Months in Review: December & January (2016)

Revenant

How quickly do months fly by when you are busy. It seems like only a week ago I posted my last review. As quickly as my newfound motivation to blog a bit more came to me on January 1st, as quickly it evaporated not from a lack of desire, but from a lack of energy.

With a bit of a delay, I share with you my brief thoughts on the films I had the chance to watch in the last month of 2015 and the first of 2016. A total of 21 films were watched, 12 in December and 9 in January. The average rating was a very good 3.35 out of 5. The following are ordered in the way they were seen:

KRAMPUS [3/5] (2015)

Krampus

Even though the story was a mixed bag of camp and holiday cheer, I very much enjoyed this peculiar Christmas horror film from the always inventive mind of Michael Dougherty, creator of the cult horror film Trick r’ Treat.
I doubt it would have nearly as much resonance outside of the big screen where its many visual treats would be diminished.

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN [3/5] (2014)

Compared to the depth of Disconnected, this film stays superficial and innefective for the most part when speaking about the effect the Internet has in our lives. There are moments of poignancy but, unfortunately, the characters usually feel more like archetypes rather than real people. Decent but nothing to write home about.

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINJAY PART I [2.5/5] (2014)

Yet another dissappointment for me. I have now given a chance to the franchise on three ocassions, with more or less the same results. I can’t help but think that Hunger Games is the layman’s version of Orson Welles’ 1984, brought to cinemas to be stuffed with cliché and anticlimatic action sequences. Aside from a few worthy characters (none of which are central to the story), the ensemble of actors is made weaker by the lackluster performances of Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson.

IRIS [3.5/5] (2014)

Iris

A fascinating look into the mind of one of the most colorful and mentally sharp octogenarians I have ever seen. This woman exudes charm and humor from her pores if not for her opinionated and confident self, then for her unapologetic and untiring love for fashion and design. This lady is a relatively unknown American treasure and to get to know her is a treat.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION [3/5] (2015)

In what is beginning to feel like a recurrent theme, the latest installment of Mission Impossible once again places Ethan Hunt in the crosshairs of the agency he works for. As in the past, the greatest treat is the campy humor brought, for the most part, by an ensemble of supporting actors that know their cues and each other to perfection. Wrapped in mystery and detached from the rest is Tom Cruise who embodies Hunt’s personality to near perfection.
I believe, however, that the whole theme of a vast conspiracy network vying for world domination has been a tad overdone, and I hope the next entry, as I’m sure one will come, does away with such clichés.

ANT-MAN [3.5/5] (2015)

Ant-Man

Few casting decisions in recent years have been as inspired as Paul Rudd’s star turn in Ant-Man. His childlike charm and honest goodness are perfect for the character and for the tone of the film. Leaving all the silliness and superficial story aside, Ant-Man was best in close quarters, when Paul flirted with Evangeline Lilly or playfully quarreled with the evergreen Michael Douglas.

SELMA [4/5] (2014)

An inspiring tale from director Ava DuVernay about the triumph of righteousness and the human spirit over ignorance and hate. Having been released in a moment where police brutality towards minorities has been exposed all around the country and thus reviving old tensions; the film feels as appropriate and necessary as the words of Dr. King will always be. David Oyelowo gave a magnificent performance as the late reverend and deserved a bit more recognition during 2015’s award season. He single-handedly demystified the late Dr. King once again, making his message and his struggle strikingly human.

ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL [3/5] (2015)

I enjoyed the film, but I could not help but think that it was too self-conscious of its vibe and style. If a film is trying to make you care about a relationship, it should actually spend some time showing us the evolution of said relationship growth, instead of opting for a quick reel of moments that offer little insight. Even then, the film had its charms and I can see why some people grew so fond of a group of characters who are a good mixture of awkward youthfulness and adult seriousness.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [4/5] (2015)

Star Wars

My biggest issue with the latest Star Wars is that it did not dare to break the mold a bit more. In essence, JJ Abrams gave fans what they had been clamoring about for years, if not decades, but in return, he crafted a film that felt retro instead of new. The saga saw the successful return of the campy humor and, with that, some mythical characters that had been disposed of for the prequel trilogy (Princess Leia, Hans Solo and Chewbacca mostly).
I also thought it was an impressive visual spectacle that gave us plentiful entertainment as well as beautiful compositions and set designs.
Despite what a lot of people say, I found Adam Driver’s performance one of the film greatest strengths, balancing a complex host of feelings and displaying them all almost at once. Certainly a more complex and vulnerable villain that many would have hoped him to be.

I SMILE BACK [3/5] (2015)

The film is a drag, no question. It focuses on the crippling depression of its central character and rarely offers any respite. Though I understand its uncompromising fixation on what seems to me like an incomprehensible condition, the film did not bother to make Sarah Silverman’s character one we could relate to or merely empathize with. What is remarkable is that in a film so sour and sad, Sarah Silverman’s performance is as honest a portrayal of depression as I have seen on the screen which, of course, is a bit surprisingly disarming considering her comedic persona.

