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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #40 - 31

#40: Animal Kingdom (2010)

Ben Michod's crime drama begins with startling scene that is effective precisely for how low-key it is and then slow burns its way from there, proceeding at a very deliberate pace where the momentum of the story matches the level of awareness of the character at the center of it. The opening stretch of the film matches his detachment and isolation, while the later parts shift to match his growing sense of agency and active participation in what's going on around him as he grows aware of exactly why his mother chose to raise him cut off from her family, which is full of criminals of varying levels of ruthlessness. The most ruthless is the seemingly sweet matriarch played by Jacki Weaver in the performance that earned her an Oscar nomination and launched her into Hollywood crossover success. In this carefully etched portrait of dysfunction and brutality where everyone is reduced to the animal principle of eat or be eaten, she holds court as the kingdom's Queen.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #50 - 41

#50: The Immigrant (2014)

James Gray makes beautiful films. The way that his films play with light and shadow, the way that he captures movement, the way that he frames his characters all work to create a visual tapestry that's as rich as the narratives he's unfolding. The Immigrant, in particular, is painterly in the way that it's photographed, like a moving Caravaggio that heightens the emotional intensity of everything that's going on in this story of a woman who comes to America to escape post-WWI Poland and becomes trapped by her lack of resources, making her the perfect target for exploitation. Built around masterful performances by Marion Cotillard as the woman seeking a better life and Joaquin Phoenix as the man who takes advantage of her lack of power, The Immigrant is an ambitious and commanding film about the hardship, desperation, and hope of that most American of stories: the immigrant story.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #60 - 51

#60: The Ghost Writer (2010)

There are two ghosts in The Ghost Writer. The first is never seen onscreen but is a presence that's felt throughout the story and who, in some ways, guides it (I don't believe that any film has ever used a GPS device more usefully or effectively). The second is the ghost writer hired to re-draft the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, taking over from the previous ghost writer who has died under mysterious circumstances. Arriving in Martha's Vineyard to begin work, the Ghost (Ewan McGregor) finds himself drawn not only into a mystery, but into an international conspiracy. A sharply written work of expert mood setting, in which a feeling of menace underscores virtually everything (particularly those things involving Olivia Williams, chilling in her performance as the Prime Minister's wife), The Ghost Writer is a creepy and enthralling thriller that boasts one of the single most perfect endings seen in film in the last ten years.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #70 - 61

#70: Wall-E (2008)

700 years in the future, Earth is a giant garbage dump, its horizon dotted by skyscrapers of trash, its population reduced to one waste disposal robot working to make the planet inhabitable once again, compacting trash into tiny cubes but also salvaging items of interest, treasured items that alleviate an otherwise lonely existence. One day a drone appears and our hero, Wall-E, is instantly smitten, so much so that he goes beyond the ends of the Earth for her. However this is not merely a movie about an adorable robot in love, but one which casts a critical eye on our treatment of the environment, our embrace of the artificial at the expense of the real (is it just ironic or is the film making a point when it makes Wall-E feel more human than the actual human characters?), and our increasingly disposable culture. Heartfelt and splendidly animated, Wall-E remains one of Pixar's best films.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #80 - 71

#80: Drive (2011)

He's a man of few words who's just there to get a job done. There's nothing new in the movies about that and yet Drive never feels derivative; it feels vital and alive and like it's doing something different, even when it's not. Starring Ryan Gosling as the Driver (no name needed), stuntman by day, getaway driver by night, and Carey Mulligan as the woman who briefly brings a patch of light into the darkness of his existence, Drive is as relentlessly violent as it is dreamily romantic, a seemingly dysfunctional combination that filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn finds a way to bring together in harmony. A film with style to burn - it's not just a dynamic looking film, but one that moves to its own particular beats - it's a work of restrained emotions that might feel artificial were it not for the way that Refn, Gosling, and Mulligan are able to suggest the wellspring of emotion hiding just beneath the surface. It's a work as beautiful as it is brutal.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #90 - 81

#90: Man on Wire (2008)

