Lady Bird (2017)

★★★★★

I find it difficult to think that I will discover a film this year that I will love more than Lady Bird. How it came at the right time in my life, wanting to break away from my home after college; applying to universities in cities that just really want to live in. It was almost as if Greta Gerwig was tapping into my own psyche while writing this movie.

Other than just the more personal connection I felt to the story. You don’t have to be a senior in High School worrying about your future to enjoy this movie. If you like coming-of-age movies and comedies, Lady Bird will not disappoint. The opening scene immediately grabs you in (not spoiling anything though), making you pay attention and laugh at the fiery and rebellious nature that Cynthia “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) emits. Her journey through the last year of high school is one trek that most of us will or have made at some point in our lives.

As far as Gerwig’s direction went, at some points of the movie I was getting a bit of a Wes Anderson vibe from certain shots. Which is not an insult but, I found it as an interesting stylistic decision on her part. I think Noah Baumbach, gave her helpful lessons on directing and she utilized them in a movie that shot-wise has no problems.

Lady Bird is one of the strongest directorial debuts I have seen in this decade. It makes me look forward to what Gerwig’s directing future will have to offer. With her Husband, Noah Baumbach being a great director as well, I look forward to seeing how they will both inspire each other through their separate directing careers.

 

Molly’s Game (2017)

★★★★

Molly’s Game or The Movie Where Jessica Chastain Wears a Lot of Dresses is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, and is where he has full control for the first time over everything. If you’ve seen anything written by Sorkin you know what you are in for. Incredibly fast and sharp dialogue in situations that otherwise would most likely be boring if done by anyone else. The best way to describe Molly’s Game is, the most Sorkin-esque film yet.

If not for Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba’s performance as well as Sorkin’s dialogue, direction, as well as speedy editing; this would have probably made this nearly two-and-a-half hour movie a slog to get through. The opening of Molly’s Game is both action-packed and and also metaphorical for the course her life took. The expectation that the movie would start out with poker, which is how most would expect that to be the subject that is tackled first. Instead, this provides background to Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) as a character showing her strict upbringing by her father (Kevin Costner), and her determination. Leading into what the future held for her after that one skiing accident. The surprising thing however, is that Aaron Sorkin did not even want to direct the film at first. As he said in his Q and A following the screening. He had picked directors with the producers and both the directors selected had turned down the movie multiple times, both insisting that he should be the one to direct. This is surprising to discover, because I could not really picture anyone more perfect for this movie and am glad that he turned out to be the one for the job.

Molly’s Game tries to set the record straight. Portraying Molly Bloom as an intellectual, brilliant, and independent woman. Who just happened to be a victim of circumstance. Painting the reports in the tabloids to be false. Using the movie as factual evidence supporting her. Never boring us, but keeping us interested until the very end.

Frankenstein (1931)

★★★★★

And so here I am, exactly a week before going to see a screening of Benedict Cumberbatch perform Frankenstein. and it wasn’t until today that I actually watched the 1931 classic. At only 71 minutes, James Whale wastes no time establishing everything, making this a quick and atmospheric Halloween watch.

Even though I have never seen Frankenstein, I know everything about it, the plot, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”, and of course the monster (Boris Karloff). This film has, like Victor Frankenstein’s monster itself, stumbled into its legendary pop culture status. The strongest point of this movie other than Karloff’s performance, is the atmosphere which, for a movie made in 1931 still is impressive to look at. The editing and film making represent a different more primitive time in Hollywood. The abrupt editing of scenes and the over the top delivery from some characters. None of these things even come close to ruining this film. Why not? Because it is Frankenstein. Sure there have been more adaptations of the story but this is not one of them. It makes up for the awkward moments with the Gothic atmosphere, and the studio sets add to this making it seem more like a stage play if anything else.

Frankenstein has cemented itself in its legendary status is everything that came after it and the influence of it still shines bright through all horror films in some way and a good place to start for anyone looking to study the genre.

Hoop-Tober Film #7 of 35 

The Babysitter (2017)

★★½

McG’s The Babysitter is a movie that could have only really thrived on a service like Netflix. I doubt that most (including me) would go to a theater and see a movie such as this. It doesn’t set out to be high art of any kind, which is completely fine. It just aims to be entertaining, scary and funny; and at least it succeeds at the first one.

At a lightning fast 85 minutes, this movie just flies by. Even though the editing had some odd choices, such as editing animated text into scenes (maybe to capitalize on people making GIFs?) or a strangely-inserted POV sequence it was never dull as everything is so nicely condensed and nothing is focused on for longer than it should be. One editing choice that I also found to be unnecessary was the use of flashbacks to scenes from earlier in the movie before Cole (Judah Lewis) would do something. It ruins some of the intelligence of the movie and was just plain lazy to blatantly tell the audience.

