Sunday, January 11, 2015

Project 365: Movies 1 - 9

1 / 365: Mad Max (1979)

I had never seen this movie before, which John couldn't believe. My interest was only piqued after seeing the new trailer for 2015's reboot Mad Max: Fury Road, which looks insane but completely amazing.

What I didn't realize is that the Mad Max most people talk about is the sequel, Road Warrior. Or the guilty pleasure Beyond Thunderdome. I found out that there's a reason no one talks about the first one: it's terrible.

Max Rockatansky is an Aussie cop of the future. What kind of future, it doesn't say. All we know is that it's a near lawless land with a motorcycle gang terrorizing the outback. It wasn't the ridiculous script that threw me, or even the terrible acting. It was the fact that every "logline" I found for this movie spoiled the end of the story. I'll tell you what it said, because I'm mean like that: "A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son." On IMDB. On Netflix, everywhere. I thought "OK, cool, I can dig a revenge flick." But turns out, his revenge kick doesn't start until 15 minutes before the end of the movie, which is when his wife and kid are killed! Yeah, sorry, spoiler alert! Even though you probably read the description before pushing play, you spend 70 minutes waiting for this to happen, when it should have happened within the first 20 minutes.

I don't think I've ever been so frustrated about the pacing of a movie before. It was completely unreasonable. Up until this point, there was no motivation for anything. Nothing is explained, and everyone is terrible. From what I hear, the next movie (Road Warrior) picks up where this left off, yet it fully commits to the "post-apocalyptic" world where it makes sense that Max is such a vengeful renegade. In closing, don't watch this movie. Just skip right to Road Warrior. I'm actually looking forward to that now, because not much could be worse than this.

Oh, I'm gonna ruin something else so you'll avoid it altogether: the dog dies. Yeah. No.

Rating: ★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

© MSNBC Films

Alright, this one'll be tough to talk about. I'd heard of this documentary by name only many years ago, but it really caught my attention when I saw a list posted in 2013 of the "Greatest Movies You Never Want to See Again," in which this movie scored the #1 spot. I immediately read everything about it on Wikipedia when my curiosity got the best of me, since it's an all too real and tragic story. Only now did I get up the nerve to finally watch it.

The harrowing tale of maybe the world's most beloved person, Andrew Bagby, a doctor in the mid-west who was killed by a crazy ex-girlfriend. The documentary is made by filmmaker and Bagby's best friend, Kurt Kuenne, who aims to create a tribute to his deceased friend, collecting memories and interviews with everyone in his life who knew and loved him. And oh my god, is this man loved. I'm tearing up just thinking about it. The real punch in the gut comes when it's discovered that Bagby's killer is pregnant with his child. The film takes on a whole new meaning and goal: chronicle Andrew's life for the son he'll never know. Kuenne also follows Andrew's (inspirational) parents and their struggle to gain custody of their grandchild.

This movie tore me apart in ways I didn't know possible. It's the most heart-wrenching story only exacerbated by the fact that it's true, and there's so much more to the tale that I can't even write here. If, like me, you feel the need to spoil yourself... well, you know what, I suggest you do. Read all about it, and then watch the movie. I'd have been inconsolable had I not known the outcome. Aside from the tragedy, it's also remarkably well-made. It's dramatic and emotional, a story that is so convoluted and nearly impossible to fit into the time constraints of one movie... but Kuenne excells beyond reason. He speed-talks through the narration and rapid cuts through the unbelievable details, the fervent energy and emotions are enough to bowl you over.

I can't stop thinking about Dear Zachary. I agree that it would be difficult to watch again, but I can't recommend it highly enough. Get ready to go through a box of tissues, and don't watch it right before bed like I did because it'll keep you up all night.

Rating: ★★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

3 / 365: The Interview (2014)
© Sony Pictures

So much surrounding the release of this movie, I'm not even going to go into it here. If you know nothing of which I speak, take a second to check out the full timeline here. I'll wait.

Alright, so now that we're all on the same page, it has to be said that this movie wasn't set to be anything special. It's a silly comedy aimed at the same people who adore Pineapple Express and This Is the End. Again, funny, but not ground-breaking. That is until all that stuff happened, and now it's uncertain but ultimately imminent release online prompted it to become the highest grossing VOD movie of all time, and way more attention was paid to it than anyone would have before.

