Here are 6 more reviews of 6 other films that I watched this year. Why six? Because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers, that’s why.
The Big Game (dir by Jalmari Helander)
In The Big Game, Samuel L. Jackson plays the President of the United States and you would think that fact alone would make this film an instant classic. Unfortunately, this film never really takes advantage of the inherent coolness of Samuel L. Jackson playing the leader of the free world. When Air Force One is sabotaged and crashes in the wilderness of Finland, President Jackson has to rely on a young hunter (Onni Tommila) from a group of CIA agents disguised as terrorists. Tommila does a pretty good job and the scenery looks great but at no point does Samuel L. Jackson says, “Check out this executive action, motherfucker,” and that’s a huge missed opportunity. As for the rest of the film, it takes itself a bit too seriously and if you can’t figure out the big twist from the minute the movie starts, you obviously haven’t seen enough movies.
The Connection (dir by Cedric Jiminez)
Taking place over the 1970s, the French crime thriller tells the largely true story of the efforts of a French judge (played by Jean Dujardin) to take down a ruthless gangster (Gilles Lellouche) who is the head of one of the biggest drug cartels in the world. The Connection run for a bit too long but, ultimately, it’s a stylish thriller that does a very good job of creating a world where literally no one can be trusted. Dujardin, best known here in the States for his Oscar-winning role in The Artist, does a great job playing an honest man who is nearly driven to the point of insanity by the corruption all around him.
Graduation Day (dir by Chris Stokes)
Hey, it’s another found footage horror film! Bleh! Now, I should admit that this horror film — which is NOT a remake of that classic 1980s slasher — does have a fairly clever twist towards the end, that goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the inconsistencies that, up until that point, had pretty much dominated the film. But, even with that in mind and admitting that Unfriended and Devil’s Due worked wonders with the concept, it’s still hard to feel any enthusiasm about yet another found footage horror film.
McFarland USA (dir by Niki Caro)
McFarland USA is an extremely predictable but likable movie. Kevin Costner plays a former football coach who, while teaching at a mostly Latino high school, organizes a cross country team that goes on to win the state championship. It’s based on a true story and, at the end of the film, all of the real people appear alongside the actors who played them. There’s nothing about this film that will surprise you but it’s still fairly well-done. Even Kevin Costner, who usually gets on my last nerve, gives a good performance.
Taken 3 (dir by Olivier Megaton)
Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is back and he’s killing even more people! Fortunately, they’re all bad people but you really do have to wonder what type of dreams Bryan has whenever he goes to sleep. In Taken 3, Bryan’s wife (Famke Janssen) has been murdered and Bryan has been framed. He has to solve the case and kill the bad guys while staying one step ahead of the police (represented by a bored-looking Forest Whitaker). Neeson does all of his usual Taken stuff — the intense phone conversation, the steely glare, and all the rest — but at this point, it has literally been parodied to death. If you’re into watching Liam Neeson kill ugly people, Taken 3 will provide you with adequate entertainment but, for the most part, it’s but a shadow of the first Taken.
War Room (dir by Alex Kendrick)
I saw the War Room in Oklahoma. It was being shown as part of a double feature with The Martian, of all things! Anyway, this film is about an upper middle class family that hits rock bottom but they’re saved by the power of prayer! Lots and lots of prayer! Seriously, this film almost qualifies as “prayer porn.” Anyway, the film was badly acted, badly written, incredibly heavy-handed, and ran on way too long but, on the plus side, it did eventually end.
Here are reviews of 6 documentaries that I saw in 2015:
Packed In A Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson (dir by Michelle Boyaner)
In 1924, painter Edith Lake Wilkinson was committed to an insane asylum and lived the rest of her life in sad obscurity. As a result of Edith’s commitment, her artwork never received the recognition it deserved. That’s the idea behind this documentary, which follows Edith’s great-great niece as she researches Edith’s life and tries to get the art world to acknowledge Edith’s talent. As an art history major, I really wanted to like this documentary but, unfortunately, it focused more on the self-important niece than on the artwork. Matters were not helped by a lengthy visit with a psychic who claimed to have “contacted” Edith’s spirit. For the most part, this was a missed opportunity.
Requiem for the Dead: American Spring 2014
This film takes a look at the hundreds of people who were murdered by someone using a gun during the Spring of 2014. Some of the cases are examined in detail while other victims only appear for a second or two, quickly replaced by another tragedy. The cases are recreated through 911 calls, news reports, and occasionally interviews. It makes for sobering and sad viewing though, at the same time, it works better an indictment of our sick culture than as a call for greater gun control.