With a one exception, the characters in this movie don’t matter. The main character, Cole though an arc that feels rushed and happens mostly all during the finale. Bee (Samara Weaving), was the best character undoubtedly. Weaving helps bring her character to life, making her a charismatic, funny, and relateable character…who happens to be a psychopath. Bee’s friends however, are all just stereotypes that have been recycled again and again from other high school coming of age films. Which, by the looks of it seemed to be the intention but, it was an unsuccessful attempt at that. All of Bee’s friends were rarely ever funny and just came off as cannon fodder for the gruesome violence that entailed. The worst of these performances however, was Bella Thorne’s as Allison; the high school cheerleader archetype of the movie. Her comedic delivery and acting in general was horrendous and the movie would have been at least marginally better if she was not cast in the movie.

The Babysitter borrows from many other, undoubtedly better movies. Most notably, Home Alone (1990). It is a bit of a genre-Frankenstein of some sorts. Not really being scary and not being very funny either. It’s just a short and entertaining “turn-your-brain off” movie that best watched on late sleepy nights

 

Blade Runner 2049

 ★★★½

This is easily the best looking movie of the year. Part of my enjoyment in writing this review is picking the shot from the film I wanted to use for my blog entry. All of them were contenders. At nearly three hours long, this is a sci-fi epic. I found Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 to be a flawed, yet interesting addition to the universe of Blade Runner.

2049 explains much more than its predecessor does. The original Blade Runner (1982) managed to be more of a mood piece than a full-fledged action movie and this film is the exact opposite. Which is not a bad thing but not necessarily fully a good thing either. Personally, I found the ambiguity of the original Blade Runner (the 2007 Final Cut, of course) to be one of its strongest qualities. Connecting to the film’s themes of morality and liberty as well a leaving the ending more up to the viewer’s interpretation to what will happen to Decker and Rachel.

Denis Villeneuve continues his streak of making at least one film a year. This being his fourth year in a row. It baffles me how he manages to do it. Considering that the quality of his films have not gone down and have all manged to be at least consistently good. This movie is the most ambitious and most expensive of all of his movies and Villenueve still manages to continue with his streak. The shots are full of color in this movie and are just terrific to look at. I love how much variety there is in this film especially. Every scene is staged to perfection. I don’t think a better director could have been chosen for this movie.

Hans Zimmer handled the score for the movie, and lacked the amount emotion that Vangelis’ score had. Zimmer’s score fell back on not reusing sounds rather than having a central tune to the film. It puzzles me why they didn’t just get Vangelis to score the movie again or they could have even gone for a more unknown musician than Zimmer. I found the music to be the most underwhelming part of the film, which was very disappointing considering how iconic the original’s is.

2049 is a movie that while I may consider it to be unnecessary, is good at what it does. While a bit long, and lacking in its score. The film manages to add to the world of Blade Runner which helps provide for a good sequel. That while I felt was disappointing, ended up being much better than I would have expected when it was announced a couple years back.

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

★★★

Battle of the Sexes is a fun foray into the legendary 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The film, is an engaging retelling of the match that rides the line between a sports movie and biopic. Focusing on not just tennis but the personal lives of both players.

Steve Carell and Emma Stone provide two good performances as the tennis greats. Stone plays the role of the tennis superstar and women’s rights activist Billie Jean King as a brave, yet high-spirited person just looking for equality. Carell portrays the gambling addicted and self proclaimed “Chauvinist Pig” Bobby Riggs as an egotistical jokester just looking to have fun and gain attention from his antics. But, the chemistry of the two together is the best part of their performances. It is not overly serious and more fun and playful with a bit of a serious edge. You can tell that both of these characters do not hate each other but are just trying to win for their own competitive and political reasons. “Not overly serious” is actually a good way to describe this movie. It didn’t seem to fall into the traps and banality that some biopics make where it got too serious and dark. The film benefited from this tone and I’m happy they took this approach.

This biopic tries to really capture its 1970s aesthetic. From it’s use of the hand-drawn 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare to the meticulous amount of detail given to the the television broadcasts and the costume design, it helps immerse you in the era. I especially like the recreation of Riggs’ iconic “Sugar Daddy” outfit that he wore during his match against King. Other than Carell and Stone’s performances, the way Battle of the Sexes looks is unquestionably its strong suit.

Even though I enjoyed my time watching Battle of the Sexes, I don’t see myself  watching it again. It does a good job keeping things interesting and light-hearted but doesn’t necessarily offer anything that I would want to revisit. It feels quite textbook in its approach, not necessarily taking many artistic choices. Despite that, I am happy that I saw it and I would highly recommend it for mostly everyone to see. It doesn’t matter if you are a sports fan or not; as long as you enjoy an interesting tale, you will not be disappointed.

 

 

A Page of Madness (1926)

It is a somewhat common belief that as a culture we have become desensitized to violence and horrifying images. But then, how did a 91 year old silent movie be one of the scariest horror films I have ever witnessed? Teinosuke Kinugasa’s A Page of Madness is one memorable and avant-garde trip through the psyche of the insane.

What is it that makes this movie so unsettling? Is it the un-restored footage? Is it the creepy masks? (Pictured above) Is it the fact that the movie was lost for forty-five years? All of these may have something do with the effect that A Page of Madness had on me. The strange imagery must have been revolutionary at the time of filming because it still has the intended effect to make anyone’s skin crawl.

