Movie Diary

a) The Cobbler
This review was one of those pans that was so entertaining it kind of made me curious about just how bad the movie could be, even known how uniformly awful Adam Sandler movies tend to be. And I mean, wow, this is terrible in a very unique way. It's not even a Punch-Drunk Love type deal where you can see why this auteur type wanted Sandler for the project, it's just a wrongheaded quirky indie movie colliding into a more wrongheaded than usual Sandler movie. There's a whole section in the middle of the movie where Sandler's character mostly uses his newly discovered magic power to assume the identities of multiple black men and commit crimes while looking like them. And then a bunch of less offensive but highly ridiculous other things happen.

b) Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal has never quite been convincing as the sympathetic protagonist he's usually cast as, so this movie is a big step forward for him just in terms of putting his giant eyes and innate off-putting screen presence to use as a real nasty antihero. The movie succeeds at being stomach-turning but maybe isn't quite as devilishly satirical as it wants to be, and falls flat in some of the moments where it seems like they want a surprised scream or laugh. Not bad, though, certainly pulls no punches with the premise.

c) Gone Girl
I'm certainly not gonna whine about 'spoiler culture,' because hey, I'm the one who never read the book and waited until the movie hit HBO to see it. But it kind of amazed me how quickly people started openly talking about stuff that wasn't in the trailer, if not necessarily at the very end of the movie, even Rosamund Pike's Oscar clip was like wait woah I didn't wanna see that yet. But there was still a lot in this movie that I didn't expect and that kept me on the edge of my seat. My wife read the book so she was able to tell me a bit about the adaptation, but it really held together well just as a movie, a really surprising number of moments that made me laugh, And just the whole cast was great, especially Rosamund Pike but even the numerous memorable supporting parts (even Tyler Perry!). I was irritated that Carrie Coon's character Margo goes by 'Go,' though, that's one of those stupid quirky nicknames people only have in novels.

d) Get On Up
I'm openly hostile to most biopics, especially ones about musicians, at this point, mainly because it's so hard to watch someone play a familiar public figure without obsessing over how much (or how little) they get the physical resemblance and the voice and the mannerisms right. And James Brown is just one of the most distinct, unique people to ever stand on a stage, this was just a thankless job no matter who took it. And I went ahead and stacked the deck by watching a doc of Brown interviews and performances on TV One before watching this movie, just to throw Get On Up into stark relief with reality. I swear there were chunks of this that were taken straight out of Walk Hard. It seemed like they tried to make a decent movie but just didn't have the resources to even get halfway there.

e) Sex Tape
It's obviously a sex comedy but mostly it's about the characters' neuroses and shame about anyone seeing them fuck, and there's accordingly this weird embarrassed air around the whole thing. They never even successfully play the characters' feelings for laughs, after a while it's just stressful watching these people be stressed out.

f) Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
I liked Rise Of The Planed Of The Apes a lot, it really did what many prequels of familiar franchises try and fail to do: reverse engineer the beginning of the story with lots of ominous storm clouds gathering but also make you think differently about everything that you know will happen in later chapters. But shouldn't that movie have been Dawn and then this second one would be Rise? Those titles should really be switched. Anyway, this movie had to progress the story to the next phase, and they execute it well enough, but it was just less interesting to me. By the end a lot of it was just playing out standard action movie beats with apes instead of humans, and there was something about the ape dialogue (mostly in sign language/subtitles) that felt kind of condescendingly stilted, like these super intelligent apes wouldn't be totally fluent masters of the English language.

g) Begin Again
This movie was kind of sweet and ingratiating, and the songs weren't bad. But the plot was mostly just a weirdly of-the-moment music industry fable that will seem terribly date in, like, two years, and already feels kind of hokey and pie-eyed about 'making it.' But Keira Knightley can actually sing pretty well, and Adam Levine's changing facial hair over the course of the movie just keeps getting funnier.

h) Lucky Them
Really good little movie I hadn't heard anything about, with Toni Collette as a veteran rock journalist tracking down a reclusive rock star, and Thomas Haden Church tagging along for comic relief and plot complications. It's more moody than it is funny but does well at both, and while I wasn't crazy about the ending, or the perfunctory cameo performance by the big name actor who plays the recluse, Collette was as always so good and so compelling that she made the story more resonant than it probably was on the page.

i) Fruitvale Station
So many police shootings have commanded national headlines in the years since Oscar Grant that it feels like it happened it a different era, a long time ago. But watching this still felt very powerfully, just in how simply the movie set out to tell a story of this guy's last 24 hours, how it didn't sugarcoat things or try to bend the viewer's sympathies, it just showed what happened and let you feel like, no matter how or why the situation escalated, that this normal imperfect guy didn't deserve to die. And just how graphic and drawn out the ending was, more than I thought it would be, really drove that home and made it stick with me more.

j) The To Do List
I liked how this was basically a raunchy '80s/'90s coming of age high school movie, except directed by a woman and about a woman and still really raunchy and goofy. It seems like this movie got bad reviews from people who really didn't get what a unique accomplishment it is, how it combined different tones and satirized some predictable plot points and did some really weird, unexpected things within the story.

k) Defendor
Another meta/satirical superhero movie, a really low budget one that I hadn't even heard of, even though Woody Harrelson and Kat Dennings are in it. The premise is pretty unique and pumps some life into a pretty overdone type of action comedy, but it also feels like very risky subject matter that doesn't entirely pay off.

l) Eden Lake
One of those horror movies where a couple just gets stuck out in the wilderness and terrorized by locals, in this case in England, and the locals are teenagers. There are some really jarring, horrifying scenes in this, by the end it's just totally bleak and kind of pointless, but still, I give them credit for some well made suspense.

m) The Tao Of Steve
Donal Logue is a G for life off the strength of "Terriers," so I figured I should finally get around to seeing one of his best known roles. This movie came out in 2000 but it reminds me a lot of '90s movies like "Swingers" and "Beautiful Girls" that are kind of vulnerable bro comedies that aren't as deep as they want to be about relationships but are still, in their own ways, kind of sweet and insightful.

n) Manhunter
Between becoming a devotee of "Hannibal" and rewatching the Anthony Hopkins movies, I decided to finally see the first Thomas Harris adaptation from back in the '80s, when Brian Cox played Hannibal Lecter. It's interesting where this movie differs from Red Dragon, but also how Cox doesn't really play Lecter that differently from how Hopkins later would.
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