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BradWesley123's Movie Journal- November 2018
Movie list created by BradWesley123
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Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
FilmStruck- 1hr. 35min.
Well-made and exceptionally performed, Farewell, My Lovely never quite rises above the level of "respectable". Mitchum was born for noir, his voice transforming ever lesser lines in world-weary classics. The rest of the ensemble, too, fit their roles like a glove. Trouble is, the story never really pops. Relying too heavily on the old school charm inherent in the genre, it forgets to develop it's own distinct identity, content to simply go through the motions. Solid, but, mostly, unsatisfying.
The Party (2017)
DVD- 1hr. 11min.
I suppose that it was unavoidable that The Party would move through a number of chamber piece cliches; all genres films have a hard time breaking free from conventions, especially ones that rely so heavily on their ensembles. Fortunately, writer-director Sally Potter seems to fully understand this and uses these conventions to her advantage. Her script is littered with fun little one-liners and strong dialogue. Her way with words, coupled with her lingering, somewhat abrasive, camera, crafts a surprisingly nimble picture that flies by quick. Unsurprisingly, the ensemble cast is superb. Not everyone gets a lot to do, but everybody bites into the strong material, giving fully committed performances (especially Clarkson, Murphy and Thomas). It doesn't upend the genre, but it never set out to do so; it enlivens it.
Monthly Wesley AwardBest Ensemble Performance
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
An Ordinary Man (2017)
Starz- 1hr. 30min.
Kingsley's fun to watch, and has an interesting rapport with costar Hera Hilmar, but An Ordinary Man just feels like a lot of dead air. Not a lot happens, and nothing all that substantial happens in those small moments. Truly a forgettable film.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
DVD- 1hr. 50min.
Despite a third act that feels a bit wobbly in execution (I can't decide if it's over or undercooked), Sorry to Bother You is an offbeat, incisive satire that lambastes a number of current societal woes with vigor and wit. After viewing this one, one thing becomes clear; Writer-director Boots Riley's script is the star. Despite an excellent cast (especially LaKeith Stanfield and Armie Hammer) and kinetic filmmaking energy (think a much less twee Wes Anderson), it's his harshly comedic screenplay that lingers afterwards. Though the end takes a few too many leaps into the sci-fi realm, that don't feel totally earned, it's an original vision that tackles a wide variety of hot-button issues, hitting so many more targets than it misses. It's a bit shaggy around the edges, but it's a wholly unique film that is, incredibly, entertaining.
Monthly Wesley AwardsBest Original Screenplay- Boots Riley
Best Costume Design (Contemporary)- Deirdra Elizabeth Govan
Best Production Design (Contemporary)- Jason Kisvarday and Kelsi Ephraim
Best Song- "OYAHYTT" by Boots Riley, Ryan Christopher Parks and Damion Gallegos
DVD- 1hr. 54min.
While it does embrace a few too many cliches of the inspiration biopic genre, Don't Worry, predominantly, finds the truth behind those well-worn trope, leading to an emotionally satisfying film. This is, certainly, writer/director Gus Van Sant's best film in a decade; though he does go too saccharine in spots, with some too convenient plotting and character motivations too, he's able to touch something genuine in many spots, taking John Callahan's lead in semi-grounded humanism. None of this would work with Phoenix in the lead role though; while the supporting cast is strong, especially Jonah Hill, it's Phoenix's film, and he never feels like he's relying on disabled character tics, giving us a three-dimensional character (a rarity for these films). It's too obvious a picture, but it's a satisfying one all the same.
Monthly Wesley AwardBest Supporting Actor- Jonah Hill
Home for the Holidays (1995)
Starz- 1hr. 43min.
It doesn't reinvent the ensemble-family holiday picture, but Home for the Holidays wisely understands that most wounds aren't healed overnight, and sometimes chosen families are just as, or more, important than the ones we're born into. Though it's friction is, frequently, inorganically introduced, the strength of the actors sell the family tension expertly (especially Hunter and Downey), resulting in some surprising depths of truthfulness for the film. The script, as hinted above, isn't the strongest but it, and Jodie Foster's direction, does get one major thing right; resolution is not easy, and not every issue can be solved with a few words. Not the strongest, but a solid ensemble holiday flick.
Pieces of April (2003)
Amazon Prime- 1hr. 20min.
A lo-fi companion piece to Home for the Holidays, Pieces of April is no less manufactured, despite it's early-2000s digital camcorder filmmaking style, but still reasonably satisfying. It still hits the major holiday/ensemble beats, this time even adding some life-threatening ailments to the mix. This doesn't really hurt the film though; while its style alludes to something more down to earth, the script and, by extension, the actors understand that this is a, at it's core, lighthearted affair. And it works, reasonably well. It's brief runtime proves more blessing than curse, allowing the stories to play out without much bloat, letting these exceptional actors to work without character contrivances. It's an obvious film to doesn't divert genre cliches, but it's a warm, well-told story that, in it's own minimalist way, illustrates the love and divisions that make up a family
The Morning After (1986) (1986)
VUDU- 1hr. 43min.
