January 2016 Movie Reviews (Spoiler-Free)
Movies continue to grow in importance in my life for some reason…
My relationship with movies is an evolving one. Throughout my life I have always loved certain movies, but I did not grow up seeing very many. As a kid I loved the usual hits that boys my age connected with: Back To The Future, Jurassic Park, Batman, Star Wars, etc. As I got older I gravitated towards favorites such as Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, The Life Aquatic, etc. I was mainly focused on music and visual arts, but I would watch the occasional movie that called out to me for some reason or another. Quentin, The Coens, Wes Anderson, Scorsese and other celebrated auteurs started to become my favorite directors, as you would expect from a white dude my age. I still only saw a handful of movies a year, and just saw them as pure entertainment, or a night out with a girl or friends. Every once in awhile a movie would affect me in a meaningful way, but for the most part I didn’t think about them too much.
Well, that all started to change when I moved to LA in 2011. I wasn’t playing in a band for the first time since I was 16 years old, and I wasn’t creating art or organizing art shows like I had been for the previous five years. I didn’t plan on getting involved with photography or the dramatic arts when I moved out here. It was just a conscious choice to start over in life, in a city I had visited twice before. On my previous visits to LA I had felt this great sense of creative energy, and the feeling that anything was possible, so that is pretty much what drove my decision to relocate. I also had come to the realization that I wasn’t going to play in a rock band as a career, and it was time to start focusing on something else.
Once I arrived I started to meet actors and other people who were creating their own visual story telling. I was looking for work so I would go online and find auditions and extra work, really just as a way to fill my time and maybe make a little bit of money. As I was doing this I slowly started to think about digital imagery, movies, and documentation more. I landed a handful of auditions that I actually got the roles, and just started becoming immersed in this world slowly but surely. I had this idea to start shooting documentaries, and that is what led me to buy my first Dslr camera, a Canon 60d. I invested a few thousand dollars to get the basics (mic, tripod, lights, etc.), and just started shooting random little projects with friends and other people I would come across. I had no idea what I was doing, but that didn’t stop me from making the mistakes I needed to slowly learn and get better (which I’m still doing over four years later).
Once I had my own gear and started thinking about all this stuff regularly, my interest in movies and story telling grew. I started seeking out great films from the past, watching different directors’ bodies of work, and watching new movies as they came out in theaters. These days I prefer going to matinees, by myself, about once a week. I will still go see movies with other people, but I actually prefer the uninterrupted experience of a solo viewing. This isn’t always the case, but a lot of times your experience can by affected by other people’s perception of the movie, shuffling around next to you, munching buttered popcorn, and slurping down 60 oz sodas. The early day quiet theater is the perfect place to lose yourself in the experience, and occasionally see the world as a different place than you ever have before. This doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it is a special thing. I actually thought 2015 was a great year for movies, I can think of about 20 that I loved throughout the year. There were still a lot of duds, and obvious grabs for cash and boring reboots, but overall I was happy with a lot of films that came out.
This year I want to document some of my favorites, and write about my viewing experiences as the year unfolds. Warning: I usually focus on what I like about movies, and tend to think about the ones that I loved or admired. I know that may not lead to the best reviews, but I don’t care. If you want to read more negative reviews go on rotten tomatoes and search for the green splatters. I do this sometimes too.
Here are the first 10 movies I’ve watched this year:
1. THE HATEFUL EIGHT – I saw this and The Revenant on New Year’s Day, with a couple of buddies I work with. We only intended to watch an early showing of this movie, but we enjoyed it enough to go have dinner and some drinks and catch a late showing of The Revenant, a full movie day so to speak. We saw the roadshow viewing, which was shown on 70mm film with a special intro and intermission, and came with a nice full color booklet about the film and production. As much as I enjoy new technology and 4k+ resolution, imax laser projection, etc., I love seeing a movie projected through film. There is something special about this classic method, and the fact that it is going away is kind of sad. Directors like Quentin are doing their best to keep it alive, and I enjoy the throwback feeling it creates. The movie itself was much better than I expected. When I first saw the trailer last summer I was not excited for some reason. It looked like Samuel Jackson doing another one of his usual characters, and just didn’t ignite the feeling I usually get from an upcoming Tarantino film. I almost felt obligated to go see it, and I knew it would be a test of endurance at three hours and seven minutes long. From the moment the eerie overture started I was hypnotized. Ennio Morricone’s legendary music really grabbed me, and at 87 years old he still has it, and then some. The film captivated me from the beginning, and the tension continued to build. QT really knows how to push the viewers buttons in ways that few others do, and this was no exception. He is a fearless director, and I appreciate that. Robert Richardson’s cinematography was beautiful, he captured the winter landscape in unique ways. The long glance of his camera on certain scenes and objects is unsettling and interesting, and reminded me a little bit of Kubrick at times. The snow covered crucifix and first night shot of the outhouse really stand out in my memory, as well as the horses and wagons in all of their classic beauty. This movie is punishing and humorous at the same time. Samuel Jackson really did a fantastic job, as well as the rest of the cast. I could go on and on about more details of the story and tension, but I’ll save you from all the rambling. I have a few criticisms of parts of the plot, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Lets just say that QT knows how to make a movie that really pushes the viewer to places he may not want to go, but we’ve always known that.
