Quick takes on TEN films

Dunkirk is the much hyped and praised World War II film that came out earlier this year, directed by Christopher Nolan. It tells the story of the evacuation of troops stranded on a French beach, beset by German soldiers with no way out but the sea. The movie follows a soldier trying to get off the beach, an older civilian trying to bring his small sailboat to the shore to help evacuate, and an air force pilot patrolling the air attempting to shoot down enemy craft as they target the English rescue boats. It is a harrowing and intense film, though for my taste, it has a little too much going on to really get invested in any of the individual characters. It is stirring though, and features some beautiful scenes and rousing music that builds throughout the film. War film lovers will love it, and while it isn’t the best war film out there as some have called it, it is a very good one.
mother! on the other hand, is absolutely brilliant, though admittedly, this one isn’t for everyone. It isn’t a traditional movie, though it does have a plot. Mother is the woman of the house. She has been refinishing the house while her husband, Him, has been trying (and failing) to find his muse as a writer. Their quiet life is turned upside down when Man and Woman arrive. Him accepts them quickly and enjoys their company, but Mother is apprehensive from the beginning, as they don’t seem to respect her wishes when it comes to treating the house with care. It gets crazy quickly when Man’s and Woman’s children arrive too, and Mother’s life (and the house) spiral out of control from there. If my clues haven’t left you enough to see what this movie symbolizes, then you should just go watch it (and honestly, it is far deeper than a simple allegory too). I love movies that make you think, and especially ones that force you to watch it a second time, and this one does both. Directed by Darren Aronofsky (whose movies have been hit or miss for me), and with a compelling cast of Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Barden, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris, this may be one of my favorite recent movies.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know the turn I’ve taken on Robert Pattinson. Once hated for his silly Twilight movies, he has redeemed himself for his string of wonderful, independent films. The latest is Good Time, in which he is so good, I didn’t recognize him at first. He plays Connie, a no-good brother to Nick, an adult with special needs. Connie loves Nick and wants to take care of him, and thinks he can do a better job than “the system,” but he gets them in trouble when they go to rob a bank and the heist goes sideways. Connie spends the rest of the film trying to get Nick out of the jail, and no matter what he does, everything gets worse and worse. A fantastic look at what love is, and if love is always a good thing. The movie has the feel of a low budget B movie, but Pattinson is eye-arresting throughout.
Past Life is an Israeli film, taking place in the ’70s, where the mystery exceeds the big reveal, but that’s isn’t necessarily a bad thing for this film. Nana and Sephi are two beautiful, talented sisters. Sephi attends a top arts school where she is being trained as a singer, and Nana runs a magazine, and both have expectations of bigger and better things down the road. Their father is a successful doctor and Holocaust survivor. Their peaceful worlds are invaded when Sephi is approached by an older Polish woman who accuses their father of murder. Not knowing much about their father’s time during the war (he has kept those dark memories under wraps), Nana and Sephi start digging, trying to find out more about their father and his mysterious past. The end isn’t all that surprising, but the lead up to it is exquisite filmmaking.
Beach Rats is a dramatic masterpiece about a man facing a crisis of self. He is homosexual, but like a lot of young men, is scared to come out to his family and macho friends. He runs in a bad crowd, and the tough guys would most certainly turn on him. So instead, he finds a girl to be his girlfriend, and clandestinely meets older men at night for one-night stands. He seems to genuinely care about the girl, but he continues to grapple with his sexual desires. His poor decisions start to catch up to him by the end. This is one of those independent films that doesn’t feel low budget, as it is shot well, with good direction, and the lead actor is mesmerizing; I found myself rooting for him from almost the beginning of the movie.
