November-December 2013 Movie Journal
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Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Horror movie that works as horror not because it has jump scares but because of its inherently creepy atmosphere. The scene pictured up there has to be one of the unforgettably harrowing moments in cinema.
I'd forgotten how short this movie was, but that doesn't mean I like it any less. Not many directors are better than Todd Solondz at capturing the dark, quirky, weird side of suburbia.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
I was supposed to watch this on Halloween night, because it was oh-so-shocking to several people that I hadn't seen this movie yet. It ended up being watched a few days late, but no matter, because it was still ridiculously fun. Not to mention that it features the only non-annoying, actually decent performance of Sarah Jessica Parker's career.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
This is the classic case of the movie that everyone praises because we're "supposed" to praise it. The movie's about an important moment in history in which a minority group suffered a lot; therefore, there's an "obligation" to say that it's great. I resent the idea that one has to give credit to a film simply because of what it's about rather than how it's about what it's about. I recommend 12 Years of Slave mostly because of the extraordinary lead performance and because it has its share of stirring moments. However, I find that, for a movie that wants to depict such a harsh reality, the dialogue is frequently ridiculously theatrical. The stellar Chiwetel Ejiofor manages to come away unscathed because his terrific work overshadows the cringe-inducing lines that he's asked to speak. But I can't say the same for the rest of the cast. Michael Fassbender's talent could've been milked so much, but the character he plays is flat. On a similar line, Sarah Paulson has the same look on her face throughout the entire movie, despite how capable she showed herself to be of giving layered performances in the likes of Game Change and Martha Marcy May Marlene.
"But dude, it's about slavery and it has all those scenes of people getting whipped! How can you NOT say it's great?" A movie isn't great simply because it has two or three devastating scenes- movies should be evaluated as a whole. And anyone can make a movie about pivotal points in history in which minorities overcame obstacles. And 12 Years a Slave is fine in its own right at these things, but there's nothing about it that warrants calling it landmark cinema. Ejiofor's performance isn't one I'll forget by year's end, but I can't say the same for the film as a whole.
The Fourth Kind (2009)
Not as bad as I would've expected. The mystery that The Fourth Kind wraps itself in is interesting enough to keep one's attention. It does some things with the "found footage" genre that are intriguing and creative, but that, at the same time, I also found too distracting for the movie's own good. The movie's attempts to separate truth and fiction only have the effect of detaching the viewer and considerably lessening the creepy impact this could've had.
The Past (2013)
The Past is an effective, very well-acted drama, but considerably inferior to Asghar Farghadi's near-masterpiece A Separation, the best movie of 2011. The Past appears to have a similar aim in that it explores moral quandaries within family members and people who are close to them. And, for its first half or so, it seems to be headed in an equally great direction, but suddenly, in its second half, it chooses to focus on one particular issue that doesn't really carry much heft. The film starts off as a fascinating exploration of life after divorce and of what it means (for everyone involved) to try to find balance and happiness after the fact. But then the movie starts concerning itself with the motivations of a character who's in a comatose state and whom we never get to meet- as a result of that, the other characters that we had come to care about basically become props to explore that character's motivations. It's still worth watching till the end, but the route it ends up taking is so much less interesting than what could've been.
Red Road (2006)
This gets off to a sort-of boring, almost aimless start, and the film's final scene feels too conventional- but everything between the beginning and the end is fascinating stuff. I'd be spoiling things if I said anything more than that.
Stuck in Love (2013)
I'm prone to criticizing movies for trying to manipulate people's emotions. But in this case... I just... I can't. I gave in, okay? Stuck in Love manipulated me so magnificently. I know it has a bad title; I know it's sometimes too cute; and I know that a lot of times it's downright pretentious. But god damn it if I didn't love almost every moment.
Room 237 (2012)
It's hard to know how to rate Room 237, because you wonder if the credit is really due to the people who put this together or to Kubrick. What I will tell you is that my eyes were glued to the screen and that those 90 minutes flew by. And the truth is that it's been years since I've seen The Shining and I'm not among those people who see it as one of the best horror movies of all time- so, the fact that this documentary had me so transfixed certainly says something.
In The House (2012)
With only a month and a half left in the year, this ingenious, delightfully engrossing and creative little movie is still one of the best I've seen in 2013.
Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013)
Rarely do you see a movie that allows so much intimacy between the audience and its main character. The raw exposure we get not just into the rollercoaster of emotions that Adele experiences over the three-hour running time, but also into the little details of her daily life (how she eats, how she sleeps, etc) makes for extraordinary viewing. It's almost as if the screen isn't there and one gets to witness this person's life in the flesh. For that reason, as appealing as the English-translated title may be, the original French one might be better. La vie d'Adele or Blue is the Warmest Color could be seen as consisting of a first half that explores adolescence/coming-of-age and a second half that explores the many turmoils of romantic relationships- but I see the movie as more of a whole. I see it as an excellent exploration of what it's like to want to find one's place, and to feel excluded, and to not be quite sure of where you fit in life, or with whom. Having a teenaged character who happens to be gay is obviously a great vehicle for a film to explore what it's like to be an outsider, and I have to admit that the film's treatment of Adele's first experience at a gay bar is absolutely spectacular and spot-on in portraying her as scared, lost, apprehensive, amazed and hopeful, all at the same time. But the film doesn't want to just stop there, because that'd be incomplete. The film is conscious that even after one is (reasonably) comfortable in one's own skin as a gay person, the troubles with fitting in don't end there, especially for people whose personalities and sensibilities simply don't mesh that well with those of the people whose support they may need (or want). And while the movie itself is extremely good at delving into all of this, and it's also strikingly beautiful at times, its success is due in great part to Adele Exarchopoulos' profoundly vulnerable lead performance.
While it's still a bit off-putting that so much damn emphasis is placed on the symbolisms in the movie, the terrific acting makes this film absolutely enthralling.
Frances Ha (2012) (2013)
(Rewatch - Blu-Ray purchase)
My beautiful copy of the Criterion Blu-Ray of Frances Ha finally arrived over the weekend. And what a delight it was to watch this for a third time.
The first Hunger Games film was supremely entertaining, and aside from that, it made moral judgments that were absolutely spot-on, with regard to society's unhealthy obsession with watching others tear each other apart. In fact, my only problem with the first film was that it didn't go quite as far as it could've into dark moral waters, because the protagonist was never forced to make any difficult, disagreeable decisions (i.e. she only killed the really bad guys, and was never put in the position of having to betray someone).
Catching Fire takes its focus away from the sharp critique it imparted in the first movie, and instead turns its eye to the idea of revolting against corrupt government... which, I'm sorry, but I just... find a whole lot less interesting. The first film made some great commentary on the problems that we all have as a society, but now the second film appears to suggest that our problems are due in large part to having been "manipulated" by the government into being the way we are, which is not something I entirely agree with. People tend to blindly blame the government for everything- it's very easy and lazy to do that. And it's that laziness, not the government, that I think is responsible for most people's problems today. The reason why people have unhealthy obsessions with celebrity's lives and with watching people fighting on reality shows is not because there's some higher authority tricking us into liking those things. People simply are like that, because most of them are shallow and stupid. It's the truth.
The reason why I needed to give the above spiel is to explain why I'm not exactly a fan of the focus that the storyline of The Hunger Games has chosen to take now. In simple terms: I was fascinated by how timely and accurate the first film was in terms of the social commentary it imparted, whereas the idea of people revolting against a corrupt government isn't fresh in the least bit. We've seen it in countless stories and other movies. Sometimes governments are corrupt and people need to revolt. So what?
With all that said, though, the film is still entertaining in its own right, and I wouldn't be surprised if the story somehow found a way to find its way back into the thematic complexity that made the original be more than just a really entertaining movie. I cited Jennifer Lawrence last year for her great performance as the protagonist; the performance is every bit as strong here, but I don't think I'll be citing her this year, if only because I feel like in Catching Fire she gets more support from the rest of the cast, whereas in the original film, everything literally hinged on the strength of her work. Aside from that, I should mention that I really liked what the filmmakers and Elizabeth Banks did this time around with the character of Effie- she was such a wonderfully annoying cartoon in the first film, and here, they start to give her a certain level of humanity, but without it feeling like too much of a drastic change in her persona.
I enjoyed almost every minute of Catching Fire. I'm just not a fan of the direction in which it started to aim its arrows this time around.
Lawn Dogs (1997)
This is one of those movies that starts off really innocently but that you can constantly tell is headed into something darker... but I certainly never expected it to go quite as far as it did. Very good film, and I'm shocked that Mischa Barton gave such a terrific performance when she was just a kid.
A Little Princess (1995)
The framework and the plot points may emanate from cliches, but Alfonso Cuaron's virtues as a visual storyteller were already in evidence here. It also avoids over-sentimentality as much as possible, which is a big compliment for a movie in this genre.
