Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

ANNABELLE (2014)
Pretty stylish horror thriller with some really good scares. It's a spin-off of The Conjuring, giving us basically the origin of the possessed doll from the opening of that movie. Like The Conjuring, Annabelle is purportedly based on a true story. Something I find interesting is that the "real" Annabelle is actually a Raggedy Ann doll. Probably there are licensing issues involved, but it would've been more challenging, I think to use a Raggedy Ann doll instead of one of those creepy, uncanny valley dolls that are a longtime staple of horror movies. Your work is half-done with those; lots of people already find those dolls eerie. A Raggedy Ann doll seems so harmless that you have to work a little harder to get audiences freaked out over it. Of course, despite some genuinely scary shocks, this movie's so derivative of Rosemary's Baby (and the movie acknowledges it, even naming its main couple John and Mia), so I'm not sure how hard anyone was really working here. Not a bad movie. Not as good as The Conuring, but a fun waste of time on a Friday night. ***

CLEVELAND ABDUCTION (2015)
This is one of those Lifetime movies where you think you're going to watch something exploitative and instead it turns out to be really serious and intense. This was like a gut punch. This is about the Ariel Castro kidnappings, told from the perspective of his first victim. Michelle Knight, whom he held hostage in his Cleveland home for eleven years. It's a harrowing journey, but actually a pretty good TV movie. Upper tier Lifetime, whatever that might mean. ***1/2

CHEF (2014)
Jon Favreau is a celebrity chef who loses his job after a public blow-up with a critic, and then opens a food truck. I enjoyed the second half of the movie--the food truck half, which turns the whole thing into a road movie where Favreau works on his relationship with his young son. The first half was loose and hard to get through; in fact, my wife gave up on it. The food was nice (this movie made me want a Cubano, and yet I hate pork), but the movie spends so much time making this guy a schmuck that I was getting tired of him. (Interestingly, it was a lot of the same script problems I had with Swingers, which, like this movie, was written by Favreau. And both movies are sort of insistently male in a way I don't really relate to.) But the second half, with the food truck, is a really nice movie that I wanted to see more of. So, a mixed bag for me. Fantastic soundtrack, mostly ska, reggae and Latin jazz. **1/2

INTERSTELLAR (2014)
I agree with everything here. Especially the part about Christopher Nolan getting a lifetime pass for directing The Dark Knight.

A dopey movie (dopier than Inception, even) where the human race is facing extinction because apparently biology forgot how to work among the plants. Matthew McConaughey (who chews the scenery so much he must still have chunks stuck in his teeth) leads an expedition to space to look for a new home for the human race, and while the space scenes are compelling and visually splendorous (the special effects are absolutely beautiful), I get nervous when scientists start arguing that love is a higher dimensional plane and simplify explanations in order to prepare the audience for when the inside of a black hole turns out to be an outpouring of sentimentality. (I also lose respect for scientists in movies who say shit like "There are some things we're not meant to know." NO. NO. NO.) I don't mind metaphysics in my science fiction, but this one really felt like a cop out. I don't know. I don't get the Nolan worship, I really don't. I think what I really don't like about him is that he goes to such great pains to make everything realistic, laying down a set of rules, only to throw reality and rules out the window in the third act because love, or something. So, **1/2 for the special effects and some cleverly designed robots, and some genuine space adventure thrills, but I can't take the first or third acts remotely seriously. So, good middle. And at least there's no fascist take on Batman.

LUCY (2014)
Well, it's based on that old canard that we only use 10% of our brains, but at least it doesn't violate the ramifications it sets for itself and is actually a very entertaining (but entirely dopey) movie. Writer-director Luc Besson enthusiastically commits to his silly premise, and Scarlett Johansson gives good action hero. It's not a smart movie, but it is a fun, goofy action flick that doesn't let its wacky characters down and is just a really fun way to blow ninety minutes. ***1/2

4 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

I liked Chef more than you - the second half doesn't work for me without the first. And I think it probably played better in the theater. But my wife agrees with you. Oh, and the food is astonishing throughout!

Your Interstellar take is about right...a hot mess, as someone I know likes to say.

Jason said...

THANK YOU for validating my feelings about Interstellar and Christopher Nolan generally, a movie and director whose popularity has frankly mystified me. Yes, Interstellar (like his Batman films) has some awesome visuals, but it never adds up to anything for me, never makes any emotional connection... and yet many of my friends are practically orgasmic over the thing. I'm having similar issues over Mad Max: Fury Road. I just don't understand the level of praise and enthusiasm it's receiving, and I've been struggling not to feel like it's my fault somehow.

As for Chef, it worked for me. I really dug it, but I do agree that the "road movie" half is the best part...

Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, and I just watched the Interstellar video - absolutely right on!

SamuraiFrog said...

Roger: I look at it a different way. I think the movie's lucky that the second half works as well as it does in spite of the dull first half. A lot of the stuff in there could have played out in the truck, and a tighter first half wouldn't have felt so repetitive.

The food does look amazing; wonderful colors, especially. I didn't know what a lot of it was, but I wanted to eat it. I still want that Cubano.

Jason: One of the things that's been harder for me online is that I sometimes feel (or am made to feel) like something's wrong with me because I like something that everyone says is bad, or don't like something everyone is heaping praise on. It's made it hard for me to talk about movies I really like (Man of Steel, Age of Ultron and the Star Wars Prequels are great examples) because I just don't like the negativity it draws down. I think a lot of times people are either too hard or too easy on movies simply for things they either attempt or don't, as if we're not looking at the movies themselves anymore, but simply their intentions. (Or whatever we interpret them to be.)

I follow one guy on Tumblr who didn't like Fury Road (I haven't seen it yet) and the negative comments coming in were really insane. He didn't drag it across any coals, he just said he didn't like it, and people were calling him all kinds of names just for that. I wish people didn't have such over-the-top reactions. Nothing's fun or not good anymore; everything's phenomenal or garbage. It's becomes so toxic that I feel like there's nowhere to go.