Friday, December 11, 2015

Project 365: Movies 241 - 246

241 / 365: Side Effects (2013)
© Open Road Films

I understand now why the advertisements for this movie were so ambivalent. In many ways, it was difficult to tell not only what it was about, but who was even starring in it. And there's a reason for that. It's ambivalent for a reason, because director Steven Soderbergh makes several bold moves that

When Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) is released from prison for insider trading, he returns to the loving arms of his frail wife, Emily (Rooney Mara). Emily, however, reveals her lingering depression that has nearly claimed her life during Martin's absence, so when a sudden suicide attempt lands her in the hospital, she begins to see a new therapist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Having tried a plethora of medications, Emily asks Dr. Banks to prescribe her an new drug that claims to revive her energy, even sex drive. However, Dr. Banks is shocked when he discovers that Emily may be suffering from unexpected side effects, and must investigate how things could have gone so horribly wrong.

Ambivalent, see? What I noticed first about this movie is that it's chillingly calm in its terror. The mystery surrounding Emily and her mental state is captivating, and the first half of the film goes into dark, Fincher-esque territory in both acting and tone. But as the story sets up new reveals, introducing new, suspicious characters and making specious claims about this subject, everything starts to fall apart. Mara is a personal favorite, and she has a huge range of skills, and she definitely gets to show them off here. Some scenes made my mouth gape open, but that shock didn't last. The more we learned, the less interesting it was, and even the solid acting couldn't lift it up.

The viewing might have been more worth it had the motives felt even slightly more justified. In the end, Side Effects' potential surpasses its delivery.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: Yes

242 / 365: Midnight Cowboy (1969)
© United Artists

This movie was the #43 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: VUDU
Seen Before: Yes

© Channel 4

Pantani is missing a vital component necessary for every documentary: information. Unclear and confusing, time is an elusive construct within the film. It's more interested in being intense than being informative, you're left with more questions than answers by the time we reach the titular climax—Pantani's death.

A sports documentary, of sorts, this time our focus is the competitive and strange world of competitive, professional cycling. Italian cyclist, Marco Pantani, was considered one of the best, an unstoppable force on two wheels, and still the most recent athlete to, in 1998, win both the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia. The film delves into Pantani's childhood and amateur riding career, and it even finds time to educate its audience on certain aspects of cycling competitions, something a layman like me always had trouble understanding. This is the movie's best feature—where it struggles is in trying to intensify and explain the doping allegations that plagued the final years of his life leading up to that "accidental" death.

How did it happen? Why did it happen? One can only guess. No really, you can only guess, because the movie doesn't really tell you; it merely suggests. Perhaps that was the real accident, that they truly believed they made everything clear from the start, or perhaps that you should have already known. Why tell them things they probably already heard? Let's just annoy them with trailing off sentences! On a creative note, the thumping score is off-putting and feels like it's trying to make this a different movie than it is. It mirrors the hyperbolic narration from the interviewees, and after only 30 minutes, it becomes grating.

A positive, though, is that it taught me a new $10 word: sisyphean. I've already used it several times in everyday conversations. Go me.

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

244 / 365: The Village (2004)
© Buena Vista Pictures

Ah, The Village. A movie I genuinely like and have gotten in many a fight about. A quiet thriller set in a 17th century village, cloistered in a valley, isolated and surrounded by a mysterious forest. The village Elders have forbidden the color red, and no one is allowed to venture into the forest for fear of angering the creatures that reside there. After the young child of one of the Elder's dies of sickness, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) offers to travel through the forest to the nearest town in search of medicines. Despite the idea being rejected, appearances of the mystical creatures begins to increase as the village is descended upon and livestock slaughtered. When Lucius' life is threatened, his best friend and the woman he loves, spirited and blind Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), takes it upon herself to cross the woods, braving the dangers that lie inside.

