Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 1-7, 2017

Favorite Movies of the Week

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

I was highly skeptical of this movie before I watched it because I’d never seen a non-narrative film before. How could a movie that was essentially just a bunch of random clips with music possibly hold my attention for nearly an hour and a half? As it turns out, pretty well.

I’m not sure exactly sure how to describe Koyaanisqatsi. There are no actors and there’s no dialogue or narration, it’s just very well edited slow motion or time lapsed footage with a beautiful score. It starts off with videos of desert vistas, waves, and clouds, and then switches to depicting human involvement with nature, for example, a mining truck emitting large black cloud of gas, explosions and bombs, and then goes entirely into showing cities. It isn’t really something that can be described by words, though, it’s an experience that’s uniquely suited to a movie.

Koyaanisqatsi is apparently a Hopi word that means “life out of balance”, but I didn’t get that from the movie. I think it was just showing life from an unusual perspective. I think if an alien or a god made a movie that was a montage of the Earth, this might be close to it. I say an alien or a god because everything that’s depicted in this movie is decidedly not the way a human would perceive things. Most things are either in slow motion or sped up, and they are observed from odd angles. The few things that are filmed at regular speed are unnatural in other ways, like people being too still.

It’s awe inspiring to see everyday things  from such a unique perspective. I highly recommend Koyaanisqatsi, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other movies in the “Qatsi trilogy”, as well as the similar movies that Koyaanisqatsi  cinematographer Ron Fricke has made.

Legend (1985)

I’m a fan of Ridley Scott, Tom Cruise, and fantasy (of course), so I’ve wanted to watch this movie for a really long time. I figured it would be a cheesy fantasy movie of the sort The Princess Bride so lovingly satirized. And if you just look at the plot, it does confirm to those stereotypes – forest dwelling Jack (Tom Cruise) has to save the world (and his friend Princess Lily) from the evil sorcerer Darkness who wants to prevent the sun from ever rising again.

This movie is a lot better than just the plot would indicate, though. Ridley Scott is fantastic at atmosphere when he’s trying to be (think Blade Runner), and Legend is almost overwhelming in its depiction of a dark fairy tale world. Before it succumbs to Darkness’s influence, the forest is absolutely teeming with life, the background always has something interesting going on. When Darkness’s influence kicks in, the forest instantly turns into a scary and frozen wasteland with the same sort of details. I don’t think I’ve seen such an immersive fantasy movie before – even the Lord of the Rings trilogy is more grounded. The closest I can think of is Pan’s Labyrinth, and even that is more relatable since it’s partly based on our world. Everything else is great too, especially the characters. Jack’s party of friends are eerie at times, funny at other times, and contribute to the sense of other-worldliness. I also really liked the ending (I watched the Director’s Cut of the movie, which has a different ending than the American theatrical release), it was sweeter and less cliched than I thought it would be.

Make sure to watch the Director’s Cut if you watch this movie because the theatrical release did not get good reviews. There’s apparently a lot that is different, including the soundtrack, the ending, and the length. Case in point – Roger Ebert  originally gave this movie a bad review, but upon watching the Director’s Cut, he said it was one of his favorite movies.

Other Movies Watched

The Losers (2010)

I’m a sucker for action movies, Chris Evans, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, so I was looking forward to this movie about a special forces team seeking revenge against their superiors for trying to kill them after a sensitive mission. It was exactly what I hoped it would be – dumb fun with some charismatic actors to liven it up. The villain was incredibly over the top, even for a ridiculous action movie, but it is based on a comic book, so I guess that makes sense. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this, but there doesn’t appear to be one planned.

The Jungle Book (2016)

I was pretty skeptical about this live action remake of the Disney animated classic, but I liked it better than I thought I would. It is not a straight up remake, the story is significantly different in places. Mowgli actually has a character growth arc, it’s not just a simple adventure story, and that works better for a live action film. The main actor came really close to annoying me (it’s hard to get child actors right), but ultimately ended up winning me over. Also, Bill Murray makes a great Baloo.

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Pretty much what I expected it to be – a fun and cheesy movie about a masked swashbuckler defending the powerless people of California during the time when it was still part of Mexico. I haven’t seen any other Zorro media before, so I’m not sure if this is typical, but for a movie about a hero of the masses, there was entirely too much focus on the nobility. Antonio Banderas’s Zorro goes from stealing from the common people to becoming their defender, and we’re not supposed to think too much about why. That’s okay, though, because who doesn’t want to see Antonio Banderas charm and swordfight his way through trouble?

In The Valley of Elah (2007)

Tommy Lee Jones stars in this movie based on the real life story of a retired military policeman investigating the disappearance of his son who has just gotten back from a tour in Iraq. I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this movie, it was stark and atmospheric, but it fell apart in the last act because the story and execution got incredibly heavy handed. It wasn’t as bad as Crash (director Paul Haggis’s previous movie), which had the subtlety of a hammer all the way through, but it still ruined the movie for me. I think I’m extra frustrated because it was so close to being a great movie, the first two thirds was subtle and quiet, and I expected so much more.

The Accountant (2016)

Ben Affleck plays a high-functioning autistic accountant whose specialty is finding fraud for criminal organizations. This ended up being much more of an action movie than I thought it would be – Ben Affleck’s character’s employers end up frequently wanting to kill him, so he’s no stranger to violence. I liked the movie overall, although the dialogue is badly written at times, and it relies too much on surprising the viewer with twists that seem to come out of nowhere. Otherwise, it’s a very well executed movie, it’s slick, and Ben Affleck’s performance is great. I also liked Anna Kendrick’s character, I always think I’m going to hate her in things (I’m not really sure why), but I’ve liked her in every movie I’ve seen her in.

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