Archive for Movie Reviews

Musing on Mad Men, movies, & being a real adult

I’m studying for an exam that’ll take place on Thursday (May 15), so my recap for this week’s episode of Mad Men, “The Runaways,” will be bundled into the next week’s piece. But I wanted to write a listicle of sorts, punctuated with exclamation points! Because this week’s episode deserves some !!!.

– Betty Draper is more of a teenager than her daughter! (Also, doesn’t want to be a Stepford wife for actual.)

– A threesome is pretty much never the answer, Megan!

– “It’s a nose job, not an abortion!”

– Holy 2001: A Space Odyssey references!

– A nipple in a box! (!!!)

– “This is the Final Solution.” What you did there, I see it, Stan.

– Did pregnant Stephanie’s craving for steak remind anyone else of Rosemary’s Baby? At least Megan cooked her a medium-well done hunk of meat instead of searing a rare one.

– “I have a stomachache all the time.” 🙁

– Phillip Morris is back in the picture!

– “Scout’s Honor” actually makes me feel kind of sorry for Lou!

Aside from Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Revenge, and Hannibal, I’ve also started tentatively watching Don’t Trust the B*%&$ in Apt 23. So far, fun and funny. Also, I haven’t been writing about them, but I’ve seen quite a few movies in the last few weeks. More lists because it’s easy:

Frozen: cute, but not mind-blowing. I adored The Princess and the Frog, so it isn’t just being an Old that left me with so-so feelings on Frozen. The characters are pretty static and the music felt a little jumbled. (I know, I know: blasphemy.)

Noah: I need a re-watch. This shit was bizarre. I’m agnostic, I don’t know the Bible at all, and I saw it with two (largely) nonpracticing Mennonites, a nonpracticing Quaker, and a nonpracticing Catholic. Nobody was entirely sure what to do with it. Mostly: a waste of a brilliant cast on poor performances, but what a pretty movie. I expected more from Aronofsky, but I have a feeling it’ll grow on me.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: It’s a downright angry NSA allegory, and the graphics are gorgeous. Totally enjoyable and definitely better than the first.

Grand Budapest Hotel: gorgeously curated, meticulously crafted, hilariously acted. I’m a sucker for Wes Anderson’s particular breed of quirk and this one is grotesque and odd (in that Eastern European way) on top of the usual idiosyncrasies. A winning combination.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Mehh. It has some serious pacing issues, and I don’t think Andrew Garfield is as funny as he thinks he is. I’m not familiar with the books, but I know the basic mythology, and some of the changes they’re making aren’t sensible. Dane DeHaan is great, and the sound design and graphics are magnificent.

Lastly, HBO is airing The Heat right now and I thought it’d be kind of terrible, but my thoughts are as follows: Melissa McCarthy is a goddamn genius.

Send me good vibrations on Thursday, okay? I’ll need them.

I’ve redecorated. Help warm my (metaphorical) house!

Big things are afoot. In the last few months I’ve decided firmly to take my own happiness, my few belongings, my space (both physical and online), and my work, and shape it into something that makes me feel proud and comfortable.

Needless to say, I’m a little extra antisocial and more depleted than usual. On top of moving and assembling actual furniture, figuring placement of decorations and lights, and deciding (yet again) to renew the lease with my less-than-ideal landlady, I’m also studying for a huge exam that’ll help me obtain a three-letter title (and hopefully more mobility and more money). Finally, I’m revamping this place (which has a much better landlord). The redecoration process has been lengthy and unexciting – but it is nearly complete.

Just in time for the final season of Mad Men, I’ve archived all of my recaps of seasons 5 and 6 (and holy shit, do you guys remember just how trippy season 5 was?). Likewise, all my recaps of The Walking Dead are up, starting from a blog after the series premiere and continuing all the way through to this Sunday’s episode. Finally, use the navigation up top to browse through old movie reviews; they’re loosely categorized for search purposes. I only put up the ones I want to show you. It’s kind of like rearranging my downstairs bookshelf so that the pretty hardcovers, the “sophisticated” Salinger, Oates, and Chabon are on display. The Charlaine Harris and Stephen King books reside upstairs (and are dogeared because I love them).

