Monday, April 10, 2017

The Quick and Dirties: Prepping for the 2015 Dellies

If you're new around here, what I'm about to say means nothing. However, if you're a regular you'll know what I'm talking about. Here it is: the rate at which I publish reviews has been significantly slower than it has been than at any time in the history of this blog. I'm a bit busier than I used to be. When you combine this with my waning interest in reviews, it's easy to see why. Don't get me wrong, I'm not totally over writing reviews. I just no longer feel like writing a full length review for every movie I see. Hell, I don't feel much like reviewing most movies I watch. For sure, some move me to pick up my pen, or get to my computer, whichever, but they're getting fewer and farther between.

That said, I need some new content, or you ain't comin' 'round here no mo'. Luckily, I'm still watching plenty of movies. A good chunk of them have been from 2015. The reason for that is I'm trying to finally put the finishing touches on The 2015 Dellies, my awards for that year. I could have done it months ago, but there were so many acclaimed movies, and some not-so-acclaimed, that I wanted to see before calling it a wrap. Here are some of those movies.

45 Years
Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are preparing for their 45th wedding anniversary. They have a big celebration with family and friends planned. A week before this big event Geoff gets a letter telling him that the previously unrecovered body of his girlfriend from 50 years ago has become visible beneath a glacier. The question becomes is he going to fly all the way to Switzerland to view the body. He's excited, but hesitant, about the whole situation. Kate, on the other hand, is all sorts of jealous. Things only worsen as she finds out more and more about her husband's past with this woman. Kate is so overwhelmed by what's going on, their marriage is suddenly in jeopardy. Charlotte Rampling turns in a wonderful performance worthy of the Academy Award nomination she was given. She may have been outdone by Tom Courtenay as the oblivious husband, totally clueless this news is having any effect whatsoever on his wife. I completely relate to him. You know why? Because the other woman has been dead for 50 damn years! Maybe this hit a bit too close to home for me. No, I've never had a dead girlfriend from years ago resurface, but I have had my wife get upset over some shit I totally forgot ever happened. I forgot because, in the long run, it was inconsequential. That's how I felt about this movie. Not to be dismissive of someone's feelings, but Kate's dilemma felt inconsequential to me. At the end of the day, the dude's been with you all this time because he obviously loves the hell out of you. Sure, be disappointed he didn't tell you everything that happened in his life before meeting you, but none of what did called his morals or love for you into question. In other words, though I marveled at the acting on display I spent most of the movie wishing Kate would just get over it, already, so the damn thing would end.

American Ultra
Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner/convenience store clerk in a small town in West Virginia. He and his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) have somehow managed to afford a trip to Hawaii and are on their way to the airport to leave. Funny thing is, Mike can't actually make the plane. The problem is he has an irrational fear of leaving town for any reason whatsoever. Why? Turns out Mike has been programmed that way. He is the last survivor of a super secret government experiment to create super soldiers. And now he's been designated for elimination. The CIA trying everything possible to kill him ensues. It has lots of similarities with one of my favorite action flicks, The Long Kiss Goodnight, but does enough of its own thing to make it work. Like that one, having an action hero you just wouldn't expect works heavily in its favor. This one is also steeped in dark comedy and gore. Eisenberg gives us his classic persona, not whatever shit he was doing as Lex Luthor, and it works beautifully. Connie Britton and Topher Grace show up as rival CIA agents with conflicting interests in Mike and both are fabulous. I had a blast watching and would totally be on board with the sequel this one strongly hints is coming. Unfortunately, the lackluster box office take for this film might deny me that pleasure.

This one is a documentary about deceased singer Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011 due to alcohol poisoning at the seemingly cursed age of 27. Her rise and fall is a cautionary tale detailing how not to deal with fame and fortune. It's an excellent doc that takes its time building the story of her life and show us the steps it took for her to finally succumb to her demons. The most disheartening part of the movie, aside from Winehouse's death, is the role her father played in her life. He wasn't a deadbeat, but he did come off as clueless about life and death matters. Most notably was his nixing of an intervention the singer's friends tried to execute by basically asking her how she felt about the situation, though she was clearly not in any shape to be objective. He was and shirked the responsibility. Such a film is bound to be a downer, and it is. Luckily, the blow is softened by the tons of previously unseen footage of Winehouse performing and/or just talking about her own life. It's an excellent doc telling a story eerily similar to the one told about the legendary Janis Joplin in Janis: Little Girl Blue, including the age of 27.

Way back in 1952, the wealthy and clearly high maintenance Carol (Blanchett) takes a liking to department store Therese (Mara). The two women strike up a friendship despite a sizable age gap between them. The naive Therese not only finds herself in a forbidden love affair (it was the 50s, after all), but also smack dab in the middle of Carol's messy divorce from Harge (Kyle Chandler) which includes a nasty child custody case. On top of that, she has to sort through Carol's emotional baggage while developing some of her own. The dynamic between these two women is never anything less than believable thanks to stellar work turned in by both Mara and Blanchett. The latter is especially good giving us one of the more complex characters of the last few years. She is a huge part of the reason this is such an engrossing film. Mara is the one we empathize with, but it's Blanchett we can't look away from. She easily has the flashier, more stylish role. The power of her portrayal of Carol is that she injects much substance into all that style. It's an excellent film about two women who are diametrically opposed in numerous ways.

