Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Synopsis: A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I adore the original “Blade Runner” – it’s one of my favorite films. Choosing “2049” was a no-brainer.

Brent’s Review:

There’s a lot of ground to cover in 500 words, so let’s get this train movie fast. The year is 2049 and police called “Blade Runners” hunt and “retire” (kill) replicants – artificially made humanoids – who have gone rogue. Gosling’s “Agent K” is one such cop.

Upon retiring a replicant, Agent K discovers a box of bones buried near the replicant’s house. The forensics team discovers they were the bones of a replicant who died during child birth.

Wait, what?

Recounting the next steps would spoil the film, so I will leave this revelation as a teaser for you.

Good sequels must accomplish two things: capture the spirit of the original and introduce new elements. “2049” does both. Trading the original film’s noir-style for a mystery/hero’s journey tale, the film utilizes the core characters from the original – Rick Deckard and his replicant lover, Rachel – in an ingenious way in the narrative.

Gosling turns in a wonderful performance, summoning the steely exterior he employed in “Drive” with new polish and different shades. Harrison Ford is excellent along with Jared Leto’s outstanding turn as “Niander Wallace”. Newcomer Ana De Armas is wonderful as an Alexa-type AI companion to Gosling’s “K” and Robin Wright turns in a solid performance as “Lieutenant Joshi.” My word limit forces me to exclude praise for the rest of the ensemble, but the film has no weak spot in the acting department.

The first film’s writer Hampton Fancher returns to co-write this screenplay along with “Logan” writer Michael Green. Fancher, whose “Blade Runner” is a cerebral exploration of what it means to be human, sets out to do much of the same in “2049”. Attacking the concept of the human from all angles, we explore questions about the significance of artificial intelligence birthing new life, the adequacy of AI as a companion, and your typical God-complex questions from a movie about artificial intelligence.

Denis Villeneuve is, in my opinion, the most exciting director working in Hollywood today. To see him helm a big-budget think-piece, shoulder the expectations from the original, and deliver a stunner of a movie is simultaneously exhilarating and unsurprising. He has a gift for taking “heady” films and making them accessible for casual moviegoers. His ability to invite the audience into the craft of visual storytelling is refreshing – aided by the breathtaking cinematography of Roger Deakins.

You may find “2049” difficult to grasp conceptually. I would argue that’s not a problem. The film invites – and I expect it rewards – repeat viewings, just like Villeneuve’s “Arrival”.

This is a film that demands to be seen in theaters. Not only because it is imperative that art of this quality earns a profit to stave the tide of ham-handed reboots, sequels, and extended universes – despite itself being a sequel – but because in “2049” is a film made for the theater.

Step out, go to the theater, and enter another world for a few hours. You won’t be disappointed; I can’t wait to go back.

Leah’s Review:

Most people who go to the theaters to watch a sequel usually do so because they liked that sequel’s predecessor. I’ll admit that this wasn’t the case when I went to see “Blade Runner 2049”. It’s not that I hated the 1982 original, I just…couldn’t get into it. I mostly understand the movie and I think the storyline is fascinating. I chalk up my disinterest to slow-pacing, some confusing concepts, and the fact that Harrison Ford isn’t very like-able as Rick Deckard.

That being said, “Blade Runner 2049” grabbed my attention from its gorgeous and exciting trailer and it’s killer cast. And though it’s 164-minute run-time was a little on the long side for me, I have to say- the movie didn’t disappoint.

This sequel captures the spirit and feel of the 1982 “Blade Runner” (without being  copy-and-paste), but still manages to be fresh and unique. Although it’s a continuation of the first film’s story, the newest installment could almost be watched on its own. The movie continues to address the same questions from the original: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to have a soul? Where do we draw the line between human life and artificial intelligence? But by no means does it recycle material- it manages to ask these questions in new and intriguing ways.

The acting in this film is perfection. Ryan Gosling shows yet another side to his acting repertoire. Harrison Ford, even as an older actor now, never ceases to impress. Jared Leto is creepy perfection. And I’m always happy to see Robin Wright- she’s a terrific actress who has really made a comeback recently. I’ll also give a shout-out to newcomers Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks- both gave captivating performances.

“Blade Runner 2049” features some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve ever seen in a film. Every shot is stunning. The movie is just as much a treat for the eyes as it is an excellently well-told story.