I’m no graphic designer, but in preparation for Mad Men I’ve pasted up some temporary wallpaper that’ll make your eyes twitch (like so many of the color combos of the 1960s did). I also made my hair purple, because you know what? I feel purple.

Settling is for suckers.

Settling is for suckers.

So come in, please, and make yourself comfortable. Make yourself a martini. Do take a tour. It ain’t much, but it’s home. For now.

Villains, Victims, Venerable Matriarchs: Mamas in Horror

This was originally posted on my Tumblr 10 months ago, Jan 25th, 2013. Mama has been airing on HBO recently, and when it’s playing, I can’t seem to look away even though it continues to irk me. In the absence of my regular recap (next week will be a double-header), have this instead!

"A mother's love is forever." Harrumph.

“A mother’s love is forever.” Harrumph.

Mama, the newest film presented by Guillermo del Toro, took the box office by storm last weekend, probably partly as a result of lead actress Jessica Chastain’s brilliant turn in Zero Dark Thirty. Del Toro’s previous horror-oriented producer credits include The OrphanageSplice, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – interestingly, all centered around variations on the family and the missing or “false” mother. Mama falls into line with the rest, presenting us with two orphaned little girls haunted and fiercely protected by an evil matriarch even as a benevolent (though flawed) mother figure strives to safeguard them.

Perhaps del Toro has a few mommy issues he’d like to work through? If so, he’s not alone; although the horror genre has been both criticized and praised for its ability to subvert societal mores, sometimes it stagnates in one characterization or another. Often enough, horror film flounders around aimlessly, unsure what to do with portrayals of women. Seeing as how, even in 2013, society at large seems to be conflicted about the role of woman and matriarch, this is wholly unsurprising.

Although I enjoyed it, Mama is not without flaws. It punctuates clunky dialogue (“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape, doomed to repeat itself” intones an employee at the Clifton Forge, Virginia Hall of Records to a psychiatric doctor – really?) with some genuine, goosebump-inducing scares. We may see a bit too much monster; there is a delicate balance, and though the ghost is well done, the explicitness takes away some of the creepy mystique. Truly spooky imagery (the girls’ animalistic behavior, a sobbing infant moments before its impending death) brings it up to par. Both Annabel (Chastain), a “punk” rocker inspired by Alice Glass, and “Mama,” also known as Mad Edith Brennan, are flawed figures, selfish/selfless women saddled with the daunting task of motherhood.

Mama pitted against mama.

Mama pitted against mama.

In her first scene, Annabel crows happily about a negative pregnancy test – neither she nor her boyfriend Luke (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) wants a baby. But when after five years of searching, Luke’s nieces are located, starved and wild, in the dark center of the George Washington National Forest, Annabel reluctantly agrees to take on the role of stepmother. When one of the girls calls her “Mama,” Annabel’s strained expression gives away her discomfort: “Don’t call me that, I’m not your mother,” she exhales before screwing on a smile. When little Lilly, who’s crawled out the window into the cold Virginia night, shows Annabel with a glance how she came to be outside, Annabel mutters a totally convincing oath: “Seriously? You’ve got to be shitting me.” She’s not the ideal mom, but she’s a helluva lot better than the other choice.

The titular Mama, also known as the ghost of Edith Brennan, is a woman who escaped from “a hospital for sad people” in the late 1800s after stealing her baby. In one of the movie’s most disturbing scenes, Annabel experiences Edith’s fate in a dream. The mad woman breaks free from her straightjacket, takes her child, stabs a nun repeatedly, and runs into the woods. When she finds herself on a cliff with a line of good old Virginia gentlemen closing in on her, she leaps, babe in arms, hundreds of feet into a lake. Anything to “save” the child. When little Victoria and Lilly (along with their late father, a madman in his own right) stumble upon Edith’s ghost, it becomes clear Edith will, as ever, do anything to protect the child. Little does she know, she has a venerable enemy in Annabel. Read more

