Movie Watching (November)

The movies I saw in November.  (Rating scale:  * to *****)


Cake- “Cake”, in many ways, is a showcase for Jennifer Aniston’s acting talent as she turns in a considerable performance as Claire Bennett.  She is a woman who is grappling with a raw tragedy (the death of her family in an auto accident) and becomes fascinated with a woman in her chronic pain support group that committed suicide.  Yes, this is a very depressing film.  Being that as the case, there doesn’t seem to be anything noteworthy about this effort except for Aniston’s performance.  After watching this once, I’m not interested in watching again.  ** 1/2

Beasts of No Nation-  From the outset, one of the saddest movies I have ever seen.  The focal point of the story is an unnamed African nation and a horrific civil war involving child soldiers.  The main character Agu (a monumental performance from child actor Abraham Attah) sees his family killed and then is forced/manipulated to join a side in the brutal conflict.  The leader of his roving gang of fighters is Commandant (Idris Elba in what should be his Oscar glory) who is the personification of an abusive evil.  Make no mistake, this is hard to watch.  The violence is extreme and often done to children but overall, this devastating look into the lives of underage fighters in Africa is a window into a place far away from the privileged American comforts.  Director Cary Joji Fukunaga reportedly cast actual child soldiers for the film to add to the depressing realism.  It is a jarring experience and yet, that still doesn’t capture the feeling after having seen it.  ****1/2

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl- An indie movie that has been all the rave around film festivals is a quirky low budget picture with heart.  In trying to consider this movie, the work may be a tad overrated but still is unequivocally worth seeing.  A seventeen year old high school student, Greg (portrayed with a natural ease by Thomas Mann) manages to become a part of a bunch of social groups at school without having many friends.  In his spare time, he and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) make spoofs of famous movies.  Greg’s life changes when his mom (Connie Britton) literally asks him to befriend a girl he once knew in his Hebrew class, Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with leukemia.  The story really tries to steer clear of clichés that other like-minded films have fallen in to.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of this felt like something Wes Anderson would do but it did not have the colors of his films.  This still manages to be a fairly moving experience.  *** 1/2

The Newton Boys- Richard Linklater’s 1920s throwback is an interesting movie.  Near the beginning, we are subjected to bank robbers riding off on horses while being chased by an old car.  The Newton gang is among the most successful bank robbers in history.  They worked mostly at night, blowing up bank vaults who didn’t have the most up-to-date security systems, and famously never killed anyone.  The cast is exceptional including Matthew McConaughey as Willis Newton, Ethan Hawke as Jess Newton, Skeet Ulrich as Joe Newton and even a young Vincent D’Onofrio as Dock Newton.  The mis en scene and gadgets seem true to the time.  This is a better movie than a lot of people give it credit for.  *** 1/2


Jumanji- A movie that really could have been fun but fails in the departments that should have made it so.  Director Joe Johnston’s “Jumanji” relies on shoddy special effects to attempt to impress the audience.  It doesn’t work.  The gifted Robin Williams has a script that doesn’t really allow him to be funny.  This children’s book, by Chris Van Allsburg, is very good centering around the story of two children who find a magical board game.  The board game comes to life unleashing all sorts of havoc upon the contemporary surroundings.  Like I mentioned, this could have been incredibly inventive and fun and the movie just plods along.  Minimal humor, a lackluster story and special effects that didn’t even hold up for the time sink this effort.  Look for a young Kristen Dunst is this film who I recognized at first but couldn’t place who the actress was.  **

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles- Watching John Hughes’ uproariously funny movie has become a Thanksgiving tradition now with my family.  The plot seems similar to “The Odd Couple” on a road trip trying to get back home but the performances of Steve Martin as Neal Page and the legendary John Candy as Del Griffith transcend any comparison.  One of my favorite film monologues may be Griffith’s in the hotel room after being verbally accosted by Page.  I may have seen this film close to 10 times in my life and I still laugh.  More than that, I still feel moved by the ending, even with Hughes pouring on the sentimentality.  Somehow this all really works when most other movies like this would not.  *****

Unbroken- Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I watched Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” again with my father-in-law which I had previously seen and reviewed.  I once again admired how well the film was made from the opening aerial battle to the tale of survival on a rubber raft in the Pacific Ocean to the Japanese prison camps.  On the 2nd time watching, I would not rate as high as the first time but this is still a juggernaut of a tale about a man surviving against overwhelming odds and coming out of that with a rock solid faith.  ****

The Addams Family- A throwback to the early 1990s when I was 11 years old, I remember watching “The Addams Family” film (based on the famous TV show) in the theater.  Toward the end of November 2015 was the first time I had seen it since then and well, some things just aren’t the same when one watches as an eleven year old.  First off, the cast here is great from Raul Julia as Gomez Addams, Anjelica Houston as Morticia Addams, Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester (or is he?).  Billed as a comedy, the movie is not that funny.   The plot is weak as well as the film veers from one episode to the next without a strong story pulling it through to the conclusion.  While watching, I had the thought that an alternative scenario with Tim Burton in the director’s chair would be interesting.  ** 1/2


About dangeroushope

Striving to follow Christ, love people and learn more about the world.
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