Saturday, March 25, 2017

Gone Girl (2014)

IMDb plot summary: With his wife's disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it's suspected that he may not be innocent.
Directed by David Fincher. Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry.

(Some spoilers ahead.)

When I first read the book Gone Girl, I felt astonished and riveted. It hit the halfway mark and I couldn't put it down. I felt a similar sense of intrigue watching Fincher's adaptation, even though I already knew the plot points to come, and the final few minutes hit me here much harder than they did in the book, where it felt slightly anticlimactic. I think the film does a surprisingly good job of bringing us into the mindset of two extremely cryptic and unlikable characters. Ben Affleck is typically not an actor I am impressed by, but this is a great role for him, and he nails it. Rosamund Pike is equally good. Overall, a well-done adaptation, though I wonder whether I'd be raving more about it if I'd seen this version before reading the book, which really did blow my mind.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Gone Girl > About Last Night...
Gone Girl > Tropic Thunder
Gone Girl < The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Gone Girl < The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
Gone Girl > Young Adult
Gone Girl < Hidden Figures
Gone Girl > Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)
Gone Girl > Fences
Gone Girl > The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
Gone Girl > Hoodwinked!

Final spot: #529 out of 2598.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jack Goes Boating (2010)

IMDb plot summary: A limo driver's blind date sparks a tale of love, betrayal, friendship, and grace centered around two working-class New York City couples.
Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, and Daphne Rubin-Vega.

(Very minor spoilers ahead.)

This movie builds very, very slowly, so slowly I didn't even realize how invested I was until the end of the movie rolled around and I found myself almost crying at how satisfying I found the final few shots. I didn't realize this was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, but it makes sense, because it embodies so many of the things I always loved about his performances, bringing out the humanity of characters that might easily be overlooked in most Hollywood films. Both Hoffman and Amy Ryan are really excellent here. (The more I see of Ryan as a dramatic actress after only knowing her from The Office, the more I like her.) It reminded me in an odd way of the musical Company, a man trying to figure out what relationships should look like partly by looking at his friends' messed-up relationships and ultimately deciding it's worth it anyway. I feel like this is one that could grow on me and become, eventually, even a comfort movie.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Jack Goes Boating > The 5th Wave
Jack Goes Boating > The Impossible
Jack Goes Boating < The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Jack Goes Boating < The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
Jack Goes Boating > The Grapes of Wrath
Jack Goes Boating > The Cranes Are Flying
Jack Goes Boating < A Streetcar Named Desire
Jack Goes Boating > Hard Candy
Jack Goes Boating > Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
Jack Goes Boating > Robot and Frank
Jack Goes Boating < Persepolis

Final spot: #509 out of 2597.

Upstream Color (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.
Directed by Shane Carruth. Starring Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, and Thiago Martins.

I thought Shane Carruth's previous film, Primer, was fun and interesting but needlessly difficult to figure out. Maybe not needlessly -- those who loved it more than I did seemed to get special enjoyment out of rewatching it again and again to figure out what exactly was going on. They might like this one even more, because this reaches Donnie Darko levels of "What? How on EARTH were we supposed to figure out that was the answer?" But in Donnie Darko, the characters are arresting and the interactions are fun to watch even if you haven't the faintest idea what's happening. Here, we have no special attachment to the characters, since right from the beginning we distrust their experiences and everything they go through is potentially meaningless. I kind of get what he was trying to do with the tone of the movie, but I think the funky mythology he created would have been far more interesting if we'd actually learned about it and not just had it silently hinted at us in a way we couldn't possibly be expected to follow. Not everything is improved if you turn it into a puzzle.

1 star.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Upstream Color < The 5th Wave
Upstream Color < Top Gun
Upstream Color > Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Upstream Color > Winter Passing
Upstream Color < The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
Upstream Color > The Lone Ranger (2013)
Upstream Color > The People vs. Larry Flynt
Upstream Color > The Devil Inside
Upstream Color < Antichrist
Upstream Color > The Forgotten
Upstream Color > Flightplan

Final spot: #2034 out of 2595.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

IMDb plot summary: An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.
Directed by Bill Condon. Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, and Josh Gad.

I have thought more about Beauty and the Beast than anyone I know. I have deeply analyzed these characters I love so much, dissected how the various themes play out, and vehemently defended it to people who don't realize that it's so clearly the best Disney movie out there. So it had a lot to live up to, and it only halfway measured up.

The musical numbers are what holds this adaptation together. Aside from several meaningless 30-second songs and anything where Emma Watson sings, the songs look and sound great. "Be Our Guest" and "The Mob Song" are two especially great sequences that really make the whole movie look better in comparison. Where the movie fails is in embracing the understated nature of the original story. It attempts to shoehorn in several more dramatic subplots and overplay everything that's already there. This is exhausting and ultimately undercuts the actual themes because we're never given the time they need to breathe. A stronger script more confident in its relational drama would have been a huge asset to this film. Not a bad movie, but it pales in comparison to the near-perfect original.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Beauty and the Beast > The 5th Wave
Beauty and the Beast > The Impossible
Beauty and the Beast < The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Beauty and the Beast < The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
Beauty and the Beast < The Grapes of Wrath
Beauty and the Beast > Borat
Beauty and the Beast < Four Lions
Beauty and the Beast < Mad Max: Fury Road
Beauty and the Beast > Marty
Beauty and the Beast > Band of Robbers
Beauty and the Beast > Notting Hill

Final spot: #598 out of 2596.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ghost (1990)

IMDb plot summary: After a young man is murdered, his spirit stays behind to warn his lover of impending danger, with the help of a reluctant psychic.
Directed by Jerry Zucker. Starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tony Goldwyn.