Forces of Nature: Experiencing Cuaron’s GRAVITY

On Monday, I went to see Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity by myself. Considering how infrequently I’ve visited theaters since I’m no longer getting paid to do so, it should feel both cathartic and exciting every time. This is even my favorite time of year to see theater movies – the trailers are for upcoming Oscar films (indeed: The Counselor, Captain Phillips, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and The Monuments Men aired prior to the feature – along with some Keanu Reeves incoherence called 47 Ronin, which will probably be a terrible masterpiece) or the year’s horror fare. Mostly, I was just anxious. Gravity was bound to be a tense, emotionally vivid experience for somebody claustrophobic like me, who is in complete awe and terror of space, who as she gets older realizes (and rebels against – hello skydiving) her own impending mortality.

Bullock in Cuaron's Gravity

Sandra Bullock in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (Courtesy Badassdigest.com)

As it turns out, alone may have been the best way to see Gravity. Scott Foundas wrote a piece over at Variety that claims the movie, which draws inspiration from art films of the 1920s and ’30s, might be considered a religious experience. That’s taking it a little too far, if you ask me…and after the Aurora shootings, I was known to call the theater my sanctuary, my temple. When you really think about it, though, isn’t that what you’re doing, going into a massive, darkened space to view flickering pictures by yourself? You’re deliberately removing yourself from one world and entering another; you’re atoning for your “sins” through voyeurism, or you’re taking comfort in others’ plight (for me, anyway, there’s always an element of schadenfreude). You’re worshiping larger-than-life actors, brilliantly imagined other worlds, technology that continues to develop a century after the first picture moved.

Gravity begins with an off-key orchestral forte that builds in volume until you’re not sure your ears can take it, then snaps off, leaving you alone in the dark and relative silence. (I was reminded of the original THX sound – remember that?) For an hour and thirty minutes, you’re trapped in space with Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), a medical doctor who is for some reason working for NASA, and Matt Kowalski, a seasoned vet who’s looking to break the record for longest space walk. The characters are minimally developed, their arcs relatively simple and even predictable. When disaster strikes (at 90 minute intervals in film-time, hooray for suspense!), Stone and Kowalski perform exactly as you’d expect. Read more

Movie Review: THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Recently, the local independent theater, which is nestled in the back of a nondescript building on Court Square, announced that it would finally be partnering with a (less) local theater chain to show independent films. I literally bounced up and down with joy. The only other option here is monster behemoth Regal, and I feel a little slimy giving my dollars to them every time. Monopoly, grumble, grumble.

It was through this local partnership that I saw Much Ado About Nothing; Fruitvale Station came and went in a blink, and I didn’t get a chance to see it. Last night, I sat with the beau in a completely empty theater (I’m crossing my fingers this partnership proves fruitful enough to continue) to watch The Way Way Back. 

The Way Way Back (2013) Poster

The Way Way Back is a little release with a fantastic cast. It’s a kind of mash-up of all the nerd-comes-into-his-own-over-one-difficult-summer movies; it’s got a dash of The Sandlot, a pinch of Adventureland, a bit of Now and Then, just a drop of Charlie Bartlett, and a swirl of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. Trent, a blustering philanderer played with grating arrogance by Steve Carell, takes his new(ish) girlfriend Pam and her son Duncan on a summer trip to his generically east coast beach house (as it turns out, the movie was filmed in Marshfield, Massachusetts). Poor Duncan is just about the nerdiest nerd who ever nerded, and Trent gets a thrill out of putting him down.

Upon arrival, the “family” encounters Betty, a drunken cliche in grotesquely tight white jeans and a drooping bikini top. Luckily, the filmmakers scored none other than the totally wonderful Allison Janney to inhabit Betty – and in Janney’s hands she’s goofily pleasant with a subtle underscore of sympathy. Betty’s daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) is discontent with Betty’s divorce, and to paraphrase Heathers, she doesn’t really like her friends very much. Rounding out the neighborhood is Trent’s daughter Steph, a lithe blonde with a like, totally hot boyfriend who resents Duncan’s presence (“Keep your distance, and just don’t die,” she warns him. “I don’t need that shit hanging over my head”). So begins the miserable summer of Duncan’s fourteenth year. Read more