The film’s music (a joint effort by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch) is spot on. It would have been easy to simply copy the iconic score by Vangelis- Zimmer and Wallfisch (who are both no strangers to making epic soundtracks) create a soundtrack that encapsulates the futuristic feel of the original score, but has a sound all its own.

I won’t go into too much detail about the plot of “Blade Runner 2049” because I think it’s a movie one should experience. Like the original “Blade Runner”, this isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to spell everything out for you. It leaves a lot to interpretation.

When we saw the movie, I wasn’t completely blown away. But in the days since, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it (maybe because Brent won’t stop talking about it). The more time that passes, the more I’d like to see again. “Blade Runner 2049” is one of the best made films of 2017 and I highly recommend it.

Up Next: Get out your best dress – we’re checking out the 1959 comedy “Some Like It Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon,

Peace out, kids.


The Graduate (1967)

Synopsis: A disillusioned college graduate finds himself torn between his older lover and her daughter.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Leah had seen it before and she didn’t really care for it. I thought it was time for me to see this movie because it’s so critically acclaimed, despite her not liking it.

Brent’s Review:

Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” is an exercise in subtlety. The film begins with Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returning home after his college graduation only to find himself disillusioned by the prospect of his future. Ben begins exhibiting unpredictable and spontaneous behavior, most notably in having an affair with a married woman. 

After the film’s famous seduction by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), Ben is coerced into taking out Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). Unpredictably, they fall in love! 

This setup would feel at home in a contemporary rom-com, but made in 1967 “The Graduate” feels like a critique of modern romantic comedies before they became the cliche-riddled movies we know all too well today. 

Consider a scene in which Ben and Mrs. Robinson decide to have a conversation before they make love (“for a change,” Ben says). The scene leads to a fight and eventually a resolution, but Nichols doesn’t cut there. The shot lingers, the two lovers pathetically taking off the clothes they hurriedly put on during the fight. It’s depressing. 

The same is true of the triumphant ending. Where most romcoms would be satisfied with the smiling couple riding into the sunset together (and Elaine ditching her groom at the altar), Nichols holds the shot long enough for both characters to realize what they’ve done. Spontaneity plays well in the movies; that’s the facade Nichols breaks down in the film. 

“The Graduate” is wonderful on a superficial level as well. Ben and Elaine’s first date had me in stitches (until it nearly had me in tears) and the scenes where Ben is nervous about Mrs. Robinson’s sexual advances are equally side-splitting. The film follows the familiar formula, but that’s not the only thing it’s here to do. 

Beyond that, the writing and cinematography are wonderful throughout. It’s no surprise to me that this film has 3-4 shots that are used whenever talking about “the classics”. Good cinematography usually (not always) gives you a pretty good indication that you’re in the hands of competent filmmakers; what a treat this film is. 

It’s interesting to me that this film’s message has been misread for so long. In many ways, the film’s iconography has become grander than the film itself. It’s a classic, but not for the reasons you might typically hear. Want to know what the fuss is about? Familiarize yourself with the primary source – see “The Graduate”. 

Leah’s Review:

I watched “The Graduate” for the first time about five years ago. I hated it. I thought it was completely overrated, boring, and just kind of bizarre. Even as a huge Simon & Garfunkel fan, I thought if I heard “Scarborough Fair” one more time I was gonna lose it. I couldn’t understand why this movie had gotten so much praise and attention- I chalked it up to being made in “a different time”.

But I guess first impressions can be misleading. Yes, there were still a few times when Simon & Garfunkel was played just a little too much. But the movie was much better than I had remembered it being.

“The Graduate” is a comedy- but it’s not what we typically think of when we think of a comedy movie. There are no gags or “obvious” jokes. The humor is entirely for the audience- not the characters. So when I watched this movie the first time, I really didn’t understand how funny it truly was. A huge part of what makes this film so funny is Dustin Hoffman’s performance as awkward and moral Ben trying to navigate his way through an affair with a married woman.

But aside from its comedy, “The Graduate” also features some moving and emotional moments. Perhaps the most memorable is from the scene when Ben tries to have a real conversation with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) while they’re in bed together. Resistant at first, Mrs. Robinson eventually opens up about her past, her marriage, and what she has lost because of the direction that her life took. This scene portrays her as more of a sympathetic and dynamic character than we might have originally given her credit for.

