Category Archives: 8/10

The Discovery

discoveryNote: Today we have another special guest recommendation!  I have a backlog of recommendations from Jesse but they’re all too hard to find right now and this one is readily available.

What Sam said:

Mike, you should watch The Discovery and let me know what you think. I value your opinion and think that you would thoroughly enjoy it. Kidding, I don’t really value your opinion but I really want to talk about it with someone and you are the only person I know with a movie blog. GFY!

Mike’s verdict:

At the heart of The Discovery is a fascinating thought experiment.  How would you react to knowing that there is an afterlife? Would it change how you live this life?  Now imagine you were told that a soul / spirit / consciousness / whatever left the body immediately after death, but with no indication of where it went.  Would not knowing the destination change how you felt?  How about if you were told that one scientist had evidence of something empirically measurable leaving the body immediately after death, but with no idea what that something is (maybe it’s not a consciousness at all) and with no idea where that something might go?

The latter scenario is where this film begins – science has reported something measurable leaving the body and society has, as it does, filled in all the unknowns with assumptions.  The most immediate result of this is that a not insignificant number of people across the world kill themselves under the assumption, or at least expectation, that there is another plane of existence and – crucially – that it is better.

There is a lot to consider in this thought experiment.  To start with, there is the obvious problem of determining what biological or physical occurrences would be convincing as evidence of a consciousness that can exist separate from the body.  Then of course there is the problem of figuring out where that consciousness actually goes. Interesting questions for sure, but these are in fact not the point of the film.  While the science considerations are distracting (they definitely distracted me at first), the real point of this film is to explore how science fits into society at the crossroads of the empirical colliding with the spiritual.

It’s typically accepted that religion won’t give concrete evidence for its assertions – indeed many would argue that faith without evidence is the point of faith.  This of course is almost anathema to science, which has at its core tenant that assertions must be verifiable and reproducible.  And yet, a case could be made (as I think it is being made in this film) that society doesn’t necessarily hold science to its own standard. The exploitation of scientific reporting by news media looking for anything sensational to sell advertisements is undoubtedly a concerning trend, but this is only possible because society is just as inclined to accept the word of science as it is the word of spiritual leaders – and just as likely to get these words very confused.

The Discovery isn’t about the idea of an afterlife, it’s an indictment of a society that is willing to take on faith (whether spiritually or scientifically) the notion of something beyond. The implication is that people want so badly to find something better, that they are willing to accept anything that will help substantiate their hope. Belief in an afterlife is a potent example to make that point, but it can just as easily be applied to any issue that science and religion makes claims about – so, everything really.  And in making this case, the film highlights the hypocrisy of expecting science to take responsibility for not having all the answers, while allowing religion to actually rely on not having all the answers.

Unfortunately, the narrative gets a little off track nearing the end as it attempts to actually make some sense of the science that it invents.  I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending so that the main questions could stick with the audience rather than allowing everything to be confused by complicated alternate realities.

Beyond the main focus, I liked most other aspects of the film. Robert Redford was fairly convincing as the (initially) socially clueless scientist and Jason Segel was equally believable as the reluctant skeptic; though at times I felt like I was watching the same character he played in Jeff Who Lives at HomeRooney Mara was an interesting choice for a role that is almost-but-not-quite the manic pixie dream girl.  Her character has substance, but in the end she exists (rather literally) to explain Segel’s protagonist, and that’s a bit disappointing.

On the concept alone I would rate this film a full 10/10. But taking into consideration the odd direction of the plot in the end, it gets knocked down to 8/10.

 

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Slow West

SlowWest.jpgWhat Jesse said:

Yo, I got another one fer ya. This one is called Slow West and it stars Michael Fassbender and some kid named Kodi Smit-McPhee, who, turns out, I’ve already seen in another great movie – The Road.  Anyway, this is kind of a weird love story about a pasty-faced lovesick kid (Kodi) who travels from Scotland to the badlands of 19th century America in search of his massive crush, a girl named Rose.  The kid is uber naive and idealistic about his quest so you know he’s in trouble as soon as you see him in the New World.  Throw in some crazy bounty hunters and a jaded gunslinger with an agenda and you got yourself a pretty quirky twist on the old western genre.  I really enjoyed this one so cancel your plans for the Pokemon Go hunt and go see this movie right now. Go.

Mike’s verdict:

Apparently I took a while getting around to watching this one – as evidenced by Jesse’s outdated reference to a game that I was too old for even a decade ago when anyone cared about Pokemon.  Part of the delay was life – I was busy doing non-movie-related activities. But I was also very skeptical about this movie.  I’m not a fan of westerns generally and the idea that Jesse might have uncovered a good one seemed pretty remote.

Thankfully, this isn’t really a western, or at least it doesn’t feel like one.  It does tick all the western boxes: dusty plains, wooden buildings, people riding horses, everyone has a gun, nobody can aim a gun, the good guy looks just like the bad guys, nobody is ever in a hurry, it rarely rains but when it does everyone just gets wet, etc. Yet somehow this film feels less like western and more like fantasy.  I can’t quite place it, but the atmosphere doesn’t feel like it’s intended to be part of our reality – it has the same once-upon-a-timeness as the beginning of Stardust. You can sort of relate to the characters, but their reality is clearly askew.  This is particularly strong at the start, before the film shifts to the New World, but it continues right through to the end.  That said, it’s doesn’t feel completely foreign in the way that Cowboys & Aliens does.

The whole thing gives off a slight awkwardness that I enjoyed, and also left me constantly guessing where it was going to take me.  In the end, the basic result is pretty obvious – you can predict how Jay’s quest to find Rose is going to turn out just from the interaction between the two characters in the first five minutes. But this is definitely one of those movies that is more about the details of the absurd journey, than the details of the absurd ending.

Aside from some minor gruesomeness near the end, Slow West is fairly easy to watch, has a nice unrushed – but not too slow – pace and is packed with dry humour that you need to pay attention to notice (ha, salt in the wound!).  It’s like an easy-listening radio station during ‘the cool DJ’s’ shift – nothing overly special, but a fine way to spend a few hours.

8/10


The Babadook

What Jesse said:

Finally an accurate depiction of parenthood! A well crafted unsettling tale about family. I give you… The Babadook. Essie Davis is mesmerizing as a single mom slowly getting to the end of her rope. And that kid…yikes! Go see it now.

Mike’s verdict:

I hadn’t heard of this one before Jesse suggested it and I think he intentionally tried to mislead me by saying it was about family; thankfully The Babadook is not really a story about family in the way Jesse insinuated, though on a certain level it definitely speaks to the relationship and influence of parents on children.

On the surface, this film is a standard haunted-house ghost story that reminded me a lot of The Shining. There’s no terrifying father figure in this, but Essie Davis‘s early on portrayal of the exhausted mother is eerily similar to Shelley Duvall‘s. Similarly, Noah Wiseman does a less effective but still admirable job of channeling Danny Lloyd as the creepy child. And although it’s less literal than in The Shining, I definitely felt a similar sense of isolation on the part of the characters. Beyond the characters themselves, the atmosphere of The Babadook also reminded me a lot of The Conjuring.

The story base – a scary monster that only a child sees – isn’t particularly novel, but there’s no doubt that this movie is disturbing.  Every setting in this film is designed to build anxiety; the house, the car, the hospital, a treehouse, and even the position of a neighbour’s window, all would have made me uncomfortable even if the activity happening around them didn’t. Added with just the right lighting and some cinematography tricks, the visuals had me uncomfortable from start to finish and I was aware of that discomfort the whole time.

Even better than the visual is the audio. Thinking about it now, I realize that I can’t recall a single moment when I was aware of the soundtrack. A frequent problem with ‘scary’ movies is over-use of those sounds that we all recognize as tropes. In the right measure they add to the atmosphere, but too much pulls you out of the moment. The Babadook feels natural at every point, even when the monster’s noise is at its worst.

That is the face of this film – an effective ghost story that left me needing to watch an anxiety-reducing comedy before moving on with my night (thank you, Archer).

But I think there is actually much more here.

The Babadook isn’t really about a haunting at all – it’s the story of a woman’s rapidly surfacing psychosis, which has been brought on by the overlapping events surrounding the death of her husband and birth of her son.  What at first seem to be the aggravating and sometimes frightening actions of a disturbed child, are in fact the reactions of a child attempting to live with the symptoms of his mother’s illness. There is no Babadook, only the disassociated personality of a woman who resents the child that is a daily reminder of the husband she lost.  The “disobedient child” is actually a completely normal child trying to live with a woman who is sometimes a loving mother and sometimes a terrifying monster. His fascination with building weapons isn’t a burgeoning sociopathy, it’s a very literal attempt to protect himself and the mother he loves from her own demons.

This film speaks very clearly to the need for parents to understand how directly their own fears, disappointments, anxieties and whole mental state affect their children.  It’s an ironic, thought-provoking, and clever take on the “haunted-house”, and a satisfyingly entertaining scare.

8/10


Oldboy (2013)

What Jesse said:

Oldboy was just “icky” kinda like Happiness.

Mike’s verdict:

Oldboy is the Spike Lee remake of Chan-wook Park‘s Oldeuboi, which I’ve previously reviewed. I did not find it icky, nor is it anything even remotely like Happiness.

I gave the original film an 8/10 because I thought that it managed to break through the language barrier well and was entertaining. But looking back I mostly remember it being a little slow, so that likely set the stage for my expectations with the remake. Not surprisingly, the fancy-Hollywood-Spike-Lee version, complete with Samuel L. Jackson, was in no sense slow. This film has all the action and tension that come standard with a Lee film, and it does a very good job of keeping the best aspects of the original. There’s even a rather lengthy homage to some ridiculous scenes in the original that betrays the film’s Korean roots. Without having viewed the original, this particular set of fight scenes will probably feel out of place. But anyone that did watch Oldeuboi first will appreciate them.

