Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) 2018

Posted in What I've Seen This Week on April 4, 2018 by moviemoses

All of Japan’s dogs are quarantined onto a garbage island because of a dog flu. Atari, who is the son of the prime minister, goes to the isle to find his dog. If I were to briefly summarize this movie it would be cinematic cuteness, smothered with adorableness, and topped off with a dollop of “Aww”. You are seeing cute dogs in downright gorgeous stop motion animation (seriously this needs to be nominated for something artistic) on a whimsical adventure.

The main plot involves Atari finding his dog with the help of a pack of dogs led by Chief (Bryan Cranston). The main plot is well written and involves a good character arc for Chief who is a stray who eventually comes around to being a domestic dog. The movie got many chuckles from the audience I was with. This movie isn’t necessarily haha funny but as I said it is cute as we see the dogs discuss the lives they had before the quarantine and what their favorite foods were and so forth. I know some hate Wes Anderson for his, well, Wes Anderson-y nature but I find his animated movies (previously Fantastic Mr Fox) to be more accessible to general audiences than his other works. If for nothing else you see cute dogs going on an adventure.

Now if I did have a gripe it would be that we are kind of cheated on advertised voice talent. They bill people like Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum to name a few but they are in the movie so little they might as well be cameos. It was disappointing to me just because I love those those actors. This movie is mostly about the young boy and Bryan Cranston’s dog and everyone else has much smaller roles. So just know that going into it so maybe you weren’t as disappointed as me. That being said, this was another great movie and I highly recommend it.

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The Florida Project (Sean Baker) 2017

Posted in What I've Seen This Week on April 4, 2018 by moviemoses

The Florida Project follows six year old Moonee and her friends during a summer. She lives at a budget motel while her mother struggles to find work and earn money. I wanted to see this last year to complete my top 10 but this was a limited release film. I was interested not just by the reviews but of the director who did the also excellent Tangerine. Now by the description this may sound like a depressing tale of people on the edge of homelessness. However much like Tangerine, you can tell director Baker really loves his film subjects and shows them in a fun light. We go through the movie mostly through the lens of Moonee as she and her friends do childish shenanigans as they pass time during the summer. These antics are seen as playful and fun and it is a joy to see these kids make lemonade out of lemons. And through the eyes of Moonee we see the adult figures like the hotel manager/resident father figure played wonderfully by Willem Dafoe and Moonee’s mother who is both loving and immature.

Because the movie follows these kids it can get away with being both light hearted but also hitting us with powerful moments. Some of Moonee’s friends have to move out because their parents can’t find work, and without spoiling anything some truly heartbreaking things happen later on that are like a sucker punch that adds weight to everything. I could talk more about this movie but the thing is, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. If I had anything I could gripe about it is that it is a bit long at two hours and it doesn’t help having a meander-y feel since it is a slice of life instead of a structured narrative. But that being said I agree with YouTuber Nerdwriter in that this deserved a Best Picture nomination (not a win but a nom). This was an important film from last year and I really enjoyed it.

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) 2018

Posted in What I've Seen This Week on March 13, 2018 by moviemoses

So I was kind of excited to see this movie despite my growing exhaustion with comic book movies. This movie got stellar reviews and it is always nice to see diversity in Hollywood. And then I saw the movie…

Okay so my biggest problem with the movie is probably with the Black Panther himself. He is far too overpowered. The man has super strength and agility and wears a vibranium suit (the same stuff as Captain America’s shield) essentially making him unstoppable. Seriously, nothing can penetrate or break vibranium. Now I know some people will come back saying other superheroes are overpowered like Superman and Vision. True but comics and films either try to power up the bad guys or put innocents in danger. Here in this movie, Black Panther is simply fighting bad guys with weapons we know can’t affect him so all of his action scenes are completely boring. Also the character of Panther/T’Challa is rather boring himself and the movie struggles to find any real inner conflict for him.

The movie has a lot of world building elements which I usually love but to me didn’t work. Wakanda is obviously about African culture and symbols which would be fine if it didn’t conflict with what we are being told. We are told for example that Wakanda is essentially lightyears more civilized and advanced than any other nation on Earth. And yet to determine their king they have trial by combat to the death. Say what you want about Democracy but I’ll still take it over any form which allows a man called Killmonger to rule. And despite having technology that would make Tony Stark salivate, people still fight with spears and live in mud huts? You see how the two elements just don’t gel?

The story is flawed, has holes, and is rather oddly paced. The big baddie Killmonger, who is one of the more interesting villains, is almost not in the film and we instead get Andy Serkis for much of the run time doing a dreadful performance. As I mentioned before the action is dull due to the lack of tension and the special effects are shockingly dated. I was getting Spider-man levels of dated CGI in this.

