Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Mistletoe Movie Marathon, Part I

When you're in self-isolation watching a lot of movies, you reminisce about the last time you were in self-isolation watching a lot of movies and pretend you posted about all those movies after you completed your 2019 catch-up.

Gully Boy: I have never seen 8 Mile so if I do, I'll just think of it as American Gully Boy. Sure, this movie—inspired by the lives of two Indian rappers—follows a familiar template, but it's a winning formula, goddammit. Ranveer Singh lives in the slums and drives rich people around, but he dreams of being a rapper. Enter newcomer Siddhant Chaturvedi, who, honestly, has ten times the charisma and should be a star but in this film helps make Singh a star. Alia Bhatt mostly gets stuck in a Jealous Girlfriend role, but I appreciated that her dream of becoming a surgeon (and the familial obstacles in her way) serves as a complement to Singh's own dream. There's an abusive father, a shady drug dealer/car thief, a sexy producer, there's a lot here, and it doesn't all completely gel. But, gosh, it's hard not to get caught up in the core story of Gully Boy's ascension, putting a spotlight on class inequality and embracing the passion to create meaningful art. Plus the film just has a great slick LOOK to it thanks to Jay Oza's cinematography. It's a stirring, inspirational tale, and even if you know how it's going to end, the journey is fully engaging. B+

Her Smell: I love punk rock, Elisabeth Moss, and the five-act structure, so it's perhaps unsurprising that I really liked Her Smell. Alex Ross Perry builds the film around five scenes, five distinct moments in time that track the character arc of Becky Something, self-destructive rock star who threatens to ruin her own life and the lives of everyone around her. Moss's performance, dear God, she's on fire here, sometimes you think almost literally, and despite being almost entirely unsympathetic she's nonetheless compelling. It's like you're watching a horror movie and she's the monster; each scene feels like a long take you can't get out of, and Keegan DeWitt's unnervingly discordant score heightens the tension and anxiety. But if you can survive through the climax, Perry calms down to find a place of beauty and allows you to see the woman behind the monster. The writing and directing are top-notch here, with dense dialogue that's simultaneously naturalistic and stylized and a masterful control of camera movement. Despite the focus on Becky Something, Perry weaves the other characters' stories around her very well, leading to a cathartic finale that left me exhaling a breath I'd been holding in for two hours. It's quite a film. B+/A-

Frances Ha: Frances Ha is certainly a warmer and less cynical film than The Squid and the Whale, but, goodness, Noah Baumbach has fallen into full-on quirk mode. This movie is trying so hard to be quirky and cute, and I just stared at its attempts to be quirky and cute for 85 minutes. It focuses on two twentysomething best friends, Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner, who start to drift apart, and that's certainly a relatable, poignant story, but Baumbach and Gerwig's script is very meander-y and offbeat in a way that I couldn't really connect to apart from a few moments, like the line "Don't treat me like a three-hour-brunch friend" and an intercontinental phone call where, for a few minutes, everything just seemed to click and it felt like a movie I would like. Gerwig is utterly charming, of course, but it wasn't enough to overcome the lack of a strong narrative. And the black-and-white didn't work for me either. People keep comparing Noah Baumbach to Woody Allen, and this seems like the rare case where I prefer the influence to the influenced. B

Murder on the Orient Express: I'm on a Hercule Poirot binge inspired by Knives Out so I decided to check out Sidney Lumet's Murder on the Orient Express. Which, holy shit, what a goddamn cast! Lauren Bacall! Ingrid Bergman! Vanessa Redgrave! Sean Connery! Anthony Perkins! Michael York! And that's just the actors I know I've seen in other things! The film begins with a prologue about the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping before flashing forward to the Asian Side of Istanbul, a sign to the audience that it will be relevant to the titular murder. It's a strategy that pays off very well, as it means that less time has to be spent explaining the details of that case during the interrogation of suspects, which comprises the majority of the film and, as it does in the book, gets somewhat repetitive. Lumet does keep people coming in and out pretty swiftly however. I took some time to warm up to Albert Finney's wildly eccentric portrayal of Poirot; Poirot is initially way too kooky for my tastes, but later the detective begins to show more of his humanity. It's a pretty solid adaptation for most of it, but it really shines in its final scenes, especially the staging of the murder itself, in sinister blue light. Lumet takes a famously contrived solution and really highlights the gravity of its significance in a way that, if I recall, the Kenneth Branagh adaptation failed to. Again, it's all about showing us the humanity of the situation. B/B+

The Matrix Reloaded: The end of The Matrix positioned itself as the true beginning of the story, and The Matrix Reloaded dives deeper into the lives of humans outside the Matrix and the programs inside the Matrix. And it's actually pretty interesting! Don't get me wrong, the first movie stands alone quite well, but this movie plays with some fascinating ideas about the whole premise, extending the first movie's discussions of humanity's relationship with machines, the nature of control and power, the illusion of choice, and other heady themes not typically explored in $150 million blockbusters. Of course, it's all a bit inelegant, and the storytelling is...kind of haphazard this time around, with the plot serving more as a mechanism for Neo to continue down the rabbit hole. But also the action scenes still hold up, especially the famous Burly Brawl and the extended freeway chase. The cliffhanger kind of lands with a thud because of the aforementioned storytelling issues, but there's plenty to like here, even if it's a clear step down from the iconic classic. B/B+