However, the plot remains the biggest enigma of them all. It is very difficult to follow as no intertitles are provided and during the original showing, there would have been narration. The film is, of course about an insane asylum; but without looking it up, it is hard to decode the motives of the characters. Music is also lacking from the print, which was also supposed to be performed live during showings. I found this to be a passable version. Providing so weird and intentionally irritating accompaniment to the picture.

A Page of Madness is a groundbreaking piece of cinema. A pioneer in the horror genre that clearly took inspiration from German expressionism and gave it a cultural spin for Japanese audiences. It provides a view of human psychology that was unmatched at the time and is essential to watch for anyone studying not just horror cinema but cinema in general.

Hoop-Tober Film #6 of 35

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

★★★½

Wes Craven knew how to correctly kill off Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund). Instead of making another installment set in the fictional world why not bring Freddy to ours? After the disappointment that was Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), Craven returned to the director chair for the the first time since his original masterpiece to fix the damage that had been done to the series. We get to see Craven, Robert Englund, John Saxon, and Heather Langenkamp all portray themselves in a world where Nightmare on Elm Street is just a film franchise. It’s a really cool and inventive sequel that has a lot of fun with the premise and tries to make Freddy scary again.

Heather Langenkamp is the focus in New Nightmare. Few are slain by Freddy but when they are, they are characters that matter and people that Heather cares about as well. Her son, Dylan (Miko Porter) is also having nightmares about Kruger and it makes him all sorts of creepy. In New Nightmare Kruger was given a slick, new design. His face is much more dark and there seems to be less skin left from when he was burned alive by the parents of Elm Street. His iconic glove also looks like it is one with his hand connected to his bones and everything. The CGI used in this movie isn’t really the best an looks a little goofy; but it doesn’t take away from the experience too much as they use practical effects too (like that great scene with Kruger’s tongue).

Overall, New Nightmare is a really interesting and original premise for the Elm Street series. It was a good way to temporarily end the franchise for nine years; finally ending the series for good with Freddy vs. Jason (2003). After the original Nightmare this would probably have to be my favorite. I think Craven succeeded at making a sequel that managed to not disregard continuity and instead, just made a movie disconnected from the whole entire series.

Hoop-Tober Film #5 of 35

Wind River (2017)

★★★★

Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River is a snow-covered crime thriller that is not just another rinse and repeat rendition of the genre. Suspenseful gunfights, diverse themes, and beautiful cinematography in addition to exceptional shot composition make this movie one of the best I have seen all year.

There are a couple prominent motifs in Wind River. The first, would be vigilante justice. Which has a lot to do with Cory Lambert’s (Jeremy Renner) past, with the loss of his daughter. The other motif that is equally as paramount, is missing Native American women; and the the absence of statistics for their disappearances. The film ends with this anecdote actually, creating emptiness inside me about how many Native American girls have gone missing without the knowledge of any type of law enforcement. Since the film takes place on a Native American reservation in Montana, the dire situation the reservation is in is also shown. Drugs are clearly a problem on the reservation, as the girl who was killed, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow) has a brother who is considered to be past saving by his father from substance abuse. The two main motifs in this movie are also joined by minor themes such as love, prejudice and cultural differences. Which also serve important purposes in the story.

The almost-fleecy mountains of Montana are a great setting to shoot a movie in. The wide shots in this movie especially display how gorgeous the environment is. The cinematography of the shootouts, possibly even better than the ones choreographed in Free Fire (2017). The suspense I felt in these two short, yet pivotal scenes was immense. The second shootout especially, does a good job transitioning to provide a backstory about certain characters motives. All this is done without needing to tell the audience, just through the editing.

The only glaring problem with Wind River was some of the acting from the supporting cast. Specifically, Lambert’s ex-wife Wilma (Julia Jones). Jones’ performance felt very dry, almost dead-pan and lifeless. Every time she was on screen her performance seemed to drag the film down. Fortunately, her screen time is very brief over the course of the picture.

Wind River is a tight, action thriller that again demonstrates Taylor Sheridan’s screenwriting talents as well as directing this time around. So, make sure to check this one out as I predict it being atop many “best-of” lists at the end of the year.

Lifeforce (1985)

★★½

You have to try pretty hard to make a movie about space vampires not even fun to watch. Which is how, even though, I found Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce to be dull at many times, it still isn’t a bad movie. Lifeforce is a movie fighting for its identity. Switching between a more serious film and something that is over-the-top.

So here’s the deal. A naked space vampire (played by Mathilda May), goes around seducing people as well as sucking the life out of them (with some awesome prosthetic effects) and then it turns out, the space vampires can also turn people into zombies. Patrick Stewart also shows up and he has hair blood shoots out of his eyes as his head explodes in one scene. That plot sounds like some cheesy 80s fun. But the issue is all the stuff in the middle of the plot I described. I think the film lacks focus and relied too much on the characters running around trying to stop the space vampires rather than showing the actual space vampires in action.

Lifeforce lacks the ability to be a serious or thought provoking horror film but also lacks the ability to fully embrace the extremely silly plot. But, the scenes where the film embraces the extravagance are easily the best parts of this uneven film.

Hoop-Tober Film #4 of 35