Overall the movie was just rather dull and uninteresting. That doesn’t mean I’m done with the character. I didn’t like Captain America’s first movie and I loved the two sequels so there is hope. But to me, Black Panther is on the lower tier of Marvel movies along side Doctor Strange and Thor/Thor 2.

To The Wonder (Terrence Malick) 2012 Knight of Cups (2015) Song to Song (2017)

Posted in What I've Seen This Week on March 13, 2018 by moviemoses

These movies are considered to be Terrence Malick’s low point of his career to the point that some would say these films expose his lack of talent. However I have decided to see these films for myself and just lump them together in one review since, after seeing them, they are all practically the same thing. So here we go.

To The Wonder is about Neil (Ben Affleck) who falls in love in Paris and brings his lover back home to Oklahoma. The two have problems and Neil falls for a childhood sweetheart. Meanwhile a pastor (Javier Bardem) struggles with his faith.

In terms of plot, well, that’s about all your going to get. In literal terms that’s true because you will find for his next three films, Malick shot without a script. He would just give his actors random feelings and thoughts and film them during the day. Malick is someone has always put plotting far behind themes but in these movies they are at the bottom of the list. This movie is based loosely on some parts of his life although I’m not sure what he’s trying to get at with this story.

In fact I’m not sure what to get from anything in this movie and I’m not being flippant. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to glean from the love story, or the pastor’s problems, or both. I could guess that both are about finding love (Marina’s from a physical perspective and Quintero from a spiritual one) and the frustrations that both provide, but I’m really reaching far into my ass for that one. Quintero’s plot comes with seemingly no real conclusion or even a suggestion of what we are supposed to walk away with. And the only thing I could get from Neil’s storyline is how empty of a shell he is. Neil practically says nothing during the film, is emotionally dead, and provides no signs of affection in either relationship. Again, I could ponder about what Neil is supposed to be (as I clearly am meant to) but I feel as if any speculation would simply be me creating something out of whole cloth. There is a line between giving the audience the dots and letting them connect them, and having no dots and essentially the emperor has no clothes to mix metaphors.

The film is lovingly shot although with Terrance Malick that is a given. I mean just take it for a fact that his movies look gorgeous until told otherwise. I know Malick or hard core Malick fans will tell me I’m watching the movie wrong and that it is more meditative but even compared to Malick’s earlier works this is far too vague and ambiguous.

Knight of Cups is about a big shot writer in Hollywood Rick (Christian Bale) who is having an existential crisis and through the course of the film has relationships with six different women.

Now this movie has been criticized as being #firstworldproblemsTHEMOVIE and being a glorified perfume ad where various women prance around a morose looking Christian Bale. But compared at least to To The Wonder, there is at least something I can work with here. Bale’s character, despite his success in just about everything feels empty. Got it. I can work with that. The films visuals do get across the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and Rick’s round the clock party lifestyle while portraying his boredom with it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I still wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone but hard core Malick fans, but compared to To The Wonder, this film at least has…things to it. It has themes like with the tarot card and with Rick’s story being a parallel with the Hymn of the Pearl which is read at the beginning, and actual character moments like interactions with his father and learning about a dead brother. Its the closest Malick in his experimentation has come to linking the feeling of existential angst to his meditative style of film making. And it is the one of the three that I will most likely see again.

That leave us with Song to Song. This involves BV (Ryan Gosling) a singer who is involved with Faye (Rooney Mara) who is the receptionist/lover of slimy music producer Cook (Michael Fassbender).

Maybe this is because I am now six hours into a Malick marathon but his affects are really getting to me at this point. I can only see so many shots of women prancing around the desert, lovers engaging in horseplay, and people extending their arms out into the setting sun while whispering vague lines before I am thoroughly bored. I will say Song to Song has the most plot out of all three in that we follow these two love triangles and we get actual dialog but that doesn’t save the movie at this point.

I’ve heard this movie is supposed to give you the feeling about how live is a series of moments, of how we live “song to song” but I really didn’t get that. For one, if you want a movie that does that feeling better, watch Boyhood. But two, this film felt uninspired especially after Knight of Cups which Malick shot back to back. And when I say this movie is more uninspired and worse than what some consider Malick’s worst than Knight of Cups, you have a problem.

So after seeing all three of these movies did they expose Malick? I don’t think so. I think Malick is simply going through an admittedly experimental phase. He is trying to work with visuals and feelings and simply failing. Are there any of these movies I would recommend? Again, unless you are a big fan, none of these except for Knight of Cups.

