As the final film of the Take 5 Challenge with Jon Berk of Berk Reviews, I had to watch Miss Stevens. Ever since Lady Bird, and reinforced by Call Me By Your Name, I have been a huge fan of Timothée Chalamet, and so I tried to save what I thought would be the best for last.
I definitely enjoyed the film quite a bit. The eponymous Miss Stevens is obviously the protagonist, but Chalamet's character often steals the scene with almost equal development. I thought that both storylines were quite strong, but that of Chalamet's character was a bit stronger because it was a little less archetypal. The dialogue in the film is very well-written, with quite a bit of witty humor integrated throughout. The film has messages regarding depression, happiness, and adolescence that I think are important to be heard. This film does a good job of delivering them in a way that is entertaining enough to pull the audience in very easily. That being said, I did have an issue with most of the other supporting characters. Many of them did not stretch beyond their expected archetypes, sometimes even becoming annoyingly flat. The tone also gets a bit weird at times with the film introducing some creepier undertones that aren't fully explored in one way or the other, thereby remaining a question that was discomforting.
The execution of the film is fine, but not phenomenal. It has a particularly indie feel to it. The cinematography looks a little amateurish at times, with some movements and losses of focus that don't really seem to be purposeful, but a majority of the film is fine. That being said, I found the acting to be great. Chalamet is very good, especially when he delivers his monologue, but his performance doesn't have the subtlety that made me love his future performances so much. You can definitely see how he has grown, but he is still successful in this film. Lily Rabe is strong in her leading role, too. I mainly know her from American Horror Story, so it was a pleasant surprise to see her as the lead. She brings a lot of nuance to the role and makes the character feel very real. I also found the soundtrack to be wonderful.
Overall, I found Miss Stevens to be an enjoyable film with some great messaging that pulls through despite a slightly off-putting tone. It's on Netflix, so if you get the shot, it is worth your time.
Big Tuna's Rating: B
Had I Seen It Before?: No.
Would I Watch It Again?: Yes.
The fifth and final film from Big Tuna’s February challenge was The Square (2017). It was the longest on the list and I couldn’t have watched it at a worse time: I’d just gotten my new phone. Films require 100% of my attention in order to write a well-articulated review and a foreign film requires even more as I must read the dialogue to keep up with the story. Add in a slightly surreal satire and I was left with many questions that I think could be intentional by filmmaker Ruben Östlund or at the fault of my split attention.
The movie focuses on Christian (Claes Bang) who is the Stockholm museum's chief art curator who finds himself in both personal and professional chaos in the weeks leading to the museums newest exhibit. This exhibit features a square on the ground and a statement that essentially says if people in the shape ask for help it should be given to them. Much of the film depicts people not helping people and much of the chaos that arises stems from either the inaction or action of helping others.
There is definitely something similar in tone with this film to The Lobster as some elements are extremely dark yet have an air of comedy. For example, there is a moment in the film at an art installation that has a man pretending to be an Ape during a fancy museum dinner. It starts out kind of silly and impressive but turns much darker over the course of several minutes. Oleg (Terry Notary), the man ape, approaches another artist named Julian (Dominic West) and their encounter is really where the scene starts to turn. The moment lingers at times allowing the audience to feel the discomfort that the people in the room are clearly experiencing.
Bang does an excellent with this film. He is tasked with a lot and delivers. Early in the film, Christian’s phone and wallet are stolen and he is encouraged to seek vigilante justice in the way of a stern letter. He co-writes a threatening letter demanding his belongings be dropped off at a gas station near the suspect's apartment building and drops them in the letter box of each apartment. This action has many ripple effects that play throughout the course of the film and presents some of the films major themes about fame and its effects on a person’s behavior.
Despite not giving the film the attention it definitely deserved, I definitely walked away feeling positive about it. There is definitely something here that appeals to my sensibilities and I will likely try and give it a rewatch. However, it’s quite long, which may prevent me from trying again any time soon.
Jon Berk's Rating: B+
The last two years of really exploring film has opened my eyes to many things and shattered some of my preconceived notions. By far the biggest change has been my view on musicals. I used to blatantly exclaim that I hated musicals or they weren’t for me, but it turns out that there are just some I don’t like. Of course, I know now that dismissing an entire genre is silly, but as a kid it was a point-of-view that crept in and burrowed itself into my psyche. However, I’ve extracted that and went in to Chicago (2002), which is also a part of the February Take 5 Challenge, with lots of optimism.
Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) finds herself in prison after shooting Fred Casely (Dominic West) - who she’d been sleeping with under the impression that he could get her a gig performing - after he admitted to using her. Her husband Amos (John C. Reilly) almost takes the wrap for the murder until he realizes their connection. Once in jail, she meets Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a much more successful performer-turned-murderer, and Mama (Queen Latifah), the warden of the female prisoners. Through them and the help of her attorney, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), she finds her fifthteen minutes of fame.
