Thursday, July 2, 2015

Amy - True Tragedy

Movie: Amy
My Rating: 5 stars

I got the opportunity to attend an advance screening of this documentary last night, and it was absolutely amazing. Sometimes audiences are pretty light for of these movie screenings—usually if it’s for some artsy drama about aging and family secrets.   But, Amy Winehouse has always been a pretty controversial figure.  She was always so fascinating to watch because of her amazing talent, and self-destructive impulses.  And accordingly, the theater last night was packed.
I vaguely followed Amy’s troubles, back when she was tabloid fodder.  But, what I realized after watching this film is just how one-sided those representations were.  The media presented her as a spectacular mess . . . the walking embodiment of a hangover with her smeared makeup, ratty hair, and bruised-up body.  And she was all those things.  But, those reports always left out the human element of her struggle.  Her addictions were very real.  And, her emotions were very powerful.
This documentary also revealed to me just how charismatic Amy Winehouse was. She was wild, and alive, and a little dangerous.  Her enthusiasm was magnetic.  And, so everyone wanted a piece of her.  You try not to have a full meltdown with the paparazzi hounding you every time you step outside.  Or, if you have a very serious addiction to multiple drugs, and he media thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to make fun of you for it.  Or, if your one true love was just using you for your fame and fortune.  Or, if your own family was exploiting your notoriety for a few moments on TV.  The story is unbelievably tragic, and this movie left me in tears.  It’ll make your heart hurt watching that fragile girl trying to negotiate that minefield.
This is a pretty fascinating documentary, because it’s not just a series of talking heads discussing their relationship with Amy.  The filmmaker actually managed to dig up a lot of actual footage of her as a young girl, all the way up to her tragic end. We get to see her messing around with friends, performing, recording music, making out with boys, and unfortunately drinking and using drugs.  I was pretty surprised by how much footage there was.  I couldn’t figure out whether the camera operators knew she was going to be a star from early on, so were trying to collect plenty of archival footage.  Or, maybe it was just a function of a new generation of kids who document their whole lives.  But whichever it was, the collection really created a pretty complete picture of Amy Winehouse’s heartbreaking life.

I highly recommend going to see this film whenever it is released in theaters.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during my screening.  It was that well done.  The movie does an amazing job of showing us who Amy was as a person.  It also reveals how it may have been the media and her fans’ thirst for more of her that ultimately did her in.  It’ll really hit you hard.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chappie - Rude Robot Fun

Movie: Chappie
My Rating: 4 stars

People seemed to really hate this movie . . . which means that I went into the experience with the gift of low expectations.  And, I love when that happens.  It always leads to me really enjoying films with mixed reviews.    And, I really liked this one.  In fact, I’m not really sure why everyone’s feathers got so ruffled.   It’s fun, and silly, and even raises some interesting existential questions.  I love science fiction, I love Die Antwoord, and I love that cheeky South African accent.  What’s not to like about this film?
The story is set in the near future, when robot technology is pretty well established.  In fact, the police force has largely been replaced by anthropomorphic, titanium soldiers.  And, that’s a benefit, because they are largely bullet proof.  That really comes in handy on notoriously dangerous streets of Johannesburg.  Human have attempted to avoid the problem of a robot revolution by rigidly controlling the robots’ programming.  They aren’t sentient and they can’t make their own decisions.  That is, until their developer (Dev Patel) creates a brand new, experimental operating system that may create the spark of consciousness.  And that’s how he creates Chappie.
Unfortunately, before Dev can properly train and study this amazing, new, artificial intelligence, the robot is stolen from him by a gang of bank robbers—Die Antwoord and friends.  But, Chappie is just learning about the world.  His mind is a sponge.  This means that during Chappie’s most formative, first days of learning and brain development, he’s picking up some pretty rude material.  When Dev finally links back up with his creation, he’s already been molded into a slang-talking, bling-wearing, car-jacking, street tough.  It’s a very funny premise.
The movie also features a handful of very interesting casting choices.  Of course, I love Die Antwoord.  Their antics are hilarious, and their music is infectiously fun.  They actually feature much more heavily than I was expecting.  They’re almost the main characters.  Then there’s Sharlto Copely playing Chappie.  I’m not sure whether he just voiced the character, or if he was in a green-screen suit doing the actions, but he is as charismatic as ever.  Of course, Sigourney Weaver is well-established as the ball-busting CEO character, as seen in The TV Show, and early on in Working Girl.  But, then there’s the interesting choice to cast Hugh Jackman as the primary villain.  He’s usually such a happy-go-lucky guy.  It’s fun to see him in an evil role.  And, all these characters work well together.

My overall conclusion is that I liked this movie.  It’s fun and quirky, and explores a couple new ideas.  And, I can never see too much of South Africa.  Plus, the movie is a little heartwarming too.  I really don’t know why critics panned this one as much as they did.  Maybe because they were expecting another serious and important movie from Neill Blomkamp, in the same vein of District 9.  Expectations can really color your experience.  But, I feel comfortable recommending this movie to you guys.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Night at the Museum 3 - Something to Watch With Mom

