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A few reviews
Yeah, I watched Short Cuts maybe 10 years back and even then was just like "WTF is up with the messaging in this movie?!"  They just seemed oblivious.  I don't need something "P.C." or where every character is perfectly nice, but I also don't get the torture drama of populating a film with reprehensible people.  Give me someone to root for.
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For Your Consideration (2006)

I watched this as an "alt-Thanksgiving" film, but really it's less about those themes (family, gratitude, food) and more about Hollywood.  A dead-on skewering of everyone in the industry, this is like a 90 minute version of all the seasons of The Wire, but for film-making.  The verisimilitude is masterful.  The problem is, it's just not all that funny.  Some of Christopher Guest and company's humor is just too dry for me generally, but especially here it often falls flat.  I've also never really responded to the type of cultural humor like in Mel Brooks films where they over-dramatize very Jewish things for a laugh.  They're the equivalent of bad dad jokes for me.  So, each to their own, but this film just made for interesting enough head-nodding for me, but not belly-laughing.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)

The surprisingly awesome first Goon, in the end, has to be attributed to that Evan Goldberg magic.  The writing/directing partner of Seth Rogen, Goldberg helped Jay Baruchel write the screenplay based on the true story for the first film.  They managed to make Doug "The Thug" Glatt a lovable simpleton with a big heart and some wacky and f'd up people around him.  There are a lot of great comedy bits, and a solidly stoic supporting performance by Liev Scrieber that make that film... a triple play.

But Baruchel directs here, and Goldberg's writing touch is nowhere to be found.  Doug becomes just a simpleton, but not particularly lovable, and all the wacky antics of the supporting cast are just that, antics.  Baruchel in particular has no one to reel him in, and his scenes are like a 13-year old's idea of adult comedy.  It's obviously a bunch of actors improv-ing on the set to see how far they can push the scenes, and Baruchel always goes for the "too far", leading to some pretty unfunny and unbalanced scenes that don't do anything for the narrative.  And the narrative in itself largely re-treads ground from the first film, but this time making Eva (Allison Pill) a grating caricature instead of an interesting 3-dimensional character.  Even another solid performance from Schrieber can't stop this film from being almost offensively bad.
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Knives Out (2019)
Definitely Rian Johnson's most creatively successful film, he aims to both celebrate and subvert the Agatha Christie style murder mystery and does so with skill and flair. The all-star cast are excellent but Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans are the stand outs. The solution to the death is ingenious but I thought the accelerated pacing was too fast to really enjoy the plot details and savour the performances. There were quite a few points where I was questioning the logic but the film whipped me onto a new bit before I could fully think it through. Perhaps on a second viewing the case will collapse like house of cards but I'm unable to make any accusations right now. If the clever premise wasn't enough, there is a political subtext to tickle your brain.

Hustlers (2019)
Director Lorene Scafaria (she also writes) makes this story about New York strippers/criminals look almost impossibly glossy and visually seductive. I very much felt the influence of 'Goodfellas' but it lacked the same probing of the characters. It literally takes until 15-minutes from the end of the film to show any negative consequences from what the ladies are doing (drugging men and stealing their money) and makes only a couple of flimsy attempts to question it before that point. I doubt presenting their crimes as some form of uplifting self-empowerment story would have been the route chosen if it was a movie about men drugging women. Main character Constance Wu's performance was a bit flat but thankfully Jennifer Lopez is the best she has ever been. Lopez is electric in every frame and makes the film worth the watch.

The Lion King (2019)
I wouldn't have gone out of my way to see this one, the other Disney live-action re-rashes were a waste of time and this is the worst offender. It's practically the exact same film, line for line, shot for shot, song for song. Except the colourful and magical hand-drawn animated animals are replaced with emotionless cold CGI recreations. There is a total disconnect between their stiff, realistic animal mouth movements and the wise-cracking, sarcastic, improving voice actors, it's like you have the cast and crew commentary on by mistake. It has to be said that the CGI is spectacular and virtually photo realistic, if you had the sound off, you might very well think you were watching a David Attenborough nature documentary. This made me think how much bolder and more interesting the film could've been if they made it as a 21st Century silent film. Just allow the animators and Hans Zimmer's score to tell the story, like you were watching a documentary about animals that just happened to have a narrative.