We meet 5 sisters, living in Turkey, walking home from school with a group of their male classmates. This trek includes a stop at the local beach for some fairly innocent frolicking in the water. Unbeknownst to the girls, they are seen by a friend of their very strict grandmother. When grandma finds out, she doles out a punishment that sounds insane to my American sensibilities. She pulls the girls out of school completely and quarantines them to the family home in order to preserve their virginity so they will be suitable to marry. No, they will never get to go out and look for husbands. They will get them the old fashioned way: a young man and his family will come to the home and barter with their family for their hands in marriage. The youngest sister, Lale (Güneş Şensoy), gets to be our heroine, and the person with the most sense. Şensoy gives an outstanding performance, as does just about everyone in this film. The real stars might be the director Deniz Gamze Ergüven and her two cinematographers, David Chizallet and Ersin Gok. Ergüven, incredibly making her debut, directs with a sense of whimsy, but manages not to belittle the situation in which the sisters find themselves. Chizallet and Gok shoot the film in a way that distorts our spatial awareness in delightful ways. The home where the girls are essentially trapped feels both expansive and claustrophobic, depending on what the plot needs at a particular moment. They do this without it ever feeling gimmicky and serving the story to perfection. The result is a film that's smart, funny, and a girl-power flick of the highest order.

The Revenant
Hugh (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fur trapper in early 19th century America, working the wilderness with a number of other trappers, including his own son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) who is half-Native American. The boy's biracial makeup doesn't sit too well with fellow trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Hugh is on the edge of dying after suffering a bear attack. Not wanting to be slowed down by dragging Hugh around in case of another "Indian attack," Fitzgerald suggests putting Hugh permanently to sleep. In other words, he's not too broken up about what happened to the man. Still, John gets outvoted and the group trying to transport the man to safety ensues. Amazingly, this is based on a true story. DiCaprio and Hardy make a great pair of adversaries with each man playing their part to perfection. Hardy gives us a wonderfully wicked villain. DiCaprio doesn't give us a hero as much as he does a man just trying not to die. The cinematography on display is absolutely gorgeous, perfectly capturing the terrain these men are travelling, as well as some unflinchingly brutal violence. Kudos to Emmanuel Lubezki for that. Double kudos to director Alejandro G. Iñárritu for pulling this all together. He made this one about as tense as it gets, folks.

Son of Saul
It's WWII and Saul (Géza Röhrig) is in the infamous concentration camp in Auschwitz working as a member of the Sonderkommando. That means he is a Jew tasked with cleaning up the gas chamber after one of the many mass executions of his fellow Jews. It's a tough gig, but he's seemingly numb to it all. Suddenly, something softens him up, the sight of a young boy who has just been dragged from the chamber and is about to have an autopsy performed on him. Saul decides to smuggle the boy's body out of the doctor's office in hopes of giving him a proper Jewish burial. Why? Pretty much just because. Since it's a half-cocked scheme with little chance of success, Saul going through lots of difficulties to get this done, and keep himself alive, ensues. The Academy has a reputation of awarding Best Foreign Language Picture to damn near anything about the Holocaust solely on the basis of dealing with that subject. This film does nothing to dissuade me from believing that as it did indeed win that award and I can't figure out any other reason why it did. I found it to be a film with an interesting, unique premise, but poorly executed. The pacing is clunky, and our hero's motivation is murky. Sure, we know he wants to give the boy a proper burial, but why this boy? Presumably, by the time we meet Saul he's seen the lifeless bodies of dozens, possibly hundreds, of small children, a number of which he's had to drag out of the gas chamber, himself. We don't feel like he's at the point where he's so fed up he'll act irrationally with regards to his own well-being. He's more like a guy so desensitized to all he's seen he can't muster up the strength to do anything other than solemnly go about his duties. Having failed to convince me otherwise, the film feels contrived and never touches me as much as it should.


  1. I love the Quick and Dirties! *cough* that came out wrong.
    Carol and 45 Years completely took me by surprise. I didn't expect to enjoy either, and although 45 Years was slow going, the ending absolutely broke my heart. Carol was one I loved the whole way through!
    Looking forward to the 2015 Dellies, it was a great year for movies :)

    1. No worries, I love The Quick & Dirties, too, lol. 45 Years was very well acted, but overall it didn't quite work for me. Carol absolutely did, though.

  2. I haven't seen all of these and I doubt that I'll be watching a few, American Ultra is a definite no-both Eisenberg and Stewart are performers I can barely tolerate at the best of times, the idea of them being the headliners and therefore the focus of a picture makes my eye twitch.

