Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time MoviePass

Do I watch more movies than anyone you know? Quite possibly.

Metropolis: In this big-budget blockbuster sci-fi classic, Freder discovers that his father's Metropolis is designed to keep the rich on top and the poor below, literally, and he becomes instantly woke and also instantly in love with Maria, who hopes for a peaceful way to resolve this social inequality. Meanwhile mad scientist Rotwang creates a robot. Wackiness ensues. I enjoyed this German expressionist silent film from 1927 way more than I expected to, as it has a pretty strong narrative—slow moving as it is early on—that eventually gets kinda bonkers. It looks great, better than low-budget films from recent decades, thanks to practical effects and skillful camerawork. The basic dystopian story is cliché at this point, so it was cool to see one of the progenitors. The acting styles are...different, but very entertaining. Overall, this film holds up quite well! Bonus: it's written by a woman, Thea von Harbou! B+

Hotel Rwanda: Terry George and Keir Pearson tell the story of Paul Rusesabagina, who managed a hotel during the Rwandan genocide and managed to save over a thousand Tutsi refugees (yes, like an African Schindler's List). He sets the stage well early on, with scenes that both establish the Hutu-Tutsi conflict and the fact that there's no real distinction between them, making the atrocities committed that much more horrific. The tension escalates slowly, with little room to breathe, until it all becomes almost too harrowing, with bodies everywhere and the threat of certain death looming over Paul and his family and all his charges. Don Cheadle is excellent, especially in one long take that is the only real directorial flourish; George mostly tells the story without excessive panache. It's an important story, and even though it should have left me feeling hopeful about this man who did an amazing act of good, it left me feeling awful about humanity in general. B+/A-

The Devil's Candy: Ethan Embry, painter, and Shiri Appleby, uh...wife, buy a house. He and his daughter love metal (the music, not the substance). What none of them love is the fact that the last person to live in the house was murderer Pruitt Taylor Vince, who does the work of the Devil. Writer-director Sean Byrne uses sound design well to layer in the demonic voices, and it makes an interesting counterpoint to the soundtrack of heavy metal, the Devil's music. Byrne builds your investment in the family slowly, making you care about them so that when they're in mortal peril, it's genuinely terrifying. Though he's not terribly subtle with his use of religious themes, he's also not super pretentious about it. The film didn't win me over immediately, but I understood the raves by the end. This movie's got everything, art, metal, kids getting hit in the head with a rock, everything. B+

Mayhem: Steven Yeun went from fresh-faced kid to cutthroat lawyer in just a few years, but he's trying to retain a sense of goodness within him at this soul-sucking law firm. Making it very difficult? The fact that he just got fucked over and fired and he—along with everyone else in the building—is infected with a virus that removes all his inhibitions to, say, extreme violence. He teams up with fucked-over client Samara Weaving—who is almost distractingly Margot Robbie-esque at times—to get revenge on the suits upstairs. And that's going to involve killing a whole bunch of folks. Oh boy, this movie is deliriously violent, but not gratuitously so! It's quite fun and bloody without being gory, and director Joe Lynch has plenty of violence take place offscreen because showing it is not the point. It's more about how much we care about the characters and want them to win. And though Yeun's race is never mentioned, the casting does offer the unspoken implication—given that nearly everyone else we see working at the firm is white—that he was fucked over because of his race (by a black woman, no less, which intentionally or unintentionally plays into those racial tensions). The way the virus manifests is wildly inconsistent, as it seems like people can generally keep their cool unless it's narratively convenient for them to go as feral as the background extras, but that's irrelevant. This is an entertaining film with the best Dave Matthews Band references since Lady Bird. B+

The Belko Experiment: A whole host of recognizable faces work at Belko, and today is not like any other work day: they are trapped in their building and told to kill each other or be killed. It's a classic social experiment, but writer James Gunn and director Greg McLean don't really seem interested in examining character or human nature. They are more interested in a bunch of co-workers killing each other, playing it straight for the most part, with only the occasional moments of levity. It's a bit psychological horror, a bit actual horror, and then a lot torture porn. Characters exist only to be killed, so there's no reason to truly care about them. It's shot well, but there's no satisfying payoff to the actual experiment, which makes the whole ordeal seem like a pointless exercise in sadism. B