I first watched this film while I was in college. As hokey as it sounds, I think I had a better appreciation of “The Graduate” as a graduate. The first 15 minutes of the film are hilariously painful to watch as Ben is bombarded by his family and their friends constantly reminding him that he now has to decide what to do with his life- expecting him to have all the answers. As anyone who has graduated from college knows, this is so true to life. It can be so claustrophobic at times and, like Ben, we just want to sink to the bottom of the pool and get away from it all. Or stare at a fish tank for hours (or days) upon end, trying to decide what our future should look like. These contemplative scenes with Ben seemed so silly and pointless to me upon my first viewing- but in a different perspective, I think they’re brilliant.

As for Simon & Garfunkel- I still think a few songs are repeated too many times. However, this movie could have had no other soundtrack than the melodramatic melodies that folk duo.

I’m glad I gave this one another go-round. It’s by no means a perfect film, but it’s solid and well worth a viewing (or a second viewing).

Up Next: We’re time-tripping with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner 2049”. 

Peace out, kids.

Half Nelson (2006)

Synopsis: An inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers his secret.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: I had never heard of the film until recently when I learned that Ryan Gosling had received a Best Actor nomination for it. My interest was piqued.

Brent’s Review:

Question: don’t you sometimes feel like Ryan Gosling is just playing himself in movies? Or at the very least, that he’s playing his brand or his persona? I do, at least sometimes. This is the same thing we say about Ryan Reynolds, so why does Gosling get an Oscar nomination for “La La Land”?

Hollywood got swept up in “La La Land” and gave out a couple of pretty undeserving nominations, in my opinion. I’m not retracting my thoughts, but after “Half Nelson” I’m willing to put them in context. An undeserving Oscar nomination doesn’t make Ryan Gosling an overrated actor. Exhibit A: “Half Nelson”

“Half Nelson” is a character study of a high school history teacher who is addicted to crack. One night after a girls’ basketball game he smokes crack in the locker room and one student, Drey (Shareeka Epps), finds him. She doesn’t turn him in, but they form an uneasy relationship. She watches him destroy his life while trying to mentor her and turn her away from becoming a drug dealer.

This film was made in 2006, near the turning point of popularity for the War in Iraq. The characters talk about this and Gosling’s Dan Dunne character gives his “history is the study of change through struggle” speech half a dozen times throughout the movie. The students in his class are studying the civil rights movement and Dunne encourages them to find their voice and make it heard.

The turning point in the film is when Gosling confronts the drug dealer that also vies for Drey’s attention, Frank (Anthony Mackie). Realizing the irony of a crack addict asking a crack dealer to stop seeing a teenager because he’s a bad influence, Dunne goes inside for “a drink” and later goes off the rails entirely.

“Half Nelson” has a number of themes running across one another, the two most obvious being drug abuse and mentoring. But the third theme is the underscore: political consciousness. In the aforementioned confrontation, Frank asks Dunne what gives him the authority to ask him to stop seeing Drey. “I don’t know! But I have to do something, right?” The moral is that imperfect people can still choose to work for good. In fact, Dunne says something similar to his class.

This film is not without cheer. Gosling’s natural charisma shines in the classroom, but it’s his self-loathing in times of solitude that capture the true power of his performance. Special commendation goes out to the writing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck as well, whose script avoids melodrama while also eschewing despair.

This film is authentic and the characters feel real. Gosling is the centerpiece – his organic turn as Dan Dunne feels so real that you might guess he actually slept in those clothes before shooting. Unlike his other performances, these clothes don’t feel like his but rather those of someone else entirely. And that’s a very different compliment.

Gosling demonstrates great depth in “Half Nelson” – it’s definitely worth watching.

Leah’s Review:

“Half Nelson” is about a junior high teacher with an addiction to cocaine. Despite his best efforts to get clean, Dan Dunne continues to fall back into old habits of an unhealthy lifestyle. The only thing that keeps him sane and focused are his students. Teaching history in an inner-city school in Chicago, Dan excels at getting his students interested in class topics by using unconventional (but effective) methods. One day, one of his students finds him half unconscious and high. Drey chooses to keep her discovery a secret and the two start an unlikely and complicated friendship.