2. THE REVENANT – Ok. This movie is badass. Cold. Painful. Beautiful. Sad. Exciting. Thought provoking. I loved it. Alejandro G. Iñárritu is quickly becoming one of the best directors out there. I can’t think of a more opposite movie than his previous best-picture winning Birdman, but here it is. I’m sure Leo will finally get his Oscar, and Tom Hardy deserves the supporting actor award as well. There has already been so much said about the unbelievable conditions and extremes the production faced; definitely one of the most difficult movies ever made. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is legendary, and together they are changing the game. Apparently the whole movie was shot with natural light, creating a visual masterpiece. I was so swept up in this movie, it’s hard to describe how visceral and captivating it is. The opening sequence was one of my favorites, terrifying and beautiful at the same time. I’ve been thinking about the hardships of the frontier lifestyle for the past two weeks, and how good we really have it today. Just go see it, but be prepared for extreme tension and graphic images.
3. ANOMALISA – This is stop motion animation at its best. It is so well done that you forget you are watching puppets and feel more emotion from the characters than most live action movies. It took two years to create, about a week per minute of the film. Charlie Kaufman is one of the genius writers/directors working today, with past work like Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. He is a master of combining dark humor, emotion, and the absurd. This animated movie was no exception, and left me thinking about humanity and how we relate to each other. It can be perceived as depressing by some, but I really admired it and the thoughts it invoked. There is something about the mundane that he really explores, and how odd humanity can be. Listen to the recent interview he did on Marc Maron’s podcast for a lot more insight into his process and work. I’ve been thinking about this movie a lot since I saw it.
4. DOGTOOTH (2009) – Whoa. This is a very disturbing independent film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. I had heard about it on a weekly podcast I listen to called The Film Vault, and was intrigued. Without giving too much away, a father keeps his three children in captivity at the family home. They haven’t left the grounds and are in their late teens at the point the movie starts. It is so weird and fucked up, but intriguing. The movie is well made and feels real, very captivating. If you are ready to be disturbed go on Hulu and stream this movie. Be prepared.
5. THE BIG SHORT – Yeah! What is more fun than the 2007 fall of the American economy? This movie! A friend let me watch the screener dvd, so I skipped the theater and watched it at home. Christian Bale and Steve Carell both deserve awards for their performances, especially Bale in my opinion. Gosling and Pitt were great too, what a cast. This movie is funny and engaging, about a subject that is hard to wrap your head around. Banks, loans, mortgages, and the stock market seem like a pretty boring subject matter, but these four men really bring it to life. The fact that its based on the real collapse of the American economy is disturbing and enlightening. Adam McKay is a great comedic film maker, and I will continue to watch what he does.
6. I’M NOT THERE (2007) – Todd Haynes’ biographical drama of Bob Dylan is a very unique take on the genre. He has six different actors portraying different times in Dylan’s life (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw). This makes for an interesting dynamic, even though the movie itself is over long and didn’t really hold my attention. I still enjoyed it, especially Blanchett, Ledger, and Whishaw’s parts, but I found myself messing around on my phone at times and not really being engaged in the movie. I would recommend it for true Dylan fans, and anyone looking for a very unique movie about music.
7. THE RUM DIARY (2011) – I finally got around to watching this mediocre-reviewed Hunter S. Thompson adaptation, and I actually liked it quite a bit. I was interested and engaged until the end. I’m not much of a Johnny Depp fan, but I liked this one a lot! Maybe the classic rambling setting of early 60′s Puerto Rico and the idealism of its hero suckered me in, but I was in nonetheless. I can see some of the criticisms that were pointed out in other reviews, but this was still a thumbs up for me.
8. BLACKHAT – No. I wanted to like this 2015 film about a hacker played by Thor, but I just couldn’t. I tried. This movie just rambles around and didn’t grab me in any way. I tried, but instagram won during the viewing.
9. THE WOLFPACK – Wow. This documentary deserves the awards it won, and Crystal Moselle is a film maker to watch. This follows the story of a family of 6 or 7 kids growing up in a small apartment in Manhattan, by parents who only let them outside a few times a year. The kids spend their time watching movies and recreating them in amazingly creative ways. They would write out screenplays word for word from the movie, make their own costumes and guns and stuff, and act out the scenes in their small bedrooms. This movie is disturbing but so interesting. I need to see the Vice follow-up segment on the kids now that they are out of the apartment and learning about the real world. Just go on Netflix and watch this.
10. FRANK (2014) – I have to admit that this was my second viewing of this movie, but it deserves to be mentioned. This movie is about a band with a lead singer who never takes off a giant mask. It is very odd, but captivating. Michael Fassbender is one of the best actors out there, and he really carries this movie under the giant mask that he wears. Domhnall Gleeson is another actor to watch, he is in so many new movies coming out and is really good. This is one of the most unique movies I’ve ever seen. It is streaming on Netflix, no brainer.