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Murmur of the Heart (1971)
Again French Director Louis Malle draws from his own childhood in this evocative coming of age piece set in a mid-50s middle-class home. Benoit Ferreux is superb as 15-year-old Laurent, his adolescent confusions not helped by two mischievous older brothers, his distant gynecologist father, a suspect catholic priest and his (too) close relationship with his beautiful and promiscuous Italian mother. The backdrop of Jazz LPs and angry debates about the 1st French offensive in Vietnam set the mood. Sure to please fans of 2017's 'Call Me by Your Name'.

After the Thin Man (1936)
Part-time sleuths Nick Charles and his dependable wife Nora must once again solve a murder mystery. This time the commission is from Nora's pompous upper-class family (including Jimmy Stewart in one of his earliest roles), who have a low opinion of Nick because he comes from working-class, immigrant stock. That point leaves William Powell plenty of room for hitting back at them with cutting drink fueled witticisms e.g. When asked "Is he a friend of yours?", Nick replies "On the contrary... a relation". Predictably I didn't think this post-censorship sequel was as deliciously misbehaved as the 1934 pre-code debut. The rate of cocktail consumption was way down.

She's Gotta Have It (1986)

I've only seen a couple of Spike Lee joints, and what I've seen mostly hasn't been my speed (though I did quite like Inside Man, but that seems like an outlier).  Watched this as another alternative Thanksgiving movie.  haha  Honestly, it's pretty ahead of it's time.  I don't really know how much it spoke to any kind of typical black experience, but it does definitely mark Lee as a unique voice.  He's by far the best part of the movie, both behind the camera and in front (as the above trailer shows).  The dialogue for the film is a little bluntly realized at times, and hard to deliver, though Lee makes it seem natural.  The other actors don't have the chops though, and the film kind of clunks along without anyone really pulling you in.  I was never really sure what the motivations were of any of the characters too, as everyone seemed pretty 2-dimensional.  But it's an interesting little indie film, and I'm sure it spoke to some people quite loudly back in the day.

Black Mirror: S2E4 - White Christmas (2014)
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I'm not really a huge fan of Black Mirror and have only watched a few episodes.  The ones I've seen, well...I don't know a nice way to say this.  They seem like what dumb people think "smart" writing is.  Don't get me wrong, there's always an interesting idea at the core, but the writers never figure out a way to see that idea all the way through.  There's a beginning hook, and then a big pop ending, but somewhere in the middle they jump the shark with character decisions or logic conveniences that are completely unbelievable.  It if were a big, dumb action movie, I could look past it.  But when the whole point is that you're cleverly envisioning a wicked future, then the emphasis had really better be on the clever.

Well, this particularly standalone mini-movie came quite recommended, so I decided to give it a shot for some Christmas viewing.  And it does really have its moments.  There is a Russian nesting doll type story structure so that the 3 short-stories in this film actually continually relate to each other, despite appearing to be separate.  If you're paying attention while watching, it is quite clever that what you see in one section comes to have a greater impact on the others.  The performances in each are quite good as well, in particular Jon Hamm of course, who brings the right combination of cool confidence and dark cynical humor that makes the role shine.