All the Money in the World (Ridley Scott) 2017

Posted in What I've Seen This Week on December 26, 2017 by moviemoses

Inspired by a true story (I guess, don’t ask me about accuracy), this is the story about the kidnapping of Paul Getty III, the grandson of wealthiest man alive Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer). Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) and a fixer named Fletcher Chase (Mark Whalberg) try to negotiate for the child’s release.

To start with the elephant in the room and the replacement of Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer. I can’t say how good Spacey would have been but they did a seamless job of integrating Plummer into the movie. And Plummer is fantastic in this movie. He plays a perfect miser and he relishes playing the heel in this movie. He steals any scene he is in frankly. But I also want to give credit to Michelle Williams who also does a great job. I’ve been a fan of hers for years and hopefully she gets more recognition for her acting in the future. But in this tripod of acting one of the legs is a bit short. Yeah, Mark Wahlberg is not that good. I don’t want to be too critical of the man but I think when compared to the great acting of Plummer and Williams, he simply doesn’t compare. He is supposed to be this suave guy but also a cold as ice negotiator and I just don’t get that with Wahlberg’s apologetic whisper acting. He’s not horrible, but he does hurt the movie.

The story is, overall, very tense and interesting. The tension comes from Gail who has no money and is caught between begging Paul for the ransom and begging the kidnappers for more time. Again, I have no idea how true any of it is, but for Hollywood sake it worked just fine. That being said, there were times when it felt things were cut for the sake of time; namely characterization. The most glaring example is the relationship between Gail and Fletcher. For most of the movie we see Gail is cold toward him as she thinks he is simply a lackey or a money man. But at the end she says “I think of you as family” and meanwhile I’m in the theater thinking to myself “Where did this come from?” Again, this was probably fleshed out in scenes that were cut for the sake of a shorter run time but I actually wanted to see it.

I liked this movie quite a bit. I enjoyed it mostly on the great performances given. The story is good but with a little more work could have been even better. I don’t think you need to rush to theaters to see it but definitely rent it when it comes out.

Bright (David Ayer) 2017

Posted in What I've Seen This Week on December 26, 2017 by moviemoses

So Bright is Netflix’s attempt at being a summer blockbuster (despite it being December). Its rumored cost is 90 million which I’ll just guess outspends other Netflix movies like Okja and War Machine. Bright is about an alternate modern day where mystical creatures like Orcs and Elves live side by side with humans. Human cop Ward (Will Smith) and new Orc cop Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) find themselves in deep trouble when they come across a magic wand and a Bright (someone who can wield magic). Ward and Jakoby are on the run from everyone who wants the wand as it essentially grants any wish.

So you may think as other reviewers do that this movie is about race relations but with the not so subtle metaphor of different mystical races taking the place of current races (ala Zootopia with animals and race). You would also be a fool in thinking David Ayer has any depth to him at all. First off any idea this movie has ideas should be whisked away in the first five minutes when Will Smith makes a “Faerie lives don’t matter” joke. You see its funny cause it’s not. But even if we discard that joke as just his attempt at being not PC but still examine the movie critically the movie either doesn’t have anything to say about race or forgets to say it. Yes the first ten minutes or so we get the broad strokes of something with Elves being the upper class twits and Orcs living in slums. But as soon as the plot proper gets going and our protagonists find the magic Macguffin all that subtext gets thrown out the window and it becomes a standard action movie. So to make a long story short, this movie has nothing to say about anything.

So how does it stand up as just an action movie. Okay to start off this movie REALLY wants to be The Warriors. Our two cops have to survive a hellish night while being chased by different groups be it government Elves, evil Elves, Orcs, gangsters, evil cops, etc. I don’t have a problem with the movie trying to be the Warriors but the execution is again lacking. For one the buddy cop element between Ward and Jakoby just didn’t work for me. Ward is an asshole leaving you to wonder why Jakoby wants to work with him and at times Will Smith does his Will Smith routine which falls flat. You see, he calls Orcs “Shrek”…that’s funny right? Yeah, that’s the level of writing we’re dealing with. Edgerton is endearing as Jakoby, but again the chemistry isn’t there like in another Ayer film End of Watch. Second, despite there being mystical elements in the movie, I dunno, it just never feels like they are properly utilized. The orcs don’t display fantastic strength and magic is only used as a deus ex machina at times. I would have liked if they spent more time in actual world building instead of throwing things out there and hoping something sticks. Finally the action is okay at best. Again, you are never really told about the power of Elves and Orcs so you don’t know what the stakes are when the human Ward tries to fight them. Most of the time it is shakey cam shooting in the dark which might be okay for some but for me I don’t care about.

