Quick Reviews, End of 2016, Part 2: The Neon Demon, 13th, Deepwater Horizon, Live By Night, Love & Friendship, SilenceRead Now
The Neon Demon
The Neon Demon (2016): When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
Gah this movie! I wanted to like it. Really, I did. So many people complain (and rightfully so) that creativity has been sacrificed in Hollywood at the altar of money. And if there's one word that describes The Neon Demon it's creative. It has a very creative story and tells it in a unique way. Visuals are how this story is told versus dialogue, (though there is still plenty of that) and director Nicolas Winding Refn spared no expense in this department, including some amazing lighting and absolutely breathtaking makeup. Even the editing shows up to help tell this story at times. I loved that! But its visual story is also its downfall. Elle Fanning's character is a HUGE swing and a miss as she makes far too many jumps in character for me to follow. One second she's a totally innocent girl trying to make friends and the next she's pushing away her boyfriend to get ahead. The supporting cast makes some inexplicable jumps in character too, with only Abbey Lee's character remaining consistent. While all these characters are well acted, (this may be the best performance I've seen from Jena Malone) there were simply too many "Wait, what?" moments for me to truly love this film. As much as I love creativity and originality, it's also a two-way street.
My Number: 5.5/10
13th (2016): An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality.
Ava DuVernay can do no wrong. Yet another eye-opening film that exposes the terrible systemic racism that exists in this country, 13th is a harrowing documentary. Told entirely through interviews, 13th explores how a simple provision in the 13th Amendment opened the door to atrocities like Jim Crow or the "War on Drugs" to our modern (and messed up) prison system. What is truly fascinating with this film is that it does actually go into the "other side" of these issues. For example, when it highlights the negative effect ALEC has had on our prison system, (ALEC is something, by the way) it actually shows an interview of a spokesperson from ALEC. Because DuVernay's crew actually reached out to ALEC for an interview and they responded. However, when the consequences of their actions are shown, it really goes to show just how ridiculous their defenses are. This is one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time, and it is worthy of a watch from anyone who asks the question, "Why do Black Lives Matter?" Seriously. Go see it. Just a few missteps in the editing department keep it from a perfect score, but for most people that won't matter. This is available to watch on Netflix right now, so you have no excuse not to watch it. Doooooo it.
My Number: 9/10
Deepwater Horizon (2016): A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster, when the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
You know, I wanted to really like this movie. After all my interest in it was spiked by seeing Peter Berg's other 2016 film Patriot's Day, and this was the one nominated for Oscars and not the other, so I figured that I must be better. Well.....it's not. While it's certainly quite the spectacle, and there is a fair share of naturally dramatic events including one film-made one towards the end between Wahlberg and Rodriguez that was EASILY the best moment in the film, but it also had a lot of problems. Unfortunately, these problems outweigh the good in my opinion. The problems start, surprisingly, with the effects. I thought the effects were pretty corny. I don't know, maybe I'm just so used to CGI that I would assume something like this was all CGI, but the fire throughout this film looked very fake. Combine that with the dark setting and the oil and everything on everyone's faces, and I had absolutely no idea what was going on with anyone short of Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, and John Malkovich. That's.....not what you want to have happen in your film. I don't know. Maybe I should've seen it in theaters. Might have been more coherent then. But as it is I had no idea what was happening to anyone and what was happening where other than EXPLOSIONS all throughout the disaster sequence. Even though the final moments between Wahlberg and Rodriguez were emotional, it was not enough to save it. Oh, and can we PLEASE give Kate Hudson more to do than just being "the wife?" Seriously....when will these shallow roles for actresses end??
My Number: 4/10
Live By Night
Live By Night (2016): A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.
This movie is TERRIBLE. The biggest problem with it is that it feels like a bunch of movies in one. As a result, the film struggles to find an identity throughout its 129 minute run-time and is simply a missed opportunity. There were some interesting bits: most notably Elle Fanning's role as a Hollywood-bound girl turned drug addict turned fundamentalist preacher, but the film doesn't spend anywhere near enough time with this idea to make it resonate. Fanning gets basically two scenes to flesh out her character, and that's simply not enough. Affleck is basically playing his character from The Town, which here is very out of place: he's actually kind of bad in this film. His character's arc isn't really that interesting, and his decent from dignified bootlegger to gangster has been rehashed far better a million times before. Rather than taking an interesting route, like with Fanning's character, Affleck (who also wrote and directed the film) seems totally content with making his film feel like every other gangster film. While he may be content with that, no one else wants to see "just another gangster movie," and as a result this movie deservedly tanked. It also caps off one of the worst years in recent memory for Warner Brothers, who will only see Sully and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them receive any sort of Oscar buzz (three nominations total between them) out of the 18 high-profile films they dropped in 2016. Just watch Goodfellas again instead of this travesty.
My Number: 3/10 Bad (And it's a 3 only for Elle Fanning and the set design)
Love & Friendship
Love & Friendship (2016): Lady Susan Vernon takes up temporary residence at her in-laws' estate and, while there, is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica -- and herself too, naturally.
OH MY GOD THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME. Just needed to blurt that out real fast. Seriously. Make the time to see this film. It is hilarious for the first two acts of the film, then it takes an extreme turn to the dramatic for the final act. Oh my God did this film go from hilarious comedy to gripping drama on a DIME. It took me completely by surprise. I was surprised because the film stealthily laid the foundation for the third act, and then sprung it into action. I was hooked. In addition to an amazing story, Kate Beckinsale is absolutely INCREDIBLE as the lead. This film rests on her shoulders, and she puts in one of the best performances of 2016. While the rest of the cast was pretty much invisible, that was ok because Beckinsale certainly carried her weight. Additionally, the film had a marvelous set design and some great costumes. Don't know why this didn't receive a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination but that category makes no sense as it is so whatever. Ultimately, I give this film a strong recommendation because of its humor, its gripping narrative, and a massively underrated performance from Kate Beckinsale. If you're a fan of films that take place in Early Modern Britain, you need to move this film to the top of the list. Just a couple of minor missteps in the final act with Beckinsale's character keep this one from receiving a perfect score.
My Number: 9/10
Silence (2016): Two priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor and propagate Catholicism.
Martin Scorsese can do no wrong. While the first half of this 161 minute film is a little slow, the second half is an exceptional bit of film making from my single favorite director in the business. Scorsese uses the namesake, silence, to a bone-chilling effect and makes for one of the most harrowing moments in film I've seen all year. That said, it does take over two hours to get to that point, and I think a lot of people will be somewhat bored with the journey to get there. The film had this weird haze throughout the first half dominating many shots that I'm sure served an artistic purpose, but I was not a huge fan of it. Mostly because when there wasn't haze surrounding any given shot the film looked absolutely gorgeous. Rodrigo Prieto, one of Hollywood's great cinematographers, shot this film and did a marvelous job when there wasn't that weird haze. I mean overall it's great watching a film like this from a master filmmaker because you know there's an artistic purpose for how every shot is framed and portrayed. Additionally no one is better at utilizing the art of silence than Scorsese and this film further punctuates that point. Absolutely fantastic sound design. And man are the last 45 minutes great! Additionally Andrew Garfield is outstanding in this film. I think he should've been nominated for this performance over Hacksaw Ridge, but that just goes to show just how great a year Garfield had. However Adam Driver's character did not receive the same amount of attention Garfield's did, which is quite a shame. At the end of the day, there's no doubt this film is well worth your time if you're a fan of Martin Scorsese like I am. But it's definitely not for everyone. The Irishman can't come soon enough!
My Number: 7/10
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