A Most Violent Year (Review)

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I’ve been watching an inordinate amount of gangster flicks lately – The Godfather, American Gangster, Scarface. With A Most Violent Year (JC Chandor, 2014), it feels more like a would-be gangster movie: one in which Abel Morales (played by the gorgeous and always wonderful Oscar Isaac) does his best to meet his ambitions without succumbing to illegal activity.

In the special features of this movie, Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain – who plays his wife Anna – talk about how fun it would be to work together again and I cannot agree more. The strength of this film is found in large part in their performance here. Their flawless engagement in their characters drive the plot forward and flesh it out upon the mere strength of their acting prowess.

Also, every outfit Jessica Chastain wears in this film out to be noted for future reference. The girl looks flawless.

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#38: Do The Right Thing

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This. Movie. From the opening credits to that last shot and every scene in between, you cannot deny there is something distinct and innately artistic about the style of Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989.)

Set aside the quick, provocative, often hilarious dialogue or the chilling relevance this film holds to this day – it could be shown in theaters tomorrow and still hold no less resonance when juxtaposed within the current racial tensions of our time. This is a conversation that needs to be worked through, but I want to take a moment in this post to gush over the absolutely wonderful structure and style of the movie.

Every time a new shot came into play, I smiled at the low angle here, the Dutch angle there, the camera swipe from one character to another in a moment of back and forth dialogue. One of my favorite shots was a simple one: Sal and Mookie talking.

Shot from a high angle, it shows them deep in discussion. Mookie snatches a pizza box and slips out of frame. A few moments passes. Then, he’s back in the frame – a few more words are exchanged between the two and Mookie’s gone again: no cuts, no changes of angles, no fancy crane shots or anything. It’s simple, seamless, and wonderful.

It’s moments like this one that shows a level care, attention and a degree of freedom imbued into the very root of this film’s structure – one of many things to celebrate about Do The Right Thing.

#23: 12 Angry Men

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Some of my favorite films come from play adaptions (looking at you All About Eve) and when the final credits rolled on this particular movie, I immediately took 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957) down into my Top 10 favorite.

Why, you ask? It’s brilliant from head to toe. The concept alone gets me – 12 jurors whose verdict determines the life or death of an 18 year-old charged for patricide. 11 jurors think he’s guilty and only one (Henry Fonda, of course), votes not guilty.

Thus, this movie plunges into a legitimate thriller – heated conversations build, poignant plot points are skillfully revealed, and the entire movie takes place in the same location. Furthermore, it has that optimistic lilt of classic films, the idea of a hero who is truly a hero in every sense – no anti-heroic strings attached or built up dark past.

This film isn’t without moments that irked me – the title for one. I’d like to see 12 Angry People – get me some diversity here. But even this element surprised me. For a movie with twelve white men sitting at a table, the depth, range, and nuance for each character transcended the “type” you saw when they first took their seats.

Now, you take a seat, rent the movie, and have your mind blown.

Magic in the Moonlight (Review)

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There are plenty of 1920s representations on screen; so many of them shove that Roaring Twenties glimmer in your face – not so with Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, 2014).

The upbeat music, gorgeous fashion (Aunt Vanessa’s staid beaded necklace being my favorite accessory), and glossy cars were felt, not forced. Beyond the time and place, what really stood out were the characters – primarily Emma Stone as the truly endearing American psychic and Colin Firth’s insistently disagreeable Stanley.

My favorite moments from the film came from these two characters’ time spent together and the natural back and forth in their dialogue. For other moments of dialogue ran too long for the most part – saying in far too many words which could’ve been done succinctly.

That being said, there’s something delightful in the camera work of this film: holding on a pair of characters as their interaction develops and changes. It’s a fine break from all of the quick cutting we see so often and allows characters time to really fill a scene with all of their wonderful idiosyncrasies.

Not on my list of films to see, but definitely enjoyable nonetheless – who wouldn’t enjoy Colin Firth, after all?

Sing Street

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My dad hates accents. He refuses to watch the brilliance of the Sherlock TV series for the sole reason that he can’t stand their accents. When this film began and I was plunged into the throng of thick, sometimes indecipherable Irish accents, my primary thought was that my father would never see this movie. But you should.

