Cinema Dispatch: 2015 Catch Up

Like any decent film critic, I’ve had a couple of movies that I promised myself I would eventually get to, but then they ended up slipping through the cracks for so long that I had given up hope on ever getting back to them.  Well no more I say!  Not only am I catching up on two movies I saw in 2015 that I never got to talk about, I have just recently had the chance to watch two other films from 2015 that are definitely worth discussing!  So without procrastinating another second, here are four movies from the past year that I now have the chance to review!!

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Rock the Kasbah and all the images you see in this review are owned by Open Road Films

Directed by Barry Levinson

Ah yes.  The one where Bill Murray saves Afghanistan.  See, THIS movie got a bit crowded out because it came to theaters the same week as Jem and the Holograms and The Last Witch Hunter.  CLEARLY I was very busy at the time writing reviews for two of the worst movies of the year and things just snowballed after that to the point that I never got my thoughts down on this movie.  It may have been the best movie of that week by a long shot, but that’s not saying a hell of a whole lot considering the not so stiff competition it was up against.  Is it any good without the direct comparison to the garbage it was surrounded by when it was at the box office?  Let’s find out!!

Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a guy who will try to get you to fall for anything, and probably believes half the bullshit that he’s spewing.  At one time he was a somewhat successful manager to some big acts, but nowadays he just hangs out in his hotel room/office scamming wannabe singers out of some cash while trying to promote one of  his clients Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) who might actually have a bit of talent if he can just get her a break.  Opportunity comes a knocking one night where a military man sees her perform and suggest that Richie take her on a USO tour in Afghanistan which is supposed to pay very well with only a slight chance of death in the process.  Richie’s all on board but Ronnie eventually reveals that she’s not into being somewhere that rough and not long after arriving in Kabul, she robs him of all his money as well as his passport; leaving him without any identification and in debt to the mercenary (Bruce Willis) who got Ronnie out of the country and was only given half his fee in the process with promises that Richie had the rest.  Will he be able to scramble up enough money to pay back the mercenary and get his ass out of the country?  Well that actually becomes pretty moot as the REAL plot involves a young woman in a nearby village named Salima Khan (Leem Lubany) who can sing like an angel but will be killed if anyone in her fundamentalist village (and almost anyone her in her fundamentalist country apparently) hears her do it.  Richie though sees fame and fortune in the story and eventually convinces her to join an American Idol like competition (Afghan Star) which has never had a female singer on before, and the rest of the movie is basically the fallout of that with Richie learning some lessons about himself along the way!

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“I co-wrote this one from Stevie Nicks back in 1990.  She didn’t like the lyrics, but we got a top 100 hit out of it.  SOMETIMES IT’S A BITCH!!  SOMETIMES IT’S A BREEZE!!!!”

I actually enjoyed this movie quite a bit but it feels like one of those obnoxious indie films that has more than enough flaws to go around, and while those flaws don’t feel INTENTIONAL, they do feel like issues that weren’t a priority to fix here.  Despite indie films working on tighter budgets and resources, they can be a bit indulgent at times and that only tends to get worse when it’s one of those BIG indie films like The Men Who Stare at Goats or even Flight where there are maybe too many resources for what the filmmakers are trying to accomplish.  It’s the Hollywood version of trying to be hip, and while I do appreciate it when they try to give us something other than big and bloated summer films or self-important Oscar bait, these can sometimes feel hollow for trying to recreate a look and feel that happens organically outside the studio system.

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“Come on out and see my movie!  You’ll have a blast!  Bring the kids!  I’ll sign anything you shove under my nose that isn’t hazardous materials!”

Fortunately, I think this is one of the better films that manage to succeed despite stumbling at recreating that indie feel.  What ultimately ends up working here are the actors and the humor which consistently rise above the movie they find themselves in.  I’d also say the characters are well written outside of the humor with some genuine moments here and there from all of our principal players, including an American prostitute named Merci (played by Kate Hudson) who’s working in Kabul but takes a shine to our flawed hero.  That said though, the story itself is contrived and oddly paced.  It’s almost an hour of following Bill Murray’s wacky Afghanistan adventures before we find out the movie is sort of a dramatization of Setara Hussainzada’s eventual appearance on the actual Afghan Star and the fallout afterwards.  Now that is defiantly an interesting idea for a movie (it was already a documentary in 2009) but even when it comes into the film, we’re still watching it from Bill Murray’s point of view who continues to be a smarmy buffoon way in over his head.  It’s like if Forest Gump had only bumbled into one historical event in his life, but then it wouldn’t go away for the rest of the movie.