Barry: A young Barack Obama, then called "Barry," transfers to Columbia University in 1981. New York City is not entirely welcoming. So this movie does not have a plot; it is more of a character study as we follow Barry's struggles with his racial identity, not fully belonging in either the white world or the black world but consigned to the latter due to the color of his skin. He (Devon Terrell, in a strong debut) has a white roommate (the kid from Boyhood, whaaaat), a Pakistani friend, a black friend (Eazy-E from Straight Outta Compton), and a white girlfriend (Anya Taylor-Joy playing a regular person, whaaaaat), all of whom exist to highlight his issues. Writer-director Vikram Gandhi crafts a collection of scenes into a comfortable narrative, allowing us to watch and reflect upon Barry's journey, which ends on a line reminiscent of one I said myself during one of my favorite instances of casual racism. It's a good ending, if a bit pat. Overall, it's very well done, but it just didn't grab me all the time. B/B+

Life: A group of people on a space thing discover an alien life form that proceeds to kill them. Is this new territory? Hell no. Does Life do it well? Hell yes. Daniel Espinosa opens with an impressive one-shot sequence that establishes the team aboard the station, their roles, and their camaraderie. They begin studying a single living cell from Mars. This cell grows. Meanwhile, we get to care a little more about the team. The cell becomes a creature with a very neat design, and once the mayhem begins and the movie goes from sci-fi to horror, the tension is relentless. Espinosa choreographs terrifying alien attacks that had me clenching my fists, and he always kept me on my toes with regards to who would die and who wouldn't. The final sequence gave me chest feelings. This is a very well made, exciting sci-fi/horror pic with a strong cast, haters to the left. B+

Always Shine: This film lays its themes right out there immediately, beginning with an epigraph essentially stating that a woman's job is to be pretty like a flower. Which is appropriate for a story about two actresses struggling with the expectations of Hollywood. Although Lawrence Michael Levine's script does explore these ideas constantly, the real story emerges from the fractured friendship between Caitlin Fitzgerald, whose star is rising, and Mackenzie Davis, whose star is nonexistent. On a trip to Big Sur, tensions run high, and director Sophia Takal doesn't need all her weird random edits and discordant scoring to amp things up beyond what the acting does, but she does it anyway. The former is confusing and distracting, but I did enjoy the latter for the way it turned simple conversations into a potential horror movie. As the rift between them becomes clearer and clearer, we wait for something awful to happen, and then it does, and the film goes in an interesting direction before...just ending, as if it's said everything it needed to say. I don't think the last act is as successful as it wants to be, but the first two are very strong. B/B+

It Comes at Night: So there's some sort of ill-defined apocalyptic plague, and here's a family who lives in the woods, and they take in another family, and then, get this: they are suspicious and paranoid. Okay, now you have seen this movie. Writer-director Trey Edward Shults crafts a moody piece with occasionally striking visuals and employs an unnerving score that is responsible for the majority of the tension in the film since everything involved with the characters is so understated and boring. We don't learn very much about these people and so I had little reason to care about any except for Travis, the innocent son who is not built for this lifestyle. Things finally happen in the last half hour, but by the end I was left wondering what the point of any of it was. B-

Pitch Perfect 3: The Bellas are back! I really enjoyed these characters in Pitch Perfect and thought they deserved a better sequel than Pitch Perfect 2. This...is not a Broadchurch-level redemption, but it is possibly slightly less of a mess? Like the previous sequel, it's plagued with a multitude of underdeveloped subplots, including one that turns into an action movie for some reason, which is something different, at least, as incongruous as it is with the rest of the film. The main plot, with the Bellas competing at the USO for a chance to tour with DJ Khaled, never has any real bite to it, and I yearned for more compelling character growth since there was a lot of potential in checking in on the Bellas years later as they lead unfulfilling lives and wish for the camaraderie of their college days. Even if that was basically what the last movie was about too. The performance scenes are impressive as always, and I appreciate the focus on female friendship as family, but the first film looks more and more like a marvel. B/B+

Mom and Dad: Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair are parents dissatisfied with being parents, so conveniently enough, a mysterious signal causes parents across the country to kill their children! That's it, that's the movie. Writer-director Brian Taylor—co-director of Crank, so buckle the fuck up—builds the first half up with scattered mayhem for the big monstrous mayhem in the second half, in which the kids are terrorized by their parents in their own home. Throughout, however, Taylor indiscriminately throws in flashbacks of varied length that are supposed to deepen the characters or perhaps ironically defuse tension or increase pathos or I don't even know, it's a mess, and the chaotic score by Mr. Bill is an earsore that tries far too hard. The film is deliriously violent, but...that's all there is to it. It's hard to care about anyone or anything. Nicolas Cage is off the goddamn rails from the start—he gets some monologues that are so bad they're maybe good??—but Selma Blair gives a more shaded performance that makes me want to see her as a villain. In a better movie. B

