Recent Movies Overview

In an effort to shut up and write about stuff rather than wait for it to be ‘worth talking about’, I thought I’d do some posts about movies, ones I’ve seen and want to see. The list of movies I still want to see is quite long, but I have made a start on it recently and so I thought I’d review those movies I have actually watched, it’s a mix of movies that I saw at the cinema and movies I watched at home.

If you want an overview of a bunch of excellent films that were first released in Australia in 2014, I can highly recommend Grant Watson’s review at The Angriest. You may also appreciate his beautifully detailed film review and criticism over at Fiction Machine. My list, is just a bunch of films that I watched in recent months (and mostly enjoyed).

My reviews are compiled in no particular order, chronological, quality or otherwise. It’s also a rather epic post, so here’s a table of contents for you:

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (1954)

First and foremost what you need to know about this movie is that it’s a musical featuring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen, who are all marvellously talented. I watched this on Christmas Day night, really late after watching Die Hard. I wanted to watch something delightful and lovely and all about the fluffiness that comes with Christmas. This is definitely that movie! One review I read of it described it as ‘pornographically sappy’ which I think is fairly apt – but never in a way that is less than fully satisfying.

I loved this film from start to finish, loved all the songs – loved especially Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s characters dressing up as Rosemary and Vera’s characters and sing ‘Sisters’ in order to help them manage a deft escape. While the film is all about the emotional reward and it’s set at Christmas time – the timing is incidental, it’s not a movie about Christmas, which I think adds to the film and its storyline. One of my favourite things about the movie is that one of the main plot arcs is about the two men doing the right thing by their former sergeant. Men and emotional engagement and Doing The Right Thing especially Just Because gets me every time. Also, several female characters including two who are also main protagonists, with motivations and backgrounds  and everything. In hopes of encouraging you to rent this charming movie, take a look at the trailer:

Pride (2014)

I just recently saw this at my local independent cinema and it easily became my favourite film of 2014. This film tells the story of real life events that happened in the United Kingdom during the 80s when the Miner’s Strike was a bitterly fought issue and a bunch of queer activists decided to try and help them by raising money. The connection between the activists and the village they work to help unfolds beautifully, it’s not an easy friendship to grow but things get managed, people come together and connect, they are grateful and they are inspired.

I was utterly caught up in the telling of this story by what is possible when that right combination of people happens, goodwill, determination and that sense of doing the right thing, again Just Because. I’m never going to get tired seeing people stirred by doing something greater than themselves, greater than their own community, and learning and succeeding, struggling and even at times failing. For the first time I actually understood the Union Movement in watching this film.

Pride is beautifully written and acted – it features Bill Nighy as the big name actor and he’s brilliant, but he’s not alone amongst a cast of brilliance. The movie is also laugh out loud funny – I’m not a person who laughs easily from movies but I laughed all the way through this. The movie is as poignant as it is funny, there’s a wonderful balance between these two elements and neither ever overshadows the other. Honestly, I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

Die Hard (1988)

How did I get to the age of 34 and not have seen this movie? I haven’t the faintest – it makes no sense to me given my love of 80s action movies. However, after we feasted on Christmas Day those of us gathered around the flat screen to watch Die Hard, and thus this gap in my movie watching history has been rectified. And I agree with the rest of my friends it would seem, that Die Hard makes a great Christmas movie (the opposite of White Christmas really).

What an action movie – when I think about present day action films I just feel like they don’t even try any more. It’s like there’s an assumption that more explosions and effects means a better movie – but without something of a plot and some great actors to make it (seem) plausible, effects and explosions fall flat in my opinion. I think Willis, Veljohnson and Rickman really make the film – it’s not a plausible story but because of their calibre of acting, you’re completely happy to just go with it. I will admit though, a purely financial motive obscured by seeming radical political affiliations seems remarkably believable all in all. So does the ruthlessness.

I love that although a very minor character in the entire movie charade, Bedella’s character Holly does get to be seen, she has clear motivations and background, ambitions – the works. She’s written and acted in a way that reflects her strength and her competence is reinforced every step of the way – with the unfortunate exception when at the very end when she becomes your classic damsel in distress. Despite that disappointment, the rest is still true and I noticed it several times during the movie.

One of my favourite moments in the film is when the villain goes after McClane and pretends to be a hostage who escaped. I love their exchange with each other and the way Gruber later uses our hero’s bare feet against him. It’s a tiny detail but it’s one that worked really well for me. Another favourite part of the movie is the way in which a relationship between McClane and Powell develops over the radio, they build such a regard for one another despite having never laid eyes on each other and the whole way through the movie, it feels real. These moments and several others really come together with the effects and ridiculous plot to provide solid and lasting entertainment that holds up to many re-watches. And now I can’t wait to see Die Hard 2 (I think I also have not seen this before, I am certain only that I’ve seen the 4th one).