As is typical, director Sidney Lumet get's some terrific, lived-in performances from his leads. Unfortunately, Fonda and Bridges work, along with some solid filmmaking, is really the only reasons one could give to recommend The Morning After. The story starts, relatively, intriguingly, but quickly fizzles as it goes one, climaxing with a rather ho-hum ending that's isn't particularly satisfying. Fine, but not that involving.
Outlaw King (2018)
Netflix- 2hrs. 1min.
An exceptionally crafted film but blandly written film; Outlaw King works when it sticks to visceral bloodshed. It's not the best action shot for historical films, but the brutal, muddy, puts-you-on-the-field power that it has is imminently watchable and thrilling. Unfortunately, films need to have strong storytelling to work, and King doesn't really have much of it. The story does nothing to illustrate the time beyond bullet points, and never feels like anything but an excuse to get us to the action. The characters, too (despite a game cast), never break free from screenwriting blueprints, so there's not much in the way of personal investment. I respect the craft of Outlaw King, but that's about it.
Monthly Wesley AwardBest Sound
Nobody's Fool (1995)
Starz- 1hr. 50min.
Robert Benton expertly tells a small, nuanced story of missed opportunities and regrets, how quickly a life can get away from you. He also illustrates one of the most realistic and natural visions of small town life in cinematic history. He's aided by a terrific cast, lead by, most importantly, Paul Newman in one of his finest performances. The film would, probably, work with another actor in the role, but it would be hard to fathom someone imbuing the whole film with it's own worn-down, yet frequently lively, feel. It's the best type of performance; utterly lived-in, to the point where it feels less like a performance and more like truth.
Monthly Wesley AwardBest Actor- Paul Newman
The Darkest Minds (2018)
DVD- 1hr. 44min.
The Darkest Minds is, like most of these films over the past decade, a grab-bag of teen movie/young adult tropes. Credit where credit is due, however; it's, certainly, more involving than a majority of the genre. I'd argue that this comes down to craft; Jennifer Yuh's direction doesn't elevate the flaccid script, but it does frame everything reasonable well, building a bit more tension into the story than it deserves. Yuh also seems to understand that film's best element is it's lead; Amandla Stenberg can't quite shake the cliches, but she does add enough layers of humanity to, at the very least, make her a Y/A heroine worth caring about. Again, it's not a particularly good film but, for what it is, you could do a lot worse.
Amazon Prime- 1hr. 22min.
As shaggy and hit-or-miss a indie-comedy/horror hybrid can be, Slice doesn't really equal the sum of it's parts, but some of those parts are interesting enough that it doesn't feel like a total waste. While, again, it never comes close to coming together as a wholly satisfying film, it's a very scattered film, it has a goofy charm that's rather infectious; not everything works, but the stuff that does is good, and promising enough to keep the audience, somewhat, invested. For me, it was an enjoyable little film that, admittedly, doesn't carry much weight.
You've Got Mail (1998)
HBO Now- 2hrs.
Here is a movie that goes beyond coasting on it's stars appeal; it's gripping it, globbing onto it, like a small child does to an adult in a swimming pool. Surprisingly, at least for me, that doesn't make You've Got Mail a bad film, just a film that doesn't exactly take off. It's well-made, with a solid supporting cast, but the script is too long in the tooth, and the film is overlong by, about, a half hour. I, also, believe the film never quite finds the right friction between the leads; it feels too volatile to start, then too easy going in the end. Hanks and Ryan sell all of it though, with an easy chemistry that only two pros in command of the material can. Too long, but an easy, mostly likable film.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Netflix- 2hrs. 13min.
I wasn't the biggest fan of a couple of the segments presented here (the Liam Nesson bit is a slog and the James Franco one is just too slight), but it's hard to argue that, even at their worst, all of the stories found here work together to illustrate the sparse, morbid, poetic, darkly humorous west that, once again, the Coen Brothers have created, this time for their sprawling Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Even the best stories here have a whiff of familiarity to them, which could be seen as a detrimental statement if it weren't the Coen Brothers. Their style is one of the most unique around; loose, yet immaculately crafted. While I wouldn't say that much on display here represents their finest work (though the Waits and Kazan-led installments come close, and and the title story is a hoot), it is distinctly their own; never less than original.
Monthly Wesley AwardsBest Picture
Best Directors- Joel & Ethan Coen
Best Adapted Screenplay- Joel & Ethan Coen
Best Costume Design (Period)- Mary Zophres
Best Production Design (Period)- Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh
Netflix- 1hr. 34min.