Movies typically about subjects with current social ramifications tend to do well with the critics, and Ingrid Goes West is a good example. I thought it was a pretty good film, but not as thought provoking as it maybe could have been. The very talented Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid, a young woman with cash in hand from her recently deceased mother, who stalks social network celebrities and wishes to live a life like them. Ingrid finds happiness only in “likes” and “clicks” and cannot seem to react on a personal level to anyone in her life. Her latest victim is Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), and Ingrid is able to get into her inner circle quickly. You hope that maybe by the end of the film, Ingrid can move past her obsession with online celebrity status, but unfortunately this isn’t that kind of movie. Very well acted by the two female leads, and I do like how the movie shines a light on a real problem in today’s society.
Gook is another one showing social issues, though this one set in 1992, against the backdrop of the Rodney King beating. Rather than following the black community though, it shows another minority, a couple Korean-American brothers living in Los Angeles. They represent the bottom rung of society in their area; with news of white cops beating King, the brothers are derided by the mostly black community where they live and work, and even by an older Korean man who runs a shop across the street from their shoe store who sees them as disrespectful to their elders. When the cops are found not guilty of the King beating, the riots break out. This sets up a surprising conclusion with a lot of reveals you don’t see coming. Like many independently made films, there are some weird moments that don’t make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of the film, but this is a fantastic example of a great movie done on a small budget, and you should definitely watch for director Justin Chon in the future. This movie took a lot of awards in the film festival circuit in 2017. Definitely worth a watch.
Netflix has been making original films for awhile now, but Bright is their first big budget attempt, costing about $90 million for the Will Smith blockbuster. Unfortunately there are a lot of similarities between this film and another Smith flop from a few years ago, After Earth. Bright is a big budget sci-fi flick with a very interesting premise, ultimately doomed by wooden acting and boring action scenes, and dialogue that seems lifted off a bad Syfy cable movie. Bright takes place in a modern world where orcs and elves have lived among humans for all time. Thousands of years ago, the orcs followed an evil power named the Dark Lord, and while the bad guy was defeated with magic, elves and humans have never let the orcs forget who they threw in with. As such, orcs are deemed the inferior race and are often laborers, whereas it is the elves that hold all the money. Smith is a human cop teamed up with the first orc cop (Joel Edgerton), and the plot revolves around the duo dealing with racial tensions, but also quelling an evil sect attempting to regain powers of magic to resurrect the Dark Lord. Netflix spent a lot of money on this movie, and while it is getting hammered by the critics, it also had a ton of viewers on opening week, and Netflix has all ready greenlit a sequel. Science fiction lovers like myself may find a few things to enjoy, but overall it really is a bad a movie.
Viceroy’s House is a historic drama about the handover of rule of India from Britain in 1947, centering on the British representative’s house. Lord Mountbatten is there to try to ensure a peaceful exchange and wants a unified India, but centuries of mistrust between the Hindu and Muslim people has led to them wishing to have their land divided into India and Pakistan to prevent future clashes between themselves. The violence on the streets gets into the house too, with servants of both cultures fighting at each. Mountbatten ultimately is (mostly) able to keep the peace when India is freed, but his desire to see it as one country does not come to pass, as he is just one man against hundreds of millions of people in India (and his own country of England) who wish to see it split up. A wholly separate plot involving the love of a Hindu man and Muslim woman never reaches the heights the filmmakers probably hoped for. I love good history films, unfortunately this one gets bogged down between dull exchanges and rushed actions. Even my love of the genre couldn’t keep me interested in this one.

I went into Cars 3 with a bit of trepidation; not really liking the first sequel, I didn’t think this movie needed to be made. However, it is a good one, though not as great as the first Cars. Lightning McQueen is getting up there in years, and has been passed by a younger generation of racers, cars who are using the latest technology to make themselves faster than Lightning could hope to be. McQueen needs to go back to his roots, and find a way to make himself relevant again. The whole “aging star needs to reinvent himself” story has been done a million times, but that doesn’t make this version bad. The Toy Story franchise and Finding Dory aside, I generally haven’t liked the Pixar sequels much, but this one is a passable couple hours and is good family fun.

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