Where the film falls apart a bit is in it's portrayal of human psychology.  It's a common flaw in the series.  At a certain point, they just assume that people will go along in a behavior that allows the story to continue, and the audience is so interested in seeing how the idea pans out that they just let them get away with it.  But real people aren't so simple, and that's what holds this series back from really being great.  There are examples like this in the choices people make in the 1st and 3rd stories (the logic of giving consent to view recordings of people is wildly inconsistent for example) but the most glaring case is the 2nd story.  It essentially posits that solitary confinement turns people into compliant computer programs when we presently have lots of evidence to the contrary.  As much as the show posits what might happen in the future, I'd like them to ground it a bit more in present day research, and a bit less in a kind of clingy nihilism.
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^ You thought Spike Lee was the best actor in (insert name of any of his films) !!! Big Grin To be fair the standard of acting from the rest of the cast is a low bar in that first joint.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
I've been excited about seeing this 15.5-hr TV/Theatrical film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder since the DVD first came out in 2007. I rented the first episode from LoveFilm at the time but the transfer looked atrocious, so I didn't watch anymore. When it got a blu-ray release last year I bought the boxset but have only now found the time to watch it. The blu-ray has a lot of 16mm detail and texture but the source itself is unrelentingly sepia and hazy, like it was shot through some sort of refraction process. If almost every scene and every episode didn't look the same shade of brown, I think it'd be a much easier watch. So do I get a medal of achievement for sitting through it all? Big Grin

The first 13.5-hrs follow the trials and tribulations in the chaotic life of Franz Biberkopf and the strange characters he encounters in late 20s Berlin. It begins with the simple-minded Franz being released from Tegel prison for beating his girlfriend Ida to death in fit of rage (a scene that plays out again and again for him and us the viewer). Most hour-long episodes (although it's one continuous narrative) are about him getting a new girlfriend, losing a girl, getting a job, losing a job, getting blind drunk and depressed, or being joyful and sober. These ups and downs have negligible impact on his situation because his landlady Mrs Bast supports him regardless of what he does, even her having been a witness to Franz killing Ida hasn't dimed her motherly affection for him, nothing would. The narrative goes round in circles but it's occasionally sparked off by Franz's odd friendship with the psychotic Reinhold and his gangster friends. The story (very) slowly gathers steam towards the end when it focuses in on Reinhold and Franz's true love Mieze, like a devil and an angel.

The final 2-hour "epilogue" is the really infamous bit that I was looking forward to, Fassbinder called it 'My Dream of the Dream of Franz Biberkopf'. Franz has been driven mad by what he has experienced, so this last section takes us into his mad visions of the past, processing his traumas in a surreal and kaleidoscopic landscape. Franz imagines himself being slaughtered like a pig (silently watched by Fassbinder himself), being flagellated on hot coals and fighting a boxing match on a rapidly spinning carousel. A constantly changing soundtrack of Kraftwerk, The Velvet Underground, Janis Joplin and Leonard Cohen play softly in the background throughout. One scene features Franz being crucified on a nudist beach, which is also the nativity scene, against a backdrop of a giant Hieronymus Bosch painting which changes to an atomic bomb exploding, while Glenn Miller's upbeat 'In the mood' plays. Just your standard stuff Wink . Dropping acid while you watch the last part is either a great, or terrible idea. Watching the epilogue is definitely worth it but is it worth watching what precedes it? I don't know but you need to watch both, or neither.

The main harmonica theme is really lovely and sad:

A double-bill of Taika Waititi films centered around two incredible child actors...

Jojo Rabbit (2019)
This is right up there with Taika Waititi's best film 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'. The packed cinema I saw it at was laughing and crying all the way through. Roman Griffin Davis' innocent little face caries almost the whole film in a pretty complex role. Sam Rockwell is a highlight as always, funny and tragic. A film which fans of 'Life is Beautiful' will appreciate. Taika and Roberto Benigni have both shown us how wonderful and how terrible people can be when they are put into the worst of circumstances. Might be the best Cinematography all year, colours popping off the screen but always balanced and realistic (naturally it's not nominated).

Boy (2010)
Taika Waititi second feature and more emotionally mature and nuanced than his debut 'Eagle vs Shark'. Young James Rolleston plays the title character, an 11-year old Maori kid who idolises his absent father (played by Taika), creating ludicrous fantasies about him being some sort of renegade legend. When his man-child father returns from prison, Boy begins to see he isn't the hero he has built him up to be. The tragic state of this broken family is deeply moving but like all of Taika's films I laughed so hard it hurt.

