Mini movie reviews for 2016!

It’s February. That means cold, freezing weather. It is also the culmination of the awards season. Yes, it’s nearly time for the biggest, glitziest celebrity ceremony of the year – The Oscars. Chilly, horrible weather, and awards season? I think I better start with…

THE MARTIAN

Ridley’s Scott’s latest space offering is set on the red planet, where things get pretty chilly for NASA botanist Mark Watney (Damon) after he’s accidentally abandoned by the rest of his team, ET-style.

Setting the tone for the movie, Watney patches himself up after getting harpooned in the gut. It’s realistic and gritty, unlike my beloved Prometheus . It’s clear that Ridley and Watney are going to “science the shit” out of this one.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, the scenes on Earth get as dry as Martian soil. Luckily, whenever things get a bit lofty at NASA HQ, something goes wrong for Watney (not that I actively wanted him to suffer or anything.)

Mars looks like a great destination (?) and the astronauts have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery.

It’s not as good or moving as Gravity, but it’s still a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity,  human strength and the will to survive. Matt Damon is the Best Actor on Mars.

❄❄❄

SICARIO

A fictional war-on-drugs action crime thriller so brutal I wondered what I was doing watching it.

Idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is a kidnap response expert who makes a  gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), a DoD/CIA bod and his even shadier partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro).

Blunt is wide-eyed and vulnerable – enough to be affecting, but not so much to be miscast as a door-kicker rolling with Delta Force. She’s the audience’s proxy, not driving the story forward so much as along for the ride; in this movie, the good guys fight dirty.

Del Toro is so enigmatic he makes waking up from a nap compelling. Kate can’t tear her eyes off him; neither can the audience. She appears attracted to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

❄❄❄❄

THE DANISH GIRL

Save all your tears for The Danish Girl, a lavish costume drama based on 1920s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who starts her journey as Einar, married to fellow painter/illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander).

They are devoted to one another, with a circle of friends who love to hear about their blissful wedded life. (An earsplitting, hyper Amber Heard cameos as ballerina Ulla, a confidante of the couple.)

But an unhappy Lili eventually meets a humane physician and becomes one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery, before antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs. “I am… entirely… myself,” beams an unconvincing Redmayne from Lili’s sick bed.

Although it starts as a two-hander, The Danish Girl is more of a blank canvas for Alicia Vikander. But it’s got its timing right, and it’s bound to find an audience willing to treat it with reverence.

❄❄

ROOM

Little Jack and his poor Ma (Brie Larson) are locked in a soundproofed shed they call “Room”.

Their captor, Old Nick, snatched a teenage Joy Newsome seven years ago, before she became Ma. Every evening Old Nick visits with supplies and inflicts himself on Ma while little Jack sleeps in a closet.

Mother and son eventually pull off a rather implausible escape, and wake up in hospital with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast cityscape, which seemed like a rapid adjustment for two people used to a cramped room with only a skylight.

Soon, other characters start piling in: Ma’s divorced parents, lawyers, doctors, television hosts, and this is where I felt it lost its hold.

As with Emma Donoghue’s novel, her screenplay unfolds from Jack’s perspective. Larson is off-screen in the final act as she recovers from a suicide attempt, and we get screechy little Jack making cakes with grandma and getting a haircut. Moving in places.

❄❄

CAROL

Trapped behind a toy counter in a Manhattan department store for the holidays, Therese (trussed up in a Santa hat like a festive fawn) is dreaming of a creative life as a photographer. Across a blur of Christmas shoppers she locks eyes with a statuesque beauty: it’s Cate Blanchett (Carol), a blue-blooded 1950s socialite.

Their acquaintance becomes a love affair – dangerous, especially if Carol’s husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) has anything to do with it.

Hounded by her Harge-faced husband’s private investigators, Blanchett is a free spirit – there’s definitely something predatory about her.

Todd Haynes’ restrained and elegant film feels set in a repressive fairy tale. Every frame is beautiful from the perspective of a photographer, however..it is slow, and the lack of right-on wrath may make it too removed for some.

❄❄❄

CRIMSON PEAK

I expected a subpar Victorian horror. I knew it had a pedigree, with stars Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain directed by Guillermo del Toro, but Crimson Peak flopped at the box office.

Aspiring writer Edith’s (Mia) mother is dead, but her dad is a decent, bearded fellow – he’s got British aristo Hiddles trying to convince him to invest in his mining inventions.

But Pa dislikes him and  his Bronte mean girl sister Chastain, but Edith marries Hiddles and returns to England to live at his crumbling estate, where gross red clay oozes through the walls and floorboards. And there’s a ghost, too.

Although sinister, it doesn’t deliver shocks or scares like the Victorian Gothic The Woman in Black, and probably isn’t intended as a horror, but a dark costume drama, a weird Tim Burtonish fantasy and a brooding romance – I’m not sure. I wonder if anyone in charge of the marketing knew either.

The fab cast and the decomposing goo-mansion seem to breathe as one determined mess. Kudos to the movie’s strange warmth and passion, and to the best costumes.

❄❄❄❄

7 thoughts on “Mini movie reviews for 2016!

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  5. Berto

    Great post!! All good films. The Characters in Crimson Peak even tell you that it’s not a horror movie in the movie. I like that you didn’t judge it too harshly based on the faulty marketing.

    Reply

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