Weekly Movie Reviews: May 7-13, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

The Science of Sleep (2006)

We started watching The Science of Sleep in 2015, but I hadn’t watched a lot of movies then, and its weirdness made me uncomfortable. Watching it now, I’m not sure why I didn’t like it, it’s surreal, but it’s really a great movie.

Stéphane Miroux (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a young man that has trouble telling his (extremely vivid) dreams from reality. He has just moved back to his childhood home in France from Mexico based on his mother’s promise of a creative job. The job turns out to be mundane typesetting work and no one appreciates his talent, leaving him unhappy. He also ends up with a crush on Stéphanie, his neighbor. All of this stress and insecurity makes his dream vs. reality issues worse.

I can’t imagine anyone else playing Stéphane other than Gael Garcia Bernal, it would be too easy to make him creepy or sad, but he’s a perfect mix of adorable, poignant, and intense. The film seamlessly shifts from reality to dream, and the way the dreams are portrayed is truly imaginative, with some extremely memorable sequences. I highly recommend this movie.

Other Movies Watched

Annie Hall (1977)

Alvy “Max” Singer (Woody Allen, also the director of the movie) is a neurotic comedian who has recently broken up with his girlfriend, Annie Hall. He tries to figure out what went wrong, and we see the history of their relationship, and his prior relationships. Just thinking about this movie makes me feel neurotic! Allen perfectly captures the minutiae of a real relationship with all the insecurity and awkwardness of first getting started, the routine it settles into, the slow drift of growing apart without even realizing. Alvy’s character drove me crazy but only because he was so realistic. I’d never seen anything by Woody Allen before watching this movie, but I’m sure I’ll be watching a lot more of his work.

The Assassin (2015)

The Assassin is a Taiwanese period drama – sort of a wuxia movie, but eschewing many of the conventions of the genre. The titular assassin is Nie Yinniang, a young woman who shows mercy and fails to assassinate her designated target. In order to overcome her weakness, her master sends her back to her family with a new mission – to kill the governor of her province who also happens to be the cousin she was betrothed to as a child. You don’t really know what’s going on in this movie, it drops you into a complicated story without any explanations, and a lot of things have to be inferred from context (I’m sure I missed a lot of things, not being very familiar with the genre or Chinese culture in general). But it’s a beautiful, slow, and quiet movie, and it’s one of those rare movies where you don’t need to understand exactly what’s happening to appreciate it.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

I don’t usually enjoy comedies, but I remember loving Tropic Thunder when I first watched it eight or nine years ago. It held up better than I thought it would. The movie is about a bunch of actors making a Vietnam war movie who accidentally stumble into a real battle with a drug kingpin’s forces and have to rely on their acting skills to help them survive. The movie starts off with a few fake trailers and advertisements as a way to introduce the main characters, and they’re hilarious. It continues to parody the movie industry throughout, helped by some great performances, especially by Tom Cruise as a fat, balding, and greedy studio executive, and Robert Downey Jr. playing a dedicated Australian method actor who is playing a black sergeant in the movie. I can’t really say that it has heart, but maybe I like it so much because it pokes fun at movies so effectively but also so lovingly.

Reality Bites (1994)

Reality Bites follows a group of young college graduates in the 1990s as they try to make their way in the world. It focuses mainly on Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and her best friend Troy (Ethan Hawke), although their friends Vickie (Janeane Garofalo) and Sammy (Steve Zahn) are a big part of the movie too. Each of the friends have their own issues – Lelaina is an aspiring filmmaker who can’t find a job that takes advantage of her talents, Troy is a musician who doesn’t take anything seriously, Vickie has a series of one-night stands and is terrified of contracting AIDS, and Sammy is gay and afraid to come out. This movie is one of the most realistic depictions of the 1990s that I’ve seen and it’s great for that reason. Ben Stiller makes his directorial debut with this movie, and even though I usually associate him with comedy, this is really not a comedic movie (and Stiller plays a great supporting character as an earnest yuppie). The only complaint I have about this movie is that although the characters were realistic for most of it, the ending seemed a little too much like wish-fulfillment.

Fences (2016)

A movie adaptation of August Wilson’s play of the same name, Fences focuses on the life of Troy Maxson (played by Denzel Washington, also the director of the movie), a working class man living in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Troy is far from perfect, but he makes a significant impact on the lives of those around him. The cast of this movie does a tremendous job, the acting is nuanced and will make you feel a lot of things all at once. However, I didn’t enjoy this movie because it is so clearly adapted from a play that you wonder why they bothered to film it. It mostly takes place on a single set (Troy’s home and backyard), and it doesn’t take advantage of any of the unique things about film.

Guarding Tess (1994)

Nicolas Cage plays secret service agent Doug Chesnic whose current assignment is guarding ex-first lady Tess Carlisle (Shirley MacLaine). Tess is beloved by the public but she’s an absolute pain to work for, she delights in breaking security rules and treating Doug like a domestic servant. Through the course of the movie, they slowly learn to get along with each other. Most of this movie was pretty cute, sort of like Driving Miss Daisy. Both Cage and MacLaine do an excellent job making the audience care about the central relationship. However, the movie is ruined by a nonsensical and melodramatic finale which completely changes the tone of the movie.

Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever is the third movie in the 80s-90s Batman film franchise. Joel Schumacher takes over directing duties from Tim Burton, and Val Kilmer replaces Michael Keaton as Batman. This movie also introduces Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell. I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would, but it’s pretty bad. The loss of Tim Burton means that his signature creepy style (which didn’t quite mesh with Batman, in my opinion) is toned down significantly, but his worldbuilding is also lost. There’s a lot more campy drama and the plot’s pace picks up, but the movie doesn’t make any sense (we watched the deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray, and they made the movie make a bit more sense, but that doesn’t count). Val Kilmer’s Batman isn’t nearly as good as Michael Keaton’s, he’s too intense and the rest of the movie doesn’t match that style. Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones are clearly having fun playing the villains, but they’re pretty cartoon-like and not very compelling.

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