Monday, December 7, 2015

Brief reviews of movies I've seen these last two months - part 1

Yeah, my updates have been very sparse. Grad school has kept me crazy busy. Like I said before, I do still update my letterboxd account on a regular basis, mainly because there's less pressure to write well-thought-out reviews on there.

So this rundown will be a mix of re-posted.slightly refined letterboxd reviews and original thoughts. Let's waste no more time.


Riveting from start to finish. Brolin and Blunt are solid, but halfway through, "Sicario" sneakily becomes the Benicio del Toro show, who gives his best performance in years. A haunting, pointed film that demonstrates to us why America's "war on drugs" will forever be unwinnable and makes it undeniably clear as to who the real victims of such a war are. Director Villenueve and DP Roger Deakins have teamed up once again (after 2013's "Prisoners") and the results are electrifying. The last 45 minutes, in particular, contains such a perfect combination of acting, cinematography, editing, etc... cementing Sicario's status as being one of the very best films of 2015.

Grade: A

Queen of Earth

A movie filled with ugly, mean-spirited, cruel, and hateful characters... and I couldn't look away. For 90 minutes, "Queen of Earth" plunges deep into the horrors of depression. This isn't merely a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, instead you watch Elisabeth Moss's character go through a slow, seemingly endless breakdown from beginning to end. It's some pretty chilling, unnerving stuff. A horror movie where the weapon of choice is barbed insults, insults that have the potential to do just as much as damage as a knife or a sickle. 

Grade: A-

Steve Jobs

That first segment, in 1984, crackles. It's Aaron Sorkin at his best. Danny Boyle doing his best to stay out of the way. The performances are top notch and on point. It's some great, talky drama. Unfortunately, each subsequent segment is a retread of that first 1984 segment. The same arguments play out in almost exact same way. The same characters keep popping up, even when it seems like a stretch that they'd be there. The arguments they have suddenly have less drama or tension attached to them. Steve Jobs having the most important conversation of his life EVERY time he's about to give his big speech feels so overly contrived. Overall, "Steve Jobs" was a big dud for me.

Grade: C

The Martian

We're starting to see a trend of big-time auteur-driven sci-fi films getting released in October/November every year. I, for one, am not complaining. I loved Gravity, thought Interstellar had a lot of great moments, and The Martian has proven to be Ridley Scott's best film in years. What stands out most about The Martian? It's not merely the visuals, it's the combination of humor, science, and close attention to character that really makes this movie work for me. Yes, it ends in a way that makes you wanna cheer. You'll go home with a smile on your face. It's popcorn entertainment through and through, but it's the type of popcorn entertainment that goes down smoothly and you don't feel all too sick afterwards. Watch this with family and you'll have a great time.

Grade: B+

Crimson Peak
Man, Guillermo del Toro really walked the tightrope on this one. There were so many times when I felt this could veer off into unsavory territory, but damnit, he pulled it off. Mostly. Once I accepted that the whole haunted mansion aspect was going to be more "spooky" than downright scary, the movie really started taking off for me. It's really hard to make a "gothic" movie these days, thanks to Tim Burton, but del Toro really demonstrated that he can put his own stamp on the "gothic, 1800s-era" subgenre of horror.

Grade: B

Bridge of Spies

A masterfully made historical drama with just enough thrills to keep you going from beginning to end. Tom Hanks may not be the most exciting actor of our time, but like with "Captain Phillips," he once again demonstrates why he's been such a revered actor for so long. Mark Rylance also gives a powerful performance.

Naturally, expectations were high for me, especially when you have a script co-written by the Coen Brothers with Spielberg (and DP Janusz Kaminski) behind the camera. I'm happy to say those expectations were met and then some. I wasn't surprised this turned out to be good, I was surprised by how politically relevant this story is to modern times and impressed that Spielberg acknowledged as much without turning Bridge of Spies into a "message movie." On the surface, it's just a good old-fashioned Hollywood drama, but as the story continues to unfold, you'll find that America's decades-long "war of information" with Soviet Russia isn't that much different than the "war on terror" that we fought for the past 15 years.

Grade: A

This takes us up to mid-October.

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