. Pingback: Movie Watching (November) | Dangerous Hope

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