John Carney’s Sing Street (2016) follows the tale of a boy in Dublin in the 80s who starts a band for the sake of getting close to this super cool girl.

Between the pseudo swag of these scrawny, awkward teens to the quick, dry lines delivered with complete seriousness to the ever changing nature of their outfits to resemble their favorite 80s music icons, I laughed through this entire movie. The characters are golden and earnest, their band’s music is really very good (“Drive It Like You Stole It” is my new teen anthem, even though I’m not a teen anymore), and the painful storyline of a family struggling through their parent’s separation is just as poignant as if we were living it ourselves.

The film plays up that tried and true coming-of-age lesson that we should accept who we are, be who we are, and stand up to those who try to make us believe otherwise. And while this is a keenly important message for teenagers, it’s important for all of us. This isn’t just some teen movie. It’s a great flick for anyone and everyone and I insist you check it out.

And download the soundtrack. Like, immediately.

#82: Room

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I’ve been spending the summer at my aunt’s house in Washington, D.C. and my “room” for these past few months has been the basement. Basements are apparently a normal occurrence on this side of the country, but as a native Californian, I have a distinct repulsion to them. I don’t like the tiny slits for windows, or the way I can hear everyone’s footsteps above my head.

Something I do like is the solitude. That feeling of distinct aloneness – like my own little cave. And it was here, one afternoon, that I splayed across the pull-out bed and took a few hours out of my lazy Monday to watch Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (2015), the story of a mother and son – held captive for years in a shed before finally getting their freedom just to realize life isn’t perfect on the outside either.

Yes, Brie Larson is moving and real in this film, but most of my interest came from watching Jacob Tremblay and thinking how exciting it’s going to be to watch his career unfold in the years to come. Telling the story from his child’s perspective gives it an air of wonder and innocence, a particular way of looking at this dark, wrenching story that gives you some lift, a childlike resilience to the things that unfold.

Another thing I appreciated most were those moments of stillness – glances exchanged, characters sitting quietly about their day, seconds of quiet that let us soak in this world – a world we take for granted every day, but a world this child has never seen before.

What else is there to say about this film that critics haven’t already noted? It’s touching and has a lot to say about pain and learning how to heal after a crisis. It’s cathartic in the way films like this are, letting us live through a family’s time of hurt into hope.

Check out Room – and don’t forget your box of tissues.

#48 Gone Girl

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I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of girl who must read the book before I see the movie. It’s the inherent bookish, literature-loving, would-be novelist in me. Yes, I am of the camp that believes the book is ninety-nine percent of the time better than the movie and I’ve stuck to that over the years.

After I blazed through Gillian Flynn’s suspenseful novel about Nick Dunne helping the police search for his wife Amy when she goes missing on their anniversary, I was thrilled to get a chance to see the filmic representation.

I was a bit hesitant about Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck’s incarnations of Amy and Nick, but they carried the roles flawlessly – Ben infused Nick with all of his naive, clueless nuances, Rosamund made Amy’s crossover from “Cool Girl” to complete psycho feel natural and terrifying with ease. It’s also my personal belief that the supporting characters are the ones who really flesh out the film and make it a truly enjoyable affair. Performances from Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, and Kim Dickens pushed me into the story, making me a part of the mystery enveloping.

This enveloping of the movie, however, did run a bit long. That feeling from reading the book of hungrily flipping pages to get to what’s next didn’t exactly transfer into the film. Somewhere around the end of the second act, I began to feel how time was stretching on and began to itch for this all to wrap up.

However, the wrap up was far more satisfying than the book’s anti-climactic, somewhat disappointing close. Upon finishing the book, I couldn’t believe that it actually ended like this; it felt like a hurried way to tie up all of the loose ends, but with the film I believed the tragic ending, the way Amy and Nick end up together.

While nowhere near my favorite Fincher film, this was a good one – particularly because of the author’s spectacular writing on the screenplay (for which I thoroughly believe she should have won an Oscar for). Next time you’re looking for a thriller, check out Gone Girl.

