We are now 19 days into the new year, and I have seen a movie every single day. Except the 4th. And the 14th. And today. But either way, I’ve seen 16 movies, 2 animated short films, and a video game so far this year, and I have at least a little bit to say about all of them, so here they are:
Jan 13: Blockers (Crave)
It’s a dumb comedy. That being said, it’s a very funny dumb comedy, something I very rarely get to say. The characters are fun, the actors all have chemistry, but most importantly, most of the jokes land. All a dumb comedy has to do is make me laugh once; it’s so easy. Once I get that first laugh out of the way, I’m so much more willing to laugh at the dumber jokes. In this case, I laughed in one of the first scenes: the three main teen girls are having lunch at their high school cafeteria, and the scene starts abruptly with one declaring, “I’m having sex.” to which her friend responds, “Great! I’m having soup.” And that’s that. The joke that made it easier for me to like the rest of the movie. And I stand by that joke being good, still, for some reason.
Jan 13: Up In The Air (Amazon Prime Video)
It seems as though That’s My Boy, Death Note, and Downsizing were getting lonely sitting at the bottom of my “worst movies of all time” list. Up In The Air is everything I could ever hate about a movie, so I’m going to arbitrarily pick the acting as my starting point.
I’d like to apologise to my father, who has always hated George Clooney, but has never been able to convince me of his terribleness. I’m genuinely sorry that I never saw just how insufferable every single movement he makes is. To be fair, he’s given one of the most insufferable scripts ever written, so I can’t blame it all on him.
Anna Kendrick is an actor I’ve always hated and never had a sound reason why; there was always something about her face that pissed me off. I’ve finally been given a genuine reason to hate her. I’ve already used the word insufferable twice, but I think her performance deserves a third mention. Insufferable.
Also, stop giving Jason Bateman roles in which he is a one-dimensional authority figure. He’s the quintessential straight man as we’ve seen in Arrested Development and every other comedy he’s ever done. He’s also a perfect vulnerable authority in Ozark, because his character has so much depth and nuance. But if you make him a big bad boss man, he just comes off as silly and he loses all his acting ability. Stop it.
I guess now we can move on to the script. Imagine if Aaron Sorkin started writing a movie, but before he could put a single finger on a keyboard, he was smashed repeatedly in the head with a baseball bat and replaced by an escaped mental patient who saw the basic premise and tried to emulate Sorkin’s style. The result is Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air, a movie about a fast-talking asshole with zero charm whatsoever, making Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg look like John Mayer by comparison (he’s charming, right?). Jason Reitman introduces us to a conflict at the traditional time in the movie, the end of the first act. George Clooney loves the fact that he has to travel constantly, and Anna Kendrick is threatening to make him and his travelling obsolete. The problem is, the conflict is dropped almost immediately, making the movie basically just a bunch of boring, blandly shot scenes stitched together for no real reason and without direction. Not only is the conflict dropped, but Anna Kendrick’s character disappears for about 40 minutes to do god-knows-what while Clooney shows up to his sister’s wedding and pretends to get character development but is actually just showing up places because the script tells him to. Up until the hour and twenty minute mark of this hour and forty minute movie, we’ve been watching this boring asshole bumble around doing fuck-all but somehow charm Vera Farmiga. As soon as we’re finally introduced to an actual conflict, Clooney gives up (his character, not him personally. He gave up long before this point) and the movie ends with him wallowing in his sadness as if he’d never experienced any kind of emotion until now. Oh, and they shoehorn Anna Kendrick back in to show that she moved on but also didn’t actually develop as a character.
So, what’s the goal here? A traditional movie would be structured in such a way that we see Clooney at his highest point in the beginning, then have him reach a low that would eventually end up making him learn something and/or make him a more well-rounded person. What we have here is a man who goes nearly the entire movie remaining at his peak, finally drops off, then… it just ends? Why? We don’t see him change in any substantial way. Sure, he may have started the movie thinking he wanted to live the bachelor life forever, and ends up wanting something more with Vera Farmiga. But is that really character development? It seems to me like this asshole just finds out that women are people too, and not just things you bang at a hotel and never call. I wouldn’t call that character development, I’d call it a character receiving and internalizing new information (not to be confused with learning, even though that’s the definition of learning. There’s a difference).