It is about a fluff, celeb gossip TV talk show host, Dave Skylark (James Franco), and his producer, Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen), scoring an interview with long-time superfan and dictator of North Korea, Kim Jung Un. The FBI expectantly steps in and asks them to assassinate the guy, and complete high jinx ensue when it turns out Skylark is probably the world's dumbest man. It is, however, a properly paced movie with a lot of memorable laughs. The absurdity almost got too much at a few points, not to mention predictable, but there were political elements that the movie managed to incorporate surprisingly well. I can't say I'm against sneakily educating the unknowing, general public about politics between rampant honey-dicking jokes.

I didn't expect much, even with all the hype, but as it turns out, it's a surprisingly solid film.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: VUDU
Seen Before: No

4 / 365: Forrest Gump (1994)
© Paramount Pictures

This movie was the #76 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Blu-Ray
Seen Before: Yes

5 / 365: The Imitation Game (2014)
© The Weinstein Company

I didn't know very much about Alan Turing's story. Other than he was involved in top secret code breaking during World War II, and was a major contribution in the Allies beating Hitler. No small resume. The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as our main man, who is so talented and versatile it almost makes me sick. Anyways, Cumberbatch's Turing is brought in to work for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park (in Hut 8, to be precise), along with other cryptologists to crack the Nazi ENIGMA codes. To do this, Turing invents a machine to do the work for them, the incarnation of which is the birth of algorithms and, today, what we call "computers."

History played out on film delights me. I adore it, and even if I know how everything turns out, I live for the emotions behind discoveries. It's one of the reasons I enjoyed The Theory of Everything earlier this year, and why aspects of Imitation Game were so gripping.

That being said, I found a major flaw in this film. There is the code-breaking, yes, which is brilliantly done. Five solid stars. But then there is the B plot, interlaced with the rest of the story, zeroing in on Turing's personal life and not-so-secret homosexuality. At first, I thought this interesting. It was something about him I didn't really know. Sadly, it's an aspect that becomes remarkably distracting and poorly integrated. From my readings immediately after the movie, the filmmakers did the audience a huge disservice. There is so much more to Turing's story, so much more tragedy, which seems irresponsible not to even mention (i.e. the circumstances surrounding his death). The script touches on events leading up to it, but it doesn't go far enough. Just enough to be able to close the story with nice, touching captions about Turing's contributions as the Father of Computer Science.

Don't get me wrong. I love that part of the movie; the computer part. Why the writers felt the need to include a hugely important B plot that they would only kinda-sorta give you tidbits and cutaways about is beyond me. Either do his personal life justice by not keeping things from your audience, or don't talk about it at all. I get it, it's hard to wrap a movie up with a nice little "happy ending" bow if you end on a [debated] suicide, but... them's the breaks. I still recommend this one to people, because most of it is good. I just can't get past the dramatization and execution of the other defining aspect of Turing's life.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

6 / 365: The One I Love (2014)
© The Weinstein Company

I read an article a few months back that spoke of this movie. I won't repost the link here, because it purposefully spoiled a major plot point that... well, let's just say, you're better walking into this movie having literally no idea what the hell it's about. Even the trailer doesn't give anything away. In fact, it really just makes things all the more confusing.

There's no point in discussing the plot, other than to say that Sophie and Ethan are a young married couple trying to get their relationship back on track. They go away for the weekend, and... OK, that's all I'll say. While I may choose not to talk about what happens, I certainly want to talk about how this all feels. It feels like a horror movie, but it's not. Not at all. You'll watch it and think "OMG what the hell is going on should I be afraid I feel afraid," but don't worry. Stick it out, I promise. This is coming from the biggest scaredy-cat you'll ever meet. It's weird, and totally bonkers, but it is not scary.

What impressed me most about this movie was its commitment to not making things easy for you as the viewer. There's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of head-scratching--for us and the characters. But that's the fun of it. The comedy stems from that utter bewilderment. Of all the movies I saw this week, it's the one I'd want to watch again and again, just to see what clues were laid out for me to find. If you want to watch a movie that you can talk about over dinner, it's this one.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

7 / 365: Dredd (2012)
© Lionsgate

My sister warned me about this one. It's amazing, but so f'in violent, she said, so see it. John had been pestering me to watch it, too, so finally I caved. I'm gonna say right now, I know nothing about Judge Dredd. The comic or subsequent movies or anything. Nothing. Okay, for those of you like me who know just as much, here's a quick recap:

It's the future. The entire eastern seaboard has been consolidated into one massive city called Mega-City One, which has essentially been filled with human ant-hills of chaos and crime. Huge towering buildings filled with dozens of thousands of people. There is no criminal justice system because no system can keep up with the crime rate. That's where Judges come in. They are highly trained, skilled, and methodical, and experts in being judge, jury—and executioner. Judge Dredd is our hero. On the day he's meant to train a new Judge recruit, they answer a call about two murders in one of the major complexes, and, well... SHIT. GETS. BANANAS.