    I wanted to love Carol but I just couldn't. I felt separated from the characters and was never drawn to either, it all seemed very studied and clinical.

    On the other hand I found 45 Years extremely involving. I could understand Kate feeling of the loss of something special, she felt that she had shared something with this man all those years that was hers and that he's never felt for anyone else only to discover that not only had he but it was seemingly more intense than what they had. That he was obtuse to her sense of displacement made it all the more isolating and his reminiscences unmoored her even further. It helped that it was all enacted by two such talented people, Courtenay was terrific but Charlotte Rampling was amazing and heartbreaking, the play of emotion across her face at all times but especially at the end was awesome. She should have won the award that year, one of the best nominated performances in the category's history I think.

    1. I generally dislike Stewart. Though I usually like Eisenberg, I get why some people don't, so I fully understand why you would want to avoid that one.

      We're totally opposite on Carol and 45 Years. I was really involved in the story of Carol, while 45 Years was more of an annoyance for reasons given above. Maybe this is just the reaction of someone with a hardened heart, but her reaction to what was going on felt overblown. For me, if you're letting something that happened half a century ago with a person who died before your husband even met you, the problem is your own insecurities, not anything he did. Rampling brings those feelings across beautifully, but still, I was like 'let's get past this, already.'

  3. I only made it through The Revenant thanks to, I was waiting for it so much and it just bored me. DiCaprio I don't think I even nominated him, the kid from Room was my winner last year. Carol was another one I was not a fan of but the cinematography was lovely.

    1. Too bad, I was riveted right from the beginning of The Revenant. Carol had to win me over, but it most certainly did. The kid from Room was very good, so no shame in that.

  4. Wow, I guess I'm probably one of the few that liked 45 Years here as I found it to be devastating. Carol and The Revenant I'm glad we agree while we'll just agree to disagree on Son of Saul. The rest I haven't seen though I really want to see Amy.

    1. Nah, I think I'm the one in the minority on 45 Years, at least judging by its tomatometer. Sorry, but Son of Saul just didn't work for me. Amy is excellent.

  5. I've seen four of these--The Revenant, Carol, 45 Years, and Son of Saul. I think I've put those in the order I liked them.

    45 Years is all about the performances, both of which are fantastic. The plot is a weird one, but man is it worth seeing for our two stars. I agree that Courtenay was probably robbed of a nomination, because he matches Charlotte Rampling note for note and scene for scene. I can't get past the plot, though, which seems like a contrivance to get these two on screen together.

    I felt about Son of Saul the way you did. It's a dirty and ugly version of Life is Beautiful, and I'm not sure we needed two versions of that film.

    1. That's how I would rank those four, as well.

      So with you on 45 Years. Great performances, far better than the actual material.

      Great observation comparing it to Life is Beautiful. To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of that one, either.

  6. Don't feel bad about writing short review! I love the quick and dirties. I've seen all of these films.
    45 Years - I spent the entire film wanting Kate to punch her husband in the face.
    American Ultra - I've mostly forgotten.
    Amy - Depressing and hard to watch.
    Carol - I wanted to love this, but I was underwhelmed. I read the book and felt the same way.
    Mustang - AMAZING
    The Revenant - Great
    Son of Saul - God, that movie was heavy.

    1. Thanks!
      Funny you should say that about 45 Years. I kept waiting for her to actually talk to the man instead of snooping around the attic and wherever else and stewing about what she found. Would've solved a lot of issues, no?

      At least we're in agreement on Mustang, CAPS and all.

  7. Oohh..Dell. Welcome to the slippery slope. I read that opener and saw myself x1,000,000. I feel that once I stop writing full reviews for every movie I see...I'll walk away entirely. Good for you for keeping hope alive with the Q & D.

    As for the films at hand, I've only seen The Revenant, and would be down for basically all the others. I'll probably start with American Ultra, as I could use a little more JE in my life. I thought that one looked like a good time when I saw the preview years back...but then it fell of the f--king map.

    I'm not sure what way you went on 45 years. Should I check that one out? I feel like there could be some solid post-movie discussion.

    1. Slippery slope, indeed. I'm not quite to the point where I want to walk away completely because I still enjoy blogging on the whole, and really like the community. It's just that reviewing is getting to be a bit taxing.

      If you have Hulu, they're streaming American Ultra. At least, they were when I watched it.

      There could definitely be some good post-movie discussion on 45 Years. It's not a bad movie, just one where the main character's beef felt overblown, to me. Curious to see what another married man thinks.

  8. I am SO with you on not always feeling like writing a full-length review for every damn movie I see. Truth is, most movies don't warrant it. But, we gotta do what we gotta do!

    SO glad to see you loved Carol. That movie is really something special.

    1. So true, most movies don't. As of now, I'm going with the ones that move me to do so.

      Carol is an excellent film.

  9. Wow...I haven't seen any of these movies yet. I guess I'm TWO years behind now. :-)