I mentioned it briefly already, but how can a movie be so bland, so substanceless, so… nothing to look at? Every conversation is shot-reverse shot, and every scene looks like the film equivalent of a public washroom, so clean looking but you know there’s shit smeared between the cracks in the tile. There’s never even an attempt at putting together an interesting shot other than the one that’s clearly only put there so that they can make it into a poster; you know the one I’m talking about. Every movie is going to have plenty of scenes that are predominantly shot-reverse shot; it’s the easiest way to present a conversation. The difference is, good filmmakers know that you need to spice up a scene in some other way. For Aaron Sorkin movies (and shows), it’s the fact that you have to concentrate intently in order to follow what the heck everyone is talking about. Tarantino tends to avoid shot-reverse shot, because he understands how to pack every shot with everything he wants the audience to know without the need to focus solely on shoulders and faces. When you have the camera cut consistently and mechanically between the two speakers with no variance whatsoever and no interesting, well written dialogue to back it up, you make me want to curl up and go to sleep. I’m sure I would have fallen asleep while watching this dumpster fire but my fury kept me from drifting off.
I’d much rather just watch reruns of Mayday, because even though those are predictable, I’d prefer to watch people panicking and screaming on a plane than watch George Clooney and Anna Kendrick do absolutely nothing for nearly two hours. I want to start a petition to get every single award this movie was nominated for rescinded. Ugh, that’s too much work, plus I have to do that for Green Book first. Dear god, don’t get me started on Green Book.
Jan 15: The Walking Dead: The Final Season: Episode 3 (Steam)
I’m gonna be yelling into the void with this one because I know nobody who reads this has played this game, and it isn’t technically a movie, but I felt the need to add it in anyway. The Walking Dead: A Telltale Series is a video game in some ways, and a TV show in more. It’s effectively a TV show where you get to choose much of what the player character says, giving you agency in how the story plays out. Think Black Mirror: Bandersnatch but less gimmicky, more fleshed out, and better written for the most part. The first season came out in 2012, and was hailed as a masterpiece; deservedly so. The second season was fantastic as well, a worthy successor that lived up to the highest of expectations. Then the third season came out, and I’d rather not talk about it because it’s awful, and if you wanna hear me gripe more, read my earlier post about how (not) to kill a character.
But somehow, through the fire and the flames, season 4 is amazing. Telltale, the company that developed the first three seasons and plenty of other popular titles, went bankrupt after the second episode of season 4, and I was sure that all was lost. I was sure that we’d never get to see what happens to Clementine and AJ in the end. Luckily, passion brought people together, and Skybound entertainment brought a good portion of the original team back to finish off the last couple episodes. This massive speedbump did seemingly nothing to the quality, as Episode 3 is just as well written and heart wrenching as the previous two. The largely new cast of characters that were introduced in the first episode continue to get more interesting, and I get more and more invested in them every scene.
Unfortunately, the sadistic writers know how good they are, and are actively using it against me. As the credits rolled on this episode, all I could feel was genuine rage. The depraved things that were happening to Clementine’s friends, my friends, were absolutely unforgivable. I’m angry, but not angry in nearly the same way as I was upon finishing season 3. This time, my anger comes from love. I wouldn’t feel this strongly if I didn’t care deeply for these characters, and if I didn’t really feel like I was playing the game the way I wanted to play. And have I mentioned how beautiful the game looks now? It’s one of the most unique and gorgeous art styles I’ve ever seen, and I feel like nobody is giving it the praise it deserves. Also, there’s a bittersweet scene in this episode that I won’t spoil for you (Sam), but it came close to jerking a tear outta me, I’ll admit.