The story is almost too crazy to be true: In 1974 a man not only managed to sneak into the World Trade Center, but managed to string a wire between the towers and walk across - going back and forth for 45 minutes. Using a combination of news and home video footage, recreations, and talking head interviews, director James Marsh creates a documentary that plays like a heist movie: it's got a scheme that's impossible, means that are improbable, and a ringleader so charismatic that it's no wonder he managed to rope several other people into it. Man on Wire is a movie that's entertaining as hell to watch, but more than that it's a movie that really resonates. Approaching the subject in a deceptively lighthearted way, Marsh captures Philippe Petit's astonishing feat in all its majesty and wonder and when you see the footage of his walk, you feel not unlike the security guard who appears in news footage, awestruck at having witnessed something incredible.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #100 - 91

#100: Trigger (2010)

Running just 83 minutes, Trigger is a very short work, but that doesn't make it sight. It's just a movie that gets the job done quickly. It centers on two women, each one-half of a band that broke up ten years earlier. They're brought back together by a benefit/tribute show that one has secretly put together and which the other isn't even sure she's actually going to attend because the music scene is so tied up in all of her experiences as an addict that she doubts she can set foot back into it without falling back down the rabbit hole. Unfolding as several long, dialogue heavy scenes in which the film maps the landscape of the duo's history, Trigger is basically just a story about two women who know each other so well that they don't even have to work at it to push each other's buttons and who remain tightly bonded even though they've spent a decade apart. A work that has a particular feeling of urgency for being co-star Tracy Wright's final film, Trigger is a brisk but engrossing movie.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Flick Chick Turns Ten

Ten years ago today I planted a flag in my little corner of the internet by publishing my first post on a blog I decided to call The Flick Chick. Since then I've written over 2,000 posts, seen a staggering number of movies, and written more words about movies than I can count. To commemorate the occasion I'm going to be counting down my picks for the 100 best movies released between October 21, 2007 and October 21, 2017.

Since release dates can be kind of nebulous due to the various kinds of wide and limited release schedules distributors use and the fact that movies get released in North America and elsewhere at different times, I'm narrowing consideration for my start date to movies that hit theaters in North America on or after October 21, 2007 (meaning foreign films that played in their countries of origin earlier but didn't play here until after that date are eligible) and my end date to movies that are playing in wide release today (meaning that anything that's only in limited release in North America as of this weekend isn't eligible).

The countdown starts Monday, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: Victoria & Abdul (2017)

* * *

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal

To be taken with several grains of salt, I'm sure. Stephen Frears' Victoria & Abdul is an enjoyable movie, even though it feels like the sort of movie you're not supposed to be able to enjoy anymore. I suppose that what saves it is that it seems to know that it's that kind of movie and takes steps, however imperfectly, to try to address head-on the elements that might be used to designate it as "problematic" generally and as an undiscerning colonialist fantasy specifically. As I said, take it all with a grain of salt, but as lightweight period pieces - where the emphasis is as much on the lavish costumes and production design as on the marquee performance - go, Victoria & Abdul is pleasantly entertaining.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

* * *

Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman

The last week and a half has been a pretty horrifying one in terms of the barrage of sexual harassment (and assault and rape) stories that have come out of Hollywood. It's been so depressing that on Friday I was very much looking forward to watching Noah Baumbach's new comedy, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), just for a bit of escapism and to have a few good laughs. I did, in fact, have several good laughs while watching it, but then mid-way through the movie one of the female characters tells a story about how when she was a teenager she went swimming and then afterwards was rinsing herself off in an outdoor shower only to turn around and discover one of her father's friends watching her while masturbating and it was like, "Is there no escape from these stories?" This isn't in any way to suggest that we shouldn't be paying attention to these stories and demanding better behavior from those who are privileged to wield power; it's just that it would have been nice to experience 2 solid hours without being confronted with a story about a dude luxuriating in garbage behavior towards a woman just because he feels that his penis entitles him to it. The Meyerwotiz Stories is a good movie, by the way, but God.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Mountain Between Us (2017)

