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Frances Ha (2013)
This is what I've been waiting for since The Squid and the Whale. Noah Baumbach has wisely chosen to abandon the full-on bitterness that made Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg somewhat hard-to-take experiences, and has now given us something that may not be full-on sweet, but it's absolutely exquisite nonetheless.
After her catastrophically bad performance in Baghead, Greta Gerwig has given her share of decent performances in the years since then, but it wasn't till I saw Frances Ha that I felt comfortable enough to say that she's acquitted herself completely. The film is about being 27 and still having doubts and insecurities as to the direction your life is going to take, whilst watching other people either successfully getting their shit together or being enviably aloof about the concept of getting their shit together. None of the angst and frustration would come across effectively if it weren't for Gerwig's tremendous work here.
I can't imagine another movie in which a word as ugly as "undateable" could make one laugh and smile heartily every time it's said, but that's the kind of movie this is.
I avoid trailers as much as I can, because I generally prefer not to know anything about a movie beforehand. I don't need to see a collection of snippets, designed by someone to tell me what I'm supposed to expect. However, since they've literally been showing the Mud trailer for months at the local indie theater here, it was hard to avoid seeing it several times and even having it mostly memorized. In the case of Mud, this ended up being cause for disappointment. You see, the trailer gives you the expectation that this is the kind of movie in which there's... something lurking beneath the surface. So, when you go see the movie and realize that you're getting exactly what the trailer promised and nothing beyond that, it's easy for there to be a deflating feeling. The film is competently made and very well-acted. It just doesn't have all those layers that Take Shelter had and the sense of menace is nowhere as high.
What Maisie Knew (2013)
This movie spends damn near its entire running time telling you that shared custody sucks because it means that a kid is forced to move around like a ping pong ball from one place to another. The insight may be accurate but that doesn't justify spending two hours watching a kid go to different houses and spend time with different people, with nothing else of interest going on. I feel bad, because the little girl's performance is really good, but she deserved much more to work with. So did the adult actors. Oh, and I really disliked the soundtrack.
If you've seen a lot of indie "dramedies" about dysfunctional families in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine and The Descendants, you don't technically need to see The Way, Way Back, since you've already seen most of what happens in it, and usually done better. It's a conventional indie if there ever was one. Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell give the movie the necessary spice that makes it at least recommendable for when it's out on DVD, though.
The East (2013)
There's a pattern going on with Brit Marling movies: Another Earth, Sound of My Voice and now The East. All three have hugely intriguing premises. All three don't deliver quite as much in terms of actual execution, but they still do okay. All three have weak endings.
The East frequently makes intelligent commentary, but in its last act, its ideas become really black-and-white and the protagonist's motivations feel purely arbitrary. The less said about the anticlimactic credits sequence, the better. Like I probably said last year when I wrote about Sound of My Voice, I find Marling interesting enough to continue following her work, and it's inevitable that I'll continue "falling into the trap" if she keeps making movies with premises that basically scream "You have to see this!". But so far, it hasn't been such a bad trap to fall into, so I'm fine with that.
In The House (2012)
It's hard to go wrong with Francois Ozon. This film blurs the line between truth and fiction, and in doing so, examines how storytelling can manipulate and affect people in so many ways. What I enjoyed (and frequently laughed at the most) is how the approach gave the film plenty of opportunities to criticize itself as a story and as a work of art. Anytime you may think you've witnessed a flaw, the movie will point it out to itself before you've even had a chance to work it out in your head. That may seem like cheating, but if it makes for such a satisfying and mentally stimulating movie-watching experience, does it really matter?
Promised Land (2013)
I can't believe how bland this movie is. I can't believe that none of these actors was able to give it the push it needed to get rid of that blandness. Matt Damon's performance isn't bad- he just constantly looks like he wishes he were doing something else. What truly astounds me is that actresses of the caliber of Frances McDormand and Rosemarie DeWitt, both of whom have killed me with stuff they've done in other films, wasted their time and talents here. The fact that not even John Krasinski's charisma was able to do anything for me (which it usually does) says a lot about how forgettable this thing is. In an apparent attempt to spice things up, the film has two sort-of twists at the end: one is horribly scoff-worthy and makes the whole movie feel pointless, and the other one is totally predictable.
And yes, I know Gus Van Sant directed it, too. But I'd like to pretend that he didn't.
There's not a laugh to be had in Admission. It also alternates between being really awkward and really cliche. I have no idea how two actors who obviously know good comedy (and one of them has even written good comedy) chose to involve themselves in this.
Aside from all of the above things, which make the movie inherently bad, there's something else that I find pretty reprehensible: The movie appears to be interested in making commentary on how inflexible college admissions officers can be. It apparently wants to say something about the importance of looking more closely at the kid rather at just the numbers on his transcript. But, in order to get the protagonist to have that realization, the movie finds it necessary to make use of a plot contrivance that feels straight out of a soap opera. Totally unnecessary. Also cause for a lot of eye-rolling on my part throughout the movie. I wanted to vomit anytime the words "birth mother" were said. Sorry if that makes me insensitive.