Southern Rites (dir by Gillian Laub)
Photographer Gillian Laub comes down to Montgomery County, Georgia, in order to take pictures of the town’s first integrated prom. She sticks around to film the trial of an old white man who shot and killed a young black man. The film has good intentions and it’s obvious that Laub is convinced that she has something important to say that hasn’t been said before but, especially when compared to the superior and thematically similar 3 1/2 Minutes, it quickly becomes obvious that neither she nor the film can offer up any new insight as far as racism in America is concerned.
A Symphony of Summits: The Alps From Above (dir by Peter Bardehle and Sebastian Lindemann)
A Symphony of Summits, which is currently available on Netflix, is basically 94 minutes of aerial footage of the Alps. A Symphony of Summits was originally made for German television and the English-language narration track has a blandly cheerful, touristy feel to it that often doesn’t go along with the imposing images and the occasionally bloody events being discussed. (The history of the Alps is not necessarily a peaceful one.) My advise would be to turn down the sound, put on your favorite music, and just enjoy the beauty of the images.
Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop (dir by Erin Lee Carr)
Thought Crimes tells the story of Gilberto Valle, a New York Cop who, in 2013, was convicted, on the basis of comments that he made online about plotting to kidnap and eat a woman. Valle claimed that he was just sharing a fantasy and that he had no intention of following through. Eventually, a judge agreed with him and his conviction was overturned. This disturbing and creepy documentary features extensive interviews with Vallee (who literally made my skin crawl) and examines some of the darkest corners of the internet. Many times in the documentary, Vallee claimed that he would never actually hurt anyone and I didn’t believe him for a second. (As a cop, Vallee accessed the police database to look up info on a woman he was fantasizing about abducting and cannibalizing.) That said, Thought Crimes still raised some interesting issues about the internet as an outlet for fantasy and how seriously we should take it as an indicator for real world actions. There are no easy answers.
The Thread (dir by Greg Barker)
The Thread is a 61 minute documentary about the Boston Marathon Bombing and how a group of wannabe detectives used Reddit and twitter to wrongly accuse a missing graduate student of being one of the bombers. It’s interesting and occasionally cringe-inducing viewing experience, even if it really doesn’t offer up much original insight. (Documentarians are always quicker to bemoan the rise of new media than to seriously investigate why old media collapsed in the first place.) Among those interviewed about the rush to find a suspect is Sasha Stone, the founder and editor of AwardsDaily and yes, she is just as annoying and smugly self-important as you would expect. (Thankfully, they did not interview Ryan Adams.)
There’s an early scene in Jenny’s Wedding in which Jenny (Katherine Heigl) is talking to her roommate, Kitty (Alexis Biedel) about how difficult it is to spend time with her family. They all want to know when Jenny is going to get married. After all, her younger sister, Anne (Grace Gummer), is married. Jenny tells Kitty that she does want to get married and start a family and she wants to do it soon.
Kitty replies with something like: “I guess you’re going to have to tell them about us.”
And WOW! THAT WOULD BE SUCH A MIND-BLOWING MOMENT … if not for the fact that it’s 2015. Jenny’s Wedding seems to take place in an alternative universe where Glee was never a hit TV show, thousands of people never changed their Facebook avatar to a rainbow flag, Milk was never a box office hit, nobody’s ever watched a program on Bravo or seen that Ikea commercial, and the majority of Americans continue to believe that gays are some exotic group of people who exclusively live in New York, San Francisco, and Oak Lawn. Maybe in 2002, Jenny’s Wedding‘s approach to LGBT issues would have felt brave and groundbreaking but in 2015, it just feels heavy-handed and trite.
“Nothing will ever be the same again!” Jenny’s mom (Linda Emond) wails when Jenny comes out of the closet.
“I mean, we’re ordinary people…” Jenny’s dad (Tom Wilkinson) laments when Jenny tells him that she’s a lesbian and she’s going to marry Kitty.
“They must’ve done something wrong,” one of the neighbors is overhead gossiping after it becomes common knowledge that Jenny is getting married to a *GASP* woman.
Especially when compared to the many truly groundbreaking, touching, and thought-provoking LGBT-films that have been released over the past few years, Jenny’s Wedding is heavy-handed and utterly lacking in either nuance or insight. Watching it, I wondered who could be responsible for making such an old-fashioned film that seemed to be so totally out-of-touch with the modern world. Then I checked with Wikipedia and discovered that the film’s director is 72 years old and straight and that explained a lot.