No Country For Old Men

I think my conclusion after watching this movie is that Coen Brothers films are just not for me, I am the antithesis of their audience. I recognise that it’s a movie that is brilliantly written, directed and acted. However, the characters are utterly unlikeable, unsympathetic, irredeemable and I got nothing out of the resolution of the story. Things happened but none of the consequences made sense to me, none of the outcomes were really satisfying. I just hated watching it. I don’t quite want the hours of my life back – I’m glad I watched it. I’m glad because I can clearly recognise its brilliance while also being very clear that I hated it, because of what I look for in movies.

You’d like this if you like Coen Brothers films in general (Burn After Reading, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, The Big Lebowski). I may still give those latter two a chance, I’ve heard they’re amazing films (hopefully with characters I don’t hate utterly). I did enjoy The Hudsucker Proxy,  but it’s a notable exception because the central characters are actually likeable and sympathetic. This is the one film I watched this year that I really didn’t enjoy but I’ve included it because of the complexities of not liking a film that is clearly so well made and acted.

Frozen

I finally got to watch this after I finished exams, it was one of those movies that my partners weren’t interested in watching so it languished on my ‘to watch list’ for ages. I am not certain it lived up to the hype for me, but there were a bunch of things as a feminist cultural theorist that I appreciated. I appreciated that the prince wasn’t the hero. I loved that it was about sisters overcoming adversity together. I love that there was an actual consent exchange for a kiss. I wasn’t a fan of the repression of self storyline reinforced by the well meaning parents. I wasn’t a fan of the classist way Anna is portrayed as being lonely and isolated in the castle but doesn’t seem to interact or make friends with any of the people working there.

I also still mourn that the movie wasn’t made true to The Snow Queen fairytale, which was about a girl who goes off to save her brother  Kai from an evil queen. I still feel that the reason they changed it was because Disney doesn’t feel a girl can go and save a boy as the main plot line (this is a gut feeling and not something I’ve researched  specifically, I’m fairly certain I could come up with some pretty compelling evidence to support my theory if necessary though). The music was lovely as were the songs – but they didn’t really win me over the way other songs in other Disney musicals have done previously. Overall this was satisfying, warm, and fluffy in the way I love my musicals, but I’m not sure whether it makes my list of ‘happy making, feel better, world as a better place’ movie list (I need a better name for it).

Maleficent

I loved this movie, I’m a long time fan of Angelina Jolie, and I also love that we got a film about a Disney villain – one of the most iconic villains at that – from *her* point of view. That said, I think that it was a movie with a lot of potential that never became fully realised. Kind of so close and yet so far in the end. I find myself in agreement with the critic consensus on Rotten Tomatoes about the film; Jolie does a lot with very little, and the film is very pretty, but it’s not enough.

The writing and depth of the storytelling by the film is lacking, the plot never really comes together for me, and yet I want it to so very badly when I watch it. However, if we dig deeper, the movie manages to make some great (and probably accidental) political commentary on the level of class where the human world is rife with injustice and inequality and the realm of The Moors portrays its citizens with equal say and standing. I liked best the way Maleficent spends time with Aurora as her own person, and not simply assuming she is an enemy. The connectedness Maleficent displays with Aurora and the completely ineffective fairies was really unexpected for me in the movie and I appreciated Maleficent’s connectedness and was saddened by how much the fairies were reduced to caricatures. I think this story arc had incredible potential and could have been utilised more thoroughly for an overall better movie (especially if the fairies had been fully realised as they were in the Disney movie).

I will draw your attention to this brilliant essay on Maleficent as an anarchist feminist fairytale by my friend Sky Croeser because through her analysis I appreciated the film much more. I couldn’t by myself put my finger on exactly why I loved the movie and yet was dissatisfied with it, but this analysis helped me to further contextualise what I wanted out of the movie and where it could be found. Hollywood may not have intended such, but it’s there anyway. Hopefully the essay also brings you greater enjoyment of a film that overall falls short, and yet is still special. In this present day, it’s something to have a movie with a named female  protagonist, an iconic villain – even if it’s not all we hoped such a movie would be.

Lucy

This film… I am not quite sure where to start. I wanted to like it much more than I did, I was very dissatisfied with it. Here we have a sci-fi action movie with a titular female protagonist, Lucy. And yet despite these elements which should produce a movie I’m head-over-heels for, the portrayal of Lucy’s character is lacking and I never really feel like she gets to be awesome in her own right – there’s a massive ‘but’ attached to the awesome. I’m thinking in terms of Joanna Russ here, ‘She was awesome, but it wasn’t her, it was the drugs inside her’, ‘She was awesome, but look what she did with it’ and so on.

Russ - How to Suppress Women graphic

I’m not a audience member who requires realistic science in my sci-fi – it’s nice but I’ve got a well developed suspension of disbelief. However I think Lucy goes well beyond any kind of line for believability which I think lets the film down significantly. While Scarlett Johansson is fantastic as Lucy and elevates the movie overall, it’s still frustrating to see the hints of what could have been an exceptional movie never realised. I will spend a moment to say that Morgan Freeman is wasted in this film, seemingly ‘The Intelligent Guy’ in an overall unintelligent movie, but also it’s clear he’s phoning it in. The story is way too ridiculous and the central character’s agency is entirely gutted. The action is fantastic, and so is Johansson, but otherwise this just fell flat for me.

