drama, mystery, sci-fi, Uncategorized



Arrival, 2016

Shoutout to Camelot Cinemas for not playing trailers? I was barely late to see Arrival – my friend’s dog had a pee incident, and then Ben (the dog’s human) had to pee. By the time we walked into the theatre, a few minutes after the listed showtime, the movie had started. But what was a disorienting experience only enhanced an already disorienting start to a film. Arrival is all about Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is recruited by the US military to communicate with aliens. Twelve shells (“What we call the UFO”) landed all over our planet. Why are they here? Who/what is inside them? And what is the purpose? These are all questions, or, as Dr. Banks would explain, quests to answers, Arrival hopes to explain. Frankly there’s lots of quests to answers throughout Denis Villeneuve’s latest two hours.

Still, I could see this movie 20 more times and never grow tired. It’s beautifully shot, well paced, and explores countless questions that are eerily pertinent today (insert spoiler thought here about a link between Dr. Banks and Villeneuve). Even the soundtrack, with its occasional far-t00-THX intro sounding segments, is gorgeous. Speaking of gorgeous, the alien language is, too. I could question why Louise’s hair was naturally wavy but straight when she chatted with aliens… are we really supposed to believe in her 10 minutes to pack she grabbed a straightener, and are we also supposed to believe that she’s fixing her hair mid-global crisis? But alas, the only true complaint I have would be regarding the very long scene in which Dr. Banks, physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Colonel Weber (played by Forest Whitaker using a frustrating “accent”), etc first go into the shell together. Yes, it was a powerful, crucial moment but after what seemed like half an hour the aliens could have had my own face on them and I would not have been impressed.

It’s the time of year when the studio’s arguably award-season worthy films begin showing. In other words, it’s the most wonderful time of year. And while there are plenty of things to watch, I think Arrival is what I needed. It’s distracting, it’s empathetic, it’s thought-provoking and not in a controversial way but in one that makes you shrug positively and think of who to watch it with next. Whether or not you like aliens or Amy Adams or the awkwardly shaped shells (which, yes, you will grow to love), I would say, “See Arrival.” It’s a worthy cinematic escape.

comedy, drama, mystery

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight, 2015

The Hateful Eight, 2015

Sometimes I play a game so that I don’t eat my popcorn at the movies all at once – wait for a certain word to be said or an actor to appear. Going into The Hateful Eight, I decided I wouldn’t eat until the first gunshot; fortunately, my self control was pitiful and I caved after 20 minutes or so because Eight is a slow burn. And I mean that positively. Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film (as if that hasn’t been stressed enough) is a whodunit set in post-Civil War Wyoming. In a single “day” nearly all inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, two bounty hunters, one’s captive, a Confederate general, a sheriff, a hangman, a cowboy, and a Mexican (phew) find themselves stuck together in a snowstorm. Various tensions, like race and gender and class and roots, build throughout this 187 minute masterpiece, and being Tarantino of course it’s violent (eventually) and excessive but it’s also remarkably theatrical, hilarious, and stunning.

Shown in 70mm film, hearing the projector clicking behind me and seeing a ridiculously large, crisp picture felt more submersing than any film experience I could have imagined. The limited time roadshow came complete with a beautiful program and plenty of “ooh”s and “ah”s. Whether or not one appreciates the viewing experience, the amount of work that went into the cinemas using such dated (and arguably forgotten) equipment is thrilling. Pair this with its sheer attention to detail and Eight easily becomes the most beautiful film of the year. The (few) locations are astounding, and the refrigerated set allows the intimate feel of Minnie’s to be exaggerated to a point of reality, in which each spoken word comes with visible breath. Chalk-full of dialogue (but using silence wisely), Eight is a story of each character telling stories. Getting to learn about each individual provides momentum to the mysteries until a wild few minutes before intermission. From theatrical to cinematic extreme, Tarantino keeps the second half of the film bloody, tense, and absolutely hysterical.

As soon as it ended I wanted to see Eight again. Stefon would maybe go far as to say, this film has everything – an interesting plot, dynamic cast, tense drama, laugh out loud humor, gore and guts, and it looks good to boot.

action, mystery, sci-fi

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner, 2014

The Maze Runner, 2014

Children/teens fighting for their lives due to some sort of dystopian issue isn’t my thing. I’ve read and seen the first Hunger Games book and movie but wasn’t craving the rest. I haven’t read or seen anything Divergent related, and same with The Maze Runner— until last night. Runner, based on the book series by James Dashner, regards a bunch of guys dropped one at a time into a grassy arena surrounded by a maze, which changes each night. They believe if they can solve the maze, they can return to their previous lives, though their memories have been wiped so it’s interesting they’re so desperate to get back to… what exactly?

