Weekly Movie Reviews: Feb 26-Mar 4, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Contact (1997)

Contact is one of my favorite movies of all time, so there’s really no contest for favorite movie of the week. I think this was my third time watching it, and I’m sure I’ll keep rewatching it often for the rest of my life.

The movie is based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, and stars Jodie Foster as Ellie Arroway, an astronomer who works for SETI and finds evidence of intelligent life through her work. As the name of the movie implies, first contact does happen, but it’s nothing like Star Trek or anything familiar like that, and the contact isn’t really the point. Ellie is convinced that she knows how the universe works and can explain it all with scientific proof, but her belief in aliens is based mostly on faith, a fact that she’s very uncomfortable admitting even to herself.

Contact captures the wonder of discovery in a way no other movie has – both Ellie’s self-discovery and the discovery of aliens, and it’s unique in portraying both as equally important. The characters seem like real people with their own quirks and character flaws, but they’re all likeable too. Ellie is probably one of my favorite movie characters ever, and she’s definitely someone I identify with (which I can’t say about many characters.) I love Matthew McConaughey as preacher Palmer Joss, he has never been more reassuring. I’m too fond of this movie to do anything but gush, so I’ll stop now, but you should watch it.

Other Movies Watched

Haywire (2011)

Haywire is a spy/assassin revenge story from director Steven Soderbergh, sort of like Jason Bourne, but starring mixed martial artist Gina Carano as the main character Mallory Kane. The cast is pretty great – Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, and Antonio Banderas are all in this movie (and Gina Carano’s character still manages to hold her own.) The action is realistic, there are no fast cuts, we see the movements in real-time and it makes the fights actually compelling to watch. The story is a little convoluted and probably the weakest point, but the movie is so tight otherwise that it doesn’t matter very much. It seems like some critics did not like this movie because they thought it was too flat, but I really liked how matter-of-fact it was.

The Founder (2016)

Based on a true story, The Founder is about Ray Kroc, the original head of franchising for McDonald’s (which was owned by the McDonald brothers at the time) who ended up taking over the company. It’s also the origin story of McDonald’s – it’s hard to imagine something so ubiquitous even having an origin (or maybe that’s just me), but it was started up fairly recently. Michael Keaton is great as Kroc, he’s the right mixture of desperate, detail-oriented, and ambitious, and you can’t help but sympathize with him. It’s a good story, too – innovation, growth, an underdog finally getting his chance – and it’s all true. I liked it.

Jackie (2016)

Jackie tells the story of Jackie Kennedy around her husband’s assassination and the couple of weeks after. It’s a pretty uncomfortable movie to watch, after all, it’s the story of a wife dealing with her husband’s death entirely in the public eye, while also having to move out of her house. It’s very good, though. Natalie Portman does an amazing job, she’s barely recognizable as herself, and even her voice is entirely different. The atmosphere of the movie really pulls you in, too. The movie is not told linearly – events jump around all over the place, just like Jackie’s mind is all over the place in her grief.

All The Way (2016)

After watching Jackie, the next movie we watched also started off with JFK’s assassination. All The Way is the story of Lyndon B. Johnson’s ascension to the presidency and his fight to get a civil rights bill passed. LBJ seemed like a pretty interesting character, he was known for his profanity and for consulting with advisors on the toilet (with the door open), and Bryan Cranston plays him phenomenally well. Anthony Mackie playing Martin Luther King wasn’t as remarkable, but still did a good job. This movie is poignant and hilarious by turns, and not many movies can pull that off.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

I was highly skeptical of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I was convinced it would be terrible, and I ended up being both right and wrong. I was right because this is not a very good movie, as far as movies go. The plot is simplistic, the foreshadowing is really not very subtle, the treatment of Muggles is horrible (I refuse to say “No-Maj”, that word is dumb), and worst of all, the America depicted is nothing like America would be. I was wrong because despite its flaws, this movie is a lot of fun, and I’m pretty excited about watching the next one. Eddie Redmayne especially is great. I hope that the main female character (Tina Goldstein) doesn’t continue being the main female character in the next one, though, I thought she was a bad character and her chemistry with Eddie Redmayne was close to non-existent.

The Tree of Life (2011)

I’ve heard Terence Malick referred to as one of the best filmmakers of all time, but I’d never watched any of his movies so I was looking forward to watching The Tree of Life. I knew it was somewhat experimental, but Koyaanisqatsi had warmed me up to movies without a traditional narrative. I didn’t enjoy this movie, though. It mostly follows a family as they grieve for the loss of their son, exploring both the present day and memories of the son growing up. There are also segues into the origin of the Earth and the evolution of life, which I think is supposed to put the family’s story into a grander perspective, maybe? It didn’t work for me, the narrative of the family seemed more like a collection of vignettes than a cohesive story – I didn’t have enough context to care about the events. There was a story, but I didn’t know why any of the characters were the way they were, and if the events took place over a couple of weeks or a few years. The other scenes involving the birth of life just seemed pretentious. However, the acting was very good, and the filmmaking was well-done (one notable thing was that all the shots seemed like they were from a human perspective, and not from a traditional moviemaking angle), and the movie clearly had a vision for itself – it just wasn’t one that I was interested in.

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