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The Birth of a Nation (2016)
Amazing Story That Must Be Told
I cannot understand the hate this movie has received. The mere 6.3 rating (as of June '17) this movie received is far below what it deserves--in my opinion an 8, but a 9/10 would be perfectly understandable. I think it's mighty ironic that switched halfway through the boring Star Trek Beyond (7.1) to watch this riveting drama.
Disclaimer: Perhaps it is due to the fact that I am black that I find slave movies fascinating for all the exact reasons I find World War II movies fascinating: the existence of a distinct, clear, and unforgivable evil in our history being shown on screen, as well as the pathos evoked by the victims of such evil. These stories become the ultimate drama, incapable of being considered melodramatic because of the real horror they portray. I like to think that the critical art consumer in me sees past this movie preference and can rate the film objectively.
So why does this movie deserve an 8 or 9 out of 10? Excellent acting, a fantastic score, and the unapologetic and accurate brutality depicting a story of unquestionable heroism. Nate Parker becomes Nat Turner, a slave preacher in the 19th century who led a slave revolt. The pacing is excellent, you follow each rise and fall of multiple characters until Turner is pushed over the edge to commit his acts. It's been compared to Braveheart in other reviews (e.g. Matt Seitz at rogerebert.com) and I think that comparison is apt: it's bloody, inspiring, and perhaps too kind to the hero, but not in a way that ruins the movie. All of Turner's actions in this movie really happened, it's just the omissions that make it less than perfect.
So this movie would deserve a perfect 10 were it not for some minor historical inaccuracies. For example, Turner's revolt also killed children, and while the slaves are shown killing women, they omitted the killing of kids. They omitted many of his "visions" that may have been signs of his mental illness. His death happened slightly differently. It's hard to think these revisions were done for any other reason than to make him seem flawless. But even those who opposed the violent evil that was slavery should be depicted for who they really were. This brings it down to an 8 for me. The overall movie is mostly accurate and incredibly well-told.
I can speculate why this movie was rated poorly, even by those who haven't seen it; I urge those who would rate this movie lowly to please watch it anyway.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)
I don't get the hate. This movie has literally double of everything that made the original great. I rewinded several times over a few funny jokes ("black cock!"). There are plenty of drawbacks and this would probably get a 9/10 if it was less similar to the original, but there was plenty of new ground tread here. Plus it had a pro-grrl spin, but not overly so for the dudes who are threatened by that. Rose Byrne's boobs were a sad omission from an otherwise fresh and hilarious sequel.
Funny, Moving Indie Flick
It's hard to describe this movie to others in a way that would let them know if they want to watch it. This movie is not for everyone. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. It helps that I'm fascinated by sex work, different sexual orientations and non-traditional gender roles.
The trailer and positive reviews sold it as a glimpse into a lifestyle very different from most viewers'. On that, the movie completely delivered. We are taken to through the daily lives of two transsexual female prostitutes, but the movie isn't just about prostitution, transsexuality, or femininity. It's about friendships, relationships, and the shame of its characters.
The acting is superb, the visuals are beautiful (especially considering this was shot on a phone), the characters are very three-dimensional, and the movie is quite funny. Some have said it's fast-paced, and I have to disagree there. It drags at times, and the whole movie seems to take place in a relatively small section of LA, but there is lots of walking and bus riding. The movie is greatly helped by an outstanding soundtrack to make the transportation scenes go by quickly and kick the action scenes into high gear.
It's hard to rate the honesty of the film. I don't know the truth behind the lifestyle (for example, do female prostitutes have different "traps" than transsexual prostitutes?). But the emotions are raw, honest, and very relatable.
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
A Review from Someone Who Likes This Stuff
I'm a man in his early thirties who's written and read a decent amount of erotic fiction, most of it involving some sort of BDSM. Most of my relationships have been "regular", but I fancy myself a dominant when I am involved with a willing submissive. For this reason I had to see this movie (I hadn't read the book). I had to see if this movie was "real" BDSM and whether the main character was truly "abusive". I also had to see this movie because I couldn't trust any of the reviews. The first 10 or so user reviews on IMDb I've read rated the movie low because the main character was reportedly a bad guy or because they had high expectations for the dialogue. I didn't mind either of these flaws.