#78: Creed

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The other day, me, my cousins, and some of their friends, took a trip to an outdoor movie theater where the showing of the evening was Creed. Of course, there are many benefits and drawbacks to outdoor films (one of the drawbacks being the incredibly noisy group of women behind us). I’ll have to watch Creed up close and personal eventually, of course, but here is a post detailing my first impressions anyways. Here’s the trailer:

Now, I haven’t seen Rocky – I know, I know, it’s on the list. I was worried about that until halfway into the movie where I didn’t think you really needed to see Rocky in order to understand the stakes of Creed – which is nice. I loved the appearance of Phylicia Rashad as Mary Anne Creed and I’m quite a fan of Tessa Thompson (even though her seemed like a viable Zoe Kravitz rip-off for the entire film). I’m also such a fan of boxing movies. There’s something so pure, straightforward, and motivating about the films and their formula.

But that’s also where part of the problem comes in. It’s a formula. Just like many of the superhero movies studios have been spinning out, this movie was in no ways difficult to follow. Sure, it was enjoyable, but when I left, I didn’t feel as if I was taking anything new with me.

And for some other, sort of minor issues: what was up with Creed’s opponent’s accent? Did he need to have an accent? It didn’t particularly seem vital to the story – just sort of inconvenient. Another issue I had – the graphic stats that popped up maybe twice throughout the entire movie to give you a lot of information you didn’t really need. Who made that decision?

All in all, it was an enjoyable film. Michael B. Jordan is gorgeous, Sylvester Stallone is endearing, and I left the movie ready to join a gym. If you’re looking for that feel-good film to pass an evening with, check out Creed.

#30 Die Hard

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Die Hard.

People kept telling me to watch John McTiernan’s 1988 film. You have to see it, they said, with that deep-rooted urgency as if the continuation of my life depended on watching this movie. And I’d glimpse the cover and skim the IMDb profile, listening to the comments that this was The Best Christmas Movie ever.

I’d watch this trailer and think, Sure. Sure, it is.

Then, I watched it.

The setup is flawless. A bunch of highly trained villainous thieves masquerading as terrorists and Bruce Willis – barefoot, scruffy, with a single gun and a whole lot of questions about why he even came to this party.

Alan Rickman is fantastic in this film, Bruce Willis spouts line after line of golden quotables, and the lovely balance between brutality (men getting shot at point blank range with blood spatter everywhere) and humor (the fact that there’s a character named Argyle who spends the entire film solo-partying in the back of a limousine) is masterful and vastly entertaining.

After watching this movie, I wondered – why aren’t all action movies like this? Not following the same formula per se, but constructed with all of the care and fun given this film. Instead of flashy cuts and impossible stunts, why can’t we make more films that are as grippingly suspenseful, hilarious, and beautifully paced just like this one? A question I pose to action film directors and writers everywhere.

And yes. I agree. Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever.

#69: Amadeus

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This film that shows the last ten years of Mozart’s life told years later by his rival Salieri won eight Oscar awards for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Makeup.

And I was … well, sort of underwhelmed. But before I dig into what I did and didn’t like about the film, here’s the trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7kWQj9FCGY

First, with what I did like, because there was definitely a lot to love about this movie. The music, for one. The music was gorgeous. And more than just the music – the performances accompanying the music was fantastic. Regardless of the length, I couldn’t look away. I wanted to sink into the opera and relish all of it. The characters, I adored: Wolfgang, Salieri, and Constanza were all brilliantly played. The costumes were rich and gorgeous and the sets magnificent.

And now, for what I didn’t particularly like. It was long. Three aching hours long. And it felt like five hours to me. I kept glancing at my clock – which I rarely ever do while watching movies – wondering, when is this going to end? You’d think that with so much time, every last scene, every little performance would need to be absolutely necessary to conveying the story, but for many of the scenes, I didn’t see why they needed to be so long or be there at all.

Furthermore, there was nothing particularly clever in the shooting of the film that captured me either. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been watching certain films that do so many pleasant things with composition and camera movement (Drive. I mean, that film is gorgeous), I was getting so bored with the cut here, cut there, cut to this person, cut back to that person …

Will I watch it again? No. Most likely not. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I rather did. Would I recommend it to someone else? If you like period pieces, music, and are willing to carve out a big chunk of time for an Academy Award winning film, then by all means, yes.