*Fun fact! The girl who plays the secretly gay character in Blockers (the one who says “Great! I’m having soup”) also plays the (less) secretly gay character in season 4 of The Walking Dead! Go Gideon Adlon!*
Jan 16: Minority Report (Amazon Prime Video)
Minority Report is a bunch of silly early 2000s fun. It’s an action movie with some surprisingly decent setpieces, especially considering the dated CGI visuals that I would usually hate. The twists were unexpected, the world building was detailed and rich, and Peter Stormare is in it, what’s not to like? On top of that, Colin Farrell gives a performance that kept me guessing the entire time. Guessing as to whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy? Nah, I kept trying to figure out what accent he was trying to do! For the sake of moviegoers everywhere, please, stop giving Colin Farrell American roles! The dude is an amazing actor, he’s proven that with In Bruges and arguably The Lobster, but he ends up putting all his acting effort into attempting a terrible accent. But if you’re not gonna be heavily distracted by that like I was, it’s hard not to enjoy this one.
Jan 17: Under the Silver Lake (random streaming site)
Before internet theories: Think of this as a cross between Inherent Vice and Sorry To Bother You. I have no clue whether or not I like Inherent Vice or not despite having seen it twice, and I hate Sorry To Bother You. And yet I find myself having very much enjoyed Under the Silver Lake. Did I understand what the hell happened? Not yet, no, that’s why I’ve split this review into two parts. I just love the headspace the movie puts you in; it brought me back to my favourite movie as a kid, National Treasure 2. Every scene, my brain spent as much time scanning backgrounds for clues and secrets as it did concentrating on the wacky dialogue. Andrew Garfield is great, as is the rest of the supporting cast. I honestly couldn’t tell you where this succeeds where the others failed, there’s just a charm to it that I felt strangely attracted by.
After internet theories: After reading hundreds of posts and comments on Reddit regarding the movie, I’ve found that nobody has a damn clue what the hell happened for sure. Some mysteries have been solved, like a bunch of strange cyphers, and others will likely stay unsolved. Does that take away from my enjoyment? Nah, I still had a ton of fun watching it, and that’s all that really matters.
Jan 18: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (Amazon Prime Video)
Editing is one of those aspects of film that’s hard to notice unless it’s really great or really awful. You can find movies like Suicide Squad that feel like they were edited by a manic 12 year old, then you find movies like this, which use editing in such a clever and interesting way, elevating the content of the images that are being glued together. So much is told all at once simply through editing, resulting in the movie having very little wasted time whatsoever. The narrative itself is simple but exceedingly effective, especially with Joaquin Phoenix at the forefront. Has he ever had a bad performance? The dude can play a revenge fueled vigilante killer in the same year he plays an alcoholic paraplegic, and nail both roles. In other news, save for a poorly fleshed out romance plot, Gus Van Sant seems to be back to making great movies again (but let’s pretend I didn’t say that, I wouldn’t wanna jinx it)!
Bonus: Jan 18: One Small Step and Grandpa Walrus (YouTube/Vimeo)
I happened upon a couple animated shorts that have been shortlisted for their category at the Oscars, and thought I might as well talk about them here. One Small Step is an emotionally manipulative but beautifully animated short, with just enough genuine heart to make it worth your time. My biggest issue is just how literal it is; there’s really nothing you could possibly misinterpret here. It’s just a generic message about following your dreams no matter what. Grandpa Walrus is arguably better animated, and far more meaningful (although I’m not quite sure what it all means yet). It looks like a more lovingly done version of Devilman Crybaby, and shares its absurdity as well. Check it out for yourself, you’ll be baffled and moved at the same time.
Once again we’ve had a pretty great week of movies (and shorts and video games), with only one massive turd stinking up the list. Tune in next week to see what popular movie Joey hates this time! And shout out to Jason Reitman, who’s gonna be directing a third Ghostbusters movie! Don’t disappoint your father like you disappointed me this week, Jason!