The Bling Ring (2013)
I found The Bling Ring fascinating... but I admit that I probably found it fascinating for all the "wrong" reasons. Train wrecks are fun sometimes. Without a doubt, though, the film's biggest problem is that it's one of those movies that reiterates the same point over and over. I was sufficiently immersed to enjoy it on a perverse level, but I won't be surprised if it tortures other people who see it.
I Killed My Mother was terrific and Heartbeats was decent. Unfortunately, although Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways gets off to a good start during its first hour, it loses its way in the remaining, unforgivably long hour and a half. This movie is full of scenes that were completely unnecessary and could've very easily been cut out, in order to make this a tighter and therefore much more effective examination of sexual identity. To make matters worse, the final few seconds of the film are freaking corny (which is not a word I would use to refer to either of Dolan's prior two films), so it doesn't even feel like it was worth it to get through all those unnecessary scenes to arrive at an ending like that one.
Yes, if you follow my journals, you probably remember that it wasn't too long ago that I rewatched this for the umpteenth time... so you may be wondering why I watched it yet again instead of using my time for something else. But well, what if someone who hasn't seen your favorite film of all time offers to watch it with you, and the version you're gonna watch is gonna be in HD and with surround sound, and you've never seen the movie with either of those two elements? Of course you're gonna say yes. In my case, I can't ever miss out on the chance to see the reaction from a Mulholland Drive virgin. It's always... something. And I gotta say, it's quite an experience when you're super familiar with every frame of a movie you've only seen on DVD on a regular screen and you suddenly get a chance to see it on HD. It was fantastic.
Nancy, Please (2012)
The combination of the poster and synopsis for this movie can be deceptive. They could easily lead anyone to think that this is one those movies about a psycho bitch who's out to ruin a guy's life. It kind of is about that, but not really. Unlike most movies with that kind of plot, the movie's not in-your-face at all. The title character who you see on the poster isn't even in the movie that much.
I found it interesting, but can't say much aside from that.
John Dies at the End (2012)
When John Dies at the End shows up somewhere in the upper tier of my year-end top 10 list, I'm probably the person who's gonna be the most surprised. On the surface, this isn't the kind of movie I'd normally give a chance to, let alone love or watch more than once in a matter of months. The thing is that, aside from being a twisted and hilarious ride, this movie is so in tune with interesting ideas about the way in which we occupy the space we occupy in this universe and about what might exist "beyond" that, that it's impossible to resist it. That the characters are so cool and the script is so sharp and quick-witted only makes it infinitely better.
Only God Forgives (2013)
If those violent scenes in Drive made you squirm or uncomfortable in any way, be ready. The violence in Only God Forgives made me want to look away from the screen more than once. That said, although the violence in Only God Forgives may be more impactful and cringe-inducing (but in the good way), Drive wins out as far as being more impactful in every other sense. I prefer it when a main character's plight has to do with loneliness and psychosis than when it has to do with straight-up revenge and mommy issues- but that's just me. The movie still looks cool as hell, though.
True story or not, the climactic scenes of Eden feel straight out of a cheap thriller. But prior to that, this is a hard-hitting film that takes a lot of unexpected turns.
Indie cinema at its most boring and pointless.
I've had a very similar experience with my second viewings of both of Quentin Dupieux's films. On both occasions, it feels like some of the magic... isn't there anymore. Perhaps it's because his movies relish weirdness so much that the fun is all in watching it for the first time and not knowing what's gonna happen next, which means that, once you've already seen it, you're never gonna have that "first-time" feeling again. But that's all good. It only makes me more excited for the next time I see one of his movies for the first time. :)
Drinking Buddies (2013)
As someone who probably goes through too much effort to find the most obscure, low-budget modern indie films, I've actually seen almost everything that Joe Swanberg has done. Drinking Buddies is obviously the biggest budget he's worked with. The film still has the problem of his other movies: it offers a realistic focus on the trifles of young adulthood but without enough depth to be sufficiently engaging. This is why Lynn Shelton's movies are so much better. Thankfully, Drinking Buddies has Anna Kendrick in it, which (obviously) increases its charm considerably.
It's about a young girl who suddenly develops an interest in being friends with a lonely elderly woman. It's occasionally funny and occasionally effective in a dramatic sense, but the main character's motivations are constantly very difficult to believe and the ending is a bit of a cop-out.
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)
The idea is there... to make for something really visually striking and scary as fuck. But it just... feels half-realized. The world we're taken to in Beyond the Black Rainbow is ten times more interesting than the world we're usually taken to in other movies. I just wish the movie had plunged me deeper into its world. If that makes sense.