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“Mama always told me to ask for twenty percent of all earnings and to negotiate expenses.”

There are other problems I have but most of them have to do with the almost slap dash nature of the script.  Plot points and characters come and go without much fanfare and closure, particularly Zoe Deschanel whose story abruptly ends at the twenty minute mark and we never hear from her again.  Hell, she’s not even the one to wrap up her own story!  Bruce Willis just shows up and tells us that he took her out of the country… somehow, while Bill Murray was asleep.

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“But I thought this was about me and Zooey!”     “Yeah, well I thought they would cast someone with talent to play my son in Die Hard 5.  We’ve all had it rough buddy!”

Despite my issues with the way they tell the story, it’s still one worth hearing about and the cast does not disappoint, especially Bill Murray who continues to prove why he’s still just as relevant now as he was in his heyday.  Give it chance once it get a home release, but it’s nothing all that memorable.

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Steve Jobs and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Picture

Directed by Danny Boyle

October was a very busy month at the box office, with movies like Pan and The Walk coming out the same week as this movie, and then Bridge of Spies, Goosebumps, and Crimson Peak coming out a week later (followed by Rock the Kasbah, Jem and the Holograms, and The Last Witch Hunter).  Needless to say that when I got a bit of writers block on this one early on, it just got pushed to the back burner and then completely fell off my list of priorities soon after.  Still, after all this time I can get some closure on not having anything to say about this movie when it had come out.  Then again, everyone has seemed to have forgotten about it entirely once Oscar season got into gear, but that doesn’t mean I should finish what I started.  So does the second Hollywood biopic based on the former CEO of Apple manage to make the guy’s life interesting enough to be worthy of the big screen?  Let’s find out!!

The movie is about… well Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, and yet the movie isn’t really a biopic in the traditional sense.  It feels more like a character study than anything else, yet the events in question (though heavily dramatized) are based on what was really going on with Apple and Jobs at those times in their shared history.  Steve Jobs is the co-founder of Apple along with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan) and is always the big picture guy who knows what he wants and will berate everyone around him until he gets it.  It’s a strategy that’s worked in the past and has led to Apple making huge headway in the industry, but the movie starts right before the conference that will introduce the Macintosh operating system which is easily his boldest and riskiest plan to date.  Will he be able to pull it off once again?  What does the future hold for Jobs and Apple after this historic event in the evolution of home computing?  Will we have to sit through any more Jobs movies this decade!?

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“What, no Best Picture nod?  You know what?  Fine.  We’ll just invent our OWN awards!  The Steve Jobs movie award for best movie goes to… Steve Jobs!!”

I was not expecting to like this movie but I’ll be damned if Danny Boyle didn’t manage to find a way to tell the story of Steve Jobs in a novel and compelling way.  I really don’t give a shit about the Apple co-founder either as a good person or a bad guy, so making a movie expositing the virtues of his life’s work or his impact on the world for good or ill doesn’t hold much appeal to me. This movie though, narrows its focus like a laser and manages to find depth without blowing up Job’s persona to mythical standards.  The movie is almost in real time as the three set pieces are taking place moments before big conferences that Steve Jobs had participated in throughout his career.  The conferences in this case are the reveal of The Macintosh operating system in 1984, the reveal of the NeXT operating system in 1988 after he had been fired from Apple, and the reveal of the iMac in 1998 after he had been brought back.  There are brief montages to explain what happens in between each of the conferences, and there’s at least one flashback or side story in each of the three set pieces where they have to cut away from the conference itself, but other than that the movie manages to keep focused on what’s happening in the moment and what could possibly go wrong at the last minute. It really feels like they were trying to make a play here and then adapt it to the screen which was an interesting move and what ultimately makes this movie stand out as much as it does.  This would be just as compelling of a narrative if it wasn’t based on a real life figure, because of the way that they structure the film and the depth that they give to each of the characters as we see them air their grievances as the worst possible times.