The world created here is really compelling. The plot is also impressively solid, and with so much to convey, they do a really great job! I never felt confused, and it would have been totally easy to do. Now, the violence... John and I watched this in public on our computer, and I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. It's really disgusting. Not really cartoon-y, either, which many movies try to work in so the violence is more acceptable. This is just gross. Gross gross gross, but whoa, completely fun still. Think Matrix but without the Kung Fu and way more blood.

It's hardly perfect. The script is a bit hokey at parts, and the SLO-MO sequences sometimes drag. Though... they're supposed to? Either way, I'm stoked we watched this finally. I was impressed and didn't expect that.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: VUDU
Seen Before: No

8 / 365: Nightcrawler (2014)
© Open Road Films

I knew I should have tried to squeeze Nightcrawler into my viewing list before finalizing my Top 10 of 2014. Without a doubt, this dark experiment in character would be on it. Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a man with seemingly no attachments other than to his houseplant. When out one night for a drive, he witnesses not only a fiery car crash, but a camera crew that stops to film it. It's like a light-bulb goes off in Bloom's head and he suddenly decides what he's meant to do with his life: find horrific accidents and crime scenes, film them, and sell the footage for cold hard cash to desperate local news outlets. You know, crime journalism.

The movie is set in Los Angeles, and I've never seen the city filmed this way. It's not dark and gritty, all Collateral-style; it's normal. It's got canyons and valleys and suburbs, not just the concrete inner city. Bloom is, for lack of a better or more all-encompassing word, a total sociopath. He has no empathy, no sympathy—but he does have drive, ambition, and obsession. Gyllenhaal is the best he's ever been. He rarely blinks, and he created this gaunt, confident but cold-blooded character who we can't help but watch. From a distance, of course.

He's ruthless, and systematically searches for ways to better his craft. Even if that means creating the news himself. I just couldn't look away. Writer/Director Dan Gilroy makes his directorial debut with this, and it might be the best debut I've ever seen. He contributed to writing The Fall, one of my favorites, so it doesn't surprise me that he constructed a script with such resonance. But where The Fall gripped with emotion, Nightcrawler grips with malice.

See this before it leaves theaters. It's Oscar-bound, for sure.

Rating: ★★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

9 / 365: Short Term 12 (2013)
© Demarest Films

Based on the short film of the same name (written and directed by the same person, Destin Daniel Cretton) this is a sweet indie picture about a group of young counselors dedicating their lives to Short Term 12, a foster care facility for teenagers stuck in the system. Some are there for a few months, some a few years, until they get properly placed, or they come of age. Our focus is on Grace, played by the delightful Brie Larson, the most seasoned of the group. She knows the ins and outs of dealing with these kids, because she's been there herself.

I was pulled in right away, during the very first scene. It was funny, which was refreshing since I thought I was walking into a heavy drama. The heavy was still to come, but it was a good reminder that the odds are best beaten when you can have yourself a laugh. Strategically, Cretton bookends his film this way. Absolutely perfect. Each counselor shares touching moments with the kids—some fun, but many tragic. There was a line I thought might be crossed... I don't know, maybe into cliche... especially when the kids take a risk and start to open up. Cretton is clearly a master in his reveals here, because he chooses to gift these characters with creative gifts that tell the story for him. A rap song. A children's book story. A little taste into the minds of at-risk youth trying to connect with like-adults who made it safely to the other side.

I wasn't blown away by everything. With so many little side plots going on, it can be hard to get into the nitty gritty of any one person. In the end, Grace is the only person we really know. I walked away wanting to know about everybody (especially the little boy with the stuffed dolls), but maybe that's the gift the movie gives us. It keeps us wanting more.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No


  1. This is so awesome! I'm incredibly excited about this series!! Dredd is so much fun, despite the gore. And I pity the soul who watching Dear Zachary without fair warning. SO. ROUGH.

    Still need to see several of these movies; we are seeing Imitation Game this week!

    1. Imitation Game is really great, very "Weinstein Co" if that makes sense. Oscar grabby in ways, but that's alright. I want to know what you both think of it!


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