So let’s be honest- the main reason I wanted to see this film was because of Ryan Gosling. And no, it’s not because he’s attractive (even though though that’s true- but hey, even my husband agrees 100% with that statement). While many know him for his performance in 2004’s “The Notebook” and more recently, last year’s “La La Land”, Gosling has also proven his acting skills in such films as “Lars and the Real Girl”, “Drive”, “The Big Short”, and “The Nice Guys” just to name a few. Whether it be drama, comedy, crime, or romance- Gosling has the ability to play a variety of roles in an engaging and convincing way. “Half Nelson” is no different as we see Gosling play a role very different from others we have seen him in: A man plagued by an addiction he can’t seem to escape (despite the passion he has to be a mentor to his students) who spirals ever further into a cycle of self-destruction.

Gosling is great- but it is Sharkeera Epps who nearly steals the show from him with her performance as Drey. Not only does Epps prove her acting chops by playing a thirteen year-old (when she herself was 17 at the time) but she acts with a maturity well beyond her years. We don’t expect such a young inexperienced actor to be able to match the likes of Ryan Gosling- but Epps’s portrayal is just as engaging and is a perfect complement to Gosling’s.

“Half Nelson” is marketed as an inspirational film- but this is misleading. Just when we think Dan has kicked his drug habit for good, he comes back to it with a vengeance. The movie does not take the easy way out by choosing to have Drey save Dan from his addiction or have him saving her from her potential future as a drug dealer. It shows the realities of someone living with an addiction. It shows the realities of a child growing up in a poor, broken, and drug-ridden society. The ending is ambiguous. Does Dan clean up for good? We hope so. Does Drey choose not to sell drugs to make a living for her family? We hope so. All we know is that these characters have something to teach one another despite their differing circumstances.

“Half Nelson” is an underrated and understated film that deserves a watch.

Up next: ‘The Graduate’, which is 50 years old this year. Yeah, fifty. You read that correctly.

Peace out, kids.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Synopsis: The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I was intrigued by this film when it came out, but it was too taboo in my social circle to see it. Better late than never.

Brent’s Review

Ennis: This is a one-shot thing we got goin’ on here.
Jack: It’s nobody’s business but ours.
Ennis: You know I ain’t queer.
Jack: Me neither.

“Brokeback Mountain” was, to be sure, a polarizing picture. It starred two young, attractive actors engaged in a homosexual romance for much of the film’s runtime. More than that, critics said it was good!

I recall the opposition asking, “why do we need a gay cowboy movie?” The appropriate response, I think, is why we would need another straight cowboy movie. But let’s delve deeper into the narrative.

Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Gyllenhaal) are ranch hands looking for work in the summer. They take on a shepherding job in the Wyoming mountains – Brokeback! They spend the summer together, one tending the sheep while the other tends the camp.

The summer gets cold in the Wyoming mountains. One night, the two get drunk and stay out too late for Ennis to travel back to the sheep. Hearing him shiver by the embered fire, Jack invites Ennis to come in to the tent to warm up. Drunk and confused, they make love.

Summer ends and they part ways. They don’t speak again for four years, by which time Ennis has married and fathered two children. When they do reunite, their passion rekindles and live the remainder of their lives with limited interactions, always wondering “what if?”

The “what if” is the dream of a time when they could be together. There are two brief scenes in which the consequences of being suspected of homosexuality cost your life. Both men also face consequences for not having the language for their desire. Both Ennis and Jack desire labels. They don’t want to be considered queer, but they surely can’t quit each other, as the film’s famous line goes. The film explores how the limits on their own understanding of sexuality keep them separated as well.

Wisely, director Ang Lee and co-writers Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (all three won Oscars for this film) avoid putting the characters into boxes. They’re not gay-men-posing-as-straight-men. They’re not straight-men-choosing-to-be-gay. They’re not bisexual. They’re two men who love each other and also love their wives. The primary conflict in the film is navigating how to express it.

The film is layered, as well. Ennis is product of a broken home and has difficulty showing love, either to Jack or his wife Alma (Michelle Williams). Jack is a failed rodeo rider and feels compelled to prove his masculinity at every turn, especially to his father-in-law. These secondary conflicts pivot around the film’s central theme.

“Brokeback Mountain” is a sad study of two men who can’t love each other, both because of who they are and what society says they are. The element of sexual orientation sharpens the story and, indeed, changes its dynamics. It’s necessary.

