John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
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A winning display of fine character acting and sentimentality, and it seemed a good condensation of a 1000 page book into 2 hours (although I have not read the book and so cannot say for sure). I am sure the story seems far weightier in the book, but here it is basically an interesting enough story of a boy who is orphaned, meets some eccentric characters, and grows up. As is usual with Dickens, the almost boringly wholesome protagonist is more than made up for by the large cast of lovable oddballs who surround him. Especially good here are the perpetually-poor but always-optimistic Mr. Micawber (played hilariously by none other than W.C. Fields) and the simple-minded yet extraordinarily cheerful Mr. Dick, who may be one of the funniest characters I have ever seen in a movie. My only real complaints are that the movie skims along almost too fast, and the ending in particular seems rushed. Someday when I am not cramming for the GRE I will have to go back and absorb the entire 1000 page novel. For now, however, this movie version is a more than sufficient Cliff's Notes on one of the great works of English literature.
This is a cheesy, sentimental, rather obviously manipulative movie, but it works. I could see a lot of it coming a mile away, and yet I still enjoyed it anyway, mostly because Bill Murray is just so darn good. This is a fairly funny, sweet little film that most people would rather enjoy.
The film follows Vincent (Murray), a grumpy, hard-drinking old recluse who starts looking after his 12-year-old neighbor (Jaeden Lieberher) after school when the boy's single mother (Melissa McCarthy) can't be home. At first, obviously, Vincent seems like the worst possible babysitter, taking the kid to bars and the racetrack, but eventually the kid learns the deeper truths of Vincent's life.
None of this is revolutionary, and the manipulative heart-string pulling becomes especially obvious towards the end of the film. Nevertheless, I would say the film does a good job of earning its sentimentality along the way, largely because of how well Murray makes his character feel real. Lieberher is quite excellent for such a young actor, and McCarthy does fine in a totally straight role. Naomi Watts also turns up as a Russian prostitute, whom you would think would be played for the cheapest sort of laughs, but isn't really. This role seems to be halfway between the earlier broad comedy roles Murray became known for (in films like Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Stripes) and the more melancholy, quirky roles he's taken ever since he met Wes Anderson (virtually all of Anderson's movies, Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers). It's a comedic, straightforward role, but Murray brings enough of that sadness to make it not feel one-note or fake. Overall, I wouldn't say this is Murray's best movie by any stretch, but it's well worth checking out for anyone who's enjoyed his work before.
This is the third film I've seen by Pedro Almodovar, and maybe the first to convince me that perhaps he really is a genius. This is one of those brilliant screenplays that comes along every once in a while that seems truly original and unique, while still telling a very moving and human story. This is one of the only foreign films to ever win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and it very well deserved it.
The film follows four characters: two women who both end up in comas, and the two men who attend to them. Alicia (Leonor Watling), a ballet dancer, has been in a coma for four years following a car accident. Benigno (Javier Camara), a gentle but awkward and odd male nurse, has been faithfully taking care of her for years. Lydia (Rosario Flores)is a bold bullfighter who is trampled by a bull and ends up in a coma; Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is her boyfriend who doesn't really know what to do now. As the two women lie comatose, the two men start a tentative sort of friendship.
I don't want to spoil the story at all, but suffice it to say that it takes a number of surprising turns. It also deals with extremely difficult, complicated moral questions with an incredibly fine sense of nuance and balance. It would have been easy to totally have this movie go the wrong way, but Almodovar pulls it off and makes it look easy. There are a couple of fun flights of fancy here (including a fictitious silent film within the film), but for the most part the film feels very grounded and believable, even as shocking things happen. This is a movie I would recommend very highly to just about anyone.
Sigh. Sigh. At this point, over 50 years into his singular career, Jean-Luc Godard remains absolutely and defiantly himself. If nothing else, he's at least absolute proof that the auteur theory of filmmaking, which ascribes the meaning of a film primarily to its director, is sometimes correct. Nobody other than Godard could or would have made this movie. On the other hand, at this point, I honestly wonder if he's not just jerking us around and seeing what he can get away with before critics will call him on his sometimes pretentious nonsense.
This movie, to the extent that it can be compared to anything, plays like a looser, digital-video sequel to 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, Godard's 1967 essay-film on then-contemporary urban alienation and consumerism. That film, however, actually seems much more cohesive than this one. There's no real attempt at anything like a central idea or theme here, let alone a story. There are two characters who do seem to recur throughout much of the movie, but we mostly only see them from the waist down (and they're naked most of the time). There's also a dog that we spend a lot of time looking at. And some trees and water.
At times, I did actually feel in sync with what Godard was doing. For example, the fuzzy, discolored digital footage of trees and so on seemed like a smart reflection on the distance between things as they are and our perceptions of them in a fragmented, media-driven world. By shooting deliberately poor-quality video of nature, Godard heightens our awareness that what we are seeing is an image, and that we have no access to the real thing. I get that, and appreciate it. Too much of the rest of the film, though, especially such things as a long discussion of "Hitler's second victory" over the contemporary world and a character repeatedly asking, "Is it possible to form a concept about Africa?" seem like hoary post-structuralist ramblings that should have been left on the cutting-room floor in the 1970s at best, or just utter nonsense at worst. Also, I watched the film in 2-D, but it was originally released in theaters in 3-D; I can only imagine what a nightmare it would be to watch this movie in 3-D. I think I would have thrown up.
Godard will never sell out, and he will never be anything other than himself. As long as he lives, he will be experimenting and trying new things and trying to talk about the things that concern him. That's all very good. But that doesn't mean we have to pretend that every single experiment he makes is actually a success, or that the whole "turning off the music suddenly" trick he has been pulling since the 1960s is still novel or interesting. Some of what he does here works, but if we're being honest, a great deal of it doesn't.
Between this film and It Follows, it seems there is a bit of a renaissance going on for metaphorical independent horror films. This is one creepy, brilliantly-made movie. Like It Follows, it's the work of a relatively young writer-director, in this case an Australian filmmaker named Jennifer Kent. She brings extraordinarily assured craftsmanship and storytelling to this film, resulting in a film that's both scary and intellectually astute.
The film follows a single mother (Essie Davis) who has been raising her son (Noah Wiseman) on her own for seven years since her husband died in a car crash on the way to the hospital when she was giving birth. She already seems rather depressed when the film starts, and her son's endless energy, anxiety, and neediness begin to take a heavy psychic toll on her. Things get decidedly worse when a creepy pop-up children's book about a monster named "The Babadook" inexplicably appears in their house, telling a story about fear and death.
I don't want to spoil too much, but let's say that the movie seems to be about both an actual, physical monster, and the brutal psychological burden of being a single parent, especially to a troubled child. The film definitely reassures me that I'm making the right decision to never have kids.
The film's performances are very powerful and believable. The young Noah Wiseman's performance as the son is especially remarkable, as it lets us see both how this kid is basically well-meaning and how he could easily drive his poor mother insane. The film's direction, muted color palette, and increasingly gloomy lighting all contribute to an atmosphere of oppressive horror. If more horror movies were as smart, meaningful, and tasteful as this one, I would watch a lot more of them.