Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What I Watched: 2015, Week 2

What I watched last week (film titles link to trailers):

Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, 2014)
Still Alice (Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland, 2014)
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
Virunga (Orlando von Einsiedel, 2014)
The Judge (David Dobkin, 2014)
Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014)

5 Thoughts:

1. A second viewing of Boyhood confirms for me how good it is. For most people, myself included, you're caught up in the time lapses and aging of the characters the first time you see it, and it's easy to pay so much attention on the technique of the journey that you don't allow it to soak into you. I don't want to write too much more now, because my Best of 2014 piece will be coming up in a few weeks, and Boyhood will receive ample coverage there. But the last 25 minutes of the movie are wonderful. It's one of the most eloquent commentaries on the way the passage of time affects us that I've ever seen. 

2. I've actually only seen a few Luc Besson films, but Lucy seems pretty typical of his work--great ideas, sloppy execution. I loved the first half hour of the movie, which gets off to an electrifying start and sets up an intriguing premise. If the sole goal of a movie were to get you hooked as quickly as possible, Lucy would be a Best Picture contender. But where it goes from there… ugghhh. With the suspension of disbelief, I can more or less buy the idea that a person operating at 100% of cerebral potential could basically have the slow-mo reaction time of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. But once Lucy starts suddenly telekinetically controlling everything around her, I was out. Even science fiction movies have to follow their own rules, and this one shits all over them. It's still worth seeing not just for the cool effects and great opening 15 minutes, but also for a scene where Lucy calls her mother and breaks down over the phone, with Scarlett Johansson doing the scene all in a one-take close-up of her face as she finds her emotions slowly betraying her. It was a beautiful few minutes, and probably the best acting I've seen her do. 

3. Still Alice was the best horror movie I've seen in years. Maybe I'm cheating here, because it's a movie about a college professor getting early onset Alzheimer's, and is really not horror at all, but every single scene carries a level of mounting dread that her disease will result in terrifying consequences that it really does feel like a horror movie. Julianne Moore just won the (deserved) Oscar for it, but the critical narrative around the film seems to be that her performance is really the only reason to see it. I disagree. It's not a pleasant way to spend two hours, but for what it is, it's wonderfully done. The initial scene of Moore receiving her diagnosis from her doctor, where the camera never leaves Moore's face and we just watch her mindset slowly decay in real time, is one of the more powerful film moments of the year. 

4. The Judge is a movie that had an interesting thematic idea that it wanted to convey, but went about conveying it in a roundabout, somewhat stupid way. When the movie finally got around to its main point (more than two hours in), it was handled well. And enough of the rest of the movie is watchable due to Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall being their usual, high-quality selves. But this is a movie that mostly tricks you into believing it's far better than it is by the presence of great actors engaged in great actor-type scenes of gravitas. And of course there's a child of mysterious parentage. Remember: Just because you don't see a twist coming, that doesn't mean it's a good twist. It might just mean it's an excessively stupid one. 

5. Virunga, one of '14's Oscar-nominated documentaries, is now streaming on Netflix, and I recommend people check it out. It's about a major national park in the heart of the Congo, and the fight several people are waging to keep it safe in the face of mounting civil strife, rebel uprisings, and international oil conglomerates trying to use the land. Specifically the film takes the point of view of a small preserve within the park that's nursing three injured gorillas back to health, and the film tells the story of the Virunga park through the eyes of those gorillas and the people trying to care for them amidst the turmoil. It's quite well done.

This was originally written and posted on Facebook on February 25, 2015

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