This is a film that demands to be seen and, depending on your perspective, perhaps even wrestled with.

Leah’s Review

I remember when “Brokeback Mountain” was released. Growing up in a conservative Christian home, this film was seen as controversial to say the least. The “gay cowboy movie” was either never talked about or condemned by its content despite its rave reviews.

As my views have broadened and my appreciation for well-made films has also expanded, “Brokeback Mountain” became a movie I felt I needed to see at some point or another (especially with the recent and early death of star Heath Ledger). Ang Lee is also a director I admire- the dude knows how to make beautiful films.

Because of it’s content, I expected “Brokeback Mountain” to be more of a statement on LGBTQ social issues. And, in many respects- is was that. There certainly hadn’t been any critically acclaimed movies that dealt with homosexual relationships in this way before. It got people talking. But when watching this, I think it should be viewed less as a political statement and more as a story about love and the complexity of human relationships.

While one could argue that the movie revolves around homosexuality and the complications involved in being in a homosexual relationship in 1960’s rural America, it can also be appreciated by and have an impact on anyone- whether gay, straight, or otherwise. As Roger Ebert states in his own review of the film: “The more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual characters, the more it applies to everyone.” No matter what your feelings on the subject matter of this film may be, it’s pretty difficult not to feel for its characters. Ennis and Jack clearly have a deep love for one another that goes beyond physical intimacy and we feel their pain when they are torn apart by the complexities of their world. We also feel for their wives, Alma and Lureen, who suspect (or in Alma’s case- know) that their husbands are being unfaithful to them and we watch Ennis and Alma’s marriage and family disintegrate as a result.

The acting in this film is spot-on. Heath Ledger does what he does best as he completely disappears into his character of tough, reserved, and quiet Ennis. Jake Gyllenhaal shines as energetic, sensitive, and passionate Jack. Michelle Williams’s performance as Alma is heartbreakingly outstanding and Anne Hathaway holds her own as Lureen, (proving her acting chops outside her previous Disney films). Add to that some killer cinematography (a signature feature of Ang Lee’s films) featuring gorgeous mountainscapes- and it’s not hard to see why the movie was nominated (and won) so many Oscars.

Some may feel too uncomfortable with this movie’s content to consider watching it. But I would encourage them to view it with an open mind and heart. It’s a beautiful and magnificent piece of filmmaking, and at its core, “Brokeback Mountain” is about our human need to love and be loved. And that’s something we can all resonate with, no matter what our viewpoints may be.

Up next: We’re going back a decade to check out Ryan Gosling’s first Oscar-nominated performance in “Half Nelson”. 

Peace out, kids.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Synopsis: A wealthy art gallery owner receives a draft of her ex-husband’s new novel, and once she starts reading it she just cannot put it down.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams… can’t go wrong (or so I thought).

Leah’s Review:

About 30 minutes into our viewing of “Nocturnal Animals”, I thought to myself “I do not want to watch this anymore.” And if this movie hadn’t been a part of our challenge, I probably would have stopped watching.

“Nocturnal Animals” is not a poorly made film. On the contrary, it is a masterfully made film with high production values, a seemingly-promising storyline, great cinematography, and an all-star cast. It has all the potential of a masterpiece- but unfortunately, it falls short.

Let me start with the plot. In a simplified form, “Nocturnal Animals” focuses on Susan (Amy Adams), a rich and successful art gallery owner who has done some terrible things in her past- specifically in regards to her first husband Edward, a writer (Jake Gyleenhaal) who she is divorced from. Years after their separation, Edward sends Susan a manuscript of a book he has written and dedicated to her. Reading his dramatic and incredibly gruesome novel causes Susan to reflect on their past relationship and how the “fiction” of the novel mirrors the reality of the actions that caused their marriage to disintegrate.

At one point in the film, Susan tells Edward what she thinks of his novel: “It’s devastating. I am deeply moved. It is beautifully written.” This statement is true of the movie as well- however I find that there is more style than there is substance when it comes to “Nocturnal Animals”. The unwinding plot certainly keeps us interested long enough to see what happens next to the characters- but we really don’t feel anything for them.