This is the companion piece to Magic Magic, the other 2013 collaboration between director Sebastian Silva and actor Michael Cera. I consider Crystal Fairy to be the better film, if only because Crystal Fairy gives you exactly what it promises: trippy randomness. (Magic Magic at times seemed to think of itself as a sort of thriller/horror flick, and constantly failed at being that.) But both films suffer from the same essential problem: they're both set up in such a way to intrigue the viewer as to which direction they're headed in, and in both cases, the final destination simply isn't all that interesting. But I'll keep looking out for this director, because I definitely see potential.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
There are certain movies that I watched less than a year ago, and if you asked me about them now, my memory of them would be extremely hazy. I forget movies easily when they don't leave any sort of impression on me. Then there are movies like Requiem for a Dream, which I hadn't seen in about 10 years (and I know I'm not exaggerating), yet many of its images were still seared into my mind- so much that I even dreaded them when I was watching the movie last night and knew they were coming. What I had forgotten about was the fact that this is a devastating film throughout. Anyone who's seen it, regardless of their opinion, would have to admit that the final minutes are unforgettable. But the truth is that the film as a whole is a freaking paralyzing experience. And what a masterpiece of editing.
Don Jon (2013)
I never would've expected that I would say that a movie's problem is Julianne Moore. It's not so much that I don't like her performance in Don Jon. The problem is that her character feels totally unnecessary for the first 80% of her time on-screen, and then she's used to manipulate the audience during the remaining 20%. If you take her character out of the equation, you'd be left with a somewhat repetitive but still very funny, and sometimes even insightful, little movie about dating, porn addiction and everything in between. I enjoyed the movie, but everytime Moore's character showed up, it felt like something was off and that the movie was wasting valuable time it could've used either continuing to be hilarious and/or exploring the dynamics of the relationship between our main character and the girl he starts dating.
Oh, and yeah, unexpected as this might seem, I think this has gotta be Scarlett Johansson's best work to date- it's almost obligatory to say that, considering how bland she usually is and how perfectly she nails this particular character.
Considering the excellent choices Joseph Gordon-Levitt generally makes in terms of movies in which he chooses to act (even before Inception when most people didn't know who he was), I was probably expecting something more sophisticated from his directorial effort. Don Jon is repetitive and Moore's character belongs in a different movie. But it's still pretty cool for what it is.
Not every joke works, but Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is a mostly enjoyable 90's comedy that I can't believe I never saw during my teenage years. Just when I thought the movie was going downhill during the second half, it suddenly took a very surprising turn for the better, and after that, it was a fun ride all the way till the end.
Una noche (2012)
A raw and powerful depiction of a people and a place that doesn't get depicted in movies very often. Something happens towards the end of Una Noche that I find to be a bit of a head-scratcher (and not in the good way), but that aside, this is a searing, thoroughly engaging little movie about the hardships of people living in today's Cuba.
Urban Legend (1998)
This is technically a re-watch, except I can't really identify it as one because I hardly remembered anything about this movie (aside from the villain's identity and a death involving drano). Where Romy and Michele's High School Reunion turned out to be a case of a "stupid 90's movie" that I surprisingly enjoyed, this was the opposite. This is profoundly dumb, very poorly acted and has little in the way of thrills. Also, it's a bad idea to set up the plot based on something as potentially intriguing as urban legend mythology and then end up giving the audience a villain with such ridiculously shallow motivations.
Bridegroom could've been devastating... if only the soundtrack weren't so awful. The worst part is that, since this is a documentary, the movie technically didn't even really need a soundtrack (and I would've been perfectly okay with the music being limited to Tom's choir singing every once in a while). Don't get me wrong- the subject matter of this movie will cause anyone with a soul to tear up. But the corny and manipulative songs that they play in the background ruined a lot of it, at least for me. I assume it'll work magically on other people.
Simon Killer (2012)
Still remains more interesting than good per se, but I guess there's something to be said for this movie that the curiosity was such that I wanted to see it a second time.
Still remains more interesting than good per se, but I guess there's something to be said for this movie that the curiosity was such that I wanted to see it a second time.
