Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

* * *

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo

Thor: Ragnarok isn't the best movie I've seen all year, it's not even the best superhero movie I've seen all year, but I'd be hard pressed to name a movie that I had more fun watching this year. There are a lot of things about Ragnarok that can be described as "awesome," from the delicious camp of Cate Blanchett's performance to the scene stealing of director Taika Waititi's performance as soft spoken rock creature Korg to the film's use of "Immigrant Song" in the climax to the relaxed chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston that leads to some of the film's funniest moments to Tessa Thompson's hard drinking, hard fighting Valkyrie. But the best thing about it, from my perspective, is the simple fact that I don't think a movie like this could have been made even as little as five years ago, and certainly not with a budget of almost $200 million. It is weird and silly, like some marvelous fever dream guided by someone who's love of comic books, science fiction, and the '80s has converged into one sprawling and delightfully bizarre vision. So thank you to Guardians of the Galaxy and its surprise success in 2014 for paving the way for this anything goes superhero adventure.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: The Florida Project (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite

It's kind of funny, but my reaction to Sean Baker's The Florida Project is sort of the opposite to my reaction to his last film, 2015's Tangerine. That film I felt was overall a decent movie with a great ending; this one I felt was a nearly great movie with a bad ending. Both films are about disenfranchised people living on the fringes of society and both stories are told in a way that manages to be non-judgmental, even when the characters are doing objectively terrible/harmful things, with Baker's objective being to explore rather than criticize how people get by when they have next to nothing and exist in that societal space that is essentially invisible. They're both films that are strong in character moments, with The Florida Project being the more free-floating of the two - though its casual, slice of life approach to storytelling shouldn't be mistaken for plotlessness. It's a skillfully made movie, often visually arresting, and centers on a performance that is likely to be talked about a lot as we head into awards season.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

* * 1/2

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman

"It's a metaphor." Flesh for flesh. He's not saying it's right, necessarily, but it's the only way he can see to balance the books and make them both whole. Yorgos Lanthimos' latest film is built around a long standoff between a teenage boy driven by righteous certainty and a middle-aged man who thinks he can put off the inevitable, with three other lives caught in the middle. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is neither as bonkers as 2009's Dogtooth nor as darkly delightful as last year's The Lobster. In truth it's a little bit of a slog, relentless in its brutality and building little narrative momentum as it puts its characters through the paces of psychological torture. I wouldn't say that I hated it, and I certainly wouldn't say that it isn't a skilled piece of work, but by the time it was finished I was definitely ready for it to be over. If you're going to see it I recommend seeing it cold and knowing as little about the plot as possible, so consider this a spoiler warning.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

* * *

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling

At the risk of losing my movie nerd cred, I have to admit that I don't particularly care for the original Blade Runner. I can't remember which version it was that I saw (I know it wasn't the one with the voice-over, but that still leaves six other versions), but I remember find it overall... boring. That makes me both the worst and the best possible audience for the late-coming sequel Blade Runner 2049. The worst because it took a lot to get me to the theater to see it (the nearly 3 hour running time didn't help), the best because I didn't watch it while gnashing my teeth over the ways that it departs from/doesn't live up to the original. I liked it - mostly. There are some elements that I had issue with, but I never felt less than engaged with the movie and I think that it's a solid (and breathtakingly beautiful looking) science fiction drama.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Primer (2004)

Director: Shane Carruth
Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan
Country: United States

Shane Carruth’s time travel drama Primer is one of the least accessible movies I’ve ever watched, but it's also one of the most fascinating. In both content and production it's a DIY affair, with a plot that centers on two guys doing science in a garage, made on a shoestring budget (reportedly just $7,000) with Carruth doing just about everything himself (he's the writer/director/co-star, but he's also credited as producer, editor, production designer, and as part of the sound department and for the musical score). In an era when the market is flooded with content because anyone with an iPhone and a computer can make a movie and can probably sell it, too, thanks to the number of platforms in search of content to fill out their libraries, Primer is an example of a film that makes a case for this democratization of filmmaking by demonstrating that a lack of resources isn't the same as a lack of talent, imagination, or ability. Primer is a great movie. I’m still not sure I can entirely wrap my mind around the mechanics of the its science, but I’m in awe of Carruth’s ambition as well as the artistry necessary to make a story this dry and opaque so incredible engaging.