Thursday, March 17, 2016

Film Week

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

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014)
Very clever, very funny vampire mockumentary, directed, written by and starring Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. If you've been reading long enough, you know I generally dislike modern takes on vampires, but this movie--about a group of vampire friends preparing for New Zealand's biggest annual vampire gathering and how they live their lives--is an interesting, hilarious commentary on the way cultural legends about vampires have changed, from Eastern European legend to Anne Rice characters to Twilight to Universal monsters to Count Orlock. The special effects are particularly clever with the handheld look. Just an extremely enjoyable, insightful movie that both satirizes and celebrates everything I've ever loved and hated about vampire lore. ****

MAGIC MIKE XXL (2015)
It got mixed reviews, but I had a more fun time with this one than I did with the first. Maybe because this one's just straightforward. The sequel sees Mike out with most of the guys from the first movie for One Last Ride to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. The movie doesn't take itself too seriously, the dancing is good, Joe Manganiello is sexy as hell... you could do a lot worse. That convenience store scene is one of my favorite scenes of 2015. I also liked that the focus was on the characters having to deal with things they're running away from in order to let themselves go and take a chance on doing something new. Huh, it's kind of like The Muppet Movie, but with male strippers. I'll go with that. ***1/2

END OF WATCH (2012)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena give great performances as two cops in LA. The film begins as a found footage flick--Gyllenhaal is taking a film class and making a film about his job--but the film drops the device more and more as it goes on. Some of the critics called out the inconsistent filmography, but I think it actually works in favor of the film as it goes on. It's a stylistic choice that director David Ayer uses to keep raising the stakes of the movie. This is like a Peckinpah film, starting with two basically decent, flawed guys working in a hard job, who deal with more and more nightmares on the job, until they finally run headlong into an ambush that takes the film away from documentation to outright mythmaking. It's powerful, compelling stuff. ****

SPY (2015)
I actually didn't expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did, but I had fun with it. I was glad that the tone was more "legit spy movie that's funny" rather than "lame comedy with spy elements," if you get me. Melissa McCarthy was very funny as a CIA analyst forced to go into the field after her partner's death in the line of duty. Jason Statham, riffing on his action movie intensity, had a lot of funny dialogue, even if he himself was a bit stiff. Funny and well-made, makes me look forward to Ghostbusters even more than I already am. ***1/2

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (2014)
I generally don't like religious-themed horror movies, but this one framed the whole thing as an archaeological mystery (in this case, a search for the Philosopher's Stone). This did everything right that The Pyramid did wrong; it's one of the most intense horror films of recent years (particularly if you get claustrophobic, as most of it takes place in the catacombs under Paris), ***1/2

THE GALLOWS (2014)
Asshole teenagers are haunted by, um, a cursed school play. Decent-ish twist at the end, but pretty unbearable. *

INSIDE OUT (2015)
The best Pixar movie in some time. I appreciated this as someone dealing with mental illness; personifying five aspects of emotion was an interesting way to dramatize something I deal with every day: my sudden mood changes. The emotional aspects--Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Anger and Fear--work together to structure emotional responses in the human brain, suggest ideas, and attempt to organize the social structuring of human interaction. I especially appreciated that the film didn't remove free will from the human experience, but rather used the characters as personifications of emotional response. It was clever and insightful the way the film showed that sadness has a place and can even be useful in processing what we feel. I though Phyllis Smith was especially good as Sadness; she was touching and ended up becoming the character I was most invested in. Beautiful work. ****

IMPROMPTU (1991)
Entertaining and airy film that tells a fictionalized version of how George Sand (Judy Davis, very good) met and fell in love with Fredric Chopin (Hugh Grant). Directed by James Lapine, it doesn't take its subjects or their work too seriously, playing with some of the great artists of 1830s Paris. It's a silly film--at times, ridiculous--but it's always fun and the cast is terrific (particularly Mandy Patinkin as Alfred de Musset). It's a fun period piece that keeps its characters likable, never ridiculing them, but puncturing some of the society of the time by giving us luminaries who are all too human and subject to human flaws. Delightful. ***1/2

2 comments:

Dr. Monkey Hussein Monkerstein said...

Impromptu is one of my all time favorite films.

Devilham said...

Just watched What We Do in the Shadows, partly on your write up here, what a fun and funny movie. I love how everyone loved Stu, Vampires, werewolves, even the ones going to eat him are instantly attracted to him, despite his general schlubiness. I also really liked the touching/insensitive way Deacon tried to cheer up the younger vampire towards the end of the movie, part sweet, part ridiculous. Great recomendation