The scene with the most substance takes place in Edward’s novel when Tony (who is also played by Gyleenhall), his wife and daughter are encountered by strange men who pull them over on the highway. The family is threatened and harassed, Tony is beaten, and his wife and daughter are kidnapped by the men in Tony’s car leaving him stranded. This scene is tense and gut-wrenching, giving the audience a feeling of dread for the entirety of the scene (which is very lengthy, by the way). It was after this scene that I almost asked if we could stop the movie. That’s how convincingly horrifying it was to watch (and that’s really a tribute to the stellar acting featured). The film is so dark throughout- and it never gives you a reason to want to keep watching.

“Nocturnal Animals” is not a movie I can honestly recommend to anyone. It’s dark. It’s moody. It’s not entertaining. I feel like there could have been so much more to this film, but the director settled for surface-level material and tried to make up for it with sleek visuals and big name actors. This one’s a hard pass from me.

Brent’s Review:

“Nocturnal Animals” features two stories running parallel to one another. In the alpha storyline, we see Amy Adams’ Susan Morrow as she sulks the days and nights away. One day, she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has dedicated it to her. This storyline jumps back and forth between the present and her history with Edward throughout the last half of the film, but mostly follows Susan in the present.

The beta storyline is the novel, in which Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) and his family, Laura & India (Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber), are accosted by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) on the highway. Tony watches helplessly as his family is abducted by Marcus and his friends. Beaten and left for dead, Tony finds out days later that – yep, you guessed it – they were raped and killed. The rest of the novel recounts Tony’s quest for vengeance, aided by corrupt officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon).

Okay… so where to begin? First, it’s dark. Really, really dark. The scene in which Tony’s family is abducted is stomach-turning. Second, the movie is very macabre. The opening credit sequence features three or four heavy women wearing nothing but hats (yes, literally nothing) and dancing in slow motion. It’s… different.

But mostly, this film is dreadful. It isn’t like watching a nightmare – it’s like what nightmares watch when they want to be scared. Essentially, Gyllenhaal’s Tony is tortured again and again for two hours. More than that, the alpha storyline is bleak. No one smiles. Everyone just mopes and sulks. Then, we switch back to the beta storyline, which is full of rape and murder.

For all of these negative things, there are three outstanding qualities of the film: it’s brilliantly acted, beautifully photographed, and the score is superb.

And this is the thing that is the most frustrating. This movie is so disappointing that it made me mad. How do you get a cast with Gyllenhaal, Adams, and Shannon and screw this up so badly? Ford can’t stay out of his own way throughout the film and it really comes back to tone and story arc. The linchpin of the narrative is whether you care about Susan Morrow, but how am I supposed to care for a character whose one direction note is to sulk? Ironically, Adams is so convincing in this performance that she convinced me to not care at all about this character. Backfire.

So yeah yeah yeah, I get it. Maybe I didn’t like it because it offended my delicate sensibilities. Whatever. I loved “Prisoners”, “Oldboy”, and “Se7en”. It’s not what the movie is about, but it’s that it’s totally fumbled. Sure, the script needed some more work (the alpha storyline has way too much filler). But past that, the tone totally throws the movie off.

You might say I didn’t get this movie. I would say I don’t care. I can’t think of a single person I’d recommend this movie to. Watch “Arrival” instead.

Up Next: The second of our Jake Gyllenhaal double feature is the 2005 Best Picture nominee “Brokeback Mountain.” Even after encountering the first dud of our calendar, we still don’t wish we knew how to quit it.

Peace out, kids.

Amélie (2001)

Synopsis: Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I’ve wanted to watch this movie for nearly a decade, but I’ve always been too lazy to do it. This movie was another inspiration for this list because I knew I’d never actually see this movie without committing to it.

Brent’s Review:

“Like Don Quixote, she pitted herself against the grinding windmill of all life’s miseries…”

“Amélie” is about a young woman who explores altruism. First, she returns an heirloom to a man who had hidden it four decades earlier. Seeing his reaction, she becomes addicted to helping others. She plays a matchmaker for two coffee shop regulars, a defender for a bullied vegetable stand employee, and a companion for “the glass man”, an apartment neighbor with extremely brittle bones.

What Amélie does not do for the first half of the film, however, is tend to her own concerns. She stumbles upon a childhood friend and is immediately taken by him. The second half of the film features a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse between the two before a wonderfully photographed final sequence of the two on a motorbike.

