Things I saw in November

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1. Knight of Cups (2016) Is it possible that we had a year where a new film by Terrence Malick can just be released without little fanfare of critical talk back. Well it happened. It’s true compared to his 20 year hiatus between “Days of Heaven”, and “The Thin Red Line”, Terrence Malick seems to be a bit more prolific as of late, however a new film by him is worthy to get excited about. Not many mainstream filmmakers can make deeply personal, poetic films with this scope and this type of cast.”Knight of Cups” was released earlier this year and while people who saw it professed it to be more of the same Malick-meandering, I found it to be a very moving, and spiritual film. Christian Bale stars as a Hollywood screenwriter who seems to have lost his identity in a world depicted of more glamour and less substance. We get a sense of his personal life with his estranged brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Brian Dennehy) who are still coping with the loss of Bale’s other brother who seems to have died. We see his ex-wife (Cate Blanchet) and various women he has relationships with (Natalie Portman being the most prominent as a married woman Bale has an affair with). Malick has foregone any type of classical narration to tell his story. Most of what Bale and the rest of the actors saysis told through voice-over. This story feels like an extension of the Sean Penn scenes in “Tree of Life”. I myself have been greatly affected by Malick’s films, and I consider this one of his best. Whatever you think of Malick, he is a truly unique voice, and I hope he continues his journey on what feels like his own self-discovery. 4 stars out of 4

2. Hacksaw Ridge (2016) Speaking of Hiatuses, can you believe it’s been 10 years since we’ve had a new film directed by Mel Gibson? Despite what your feelings towards him might be, Gibson has proven to be one of the more interesting actor/directors and had he not been sidelined so long with his personal demons, perhaps he would be as busy as Clint Eastwood, who knows. Suffice it to say “Hacksaw Ridge” is Gibson returning in fine form, I just wish I didn’t feel so conflicted about the story. Andrew Garfield is very good as Desmond Doss, a real life war hero who served as a conscientious objector, meaning he never carried a fire arm. Hacksaw Ridge is an infamous battle that saw Doss carry out and rescue over 75 soldiers from enemy fire. In many ways, the film deals with the religious overtones of Doss’ believes on a very surface level, I wish it delved more into his beliefs, it could’ve been more powerful. Gibson’s use of violence is on par with his gory depiction of Jesus being crucified in “The Passion of the Christ”, and it serves as sort of a station of the Cross for Doss, as he’s seen as sort of a Christ figure. Many of the performances are great including Vince Vaughn as Doss’ drill Sergeant who brings an ounce of humor to the mix, and Hugo Weaving as Doss’ father, a war vet who is now an abusive alcoholic. Much of the other performers aren’t given that much depth as Gibson relies on more conventional cliches of platoon life for the soldiers. All in all despite some impressive moments and themes going on in this film, I still had reservations about it as a whole. I am excited that Gibson is back as a director and look forward to what he gives us in the future. 2.5 stars out of 4

3. Dr. Strange (2016) The latest Marvel movie about a brilliant doctor who loses the use of his hands after being in a car accident, then learning how to hone the powers of the mystics has some very good and fun moments, but at this point, Marvel seems more concerned with its world building than making actual movies anymore. Benedict Cumberbatch is fine as Dr. Strange, and he has nice moments with Mads Mikkelson who plays the bad guy. Tilda Swinton can never be uninteresting in a movie, so everyone does their job well. Much has been said about the visuals of this film and they are impressive, but all in all Marvel films are starting to feel a little deja vu to me, it’s all the same stuff. Strange’s cape steals the show. 2.5 stars out of 4

4. Into the Inferno (2016) Werner Herzog’s documentary which is seen exclusively on Netflix is about volcanoes and the people who study them for a living. Herzog along with his friend and collaborator Clive Oppenheimer go all over the world from Ethiopia, to Iceland, and even into North Korea to visit the still active volcanoes on Earth. There they meet villagers who still believe in urban legends about the volcanoes and other scientists who risk their lives to study them. The film is quite interesting and you can tell why these subjects would interest Herzog so much. The visuals of the volcanoes are impressive and they deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. The film sometimes meanders too much, but a lot of it is fascinating, particularly the North Korea section. It’s hard to think of a filmmaker like Herzog to become so mainstream, he now has become a fixture on Netflix, but if his films reach a bigger audience because it that then so be it, you could do a lot worse. 3 stars out of 4

5. Arrival (2016) A very intelligent and cerebral sci-fi story which stays on a very human scale. Amy Adams gives one of her best performances as a language expert who is recruited to help translate the language of aliens who have just arrived on Earth. The Aliens speak through these circular symbols which Adams must decipher accurately or it could mean all out war on these creatures. This film has a lot of ideas to explore and it does so in a great, economic way. No other science fiction story save for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” has concerned itself so much with the importance of communication and language on the global stage. But this is also a character story on Adams who I must stress is really good here. Much of this is her story about the loss of a child, and Adams never overplays her cards, she carries the film without giving or showing too much. Director Denis Villeneuve, who hasn’t made a bad movie yet remains focused on his story, and keeps it tightly suspenseful but seems to play it loose as well that when the twist comes, it remains believable and heartfelt. I thoroughly enjoyed this. 4 stars out of 4

6. Allied (2016) The latest from Robert Zemeckis is classic movie storytelling at its finest. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star as a pair of spies who after assassinating a German ambassador in world war 2 Casablanca, decide to get married and start a family. It is revealed later that Cotillard may be a covert spy, and Pitt is now under the clock to prove his wife’s innocence or perhaps be forced to execute her. I’m not sure how deep this film is, I suspect it really isn’t, but it works so well as an intriguing yarn that gets you hooked with its intrigue. The film wears its classic movie roots on its sleeve purposely and blatantly evoking romantic melodramas like “Casablanca” and other war torn movies from that era. Pitt and especially Cotillard fit well with their classic movie star statuses. Zemeckis, who has made some pretty interesting and underrated stuff in the last few years, is at the top of his game as a classical filmmaker. He seems to get undervalued since his days of “Forrest Gump”, but he is really one of the best Hollywood directors working today. Box office results show that audiences aren’t really wanting this type of entertainment anymore, and that’s a shame because in so many ways, this film shows the kind of escapism, and intrigue Hollywood use to make that made us want to go to the movies in the first place. 3.5 stars out of 4

7. Archer Seasons 5-7 (2013-15) I haven’t been a fan of a lot of mainstream comedies done in the movies anymore. However I don’t think comedy has been any better than it has on television these recent years. One of funniest shows I’ve seen in recent years has been Archer, an animated show featuring a heavy drinking, mother fixating, sexaholic super spy Sterling Archer, and his gang of misfits. Catching up on the last three seasons, Archer has gotten more innovative in its story telling, starting with season five which sees the gang leaving the spy game to work as drug smugglers, then again in season six back working for the CIA but screwing up every job given to them. Then Season 7 was their most ambitious yet with an ongoing mystery when the group opens up a detective agency with a finale cliffhanger that is very well done and surprising. However knowing Archer, things never get too serious despite Archer coming to grips with becoming a responsible parent and starting a new meaningful relationship with his partner and love of his life Lana. “Archer” continues going strong  and as long as they keep pushing their narrative and character development along with almost as many call back jokes as “Arrested Development” had, it’ll be perhaps a classic that will be quoted for years to come. 3.5 stars out of 4

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