* *

Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba

I'll answer the two most important questions first: Yes, the dog lives. As a matter of fact, I left the theater convinced that the dog is immortal because nothing takes him down, but try telling that to Kate Winslet's character, who sends Idris Elba's to look for the dog each time it runs off. Second, yes, they do it. How often does a movie put two people that attractive together and not have them get into bed? Now that you know that, you can probably skip it at the theater and catch it when it shows up on your preferred streaming service or when it ends up on TV. It's not a bad movie, but it's definitely the kind of movie that probably plays best when it's raining outside and you have nothing else to keep yourself entertained with.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

* * *

Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell

In the words of the film: "Times change. You should know. You just changed them." In the words of Hemingway: "Isn't it pretty to think so?" In 1973 Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs played a match dubbed the "Battle of the Sexes" that was aired on television in prime time. It was a ratings success for ABC. I'm not sure how much of an effect it had on anything else, at least directly, but symbolism can be a powerful thing and sometimes what something means matters less than what it feels like it means. Battle of the Sexes, written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), presents an awfully rose-colored view of things, but that presentation is nevertheless awfully entertaining.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: David France

History is written by the victors, which means that it's written by those in power. Even when the history in question is the history of a marginalized group, it tends to be written from the perspective of those members who most closely align with the majority in power, which is why the history of the gay rights movement often seems like the history of gay white men. Just look at the controversy surrounding last year's Stonewall, which failed to gain the support of the wider LGBTQ community due to its displacement of trans women of color in favor of giving ownership of the story of a white, middle class young man. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is about two of those women that Stonewall displaced, one of whom gives the film its title, the other of whom emerges as the documentary's most fascinating figure. Although not quite as focused as director David France's previous film, the brilliant and wrenching How to Survive a Plague, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is an urgent and moving film about a segment of the population that is so often disregarded.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Director: Michael Moore
Country: United States

There are few people in the film industry more widely disliked by the general public than Michael Moore. Even people whose politics align with his own have a tendency to dislike him. He's smug, he's aggressive, and he loves to put himself center-stage in his work, making it particularly difficult to separate the art from the artist for those who like his films but not his personality since to a large extent his films are his personality. As a personality I find Moore hard to take at times (but I tend to have a very Canadian reaction to abrasiveness), but over the past several months I've come to find him weirdly refreshing. He's still smug, aggressive, and PT Barnum-esque in his approach, but at least you know where he stands and he never waters his opinions down in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible - and that's something that stands the test of time. Before seeing it again two weeks ago, I hadn't seen Bowling for Columbine since it's original release and I found that it remains thought-provoking, entertaining, and so sadly relevant.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: American Made (2017)

* * *

Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise

The story told by American Made is the type for which the phrase "only in America" was invented, a tale of daring and ambition and corruption fueled by the enterprising nature of the "American Dream," a story about flying too close to the sun and then bursting into flames. I don't know how much of it is actually true, but it certainly seems like the kind of story where the truth is even crazier than what ends up on screen because there are limits to how much you can expect the audience to believe. Directed by Doug Liman, American Made a greatly entertaining movie that makes the most of Tom Cruise's movie star charms as well as the audience's fondness for protagonists that do the wrong things while winking conspiratorially and making it look like a damn lot of fun - at least until a cartel gets pissed off, then the fun stops pretty quick.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Review: Band Aid (2017)

* * *

Director: Zoe Lister-Jones
Starring: Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally

The hardest thing about living with someone is living with someone. Everyone is kind of annoying if you spend enough time with them, and certain household issues are built to be fought over. Bathrooms, laundry, dishes - these are wars that will always be won by the person most willing to go nuclear, because the person who cares the most that the bathroom isn't clean or that the laundry or dishes haven't been done is always going to be the one to break and do it themselves. The problems at the heart of the relationship in Band Aid ultimately run deeper than the sink full of dirty dishes but... it's not not about the dishes, either. A romantic comedy about the "ever after" part of the story, Band Aid is a sharp and funny portrait of a marriage.