“Amélie” is beautifully shot, wonderfully paced, and very funny. Oddly enough, the two films that came to mind throughout my viewing were “(500) Days of Summer” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”. In the case of the former, the writing is very sarcastic, very funny, and is very inventive throughout (“Amélie” was nominated for a Best Writing award at the 2002 Academy Awards). In the case of the latter, “Amélie” relies heavily on magical realism. Inanimate objects move, converse with the characters, and everything is bright and clean.

I wish to explore the connection between “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Amélie” a bit further. For me, the two films’ uses of magical realism are important in punctuating the narrative. Both films feature very dark elements (neglect, humiliation, and reclusiveness are themes running throughout “Amélie”). However, the difference between Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s comedy and Guillermo Del Toro’s twisted fairy tale is the directions in which the dark elements of both films run. In “Pan’s Labyrinth”, lighter elements are foregrounded (and cast in shadows) in order to push the darker elements to the backdrop; in “Amélie”, the reverse is true.

Who better to play a character dabbling in altruism than Audrey Tautou? Tautou’s personality is transcendent in every scene. That isn’t to say that she steals scenes – this is very much Jeunet’s film – but she happily carries the weight that the film asks her to shoulder throughout. It’s an electrifying performance, complemented very well by her love interest Mathieu Kassovitz.

Roger Ebert called “Amélie” a “delicious pastry of a movie.” Maybe. But I think it has a lot more to it than that. The film foregrounds the death of Princess Di, which was a very sad event worldwide at the film’s release (in April 2001, mind you), but finds opportunities to bring joy in the midst of that sadness. Perhaps there is an interesting subtext here. Perhaps not. “Amélie” is an enjoyable experience either way.

And it’s streaming on Netflix now, so…

Leah’s Review

A quirky comedy about an adorable Parisian introvert who tries to make the world a better place? How could this go wrong?

“Amélie” is a very simple story, but one that is told in such a way that keeps the audience captivated the entire time. It’s beautifully shot, well-paced, witty, and absolutely charming.

The tone of the movie is quickly set at the beginning of the film. The narrator introduces us to  Amélie and her family and explains that because of her parents’ distance and her isolation from other children growing up, “Amélie’s only refuge is an imaginary world.” As an audience, we are immersed in a world of both fantasy and reality as we see it through Amélie’s eyes. The film has a very whimsical feel to it- often reminding me of 2004 “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” with its bizarre editing and quirky storytelling. Aesthetically, it’s such a bold and colorful film, complimented wonderfully by its geographical setting of Paris.

Amélie’s character is an endearing one, but made even more so by the performance of Audrey Tautou. The role is one she was born to play as the delightful, naive, kind-hearted, sometimes mischievous young woman who dreams of love and wants to bring happiness to all she encounters. As a fellow introvert, I could resonate with Amélie’s struggles of fitting in with others, expressing herself, and being open to love (both giving and receiving). Sometimes it is easier for her chose to live in her own reality or “relate to an absent person that build relationships with those around her” as one friend so eloquently states. This movie is a great reminder to not neglect our own needs and desires in the pursuit of making others happy.

I’ve never seen a film quite like “Amélie”. Watching it is sort of like stepping into a very vibrant painting. There is so much to take in and there’s beauty to be found everywhere- not only visually, but emotionally. Amélie becomes driven by a mission to bring joy to those she meets- and in doing so, we as the audience are also touched and impacted by her deeds. And we’re left feeling a little happier and lighter as a result.

There’s more I could say about the film, but my words fail me. “Amélie” is truly a treat and is one of my favorites we’ve seen this year so far.

Up Next: We’ll be burning the midnight oil with “Nocturnal Animals”, the first of two Jake Gyllenhaal movies we’ll be watching back-to-back. Brent is excited.

Peace out, kids.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Synopsis: A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her ten year old son, John Connor, from a more advanced cyborg.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: 

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: It’s been too long since I’ve seen this movie and Leah would never agree to watch it without the calendar. This was one of the movies that motivated the creation of this calendar… *sinister laugh*.

Brent’s Review:

Arnold Schwarzenegger has one film in his catalog that I believe every person must see, and “Terminator 2” is it. But what about “The Terminator”? Won’t you be lost without seeing the first one?

