Thursday, November 10, 2016

Seen in… October 

Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz dirty dancing in The Lobster. Image via The Movie DB

Four movies seen on a plane. A Netflix series which I pretty much Net-blitzed. One movie seen in a theatre. This is what my free time was reduced to. Please don't let my Netflix viewing activity history become my epitaph. Here is, for the public record what I saw in October.

The Lobster
Imagine a world where living single was illegal and if at some point you hadn’t found a partner, you were sent somewhere with an ultimatum: pair up successfully or be changed into the animal of your choosing. Now imagine there was also a resistance who fought for people to live single - but were equally against anyone pairing up. What would you do? What would you do if the person you found that you wanted to be with was in the resistance. Our protagonist, played with curious affectation by Colin Farrell, finds himself exactly in that situation in this weirdly quirky and slightly dark comedy. The title comes from the animal of choice Farrell’s character makes about which animal he’d like to be. As to why a lobster, he responds that he’s always loved the sea and that lobsters can have very long life spans. Yet the question remains, would you want to live a long solitary existence in the cold, dark sea? Consider the Lobster.

Keanu of the eponymously titled film. Image via The Movie DB

Two friends, one in a stable but staid relationship, one damaged after a hard break-up, begin an adventure to retrieve one of the cutest tabby cats you’ve ever seen from a stereotypically scary drug dealer and gang leader. It’s a ridiculous and very funny film from two very funny and ridiculous comedians, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, formerly of the hit sketch comedy show Key & Peele. If you were a fan of their show, you’ll be a fan of this movie.

The really hateful part is how long this movie is. Image via The Movie DB

The Hateful Eight
This Quentin Tarantino Western is a strange, long, protracted “Mexican Standoff”. At times funny, tense, and of course, very very gory. The Ennio Morricone score is amazing. The look of the film isn’t half bad either. No matter what you think of the whole film, Tarantino is always able to create iconic cinematic moments. Whether it’s watching a figure disappear into a blizzard or an exploding head, the director shows how deftly he understands film history. There were even times when I felt this movie, which takes place mostly within a single room of a remote lodge, reminded me of the stagey and intense Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? Unfortunately, that may also be its undoing. For me there is a kind of pointlessness that makes me feel like I wasted almost three hours. It’s not that I object to long, violent films and I’m aware how when nothing happens for a long time in a story, a certain kind of heat and tension can build to the point where it is excruciating but that didn’t happen here and it ended up being a long walk to nowhere.

The nicest of nice guys. Image via The Movie DB

The Nice Guys
I’m not sure why, but this story is set in 1970s Los Angeles and revolves around a pair of private investigators who are working two sides of the same case until they join forces to create a classic mismatched buddy-cop-movie. The pair in question are Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling and their shared case is the story of missing porn actress whose last film blows the lid on an industry cover-up. Or something. The whole plot is a more of a ploy to throw two popular actors through a series of comedic misadventures. On the whole it works but there also a handful of cringe worthy cliché scenes. Gosling plays the funny moments a little better than Crowe but both obviously enjoyed themselves. One odd thing that stood out for me was that both actors seemed to be employing a kind of traceless stock American tough guy accent. Were they both of the characters transplanted New Yorkers who had spent time in Australia? Then again, I saw this on a plane so I may have misheard half the of movie.