I think the idea was for the viewers to be stunned that Katherine Heigl was playing a lesbian and I guess the viewers are all supposed to think, “If Katherine Heigl can be a lesbian, then anyone can be a lesbian!” And I guess that could have happened in 2002, though it still seems to be based on a massive misreading of the popularity of a performer who has, several times, literally been described as being “box office poison.” But this is 2015 and anyone who still believes that a character played by Katherine Heigl could never be a lesbian probably is not going to be watching a movie about a lesbian wedding.
As well, it doesn’t help that Katherine Heigl gives a performance that is brittle even by the standards of Katherine Heigl. Watching Jenny’s Wedding, I couldn’t help but feel that Kitty could do so much better.
I know this might not be acceptable, but I am going to post it anyway.
As a life long sufferer of depression and self harming thoughts. I truly know how awful this season can be. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the days after are difficult.
Self medicating, Self stimulating….dealing with loss. Remembering what I tried to forget…forgetting what I tried to remember. Grasping for answers and never knowing what the question ever was.
I have been there, not going to lie, I am still there. This is something I suffer from every day.
But one day I decided to reach out and ask for help. *Ring Ring* “Hello, My name is Rachel, are you ok?” Those words changed my life (or saved it) Just one person asking if I was ok. That is all it took.
I don’t want to get away from the fact that depression is a real disease. It most certainly is, and should be treated that way. With a little help and self discipline mine is under control.
I apologize for telling my story so much, but I know how I feel this weekend…and if I can help one person, including myself, I have done my job!
Call 24/7: 800-SUICIDE (784-2433) 800-273-TALK (8255) Text Telephone 800-799-4TTY (4889) Trans Lifeline 877-565-8860
Well, Christmas is over and soon 2015 will be over as well! And our long time readers know what that means — its time for Lisa to desperately try to get caught up on reviewing all of the films that she’s seen this year! After all, it will soon be time for me to post my “Best of” and “Worst of” lists and who knows? Some of these films might make a list!
Anyway, with all that in mind, let’s take a quick look at Aloha!
Say what you will about Aloha as a movie, I would have loved to have been a part of the production. Not only is the cast full of performers that I absolutely adore (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, John Krasinski, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, and Danny McBride, just to name a few) but the film itself was shot in Hawaii, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. And let’s give director Cameron Crowe some credit for capturing some truly beautiful images of Hawaii.
As for the film itself, it’s a bit of a self-indulgent chore to sit through. Aloha feels like a dozen different films, all mashed together and the end result is something of a mess. Bradley Cooper is Brian Gilchrest, a defense contractor who is haunted by a mistake that he made while in Afghanistan. (It’s the equivalent of Jerry Maguire writing that memo and Orlando Bloom making those shoes in Elizabethtown.) Disillusioned and cynical, Brian is now working for a billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), who wants to build his own private space center in Hawaii. Brian’s job is to get the support of the native Hawaiians.
Brian’s Air Force liaison is Alison Ng (Emma Stone) and she’s as idealistic as Brian is cynical. Brian and Alison are soon falling love but, at the same time, Brian has also reconnected with his ex-girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams). Tracy is now married to Woody (John Krasinski), an Air Force captain who has difficulty expressing his feelings. Tracy also has a 12 year-old daughter and Brian might be the father.
That may sound like enough for any movie to deal with but Aloha also wants to be a political satire as well as a relationship dramedy. So, of course, there’s all sorts of ethical questions about the satellite that Carson wants to launch and, as a character, Carson is so incredibly inconsistent that you’re just happy that he’s being played by Bill Murray, one of the few actors who can make inconsistency charming.
Aloha is such a frustrating film, largely because of all the talent involved. With that cast and all the beautiful scenery, it should have at least been an enjoyable lark. Instead, it’s a huge and self-indulgent mess.
And, naturally enough, it features Alec Baldwin. Baldwin always seems to show up in films like this and, as I watched him bellow his way through Aloha, I found myself wondering how Alec Baldwin can be so good in some films and so amazingly awful in others. Baldwin’s a talented actor but, when a director allows him to go overboard, he can be difficult to watch. In Aloha, Cameron Crowe lets Alec Baldwin go totally overboard.
When Aloha was first released, there was a lot of controversy over Emma Stone playing a character who supposed to be a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian. At the time, Cameron Crowe stated that: “As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud one-quarter Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.” That’s something that I — as a pale redhead who happens to be very proud of being a fourth Spanish — could relate to so it didn’t particularly bother me that Emma Stone was playing a character named Alison Ng.
Instead, what bothered me was that Alison Ng was never really allowed to emerge as an individual character with her own hopes, dreams, and ambitions. Her character pretty much only existed to give Brian a reason to believe in life again. Emma Stone’s a good actress but, as a film, Aloha lets her down.
Still, at least she got to spend sometime in Hawaii!