October 2016 Movies

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Ghostbusters (2016)

Hmm, I wonder how I would have felt about this if not for all of the hype. It wasn’t necessarily Bad, and there were probably some good jokes in there, but it just did not connect? I haven’t seen the original and have never really felt a need to, in part because it seemed like it was probably just going to be an SNL sketch stretched to two hours, starring a bunch of un-hot dudes. (And I am just, like, not into ghosts as a Thing). Anyway, the remake certainly is quite SNL sketch-y in its humor—particularly the Kate McKinnon character comes across as one of those ~wacky~ sketch characters, which is why I super don’t get the sensation she caused on Tumblr.

I don’t know if there’s anyway to say this without coming across as, just, ludicrously snobby, but like most blockbuster comedies, it feels like a comedy made for people who don’t watch enough comedies to have developed any sort of discerning tastes or preferences. Where it’s like, “Haha people getting covered in slime! Haha people yelling! Haha pratfalls!” But sure, it’s Important For Feminism to show that women can get covered in slime and yell and do slapstick just as well as men or whatever–that women aren’t too humorless or high-maintenance to engage in dumb shit, basically–and not every piece of media has to be geared to my tastes, so.


The Last Days of Disco (1998)

Not super into Whit Stillman’s approach to dialogue–like, I get that the stiltedness is to some extent an intentional stylistic choice, but it just doesn’t work for me when spoken by actual live humans (albeit actors), whereas I think I would appreciate it in the context of a novel. And I guess Stillman did write a novelization of the movie, so maybe I should read that. It’s weird, because Noah Baumbach’s writing is pretty similar and does work for me; maybe it’s either slightly less stilted or slightly more clever? But sure, this is overall a fine movie, and comedy-dramas with very well-defined settings/social contexts are, I think, ultimately what we want.


 The Aviator (2004)

Yes, good. I’ve been putting off watching this for like a decade now, because I thought it would be a super boring and serious Oscar bait-y biopic, but then I read about the screenplay and the power of John Logan compelled me. And it was not super boring or serious! So, okay.

I wonder if I would have noticed the color filter thing if I hadn’t happened to read something about it right before watching the movie? It’s a cool effect; I don’t have the cinematographic vocabulary to describe it, but the movie goes from being shot with a tint of blue then green then yellow as Hughes’s mental health deteriorates. We start out with early 2000s Leonardo DiCaprio’s beautiful eyes, rosy cheeks, etc. and everything feeling very clean and fresh, because blue and then end with the jaundiced, dirty, unwell, etc. version because yellow1.


A Bigger Splash (IT 2015/US 2016)

Eh, not super memorable or compelling with the exception of the Ralph Fiennes dance scene.

It’s one of those movies that you expect to either end in either a murder or an orgy–in this case (spoilers), it’s the former, which is a bit of a letdown? It just doesn’t feel like satisfactory payoff for all of the tension and subtext and implied backstory of the first hour or so, and by the time it happens, one isn’t super interested in following the aftermath.


A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

I feel like this is probably a fun movie, but I was not giving it my full attention. Note to self: stop watching movies with other windows open on your computer, Jesus Christ.


Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Yes, good. The hype over this was totally correct, and I was wrong to skip out on watching it in theaters because of my “no movies with child leads” rule. Because yeah, it manages to have a child lead without being either super cloying or leaning on the sort of lazy “haha it’s a kid saying adult things” brand of comedy (see: Kick-Ass). Instead, very fresh, funny, emotionally affecting, etc. So excited about the rise of Taika Waititi.


The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) (3rd time)

This remains a Cinematic Masterpiece on third viewing. And I’ve almost convinced myself that my one quibble–the overuse of explanatory flashbacks–is actually an artistic masterstroke, purposely evoking the cheesiness and tediousness of such scenes in (one assumes) the TV series or just the old spy thriller genre in general. Especially because every other shot or scene in the movie feels so efficient and because Ritchie’s other movies consistently avoid this sort of technique–I’ll have to do a rewatch, but I think they tend to lump all of the explanatory backtracking/plot convergence in one go at the very end, at which point, yeah, the viewer definitely has forgotten or wasn’t paying close enough attention to the events leading up to the big revelatory finale. I just feel like it can’t be a miscalculation or underestimation of the audience’s intelligence? Maybe this is what genuine religious faith feels like.

