A nice collection of vignettes on the power of the stories we see and show (highlights include Uncle Boris’ rant on family and art and the confrontation in the school hallway–“Why’d you make me look like that?”), not to mention some fun looks at the ins and outs of filmmaking (see the perfect–well, eventually–final shot). Amidst the compelling family drama, though, the central character arc could’ve used a few more incising elements like that shot where he imagines himself shooting his own life.
The plot and politics are a bit ? (the climactic jail confrontation could’ve been unpacked more) but everything else is !–the tunes (Nirvana and also the emotive, ever-present score), the turns, and especially the unique tone, with its sly layer of superhero cheese underneath the super-serious noir (see the heavy exposition between Batman and Gordon) and moody character study (see the bookending voiceovers). Great ending (see the rethinking of “I’m vengeance” and then the silent ride together).
Appropriately slow–this survival western pulls no punches, and by punches I mean achingly long scenes of walking across barren landscapes, because there’s a lot of them. And they’re loaded with feeling: short in-between scenes lay out the stakes and ratchet up the unease and distrust, and then the journey (captured with poignant music and visuals–see that breathtaking long cross fade early on) continues, and in the film’s boldest stroke of all, it doesn’t end, just like it never began.
Beautifully made, from haunting score to poignant cinematography, impeccable turns to superb script that always knows when to talk and when to not, with a great three-act story shifting through a poor kid lens the focus from volatile dad to selfish mom to post-fire aftermath (the lack of repercussions for the porch incident is the only flaw here). Its picture-near-perfection actually holds it back a bit though; the aching drama of the narrative could’ve benefited from a bit more grit and shake.
A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business. (IMDb)
Patient and poignant cinematography and a persistently discomforting Kubrick-esque score fittingly portray drawn-out scenes in a dreary landscape amidst a long-scale soul-crushing story about the corruption of capitalism. Daniel’s narrative is compelling, but the parallelism in his feud with fellow false prophet Eli (Day-Lewis and Dano are both wonderful) is so brilliantly crafted (see the echo of the former’s baptism in the devastating final scene) the latter could have used more screen time.
A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home. (IMDb)
A surreal survival story, an odd-couple comedy, and an existential drama all in one: With exquisite cinematography (slow-motion shots of butts and waves are each equally stunning), superb visual effects, and an a cappella soundtrack often featuring the characters themselves, the spiritual themes of life and love are brilliantly and uniquely weaved together with the crudely bodily: masturbation, farts, etc. The final act falters but with all its weirdness you knew it was going to be hard to land.
In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. (IMDb)
The significance of the mid-narrative opening scene still isn’t clear as it’s returned to later on, but it’s the only thing that doesn’t connect in this affecting and well-acted (Fassbender is a highlight) period piece. McQueen’s direction is laudably and fittingly unrelenting and inaccessible, with achingly long takes (see Solomon’s tiptoe hanging) and unflinching scenes of violence (see Patsy’s whipping). Bursts of tense music also add emotional nuance to the typical sentimental soundtrack.
In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. (IMDb)
Maybe it’s just the two different actors, but the past and future narratives just never really feel like they share the same protagonist, which is a shame, because each story is still strongly engaging in its own right: One showcasing Wilson’s quirky brilliance and burgeoning internal struggles, the other his road to recovery and love from under the thumb of a manipulative psychiatrist, each featuring solid performances, good music, and intentionally artful editing that keeps things interesting.
The masterful opening sequence and lengthy dinner scene give us an immediate feel for each character and dynamic and set the stage for the achingly beautiful and authentic family portrait/road trip movie to follow. The drama and comedy blend seamlessly together in favour of natural story and character development instead of cheap laughs and sentimentality. Life is hard, life is hilarious; it’s a dead relative and crushed dream one minute, a dance party the next. Perfectly written and performed.