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Monthly Report: October + November 2013

Another month or two, another bunch of movies seen. October was a bit middling with few real highlights, but November picked up in a big way. November 11 in particular was a great day, with two 5/5 movies seen, something I don’t think has ever happened before. Good times.

Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011)
A solid horror movie, albeit one with few surprises along the way. What I really liked about it was how the characters and their reactions felt largely believable. They filled standard parts for a horror film, but they did in such a way that they didn’t come off as mere archetypes. That was cool, and a spark of just the kind of thing I’d expect from the director of Lars and the Real Girl.
3/5

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012)
I wouldn’t take any of the theories on Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining presented in this documentary as anything resembling facts, but it’s nonetheless quite fun to listen to people talk about something they’re passionate about and have devoted a lot of time to. It’s all fairly well executed and presented, but it does get a bit samey at times. Perhaps a shorter run time would have been a nice idea.
3/5

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God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2011)
As subtle as a bowling ball, and roughly as sharp, but at its best, it’s a really funny black comedy; at its worst, it’s Goldthwait soap-boxing in the guise of 10 minutes long montages of TV parodies. It’s a good movie, but hardly a step forward from his previous film World’s Greatest Dad.
3/5

Good Bye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)
A sweet story combined with an interesting look at East Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the basic premise of a lie that needs to be upheld is far from rare, the setting and earnestness makes it work here. A fun and fairly touching watch.
4/5

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)
The acting is the strong point of the film, with Channing Tatum doing everything right in the lead and Matthew McConaughey putting in a supporting turn that’s charisma all the way through. The story is fine, but you’d expect a Soderbergh movie about male strippers to either have more to say, or at least put a fresher spin on things. There’s a lot of angles that could be explored here, and it feels like there’s plenty of missed opportunities. Not the director’s bravest effort.
3/5

A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Very 80s-y. Freddy is more goofy than anything, and the ending is awful, but it does have its moments. Although not many.
2/5

The Eye (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2008)
Jessica Alba sees something scary and freaks out. Repeat a thousand times. Roll credits. Weak horror movie with a story that moves at a snail’s pace.
2/5

Avalon (Axel Petersén, 2011)
Kind of dry, like many Swedish films tend to be. Johannes Brost puts in a strong lead performance, and really shines when his character is stricken by guilt. Those scenes are the highlight of the film. The rest, I could take or leave. The ending is pretty but weak.
2/5

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Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, 2013)
Twisty, tense and entertaining thriller that keeps you on your toes throughout. The antidepressant element of the plot helped introduce some welcome ambiguity to the proceedings, and Rooney Mara puts in a performance at least as good as the one in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Just a damn solid film.
4/5

The Innkeepers (Ti West, 2011)
Perhaps not so much a slow-burner as a late-starter, The Innkeepers lulls you into first thinking it’ll be one certain kind of horror film, only to carefully flip your expectations upside down – or at least 90°. By the end of it, the tension and atmosphere had me clutching my pillow tightly. Great pacing, wonderful execution, and a very compelling set of lead characters. Best horror film I’ve seen in quite some time.
4/5

Win Win (Tom McCarthy, 2011)
There’s little particularly new or noteworthy about the story and characters in this film, but fine execution goes a long way and makes this a solid and enjoyable watch regardless. With a lesser cast, this could have turned out really weak.
3/5

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)
While there’s a lot to like about this film, the best reason to see it is to witness Elizabeth Olsen‘s terrific performance in the leading role. There’s a lot of tricky emotions at play for her character, and she nails it all. The rest of the movie can’t really hope to match it fully, but that says more about Olsen than anything else. It’s a fascinating character study, as much about paranoia as about cult life, and while the ending really caught me off guard, it did so in a way that made me reevaluate what the film was really trying to say. And that’s fine. As is the movie.
4/5

The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)
Brendan Gleeson is in fine form here, playing a somewhat grumpy policeman. He and Don Cheadle have plenty of fun interactions with one another, rising above your usual “buddy cop” routines. The plot itself might be somewhat familiar, but that’s not what you should be here for; the Irishness of both the humor and the tone is what makes the film stand out.
4/5

