Weekly Movie Reviews: Oct 15-21, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

The Fall (2006)

In a 1920s Los Angeles hospital, injured stuntman Roy Walker and Alexandria, a five year old girl with a broken arm, strike up a friendship. Roy begins to tell her the story of a band of legendary heroes battling an evil general and her vibrant imagination brings it to life. Although his initial motivation is to entertain Alexandria, he soon realizes that she could steal him the morphine he craves and starts trading pieces of the story for favors.

The Fall is almost impossible to describe, it’s a unique movie and I doubt there will ever be anything else like it. The cinematography is beyond spectacular, the heroes travel from one breathtaking location to another and the movie does not seem to be bound by any real-world rules other than the strength of Alexandria’s imagination. It’s not just the backgrounds either, the character design and the framing are also striking and evocative. The music is arresting, especially the use of Beethoven’s seventh symphony. There is also some good examination on the nature of storytelling, especially with the seamless transition between reality and fantasy, the way Roy’s story evolves in response to real-world events, and the obvious differences between the words that Roy speaks and the images that Alexandria associates them with (such as Roy describing a Native American when he says “Indian” but Alexandria picturing the character as someone from India since she is more familiar with them).

The acting by the two protagonists (Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru) is extraordinary. I’ve never seen a young actor that acted so realistically (she was six!) and I believe large parts of the movie were improvised so that they could allow her to be herself. I read that they even allowed her to believe that Lee Pace was a real quadriplegic so that she would respond naturally to him. Roy’s story is subtly told and all the more poignant for it; his anguish is both easy to sympathize with and unsettling to watch in the context of his relationship with Alexandria.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen The Fall and I have this reaction to it every time. I could keep gushing about it forever. I think it is one of the most visionary and memorable movies I’ve ever seen and am likely to see. If I was asked about the best movie I’d ever seen, this would probably be it because it takes advantage of its format to tell a story that no other medium could tell anywhere near as effectively.

Other Movies Watched

The Boy and the Beast (2015)

A young homeless boy living on the streets of Tokyo finds a portal to a magical world of beasts. He is taken in as an apprentice by the coarse and surly warrior Kumatetsu and christened Kyuta by his new master. Kyuta and Kumetetsu squabble constantly but learn from each other and eventually develop a deep bond. But Kyuta never forgets the human world either and his ties to both worlds are tested by various events.

This is the fourth and latest movie (as of now) by award-winning Japanese filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda. I’ve loved all his previous work (see reviews of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children) and he’s only getting better with every movie he makes. The Boy and the Beast has drama, comedy, and adventure in just the right proportions, and every bit of it is heartwarming. It doesn’t shy away from putting its characters through real difficulty, though. Like Wolf Children, it’s about being torn between two worlds and giving up something important no matter what choice is made. It is fundamentally a coming of age story for both for Kyuta and Kumetetsu though, and so it’s also about finding your place and being content with it.

Having watched this movie means that I have no more new Hosoda to watch, but he’s making a new movie, Mirai, that’s hopefully coming out in 2018!

Somewhere (2010)

Johnny Marco is an actor that seems to have everything figured out on the surface – he’s getting more famous, he’s winning awards, and he’s rich. He’s overcome by ennui though and can’t bring himself to care about or enjoy anything. When his ex-wife needs to get away for a while, his eleven-year-old daughter comes to stay with him and that experience slowly chips away at his apathy.

If you’ve read my previous movie reviews, you may have noticed that Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors and Somewhere only heightens that. It has a distinctive style, lingering for what feels like too long on every shot but perfectly capturing the weight of the character’s boredom and lethargy. Just like Lost in Translation there is some subtle satire of how show business works, especially publicity. Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning do an excellent job as the main characters and sell the father-daughter rapport admirably.

It’s hard to describe this movie because not a lot of stuff happens but everything that does seems much more intimate than you’re used to from other movies. I read that it was criticized because it focused on the problems of a successful actor but I actually liked that part; it’s a good reminder that no matter what things look like on the outside, everybody needs to figure out their own meaning and purpose for their life.

John Wick (2014)

John Wick used to be a hitman before he left the criminal world behind to make a fresh start with his wife. She has just died of an illness and he finds himself adrift. When he incidentally crosses paths with some gangsters, they take away what little he has left and he finds purpose again – hunting down and killing them all.