This time, baby, I'll be bullet proof. Image via Variety

Marvel’s Luke Cage
Another of Netflix’s Marvel series brought to life on the streets of New York. Cage, who made his screen debut in the great Jessica Jones series, is solo here. The timeline is after the Jones series and Cage has retreated to Harlem to lay low. That doesn’t work out. What’s great about these shows is the character’s origin story is interwoven with the season long narrative. Luke Cage, née Carl Lucas was a wrongly convicted inmate serving his time when he is forced into an underground fighting league within the penitentiary. After being badly beaten he’s sent to the infirmary where an experimental treatment goes wrong leaving him with extraordinary strength and bulletproof skin. He escapes the prison and legs it, as they say. All of this lands him in a position to do something about the political and organized crime that has been wreaking havoc on the neighbourhood he calls home. This series maintains its own look and tone amongst the other related series Daredevil and Jessica Jones. There is a muted, earthy colour palette and wonderful soul and hip hop music that gives the show a sort of classy high-end 70s Blaxploitation feel. Even some of the corny dialogue sounds like it could come straight out of the mouth of a 70s era African American action hero like James Brown or Shaft. I loved this show, which seems to move at a slower more simmering pace than say Daredevil or Jessica Jones. The only mark against it would be a surprisingly uneven performance from Alfre Woodard.

WTF Tina Fey. Image via The Movie DB

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
This movie is based on book by a journalist who recounts her time leaving a job as a news writer in New York to report from Afghanistan and Pakistan during the time of the Iraq war. Tina Fey plays journalist Kim Baker who naively embarks on her first experience reporting from a war zone to become an experienced and knowledgeable reporter in the region, staying far longer than her originally planned 6 month stint. It captures both the intensity and absurdity of the situation with such phrases as 4-10-4 (a person, presumably a woman, is a “4” stateside, but due to the few Western women in Kabul becomes a “10” in Afghanistan and then back to a “4” when she goes home) or depicts life in the protected area of Kabul as the Kabubble being the only place where rock music, dancing and alcohol exist in the war torn Muslim country. The comedy makes the gritty violence and danger seem that much more difficult when it happens and in that sense much more real than say the cartoonish horror show of a Tarantino movie.

Black Mirror: White Christmas
Black Mirror, the modern day British answer to a Sci-fi themed Twilight Zone, does not disappoint in a “Christmas Special” of sorts. Each episode is set in a near future where we’ve overcome just enough technological obstacles to lead the characters into a very dreary ethical and moral quagmire like what if blocking someone on Facebook actually blocked them in real life? Tune in a find out.

Miss Hokusai. Image via The Movie DB

Miss Hokusai
This is a beautifully animated story of the daughter of one of Japan’s most revered artists of the 19th century. It’s described as a “coming of age” story but it’s not really about her becoming a woman, but becoming a great artist as a woman in man’s world beneath the shadow of a domineering father. That all sounds great, and the visualizations of her artistic journey go far beyond the old “the painting came to life” trope but you know, not a lot really happens. It’s a lovely tale told lovingly and gently and …did I just nod off during that sentence? One really odd thing is the score is kind of terrible. Like, really terrible. I’m sure the director wanted to avoid a cliché of courtly plucked strings but that doesn’t explain a soundtrack that veers from soupy sentimental orchestration to Kenny Loggins-esque rock riffs. Yes. There were moments when something akin to Top Gun themes were played as Japanese peasants cross an Edo bridge. Apparently I was the only one who found it funny. Solo laughing in a quiet theatre is the loneliest laughter.

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, am I. Image via The Movie DB

The Witch
Wow. I’m not a horror fan as so many horror movies are either unnecessary gore or one sucker punch after another. This is different. This is The Exorcist, or The Omen scary. Yeah, real scary. In 17th century New England a family is exiled from the colony due to the father’s controversial devout preaching. William resolutely sets out with his wife, Katherine, daughter, Thomasin, son, Caleb, and their younger twin siblings to make his own refuge in the new world. After a season outside of the colony things begin to change. Crops are failing, and William’s hunting skills aren’t really up to snuff which is a problem as the family have a new addition, Samuel. One day, while Thomasin is playing with her baby brother, he goes missing. A witch in the woods has stolen him. Is that what we saw? What’s killing the corn? Why does William’s luck hunting never change. What’s really going on in the dark of the woods? Superstition, devotion and an eery feeling about that black goat all add up to a growing fear as the family is torn apart. The stillness of the cinematography, filmed using only natural light, the archaic dialogue and sparse score all add up to a very creepy atmosphere.

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