Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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The Straight Stories

Far less genre this time!

Straight Outta Compton: This movie is like, hey, do you like biopics? You're gonna LOVE a triple-biopic! We follow the three primary members of N.W.A., Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube, through the rise and fall of the group, and the damn thing remains compelling and entertaining for two-and-a-half hours. As with any biopic, you have to accept that it's not entirely factual and things have been elided or omitted or made-up entirely, but as a narrative focusing on three characters? This works. You see their origins, where they come from, why they do what they do, and there's such energy and joy in the creation of their art, but there's also conflict in their commerce, both in the public reception and the contracts. It's fun to see the genesis of various popular songs, however fictionalized they are, and it's sad to see the tragedy of various characters, however sentimentalized they aren't. (If you're looking for good female characters, look somewhere else.) The movie weaves together a lot into a coherent, powerful story. B+/A-

About Time: On Tim's 21st birthday, he learns that the men in his family can time travel (why so sexist, time travel gene). So of course, being 21, he uses this power to get a girlfriend. Rachel McAdams is charming as hell, and Domnhall Gleeson is quite endearing, but the romantic-comedy portion of the movie is a wee bit uncomfortable because, well, rom-com tropes in general can tend toward creepy stalking, and it is not helped by the ability to keep doing things over and sabotaging people's lives in order to get your own way. We are, of course, supposed to see everything Tim does as cute and funny, and some of it is, granted; we can empathize with wanting to Get Things Right. But once the romance is firmly established, the movie shifts into a family drama, as if it is growing and maturing along with the protagonist, and it begins dropping in more time travel rules in order to teach Life Lessons. Look, the time travel in this movie makes no sense (even less sense than usual, I mean), but somehow the Life Lessons portion of the movie worked for me. It's sentimental as hell, but it's sweet. B/B+

My Neighbor Totoro: Two girls and their father go live out in the country for a spell while their mother is in the hospital. They scream a lot, and it's simultaneously annoying and cute because, well, they're kids. This is a movie where children actually act like children. They're young and innocent and full of wonder, and they have a vague sense of what's happening with their mother, but, really, they're just kids. Who come across some magical creatures including the titular Totoro and the fucking amazing Catbus. Here's the thing about this movie that took me a long time to get: this is not a movie about Totoro. It is a movie about two girls with a sick mother. It has a plot, but it's not obvious about it; it takes its sweet time letting you soak in the kids and the creatures. And it builds to a climax that only works because of all that comes before it. When the movie ended, my heart was so very full. I thought I didn't care about anything in the first half, but I did, I did, these little girls were fucking adorable. You just have to let go of your expectations and allow the movie to happen. It knows what it's doing. B+

Girlfight: After loving The Invitation, I thought it was high time to check out Karyn Kusama's debut (as well as Michelle Rodriguez's). Diana Guzman is a GIRL but she wants to BOX! Whaaaaaaaaat?! The movie is much more than that, though; a lesser movie would play up that angle and turn Diana into a Symbol of Girl Power. This movie is more character-focused, diving into the subtle reasons Diana is even drawn to box, a reason that doesn't truly come out until a powerful scene that is even then not played up like a lesser movie would. Kusama explores Diana's relationships with her her brother, her father, her best friend, her mentor, some hot guy, and so on. Hell, she doesn't even show us a lot of the boxing matches, content to give us some relevant sections and moving on until the latter half of the film, where the outcomes really matter, when Diana's become a boxer worth watching. It's a strong film led by an assured hand. B+/A-

The Purge: For one night in America, all crime is legal, even murder! ESPECIALLY MURDER. The Purge rests on this ludicrous but compelling premise, throwing some psychology and criminology out there as justifications for how this might actually work to reduce crime every other day of the year. And then there's the hint of social commentary, where it's implied that the real reason for the Purge is to eliminate the poor. After all, it's the rich who are able to afford the security systems while everyone gets their ya-yas out. And Ethan Hawke is the guy who sells those security systems to provide for his happy family, who he will keep safe during this year's Purge. At least until things go horribly wrong. The Purge is creepy and tense, with never a dull moment, and while it erupts in bloody violence, it does, underneath, seek to examine and critique the Purge and what it does to people. It's funny because you have to turn your brain off to accept the premise at all but you have to turn your brain back on a little to see what it's trying to do with it. I'm not saying it's exceptionally smart and incisive overall, but it's more than it seems. B+