Jabbed

There’s no IMDB listing for this documentary, but if you scroll down on this link you’ll see the synopsis and list of awards – they’re impressive.

This documentary comes from Sonya Pemberton, an Emmy award-winning Australian documentary filmmaker and looks at the fears surrounding vaccination, the reality of risks (though rare) as a result of vaccination, and the consequences on an individual and public health population basis for not vaccinating. What I loved about this documentary is that it works hard to convey the fears parents have over vaccination without demonising them. The focus is on understanding, and providing solid science behind vaccination, including instances where a serious reaction to vaccination has been recorded.

The film sees the fact that parents are afraid, and want to do the best for their child(ren) as being the start of a conversation rather than the end of it. I think that it’s brilliantly put together, and the information is well presented without ever being condescending. Take a look at the trailer and I think you’ll be impressed at the way this documentary is presented – it was a very interesting film to watch and one that’s useful for me to have seen as a midwife-in-training.

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Another documentary, this is very different from Jabbed in that there’s no public health message, instead it’s insight into a hidden world, and a hidden, though iconic man. The buying of my own clothing is such a far removed experience from the realm of fashion designers such as Valentino so it really was interesting to get a glimpse into that world and what it involves, and what it means to the creators. I feel like the audience did get a unique view behind the scenes of seemingly glamourous fashion design world, and into Valentino himself. And yet, it’s also clear that he’s still a very private man and that much remains hidden.

I think my favourite part was watching the friendship between Valentino and his long time business partner and friend Giancarlo Giametti, it’s clear they have such a depth to their relationship and it’s incredibly meaningful, and Giancarlo is much more open about that than Valentino is. I really enjoyed seeing this element being one given importance in the documentary – it’s not just about the dresses.  I enjoyed this film when I wanted something easy watching that I didn’t have to work at, without heavy content and it was perfectly suited to that. I will say that, although interesting, it paled compared to my experience seeing the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition in Melbourne recently. The exhibition was truly beyond anything I could have expected and utterly mindblowing, while Valentino in comparison, was merely enjoyable and satisfying.

The Emperor’s New Groove

This movie is one I keep coming back to, it’s a favourite of mine to rewatch when I need something fluffy, entertaining and funny to watch. I love the humour, I love the happy ending, I love the absurdity. I also tend to really enjoy films where one character learns about the meaning of friendship, and this definitely qualifies. I adore Izma as the villain and Kronk as her unlikely side kick who’s really not evil at all. The movie is simply a fun romp about two unlikely people becoming friends – one’s the selfish, vain and arrogant emperor, the other the head of a small village, humble and kind. I like that Kuzco isn’t set up to be evil – just misguided and subsequently redeemable. I love the way that unfolds between Kuzco and Pacha. This movie is especially precious to me as I often find comedy a difficult thing to appreciate, and this film never fails to make me laugh.

Coffee and Cigarettes

I just don’t know what to make of this film. I love the way it’s a series of small vignettes, but I also know it’s meant to be a comedy and I just don’t find it funny. I did like and enjoy the film despite not finding it funny, although at some points the cringe of awkwardness was intense! Actually I think that’s a useful way of summarising this movie as a whole, an exploration of awkwardness between the audience and the characters,  and the characters with each other. It’s a little unrelenting, but as an exploration it’s pretty thorough in covering all the ways awkwardness could possibly surface using these scenarios involving coffee and cigarettes.

My personal favourite segment is Cousins featuring Cate Blanchett – I think this exchange of awkwardness is the most realistic to me, and I love the way Blanchett plays both roles to perfection. There are a number of other famous faces who contribute to this film including Bill Murray, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop amongst others – all of whom contribute something unique and special to the film. This is not a film that will ever go down in my favourites list, but I am glad I saw it.

Cinderella (1997)

I watched this film upon recommendation of a friend that it was charming and satisfying particularly on the level of being a musical and satisfyingly non-white. She was right – it was a gorgeous movie, charming and sweet, with costumes and sets that were utterly gorgeous! While the cast is broadly non-white, race itself has no emphasis  and I think this stands the movie in good stead. It doesn’t make race invisible – it just makes the expression of less overtly white casting unexceptional – as it should be. Performances from the likes of Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Brandy Norwood were a delight to watch, and sincere without simply replicating the original 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

That it is a remake of the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella alone makes it particularly satisfying to see so much diversity. And really, I expect it’s a 50/50 mix of people who are white and non-white. That’s not really diversity, it’s a depiction of real life in a much more realistic fashion instead of 2-3 white people for every person of colour. For anyone who’s ever watched and enjoyed Ever After, this movie is equally lovely, fluffy and satisfying as a Cinderella story and I recommend watching it at any point you need a unicorn chaser.

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