Months in review: March, April & May

Mad Max Fury

Sometimes it takes moving from one place to another, being extremely busy with work, renovating a new condo, dealing with some family matters and trying to sell the place you’ve been living in for the past year to realize that whatever you thought “busy” meant; it is probably nothing compared to how it has been lately.

Even though my blogging has continued to suffer, I still try to make time for movies. In the last three months I have managed to watch 25 films (11, 10 and 4 respectively). The average score in March was a decent 2.95/5, while April passed with a slightly better 3.1 and May was pretty great with an average of 3.875/5. Of the 25 films, four cracked the 4/5. First, it was the very bleak yet very powerful Oslo, August 31st, followed up by the very well-made documentary Life Itself that touches on the life of the late and great Roger Ebert., the moving doc Dear Zachary and the sensational Mad Max: Fury Road.

Below a summary, in order of viewing, with short reviews of each film I saw in the last 3 months. You might also notice quite a number of sci-fi films, especially those interested in robots and artificial intelligence:

THE RAID 2 [3/5] (2014)

The Raid 2

Looking at the gargantuan 150 minutes of running time, it is no wonder that the sequel to the fantastic The Raid added fluff where none was needed. It is as if its creator and director Gareth Evans wasn’t entirely happy with the frenetic energy of the first entry, tempted to make more of a “traditional” movie with a substantial plot and somewhat defined characters. What we’re left with is an uninspired gangster flick with flashes of brilliance that come, once again, from impeccably choreographed fight sequences that are well beyond those of any other franchise.

FOXCATCHER [3.5/5] (2014)

If it were not for the captivating performance of Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher would have collapsed under the weight of its long and tedious upward momentum that seemed to be pointing to a dramatic and electrifying finale. Instead, the film delivers an anti-climatic and creepy tale about a solitary man with deep-seeded psychological issues.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT [2.5/5] (2014)

Completely unremarkable action film starring Chris Pine that could have easily been made in the 1990s. I wish I could say more, but I’ve forgotten much of the plot by now.

JONGENS [3/5] (2014)

Though a part of me wanted to watch a gay themed film that approached the genre with optimism and happiness, it only took a few minutes to know that this would be yet another story of sexual disorientation casting a large shadow over the mental and emotional well-being of youngsters grappling with blooming and irrepressible desire.

At the end, I take away the convincing display of young love, as well as the authenticity of the two main character’s attraction to each other.

OSLO, AUGUST 31ST [4.5] (2012)

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦

Oslo

A truly moving and beautiful film that has the realism of a documentary. The work of director Joachim Trier and cinematographer Jakob Ihre is simple yet imaginative. The performance of Anders Danielsen Lie borders on perfection. A full review coming soon!

TOP FIVE [3/5] (2014)

This is the first film starring Chris Rock that almost manages to capture his genius as a stand-up comedian. If this is the sign of things to come, Chris Rock might finally be able to follow the footsteps of other giants of the art form like Eddie Murphy. Though it falls for some romantic cliches toward the end, there are moments of true ingenuity in the script that make up for that. The scenes Chris Rock shares with Tracy Morgan are hilarious.

THE IRON LADY [3/5] (2012)

Most of the reviews I managed to read over the years were probably expecting a different sort of film. Perhaps they expected the typical heroic celebration of a historic figure in world politics, the sort of messiah complex that has led us through wars, dictatorships and subjugation as a people.

The film put forth by director Phyllida Lloyd chooses, rather surprisingly, to focus on the character’s vicissitudes, on the impact of the passage of time on the human body and how personal glory quickly transforms into public humiliation. Though it may have offered a rather grim and somber portrayal of such an important figure of the 20th century, the film had occasional triumphs, none greater than the incredible performance (yet again) of the absurdly talented Merryl Streep.

AUTOMATA [3/5] (2014)

Automata

Up to the halfway point, Automata had the ambition, the suspense and the intricacy to become one of the best science fiction films in years. Sadly, the film’s anti-climatic last act, together with some lack of detail and imagination in the plot kept it from achieving a greater level of success.  It also did not help that Automata wasn’t wholly original, taking cues from films like I, Robot and Blade Runner.

ROBOCOP [2/5] (2014)

If the goal was to make a film that resembled the cliched and unimaginative 1987 original, then director José Padilha hit the nail on the head. If, instead, the purpose was to make a truly great action film, then Robocop was unsuccessful in almost every way. From poor casting choices, to unexciting action sequences and pedestrian special effects, Robocop is a remake that should have been kept away from audiences for all eternity.

THE MACHINE [1.5/5] (2014)

If one were to judge the success of all of the trailers of the films I have seen in the last 3 months, there was none better than the one for this film. It is not that the trailer was fantastic, but it painted a movie that had suspense and excitement to spare. However, what I found was a uninspired mess of half-thought ideas, terrible acting performances and an almost illogical plot. The Machine is one terrible sci-fi.

IT FOLLOWS [3.5/5] (2015)

It Follows

A breath of fresh air in the horror genre. It Follows is astute and contemporary, mixing elements of satire and social commentary with typical horror lore. At the end, I was not certain of what I had seen. Was it real or imagined? Was it set in the 1970s or is it contemporary? Is the world it portrays even real? Where are all the parents?

What is perhaps more fascinating about It Follows is not what it shows, but what is not shown, and how director David Robert Mitchell chose to frame its take on sexual promiscuity and STD’s within the claustrophobia that ensues in an endless game of pursuit and escape.