I don’t think so. The first two Terminator films (and, in my opinion, the only two that count) occupy vastly different genres. The first film plays like a slasher movie – Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is the damsel in distress and the Terminator stalks her throughout the city. “Terminator 2,” however, is much more of a traditional sci-fi action/adventure movie. James Cameron trades narrow corridors and abandoned factories for occupied highways and government buildings. The budget increased from $6.4 million to $102 million for the sequel and it shows (“Terminator 2” won 4 Academy Awards and was nominated for another 2, including Best Cinematography).

Most folks know the twist already, namely is that Schwarzenegger’s terminator is a good guy this time! Unlike the first film, the protagonist is the macho terminator while the villain is slender and quick. Robert Patrick’s T-1000 terminator is much more agile and capable of maneuvers that Schwarzenegger’s terminator is too bulky to execute. There is a great deal of restraint I don’t have confidence that today’s action films could exercise: the counter force to a Schwarzenegger protagonist shouldn’t be a bulky antagonist, but something entirely different. “Terminator 2” nails it.

The point of “Terminator 2” is not the story (even if the film hints at an interesting story beneath the surface that the sequels fumbled repeatedly). The point is the action. Film critic Roger Ebert once called the slasher film “Halloween” less of a film and more of an experience. “Terminator 2” is similar. The action scenes are paced so well that the film never feels like it slows down. A sci-fi film like this requires a good deal of exposition to set the backdrop for the events of the film. Consider this: the film’s exposition never slows the film down, but instead manages to speed it up (even and especially exposition delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose acting prowess is oft-maligned).

The selling point on this film is the special effects. “Terminator 2” was made at a time where it was still more cost effective and time effective to mix practical effects with CGI. The film earns its academy award wins for effects as the special effects still hold up to this day, even though this film is older than Leah (barely). Mixed with the dark blue aesthetic that Cameron chose for the film, the shiny metallic effects used for the villainous T-1000 still look more realistic than some contemporary releases, such as Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit”.

James Cameron is an action auteur (he is also responsible for “Avatar”), but “Terminator 2” is his magnum opus. The action still keeps me on my seat after having seen the film over a dozen times. It’s a timeless action film – how fitting for a film driven by time travel.

Leah’s Review:

Full disclosure: I watched “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” without having ever watched any of the other Terminator movies. Thankfully, I have a husband who loves this movie with all of his being who was able to explain the gist of the first film and lay the groundwork for the second.

Of course, I have always been aware of the “Terminator” series. The first two films are absolutely iconic in 80’s and 90’s culture and are probably the most famous Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. I can remember, even as a small child, imitating Arnie and saying things like “Hasta la vista, baby”. So I was looking forward to watching “Judgment Day” and seeing if the movie would live up to the hype.

“Terminator 2”, as an action film, is pure fun. The action scenes, whether they feature a chase or a fight, are creative and exciting. There’s no over-the-top editing or crazy CGI explosions like we’re used to seeing in modern action movies (though the film features some amazing special effects that still hold up quite well after 25+ years). It’s the kind of non-stop action that keeps you on your toes and entertained the whole time. There’s also a healthy dose of comedy here and there to appropriately lighten up what could be a very dark movie.

So let’s talk about Sarah Conner. Not having seen the first film, Brent explained to me that Sarah was really more of a damsel in distress- a stereotypical female role in an action flick. In “Judgment Day”, Sarah is a badass. After living through her experiences in the first film (where attempts are made on her life and she learns of the impending doom of the human race), Sarah isn’t about to sit back and let the horrific events of the future take place. She’s a very strong and independent character whose love for her son and convictions to her beliefs make her, in my opinion, a great protagonist and female role model.

One interesting aspect about “Terminator 2” is its underlying message about the value of human life- something we don’t often get in these kinds of action films. After discovering that the  Terminator is programmed to follow his commands, young John Connor orders him to stop killing people (even when they put him in danger)- and so for the rest of the movie, there are no lives taken by the Terminator. In another scene Sarah goes on a mission to kill Miles Dyson (who is ultimately is responsible for Skynet and the the nuclear war destined as a result). But as she is about to kill Miles, Sarah realizes that taking his life is not the way to prevent the war.

I’m glad I got around to seeing this movie. It’s probably one of the best action films I’ve ever seen and it’s such an important part of the culture that I grew up in- so it’s good to finally be in the loop.

Up Next: We’re craving another foreign film and 2001’s “Amèlie” one looks pretty adorable. 

Hasta la vista, kids.