The cast is a mix of familiars and unknowns depending on your interests. I didn’t recognize main character Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), though he stars in MTV’s Teen Wolf. Kaya Scodelario plays the arena’s sole female (Teresa), and it’s as if director Wes Ball really wanted Kristen Stewart. She’s aggressive, talks in a deep voice, and keeps her hair in her face, so I only thought I recognized Scodelario. Will Poulter, on the other hand, was hard not to recognize thanks to his flawless performance of “Waterfalls” in We’re The Millers. Unfortunately in Runner Poulter plays Gally, a fierce, rule-abiding leader who doesn’t break into TLC hits or find a spider in his pants. Also familiar was Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who played Newt. Yes, the adorable boy from Love, Actually has grown up to live in a mysterious grassy knoll filled with young men and zero signs of Christmas cheer or love or Liam Neeson.

It’s evident Runner is based on a book since it drops things so casually, like the fact that these robot-spider-scorpions called “Grievers” are living in the maze and sting people. The boys also use their own slang with no explanations, and it makes you wonder why make up lingo at all? If they really hope to return to normalcy, they should stick to speaking normally. At the end of the day, Runner is a wanna-be Lord of the Flies performed by monochromatic, dirty Gap models who are freakishly clean shaven even though they’ve lived outside for up to three years. If you’re into broody boys, robots, or henley style t-shirts, maybe watch Runner. Otherwise… maybe watch any of the other movies mentioned in this review.

drama, mystery

Gone Girl

David Fincher, 2014

David Fincher, 2014

If you don’t glance at your watch or grow more and more anxious to check your phone during a movie, then you know you’re watching a good one. All 149 minutes of Gone Girl flew by, and yeah, it was a good one.

David Fincher once again created a beautifully paced, shot, and performed film, this time a sort of modern film noir. The story follows Nick, a man who comes home to find his wife, Amy, missing on the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary. Like any film noir, there’s a femme fatale (Amy, the Gone Girl), a pair of detectives, sexual and cynical motives, and shadows and sounds keeping viewers guessing the entire length of the film. I love a classic movie, though I know plenty of people who don’t– I think Girl would be a great way to start a reverse study of film noir, which many find initially uninteresting, or even intimidating.

Before I can say much more, let it be known that I read the book, written by Gillian Flynn, who also penned the phenomenal screenplay, at a disturbingly fast pace. I have no doubt this impacted how I perceived the film, since I knew the plot twists and was braced for when they would be revealed. Each time this happened, I looked all around the theatre wanting to see mild melt-downs, and, for better or worse, no one was flipping out as far I could tell. Maybe everyone in that screening had read the book, or maybe they were calm people who wouldn’t provide me such entertainment/insight. That being said, the shocks are still gasp-worthy in the way they are revealed, and the brutality of people’s actions is not lessened in any way, even when knowing them ahead of time. Some aspects from the book are even more scathing when acted out– for example, the ending, which didn’t really change as was previously reported when in-the-making, is so much more haunting when visible. I hated it in the book, but in the movie, I didn’t want it to end.

The casting is, almost entirely, spot-on. Shout-outs to Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister, Go, and Kim Dickens, who seamlessly owned Detective Boney. Ben Affleck as Nick is impeccable. Often, when an actor plays out so many emotions, at least one feels fake. Maybe, for example, when the character is angry the actor’s yelling feels unauthentic. Somehow Affleck nails every single aspect of Nick, from the charming to the sinister to the infuriated. It’s a blast to watch. I didn’t love Rosamund Pike as Amy, mostly because from the start, when she is supposed to be a desirable dream girl, it’s as if she had a massive WARNING sticker on her forehead. Regardless, she looks the part, and after the first half hour, she fits perfectly.

I could go on and on about my expectations and feelings and thoughts on this one, but to wrap it up (since you’ve checked your phone by now, right?), this film is worth seeing. There’s good and bad press out there, and if you’re curious, see it for yourself. Girl works beautifully on the big screen, and Fincher’s work deserves to be taken in that way– it’s stunning, submerging, potent. But, if you need to wait, it’ll also be fantastic to watch at home, with the doors locked, cuddled up only with someone you trust. Though Nick thought he had it pretty good with Amy…

horror, mystery

Dead End

Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa, 2003

Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa, 2003

When I posted about this blog on Facebook and said I was taking recommendations, I meant it. Dead End was suggested as a joke, but I stayed true to my word, watched it, and reviewed it. You’re welcome.

Dead End tells the story of a family traveling Christmas Eve on their way to Grandma’s house, a trip they’ve taken every year for 20 years, and yet, this year it goes awry. Dad (Ray Wise) was “bored” and chose to take back roads instead of the interstate, and this shows everyone more than a scenic route. A lady in white (imagine Ke$ha as a ghost, holding a baby) appears in the woods, so Dad, against everyone else’s wishes, stops to ask her for directions. She doesn’t speak. From here, things continue to grow stranger.

With the opening credits beginning like an iMovie, I said to myself, “It can only go up from here,” and that was such a kind thing to think of Dead End. Because of the wardrobe, music, film quality, and so on, I would’ve guessed this was a late 80’s/early 90’s horror film, so when Dad asks if anyone has a cellphone, I burst out laughing, only to realize this film was made in 2003. Oops.

