2015

The Invitation (2015)

There’s something about tense dinner scenes in movies that just get to me.

mv5bmjg2ntgzmdexml5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtkxndm3nde-_v1_The Invitation is a psychological thriller film directed by Karyn Kusama’s feature length follow-up to her incredibly divisive horror flick, Jennifer’s Body. The Invitation follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green), a man invited to the house he and his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) used to share for a dinner party with their old circle of friends whom they haven’t seen in years. Will is obviously very uncomfortable with being at a party held by his ex-wife, but things get a little stranger when the party guests begin noticing something is off with Eden and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). The night slowly and slowly gets stranger and stranger as Eden and David behave more and more oddly, all while Will wrestles with the painful memories of his past that have begun resurfacing.

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Jupiter Ascending (2015)

mv5bmtqynzk2mja2nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjewnzk3mje-_v1_sy999_cr00674999_al_Oh boy. I’ve had this one coming for a while. Jupiter Ascending is the latest full length film from the Wachowskis, the dynamic duo of writer/ directors who are known for occasionally popping into the Hollywood scene and flipping the sci-fi genre on it’s head. They dropped The Matrix in 1999, and… umm… I guess they fumbled around with it’s sequels, then there was Speed Racer in 2008 which only made back 75% of its 120 million dollar budget. There was also Cloud Atlas in 2012, which had pretty mixed reviews, and, well, I guess they knocked it out of the park with The Matrix and just kind of floundered for almost two decades since then.

So, that brings us to Jupiter Ascending. This movie is about Jupiter (Mila Kunis), a daughter of a Russian immigrant who’s family flirts with the poverty line running a house cleaning business for the rich and the upper class. Her life sucks, having to wake up before 5am every morning and scrubbing toilets all day, every day, but her life gets flipped, turned upside down when she meets Caine (Channing Tatum) a half-man-half-dog (he’s his own best friend!) hybrid from space who brings her to space so she can find out she’s Queen of Earth because her DNA is exactly the same as the actual Queen of Earth whose dead now and the Princes and Princesses of this intergalactic royal family are fighting over who gets to own Earth so they can farm the humans to make big glo-sticks that keep you young forever. This is all the first 15 minutes of the movie. Confused? Me too. (more…)

The Big Short (2015) & Arrival (2016)

Let’s take a break from the Halloween madness that’s been going on here on the blog and move towards adult films. No. Not, like, porn. Like, films with more mature themes than dumb slasher flicks. Okay, mature themes still sounds like porn, but I swear they aren’t porn. Just, screw it. I watched The Big Short a while ago and never wrote about it, and I saw Arrival in December.

The Big Short (2015)

mv5bndc4mthhn2etzjmznc00zdjmlthiztgtnthly2uxzwmznjdkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndk3nzu2mtq-_v1_sx640_cr00640999_al_The Big Short is a drama based on the true story of a small group of people in the financial industry who predicted the housing crisis of the mid-2000s and tried to play it to their advantage. It stars Christian Bale as Michael Burry (the most metal hedge fund manager ever), Steve Carell as Mark Baum (just serious Steve Carell), Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett (a bit of a sleazey salesman, but still my bae), and Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert (an eccentric, retired trader).

I honestly really liked The Big Short. I’ve never found a subject like the housing crisis an interesting topic of conversation (let alone a movie), and the folks behind The Big Short understood that I sat in the majority  with that opinion. They managed to make a fun, lighthearted, and still effective drama about a couple of dudes who wanted to play the major banks and make a ton of money. While there was a cast of protagonists, there was still no clear cut “good guy” throughout the movie, but the writing was pretty heavy-handed when trying to establish the big name banks of the United States as the “bad guys”.

The constant celebrity cameos and fourth wall breaking were a nice touch to keep things speeding along pretty quickly despite a running time over two hours. My only complaint with the hyperstylized non-narrative bits (and the fact that this movie focuses mostly on high rolling business folk) felt very much like a carbon copy of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which only came out two years prior.

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I also really enjoyed the ensemble cast of the film, particularly because their characters were all of different moral fibers and had different motivations throughout the film. A few of the characters actually never interact with each other, which is nice, because going in to this movie, I thought it would be a big financial superhero team up where a bunch of fund managers fight off the big banks. I also enjoyed how the film focused on these characters interacting and reacting to the plot of the housing crisis, and didn’t get muddled by becoming a personal drama. Once the results of the plot unfolded, the film ended. I’ve got to commend The Big Short for being  a tight little drama that stayed fun, engaging and interesting despite it’s heavy subject matter. This is definitely in my list of favorite movies from 2015, I would highly recommend it.

Arrival (2016)

mv5bmtexmzu0odcxndheqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mde1oti4mzay-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_Flipping 180 degrees from a realistic drama about one of the most crippling financial crises in Western history to a mind-bending sci-fi drama about aliens landing on Earth, Arrival stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and was directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicaro, Enemy), one of the best directors working today. Adams and Renner play linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly respectively, who are called to action by the U.S. military (Forest Whitaker plays Colonel Weber) after twelve mysterious space crafts have landed across the globe. Banks and Donnelly are in charge of developing and establishing communication with the aliens on board the ship to determine their motivations. They’re racing against the clock though, because not every nation is keen on making scientific inquiry with these visitors, and global tensions rise by the minute.

It’s so exciting to see really interesting, restrained sci-fi coming out. As much as I like space schlock, neat, coherent, intelligent sci-fi flicks always have a special place in my heart. While I would consider this a kind of alien invasion film, don’t get your hopes up for  Arrival to be Independence Day 3. A large portion of this film is dedicated to Louise and Ian learning to communicate with the aliens and learning their language. Only near the end do things start escalating quicker and quicker before the movie takes off with one of most interesting conclusions to a story arc I’ve seen in a long time.

The acting was superb in Arrival from everyone, and the great sets, effects, and score helped keep me immersed for the whole thing. I got lots of Under the Skin and 2001: A Space Odyssey vibes from the way certain scenes were shot, particularly the sequences inside the alien ship. The haunting and almost ambient music sounded almost like the film was scored by Sunn O))), and the monolithic design on the ship paired with the unexpected design of the aliens made for a pretty unsettling experience whenever it all came together.

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Similar to Enemy, Arrival is a little open ended in the way you can interpret it. It’s definitely a movie that benefits from repeat viewings, with lots of little, subtle hints in the script and screenplay that all work together like clockwork to help keep the movie as neat and clean, yet as deep as possible. One of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in a long time, and one of my favorites from last year. Check it out as soon as you can.

-David