There are also a few gruesome scenes that come standard with any Lee film. I covered my eyes for them – I much prefer the Korean style of allowing the viewer to use his imagination to fill in the blanks.

My biggest complaint with the original was that I thought the final twist was too obvious and I worried that this would be the case again. Clearly, I had no hope of being surprised by the remake so I tried to keep this in mind while I was watching. As it turned out, my fear was unwarranted. I think that Lee did a much better job of hiding the twist. Had I not known all along what was happening, I don’t think I would have guessed before the big reveal.

The acting was sound, the settings kept the feel of the original really well, and this version is definitely more accessible to people in North America.

8/10 like the original.


Godzilla

What Jesse said:

They’ve finally made a movie that does Godzilla justice. It isn’t going to win any awards for Best Acting, but it’s not about the people. There was even a scene where I was compelled to cheer out loud!

Mike’s verdict:

Godzilla has been done. And done. And done. And done.

It’s been done so many times that when Jesse first mentioned seeing it, I was reluctant to say the least. Of course there is always something alluring about movies with large monsters rampaging through major cities, so eventually I came around. In fact, when I found out Jesse had gone to see the movie without me I was annoyed – so much so that I made him go see it again in Imax 3D.

Unlike the mess that happened in 1998, this time Godzilla did not disappoint.

The story is pretty similar – big monsters do their thing, and measly little human cities happen to get in the way. Measly little humans also run around pretending like they are doing something about it.

But this time there is a lot more emphasis on turning Godzilla into a superhero – and it works. With most monster movies I cheer for the monster because, well, who wants to see the humans actually win? But in this case it seemed like cheering for Godzilla was the morally correct option. Plus, without even being told which scene he cheered out loud at, I knew exactly what Jesse was talking about as soon as I saw it.

One thing I hadn’t realized going in (or at all until Jesse mentioned it after the movie) is that the film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the skinny kid from Kick-Ass. Except he’s had some work done: he’s no longer skinny, nor a kid. Unfortunately, while we have the technology to enhance his body, he still has his skinny-kid voice. It bugged me the whole movie; I just didn’t understand why until Jesse pointed out who he was.

Overall, Godzilla is a very good monster movie. The effects are believable, the story is logically consistent, and very little time is wasted on the development of characters that nobody came to see.

8/10


Happiness

What Jesse said:

…And, in honor of the passing of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman I want you to watch Happiness, a truly twisted piece of film-making. Hoffman’s performance is disturbing and brilliant and the opening bit with Jon Lovitz is absolute genius.

Mike’s verdict:

Happiness is about the most unfortunate family ever – even by movies standards. It’s centred on three sisters living very different lives but with a common undertone – nobody is happy; everybody is lonely. Even the people in their lives are lonely. And it’s really uncomfortable. So very uncomfortable.

But unlike most awkward films, Happiness is not just a series of unfortunate events or poor choices. Instead, the discomfort comes from its honest portrayal of life. Quietly anxious but evenly understated, Happiness is shocking because it all seems so tangible. The characters are real people with real flaws. Some of them are lost, some of them are sad, some of them are monsters – but they’re all still very substantial.

I really enjoy awkwardness in movies, and I definitely enjoyed this one. The acting is great, the dialog is witty and the pace was perfect – true awkwardness is not as easy as it seems. Even the soundtrack was well-chosen; Hoffman’s character’s theme song would definitely be All Out of Love.

However, this movie is not for everyone. There are a few scenes that are Hollywood icky – American Pie style. And the real awkwardness involves a level of discomfort that falls somewhere between that of Shame and Humpday. But it’s worth seeing if you’re into that sort of thing.

Favourite line of the movie: “Everyone uses baggies, that’s why we can all relate to this crime.”

8/10


12 Monkeys

What Jesse said:

The 90s were great. I wish I could live there again. Oh, and there was this movie called 12 Monkeys. It was pretty good because it happened in the 90s. The guy from Monty Python directed it, but it’s not funny. Brad Pitt is dreamy in it. He’s always dreamy, but especially in 12 Monkeys.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve paraphrased a little – Jesse didn’t actually use the word “dreamy”, but I’m trying to keep this space mostly family friendly.

I will admit that Brad Pitt did do a good job with this. I’m not really a fan of him because most of the time he just acts like Brad Pitt and I find that makes it difficult to think of him as the character he’s supposed to portray. But in 12 Monkeys he does a really good job of pretending to be mentally unstable. Especially the first few scenes he’s in.

Bruce Willis on the other hand is just Bruce Willis. He’s always Bruce Willis. But in his case it works because in every movie the character he plays really is Bruce Willis. Plus he doesn’t seem to age.

Madeleine Stowe did an okay job too, though she didn’t really have the same dynamic range as Willis and Pitt.

Overall, I was entertained. The story was interesting, it had interesting characters, and it had interesting settings. It’s too bad it looks like it was filmed in the 90s, but I’ll still give it 8/10.