You know what they say is the key ingredient that makes a great blog right? Consistency! You have to consistently post something, even if every post isn’t a Pulitzer Prize contender. Well, I guess that makes this blog sub-par, but I hope that hasn’t scared you off.
I intend to make up for my months long absence by throwing a bunch of short and to the point movie reviews at you, as I have watched an awful lot of movies lately. I have just returned from an overseas trip that required several lengthy legs of air travel. These days air travel can feel a bit like cinephile heaven, if you can just ignore the fact that your legs have completely stopped getting a fresh supply of blood, your 8 year old has a screen that randomly changes languages to French and Spanish mid-movie and that your 6 year old refuses to understand the concept of taking off their headphones while talking, resulting in them very loudly asking WHY ARE THEY KISSING LIKE THAT MOMMY as they catch a glimpse of the non-child-friendly film on your screen.
So yes, maybe these extended cinema trips in the sky have some downsides, but then they also have wine, so it all balances out in the end.
Before we dive into the reviews, a quick disclaimer. When flying and watching movies simultaneously, I cry more easily. This, in fact, is a very common phenomenon, as any faithful listener of Kermode & Mayo’s film review will know. But I also tend to laugh more easily and generally enjoy stupid stuff more.
In fact, when choosing movies on an airplane I often specifically gravitate towards some of the lighter fare that wouldn’t normally be top of my viewing list. I just don’t seem to enjoy serious and slow movies as much on a plane. I once tried watching Tree of Life on a plane; big mistake!
So, take my opinions with a grain of salt, they were likely heavily influenced by the recycled cabin air and all those cute little bottles of free wine.
Where to Invade Next
Michael Moore decides that, rather than invading foreign countries for their oil, America should rather just steal great idea of governance from other countries, ideas that have so far not taken hold in America. During the film, he goes to Iceland, Tunisia, Slovenia, Italy, France, Portugal, Norway, Finland and Germany in search of better ways to live.
I’m not sure the central conceit of the documentary worked, it was definitely a bit jumbled and didn’t make for a coherent film. I also have serious reservations about some of the facts as they were portrayed in the documentary. But, I really enjoyed it nonetheless. It was uplifting to see so many individuals who had great ideas and beliefs about what makes a good country and what makes a good life, and who actually managed to live by those beliefs.
There were some truly touching moments in the film, such as when an American school teacher explained why she had moved to Finland to teach, as well as when the father of a teenager murdered during the terrorist attack in Norway explains how Norway managed to come out of that horrific time with its national identity and freedoms intact. Indeed, the whole section on Norway and their approach to incarceration was a complete eye opener and has left me thinking about it for days afterwards.
Eye in the Sky
Eye in the Sky takes place in several different locations around the world, but the bulk of the focus of the film is in Nairobi, Kenya. This is the location of a house with known terrorists and we follow various military personnel and ministers around the world as they try to decide whether to agree to a drone strike. A child is in the vicinity of the target for the drone strike and so the implications of that need to be considered.
I had heard several great reviews of Eye in the Sky but I was also slightly wary of watching another drone warfare movie. I have already watched Good Kill, which I enjoyed well enough, but I worried that this would just be more of the same. I needn’t have worried. The film was thought provoking and truly thrilling, nail-biting stuff. At one point, I half hid under by airplane issued blanket because I couldn’t bear the tension. And this is in a movie with very little action, the main action was people in rooms arguing with each other.
I thoroughly recommend this movie. It’s rare that you find a movie that has you on the edge of your seat AND also gives your mind things to chew on for a long time afterwards. It’s timely, relevant and important and it has Alan Rickman. What more is there to say?
Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s newest movie, set in the early eighties, follows a house full of rowdy baseball players in the days leading up to the start of college.
I have a soft spot for Linklater’s work. The whole Before trilogy is an absolute delight and I also loved Boyhood. If I could use just two words to describe my general feeling about Linklater’s movies, it would be “deeply human”. They feel like flesh and blood movies, pulsing with experiences, ideas and conversations that so many of us have had, across ages, genders, races, nationalities etc. The Before trilogy is my favourite; romantic movies that don’t romanticise but show the real conflicts and ambiguities inherent in any relationship between two separate human beings trying to form and maintain a meaningful relationship.
Everybody Wants Some!! left me feeling far more conflicted. To begin with, I couldn’t stand the characters in the movie, the exact types of people I would have never spent time with in college, or university, as I would call it. Chauvinist young men who think it’s charming to pester girls and who have no particular interest in actually learning anything of an academic nature while in an institute of higher learning. The movie featured so much raucous, macho shouting that at times I just wanted to turn off the sound completely.
However, the acting was great and many of the actors had enough charisma that they wore down my defences and allowed me to connect with the characters more. There is an obvious nostalgia trip here for Linklater and it’s also clear that he has great affection for these characters. This affection is strong enough that some of it rubbed off on me, despite myself.
Linklater has made a movie which probably authentically describes his own college experience and that’s okay. It would just have benefited from a bit more balance and some self-reflection, in particular in regards to its female characters.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Based on a memoir by journalist Kim Barker about her time living in and reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan, this movie stars Tina Fey, Margot Robbie and other well known faces.