Touchy Feely (2014)
Okay, so maybe I spoke too soon. Just a few days ago, when I was writing about Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies, I mentioned that Lynn Shelton directs a similar kind of film with much better results. Of course, I said that because I was thinking exclusively about indie delights Humpday and Your Sister's Sister. Shelton's latest, however, is pretty much every bit as good as Drinking Buddies- by that, I mean that it's okay, but nowhere near as supremely satisfying as Shelton's previous two efforts. The only difference is that I didn't expect much from Swanberg's movie, whereas in this case, I'm a little disappointed, not only because Shelton is the director, but because the cast has the likes of Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page and Allison Janney.
The plight of DeWitt's character (she suddenly can't stand physically touching and being touched by people) is handled too sloppily for the actress to be able to do much even with her infinite talent, which we've witnessed in plenty of other movies. Page's character has a fantastic scene towards the end of the film, but by that point, one feels like the character never enjoyed enough development for one to really be affected by the scene (Page is terrific in the scene- I just wish the scene and the performance were part of a better movie).
Maybe Shelton should stick to unconventional triangles. Humpday and Your Sister's Sister focused entirely on three characters, and in both occasions, the results were by turns charming, hilarious and emotionally stimulating. In Touchy Feely, there are more characters, and it certainly feels like she spreads herself too thin, and don't even get me started on how awkwardly Ron Livingston gets inserted into the proceedings. All in all, this was decent, but I don't think it's unwarranted for me to have had higher expectations.
The Canyons (2013)
Trashy stuff that's sometimes so-bad-it's-laughably-good, but it's mostly pretty flat and uninteresting, and has a ridiculously terrible final few seconds. There'll be some who will watch this out of morbid curiosity towards Lindsay Lohan (who's neither good nor bad here- she's kinda just there). Others will watch it out of morbid curiosity towards James Deen (who should stick to his day job). I watched it because my experience with anything that has Bret Easton Ellis' name attached to it has been that, even if I don't like it, I still find it interesting. So sue me if morally bankrupt characters intrigue me. But in the case of The Canyons, the moral bankruptcy doesn't really go anywhere interesting.
Notes on a Scandal (2006)
"People like Sheba think they know what it is to be lonely. But of the drip, drip of the long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. What it's like to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor's hand sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. Of this, Sheba and her like have no clue."
Bliss!! Plenty of rewatches later, this is still an exquisitely shot, exquisitely acted and exquisitely well-written film. Yes, I'd prefer to spend more time with Barbara than with the subplot regarding the love affair between a teacher and teenaged student, but that's a minor thing. Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench are brilliant here.
The Free Will (2006)
If only this movie weren't so long, we just might've had a masterpiece here. The Free Will is a frequently harrowing motion picture, and the only problem it has is that sometimes there's a little too much "space" in between the harrowing moments. Tighter editing would've made this the kind of cinematic experience that's unbearably disturbing and magnificent at that. Still, the ending is one of the best in movie history, and worth waiting the 2 hours and 40 minutes to get there.
Magic Magic (2013)
This starts off very promisingly, with some delightfully kooky characters and with unconventional plot turns... but then the kookiness and unconventionality turn into randomness for the hell of it rather than for any conceivable purpose whatsoever. I was thinking "WTF?" throughout the entire movie, but the difference is that, during the first half, it was "WTF?" in the sense that I was intrigued, and during the second half, it was more like "Oh please." Oh, and a warning: those of you who are being led to believe that this is a horror film will be very disappointed.
When I rewatched Sinister a few months ago, it occurred to me that, even if it was a merely okay film, it really was the only horror film that scared me in 2012. And I hate to be pessimistic, but it very much looks like the exact same thing will happen with The Conjuring this year. I'd like to think that the horror movie that I'm waiting for (read: one that causes severe dread and fear, and that makes me have trouble sleeping) will come along soon, but well, it's not looking too likely. In the meantime, The Conjuring is good- mostly creepy, frequently scary, well-acted and very nicely shot. The pacing is off at times and there are a few weird transitions. Having five daughter characters was absolutely unnecessary, and worse, it often feels like not enough is happening to all of them to warrant them occupying space in the film. One feels as though the film could've accomplished the exact same things (and perhaps more effectively) with only three daughters. The fact that Vera Farmiga's character also has a daughter and that the movie makes a sudden jarring turn to involve her in the plot only makes it even messier. Carolyn gets possessed about 3/4 of the way into the movie, and the movie seems to conveniently start ignoring her and to not show her as much, because it needs to "save" her for the climax. It makes things awkward because one is aware that she's possessed and that she's perhaps the most important character and suddenly she's "kept" from us. But with all that said, when the landscape for horror movies is so barren, you've got to appreciate what good you can get, and The Conjuring offers that.