For those interested, yes, this is one representation of a BDSM relationship. While Anastasia is naive and apprehensive throughout most of the movie, there is sexual bondage, domination and submission, making it BDSM. Some of the action flirts the line of Safe, Sane and Consensual, but that doesn't change the definition of words. Christian Grey is somewhat abusive. There is nothing as bad as I've been led to believe, but there is severe jealousy and light stalking, not unlike you might see in a movie about a regular relationship. For me, the movie could still rate a 10, because I don't need all my main characters to have the golden morals of Superman. Flawed characters make for better stories. The problem with Fifty Shades is the *lack* of story.
The buildup is quite good. The characters aren't brilliant and the dialogue is definitely unnatural at times with Christian spouting one-liners reminiscent of made-for-TV movies. The sex scenes weren't overly titillating, but they were moderately hot and seemed to be edging closer to some hot grand finale. The actors are nice to look at in their barely-R-rated nude scenes. In my head, the movie was getting a 6/10 for the first 30 or so minutes.
But then the movie stalls. The characters stop growing, the plot goes in circles, you wonder where the chemistry went. Why do they still like each other? Finally, it's over before anything significant happens.
I can forgive lackluster dialogue and stereotypical characters, but the lack of sexy, BDSM, and plot in a sexy BDSM movie is unforgivable. Watch Secretary instead.
Gone Girl (2014)
Great Build Up to Ultimate Letdown
I get why there's a huge buzz about this movie. It's incredibly well directed, mostly well acted, and features a story with several unexpected twists and turns. For most reviewers, that's good enough. Had it followed any of its logical conclusions to a satisfying ending I'd probably be giving Gone Girl an 8 or 9. But there's no satisfying ending, or much of an ending at all. It's hard to describe without spoiling the movie. Let's just say the writer made efforts to make sure the book (and now movie) had an original ending instead of an complete story arc or having the characters act logical.
My friend and I both left the movie feeling depressed and ripped off. 2.5 hours is a lot of time to invest without a complete story arc.
The Leftovers (2014)
Can't Do It
I watched 3 full episodes of The Leftovers and the beginning of episode 4. I wanted to like this show so much. I like Justin Theroux and the other actors seem like sufficiently talented actors. But there are just too many issues.
I just don't care about any of the characters. I hate the decisions they make. I find myself wishing Kevin's daughter and son would die, especially. The whole show setup seems strange. Only 2% of the world is supposed to have gone missing, but it seems that about everyone in the town is missing someone from their nuclear family. Everyone acts insane. It makes more sense if you pretend that they're saying 20% of the world went missing. But there doesn't seem to be a strong plot line yet.
The Guilty Remnants cult is probably the most nonsensical of all. The constant smoking and vow of silence is supposed to do what? How does that remind people of the departed? Do people even need to be reminded? Since this is written by Lindeloff, I know I will never get answers to most of my questions. Having seen Lost and Prometheus, I know that he likes leaving mysteries unexplained, even when they are vital character-driving mysteries.
I read a synopsis of the book to see if the plot would get interesting, and I wasn't impressed. Still, I gave The Leftover another chance. I saw part of episode 4 when a strange man randomly assaults Christine and Tom. I asked myself, "Why am I watching this?" When there are so many great dramas on TV and Netflix that were successful with their pilot episodes? I'm sorry, I know it's an HBO show, but I just can't get into this terrible show.
Srpski film (2010)
Intrigued by the rumors of what some have called the most transgressive film ever (in the reviews of Deadgirl (2008) and others), I watched A Serbian Film. I was expecting a cinematic version of the aristocrats joke and it did not disappoint in that area. However, I mentally numbed myself before watching so it's difficult to review the acting, storyline, realism, pace, etc. that I'd ordinarily pay attention to. I wrote 7/10, but I'm really just guessing.