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“If you don’t get this shit fix NOW, I’m gonna keep fucking POKING you until this finger goes right through your heart!  YOU GOT THAT!?”     “I… think so?”

On almost every aspect, from cinematography, editing, pacing, and acting, the movie succeeds with flying colors.  That said I still wasn’t completely behind this film.  Maybe my Steve Jobs apathy got in the way, or maybe the gimmick used made the character growth feel a bit rushed (and off screen as we’re only seeing quick looks over a fifteen year period), but it never really gripped me or got me all that invested beyond seeing these actors do great jobs and marveling at the film making on display.  I guess it’s also true that most of the characters (not just Steve Jobs) are kind of obnoxious which made it hard to care whether they were right or if Steve was, especially considering that everyone in this is someone with a lot of money and respect in the industry, so the squabbles behind the scenes don’t have much impact beyond highlighting the clashing personalities.  Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan) in particular is a broken record about giving a shout out to the Apple 2 designers and I just can’t figure out why that’s so important other than to stroke his ego.

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“don’t I get credit for the Apple 2!?”     “That was eight years ago Woz.  We’re still not giving Adrian Brody a pass just because he was in The Pianist, right?”

I can’t really imagine a better way of doing a Steve Jobs movie, but then again I don’t think one really needed to be done in the first place, at least not right now.  Biopics really need a bit of time between when they are made and when the story they wish to tell had concluded so that history and hindsight can determine the real impact they had on society (and to possible keep the estate’s from breathing down their neck as hard) so maybe there’s a REALLY great Steve Jobs movie in the future that will cover a bit more of his life and tell a more complete picture (and hopefully won’t star Ashton Kutcher).  For now though, I think this is a very novel and interesting take on the biopic genre and is definitely worth seeing, even if you aren’t all that into Apple or the Steve Jobs mystique.

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Spotlight and all the images you see in this review are owned by Open Road Films

Directed by Tom McCarthy

This movie was in one of the nearby(ish) theaters for a bit, but I didn’t get a chance to see it when it originally came out.  Instead, I was watching Secret in Their Eyes which just goes to show just how much I sacrifice for you people!  I COULD HAVE BEEN WATCHING GOOD MOVIES DAMN IT!!  Thankfully, they brought it back in January after the Oscar nominations, so I finally had a chance to see it (after watching The Forest of course).  Is it as good as everyone is saying it is?  Let’s find out!!

The story here is about The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team’s years long task to find out about the Catholic Church’s cover up and shuffling of pedophile priests in their ranks.  The investigation focuses on Massachusetts but as the team uncovers more and more details, it becomes horrifyingly clear that this is way bigger than any of them could have imagined.  Not only that, but they soon learn that the chain of corruption extends into politics as lawyers and lawmakers had been aiding the church in covering up their crimes and will do almost everything to stall and roadblock this investigation into not only the Church but their part in protecting it.  Will the team be able to finish this story without succumbing to the outside pressures telling them to stop?  Can they get justice for all those who have been hurt by these men, or will this story just get buried like every other time someone started to raise a fuss about this situation?  Will Mark Ruffalo get so mad in this that he’ll actually hulk out!?

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“RUFFALO HATES CORRUPTION OF CATHOLIC INSTITUTIONS AND THE INDIFFERENCE OF OUR LEGAL SYSTEM!!!”

This movie isn’t groundbreaking or unpredictable or even all that unique when compared with other movies about the media and journalism.  What it is though is a masterclass in doing that kind of movie perfectly.  It probably isn’t that hard to hammer out a good drama about reporters digging up the facts on the Catholic Church child molestation scandal, but this is more than just a good drama.  Nothing in this movie feels wasted, from the multitude of characters that come and go, to the stark yet telling sets inside the Boston Globe building, to the editing of the film that keeps the pacing up and prevents the movie from sagging.  There’s honestly not THAT much to say other than everything is done remarkably well and with great confidence in the material.  This really is everything that a movie like Concussion should have been.  Where that movie failed to give us a reason to focus on the man behind the research rather than those being affected, this movie makes our unassuming heroes very compelling and likable.  Where Concussion sped past the details concerning the discovery of the disease, this movie spends the majority of its time going over the details of how this all came together and it’s constantly engaging; like watching a finely crafted puzzle box getting solved as revelations come one after the other.  It just goes to show how important it is how you tell a story instead of just what the story is that you’re telling.