The Purge: Anarchy: This sequel to the Purge opens up the world wonderfully and violently, as we get to be outside on Purge Night. Rather than focus on one rich white family, we see the other side, including the poor POC who are the real targets. Also some white people, but way more POC. A man on a revenge quest, a couple on the rocks, and a mother-daughter duo all end up having to survive the night together, and it's very bloody and exciting. This movie gets into little details I thought about in the first movie, like the fact that you can totally set up your Purge before the Purge. The anarchy theme comes from the rise of a resistance group LED BY FUCKING MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS, who is like, fuck the Purge, stop shooting us, but, as in the first movie, the social commentary is very light, and there's more focus on violent mayhem. There's also more evidence of governmental involvement, though, which sets up The Purge: Election Year nicely. B+

The Last Five Years: After seeing the musical with Seanan and hearing that the movie starred Anna Kendrick AND Jeremy Jordan (Winn from Supergirl!), I of course had to watch the movie, especially because I was curious how they would adapt a musical that is almost completely solos with only one person onstage. Welp, it would be silly to do that in a movie, so they don't. We watch actress Cathy and writer Jamie break up and get together, her story moving backward and his story moving forward, and it can be a bit hard to keep track of the chronology, but we're still with them every step of the way. Anna Kendrick is especially heartbreaking and fun, though maybe her high notes aren't perfect. Jeremy Jordan is quite charming and endearing; I saw Jamie's side a little better in the movie. Some of the film staging is inventive and some simply relies on the actors' performances, but overall it's a solid adaptation. B+

Kiki's Delivery Service: Kiki is a young witch who must find her own way in a city by the sea! That's...the movie! She starts up a delivery service with the help of a kind baker, she makes a friend or two, that's...the movie! It's a fascinating movie because there is not a lot of major conflict; Kiki encounters minor obstacles along the way but they are resolved very easily, usually with the help of others. In the latter half of the movie, internal conflict pops up, but this isn't a movie with a very clear plot and I loved it anyway. Kiki herself is endearing as fuck (and her cat Jiji is a hoot as well), and we want her to succeed. Who wouldn't help her out? Everyone helps her out! This is a movie about nice people being nice to Kiki! And the people she meets along the way help her on her personal journey as well; I love how it all ties together in the end. The climax got me surprisingly emotional even though I knew there was no danger of anything bad happening because in this movie nothing bad happens and everything is solved. I was just so...proud of Kiki!! This is a gem of a film. A-

Pitch Perfect 2: Pitch Perfect was an unexpected delight, so I had high expectations for the sequel, and then it got very mixed-to-poor reviews...that were fairly on-point, sadly. The Barden Bellas get into some trouble and have one shot at redemption: win the World Championship. Can they beat reigning champs, the German Das Sound Machine? Probably, I mean, we've all seen movies before. They're not all as overstuffed as this one, which has that main plot and like three or four subplots tied into a narrative that just jukes back and forth instead of moving forward linearly. I rarely laughed, especially given the number of racist and otherwise offensive jokes, but I did chuckle a few times. The German team is ridiculous, and I enjoyed their interactions with the Bellas and Anna Kendrick's improvised foolishness; I also liked Beca's subplot about interning for producer Keegan-Michael Key. And Hailee Steinfeld as a new recruit is cute and fun! But the announcers, who were reliably hilarious in the first movie, are quite cringe-y here. The story has its moments, and the final performance almost makes the whole thing worth it, a really nice, sweet climax. A step down from the first for sure, but mildly diverting. B/B+

Cape Fear: Robert DeNiro carved himself another spot in cinematic history as Max Cady, a convicted rapist who terrorizes the lawyer who got him locked up once he gets out of prison. Max Cady Terrorizes the Bowdens IS THE ENTIRE PLOT OF THE MOVIE, and Martin Scorsese keeps the tension high for over two hours (okay, after a bit of build-up and really weird stylistic stuff). Cady is terrifying because he works within the confines of the law, giving the lawyer no legal recourse; he's creepy and unnerving but for the most part he doesn't let it out, like he gaslights you into trusting him. Especially if you're a teenage girl and really impressionable. The movie opens with Juliette Lewis narrating to the camera, so it's clear it's her relationship with Cady we should pay attention to, and yeesh. Scorsese definitely takes some cues from Hitchcock (check out that Bernard Hermann score), and the suspense and terror ratchet up to a hell of a climax. Cady is a scary, yet all-too-human villain. B+/A-