The Internship (2013)
Okay, so sue me. I liked it. I laughed. Would I have enjoyed it much more if Josh Brener's character had been the protagonist and Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn's would've been doofy supporting players? Sure. Brener's humor is gold, and Wilson/Vaughn can get tiresome after a while. And as much as I appreciate the movie's interest in criticizing how much we've lost our humanity, by the last few scenes, the point is hammered so strongly (and with a huge side of corniness), that it loses its effectiveness. But overall, this wasn't a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Some Velvet Morning (2013)
I was ready to not give this movie a pass. Then came the movie's last two minutes. Trust me, the movie's a lot less intriguing than its poster promises. It's downright studied, staged and cold. I don't know what happened to the Neil LaBute who handled stuff like this so brilliantly when he did In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things. The misogyny in the script is hard to handle, and I can't say I felt that way with LaBute's other films. With that said, though, I commend the movie for pulling the rug from under my feet at the very end.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
The Spectacular Now came out much earlier this year. I desperately wanted to see it, but it was never released in theaters here. Now I think it was a happy accident that I didn't get to see it till the end of the year. If I'd seen this movie two or three years ago, I'd likely be saying that I thought it was amazing, because, you know, it's so "indie" and so "real". 2013 has brought a lot of really positive changes in my life, one of which has impacted the way I respond to movies. I've grown more open to... feeling alive and to losing myself in things. The Spectacular Now is realistic and it delves into affecting topics, but it feels like it's kinda just... there. Last year's The Perks of Being a Wallflower and this year's Frances Ha are every bit as slice-of-life, but they're also magical movies, which isn't something I can say about this. The issues related to alcoholism and father abandonment feel trite and don't allow the central relationship between the two main characters to resonate as well as it should. The performances are terrific and the movie's got some very specific moments of greatness, but this isn't something I consider to be great as a whole, though there's a part of me that wants to give it another chance, perhaps because it's so shocking to me that I'm responding to it so differently than I probably would've in the past.
American Hustle (2013)
For all the critical acclaim that the movie's getting, and all of the inexplicable compliments that are being thrown at the performances, I find myself feeling about American Hustle much the same way that I did about both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. It's a good time at the movies, but any suggestion that this is great cinema is completely bewildering. The type of style and vibe that American Hustle is going for is something that was handled much better in the masterful Boogie Nights and even in last year's Argo. In addition, when evaluating this as a caper movie, this is strictly average fare (I've had the rug pulled under my feet much more roughly than this). Christian Bale is getting acclaim exclusively for the change in his weight and for acting groggy for two hours. Jennifer Lawrence is getting tons of award notices for chomping her teeth throughout the entire movie. Amy Adams is terrific, but in a career of so many amazing performances, I wouldn't say this is one of her best. Overall, the movie has some great moments, but it's too long and there are times at which it's impossible not to feel a certain disconnect from the proceedings.
The Shining (1980)
Despite all the years it'd been since I've seen it, my opinion is still the same, and it's one I suspect a lot of people would scoff at: this film is frequently really scary, but if I could have any film remade, it would be The Shining. This movie has the potential to be absolutely terrifying. It's kind of odd that THIS would be my top choice for a remake, because, well, my favorite director of all time directed it. I think maybe I would've liked it if he hadn't made it in 1980 and had made it later. If the Kubrick who created the haunting, absorbing world of Eyes Wide Shut in 1999, had tackled this project back then, the result would've probably been the horrific experience it should be. And yeah, I still find the climax really unsatisfying.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Debauchery, depravity, debauchery, depravity, rinse, repeat. But there's no denying that this is a thoroughly entertaining three hours. I don't know what that says about me.
The weirdness and the "no reason" mantra are every bit as present here as in Quentin Dupieux's prior two movies, so it's a given that I had a good time. But this feel like less of a cogent movie than Rubber and Wrong, and more like a series of skits. Unorthodox as the other two movies were, they were always headed in a certain direction, and ended up arriving at one. But that's not something I can say in this case. Still- let Mr. Oizo keep making cool movies and I'll keep seeking them out.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
They might as well have made a documentary. The only characters in Dallas Buyers Club are prescription drugs. The human beings on screen are simply in the background, and aren't developed nearly as well as they should have been. This movie feels informative 100% of the time, but it rarely ever feels emotionally stirring or dramatically impactful in any shape, way or form. It's a real shame, because if the screenplay had given the characters the meat they deserved, this would've been an excellent opportunity for both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to give extraordinary performances. Unfortunately (and not because of lack of talent), they get not help from the story, which chooses to describe and explain a problem, rather than use the problem to tell a compelling story, or at least an interesting one.
Jack, Jules, Esther & Me (2013)
Forget The Spectacular Now. This is the teen coming-of-age story of the year. It's too bad that only me and maybe 5 or 6 other people will see it. The movie has some of the technical shortcomings that tend afflict super-small projects like this. But the story is terrific: it avoids nearly all of the pitfalls of high school dramas, and even takes several unexpected turns in the last half hour. In addition to that, the movie seems to want to say something regarding what it's like to be in a racial minority as a teenager, but this particular aspect of the story bases itself on reality (or at least on something that really strikes me as being very accurate) rather than on the usual stereotypes of Asians and Hispanics that you see in 99% of other movies. I was really pleasantly surprised, and this is further confirmation that small movies like this are still worth seeking out.
9 votes2013 Movie Journals (7 lists)
list by lotr23
Published 7 years, 6 months ago
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