Movie: Night at the Museum 3
My Rating: 3 stars

Well, this was a delightful, little movie.  Yeah, it’s kind of a mom movie.  The humor is accessible, the sassy bits are pretty tame, and the message is cheesy.  And I did, in fact, see it in the theater with my mom during some holiday vacation a while back.  But, that kind of thing can be fun sometimes.  I don’t have anything to prove about how sophisticated my taste in movies is.  Movies are fun.  Going to see them is fun.  The movie would have to be pretty atrocious for me to regret having seen it.  But, I realize that that doesn’t sound like the most ringing endorsement of this movie.
This is the third film in the franchise.  So, a lot of the tropes and plot devices are already well established.  Ben Stiller works at a museum where the exhibits magically come to life each evening.  Dinosaur skeletons walk around.  Wax figures roam the halls, falling in love, or continuing anachronistic feuds.  And, hilarity naturally ensues because it’s Ben’s job to prevent anything really destructive from happening on his watch.   But, honestly I’m having a really hard time remembering many of the finer details.  I guess in this one, the main problem is that this reanimating magic seems to be wearing off, and the characters need to discover the reason why before it’s lost forever.  And, naturally this takes them to England. The franchise is attempting to hit up all of Western civilization’s reputable museums.  Although, maybe the next installment will take them to Asia.  
This is a pretty broad comedy.  It’s designed to make audiences feel smart for recognizing historical figures.  Then they get to laugh at a poop joke.  A lot of bodily fluids are featured in this comedy—and a fair amount of unwanted amorous advances too.  It’s not very sophisticated material.  But, sometimes you can’t drag your mom to see Ex Machina.  All she’ll do is complain about the nudity.  And, on those occasions, it’s good to have a little good, clean, family fun up one’s sleeve.

There’s no reason for you to run out and rent this movie unless you’re already totally wild about the franchise—or unless you have a couple of school-aged nephews to entertain.  It’s cute enough, but nothing to write home about.  But hey, I saw it, and I even had a pretty pleasant time.  So, I really can’t complain.  But, this isn’t my usual fare, so I can’t really recommend it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ex Machina - Robots and Heavy Drinking

Movie: Ex Machina
My Rating: 4 stars

I’ve been doing a pretty good job of actually getting to the theater to see movies while they’re still running.  And, the movies have been really good this summer.  I was particularly glad I caught this one when I did, because it was really dramatic on the big screen.  The movie is a really stylish, kinda sexy, psychological thriller.  And, you really get to feel the full impact of the horror with the large format image and full surround sound.  The soundtrack is haunting.  And, I really think you should see this movie, because it really made an impact on me.
I’m having a hard time pinpointing what I liked most about this film because all the elements blend together to make a very intoxicating mood.  There’s the ultra-sleek, modern house that the story is set in.  It’s cold, yet super stylish.  Then there are the beautiful women who roam the halls—silent and enigmatic.  It all hints at something very dark going on just below the surface.  The score is jarring and dissonant.  And, it creates a very scary atmosphere.  I wouldn’t call this a horror movie, because it really is more of a psychological drama.  But, a lot of the uneasiness that the set, soundtrack, and story line create really reminds me of the horror genre.  Because, any good horror movie is all about creating anticipation and letting it grow as slowly as an audience will tolerate.  And, this movie has all that.  But, I suppose what I appreciate most is that the movie still manages to throw in a little dark humor along with all the heavy stuff.
Most of the humor centers around Oscar Isaac’s performance as the brilliant, reclusive, and totally asshole-ish tech mogul.  His character is brilliant.  He’s super cool.  He has great taste.  And his intellect is astounding.  But, he’s such a dick!  It’s so funny.  And his interactions with Domhnall Gleeson’s character are priceless.  And, then there’s Alicia Vikander’s performance to contend with.  She’s amazing as the robot the two men are studying.  I heard that she’s a ballerina, and I believe it because her body control is amazing.  She manages to create small body movements that are in some ways very human, but just off enough to feel alien or artificial.  It’s a character who has studied how to act like a human, but who doesn’t know what it all means.  It’s pretty amazing.

I was really impressed by this movie.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It’s the kind of thing that I find myself thinking about a lot, even all this time after having seen it.  So, I’m telling everyone I can to go see this one.  It’s that interesting.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 - Songs and Fart Jokes

Movie: Pitch Perfect 2
My Rating: 5 stars

I loved everything about this movie, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  The music, the dancing, the raunchy humor—it was perfect.  You guys know I’m a sucker for these competition movies—hip-hop battle dancing, cheerleading competitions, you name it.  Heck, I’d even watch just about any challenge as long as it’ll save the children’s community center from evil property developers, or get an aspiring dancer from a rough neighborhood into a super exclusive academy for the arts.  And, this movie combines two of these activities in one, serving up a capella singing and wild choreography.  It’s spectacular!  You’ve never seen so many sequins and black mesh. 
But, what really sets this movie apart from all those other treasures that I love so much is that this movie actually has a sense of humor.  (Honestly, it’s not really in the same category at all).  I do love how self-serious those dance-off movies can be.  It’s very endearing.  But, I also enjoy some good, rude jokes.  Pitch Perfect 1 was a comedy, and I really liked it.  But, this second installment keeps the jokes coming so fast, you almost don’t have enough time to stop laughing before the next one comes flying at you.  And, they’re totally demented.  Plus, you’ll love all the cameos that different comedians make.  I especially loved that Youtuber, Flula Borg plays one of the main antagonists in the story—a performer from German team, Das Sound Machine.
Yeah, most of the jokes are really dumb.  A lot of them are pretty hacky, and some are a little behind the times.  (I think we’ve moved beyond using homosexuality as a punch line).  But, I was still laughing through the whole movie.  It’s not like you’d ever go into this thing expecting fine culture.  When I wasn’t laughing I was trying to stop myself from dancing in my seat.  I didn’t want to be that jerk, kicking the seat in front of me at the theater.  But, I apologize for nothing. 

I think you should probably see this movie.  It really is a good time—perfect for Summer frivolity.  But, use your judgment.  I told you the movie was raunchy.  And, the jokes really do get pretty rude.  So, don’t call me up afterward and ask how a good daughter could have sent her mother to such a naughty movie.  You made your own decisions, Mom.  But, if you have a light heart and an easy laugh, go ahead.