Bryce Dallas Howard stole my heart in this film, and I root for her every time she gets cast in something new. She may not have made the best choices in her career, part-wise, but I don't consider this movie one of her mistakes. I find her performance transcendent, and she's the reason for at least 2 stars in this rating. The other star is half for Joaquin Phoenix, and the last half is for their scene together on the porch. The way she steps delicately out across the wood, her toes guiding her way, his pained confession of love, and her trembling, happy tears... seriously, I'm in love with it, and have memorized it from repeat viewings.

The twist ending is less of a twist than it is unexpected. It's not hard to guess what's going on—a complaint from most movie-goers—but there are other elements at play here that jump in and provide the real thrills. The still shots, the quiet music-less scenes, those are the most effective. Adrien Brody is over-the-top in his portrayal of the "town idiot," but there is enough that is sinister about him in those close-up moments that you're genuinely unnerved by him. Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt struggle with their dialogue, even the clothes they wear, so every scene is better if they're just not in it.

M. Night's script has a lot of problems, but the direction is expertly done. He hadn't quite hit that point in his career where his own involvement as an actor would make everything fall apart—no, that happened during his next film, Lady in the Water. Here, though, there's enough to engage you, set design elements that make the world feel serene and eerie. Besides, I'll watch Bryce and Joaquin in anything.

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

245 / 365: Steve Jobs (2015)
© Universal Pictures

Welcome to awards season, everyone! I actually started writing this what feels like months ago, and found myself pulled away from it in a flurry of personal craziness. But my thoughts on Steve Jobs have been ebbing and flowing continuously since, so I'm happy to finally get them down on digital paper. The newest biographical depiction of Tech's most infamous and controversial innovator is more a exploration of form, function, and artistic experimentation than it is a guide to the late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs.

The structure appears obvious, a no-brainer, when you're experiencing it, but for a biopic, it's strangely out of the box and idiosyncratic. Rather than focusing on Jobs, a living breathing human being who had a childhood and parents and hopes and dreams... instead we witness "Steve Jobs" (Michael Fassbender), the myth, the genius, the asshole, patterned through the series of product launches that make up the rise and fall and rise of his career. The question we're left with is whether or not the private and public Jobs personae are actually different people. My thinking is NO.

In more detail, we get to watch the impact his ego and drive have on those closest to him, particularly Microsoft co-founder, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), Jobs' closest confidant and steadfast Head of Marketing, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), and then the daughter he refused for decades to claim as his own, Lisa Brennan (played diligently by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine).

The cast overall is stellar, and director Danny Boyle fits just enough of each role into the never-ending spiral of Steve Jobs madness that cascades across the screen. Obvious acting standouts are Rogan and Winslet for their completely understated approaches to roles that went toe-to-toe with Fassbender and managed not to get lost. In meeker, though equally effective, roles are Michael Stuhlberg and Jeff Daniels, who par verbally with Jobs but never come out on top.

Second standout behind the masterful Sorkin dialogue is the score by Daniel Pemberton. In each act, through every product launch, the music is slightly different. Soaring and orchestral during the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 (act 1), pinging and mechanical during the launch of the NeXT Cube in 1988 (act 2), and finally, a combination of the two culminating in the thrilling reveal of the iMac in 1998—the year that began Apple's takeover of personal tech innovation. What is incredible is how all of these elements combine into a flurry of thrilling, funny, tragic, and eye-opening cinema. You seriously couldn't find a better dream team of filmmakers if you tried (except maybe the combination of talent that went into 2010's The Social Network).

Something about this entire film concept sounds so trivial. Consumerism porn, at best. But that's simply the foundation in which we find ourselves getting to know this man, this anomaly--a man we'd never want to know but wholly revere. Steve Jobs as a subject is nothing new. Within the last two years alone, there have been five feature and documentary films attempting to tell this story. None so far, though, have been able to commit this level of artisan craftsmanship to the screen. World class writing from Sorkin and visionary direction from Boyle, who has never made a film I didn't like. More movies like this, please!

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

246 / 365: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
© Warner Brothers/Seven Arts

This movie was the #42 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

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