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
The opening scene had me immediately enthralled. 10 minutes in, I had found 10 or so things about this film I really loved. And then it just kept on going at that same high level. A horrific tale to be sure, but it’s impossible to tear one’s eyes from the screen. A top-notch performance by Tilda Swinton, and Ramsay’s directing is flawless. Had I seen this when I was first getting into movies some years ago, it would have blown my damn mind. Even watching it now, it still does.
5/5

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Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
I wasn’t all that enamored by Cuarón’s much-beloved previous film Children of Men, finding it visually impressive but sterile to a fault in terms of story and characters. I was thus a bit wary of Gravity, in spite of all the praise it has been receiving. Well, Gravity is good. It’s really good. Great, in fact. The visuals are certainly the highlight here too, but they’re combined with solid characters (Sandra Bullock has probably never been better), thematic food-for-thoughts, and more suspense and excitement than you can shake a stick at. Wonderful.
5/5

Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011)
Cool Norwegian thriller that ramps up and transforms as it moves along. Some of the more comedic parts feel a bit out of place, but that’s about the only major gripe I have with the film. Everything else is pulled off really well, which makes for a captivating ride.
4/5

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Exhilarating action scenes, solid plot and characters, interesting theme of old vs new, expert pacing, and visually stunning. That last thing is almost done to a fault, as there were times when the flashy cinematography took me out of the moment. Overall, however, this is a very fine action film, one of my favorite Bond movies, and another winner from Sam Mendes.
4/5

Six Degrees of Separation (Fred Schepisi, 1993)
Six Degrees of Separation somewhat fails to get its point across, and the transition from stage to screen is not a particularly smooth one. Whether Will Smith is just ill-suited for this kind of theater material or whether it was just too early in his career for him to tackle it, I’m not sure. He’s not bad, but his part is one that ought to sparkle, and it doesn’t here. The cast is fine for the most part, though the acting is lacking in “oomph” until Stockard Channing‘s big emotional scene towards the end.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.4 / 5
Best film of the months: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Worst film of the months: The Eye

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Posted by on 1 December, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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On gender equality, Oscars, and great female performances

I made a list on Letterboxd recently where I picked my favorite movie nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars each year, as well as ranked the other nominees. Obviously, I skipped years where I haven’t seen at least two of the nominated movies. As I’m still a relative newbie to the world of film, there’s a lot that I haven’t seen, but I still ended up with 27 years where I had seen multiple Best Picture nominees, which is more than I had expected. Since it was a fun exercise, I went ahead and did the same for Best Actor. 22 years for that one. Not too shabby.

Then on to Best Actress, and a disappointing 14 years where I’ve seen at least two Oscar nominees. For 8 of those 14 years, I’ve only seen the bare minimum of two.

What does this mean, then? That what the Academy finds appealing when it comes to movies about women is not the same as what I’m drawn toward? Maybe. Or it could be a symptom of the fact that I don’t tend to gravitate toward movies about women in general.

Is this bad?

I seem to be stumbling upon a lot of writing and works on subjects of gender inequality and feminism lately, whether it’s a gaming website explaining why they won’t back down on the subject of misogyny in video gaming or a tumblr dedicated to showcasing bizarre examples of female anatomy in comic books (somewhat NSFW). I won’t pretend to be fully immersed in these issues, but I do feel they are a problem – a big one at that – and something worth devoting time to at least read about every now and then. The same goes for any kind of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or what have you.

In particular, what I find worrying is the notion that male is the standard. The norm. The default. This is prevalent in movies too. On the viewer side of things, we have the thing where films about females are often automatically dismissed as “chick flicks”, whereas films with a clearly male perspective are somehow thought of as “for everyone.” Production-wise, there’s the notable lack of female directors and screenwriters compared to males, not to mention the short shelf-life of female actors – once you’re not young and hot any more, it will be harder to get good roles. Compare this to the guys: Brad Pitt is 49 years old, Johnny Depp is 49, George Clooney is 51, and Tom Cruise is 50. Are there any women in Hollywood of that age with as much fame and star power as them? Sandra Bullock (48) perhaps, but after that it’s slim pickings. That’s not even getting into an issue I myself keep wrestling with all the time: the word “actress” itself. Is it okay to use the word? If we have a specific word to refer to female actors, doesn’t that imply that male actors – generally referred to as just “actors” – are indeed the norm? So is using the word “actress” just perpetuating the problem? I feel like maybe it is, and that using “female actor” and “male actor” is no problem, so I tend to opt for the latter myself.

