Apocalypse Now (1979/2019) (Francis Ford Coppola)
Final Cut screening. The insanity of war, in more ways than one. I’m not giving a 10/10 because, while the picture restoration was stunning, and the enhanced audio impeccable, the sound was turned up uncomfortably loud and my ears were ringing afterwards.
I haven’t watched the original in years so couldn’t pinpoint what the differences are to this new cut. I had forgotten how imposing the score is. Check it out if you can but remember to bring ear plugs. An immersive experience where I felt I was in the helicopter, on the beach, and floating down the river with them. An audio/visual extravaganza.
Marriage Story (2019) (Noah Baumbach)
There’s no denying the dialogue is well written and shows the complexity of a relationship and emotional effect a break-up has on a family. Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, and Laura Dern deliver top-tier performances. Divorce and custody battles I have no personal experience with though many have to go through it. The most original sequence is the opening when we get to know the quirks of the two leads. The battle between Nora and Jay in the court and the escalating argument between Nicole and Charlie at home back-to-back are both very well acted scenes even if feel a bit Oscar baity. Nora’s speech in defense of women is powerful. You can google Alan Alda’s half-finished joke as he revealed the rest in a Q and A. A good watch and I loved how fully fleshed out these main characters are but I don’t see myself remembering this one in a few months. To me a film you are invested in while it lasts and could provoke a conversation afterwards. You step into the life of two strangers during a very difficult time. As others have said, the two stars make it hard to take sides. But siding is not really the point as the family want each other to be happy. There’s a lot of dialogue and details so you may find Marriage Story to be a bit gruelling in one sitting. Because of the detail would be easy to rewatch. It’s Noah Baumbach’s most mature film though I personally prefer his earlier work Frances Ha (2013), a lighter film which still had plenty of humanity and insight.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) (J.J. Abrams)
Brief non-spoiler review. Rotten Tomatoes is right, the movie lacks imagination. With so many stories that they could have told, JJ Abrams frustratingly took the safe option, and while it’s watchable and there are a couple of secrets revealed, it rarely rises above average and character development is almost zero for the majority of the cast. Still, the comic relief makes it at least entertaining and I especially enjoyed C3PO’s arc. However much of the story feels like a rushed fan service checklist, a no risk blockbuster in response to the fan backlash over Rian Johnson’s divisive Last Jedi. Too many unanswered questions in a concluding film.
Parasite (2019) (Bong Joon-ho)
Winner of the 2019 Palme D’or at Cannes. Best to go in blind as the film can be spoiled by reviews. An extremely well told story about class aspirationalism, with drama, black comedy, and surprises. There are some stereotypical, two-dimensional, simplistic depictions of class. We don’t know their ambitions. Money can help you lead a good life but it’s not the only important thing. Not all rich people are happy and not every poor person is unhappy. The film does show love crosses all boundaries, the ugly truth of loan sharks, and Mr. Park’s patronizing treatment of servants as second rate people with a “poor man’s smell”. But does the film tell me anything new? No. Still, Parasite is a compelling yarn, humanizing South Korean inequality. Barely believable, but just about. I’m not sure if the message is ironic about the American dream, in that the characters think money will save them but maybe they were ok to begin with. The vulture review asked “Who are the real parasites? The poor who attach themselves to the rich or the rich who suck the marrow of the poor?”
Bong Joon-ho seems to cynically believe the divide between the classes is never going away.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019) (Riley Stearns)
Has been described as “Karate Kid for adults”. A loner accountant (Jesse Eisenberg in a typical role for him) becomes attached to a karate school. Sort of a companion film to The Double (2013), also with Eisenberg. The most entertaining moments are when Casey gets in touch with his macho side and the story satirizes masculinity. Gripping, mixing violence with deadpan comedy. Although the ending was too heavy-handed and preachy. The best thing about it is the unpredictableness, I didn’t know what would happen next. Visually the movie is well done, with the use of camera angles, colors, etc. I liked the original song in the end credits, Can You Hear Me Now? by Donald McMichael.
Toy Story 4 (2019) (Josh Cooley)
Perhaps I’m becoming older and slower or films are becoming faster and harder to keep up with. Toy Story 4 moves at a frantic pace and if you blink you miss things. Very cute and a welcome return to that universe. Of the new characters, Keanu Reeves is funny as Duke Caboom. The movie has a good message which I won’t go into as it’s spoilery. You could argue the sequel is designed to sell merchandise yet that didn’t go through my mind for one second while watching. The animation looks great and hard to hate a film as sweet as this.
Kraftidioten (aka In Order of Disappearance) (2014) (Hans Petter Moland)
The Liam Neeson thriller Cold Pursuit (2019) is a remake by the same director. Norwegian black comedy action film. The humor was very dark, making fun of suicide and cancer, laughing together with a person you just beat up, bodies thrown over a cliff. Partly spoofs “Nordic Noir” and the criminal underworld although a drawback is the story relies on gangster clichés. There are Pulp Fiction-like discussions by the criminals, about the welfare state in colder countries compared to warmer climates, and the luxury prisons. These conversations were the best thing about it and sadly were in short supply. The jokes would work better with a packed audience and for me was simply too bleak to be funny. Overall, not as original as genre highlights Headhunters, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Insomnia.
Solaris (2002) (Steven Soderbergh)
The pacing is better than the 1972 film but Soderbergh’s script is too explanatory and dumbed down. I prefer Tarkovsky’s ambiguous adaptation which is more beautiful and multifaceted.
Kollektivet (aka The Commune) (2016) (Thomas Vinterberg)
Vinterberg has made some great films and some lesser films. The Commune (2016) falls into the latter category. There’s just not enough characterization or reason to care. A clichéd, by-the-numbers look at Denmark in the 1970s. Trine Dyrholm’s performance is terrific and elevates the stronger second half. Together (Tillsammans) (2000) is a better film about a 70s commune.
Coco (2017) (Lee Unkrich)
Despite the focus on the deceased and Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, a heartwarming, fun, and visually dazzling animation. A story about how achievement is not without its stumbling blocks.
Elf (2003) (Jon Favreau)
A sweet and imaginative Christmas movie which I could imagine rewatching. I’m not a huge fan of Will Ferrell yet he’s funny as the Elf man-child. The only issue I had was the age difference between him and Zooey Deschanel.
Kindergarten Cop (1990) (Ivan Reitman)
Watched as it’s leaving Netflix. A Schwarzenegger comedy where the actor subverts his action stereotype by taking on a job as a kindergarten teacher. Good to watch as harmless escapism. The kids have some funny lines when they talk about who is your daddy and what does he do, and when Dominic says everyone he knows is better than Kimble.
There is also ridiculous stuff like the jarring tonal shifts between violent cop thriller and kid’s movie, ferret bite, headteacher not aware a potentially dangerous criminal is heading to the school, and not firing Kimble when he beats someone up in front of the children.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome