Netflix set the bar for its exclusive and original productions with House of Cards, and its first attempt at feature films is no less impressive. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who is famous for True Detective Season 1, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of a young African boy named Agu (Abraham Attah) who lives in an intentionally anonymous and politically unstable African nation. Refugees from nearby regions stream into his remote village, and although he is vaguely aware of impending troubles, he is as happy as any other eight year old. The village receives news that soldiers are coming, and Agu’s mother and baby sister are quickly sent to the capitol before they arrive and kill his father and brother. He narrowly escapes and encounters the rebel army, led by a charismatic and manipulative man known only as the Commandant (Idris Elba). He is quickly converted into a child soldier and experiences a variety of horrifying experiences that change him forever.
I should start off by saying that I enjoyed this movie. I did! I swear. It was a nice little period drama, packed with great acting and interesting characters and enough action to keep you interested throughout. They really built the tension well. But for all that, there were just too many logical gaps, errors, and questions left unanswered. If you go into the movie with an open mind and a non-critical eye, then power to you because the movie’s phenomenal. But once you start to actually look at it, pieces of the puzzle start to crumble away. Might be a side-effect of the shaky-cam. Oh Lord, the shaky-cam. I still have a headache from that. There must be a better way to do crowd scenes, right?
We follow Maude Watts (Carey Mulligan), who’s endearing, hard-working, tenacious, loyal, and incredibly driven. She’s certainly a likable character and your heart breaks for her again and again, over and over, with each new turn of the story. No doubt about that. This is partly the story of how she, a woman who hadn’t even thought about having rights is suddenly and powerfully swept up in the women’s suffrage movement, and partly about the movement itself. Until about halfway, then it’s more about just the movement –the movie decides quite suddenly and swiftly that it is just flat out tired of talking about her family life. More rallies! More sleeping in churches and jail scenes! Women’s suffrage! They do enough character building to get away with the switch, but it still left me with a few questions that I really wish they had answered.
“Room” takes filmmaking back to its roots, focusing on people without bells or whistles or anything beautiful. The first half of the film concerns a mother, her child, a table, a bed, and a cupboard. It’s great theater, and the director, Lenny Abrahamson, manages to keep things fresh amidst surroundings that become all too familiar. Eventually, the viewer pines for release from the room just as much as Ma (Brie Larson) does. For Jack, the child, Room is everything he knows. The only glimpse of the outside world is through a skylight. Raindrops will trickle down the window on occasion. Sometimes snowflakes will melt. There is also a television, on which Jack watches Dora the Explorer and soap operas. Ma explains to him that they’re “playing dress-up,” that a reality exists beyond the four walls confining them for the past five years. Jack is reluctant to accept this.
Ma has been trapped for seven years. It is revealed that she was kidnapped and is being held hostage. The man who took her is referred to only as “Old Nick.” We never learn his real name. He comes to the room late at night, late enough that Jack is probably asleep. He sleeps in bed with Ma. He brings them food, listens to Ma’s gripes. One morning Jack awakes to discover a present: a remote control car. Ma reminds him that Old Nick is not a good person. She reminds him that they have to get out of the room.
The world lost a true visionary of horror when Wes Craven passed away earlier this year. However, I have a confession to make: until it came time to review this movie, I had never seen a Wes Craven movie. Now, before you start asking why, it’s the reason a lot of people probably have: I didn’t like scary movies when I was little. Plus, the movie in question is rated R, so my parents wouldn’t have been keen on showing me a film that would have likely given me nightmares as a child. Or rather, this movie might have scared me so much that I’d have trouble sleeping, because decades before Christopher Nolan made a movie about how complex dreams can be, Wes Craven made a movie about how terrifying dreams can be. The movie I’m talking about, of course, is the 1984 slasher flick that defined a genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street. And what did I think? Well, even though I knew a bit about the plot going in, there were some moments that were genuinely frightening; when the movie wasn’t scaring me, it was making me feel for the characters and their hopeless situation, and when it wasn’t doing that, it was showing me some very over-the-top ways of killing off its main characters with some rather impressive special effects. Bottom line, I’m glad I didn’t see this movie as a kid, but I’m glad that I’ve seen it now.
Over/Under: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (2015) and “Hard Boiled” (1992)
When my dad preordered Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation tickets for the entire family, I had my reservations. His movie preferences aren’t bad per se, but he’s weirdly and exclusively obsessed with blockbusters. I used to think that it’s because when he was younger, the only options available to the fledgling Korean movie industry were big budget films. That was a decent working theory… until he showed me Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which is way before his time. Maybe he just likes seeing high production value – expensive cars, huge explosions, millions of extras, A-list celebrities, etc. At any rate, my somber dad walked out of the movie with a big grin on his face.
I, on the other hand, did not. Before I discuss the rest of this lackluster film, I want to set aside Simon Pegg. I love, loved, and always will love, Simon Pegg. He’s good in all three Cornetto Trilogy films, he’s good in Run, Fatboy, Run (2007), he’s even good in the previous Mission Impossible movie. I love everything about him, from his British accent and gently fuzzy beard to his diverse facial expressions and sunny smile. When his character (Benji) was introduced in Rogue Nation, I was reminded of everything I love about him all over again. Unfortunately he is starting to be typecast – Benji was basically the same witty, lighthearted, loveable character that Simon Pegg always plays. But frankly, I can’t get enough of him, and his comical confusion was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise dull movie.
The Force is with Star Wars fans yet again with the premiere of a third trailer for the upcoming seventh installment in the saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Internet was abuzz, and fans found themselves watching a football game involving teams they didn’t root for just to catch the trailer on TV during Monday Night Football. It raises the hype meter to an 11, and actually features characters talking, so let’s take a look…
It seems Jack Black has finally found his niche –PG rated kids movies. They’re the only place where his more ridiculous facial expressions can blend in seamlessly and not disrupt the whole of the film. Yet even then, Jack Black seems rather subdued in this film as compared to other roles of his, and the movie is all the better for it. His more understated humor and quick timing with his jokes really make up the humor of the film here alongside the quirks of his eyebrows and the small widening of his eyes. He makes the movie fun, and he brings the only real sense of urgency to the plot that it needs.