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“Wait, so Will Smith is in a movie about guys dying in horrible ways… and yet he still makes it ALL about himself!?  SERIOUSLY!?”     “I know, right?”

If I were to knock this movie for anything, it would be that there are a LOT of names that fly by as the movie goes along, and we get to actually see maybe a fifth of the people who get constantly mentioned throughout the movie.  There are lots of priests, experts, victims, and lawyers who are pieces of this enormous puzzle, and while the broad strokes aren’t hard to figure out, the details can get lost in the shuffle.  It’s not dissimilar to how The Big Short handled the complexities of our financial system, but I kind of forgave it in that movie a bit more than I did in this.  I’d say the reason is mostly because The Big Short did such a good job of getting across the big picture while the details were whizzing by, while this movie in comparison is so much ABOUT details that it feels like you’re missing some nuances to the story whenever you’re not quite following the particulars of their investigation.  That’s a problem, and I’m also not a HUGE fan of where it ended.  It’s a good enough place to end the story, but I kinda wanted to see more of the fallout afterwards instead of just having there be a couple of lines about what happened next.

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“Alright.  We’ve just released the biggest story in our careers!  I say we get an ice cream cake to celebrate, but I’m open to a sundae bar.  Anyone else got some input?”     “How about a cookie platter?”     “GET THE FUCK OUT!!!!”

It’s a movie about journalism and the necessity of a free press, but it’s also about disillusionment and the power of faith for good or ill.  Everyone gives top notch performances here playing real everyday people who still manage to come across as heroic (and flawed) as any given blockbuster, which is amazing when you realize at least three of the actors in this have been in super hero movies.  Is it one of the best of 2015?  I guess so, but I also think that it NOT being all that groundbreaking and unique does bring it down a bit in my opinion.  When other films are trying to be something new and interesting, this one goes for polished and meticulous.  Not a bad route to go, but just not as interesting as a lot of other movies I saw this year.  This is still absolutely worth seeing though, and while it may be too late to see it in a theater, you should definitely check it out as soon as you can.

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Carol and all the images you see in this review are owned by The Weinstein Company

Directed by Todd Haynes

While Spotlight at least came to one of the big theaters during its initial run, this one didn’t even get that far where I live.  So how did I end up seeing this?  Well I found a theater that has a SINGLE screen and it had just gotten the movie in.  It must be fate, right?  The ghost of film criticism’s patron saint Roger Ebert saw my despair at being unable to see one of the most highly praised movies of the year, and performed a movie miracle!  So after finally getting a chance to see what everyone else has been talking about, do I believe it’s worthy of all the praise that has been lavished upon it?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) for the most part but we also follow Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) as the two of them form a relationship after a chance encounter in a department store.  The two of them hit it of very quickly with Carol being the older and more experienced one who is basically introducing Therese into the world of lesbianism.  Despite Carol’s raw sexual power and refined personality, she’s going through some hard times what with her divorce threatening to turn very rocky as her soon to be ex-husband Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler) gets more and more desperate to try and keep things together.  It’s a pretty light story from then on out as the two ladies learn more about each other and their mutual attraction grows, but the men in both of their lives (Therese has a boyfriend who’s pressuring her into marriage) are constantly threatening to force them away from each other which wouldn’t be all that difficult considering that they’re living in the 1950s; almost two decades away from the Stonewall Riots.  Can their relationship thrive in this harsh environment?  What consequences and challenge will they face along as they take this path, and will it all be worth it in the end?  Will this win most of the Oscars, or ALL of the Oscars?

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“How come you’re not on top of a Christmas tree?”     “Uh… because I have to run the register?”     “My mistake.  I thought that’s where angels belonged.”     “AHHHH!!!!  I get it!”