I’d heard a lot of good things about John Wick but I’m always slightly skeptical about Keanu Reeves (I’m not sure why, he’s been in a couple of clunkers but he’s a fine actor). It turned out to live up to the hype, though. If we hadn’t watched so many other good movies this week, it probably would have ended up being my favorite.

John Wick is one of those movies that is pure fun to watch. The character is already legendary by the time we meet him and he doesn’t need an emotional growth arc to make his story engrossing. Just seeing him kicking ass and taking names is mesmerizing. There is none of the cloying sentimentality that other “my wife just got killed” characters often have. And he doesn’t talk unless he’s got something to say and that makes him far less annoying than most characters. The movie reminded me stylistically a little of The Boondock Saints but it’s not as outrageous and much better. One of the other things I really enjoyed was how the infrastructure of the criminal underworld was set up; it made for a compelling world that I wanted to see more of. Luckily, John Wick: Chapter 2 exists and there is a third movie in production.

The Dark Tower (2017)

Eleven-year-old Jake Chambers has been plagued by apocalyptic visions that show him the Dark Tower that keeps the universe safe, the Man in Black that wants to destroy it, and the lone Gunslinger that opposes him, Roland Deschain. Roland is the last of the Gunslingers and he was abandoned his duty in order to seek vengeance upon the Man in Black who has murdered the rest of his compatriots. Walter, the Man in Black, has his own plans – has been hunting children with psychic powers since they are the only ones capable of bringing down the tower. Eventually his attention turns to Jake, who manages to run away into another world where he meets Roland. Together they must figure out how to stop Walter’s plans for good.

This movie tells a simple and familiar story – a young misfit meets a world-weary adult, makes him care about the world again, and together they fight against an undeniably evil villain. I haven’t read the Dark Tower books (yet) but I’m sure that it’s far more complex and the movie is probably not a great adaptation and/or sequel. I thought it was a pretty good, though. It establishes an interesting world without too much exposition, it’s got likeable characters and talented actors (Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, among others), it’s got good pacing, and it tells a cohesive story. It’s not an outstanding movie but it’s not bad, either. And it definitely made me interested in reading the books.

Patriot Games (1992)

This is the second movie based on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books. I think it is supposed to be a sequel to The Hunt for Red October but most of the characters are played by different actors, including Harrison Ford taking over the title role. When Jack and his family are visiting London for a conference, he happens to be in the right place at the right time to save a member of the royal family from IRA assassins. One of the terrorists is killed and his brother (Sean Bean) becomes fixated on getting back at Jack no matter what the consequences will be.

I didn’t expect this movie to be as good as The Hunt for Red October but I was still disappointed by it. It’s actually a decent action movie but it was too generic. The appeal of Jack Ryan as a character is that he’s an analyst, not a field agent and he solves problems using his mind. This movie has no room for a character like that because the bad guys keep showing up wherever he is, there isn’t anything he needs to figure out. Plus Alec Baldwin played the character with a sense of thoughtfulness and deep resolve and I can’t think of many other similar movie characters. On the other hand, Harrison Ford’s Jack is indistinguishable from his other action roles. I could see his character becoming president a few years later and kicking Gary Oldman off his plane.

What Happened To Monday (2017)

In the future, fertility rates have rocketed and overpopulation has caused a global crisis. The Child Allocation Bureau strictly enforces a “one child per family” law, taking away any siblings to put into cryosleep. When Karen Settman dies after giving birth to septuplets, her father cannot bring himself to abandon any of his grandchildren and brings them up to make sure only one of them is ever outside the house at any given time so that they can all pose as a single person. This system works well until one of the sisters, Monday, doesn’t come back home as usual and the rest of the sisters have to figure out what happened.

I thought this movie had an intriguing premise but unfortunately it didn’t live up to its potential. Noomi Rapace does a passable job playing all seven sisters but she didn’t make them distinctive enough and I couldn’t tell a lot of the sisters apart (she’s no Tatiana Maslany). The plot has a couple of surprises but many of the twists felt predictable and stale. I wasn’t expecting the movie to be as violent as it was. Some movies can pull that off but it felt gratuitous in this one.

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