Dead End should be watched if you want a “scary” movie that will make you laugh, or want to keep things interesting during a Christmas movie marathon; after all, there is a tranced sing-a-long of “Jingle Bells” in which the mom, Laura, actually knows the words to the second verse. This film has it all– deaths, ghosts and/or aliens (depending on which character you side with), family secrets being revealed at the most inopportune times, and, my personal favorite, a stunned Laura eating pie in the backseat of the car with her two hands. The family’s reaction to this is that Laura is “shocked,” though this family uses “shocked” as an adjective like Southern girls use “sweet,” so I’m unsure of her true diagnosis.

I don’t want to give too much away, so if I haven’t intrigued you enough by mentioning the Ke$ha ghost, perhaps these quotes from the movie will. Seriously, these are real quotes from the movie.

“Next time I’m just gonna bring a globe in case you suddenly feel like driving to Mother’s by way of the North pole!” 

“How does she breathe with all this blanket on her face?” 

“You handle that wrench like a whore handles a baby.” 

“Maybe the map maker was drunk, maybe the moon’s made out of cheese, who knows?!”

crime, drama, mystery


David Fincher, 2007

David Fincher, 2007

With Gone Girl coming to cinemas late tonight and tomorrow, I was craving a David Fincher fix and decided to finally watch Zodiac. Note: I refused to watch this movie alone previously because I thought it would be scary, but it is not a horror, gory, or even a make-you-jump film. Like most of Fincher’s work, it is brooding, dark yet vivid, and beautifully saturated. This film begins in 1969, with the murder of two teenagers. I loved the beginning– no credits, no real context, just a date on the bottom of the screen and immediate action. Unfortunately, the credits start later, six minutes in; credits remind viewers they are in fact watching a production and thus can be distracting or even disappointing, so I’m not a fan, though I recognize it’s the norm. Lucky for me, as the credits roll viewers are simultaneously introduced to the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle, where cartoonist Robert Graysmith recently began working. The Chronicle, along with several other local papers, received a letter from a man who claims to be the murderer. He threatens that if the letter isn’t published in the papers, he will “go on a kill rampage.” So it is published.

The reading of the letter felt very Wes Anderson in the way it was read aloud in a voice-over, while an overhead shot showed the hand-written letter, in blue ink, almost frighteningly comical. Who does this guy think he is? Though as the letters continue, becoming more and more gruesome, the papers, and the community, fear the murderer they begin to call Zodiac, since he leaves cryptic messages in addition to letters.

Admittedly I have been watching too much Scandal, so the film felt like more of a slow-burn whodunnit than it really is. The film runs two and half hours and spans over two decades, with lots of information and chilling finds to share. As a viewer, one is forced to question everything the film’s subjects count as truth: Is Zodiac white? Does he wear glasses? Is he “normal” looking? There are devastating moments when one thinks Zodiac has been found, but it is a dead end or false assumption and the search continues. The tagline for the film is “There’s More Than One Way to Lose Your Life to a Killer,” which is an accurate depiction of what this film actually shows—not so much the loss of lives, but the loss of hope, trust, love, sanity. A host of characters dedicate their time to finding Zodiac, but none is more zealous or desperate than Robert, who ostracizes himself from everything he loves to find a man he despises for no clear reason. When asked why he’s searching he says, “Because no one else is.” Eerie, right?

Overall, I went into Zodiac optimistically, since I highly enjoy period pieces, journalism dramas (hello, All the Presidents Men book and film), and Mark Ruffalo. Zodiac did not disappoint. Fincher’s films, including this one, allow the viewer to be an intimate friend, devilish auteur, and bird courtesy of the camerawork employed. The pacing alternates from fast to achingly slow, shots from tight to wide open, and the entire screen is used. This is what I meant previously by saturated—Fincher allows the lens to capture so much, yet it is often crisp and organized, or monochromatic and thus clear in that way. Regardless of how the saturation is set for each scene, it keeps the film heavy, adding suspense without using movement or a word. Sometimes it is almost too much—a taxi cab murder (4th murder mentioned, 3rd murder shown) looks like Sin City the way color is used—but one forgives Fincher for the otherwise beautiful set-up.

The historical context Fincher places viewers in is so well crafted—from the yellow hue of the film, much like the yellowed articles about Zodiac Robert obsesses over, to the nods at the technology and entertainment of the time (“We don’t have a fax machine yet,” a Dirty Harry cut-out at the movies), Zodiac perfectly places an audience in the time and place. My favorite scene showed Robert visiting a previous co-worker of his, who has Pong playing in the background. The sound of Pong plays as a serious conversation about Zodiac is held, and the consistent sound of missing in the game is heartbreaking as one thinks of the mystery murderer. Due to the timeline of the story, hardly any women are seen in the office or investigating crime scenes, so when a woman is on screen, the suspense is heightened even further—you know it can’t be good.

I haven’t read the book Zodiac is based on, though I loved Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (book and film), and have sky high expectations for Fincher’s Gone Girl. Here’s hoping it has the seduction into a time and place, and story, that Zodiac so powerfully captures.