Creep: If you thought a found-footage horror film from Blumhouse would be better than most other found-footage horror films spawned from the popularity of Paranormal Activity (...also from Blumhouse), you'd be correct! Creep works because it's an unsettling two-hander completely focused on the tension between Aaron, a hapless videographer, and Josef, the man who hires him for...some unknown reason. From the get-go, it's clear something is off with Josef, and also we've all seen movies, so we know where this is going, right? Well, yes and no. Patrick Brice (who co-writes and directs and plays Aaron) and Mark Duplass (who co-writes and plays Josef) allow the tension to build so that you're never quite sure how whatever "horror surprise" you're expecting will manifest. Like Josef, the movie has a wicked sense of humor, which keeps it fun while also being creepy. At only 77 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome, either. B+

Creep 2: Creep 2 could have easily been another in a long line of horror sequels that just do the same basic plot again with different characters and/or settings. Instead it takes the opportunity for a deeper look into the character and sets up a similar unsettling two-hander completely focused on the tension between Sara, a hapless videographer, and Josef, the man who hires her for...some unknown reason. This time, however, Sara is immediately a more interesting and compelling character, a woman dedicated to getting her webseries off the ground, no matter what. Also the movie makes it clear from the first scene what Josef's deal is, so that creates dramatic irony with Sara's ignorance. It's more unpredictable than the original, and it's even funnier, as it leans into the uncomfortable black humor of this character, who's presented with someone different from his usual companions. As it approached the climax, I honestly had no idea what the outcome would be since there had been so many effective twists and turns before then. I'm very intrigued about Creep 3, Mark Duplass. B+

Set It Off: After really digging Straight Outta Compton and not-so-digging Friday, I wanted to check out F. Gary Gray's second film, still a rarity in the history of cinema: a movie about four black women robbing banks! After opening with an action sequence (a technique Gray would also employ in Straight Outta Compton, though this one has more plot relevance), Gray and writers Takashi Bufford and Kate Lanier spend half an hour establishing Frankie, Stony, Cleo, and Tisean as suitably desperate enough to rob a bank. They all need money for different reasons, and they all support each other (this movie passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors). Of course, things get...complicated, especially since we the audience are following the cop who's on their tail. While it's not without its flaws, it's solid and poignant at times, with sympathetic characters and tense action scenes. Plus how many other movies are there about black women robbing banks. Or even white women robbing banks. B+

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: I have not seen a lot of musician biopics, and that includes Walk the Line, which this film is most heavily parodying. But this is not Biopic Movie, which would simply recreate specific scenes from movies and call it comedy; this is a true genre parody with actual comedy talent behind it. From the line "Dewey Cox has to think about his ENTIRE LIFE before he plays," the film establishes a perfect mock sincerity that carries through several running gags. Dewey Cox takes us through decades of music history, from the Big Bopper to Bob Dylan, and it made me laugh constantly. John C. Reilly is terrific—and he actually sings what the fuck—and, like, EVERYONE is in this fucking movie, thanks to Judd Apatow being a co-writer and producer. Plus the songs are genuinely good! This is such a wonderful example of how to do parody; there's plenty of movie-specific humor that doesn't even require you to know what all the references are. But if you do, it's even funnier. At the end there was a joke I could see coming, and it didn't happen, and it didn't happen, but THEN IT DID AND I WAS SO HAPPY. B+/A-

The Nines: While discussing Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2 on The Next Picture Show, Tasha Robinson highly recommended The Nines, which she encouraged us to watch without knowing anything about it. And, oh boy, was that ever a way to watch this movie in particular, she was right. Ryan Reynolds is a popular TV show actor, and Melissa McCarthy is the publicist who has to babysit him while he's under house arrest, and Hope Davis is the weird neighbor, and while the film does foreshadow the fact that things aren't really right with ol' Ryan Reynolds, it does not prepare you for all the directions the movie goes in. Without spoiling too much, I can praise the performances of all three leads, especially Reynolds and McCarthy, who get to be more subdued than they are nowadays (seriously, why can't Hollywood let Melissa McCarthy just play a...person and not some shouty punchline machine). It may not all hold together, and it's very Screenwriter Clever in a way I enjoyed but others might find overly cute, but hey, it's friggin' John August, okay (in his directorial debut). The movie tosses out a lot of interesting ideas while exploring the worlds of television and gaming, and it's entertaining for 99 minutes. Yes, see what I mean about Screenwriter Clever. B+