Led by a superb performance by Madeline Brewer, Cam explores, in it's own terms, the place of art in modern society; the divisions that grow between the artist, their art, and the audience. Director Daniel Goldhaber and Brewer expertly rachet up the tension, exploring the fear and paranoia of losing one's identity, exploiting the queasiness of this modern digital age (using the cam/sex industry to explore this one of the film's smartest moves). Despite it faltering a bit towards the end (things unfold too conveniently; too literally), it's a stark, often terrifying vision of the dangers of allowing too much of your life being beholden to technology, and other people.
Monthly Wesley AwardBest Actress- Madeline Brewer
Mile 22 (2018)
DVD- 1hr. 34min.
Loud and aggressively stupid, Mile 22 isn't so much a movie as it an endurance test; if you can make it through all 94 minutes of this thing, you can make it through anything. While previous Berg/Wahlberg pairings couldn't be called classics, they were solidly told stories with some exceptional sequences. Here, the story is basic enough, but caustically and haphazardly told, with a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing (the editing in this thing is some of the worst I've seen in a major motion picture). It might be more palatable if there were any decent characters, but there's none of that here either; Lauren Cohan comes the closest, but Wahlberg's exceedingly irritating performance swallows everything in it's path. An assault of a movie.
Monthly Wesley AwardWorst Picture
The Family Stone (2005)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
FilmStruck- 1hr. 39min.
Hampered a bit by it's age, The Shop Around the Corner is, nevertheless, a charming little romance, elevated by it's to leads and old Hollywood nostalgia. Admittedly, these modern eyes had more trouble with the film's contrivances than then-modern audiences would have, but it's hard to deny the film's spell; the story is too damn tantalizing to deny, and Stewart and Sullavan are exceptionally appealing in the lead roles.
Monthly Wesley AwardsBest Classic Picture
Best Black & White/Classic Cinematography- William H. Daniels
Best Classical Production Design- Cedric Gibbons and Edwin B. Willis
Rocky IV (1985)
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Netflix- 1hr. 44min.
The best thing The Christmas Chronicles has going for it is it's Santa. In the lead role, Kurt Russell's classic charisma consistently propels the movie to heights that the script can not. This is a cookie-cutter film; nothing really ever moves outside family holiday film comfort zones, rendering most of the movie dull (this is exacerbated by the, typical, blandly precocious child stars). Again though, Russell is having so much fun in the lead role that the rest of the film perks whenever he's onscreen (this includes the, fairly expected, cameo at the end). Intermittently movies through phases of annoying and fun; i.e. best enjoyed during the holiday season.
Monthly Wesley AwardsBest Costume Design (Fantasy)- Luis Sequeira
Best Production Design (Fantasy)- Paul D. Austerberry and Patricia Larman
Crazy Rich Asians (2020)
DVD- 1hr. 36min.
It's a simple, well-trodden, story, but Alpha uses the coming of age/survival templates to craft another solid story of man and his most loyal companion. The story is solidly done, not necessarily revolutionary, but smartly told without too many hitches and/or narrative contrivances. One really makes this film work is director Albert Hughes's filmmaking, creating a gorgeously made production that understands the power of imagery and sound. It's a slight film, sure, but it's a fun, well-told one that's lovingly made.
Monthly Wesley AwardsBest Makeup
Best Visual Effects
DVD- 2hrs. 1min.
I respect so much of the vision and craftsmanship on display in Mandy, in conception and execution, that it begrudges me to say that it bored me. Filmmaker Panos Cosmatos has crafted an immaculate movie, scoring top notch work from every member of his crew. Cinematography, sound, score (Jóhann Jóhannsson's final score might just be his best), acting (especially Cage's go-for-broke work), etc; he's done Fincher-level work creating mood and atmosphere in a film. That said, that's about all it's got; the story is basic, and scenes, immaculate as they're made, just go on. If he could marry storytelling with his filmmaking capabilities, I would've been over the moon. It's one of those movies that I can, truly, understand the divisiveness. That said, it's also one that, down the line, will probably deserve a second look.
Monthly Wesley AwardsBest Modern Cinematography- Benjamin Loeb
Best Score- Jóhann Jóhannsson
Best Editing- Brett W. Bachman & Paul Painter
Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Private Life (2011)
Netflix- 2hrs. 4min.
Tamara Jenkins' long-awaited sophomore effort succeeds thanks to her smart, specific, semi-autobiographic storytelling, and the actors who bring it to life. Unsurprisingly, Giamatti and Hahn are superb, expertly channeling the mixture of hope and exasperation that the long-prospective parents grapple with daily. Newcomer Kayli Carter is a surprise scene-stealer, capturing a difficult combination of know-it-all twentysomething-ism and naive, confused, kid with aplomb. An empathetic, lived-in slice of life that's worthy of a viewing for anybody looking for smart adult drama.
Monthly Wesley AwardBest Supporting Actress- Kayli Carter
Number of Movies Watched: 29
Newly Watched: 21
Time Spent: 50hrs. 9min.
Best New View: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Worst New View: Mile 22
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