LOVE IS STRANGE [3.5/5] (2014)

A sweet little film about an older gay couple that after getting married is forced to live apart due to unforeseen financial difficulties. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina were simply great together, both delivering surprisingly touching and convincing performances. Their distinct personalities shine through as a couple and you believe in their relationship as much as they do. A bit of a tragedy, but done in such a way that you can’t help but feel good and happy about life.

BEYOND THE LIGHTS [3/5] (2014)

I really did not expect this to be any good, but the acting, as well as some interesting plot twists made the experience worthwhile if not altogether special. The performance of Gugu Mbatha-Raw was the highlight.

JOHN WICK [3/5] (2014)

There is something extraordinarily cool about Keanu Reeves split personality of sorts in the no-holds barred thriller John Wick. Aside from the anger-fueled pace that accelerates the plot and gives purpose to the title character, there is very little else of substance to keep us engaged throughout. My favorite part was the whole idea of a hotel in the middle of Manhattan where criminals and hitmen cannot direct business.

LUCY [3/5] (2014)

Lucy

Undeserving of all of the flack it has gotten from critics. Lucy may not quite know how to exploit the potential of its premise, but that does not mean it’s void of a few interesting touches. Scarlett Johansson was a bit out of her element though, and so was the flawed science that drives the plot. Riddled with issues, but passable nonetheless.

LIFE ITSELF [4/5] (2014)

A wonderful documentary that reveals the man behind the critic. Commendable for its honesty. See my full review here.

ESCAPE PLAN [2.5/5] (2014)

Would have been a better film back when Stallone and Arnold were in their prime (circa early 90s). Even then, it hits a few notes that reminds us of how effortlessly cool these two were at some point. Obviously the plot is not the movie’s strong suit, and neither is the acting prowess of those involved, but it is still entertaining enough to say it was not a complete waste of time.

TO BE TAKEI [3.5/5] (2014)

As a biography, To be Takei offers valuable insight into the life of one of America’s most iconic Japanese actors. As was expected, the film spends some time elucidating on the importance of Takei’s role in Star Trek, not only for his career, but for his impact on Asian-American culture. However, it was good to see that the film also spends some time on his relationship to his longtime companion and now husband, as well as his difficult childhood inside the Japanese internment camps installed by the United States government as a hideous response to World War II.

EX-MACHINA [3.5/5] (2015)

Ex Machina

More than a great film, Ex-Machina is a compendium of great ideas trapped in a film that did not know how to best implement them. Rather than letting the characters act more naturally, the film forces them to act in ways that are purposely mischievous in order to keep the mystery aflame. In doing so, director Alex Garland keeps us at the edge of our seats whilst sacrificing character authenticity. Still a very interesting film that could serve as a benchmark for other sci-fi films to explore further.

CURSE OF CHUCKY [1.5/5] (2013)

Done with a measly budget, the newest incarnation of the evil doll Chucky is yet another sequel to an already exhausted story. The acting is simply awful, the sequencing and editing is amateurish, and so is the painfully empty and childish dialogue. There is nothing scary about this latest Chucky, except maybe for the look of the doll itself.

THE BABADOOK [3/5] (2014)

The Babadook

A well-made horror film that does what many films of its kind attempt to do: blur the distinction between reality and fiction. Even though it is pretty successful at that, and there are quite a few moments of genuine creepiness, The Babadook sticks to many horror cliches to be considered truly great. It also did not help that the mother at the center of the film quickly became an insufferable human being. In fact, I had gathered so many ill feelings towards her by the end of the film, that I did not care whether she lived or died.

GRIZZLY MAN [3.5/5] (2005)

Like every Werner Herzog documentary, this one seduces you and makes you contemplate a life far different from your own. The voice of Herzog ever as crisp and evocative, illustrating and revealing beauty where others might not see it. However, Grizzly Man suffers where his other films soar. It lacks a truly fascinating story or at least one that is worth exploring for over 60 minutes of film reel.

DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER [4.5/5] (2008)

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year. A wonderfully moving documentary about a man that sets about making a movie about a very good friend who was tragically murdered, only to see his film change over time to become an inspiring tale of love, family and tragedy. This is film at its most moving, and that is ultimately about the triumph of the human spirit and the inability of a rigid justice system to adapt to the fluid and unpredictable nature of human existence. One of the best documentaries I will ever see. A must watch!

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD [4.5/5] (2015)

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦

Mad Max

A thrilling spectacle of carefully orchestrated action sequences and impressive art direction that never takes a breather and that accelerates at the pace of people bent on survival. Charlize Theron steals the film from under Tom Hardy’s feet, but it is his brute energy and charming composure that makes him the silent and humble hero the film couldn’t have done without. This is what the future of action films should be like! A full review upcoming!

TWO NIGHT STAND [3/5] (2014)

Leave it to charisma of Miles Teller to save a film that is light on ideas that go beyond a hookup eventually leading to something a little more meaningful. Even when the dialogue is believable and so is the particulars of their situation, I never quite bought their chemistry as lovers entirely. Maybe as best friends, but not as young lovers. I also wish the story had opted for a slightly different ending, as I thought it was too neat for it to be believable.

As always I welcome all of your comments on these and other films you may have seen in the months I was away from blogging.

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One thought on “Months in review: March, April & May

  1. Agree on Ex Machina, it was good, and visually impressive, but the storytelling wasn’t exceptional, so not quite a genre classic.

    Shame you were underwhelmed by The Babadook, to me was far more creepy than It Follows-which didn’t scare me one bit.

    Glad you loved OSLO, AUGUST 31ST , it stayed with me. Pretty much a contemporary re-imagining of The Fire Within (1963), yet feels very different to the film it was based on. Joachim Trier and his crew made the story their own.

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