The Matrix Revolutions: I appreciate The Matrix Reloaded more after The Matrix Revolutions, which is a definite step down but still has enough to offer to make it a generally enjoyable, if disappointing, experience. It barely engages with many of the ideas raised in its predecessor, or even the ideas it raises in its opening scenes, where we meet a program that feels love. The first half of the movie seems like non sequitur wheel-spinning, but the second half has Ian Bliss's uncanny Hugo Weaving impersonation and the battle for Zion, and look. The battle for Zion is kinda spectacular, with giant mechas shooting at hordes of Sentinels and ships zipping through tunnels, the kind of live-action anime the Wachowskis excel at. And the fact that it's so engaging and thrilling even though apart from the limited role of Morpheus, it's focused entirely on characters introduced in the last movie is impressive. (A godlike Neo fighting a godlike Agent Smith is also live-action anime but surprisingly dull.) This conclusion reaches for love and pretty lights over narrative satisfaction, but it's still pretty cool to watch. B/B+

Medias Res: When you meet an actress after a play and she tells you she's in a movie that you can watch on Prime Video, you figure it'd be pretty cool to watch it, right, especially if some other theater people you know have small parts. Medias Res follows two guys who do some crime and get caught up in the middle of even more crime involving the star of a '90s teen soap called Quintessential American. This movie takes its time, which is cool in that it starts as a light comedy-drama and slowly morphs into a serious neo-noir but uncool in that a lot of important plot information gets dropped really late in the game. But the constantly changing and twisting story definitely kept me on his toes wondering where the hell it was going. It helps that Mike Delaney is such an endearing regular dude you want him to get out of this mess, Sarah Coykendall is quite charming (perhaps TOO charming), and Joseph Mason always feels like a simultaneous friend and foe. I also dug the look of the film when it was night, with lots of colored filters and blurred lights, really making Oakland look like some sort of stylish underworld. It's kind of astounding how good this movie looks for having a budget of apparently, like, $5,000, though there are definitely aspects of the film that will remind you it had a budget of, like, $5,000. But overall, it's pretty well done if you're a fan of the genre. B/B+

Ruben Brandt, Collector: This Hungarian English-language animated film is fucking wild and wacky in the best way. Ruben Brandt turns from art therapy to art thievery to battle his hallucinations of classic paintings, and at first it seems like the movie might delve really deeply into psychoanalysis and symbolism and get super pretentious about stuff but then there's a kickass car chase through Paris so you know this movie wants to have fun. Seriously, there's another action scene near the end that wouldn't be out of place in a Fast and Furious movie. Milorad Krstić uses a quirky, creative animation style that makes everyone look like they stepped out of a Picasso painting, with multiple eyes and mouths and sometimes three boobs. One character is literally two-dimensional. It's a stylish thriller with art thieves being pursued by a detective and a gangster, and it's got a great score and soundtrack. While everything may not seem to add up in the end, it's entertaining and sweet and always delightful to watch. B+

Diamantino: Diamantino begins with the standard disclaimer about any relation to people and so on being coincidental, but it includes "genetic procedures and giant puppies." Sure enough, the opening scene finds world's best soccer player Diamantino on a field with giant fluffy puppies, and the film never tops the glorious surreal fantasy of this sequence, which promises a much more outrageous film than we get. Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt concoct a bizarre plot that seems like it came out of an improv game, touching on everything from the refugee crisis to Brexit (but for Portugal [Portugexit?]). Giant puppies AND political satire, whaaaaaat. I didn't laugh a lot because I couldn't quite get a handle on the dreamlike tone that treated everything very seriously thanks to the dimwitted nature of our narrator, who sleeps on a pillow with his face on it. Diamantino is such an endearing doof that you feel sorry for all the shit he's unwittingly involved in. This movie is weird and sweet, and even though I wasn't swept away by its ostensibly gonzo nature, I admired its cheekiness and found it rather charming. B/B+

Braid: I'm not quite sure what the fuck happened in Braid, but I am quite sure I found it gripping and compelling every step of the way because WTF. Imogen Waterhouse and Sarah Hay need money so they decide to rob their childhood friend, Madeline Brewer. But once they step into her mansion, they have to play her game, and things get FUCKED UP. The trio of actresses are great, as it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between conscious role play and true delusion, and the constantly shifting power dynamics (and a wild card cop) keep things interesting as the duo try to survive while also looking for the safe. The cinematography and use of color and score are all wonderful at creating a surreal, off-kilter atmosphere where you don't know what's real and what's fantasy, but this movie is maybe too confusing for its own good. It's wildly unpredictable and ends like five times, but goddamn, it's a hell of a ride and I'll be on the lookout for whatever Mitzi Peirone does next. B/B+

LiveJournal appears to be broken, so...follow me to Part II.
Tags: making the grade, movies

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