This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
So I think this has in my head already blended with every other movie of its particular genre—you know, the adult siblings and their spouses coming back to their hometown for a funeral/wedding/etc. and having a bunch of conflicting feelings about the event and each other and adulthood genre, where the individual movies are usually more interesting for their casting choices than the actual (barely there) plots. It’s pretty rarely going to be the genre of movie that I’m willing to pay money to see in theaters, but as movies to watch when you’re not really feeling anything else1, they’re guaranteed to have a few moments of cute sibling stuff and some bits that come across as funnier than they actually are because of unexpected casting. Maybe even some genuinely funny bits; who knows.
The difficulty level for This Is Where I Leave You was, admittedly, not super high, because I am very susceptible to references to Judaism and adult siblings actually acting like siblings. And it basically met my expectations, so: yeah, sure. Adam Driver was great, which somehow still continues to be surprising to me in this post-Inside Llewyn Davis, post-The Force Awakens world, because his character on Girls is just that fucking awful. Large portions of it were just too broad or generic, again, in terms of being like any other adults coming back home for a big family event movie, which is a bit disappointing when it actually did have a few moments of glorious specificity (e.g. the scene of the brothers sneaking off to get high in a Hebrew school classroom during in the middle of services).
A Most Violent Year (2014)
I think the critical perspective on this movie is supposed to be something like “blah blah blah nuanced performances, impressive cinematography, gritty ’80s New York is basically another character in the movie,” but fuck it: this was mostly boring. Or rather, it was very deliberately paced and most of the dialogue was serious and business-related, which made it difficult for me to be invested in either the plot (since it took so long to fully reveal itself) or the characters (since it’s hard to get a sense what they’re like as people outside of their business interests).
In theory, I do like the flip of the more typical gangster/gangster’s wife dynamic, where Oscar Isaac’s character was actually trying to run a more or less legitimate business, and he gets super upset when he finds out that his wife (Jessica Chastain), a gangster’s daughter, has secretly been cooking the books for years. And also that Oscar Isaac is basically young Al Pacino in this, and I love young Al Pacino2. But somehow that’s just not quite enough to take A Most Violent Year from a movie that I recognize as a Quality Film to a movie that I actually like.
I’ve been meaning to watch this since I initially got into Game of Thrones and was like, “damn, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau,” but due to issues finding a copy with decent subtitles haven’t really gotten around to it until now, and wow, has my relationship to Game of Thrones changed in the meantime. But that is not super relevant to Headhunters, which was pretty solid. There is something really delightful about a movie that starts with a well-groomed man in his expensive Scandinavian minimalist house and then midway through has the same man completely covered in shit, driving a stolen tractor with a dead dog impaled on its front.
Look at us, branching out to Gay Québécois Period Pieces. This was also solid, and I definitely cried. It does some interesting stylistic things with music and scene transitions, but I don’t know, nothing insightful to say here. Marc-André Grondin’s face is pretty great, and I think I’m actually looking forward to Goon: Last of the Enforcers, which is insane, because it’s the sequel to a hockey comedy?
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
I can understand why this became a cult classic, but it didn’t quite connect for me. Maybe because I’ve already seen too many things referencing the most iconic bits, or maybe because, for whatever reason, the Christopher Guest mockumentary style has just never really appealed to me. Similarly to Fargo, I think, this is the type of movie where I recognize the humor and respect/admire the construction of the jokes, but none of it really provokes a visceral laugh-out-loud reaction.
Also, my shipper sense tells me that if this came out now, there would be a sizable David/Nigel fanbase.
Since I took so long to post this, Spotlight is now a Best Picture winner, which, um, huh. Good thing we have established that the Oscars Are Dumb and indicate very little about the qualities of a film that we actually give a shit about.
Spotlight is perfectly competent, but not especially distinctive? There are so many elements of this movie that you could switch out without anyone noticing, if that makes sense; nothing about it feels iconic. The cast, the time period, the setting3—none of it feels super essential to the movie’s identity, so what are we even left with? At most, I think it works as a less boring alternative to a documentary on the same topic? And I mean, the real-life basis for the story is compelling in a totally fucked-up way, so: sure. As far as recent cinematic treatments of Catholic Church sexual abuse cases go, I think Calvary has way more artistic merit (whatever the fuck that even means).
The costuming was pretty good, though, in terms of realism; everyone seems to be dressing within budget for their supposed jobs, and the cuffs on the men’s sleeves even appear to be rolled to different degrees of neatness as appropriate for each character. Rachel McAdams’s outfits are totally unglamorous and frumpy in a way that probably makes sense for a serious journalist in 2002, so props for that; when faced with period costuming, I think it can be very tempting to still try to conform to modern beauty standards in terms of silhouettes/hair/make-up/etc. especially when you have an actress that audiences are used to seeing as enviable and/or fuckable, depending on their sexual orientation. And yeah, for costuming, 2002 definitely counts as period; it’s maybe more period than the 1990s in relation to 2016 fashion4.
The Young Victoria (2009)
YES. So it turns out that I know approximately fuck all about the actual Victoria, even though I claim to be into the Victorian era; Wikipedia was definitely consulted extensively immediately after the movie ended. But oh man, the Victoria/Albert romance as portrayed in this movie is just SO MUCH. There are Significant Letters and Significant Strolls (through beautiful grounds) and Significant Dances (in beautiful costumes in a beautiful ballroom) and it is great. Please do more period pieces while you’re still young-ish, Rupert Friend, instead of wasting your hotness on Homeland.
I’m surprised that the screenplay was written by Julian Fellowes, given my feelings towards Downton Abbey, but a lot of Downton Abbey‘s writing issues have to do with pacing in a way that’s not going to be as much of an issue in a standalone movie, and I’ll admit that the Mary/Matthew romance was actually handled pretty well, at least in the first season.
1. And apparently aren’t even down for a Gay British Period Piece? How is that possible? ^
2. I also love old Al Pacino in scenery-chewing mode, but, well, that is a different sort of appeal. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson basically have the same dynamic in Ex Machina that Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves have in The Devil’s Advocate, and holy shit, can you fucking imagine the remake possibilities there? Or would that be totally redundant, because like actually what even is the difference between these performances? ^
3. Well, to some extent the actual story that it’s based on might be an “only in Boston” thing, but in terms of the movie utilizing Boston for exteriors, apparently they only shot in Boston for four days and did everything else in Toronto? None of the sets were especially memorable, in any case. ^
4. Just compare the costumes on My So-Called Life to the costumes on, say, early Gilmore Girls. Now go walk around a college campus and see which feels more dated. ^