Let's just say if you want to see some messed up stuff, check this movie out. There's gore, there's sex, there's sexual exploitation, rape, and the whole nine yards. Not date night fare.
More words: Milos is a pretty likable character, although you know early on that he didn't ask enough questions about the job. Not sure about the realism because I don't know much about Serbian culture. For example, the wife's casualness regarding her husband's old job (porn star). I suppose the casting is a bit unrealistic, as every woman in the movie between 18 and 50 looks like a supermodel even though only two of them are porn stars.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I Believe in Nolan
I was not a big fan of the first movie and I loved the second movie, primarily because of Heath Ledger's performance. This movie takes all the good from both previous movies and builds on them. The toys are cooler, the surprises are genuine and the plot is thick. Bane (as played by Tom Hardy) is brilliant.
I think voices are very important in these movies. I always hated Bale's Batman voice, which is a reason I think I didn't care much for Batman Begins. I loved Ledger's maniacal Joker voice and, similarly, Hardy's Bane voice is terrifying and ominous. It helps make him a scary character, even before you see him fight and see him hijack a city.
Anne Hatheway more than holds her own as the saucy Catwoman. She's not just a clichéd grrl-power villainess. And unlike, say, Spiderman 3, it doesn't feel like the writers tried to cram another villain into the movie. She fits.
Not everything is perfect, however. The stock exchange hijack plan would never work in real life, and anyone who knows even a tiny bit about the exchange will get that. Try to ignore that bit. I was also disappointed that Bane's goal of make Gotham erupt into chaos is too similar to the goals of the villains in the previous movies. Luckily, Catwoman has much more selfish plans, making her a more realistic character.
All in all, it's a very satisfying movie with great characters, great acting, and a lot of fun action sequences.
Worth the Time
Terrible, terrible title aside (it doesn't describe the movie well), I'm Through with White Girls is a great indie movie. It somewhat reminded me of Hav Plenty in the way that it is a black movie that's smart and funny without resorting to stereotypical black movie buffoonery.
I think what's best about this movie (and misleading about the title) is that it isn't a movie about race, but it is a romantic comedy that talks about race in a smart and realistic way. Also, it has the classic romcom elements, but isn't predictable. I really identified with the characters, especially the main character. The acting and direction is mostly on point. Mostly, unlike many other black films, it doesn't feel like an "urban" remake of some other movie. It is a unique film.
The only thing holding this movie back from getting an 10 is the fact that you can tell it's an independent movie: some shots run too long, some of the comedic moments are corny, and the budget obviously isn't very high. Aside from that, it's a great flick.
And just to be clear: despite the title, it's not a movie that's against interracial relationships.
What Love Is (2007)
I don't believe that What Love Is was a play before it was shot as a movie, yet I found it reminiscent of some stage play-turned-films I've seen. The main reasons are that it takes place primarily in one room, the dialog is very fast-paced, and emotions are high from the first moment and rarely drops.
In this sense, it's not terribly original. What's more is that the small plot line is pretty predictable. However, where this movie shines is in it's advice and the characters' heartfelt monologues. Perhaps it my male bias, but the men's part far outshone and impressed me than the women's scene. Each of the characters reminded me of one of my friends and although it's unlikely these friends would say the things they did, it's something that they would actually believe. For example, Matthew Lilliard's homophobic rant is probably not something he'd say aloud, but you know he would think it. And the other characters react pretty well, continuing the dialog until they each have their turn to chime in with their thoughts on love, sex and women.
The second and third acts aren't as good as the first, but there were a few gems that really got me, especially the gay man's sex advice (it's 99.9% correct) and Judy Tylor's (the dumb girl) thoughts on what love really is.
So the characters were interesting, the dialog was funny, but mostly it was the gems of wisdom of the characters that really made me think, made me laugh and made me cheer.