Coherence: Eight friends—including one played by none other than Nicholas Brendon—gather at a dinner party on the night Miller's Comet passes overhead. On the way there, one of their phones randomly cracks. There, another one does. This is only the beginning of the strange events of this night. James Ward Byrkit shot this movie in five nights at his own house with actors who improvised their lines based on specific character/story points secretly given to them, and although this gives it a very ~*indie*~ feel, it ends up really working once the film shifts from the "normal" opening that establishes the characters and their relationships and conflicts to the science fiction story that unfolds once they discover what the hell is happening. Refreshingly, they accept that the weird shit is happening and try to adapt and survive...which becomes difficult as Byrkit and co-story writer Alex Manugian play with this concept in fun and tense ways. It's a taut ninety minutes with an ending that's not entirely satisfactory but is about the sort of thing you'd expect in a movie like this. Really, though, this is such a marvelous example of low-budget science fiction. You don't even need special effects if you tell a cool story in a creative way. B+/A-

Videodrome: James Woods runs a television network specializing in "softcore pornography and hardcore violence," which he will claim is simply a public service, giving the people what they want. But then he comes across Videodrome, which is just straight-up torture and murder. The good stuff! Soon he's having hallucinations and diving into conspiracies and body horror and redhead Debbie Harry. Twenty-five years later, this film holds up, not only because of the practical effects but because the themes David Cronenberg explores remain relevant. The way the film examines the role of television in society is prescient and fascinating, and I especially love the idea that television has the potential to literally reshape our reality. This movie gets more and more fucked up as it goes along, but coherently. It takes you on a hell of a journey and makes you rethink the power of that box in your living room. B+/A-

Gerald's Game: Can a movie about Carla Gugino handcuffed to a bed be compelling for a hundred minutes? Yes, because Carla Gugino is fantastic. But also because Mike Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard delve deep into psychological territory, focusing less on how her character physically escapes her situation than in how she mentally escapes her situation. She talks to herself via various hallucinations, and the story, as it so often does, focuses on overcoming abuse and trauma as a form of empowerment, which is well-trodden territory for Strong Female Characters. And while that does put me off, I'll admit it's one of the smarter, more interesting takes, with a deft use of metaphor and imagery. This is a small story with a lot of depth, although it does get kind of weird in a Stephen King kind of way that I don't think was wholly necessary. B/B+

Zardoz: A disembodied floating head announces that he is Zardoz, and this is his story. And oh boy, what a story. John Boorman did...what he wanted, devising a post-apocalyptic world ruled by a big floating stone head that delivers orders to the Exterminators, who are told to kill the Brutals, but then Exterminator Sean Connery finds the Vortex and discovers the Eternals, whose extremes are the Renegades and the Apathetics, and...there is a lot going on here, okay. Also the Eternals are psychic in addition to being immortal. And Sean Connery wears a red diaper and rapes on command. It's bold and ambitious, but it goes entirely up its own ass in the second half as it tries to explain its worldbuilding in the trippiest, most seventies way possible. Unlike some other legendarily bad movies, this one clearly is trying to say something, and there is some compelling science fiction underneath all the...badness. But it's so incoherent that even a well done final montage doesn't land because it's all gone so bonkers by then. C+/B-

The Killing: Stanley Kubrick made a heist flick! And of course it's no ordinary heist flick because it's one Quentin Tarantino has cited as an influence for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction—it may have SEEMED like QT invented non-linear storytelling but it was there all along. Kubrick takes us through the planning, execution, and fallout of a race track heist, jumping back and forth in time to show us the different characters (a studio-mandated narrator clarifies things but isn't wholly necessary). Everyone wants the money for different reasons, but I didn't...really care about any of them. I did enjoy the heistiness of it all, though, and it leads up to a very noir ending—while I didn't feel an excessive amount of tension during the lead-up, the payoffs were very effective. B+

Appropriate Behavior: I really liked Desiree Akhavan in Creep 2, so I checked out her debut film. Every young filmmaker must make a quirky semi-autobiographical rom-com, and here she plays an Iranian-American bisexual woman who can't come out to her parents. Shirin is getting over a break-up, and she falls in and out of encounters with men and women as she tries to figure life out. On a surface level, there's nothing revolutionary going on here with regards to the general story or even the visuals, which rarely present more than "characters on the screen." What is revolutionary, of course, is that this is a QWOC telling her own story, and the fact that it fits snugly into the canon of many similar movies is very nice and a refreshing change of pace from the traditional straight white male perspective. And Akhavan is an engaging presence throughout. Even though you're mostly watching her reminisce and meander and nothing is truly resolved in the end, you still feel a sense of triumph and growth in the final scene. B+

Next up: clearing out my Netflix and DVR, maybe actually getting to those documentaries, whatever!
Tags: making the grade, movies

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