I mean, more on the efficiency in other scenes–there’s an art to repeating an element enough times for it to become a recurring motif, but not so many times that the audience gets tired of it. And we have:

  • Three (3) scenes where the visual humor comes from the foreground/background composition of the shot
    • Gaby dancing in the background while Illya plays chess in the foreground (here)
    • Napoleon eating a sandwich and listening to Italian radio in the foreground while Illya’s caught up in an intense boat chase in the background (here)
    • Napoleon and Illya planning their next steps in the foreground while Rudi accidentally burns to death in the background (here)
  • Three (3) interrupted kisses between Gaby and Illya
  • Three (3) uses of slideshow-style exposition
    • Going over Napoleon’s dossier (an actual slideshow, with a cameo from David Beckham as the projectionist)
    • Background on the Vinciguerras (close-ups of pictures and files from a folder, I think?)
    • The weird interlude with Rudi’s Bond villain monologue (a photo album)
  • Three (3) major chases scenes (already discussed here)
    • Period cars in East Berlin
    • Boats
    • Jeep, motorcycle, and ATV
  • Two (2) bathroom fights
    • Illya and Napoleon’s first official meeting post-escape from East Berlin
    • Illya versus the Italian dandies
    • (Plus a callback to those when Illya uses the hotel bathroom to develop photos)

Plus, the subplot with Illya’s father’s watch:

  1. Introduced when Gaby and Illya have to get mugged by the Vinciguerra spies
  2. Mentioned again when Illya knocks out a dude during the stealth mission in the Vinciguerra shipping yard because he thought the guy was wearing the watch
  3. Shown as Napoleon finds the watch on a body during the official infiltration of the Vinciguerra compound
  4. Wrapped up in the ending, as Illya thinks Napoleon is reaching for a gun, but is tossed the watch instead

Just four scenes, but that fourth one is super significant and couldn’t have happened without the prior three. From that first scene, you know that Illya is going to get back his father’s watch by the end, and that personal stakes have been added to the mission. But the specific way that it plays out is slightly less predictable, and you can easily see a lesser movie going for more than three scenes mentioning/showing the watch and really just hammering it home way too hard.

Oh god, I am super tempted to keep rewatching this in an attempt to become some sort of Guy Ritchie scholar and analyze the intent behind the inclusion (or exclusion) of every single element and the effect it produces in the audience. But that’s pretty dumb, right? (And I am maybe too dumb to accomplish it at a level of depth that I could respect.)


The Great Gatsby (2013)

So I’m not super enthused2 about Baz Luhrmann as a director or The Great Gatsby as a novel. Which perhaps begs the question: why watch Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby? Especially after the (poor) critical response it got three years ago? I don’t know, man, I don’t know; I was curious what the deal was with the contemporary soundtrack and (thanks to the MFU rewatch) Elizabeth Debicki’s performance.

And I respect a lot of the directorial choices, in theory, in providing the over-the-top garish 1920s nouveau riche atmosphere as–very intentionally–filtered through the 21st century concept of nouveau riche, rather than aiming for historical or literary accuracy. Especially since there already are several film adaptations of The Great Gatsby that I imagine are more straight-up period pieces, which gives Luhrmann room to execute his vision rather than having to make the definitive faithful adaptation of the novel. That said, I am just so not into the Luhrmann Vision in general, so…yeah, very much not for me.


1. Blah blah blah could probably insert digression about the significance of yellow in Dostoevsky here.^
2. Well, okay, to be more specific, I fucking hate Moulin Rouge and felt pretty indifferently towards The Great Gatsby when it was required reading in high school, but that indifference turned to disdain as I met people in college who considered it among their favorite books, because that always reads to me as the choice of someone who just doesn’t read for pleasure and/or wants to sound smart by picking this Literary Classic rather than reflecting a genuine love for the book? But maybe I’m wrong, and these people read The Great Gatsby  and deeply connected to something in there, in which case I guess I’m super curious as to what that could be, because it certainly wasn’t there for me at age 17.^

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