I've now watched all of Waititi's six films and I'm looking forward to his future projects, 'Next Goal Wins' and 'Thor: Love and Thunder'. Even though I love them all, I'd narrowly rank them as follows:

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
2. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
3. Boy (2010)
4. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
5. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
6. Eagle vs Shark (2007)
You Season Two (2019, Netflix)

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(Season One thoughts here)

Well, hot damn, they've done it again. Someone please invent us a time machine, because I very much want for Jane Austen to be temporarily diverted from her later years, shown this series, and have her reactions recorded for posterity. Season Two of the deliciously unnerving romantic thriller You, based on the second book in the series by author Caroline Kepnes and starring Penn Badgely, manages to revisit the themes, tone, and general WTF-ery of its first outing while also offering something very different, and the result is a wild ride I'm sure Hitchcock would have loved. Can the spell me maintained for the recently announced third season? Who knows, but I'll be watching, for sure. If the notion of a rom-com imbued with David Fincher vibes intrigues you at all, you owe it to yourself to give You a spin.

S1: B+
S2: A-
Two Cars, One Night (2004)
This 11-minute short black & white film from Taika Waititi could play as a prelude to his 2010 feature 'Boy'. It also stars James Rolleston in a similar role and the scene of kids sitting in parked cars, while their parents get wasted in a bar is repeated in 'Boy'. The cheeky dialogue between the three kids is so charming and natural. You can watch it free on youtube.

1917 (2019)
Two soldiers must take a message across no-mans-land to warn a Battalion it's walking into a trap. Refreshingly that's the whole plot, it's more about what they encounter on their way there, told in (sort of) one shot. This device creates an astonishing effect in the first section because it helps us the audience feel the increasing distance from home and the growing isolation and chilling silence. It's like the two lads are walking through a vast crime scene, the evidence of past war atrocities sinking into the mud. It's a shame Director Sam Mendes didn't have a little more guts and stick with this powerful approach for the whole run-time. I suspect he feared audiences would get bored, so eventually lots of eventful action, drama and running around happens. The one-shot device becomes largely irrelevant at this point and '1917' stops being something truly unique and becomes just a very good war film. George MacKay (damn he picks some great films to be in!) and Dean-Charles Chapman work so well together, like a big and little brother relationship. The Cinematography is beautiful in a couple of places, like when a ruined town is lit by flares but overall the film looked so dark and so lacking in contrast that you I was in danger of eye-strain injury. Even in a pitch-black cinema there were some scene where I could not tell what was even on the screen.

Ad Astra (2019)
'Ad Astra' reveals it's pretensions of being smart but playing it dumb approach before it even starts by translating the Latin title for the audience. It then opens on a breath-taking 'Gravity' style action-sequence, before settling back into the slow, dour, introspective mood that was clearly where the movie wanted to be. This does serve to grab the viewer's attention but also shows us how exciting this could've been. It continues in this vain for much of the rest of the runtime. 10-15-mins of introspection and then an artificially created action-scene to keep people awake, repeat, repeat. Early on, I noticed the similarities in style to 'Apocalypse Now' and once you have that in your head, the whole plot looks like a thinly veiled re-write of Francis Ford Coppola's film. Every one on the production is doing great work so it's a shame it's in aid of a half-baked script. I reckon one more critical pass to remove 'Smart characters doing and saying stupid things' could've nailed it. When a minor character suddenly dies in what is intended to be a shocking way, I spontaneously burst out laughing because it was caused by such idiotic and unbelievable behavior (quickly followed by more ridiculous decisions and fatalities).

I got the impression that a lot of doubles (human and digital) were used because it often weirdly looked like the actors faces were floating in the helmets. Also lines were clearly added when actors were faced away from the camera. Afterwards I read that "Following poor initial test screenings, reshoots were conducted (although Pitt was unavailable)" which makes sense. Those dodgy looking helmet shots were in those annoying out-of-place action scenes, which could have easily been created in the computer without much involvement from the actors. If 'Ad Astra' had stuck to it's guns, not bothered with trying to be exciting and just gone all out on the lonely bleakness of space it could've been something pretty special. It's innovative vision of near future, near earth, space fairing, felt intriguingly different from other movies.

I'd be tempted to do a fanedit of this one.

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