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

 

I want to make an effort toward being a more well-rounded movie watcher. I’m not always doing everything I can towards that goal – I still watch way more contemporary films than old ones, for instance – but this recently uncovered Oscars-related gender difference is bothering me in particular. Not because the Academy is to be trusted with recognizing greatness – because that’s not really their thing anyway – but perhaps because even when they turn their eyes toward female actors, they’re still not exactly concerned with rewarding strong female characters, or movies about them, as such. A portion of the performances they nominate for Best Actress can be more accurately described as major supporting roles for male leads. And even then I’m lagging behind in my watching of them.

I’m planning on filling in the blanks as far as Best Actress nominees go anyway. I need to do more, though. Especially for my sanity. After some brief examination of AMPAS’ Best Actress nominated movies stretching back to 1990 (see, I told you I lean contemporary), it’s predominantly important-sounding period biopics. Not saying that these can’t be great films, but diversity is good.

This is where you can help out. I’m open for suggestions of great female lead performances that were not nominated at the Oscars. Preferably undisputed lead roles. If the movie itself is great too, that’s even better. The films don’t have to be new, or American, or anything, really; what matters is that the central performance is a great one.

What are some of your favorite female lead performances NOT nominated at the Oscars?

 
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Posted by on 9 April, 2013 in Misc., Oscars

 

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Monthly Report: March 2013

One year ago, I made my first Monthly Report post here on A Swede Talks Movies. I didn’t plan for this at the time, but the Monthly Report has become the real rock of this blog. Even as the amount of posts has decreased throughout the last year, the Monthly Report provides regularity and stability. I like that.

Mighty Aphrodite (Woody Allen, 1995)
The whole Greek theater angle was largely lost on me. The story itself is solid Woody Allen, with a couple of pure gold lines here and there and some effective and affecting performances. Not the best film I’ve seen from the director, as in the end it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a fine enough watch.
3/5

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria, 2012)
For some reason, I was expecting something more comedic. I was also expecting something not as good as this ended up being. The whole coming apocalypse thing is shown with lots of fascinating details, but the real goodness here comes from the relationship building between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Superb chemistry, and I found myself genuinely moved by their story. It’s a healthy reminder of just how great Carell can be with the right material, and of how Knightley is capable of so much more than just looking good in a period dress. Perfect ending, too.
4/5

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The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, 2011)
Badass to the highest degree.
5/5

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
I haven’t explored the western genre enough to really say with any degree of certainty that it isn’t my thing, but what I can say is that there is little about the genre that makes me inclined to investigate it further. I liked this movie, though. The banter between Paul Newman and Robert Redford made for a lot of fun scenes, and the story of the two outlaws was compelling stuff. The extended music scenes felt a bit weird, though.
4/5

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Some movies manage to really get under my skin. It might take a little while, but once they get through, they’re free to work whatever brand of magic they’re capable of, and it’ll just stick with me in a certain way. This does not mean that they’re better movies than others; it just means that they manage to operate in a different manner than most. Shame is such a film, and it achieves it through spellbinding long takes, a tremendous lead performance by Michael Fassbender, and a take on addiction different from the norm in films. The previous McQueen-Fassbender collaboration, Hunger, was a movie I admired more than I liked. Shame, I admire and adore in equal measures.
5/5

Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
The most boring movie I’ve seen in quite some time.
1/5

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
The lavish production of it all is what I found myself liking most about this film. The whole shebang looks great, from the costumes to the art direction to the environments. My main problem is Barry himself, who for most of the film is really quite boring. The story fortunately picks up a bit in the second half. All in all, though, this is one of my least favorite Kubrick films.
3/5