Bright has been called by some the worst movie of the year. And, yeah, I suppose its up there. I’m sure in the grand scheme of this year there are 10 worst examples of film making. But in terms of wasting talent, money, and potential, Bright is up there in terms of shitting the bed.

American Sniper (Clint Eastwood) 2014

Posted in What I've Seen This Week on November 27, 2017 by moviemoses

Me and the war have not been on good terms in recent years to put it lightly. From the reasons we started the war to human rights violations that have gone on even through the Obama years (and this is by no means a comprehensive list), I could go on for hours. So when the prospect of a Chris Kyle movie coming out I gave a quick pass. Nothing about Kyle’s politics or Eastwood’s for that matter seem like they would be opposed to the war and word of mouth didn’t necessarily help it. But its been years, and some people have tried to educate me on the anti-war sentiment of this movie. So with that in mind and a genuine interest in seeing a good movie, here are my thoughts on American Sniper.

First off, let’s talk about the technical bits before going into the meat of the story. Clint Eastwood’s direction is superb. I wasn’t sure how the usually reserved Eastwood (direction wise at least) would shoot the frenetic action of this war. The man’s work profile is so extensive you (or at least I embarrassingly) may forget he’s worked on war movies previously with Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and to a lesser extent Heartbreak Ridge. The action scenes are exciting and the scenes of Kyle sniping provide a tense contrast where their tension is wrung out for all its worth. The sound design and music are both excellent. I am getting tired of Eastwood’s fascination with desaturization of colors as he seems to be the only person to make the bright desert dull and gray but that’s just my opinion. And finally we get to Bradley Cooper who really does give a great performance as Chris Kyle. He has the usual Cooper charm but in this movie he has to do a lot of emoting with his face; especially in scenes where he’s looking down a sniper scope. This, maybe more than other movies he’s done has sold me on his acting. So from all the technical aspects this movie is a thumbs up.

Now we get to the heart of the review which is the story. To start let me talk about the decision to make a movie about Chris Kyle. Its problematic to say the least. Proof of this comes from the huge debate that was sparked about Kyle’s life as the movie was being released. This is a man who lied about some pretty big things, stated he enjoyed killing, and who referred to Middle Eastern people as “savages”. It would be like making a movie about Hollywood and framing it as a biopic of Kevin Spacey. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done well, but again, its problematic. I think the best course of action would have been to make this story about a fictional character so you didn’t have the personal politics of Chris Kyle drawing attention away from your movie. On some level, Eastwood seems to agree with me as he fictionalizes parts of Kyle’s life. There is no Mustafa and the whole climax around killing him is bullshit. So just go full out and make him a completely different character.

But let’s say I just do that. Let’s say for the purposes of this review I make the character into a fictional one and distance it from Chris Kyle. How does the story play out then? As I mentioned before I have heard people try to say the movie has a powerful anti-war message. You have Kyle who was raised to value God, family, and country, and you have a war that is systematically destroying all those values. This isn’t as simple as “wolves” and “sheepdogs” as Kyle has to make horrifying decisions in a war that is not simple good and evil. I get it, I just still don’t buy it. I could start by saying at this moment I personally don’t believe there is such thing as an anti-war movie. That no matter how hard you try, you end up glorifying some part of war. I won’t simply say that as a blanket condemnation of the movie. Instead I will just say that in my viewing the movie, it comes across as very simplistic in its depictions of peoples. The Americans are righteous, god fearing good guys trying to bring peace, and the Middle Easterners are for the most part evil drill/bomb wielding sociopaths. It comes off as propaganda to me at times and I don’t think its me either. In speaking with my friends about it they got that impression to and in the aftermath of the movie, and it was reported that threats against Muslims increased in America. It may have been Eastwood’s intent to make a personal anti-war movie, but the execution feels like something different.

There is one last part to the movie that almost salvages it and that is the depiction of PTSD in combat veterans. This is also something that has stuck out in reviewers as being good and I can agree. So much so that I feel the movie should have just been a personal movie about soldiers dealing with PTSD. As it is it takes up a minority of the movie and majority comes down to Kyle hunting for Mustafa.

American Sniper is technically speaking a very well made movie. The direction, sound design, music, and acting, are all top notch. That does not change the fact that at the heart of this movie is a story about a soldier that is problematic to say the least and can be offensive to say the worst. I think Eastwood tried to make a movie divorced from hot button issues and make an apolitical movie about a soldier with PTSD. I don’t believe he succeeded though.