It’s a beautifully made, decently shot, and fantastically acted movie… but it also feels somewhat cliché and unoriginal in its genre.  It’s actually a lot like how I felt about Spotlight, only I’m not as inclined to be as forgiving of this movie’s lack of innovation, especially when it’s being sold on how bold and daring the film is.  It wants to be a touching and tragic look at non-hetero-normative relationships at that time, but the movie presents them as if we’ve never seen any other movie about lesbians fighting hardships and indulges in clichés that were old hat decades ago.  The movie is an adaptation of a book by Patricia Highsmith, which was partial based on actual events that happened to a friend of the writer, so you can’t really argue that some of the situations here are ridiculous.  However, the tragic turning point of the movie could have been handled in so many different ways, yet they chose the hokiest way possible.  Spoiler alert: Everything goes downhill IMMEDIATELY after they have sex.  Like, not even a day later.  THE NEXT FUCKING MORNING is when things fall completely apart (which I doubt is how it played out for the person this was partially based on) and it took me out of the movie to see that old cinematic chestnut present itself in a movie that’s been so highly praised.

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I actually kind of wish it was THIS kind of lesbian movie instead of the one we got.

The movie just kept getting in its own way like that and it kept me from really loving this film like I wanted to.  It’s easily one of the better films about a lesbian relationship that I’ve seen (WAY better than Blue is the Warmest Color), and yet it doesn’t feel all that different from most films I’ve seen in the forbidden romance genre.  Does that make those elements bad?  Not necessarily, but I guess the acting and dialogue were so top notch for the most part, that I was expecting everything else to step up to the plate as well, which it ALMOST did but didn’t quite reach that level.  Cinematography is gorgeous at points, but then there are some very weak moments that are unavoidably distracting.  The story gives these two characters plenty of opportunities to play off of each other, but it also follows traditional story beats that take away from the depth that these characters were portraying.  Maybe that’s ultimately my problem here.  I loved watching these two characters so much that it felt wasted for them to JUST be in a movie.  Hell, at nearly two and half hours I still feel like I didn’t get enough of their relationship and would have gladly seen what happened after they got past this particular struggle.

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And from that day on, they began traveling the country; playing piano and solving crimes wherever they go!

After racking my brain to think of all the movies I’ve seen about lesbian romances, the one that ends up sticking out for me as the best is a Japanese romantic dramedy called Love My Life.  What makes that movie stand out for me compared to every other lesbian movie that I’ve seen (including this one) is that their sexuality is incidental to the story itself.  There are plenty of moments about them being lesbians and what that entails, but the movie didn’t make that the central conflict.  Maybe I’m being unfair to this movie and was expecting something more fun with these characters (it also doesn’t help that I just finished rereading Girlfriends right before seeing it).  Then again, we have seen the stories where the discovery of a lesbian relationship is the impetus for the conflict, and this doesn’t deviate much from that formula.  Wouldn’t it have been more interesting at this point in the genre’s history to NOT tell that story again and maybe focus on a relationship that’s long since established and seeing the day to day conflicts instead of the story about them getting together and their worlds being upended because of it?  Regardless of whether or not my complaints about the movie are fair criticism of an imperfect film or the ramblings of a critic who wanted an apple when given an orange, I can say that this is easily one of the better movies of the year.  The best?  No.  Top ten?  Maybe.  I absolutely recommend this movie, but I guess I just don’t see what the deal is with this being considered THE best of 2015, or even a strong contender for the title.  There’s a better movie that these characters could have been in, but the imperfect film we got is still pretty special.

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And with that, I say goodbye to 2015!  Sure there are other movies that I didn’t get a chance to see, but there’s no going back now as the New Year movie avalanche threatens to descend upon us all!  Keep a close eye on the site for those reviews as I’ll make an even bigger effort to see everything I possibly can this year and let you know what I thought about them!!

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3 thoughts on “Cinema Dispatch: 2015 Catch Up

  1. Pingback: Cinema Dispatch: War Dogs | The Reviewers Unite!

  2. Pingback: Cinema Dispatch: Moonlight | The Reviewers Unite!

  3. Pingback: Cinema Dispatch: All Eyez on Me | The Reviewers Unite!

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