Somehow this weird little supernatural romance drama has slipped by me all these years. Now that I've seen it, I'm mostly just "meh" on it. By far Whoopi Goldberg's character is the most compelling of the leads, and the scenes where she has to deal with being able to hear Sam's ghost are great, second only to the angry subway ghost. Patrick Swayze is NOT good in this, though he's not helped by several extreme close-ups lingering on his face when contorted in extreme "emotion." You can almost see him thinking, "Look sad. Now LOOK SADDER." Because the romantic leads are never truly fleshed out, it's hard to connect to their turmoil when they're ripped apart from each other, making it all kind of underwhelming, even when it does work as a concept. Frankly, I wish we'd had a lot more interaction with the other ghosts and less going back to the eternally bland Swayze and Moore.

2.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Ghost < About Last Night...
Ghost > Top Gun
Ghost > Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging
Ghost > How to Rob a Bank
Ghost < The Pajama Game
Ghost > Drive
Ghost > How to Deal
Ghost > Where the Red Fern Grows
Ghost < Yankee Doodle Dandy
Ghost > Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Ghost < Sisters

Final spot: #1385 out of 2594.

Band of Robbers (2015)

IMDb plot summary: Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are grown men, still searching for the hidden treasure that has eluded them since childhood.
Directed by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee. Starring Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Melissa Benoist.

This is a variation on the Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn story I've never seen before, and it's strangely charming. There's an almost cartoonish quality to the adventure, with Huck acting as a more grounded dose of reality. His and Becky's are the only actions that seem truly logical, and while that could be a flaw, it really helps to build the tone of this movie. The actors really help to sell the goofiness, and, as a whole, it works. It bears very little resemblance to most other adaptations of these stories, but it's entertaining.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Band of Robbers > Candy
Band of Robbers > The Impossible
Band of Robbers < Benny & Joon
Band of Robbers < The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
Band of Robbers > Borat
Band of Robbers < Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Band of Robbers < Mad Max: Fury Road
Band of Robbers > World War Z
Band of Robbers > Crossing Delancey
Band of Robbers < Notting Hill

Final spot: #600 out of 2592.

God's Not Dead 2 (2016)

IMDb plot summary: When a high school teacher is asked a question in class about Jesus, her response lands her in deep trouble.
Directed by Harold Cronk. Starring Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, David A.R. White, and Hayley Orrantinia.

Well, yeah, this was about what I thought it would be. It borrows some of its awfulness from the first film. I do mean this literally, as there are multiple subplots that are almost identical to those of the original. I also mean this thematically, however, as both of these movies follow a specific, very distressing, pattern: Paint the enemy in the most ridiculous, hyperbolic, cartoonishly evil light, and then anything the Christian says will be reasonable and self-evident in comparison. But this is a terrible, and, I'd argue, anti-Christian, way to frame a story like this. It means this movie is not to convert the unsaved (who could possibly see themselves in the non-Christians in these movies?!), nor is it to give Christians a road map on how to deal with those who oppose their religion (it's highly unlikely a Christian will EVER run into such clear-cut villains). All it does is hype up the sense of paranoia and victimization that I already think is negatively affecting American Christianity. It allows the Christian viewer to feel smug about how reasonable their own point of view is. Well, yes, it is reasonable here, but not because their point of view is objectively correct, but because the other side is overtly malicious in every way.

Just like the first film, this makes me actively angry. Poorly-written, badly-acted, super-awkward Christian films with a good heart (talking to you, Kendrick brothers) I can tolerate. Poorly-written, badly-acted, super-awkward Christian films that encourage us to think the worst of our non-Christian neighbors I cannot. This is a narrative that I believe is damaging to our faith and antithetical to the way Scripture commands us to think of others. It fails to tell a competent story AND it fails to uphold the faith. There's nothing good to be found here.

Oh, I guess I should say some more about the movie itself besides the awful message it sends out. It's simultaneously more boring and more haphazard than the first movie. The evil lawyer is the most interesting character because he has a little personality. Every subplot stolen from the first film has no purpose (probably because they were actually solved already and brought back this time for no reason). The attempts at Christian apologetics make zero sense in the context of the story and are therefore even more cringey than in the original, as it's more clearly a lecture for the audience. So, back to my original point: Nothing good to be found here.

0.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
God's Not Dead 2 < Candy
God's Not Dead 2 < The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
God's Not Dead 2 < Dracula (1931)
God's Not Dead 2 < The World is Not Enough (1999)
God's Not Dead 2 < American Gangster
God's Not Dead 2 < The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things
God's Not Dead 2 < Alvin and the Chipmunks
God's Not Dead 2 < Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde
God's Not Dead 2 < The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
God's Not Dead 2 < The Pacifier
God's Not Dead 2 > Mallrats
Final spot: #2592 out of 2593.