While Reilly has a smaller role, he definitely has the most heartbreaking story. His musical number is probably the best as he sings the song “Mr. Cellophane”. It, like most of the songs in the film, give lots of insight into the character or the exposition of the story. Here, we see how he feels invisible and that he is overlooked. As with most of the musical numbers in this film, they take place in a fictional world or in the characters heads. They are competently edited with the reality of the film to show an interesting comparison of the real and the imaginary. In this case, Amos is in the guise of a sad tramp as he sings his song.
The most powerful use of this juxtaposition is the first female hanging. It’s shown as a magician's disappearing act in the imaginary world while going to the gallows in the films reality. The moments not only shot extremely well as match cuts are used to show the harsh truth to the much more optimistic illusion, but it has a major character moment for Roxie. She’d not taken her situation as serious as, until this moment, no woman had been hung for murder. Now her future is in peril and it really elevates the film in a multitude of ways.
Chicago is a great example of a cinematic musical. The production is impressive, the cast is excellent, and the songs are entertaining - though not a soundtrack I think I would enjoy just listening to without the visuals. I’m glad I finally gave this film a watch as I had absolutely no idea what it was about. It’s unique in many ways and is a must see film.
Jon Berk's Rating: A
Jon Berk recommended that I watch (forced me to watch) Hudson Hawk as a part of the February Take 5 Challenge. It's a film that was critically reviled, but it is one of his favorite "guilty pleasure" movies. I do like Bruce Willis action movies, though, so I was willing to give it a fair chance.
Unfortunately, I ended up in the majority of critics when it came to this film. The movie is cheesy, poorly-written, and poorly-acted by most of its cast. It feels almost like a bastardization of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that is far naughtier and just isn't as funny. The film is going for the over-the-top, self-aware humor that I usually appreciate, but it goes to such an extent that it feels forced and excessive. Many of the gags didn't work at all and just left me confused. For example, the whole CIA candy bars bit didn't land with me. The only part of the film that I truly found funny was Richard E. Grant's villain. Otherwise, I found most of it to be rather dull and cringe-inducing. The plot of the film is also needlessly convoluted with multiple heists and a web of double-crosses.
The execution of the film is also undeniably poor. The action sequences look cheap and ridiculous. All of the action is basically slapstick comedy, which contrasts with the dialogue and plot that is predominantly adult-oriented. The result is a tonally off-putting mess that feels like it doesn't have an actual identity. Sure, it's watchable because it has the goofiness of the worst of both, but it is in a way that you can see the film as "so bad it's good". The actors, for the most part, all deliver their lines in a way that is very static and unconvincing. The noticeable exceptions are Bruce Willis and Richard E. Grant. It appears that, in this film, Willis is still having fun with his role. It would only be a little later and his performances would begin to feel forced. Grant is also good as the villain, with a campiness that works despite the otherwise uneven tone of the film.
Overall, Hudson Hawk is by no means a good film. It's goofy and bad in almost every regard. Still, it is this goofy charm that lets the film be slightly watchable and allows you to laugh at its inconsistencies in tone and plot throughout.
Big Tuna's Rating: D
How Did I Watch It?: Digital that I own.
Had I Seen It Before?: No.
Would I Watch It Again?: Maybe, but probably not.
Big Tuna challenged me to watch Love & Friendship (2016) as part of the February Take Five Challenge. It’s currently available for free through Amazon Prime Instant. I had no interest in this film because it is based on a Jane Austen novel, and I tend to find those very boring and tedious. Fortunately, Love & Friendship has a lot of comedic elements and is only an hour and a half in length.
Recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) moves in with her in-laws at their fancy estate, and she sets out to help her daughter and herself find love, or at least a husband. That’s the premise, though the snappy writing and the far-too-many characters did cause some confusion as to what exactly was going on. Yet, the humor is present, even with the character introduction, and the film comes off a little more satirical than expected.
The funniest part of the movie is the character Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). He is a potential suitor of Frederica Vernon (Morfydd Clark), but is a little on the dumb side. His discovery of peas may be one of the funniest scenes I can remember over the last two years. He is genuinely surprised and calls them a novelty vegetable. Every moment he has on screen, he steals with his dopey humor and line-reads that sound more confident than the words he is saying.
Even though there is comedy in this film, it’s still a Victorian period piece. Thus, it still didn’t work with my Sense and Sensibilities. The boredom sunk in moments into the movie, and despite getting me to laugh several times, it never really recovered. I tried to give the film my attention, but my mind wandered on a path more tangled than Lady Susan’s manipulations. There were definitely chunks of this film that I was completely checked out during, and would come back to it confused more than I should have been.
Ultimately, this film just isn’t for me. The acting seems solid, the production design seems good, and there were some funny moments. I just check out when movies are set in this period. I wish I was a little more high-brow, but diving into any of Jane Austen’s material feels like drinking a whole bottle of Nyquil.
Love & Friendship
Jon Berk's Rating: C
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I look at films as if through old red and blue 3D glasses— one lens is as art, one lens is as entertainment.
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