These two characters have maybe three interesting/engaging conversations during the 90-minute running time. The problem is that everything else is empty blather and the movie ends up feeling like twice as long.
Atmospheric and intriguing, and never too direct or straightforward about its intentions, Absent is a fascinating drama/quasi-thriller. The event that anchors the climax is a bit cliche and melodramatic, but at least there's a nice dose of creativity to the way in which the movie portrays the effects of that event.
The To Do List (2013)
Plenty of belly laughs to be had in this '90's-set comedy that manages the tough task of giving freshness to a subject that has been used and abused in teen comedies: losing your virginity. It has a lot to do with Aubrey Plaza's uniqueness, with the great comedic timing and line delivery, and with the fact that the movie did a lot of things differently than I expected it to. In fact, I'd probably be rating this higher if it weren't for an incredibly gross (and totally unnecessary) scatological gag during one scene in particular.
"Like every serial killer already knew, eventually fantasizing just doesn't do it for you anymore."
Remains every bit as hilariously subversive as I remembered it, while managing to be serious enough that we care about the fates of the protagonists. Immensely satisfying.
Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2 have nothing to do with each other. Yes, they feature the same characters, who are played by (almost) all the same actors. But as works of art, these two films are entirely different creatures. Kick-Ass was funny, hugely entertaining and made incisive commentary on the YouTube generation, while still managing to be serious enough to make you be on the edge of your seat during the final act and make you feel for the characters. Kick-Ass 2 is a Comic-con Convention. A boring one. One in which every joke is obvious and in-your-face, and hardly ever funny. In the first film, Hit Girl emerged as a glorious character who was awesome to watch while she kicked major ass, whereas Mindy McCready was relegated to the background. Here, it's all about Mindy and a storyline that feels straight out of Bratz territory, whereas the most damage Hit Girl does is give people diarrhea.
The climax of Kick-Ass 2 is a severe failure. There's not a single exciting or satisfying fight sequence. It can't even begin to be compared to the final act of the original.
One of the most disappointing sequels of all time.
West of Memphis (2012)
"The thing I like most about time is it is not real. It’s all in the head. There is no such thing as the past; it exists only in the memory. There is no such thing as the future; it exists only in our imagination. If all the watches were truly accurate the only thing they would ever say is: Now.”
Damien Echols is one of the most inspiring figures of our generation. And the story of his 20-year plight is extraordinarily outrageous.
Damien Echols is one of the most inspiring figures of our generation. And the story of his 20-year plight is extraordinarily outrageous.
Mean Creek (2004)
(Rewatch - DVD purchase)
Nine years later, I haven't seen any other film with characters this age that's so morally complex and well-acted. It's short, simple, to-the-point, but razor-sharp at that.
A Teacher (2013)
Most, if not all, the moments in A Teacher are interesting and compelling. It even has certain echoes of The Piano Teacher. Unfortunately, I was left with the deflating feeling that this movie needed more- it's one of those rare cases in which a movie would've benefitted from being longer. By that, I don't mean it shouldn't have ended where it did, because I think the ending is perfect. But I think that, between the beginning and the end, we should've been able to get to know these two characters a little bit better.
Good movie; extraordinary lead performance. I always have high expectations for Cate Blanchett, and much to my shock, she surpasses those expectations in this film, going places she hasn't gone before, and as hard as it might be to believe, showing even more talent than we've seen in anything else she's done. Without Blanchett, Blue Jasmine isn't all that much, as it makes commentary on class differences through generic comparisons between being rich and being lower middle class. But for Blanchett alone, you can't miss the movie.
This movie's more funny and cool than it is scary or suspenseful, which of course means you'll still have a good time as long as you know the kind of entertainment you're in for. What surprises me is that, even though this movie obviously aspired to be subversive and it has a high body count, the deaths (except for one) are all pretty generic. There's creativity in other areas, but not so much where the carnage is concerned. Still, this is definitely a step up from the decidedly mixed bags that were the two VHS movies, and one can only wonder what these guys will do next with the horror genre.
Paradise: Love (2012)
Frank, harsh and completely reluctant to give in to the typically tragic melodrama you'd normally expect from something like this. And I'm gonna be working like a madman to try to find the next two films in the trilogy.
The characters (and actors playing them) may all be one-dimensional, but this is funny more often than it isn't, and I can't say I wasn't entertained throughout. The last act feels a little protracted (with more "character redemption" scenes than necessary), but not to the point of making the viewer lose his/her interest.
I have no idea how I missed out for so long on yet another fantastically deranged performance from the great Sam Rockwell- this is a great companion to the actor's work in Seven Psychopaths. In addition, the movie's a great deal of fun and constantly takes interesting twists and turns.
9 votes2013 Movie Journals (7 lists)
list by lotr23
Published 9 years, 8 months ago
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