The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino puts together a Western and it's...kind of a fascinating failure by the end? The first half of the movie is pretty boring, as it takes its sweet-ass time getting characters to be trapped in Minnie's Haberdashery in a blizzard. Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell are bounty hunters, Jennifer Jason Leigh is a prisoner, and Walton Goggins is a sheriff, and then these hateful four meet four hateful more, and they start talking. They question each other's identities and motives (except racism, everyone is racist and tosses around the N-word like jellybeans). No lie, I considered walking away in the first half, but I'm glad I didn't, because the movie clearly pivots at pretty much the exact midpoint of the movie (a masterful, deliberate move, given that some theatrical screenings had an intermission right there) and once the movie becomes a locked-room murder mystery, it's far more engaging, and you can see why Tarantino spent all the time setting up who everyone was. Plenty of shocking, bloody violence and plot twists in the second half, and the characters all become more interesting. It is not as successful as a whole as it wants to be, but I appreciated what it was trying to do. B/B+

Jackie Brown: This was the only Tarantino movie I hadn't seen, and it seems like the most underrated, one that doesn't get mentioned as much as his others. It's his only adaptation, and it's surprisingly sunny and light for him; it's not as stylized as his other films and doesn't even have that much violence. It's like mainstream Tarantino in a way, though it does still have his distinctive voice overall. Pam Grier is the titular Jackie Brown, a flight attendant in the employ of Samuel L. Jackson's Ordell Robbie, a gun-runner who does not take kindly to those in his employ ratting him out to the authorities. When shit starts to go south, though, they concoct a plan to get away with $500,000. Tarantino slowly but surely puts pieces in play so that Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert DeNiro, and Bridget Fonda all have their eyes on this money, and the movie becomes a fun twisty crime caper as we wonder where the double crosses are and who will eventually get the cash and who will get dead (this is a Tarantino movie after all). There are nice character moments throughout, especially between Grier and Forster. B+

Prisoners: Hugh Jackman's daughter is kidnapped, and he will stop at nothing to find her. She's also Maria Bello's daughter, but whatever. Also Terrence Howard and Viola Davis's daughter is kidnapped, but eh. Let's just focus on Hugh Jackman here, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal, the cop trying to find those daughters. Prisoners is slow and deliberate, almost oppressively so, in that it refuses to manufacture Hollywood tension. Instead it gets its tension from being really fucked up and torture-rrific. I can see why this movie was so acclaimed; there's a good mystery and it's competently made, well acted. But it's so relentlessly dark I could not see what the message was supposed to be, there are some religious themes scattered throughout, and clearly there is something about the lengths a parent will go to save their child, but after two hours and forty minutes, I did not know why this story was told. B

The Lobster: In a world...where single people are outlawed and have 45 days to fall in love or else they turn into an animal—YES THIS IS ACTUALLY THE PREMISE OF THIS MOVIE—Colin Farrell tries to find love in 45 days so he doesn't turn into a lobster. This film is...something else, I tell you. It's offbeat and deadpan as hell, blackly, darkly comic at times, and very fucked up, largely because of how deadpan it is. Hardly anyone feels like a real person, least of all Colin Farrell's character, who has practically zero affect the entire time. The movie is horrendously cynical about relationships, satirizing the idea that all it takes for a love match is to have one thing in common, be it a limp or a history class or short-sightedness, but it also skewers the loners who eschew relationships, so I am not entirely certain what message it is trying to send. It can be funny in an absurd way at times, but it's also just...so fucked up. Yet it's interesting and unique, an original in an age of remakes and reboots, so though it may not be to everyone's tastes, I respect whatever the hell it's doing. B/B+

Up next: who knows, who cares, who's even reading.
Tags: making the grade, movies, real life friends
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