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011)
Rough goings early on with this one, as I didn’t like the main character – more to do with the writing than Thomas Horn‘s performance – and found there to be too many shortcuts. Having the kid always carry around a tambourine that he shakes whenever he’s nervous is a lazy way to show his emotional state, for instance. That said, this film definitely managed to win me over as it went along. It unabashedly tugs on the heart-strings, and Daldry ultimately makes it work. Bonus points for fine performances by Max von Sydow and Sandra Bullock.
4/5

Set It Off (F. Gary Gray, 1996)
Very run-of-the-mill bank robbing movie, full of clichés and overwrought melodrama. Not very good.
2/5

Cleanflix (Andrew James & Joshua Ligairi, 2009)
A surprisingly compelling documentary on the business of edited movies, IE when companies buy and edit movies to remove content they deem unsuitable or immoral. Fair arguments are made for both sides of the argument, and while the process to me certainly seems legally wrong, the movie did make me pause to ponder the morality of it. This was more than I expected to do, so that was cool. What drags the movie down is the form, with lots of talking heads and floating text to provide narration. You watch it for what it has to say, not for the way in which it says it.
3/5

The Girl (Fredrik Edfelt, 2009)
Heartfelt and frank story about a 9-year-old girl (Blanca Engström) who has to spend a summer taking care of herself. The clash between childhood and adult life is potent here, and the movie does a good job in sweeping you along in its smooth pace. A Swedish film that rises a bit above the norm.
4/5

About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002)
Jack Nicholson is great here. It’s the kind of performance that make you wish there were more strong meaty roles like this one for older actors out there. The rest of the film is good too, although I was a bit bothered with the over reliance on narration in various forms to tell the story of Warren’s state of mind.
3/5

[Movie]11-14 (2003)

11:14 (Greg Marcks, 2003)
A black comedy thriller of sorts, with a number of different plot threads that intersect with one another. I found the tone of humor to be an ill fit for the more gruesome parts of the story, but it’s nonetheless fun to see in what ways the various plots are connected.
3/5

Morning Glory (Roger Michell, 2010)
The story of a plucky young career woman getting a new job and having to deal with old cranky people in order to show what she can do is nothing new; Morning Glory’s writer Aline Brosh McKenna herself handled similar subject matter four years prior in The Devil Wears Prada. The formula still works here though, largely thanks to Energizer bunny Rachel McAdams and a Clint Eastwood-channeling Harrison Ford. The whole movie is imbued with an energy that many comedies are missing these days, in fact. Everything just clicks. Morning Glory doesn’t break new ground, but it offers for a very fun time regardless.
4/5

Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (Mike Clattenburg, 2009)
Me and a friend were nursing hangovers and flipping through Netflix when we saw this film none of us had heard about before and decided to give it a go. We didn’t know that it was based on a TV show, and not the first film to be based on it either. Regardless, I enjoyed it. The material itself runs a bit thin at times, as there’s not enough to fully sustain its 102 minutes, but the characters are amusing and have an off-beat kind of dynamic with one another. I found myself wanting to see more of them, so…
3/5

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (Mike Clattenburg, 2006)
…naturally, I checked out this one too. It’s roughly on par with Countdown to Liquor Day. A bit better paced and with a sharper plot, but it’s not quite as funny – possibly due to less focus on Bubbles (Mike Smith). Nonetheless, I don’t see how you could like one of the films and not the other.
3/5

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Intolerable Cruelty (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2003)
Oddly flat in content for a Coens film, but the humor is there and the cast has a good bit of fun with it all. The ending seemed weird to me, but then that’s par for the course when watching one of the brothers’ movies for the first time, so I’m not holding that against it too much.
3/5

The Substitute (Robert Mandel, 1996)
Pretty bad in most every way, from the clichéed story and poor action scenes to the cheesy acting. But it’s at least the kind of bad that you can laugh at if you watch it with some friends. If I can give Troll 2 a score of 3/5, I can give this one a 2.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the month: Shame
Worst film of the month: Valhalla Rising

 
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Posted by on 2 April, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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