TANGERINE [3.5/5] (2015)

I have already written and prepared a long review of the film, so look out for it if you are interested. If not, I will summarize Tangerine by saying that it is, at times, beautiful yet always brutally modest. A street film made with the cinematic eye of a true artist.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT [3.5/5] (2015)

samuel-l-jackson-hateful-eight

Someone should whisper in Tarantino’s ear that he would do well to dial it down a bit. For all of the pleasures one encounters in his latest work, there is just something a bit stale, repetitive and contrived to it all (even compared to his own standards). While Pulp Fiction felt like a gush of fresh air when it was released, The Hateful Eight feels like the crafty job of an auteur who is not as hip or as fresh as he would like to believe.

WHITE GOD [2.5/5] (2015)

Director Kornel Mundruczo  does his very best to grab our attention with a surrealist vision to start the film, and one that he is well aware constitutes the most powerful and beautiful moment the piece has to offer. After that, White God becomes somewhat of an unintentional comedy, never completely allowing us to suspend our disbelief, while showing that a story can lose its effectiveness in its execution. Very surprised it received so much attention in the festival circuit.

THE WALK [3/5] (2015)

Having seen the documentary “Man on Wire” about the incredible accomplishment of Philippe Petit’s daring high-wire walk between the Twin towers, I can’t help but think that The Walk missed some of its cues, and turned into camp what could have been a simple and beautiful story about pushing the limits of human ability. When it was first announced I was excited being that Man on Wire is one of the best documentaries I had ever seen and I believed in the potential of the story to be treated as a feature film. Against my expectations, director Robert Zemeckis adds cinematic fluff when none is needed, adding fantastical elements to a story that is unbelievable enough to not need them.
Though I think Joseph Gordon Levitt is a capable and talented actor, I feel that he was a bit out of his element, turning Petit into an European superficial archetype rather than a person of flesh and bone.

SICARIO [4/5] (2015)

Sicario

Along with Incendies, Sicario is probably Denis Villeneuve’s most visually enchanting cinematic experience. The film is also his most socially charged project since then, commenting on the Mexican and American troubled relationship at the border, and the excesses of the decades-long war on drugs. Even though it is an apt film in nearly every way, I was most impressed with the decision to cast Emily Blunt in a role that was first intended for a man. In fact, she gives the film depth and vulnerability that it would otherwise not have, and balancing the violent machismo around her to heighten the abuses committed by those who think they are exempt of judgment.

BEST OF ENEMIES [3.5/5] (2015)

My only criticism of Best of Enemies is not entirely a critique, but an observation of the kind of film that it is. The film is a documentary about a series of debates between two pundits that were of entirely different ends of the political spectrum but who were incredibly intelligent and well-versed in their political views. Considering the specificity of the subject and its leads, I can see very little appeal for anyone that is not interested in politics like I am.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE [3.5/5] (1990)

I have also gathered my thoughts on this unique film in a longer review, so keep that in mind should you be interested in reading it. The Double Life of Veronique is a very interesting film that did not fail in capturing my attention and imagination. However, is it as fantastic as Roger Ebert claimed? I don’t think so.
AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD [4/5] (1977)

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

aguirre-wrath-of-god-still

Another fantastic film by the great mind of Werner Herzog before he wet his artistic appetite in a number of documentaries of great success. This piece of unique cinema, along with his infamous relationship with his then lead actor Klaus Kinski earned Herzog a cult following that he still enjoys to this day. Herzog is a master of the medium and I may consider giving this film  a full treatment should time be on my side.
THE REVENANT [4/5] (2015)

A visual marvel of great emotional intensity focused on the struggles of Di Caprio’s Hugh Glass, but driven home by the acting dexterity of Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald.

If the script had the same amount of lengthy pauses as the film did, I can’t even begin to imagine how it must have looked:

first sequence – action, something happens, shot of a tree.

second sequence – action, something happens, short of the snow falling.

third sequence – action, something happens, shot of a wild animal.

Though the story and the acting is powerful and engrossing, I find the construction of The Revenant too simplistic to deserve to be elevated to best picture nominee. Still, a great cinematic accomplishment with one of the best action sequences ever shot.
AMERICAN SNIPER [3/5] (2014)

More than any other movie I can think of, American Sniper is the clearest expression of the division and polarizing nature of war and the politics that motivates it. For me, it is pretty clear that most of those who enjoyed “Sniper” probably agree with the patriotic fervor it protects zealously, while those who did not fall on the opposite side of its overt political statement. Though I fall in the second category, I’m also one to criticize Eastwood for simplifying a story that should have had more layers and complexities. A few decent scenes and plenty of suspense save it from total mediocrity.

BRIDGE OF SPIES [3.5/5] (2015)

It is not possible for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks to make a bad film together. In terms of pace and tone, their latest reminds of the director’s Munich. Though the film progressed with the frustrating pace of diplomacy, it feels like a personal effort that resonates thanks to the familiarity and approachability of Hanks who was, without a doubt, a perfect bit of casting for this film.

Bridge of Spies

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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One thought on “Months in Review: December & January (2016)

  1. I agree Mission Impossible Rogue Nation wasn’t especially original, but has memorable action sequences and a star-making performance by Rebecca Ferguson, a female action heroine who was an equal to Cruise.
    The Revenant is simplistic, but does contain some of the most impressive scenes of the year.

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