Honestly, don’t have too much to say about this one. It was forgettable to the point where I can’t recall much of what happened and can’t even remember how it ended. Maybe I was also seriously sleep deprived at this stage? It’s possible that I nodded off during parts of the movie but, hey, if it had been gripping enough I wouldn’t have! It has some amusing parts to it, but I didn’t particularly like any character in the movie. And, despite trying to address the whole ‘white lady travels to exotic place to find herself’-trope in at least once instance, it doesn’t really do much to move beyond that trope and tell a story that engages on a different level.
It wasn’t offensive or terrible, but I would rather have had more sleep than watched it. And we’re talking about sleeping bolt upright with my head dangling from side to side in Economy class of a long haul flight.
Customer service guru goes to a conference to speak, tries to hook up with ex, meets a stranger that he immediately falls in love with and wants to leave his wife for, decides “nah”, has mental breakdown during conference talk, goes home. Oh, and it’s stop-motion!
Anomalisa is a memorable film in a very unusual format. It’s not every day we see very adult issues acted out by puppets brought to life via stop-motion. Its main strength lies in its ability to make its characters seem believable and human even when they are clearly not.
That being said, the central character of Michael Stone is so unlikeable and pitiful that it was difficult to really get onboard with the movie. It is perfectly possible to have unlikeable characters in movies, but it does require that the movie reflects critically on its character’s flaws, and I didn’t feel Anomalisa did so.
The film seems so centrally anchored in Stone’s bleak world view where everyone else is somehow uninteresting and bland, and if only he could just find a special snowflake like himself, all his problems would go away. His greatest problem in life seems to be that he is burdened by having other people around him that are not him. I would have loved to have seen this story from the character of Lisa’s point of view, as Stone was just unbearable to be around.
I am not one to dissuade anyone from seeing Anomalisa though. It is unusual and I would love to see more films of that nature finding an audience and paving the way for other unconventional film-making methods.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
The final, no really, for real, instalment in The Hunger Games series, where Katniss and the rebels finally make it to the Capitol to bring the battle to President’s Snow front door.
I read the Hunger Games years ago and watched the first movie in the series in the cinema. Since then, my interest has waned though. I would usually stream the movies at home, but with this final one I didn’t even do that. So it was that I only watched this when I had a lot of hours to kill on a plane. The reviews I had heard also led me to think I might not have missed out on much.
However, I have to say that this movie was a pleasant surprise and a fitting finish to the series. Despite seeing this on the – very – small screen, the action scenes were impressive and the pace was great. There was a sense of danger and risk and it’s a relief to not see as much weightless destruction as, for example, a lot of superhero movies dabble in. The themes of war and trauma are also as strong as ever and rendered in a meaningful way.
It also felt like a more complete film than Mockingjay Part 1, which is not surprising. It is unfortunate that so many movie franchises get hacked up into so many pieces that some of those pieces end up completely out of place and seem pointless on their own. There’s almost a palpable relief to this movie, that they don’t have to tread water anymore and can actually finish what was always going to happen anyway. Or maybe that’s what I brought to it?
A married couple is preparing to celebrate their 45 year wedding anniversary, when the husband receives news about the girlfriend who died on a hiking trip years before he met his wife.
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay star in, and effectively carry, this moving drama about marriage, secrets, ageing and love. This is one of those quiet, slow movies, which I’m usually scared to watch on a plane in case my mental faculties are not working as well and I end up disliking something that is actually good. Not so with this one, I enjoyed it immensely even under the circumstances and it has stayed with me since.
The acting is just stunning, never more so than when Rampling’s character is filmed looking at old slides in the attic. This moment feels so intimate, so immense that you almost want to look away. But her face mesmerises and you can’t. The portrayal of a marriage that has lasted so many decades rings true and the honesty is refreshing. This film doesn’t try to romanticise what it means to live with the same person for the better part of a lifetime, but it also doesn’t shy away from showing how older people love and make love to each other. The characters’ story is the kind of story we do not see often enough portrayed on film.
This is a quiet movie that will make a lot noise in your head for a while afterwards.
How To Be Single
Comedy about a young woman who arrives in New York, dead set on standing on her own two feet outside the confines of a relationship but then has a bunch of relationships before realising where her priorities should lie.
On paper, this is the kind of movie I would absolutely hate. I really, sincerely don’t like the genre of movie that has a voice over where the lead character muses on the supposedly profound wisdom she has accumulated through her romantic dalliances. And, no, I never liked Sex & the City – the movies or the TV series.
And this movie does have that annoying voice over. That being said, the bits in between are actually not that annoying; amusing and entertaining even. There are a lot of likeable, fairly fleshed out characters and the movie does manage to avoid a lot of cliches it could have thrown itself head first into. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the raunchier jokes were edited out for this plane-friendly version, so I probably got the watered down version.
But, seriously, why are these kinds of movies never set in Seattle or Washington D.C. or something?
Okay, that’s it folks. You’ve made it to the end, but I kindly request that you remain seated until the fasten seatbelt signs have been switched off. Hope to see you back again soon!